The Recovery of True Islamic Fiqh
An introduction to the work of Shaykh Dr. Abdalqadir as-Sufi
by Hajj Abdalhaqq Bewley
(Hajj Abdalhaqq Bewley and his wife Hajja Aisha together produced:
‘The Noble Qur’an: a New Rendering of its Meaning in English’,
which is now the translation of choice among Muslims.)
A man came running from the far side of the city, saying,
‘My people! Follow the Messengers! (36:19)
The great historian Ibn Khaldun noted in his Muqaddimah that societies and civilisations are revived and renewed by influxes of new peoples from beyond their frontiers. From the earliest centuries of Islam this phenomenon has been exemplified within the umma by numerous individual men of knowledge who have come from outside the heartlands of Islam and reinvigorated a moribund situation at the centre. Men from Balkh and Bukhara, from Cordoba and Granada, from sub Saharan Africa and Penang, from India and Zanzibar, invigorating streams of pure Islamic teaching have flowed in from the outlying areas of the umma and fertilised and regenerated the dried up intellectual and spiritual landscape at its heart, recalling the Muslims to the vital, life-giving reality of the inestimably precious legacy left to them by the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, and his Companions and the two generations who followed them. Shaykh Dr. Abdalqadir as-Sufi is one of these men who has appeared in our time.
It is a commonplace observation that there is now nowhere in the world that the Western, or we might say Euro-american, dominated and inspired technical ethos does not reign supreme. Some countries may retain certain cultural vestiges from earlier times, which in most places are rapidly being abandoned or assuming the status of folklore, but in everything that matters, everything that actively impinges on people’s day to day lives, there is no nation in the world where the western model does not hold sway. In every instance all aspects of the machinery of government, the financial system, the legal system, the educational system, police, military, transport, all these things are uniformly dictated from without by the dominant technical ethos. They are virtually identical in every nation state and any slight variations simply go to prove the rule.
There have been basically two Muslim reactions to this implacable process of encroachment and take-over which has been happening at an ever accelerating pace over the last hundred years or so and is now virtually complete. The first was outright rejection, which was absolutely correct in that it recognised the destructive nature of the threat posed to Islam by the westernisation process, but which proved useless in that it was totally unable to prevent the tide of westernisation flooding in. The second and overwhelmingly prevalent reaction has been to embrace the process with open arms. Sometimes this has been done quite cynically in the name of progress and advancement with no regard for the deen whatsoever, and sometimes not so uncritically in the mistaken notion that the whole business is a neutral phenomenon which it is somehow possible to “islamicise”. This latter position has been the one taken by almost all the movements rhetorically committed to the re-establishment of Islam from the Ikhwan al-Muslimeen through the Jama‘at Islami to the Hizb ut-Tahrir and continues to be the one adopted by the vast majority of Muslim intellectuals up to the present time.
One would have thought that the singular lack of success encountered by these groups despite the huge number of adherents they have had at various times, in the face of Allah’s promise of victory for those who truly follow His deen, would have demonstrated indisputably to them and everyone else that there was something fundamentally lacking in the approach they have adopted. But the same naivety and lack of in depth understanding of the westernisation process continues to be displayed by them and almost every other Muslim thinker in the world today. Their comprehension of the technological process appears to be superficially limited to seeing it as the means of production of a series of apparently neutral artefacts – cars, medicines, televisions, computers and so on – which appear to be mostly beneficial and should be espoused by Muslims without further ado, and whose halal or haram nature is simply dependent upon the use to which they are put. What they have almost universally failed to perceive is that all of these things are merely the froth on the surface of a floodwater which stretches back through several centuries. Taking them on, along with the economic and educational infrastructure essential to them, necessarily entails adopting the particular view of the world which made their emergence possible, a view which is unequivocally antithetical to Islam.
No ground has been gained in the struggle to re-establish Islam because those supposedly doing it have misunderstood the nature of the opposition they face, to the extent that they have to all intents and purposes allied themselves both inwardly and outwardly with the very forces that they are supposed to be opposing. It has been the destiny of Shaykh Dr. Abdalqadir as-Sufi to have been plucked out by Allah from the very heart of enemy territory and trained at the purest springs of traditional Islamic learning, after having been equipped by Him with deep and intimate understanding of every stratagem in the opposing book. This has enabled him, by Allah, to use the profound knowledge he has been given to make categorically clear what is really needed for the re‑establishment of Islam in its totality.
