Mohammad Hashim Kamali
Professor Dato' Dr. Mohammad Hashim Kamali is founding CEO of the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies (IAIS) Malaysia.
EVENTS are still unfolding but expectations are already dampened by the Taliban's performance in government after four months in power. Up to late December last year, only Malaysia has officially recognised it.
This is perhaps not highly significant given the fact that Malaysia has no diplomatic mission in Kabul and deals with Afghanistan through its embassy in Qatar.
Pakistan is generally seen to have actively supported the Taliban takeover of power in August last year but it has yet to officially recognise it.
The United States has not recognised the Taliban and according to its Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, it is not likely to do so unless the Taliban changes its stance on inclusivity and human rights, especially of women's rights to work and education.
Due to legitimacy issues, Washington is refusing to release US$10 billion of Afghanistan's reserves in the US despite public outcry in Afghanistan that those funds are sorely needed.
Other countries tend to follow the US and have refused recognition for similar reasons, saying that the Taliban should act on its promises first.
The Taliban considers the prevailing non-recognition as less than acceptable and unfair.
The Taliban maintains — and confirmed in a Jan 4 interview with First Deputy Prime Minister Mullah Baradar — that it fulfils all the requirements of recognition, take credit that security prevails under it, and that its policies are people-friendly and responsive to actual developments.
Earlier comments by some of the Taliban spokesmen claimed that the Taliban is not the same group as the one of 20 years ago (when it was in power from 1996 to 2001) and has changed in many ways.
Yet, it has not budged on its negative stance on women's rights despite the frequent comments by international commentators that the Taliban should change this.
Public expectations that the Taliban will be a people's government are also dampened due to a series of restrictions it is imposing on public activities. Media representatives are complaining of many restrictions.
An earlier announcement by the Taliban Ministry for the Promotion of Good and Prevention of Evil said the media should expose people to that which is good and beneficial and avoid coverage of futile activities.
There is talk that the Taliban is clamping down on music. People are expected to wear beards and the traditional shalwar-kameez outfit. Internally displaced and unemployed people are growing in numbers and further swelling the existing problems of poverty and deprivation.
The fears of drastic food shortages and increasing economic problems add to the gloomy outlook. About 90 per cent of Afghans currently live below the poverty line.
Banks were closed for weeks before it reopened but are still far from returning to their normal pace of activities. Government employees and workers are complaining of not receiving their salaries for months amid widespread unemployment.
There are fears of an impending humanitarian disaster due to worsening food shortages and rising prices. Recent announcements that the import trade volumes are declining is indication of an economic slowdown.
This is despite an earlier announcement by Pakistan that it is allowing India's export of food and medicine to Afghanistan though its territory.
Time is not on the Taliban's side. Problems are piling up and the people's view of it is also turning negative.
It bought time earlier by saying publicly that it needed to consult internally among themselves and formulate new policies, that it was new in office and had inherited a corrupt regime and so forth.
Instead, the Taliban has gradually come up with more restrictions and issued few reassuring statements to respond to public concerns.
What policies the leadership was consulting about and formulating should perhaps be discussed in the open and deliberated for better results.
People expect more effective measures to curb food supply shortages, declining market situations and financial activities.
The value of the Afghan currency, Afghani, versus the US dollar is in a free fall. It was 80 Afghani some months ago but it is now 104. Trading volumes in the Kabul Market and other major cities have also declined.
All this give fodder to the rumour that the Taliban is likely to collapse due to lack of funds, ineffective governance and lack of international support.
Mohammad Hashim Kamali is founding chief executive officer of the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies Malaysia.
Published in: The New Straits Times, Sunday 09 January 2022
Many of Islam’s leading principles are premised on the idea of the responsibility, individual or collective, of the faithful to be useful members of society and be good to their fellow humans, which is also why Islam places greater emphasis on the notion of obligation (wājib) as compared to right (ḥaqq). The primacy of wājib over ḥaqq in Islam has even led some Orientalists to the conclusion that Islam hardly recognizes any rights for the individual. This is, however, no more than a specious conclusion as Islamic law clearly recognizes rights and liberties attached to the individual person such as ownership, privacy, movement, inheritance, guardianship and many others. The primacy of wājib over ḥaqq is premised on the notion of what one owes to others, rather than on one’s own claims or rights over them. We shall presently elaborate on this while also looking at the related concepts of iḥsān (benevolence), jiwār (neighborliness), khayr (good), and also taṣawwuf (mysticism).
A parallel concept to wājib in shari‘a terminology is farḍ: When an obligation is founded on decisive evidence, it is farḍ, but when its supportive evidence is not free of all doubt, it is designated as wājib. There are two types of farḍ: personal obligation (farḍ ‘ayn) and collective obligation (farḍ kifā’ī). The former consists mainly of matters of worship (‘ibādāt) whereas the latter consists of collective duties that fall on the community as a whole.
A prime example of a collective obligation that occurs in several places in the Qur’an (3:104; 3:110; 16:90; 32:70) is that of “bidding good and forbidding evil (amr bi’l-ma‘rūf wa nahya ‘an al-munkar,” also known as ḥisba for short, a collective obligation which falls mainly on the Muslim community. As a collective obligation, ḥisba is practiced by at least some members of Muslim community, if not all. As for the question of whether ḥisba is what Muslims must do among themselves, or if it should also include all human beings, the correct answer is the latter ‒ as is inferred from the Qur’an (3:110) where the Muslim community (umma) is mentioned side by side with humankind. Muslims must therefore call to all that is good and to forbid all that is wrong, not only among themselves, but among all fellow humans, Muslim and non-Muslim alike. This is because the principal guideline given elsewhere for Muslims, specifically, is to be “good and fair (tabarrū wa-tuqsiṭū)” to non-Muslims who have not been aggressive toward them (Qur’an 60:8). There is also a consensus among Muslim scholars that bidding good and forbidding evil should be carried out by all societies, for the Qur’an refers to the scope of this duty as extending to “the whole of humankind,” which includes both the Muslim umma and all other communities (cf. 3:110).
