Falsafat II: Peak of Eloquence

This is the second post in my falsafat (philosophy) series. The first part serves as an index to the Ideofact blog's ongoing review of Qutb's Social Justice in Islam, one of the core ideologies of extremist Islam.

Ideofact has comprehensively analyzed how Qutb's ideas (which are just distilled versions of Maudoodi and Wahab) are not only internally contradictory but flout the entire history of Islam and discard the theologic traditions of the past 1400 years. It is supreme understatement to say that Qutb has been discredited, and Ideofact is hardly alone. In fact, throughout the Arab world and the greater Muslim sphere, Qutb (and Wahab) have been attacked with great effect by prominent Islamic thinkers, intellectuals, and clerics. Unfortunately, this repudiation of extremism is completely ignored by the Western media. This point has been made effectively in an interview with Stephen Schwartz at National Review Online (via Bin Gregory, and posted to UNMEDIA list) :

Leading Muslims outside the U.S. denounce Wahhabism, and many denounced the atrocity of 9/11. Unfortunately, however, most of U.S. media is completely incompetent in finding, listening to, or understanding these voices. U.S. media does not interview anti-Wahhabi sheikhs or imams or muftis in the Islamic world. U.S. media paid no attention when the head of Bosnian Islamic scholars, Mustafa efendija Ceric, preached eloquently against terrorism. U.S. media did not notice when an Albanian daily � in a country with a Muslim majority � hailed the U.S. action in Afghanistan last year with the headline "Nobody Veils the Statue of Liberty's Face." Nobody in the U.S. media has followed up on reports by myself and others showing that Kosovar Albanian Muslims would like to fight for the West in Iraq. Worse, U.S. media has reported very little of the mobilization of 70 million Indonesian Muslims against extremism in the aftermath of the Bali horror.

U.S. media listens to the so-called "Arab street," which is essentially irrelevant, filled as it is with yelling loiterers, or engages in polling exercises asking loaded questions. This, of course, reinforces the view of Muslims as unanimous haters of the West and America. To understand the struggle of the world's traditional Muslims against Wahhabism, you have to get away from the "Arab street" and meaningless people wandering around. You have to sit down with serious Islamic clerics and thinkers and dialogue with them in a way they understand and respect.

The failure of the Western media to avoid being blinded to moderate majorities by the allure of extremist minorities is the reason why normal Muslims like myself and Bin Gregory are routinely challenged to "justify" our religion, or why we have now been labeled "moderate muslims" (to distinguish from muslims, who are understood to be fanatic nutjobs. CW is cruel.).

Peak of Eloquence But it is not enough to denounce harmful ideologies like Qutbism and Wahabism. A strong alternative must be presented simultaneously, otherwise there is no net progress towards solutions. Towards that end, having dismissed Qutb in part 1, I intend to present an alternative here in part 2. That alternative is Nahjul Balagha ("Peak of Eloquence"), written by of Amirul Mumineen Ali ibn Talib AS[1]. Ali AS was the chosen successor of the Prophet Muhamad SAW. This book is a collection of his sermons and is essential reading. The book is available from Amazon, but the full text is also available online.

Before understanding this book, though, it is hepful to gain a sense of who Ali AS was. There is an essay posted to Shiapundit on the character of Ali AS, and also provides a general biography and the nature of his relationship with the Prophet SAW.

The value of the sermons is that they give an accurate and in-depth view at the moral code within Islam, as exemplified by the example of Ali AS. This is a clear window into the core of Islam as practiced by its first male convert[2], undistorted by the Wahabis and the Qutbis and the attached cruft of their self-serving hadith and fundamentalist interpretations. Shi'a such as myself revere Ali as the only person of the Prophet's SAW companions who had the Prophet's permission and authority to interpret the Qur'an. Muhammad SAW himself said that "I am the city of Knowledge, and Ali is the Gate." But the value of Ali's example need not be restricted to Shi'a alone. Ali AS is acknowledged as the Fourth Caliph to Sunnis as well and embracing the ideals that Ali AS personified is an embrace of core Islamic values.

But Nahjul Balagha is about more than character. It also lays the framework for a rationalist approach to theology. The great Shi'a jurist Imam Jafa al-Sadiq[3] - who actually mentored the Sunni founders of the dominant Sunni schools of thought - laid the foundation for Islamic rationalist philosophy, emphasising the importance of al-Aql (Reason) as the primary faculty of mankind. The great works of Ikhwan us-Safa and Dai'm al-Islam are almost completely unknown to Western armchair analysts of Islam, but are central to the core of true Islamic theologic philosophy (the very word philosophy comes from the Arabic word, "falsafat").

It is beyond my ability to "review" Peak of Eloquence, any more than I could review the Bible or the Qur'an. But the authenticity of every word spoken by Ali AS in these sermons is an absolute. Contrast this to the compilations of hadith (sayings) of the Prophet SAW, notably Bukhari and Muslim, which were accumulated without any real regard for authenticity. Unfortunately, the bulk of Muslim believers accord higher status to these flawed compilations of hadith than they do to Nahjul Balagha. It is beyond the scope of this article to examine Bukhari and Muslim in this piece, but I have previously blogged about some minor but highly illustrative examples of the absurdity of the claim to authenticity for these books. Some of the flaws in these compilations, in fact, have given ammunition to Wahabists as they sought to discredit all prior Islamic theology and establish the dominance of their interpretation.

Peak of Eloquence remains the single clearest example of living Islam that Muslims can both agree on and aspire to.

UPDATE: A comentator below and several people have emailed me to point out that "philosophy" is not derived from "falsafat", but that both terms are probably directly derived from two ancient Greek words, "philos" (love), and "sophia" (wisdom). As reader John Holbo writes,

Starting with Plato it began to have precisely the meaning we ascribe to it today. Given the strong influence of Aristotle and other Greek philosophers on classical Arabian philosophers (the Greeks were popular and influential in the Arab world during the "Dark Ages" in Europe, where they were virtually lost) I would surmise that the Arabic term is derived from the Greek one rather than vice versa.

I sincerely appreciate being fact checked - please keep it up!

[1] I am using transliterated honorifics that are traditionally applied to Ali AS and Muhammad SAW. SAW is for "sallalahu aleyhi walehi" which translated roughly to "Peace be upon him". Often, you see "PBUH" appended to the Prophet SAW instead of SAW, but I personally find this distasteful for much teh same reasons that I don't like translations of the Qur'an. AS is for "alayhi-salaam" which is similar.
[2] The wife of the Prophet was the first convert to Islam. Ali AS was the second. For many long years, the three of them were the only Muslims in the world, until the Message began to spread. For an epic telling of the early origins of Islam, I highly recommend the movie, The Message.
[3] Direct descendant of Ali AS and Ali's son, Imam Husain AS (who was martyred by the Caliph Yazid LA at Karbala, in modern-day Iraq).

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