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Authority in and of Islam: Manifestations and Contestations

Panel IV-17, sponsored byCollege of Islamic Studies, Hamad Bin Khalifa University (Doha), 2023 Annual Meeting

On Friday, November 3 at 11:00 am

Panel Description
The proposed panel seeks to investigate the question of authority in and of Islamic traditions as manifested in legal, political, and theological debates in modern times. The debate around authority in Islam is wide and varied. However, in this panel, we would like to examine the question of authority in and of Islamic traditions within two broad themes. First, it explores the nature and dynamics of Islamic authority under the current modern political regimes such as secular-democratic and Islamic states. Part of this discussion will also include the legitimacy of that authority by looking into the question of the origin of authority in Islam, be it normative or non-normative. Secondly, it tends to understand the intra-community debate over the question of authority within Islamic traditions. Most of the discussions of that kind are centered around intra-community polemics, claiming for “true” Islam, be it in the realm of law, theology, and ritual practices. Adopting a chronological approach, we plan to begin the panel with a brief overview of the historical, political and theological context of the religiopolitical figures. From there, we seek to move on to a discussion of the individuals’ sources and bases of Islamic legal authority which would cover the nature of such authority and how it manifested and the underlying reasons behind the manifestation. Overall, the panel views that in modernity and post-modernity, individuals’ authority in Islamic traditions does not necessarily have to be normative, nor categorized into separate types such as legal, political or theological. Rather it should be viewed on a spectrum that is at times overlapping, fluid and dynamic. We invite scholars from various disciplines including (but not limited to) Islamic Studies, Social Anthropology, Law, Political Science, and History to discuss the multifaceted dimensions of legal, political, and theological authority in and of the Islamic traditions from the 19th/20th centuries to the present.
Political Science
Religious Studies/Theology
  • Mr. Zunayed Ahmed Ehsan -- Organizer, Presenter
  • Osman Qazi -- Presenter
  • Mohammed Asaf Pazheri -- Presenter
  • Uvaise Karattiyattil -- Presenter
  • Annas Rolli Muchlisin -- Presenter
  • Mr. Zunayed Ahmed Ehsan
    We are living in a hopeless time where the emancipation of the toiling masses is considered a utopia. Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher coined and popularized the phrase “there is no alternative to capitalism”. The ideological apparatus of the bourgeois state has successfully educated the people to believe this phrase. Fredric Jameson rightly points out that it is much easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism (Zizek 2011). In the age of there is no alternative, can religion propose an epistemological breakdown to see an alternative to the existing social structure? In history, we have leaders who had a calling for politics and therefore attempted the impossible. Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani (1880-1976) was one of them. Bhashani was a Sufi pir and peasant leader who throughout his life fought with an ever-oppositional political spirit for the causes of toiling masses and oppressed peasants and he is known as the prophet of violence, Red Maulana and the Fire-eater Maulana. Though intellectuals and political commentators from Bangladesh have written volumes on him, there is a paucity of scholarly work which focuses on his politico-religious philosophy, and without it, we can only see the tip of the iceberg, hence, the interpretation will be hollow (Bahar 2012). Besides this, there are vulgar commentaries on him questioning his identity as Maulana or Communist (Uddin 2018). One of the reasons why such a leader of the toiling masses like Maulana Bhashani has been misread or misinterpreted and to some extent vulgarly ridiculed is for the inevitability of prejudice (Gadamer 2004) of the interpreters. This paper explores how Maulana Bhashani contextualized Islamic scriptures to (re)shape the idea of politics for liberation and religious pluralism in colonial South Asia. This is a qualitative study, applying textual interpretation to understand Maulana Bhashani’s use of theology for transformative politics. This paper also re-examines the vantage points which are taken for granted without critical understanding. To do so, the core philosophy of Maulana Bhashani, which shaped his idea of religion and politics or which made it possible for him to intertwine both and allowed him to preach revolutionary politics needs to be scrutinized. Simultaneously, the political context of colonial and post-colonial Bengal should not be overlooked as Sartori (2014) notes, Bhashani’s “leftist Islamism” was forged in the peculiar political context of Assam.
  • Mohammed Asaf Pazheri
    The paper presents an insightful ethnographic account of dispute resolutions and the practice of oath-taking at the Kodinhi Juma Masjid in Kerala that is associated with Maṃburam Tangal (d. 1845), a Sufi-scholar from Hadramaut. By conducting brief fieldwork and drawing on a rich archive, which includes records of oaths taken, litigant petitions, and mediation notes, the study examines the presence and the authority that the masjid occupies in the legal and ethical arena of the traditional Sunni Muslim community in Kerala. The study discusses its operation under the maḥall committee, a community organisation based on Juma mosques which is an unacknowledged Islamic nonstate legal actor, and delineates how it works as a distinctive Islamic legal institution in secular India. In the first section, the paper focuses on the dispute settlement process in the forum and traces a “radical legal pluralism” in practice in an ostensibly secular postcolonial India. Cases brought before the maḥall committee were examined in detail, enabling this study to conclude that its jurisdictional authority overlaps with the state judicial system not only in the personal law domain but also in criminal cases. The second part concentrates on oath-swearing practice and explores the enduring question of divine agency in the dispute settlement process on which the whole system of adjudication is structured. By discussing the oath-swearing ceremony as a disruptive moment in the legal forum, the paper renegotiates the existing dominant ethical frameworks in the anthropology of Islam, namely self-cultivation and discursive tradition, and underscores a much broader paradigm of ethics in which the legal forum operates.
