My Islamic baby teeth were cut under the mentorship of a Muhaddithun scholar, born in Pakistan, who also resided in Jeddah for several years. I remain grateful for the scaffolding put in place for my later Islamic studies. It would be easy enough to pull an obscure text from my personal library and convolute the written word sufficiently to plagiarise the work of another, but intellectual dishonesty is the blight of unethical journalism. So please bear with me as I place a lengthy quote on the page. It comes from a valuable resource on my bookshelf.
This selection is simply titled, Traditions of Islam: An Introduction to the Study of Hadith Literature. The author is Alfred Guillaume and the original date of publication is 1924 (Kessinger Publishing’s Rare Mystical Reprints). Let me honour the thoughts of a scholar and use his words as a bridging mechanism to provide commentary on our current historical timeline.
“A contemporary would probably have noticed no difference between the lives of the Caliphs of Baghdad in their harems and banqueting halls and the similar institutions of their deposed rivals in Damascus. Wein, weib and gesang might have been written over all alike. The great difference, which has profoundly influenced the course of Islam, was in their official attitude towards religious institutions. The Abbasid could drink the forbidden wine as long and deeply as the Ummayad. But whereas the latter tolerated wine booths in the mosques, the former took pains to enforce his subjects’ obedience to the Prophet’s prohibition of wine with all the power of an oriental despot. Within their palaces, the early monarchs of this line lived the lives, which in the pages of the Arabian Nights still fire the imagination and form the stock-in-trade of the modern rawi, and the legendary records of their carousals are probably better known in the Occident than any other Arabic work. But the Abbasids understood their subjects well enough to perceive that if they made the revival of the sunna an integral part of their policy, and in their official capacity as Imams conformed to the national religion, no serious interference with their personal tastes would ensue...Theoretical discussions of religious questions were popular amongst the most worldly princes in the halcyon days of the Abbasid caliphate...Indeed, it may be said in general that as their political power declined, so their preoccupation in purely religious matters and their claim to religious authority increased” (pp 56, 57).
Leap across the decades to cast a view at Saudi Arabia. As the saying goes, fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. The House of Saud presents as just one of several modern-day dynasties, which uses the bona fides of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) as expressed in Hadith to run an enviable malafide political structure, which assures the continued existence of a parallel social order. For the general population, containment through the religious arm of the state has been the order of the day. For the elite, there is a different truth, and it is maintained through the art of illusion.
The latest dramatic peek of the duplicity afoot is the story of Princess Maha al-Sudairi (the former wife of recently deceased Saudi Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz) skipping out on a six million euro bill at the Shangri-La in Paris. Trying to exit a luxury hotel with 60 scampering servants in the middle of the night seems a bit bold. But then again, the duplicity of ‘diplomatic immunity’ saved her pampered soul.
But a strange thing happened with the eruption of the Arab Spring. The standard Marxist mantra of religion being the opiate of the people, a concept that coalesced so nicely with the unnatural order of things in Saudi Arabia (and points beyond) literally went up in flames on a street in Tunisia. All it took was one screaming human torch. And suddenly, religion became an amphetamine. And what an amphetamine it has now become for the politically disenfranchised. From Tunisia to Algiers, Syria to Bahrain, Egypt and beyond, the amphetamine is still coursing through the veins.
Seeking to figure out if Islam ‘really works’ in a newly invigorated but chaotic landscape, Tunisia has turned her political soul toward the Prophet (PBUH). Egypt now has a battle-tested Muslim Brotherhood ready to grasp the levers of governance. In Mali, rag-tag militia have been busily chopping the heads off statues (Hadith) and tossing the bottles of witches’ brew into the streets of Timbuktu. Women are being told to cover up or risk repercussions. Does a man have a right to threaten and bully the wife of another? The tools of democracy are being used to bring theocracy.
Will it work? Time will tell. There is the distinct possibility that those ascending to the seats of power and grasping the sceptres of authority will be no better than those whom they deposed. We have seen the resurrection of an Abbasid dynasty model of governance in Saudi Arabia and points beyond in the 20th century. These ruling families have managed to maintain control of their private magical gardens for multiple decades. Will the new leaders also use religious edicts and religious oppression as a means to keep their populations passively enslaved to laws that they themselves merely find politically convenient? Will the new leaders continue along with dynastic models of rule with hybrid demo-theocratic models of governance? Will this model continue to support conveniently persecution of minority religious populations, such as my group — Christians? Or will governance make space for all people within the public square? Can the newly established leaders rule with justice, kindness and mercy? Or will the old be resurrected as the ‘new’? Take a moment, and think about these issues.
The writer’s note: Wein, weib and gesang is wine, woman and song and rawi is from the Arabic root Rwy, to narrate, so in context, it means a modern narrator.
Bona fides, or bona fide for ‘in good faith’ denotes sincere, honest intention or belief, regardless of the outcome of an action.
The writer is a freelance journalist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org