Al-Kindi

Al-Kindi

Contributed by Prof. Dr. Nazeer Ahmed, PhD

There are brief moments in history when nature lifts its veil to the human intellect so that it may witness the majesty of divine creation and pass on the wisdom gained from this encounter to succeeding generations. One such intellect was that of Al Kindi.

Abu Yusuf Yaqub Ibn Ishaq al-Kindi, one of the most celebrated of the philosophers and natural scientists of the classical age of Islam, was born in Kufa in the year 800 CE in the illustrious al Kindah clan from South Yemen. During the 5th and 6th centuries, the al Kindah had unified several tribes under its aegis. After the advent of Islam, some members of this tribe migrated to Southern Iraq, where they enjoyed the patronage of the Umayyad and Abbasid Caliphs. Al Kindi’s father was the governor of Kufa, which at the time was a thriving commercial city, wherein people from Persia, Arabia, India and China met for trade and transaction. Al Kindi received his early education in Kufa.

Baghdad was ruled at the time by the fabled Harun ar Rasheed who had inherited the School of Translation established by Caliph al Mansur in 765 CE. This was a golden age for Muslims. It was a moment in history when the Islamic civilization opened its doors to new ideas from the East and the West. As the Abbasid Empire had grown, it had come into contact with ideas from classical Greek, Indian, Zoroastrian, Buddhist and Hindu civilizations. The confident Muslims took these ideas and remolded them in a uniquely Islamic mold. Out of this caldron came Islamic art, architecture, astronomy, chemistry, mathematics, medicine, music, philosophy and ethics.

What gave the Muslims the confidence to face other civilizations was their faith. With a confidence firmly rooted in revelation, the Muslims faced other civilizations, absorbing that which they found valid and transforming it in the image of their own belief. The Qur’an invites men and women to learn from nature, to reflect on the patterns therein, to mold and shape nature so that they may inculcate wisdom. “We shall show them our Signs on the horizon and within their souls until it is manifest unto them that it is the Truth” (Qur’an, 41:53). It is during this period that we see the emergence of the archetype of classical Islamic civilization, namely the Hakim(meaning, a person of wisdom). In Islam, a scientist is not a specialist who looks at nature from the outside, but a man of wisdom who looks at nature from within and integrates his knowledge into an essential whole. The quest of the Hakim is not just knowledge for the sake of knowledge but the realization of the essential Unity that pervades creation and the interrelationships that demonstrate the wisdom of God.

In 814 CE Al Kindi was sent to Baghdad for advanced education. Baghdad was now ruled by the Caliph al Mamun who was a scholar in his own right and had studied medicine, fiqh, logic, and was a Hafiz-e-Qur’an. Mamun went further than his predecessors in encouraging learning and scholarship. He elevated the House of Translation to Baitul Hikmah (House of Wisdom). Here he invited scholars from Greece, India and Persia to translate and further the work of the Greek philosophers, the Hindu mathematicians and Persian mystics. From Greece came the works of Socrates, Aristotle, Plato, Galen, Hippocrates, Archimedes, Euclid, Ptolemy, Demosthenes, Anthemeus and Pythagoras. From India arrived scholars with knowledge of the Indian numerals, the concept of zero, Ayurvedic medicine, and the astronomical works of Aryabhatta and Brahmagupta. From China came the science of alchemy and the technologies of paper, silk and pottery. The Persians brought in the disciplines of administration, agriculture and irrigation. The scholars who were engaged in the work of translation included Muslims, Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians and Hindus. The Muslims learned from these sources and gave to the world Algebra, Chemistry, Sociology and the concept of infinity.

The bright, young al-Kindi soon attracted the attention of al Mamun who appointed him a translator at the Baitul Hikmah. Here, al Kindi came into contact with the towering philosophers of the age, the likes of Ibn Hayyan (d 815), the inventor of the science of chemistry, and the mathematician Al Khwarizmi (d 863), the inventor of Algebra.

Al Kindi was a versatile genius. He stands tall even among the intellectual giants of the era. His contributions embrace logic, mathematics, astronomy, chemistry, physics, geometry, medicine and music. He is credited with writing 241 books in the following disciplines: logic 9, mathematics 11, astronomy 16, physics 12, geometry 32, medicine 22, and music 7.

In mathematics, he further developed, together with Al Khwarizmi, the Indian number system, and applied it to decimals. He made original contributions to spherical geometry and applied it to astronomy. In chemistry, he showed that base metals could not be converted to gold, in opposition to the prevailing views of alchemists. In physics, he worked on the theory of sound and showed that the human voice creates waves which travel through the air and are received by the cochlea in the ear. In optics he experimented with the reflection of light and showed how a convex mirror focused incoming rays onto a single point. In medicine, he developed a systematic methodology for administering appropriate dosage of medicine. In music he studied harmony and pitch and showed how frequencies can be combined to produce harmonics. He studied time and space and held that they were both finite, as opposed to the views of Aristotle. He is best known for his study of the concept of infinity and “the paradox of the infinite” named after him.

Al Kindi developed his own ideas on akhlaq (character and ethics). Like the Sufi masters he advised the reader against attachment to the physical world. At the same time, like the Imams of fiqh, he prescribed temperance in the pursuit of happiness. He held courage and wisdom to be worthwhile attributes of the mind and soul but even here temperance was required. Happiness, he propounded, lay a wise balance between attachment and detachment, between courage and rashness. In his attempts to develop a science of akhlaq, he presaged Nasiruddin al Tusi (d 1274) of Persia by four hundred years.

Al Kindi was a principal bridge in the transmission of Greek and Arabic knowledge to Western Europe. In 1085 CE the city of Toledo, the old Gothic capital in the heart of Spain, fell to the crusaders. The conquering Christians established a school of translation wherein Greco-Arabic texts were translated into Latin. Among the books so translated were a large number written by al Kindi. Included in it were the manuscripts De Intellectu, Ilayiat e Aristu, al Mosiqa and Ikhtiyarat al Ayyam. His works influenced Roger Bacon (d 1292 CE) in the Latin West and Ibn Sina (d 1037 CE )and Ibn Rushd (d 1198 CE ) in the Islamic world.

Al-Kindi, the Mu’tazalites and the crystallization of Islamic orthodoxy

Al Kindi was witness to the turbulence caused in the Islamic world by the introduction of Greek philosophy and its ultimate rejection in favor of empirical science. This phase of Islamic history needs to be clarified because it is often stated that the decay of science in Islamic civilization was due to the rejection of Greek rational thought. This was not the case. Science and civilization thrived in Muslim lands well after the rejection of Greek rationalism. Islamic civilization came in contact with Greek rationalism, found it wanting, and adopted the inductive method inherent in its own genius, as opposed to the deductive method of the Greeks.

It is appropriate in this paper to refer to the Mu’tazilite School of thought, and its counterpoint, the Asharite School. As the Muslims captured Syria, Egypt and North Africa, they became custodians of not just the people of those countries, but their ideas as well. Most of those lands had been under Eastern Roman or Byzantine control where Greek thought was dominant. Historically, the term “Greek thought” is applied to the collective wisdom and classical thinking of the people of the eastern Mediterranean, which includes a broad geographical arc extending from Athens in Greece through Anatolia, Syria, Egypt and Libya. Greek civilization extolled the nobility of man and placed human reason at the apex of creation. Plato, Aristotle, Ptolemy, Euclid and Archimedes are some of the household names from the galaxy of thinkers produced by this civilization. The enduring achievement of Greek thought is that it perfected the rational process and left its lasting legacy for humankind.

The early Muslims not only adopted the rational approach but set out with enthusiasm to explain their own beliefs in rational terms. Questions relating to the nature of man, his relationship to creation, his obligations and responsibilities, as also the nature of Divine attributes were tackled. No Muslim scholar would embark on an intellectual effort unless his approach had a basis in the Qur’an. The rationalists saw a justification for their approach in Qur’anic verses (eg.:“Behold! In the creation of the heavens and the earth,…There are indeed signs for a people who have wisdom”, Qur’an: 2,164) and in the Sunnah of the Prophet. Indeed, the Qur’an invites human reason to witness the majesty of creation and reflect on its meaning and understand the transcendence that suffuses it. The philosophical sciences that evolved as a result of this effort are referred to as Kalam (discourse, usually a religious discourse). Sometimes, Kalam is vaguely translated as theology, but theology as a science never caught on in Islamic learning as it did in Christianity, because the Muslims strove and succeeded in preserving the transcendence of God. Christianity adopted the position that God is knowable in person and is hence accessible to human perception. The Muslims, despite the philosophical challenges of the Greeks, succeeded in maintaining the position that God is knowable by His names, attributes and through the majesty of His creation, whereas His transcendence is hidden by His light.

The first Islamic scholar who tackled questions of Islamic belief from a rational perspective was Al Juhani (d. 699 CE). Note that the rational approach places human reason at the apex of creation and makes the world knowable. Al Juhani maintained that men and women not only have the capacity to know creation through their reason, but also have the capacity to act as free agents. Belief is the result of knowledge and understanding. Indeed, humankind has the moral imperative to understand God’s creation. Man, as a rational being, is mandated not only to understand the world, but also to act on it using his free will. Thus Al Juhani’s views bestowed upon humankind reason and responsibility. Heaven and hell were consequences of human action. This school was known as the Qadariya School (root word q-d-r, meaning power or free will).

The Qadariya approach, when pushed to the limit, takes God out of the picture of human affairs in as much as it makes heaven and hell mechanistic and solely predicated upon human action. This was unacceptable to the Muslim mind. Reaction from the more orthodox quarters was bound to surface and this happened with the emergence of the Qida (pre-destination) School. The founder of this School was Ibn Safwan (d. 745). According to Ibn Safwan, all power belongs to God, and man is predetermined in his actions, good and evil, as well as his destination towards heaven or hell. Like the Qadariya School, the Qida School sought its justification in the Qur’an (“Say! I have no power over any good or harm to myseslf except as God wills”, Qur’an, 7:188).

The battle lines were now drawn. Like the Christian civilization in earlier times, the Islamic civilization was just beginning to come to grips with Greek rationalism. What was going to be the outcome? The answers were not clear and were hidden in the womb of the unknown future. Both Imam Ja’afar-as-Saadiq and Imam Abu Haneefa were well aware of the arguments of qida and qadar, but stayed clear of being drawn into its controversies.

Wasil ibn Ata (d. 749 CE) combined, developed and articulated the Qadariya Schools into a coherent philosophy, which came to be known as the Mu’tazilah School. We may also look upon the Mu’tazilah School as the first response of Islamic civilization to the challenge of Greek thought. This School flourished for almost two hundred years, and at times was the dominant School of thought among Muslims. Its influence was comparable to the Schools of Imam Abu Haneefa, Imam Ja’afar as Saadiq or Imam Malik. The Mu’tazilite School was challenged by Imam Hanbal (d. 855 CE) and Hasan al Ashari (d. 935 CE) and was finally vanquished by al Gazzali (d. 1111 CE). This battle of ideas had a profound impact on Islamic history. It influences Muslim thinking even to this day.

The Mu’tazilite School placed its anchor on human reason and its capability to understand the relationship of man to man and of man to God. Necessarily, they based their arguments on the Qur’an. The principles of the Mu’tazilah Schools were:

  • the Uniqueness of God (“Say! He is God, the One; God, the Eternal, Absolute; He begetteth not, nor is He begotten; and there is none like unto Him”, Qur’an, 112:1-5),
  • the free will of man (“If it had been they Lord’s Will, they would all have believed, all who are on earth! Will thou then compel mankind, against their will, to believe!”, Qur’an, 10:99),
  • the principle of human responsibility, and of reward and punishment as a consequence of human action (“On no soul does God place a burden greater than it can bear”, Qur’an, 2: 286),
  • The moral imperative to enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong (“You are the most noble of people, evolved for mankind, enjoining what is right, forbidding what is wrong, and believing in God”, Qur’an, 3:110).

The Mu’tazilites applied these principles to issues of relationship of man to man, of man to the created world and of man to God. By placing man at the center of creation, they sought to make him the architect of his own fortune and emphasized his moral imperative to fashion the world in the image of God’s command.

Caliph Mamun adopted the Mu’tazilite School as the official dogma of the Empire. From Caliph Mansur to Caliph Al Mutawakkil (765-847 CE), the Mu’tazilites enjoyed official patronage. For almost a hundred years the Mu’tazilites guided the intellectual ship of Islam.

The undoing of the Mu’tazilites was their excessive zeal and their inability to comprehend the limitations of the methodology they championed. With official sanction, they punished those ulema who disagreed with them and tried to silence all opposition. They also overextended their methodology to attributes of God and of the Qur’an. In Islam, God is unique and there is none like unto Him. Therefore, the Mu’tazilites argued, the Qur’an cannot both be part of Him and apart from Him. To preserve the uniqueness of God (Tawhid), they placed the Qur’an in the created space. The issue of “createdness of the Qur’an” caused a great deal of division and confusion among Muslims. Furthermore, by maintaining that reward and punishment flowed mechanistically from human action, they left their flank exposed for an intellectual attack. If humans are automatically rewarded for their good deeds, and automatically punished for their evil, then where is the need for Divine Grace? This deterministic approach was repugnant to Muslims, and a revolt was inevitable.