The domination it has gained through its economic and technical supremacy has allowed the present world power structure to assume a mantle of moral superiority which even the most cursory examination will show to be entirely unwarranted. Yet the arrogant and overweening self-assurance with which this stance is adopted has cowed much of the rest of the world, including sad to say the vast majority of the Muslims, into believing it to be true. This has led to an almost universal acceptance of the false doctrine of human rights and to seeing constitutional democracy as the only legitimate form of government, a viewpoint which has placed the Muslims in an untenable and perilous situation, since the doctrine of human rights directly contravenes Allah’s words in His final Revelation, and since there is no precedent whatsoever for anything like constitutional democracy in either the Qur’an or Sunna or indeed the entire history of the Muslim umma up until its final dismemberment in early part of the last century.
Because of this, one aspect of Shaykh Abdalqadir’s teaching has always been devoted to decoding these things and unmasking the deceptions, false premises and ulterior motives which underlie them. This is a matter of paramount importance to the Muslims both at a governmental and an individual level, since the adoption of these false doctrines by a Muslim government automatically subjects the Muslims under their control to the authority of the kafir power structure and the adoption of them by individuals is in fact tantamount to kufr itself because doing so necessarily entails going against many ayats of the Qur’an.
The Shaykh devotes a whole chapter of his recent book The Technique of the Coup de Banque to discussing the true nature of modern parliamentary democracy in which he demonstrates clearly that the democratic process with its party system, far from originating in its vaunted source of the ancient city state of Athens, is in fact a product of the French Revolution and, far from being government by the people, is in reality a machine whose function is to install a set of impotent representatives dominated by an executive body whose limited tenure of office ensures that it itself is dictated to by a permanent body of bureaucrats, who in their turn mask the fact that true political power in the world today rests in the hands of an unelected oligarchy quite unknown to the people they control. The Shaykh describes the democratic process as a “staged event” behind which “lies that arena in which the categorical imperatives of the present-day world are laid down, and that in a setting which has no place for either elected representatives or the salaried employees of political democracy”.
The Shaykh’s object in examining these matters is to undeceive the Muslims about the nature of the world they live in, enabling them to see behind the rhetoric with which they are constantly being bombarded to the stark reality of the constant attack on Islam which is their true objective. The fact that he has emerged right from the heart of enemy territory enables the Shaykh to abandon the defensive mode adopted by so many Muslims. In one trenchant passage, representative of many others, labelling western culture as judeo-secularism, he writes that it is characterised by:
…its ecological disaster, its social ruin, its destruction of manhood and womanhood, its norms of urban murder, rape and anarchy, its exaltation of adultery, its horrible cruelty to children, its pervasive usury, its enslavement and impoverishment of millions, its genocidal war against Islam, its rule by a tiny banking and corporation oligarchy, its enslaving myth of democracy, and its ghastly rush towards self-destruction.
It is this disastrous scenario into which so many Muslims seem hell-bent on diving and the heart-felt concern of the Shaykh is to preserve the greatest number possible from this fate.
Alongside this incisive critique of the modern world is another leitmotif which has threaded through Shaykh Abdalqadir’s work from the beginning and that is the tracing of a stream of pure unitary thought running through the heart of European culture, originating at the very springs of European civilisation with the pre-Christian Celts and the Ancient Greeks and continuing to flow from then right up to the present time. This has led him to write several works which together constitute a rediscovery and re-evaluation of the European philosophical, literary and musical traditions and which demonstrate conclusively that, at their cutting edge, science, philosophy, music and literature in the West have each in their own way reached right to the gates of Islam.
Although these matters are constantly recurring themes throughout his work and have their importance within it, it is quite clear that the main thrust of Shaykh Abdalqadir’s teaching is, and always has been, directed towards creating the conditions within which real Islam—that completely functioning spiritual, political and social practice of Allah’s deen exemplified for us by the Messenger of Allah and his Companions in Madina al‑Munawwara and bequeathed to us by them—can be re-established in its totality; and it is vital to remember, in this context, that none of his teaching has been abstract or theoretical but has all been directly pedagogical in character and delivered within the living context of the continually developing and expanding Muslim communities which he has founded and continues to guide.
