500 Most Influential Muslims – 2011

November 29, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

muslim500-cover-2011-web2A new book has been released very recently (available here). 

This is the third edition of the book, which came out for the first time in 2009 and has since been updated annually.

The price of the book is $39.99, and in fact this new edition may be a must-have book for anyone writing about Islam, as it provides snapshots of many key and influential people, not to mention a snapshot of Islam itself.

There are several new qualities in this new edition.  The size and layout have been changed; there is an essay on the Arab Spring; there are quotes from the top 25 and from some others; there are statistics about the top 25 and some others; the bios have been expanded; there is an “Arab Spring box” for the top 50 to show whether the Arab Spring was a plus or a minus for each of the top 50; higher quality photography; expanded honorable mentions section, new obituaries section; updated Muslim population statistics; new maps; expanded glossary.

There is also a companion website (www.TheMuslim500.com). 

The format is improved and despite some changes in position, mostly the same people are in the book. 

Hamza Yusuf has fallen a few places.  The USA is very well represented as before.  Tariq Ramadan is among the honorable mentions but not in the top 50.

There is an excellent discussion of the major schools of thought in the book.

The book’s Introduction was written by a Muslim convert from Judaism, Prof. Abdallah Schleifer, who teaches at the American University in Cairo.  In his introduction he provides an excellent defense of monarchy based on Qur`an, ahadith, and Islamic scholarship, quoting Ghazi bin Muhammad at length, who in turned argued:  “Traditional, Orthodox Islam has always endorsed monarchy as such.”  

It is “the best – and perhaps only conceivable form of government because it can best deliver justice and adherence to God’s laws.”  Islamic Monarchy, he says, “whilst not democratic as such in the modern sense of ultimate power being derived and delivered through universal suffrage, nevertheless makes participative consultation (shura) of experts, the learned and the wise (16:43; 21:7; 4:83) incumbent on the ruler…”

Moreover, he also gives extensive time to Dr. Yusuf Ibish, who taught political thought at the American University of Beirut and who taught a “rather obscure” course on Islamic Political Thought, meaning traditional Sunni Islamic political thought of Imam Abdul Hamid Al-Ghazali” and others.  “Modern Islamic or Islamist political thought is usually a coupling of any number of 19th and 20th century Western ideologies – be they left-wing Leninist (Marxist) or right-wing Leninist (Fascist—be that hyper-nationalist or racist) or the kinder ideologies of Social Democracy (the welfare state) and Democracy blended with Islamic pieties…”

Schleifer gives these arguments in defense of monarchy into the context of the modern tumult in the Arab world and in turn argues that perhaps the grass roots efforts to topple the leadership in Egypt and Tunisia was actually not responsible for their success, but rather the interference of the armies in those two countries.

The House of Islam.  The book has a brilliantly written 10 page introduction to Islam (reprinted by permission of Vincenzo Oliveti) followed by several charts, which manages in such a brief space to define all or most of the major subsets or alternative (and sometimes complementary) models of Islam that exist until today.

This overview is followed by the “Amman Message” (see more at www.ammanmessage.com) which is a restatement of the “historical 2005 international Islamic consensus on the three points of the Amman Message,” namely (1) that the four Sunni schools and the two Shi’a schools adherents are Muslim.  Calling any of those people an apostate is impossible and impermissible.  His/her blood, honor and property are inviolable.  Further, it is impossible and impermissible to declare anyone who subscribes to the Ash’ari creed or who practices real Tasawwuf (Sufism) an apostate.  Further, “it is neither possible nor permissible to declare whosoever subscribes to true Salafi thought an apostate.” (2) There exists more in common between the various schools of Islamic jurisprudence than there is difference between them.” (3) Acknowledgment of the schools of Islamic jurisprudence within Islam means adhering to a fundamental methodology in the issuance of fatwas; no one may issue a fatwa without the requisite personal qualifications which each school of Islamic jurisprudence determines [for its own adherents]. No one can claim unlimited ijtihad and create a new school of Islamic thought.

After this brief but excellent introduction, the book dives into the top 50 influential Muslims.  The first, again, is His Majesty King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.  The second is the king of Morocco, King Mohammed VI.  Third is Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan—who has gone several steps up since the issue of 500 Muslims from two years ago.  Most of the top 25 are politically powerful people.  Slipping to fifth place was Grand Ayatollah Hajj Syyid Ali Khamenei.