The challenge to the Mu’tazilites came from the Usuli (meaning, based on principles) ulema, the best known among whom was Imam Hanbal (d. 855). A great scholar, he learned the principles of fiqh from all the Schools prevalent in his generation, namely, Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i and Ja’afariya, as well as the Kalam (philosophical) Schools. Mu’tazilite ideas were causing a great deal of confusion among the masses. Stability was required and innovation had to be combated. Imam Hanbal argued for strict adherence to the Qur’an and the verified Sunnah of the Prophet. He maintained that the Qur’an was the Word of God and was beyond time and space. His position was a direct challenge to the Mu’tazilites who enjoyed official patronage from the Caliphs. Consequently, Imam Hanbal was punished and jailed for most of his life. His sustained and determined opposition galvanized those who fought the Mu’tazilites. It was primarily through the efforts of Imam Hanbal that the Caliph Al Mutawakkil abandoned the Mu’tazilite School in 847 CE. In turn, when the Asharites gained the upper hand, the Mu’tazilites were punished, jailed and silenced. One of those who was so punished was al-Kindi who fell from official favor. His library was confiscated and distributed among his adversaries. Such is the fate that differing ideas have suffered at times in Islamic history!

References

  1. al-Kindi, Rasa’il al-Kindi al-falsafiya (Philosophical Treatises of al-Kindi), ed. M.A. Abu Ridah, 2 vols in 1, Cairo, 1953.
  2. al-Kindi, Fi al-falsafa al-ula (On First Philosophy), ed. and trans. A. L. Ivry, Al-Kindi’s Metaphysics: A translation of Ya‘qub ibn Ishaq al-Kindi’s Treatise ‘On First Philosophy’, Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1974.
  3. al-Kindi, Fi Wahdaniya Allah wa Tunahiy Jirm al-‘alam (On the Unity of God and the Limitation of the Body of the World), ed. M. A. Abu Ridah in Rasa’il al-Kindi al-falsafiya, Cairo, 1953.
  4. al-Kindi, Fi Kammiya Kutub Aristutalis wa ma Yalta Idaho if Tarsal al-falsafa (The Quantity of the Books of Aristotle and What is Required for the Acquisition of Philosophy), ed. M. A. Abu Ridah in Rasa’il al-Kindi al-falsafiya, Cairo, 1953.
  5. Klein-France, F. (1996) ‘Al-Kindi’, in S. H. Nasr and O. Lealman (ends) History of Islamic Philosophy, London: Rutledge, chi 11, 165–77.
  6. Moose, M. (1967) ‘Al-Kindi’s Role in the Transmission of Greek Knowledge to the Arabs’, Journal of the Pakistan Historical Society 15 (1): 3–18.
  7. Ahmed, Nazeer, Islam in Global History, Vol.1, Suhail Academy, Lahore, Pakistan, 2003.
  8. Ahmed, Nazeer, Islam in Global History, Volume 2 , Suhail Academy, Lahore, 2003.
  9. Nasr, Seyyed Hussain, Science and Civilization in Islam, New American Library, 1966
  10. Faruqi, Ismail R, The Cultural Atlas of Islam, McMillan Publishing Company, 1986

Al Khwarizmi

Al Khwarizmi

Al-Khwarizmi-the Father of Algebra

Contributed by Prof. Dr. Ibrahim B. Syed

Abu Ja’far Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi, (780 – 850 CE), was the grandfather of computer science and the father of Algebra. He was the popularizer of Arabic numerals, adopter of zero (the symbol, that is) and the decimal system, astronomer, cartographer, in briefs an encyclopedic scholar.

BAYT Al-HIKMA (House of Wisdom)

In the year 832, Caliph Al Ma’mun [b. Baghdad, 786, d. Tarsus, Cilicia, August 833] founded the “House of Wisdom” in Baghdad, a center for study and research similar to the earlier Museum in Alexandria. Its most famous scholars were the mathematicians Muhammad ibn Musa Al-Khwarizmi and the Banu Musa (“sons of Moses”), three brothers who directed the translation of Greek works from Antiquity. (7)

The modern word algorithm is derived from the name, al-Khwarizmi, the best mathematician of his age, thanks to his book, al-Kitab al-mukhtasar fi Hisab al-jabr w’al-muqabala, (a book showing how to solve equations and problems derived from ordinary life) which means “The Compendious Book on Calculation by Completion and Balancing”, which later evolved into algebra, was the first written text on the subject. In al-Khwarizmi’s time, algebra was a practical system for solving all kinds of problems “in cases of inheritance, contracts, surveying, tax collection, legacies, partition, lawsuits, and trade, and in all their dealings with one another, or where the measuring of lands, the digging of canals, geometrical computations, and other objects of various sorts and kinds are concerned.” Al-jabr was about removing the negative terms from an equation, while al-muqabala meant “balancing” the values of an equation across an equals sign.

It is the title of this text that gives us the word “algebra”. It is the first book to be written on algebra. In al-Khwarizmi’s own words, the purpose of the book was to teach what was easiest and most useful in arithmetic, such as what was constantly required in cases of inheritance, legacies, partition, lawsuits, and trade, and in all their dealings with one another, or where the measuring of lands, the digging of canals, geometrical computations, and other objects of various sorts and kinds were concerned.

This does not sound like the contents of an algebra text, and indeed only the first part of the book is a discussion of what we would today recognize as algebra. However it is important to realize that the book was intended to be highly practical, and that algebra was introduced to solve real life problems that were part of everyday life in the Islamic empire at that time.

After introducing the natural numbers, he discusses the solution of equations. His equations are linear or quadratic and are composed of units (numbers), roots (x) and squares (x2). He first reduces an equation to one of 6 standard forms, using the operations of addition and subtraction, and then shows how to solve these standard types of equations. He uses both algebraic methods of solution and the geometric method of completing the square.

The next part of al-Khwarizmi’s Algebra consists of applications and worked examples. He then goes on to look at rules for finding the area of figures such as the circle, and also finding the volume of solids such as the sphere, cone, and pyramid. This section on mensuration certainly has more in common with Hindu and Hebrew texts than it does with any Greek work. The final part of the book deals with the complicated Islamic rules for inheritance, but requires little from the earlier algebra beyond solving linear equations. (8)

TEXTBOOK OF ALGEBRA (9)

Each chapter was followed by geometrical demonstration and then many problems were worked out. Some of his problems were formal while others were in practical context. An example of his formal problem follows:

“If from a square I subtract four of its roots and then take one-third of the remainder, finding this equal to four of the roots, the square will be 256.”

He explained it in the following manner:

“Since one-third of the remainder is equal to four roots, one knows that the remainder itself will equal 12 roots. Therefore, add this to the four, giving 16 roots. This (16) is the root of the square. The above can also be stated in terms of modern notation as 1/3 (x2 – 4x) = 4x.”

Khwarizmi, in a chapter on commercial transactions, states that “mercantile transactions and all things pertaining thereto involve two ideas and four numbers.” Karpinski in his translation of the book explains: The two ideas appear to be the notions of quantity and cost; the four numbers represent unit of measure and price per unit, quantity desired and cost of the same.

An example of Al-Khwarizmi’s mercantile problem: (9)

“A man is hired to work in a vineyard 30 days for 10 dollars. He works six days. How much of the agreed price should he receive?”

Explanation: “It is evident that since days are one-fifth of the whole time; and it is also evident that the man should receive pay having the same relation to the agreed price that the time he works bears to the whole time, 30 days. What we have proposed, is explained as follows. The month, i.e., 30 days, represents the measure, and ten represents the price. Six days represents the quantity, and in asking what part of the agreed price is due to the worker you ask the cost. Therefore multiply the price 10 by the quantity 6, which is inversely proportional to it. Divide the product 60 by the measure 30, giving 2 Dollars. This will be the cost, and will represent the amount due to the worker.”

The text book of Algebra was intended to be highly practical and it was introduced to solve real life problems that were part of everyday life in the Islamic world at that time. Early in the book al- Khwarizmi wrote:-

“When I consider what people generally want in calculating, I found that it always is a number. I also observed that every number is composed of units, and that any number may be divided into units. Moreover, I found that every number which may be expressed from one to ten, surpasses the preceding by one unit: afterwards the ten is doubled or tripled just as before the units were: thus arise twenty, thirty, etc. until a hundred: then the hundred is doubled and tripled in the same manner as the units and the tens, up to a thousand; … so forth to the utmost limit of numeration.”(10)

SOLUTIONS OF EQUATIONS (11)

Having introduced the natural numbers, al-Khwarizmi introduces the main topic of this first section of his book, namely the solution of equations. His equations are linear or quadratic and are composed of units, roots and squares. For example, to al-Khwarizmi a unit was a number, a root was x, and a square was x2. However, although we shall use the now familiar algebraic notation in this article to help the reader understand the notions, Al-Khwarizmi’s mathematics is done entirely in words with no symbols being used.

He first reduces an equation (linear or quadratic) to one of six standard forms:

1. Squares equal to roots. Example: ax2 = bx
2. Squares equal to numbers. Example: ax2 = b
3. Roots equal to numbers. Example: ax = b
4. Squares and roots equal to numbers. Example: ax2 + bx = c e.g. x2 + 10 x = 39
5. Squares and numbers equal to roots. Example: ax2 + c = bx e.g. x2 + 21 = 10 x
6. Roots and numbers equal to squares. Example: ax2 = bx + c, e.g. 3 x + 4 = x2

The reduction is carried out using the two operations of al-jabr and al-muqabala. Here “al-jabr” means “completion” and is the process of removing negative terms from an equation. For example, using one of al-Khwarizmi’s own examples, “al-jabr” transforms x2 = 40 x – 4 x2 into 5 x2 = 40 x. The term “al-muqabala” means “balancing” and is the process of reducing positive terms of the same power when they occur on both sides of an equation. For example, two applications of “al-muqabala” reduces 50 + 3 x + x2 = 29 + 10 x to 21 + x2 = 7 x (one application to deal with the numbers and a second to deal with the roots).

Al-Khwarizmi then shows how to solve the six standard types of equations. He uses both algebraic methods of solution and geometric methods. For example to solve the equation x2 + 10 x = 39 he writes:-

… Square and 10 roots are equal to 39 units. The question therefore in this type of equation is about as follows: what is the square which combined with ten of its roots will give a sum total of 39? The manner of solving this type of equation is to take one-half of the roots just mentioned. Now the roots in the problem before us are 10. Therefore take 5, which multiplied by itself, gives 25, and an amount which you add to 39 giving 64. Having taken then the square root of this which is 8, subtract from it half the roots, 5 leaving 3. The number three therefore represents one root of this square, which itself, of course is 9. Nine therefore gives the square.

The geometric proof by completing the square follows. Al-Khwarizmi starts with a square of side x, which therefore represents x2 (Figure 1). To the square we must add 10x and this is done by adding four rectangles each of breadth 10/4 and length x to the square (Figure 2). Figure 2 has area x2 + 10 x which is equal to 39. We now complete the square by adding the four little squares each of area. 5/2* 5/2 = 25/4.

Hence the outside square in Fig 3 has area 4 25/4 + 39 = 25 + 39 = 64. The side of the square is therefore 8. But the side is of length 5/2 + x + 5/2 so x + 5 = 8, giving x = 3.

Al-Khwarizmi continues his study of algebra in Hisab al-jabr w’al-muqabala by examining how the laws of arithmetic extend to arithmetic for his algebraic objects. For example he shows how to multiply out expressions such as (a + b x) (c + d x).

although again we should emphasize that al-Khwarizmi uses only words to describe his expressions, and no symbols are used. The scientific historian, Roshdi Rashed 12 writes:-

Al-Khwarizmi’s concept of algebra can now be grasped with greater precision: it concerns the theory of linear and quadratic equations with a single unknown and the elementary arithmetic of relative binomials and trinomials. … The solution had to be general and calculable at the same time and in a mathematical fashion, that is, geometrically founded. … The restriction of degree, as well as that of the number of unsophisticated terms, is instantly explained. From its true emergence, algebra can be seen as a theory of equations solved by means of radicals, and of algebraic calculations on related expressions…

If this interpretation is correct, then al-Khwarizmi was as Sarton (12)writes:-… the greatest mathematician of the time, and if one takes all the circumstances into account, one of the greatest of all time….

Al-Khwarizmi also wrote a treatise on Hindu-Arabic numerals. The Arabic text is lost but a Latin translation, Algoritmi de numero Indorum in English Al-Khwarizmi on the Hindu Art of Reckoning gave rise to the word algorithm deriving from his name in the title as mentioned earlier. Unfortunately the Latin translation (translated into English) is known to be much changed from al-Khwarizmi’s original text (of which even the title is unknown). The work describes the Hindu place-value system of numerals based on 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 0. The first use of zero as a place holder in positional base notation was probably due to al-Khwarizmi in this work. Methods for arithmetical calculation are given, and a method to find square roots is known to have been in the Arabic original although it is missing from the Latin version. (12)

… the decimal place-value system was a fairly recent arrival from India and … al-Khwarizmi’s work was the first to expound it systematically. Thus, although elementary, it was of seminal importance.

Khwarizmi developed detailed trigonometric tables containing the sine functions which later included tangent functions. Khwarizmi’s book on arithmetic was translated into Latin and published in Rome in 1857 by Prince Baldassare Boncompagni and appears as part 1 of a volume entitled Tratti d’ aritmetica. The book is titled as Algorithmi de numero indorum which means “Khwarizmi concerning the Hindu art of reckoning.” Many of his books were translated into Latin and used as a principle mathematical text book in European universities until 16th century. Among them these two books had important place: Kitab al-Jama wal-Tafreeq bil Hisab al-Hindi and Kitab al-Jabr wa al-muqabala.