To this end the Shaykh has always been assiduous in ensuring that the ‘aqida, the bases of belief, of his followers has been absolutely sound and that their tawhid, their affirmation of the unity of Allah, has been correct inwardly and outwardly. This matter has become particularly important now because there is no doubt that the kafir education system, which might be better termed an indoctrination process, has had an extremely corrosive effect on people’s ability to truly acknowledge Allah’s unity, and this applies to Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
The Qur’an itself makes abundantly clear, time and time again, that in reality nothing in existence has any power whatsoever except for Allah; there is no active agent in existence but Allah alone. This means that everything which happens, happens by Allah alone. The scientific world view with which we have all been indoctrinated, is necessarily based on Bacon’s dictum that God only works in the universe through secondary causes, and, therefore, contradicts this a priori truth. It is this scientific understanding of existence which has now intruded into every aspect of life and every corner of the earth, and our education merely serves to reinforce it and articulate it. All of us have been immersed in it since our childhood and none of us, Muslim or non-Muslim, has escaped its influence.
So there is no doubt that a true understanding of tawhid has been weakened and corrupted by the dominant world view. Like almost everybody else, the modern Muslim has in fact divorced Allah from direct involvement in natural processes, seeing them only in terms of secondary causation, and is, therefore, to all intents and purposes precluded from truly affirming the unity of Allah. He too views existence through a Galilean telescope and sees a Newtonian mechanistic universe with a mind permeated by Cartesian dualism. As Shaykh Abdalqadir himself once said, “It is comparatively easy to understand that it is Allah who has created the bird; it is even not that difficult to understand that it is Allah who has created the bird’s nest; it is, however, very much harder to understand that it is Allah who has created the Jumbo jet!”
One thing that facilitated Shaykh Abdalqadir’s own capacity to have a true unitary understanding of existence was the fact that even before coming to Islam he formed part of an intellectual elite who were aware of discoveries being made at the very cutting edge of quantum mechanics and of the implications which that had for the mechanistic Newtonian view of the universe. He had already freed himself from the straight jacket of nineteenth century scientism. He says in his book Indications from Signs:
The scientific model that “describes” reality is, by the scientists themselves, now openly admitted to be a fiction… It must never be forgotten that between the scientific discourse and the popular indoctrination there is a cynical gap. That is to say, while the scientists, chez eux, happily admit the fictional basis of their studies, the mass educated students and populace wriggle under the authority of science with its crude simplifications…
And the Shaykh even used an aspect of the exciting new anti-Newtonian scientific view in his book The Way of Muhammad when he quoted extensively from the atomic physicist, Fritjof Capra, to show how the Newtonian world view of solid matter has collapsed and been replaced by an understanding much closer to the way things really are. In one passage Capra says:
Quantum mechanics thus reveals a basic oneness of the Universe. It shows that we cannot decompose the world into independently existing smallest units. As we penetrate into matter, nature does not show us any isolated basic building blocks but rather appears as a complicated web, or relations between various parts of the whole, and these relations always include the observer in an essential way.
In his main teaching of this matter, however, Shaykh Abdalqadir has followed his predecessors, the shaykhs of the Shadhili-Darqawi Tariqa, in upholding the position of Imam al-‘Ashari on ‘aqida and tawhid, ensuring that his communities remain firmly in the camp of the people of the Sunna wa’l-Jama’a and are protected from the rationalist and literalist deviations which have plagued the Muslims since early times and unfortunately continue to do so in the present time. However, also like his predecessors he has not been content with a solely intellectual understanding of these matters and in his teaching has always insisted that they cannot be allowed to remain as mere formulae on the tongue but must be thoroughly absorbed into the being and embodied so that our knowledge of Allah’s unity is reflected in the way we live our day-to-day lives. He has always taught that the formula la hawla wa la quwwata illa billah—there is no power or strength except with Allah—means exactly what it says and implies that there should be no dependence on anyone or anything except Allah and no fear of anyone or anything except Allah.
This knowledge is not informational and cannot be found in books nor can it, properly speaking, be conveyed by words; it is a matter of self-transformation and purification of the heart. It is the third part of Allah’s deen, Ihsan, described by the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, as being “to worship Allah as if you could see Him, for though you may not see Him, He certainly sees you.” It is the sufism of the sufis. It is what enabled the Companions, may Allah be pleased with all of them, to conquer half the world in twenty years. It is what is absolutely essential for any true and lasting re-establishment of Islam.
