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Dossier – Iǧtihād et taqlīd dans l’islam sunnite et šīʿite

The ‘Muǧtahids’ Incident’ According to al-Qāsimī’s Memoirs

Introduction and Translation
Pieter Coppens
p. 63-97

Résumés

Cette contribution consiste en une traduction anglaise annotée de l’« Incident des muǧtahidīn » (ḥādiṯat al-muǧtahidīn), survenu en 1313/1896 à Damas : un groupe de ʿulamāʾ a été déféré devant le tribunal au motif qu’ils pratiquaient l’iǧtihād et conspiraient contre les autorités ottomanes. Ce texte de première main est d’une valeur inestimable pour comprendre le rôle du concept d’iǧtihād dans les développements intellectuels et socio-politiques des provinces arabes de l’Empire ottoman de la fin du xixe siècle. Il est présenté ici pour la première fois en traduction anglaise pour être accessible à des lecteurs non arabophones.

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Texte intégral

This work is part of the research program “The origins, growth and dissemination of Salafi Qur’an Interpretation: the role of al-Qasimi (d. 1914) in the shift from premodern to modern modes of interpretation” (Project no. 016.Veni.195.105), financed by the Dutch Research Council (NWO). My gratitude goes to Tarek Ghanem, Samira I. Ibrahim, Nazir Bibi Naeem and Tamim Mobayed, who gave invaluable feedback on my translation. All errors are my own.

  • 1 See my essay “A Silent uṣūl Revolution?” in this issue.
  • 2 See al-ʿAǧmī, Imām al-Šām fī ʿaṣrihi, pp. 63–95; Ẓ. al-Qāsimī, Ǧamāl al-Dīn, pp. 48–69. See also a (...)

1Another contribution to this special issue of MIDÉO on the iǧtihād-taqlīd dichotomy refers to the so-called ‘Muǧtahids’ Incident’ (ḥādiṯat  al-muǧtahidīn) in its introduction, as described in the memoirs of Ǧamāl al-Dīn al-Qāsimī (d. 1914).1 This excerpt from his memoirs has been published twice already, both in its Arabic original: once in the standard work of his son Ẓāfir on him, and once as part of a collection of autobiographical texts (re-)published by Nāṣir al-ʿAǧmī, a scholar from Kuwait with personal sympathies towards the thought of al-Qāsimī and his family.2 It is thus certainly not a new text for researchers capable of reading Arabic, and with knowledge of the relevant sources for the intellectual and social history of this era and region.

  • 3 Weismann has argued that this has to do with the idea of Islamic reformism as a mere reaction to t (...)
  • 4 Currently, only one translated text from al-Qāsimī figures in a source book on ‘modernist’ Islam: (...)

2It does not resurface in existing scholarship on Islamic reform that much, however, which may have to do with the fact that relatively more scholarly attention on Islamic reformists in the Arab world has gone to developments in colonial Egypt.3 The Incident as described by al-Qāsimī, therefore, deserves significant attention and close reading in and of itself as well, in both education and research.4 Although it is a one-sided account of affairs, it is still an invaluable primary source on the role of the concept of iǧtihād in both the intellectual and socio-political developments in the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire in the late 19th century. Therefore, it is now first presented here in an English translation, to make it accessible to an audience not capable of reading sources in the Arabic original.

  • 5 See Commins, Islamic Reform, pp. 50–53.
  • 6 Weismann, “Salafiyya from the Damascene Angle”, pp. 211–212; Taste of Modernity, pp. 276–281.
  • 7 See, for example, Sirry, “al-Qāsimī and the Salafi Approach to Sufism”, pp. 82–83; Hudson, “Readin (...)

3Only Commins and Weismann pay considerable attention to the Incident in their paradigmatic works on Syrian religious movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Commins offers a concise summary of the affairs in the context of the emergence of a distinguishable Salafī strand in Damascus.5 Weismann shows how it is probably the most important source to know which scholars exactly were involved in the Salafī trend of Damascus and points out how they all somehow emerged from the circle of ʿAbd al-Qādir al-Ǧazāʾirī (d. 1300/1883).6 Other studies on al-Qāsimī and late Ottoman Damascus only very lightly touch upon it.7

  • 8 See Ẓ. al-Qāsimī, Ǧamāl al-Dīn, p. 43.
  • 9 See Abāẓa, Ǧamāl al-Dīn, p. 112; Ẓ. al-Qāsimī, Ǧamāl al-Dīn, p. 43.
  • 10 See Abāẓa, Ǧamāl al-Dīn, pp. 112–120; Ẓ. al-Qāsimī, Ǧamāl al-Dīn, pp. 43–47. The discussion of the (...)

4Biographies of and studies on al-Qāsimī in Arabic, mainly from Syrian historians and Muslim intellectuals, have all emphasized the importance of the Incident, appropriating it for very different ideological purposes. One of the goals of this translation is to make this narrative available to a broader readership, who can interpret it for themselves without this type of ideological interference, and perhaps find new dimensions to the text that were until now overlooked. Ẓāfir al-Qāsimī—the son of Ǧamāl al-Dīn—emphasizes the importance of the Incident in the context of the oppressive policies of the Ottoman authorities in the realm of religious and political thought and classifies it as the most influential incident on the thought and writings of his father, as well as the most relevant incident for religious and intellectual life of that era.8 He thus seems to want to stress the importance of his father in the emerging reformist movement first and foremost. Nizār Abāẓa, the head of Dār al-Fikr, arguably the most essential ‘modernist’ cultural publishing house of history, religion, and Arabic literature and thought in Syria, describes the group as consisting of “enlightened (mutanawwirīn) scholars of Damascus, [...] brought together by their love of knowledge, sincerity, and freedom of mind and research”, and approvingly quotes al-Qāsimī’s son Ẓāfir on the importance of the event.9 He further only mentions a summary of the events as described by Ẓāfir al-Qāsimī and does not offer more in-depth analysis.10

  • 11 The study was published with the Syrian Salafī publishing house al-Maktab al-Islāmī, and contains (...)
  • 12 Istānbūlī, Šayḫ al-Šām, p. 42.
  • 13 Istānbūlī, although writing 20 years later, strangely seems not to have been aware that al-Qāsimī’ (...)

5The study of Maḥmūd Mahdī al-Istānbūlī (d. 1999), a companion of Nāṣir al-Dīn al-Albānī (d. 1999), is unmistakably a ‘purist’ Salafī reading of the life and works of al-Qāsimī, and an attempt to place him in their camp.11 Praising him for his courage towards the worldly authorities, fearing none but God, he emphasizes al-Qāsimī’s approach to fiqh. He states that to a question in court whether al-Qāsimī wishes to establish a fifth school of law (maḏhab) bearing his name, he supposedly answered: “I wish for the four schools to be three, for the three to be two, and for the two to be one, to have them come together on one word. How can one then imagine that I would add a fifth to them, to divide the Muslims and make them into parties and sections?”12 This quote cannot be found in the actual description of the event by al-Qāsimī himself. Istānbūlī does not mention a different source either. It seems to be way too loose a paraphrase of al-Qāsimī’s actual words to project his own ideology on al-Qāsimī.13

  • 14 Hudson, “Late Ottoman Damascus”, p. 153. Hudson does not focus on the ‘Muǧtahids’ Incident’ itself (...)

6The narrative presented by al-Qāsimī in his memoirs may be considered an excellent example of what Leila Hudson describes as “self-defining action”. Applying Bourdieu’s concept of habitus to movements seeking forms of sovereignty in Damascus in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, she states:14

Neither ideology nor identity, habitus accommodates shifting local political collectivities that are not yet self consciously [sic] Arabist, nor complacently Ottoman or Islamic. The habitus of modern sovereignty is a disposition to self-defining action (decentralization, ijtihad) rather than acquiescence to status.

7The ‘Muǧtahids’ Incident’ may indeed be read as a case of an attempt of religious scholars to engage in “self-defining action”, through engaging with Islamic tradition in manners outside the boundaries of the dominant and state-endorsed religious discourse, determined by a regime of basic fiqh texts and their glosses. Through their informal meetings in which they themselves chose which works to discuss and which method to follow, this group of scholars attempted to create a liberated space from the Ottoman imperial authorities and their stooges among the religious scholarly class of Damascus. It would be far-fetched, perhaps even anachronistic, to consider this a case of Arab nationalism. However, it was a search for local and regional autonomy in the face of an empire that tried to further affirm its dominance over the region, as part of its modernization and centralization efforts. Iǧtihād was a prominent tool in this “self-defining action”. It thus does not come as a surprise that the authorities felt the need to respond to this suspicion surrounding this group of scholars.

  • 15 See Wilson, “Failure of Nomenclature”; El Shamsy, “Social Construction of Orthodoxy”; Knysh, “‘Ort (...)
  • 16 Jackson, Boundaries of Theological Tolerance, p. 30.

8A lot can be learned from this narrative, for example, on processes of canonization of doctrine, practices and texts, the establishment and reaffirmation of ideas of ‘orthodoxy’, as well as how these canons and ideas are challenged on a micro-level. Many scholars have pointed out the problems inevitably raised by applying this term and concept of orthodoxy, with an explicitly Christian ‘Begriffsgeschichte’, to an Islamic context, mainly due to the lack of an Arabic equivalent, and the lack of a formal ecclesiastical hierarchy in Sunnī Islam.15 I am sympathetic to the claim of Sherman Jackson, however, that the establishment of ‘orthodoxy’ does not necessarily need an ecclesiastical hierarchy. It needs any type of authority, either formal or informal:16

[T]he threat of stigma, malicious gossip, ostracism, or verbal attack by respected members in the community is far more imminent, far more effective, and far more determinative of religious belief and behavior than is the threat of formal excommunication.