Furthermore, as a religion (dīn), Islam consists of three parts: faith (īmān), practice (islām), and benevolence (iḥsān). Iḥsān literally means “excellence” and “beauty” in one’s character and one’s spiritual state. Iḥsān and its derivatives occur 190 times in the Qur’an, often in reference to God Most High who loves beauty and also expects the faithful person to be a muḥsin, one who persists in iḥsān. Over time, the practice of Islam became manifest through the shari‘a, whereas faith (īmān) became institutionalized through scholastic theology (kalām) and other forms of doctrinal teachings, and iḥsān manifested its presence through ethics, good manners (akhlaq, adab) and mysticism (Sufism). Mysticism nurtures gratitude to God, abstenance from evil, freedom from egotism, and ultimately eternal salvation. The perfect human is one who beautifies not only the outer, but also the inner self. In other words, both the faith and practice of Islam should be beautiful. In a hadith, it is stated that “God has prescribed iḥsān in all things.” It is for the faithful, therefore, to discern the good and ethical course of action in every circumstance and practice it. Iḥsān can also be understood to mean that Muslims owe it to their fellow human beings to be good to them and act toward them in beautiful ways. Iḥsān as such is not even confined to religion, and applies to all activities a Muslim does. It is certainly important for present-day Muslims to practice iḥsān in their interaction with fellow humans, with both Muslims and non-Muslims in all countries as neighbours, compatriots and fellow humans that need to work together to address common challenges they all face, such as the climate change, environmental issues and the Covid pandemic. In another hadith, the Prophet Muhammad addressed the faithful saying: “Whoever believes in God and the Last Day should speak something good or else remain silent.”
The focus of traditional mystical practice, or taṣawwuf, is to attain iḥsān through the purification of the heart and personal character so as to achieve holistic purity (tazkiya, zuhd – purity and asceticism respectively). The master Sufi, Rumi, conveyed the message of love for all human beings beyond the boundaries of race and religion. Iḥsān may also consist of material help, some of which is obligatory, such as the zakāh charity, and others which are supererogatory (ṣadaqa), as well as the charitable endowment (waqf). The waqf is supererogatory to begin with, but once it is made, the endower (wāqif) is bound by it and loses all control over the endowed assets. Muslims have throughout history used waqf for public welfare activities such as building mosques, bridges, hospitals, etc., that benefited both Muslims and non-Muslims; and they continue to do so throughout the Muslim world. As for the question of whether charity, be it zakāh or ṣadaqa, is to be given to Muslims only or may also be given to non-Muslims, the correct answer is the latter, for religion is not a bar to charity. This is because the Qur’an does not specify the recepient’s religion as a condition for charity. There is also the precedent of the second Caliph ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab (d. 644) on record, that when passing through the market of Medina, the Caliph saw an elderly Jew begging. He assigned him a share in the Bayt al-Māl (the public treasury funded by zakāh) saying that it was unfair that he contributed to the Bayt al-Māl during his youth and should now have to be begging. Records also show that the Prophet sent some sacrificial meat to a Jewish household of Medina in the neighbourhood. Furthermore, the scriptural sources of Islam recognize two levels of fraternity: al-ikhā’ al-dīnī (fraternity in faith) and al-ikhā’ al-insānī (human fraternity); hence religion is not a bar to giving charity and extending iḥsān to the non-Muslims.
Islamic teachings also emphasize good neighborliness, which is not confined to those in one’s physical neighborhood, or living adjacent to one’s household, but also includes those who share joint ownership of land, partnership in business, fellow travellers, one’s relatives and so forth – all are considered “neighbors”. Moreover, the physical neighborhood itself extends, according to a hadith, to forty houses on all sides, Muslims and non-Muslims alike ‒ and juristic details abound on what may or may not mark the end of a neighborhood, such as a street or a water canal running between, etc. This same hadith entitles all neighbors to respectful treatment, protection from harm and annoyance, happy encounter, greetings of peace, and gift-giving. According to Qur’an 4:36 one’s parents and relatives, neighbors who are relatives and those who are non-relatives, are all entitled to iḥsān. In one hadith the Prophet has said that the “[Archangel] Gabriel emphasized the rights of the neighbor so much to me that I almost thought he was going to make him an heir.” In another hadith the Prophet declared: “By God he has no faith, by God he has no faith, by God he has no faith!” His companions asked him: “Who is this O Messenger of God?” The Prophet replied: One whose neighbor does not feel safe from his evil.” A neighbor may be anyone: Muslim or non-Muslim, pious or sinner, urbanite or bedouin, benevolent or malicious, relative or stranger, high class or low, distant or near – all are entitled to safety and iḥsān. On the rights of neighbors, Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (d. 1111) also writes that one should greet his neighbor with “Salām (Peace)” (for non-Muslims it may be the the customary equivalent of “Salām”), visit him when ill, console him when afflicted with calamity and share his happiness in good fortune, ignore his minor failings, avoid staring at one’s female neighbors, protect his house when he is traveling or absent, be kind to his children, and guide him if he is ignorant, be it in religion or other practical matters.
When the Prophet migrated to Medina there were Jewish tribes there, as well as two other major tibes of Aws and Khazraj that soon embraced Islam and became known as the Anṣār (Helpers), joining the Muhājirūn (Emigrants) who migrated from Mecca to Medina. Within the first year of his arrival, the Prophet drew up a treaty that became known as Dustūr al-Madīna (Constitution of Medina) that regulated relations between Muslims and non-Muslims.This 47 clause document granted to the Jewish population of Medina freedom of religion, and went so far as to declare them as part of the newly formed umma. The Medinan Jews also retained their Bayt al-Midras (a synagogue and educational institute). There are also the many treaties that the Prophet and later his Companions made with Christian groups that recognize their autonomy in their own affairs.