One of the chief aids to the acquisition of this knowledge is dhikrullah and, following the command of Allah, the people who have taught it have always instructed their followers to remember Allah constantly and have helped them to do that by composing awrad and encouraging them to gather regularly to practice them. Following this pattern, Shaykh Abdalqadir has established zawiyyas and ribats all over the world, from Copenhagen to Cape Town and from Kuala Lumpur to California, where his followers gather regularly to recite the Qur’an and the wird of the Darqawi Tariqa he leads, in realisation of the words of Allah ta‘ala in Surat an-Nur: “In houses which Allah has permitted to be built and which His Name is remembered, there are men who proclaim His glory morning and evening, not distracted by trade or commerce from the remembrance of Allah and the establishment of salat and the payment of zakat.” The Shaykh also holds larger periodic gatherings in various places throughout the world attended by numbers of his followers from around the world who come together with local Muslims to glorify Allah and sing the praises of His Messenger, may Allah bless him and grant him peace.
It is worth noting in this regard that Shaykh Abdalqadir has always held firmly to the position of la tawhid biduni’r-rasul, there could be no knowledge of Allah’s unity unless His Messenger, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, had brought it and taught it and demonstrated it to us, the position that the first shahada—la ilaha illalah—is necessarily completed by the second—Muhammadun-rasulullah. For this reason instilling love of the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, into his followers has always formed an integral and indispensable part of the Shaykh’s teaching programme. The great qasida of Imam Busiri in honour of the Prophet, al-Burda, is always recited in his large gatherings and is now taught and sung in all his communities. And the only English translation of one of the greatest books about the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, in the whole history of the umma, Ash-Shifa of Qadi Iyad, was commissioned and overseen by him. It is a consummate work dealing with every aspect of the nature of the Prophet in a comprehensive way. It inspires respect and love for him and protects him from all those who even, or perhaps especially, in our own time try to diminish him and lower his status.
Over the years many of Shaykh Abdalqadir’s discourses at gatherings of dhikr have been recorded and a good number of these have been transcribed and exist as booklets or treasured manuscripts. In this way much of the Shaykh’s sufic teaching has been preserved for posterity. All his books also contain elements of his deep and direct knowledge of Allah tabaraka wa ta’ala but two stand out as pre-eminent expositions of the science of tasawwuf. One is his early work The Way of Muhammad, mentioned previously, which remains one of the foremost contemporary works of sufism and is all the more remarkable because, while remaining totally true to the time-honoured teaching on the subject, it nevertheless places the sufic path firmly at the cutting edge of the European intellectual traditional. By doing this it has made Islam accessible to many who would not otherwise have given it a thought and also restored to many Muslims who had left the deen a sense of respect and discovery in relation to Islam they would never otherwise have felt.
The other work is his Hundred Steps in which the Shaykh traces all the states and stations on the path to Allah. In doing so he quotes extensively from masters of the past such as Imam Junayd and Muhyi’d-din ibn al-‘Arabi and his own Shaykhs, and yet at the same time succeeds in defining the traditional terminology in a breathtakingly authentic and original manner which is somehow both contemporary and timeless. In this way he gives the modern reader a genuine taste of the limitless possibilities open to those who sincerely seek the secret of their own existence. The Hundred Steps surely ranks together with other great classic texts of sufism of all time.
While it can certainly be said that his insistence on sound aqida, and the pure sufic teaching which has reinforced it, has supplied the unshakeable foundations which underpin all Shaykh Abdalqadir’s work, there is no doubt that its cornerstone is his rediscovery and revival of the Madhhab ‘Amal Ahli’l-Madina – the School of the Practice of the People of Madina.
The historical situation we are in is unprecedented since the time of the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, in that there is now nowhere on the face of the earth where Allah’s final Revelation to mankind is completely established, where the shari‘a of Islam is being properly implemented. For almost one hundred years now the world has been bereft of fully functioning Islamic governance and this is in spite of the many movements whose sole intention has been ostensibly to re-establish Allah’s deen and their numerous attempts to do so. This was the situation facing Shaykh Abdalqadir when he found himself responsible for the guidance of an ever increasing number of men and women who had entered Islam through his da‘wa activities. He knew that Islam was supposed to be a complete social patterning governing every aspect of life but there was no example of it in operation anywhere. It was, therefore, incumbent on him, as it is indeed on every Muslim, to do everything he possibly could, to strive to the utmost, to remedy this situation and see Allah’s deen re-established in its totality.