Khwarizmi’s contribution and influence are tremendous. Two important books on arithmetic, Carmen de Algorismo and Algorismus vulgaris which were written in 12th and 13th century respectively owe a lot to the Khwarizmi’s book and were used for several hundred years in Europe. Abu Kamil whose work on mathematics was based on Khwarizmi’s works kept the influence of Khwarizmi on Leonardo of Pisa, a 13th century scholar and up to Middle Ages and during the Renaissance. (9)

ASTRONOMY (13)

Al Khwarizmi also wrote an important work on astronomy, covering calendars, calculating true positions of the sun, moon and planets, tables of sines and tangents, spherical astronomy, astrological tables, parallax and eclipse calculations, and visibility of the moon. Although his astronomical work is based on that of the Indians, and most of the values from which he constructed his tables came from Hindu astronomers, al-Khwarizmi must have been influenced by Ptolemy’s work too. Al-Khwarizmi performed detailed calculations of the positions of the Sun, Moon, and planets, and did a number of eclipse calculations. In addition to an important treatise on Astronomy, Al-Khwarizmi wrote a book on astronomical tables, which were also translated into European languages and, later, into Chinese.

GEOGRAPHY (14)

In geography, he wrote the book called Kitab Surat al- ard (book of the form of the earth). His works differed from Ptolemy’s and he corrected Ptolemy’s views in detail. It is a description of a world (known world at that time) map and contains a list of the coordinates of the important places on it. He corrected the distortion that Ptolemy’s map had with regard to the length of the Mediterranean. It was much more accurate. However, it failed to replace the Ptolemaic geography used in Europe. He wrote many other books on topics such as clocks, sundials and astrolabes.

Al-Khwarizmi wrote a major work on geography which gives latitudes and longitudes for 2,402 cities and landmarks, forming the basis for a world map. The book, which is based on Ptolemy’s Geography, lists with latitudes and longitudes, cities, mountains, seas, islands, geographical regions, and rivers. The manuscript includes maps which on the whole are more accurate than those of Ptolemy.

A number of minor works were written by al-Khwarizmi on topics such as the astrolabe, on which he wrote two works, on the sundial, and on the Jewish calendar. He also wrote a political history containing horoscopes of prominent persons.

Al-Khwarizmi systematized and corrected Ptolemy’s research in geography and astronomy/astrology, using his own original findings. He supervised the work of 70 geographers to create a map of the then “known world”.Amazingly this map of the “known world” shows the pacific coast of South America-about 700 years before Columbus “discovered” America.

He is also reported to have collaborated in the degree measurements ordered by Khalifah (Caliph) Mamun al-Rashid. These were aimed at measuring of volume and circumference of the earth. His geography book entitled “Kitab Surat-al-Ard,” including maps, was also translated. His other contributions include original work related to clocks, sundials and astrolabes. He also wrote Kitab al-Tarikh and Kitab al-Rukhmat (on sundials).

AL KHWARIZMI’S IMPACT ON EUROPE

In 1140 Robert of Chester (who read mathematics in Spain) translated the Arabic title into Latin as Liber algebrae et almucabala, then ultimately gave its name to the discipline of algebra. The Spanish Jew, John of Seville, produced another Latin version.

When his work became known in Europe through Latin translations, his influence made an indelible mark on the development of science in the West: his algebra book introduced that discipline to Europe “unknown till then” and became the standard mathematical text at European universities until the 16th century. In the 16th century it is found in English as algiebar and almachabel and in various other forms but was finally shortened to algebra. He is one of the Muslim scholars who laid the foundations for Europe’s Renaissance and the Scientific Revolution. He also wrote on mechanical devices like the clock, astrolabe, and sundial. His other contributions include tables of trigonometric functions, refinements in the geometric representation of conic sections, and aspects of the calculus of two errors. (15)[[|]]

Several of Al-Khwarizmi’s books were translated into Latin in the early 12thcentury by Adelard of Bath and Gerard of Cremona. The treatises on Arithmetic, Kitab al-Jam’a wal-Tafreeq bil Hisab al-Hindi, and the one on Algebra, Al-Maqala fi Hisab-al Jabr wa-al-Muqabilah, are known only from Latin translations. Introduction of Arabic numerals provided a pivotal advance over the cumbersome Roman numerals. This development of a more convenient number system assisted progress in science, accounting and bookkeeping. Key to this was the use of the number zero, a concept unknown to the West. The use of this number system (Arabic numerals) spread throughout the Muslim world over the next two centuries, assisting the development of science. The Arabic numeral system was first mentioned in Europe around 1200 CE, but Christian adherence to the Roman system hindered its use and introduction. It was only fully accepted in Europe after it was adopted by the Italian traders in the Renaissance of the 16th century, who followed the practice of their Arab trading partners.

MUSLIM IMPACT ON EUROPE (18)

During the Middle Ages the Islamic World had a very significant impact upon Europe, which in turn cleared the way for the Renaissance and the Scientific Revolution. One of the most important of these influences was the study of science.

Ever since Islam was born, Muslims had made immense leaps forward in the area of science. Cities like Baghdad, Damascus, Cairo and Cordoba were the centers of civilization. These cities were flourishing and Muslim scientists made tremendous progress in applied as well as theoretical Science and Technology. In Europe, however, the situation was much different. Europe was in the Dark Ages. It had no infrastructure or central government. To the Muslims, Europe was backward, unorganized, carried no strategic importance and was essentially irrelevant. This considering the time period was in fact true. Nevertheless the Catholic Church (which at the time was the strongest institution in Europe) successfully convinced Christian Europe that the Muslims were infidels. This caused Europeans to think that Muslims were culturally inferior to Europe and thus Europe was unable to benefit from the new scientific discoveries being made in the Islamic lands before the 1100’s. By doing this Europe kept itself in the Dark Ages while from China to Spain Islamic Civilization prospered. During the Crusades there was limited contact between Muslims and Christians and not much was transferred. As A. Lewis explains, “The Crusaders were men of action, not men of learning”. The real exchange of ideas which led to the Scientific Revolution and to the renaissance occurred in Muslim Spain.

Cordoba was the capital of Muslim Spain. It soon became the center for intellectual enlightenment and learning for all of Europe. Scholars and students from various parts of the world and Europe came to Cordoba to study. The contrast in intellectual activity is demonstrated best by one example: ‘In the 9th century, the library of the monastery of St. Gall was the largest in Europe. It boasted 36 volumes. At the same time, that of Cordoba contained over 500,000.

ARABIC MATHEMATICS WORLDWIDE (19)

In the 11th century, the Arab mathematical foundation was one of the strongest in the world. The Muslim mathematicians had invented geometrical algebra and had taken it to advanced levels, capable of solving third and fourth degree equations. The world witnessed a new stage in the development of mathematical science, driven by the numerous translated works from Arabic into European languages.

Unquestionably, Al-Khwarizmi was very influential with his methods on arithmetic and algebra which were translated into much of southern Europe. Again, these translations became popular as algorismi – a term which is derived from the name of Al-Khwarizmi. Not all went smoothly nonetheless. The Arabic numerals introduced by Al-Khwarizmi, like much of new mathematics, were not welcomed wholeheartedly. In fact, in 1299 there was a law in the commercial center of Florence (Italy) forbidding the use of such numerals. Initially, only universities dared use them, but later they became popular with merchants, and eventually became commonly used.

In time, Europe realized the great potential value of the Arab mathematical contributions and put into popular use all that seemed practical. The sciences, with mathematics as their essence, flourished and developed into the disciplines we know today. None would have been the same though, had it not been for that book on restoration, or had the zero not been invented, or had the Arabic numerals not made their way to Europe. That “fondness of science,” which inspired an early Arab mathematician to propose calculating by al-jabr and al-muqabala, did much to make the world run as we know it today.

NUMBER ZERO (20)

The 10th millennium saw Muslim mathematical study concentrated in three main sub-disciplines. These were the ongoing progress in algebra, the development of arithmetic algorithms, and the increasing complexity in geometry. In addition, the introduction of the zero was destined to revolutionize mathematics as it allowed for key innovations. It was proposed by Muhammad Bin Ahmad in 967 CE. Zero arrived in the West much later, in 13th century.

In the field of Mathematics the number Zero (0) and the decimal system was introduced to Europe, which became the basis for the Scientific revolution. The Arabic numerals were also transferred to Europe, this made mathematical tasks much easier, problems that took days to solve could now be solved in minutes. The works of Al-Khwarizmi (his Latin name was Alghorismus) were translated into Latin. Al-Khwarizmi (Alghorismus), from whom the mathematical term algorism was derived, wrote Sindh Ind, a compilation of astronomical tables. He, more importantly, laid the ground work for algebra and found methods to deal with complex mathematical problems, such as square roots and complex fractions. He conducted numerous experiments, measured the height of the earth’s atmosphere and discovered the principle of the magnifying lens. Many of his books were translated into European languages. Trigonometric work by Alkirmani of Toledo was translated into Latin (from which we get the sine and cosine functions) along with the Greek knowledge of Geometry by Euclid. Along with mathematics, masses of other knowledge in the field of physical science was transferred. (21)

FAMOUS WORKS (22)

1. Al-Jabr wa-al-Muqabilah from whose title came the name “Algebra”
2. Kitab al-Jam’a wal-Tafreeq bil Hisab al-Hindi (on Arithmetic, which survived in a Latin translation but was lost in the original Arabic)
3. Kitab Surat-al-Ard (on geography)
4. Istikhraj Tarikh al-Yahud (about the Jewish calendar)
5. Kitab al-Tarikh
6. Kitab al-Rukhmat (about sun-dials)

BREAKING BOUNDARIES (23)

Certainly, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution were great achievements – and they occurred mainly in Europe and, later, in America. Yet many of these developments drew on the experience of the rest of the world, rather than being confined within the boundaries of a discrete Western civilization.

Our global civilization is a world heritage – not just a collection of disparate local cultures. When a modern mathematician in Boston invokes an algorithm to solve a difficult computational problem, he/she may not be aware that he/she is helping to commemorate the Arab mathematician Mohammad Ibn Musa-al-Khwarizmi, who flourished in the first half of the 9th century. (The word algorithm is derived from the name al-Khwarizmi.)

THE SQUARE ROOT OF MATH ITSELF (23)

There is a chain of intellectual relations that link Western mathematics and science to a collection of distinctly non-Western practitioners, of whom al-Khwarizmi was one. (The term algebra is derived from the title of his famous book Al-Jabr wa-al-Muqabilah.)

Indeed, al-Khwarizmi is one of many non-Western contributors whose works influenced the European Renaissance and, later, the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution. The West must get full credit for the remarkable achievements that occurred in Europe and Europeanized America, but the idea of an immaculate Western conception is an imaginative fantasy.

Modern prosperity, with all its improvement in welfare, has been delivered to humanity by science and technology. In the last two centuries especially, science has delivered better lives for people, longer lives, and for larger populations. The key to unlocking the source of these benefits was scientific method, the relentless search for truth through observation, theorizing and experimentation.

In the 13th century the Muslim world, with its development of the culture of philosophy, science, mathematics, astronomy, physics, chemistry and medicine, led the world. The Muslim world once possessed in its hands the keys to the future prosperity that technology could deliver. Not only that, but with the invention of double entry bookkeeping, it possessed in its hands the blueprint of the plans for the modern corporation. Eventually, after several hundred years, Europe was able to absorb this knowledge and overthrow the dark constraint of its own religion to unlock the mysteries of science and discover the path to prosperity. If the Muslim world had been able to continue on the Qur’anic commands on scientific research, the cause of human progress would have been advanced by about five hundred years. (17)

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, algebra and algorithms are enabling the building of computers, and the creation of encryption. The modern technology industry would not exist without the contributions of Muslim mathematicians like Al-Khwarizmi.

Ms. Carly Fiorina, Hewlett-Packard’s Chairman and CEO delivered a speech in Minneapolis, Minnesota on September 26, 2001. The title of her speech was ‘TECHNOLOGY, BUSINESS AND OUR WAY OF LIFE: WHAT’S NEXT”.(24) She said “There was once a civilization that was the greatest in the world.” …….”And this civilization was driven more than anything, by invention. Its architects designed buildings that defied gravity. Its mathematicians created the algebra and algorithms that would enable the building of computers, and the creation of encryption. Its doctors examined the human body, and found new cures for disease. Its astronomers looked into the heavens, named the stars, and paved the way for space travel and exploration.” “When other nations were afraid of ideas, this civilization thrived on them, and kept them alive. When censors threatened to wipe out knowledge from past civilizations, this civilization kept the knowledge alive, and passed it on others.”

“While modern Western civilization shares many of these traits, the civilization I’m talking about was the Islamic world from the year 800 to 1600, which included the Ottoman Empire and the courts of Baghdad, Damascus and Cairo, and enlightened rulers like Suleiman the Magnificent.”

“Although we are often unaware of our indebtedness to this other civilization, its gifts are very much part of our heritage. The technology industry would not exist without the contributions of Arab mathematicians. Sufi poet-philosophers like Rumi challenged our notions of self and truth. Leaders like Suleiman contributed to our notions of tolerance and civic leadership. And perhaps we can learn a lesson from his example: It was leadership based on meritocracy, not inheritance. It was leadership that harnessed the full capabilities of a very diverse population-that included Christianity, Islamic and Jewish traditions.”