  • 17 As mentioned elsewhere in this special issue, this is a case of what Brinkley Messick calls “textu (...)

9The narrative on the ‘Muǧtahids’ Incident’, as presented below, may be read as a fine example of exactly that informal process of subjugating fellow scholars into the ‘correct’ understanding of Islam, but also of resistance against that subjugation, with the iǧtihād-taqlīd dichotomy as the main focus of that struggle, as well as conflicting ideas on which texts one should form one’s interpretive communities with.17 As we learn from al-Qāsimī’s narrative, despite the lack of an ecclesiastical institution in Sunnī Islam, the scholarly communities of Damascus had their regimes of compelling other scholars to their vision on the only correct understanding of Islam, using gossip and even invoking state power in the process. This worked in both directions: judging from the narrative, not only the circle around al-Qāsimī was the victim of gossip, but also their main adversary, Muftī al-Manīnī (d. 1316/1898), was accused in the public discourse of being of such low standing in knowledge, that al-Qāsimī should be teaching him, despite his young age. Others were targeted with poetry ridiculing them due to another affair with the scholars of the al-Ḫaṭīb family, which al-Qāsimī interpreted as a kind of retribution for their vile behavior towards his circle.

10Another point of interest in the text, related to the earlier described process of renegotiating ‘orthodoxy’ in a non-ecclesiastical environment, is the typical symbolic battles of that age, fought out through the medium of fiqh and public classes, chosen by Islamic scholars to renegotiate their positions among each other, to gain socio-political influence as well as to contest the worldly authorities. The accusations towards Badr al-Dīn al-Ḥasanī described in the text, whether true or false, are a case in point: criticism of abandoning the turban, of tobacco consumption, and usury, can all be understood as indirect criticisms of the policies of the Ottoman government supported by religious scholars friendly to the authorities. On top of that, he was accused of classifying the Ottoman caliphate as an oppressive kingship, obviously a much more direct form of criticism.

  • 18 See Quataert, “Clothing Laws”, pp. 412–419; Baker, “The Fez in Turkey”, pp. 73–78.

11The issue of abandoning the traditional turban was already a hot issue long before the time of the ‘Muǧtahids’ Incident’. Criticizing it could not be interpreted other than as a criticism of the policies of the imperial powers and their religious legitimacy. The Ottoman authorities gradually replaced the turban with the fez throughout the 19th century, sometimes even with force, as was the case in 1829 when Sulṭān Maḥmūd II obliged the fez for the until then very hierarchically organized, and correspondingly (head-)dressed, military and officials. The Ottoman authorities thus created a greater sense of equality and equal obedience to the Sulṭān among them, indifferent to their rank, lineage, and, perhaps most importantly, in the wake of non-Muslim nationalist movements, religious group (millet). Where headgear was first used to underline religious, social, and political differences among the population, it was now meant to underline equality.18

  • 19 See Quataert, “Clothing Laws”, pp. 412–419; Baker, “The Fez in Turkey”, pp. 73–78.
  • 20 See Björkman, “Tulband”.
  • 21 See al-Kattānī, Aḥkām sunnat al-ʿimāma; Björkman,“Tulband”; al-Ḥāfiẓ & Abāẓa, Taʾrīḫ ʿulamāʾ Dimaš (...)
  • 22 See Ma’oz, Ottoman Reform; Commins, Islamic Reform, pp. 3–5, 12–16.

12A sense of homogeneity for all in the Empire was thus enhanced by the introduction of the fez, combined with an abandonment of protectionism in favor of an economic policy of laissez-faire. The fez became a symbol of loyalty to these policies.19 Several treatises were written against this practice of abandoning the turban, considered to be an abandonment of an important Sunna of the Prophet, and even a form of heresy if expressed in the form of open contempt for the turban.20 For example, Muḥammad b. Ǧaʿfar al-Kattānī (d. 1926), who revered Šayḫ Badr al-Dīn and regularly sought his company during his stay in Damascus, also wrote such a treatise.21 Underneath these theoretical discussions on the turban as a part of the Sunna, also lays the issue of the loss of a special social status for Muslims within the Empire, as well as the special status of Islamic scholars as government officials, who became increasingly marginalized in the modernization of the Ottoman state.22

  • 23 A good overview is offered in Grehan, “Great Tobacco Debate”.
  • 24 The best example of this is the Damascene scholar ʿAbd al-Ġanī al-Nābulsī (d. 1143/1731), who crit (...)
  • 25 See Grehan, “Great Tobacco Debate”.
  • 26 This association with Wahhabism is clearly an accusation not founded in reality. The circle around (...)

13Smoking in that time had been a highly debated social practice for more than two centuries already within the Ottoman Empire. This was a debate with severe social and political implications, not so much for health reasons. There was no awareness of that problematic aspect of smoking yet—but because of the worldly leisure associated with it, the economic and imperial interests of tobacco trade and taxes, and the potential for the emergence of a public sphere that tobacco and coffee houses brought.23 In several instances, it was prohibited, in times that ‘politics of piety’ were considered expedient, which was always eventually withdrawn. It also became a symbolic battle between the class of scholars and the political authorities, on to whom the right belonged to allow or forbid it.24 When it had finally been accepted as a common practice in the Ottoman Empire, by both the scholars and the political authorities, the Wahhābī movement used tobacco prohibition as a symbolic measure in conquered lands.25 In the case of Badr al-Dīn al-Ḥasanī, known for not strictly following one maḏhab and his reorientation on ḥadīṯ literature in legal matters, the sensitivity of the issue may have been because of the association with Wahhabism of rallying against tobacco. Suspicion of support of the Wahhābī cause could be interpreted as political subversion to the Ottoman authorities. The accusation of calling the Ottoman sultanate an oppressive kingship does not come as a surprise in that context of suspicion of siding with Wahhabism.26

  • 27 On these discussions on the ritual purity of non-Muslims, see Safran, “Rules of Purity and Confess (...)

14The same can be argued about the ritual impurity (naǧāsa) of non-Muslims and their possessions, that Tawfīq Efendī (d. 1932) was accused of discussing. With the anti-Christian riots of the 1860s still fresh in the collective memory, advanced by the laissez-faire economic policies that made the position in the trade of the Christians of Damascus stronger, as well as debates about equal citizenship in the Ottoman Empire, this was not an innocent theoretical debate. It was easily interpretable as an affront to Ottoman policies that had tangible results for the social fabric of Damascus.27

  • 28 See Hudson, “Reading al-Shaʿrānī”, pp. 57–59; Schatkowski Schilcher, Families in Politics, pp. 40– (...)

15Another important aspect is the mobilization of the mob as a tool of political pressure. The 19th century in Damascus saw several such incidents, often with competing factions organized around individual families, scholars, or schools.28 This narrative of al-Qāsimī nicely shows how scholars used the mobilization of popular support to sustain their independent position towards the imperial authorities. This iǧtihād-inclined group of scholars has sometimes been interpreted to be the forerunners of later self-conscious Arab nationalism. Although this may be difficult to prove, the way this Incident mobilized locals onto the streets does show that a sense of a self-conscious public sphere did exist, with which the Ottoman authorities had to negotiate through the scholars that patronized this mob. It is telling that at the end of al-Qāsimī’s narrative, the governor, ʿUṯmān Nūrī Bāšā (d. 1900), is advised not to estrange the local scholars from him, and thus lose the sympathy of the local Muslim population.

16I have annotated the present translation, to refer the reader to further specialist literature, offer context to persons, works and events mentioned in the excerpt, and to emphasize the historical significance of certain passages. I hope it is thus ultimately suitable as a part of readers for students of the history of Islamic law and reform in particular, and Islamic thought in general, as well as a starting point for researchers who wish to learn more about the nascence of the Syrian Salafī movement and the role of discussions on iǧtihād in that emergence.

Translation
The ‘Muǧtahids’ Incident’
29

  • 29 See al-ʿAǧmī, Imām al-Šām fī ʿaṣrihi, pp. 63–95; Ẓ. al-Qāsimī, Ǧamāl al-Dīn, pp. 48–69.
  • 30 Q IV, 148. Opening this piece with this qurʾānic verse may be understood as a justification for th (...)

17God says in His Magnificent Book: “God does not love speaking out bad things, except for someone treated unjustly.”30

18So, do contemplate, O you reasonable one, this honorable verse, to excuse us for the peculiarities of this curious incident that we are going to tell you. It is an incident in which the intellects of the great ones from our times have gone frail, who are the remainders of the great men from the past.

I see time lifting every scoundrel,
and diminish everyone of honorable character.

Just as the sea drowns a living being,
while a cadaver keeps floating.

  • 31 These lines of poetry are attributed to Ibn al-Rūmī (d. 283/896). See Ibn al-Rūmī, Dīwān, vol. 2, (...)

Or as the balance lowers every loyal person,
and lifts everyone with a light weight.31

  • 32 Death dates and ce dates are added by the translator, as elsewhere in this translation, and are no (...)
  • 33 Al-Qāsimī does not disclose the identity of this person. Commins and Weismann do not give an opini (...)

