A Reformer and Revivalist

By: Mrs Ghazala Hassan Qadri (Member Supreme Council Minhaj ul Quran International)

“It is to him who masters our minds by the force of truth, and not to those who enslave them by violence, that we owe our reverence”. (Voltaire 1726)

When I was asked to write an article about my personal observations regarding Dr Qadri I questioned my own perceptions about him. What is it about him that I have found different or unique in his personality? What is so significant about his life that a wide variety of people, from poor and humble backgrounds to those who belong to affluent and prosperous families find attractive in him? His achievements are far too numerous to mention here, as are all aspects of his life and works. However in the following article I will focus on just one small aspect of his life in order to give you a glimpse of his true self and worth.

Throughout the ages history has witnessed great personalities who have influenced the society around them and future generations immensely. Every field of life can boast prestigious figures without which great strives in the betterment of mankind man not has taken place. Where would we be today without Alexander Fleming’s discovery of penicillin, Antoine Lavisher’s developments in chemistry, Albert Watt, Newton or Einstein. Others might quote Augustus Caesar, Genghis Khan or Alexander the Great in the field of politics; William Shakespeare, Voltaire, Pablo Picasso in the field of arts. The list is endless but it is their influence that bears commonality. Every field of life needs re-generation according to the times. And Islam is no exception.

Islam is not a deen just for the Arabs or revealed for a particular group but for all nations and for all time. As society progresses and civilization claims more (debatable) advances so it produces inventors, reformers and revivalists to shape and reflect modern trends as the above notable personalities have done. Islamic history too is littered with figures who have revived the Deen, producing greater understanding not only of the Qur’an and Sunnah in a literal sense but shown how a more profound use of it can be made to revitalize mankind.

What is Shaykh ul Islam’s unique contribution to this catalogue of people? In essence it is his generation of ideas and concepts, keeping in line with the principles of the Qur’an and Sunnah and trying to bring the Muslim world out of its perceived academic inferiority. In the preceding paragraph I deliberately mentioned non-Muslim ‘greats’ to illustrate how we easily accept them to promote ideas of progress without question. This is the perception of the wider western world that assumes a monopoly of responsibility for all areas of modern development. By mentioning their names gives a (false) legitimacy to ones writings; that by citing their achievements one is accepted into the framework of Western discourse which provides a base for comparative studies. In contrast Shaykh ul Islam provides his own framework in which to Asses and view development and one that is not necessarily in line with the traditional Western approach. In his first volume of the Seerah for instance, in order to provide a historical context for study he concentrates on the great Muslim thinkers, scientists, mathematicians, astronomers, and jurists to provide a frame of reference for research, Muslims, who were often the precursors to the ‘discoveries’ of the Western world.

In fact Shaykh ul Islam is aware that we are in a critical state of world affairs where there bas been an Anglo-American construction of Islamic law and society. Much of what has been written and is being written, about Islam, is through the eyes of orient lists that construe it as a defective system. There is a wave of rhetoric attacking Islam as a backward system unable to deal with ideas of pluralism, tolerance and democracy. These Histories of course tells a different story but the fact remains that this is the popular perception of Islam.

Unfortunately if we turn our attention to current Muslim societies much of this thought is reflected in the totalitarian regimes of the Middle East and South Asian world. It is within this dichotomy of what Islam preaches and what is witnessed by the Western world that Shaykh ul Islam provides invaluable thoughts and ideas to bridge this gap. Through his prolific writings but more importantly thought his public lectures he has provided a depth of material on fundamental issues of Islam and democracy, political theory, Islamic constitutional theory, the concept of an Islamic state and the rule of law. It is within these very areas that there has been a stagnation of thought within Islamic circles over the last few hundred years, which has plagued Islamists thought, and actions in recent times.

Shaykh ul Islam Dr Muhammad Tahir ul Qadri has given in depth knowledge relating to ijtehad and how this can be the future vehicle for the re-ascension of Islamic political theory and practice. What is most significant about his work, and what I, as a lay person most appreciate, is that his writings and works are not concealed in over sophisticated language often used to make an illusion that the work is highly scholarly though in reality hiding the fact that it contains no relevant knowledge or discourse or even new ideas – merely a nicely written piece of work. Instead Shaykh ul Islam’s uniqueness is his ability to formulate principles in a beautifully clear, simple and classical manner but based on highly sophisticated techniques of Islamic Jurisprudence and Fiqh. It is not this articles intention to give an in depth view of these principles suffice to say that they can be easily obtained from his hundreds of lectures and books. What I would like to do is to give you an insight into what is available from his works and encourage readers to venture further for themselves and obtain the relevant works for their own study. I will illustrate with just one example of how Shaykh ul Islam interprets certain events of the Seerah in new and innovative ways, still in line with Qur’anic principles but which have never before been used in political language or even considered to contain underlying principles of democracy. When he explains his theories they appear utterly obvious and apparent and that is the real beauty of the work.