Philosophy and Science

Philosophy and Science

Philosophy and Science in the Classical Age

Contributed by Prof. Dr. Nazeer Ahmed, PhD

The Qur’an bestows upon humankind the keys to the heavens and the earth (“Do you not see that God has made subject to thee all that is between the heavens and the earth”, Qur’an, 31:20). In the golden age of their history, Muslims used these keys to unlock the secrets of nature and they created a civilization that was the marvel of the world. Then, they overreached themselves. They tried these keys to unlock the mysteries of revelation itself. In the process, they stumbled. Reaction set in and at times it was violent. The keys were dropped and the door to philosophical inquiry was closed. Those who indulged in natural science continued to be tolerated but only on the fringes of the intellectual society. Nature, in turn, closed its doors on the Muslims. And the riches of the world were bequeathed to other civilizations.
The initial thrust of Islamic thought was comprehensive. It embraced Fiqh,kalam, logic, tasawwuf, politics, sociology, science and technology. The approach was at once rational and empirical but was always based on the over-arching paradigm of Tawhid. For more than five hundred years, during the era of the Abbasid Caliphate in Baghdad (750 to 1258), Muslim scientists made fundamental contributions to the understanding of nature and sought to control it through knowledge rather than submit to it through superstition. Some of these contributions changed the basic way humankind related to God’s creation. Mathematics and science do not flourish in a vacuum. They develop and are cultivated by intellectual frameworks, which are deeply influenced by religious beliefs. Religious paradigms color the way men and women look at nature. For instance, Muslims came up with the concept of infinity because they believed in the transcendence of the Divine and nature as a continuous unfolding of Divine Will. A civilization, which believed in the finiteness of the Divine, could not have come up with this concept. The Muslims also invented algebra because they believed that the many patterns in nature derived from the principle of movement implicit in the Divine Will to minifest itself. Similarly, the Mayans in the Americas and the Hindus in India independently discovered the concept of zero. The Hindus did so because of their belief in the cycle of birth and death. Between each cycle there is a moment of rest (su-na-ya in Sanskrit), which became sa-fa-ra in Arabic and zero in English. The Mayan concept of zero is based on the cyclic change of seasons and is expressed implicitly in the zigzag patterns of the earliest Native American tribes, the Anasazis, which may be seen in petroglyphs in the American southwest.
In this article, we pay but a brief tribute to the Muslim thinkers and men of science who made a difference to the onward march of human civilization. These scholars not only nourished the Islamic civilization but also added to the reservoir of human knowledge and passed on the torch to other civilizations.
Muhammed bin Musa al Khwarizmi (d. 840) lived in the heyday of Islamic science during the period of Caliph Mamun. He integrated the mathematical knowledge of the Greek and Indian Schools and made his own first rate contributions. He is best known for a regressive method of mathematical analysis for which the world pays him tribute to this day by calling this method “algorithm”. He is known as the father of algebra. He gave analytical solutions to quadratic equations, developed trigonometric sine and tangent functions, invented the concept of differentiation, developed astronomical tables, worked on clocks and astrolabes and was a member of the team that measured the degree of an arc around the earth’s circumference that was ordered by Caliph Mamun.
Ali Ibn Rabbah al Tabari (d. 870), born to Jewish parents, embraced Islam and went on to become one of the most distinguished physicians of the classical period. His seven-volume encyclopedia of medicine is the most comprehensive collection of medical knowledge up to his time. In it, Al Tabari covers medical principles, anatomy, diet, diseases of different parts of the body and their causes, taste and color, drugs and medicine and the influence of climate on health. He has included a discussion of Ayurvedic (Indian) medicine.
Yaqub Ibn Ishaq al Kindi (d. 873) was employed at the court of Mamun and made basic contributions to the sciences of music, mathematics, chemistry and astronomy. A Mu’tazilite, he too fell out of favor with the Baghdad court when Al Mutawakkil became the Caliph and suffered at the hands of the Asharites. He analyzed the correspondence between the frequency of notes and their pitch and studied the synthesis of notes to produce musical harmony. He understood the chemical nature of different elements and advanced the position that base metals could not be converted into gold, a position contrary to that of the alchemists of the day. He was the first one to study the proper dosage of medicines for curing diseases of the body.
Muhammed Ibn Zakariya al Razi (d. 930) was one of the greatest physicians of the 10th century. He was the first to identify and compare smallpox and chicken pox and emphasize the importance of diet and stress on health. He made an exhaustive compilation of medical knowledge that was available from Greek and Muslim sources. He was also an applied scientist, discovered numerous chemical reactions, documented the properties of chemicals and founded separate disciplines for organic and inorganic chemistry. He was the first to produce sulfuric acid and used his extensive chemical knowledge to formulate and synthesize compound medicines. Razi was a Mu’tazilite and held space and time to be a continuum. Like most Mu’tazilites, he too was looked upon with suspicion by fellow Muslims of his age.
Abul Hasan Ali al Masudi (d. 957) was the first empirical historian of Islam. A Mu’tazilite philosopher, he served the Fatimid court of Cairo, where the reception for rational ideas was more favorable than in Abbasid Baghdad. He traveled through Persia, India, Sri Lanka, Malaya, China, Madagascar, East Africa and North Africa and documented his observations about these regions and their people in a thirty-volume documentary. He added critical analysis to the historical process and presaged the great philosopher of the Maghrib, Ibn Khaldun, by five hundred years.
Abu Ali al Hussain Ibn Sina (d. 1037), perhaps the greatest scientist of the Middle Ages, was born near Bukhara in the year 980. A brilliant student, he mastered philosophy, medicine, mathematics and the Qur’anic sciences before he was seventeen. His capabilities soon attracted attention from the Seljuk sultans and emirs who were competing at the time both for political power and intellectual patronage. Ibn Sina found successive employment with the ruler of Bukhara, Khwarazm, Hamadan and Isfahan. He is best known in the world of science for his monumental work Qanun fi al Tibb, an encyclopedia of all of the medical knowledge known at that time. TheQanun was translated into Latin and was a standard text in the universities of Europe for 600 years. His original contributions include recognition of contagious diseases such as tuberculosis, the propagation of diseases by water and food, the relationship between mental well-being and physical health, identification and cataloguing of medical drugs, identification of meningitis, healthful child care and human anatomy. In addition, Ibn Sina made original contributions to the mathematics of music, invented a calculator similar to a vernier, built a device similar to a thermometer, experimented and ruled out the possibility of transmutation of elements and elaborated on the concepts of force, heat, energy and the speed of light. He also sought to reconcile rational/empirical methods with Qur’anic injunctions. For his rationalist views, he too was looked upon by later Muslims as somewhat of a heretic. Consequently, his impact was felt more in Europe than in Asia and Africa.
Abu Raihan al Baruni (d. 1048) was one of the foremost historians and geographers of Islam. Born in Khorasan, he mastered physics, mathematics and kalam at an early age. Soon he caught the attention of Sultan Mahmud of Ghazna, who took al Baruni along in his campaigns to India. Al Baruni, a keen observer, learned the mathematics, religion, philosophy and sociology of the Hindus and recorded it in his classic masterpiece, Kitab al Hind. Almost all of our knowledge of medieval India comes to us from the writings of this scholar. Upon his return from India, he wrote his Qanun e Masoodi, in which he combined the mathematics of India with the mathematics of Greece. He discussed the Indian numerical system and pointed out the usefulness of the decimal. He was the inventor of the empirical method in astronomy and insisted on verifying stellar movements through observation. He discussed the rotation of the earth and calculated correctly the latitude and longitude of several important cities. He made observations on the relative velocity of sound and light and applied hydrodynamic principles to transfer water between wells. In a later book, Kitab al Saidana, he combined the Indian Ayurvedic medicine with the known Arabic medicine.
Giyasuddin Abdul Fateh Omar al Khayyam (d. 1123) was born in Nishapur in Khorasan. He traveled to and studied at the well-known centers of learning in the Islamic East, including Nishapur, Samarqand, Bukhara and Isfahan. One of the greatest mathematicians and astronomers of his age, his lasting contribution was the compilation of the Jalalian calendar, which was used in the Islamic world until recent years. It is more accurate than the Gregorian calendar used in the modern world. He studied and offered solutions to third degree equations using both algebraic and geometric approaches. Omar Khayyam is the one who developed the binomial expansion and formulated the binomial theorem. He did experiments on the relative weights of materials and correctly measured the specific gravity of several elements. But Omar Khayyam is best known in the world today as the author of the Rubaiyat, thanks to its translation into the English language in the 19th century. The Rubaiyat illustrates the exquisite sensitivity of his keen intellect as well as the spirituality of Islamictasawwuf.
Abu Abdallah Muhammed al Idrisi (d. 1166) was a Spaniard and studied in Cordoba and Seville. He lived at a time when Crusader attacks against Muslim territories in Palestine, North Africa and Spain were at their height. The Crusaders brought the Latins into contact with the more advanced civilization of the Muslims. In particular, Sicily and southern Italy had just changed hands from the Muslims to the Christians. Arabic knowledge was in demand. Roger II, King of Sicily, reached out and employed some of the leading Muslim scientists of the day. Al Idrisi was one of them. For this reason, he won the displeasure of contemporary Muslims who believed that Al Idrisi gave comfort to the enemy. Al Idrisi is noted for his contributions to geography. He compiled all the known information about Asia, Europe and North Africa and produced a map, which was considered a standard for many centuries. In addition, he was a keen observer of people and their habitat including plants, animals and climate. He studied plants for their medical applications, collected data from Greece, India, Persia and Africa and added to the treatment of diseases using natural drugs.
Abul Waleed Muhammed Ibn Rushd (d. 1198) was the greatest philosopher the world has known since Aristotle. Born into a scholarly family of Spain, he studied under the masters of the age and had access to the extensive libraries in Cordoba. Spain was in turmoil and Ibn Rushd found employment with Abu Yaqub, ruler of Morocco. Some of the rationalist views of Ibn Rushd, however, won the displeasure of his benefactor. His books were burnt and he was banished from the court. The world knows Ibn Rushd for his commentaries on Aristotle. These were written at three levels: a brief summary, an intermediate expose and a detailed commentary. His works were translated into Latin and were a major contributor to the transmission of rational thought to the West. The Muslim East, reeling as it was from a reaction to some of the Mu’tazilite ideas, turned its back on Ibn Rushd. This great man is known instead in the Muslim world for his work Tahafuz al Tahafuz (Repudiation of the Repudiated), a dialectic on Al Ghazzali’s work Tahafuz al Filasafa(Repudiation of Philosophy). Ibn Rushd’s attempts to rekindle philosophical and scientific inquiry in the Muslim mind were unsuccessful and Islam was to find its strength as well as its solace in spirituality and tasawwuf. In addition to philosophy, Ibn Rushd wrote twenty books on medicine and made major contributions to the science of music.
Nasir Uddin al Tusi (d. 1274) made his primary contributions under the Mongol invader Hulagu Khan. At the order of the Il-Khan, he established the great observatory at Maragha. He was the inventor of the two-axis gimbal, which he used extensively in the study of spherical trigonometry and celestial mechanics. His astronomical tables were standard reference material in Europe and China until the 15th century. Al Tusi was also a philosopher, mutakallim and physician. Well known as he is as an astronomer and an applied mathematician, he made his mark on world history through his book Aqlaq e Nasiri, an exposition of Islamic ethics. TheAqlaq had a profound impact on the Great Moguls of India and Pakistan and was the basis for Mogul governance in the courts of Akbar, Jehangir and Shah Jehan in the 16th and 17th centuries.
Mu’ammar Sinan (d. 1588), one of the world’s best known architects and engineer, reminds us that the “golden age of Islam” did not perish with the fall of Baghdad in 1258 but was alive and well into the 17th century. Sinan was born in Keysari in 1494. Drafted into the Ottoman Janissary corps at the age of fourteen, he studied at the palace school in Istanbul as an engineering apprentice. His initial assignments as an engineer attached to the army took him with the Ottoman campaigns towards Vienna in the West and Baghdad in the East. The young Sinan had the opportunity to study not only the Byzantine and Seljuk architecture in his native Anatolia but also the architecture of the mosque-madrassah complexes in Persia and the Cathedrals in the Latin West. Serving successively under three mighty Ottoman sultans, Selim I, Sulaiman the Magnificent and Selim III, he demonstrated his brilliance as an engineer in building bridges and civil works and was promoted to the position of Chief Architect of the Empire in 1537. Sinan is credited with the construction of 400 architectural complexes in lands as distant as Yemen and Bosnia. His design revolved around the concept of the Kulliye which was a combination of a mosque, a madrassah, a hospital and a zawiya. Most notable of his existing monuments are the Selimeye complex in Edirne, the Sulaimaniya complex and the Shehzade complex in Istanbul. The skyline of modern Istanbul would not be the same without the contributions of this brilliant man.