19It was on Friday 10 Šaʿbān of the year 1313[/1896] that a letter from the government department reached us, summoning the following honorable men to court on Saturday: Šayḫ ʿAbd al-Razzāq al-Bīṭār [d. 1916], Šayḫ Salīm Samāra [d. 1909], Šayḫ Badr al-Dīn al-Maġribī [d. 1935], Šayḫ Tawfīq Efendī al-Ayyūbī [d. 1932], Šayḫ Amīn al-Safarǧalānī [d. 1916], Šayḫ Saʿīd al-Farrā [d. 1925], Šayḫ Muṣṭafā al-Ḥallāq [d. 1911], and the humble author of this text.32 Someone who wastes his life on pointless amusement, little obedience, spreads gossip and slander, and whose character contains every reprehensible trait, slandered this group.33 He went to the governor of Damascus, ʿUṯmān Nūrī Bāšā [d. 1900], and defamed the mentioned group with whatever he wished to be heard.

  • 34 In the late Ottoman Empire several controversial practices existed to bypass the prohibition of us (...)

20Concerning Šayḫ Badr al-Dīn al-Ḥasanī, he told him that, in his lesson after Friday prayer in the Umayyad Mosque for the grandest scholars, he ruled that smoking was forbidden, and criticized not wearing the turban. He was also said to have condemned the trickery played around the issue of usury that takes place in courts, as well as the caliphate having become an oppressive kingship (mulk ʿaḍūḍ), and other things which this slanderer told on this erudite and high-spirited man.34

  • 35 On the political sensitivity of this accusation, see the introduction to this translation.

21As for Šayḫ Tawfīq Efendī al-Ayyūbī, they slandered that, in his lesson between the sunset prayer (maġrib) and the night prayer (ʿišāʾ) in the Umayyad Mosque, he spoke about the ritual impurity of individual polytheists, and other lies they concocted about him.35

22On the rest of the group, they slandered that they counted themselves among the qualified independent scholars (muǧtahids), that they gather to read the noble Ḥadīṯ, aiming to extract [on their own] every noble meaning from it, that they started discussing the opinions of the jurists, investigating them, and questioning the textual evidence for those opinions, as well as other things that they ascribed to them.

  • 36 For a biography of Aḥmad al-Ḥasanī and the full text of his license (iǧāza) to al-Qāsimī, see al (...)

23Let us, first, mention the reason behind this assembly, the news of which spread near and far and became public in Damascus. Our distinguished, honorable, erudite, noble, close friend, and gentleman Aḥmad al-Ḥasanī [d. 1902], the brother of the one of shining eminence, of renowned noble and glorious deeds, the Sayyid Amīr ʿAbd al-Qādir al-Ḥasanī [d. 1883] the Algerian, then the Damascene (al-Ǧazāʾirī ṯumma al-Dimašqī), may his inmost spirit (sirr) be sanctified—one day wanted to visit both of the well-known eminent and grand scholars, Šayḫ ʿAbd al-Razzāq Efendī al-Bīṭār and Šayḫ Salīm Samāra, may the Lord, the Forgiving, protect them.36 The aforementioned Šayḫ Aḥmad suggested me to be an escort in this journey. We already had the habit of visiting them both, and of finding delight in their appearances. They have never lost touch with us and judged our requital favorably. Between us, a type of love exists that does not require artificial effort and is not defamed by arbitrariness and pomposity. So, we walked to visit them in gratitude, which was in Ǧumāda II of the mentioned year. We first started with visiting Salīm Samāra, on the fringes of Bāb al-Muṣallā, close to the Ṣuhayb Mosque near the square, against which his house was constructed. When we were finished with our visit to him, he traveled with us to Šayḫ ʿAbd al-Razzāq al-Bīṭār. His house, entirely inhabited in all its corners, was nearby the al-Daqqāq Mosque.

24When we gathered, we all complained about how far apart we live from one another, which caused these good brothers to come together only seldom. We spent most of the day in pleasant conversation and some honorable scholarly investigations. We then expressed our liking to specify a day of the week for this company to gather regularly, and for the households to become intimate with each other, with turns rotating between the members of the group, and for everyone to be punctual with the appointed time.

25We all agreed to first come together to the place of this humble one. So, they all came to my room in al-ʿAnnāba Mosque, in Bāb al-Sarīǧa, Wednesday morning the 2nd of Raǧab of the mentioned year. They were Šayḫ ʿAbd al-Razzāq al-Bīṭār, Sayyid Aḥmad al-Ḥasanī, Šayḫ Salīm Samāra, raised in esteem by the presence of Šayḫ Muṣṭafā al-Ḥallāq. He heard about our agreement.

26Some of the students of the humble [i.e., the author] were also present with the group. We sat together until midday, enjoying a great friendly atmosphere, pleasant discussion, and splendid talks. Then on the Wednesday after that, the mentioned Šayḫ Muṣṭafā invited our group to gather at his place, enriched with my noble father, and other illustrious figures. They all came to the appointment, gaining the pleasure that they sought to get from the gathering.

27Then, the earlier mentioned, Sayyid Aḥmad invited them to come to his house the next Wednesday. All agreed. He added some of his friends, and everyone was perfectly happy.

  • 37 Here again, al-Qāsimī chooses not to disclose the identity of the slanderers. Weismann hints at th (...)

28Then Salīm Samāra invited them the Wednesday after that. They responded to his invitation with utmost gladness. He also invited his two close friends, the two sterling jurists, Šayḫ Amīn al-Safarǧalānī and Šayḫ Saʿīd al-Farrā. When we were at his place, two notables, from among those who spread mischief on the earth, and whose habit is indecent talk, slander and foul language, came to us.37 They sat down, usurping, and absorbing the investigations of our brothers. Then one of them began to debate some of the esteemed brothers. I stood ready to put him in his place, and [show him] that he was not fit for this arena.

  • 38 Hudson points out the relevance of the works of al-Šaʿrānī for the religious camps involved in the (...)

29After we left, one of the qualified literati invited us before [the next] Wednesday and specified a day on which his brothers should come to his house. They responded and did not decline. Our teacher, the grand scholar Šayḫ Bakrī al-ʿAṭṭār, joined us and brought delight to that home. When our group realized that more meetings would follow and that it was not going to end soon, they said: “It is better to study a book with which we fill our gathering, through the investigation of which we increase in knowledge that completes our friendly atmosphere.” At the end of the consultation they agreed on the book Kašf al-ġumma ʿan al-umma (lit. Removing the affliction from the Umma), by the knower (ʿārif), learned man of God (rabbānī), Šayḫ ʿAbd al-Wahhāb al-Šaʿrānī, may God sanctify his inmost spirit (sirr), and grant him His satisfaction and grace.38

  • 39 This gloss was never published, and was still present in the al-Qāsimī family when Commins visited (...)

30So, we started reading it at the place of this well-educated man. The reader from among the brothers was Šayḫ ʿAbd al-Razzāq Efendī al-Bīṭār since he is the most senior among us and the most eloquent in speech. It occurred to me at that moment to write a gloss on Kašf al-ġumma, in which I authenticate its prophetic narrations, and explain some of its meanings.39

  • 40 For his biography, see al-Ḥāfiẓ & Abāẓa, Taʾrīḫ ʿulamāʾ Dimašq, vol. 1, pp. 165–166.

31Then, on Wednesday, the named scholar invited them, adding some of his confidants to the invitation, as well as his brother, the distinguished scholar Šayḫ ʿAbd al-Ġanī al-Bīṭār [d. 1897].40 They completed their day with the utmost activity and joy. That day they investigated the evidence of the ritual impurity of wine (ḫamr) and wished to verify the matter. They also discussed other matters, their thoughts unbound in their premises, only inquiry bringing them to rest, and only clear evidence with precision satisfying them.

  • 41 Again, al-Qāsimī does not mention names. This third person may have been Muḥammad Asʿad al-Ṣāḥib ( (...)

32It was agreed that a man would attend that day, who in his outward appearance belongs to the scholars, although he was a spreader of slander, churlish, ignoble. He kept track of their investigations. After the closure of the gathering, he altered its subject in other meetings and put it in circulation. This impudent person had strengthened the position of his two previously mentioned brothers, and he became the third of them.41 They cooperated to publicize their investigations in social gatherings. The subject of our gathering thus spread about and was diffused. Its renown spread to all of Damascus and became famous, they labeled it the ‘Muǧtahids’ Association’ (ǧamʿiyyat al-muǧtahidīn), ascribed their approach (maḏhab) to me, and named it the ‘Ǧamālī school’ (al-maḏhab al-ǧamālī). Each projected their obsessions on the matter, saw their own reflection in them and judged them with their own innermost thoughts.

  • 42 Bakrī al-ʿAṭṭār may not have been a scholar of grand political influence as Maḥmūd Ḥamza, but he d (...)

33Then Šayḫ Amīn al-Safarǧalānī invited us and also invited the foreman of the scholars of Damascus, Šayḫ Bakrī al-ʿAṭṭār [d. 1906].42 He was present with us on the morning of that day. The purpose of inviting him was to acquaint him with this gathering and to show him whether he indeed sees something blameworthy in it for those of sound nature. He did not see anything blameworthy in our investigations. However, he did say: “Your renown for iǧtihād has become widespread.” We said: “Where is this iǧtihād then, while we do what you perceive? Has the acumen of a man and his freedom of thought become a blameworthy thing?” The mentioned Šayḫ became very glad about our meeting. One of the brothers invited him. He promised him to come early in the morning.