During the second caliph ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab’s time, a group of Muslims had usurped a piece of land belonging to a Jewish man, and had constructed a mosque on the site. Learning of the incident, the caliph ordered the demolition of the mosque and the restoration of the land to the Jewish man. In a similar incident, an Umayyad ruler had occupied a church in order to enlarge a mosque. Later when the case was brought before the caliph ‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al-Aziz (d. 720), he ordered to demolish part of the mosque and restore the church. Both the theoretical guidelines and actual history of Islam are consistent on extending fairness and iḥsān to non-Muslims and maintenance good relations with them so long as they are not oppressive to the Muslims.
The current realities of human life, including globalization with its vastly improved and efficient electronic communication networks, digitization and Big Data, etc., are also bound to change the traditional concepts of neighborhood. It seems that all people are now neighbors in the cyberspace, social media, and other modes of contact. We are all affected by major events in any part of the world, and thus we are neighbors virtually if not in person; and from the Islamic perspective, we owe to one another the treatment that al-Ghazali has articulated. It is especially pertinent to remind ourselves of these Islamic teachings during our present time of affliction and disease. The current pandemic – Covid 19 ‒ claims lives in vast numbers and in all parts of the world, regardless of race and religion, and we all need to be helpful and protective of one another in the true spirit of fraternity and iḥsān.
Mohammad Hashim Kamali is founding chief executive officer of the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies Malaysia.
Published in: The Maydan, Monday 20 December 2021
THIS is the second time the Taliban formed a government in Afghanistan. They were in office for five years (1996-2001) at the end of the Mujahidin political turmoil and came to power peacefully like they did after Ashraf Ghani fled to Dubai on Aug 15.
The old Taliban government was credited for two things: establishing security and eradicating opium cultivation and trade. They were also discredited for their prejudice against women and obsession with beards and clothes.
As an insurgent group, they had fought for 20 years to oust foreign occupiers and implement syariah law. They have thrown out the Americans and formed an Islamic emirate to implement syariah law.
Questions, however, remain about their understanding of syariah, whether doctrinaire or more pragmatist.
Syariah provides space for social customs and management styles through siyasah shar'iyyah (syariah-oriented policy), which has enabled rulers to issue syariah-compliant decrees, nizam, firman, etc.
Later, they announced that the Taliban government will be participatory. The caretaker government, however, only consisted of themselves.
The Taliban's somewhat sudden takeover had alarmed the international community.
No country has officially recognised the Taliban government even after two months, despite all the friendly noises they made about being keen to forge friendly relations with all countries.
Pakistan, the Taliban's main sponsor, has yet to give it official recognition. The Americans left Afghanistan abruptly, perhaps to cause turmoil in Kabul, which it did, thus ending their occupation.
All this is reflective of a bad ending. In the 20 years of American occupation, the security situation and poverty in Afghanistan went from bad to worse. The streets of Kabul were no longer safe and beggars were seen everywhere.
Drug addiction, which was not an issue in the country before, skyrocketed in that time. So did official corruption. This was also the assessment of Afghan discussants at a panel organised by the Kabul Noor TV network recently.
Ghani once jokingly said at least half of the national budget was being devoured by corrupt officials in the Finance Ministry. He himself allegedly stole an incredible US$169 million when he disgracefully fled Kabul with plane-loads of US dollars.
Someone with a military rank was recently alleged by the Taliban to have helped Ghani with his quick looting and robbery of Afghan banks. A month later, when Ghani announced in Dubai that he wanted to return, the Taliban set one condition: return all the stolen money.
With the Taliban back in power, there was an exodus of affluent people to foreign countries, mainly Pakistan and Europe. The Taliban are short of funds, yet the United States government refuses to return close to US$10 billion of Afghan assets.
The Kabul financial market declined as a result and banks stayed closed in the first week of the takeover. Though some opened later, they were still inactive.
The Americans seem to have given up on Afghanistan, just as the Taliban turned east over the support shown by the non-participation of Americans at the Moscow conference and the fundraising this month by 10 countries, including Afghanistan's neighbours.
This was followed by the European Union announcing €1 billion in aid to avert a humanitarian disaster in Afghanistan.
The Taliban do have grassroots support, mainly due to their Islamic credentials and relatively cleaner record on official corruption. Yet, their prejudice against women and the Shia and poor human rights record erode their popularity.
The Panjshir opposition under popular leader Ahmad Massoud has apparently subsided, but a new resistance front made up of civil society notables, including Marshall Dostam, Ata Mohammad Nur, Hossein Qanuni, Mohammad Muhaqqiq and Ishaq Gailani, seems to be brewing.
Their main purpose is political opposition, especially against the Taliban's lack of engagement with political and civil society groups.
Afghanistan's neighbours have shown willingness to join fund-raising efforts to avert a much-feared economic collapse and to prevent more refugees from fleeing to their countries.
The international community's hitherto hostility towards the Taliban has been deemed by Taliban spokesmen to be groundless as they only wish to build good relations with others and lay the foundations for good governance.
They have also appealed to the people for support. Yet, it seems that unless the Taliban begin to act on what they say, promises alone are not likely to have any impact.
Their future, it would seem, is largely in their own hands — at least for the time being.
Mohammad Hashim Kamali is founding chief executive officer of the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies Malaysia.