Harun al Rashid

Harun al Rashid

Harun and Mamun- the Age of Reason

Contributed by Prof. Dr. Nazeer Ahmed, PhD

It was a moment in history when the Islamic civilization opened its doors to new ideas from the East and from the West. The confident Muslims took these ideas and remolded them in a uniquely Islamic mold. Out of this caldron came Islamic art, architecture, astronomy, chemistry, mathematics, medicine, music, philosophy and ethics. Indeed the very process of Fiqh and its application to societal problems was profoundly influenced by the historical context of the times.
Harun al Rashid was the son of al Mansur and was the fourth in the Abbasid dynasty. Ascending the throne as a young man of twenty-two in the year 786, he immediately faced internal revolts and external invasion. Regional revolts in Africa were crushed, tribal revolts from the Qais and Quzhaa in Egypt were contained and sectarian revolts from the Alavis were controlled. The Byzantines were held at bay and forced to pay tribute. For 23 years he ruled an empire that had welded together a broad arc of the earth extending from China, bordering India and Byzantium through the Mediterranean to the Atlantic Ocean. Herein men, material and ideas could flow freely across continental divides. However, Harun is remembered not for his empire building, but for building the edifice of a brilliant civilization.
It was the golden age of Islam. It was not the fabulous wealth of the empire or the fairy tales of the Arabian Nights that made it golden; it was the strength of its ideas and its contributions to human thought. As the empire had grown, it had come into contact with ideas from classical Greek, Indian, Zoroastrian, Buddhist and Hindu civilizations. The process of translation and understanding of global ideas was well under way since the time of al Mansur. But it received a quantum boost from Harun and Mamun.
Harun established a School of translation Bait ul Hikmah (house of wisdom) and surrounded himself with men of learning. His administration was in the hands of viziers of exceptional capabilities, the Bermecides. His courtiers included great juris doctors, poets, musicians, logicians, mathematicians, writers, scientists, men of culture and scholars of Fiqh. Ibn Hayyan (d. 815), who invented the science of chemistry, worked at the court of Harun. The scholars who were engaged in the work of translation included Muslims, Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians and Hindus. From Greece came the works of Socrates, Aristotle, Plato, Galen, Hippocratis, Archimedes, Euclid, Ptolemy, Demosthenes and Pythagoras. From India arrived a delegation with the Siddhanta of Brahmagupta, Indian numerals, the concept of zero and Ayurvedic medicine. From Chin came the science of alchemy and the technologies of paper, silk and pottery. The Zoroastrians brought in the disciplines of administration, agriculture and irrigation. The Muslims learned from these sources and gave to the world algebra, chemistry, sociology and the concept of infinity.
What gave the Muslims the confidence to face other civilizations was their faith. With a confidence firmly rooted in revelation, the Muslims faced other civilizations, absorbing that which they found valid and transforming it in the image of their own belief. The Qur’an invites men and women to learn from nature, to reflect on the patterns therein, to mold and shape nature so that they may inculcate wisdom. ”We shall show them our Signs on the horizon and within their souls until it is manifest unto them that it is the Truth” (Qur’an, 41:53). It is during this period that we see the emergence of the archetype of classical Islamic civilization, namely the Hakim(meaning, a person of wisdom). In Islam, a scientist is not a specialist who looks at nature from the outside, but a man of wisdom who looks at nature from within and integrates his knowledge into an essential whole. The quest of the Hakim is not just knowledge for the sake of knowledge but the realization of the essential Unity that pervades creation and the interrelationships that demonstrate the wisdom of God.
What Harun started, his son Mamun sought to complete. Mamun was a scholar in his own right, had studied medicine, Fiqh, logic and was a Hafiz e Qur’an. He sent delegations to Constantinople and the courts of Indian and Chinese princes asking them to send classical books and scholars. He encouraged the translators and gave them handsome rewards. Perhaps the story of this period is best told by the great men of the era. The first philosopher of Islam, al Kindi (d. 873), worked at this time in Iraq. The celebrated mathematician al Khwarizmi (d. 863) worked at the court of Mamun. Al Khwarizmi is best known for the recurring method of solving mathematical problems, which is used even today and is called algorithms. He studied for a while in Baghdad and is also reported to have traveled to India. Al Khwarizmi invented the word algebra (from the Arabic word j-b-r, meaning to force, beat or multiply), introduced the Indian numeral system to the Muslim world (from where it traveled to Europe and became the “Arabic” numeral system), institutionalized the use of the decimal in mathematics and invented the empirical method (knowledge based on measurement) in astronomy. He wrote several books on geography and astronomy and cooperated in the measurement of the distance of an arc across the globe. The world celebrates the name of Al Khwarizmi to this day by using “algorithms” in every discipline of science and engineering.
It was the intellectual explosion created at the time of Harun and Mamun that propelled science into the forefront of knowledge and made Islamic civilization the beacon of learning for five hundred years. The work done by the translation schools of Baghdad made possible the later works of the physician al Razi (d. 925), historian al Masudi (d. 956), the physician Abu Ali Sina (d. 1037), the physicist al Hazen (d.1039), the historian al Baruni (d. 1051), the mathematician Omar Khayyam (d.1132) and the philosopher Ibn Rushd (d.1198).
The age of Harun and Mamun was also an age of contradictions. Indeed, no other period in Islamic history illustrates with such clarity the schizophrenic attitude of Muslims towards their own history, as does the age of Harun and Mamun. On the one hand, Muslims take pride in its accomplishments. On the other, they reject the values on which those achievements were based. Muslims exude great pride in the scientists and philosophers of the era, especially in their dialectic with the West. But they reject the intellectual foundation on which these scientists and philosophers based their work.
The age of Harun and Mamun was the age of reason. Mamun, in particular, took the rationalists in full embrace. The Mu’tazilites were the rational arm of Islam. Mamun made Mu’tazilite doctrines the official court dogma. However, the Mu’tazilites were not cognizant of the limits of the rational method and overextended their reach. They even applied their methodology to the Divine Word and came up with the doctrine of “createdness” of the Qur’an. In simplified terms, this is the error one falls into when a hierarchy of knowledge is built wherein reason is placed above revelation. The Mu’tazilites applied their rational tools to revelation without sufficient understanding of the phenomenon of time or its relevance to the nature of physics. In the process, they fell flat on their face. Instead of owning up to their errors and correcting them, they became defensive and became increasingly oppressive in forcing their views on others.
Mamun’s successors applied the whip with increasing fervor to enforce conformity with the official dogma. But the ulema would not buy the theory that the Qur’an was created. Imam Hanbal fought a lifelong battle with Mamun on this issue and was jailed for over twenty years. Any idea that compromised the transcendence of the Qur’an was unacceptable to Imam Hanbal. Faced with determined opposition, the Mu’tazilite doctrine was repudiated by Caliph Mutawakkil (d. 861). Thereafter, the rationalists were tortured and killed and their properties confiscated. Al Ashari (d. 936) and his disciples tried to reconcile the rational and transcendental approaches by suggesting a “theory of occasionalism”. The Asharite ideas got accepted and were absorbed into the Islamic body politic and have continued to influence Muslim thinking to this day. The intellectual approach of the rationalists, philosophers and scientists was forsaken and sent packing to the Latin West where it was embraced with open arms and was used to lay the foundation of the modern global civilization.
Thus it was that the Muslim world came upon rational ideas, adopted them, experimented with them and finally threw them out. The historical lesson of the age of Harun and Mamun is that a fresh effort must be made to incorporate philosophy and science within the framework of Islamic civilization based on Tawhid. The issue is one of constructing a hierarchy of knowledge wherein the transcendence of revelation is preserved in accordance with Tawhid, but wherein reason and the free will of man are accorded honor and respect. The Mu’tazilites were right in claiming that man was the architect of his own fortunes but they erred in asserting that human reason has a larger reach than the Divine Word. Humankind is not autonomous. The outcome of human effort is a moment of Divine Grace. No person can predict with certainty the outcome of an action. The Asharites were right in postulating that at each moment of time Divine Grace intervenes to dispose of all affairs. But they were not correct in limiting the power of human free will. Human reason and human free will are endowed with the possibility of infinity, but this infinity collapses (fana) before the infinity of Divine transcendence.