Shaykh Nazim al-Qubrusi, leader of the Naqshbandi-Haqqani Sufi Order, is listed by the book at number 48. Sheikh Ahmad Tijani Ali Cisse, leader of the Tijaniyya Sufi Order, is listed at number 26.

The first scholar listed is Dr. Sheikh Ahmad Muhammad Al Tayyeb, the Grand Sheikh of Al Azhar University and Grand Imam of the Al Azhar mosque.  In fact, of the top 25, eight are scholars from across the world, representing several different schools of thought.  Three are leaders of movements, including Tablighi Jamaat, Ikhwan and Hezbollah.  Sheikha Munira Qubeysi, leader of the Qubeysi movement of scholarship for Muslim women, is among the top 25

The book’s top 25 also includes Dr. Amr Khaled.

Where before (in 2009) the book seemed to sway towards political correctness, by being sure to mention a prominent Shi’a political leader after mentioning the Saudi political leader, now it seems to focus more clearly on those people that the authors consider important—although there seems to be some bias in the still very high status of Hamza Yusuf Hanson (43), disproportionate to his world stature.  While Mr. Hanson is building the Zaytuna Institute, he hardly compares with some of those ranked below him; and also does not compare with those near in proximity but above him.  Does it make sense that the president of Palestine is only seven ranks above Hamza Yusuf? Mahmoud Abbas has the capacity to move newspapers by the ton simply by saying a choice sentence.  By contrast, Hamza Yusuf Hanson’s influence is really confined to an investment in the future of traditional Muslim scholarship in the US.  Certainly his influence is not more powerful than the Grand Mufti of Bosnia, who is ranked at #44, immediately Hanson’s junior.

Sheikh Hisham Kabbani is listed among the top 500, as a spiritual guide in North America.

Paging through the book you will notice a huge improvement in the quality of the pictures—this book is one that is suitable to display on a coffee table.

On Being Faithful Muslims and Loyal Americans

October 13, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Resolution of the Fiqh Council of North America Adopted in its General Body Meeting held in Virginia on September 24-25, 2011

Like other faith communities in the US and elsewhere, we see no inherent conflict between the normative values of Islam and the US Constitution and Bill of Rights.

Contrary to erroneous perceptions and Islamophobic propaganda of political extremists from various backgrounds, the true and authentic teachings of Islam promote the sanctity of human life, dignity of all humans, and respect of human, civil and political rights. Islamic teachings uphold religious freedom and adherence to the same universal moral values which are accepted by the majority of people of all backgrounds and upon which the US Constitution was established and according to which the Bill of Rights was enunciated.

The Qur’an speaks explicitly about the imperative of just and peaceful co-existence, and the rights of legitimate self-defense against aggression and oppression that pose threats to freedom and security, provided that, a strict code of behavior is adhered to, including the protection of innocent non-combatants.

The foregoing values and teachings can be amply documented from the two primary sources of Islamic jurisprudence – the Qur’an and authentic Hadith. These values are rooted, not in political correctness or pretense, but on the universally accepted supreme objectives of Islamic Shari’ah, which is to protect religious liberty, life, reason, family and property of all. The Shari’ah, contrary to misrepresentations, is a comprehensive and broad guidance for all aspects of a Muslim’s life – spiritual, moral, social and legal. Secular legal systems in Western democracies generally share the same supreme objectives, and are generally compatible with Islamic Shari’ah.

Likewise, the core modern democratic systems are compatible with the Islamic principles of Shura – mutual consultation and co-determination of all social affairs  at all levels and in all spheres, family, community, society, state and globally.

As a body of Islamic scholars, we the members of FCNA believe that it is false and misleading to suggest that there is a contradiction between being faithful Muslims committed to God (Allah) and being loyal American citizens. Islamic teachings require respect of the laws of the land where Muslims live as minorities, including the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, so long as there is no conflict with Muslims’ obligation for obedience to God. We do not see any such conflict with the US Constitution and Bill of Rights. The primacy of obedience to God is a commonly held position of many practicing Jews and Christians as well.

We believe further that as citizens of a free and democratic society, we have the same obligations and rights of all US citizens. We believe that right of dissent can only be exercised in a peaceful and lawful manner to advance the short and long term interests of our country.