34Then, before the companions even realized it, the question was taken to court. Someone who had his eye on [an office at] the tribunal courts (maẓālim) slandered against us. They turned people against the group and ascribed odd things to them. The slanderer reported to the governor about what he transmitted about Šayḫ Badr al-Dīn and attached our group to it, as well as that they declined the opinions of earlier authorities and other things that flowed from his dirty vessel, and came to his disturbed mind.

  • 43 On Muḥammad al-Manīnī, see al-Ḥāfiẓ & Abāẓa, Taʾrīḫ ʿulamāʾ Dimašq, vol. 1, pp. 174–176; Weismann, (...)

35Then, when Muftī al-Manīnī [d. 1898] attended the directory office, the governor said to him: “Has it not reached you what has become public about those Šayḫs?”43 It did not occur to him to refute it, and his anger towards those eminent men became apparent, going along with the satisfaction of the ruler, and preserving his position. The people of the council all deliberated, summoning them to the court of Šarīʿa, and interrogating them about the questions that they discussed together in this association. They noted down all their names and ordered the police to notify them that they are offered assurance of protection to attend the grand court. They stipulated the convocation of a grand council, with the judge Makkī Beğ Efendī as its head, and as its members the Muftī and his assistants from among the pompous pretenders.

36The governor was furious at Šayḫ Badr al-Dīn, for spreading those statements to the assembly of listeners. The governor thought we were one clique on this matter, and that we were supporting each other against the political interest of the moment. So, on Saturday 11 Šaʿbān, the board of the council gathered, consisting of eminent notables. They came with police and security officers. The Muftī assumed that our group would be hit with the worst possible blow.

37Our group attended on time. All appeared, except Šayḫ ʿAbd al-Razzāq al-Bīṭār and Šayḫ Badr al-Dīn. As for the first, he pretended to have been sick for a few days. He stayed in bed, waiting for the sentence to befall the group. One of his intimates secretly conveyed to him that the government intended to molest his group, so he escaped by pretending to be sick (based on what I confirmed recently). At first, I thought that he was sick. We stayed up with him the night before and consulted him about this attendance. He said: “Go. Are they not only asking about what is well-known about us? Our consultations do not contain anything blameworthy, and no one in our company would ever oppose its questions.” When the police went to him, they found him in his bed, and he explained to them that he was sick, not in sound health.

38As for Šayḫ Badr al-Dīn al-Ḥasanī, the police travelled to him when he was late for the appointment, and he appeared to them as though he is currently unable to attend due to some circumstances. Then they returned to him, and he persisted that he was busy and excused. He told them that he would immediately write down what he had preached in a letter if they wished so, and would send it to the mentioned council to look into the answer. They granted him delay to another time and were content with those who did show up.

  • 44 For the relatively good relations of ʿAbd al-Qādir al-Ǧazāʾirī with the French state during his la (...)

39As for the eminent Sayyid Aḥmad al-Ḥasanī al-Ǧazāʾirī, they did not summon him at all, when they learned of the esteem of the family of his brother ʿAbd al-Qādir with the French state.44 Look at their abstention from fairness, and how they only aim to hurt those they considered to be weak. As for my eminent noble father, they were content with his humble son, and the Lord protected his unique elevated standing.

40As for the rest of our group, they all attended. We sat down in the mosque of the court, waiting to be relieved from this injustice. After we prayed the noon prayer in the said mosque, I was first summoned to attend the meeting in the hall of the grand judge by a deputy on the council, who commended our moral standing to testify. So, I entered this meeting together with him without a defender or friend. I greeted them and sat down without paying attention to them. They had prepared a register for interrogation, filled with fabrications, set up on confusing questions, and based on forged stories.

41The Muftī said to one of the clerks of the court, who was given a marked sheet with questions: “Ask him.” He thus read to me from the sheet, first, what may be summarized as: “Building on the reports that have reached us about you, that you gather to explain the Qurʾān and Hadīṯ according to your own opinion, and refute the muǧtahid imāms. Does that indeed originate from you?”

42I said to them: “We declare our innocence to the Lord concerning that. God forbid that we would tread those paths!”

43Then they said: “What is this association?”

  • 45 The ritual impurity of wine discussed by the group looks like an innocent theoretical discussion a (...)

44I mentioned how it all began to them, as described before. The Muftī of the Ḥanafī school stood up and sat down, emitted bolts of lightning and thunder into the meeting. He rattled and blustered, and showed his vileness and misfortune. He said: “You proclaimed the ritual purity (ṭahāra) of wine. That has become known about you. What about this matter then?”45

45I said: “We have indeed once looked into the evidence for the ritual impurity of wine.” Then I said to him: “I penned a treatise which I named Tanbīh al-ġumar fī radd šubhat ṭahārat al-ḫamr (lit. Informing the gullible on the refutation of the ambiguities concerning the ritual purity of wine). I have it with me here.” He requested it, and I handed it to him. He looked attentively into it and went over most of it. (I say: I have burned it after that, because I was not satisfied with it, in accordance with what I have reconsidered.)

46Then the Muftī said: “What did you convey about together, and what were you investigating?”

47I said: “Either on the meaning of a ḥadīṯ, or a non-prophetic tradition (aṯar), a qurʾānic verse, or a legal or literary question, to elucidate our understanding; as is the habit in the meetings of people of knowledge.”

48He said: “Clarify what you conveyed about together, and what you investigated.”

49I said: “Many, innumerable questions, from the first day of Raǧab until now. How can that be investigated?”

50Then he said: “It has reached us that you read the book Kašf al-ġumma of al-Šaʿrānī and that you have written a gloss on it in which you clarify your independent reasoning (mā taǧtahiduhu) on its meanings.”

51I said: “We read that book because it is a work of Ḥadīṯ, and the grand scholars of Ḥadīṯ still read it. As for the gloss, I have indeed commented on its beginning, unraveling some linguistic expressions, or precisely determining hidden words.”

  • 46 Q IX, 32.

52He said: “Why would you read Ḥadīṯ?” Some of his court members solidified this vile saying, with that one should stick to reading works of jurisprudence (fiqh) only, and should be prohibited to read works of Ḥadīṯ and qurʾānic exegesis (tafsīr), holding that scholars obey his orders. May God disfigure his thought, and extinguish his reputation, and “God rejects everything short of making His light perfect”.46

  • 47 This is a well-known point of disagreement that finds its roots in another disagreement between th (...)

53Then he said: “You investigated the ḥadīṯ, ‘Whoever says “I am a believer” is an unbeliever.’”47

  • 48 Al-Ġazālī indeed discusses this issue in-depth in his Iḥyāʾ, in the ‘Book of the Fundamentals of B (...)

54I said: “Yes, and we regarded its meaning as dubious. Then we found that al-Ġazālī has disclosed a sound understanding of it in al-Iḥyāʾ.”48

55He said: “This has become known about you among the people, and the people of Damascus have spread it by word of mouth.”

56His face took on a glowering expression and became pale, changed, and became gloomy. Some of the members of the assembly remained quiet, and some of them supported the odious questioner. All this while, the judge sat leaning forward and said nothing and remained silent on these laughable questions. Then the Muftī said to me: “In the answer to a question you said: ‘Take it according to the Ǧamālī school’!”

57I said: “I do not remember to have said that in any condition.”

58He said: “I have two witnesses who confirm this matter.”

59I said to him: “This is a lie and a false testimony. Judgment belongs to God, the Highest, the Great.”

60He said: “One of the two witnesses is your father-in-law.”

61I said to him: “He died about ten years ago—this is enough as a rebuttal of what you say.”

62Then he went into issues that I did not remember anymore. He prattled and muttered, he looked gloomy with his face and scowled, and almost flew with Ursa, his eyes squinting like wild asses.

63Then he allowed me to leave. I left the hall and was brought into a room in the courthouse that is located between its exterior and interior. The son of the Muftī was there, and some prominent personalities. I sat down with them for some time. Then the police officer said to me: “Please”, and accompanied me with a soldier on the journey to the police station. They brought me into the office of their chief. I entered, he welcomed me and asked them why I was brought to him. They answered him that the Muftī made that decision on him, and to detain me for the time being, until the matter is completely clear. I sat down while I contemplated the affair, and said [to myself]: “Does our investigation of religious matters count as sin with the Muftī of the Ḥanafīs? To God do we belong, and there is no power or might except through God.”

  • 49 I was not able to locate the original source of these lines of poetry.

64May God forgive, who said:49

Blame not the mean, vile one when he wrongs,
be patient with the bitterness of offense and agonies.

Blame no one but the times, which has transgressed,
calling on the parasites to become leaders.

A time that sets back the masters of every decency,
and brings the foolish to the front, if only they show zealously.

A time which manifests the humiliation of lions,
alongside honor to dogs, by way of audacity and daring.

A time that builds the house of completeness upon the ridge of a cliff,
while the house of shortcomings it erects and firmly founds.

A time in which all knowledge is denied,
or what you see as the banner of knowledge is hung at half-mast.

65This is the story of this humble one.

66After that they had Šayḫ Muṣṭafā al-Ḥallāq come into the assembly of the group. They interrogated him about the same things I was interrogated about that hour. The matter turned into impudence, and he said to them: “We gathered in private, and none of us is familiar with what has reached you about us. I ask you to take care of my mother, should we end up sleeping in detention; none but me looks after her. She is at home alone now waiting for the outcome of my case.”

67Some of the people in the assembly laughed, except the Muftī. He interrogated him about the same things he interrogated me about and was trying him with ludicrous matters. Then he scolded him, rebuked him, intimidated him, and ordered to put him in a cell in the court all alone. They took him there and guarded him.