Fiqh, the Development of

Fiqh, the Development of

Contributed by Prof. Dr. Nazeer Ahmed, PhD

The triumphant advance of Muslim armies across the inter-connecting landmass of Asia, Europe and Africa brought into the Islamic Empire large masses of people who were previously Christian, Zoroastrian, Buddhist or Hindu. Conversion to the new faith was slow. The conquering Muslims left the people of the territories alone as long as they paid the protective tax, jizya and did not interfere with freedom of choice in religion. Mass conversions to Islam took place in the reign of Omar bin Abdul Aziz (717-719) who abolished unfair taxation, tolerated dissent and treated Muslim and non-Muslim alike with the dignity due to fellow man. Impressed with his initiatives, people in the former territories of the Sassanids and the Byzantines embraced Islam in droves.
The new Muslims brought with them not only their ancient heritage and culture, but methods of looking at the sublime questions of life in ways fundamentally different from that of the Arabs. Historical Islam had to face the rationalism of the Greeks, the stratification of the Zoroastrians, the gnosticism of the Hindus, the abnegation of the Buddhists and the secular but highly refined ethical codes of the Taoist and Confucian Chinese. Add to it the internal convulsions in the Islamic world arising out of the conflicting claims of the Umayyads, the Hashemites, the Ahl-al Bait and the partisan and fractious approach of the many parties to legal issues, and one has a good idea of the challenge faced by the earliest Islamic jurists. Fiqh was the doctrinal response of the Islamic civilization to these challenges.
The codification of Fiqh solidified the foundation of Islamic civilization and was the cement for its stability through the turmoil of centuries. As long as the process of Fiqh was dynamic, creativity and ideas flowed from Islam to other civilizations. When this process became static and stagnant, historical Islam increasingly turned inwards and became marginalized in the global struggle of humankind.
Some definitions of the terms Shariah, Fiqh and secular law are in order at the outset. Shariah is the constant, unchanging, basic dimension of Islam. It has its basis in the Qur’an and it derives its legitimacy from Divine sovereignty. Shariah defines not just the relationship of man to man, but also the relationship of man to God and of man to the cosmos. As such, it is all embracing and its dimensions are infinite. Secular law, on the other hand, deals only with the relationship of man to fellow human beings and does not concern itself with the relationship of man to the Divine. It is finite, changeable and subject to the vagaries of history and geography. It derives its legitimacy from the proclaimed sovereignty of kings, rulers and nations.
Fiqh is the historical dimension of the Shariah and represents the continuous and unceasing Muslim struggle to live up to divine commandments in time and space. It is the rigorous and detailed application of the Shariah to issues that confront humankind as it participates in the unfolding drama of history. As such it embraces the approach, the process, the methodology as well as the practical application of the Shariah. It defines the interface of an individual with himself, his family, his society, his community, as well as the civilizational interface between Islam and other faiths and ideologies.
We will attempt to summarize in this chapter the historical origins and practical developments of the five major schools of Fiqh that are currently followed by the vast majority of Muslims. These are: Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i, Hanbali and Ja’afariya. There are other schools of Fiqh such as Zaidi and Ismaili, which are practiced by a relatively small number of Muslims today and we will refer to them only in their historical context. We will also summarize the Mu’tazilite and Asharite schools of thought that are seldom discussed nowadays but have left a profound, perhaps decisive imprint on Islamic thought, culture and civilization.
The Qur’an was revealed as the dynamic, spoken Word of God. Many among the Companions memorized the entire Qur’an (the hafizun orhufaz). Some knew, understood and recited the Qur’an, but also trained and taught others. These were called the qura’a (plural of qaree, meaning, one who recites the Qur’an). As many of the Companions migrated from Hijaz to Iraq, Persia, Syria and Egypt, the mantle of local leadership fell to the qura’a. Most Arabs were illiterate in the pre-Islamic era and anyone with the ability to recite and teach the language was held in high honor. Civilization was as yet ruled by the spoken word and the qura’a, most of whom were Companions of the Prophet, were received in distant lands with well-deserved honor and respect. They were the ones who were often called upon to offer legal opinions (fatwa).
The need for producing a written copy of the Qur’an was felt after the Battle of Yamama, in which a large number of hufaz and qura’a perished. Concerns arose that sooner or later all the hufaz who had learned the Qur’an from the Prophet would die. Upon the advice of Omar ibn al Khattab (r) and other Companions, the Caliph Abu Bakr (r) had the Qur’an written down. This copy is known as Mashaf-e-Siddiqi. Written Arabic does not have vowels attached to it. As Islam spread, first through the Arabian Peninsula and then beyond its borders during the Caliphate of Omar (r), local accents showed up in the pronunciation of the Qur’an. Arabic is a rich, powerful, dynamic and subtle language. Mispronunciation of a word can alter its meaning. To preserve the Qur’an as the Prophet recited it, the third Caliph Uthman (r) ordered the preparation of a standard copy with the vowels included in the text. Seven copies of this text were reproduced and were sent to different parts of the extensive Islamic Empire.
A century after the Prophet, all of the Companions who had learned first hand from the Prophet, or the Tabeyeen who had learned from the Companions, had passed away. The Companions had known the Qur’an, as well as the context in which it was revealed, from the living example of the Prophet. The Companions were so close to the source of revelation, so suffused with the radiance of the Divine Word and its universal impact on history that they responded to its imperatives with unbounded zeal. Theirs was a world of action, not of words. They created history with their deeds, leaving others to follow in its trail. It was left to later generations to study, understand and argue about what they had done. As the time-line from the Prophet increased, it became necessary to collect, sort out and pass on the traditions of the Prophet. This was the beginning of the science ofHadith. Although, the collections of Hadith that are best known today (Bukhari, Sahih Muslim, etc.) came into existence a few centuries later, the tradition of collecting and passing on Hadith was continuous and active throughout the interim period. Next to the sciences of the Qur’an (Ulum ul Qur’an), the authenticated Prophetic traditions (Ulum ul Sunnah) provided the most important source for the development of the principles of Fiqh(Usul al Fiqh).
The development of Fiqh was an historical process. As long as the Prophet was alive, his example was necessary and sufficient for the guidance of the community. The Qur’an presents the doctrinal principles and ethical underpinnings of the Shariah. The Prophet clarified, substantiated and implemented the principles of the Qur’an. His death presented an historical challenge to his Companions to continue the process of realizing God’s will in the matrix of human affairs. The first generation of Muslims rose to this challenge. Where revelation was explicit or where the Prophet had given clear direction, they followed that direction. Where the Qur’an and Sunnahprovided general principles but no directive for explicit implementation, they used the process of consultation and reasoning to find solutions to the pressing problems of the day. With time, this methodology developed into a broad tradition that was practiced by the first four Caliphs. This tradition is referred to as the Sunnah of the Companions, or the ijma (consensus) of the Companions. Such consensus was sometimes universal. At other times, it was the consensus of only some of the Companions. Differences of opinion were not uncommon. Such differences were not only tolerated, they were respected. The subtle nuances of Arabic and the cosmic power of the Qur’anic language, made differences in emphasis inevitable. These differences had their impact on the development of different schools ofFiqh.
Although the principles of Islamic jurisprudence were not documented until later centuries, we see the first full and complete implementation of theShariah in a pluralistic society under Omar ibn al Khattab (r). It was Omar (r) who showed by his example that justice before the law was an Islamic duty. He established a full-fledged department of justice, appointed judges and gave them specific instructions, which included the following principles:
  • All men are equal before the law.
  • Justice is an Islamic duty ordained by the Qur’an and Sunnah of the Prophet.
  • Human beings are responsible for their actions.
  • All adult Muslims are legal persons and are answerable in accordance with the Shariah.
  • The burden of proof falls on the plaintiff.
  • All parties must be allowed to produce evidence for their positions.
  • If evidence contradicts a judgment, then the judgment must be revoked.
  • When the Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet are silent on a matter, then extrapolation may be used from similar cases.
  • The collective will of the Muslim community provides a legitimate basis for law.
These principles were incorporated in later centuries by successive Muslim dynasties in their jurisprudence canons. The Caliph was not above the law. There are many examples from the life of Caliph Ali ibn Abu Talib (r), which illustrate how the head of state was treated the same way as any other citizen. Indeed, it was one of the judgments that Omar (r) rendered in a case brought by a Persian non-Muslim that led to his assassination.
Further challenges emerged with time. As the Companions passed away, intellectual leadership of the community passed on to the Tabeyeen (those who had followed or learned from the Companions). This was the second generation of Muslims. With time, this generation too passed away. The infusion of non-Arab blood into the Islamic milieu in the 8th century presented additional challenges to the Islamic jurists. There emerged theMujtahideen and the Fuqahah who successfully took on these challenges. In the process, choices had to be made and these choices modulated and transformed Islamic history.
If one had lived in the year 740, one would witness with awe the extent of the Islamic Empire. Muslim armies had crossed into France and were knocking at Switzerland. Constantinople (modern Istanbul), the seat of the Byzantine Empire, had undergone multiple assaults. Muslim merchants had met up with the Chinese in Sinkiang along the ancient Silk Road and were actively trading in the Indonesian islands and eastern China. The center of Vedic culture in Sindh (in today’s Pakistan) was under Muslim rule.
The vast and diverse Islamic community included Arabs, Persians, Egyptians, Africans, Spaniards, Afghans, Turks and Indians. With the influx of new people came new ideas. Muslim society was in a state of flux and the pent up tensions brought on by new people and new ideas were soon to erupt like a volcano in the Abbasid revolution (750). It was in this caldron of ideas that people wanted answers to the issues that faced the vast and diverse world of Islam.
It is a truism that great men and women create history. It is also true that historic events create great men and women. The tide of events in the second century of Hijra gave birth to scholars who systematized the science of Fiqh. Madina and Kufa were two of the prime centers of learning in the early years of Islam. Madina was the city of the Prophet and the people of Madina had close access to Prophetic traditions. However, Madina as the heart of the Islamic Empire was insulated from the challenge of ideas from neighboring civilizations. Kufa, on the other hand, located at the confluence of Arabia and Persia, was a melting pot and more susceptible to foreign ideas. It was from Kufa that the Umayyads ruled Iraq-e-Arab (modern Iraq), Iraq-e-Ajam (western Persia), Pars (central and southern Persia), Khorasan and western India (today’s Pakistan). The Kufans had somewhat less of an access to the traditions of the Prophet, but they were at the front end of the challenge of ideas from the neighboring Greek, Persian, Indian and Chinese civilizations. It was but natural that Madina and Kufa would become the earliest centers of schools of jurisprudence. Thus, the earliest developments in Fiqh, centered around Madina and Kufa, were exposed to somewhat different geographical and historical challenges. These two schools were referred to as the Madinite School and the Kufic School.
The first and foremost scholar of the Kufic School was Imam Abu Haneefa. The first scholar of the Madinite School was Imam Malik and after him Imam Shafi’i. There was a parallel and simultaneous development of the Ja’afariya School, named after Imam Ja’afar as Saadiq. The Fiqh of Imam Ahmed ibn Hanbal was of a somewhat later period and was a result of the political and intellectual turmoil in the 9th century.
Imam Abu Haneefa (d. 768) was at once a scholar of the first rank and a man of action. Very few sages have left as visible an imprint on Islamic history as has this savant. Born to Afghan parentage, he knew first hand the issues confronting the jurists in the newly conquered territories east of Iraq. He was also well aware of the intellectual challange from the contemporary civilizations of Greece, Persia, India and China. As a youth, he settled in Kufa and studied under the great scholars of the age. As a young man, he took positions against the oppression of the Omayyads and the haughtiness of Arab noblemen. For his refusal to tow the official line, he suffered imprisonment both from the Omayyads and the Abbasids. A famous quotation attributed to him, “The belief of a converted Turk is equal to that of a Muslim from Hijaz”, speaks volumes about the egalitarian temperament of the Imam. As a scholar in search of further knowledge, he frequented the halqa (study circle) of Imam Ja’afar as Saadiq. Ibn Abidin quotes Imam Abu Haneefa as saying: “If it were not for two years (spent with Imam Ja’afar as Saadiq), I would have perished.”
The genius of Imam Abu Haneefa lies in his vision of Fiqh as a dynamic vehicle available to all Muslims in all ages. He saw Islam as a universal idea accessible to all people in space and time. Fiqh was not to be a static code applicable to one situation in one location, but a mechanism that would at once provide stable underpinnings to the Islamic civilization and would also serve as a cutting edge in its debate with other civilizations. He saw that the rigorous and exacting methodology of the Madinite School might suffocate the ability of jurists to cope with unforeseen challenges presented by new situations. Therefore, he expanded the base on which sound legal opinions stand. According to Imam Abu Haneefa, the sources of Fiqh are:
  • The Qur’an,
  • Sunnah of the Prophet,
  • Ijma (consensus) of some, not necessarily all of the Companions,
  • Qiyas (deduction by analogy to similar cases which had been decided on the basis of the first three principles) and,
  • Istihsan (creative juridical opinion based on sound principles). With the acceptance of istihsan as a legitimate methodology, Imam Abu Haneefa provided a creative process for the continual evolution of Fiqh. No Muslim jurist would be left without a tool to cope with new situations and fresh challenges from as-yet unknown future civilizations.
One other term needs clarification here, that is ijtihad (root word j-h-d, meaning struggle). Ijtihad is the disciplined and focused intellectual activity whose end result is ijma or qiyas or istihsan. Ijtihad is a process. The Hanafi and Ja’afariya Schools provide the greatest latitude for ijtihad. However, there are differences in emphasis. In the Ja’afariya School, emphasis is on the ijtihad of the Imams. In the Hanafi School, emphasis is on the ijtihad of the Companions of the Prophet, but the ijtihad of the learned jurists is also acceptable. There are also differences between the Kufic Schools of Fiqh (such as that of Imam Abu Haneefa) and the Madinite Schools of Fiqh (such as that of Imam Malik) in the latitude allowed forijtihad. The ijma or consensus of the Madinite School is primarily through evidence (from the Qur’an) or correlation with the Sunnah of the Prophet. The requirements for ijma or consensus in the Kufic Schools are somewhat more liberal and include not only evidence from the Qur’an and theSunnah of the Prophet, but also ijtihad of the Companions or of learned jurists.
Imam Abu Haneefa did not establish the school Fiqh named after him, nor did he personally document his methodology. Writing was not common at that time and the spoken word was still the queen of discourse. Oration was the primary vehicle for instruction and teaching. Arabic language, syntax and grammar were learned by heart. Like the qaris of earlier years, great scholars taught through their lectures. Documentation was left to students and disciples of later generations. Specifically, it was not until the 11th century that the Hanafi School was fully elucidated and documented. Greatest among the Hanafi scholars were Abdullah Omar al Dabbusi (d. 1038), Ahmed Hussain al Bayhaqi (d. 1065), Ali Muhammad al Bazdawi (d. 1089) and Abu Bakr al Sarakhsi (d. 1096).
From the 10th century onwards, the Hanafi School received patronage from the Abbasids in Baghdad. The Turks loved the egalitarian disposition of Imam Abu Haneefa, as well as the creative aspects of the Hanafi Fiqh. When they embraced Islam, they became Hanafis and its arch defenders. The Seljuk Turkish dynasties in the 11th and 12th centuries as well as the Ottomans endorsed the Hanafi Fiqh. The Timurids, Turkomans as well as the Great Moghuls of India were its champions as well. For these historical reasons, the Hanafi School is the most widely accepted of the various schools of Fiqh in the Muslim world today. Most of the Muslims of Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, Central AsianRepublics, Persia (until the 16th century), Turkey, northern Iraq, Bosnia, Albania, Skopje, Russia and Chechnya follow the Hanafi Fiqh. A large number of Egyptians, Sudanese, Eritreans and Syrians are also Hanafis, although as we shall elaborate later, for reasons rooted in geography, the Maliki and Shafi’i Schools are also well established there.
The Madinite School was much more orthodox in its approach to Fiqh. Living in the city of the Prophet and growing up in the cradle of Islam, the Madinites attached the utmost importance to the Sunnah of the Prophet. The first and foremost scholar of the Madinite School was Imam Malik bin Anas (d. 795). He spent most of his life in Madina and like Imam Abu Haneefa in the previous generation, took issue with the ruling Abbasids on juridical matters, for which he was publicly flogged and imprisoned. Concerned that the istihsan of Imam Abu Haneefa would open the gate to unwelcome innovation, Imam Malik tightened the rules of ijma. While accepting the primacy of the Qur’an, he insisted on the consensus of all of the Companions as the basis of verified Sunnah (as compared to Imam Abu Haneefa who maintained that the consensus of some of the Companions was a sufficient basis for jurisprudence).
The Maliki School spread through Egypt, Libya, Algeria and Morocco through the Hajj. The North Africans visited Mecca and Madina and learned their Fiqh from the Madinites. They had little reason to visit Kufa and Iraq and therefore had only occasional contact with the Hanafi School. According to Ibn Khaldun, the cultural affinity between the unsettled Berbers of North Africa and the Bedouins of Arabia also contributed to the acceptance of the Maliki School in Libya and the Maghrib. From North Africa, the Maliki School spread to Spain and was the only official School sanctioned by the Umayyad dynasty in Cordoba. As Islam spread from the Maghreb into sub-Saharan Africa through trade routes, the Maliki School also spread to Mauritania, Chad, Nigeria and other countries of West Africa. Most Africans today follow the Maliki School. The brief interlude of Fatimid rule in Egypt in the 9th and 10th centuries did not materially change the contacts between the Berbers of the Maghrib and the Bedouins of Arabia and the Maliki School returned to North Africa when Salahuddin captured Egypt from the Fatimids (1170).
The first one to establish a formal school of Fiqh was Imam Muhammed ibn Idris al Shafi’i (d. 820). Through his Risalah (journal), he was the first scholar to systematically document the basis of Fiqh and critically examine its methodology. A Syrian by birth, Imam Shafi’i traveled to Madina and Kufa and learned from the disciples of Imam Abu Haneefa and Imam Malik. He took issue on certain of the positions taken by the Hanafi and Maliki Schools and adopted an independent position on some of the methodologies. According to Imam Shafi’i, the sources of Fiqh are:
  • The Qur’an,
  • The Sunnah of the Prophet (on the issue of the Sunnah, Imam Shafi’i relaxed the rules of the Maliki School and suggested that the Sunnahwas a valid source of jurisprudence even if it was supported by a single, reliable source. In other words, the Sunnah of the Prophet need not be supported by the ijma of all the Companions,
  • Qiyas, provided that it was rigorously supported by prior cases decided on the basis of the Qur’an and the Sunnah. Imam Shafi’i did not acceptistihsan as a valid source of Fiqh.
Thus Imam Shafi’i’s positions were somewhat less orthodox than those of Imam Malik, but not as liberal as those of Imam Abu Haneefa. The Shafi’i School spread to Egypt, the Sudan, Eritrea, East Africa, Malaya and the Indonesian Islands. Like the Hanafi School, the Shafi’i School produced many brilliant scholars. One of them, the great Abu Hamid al Gazzali (d. 1111), not only influenced the development of Fiqh, but also changed the course of Islamic history through his brilliant dialectic.
It is appropriate at this stage to refer to the Mu’tazilite School of thought and its counterpoint, the Asharite School. As the Muslims captured Syria, Egypt and North Africa, they became custodians of not just the people of those countries, but their ideas as well. Most of those lands had been under Eastern Roman or Byzantine control where Greek thought was dominant. Historically, the term “Greek thought” is applied to the collective wisdom and classical thinking of the people of the eastern Mediterranean, which includes a broad geographical arc extending from Athens in Greece through Anatolia, Syria, Egypt and Libya. Greek civilization extolled the nobility of man and placed human reason at the apex of creation. Plato, Aristotle, Ptolemy, Euclid and Archimedes are some of the household names from the galaxy of thinkers produced by this civilization. The enduring achievement of Greek thought is that it perfected the rational process and left its lasting legacy for humankind.
The Muslims were the first inheritors of Greek thought. It was through the Muslims-more specifically the Spanish Muslims-that rational thought reached the Latin West. And it was only after the 12th century that the West woke up from its slumber and adopted the Greek civilization as its own, while about the same time, Muslims turned away from rational thought towards more esoteric and intuitive thinking.
The early Muslims not only adopted the rational approach but set out with enthusiasm to explain their own beliefs in rational terms. Questions relating to the nature of man, his relationship to creation, his obligations and responsibilities, as also the nature of Divine attributes were tackled. No Muslim scholar would embark on an intellectual effort unless his approach had a basis in the Qur’an. The rationalists saw a justification for their approach in Qur’anic verses (“Behold! In the creation of the heavens and the earth . . . There are indeed signs for a people who are wise”, Qur’an, 2:164) and in the Sunnah of the Prophet. Indeed, the Qur’an invites human reason to witness the majesty of creation and reflect on its meaning and understand the transcendence that suffuses it. The philosophical sciences that evolved as a result of this effort are referred to as Kalam (discourse, usually a religious discourse). Sometimes, Kalam is vaguely translated as Theology, but Theology as a science never caught on in Islamic learning as it did in Christianity, because the Muslims strove and succeeded in preserving the transcendence of God. Christianity adopted the position that God is knowable in person and is hence accessible to human perception. The Muslims, despite the philosophical challenges of the Greeks, succeeded in maintaining the position that God is knowable by His names, attributes and through the majesty of His creation, whereas His transcendence is hidden by His light.
The first Islamic scholar who tackled questions of Islamic belief from a rational perspective was Al Juhani (d. 699). Note that the rational approach places human reason at the apex of creation and makes the world knowable. Al Juhani maintained that men and women not only have the capacity to know creation through their reason, but also have the capacity to act as free agents. Belief is the result of knowledge and understanding. Indeed, humankind has the moral imperative to understand God’s creation. Man, as a rational being, is mandated not only to understand the world, but also to act on it using his free will. Thus Al Juhani’s views bestowed upon humankind reason and responsibility. Heaven and hell were consequences of human action. This school of philosophy was known as the Qadariya School (root word q-d-r, meaning power or free will. TheQadariya School of philosophy is not be confused with the Qadariya Sufi brotherhood, named after Shaykh Abdul Qader Jeelani of Baghdad, in the 12th century).
The Qadariya approach, when pushed to the limit, takes God out of the picture of human affairs in as much as it makes heaven and hell mechanistic and solely predicated upon human action. This was unacceptable to the Muslim mind. Reaction from the more orthodox quarters was bound to surface and this happened with the emergence of the Qida (pre-destination) School. The founder of this School was Ibn Safwan (d. 745). According to Ibn Safwan, all power belongs to God, and man is predetermined in his actions, good and evil, as well as his destination towards heaven or hell. Like the Qadariya School, the Qida School sought its justification in the Qur’an (“Say! I have no power over any good or harm to myself except as God wills”, Qur’an, 7:188) and theSunnah of the Prophet.
The battle lines were now drawn. Like the Christian civilization in earlier times, the Islamic civilization was just beginning to come to grips with Greek rationalism. What was going to be the outcome? The answers were not clear and were hidden in the womb of the unknown future. Both Imam Ja’afar as Saadiq and Imam Abu Haneefa were well aware of the arguments of qida and qadar, but stayed clear of being drawn into its controversies.
Wasil ibn Ata (d. 749) combined, developed and articulated the QadariyaSchools into a coherent philosophy, which came to be known as the Mu’tazilah School. We may also look upon the Mu’tazilah School as the first response of Islamic civilization to the challenge of Greek thought. This School flourished for almost two hundred years and at times was the dominant school of thought among Muslims. Its influence was comparable to the Schools of Imam Abu Haneefa, Imam Ja’afar as Saadiq or Imam Malik. The Mu’tazilite School was challenged by Imam Hanbal (d. 855) and Hasan al Ashari (d. 935) and was finally vanquished by al Gazzali (d. 1111). This battle of ideas had a profound impact on Islamic history. It influences Muslim thinking even to this day.
The Mu’tazilite School placed its anchor on human reason and its capability to understand the relationship of man to man and of man to God. Necessarily, they based their arguments on the Qur’an and the Sunnah. The principles of the Mu’tazilah School were:
  • The Uniqueness of God or Tawhid (“Say! He is God, the One; God, the Eternal, Absolute; He begets not, nor is He begotten; and there is none like unto Him”, Qur’an, 112:1-5),
  • the free will of man (“If it had been thy Lord’s Will, they would all have believed, all who are on earth! Will thou then compel mankind, against their will, to believe!”, Qur’an, 10:99),
  • The principle of human responsibility and of reward and punishment as a consequence of human action (“On no soul does God place a burden greater than it can bear”, Qur’an, 2:286),
  • The moral imperative to enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong (“You are the most noble of people, evolved for mankind, enjoining what is right, forbidding what is wrong and believing in God”, Qur’an, 3:110).
The Mu’tazilites applied these principles to the issues of relationships of man to man, of man to the created world and of man to God. By placing man at the center of creation, they sought to make him the architect of his own fortunes and emphasized his moral imperative to fashion the world in the image of God’s command.
Caliph Mamun adopted the Mu’tazilite School as the official dogma of the Empire. From Caliph Mansur to Caliph Al Mutawakkil (847-861), the Mu’tazilites enjoyed official patronage. It was during this period that aDarul Hikmah was established in Baghdad and books of Greek philosophy, Hindu astronomy and Chinese technology were translated into Arabic. Learning flourished and Baghdadbecame the intellectual capital of the world.
The undoing of the Mu’tazilites was their excessive zeal and their inability to comprehend the limitations of the methodology they championed. With official sanction, they punished those ulema who disagreed with them and tried to silence all opposition. They also overextended their deductive methodology to attributes of God and of the Qur’an. In Islam, God is unique and there is none like unto Him. Therefore, the Mu’tazilites argued, the Qur’an cannot both be part of Him and apart from Him. To preserve the uniqueness of God (Tawhid), they placed the Qur’an in the created space. In other words, they said that God created the Qur’an at a certain point in time. The issue of createdness caused a great deal of division and confusion among Muslims. Furthermore, by maintaining that reward and punishment flowed mechanistically from human action, they left their flank exposed for an intellectual attack. If humans are automatically rewarded for their good deeds and automatically punished for their evil, then where is the need for Divine Grace? This deterministic approach was repugnant to Muslims and a revolt was inevitable.
The challenge to the Mu’tazilites came from the Usuli (meaning, based on principles) ulema, the best known among whom was Imam Hanbal (d. 855). A great scholar, he learned the principles of Fiqh from all the Schools prevalent in his generation, namely, Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i and Ja’afariya, as well as the Kalam (philosophical) Schools of the era. Mu’tazilite ideas were causing a great deal of confusion among the masses. Stability was required and innovation had to be combated. Imam Hanbal argued for strict adherence to the Qur’an and the verified Sunnah of the Prophet. Any principle, legal or philosophical, not based on the Qur’an and the Sunnahwas to be considered bida’a (innovation). Imam Hanbal took issue with the principle of ijma (unless it was sanctioned by the Sunnah) and totally rejected istihsan and qiyas as methodologies for Fiqh. His position was a direct challenge to the Mu’tazilites who enjoyed official patronage from the Caliphs. Consequently, Imam Hanbal was punished and jailed for most of his life. His sustained and determined opposition galvanized those who fought the Mu’tazilites.
Imam Hanbal was joined in his fight against the Mu’tazilites by the inductive (as opposed to deductive) philosophers. The inductive philosophers derived their inspiration from those Ayats in the Qur’an that call upon man to use both his senses and his reasoning to witness the signs of God. In other words, the Qur’anic approach is both empirical and rational as opposed to the purely speculative reasoning championed by the Mu’tazilites. The Mu’tazilite neglect of the empirical and their dependence solely on the rational proved to be their undoing. The struggle of Imam Hanbal bore fruit and Caliph Al Mutawakkil abandoned the Mu’tazilite School in 847. In turn, when the Asharites gained the upper hand, the Mu’tazilites were punished, jailed and silenced. Such is the fate that differing ideas have suffered at times in Islamic history!
The Hanbali School flourished in Arabia and western Iraq until the Wahhabi movement in the 18th and 19th centuries supplanted it. Because it was considered disruptive of accepted practices, it came into conflict with the Ottomans in the 18th century. The Ottomans accepted tasawwuf as a legitimate mode of knowing and, since they were Hanafis, were much more liberal in their interpretations. After the Wahhabis captured the Hijaz from the Ottomans in 1917, the Hanbali Fiqh became the official jurisprudence in Arabia (later known as Saudi Arabia). As practiced in Arabia, the Hanbali Fiqh is known for its abhorrence, indeed condemnation, of anything that is bida’a (innovation, a practice not in strict accordance with the Qur’an and the verified Sunnah of the Prophet).
The four schools of Sunnah Fiqh-Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i and Hanbali-are mutually recognized and there have been moves in recent years to bring the Ithna Ashari and Zaidi Fiqhs also under the “ mutual recognition” umbrella. Historically however, there have been occasions when frictions between them played an important part in the outcome of historical events. Specifically, just before the invasions of Genghiz Khan (1219), one reads of overt hostility between the followers of the Hanafi, Shafi’i and Ja’afariya Fiqh in Khorasan and Persia, a situation that played to the advantage of Genghiz in his war against the Shah of Khorasm.
The school of thought that had perhaps the most pervasive impact on Islamic thinking was the Asharite. Indeed, one may take the position that Asharite ideas have been a primary driver of Islamic civilization since the third century after the Hijra. The vast majority of Muslims through the centuries have followed one of five schools of Fiqh (Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i, Hanbali, Ja’afariya) plus the Asharite philosophy. The difference is that the five schools of Fiqh are overtly discussed and have been the source of cooperation and friction, whereas Asharite ideas have been absorbed into Islamic culture like water in an oasis. The direction, achievements and failures of Islamic civilization have been influenced in no small measure by Asharite thinking. From Al Gazzali of Baghdad (d. 1111) to Muhammed Iqbal of Pakistan (d. 1938), Asharite ideas have burst out on the Islamic landscape like an ebullient fountain and have influenced the direction of collective Muslim struggles.
Named after its architect, al Ashari (d. 935), it was the Asharite School that finally defeated the Mu’tazilites. Al Ashari was initially a Mu’tazilite. The Mu’tazilite School had placed reason above revelation and had come to the erroneous conclusion that the Qur’an was created in time. Such views were repugnant to Muslims. Al Ashari turned the argument around and placed revelation ahead of reason. Reason is time bound. It requires a-priori assumptions about before and after. Revelation is transcendent. By definition, it is not subject to our understanding of time and our assumptions of before and after. It is revelation, not reason, that tells us what is right and wrong, helps us differentiate between moral and immoral, enlightens us of the attributes of God and gives us certainty about heaven and hell. Reason is a tool bestowed by God upon humans so that they may sort out the relationships in the created world and reinforce their belief.
The crux of the Asharite argument lies in its definition of the phenomenon of time. Al Ashari was well aware of the Greek view that matter may be divided into atoms. He extended this argument to time and postulated that time moves in discrete steps. At each discrete step and all times in between, the power and Grace of God intervenes to determine the outcome of events. This conceptual breakthrough enabled the Asharites to preserve the omnipotence of God. Whereas the Mu’tazilites had failed on this score precisely because they assumed (much as Newtonian Mechanics does today) that time is continuous so that a given action automatically and mechanistically leads to a reaction. If the outcome of an event is completely determined by the action that causes it, then there is no room for the intervention of God and the world becomes secular. This is precisely what happened to the Western (and now global) civilization a thousand years later. We may summarize the Asharite pyramid of knowledge as follows: Atoms and the physical world are at the lowest rung of the ladder. The physical world is subject to reason. But reason itself is subject to and superseded by revelation. By contrast, the model presented by the Mu’tazilites (as well as the Greeks and the modern secular civilization) places both the physical world and revelation subject to understanding by reason.
Two other important elements of the Asharite philosophy need to be stated. The Asharites asserted that only God is the owner of all action (Qur’an, 10:100). Man has no independent capacity to act but is merely an agent who has acquired this capacity as a gift from God. This doctrine, known as the doctrine of Kasab, was misunderstood and misinterpreted by later generation of Muslims as predestination. Indeed, some Muslims raised predestination to be the sixth pillar of Islam. One may put forward the argument that it was a contributing factor in the stagnation that was to envelop the Muslim world in later centuries.
Second, the Asharites held that there is a divine pattern in nature but no causality. The cause and effect that we perceive is only apparent and is only a reflection of the attributes that are inherent in nature. This doctrine was a central argument in Al Ghazzali’s famous treatise, Tahaffuz al Filasafa (The Repudiation of the Philosophers, circa 1100) that provided the death-knell for philosophy in Islam and fundamentally changed the course of Islamic history. Ibn Rushd (1198), perhaps the greatest philosopher the world has produced since Aristotle, provided a counter-argument to this doctrine in his famous treatise, Tahaffuz al Tahaffuz (Repudiation of Repudiation, circa 1190). The Muslims adopted Al Gazzali, whereas the West adopted Ibn Rushd and the two civilizations went in different directions. The consequences for the unfolding of global history were enormous.
The appearance and development of the Mu’tazilite and Asharite doctrines more than a thousand years ago is essential to an understanding of Islamic history and of contemporary Muslims. The Mu’tazilites stood on the shoulders of the Greeks but made the error of applying their methods to the Qur’an and forcing their views on fellow Muslims. For this error, their ideas were banished from Islam into the Latin West. The Asharites stood on the shoulders of the Mu’tazilites but repudiated their methods and called them kafirs. Later generation of Muslims misunderstood the Asharites, confused their doctrine with predestination and went to sleep! It is only in the last hundred years that Muslim thinkers such as Muhammed Iqbal of Lahore have made an attempt to reconcile the doctrines of predestination and the free will of man.
The Ja’afariya School developed autonomously and in parallel with theSunnah Schools of Fiqh. And like its sister schools, its roots are in the Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet. Although it follows an autonomous route for its sources, on most practical matters the positions of the SunnahSchools and the Ja’afariya School are identical or similar. Indeed, on most issues, the differences in the positions taken by the Ja’afariya Fiqh and theSunnah Schools are smaller than the differences among the SunnahSchools themselves.
A student of history must reject the polemical position taken by some Muslims that there are only four schools of recognized Fiqh, namely, Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i and Hanbali. The Ja’afariya Fiqh is as legitimate as theSunnah Schools of Fiqh by virtue of the historical fact that it has flourished since the time of the Prophet and is accepted by a sizable section of the Islamic community. Similarly, the Zaidi School of Fiqh is also historically legitimate although we have made a conscious decision not to cover it here because it is followed by a smaller number of Muslims.
The Qur’an accords a special place of honor to the Prophet’s household (“God wishes to remove from you all impurity, O Members of the Family and to make you pure and without blemish”, Qur’an, 33:33). The members of the Prophet’s household are referred to in the Qur’an as Ahl-al Bait. Sahih Hadith confirms that the term Ahl-al Bait refers to Ali (r), Fatima (r), Hassan and Hussain, as well as Aqil, Ja’afar, Abbas and their offspring 1. Some other hadith refer only to Ali (r) , Fatima (r), Hassan and Hussain as Ahl-al Bait. On his return from the last pilgrimage, the Prophet stopped at a place called Gadeer e Qum and declared: “O people! I have left certain things; if you will love them you will never go astray. They are the Book, which is like a rope extending from the heaven to the earth and my family”2. In addition, ahadith from both Sunni and Shi’a sources also confirm the exalted position of Ali (r) as the “gateway to knowledge” and “heir” to the Prophet (Hadith: “Ali is to me as Aaron was to Moses, except that there shall be no Prophet after me”).
Central to the Ja’afariya Fiqh is the doctrine that the chain of authority forFiqh flows from the Qur’an to the Sunnah to Ahl-al Bait and by inference, exclusively to the Imams among the Ahl-al Bait. By comparison, the Sunni position accepts the chain of authority from the Qur’an to the Sunnah to the Ijma of the companions and is based on the confirmed ahadith: “O people! I leave for you the Book of Allah and my Sunnah. If you follow them, you will never go astray.”3. And again, “My ummah shall never agree upon an error”. The two positions show up for the first time with extreme clarity in the question put to Ali ibn Abu Talib (r) and Uthman bin Affan (r) by the committee to nominate a Caliph after the assassination of Omar ibn al Khattab (r). The question was: “Will you conduct the affairs of the community in accordance with the Qur’an, the Sunnah of the Prophet and the Sunnah of the two Shaykhs (Abu Bakr (r) and Omar (r) )?” Ali (r) answered that he would follow the Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet. Uthman (r) said he would indeed follow the Qur’an, the Sunnah of the Prophet and of the two Shaykhs and was nominated as the Caliph, demonstrating that the majority among the Companions had accepted this position.
Despite the differences on the issue of succession and of the disastrous civil wars, there were no separate schools of Fiqh for the first one hundred years after the Prophet. The differences were political; they were not onFiqh or the Shariah. There are many instances when Muawiya ibn Abu Sufyan asked for guidance from Ali ibn Abu Talib (r) on specific issues ofFiqh, even though the two were locked in a bitter civil war. The Ahl-al Bait, specifically the house of Ali ibn Abu Talib (r) and Fatimat uz Zahra (r), beloved daughter of the Prophet, had heard and transmitted many Ahadith directly from the Prophet. The sayings of Ali (r), Nahjul-Balaga, are unsurpassed as a source for Islamic ethics and teaching.
The crystallization of Fiqh as a cultivated discipline occurred at the time of Imam Ja’afar as Saadiq (d. 765). Imam Ja’afar as Saadiq was a genius-a scholar, teacher, guide and Imam. He initiated and held halqas (circles) wherein the greatest scholars of the age would gather, consult and learn. Imam Abu Haneefa was a contemporary of Imam Ja’afar and attended many of the halqas at the home of Imam Ja’afar.

