The forgotten revolution


     'Blood is no argument', as Shakespeare observed. Sadly, Muslim ranks are today swollen with those who disagree. The
     World Trade Centre, yesterday's symbol of global finance, has today become a monument to the failure of global Islam to
     control those who believe that the West can be bullied into changing its wayward ways towards the East. There is no real
     excuse to hand. It is simply not enough to clamour, as many have done, about 'chickens coming home to roost', and to
     protest that Washington's acquiescence in Israeli policies of ethnic cleansing is the inevitable generator of such hate. It is of
     course true - as Shabbir Akhtar has noted - that powerlessness can corrupt as insistently as does power. But to comprehend
     is not to sanction or even to empathize. To take innocent life to achieve a goal is the hallmark of the most extreme secular
     utilitarian ethic, and stands at the opposite pole of the absolute moral constraints required by religion. 

     There was a time, not long ago, when the 'ultras' were few, forming only a tiny wart on the face of the world-wide attempt to
     revivify Islam. Sadly, we can no longer enjoy the luxury of ignoring them. The extreme has broadened, and the middle
     ground, giving way, is everywhere dislocated and confused. And this enfeeblement of the middle ground, was what was
     enjoined by the Prophetic example, is in turn accelerated by the opprobrium which the extremists bring not simply upon
     themselves, but upon committed Muslims everywhere. For here, as elsewhere, the preferences of the media work firmly
     against us. David Koresh could broadcast his fringe Biblical message from Ranch Apocalypse without the image of
     Christianity, or even its Adventist wing, being in any way besmirched. But when a fringe Islamic group bombs Swedish
     tourists in Cairo, the muck is instantly spread over 'militant Muslims' everywhere. 

     If these things go on, the Islamic movement will cease to form an authentic summons to cultural and spiritual renewal, and
     will exist as little more than a splintered array of maniacal factions. The prospect of such an appalling and humiliating end to
     the story of a religion which once surpassed all others in its capacity for tolerating debate and dissent is now a real
     possibility. The entire experience of Islamic work over the past fifteen years has been one of increasing radicalization, driven
     by the perceived failure of the traditional Islamic institutions and the older Muslim movements to lead the Muslim peoples
     into the worthy but so far chimerical promised land of the 'Islamic State.' 

     If this final catastrophe is to be averted, the mainstream will have to regain the initiative. But for this to happen, it must begin
     by confessing that the radical critique of moderation has its force. The Islamic movement has so far been remarkably
     unsuccessful. We must ask ourselves how it is that a man like Nasser, a butcher, a failed soldier and a cynical demagogue,
     could have taken over a country as pivotal as Egypt, despite the vacuity of his beliefs, while the Muslim Brotherhood, with
     its   millions of members, should have failed, and failed continuously, for six decades. The radical accusation of a
     failure in methodology cannot fail to strike home in such a context of dismal and prolonged inadequacy. 

     It is in this context - startlingly, perhaps, but inescapably - that we must present our case for the revival of the spiritual life
     within Islam. If it is ever to prosper, the 'Islamic revival' must be made to see that it is in crisis, and that its mental resources
     are proving insufficient to meet contemporary needs. The response to this must be grounded in an act of collective muhasaba,
     of self-examination, in terms that transcend the ideologised neo-Islam of the revivalists, and return to a more classical and
     indigenously Muslim dialectic. 

     Symptomatic of the disease is the fact that among all the explanations offered for the crisis of the Islamic movement, the only
     authentically Muslim interpretation, namely, that God should not be lending it His support, is conspicuously absent. It is true
     that we frequently hear the Quranic verse which states that "God does not change the condition of a people until they
     change the condition of their own selves." [1] But never, it seems, is this principle intelligently grasped. It is assumed that the
     sacred text is here doing no more than to enjoin individual moral reform as a precondition for collective societal success.

Nothing could be more hazardous, however, than to measure such moral reform against the yardstick of the fiqh without
     giving concern to whether the virtues gained have been acquired through conformity (a relatively simple task), or proceed
     spontaneously from a genuine realignment of the soul. The verse is speaking of a spiritual change, specifically, a
     transformation of the nafs of the believers - not a moral one. And as the Blessed Prophet never tired of reminding us, there is
     little value in outward conformity to the rules unless this conformity is mirrored and engendered by an authentically
     righteous disposition of the heart. 'No-one shall enter the Garden by his works,' as he expressed it. Meanwhile, the
     profoundly judgmental and works - oriented tenor of modern revivalist Islam (we must shun the problematic buzz-word
     'fundamentalism'), fixated on visible manifestations of morality, has failed to address the underlying question of what
     revelation is for. For it is theological nonsense to suggest that God's final concern is with our ability to conform to a complex
     set of rules. His concern is rather that we should be restored, through our labours and His grace, to that state of purity and
     equilibrium with which we were born. The rules are a vital means to that end, and are facilitated by it. But they do not take its