One problem facing him was that there were many different versions of Islam, all claiming to be authentic, the four madhhabs and a multitude of movements and groups. They were in almost every instance at loggerheads with one another but about one thing they were nearly all in agreement: that Islam consisted of kitab wa sunna, the Book and Sunna. The task, then, was to discover what really constituted the Book and Sunna. When he examined the various movements on offer, the question immediately arose of why it had proved impossible for so many thousands of well intentioned Muslims, a number of whom had been men of considerable Islamic learning, to re-implement something which had worked so triumphantly well throughout so much of the world for so many centuries?
Reflection led the Shaykh to two clear answers to this question. The first has been dealt with earlier, which is that their leaders had misread the nature of the modern world and by doing so had come to prefer a machine culture and systems control over natural human transactions, which is contrary to the kitab and sunna in a clearly demonstrable way. The second was that these movements had as their objective a utopian Islamic state; they were in fact the product of a thought process conditioned by western idealism and as such their goal would inevitably remain an unachievable dream. This was certainly not what the Shaykh was looking for. As he says in his book Root Islamic Education:
Islam is not an idealism, it is not an unachieved dream thwarted by the greed and power lust of generations of corrupt men. The Islam of the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, was achieved, was laid down, did happen, did last,did endure, and then was swept away.
So having discounted that as a way forward the Shaykh turned his attention to the existing madhhabs to see if they held the solution. The received position regarding the madhabs is that they are virtually identical with certain insignificant peripheral differences and the whole business is really a matter of geography so that if you live in Malaysia or Indonesia you are automatically Shafi‘i, if you live in India or Turkey you are Hanafi, and if you live in North or West Africa you are Maliki, and it doesn’t matter which because they are basically all the same. When he investigated the matter, however, Shaykh Abdalqadir rediscovered something which proved crucial in his search for the genuine Book and Sunna. What he discovered was that the madhhabs were by no means identical and in actual fact represented quite divergent methods of deciding what constituted the Book and Sunna.
The madhhab of Imam Abu Hanifa, may Allah cover him with mercy, was formulated in Iraq, a very different environment to that of Madina al-Munawwara where the deen had been laid down, and the number of Companions who had settled there had been too few to allow a complete picture of the Sunna to emerge. For this reason Hanafi methodology involved the logical process of examining the Book and all available knowledge of the Sunna and then finding an example in them analogous to the particular case under review so that Allah’s deen could be properly applied in the new situation. It thus entails the use of reason in the examination of the Book and Sunna so as to extrapolate the judgements necessary for the implementation of Islam in a new environment. It represents in essence, therefore, within the strict compass of rigorous legal and inductive precepts, the adaptation of the living and powerful deen to a new situation in order to enable it take root and flourish in fresh soil. This made it an ideal legal tool for the central governance of widely varied populations which is why we find it in Turkey as the legacy of the Uthmaniyya Khilafa and in the sub-continent where it is inherited from the Moghul empire.
The case of Imam Shafi‘i, may Allah have mercy on him, was quite different from this. He spent much of his life travelling in search of knowledge, studying under Imam Malik in Madina and then the major students of Imam Abu Hanifa in Baghdad. After that he went to Yaman and finally settled in Egypt. During his journeys he could not help but notice that there was considerable divergence in the practise of Islam in the various places he visited and this led him to formulate a method of standardising and systematising the deen to fix it in place and prevent it from being lost.
He did this by devising a set of principles to be applied to the linguistic examination of written sources of the deen. Under this method the Book, of course, remained unchanged, although it was subjected to a rigorous form of linguistic analysis, but the Sunna became entirely dependent on, and synonymous with, Prophetic hadiths which had been recorded in writing. With Imam Shafi‘i, therefore, the practise of Islam ceased to be a matter of oral transmission and behavioural imitation and became, instead, based on written texts from which the actions of the deen were derived. Imam Shafi‘i’s system was brilliantly devised and the Muslims owe a great debt of gratitude to him because there is no doubt that it is the rigour of his methodology which preserved so many of the sources of Islam in such a remarkable way over all these centuries.
Shaykh Abdalqadir’s desire, however, was to have direct access to the Book and Sunna in their primal form as they were first implemented by the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, and his Companions, may Allah be pleased with them, and both these methods presented the phenomenon at one remove so they were clearly not what he was seeking. It was with Imam Malik, may Allah have mercy on him, that the Shaykh found what he had been looking for.