Published in: The New Straits Times, Thursday 28 October 2021
AFGHAN President Ashraf Ghani arrived on June 25 in Washington on an official visit, leading a large delegation of officials, including Dr Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of the Afghan High Council for National Reconciliation; Amrullah Saleh, the first deputy president; Hamdullah Mohib, the national security adviser; and, a planeful of other officials.
He and Abdullah's meeting with President Joe Biden did not lead to any new decision and the United States president merely covered the familiar ground that America will continue to assist Afghanistan, but that the withdrawal plan announced last April remains on schedule.
The withdrawal is due to complete by Sept 11, 2021, a symbolic date, perhaps to suggest that the US military had accomplished its purpose of avenging the Sept 11, 2001, Twin Tower attacks.
The visit comes in the midst of worsening security situation in Afghanistan and increased Taliban insurgency, when much of the US and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation forces have already left. The withdrawal led the Taliban to believe that they have won the war and, therefore, in no need of further negotiation.
This was one of the Taliban's two original demands: withdrawal of the foreign forces, and implementation of syariah law. Their triumphant posture may also explain why they halted the Doha peace talks with the Afghan government and the scheduled peace conference in Istanbul as well, which was due to be held last April.
Ghani's leadership also suffers from a credibility deficit as he has not played his role well in the peace process in the past and has missed opportunities for bringing peace. The Afghan people and the Kabul government do not seem to be on the same page.
While the people want the foreign forces out, Ghani's regime sees its continuity in office linked to the foreign military presence. The people are eager for peace to end the four decades of war, but Ghani seems to want that on his own terms. Delays and disruptions in the Doha peace talks also raises questions that there are elements in Kabul that do not want peace.
When the US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken visited Kabul last April and presented a negotiated peace plan, Ghani declined to endorse it as it involved the formation of a transitional government to facilitate the peace process. Ghani announced, instead, that he can only be replaced through a general election.
Clearly another missed opportunity for peace on questionable grounds. People jokingly said Ghani is more interested in completing his second term in office than in bringing peace. He was apparently less than happy when the US (under Trump) negotiated with the Taliban first (and signed an agreement with them — in February 2020).
The Kabul government also suffers from internal disunity and weaknesses at a time when about 60 per cent of the country is under Taliban control. Even though this has so far not included provincial capitals nor a whole province and confined to the outlying areas and districts, that scenario is fast approaching. According to US intelligence reports, Ghani's government will most likely fall in less than six months of the foreign troop withdrawal.
Afghan analysts were furthermore critical of Ghani's June 26 speech at the US Congress. Afghanistan under Ghani has been witness to increased poverty and unemployment, widespread drug addiction, raging Taliban violence and worsening security situation. Kabul is no longer safe.
People are killed in broad daylight by gangsters and criminals and there is widespread suspicion that police corruption is a part of it. Ghani makes out that the country is doing well under him thanks to American help. Instead of engaging the Congress on ways to improve matters, he filled his speech with formalities and half-truths.
Ghani's main purpose was seeing if Washington would delay the withdrawal of its remaining forces. Here again, the Afghan people welcome the voluntary end to military occupation. Yet, since there is no political formula for peace, the troop withdrawal may leave a vacuum and increase the risk of a Taliban takeover.
The Afghan people are also apprehensive of Taliban rule, and suspect that they will roll back many gains of the past 20 years on democracy and people's rights. The Taliban renewed assertion that they are supportive of female education and people's rights is also seen less than credible.
Afghan political analysts thought that Ghani's expensive visit (the plane rental alone cost US$1,200,000 of public funds) to Washington was inopportune since the US had already announced their plan on force withdrawal and is not likely to change, and that Washington has probably also lost confidence in Ghani's leadership, indicated perhaps in a somewhat muted welcome ceremony on arrival and a mere half-hour time slot allocated for a meeting with Biden.
This turns out to be the case now that the visit is almost over and has led to no new decisions to what was already known before.
Published in: The New Straits Times, Tuesday 29 June 2021
The phrase nuzul al-Quran (revelation of the Quran) is taken from the Quran itself, proclaiming God Almighty's affirmation that "We have indeed revealed this (Quran) in the Night of Power — Laylat al-Qadr".
The rest of this short chapter (No. 108) of only five verses describes the Night of Power, a night during the month of Ramadan wherein came the Angels and the archangel Gabriel bringing down the Quran.
The Quran was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) over a period of 23 years, but here it is said that the Quran was revealed in a single night — believed to be in the last 10 nights of Ramadan — signifying two instances of revelation, one from the Preserved Tablet (al-lawh al-mahfuz) when the Quran was sent to the nearest heaven, and from there the Prophet began to receive it piecemeal.
This is the phenomenon of graduality (tadarruj, also tanjim) that becomes a characteristic feature of the Quranic studies, side by side with others, such as Tajwid (incantation), Asbab al-Nuzul (occasions of revelation), Tafsir (commentary) and others.
The Quran is the world's most widely read book, and also written about, translated in all languages known to Muslims.
The Quran has a chapter titled Al-Qalam (the pen, Ch. 68) — the ubiquitous emphasis the Quran places on knowledge ('Ilm) gave Islam the reputation of a "literary religion". The Prophet of Islam had no miracle other than the Quran. It raised the Arabic language beyond precedent.
It is written in dense and highly allusive elliptical speech, neither poetry nor prose, but unique in its own genre and style.
Muslims often say that when they read the Quran in a translation, they feel that very little of the beauty of the Arabic text is conveyed. The monumental Tafsir works represent a continuing feature of the Quranic knowledge throughout the ages, and it comes in numerous genres.