     To make this point, the Holy Quran deploys a striking metaphor. In Sura Ibrahim, verses 24 to 26, we read: 

         Have you not seen how God coineth a likeness: a goodly word like a goodly tree, the root whereof is set firm, its
         branch in the heaven? It bringeth forth its fruit at every time, by the leave of its Lord. Thus doth God coin
         likenesses for men, that perhaps they may reflect. And the likeness of an evil word is that of an evil tree that hath
         been torn up by the root from upon the earth, possessed of no stability. 

     According to the scholars of tafsir (exegesis), the reference here is to the 'words' (kalima) of faith and unfaith. The former is
     illustrated as a natural growth, whose florescence of moral and intellectual achievement is nourished by firm roots, which in
     turn denote the basis of faith: the quality of the proofs one has received, and the certainty and sound awareness of God
     which alone signify that one is firmly grounded in the reality of existence. The fruits thus yielded - the palpable benefits of
     the religious life - are permanent ('at every time'), and are not man's own accomplishment, for they only come 'by the leave of
     its Lord'. Thus is the sound life of faith. The contrast is then drawn with the only alternative: kufr, which is not grounded in
     reality but in illusion, and is hence 'possessed of no stability'.[2

     This passage, reminiscent of some of the binary categorizations of human types presented early on in Surat al-Baqara,
     precisely encapsulates the relationship between faith and works, the hierarchy which exists between them, and the sustainable
     balance between nourishment and fructition, between taking and giving, which true faith must maintain. 

     It is against this criterion that we must judge the quality of contemporary 'activist' styles of faith. Is the young 'ultra', with his
     intense rage which can sometimes render him liable to nervous disorders, and his fixation on a relatively narrow range of
     issues and concerns, really firmly rooted, and fruitful, in the sense described by this Quranic image? 

     Let me point to the answer with an example drawn from my own experience. 

     I used to know, quite well, a leader of the radical 'Islamic' group, the Jama'at Islamiya, at the Egyptian university of Assiut. His
     name was Hamdi. He grew a luxuriant beard, was constantly scrubbing his teeth with his miswak, and spent his time
     preaching hatred of the Coptic Christians, a number of whom were actually attacked and beaten up as a result of his khutbas.
     He had hundreds of followers; in fact, Assiut today remains a citadel of hardline, Wahhabi-style activism. 

     The moral of the story is that some five years after this acquaintance, providence again brought me face to face with Shaikh
     Hamdi. This time, chancing to see him on a Cairo street, I almost failed to recognise him. The beard was gone. He was in
     trousers and a sweater. More astonishing still was that he was walking with a young Western girl who turned out to be an
     Australian, whom, as he sheepishly explained to me, he was intending to marry. I talked to him, and it became clear that he
     was no longer even a minimally observant Muslim, no longer prayed, and that his ambition in life was to leave Egypt, live in
     Australia, and make money. What was extraordinary was that his experiences in Islamic activism had made no impression on
     him - he was once again the same distracted, ordinary Egyptian youth he had been before his conversion to 'radical Islam'. 

     This phenomenon, which we might label 'salafi burnout', is a recognised feature of many modern Muslim cultures. An initial
     enthusiasm, gained usually in one's early twenties, loses steam some seven to ten years later. Prison and torture - the
     frequent lot of the Islamic radical - may serve to prolong commitment, but ultimately, a majority of these neo-Muslims
     relapse, seemingly no better or worse for their experience in the cult-like universe of the salafi mindset. 

     This ephemerality of extremist activism should be as suspicious as its content. Authentic Muslim faith is simply not supposed
     to be this fragile; as the Qur'an says, its root is meant to be 'set firm'. One has to conclude that of the two trees depicted in
     the Quranic image, salafi extremism resembles the second rather than the first. After all, the Sahaba were not known for a
     transient commitment: their devotion and piety remained incomparably pure until they died. 