68Then they had the grand scholar Šayḫ Salīm Samāra come in and did not pay heed to his age or status. They interrogated him, and he answered, spoke the truth and what is right, and said: “By God, this gathering does not contain anything refuted by law or custom. It only contains deliberations on issues, examinations to solve problems, visiting each other, friendship, sympathy, and love for the sake of God.” The Muftī scolded him while he said: “You are a man advanced in age, how can you be so deluded without apprehending your serious fate?”

69He responded to him: “Is there any harm in the meeting of scholars, especially when it draws together a deliberation that is of benefit to the participants?”

70He said to him: “Has it not reached you what has become widespread about you concerning iǧtihād, which has spread among the people?” Then he said to him: “What is that gloss that a certain person—meaning me—has written?” He said to them: “It only deals with solving some linguistic terms, or clarifying an ambiguous sentence.”

71They said to him: “So it is confirmed that he is writing a gloss on the book!”

72He said to them: “Yes”, and he did not show any doubt to them, “and by God, it does not contain anything objectionable. So why this intimidation, O assemblage?”

73After some questions and talk, he was ordered to be replaced in another cell at the grand court.

74Then they had Šayḫ Saʿīd al-Farrā come in. He came into the assembly with tears flowing and started with kissing the hand of the Muftī and one of the Šayḫs. He was not firm footed in this context. He reached his limit when he was interrogated. He swore that he has no information about this matter, that he only convened with those men as an invitee. He declared his innocence with oaths from having any inclination towards what conflicts with the schools of law. He choked on his tears, and his nervousness with them was strange. The Muftī thus reprimanded him sharply with his words. One of those present showed mercy towards him, and Šayḫ Saʿīd put his firm hope on him that morning. His helper said to the Muftī: “He does not belong to the group, and that rumor does not pertain to him.” He ordered him to be brought to a cell in the court as well.

75Then they had Šayḫ Amīn al-Safarǧalānī come in. They asked him about this situation. He spoke truthfully, telling them that it was a gathering in which good things were discussed on approved issues. Then he said to them: “None else than our Šayḫ Bakrī Efendī al-ʿAṭṭār was present in my house, and witnessed that nothing reprehensive took place in our gathering.”

76The Muftī said to him: “Do not mention the Šayḫ in this place. The stories spread to the salons of Damascus.” After his conversation with them, the Muftī ordered to put him in a cell of the mentioned court.

77Then they asked for Tawfīq Efendī al-Ayyūbī. His cousin was present in the assembly, the head of the court clerks, Saʿīd Efendī al-Ayyūbī. The Muftī said to him: “What are these issues that are circulated in your lesson, considering the ritual impurity of the unbelievers, and other matters?”

78He answered what he had decided, what the occasion was, and that he came across the ḥadīṯ of Abū Ṯaʿlaba al-Ḫušanī [d. 694], may God be well pleased with him, in an exegesis of the Qurʾān (tafsīr).

79The Muftī rebuked him, and one of the members of the assembly said to him: “What do you have to do with tafsīr, and why don’t you occupy yourselves with the significant books of jurisprudence (fiqh)?” They obliged him never to say such a thing again and ordered him to observe the political aspects of the situation. Since they did not consider him a member of our concerned group, although he most certainly had the same inclination, they ordered him to leave, and they let him go. They considered the wish of his mentioned kin and took care of him.

80Then the members of the assembly deliberated with one another and believed that they had done their duty to rebuke the group, as was the goal. They wished that one of us would admit to explicit iǧtihād, or that one of us would slip up and would be treated by them with stupidity and stubbornness, and would thus reach their goal of exiling them from Damascus, as the Muftī persisted in. He then said: “They do not have a place in this region! The Creator turned their plot against them, and they returned belittled from their trickery.”

81When the evening fell, and they were done with these blessed good deeds, the Muftī ordered to bring the rest of our group imprisoned in cells to the office of the judge. He said to them: “This time it has come to the mind of the judge to pardon you and to release you, on the condition that you promise not to return to the past.”

82The police set them free, and they left the court, obtaining mercy from those ‘noble’—nay, barbarian—people.

83Then the members of the assembly left the court, with the Muftī heading them. The court had become overcrowded, and people had gathered at its three gates. It was an incident in the region that stirred the town. When the Muftī left through the gate of the court, my brother, Muḥammad ʿĪd, encountered him and told him: “Why have you not ordered the release of my brother? Is this what a sound opinion looks like?” My brother and some of those present engaged in a long talk with him, so the Muftī became scared that he would be beaten when he saw some of the commoners’ support for my brother. The Muftī had intended not to release me that night, to make me an intimidating example for the rest of the group, given that I was the youngest and the smallest of them.

84Then my esteemed father went to him in the evening. The Muftī wanted to distract him with chatter, so my father raised his voice and made him hold his tongue, silenced him, and perplexed him. He ignored his speech, did not feel the least bit of shame, and did not care about his status, and said to him: “You know the biography of my son and his state, his uniqueness among his peers in acquiring knowledge, and his maturity. You only apply your utmost force on the youngest of the group. Did you think that his family would leave what you have created out of weakness? How are you going to defend yourself from God’s revenge for their sake, when their prayer is elevated to the Highest Assembly (al-malaʾ al-aʿlā). Do you not fear for your only son? I hope that the Lord will not make you sad about him. He tormented you with his lost brother.” The Muftī had a grown son who passed away two months before our incident. Our story made him forget his grand misfortune.

85When my father multiplied his derision, the Muftī said to him: “I vow that you can come to take him tomorrow.” He started treating my father in a friendly manner and making him at ease about me.

86My friends and relatives planned to visit me at the police station after the sunset prayer. The faces of both the chief as the subordinates of that station were surprised.

87One of the commanders of that police station invited me to have dinner with him. He prepared the most wonderful dishes in it. He became surprisingly friendly with me, showing me a great deal of amiability. I was praising God for that state and thanking Him aloud in front of them. That night, in a lofty room in that station, looking onto a nice small park, a group of friends kept me company. Chief among them was my father, as well as some brethren. When the moment came to go to sleep, one of the prominent figures of the station prepared a bed of high quality for me. I increased my praise for the Lord, for the goodness he provided and entrusted his servant with.

88Then I requested my father and the group to leave for their homes. They left after first heavily refusing it, because of their tremendous sympathy. Then I slept according to my habit, read my litany (wird), and took my rest. Then I woke up at the time I am used to at dawn. After fulfilling the obligatory morning prayer, the light of my father shone upon me. I stood up to kiss his hand, and he supplicated for me what I hope to be answered by the Lord, for I know it reaches Him. After the sun had risen, the same person who invited me for dinner, invited me for breakfast. He showed utmost friendliness and had prepared cups of tea, with gorgeous food. Then people came to us consecutively, to comfort me and to keep my company. Each time someone wanted to mention something to me that would ease the situation, I proclaimed the praise of the Lord to him and expressed nice words on patient endurance (ṣabr) to him. This is what happened.

89That night, the judge slept over at the governor’s place, informing him that there is nothing in the reports that came to his eminence regarding the group that contains anything that should disgruntle them. The governor thought there was a political secret to the group. The investigation had now shown that it was merely a group concerned with religious knowledge. I was told that the judge said to him: “It is appropriate to be proud of such a group, they investigate issues of religious knowledge, and make sure their time is not lost, their thought is a-political, and nothing of it occurs to their minds.” The governor regretted that they had stirred up and enraged him towards our group. One of the noble patrons went to the house of the governor and said: “I only hope that religious scholars receive the utmost respect during your reign so that you receive good praise forever. That group is the brightness of Damascus. Instead, they are more deserving of being on the receiving end of utmost graciousness.”

90The governor pointed to the judge to rectify the situation and ordered him to release me without further delay. Already before the late afternoon prayer (ʿaṣr), I was surprised by the judge coming to the police station and entering into the assembly hall of the chief. After sitting down a little while, someone invited me to the exalted judge. When I entered, I greeted him, and he stood up on both feet. Then someone who conveyed what he said, said to me: “Do not be sad, only good and kind things have occurred. You can leave in safety, and please do pray for our lord the Sulṭān.”

91At that moment, my father and some of the brothers were waiting for me in the palace [of justice]. I entered, and I notified them of the words of the judge, and the kindness he had shown in this matter. We left praising God for His kindness and favor shown towards us. When I reached home, it was as if these 20 hours of my absence were many years for the people. They all hastened to greet me, and showed utmost kindness towards me.

92Our teacher, the scholar Šayḫ Muḥammad al-Ḫānī [d. 1898] said: “This incident is a cause for a rise in status, and an appearance of your eminence.” I was used to saying, as did one of the knowers of his Lord: “Among the blessings that God has bestowed upon me is that He has included me in the cadre of those who were harmed for the sake of God.” I used to remember the kindness of God in this case and thought about the grave difficulties that befell earlier great men.

93One of the eminent scholars visited me as well and said: “You have acquired a great virtue that no other noble individual has accomplished.” I said: “Praise be to God that we were avenged for calling for iǧtihād, it was not for something blameworthy that God or the people detest.”

  • 50 As Commins mentions, there had earlier been plans from local notables to establish an independent (...)