The earliest is the one based on valid precedent, known as Tafsir bi'l-Ma'thur, such as the renowned Tafsir al-Tabari by Abu Ja'far ibn Jarir al-Tabari (d. 923), that explains the text by the sayings and precedents of the Prophet and his Companions; Tafsir al-Kashshaf (also known as Tafsir al-Ma'ani) by Abul-Qasim Mahmud al-Zamakhshari (d. 1144) that expounds the words, idioms and literary features of the text; Tafsir al-Kabir by Fakhruddin al-Razi (d. 1210) that is strong in interpretation from the Sufi and spiritual viewpoints.
Quranic teachings are focused on belief in God, prophethood, man and the universe, the hereafter, disputation with disbelievers and hypocrites, historical narratives, the earth and its natural environment.
Major Quranic principles include the vicegerency of humans in the earth, building the earth and a just social order therein, justice, promoting good and preventing evil, charity, faith and morality, purity of character, and environmental care.
The Quran is distinguished by its pluralistic outlook on human communities; it is cognisant of the validity of previous revelations, and mentions that there is guidance and light in the revealed books preceding the Quran, and designates itself as an "affirmations of that which came before it".
The Quran consists of 114 chapters and 6,235 verses of unequal length. There are chapters titled al-Insan (the human being), al-Mu'minun (the faithful), al-Anbiya (the prophets), al-Kafrun (disbelievers), al-Shams (sun), al-Layl (night), al-Fajr (dawn), al-'Asr (time), al-An'am (animals), al-Naml (the ant), al-Nahl (honey bee), al-Fil (elephant), al-Tin (fig tree), al-Shura (consultation) and Al-Balad (city).
The longest is al-Baqarah (Ch. 2:286 verses) and the shortest, Kawthar (a water pool in Paradise), that consists of only three verses (Ch. 108).
The text was revealed in Makkah and Madinah, 85 chapters were revealed in Makkah in over 12 years of the Prophet's mission, and the remainder in 10 years after his migration (Hijrah) in Madinah. These mark two distinctive phases in the style and contents of the Holy Book.
The Makki Quran consists of short and concise sentences yet intense in their appeal to the hearts and minds of its readers. It is devoted to the essentials of belief, morality and enlightenment, fighting the hard crusts of Ignorance (Jahiliyyah), idolatry and tribalism.
Reports indicated that many prominent individuals embraced Islam after listening to passages from the Quran. The Medinese parts of the Quran are serene by comparison and pay attention to other subjects, such as war and peace, commerce, family, marriage, divorce, inheritance and interfaith relations.
Published in: The New Straits Times, Thursday 29 April 2021
The Inter-Afghan Negotiations (IAN) that started last September between the Taliban and the Afghan government turns out to be a protracted waiting game.
The talks began due to great urgency and expectations of the Afghan people, who are eager to see the end of some four decade-long of devastating war with great hopes that the IAN will bring peace.
The Taliban had a two-point agenda: American and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) forces to leave Afghanistan, and implementation of syariah in the self-proclaimed Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.
The Afghan government led by President Ashraf Ghani asserts bringing peace to the war-torn country, but that he is the country's elected leader until his term ends in 2024. The Jamiyat Party of Afghanistan suggests that a transitional government takes over to facilitate peace.
Ghani's continuity almost certainly depends on the continued stay of American troops, currently at 5,000 (reduced from 100,000 deployed under the Obama administration), which is enough to deter a Taliban offensive.
Being under United States occupation, the realities are such that no significant decision is made in Kabul without American approval. The Afghan army is currently on the American payroll amounting to over US$5 billion per year, a sum that Kabul cannot pay from its own meagre budget.
The Doha talks have hitherto made no progress simply because all sides were awaiting the US presidential election results.
President Donald Trump has declared that the US troops will leave Afghanistan in near terms without specifying a date, but March has been mentioned as the target date. Now that he has lost the election, the waiting continues until the new president takes office. The Taliban are also waiting for renewed American assurance on the February 2020 agreement they signed with the Trump administration.
The Taliban have refused to sign a ceasefire agreement to pave the way for a peace pact, and have chosen the path of violence.
They have stepped up guerilla attacks against Afghan forces and caused heavy civilian casualties.
Prior to the February agreement, Taliban attacks on Afghan forces also invoked a US military response, which kept the violence within limits, but casualty rates had also become heavier since then. For over two months, the Doha talks between 21-member negotiating teams on each side were engaged in trivialities: What expressions they should be using at the talks and what should or should not be placed on the agenda.
The Taliban want their movement to be referred to as a legitimate jihad, and they refuse to refer to the Afghan government as an Islamic republic until Kabul accedes to their demand.
To call the Taliban's bloody raids on Afghan security forces a jihad would be suicidal for Kabul and generally unacceptable.
Yet the Taliban do have grassroots support, which may however be dwindling due to their belated killing sprees that have become particularly brutal under Mullah Hibatullah's leadership.
The Trump administration has not taken a clear stance on these raids although the US envoy for peace talks, Zalmay Khalilzad, had said that this degree of violence from the Taliban was not acceptable.
Protracted waiting with no clear end in sight may also raise a more sinister question: Do they (Taliban and the Afghan government) want peace?
If the US does not want peace, which is the understanding most Afghans seem to have, then those who are attached to them may also share the same attitude.
Moreover, the Taliban militarism and its suspected al-Qaeda links suggest that they most likely aim for a military takeover of Kabul and peace is not likely to deliver that prize.
The Kabul government has also missed opportunities for peace in recent months and a continuation of status quo is an option as it would likely prolong the American military presence.
Ghani's internal bickering with Afghan High Council for National Reconciliation chairman Dr Abdullah Abdullah has also led to indecision. Rumour has it that Dr Abdullah prioritises peace, whereas Ghani wants peace on his own terms.
The latter is also less than happy with the way the Taliban became the first party to sign an agreement with the Americans.