Shaykh Abdalqadir entered Islam in Morocco and so his first acquaintance with the fiqh of Islam had automatically been by way of the Maliki madhhab but he had discounted that along with everything else in his search for the pure source of the deen. His rediscovery of Imam Malik was, therefore, not as the founder of the subsequent madhhab named after him but rather as the Imam of the Dar al-Hijra, Madina al-Munawwara, and the recorder and transmitter of the ‘Amal Ahli’l-Madina, the practice of the people of Madina. Imam Malik saw it as his task to capture for posterity the living tradition of Islam in action, the Book and Sunna in their pristine original form, which had been passed down to him unaltered through the two generations that had elapsed since the Prophet’s death, may Allah bless him and grant him peace.
There were two paramount reasons for adopting this position. The first was that it clearly did represent the closest possible exposition of Islam as it was actually lived by the Prophet and his Companions. It constituted without any doubt the unbroken transmission of the Book and Sunna in the very place where it had been established, preserved and unaltered in any way by the two generations who had lived there between the days of the First Community and the time of Imam Malik. So what it brings to us is that raw, vital energy of the first days of Islam, the time of the Prophet himself, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, and the time immediately following it of the Khulafa Rashidun, may Allah be pleased with all of them, when the deen was in its most potent phase of expansion and establishment. For that reason it is sometimes known as the madhhab of ‘Umar, may Allah be pleased with him.
It is, in fact, the transmission of the very behaviour pattern which made Islam happen in the first place, so what better model could there be for this time when it is once again necessary to start from the ground up. The historical proof of its potency can be seen in the example of the Murabitun in the eleventh century. The Practice of the People of Madina was transmitted to them by Abdallah ibn Yasin, the teacher sent to them from Kairouan, where the living record of the ‘Amal Ahli’l-Madina had been passed on from the time of Malik himself, and with it and nothing else they burst out from their land in West Africa and revived Islam throughout the Maghrib and al-Andalus, ensuring the Muslims in Spain, who had at that time almost come under Christian domination, a further two hundred years of Islamic governance.
The second reason is its incontrovertible authenticity which has been repeatedly verified throughout the centuries, not least by the celebrated Hanbali scholar, Ibn Taymiyya, whose book The Soundness of the Basic Premises of the Madhhab of the People of Madina, makes it clear that the most complete picture of the Sunna, both in terms of its spirit and its actual practice, was that passed on by Imam Malik and captured in its outline in his book al-Muwatta. This was because of Imam Malik’s great knowledge, his geographical location in the City of the Prophet, the great number of men of knowledge who had remained there, preserving the deen in its entirety from the time of the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, and the fact that, as was universally acknowledged, no innovation in the deen at all entered Madina during the first three generations of Islam. Also worth mentioning, in a contemporary context, is the book of Dr Yasin Dutton The Origins of Islamic Law, a piece of scrupulous scholarship inspired by Shaykh Abdalqadir. In his book Dr Dutton shows conclusively that Malik’s Muwatta does indeed contain a direct record of the authentic practice of the first Community and by doing so, incidentally, deals a death blow to the orientalists who had maintained that there was a time-gap between the first Community and the development of the shari‘a.
Because of this Shaykh Abdalqadir felt, as, in fact, had the great Indian scholar Shah Waliullah of Delhi two centuries earlier, that here was a position which was pure Book and Sunna with no controversy in it whatsoever on which all the Muslims could come together. As he says at the end of Root Islamic Education:
The duty is to come together at that point where there is no argument and no deviation. The place is Madina. Only there can we all meet in that primal ‘Umari Islam, … for it was the evidence and proof from the Messenger of Allah that men could live together in justice and in peace and with trust in each other, by obedience to Allah, glory be to Him. It is the school of Madina, salafi, and pure, that will unite the Muslims, and revitalise the deen, and restore the reality of the second shahada, along with the first.
Shaykh Abdalqadir had already been responsible for the first complete English translation of Malik’s great book, al-Muwatta, but now he saw it with new eyes as the blueprint for the re-establishment of Allah’s deen in the very same way in which it had been established in the first place. Put together with Allah’s Book and the Shifa of Qadi ‘Iyad, which provides the essential inner dimension of love of the Messenger, it is all that is necessary for the complete re-implementation of Islamic governance.