94Further, Šayḫ Badr al-Dīn abstained from attending the aforementioned gathering, and excused himself from attending based on what was previously mentioned, and told the governor of his insistence on disavowing it. In addition, it was his sermons in which he so strongly rebuked the people in power and mentioned the grand Amīr (al-amīr al-kabīr, i.e., ʿAbd al-Qādir al-Ǧazāʾirī).50 That has doubled our matter in severity and necessitated a significant breakthrough for it to be resolved. It has also made our matter affiliated with his, and he thought that we were united in his course. Thus, the governor was heavily infuriated and determined his complete exile from Damascus and its surroundings, since his involvement in politics was public, and this kind of thing does not know any forgiveness among rulers.

95Nevertheless, help came unexpectedly for Šayḫ Badr al-Dīn. ʿAbd Allāh Bāšā, one of the children of Amīr ʿAbd al-Qādir al-Ḥasanī, went and sought to win the governor’s sympathy over for him, and showed his utmost hope in him. On the second day, the mentioned Bāšā went to the judge with Šayḫ Badr al-Dīn, and spoke with him about being attentive towards the politics of the time, and said to him: “May God wipe away the past.”

96When the matter calmed down after a couple of days, Šayḫ ʿAbd al-Razzāq al-Bīṭār left his house in peace, and his friend Saʿīd Efendī al-Ayyūbī, the head of the court clerks, took him to the judge. He showed his apologies to him from lagging due to his illness, and they discussed the issue until they reached mutual consent. With this, the case of the group was closed.

  • 51 Q XLIX, 6.

97As for the people of Damascus, from the intelligentsia to the commoners, all of them blamed it upon the Muftī, and said: “When the governor asked him about this group and shared the slander about them that has reached him; instead he should have recited the noble verse ‘O believers, if a sinful person comes to you with a message, then be discerning’.51 He should have instead pledged to bring them together in his house, to ask them in a way that does not disrespect them, and to suggest quitting this whole matter since that the governor got upset about these actions.”

98However, how far from the mark is such planning from that Muftī! One must really be a person of great intellect for that, and not a clumsy imbecile, instigated by light-headedness and almost torn to pieces, his heart filled with anger towards us, thus becoming vile, rude and uncouth.

  • 52 Muftī al-Ḥamzāwī was the muftī preceding Muftī al-Manīnī in office. See my essay “A Silent uṣūl Re (...)

99We do not deny that many of the notables incited him against us, but the strangest is what was slandered about us by some who love us dearly. One of the prominent scholars said to him: “If the gathering of those people continues, we are not reassured that they will not also refute the fatwas of the Muftī, since they discuss those of the older generations.” Someone famous said to him: “If Muftī al-Ḥamzāwī [d. 1887] was still alive, nobody would have had the courage to claim being qualified to perform iǧtihād.52 Those splendid people who show vigilant care about this type of situation are gone!” and more bad messages like this, that make one fume with rage. Where then is the sanctity of the people of knowledge? Where is the reason in understanding the consequences of things and in the strength of understanding? Where then is verification and poise? And where are smartness and calmness?

100It became clear to the commoners that this triviality was hidden jealousy, as they said: “Does the Muftī belong to the men of the group in terms of their unmatched erudition; as the youngest of them—meaning myself—could teach him for years?”

101He choked on his saliva when it reached him that the grand judge of Damascus came to set me free himself. He did not expect me to receive such undivided attention. The Lord, however, subjugated him and invigorated me, being forced into submission against his will.

  • 53 This is a quote from Rayḥānat al-alibbā wa-zahrat al-ḥayāt al-dunyā by Šihāb al-Dīn al-Ḫafāǧī (d.  (...)

102The grand scholar al-Ḫafāǧī tells in al-Rayḥāna, complaining about the state of affairs of his age:53

The structure of its virtue has collapsed, its buttresses and pillars are terminated, its tarpaulins smashed, and its traces and characteristics obliterated. The matters of fatwa, judiciary, and the positions of knowledge have become a playground, jugglery, and mockery.

103What then to think of this age, in which the signs of the Resurrection have become apparent, and the clothing of ignorance is worn from the sandal to the turban? And how would that not be the case, when the leadership of its earlier mentioned Muftī is the ridicule of the age and a showcase of enmity towards free men and notables. Had its people not disappeared, would then its lowest not have risen above its highest?

  • 54 Like the earlier poetry recited, these verses also belong to Ibn al-Rūmī. See Ibn al-Rūmī, Dīwān, (...)

Just as the sea, to its deepest depths sink,
pearls, while its scum rises above it.54

104Was this vile person not afraid when anger overtook him, that historiographers would note down his slander, and it would thus remain a disgrace for him for a long time, and censure to be passed on until the Hour of Resurrection? Does this scoundrel imagine that what he did would diminish the group? Certainly not, their merit became fully apparent and widely known through it, when it became public that they claimed iǧtihād. There is no more elevated privilege than that; it is the ornament of the distinguished imāms. However, the jealousy of scholars is well-known, and from time immemorial, they behave in this reprehensible way.

105One week after this matter, and the appearance of the innocence of the group from anything reprehensible, one of our brothers, Amīn Efendī al-Safarǧalānī, arose to make an offer to the governor, in which he asked to retribute the slanderer and asked us to stamp the plea with our seals. The goal was to complain about the Muftī implicitly. Then we advised him to leave the matter behind, averting this situation and wiping out the past.

106Then the grand judge of Damascus wanted to organize a banquet specifically for our group in Ramaḍān of that year to try to conciliate our thoughts. The head of the court clerks was deputized to invite us and said: “I am the deputy of the governor regarding his banquet.” The mentioned head invited our group in Ramaḍān, we attended at his place, and he showed us all due respect. Then the majority of our group abstained from the Muftī and from visiting him, and cast him into oblivion despite his rank; especially me and Šayḫ ʿAbd al-Razzāq al-Bīṭār, we disregarded him, and showed him utmost disdain, exclusion and turning away, in a way that he could not imagine or depict. He was hoping that our group would be running to him after the conclusion of the matter, and to try to reconcile with him, dissembling the kindness he showed us to lighten its heavy state. Then he would have shown his benevolence towards them, saying: “Were it not for what we brought about, things would have become worse for them.” He would have shown false pretences and idle gratitude. The majority of our group treated him contrary to his desire. He choked on his disappointment since his esteem was now lost. All our gatherings at every occasion turned into criticizing and reprimanding him, his lack of organization, and excessive praise. Without exception, all of the intellectuals and grand figures criticized him from every direction, except those who were like him, who do not distinguish between what is obligatory and what is voluntary.

107The situation remained as we explained for about ten months, and we did not interrupt our previously described meetings. He [the Muftī] had forbidden them, but we did not care about his prescriptions and concerns. When the matter made him feel uneasy, he started to seek to visit the most senior of us, Šayḫ ʿAbd al-Razzāq al-Bīṭār and said to his intimates: “Quite some time has passed without seeing him”, thinking that the Šayḫ would come to him first without thinking. When one of the dear friends of the Šayḫ mediated and requested him to be the first to visit, he swore that he would not go first in his lifetime. Then the Muftī took the meeting upon himself, and went to visit him in his home, and showed him the purest of his affection. After about two weeks or more, the Šayḫ encountered him in a return visit and expounded his reproach on the excessive speech. The Muftī apologized to him, [explained] that who incited him against us was not one person, and that our victory was a grace from God, the One the Majestic, and was not because of the mediation of any of the notables; as it may be inspired by what is spread by some of the grand figures of the age.

108It also became known to us that one of the pashas in the Board of Directors was the one who eased the matter to this degree, with the governor who is entrusted the ministerial authority, and that the governor had said: “I will exile them from their homeland, whether they like or not”, until the Pasha changed his position in the conversation, to the office of the judge after deliberation. It circulated as such, and thus became known between us. The Muftī swore three oaths that none but the Merciful had saved us and generalized His favor. He said: “Do not undergo the benevolence of anyone, and do not thank but the Unique the Everlasting.” The Muftī realized that his reconciling with the most senior among us is equal to him comforting the whole group.

109Then the Šayḫ realized that reconciling with him alone, excluding the brothers, was not what our bond of friendship and the highest moral standards demanded. So, he, may God protect him, ordered to have a beautiful banquet, and an exquisite invitation, to which he invited our entire group, as well as the Muftī, the grand scholar of noble standing Šayḫ Bakrī Efendī al-ʿAṭṭār, my father, and the brother of our host ʿAbd al-Ġanī al-Bīṭār. That was in one of the two months of Ǧumāda of the year 1314[/1896]. After the meal was taken and then the Friday prayer was observed in the al-Daqqāq Mosque, we all returned with the Muftī and mentioned names to the house of the Šayḫ in utmost serenity. We stayed there until shortly before the late afternoon prayer (ʿaṣr).

110Then the Muftī asked to be excused. He invited us to come with him to al-ʿAssālī. We excused ourselves. After he left, we stayed for some time; then, the brothers also took leave of each other. The corrupt ones stood aghast when they saw how we all firmly reconciled, dropped in the estimation, and were known by their marks and flattery.

111With the kindness that the Muftī had shown to the brothers, I did not allow myself to visit him once in a while until Ramaḍān of the year 1315[/1898]. That month he sent two stately letters to my esteemed father and his inconsiderable son, inviting us to break the fast at his residence. To fulfill our wish, that day he also invited Šayḫ ʿAbd al-Razzāq Efendī, his brother, and Šayḫ Salīm Samāra. We gathered at his place at the time of breaking fast, and he happily received us in the best possible way. We stayed until close before the night prayer (ʿišāʾ), then we left and took leave of one another in a celebratory manner. This gathering was the last we had with him. He stayed alive only shortly after that, as he became sick in Raǧab of the year 1316. My father and I then went back to visit him. On the first day of Šaʿbān, it was over and passed as if it never was.