  • Osman Qazi
    In 19th century British India, the mawlid became a contested ritual among Muslim scholars. It was one such scholar and a Sufi shaykh Aḥmad Rażā Khān’s (d. 1921) understanding of the ritual that ultimately became a core differentiating factor between the adherents of the Barelwī movement and the rest of the Muslims in the Indian sub-continent. Over the last century, this distinction has become more pronounced such that the Barelwīs now view those that oppose the mawlid as disrespectful and blasphemers (Sajjad 2018). Drawing on 116 fatwas, scattered across 20 volumes of the Fatawa Ridwiyya, I offer here the first comprehensive analysis of the way the mawlid was addressed by Aḥmad Rażā. This article pursues three objectives. First, this article suggests a different frame for the study of the mawlid fatwas. Sajjad (2018) and Tareen (2020) have examined these fatwas from the perspective of the sectarian strife between Deobandis and Barelwis. This study aims to extend the focus beyond this conflict in order to identify the broad and relatively diverse range of issues examined in relation to this practice by Ahmad Raza as a mufti. On the basis of this thematic analysis, this article argues, second, that Aḥmad Rażā's fatwas did not approach the mawlid simply as an issue of prohibition versus permissibility of the ritual per se. Rather, he focused his attention on defining ‘correct performance’. Similar to his contemporaries and predecessors, proper ‘outward’ performance of the ritual was a central area of concern for him. His reformist tendencies are on full display here as I demonstrate through an analysis of his views regarding the requirements for the reciter and organizer, mawlid content and normative status of food consumption. Furthermore, while sectarian relations are important to Aḥmad Rażā, they are not limited to his dealings with Deobandi scholars. Rather, Aḥmad Rażā carefully sought to protect Sunni Muslims from a number of perceived heretic groups such as the Ahl-i Ḥadīth, Deobandīs and Aḥmadīs, and in the process redefined the term Ahl-i Sunnat wa-l-Jamāʿat in an Indian setting. Finally, while this article confirms some arguments made by Sajjad (2018) and Tareen (2020) regarding his hermeneutical approach, I argue here that Aḥmad Rażā was also influenced by the Farangī Maḥal trend, that placed an increased emphasis on rational sciences such as logic as necessary for the study of fiqh and is one of the underlying causes for disagreements with his contemporaries.
  • Uvaise Karattiyattil
    In the south Indian state of Kerala, there is no Muslim judge officially appointed by the state. A Qadi is nominated instead by local Muslim institutions and operates outside the purview and control of state authority. This paper examines the role of the Qadis of Calicut in regulating the social life of Muslims in postcolonial Kerala (1947-2020). It focuses on the work of two important Qadis appointed by the local maḥall committee in Calicut: Sayyid Ahmad Shihābuddīn (1922-1999), who officiated from 1947-1999, and Sayyid Muhammed Jamalullailī (b.1970), in office since 2008. The paper explores how these Qadis apply Islamic law, regulate marriage and divorce, and interact with state institutions and community organizations. Drawing on Qadi records, local histories, legal sources, media contents, and interviews, I highlight how the Qadis' work is both guided by Islamic legal tradition and shaped by the Indian context. I first situate the Qadis in the context of wide-ranging debates about the application of Islamic law and the authority of Islamic legal institutions in postcolonial India. I then show how the role of the Qadi has been transformed in response to changing political and legal conditions in Kerala and India from 1947 until 2020. I argue that the Qadis of Calicut play an important role in adjudicating Islamic law, especially in issues relating to marriage and divorce, and that the effectiveness of the Qadis’ work rests on their ability to tap into the local Muslim community structures operating at a distance from state institutions.
  • Annas Rolli Muchlisin
    This paper examines Yūsuf al-Qaraḍāwī’s (d. 2022) changing attitudes toward Sunni-Shi‘a rapprochement (taqrīb) movements in the modern Middle East. As an important partisan of the Muslim Brotherhood, he subscribes to the ideas of Pan-Islamism, which, in turn, serve as an intellectual foundation for his active engagement in Sunni-Shi‘a dialogues. For the 2003 taqrīb conference in Bahrain, he prepared his work Mabādi’ al-Ḥiwār wa al-Taqrīb, in which he formulated ten principles for a better Sunni-Shi‘a understanding. One year later, he founded the International Union of Muslim Scholars, bringing together scholars from various Islamic schools and currents, including Shi‘a. In the same year, he also signed the Amman Message that recognizes adherents to one of the four Sunni schools, the two Shi‘a schools, the Ibadi and the Tahiri, as Muslims. In 2007, however, the growing spread of Shi‘a in Sunni-majority lands drew al- Qaraḍāwī’s concern. Speaking at the 2007 Doha congress on taqrīb, al-Qaraḍāwī urged the Shi’a preachers to stop their missionary activities in Sunni cities because, in al-Qaraḍāwī’s view, they bring more harm than good. Again in 2008, al-Qaraḍāwī spoke against Shi‘a da’wa activities in Sunni lands in his interview published in the Egyptian newspaper al-Masry al-Youm, which attracted various objections from many Shi’a scholars and communities. It was during the 2013 Syrian uprising that al-Qaraḍāwī’s polemics became more intense, labelling the Shi‘a militant group Hezbollah Ḥizb al-Shayṭān. Furthermore, he called for Sunni communities to come to Syria to help their Sunni fellows against the regime backed by Iran and the Shi‘a militant group. In subsequent years, al-Qaraḍāwī seems to lose interest in the Sunni-Shi‘a rapprochement. Instead, he devotes himself to defending Sunni victims from attacks by Shi‘a Houthi in Yemen and Hezbollah in Syria. This paper addresses two barriers to taqrīb movements in the case of al-Qaraḍāwī, namely one group’s da’wa activities in another group’s territories and political tensions and confrontations. Moreover, media often fuel the sectarian polemics.