This has necessarily been a somewhat oversimplified outline of the Shaykh’s teaching on this subject which can be found in much greater detail in his seminal text Root Islamic Education. The depth of research which went into this extraordinary work and the clarity with which his thesis is expounded would by itself be enough to earn Shaykh Abdalqadir a permanent place in the annals of Islamic scholarship.
This redefined position of the Shaykh found immediate expression in the adoption by all of his communities of every aspect of the Practice of the People of Madina that it was possible for them to implement, and also in the taking on of an overtly political structure to introduce into each community the element of governance under an amir which Shaykh Abdalqadir saw to be absolutely crucial to the active re-implementation of Islamic fiqh. He also organised a series of four international conferences which drew together many of the most learned ‘ulama from some of the places where the Madinan madhhab is still studied and practised, namely Tunisia, Mauritania, Morocco and Abu Dhabi, and by doing so regenerated interest the ‘Amal Ahli’l-Madina and in fact reawakened a dormant giant. The invaluable material presented at these conferences, which has yet to be fully exploited, is sufficient to enable every facet of Allah’s deen to be fully re-enacted within the present context.
It was, however, his rereading of those sections of the Muwatta dealing with the commercial and economic life of the first Muslims, which actually comprise a good portion of the book, which was to prove to have the greatest impact on contemporary Islam. What immediately became clear was that the laws governing the economic transactions of the first community are totally incompatible with the present world economic system; there is no meeting point. It is not a question of Madina having being a primitive situation so that the shari‘a regarding these matters is outmoded and unable to deal with modern conditions. That would be equivalent to saying that Allah’s laws have been abrogated and that can never happen. No, they are relevant and applicable to all kinds and sizes of permitted business transactions and you will find in them all the elements necessary for a very sophisticated economy.
What has happened is that banking capitalism which controls all economic life in the world today is entirely based on usury and, therefore, forbidden to Muslims in the strongest terms both in the Book and the Sunna. Yet in this supremely important area of life which affects every one of us every day of our lives the Muslims appeared to have totally turned their backs on their deen. Nowhere was there any real critique of the banking system and Muslim involvement in it. The state ‘ulama of Muslim countries had completely capitulated and were saying nothing whatsoever and the modernist Islamic movement had come up with something called ‘Islamic economics’ and ‘Islamic banking’ which are in the end nothing other than a back door to the same world system. As the Shaykh himself says when discussing Islamic banking in his book The Sign of the Sword:
The inescapable fact is that banking by its nature is one global system. If you plug into it with one small, so-called ‘clean’ investment called non-interest banking it still must interface throughout the whole larger system until it becomes immediately and automatically enmeshed in the usurious process.
This understanding of Shaykh Abdalqadir led to the reopening of the debate on riba which had basically been dead for a century since Abduh’s infamous fatwa allowing Muslims to take interest on their savings accounts in the EgyptianBritish post office. Deep investigation of the subject followed and, inspired by the Shaykh, a conference was held by his community in Norwich entitled Usury the Root Cause of the Injustices of Our Time which looked into its historical prohibition, its reintroduction in the 16th century, the growth of banking, and its socially and environmentally destructive effects. These papers were published and created a ground swell of active interest among Muslims and non-Muslims alike. It became clearer and clearer that true political power in the world lay not in the hands of national politicians anywhere but in the hands of the supra-national financial institutions and those who manipulated them. This has, of course, vital and immediate implications for the struggle to re-establish Islam and those doing it. In another passage from The Sign of the Sword the Shaykh says:
It is vital that the Muslim mujahideen do not mistake the enemy and think this is a war against a nation or a leader. … It is a Jihad against the usurious banking entity. … (which) is not merely a personnel but a method, a deen, with its Temples, the banks; with its holy places the Stock Exchanges of the world; and its false scriptures – the data-banks of figures, these magical millions and billions that hold the world’s poor to ransom for the sake of a small elite of kafir power brokers … It is with these that war must be waged.
The deeper the investigation went the clearer it became that their subjection to the usurious world financial system was the crucial issue facing the Muslims of this time. In his book The Return of the Khalifate Shaykh Abdalqadir documents with distressing historical accuracy how the fall of the Uthmani Khalifate and the subsequent dismemberment of the Muslim umma was brought about not by military means but by the use of usurious financial techniques in the hands of a few bankers who first siphoned off its fabulous wealth, then indebted it and finally bankrupted it.