112It is very wondrous that God the Exalted avenged all who spread mischief in this case. He overtook them with His justice. All of them saw the worst of afflictions. Among them was—by God, of whom there is no other than Him—someone who became blind and lost his eye-sight, and among them was—by God—someone who became paralyzed, and among them were some whose death approached fast. These were three people. Those who stayed alive from them, it was destined for them to be ridiculed in a poem that circulated about some incidents that occurred between them and the family of al-Ḫaṭīb, which was spread in all regions, and in which their vile actions and blemishes were mentioned. We seek our refuge in God from His plotting. Had I wanted to name them one by one, I would have, but it is better to cover people’s faults. These tribulations that happened to them are enough for them.

113After this incident, our status increased, praise be to God, and by His grace and protection our authority became higher. I say all this to speak about the blessings of God, so all praise is due to God, then again, all praise is due to God.

114I have said:

People pretend that I claim
to have my own Ǧamālī school (maḏhab).

And that when I give a juristic opinion
to people, I ascribe my verdict.

  • 55 In his recent study that has stirred up an intriguing debate on the conceptual history of the term (...)

No, by the everlasting existence of God,
I am a salafī in my conviction.55

My school is what is in the Book of
God, my Lord the Highest.

Then what is sound from among
the narrations, not ‘it is said’ and ‘he said’.

I pursue the truth and am not
content with the opinions of men.

I consider taqlīd ignorance,
and blindness in every situation.

115And I have said:

I say, as have said the imāms before us,
the sound narrations of the Chosen One are my maḏhab.

Shall I then mindfully wear the timeworn cloth of ‘it is said’ and ‘he said’
and not adorn myself with the gilded robe (muḏahhab)?

116And I have said:

They claim that those who pursue the traditions literally
are worthier than those who reject such an approach [i.e., the rationalists].

Certainly not, they are both rewarded for iǧtihād,
unlike the fanatic who misinterprets traditions.

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Notes

1 See my essay “A Silent uṣūl Revolution?” in this issue.

2 See al-ʿAǧmī, Imām al-Šām fī ʿaṣrihi, pp. 63–95; Ẓ. al-Qāsimī, Ǧamāl al-Dīn, pp. 48–69. See also al-ʿAǧmī, Āl al-Qāsimī.

3 Weismann has argued that this has to do with the idea of Islamic reformism as a mere reaction to the dominance of the West. Since figures like ʿAbduh and Riḍā were much more in dialogue with Western thought and thinkers, Western studies of Islamic reform, like Hourani’s classic Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age, also paid relatively more attention to them than to reformists working in an Ottoman context. See Weismann, “Sociology of ‘Islamic Modernism’”, pp. 104–108, as well as Kateman, ʿAbduh and His Interlocutors, pp. 12, 21–22.

4 Currently, only one translated text from al-Qāsimī figures in a source book on ‘modernist’ Islam: his fatwā on the use of the telegraph for the messages on the sighting of the new moon to determine the beginning and end of Ramaḍān. This is a good case study for his methodological understanding of iǧtihād. See Kurzman, Modernist Islam, pp. 181–187.

5 See Commins, Islamic Reform, pp. 50–53.

6 Weismann, “Salafiyya from the Damascene Angle”, pp. 211–212; Taste of Modernity, pp. 276–281.

7 See, for example, Sirry, “al-Qāsimī and the Salafi Approach to Sufism”, pp. 82–83; Hudson, “Reading al-Shaʿrānī”, pp. 46–50, 63–66.

8 See Ẓ. al-Qāsimī, Ǧamāl al-Dīn, p. 43.

9 See Abāẓa, Ǧamāl al-Dīn, p. 112; Ẓ. al-Qāsimī, Ǧamāl al-Dīn, p. 43.

10 See Abāẓa, Ǧamāl al-Dīn, pp. 112–120; Ẓ. al-Qāsimī, Ǧamāl al-Dīn, pp. 43–47. The discussion of the Incident in the monograph of Anas al-Sarmīnī on al-Qāsimī’s approach to ḥadīṯ criticism largely draws upon these two sources and offers nothing extra. See al-Sarmīnī, al-Qāsimī wa-ǧuhūduhu al-ḥadīṯiyya, pp. 48–51.

11 The study was published with the Syrian Salafī publishing house al-Maktab al-Islāmī, and contains a foreword by its head Zuhayr al-Šāwīš, a close companion of al-Albānī as well. It is dedicated to “the inviters to religious reform (duʿāt al-iṣlāḥ al-dīnī), who invite to a return to the Qurʾān and Sunna” and who are considered the saved sect by the Prophet. See Istānbūlī, Šayḫ al-Šām, pp. 5, 7. On al-Šāwīš, see Pierret, Religion and State in Syria, p. 107.

12 Istānbūlī, Šayḫ al-Šām, p. 42.

13 Istānbūlī, although writing 20 years later, strangely seems not to have been aware that al-Qāsimī’s narrative was completely included in Ẓāfir’s study. He does mention that al-Qāsimī wrote on the Incident, but says it is still in manuscript. See Istānbūlī, Šayḫ al-Šām, p. 42. On ‘purist’ Salafī appropriations of al-Qāsimī’s legacy in the Jordanian context, see Wagemakers, “Salafism’s Historical Continuity”, pp. 217, 228–229.

14 Hudson, “Late Ottoman Damascus”, p. 153. Hudson does not focus on the ‘Muǧtahids’ Incident’ itself, but does place the focus on iǧtihād in a larger theoretical framework of print capitalism and modern sovereignty, drawing on Anderson and Bourdieu.

15 See Wilson, “Failure of Nomenclature”; El Shamsy, “Social Construction of Orthodoxy”; Knysh, “‘Orthodoxy’ and ‘Heresy’ in Medieval Islam”; Langer & Simon, “Dynamics of Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy”; Calder, “Limits of Islamic Orthodoxy”.

16 Jackson, Boundaries of Theological Tolerance, p. 30.

17 As mentioned elsewhere in this special issue, this is a case of what Brinkley Messick calls “textual polity” or “textual domination”. See Messick, Calligraphic State, pp. 1, 5, 38, 118, 251–252, and my essay “A Silent uṣūl Revolution?” in this issue.

18 See Quataert, “Clothing Laws”, pp. 412–419; Baker, “The Fez in Turkey”, pp. 73–78.

19 See Quataert, “Clothing Laws”, pp. 412–419; Baker, “The Fez in Turkey”, pp. 73–78.

20 See Björkman, “Tulband”.

21 See al-Kattānī, Aḥkām sunnat al-ʿimāma; Björkman,“Tulband”; al-Ḥāfiẓ & Abāẓa, Taʾrīḫ ʿulamāʾ Dimašq, pp. 461–467.

22 See Ma’oz, Ottoman Reform; Commins, Islamic Reform, pp. 3–5, 12–16.

23 A good overview is offered in Grehan, “Great Tobacco Debate”.

24 The best example of this is the Damascene scholar ʿAbd al-Ġanī al-Nābulsī (d. 1143/1731), who criticized governors and soldiers for forbidding tobacco while they “were drunk as wine wafted from their mouths” (Grehan, “Great Tobacco Debate”, p. 1370).

25 See Grehan, “Great Tobacco Debate”.

26 This association with Wahhabism is clearly an accusation not founded in reality. The circle around al-Qāsimī still knew precious little about this movement, as can be learned from al-Qāsimī’s letter correspondence with Maḥmūd Šukrī al-Ālūsī (d. 1924), in which they seek more information on the movement. See al-ʿAǧmī, Rasāʾil, p. 104. On the association of the emerging Salafī trend with Wahhabism, see also Commins, Islamic Reform, pp. 21–24.

27 On these discussions on the ritual purity of non-Muslims, see Safran, “Rules of Purity and Confessional Boundaries”.

28 See Hudson, “Reading al-Shaʿrānī”, pp. 57–59; Schatkowski Schilcher, Families in Politics, pp. 40–43, 87–106, 114–123.

29 See al-ʿAǧmī, Imām al-Šām fī ʿaṣrihi, pp. 63–95; Ẓ. al-Qāsimī, Ǧamāl al-Dīn, pp. 48–69.

30 Q IV, 148. Opening this piece with this qurʾānic verse may be understood as a justification for the naming and shaming that is part of it, and to make clear why al-Qāsimī does not classify this as belonging to the category of gossip (ġība): as someone who has been treated unjustly, he has the right to speak out.

31 These lines of poetry are attributed to Ibn al-Rūmī (d. 283/896). See Ibn al-Rūmī, Dīwān, vol. 2, p. 422.

32 Death dates and ce dates are added by the translator, as elsewhere in this translation, and are not part of the original text. For the biographies of these scholars and their networks, see Commins, Islamic Reform, pp. 38–40, 42–48; Weismann, Taste of Modernity, pp. 275–282, and “Badr al-Dīn al-Ḥasanī”; al-Ḥāfiẓ & Abāẓa, Taʾrīḫ ʿulamāʾ Dimašq, vol. 1, pp. 279–280, 298–300, 363–366, 368–369, 448–449, 531–533, 554–573.

33 Al-Qāsimī does not disclose the identity of this person. Commins and Weismann do not give an opinion on his identity either.

34 In the late Ottoman Empire several controversial practices existed to bypass the prohibition of usury. See Mandaville, “Usurious Piety”; Özdeğer & Zeytinli, “Ottoman Credit System and Usurers”. On the other accusations mentioned here, see the introduction to this translation.