     What attracts young Muslims to this type of ephemeral but ferocious activism? One does not have to subscribe to determinist
     social theories to realise the importance of the almost universal condition of insecurity which Muslim societies are now
     experiencing. The Islamic world is passing through a most devastating period of transition. A history of economic and
     scientific change which in Europe took five hundred years, is, in the Muslim world, being squeezed into a couple of
     generations. For instance, only thirty-five years ago the capital of Saudi Arabia was a cluster of mud huts, as it had been for
     thousands of years. Today's Riyadh is a hi-tech megacity of glass towers, Coke machines, and gliding Cadillacs. This is an
     extreme case, but to some extent the dislocations of modernity are common to every Muslim society, excepting, perhaps, a
     handful of the most remote tribal peoples. 

     Such a transition period, with its centrifugal forces which allow nothing to remain constant, makes human beings very
     insecure. They look around for something to hold onto, that will give them an identity. In our case, that something is usually
     Islam. And because they are being propelled into it by this psychic sense of insecurity, rather than by the more normal
     processes of conversion and faith, they lack some of the natural religious virtues, which are acquired by contact with a
     continuous tradition, and can never be learnt from a book. 

     One easily visualises how this works. A young Arab, part of an oversized family, competing for scarce jobs, unable to marry
     because he is poor, perhaps a migrant to a rapidly expanding city, feels like a man lost in a desert without signposts. One
     morning he picks up a copy of Sayyid Qutb from a newsstand, and is 'born-again' on the spot. This is what he needed: instant
     certainty, a framework in which to interpret the landscape before him, to resolve the problems and tensions of his life, and,
     even more deliciously, a way of feeling superior and in control. He joins a group, and, anxious to retain his newfound
     certainty, accepts the usual proposition that all the other groups are mistaken. 

     This, of course, is not how Muslim religious conversion is supposed to work. It is meant to be a process of intellectual
     maturation, triggered by the presence of a very holy person or place. Tawba, in its traditional form, yields an outlook of joy,
     contentment, and a deep affection for others. The modern type of tawba, however, born of insecurity, often makes Muslims
     narrow, intolerant, and exclusivist. Even more noticeably, it produces people whose faith is, despite its apparent intensity,
     liable to vanish as suddenly as it came. Deprived of real nourishment, the activist's soul can only grow hungry and emaciated,
     until at last it dies. 


     How should we respond to this disorder? We must begin by remembering what Islam is for. As we noted earlier, our din is
     not, ultimately, a manual of rules which, when meticulously followed, becomes a passport to paradise. Instead, it is a package
     of social, intellectual and spiritual technology whose purpose is to cleanse the human heart. In the Qur'an, the Lord says that
     on the Day of Judgement, nothing will be of any use to us, except a sound heart (qalbun salim). [3] And in a famous hadith, the
     Prophet, upon whom be blessings and peace, says that 

         "Verily in the body there is a piece of flesh. If it is sound, the body is all sound. If it is corrupt, the body is all
         corrupt. Verily, it is the heart. 

     Mindful of this commandment, under which all the other commandments of Islam are subsumed, and which alone gives them
     meaning, the Islamic scholars have worked out a science, an ilm (science), of analysing the 'states' of the heart, and the
     methods of bringing it into this condition of soundness. In the fullness of time, this science acquired the name tasawwuf, in
     English 'Sufism' - a traditional label for what we might nowadays more intelligibly call 'Islamic psychology.' 

     At this point, many hackles are raised and well-rehearsed objections voiced. It is vital to understand that mainstream Sufism is
     not, and never has been, a doctrinal system, or a school of thought - a madhhab. It is, instead, a set of insights and practices
     which operate within the various Islamic madhhabs; in other words, it is not a madhhab, it is an ilm. And like most of the other
     Islamic ulum, it was not known by name, or in its later developed form, in the age of the Prophet (upon him be blessings and
     peace) or his Companions. This does not make it less legitimate. There are many Islamic sciences which only took shape
     many years after the Prophetic age: usul al-fiqh, for instance, or the innumerable technical disciplines of hadith. 

     Now this, of course, leads us into the often misunderstood area of sunna and bid'a, two notions which are wielded as blunt
     instruments by many contemporary activists, but which are often grossly misunderstood. The classic Orientalist thesis is of
     course that Islam, as an 'arid Semitic religion', failed to incorporate mechanisms for its own development, and that it petrified
     upon the death of its founder. This, however, is a nonsense rooted in the ethnic determinism of the nineteenth century
     historians who had shaped the views of the early Orientalist synthesizers (Muir, Le Bon, Renan, Caetani). Islam, as the
     religion designed for the end of time, has in fact proved itself eminently adaptable to the rapidly changing conditions which
     characterise this final and most 'entropic' stage of history. 

