THE ROUND TABLE: With Bassam Obeid

Taimur Tareen,
Dr. Masood Khan,
Azim Beg,
Shaban Abusamak,
Dr. Omar Idlibi,
Shamim Tareen,
Majda Abusamak,
Asra Khan

For this issue we will share with you our second round of excerpts from a round table discussion with Sh. Bassam Obeid. A baccalaureate in Islamic Law from Islamic University in Medina, Saudi Arabia, he is presently Imam and member of the Board of Directors at Islamic Center of Charlotte. He also supervises Arabic and Islamic studies at Charlotte Islamic Academy, a K-12 private Islamic School.

The purpose of the meeting was to have an interactive frank discussion with him on various topics in a very informal setting. We are committed inshaAllah to hold such meetings periodically in future and to share with you the excerpts of the discussions as they occur. We are confident such discourses will have immense educational value.

1. Presence of sects in Islam: (Verse 105 Surah 3 also verse 101 to 104 for emphasis on cohesive unity in following the truth.) The division among Muslims into different sects in the light of clear verses in Quran is sad and deplorable, a clear proof that Muslims have gone against the divine injunctions in this matter.

Taimur: Differences in some matters among scholars are justified and understandable, but forming a sect on such basis and then promoting and nourishing it is against Quranic teachings.

The group then attempted to explore the causes of such arrogant disregard of Allah’s advice, that are many and beyond the scope of this discourse. The discussion however clarified that differences in the interpretation of jurisprudential matters and the applied law does not constitute a negative sectarian division that has been warned in Quran. Differences among the Jurists are always healthy, dynamic and positive not meant to divide Muslims into sects. Those who understand this point never make the difference a source of conflict and division. The Jurists who differed with each other also did not intend or seek any divisive following of their positions.

What then constitutes the divisive sects that Quran has condemned? The discussion led to the conclusion that all “mahkamath” (clear commands) and matters pertaining to beliefs (Aqeedah), that constitute a major part of Quran, can and should never be subject to disagreement. consequently all the sects that have come into existence due to such disagreement fall among those who Quran has condemned. Applying this principle at the individual level, each one of us should guard to not to disagree on the clear truths given in Quran much less starting a sect among Muslims.

2. Discussion about Ijthihad in Islam: Further expounding the topic of disagreement and division the discussion automatically led to the subject of Ijthihad in Islam. It was agreed that Ijthihad is a valid avenue available to understand practice of Deen. It was also agreed that for centuries Muslims have been misled in this matter to disregard this avenue and/or restrict it by conditions that make it extremely difficult. The discussion led to the understanding that Ijthihad could be at two levels. One individually in one’s owns life and the other by somebody who presents it as a valid opinion for a wider application and following. The recommended qualifying conditions should only be applicable in the latter and are meant to make sure that the person who is claiming that authority is indeed qualified, so that his/her opinion is worthy and creditable for following. Sh. Bassam Obeid, pointed out three qualifications for someone to make Ijtehaad on collective level, as under:

A. He (Mujtahid) should be a hafiz of Quran or at least half of Quran.

B. He should have high proficiency in Arabic language.

C. He should have a large constituency of those who look up to him for opinion.

In the former situation, that is Ijtihad at the individual level, as long as a person does not go against the ‘mahkamath’ of Quran, is honest, sincere and has God-consciousness that gives him a strong sense of accountability, he/she is free to make personal ijthihad based upon one’s understanding and unique individual circumstances. It was also understood that any such individual ijthihad should not be done callously nor to cheat oneself out of a demanding situation. We would like you to ponder on this matter further and have an opinion.

3. Blasphemy: Blasphemy as defined by the Oxford dictionary is”any behavior or language that insults or shows lack of respect for God and religion”. Most Muslim countries have laws against blasphemy which are vigorously applied to the extent that blatant injustices have been committed against those who have been alleged to have committed blasphemy. Examples of such injustices driven by mob hysteric behavior encouraged and fueled by religious scholars/leaders in the Muslim countries, were presented for discussion. There are many non-Muslim countries in the world where people freely criticize religion and God and nobody even pays any attention to them much less punishing them.

Taimur: questioned the punishment by death for one who commits blasphemy as it is not prescribed by Quran?. While discussing on this issue, Bassam Obeid quoted a Hadith that marks three acts for which punishment with death is prescribed, a killer, a blasphemer and a murtadd ( A Muslim who has denounced Islam and has ceased to be a Muslim). But he explained that before awarding any capital punishment to a blasphemer the shariah requires the judge to give the accused many chances to avoid it, and award the punishment only if there is clear evidence of incremental disregard of the law by the accused. He explained that this way, the execution of the prescribed punishment becomes almost impossible. This approach is quite contradictory to what has been happening in many of the Muslim countries.

The discussion led to following important questions.

1. Why Muslims are so sensitive about this matter? Is it their own sense of insecurity or real love for religion?

2. If it is a reflection of love for their religion how do you explain their dichotomous disregard of many beautiful preachings of Islam meant to make them a better human being?

3. Is there such thing as capital punishment for a person who has committed insult against God or the Prophet? Why God wants people to punish that person when He can take care of him/her?

4. Living in a Muslim majority country, if your neighbor commits blasphemy what would be your reaction?

The discussion on the round table about this issue thoroughly revolved around above questions. The elaborate discussion is skipped here in favor of your individual reflection on this issue. Hope you think deeply and find the answers yourself.

4. Rebellion against a ruler:

“There will appear after me rulers, they will not guide by my guidance, and they will not establish my Sunnah; there will be amongst them men whose hearts will be hearts of devils in the bodies of men!” He was asked: “How should I behave, O Messenger of Allāh, if I reach that time?” He replied: “Hear and obey the Amīr (i.e. the ruler), even if he beats your back and [illegally] takes your wealth – hear and obey!” (Muslim ‘ Chapter on Rulership ‘)

Based upon the above Hadith, many scholars have given their opinion that rebellion against an oppressive and evil ruler is not permissible in Islam. Salafi and wahabi ideology in particular goes along with this stand. Taking this position many Muslims led or misled by scholars holding such opinion, have come to understand that the recent revolts in many Arab countries called “Arab Spring” are wrong. It is a conclusion that is hard to swallow. On one hand Islam has very encouraged its adherents to fiercely stand for justice and struggle against the evil and here it wants them to quietly follow their evil ruler unconditionally.

Our discussion clarified the fact that this Hadith while being authentic as pointed out by Bassam Obeid, pertains to a particular period in history when addressing to Ansar the Prophet warned them against rebellion after his departure, during a very vulnerable period in which solidarity and unity among Muslims was indispensable and lack of which could result in devastating disintegration. Bassam Obeid mentioned that Imam Abu Hanifa had taken a stand in favor of justified rebellion, not to mention many other scholars in the past. This clarification leads one to believe that any Hadith of th Prophet should be carefully studied and responsibly applied. Many sayings of the Prophet are time-bound, situation-bound and highly contextual in their applicability. If we are callous towards these considerations, we will end up in attributing objectionable facts to Prophet, thus doing a great disservice to him besides drawing erroneous conclusions.