On the 21st of Ramadan which is the day of the martyrdom of Imam Ali bin Abi Talib (KW), I reflect on the importance of early Islamic history. More specifically, I continue to think about how romanticizing this history not only lacks intellectual integrity, but it is also counterproductive for the Ummah in solving its current issues. If we can’t be intellectually honest and mature about our past then we certainly cannot be honest and mature about the present.
The first three generation of Muslims, which are commonly referred to as the “Righteous Predecessors” achieved much. The elite among them were the first to embrace Islam in Makkah during adversities, migrated to Al-Madinah, struggled in the path of Allah and maintained their faith after the passing of the Prophet (SAWS), for those who lived past him. They and their children’s generation oversaw the Qur’an being placed into text (mushaf) form and spread Islam to Greater Syria (Sham), Egypt, Persia to the gates of China.
There was, however, also some ugliness in this era. Some companions of the Prophet (SAWS) were killed by other Muslims. Others were oppressed by other Muslims. Governors under the khilaafah misused the Muslim treasury and even one did this plus stayed drunk and was later whipped for it.
According to majority contemporary Sunni thought, every Muslim who met the Prophet (SAWS) and prayed behind him was a companion, and that every companion is deemed just (‘adl.) To accept or question this notion is not a mere philosophical exercise; it has real day implications on how Islam is understood and implemented today.
Can a Muslim who killed other Muslims be considered just and that Allah (SWT) should be pleased with him/her?
Can one narrate ahadeeth from a person and take his/her opinions as authoritative simply because he/she was from the first two generations?
When looking at how Abu Dharr (RA) was exiled and the reasons behind it and how Abdullah bin Ma’sud (RA) was removed from being a judge in Iraq and later died due to being beaten, it is evident that injustice spread, including being perpetrated by some who are considered companions. But because companions have been given de facto infallibility (‘ismah) though there is zero theological basis for this, it is seen as heretical almost to discuss what is clearly in the Islamic history books.
These issues were rigorously debated in earlier generations unlike today. Unfortunately, intellectual terrorism shut down debate due to name-calling and even violence against Islamic thinkers and scholars.
For instance, it’s narrated in Masaa’il Al-Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal that the second generation Muslim who Al-Bukhari deemed trustworthy named Ali bin Al-Ja’ad (RH) stated, “Mu’awiyah [bin Abi Sufyan], I swear by Allah, died upon other than Islam.” Some modern day Salafis have dismissed Ali bin Al-Ja’ad (RH) though he was deemed by early Sunni hadeeth narrators as strong.
Abu Hanifah (RH) and Sufyan Ath-Thawri (RH) both deemed Imam Ali (KW) superior to ‘Uthman and supported the revolution of Imam Zayd bin Ali bin Al-Husayn bin Ali bin Abi Talib (SA) against the Ummawi tyrant Hisham bin Abdil Malik. Abu Hanifah (RH) was later imprisoned, and Imam Zayd (SA) was decapitated as his grandfather Imam Al-Husayn (SA) was due to his revolution.
Malik (RH) later supported the revolution of An-Nafs Az-Zakiyyah Muhammad bin Abdillah bin Al-Hasan bin Al-Hasan bin Ali bin Abi Talib (SA) against the first Abbasi tyrant Abu Ja’fari Al-Mansur. Malik (RH), like Abu Hanifah (RH), was imprisoned as well as beaten.
An-Nasa’i (RH), who narrated a book on the virtues of Imam Ali (KW) was beaten to death by zealots, who accused him of being “Rafidi” because he stated he had nothing meritorious to narrate about Mu’awiyah.
It’s amazing that persons who fought and killed Muslims, including the Prophet’s (SAWS) family and companions and never publicly repented, cannot be questioned as to their merits or lack thereof.
Again, this speaks to our framework of what justice means and who we take our theology and jurisprudence from. Creed and jurisprudence have been influenced by this such as the contemporary Sunni belief that it’s not allowed to rise up against a Muslim leader if he establishes prayer. If that’s the case, then Imam Zayd (SA), Abu Hanifah (RH) and Malik (RH) were not on the “Sunnah,” which would be an outrageous proposition indeed.
There are some contemporary scholars that have been brave enough to discuss such issues. Of course, they too have been labeled as being “Rafidi” as Ash-Shafi’i (RH), An-Nasa’i (RH), At-Tabari (RH) and others were labeled by intellectual terrorists.
Shaykh Muhammad ibn Yahya An-Ninowy is one such who calls into question Marwan ibn Al-Hakam and the “Ummawi media,” which facilitated the murder of Imam Al-Husayn bin Ali (SA).
Other thinkers along this line who critically analysis this history, in particular, the role of Mu’awiyah in the early fitnah in the Ummah, are Dr. Adnan Ibrahim, Dr. Hasan Farhan Al-Maliki and Dr. Ahmad Al-Kubaysi.
Insha’Allah, I will continue this subject in regards to ahadeeth that contradict that the Qur’an and how they relate to this early era of Islamic history that contained much political fitnah and jockeying.