Book: Development of Muslim Theology, Jurisprudence and Constitutional Theory
Author: Duncan B. MacDonald

Development of Muslim Theology, Jurisprudence and Constitutional Theory By Duncan B. MacDonald

Format: Global Grey free PDF, epub, Kindle ebook
Pages (PDF): 274
Publication Date: 1903

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From the Introduction: 'IN human progress unity and complexity are the two correlatives forming together the great paradox. Life is manifold, but it is also one. So it is seldom possible, and still more seldom advisable, to divide a civilization into departments and to attempt to trace their separate developments; life nowhere can be cut in two with a hatchet. And this is emphatically true of the civilization of Islam. Its intellectual unity, for good and for evil, is its outstanding quality. It may have solved the problem of faith and science, as some hold; it may have crushed all thought which is not of faith, as many others hold. However that may be, its life and thought are a unity.'

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WITH the death of Muhammad at al-Madina in the year 11 of the Hijra (A.D. 632), the community of Islam stood face to face with three great questions. Of the existence of one they were conscious, at least in its immediate form; the others lay still for their consciousness in the future. The necessity was upon them to choose a leader to take the place of the Prophet of God, and thus to fix for all time what was to be the nature of the Muslim state. Muhammad had appointed no Joshua; unlike Moses he had died and given no guidance as to the man who should take up and carry on his work. If we can imagine the people of Israel left thus helpless on the other side of the Jordan with the course of conquest that they must pursue opening before them, we shall have a tolerably exact idea of the situation in Islam when Muhammad dropped the reins. Certainly, the people of Islam had little conception of what was involved in the great precedent that they were about to establish, but, nevertheless, there lies here, in the first elective council which they called, the beginning of all the confusions, rivalries, and uncertainties that were to limit and finally to destroy the succession of the Commanders of the Faithful.

Muhammad had ruled as an absolute monarch--a Prophet of God in his own right. He had no son; though had he left such issue it is not probable that it would have affected the direct result. Of Moses's son we hear nothing till long afterward, and then under very suspicious circumstances. The old free spirit of the Arabs was too strong, and as in the Ignorance (al-jalailiya), as they called the pre-Muslim age, the tribes had chosen from time to time their chiefs, so it was now fixed that in Islam the leader was to be elected by the people. But wherever there is an election, there there are parties; and this was no exception. Of such parties we may reckon roughly four.

There were the Early Believers, who had suffered with Muhammad at Mecca, accompanied him to al-Madina and had fought at his side through all the Muslim campaigns. These were called Muhajirs, because they had made with him the Hijra or migration to al-Madina. Then there was the party of the citizens of al-Madina, who had invited him to come to them and had promised him allegiance. These were called Ansar or Helpers. Eventually we shall find these two factions growing together and forming the one party of the old original believers and Companions of Muhammad (sahibs, i.e., all those who came in contact with the Prophet as believers and who died in Islam), but at the first they stood apart and there was much jealousy between them. Then, in the third place, there was the party of recent converts who had only embraced Islam at the latest moment when Mecca was captured by Muhammad, and no other way of escape for them was open. They were the aristocratic party of Mecca and had fought the new faith to the last. Thus they were but indifferent believers and were regarded by the others with more than suspicion. Their principal family was descended from a certain Umayya, and was therefore called Umayyad. There will be much about this family in the sequel. Then, fourth, there was growing up a party that might be best described as legitimists; their theory was that the leadership belonged to the leader, not because he was elected to it by the Muslim community, but because it was his right. He was appointed to it by God as completely as Muhammad had been. This idea developed, it is true, somewhat later, but it developed very rapidly. The times were such as to force it on.

These, then, were the parties of which account must be taken, but before proceeding to individuals in these parties, it will be well to fix some genealogical relationships, so as to be able to trace the family and tribal jealousies and intrigues that were so soon to transfer themselves from the little circle of Mecca and al-Madina and to fight themselves out on the broad field of Muslim history. For, in truth, in the development of no other state have little causes produced such great effects as here. For example, it may be said, broadly and yet truly, that the seclusion of Muslim women, with all its disastrous effects at the present day for a population of two hundred millions, runs back to the fact that A’isha, the fourteen-year-old wife of Muhammad, once lost a necklace under what the gossips of the time thought were suspicious circumstances. As to the point now in hand, it is quite certain that Muslim history for several hundred years was conditioned and motived by the quarrels of Meccan families. The accompanying genealogy will give the necessary starting-point.

The mythical ancestor is Quraysh; hence "the Quraysh," or "Quraysh" as a name for the tribe. Within the tribe, the two most important families are those of Hashim and Umayya; their rivalries for the succession of the Prophet fill the first century and a half of Muslim history, and the immediately pre-Islamic history of Mecca is similarly filled with a contest between them as to the guardianship of the Ka‘ba and the care of the pilgrims to that sanctuary. Whether this earlier history is real, or a reflection from the later Muslim times, we need not here consider. The next important division is that between the families of al-Abbas and Abu Talib, the uncles of the Prophet. From the one were descended the Abbasids, as whose heir-at-law the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire now claims the Khalifate, and from the other the different conflicting lines of Shi‘ites, whose intricacies we shall soon have to face.