Like Imam Abu Haneefa, Imam Ja’afar as Saadiq did not write down theFiqh named after him. He was the teacher who lectured and elaborated on the principles of Fiqh using the methodology of the qura’a prevalent in early Islam. It was left to his disciplines to catalogue and document the teaching of Imam Ja’afar. The most important of the Imamiya writers was Muhammed ibn al Hasan al Qummi (d. 903). It was he who documented the doctrines of Wilayat and Imamate, although both doctrines were in existence since the period of Caliph Ali (r). Wilayat comes from the wordwali (guardian, master, kinsmen) and is a central Shi’a doctrine. It affirmed that the guardianship of the Islamic community after the Prophet must be in the hands of a wali, the first of who was Ali ibn Abu Talib (r). The community must have a master and such mastership must reside exclusively and uniquely with Ahl-al Bait. As God has purified the household of the Prophet, the Imams are consequently pure and innocent and are uniquely and exclusively qualified to provide the wilayat for the community. The Ja’afariya School accepts the Imamate of twelve Imams: Imam Ali (r), Imam Hassan, Imam Hussain, Imam Ali Zainul Abedin, Imam Muhammed Baqir, Imam Ja’afar as Saadiq, Imam Musa Kazim, Imam Ali Rida, Imam Jawwad Razi, Imam Hadi, Imam Hasan Askari and Imam Muhammed Mahdi. Due to its acceptance of twelve Imams, the Ja’afariya School is referred to as Ithna Ashari (Those who believe in twelve Imams). The Ja’afariya School also believes in Isma, meaning that God shields the designated Imams from sin, religious error and forgetfulness.