35 On the political sensitivity of this accusation, see the introduction to this translation.

36 For a biography of Aḥmad al-Ḥasanī and the full text of his license (iǧāza) to al-Qāsimī, see al-ʿAǧmī, Imām al-Šām fī ʿaṣrihi, pp. 190–201. The best critical discussion of the many biographies of and often problematic narratives on the life of ʿAbd al-Qādir al-Ḥasanī currently is Woerner-Powell, Another Road to Damascus.

37 Here again, al-Qāsimī chooses not to disclose the identity of the slanderers. Weismann hints at the possibility that they might have been the brothers al-Munayyir, Ṣāliḥ (d. 1903) and ʿĀrif (d. 1923), active members of the Rifāʿiyya Sufi order, which was patronized by the Ottoman sulṭān. I consider this plausible, given a later allusion a bit further in the text, to these men indeed being brothers and eager to advance their careers as such: “This impudent person had strengthened the position of his two previously mentioned brothers, and he became the third of them.” See Weismann, “Salafiyya from the Damascene Angle”, pp. 225–228.
On the Syrian Rifāʿiyya, their links to the Ottoman sulṭān, and their relations to the Salafiyya, see the studies of Eich, and his discussion with Weismann on the matter, who does not agree with Eich’s assessment of their relations. See Eich, “The Forgotten Salafī”; idem, “Abū l-Hudā and the Alūsīs”; idem, “Questioning Paradigms”; idem, “Abū l-Hudā l-Ṣayyādī”; Weismann, “Abū l-Hudā l-Ṣayyādī”.

38 Hudson points out the relevance of the works of al-Šaʿrānī for the religious camps involved in the sociopolitical unrest in Damascus in the 19th century. She shows how especially Muḥammad al-Ḫānī Jr. (d. 1316/1898), the Naqšbandī Šayḫ through whom the core of the group around al-Qāsimī supposedly became connected, was particularly fond of al-Šaʿrānī’s works. See Hudson, “Reading al-Shaʿrānī”, pp. 46–50, 63–66. See also my essay “A Silent uṣūl Revolution?” in this issue.

39 This gloss was never published, and was still present in the al-Qāsimī family when Commins visited it, under the title Ġanīmat al-himma fī kašf al-ġumma. See Commins, Islamic Reform, p. 158, n. 8.

40 For his biography, see al-Ḥāfiẓ & Abāẓa, Taʾrīḫ ʿulamāʾ Dimašq, vol. 1, pp. 165–166.

41 Again, al-Qāsimī does not mention names. This third person may have been Muḥammad Asʿad al-Ṣāḥib (d. 1928), a nephew of Šayḫ Ḫālid al-Naqšbandī, who endorsed the camp in support of Abdülhamid II. Weismann mentions him together with the Munayyir brothers as the main adversaries of the Salafī camp. See Weismann, “Salafiyya from the Damascene Angle”, pp. 225–228. For his biography, see al-Ḥāfiẓ & Abāẓa, Taʾrīḫ ʿulamāʾ Dimašq, vol. 1, p. 490. See also above, n. 37.

42 Bakrī al-ʿAṭṭār may not have been a scholar of grand political influence as Maḥmūd Ḥamza, but he definitely was the most senior and most influential scholar on other scholars and students in the age of al-Qāsimī. No other scholar in the biographical work of al-Ḥāfiẓ and Abāẓa is mentioned to have had so many students who would become scholars in their own right. See al-Ḥāfiẓ & Abāẓa, Taʾrīḫ ʿulamāʾ Dimašq, vol. 1, pp. 79–85, 221–228.

43 On Muḥammad al-Manīnī, see al-Ḥāfiẓ & Abāẓa, Taʾrīḫ ʿulamāʾ Dimašq, vol. 1, pp. 174–176; Weismann, “Salafiyya from the Damascene Angle”, p. 225.

44 For the relatively good relations of ʿAbd al-Qādir al-Ǧazāʾirī with the French state during his last years in Damascus, see Woerner-Powell, Another Road to Damascus, pp. 145–154.

45 The ritual impurity of wine discussed by the group looks like an innocent theoretical discussion at first sight, with no direct social or political implications. The social and political implications did lay elsewhere however, in the open breach with the long-standing scholarly tradition of the schools of law that held consensus on the matter. Their adversaries probably considered it a reopening of a long-standing issue of consensus among the schools of law, and thus a textbook example of iǧtihād that does not only deal with new issues (nawāzil), as would perhaps still be acceptable, but also entails a re-evaluation of primary source material to revise long-existing and well-established rulings of ritual purity, and thus bypasses the existing schools of law. Ibn Rušd (d. 595/1198), for example, mentions it as only a very minor point of disagreement among traditionists in Bidāyat al-muǧtahid, which he does not deem worthy of discussing as such. Instead, he categorizes it among the impure things on which there is agreement, without further in-depth discussion as normally was his habit in case of disagreements. See Ibn Rušd, Distinguished Jurists’ Primer, vol. 1, p. 81, as well as Katz, Body of Text, p. 247, n. 2.

46 Q IX, 32.

47 This is a well-known point of disagreement that finds its roots in another disagreement between the early Murǧiʾa, closely intertwined with early Ḥanafism, and the main schools of later Sunnī theology, the Ašʿariyya, Māturīdiyya, and Ḥanbalī-traditionalists. This is related to their disagreement on whether belief (īmān) is stable within a person, as the Murǧiʾa held, or fluctuates, as the main Sunnī schools held. This was already a point of discussion among the first generations, the so-called issue of istiṯnāʾ (exception). One group held that one could not be absolutely certain that one belonged to the category of believers, and should add “God willing” (in šāʾ Allāh) after stating that one is a believer. The other group held that such an addition is an indication of doubt about one’s belief, which is the same as unbelief (kufr). This was not only a point of contention in theology, but also led to differences of opinion between Ḥanafīs (who often were Murǧiʾī in its formative period) and Šāfiʿīs on whether a marriage contract between followers of the two schools of law were valid, since the latter two allowed this doubt to exist, which the former considered unbelief. This was thus more than only a theoretical matter for al-Qāsimī and his circle, and could have tangible consequences in Damascus on the social level (marriage between adherents of different schools of law) and on the political level, given the inclination of the Ottoman authorities towards Ḥanafism. See van Ess, Theologie und Gesellschaft, vol. 1, pp. 142, 182, 201, 218, 225–227, 404; vol. 2, pp. 120, 380, 570, 622; vol. 3, pp. 85, 157; Rudolph, Māturīdī and Sunni Theology, pp. 96, 105, 155, 214, 310.

48 Al-Ġazālī indeed discusses this issue in-depth in his Iḥyāʾ, in the ‘Book of the Fundamentals of Beliefs’ (Kitāb qawaʿid al-ʿaqāʾid). His personal conclusion is that it is correct to add “God willing” (in shāʾ Allāh), and to not ascribe yourself to the category of believers with full certainty, not doubting its fundamentals, but doubting one’s completeness (kamāl) and good ending (ḫātima). See al-Ġazālī, Iḥyāʾ, vol. 1, pp. 445–460.

49 I was not able to locate the original source of these lines of poetry.

50 As Commins mentions, there had earlier been plans from local notables to establish an independent state in the region of Damascus, with the immensely popular ʿAbd al-Qādir as prospective leader, during the Ottoman-Russian war of 1876–1878. See Commins, Islamic Reform, p. 12.

51 Q XLIX, 6.

52 Muftī al-Ḥamzāwī was the muftī preceding Muftī al-Manīnī in office. See my essay “A Silent uṣūl Revolution?” in this issue.

53 This is a quote from Rayḥānat al-alibbā wa-zahrat al-ḥayāt al-dunyā by Šihāb al-Dīn al-Ḫafāǧī (d. 1069/1658), a work of Arabic literature. I was not able to locate the exact passage.

54 Like the earlier poetry recited, these verses also belong to Ibn al-Rūmī. See Ibn al-Rūmī, Dīwān, vol. 2, p. 422.

55 In his recent study that has stirred up an intriguing debate on the conceptual history of the term Salafism, Henri Lauzière discusses these verses as well, and criticizes Rašīd Riḍā’s (d. 1935) interpretation of these verses in 1914 to mean “nothing other than to act according to the Qurʾan and the Sunna without any accretion”, as idiosyncratic. Lauzière holds that they cannot be taken as a proof that in the time of al-Qāsimī in 1896 the idea of a maḏhab al-salaf pertained to more than matters of creed. I believe that these verses in the larger context of al-Qāsimī’s narrative on the ‘Muǧtahids’ Incident’, with its many fiqh issues at the heart of the controversy, sufficiently shows that their concept of a salafī method did indeed also pertain to a direct re-evaluation of texts from the Qurʾān and Sunna in matters of fiqh, without interference of the larger historical tradition, outside the boundaries of the schools of law (maḏāhib). See Lauzière, Making of Salafism, pp. 34–35.

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Pieter Coppens, « The ‘Muǧtahids’ Incident’ According to al-Qāsimī’s Memoirs »MIDÉO, 36 | 2021, 63-97.

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Pieter Coppens, « The ‘Muǧtahids’ Incident’ According to al-Qāsimī’s Memoirs »MIDÉO [En ligne], 36 | 2021, mis en ligne le 05 juin 2021, consulté le 03 juillet 2022. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/mideo/6766

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Pieter Coppens

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

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Institut Dominicain d'Études Orientales

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