Shaykh ul Islam Dr Muhammad Tahir ul Qadri has quoted a well-known incident in the time of Sayyidina Umar bin Kattab (rad). During His caliphate Sayyidina Umar (rad) decided to pass a piece of legislation placing a ceiling on the amount of Maher (dowry) payable to a wife upon her Nikha. This was done as a result of increasingly high amounts of Mahr being fixed by the families of objected to Sayyidina Umar’s (rad) proposal, claiming the legislation contravened a direct ayah of the Qur’an, which she quoted in evidence. Sayyidina Umar (rad) accepted her claim and the bill was rejected.

Now this event is commonly known but it is the new interpretation that is interesting. In the following paragraphs I will paraphrase his arguments and reveal the unique political and legal inferences that are drawn by Shaykh ul Islam.

  1. He first notes that since a bill of the Caliphate was being passed obviously Sayyidina Umar (rad) was not in a public place such as a market or bazaar. Official business of the state was being conducted, taking place in the parliament (shura). Further more not all members of the Islamic state were privy to such decisions. Only selected members of the public who constituted the Shura (described as a form of a modern day parliament by Shaykh ul Islam in subsequent works) were chosen to sit and decide these matters. Since a lady stood up and objected to the bill it can be easily inferred that she had a right to be present in an Islamic government ruling at that time, a right to sit and then of course to speak and offer her opinion. These were important matters of state and not to be taken lightly. Decisions were being made by the Sahaba, Companions of the Prophet, who never dealt with matters lightly or without due preparations. It is from these observations that Shaykh ul Islam concludes there is ample evidence to suggest that women can be members of parliament and have full participation in governmental affairs. If Sayyidina Umar bin Kattab (rad) was willing to entertain a woman in his parliament and listen to her views then the same can be said for modern times. In today’s society we take for granted women’s active participation in political affairs and also assume it was the Europeans who first gave this right to women. However universal suffrage in England was only granted in the early twentieth century whereas 1400 hundred years ago Muslim women not only voted but were involved in the affairs of the state.
  2. Shaykh ul Islam’s second point is that this event shows how a constitutional mode of legislation was laid down by the Caliphate. The bill was placed before a session of parliament. The criticism of the lady establishes the fact there was an opportunity for parliamentary debate to take place and that all individuals present had a right to discuss the matters. If sound reasons were given, backed up by solid evidence then proposals were accepted. Here we witness the internal mechanisms of the legislature whereby the Caliph allowed debates on policies and bills thus establishing a democratic culture and work ethos. Democracy in name is not enough and cannot be implemented unless democratic values permeate an Islamic system.
  3. Another original inference by Quid Inqilab is that the basic behind the proposal of Sayyadina Omar (rad) was that he was concerned about protecting the rights of women. During this period large amount of dower were being fixed at the time of the Nikah but remained unpaid. This led to many unfulfilled agreements and women being paid nothing at all. This situation promoted the Caliph to act thorough legislation. He was extremely concerned that the Islamic polity should protect the rights of all and reflect a culture of promotion of human rights. His final words are indicative of these intentions. As soon as Sayyidina Umar (rad) accepted that lady’s argument he quoted as saying a man has given a wrong opinion and a woman has given a correct opinion. He deliberately used these words to leave no shadow of doubt that man and women are equals and that Islam has no place for sex discrimination.

The political and legal inferences quoted above are just a few examples out of hundreds offered by Prof; Qadri to illustrate how Islamic history can provide the basis for a modern day Islamic state. Quid-e-Inqilab’s uniqueness in today’s society. Ofcourse I have provided a slightly simplistic pracie of this one idea and deliberately left out technical jurisprudential terms of modes of interpretation relating to usul-ul-fiqh. Nevertheless one can appreciate that a great innovative mind is at work what I wish to convey is just a flavor of the kind of work Shaykh ul Islam is doing and implementing practically in his own political life, in order to entice you to discover for your self his writings.