One of the key factors which contributed to the downfall of the khilafa was the introduction and acceptance of paper money which, from the 17th century onwards, had been developed and continually used by the usurious banking system as an instrument of control and a means of gaining power. Research into the Islamic fiqh concerning money convinced Shaykh Abdalqadir that paper money was in itself clearly haram and this conviction was backed up by the discovery of fatawa from several authoritative ‘ulama, both past and present, unequivocally declaring the same thing. This realisation has extremely serious implications for Islam and shows that through their control of the financial system the usurers have been able to strike at the very heart of Allah’s deen. What this means is that to all intents and purposes the third pillar of Islam, zakat, has been demolished.
An impartial examination of the classical fiqh of all four madhhabs on the subject of zakat shows that two things are absolutely indispensable to it. The first is that it must be collected and disbursed by the ruler. Zakat collectors must be appointed and must assess the amount of zakat owed by the Muslims within their area of authority and collect it from them, if necessary by force. The second is that the zakat on monetary wealth and on commercial goods must be paid in gold and silver. The westernisation of government structures throughout the Muslim world has led to the complete abandonment of the first prerequisite. There is not one country in the world where zakat is collected and distributed according to the explicit stipulations of the shari‘a. And the usurious world financial system has put paid to the second prerequisite by replacing gold and silver coinage with the essentially valueless paper tokens which are now all the money people know.
Putting all these observations together one thing became patently obvious: there was no possibility whatsoever of re-establishing Islam without the disengagement of the Muslims from the present world economic system. To effect this it would be necessary to restore correctly implemented zakat to its pivotal place alongside salat at the centre of the deen, to re-introduce of gold and silver coinage as the currency of the Muslims, and to re-activate among the Muslims the fiqh governing business transactions. This was clearly no small undertaking yet, nevertheless, considerable progress has already been made on the path towards achieving it. Shaykh Abdalqadir has had alongside him, helping him in this task, Umar Ibrahim Vadillo, who has studied every aspect of these matters in great depth, using the original sources and much ancillary material, both old and new.
With regard to the restoration of zakat Shaykh Abdalqadir has set up in all his communities the necessary political structure to enable it to be collected and distributed correctly and set in motion a teaching programme to educate as many other Muslims as possible about the fiqh of zakat and the social and political implications entailed by its proper re-implementation.
Gold dinars and silver dirhams have been minted in several countries to the exact specifications of the dinars and dirhams of the first community and have now been successfully used in more than twenty countries. This re-introduction of this bi-metallic currency has provoked much interest among many Muslims, including a number in influential positions. The previous prime minister of Turkey, Nejmettin Erbakan was so enthusiastic about it that he held up one the new gold dinars in the Blue Mosque in Istanbul and declared: “This is the currency of the Muslims!” It may not be entirely a coincidence that it was very shortly after this incident that he was removed from office. Another exciting development in this field aimed at making the gold coins easy to use in the world to day is the e-dinar.
Umar Ibrahim Vadillo has also gone a long way along the road to re-activating the fiqh on business transactions. He has published a lot of material about it, both in book form and on the internet, putting the matter in a contemporary context and showing its vital relevance to the modern world. And his work has not been confined to the theoretical. Several Islamic markets have been instituted in which the dinar and dirham have been used as the medium of exchange and the fiqh of business transactions applied, so that several Islamic forms of contract, which had not seen the light of day for more than a century, have once again been effectively employed.
In this way the impact of the teaching of Shaykh Abdalqadir as-Sufi is increasingly making itself felt among the Muslims throughout the whole umma and it has hopefully become plain from what has been said that he has indeed been successful both in initiating the recovery of true Islamic fiqh and in overseeing the beginning of its re-implementation. This has inevitably been a very incomplete exposition of the Shaykh’s teaching and has failed to do anything like justice to it, even in respect of those aspects of it that have been covered, and there are many other aspects which have not been mentioned at all. It is hoped, however, that what has been presented will have been sufficient to awaken the interest of those who have not been exposed to his work before and to remind those who have of the extraordinary depth and breadth of his knowledge, of his constant active concern for all the Muslims, and of his unflagging determination to see the justice and compassion of the living Islam of the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, and his Companions, may Allah be pleased with all of them, re-established in all its glory once again on the earth.