The Doha talks have yet to enter its proper agenda. It is uncertain but likely that the Taliban will take issue with the current constitution of Afghanistan with reference particularly to equality clauses for women and implementation of syariah. They also suggest that an ulama council be formed to take charge of implementing syariah.
Such demands will be met with resistance as prominent women leaders and civil society are critical of the Taliban's view on women. So, protracted negotiations are likely to continue, and may be more of the same with the waiting game. What remains to be said is that they all owe it to their conscience, country and people to drop petty delaying tactics and work sincerely for a peaceful Afghanistan.
Published in: The New Straits Times, Wednesday 09 December 2020
The Quran does not mention any plague (ta'un) by name, but makes references to destructions of bygone people, adding also that calamities occur only within God's all-embracing knowledge (57:22; 64:11). Ta'un is the subject, however, of many hadiths in al-Bukhari and Muslim, including:
"If you hear of the outbreak of ta'un in a land, do not enter it; but if it breaks out in a place while you are in it, do not leave that place.
"When ta'un has struck, any faithful who stays patiently at home while knowing that nothing befalls him that God has not pre-ordained – earns the reward of a martyr," or "Death from a plague is martyrdom for every Muslim."
Lastly, "(And with regard to animals): The sick should not be taken where the healthy ones are."
Some Muslim scholars have drawn the conclusion that the Prophet's movement control orders during plagues are obligatory.
It is also not accidental that Ibn Sina (d. 428/1037), a Muslim scientist, was the first to introduce a 40-day social isolation measure calling it 'al-Arba'iniyah', which was almost literally translated as 'quarantine' in European languages.
The Covid-19 pandemic that has hitherto claimed over 325,000 lives, prompted authorities around the world, including in Malaysia, to impose restrictions on movement, business and travel.
The caliph 'Umar's management of the plague of 'Amwas is a case history of contemporary relevance: when the caliph heard of its outbreak, he decided to go to Syria himself to manage it. Upon reaching Surgh outside Madinah, he met with Abu 'Ubaidah al-Jarrah, Commander of the Muslim army in Syria, who advised the caliph to proceed to Syria.
At this point, 'Abd al-Rahman ibn 'Awf came forward and quoted the hadith from the Prophet that when plague is raging, one should not go from the non-infected to the infected area or vice versa. That settled the matter and 'Umar returned to Madinah.
The caliph then ordered that troops be moved to a healthier place in Jabiah. However, days after arrival, Abu 'Ubaidah died of the plague, followed by Muadh b. Jabal. Their successor, 'Amr bin al-'Aas executed 'Umar's orders to shift the troops to the hills, and to separate them into smaller groups to reduce interactions.
Covid-19 has also prompted questions over the higher purposes (maqasid) of syariah as to which comes first: protection of religion or protection of life. Although the conventional ordering of maqasid prioritises protection of religion (hifz al-din) over that of life (hifz al-nafs), actual life experience of the pandemic points to life as being the first priority.
Muslims were asked by their governments to perform Friday and other daily prayers at home to contain the deadly virus. Protection of religion had thus to give way to the protection of life. Travel bans imposed by Muslim countries also meant postponement of the 'umrah – and it looks likely even of the haj.
Congregational prayer and 'umrah are arguably Sunnah, not wajib, but even the haj proper, which is wajib, may be postponed to save life – a higher wajib. This order of priority is also noted in the following example: when a fit person sees another drowning, yet he runs the risk of losing the salat time – which should he prioritise? The answer is definitely to save the drowning.
Instances of conflict between the protection of life and that of property (hifz al-maal) have also been noted. Almost all businesses are shut under lockdown conditions and people are suffering, some with extreme hardship, yet all this is tolerated in order to protect life.
The traditional order of the maqasid that places religion first is based on an extremist scenario: when enemy forces attack a Muslim country, Muslims are duty-bound to fight and sacrifice their lives for their religion. But extreme situations are unrealistic, as no order can be observed in emergencies.
One also gives life to protect one's property, family etc., hence maqasid priorities should be based on normal, rather than extreme, situations.
For life is the sine qua non of all other syariah ordinances and should therefore come first. Hence, a corrective is due to the conventional ordering of the essential maqasid – if the syariah is to relate meaningfully to people's lives.
Published in: The New Straits Times, Friday 22 May 2020
It may be said at the outset that in discussing haj related issues, one runs the risk of touching on public sensitivities as haj is part of the devotional aspects (‘ibadat) of Islam and not as open to rational enquiry in the same way as are matters of concern to civil transactions (mu‘amalat).
That said, raising questions over haj management matters tangential to the substance of worship should not be a problem. Islam does not even preclude religious matters from rational investigation in the spirit of healthy renewal and reform (tajdid).
Earlier precedent confirms this when, for instance, caliph Umar al-Khattab introduced the second call to prayer (adhan) on Fridays when the crowds attending congregational prayers in Madinah grew larger.
Also his successor, caliph Uthman Ibn Affan, edited the text of the Quran at a time when variations in its reading had cropped up due to differential Arabic dialects.
He verified the standard text with the help of leading Companions and then ordered the existing copies of the Quran to be destroyed.
In earlier centuries, the number of haj pilgrims was small and they travelled with slower traditional means of transport.
These numbers have risen beyond comparison, exceeding two million annually.
This also brings unprecedented challenges that call for fresh thinking and interpretation (ijtihad), some of which may not even require juridical ijtihad but only administrative and policy initiatives to make haj crowds more manageable.
One issue is the number of hajs that a person performs.
Haj is a once-in-a-lifetime religious duty of Muslims “who can afford the journey” (Q. 3:97).
But some affluent Muslims go to haj many times. Only the first instance fulfils the duty and the rest will count as supererogatory (nawafil).
These individuals should restrain themselves, and better still, spend the money on charity that may relieve the sick and the invalid of their hardships.
