The Need for Principled Discussions Between Scholars, Politicians and Activists

Updated: Jun 14

By Dawud Walid

Muslims in the West are in dire need of more organization and implementation of protocols of intra-community communication. I do not mean organization as in another non-profit organization in the alphabet soup of Muslim led groups that speak on behalf of special interests within the community, some of them misrepresenting the pristine teachings of Islam. I speak of a clearly articulated charter of expectations which calls scholars, politicians and activists to convene to assist and hold each other accountable which in turn should translate better serving the interests of the community at large.

Prophet Muhammad (prayers and peace be upon him & his family) stated:[1]

Whoever sees from among you an evil/injustice, then change it with his hand. If he cannot, then resist it with his speech. And if he cannot, then resist it with his heart and that is the weakest of faith.

Habib al-Hasan bin Salih al-Bahr (may Allah be pleased with him) stated in regards to those who can change wrong with their hand that “this is the obligation of the political authorities and the representatives of their affairs.”[2] The moral obligation of those who hold political positions is to remove harm within society. For Muslims who are in political positions, not only is there a facet of accountability to voters but there is supposed to be a higher call of duty of having fidelity towards the sacred principles within Islam. In fact, I am of the view that we should mature as a community that we do not give our support to Muslim politicians simply because they are Muslims. In fact, support should be withheld in my view until their understanding of Islam is fairly vetted just as non-Muslim candidates should be vetted on what policy positions that they hold before we support them.

The role of scholars in advancing our community in socio-political sophistication has been undervalued by politicians and activists in general as well as many scholars themselves. Scholars have the role of not only teaching the parameters of acceptable political engagement from the perspectives of the sacred law and Islamic ethics but also share the duty of vetting Muslim political candidates. Moreover, scholars also have the duty of advising and during dire times warning politicians about their detrimental positions. Given politics in the broadest sense and activism for socio-political change fall under the category of enjoining good and forbidding evil (al-amr bil ma’ruf wa an-nahy ‘an al-munkar), it is incumbent that doors are more widely opened for student – teacher relationships between politicians and scholars. As Sidi Ahmad Zarruq stated, “It is not permissible for anyone to proceed in a matter until he knows the ruling of Allah pertaining to it.”[3] Politicians and activists are dependent on scholars in this regard from the onset. Ideally speaking, politicians and activists should become scholarly pertaining to Islamic rulings as it relates to issues which they represent.

Regarding the holding of governmental authorities accountable, this falls under the purvey of scholars too. Habib al-Hasan bin Salih al-Bahr stated that in regards to resisting evil and injustice with speech per the Prophetic tradition that “this is the obligation of the scholars and preachers.”[4] Scholars and imams have to lead by example in giving guidance about how to address moral crises and injustices that plague society. Some scholars must take the task of principled communication and advisement through back channels as it is not wise that all advisement or even warnings are firstly taken to the public. Likewise, there always must be preachers from the pulpits that raise the awareness of injustices according to the Islamic paradigm and give counsel on how to react. The plan of action should at times include pointing community members towards principled community organizers that are mobilizing around certain issues. One of the worst issues that has plagued Muslims in the West post 9/11 is the silence from many scholars and preachers on pertinent issues which left a void that became dominated by activists and later Muslim politicians with sincere intentions that were undereducated or oblivious to the foundations which underpin our sacred law. Hence, we have the unfortunate state of affairs that in the name of social justice, we have some prominent politicians and activists that are actually enjoining the forbidden and criticizing or blocking the permissible and even the recommended.

The void left has also helped usher in the unfortunate predicament of some scholars and imams in the West becoming too close with governmental authorities both here and in Muslim majority countries which added to activists and many within the general community being skeptical about the role of scholars in the socio-political affairs of Muslims. Our tradition is replete with warnings to scholars of the dangers of getting too cozy with governmental officials. Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (may Allah’s blessings be upon him) said pertaining to this:[5]

The scholars are the executors of the messengers. So, when you see the scholars inclining towards governmental authorities, check them.”

If scholars and preachers themselves do not hold accountable their peers who give the appearance of being compromised by relationships with governmental authorities or are blatantly covering up oppression of the governments in the West or abroad, it undermines the credibility of scholars among the generality. The negative consequences of this is lack of seeing the need to consult scholars at all and pushing politicians and activists further into echo-chambers of predominately “woke” operatives who do not regard the Qur’an and Sunnah as sacred and in fact use Muslims for their own political purposes.

As for politicians, activists and scholars, there should be private conversations and vigorous disagreements behind closed doors. There should be space, however, at times for public critique with clear evidences presented and brotherly and sisterly tones. This too is part of our tradition which we have seemingly lost. For instance, al-Layth bin Sa’d (may Allah mercy be upon him) openly disagreed with Imam Malik bin Anas (may Allah be pleased with him) regarding his position that the actions of the People of al-Madinah was a bidding proof of Islamic jurisprudence. Al-Layth, however, started the discourse with a prayer for Imam Malik, thanked him for his disagreement with him and hoped that he would be increased in excellence.[6] This is but one of many examples of excellent comportment of our pious predecessors who vigorously disagreed with each other but wanted the best for one another. On the one hand, we are bound to set the tone for kind, respectful disagreement not so-called “cancel” callout culture. On the other hand, we cannot allow disagreement to be shut down in the name of saying that any public disagreement is “bad adab” or pulling what I call the “wali card” that if one disagrees with a scholar who openly sides with oppression that (s)he is “making war against a wali” which implies that Allah (Mighty & Sublime) is at war with the dissenter.

There is much more that can be said about this topic. It is my belief that we need to establishment better mechanisms and protocols of how we establish different inflections of Qur’an and Sunnah based political agendas and protocols among Muslims in the West. Right now, we really do not have such from my vantage point. The first step is for our scholars, politicians and activists to be more open to regularly talk with each other instead of talking past each other or about each other.

Dawud Walid is currently a senior fellow at Auburn Seminary and a former imam at Masjid Wali Muhammad in Detroit and the Bosnian American Islamic Center in Hamtramck, Michigan. He is the author of Towards Sacred Activism and co-author of Centering Black Narrative: Black Muslim Nobles Among the Early Pious Muslims and Centering Black Narrative: Ahl al-Bayt, Blackness & Africa.

[1] Muslim, Sahih Muslim Hadith #184 [2] Bin Sumayt Ba’Alawi, Al-Fuyudat ar-Rabbaniyyah min Anfas Sadah al-‘Alawiyyah, Page 192 [3] Zarruq, Qawa’id at-Tasawwuf ‘ala Wajh Yajma’ Bayna ash-Shari’ah wa al-Haqiqah wa Yasil al-Usul wa al-Fiqh bi at-Tariqah, Page 114 [4] Bin Sumayt Ba’Alawi, Al-Fuyudat ar-Rabbaniyyah min Anfas Sadah al-‘Alawiyyah, Page 192 [5] Al-Asbahani, Tahdhib Hilyah al-Awliya wa Tabaqat al-Asfiya, Volume 1, Page 512 [6] ‘Allush, Taqrib al-Madarik fi Risalatay al-Layth wa Malik, Page 38

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