It is in matters of personal law that the Ja’afariya Fiqh has certain differences with Sunni Fiqh. In matters relating to the community, the Ja’afariya Fiqh is stringent, like the Shafi’i Fiqh. On issues that have no precedence, it allows for ijtihad, much like the Hanafi School, which admits the process of istihsan.

The development of Ja’afariya Fiqh reflects the political fortunes of the Shi’a movement, much as Hanbali Fiqh also reflects the political circumstances of its era. After the tragedy of Karbala, the Ja’afariya movement was primarily apolitical, avoiding a head-on collision with the Omayyads. The Abbasid revolution seemed to present some hope since the Abbasids were fellow Hashemites. These hopes were dashed as the Abbasids first took advantage of the Shi’as and then persecuted them even more harshly than the Omayyads. Bereft of all hope for restoring to Ahl-al Bait the political authority they deserved, the Shi’a movement became (except for the Fatimid interlude) increasingly introspective.

However, there was no escape from the philosophical controversies raging in the 8th century. Much like its sister Sunnah Schools, the Ja’afariya Fiqhevolved along two broad lines during this period-the rationalist and the traditionalist. The rationalist schools evolved into the Akhbari School, which emphasized the primacy of relevant texts as a source of Fiqh. The acceptable texts included the Qur’an, Hadith of the Prophet and the Hadithof the Imams. The traditionalist Schools coalesced into the Usooli School and emphasized methodology and principle over textual authenticity. In its approach, the Usooli School of the Ja’afariya Fiqh was very much like theUsooli Schools of Imam Abu Haneefa and Imam Shafi’i. And, like the Hanafi School, it accepted ijtihad as an acceptable methodology for Fiqh where there was no clear and explicit guidance from the Qur’anand the Sunnah of the Prophet.

Thus the Ja’afariya and the Sunnah Schools of Fiqh are like different streams taking off from the same mighty lake and watering the Islamic landscape from different directions. Their deductions are often the same because they are based on the Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet, although their intermediate sources may be different.

Fiqh built a bridge for the Islamic civilization to the future. What strikes a student of history is the confidence and enthusiasm with which Muslims faced the ideas prevalent in the world at that time. By the 11th century, Islamic civilization had crystallized its response to its sister civilizations of the day. And this response was fundamentally different to the rational challenge of the Greeks and the spiritual challenge from the East. After a brief period of flirtation and experimentation, Greek thought was discarded and sent packing to the West. Ibn Rushd’s Tahafuz al Tahafuz (circa 1190) was almost a wistful goodbye of a Muslim scholar who was leaving his Islamic homeland and migrating to the Latin West. On the other hand, Islam responded to the challenge from the East by internalizing and Islamizing many of its spiritual elements.

Sufi thought flourished and after the destruction of the Mongols, took root and became the primary vehicle for the expansion of Islam. The Islamic archetype was to be a Hafiz, a Rumi or a Shah Waliullah, rather than Al Kindi or Abu Ali Sina or Al Baruni or Ibn Rushd. With the notable exception of Ibn Khaldun (d. 1407), the empiricists and rationalists of the past slowly disappeared. Science and civilization thus had entirely different relationships in the West and in Islam after the Middle Ages. The West adopted Abu Ali Sina (Avicenna) and Ibn Rushd (Averoes) and their empirical/rational methods and made science (as we know it today) an integral part of their culture and civilization. The Muslims increasingly turned their back on the empirical/rational approach and became introverted, caught up in self-contemplation. The process accelerated in the 19th century as the Muslim world was colonized by Europe, and the historical continuity of the Muslims with their own past was severed.

Those Muslims who declare that there is no conflict between science and religion in Islam must ponder over this. Having taken science out of the initial gambit, you cannot put it back in the middle game or the end game. You must change the initial gambit, namely, the fundamental assumptions on which Muslim civilization has built its world-view since the debate between the Mu’tazilites and the Asharites in the 9th century, to come up with a coherent and comprehensive philosophy of science and civilization.

With time, stagnation set in and what was once a bridge to the future became a bridge only to the past. The schools of Fiqh became mazhabs and got solidified. Heredity, official sanction, political events, tribal and national loyalties all played their historical part in this fixation. By the 11th century, Islamic civilization had become a city-based civilization. The Mu’tazilites and the Asharites had knocked the wind out of each other. The qaris, who had wandered through the desert in the early years of Islam teaching the Qur’an from hamlet to hamlet, had given way to professional teachers whose jobs depended on preserving the status quo. People longed for a break from controversies. A broad consensus developed that the existing schools of Fiqh were sufficient to meet the challenges of the day. Islam had successfully withstood the onslaught of Greek thought and had successfully accommodated the spiritual challenge from eastern religions. It appeared that the civilizational interfaces between Islam and its sister civilizations of the day had been well defined. It was now time to rest the case. The door to ijtihad was therefore closed and people inculcated taqleed(to copy or to follow). They became Sunni, Shi’a, Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i, Hanbali, Ja’afari, Zaidi and Fatimid.

Political developments also contributed to intellectual stagnation. In the 9thcentury, the Fatimids conquered Egypt and ruled over a predominantly Sunni population using the Fatimid Fiqh. The Fatimid challenge elicited a Turkish response as champions of the Sunni Fiqh. The central authority of the Caliphate disintegrated and in its place emerged autonomous sultanates and emirates. The 16th century saw the emergence of three mighty dynasties, those of the Ottomans, the Safavids and the great Moghuls. The Safavids adopted the Ja’afariya Fiqh whereas the Ottomans and the Moghuls championed the Hanafi Fiqh. Certain ideological differences were inevitable, but mazhab was often used in their mutual warfare for the control of border areas. Only geography and the relatively primitive technology of the day prevented them from waging total war against each other. Nonetheless, their respective parochial policies ensured that by the 17th century, Persia was primarily Ithna Ashari, whereas India, Pakistan, Central Asia and the Ottoman Empire were predominantly Hanafi. The last major attempt by a ruler to bring about reconciliation between Shi’a and Sunni mazhabs was Nadir Shah. Initially, a benevolent ruler, he became a miser after he sacked Delhi and made off with its great loot (1739). Returning to Persia, he gathered the Sunni and Shi’a Ulema in an attempt to reconcile their historical fragmentation. For this effort, both the Sunnis and the Shi’as abused him, which made him more of a despot. He died a miser, scornful of both Sunni and Shi’a Ulema and in turn scorned by history.

The death of ijtihad is sometimes blamed on the Mongol and Tatar invasions. This is not historically correct. The process of stagnation was well under way before the double hammer of Crusader invasions (11th, 12thand 13th centuries) and Mongol destructions (13th century) brought an end to the Baghdad Caliphate. These external events, however, helped to consolidate the status quo. Faced with the possibility of extinction, Islamic civilization increasingly turned inwards to its own inner soul. And the mantle of intellectual leadership passed from the qura’a and the fuqha to the Sufis.

The major schools of Fiqh clearly served the needs of early Muslims, ensured social cohesion, protected the community from the ideas of foreign civilizations and safeguarded it during historical crises. However, the issues that were addressed reflected the condition of the Muslims at that time. In the 8th century, Islam was politically and militarily dominant in West Asia and the Mediterranean. Certainly, there was interaction with the civilizations of Greece, China and India but due to the primitive technology of the day, each civilization was more or less autonomous in its own region of influence. The challenge before the Muslims was first to sort out and stabilize their own internal relationships and then to define their relationship with the ideas from other civilizations. And this they achieved in the context of the times, separating “Dar al Islam” from “Darl al Harab”.Dar al Islam was where Fiqh was applied. Darl al Harab was that other world where the “infidels” lived and which had to be challenged.

That paradigm needs reexamination. Today, fully a third of all Muslims live in countries that are predominantly non-Muslim. Fiqh is not a static tool. It is the historical dimension of the Shariah. In a shrinking world, drawn together by technology, where the information revolution has made national boundaries porous, the civilizational interfaces are different from those of the 8th and 9th centuries.

In the 21st century, Islam faces not the rationalism of the Greeks, or the abnegation of the Buddhists, or the polytheism of the Vedics but the global hegemony from a materialist civilization opposed to any form of religion. The focus of this civilization is economic centralization. In its inexorable thirst for centralization, today’s global materialist civilization has co-opted science, technology, philosophy, ethics, politics and has marginalized religion itself. The great issues of the day are primarily economic, not spiritual. Today, all people of religion, the Muslims, Christians, Jews, Buddhists and Hindus are in the same boat, confronted with defining their interfaces with each other and with this global, materialist civilization. Clearly, a coherent response has yet to emerge from the Muslim ulema.
1. Ref: Sahih Muslim, Hadith 5920.
2. Ref: Tradition number 874 from Sahih Tirmidhi as related by Zaid ibn Arkam, among the traditions taken from Kanz ul Ummal.
3. Ref: Hijjatul Wida, Farewell speech at the Mount of Arafat, on the authority of Rabiah ibn Umayyah, who repeated the sermon after him.