The Fiqh Council of North America calls on all Muslim Americans and American citizens at large to engage in objective, peaceful and respectful dialogue at all levels and spheres of common social concerns. We call upon all Muslim Americans to be involved in solving pressing social problems, such as the challenge of poverty, discrimination, violence, health care and environmental protection. It is fully compatible with Islam for Muslims to integrate positively in the society of which they are equal citizens, without losing their identity as Muslims (just as Jews and Christians do not lose their religious identity in doing the same).

We believe that emphasis on dialogue and positive collaborative action is a far better approach than following the paths of those who thrive on hate mongering and fear propaganda. Anti-Islam, anti-Semitism and other similar forms of religious and/or political-based discrimination are all forms of racism unfit for civilized people and are betrayal of the true American as well as Islamic values.
May the pursuit of peace, justice, love, compassion, human equality and fellowship prevail in the pluralistic mosaic that is the hallmark of our nation.

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In Egypt’s Democracy, Room for Islam

April 7, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Ali Gomaa, Grand Mufti of Islam

AliGomaaLast month, Egyptians approved a referendum on constitutional amendments that will pave the way for free elections. The vote was a milestone in Egypt’s emerging democracy after a revolution that swept away decades of authoritarian rule. But it also highlighted an issue that Egyptians will grapple with as they consolidate their democracy:  the role of religion in political life.

The vote was preceded by the widespread use of religious slogans by supporters and opponents of the amendments, a debate over the place of religion in Egypt’s future Constitution and a resurgence in political activity by Islamist groups. Egypt is a deeply religious society, and it is inevitable that Islam will have a place in our democratic political order. This, however, should not be a cause for alarm for Egyptians, or for the West.

Egypt’s religious tradition is anchored in a moderate, tolerant view of Islam. We believe that Islamic law guarantees freedom of conscience and expression (within the bounds of common decency) and equal rights for women. And as head of Egypt’s agency of Islamic jurisprudence, I can assure you that the religious establishment is committed to the belief that government must be based on popular sovereignty.

While religion cannot be completely separated from politics, we can ensure that it is not abused for political gain.

Much of the debate around the referendum focused on Article 2 of the Constitution — which, in 1971, established Islam as the religion of the state and, a few years later, the principles of Islamic law as the basis of legislation — even though the article was not up for a vote.

But many religious groups feared that if the referendum failed, Egypt would eventually end up with an entirely new Constitution with no such article.
On the other side, secularists feared that Article 2, if left unchanged, could become the foundation for an Islamist state that discriminates against Coptic Christians and other religious minorities.
But acknowledgment of a nation’s religious heritage is an issue of national identity, and need not interfere with the civil nature of its political processes. There is no contradiction between Article 2 and Article 7 of Egypt’s interim Constitution, which guarantees equal citizenship before the law regardless of religion, race or creed. 

After all, Denmark, England and Norway have state churches, and Islam is the national religion of politically secular countries like Tunisia and Jordan. The rights of Egypt’s Christians to absolute equality, including their right to seek election to the presidency, is sacrosanct.

Similarly, long-suppressed Islamist groups can no longer be excluded  from political life. All Egyptians have the right to participate in the creation of a new Egypt, provided that they respect the basic tenets of religious freedom and the equality of all citizens. To protect our democracy, we must be vigilant against any party whose platform or political rhetoric threatens to incite sectarianism, a prohibition that is enshrined in law and in the Constitution.

Islamists must understand that, in a country with such diverse movements as the Muslim Brotherhood; the Wasat party, which offers a progressive interpretation of Islam; and the conservative Salafi movements, no one group speaks for Islam.

At the same time, we should not be afraid that such groups in politics will do away with our newfound freedoms. Indeed, democracy will put Islamist movements to the test; they must now put forward programs and a political message that appeal to the Egyptian mainstream. Any drift toward radicalism will not only run contrary to the law, but will also guarantee their political marginalization.

Having overthrown the heavy hand of authoritarianism, Egyptians will not accept its return under the guise of religion. Islam will have a place in Egypt’s democracy. But it will be as a pillar of freedom and tolerance, never as a means of oppression.

Ali Gomaa is the grand mufti of Egypt.

