Literary CornerAbdurrahman Al-Shirqawi: projecting Islam as an important liberator of mankind [Archives:2005/834/Culture]

April 18 2005

By Abu Alkalmah Al-Tayyibah
Most Arab readers know Abdurrahman Al-Shirqawi (Egyptian) for his plays, novels and work on poetry. But Al-Shirqawi was also strongly interested in religion and often produced praiseworthy efforts in trying to convey the Islamic religion in its basic fundamental tenets without getting bogged down in any obsession with religious sect or trivial discourses on worship rites.

Moreover, Shirqawi tried to project Islam as an important liberator of mankind: Mohammed sought to instill in the true believers the love for freedom from oppression, upholding of personal and human rights and more important safeguarding of dignity.

The book under discussion is an important book in that one has a brief biographical narrative on the lives of perhaps the most influential experts on Islamic jurisprudence from the First Century of Islamic history to the 6th Century AH (Islamic Calendar) (12th Century AD).

This was the period indeed when the Moslem Empire was at its zenith and splendor, stretching from Spain to China, while Europe has yet to fully come out of the slumber of the Dark Ages.

The Imam, is a title that may have political significance (as the Leader), but even with its political connotations, it is only meted out to those with proven credentials of scholastic attainment. The first known bearer of the title of Imam was the Fourth Orthodox Caliph after the passing away of the Prophet Mohammed (Peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), Ali Ibn Abu Talib1.

His three predecessors, Abu Bakr Al-Siddiq, Omer Bin Al-Khattab and Uthman Ibn Affan (May God bless their souls) were bestowed the title of “Caliph” or “Commander of the Faithful”.

However even the last adjective became more of a nickname for Ali, then just an adjective of political leadership. Ali was perhaps the father of “fiqh”, or Islamic jurisprudence. Of all the followers and disciples of the Prophet Mohammed (PAUB), no one can match Ali in terms of learning and comprehension of Islamic dogma.

Most printings of the Holy Quran all trace the origins of the text to that recollected by Ali, as the leading source. Even his political predecessors acknowledge that Ali was their savior when confronted with the most difficult of Islamic theology or jurisprudence. Omer used to say: “If it wasn't for Ali, Omer would be finished”, i.e., in front of God for not ruling properly on an issue.

With the establishment of the Islamic State, learning became an essential element of the development of society and most of the leading mosques in the Islamic cities had what they called “halaqah” or “Circles” of students that studied the major fields of the day under leading scholars of the time.

Out of these halaqahs, there were many a great scholar, who reached a high level of learning, especially in the area of “fiqh”, were even the political leadership of the day would find it a challenge to not execute the rulings of these great experts on Islamic jurisprudence.

The nine experts of jurisprudence discussed in Shirqawi's book are:

– Imam Zeid Bin Ali Zein Al-Abedien (from whom the Zeidi sect got its name)

– Imam Ja'afar Al-Sadiq (from whom the Ja'afari Shi'a sect got its name)

– Imam Abu Haneifah Al-Nu'uman (from whom the Hanafi sect got its name)

– Imam Malik Ibn Anas (from whom the Maliki sect got its name)

– Imam Allaith Ibn Sa'ad

– Imam Mohammed Idriss Al-Shafe'i (from whom the Shafe'i Sunni sect got its name).

– Imam Ahmed Ibn Hanbal (from whom the Hanbali Sunni sect got its name)

– Imam Ibn Hazm

– Imam Al-'Izz 'Izz-Aldin Abdul-Aziz Ibn Abd Al-Salam

Although many of these great men eventually had sects named after them, it should be borne in mind that they never thought of themselves as seeking to have their own rendition of Islam, nor expected their name to be tied to any faction. To them Islam was Islam and that is it.. To them, their interpretation of Islamic Law and Theology were attempts to correct misconceptions on the original message of Islam.

Almost all of them viewed most of the deviations they sought to correct as the evil doings of those “scholars”, who were used by, or sold themselves to autocratic rulers, to justify the oppression of their constituents. In almost all cases, these Imams stood steadfast in defense of civil liberties and the rights of the faithful. Many paid a dear price for their positions of advocacy on behalf of the downtrodden or the exploited.

In the following 2 Literary Corners, we will look at each of these men briefly and highlight the hallmark of their contributions to Islamic jurisprudence, as eloquently described by Shirqawi.

In this way our readers can surmise that there is a great treasure of legal and social heritage, on which much of the liberties and rights one hears as being of “western” origin, actually emanated from the tireless work and struggle of these men.

12 Shirqawi deals with him in a separate book called the “Imam of the Pious”