They will earn rewards for giving the opportunity to others, as well as for their charitable donations.
The haj authorities in Muslim countries are accordingly advised to take policy measures to discourage people from doing more than one haj.
This will help reduce numbers to some extent.
Another concern is the length of time that pilgrims take to perform the haj. Most pilgrims complete the haj in six weeks, while others can do so in 10 days.
There may be different issues of expenses and individual choices, but it should in principle be possible for the haj authorities in Muslim countries to make reasonable policy decisions.
The length of stay may be limited, for some categories of individuals and groups, to two or three weeks.
This will also help reduce numbers and enable better management of haj affairs.
Furthermore, statistics show that the number of applicants wishing to go to haj, from almost every Muslim country, is much larger than their allocated quotas.
When political leaders from different countries meet Saudi leaders, they often request an increase of their haj quotas. Saudi leaders are thus placed in an awkward position to respond.
Barring justified exceptions, requests of this kind should also be minimised and collective policy measures taken to observe the existing quotas.
This will also help keep the numbers under control.
What is the haj period and is there scope for fresh interpretation?
The Quran refers to the haj period as “months well-known” (ashhurun ma’lumat), within which the haj must be completed (2:197).
The text doesn’t specify the precise meaning of the “months well known,” but they were based on ijtihad.
The first and typical response, which is commonly adopted, is that the phrase refers to two complete months (of Syawal and Zulq iddah) and 10 days of Zulhijjah.
This is the position of the majority of the four madhabs (Shafie, Hanafi, Maliki and Hanbali), the four renowned Abd Allahs among the Companions (Abd Allah b. Umar, Abd Allah b. Abbas, Abd Allah b. al-Zubayr, and Abd Allah b. Amr b. al-Aas), and many others.
The second response given is that the haj period includes all the three months, that is, inclusive of the whole of Zulhijjah and this is the view of Imam Malik, and according to alternative reports, also of the Companions, Abd Allah b. Amr b. al-Aas, Abd Allah b. Abbas, Abd Allah b. Masud, and many others.
This second response is preferable and sound, for the Quran refers to the haj months as “ashhurun ma‘lumat,” which correctly subsume three months, and not as it were, “sharayn ma-‘lumayn,” which would mean two months.
So anyone who reaches Mecca in a state of Ihram (lit. abstinence from certain activities) and performs the wuquf in Arafah, tawaf of the Kaa’bah, and sa’ie between Safa and Marwah — known to be the haj essentials — any time during these three months, his haj is valid.
This was also the practice as was known during the Prophet’s lifetime.
The theory of ijtihad is explicit on the point that when different rulings of ijtihad exist over the same issue, the one that addresses present reality should be preferred.
The second of the two views is evidently more suitable to address current reality, and should be adopted. This would further ease the congestion caused by the shorter haj period.
Published in: The New Straits Times, Thursday 19 December 2019
Due to the numerous forms it can take, corruption escapes the idea of a comprehensive definition.
It knows no boundaries, applies to the rich and poor individuals, organisations and countries, and it is as old as human history itself.
They are all forbidden on the basis they seek to distort the course of justice.
Differences in interpretation of a particular hadith (words of Prophet Muhammad) on the validity or otherwise of the declaration of personal assets of government officials have recently been featured in the media.
In principle, syariah (Islamic law) accepts reasonable disagreement (iktilaf) in interpretation provided it is clear of bias and does not pursue questionable objectives.
One way to evaluate this is to refer to the higher purposes (maqasid) of syariah.
If an interpretation pursues a lawful purpose that finds support in the higher sources of syariah, it is accepted, but is set aside and rejected otherwise.
If asset declaration is meant to fight official corruption, then this is not only valid in syariah but highly recommended and meritorious.
Official corruption has undoubtedly become the bane of good governance in many present-day Muslim countries, Malaysia included.
Provided asset declaration itself is not motivated by a corrupt purpose, such as violating the privacy of others and conducting unwarranted searches to inflict harm on them, and it is intended only as a means of combating corruption, it is valid beyond doubt.
This is because all government employees have a duty to stay away from corruption.
For government in Islam is a trust (amanah) that must be faithfully observed (Quran Chapter 4, verse 58), and betrayal of trust is strictly forbidden (8:72).
The text also speaks in condemnation of corruption (fasad) and its perpetrators (mufsidun) (2:205; 26:151; 30:41).
Fighting official corruption also forms part of the Quranic principle of ‘prevention of evil’ (nahy ‘an al-munkar) which is a duty of the leader and those in charge of community affairs (uli’l-amr).
Iqbal and Lewis wrote in their (2002) work, The Islamic Attack on Corruption, that “there is zero tolerance for bribery in Islam, and Islam rejects any idea that bribery serves as ‘the grease that oils the economic wheels’.”
There is no scope either for legalising corruption in the name of commission, gift, donation, advances, soft loan, loan write-offs and the like.
Islamic history also records instances of anti-corruption measures taken by the government. The second caliph, Umar Al-Khattab, fought bribery and corruption of officials through expropriation of personal wealth accumulated during the tenure of office.
This was done to prominent figures among the Prophet’s companions, Abu Hurayrah, Amri Al-Aas, Nafi Amri, Saad Abi Waqas, and Khalid Al-Walid, the governors respectively of Bahrain, Egypt, Mecca, Kufa and Sham, among others, who were found to have accumulated wealth which they did not have prior to employment.
Some of them indulged in trading activities and careless handling of public funds.
The caliph ordered Abu Hurayrah to “take your own property and what is necessary for your living, and surrender the rest to the Baitul Mal (public treasury)”.
Amri Al-Aas was simply ordered to hand over one half of his wealth to the Baitul Mal as he had acquired goods, slaves, livestock and artifacts that he did not have before he was appointed as governor of Egypt.