New York Times

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Muslim scientists and thinkers–Abu Hamid al-Ghazali

September 11, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

By Syed Aslam

Imamghazali Abu Hamid  al-Ghazali,  also known in west as Algazel, was born at Tus, Iran in the year 1058 CE. His father died while he was very young. He received his early education at Tus and at the age of fourteen he went to Gurgan. Here he studied Fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence) and after seven years he moved to the city of Nishapur and became the student of famous scholar Abu Maali Juwayni.

He soon acquired a high standard of scholarship in religion,  philosophy and fiqh. The vizier of the Seljuk Sultan, impressed by his scholarship, appointed him as a Professor at the Nizamiyah University of Baghdad, which was the most reputed institution of learning at that time.

After a few years, however, he gave up his academic pursuits and worldly interests and became a wandering ascetic.

After spending  some time in Jerusalem, Makkah and Medina he came back to Tus and spent several years in seclusion. He finally ended his seclusion, opened a Sufi school khanakah and started teaching and lecturing. He remained in Tus until his death in December of 1111 CE.

Among the Muslim theologians, al- Ghazali was the most influential; in addition he was a philosopher, a Jurist and a Sufi mystic. He was a prolific writer, authoring more than 70 books. Probably his major work, the multi-volume Ihya ul-Uloom ud-Din, (The Revival of Religious Sciences), can be divided into four parts, which cover perhaps all aspects of Islam, including Islamic jurisprudence, theology and Sufism.

In this series he pointed out that the traditional teaching about Islam did not convince him in his adolescence. His conviction came later, through his Sufi mystical experience. In his autobiography; The Deliverance from Error, he recounts how his spiritual crisis was resolved by a light from God, the key to all knowledge. The Sufi mystical experience brought changes in his theological thought.

Al-Ghazali authored two books on Islamic theology, The Middle Path in Theology and The Jerusalem Epistle. In both books the theological position he expressed matches with the Asharite school of thought. He wrote three books on Aristotelian logic, The Standard Measure of Knowledge, The Touchstone of Proof of Logic and The Just Balance.

Al-Ghazali was  very much interested in logic and philosophy, and he studied intensively while he was teaching at Baghdad. He composed two books on philosophy; The Intention of the Philosopher, in which he has summarized his own conclusions about philosophy, and set the stage for the  second book; The Incoherence of the Philosophers. In this book he has used exhaustive logic against philosophers. He vehemently rejected Aristotle, Plato and all Muslim philosophers starting from eighth century who incorporated the ancient Greek philosophy into Islamic theology. The main among them were  al Kindi, al-Farabi and Ibn Sina. Point by point, he refuted their arguments.

For 100 years his arguments were unchallenged.  Ibn Rushd, an Andalusian  philosopher, made a counter-argument in his book The Incoherence of the Incoherence, but the epistemological course of Islamic thought had already been set by al-Ghazali.

Al-Ghazali divided knowledge into three categories; praiseworthy, permissible and blameworthy–which he has discussed in his book Ihya Ulum-id-Din (Revival of the Religious Sciences). All learning connected to religion is praiseworthy, but when mixed with other than religion sometimes becomes blameworthy. Learning medicine and mathematics he said are permissible and declared it as farze Kefayah, not ferze Ayin. If a man in a town or a locality acquires such knowledge, the whole community get absolved from the sin.

In his book al-Mustasfa which he wrote towards the end of his life, he stated that arithmetic and geometry are pure rational sciences and as such not recommended for study. They fluctuate between false and true knowledge that yield no practical application. He saw no usefulness in the study of physics and said some part of the subject as it was understood in his time contradicted the Shariah and thus were useless or blameworthy.

Al-Ghazali believed in the certainty of God which he experienced by mystic revelation, a phenomena he said was beyond logic or sensory perception. He argued that you can not prove the presence of God by logic or philosophy, and saw philosophy as largely a waste of time and inadequate for discovering the truth. Contingent events, he said, are not subject to natural physical cause, but are direct result of God’s constant intervention. This concept of God is consistent with the Asharite school of theology.   

Al-Ghazali’s work had a widespread influence on western medieval scholars especially Thomas Aquinas. He received wide recognition in the religious institutions of the Ottoman empire, southeast Asia, and Africa. In the Indian subcontinent, he enjoyed wide recognition both among the Deobandi school as well as the arch-rival Barelwi school.

Aslamsyed1@yahoo.com