     What is a bid'a, according to the classical definitions of Islamic law? We all know the famous hadith: 

         Beware of matters newly begun, for every matter newly begun is innovation, every innovation is misguidance, and
         every misguidance is in Hell. [4

     Does this mean that everything introduced into Islam that was not known to the first generation of Muslims is to be rejected?
     The classical ulema do not accept such a literalistic interpretation. 

     Let us take a definition from Imam al-Shafi'i, an authority universally accepted in Sunni Islam. Imam al-Shafi'i writes: 

         There are two kinds of introduced matters (muhdathat). One is that which contradicts a text of the Qur'an, or the
         Sunna, or a report from the early Muslims (athar), or the consensus (ijma') of the Muslims: this is an 'innovation
         of misguidance' (bid'at dalala). The second kind is that which is in itself good and entails no contradiction of any
         of these authorities: this is a 'non-reprehensible innovation' (bid'a ghayr madhmuma). [5] 

     This basic distinction between acceptable and unacceptable forms of bid'a is recognised by the overwhelming majority of
     classical ulema. Among some, for instance al-Izz ibn Abd al-Salam (one of the half-dozen or so great mujtahids of Islamic
     history), innovations fall under the five axiological headings of the Shari'a: the obligatory (wajib), the recommended (mandub),
     the permissible (mubah), the offensive (makruh), and the forbidden (haram).[6] 

     Under the category of 'obligatory innovation', Ibn Abd al-Salam gives the following examples: recording the Qur'an and the
     laws of Islam in writing at a time when it was feared that they would be lost, studying Arabic grammar in order to resolve
     controversies over the Qur'an, and developing philosophical theology (kalam) to refute the claims of the Mu'tazilites. 

     Category two is 'recommended innovation'. Under this heading the ulema list such activities as building madrasas, writing
     books on beneficial Islamic subjects, and in-depth studies of Arabic linguistics. 

     Category three is 'permissible', or 'neutral innovation', including worldly activities such as sifting flour, and constructing
     houses in various styles not known in Medina. 

     Category four is the 'reprehensible innovation'. This includes such misdemeanours as overdecorating mosques or the

     Category five is the 'forbidden innovation'. This includes unlawful taxes, giving judgeships to those unqualified to hold them,
     and sectarian beliefs and practices that explicitly contravene the known principles of the Qur'an and the Sunna. 

     The above classification of bid'a types is normal in classical Shari'a literature, being accepted by the four schools of orthodox
     fiqh. There have been only two significant exceptions to this understanding in the history of Islamic thought: the Zahiri
     school as articulated by Ibn Hazm, and one wing of the Hanbali madhhab, represented by Ibn Taymiya, who goes against the
     classical ijma' on this issue, and claims that all forms of innovation, good or bad, are un-Islamic. 

     Why is it, then, that so many Muslims now believe that innovation in any form is unacceptable in Islam? One factor has
     already been touched on: the mental complexes thrown up by insecurity, which incline people to find comfort in absolutist
     and literalist interpretations. Another lies in the influence of the well-financed neo-Hanbali madhhab called Wahhabism,
     whose leaders are famous for their rejection of all possibility of development. 

     In any case, armed with this more sophisticated and classical awareness of Islam's ability to acknowledge and assimilate
     novelty, we can understand how Muslim civilisation was able so quickly to produce novel academic disciplines to deal with
     new problems as these arose. 

     Islamic psychology is characteristic of the new ulum which, although present in latent and implicit form in the Quran, were
     first systematized in Islamic culture during the early Abbasid period. Given the importance that the Quran attaches to
     obtaining a 'sound heart', we are not surprised to find that the influence of Islamic psychology has been massive and
     all-pervasive. In the formative first four centuries of Islam, the time when the great works of tafsir, hadith, grammar, and so
     forth were laid down, the ulema also applied their minds to this problem of al-qalb al-salim. This was first visible when,
     following the example of the Tabi'in, many of the early ascetics, such as Sufyan ibn Uyayna, Sufyan al-Thawri, and Abdallah
     ibn al-Mubarak, had focussed their concerns explicitly on the art of purifying the heart. The methods they recommended
     were frequent fasting and night prayer, periodic retreats, and a preoccupation with murabata: service as volunteer fighters in
     the border castles of Asia Minor. 

     This type of pietist orientation was not in the least systematic during this period. It was a loose category embracing all
     Muslims who sought salvation through the Prophetic virtues of renunciation, sincerity, and deep devotion to the revelation.
     These men and women were variously referred to as al-bakka'un: 'the weepers', because of their fear of the Day of
     Judgement, or as zuhhad, ascetics, or ubbad, 'unceasing worshippers'. 