Expropriation was not confined to government officials but also extended to merchants, contractors and dignitaries who conducted business with the government and accumulated disproportionate amounts of wealth.
An interesting incident on this, recorded by Abu Yusuf, involved the two sons of the caliph Umar, Abdul Allah and Ubayd Allah, who accompanied an army contingent to Iraq.
Governor Abu Musa Al-Asharı, said: “Here’s money as advance to buy goods from Iraq and then sell them in Madinah. Give the capital to the caliph and keep the profit for yourselves.”
This was agreed and the caliph’s sons made a profit. But when handing over the capital to the caliph, the latter asked:
“Does he give similar advances to everyone in the army?” The answer to this was “No”, and the caliph asked them to pay both the capital and the profit.
A man said: “O Umar, perhaps you could treat this as an instance of mudarabah on the analysis that if they had made a loss they would have been accountable.”
The caliph agreed and asked his sons to deliver the capital and only half the profit to the Baitul Mal.
Expropriation of assets of corrupt officials was eventually institutionalised under the Abbasid caliph, Ja‘far al-Mansur, when a department was established for handling expropriation matters in cases of unwarranted enrichment.
Reports also indicate that vast amounts of properties were retrieved.
The Abbasid caliph, al-Qahir, is thus reported to have expropriated the properties of the mother of his predecessor, al-Muqtadir, which raised the assets of Baitul Mal by a substantial amount.
Published in: The New Straits Times, Thursday 25 July 2019
Following the United Nations General Assembly’s call in June 2007 for the abolition of the death penalty on the grounds of protecting human rights, the then minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Seri Nazri Abdul Aziz, announced in October 2008 that the Malaysian government was considering withdrawing the mandatory death sentence for drug offences and replacing it with jail terms.
Death punishment for murder, terrorist acts, treason, kidnapping, rape, possession of fire-arms and drug trafficking applies to this day in Malaysia.
The Dangerous Drugs Act 1952 provides for the mandatory death sentence for possessing and distributing drugs.
But total abolition has remained a debated topic ever since.
The proponents of human rights, including the Malaysian Bar, the Human Rights Commission or Suhakam and Lawyers for Liberty have called for the abolition of the death penalty as no studies have proved that it is a deterrent to serious crime, and that in the event of a miscarriage of justice, the penalty is irreversible.
As for the mandatory death sentence for drug trafficking, they have further argued that the experience of many countries, including Malaysia, showed that most of those caught under draconian drug laws are not the big timers the laws are meant to target.
Besides, there is no evidence that the death penalty is effective as a deterrent to curb drug trafficking, its production and its sale.
The proponents of the death penalty draw attention to the need to protect society from serious crime and the predicament faced by the victims and family members of murdered victims who demand the capital punishment.
Imprisoning the criminal for 20 to 25 years is costly for the taxpayer and perhaps inhumane.
Broadly, syariah law applies the death penalty to four crimes — murder, terrorism, adultery and apostasy.
The first two are prescribed in the Quran, which makes murder liable to the death penalty under qisas (just retaliation) and makes terrorism (hirabah) also subject to the capital punishment.
As for apostasy (riddah) and adultery (zina), it is the sunnah (ways of the prophet) not the Quran, that makes them liable to the death penalty.
The Quran refers to apostasy in no fewer than 21 places, yet in all of them, the offence carries severe punishment in the hereafter.
As for zina, the Quran provides 100 lashes of the whip for all cases proven by four eyewitnesses which is almost impossible to obtain — hence all cases of zina are likely to be given alternative punishments.
The death punishment for apostasy and adultery is based on the authority of the hadith (words of the prophet) that falls short, however, of decisive (mutawatir) evidence.
It is then argued that a discrepancy between the Quran and the hadith on issues of life and death must naturally be determined by referring to the Quran.
The Quran refers to qisas in several verses, yet in all of them there is a strong emphasis on forgiveness and reconciliation between the parties.
Prophet Muhammad emphasised forgiveness in all qisas cases that were brought to him for adjudication and consistently advised the parties not to insist on retaliation, but to reconcile through the payment of blood money (diyah) or grant of forgiveness.
This would suggest that qisas carries the death punishment which is, however, not mandatory.
Hirabah is described in the Quran as the “waging of war on God and His Messenger and the spreading of corruption on earth”, which provides for punishments, such as execution, mutilation of limbs and banishment.
Muslim jurists have also understood hirabah, also known as qat‘al-tariq, to mean highway robbery, banditry and terrorism which involves with or without killing, theft and looting.
They have differed widely over the order and choice of punishment for them, but the majority of Sunni schools authorise the head of state to select one or more of these punishments in proportion to the severity of the crime.
In summary, hirabah, like qisas, carries the death punishment, but since it is subject to stipulations and the discretion of the head of state, it also fails to qualify as mandatory death.
Can a death sentence be imposed on the basis of taczir (deterrent) principle in serious crimes other than murder and terrorism?
Imam Malik and some jurists of the Hanbali school have allowed for a Muslim to spy on other Muslims who work for the enemy who spread heresies.
But the majority, including the Shafini, Hanafi, and some followers of the Hanbali schools maintain that the death punishment may not be imposed under taczir.
Imam Abu Hanifah, however, has held out that the ruler may punish recidivists and hardened criminals to death under taczir.
In summary, the syariah law is restrictive on the death punishment and when it is allowed, it is carried out with stipulations and has the possibility of repentance, reconciliation, or alternative punishment.
There is no clear case for mandatory death punishment in syariah — lest it compromises the impartiality of justice.
Syariah jurists, however, leave it to the head of state the possibility of him deciding otherwise if public interest (maslahah) dictates it.
Published in: New Straits Times, Sunday 2 June 2019