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Nastiness Diagnosis. Anthropology. Religion. Gender. Justice. A Personal Notepad For the General Public.

Holberg Winner Mickle Cook’s Transition from “Hagarism” to “Commanding Right”

Cyber Islamophobia Watch: Notwithstanding scholarly repudiations, Internet websites continue to rely on the book Hagarism to malign Islam, assuming that the book’s thesis is derived from credible research.

Says Dr. Liaquat Ali Khan,

For more than a thousand years, Western scholarship has been determined to expose what it considers to be the “fraudulent foundation” of Islam. In this sense, Hagarism is yet another book in the large dump of attack literature.

However, what distinguishes this book is the fact that its authors, Michael Cook and Patricia Crone, no longer subscribe to its critical findings. On April 3, 2006, I had a phone conversation with Michael Cook and we talked about Hagarism. He said to me the following, which he later confirmed by means of an email:”The central thesis of that book was, I now think, mistaken. Over the years, I have gradually come to think that the evidence we had to support the thesis was not sufficient or internally consistent enough.” On April 6, 2006, I interviewed Patricia Crone, as well, to see what she now thinks about the book. She was even more candid in repudiating the central thesis of the book. She agrees with the critics that the book was “a graduate essay.” The book was published in 1977 when the authors lived in England. “We were young, and we did not know anything. The book was just a hypothesis, not a conclusive finding,” said Crone. “I do no think that the book’s thesis is valid.”

Says Donna Robinson Divine:

Cook explains the sophisticated and original invocation of this rule by the great late eleventh-early twelfth century
theologian, al-Ghazzali, as the organizing ideology for challenging unjust government, for opposing public corruption and sin but not,
it is important to emphasize, regardless of consequences. This is Cook‘s assessment of al-Ghazzali’s stance:
…  his views on this subject are marked by a certain flirtation with radicalism.. .The duty of course extends to every one, not just rulers and scholars. More remarkably, he is prepared to allow individual subjects to have recourse to weapons where necessary, and even to sanction the formation of armed bands to implement the duty without the permission of the ruler. And while there is not question of countenancing rebellion, Ghazzali is no accommodationist: he displays great enthusiasm for men who take their lives in their hands and rebuke unjust rulers in harsh and uncompromising language. In espousing such views Ghazzali may have been pushing
against the limits of Sunni political attitudes to established authority, and on occasion his nerve seems to falter. [Pages 456-71
The modern gloss on this commandment claims its legitimacy as the only authoritative heir to the traditions of the past although,
as Cook emphasizes, it originated in a period ofunsettling and rapid transformation when hierarchies of power were shifting from the
East to West. Exposure to new systems of value led Muslims thinkers to seize on this commandment as a fundamental religious
principle expressive of their own distinctiveness and of their own unvarying connection to their past. This rule presumably offered
Muslims a familiar means of controlling the forces sweeping through their societies that were undermining local economies and tradi-
tional structures of power. But as Cook demonstrates so decisively, this “tradition” possessed a dubious ancestry.
The core of the old conception was a personal duty to right wrongs committed by fellow-believers as and when one encountered them; the core of the new conception is a systematic and organized propagation of Islamic values both within and outside the community.


Dr Ulrike Freitag

Cook’s chapter 16, as a vantage point from which to explore wider discussions, rather than following Cook’s genealogical approach. The reference is to the Revival of Religious Sciences by the influential scholar Abu Hamid al-Ghazzali (d. 1111).

al-Ghazzali starts out by noting that Commanding Right is a duty derived from the Koran, Prophetic and later traditions as well as from the consensus of the jurists and common sense. Only those Muslims who are legally competent and able to fulfill the duty are obliged to carry it out, excluding the infirm, under-age and lunatics, but including sinners (albeit with certain limitations), slaves and women. Incidentally, the latter group is often excluded in classical Islamic thought, and only relatively few scholars, most notably the Ibadis in Oman, spilt some ink on discussing female participation in the duty controversially. Only in modern times, women seem to be considered relatively regularly as eligible for Commanding Right, although the question of propriety, i.e. problems arising from women speaking or acting publicly, continues to pose a problem.

al-Ghazzali rejects the notion that official permission from the Imam or other authorities needs to be sought before an individual engages in Commanding Right. In al-Ghazzali’s view, and contrary to views widespread among Imami Shi’ites, this contravenes early Muslim practice, although al-Ghazzali recognises that violent action might lead to objectionable general disorder. Similarly, he advises caution in cases where the person performing the duty imperils himself, as in the case of Commanding Right to an authority.

In this context, the distinction between different levels of the duty comes in handy. After all, it can be performed in many different ways. Firstly, an observant Muslim might want to inform the offender of his deed. If he failed to see the point, he could be politely counselled. Only if this failed as well, should harsh language be used or physical action such as the breaking of jars containing alcoholic drink, be considered. Even among those jurists who in theory approved of violence, its threat or actual use ought to be considered as the final resort only. In the case of confronting an authority, one might consider to condemn the offence silently (i.e. perform the duty “in the heart” only). If one decided to speak out, it was only prudent to avoid more drastic actions which were likely to cause disorder. This line of argument links nicely to the condition that the actor needs to have the power to act: if his measures were likely to be ineffective, and/or harmful to himself, it would be pointless and even forbidden to proceed. If, however, the action might endanger him but had the chance of being effective, al-Ghazzali sanctions it – in contrast to quite a few other scholars who prefer a more cautious approach. This notwithstanding, he is quite conscious of the temptations related to the duty: He explicitly warns believers not to perform the duty if they are susceptible to perform it in order to foster their own feelings of well-doing and moral superiority. The 18th century Sufi (mystic) ‘Abd al-Ghani al-Nablusi went even further by stating that only Sufis had sufficient self-knowledge to avoid this pitfall. As Cook shows, this position was a clear reaction to an earlier anti-Sufi movement which had attacked Sufi “innovations” under the banner of Commanding Right, and had even risked death in pursuit of the duty.

In this context, some interesting modern day interpretations of Commanding Right deserve mention. Obviously, Commanding Right still proves an attractive justification of revolt against un-Islamic rule. It is therefore quite surprising that a leading theoretician of modern (Sunni) Islamism, Sayyid Qutb, advised caution on this point. He argued that it was by far more important to strive for the creation of a truly Muslim society than for individuals to engage in single acts of Commanding Right. Therefore, individuals living in an un-Islamic society were not really capable of acting upon their duty. Unsurprisingly, not all of his followers chose to adopt this particular view, which seems rather state-focussed and does not easily appeal to the activism of many modern-day Islamists.

Another remarkable interpretation of the duty can be found in conjunction with current discussions about human rights and freedom of speech. Thus, one writer argues in favour of human rights on the basis of the principle. This is based on a reinterpretation according to which Commanding Right provides a public safeguard for what is nowadays understood to be human rights, rather than the implementation of specific tenets of the Muslim doctrine. Others have suggested that Commanding Right requires Muslims to speak out freely. They thus take it as an early guarantee for the freedom of speech. Quite obviously, it might be regarded also as the exact opposite! These are very interesting issues relevant to a host of current international discussions, and as a modern historian, the reviewer would have appreciated if the author had engaged with them even nearly as intensively as with the intricacies of earlier legal discussions. Given the range of material that would have needed to be considered, it is quite clear, however, that it was beyond the scope of Cook’s study, and his footnotes give ample material for anybody wishing to embark on a detailed investigation of these issues.


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This entry was posted on March 14, 2014 by in 雜Variety and tagged , .
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