     By the third century, however, we start to find writings which can be understood as belonging to a distinct devotional school.
     The increasing luxury and materialism of Abbasid urban society spurred many Muslims to campaign for a restoration of the
     simplicity of the Prophetic age. Purity of heart, compassion for others, and a constant recollection of God were the defining
     features of this trend. We find references to the method of muhasaba: self-examination to detect impurities of intention. Also
     stressed was riyada: self-discipline. 

     By this time, too, the main outlines of Quranic psychology had been worked out. The human creature, it was realised, was
     made up of four constituent parts: the body (jism), the mind (aql), the spirit (ruh), and the self (nafs). The first two need little
     comment. Less familiar (at least to people of a modern education) are the third and fourth categories. 

     The spirit is the ruh, that underlying essence of the human individual which survives death. It is hard to comprehend
     rationally, being in part of Divine inspiration, as the Quran says: 

         "And they ask you about the spirit; say, the spirit is of the command of my Lord. And you have been given of
         knowledge only a little."[7

     According to the early Islamic psychologists, the ruh is a non-material reality which pervades the entire human body, but is
     centred on the heart, the qalb. It represents that part of man which is not of this world, and which connects him with his
     Creator, and which, if he is fortunate, enables him to see God in the next world. When we are born, this ruh is intact and
     pure. As we are initiated into the distractions of the world, however, it is covered over with the 'rust' (ran) of which the
     Quran speaks. This rust is made up of two things: sin and distraction. When, through the process of self-discipline, these are
     banished, so that the worshipper is preserved from sin and is focussing entirely on the immediate presence and reality of
     God, the rust is dissolved, and the ruh once again is free. The heart is sound; and salvation, and closeness to God, are

     This sounds simple enough. However, the early Muslims taught that such precious things come only at an appropriate price.
     Cleaning up the Augean stables of the heart is a most excruciating challenge. Outward conformity to the rules of religion is
     simple enough; but it is only the first step. Much more demanding is the policy known as mujahada: the daily combat against
     the lower self, the nafs. As the Quran says: 

         'As for him that fears the standing before his Lord, and forbids his nafs its desires, for him, Heaven shall be his
         place of resort.'[8] 

     Hence the Sufi commandment: 

         'Slaughter your ego with the knives of mujahada.' [9] 

     Once the nafs is controlled, then the heart is clear, and the virtues proceed from it easily and naturally. 

     Because its objective is nothing less than salvation, this vital Islamic science has been consistently expounded by the great
     scholars of classical Islam. While today there are many Muslims, influenced by either Wahhabi or Orientalist agendas, who
     believe that Sufism has always led a somewhat marginal existence in Islam, the reality is that the overwhelming majority of
     the classical scholars were actively involved in Sufism. 

     The early Shafi'i scholars of Khurasan: al-Hakim al-Nisaburi, Ibn Furak, al-Qushayri and al-Bayhaqi, were all Sufis who
     formed links in the richest academic tradition of Abbasid Islam, which culminated in the achievement of Imam Hujjat al-Islam
     al-Ghazali. Ghazali himself, author of some three hundred books, including the definitive rebuttals of Arab philosophy and
     the Ismailis, three large textbooks of Shafi'i fiqh, the best-known tract of usul al-fiqh, two works on logic, and several
     theological treatises, also left us with the classic statement of orthodox Sufism: the Ihya Ulum al-Din, a book of which Imam
     Nawawi remarked: 

         "Were the books of Islam all to be lost, excepting only the Ihya', it would suffice to replace them all." [10] 

     Imam Nawawi himself wrote two books which record his debt to Sufism, one called the Bustan al-Arifin ('Garden of the
     Gnostics', and another called the al-Maqasid (recently published in English translation, Sunna Books, Evanston Il. trans. Nuh
     Ha Mim Keller). 

     Among the Malikis, too, Sufism was popular. Al-Sawi, al-Dardir, al-Laqqani and Abd al-Wahhab al-Baghdadi were all
     exponents of Sufism. The Maliki jurist of Cairo, Abd al-Wahhab al-Sha'rani defines Sufism as follows: 

         'The path of the Sufis is built on the Quran and the Sunna, and is based on living according to the morals of the
         prophets and the purified ones. It may not be blamed, unless it violates an explicit statement from the Quran,
         sunna, or ijma. If it does not contravene any of these sources, then no pretext remains for condemning it, except
         one's own low opinion of others, or interpreting what they do as ostentation, which is unlawful. No-one denies
         the states of the Sufis except someone ignorant of the way they are.'[11] 

     For Hanbali Sufism one has to look no further than the revered figures of Abdallah Ansari, Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani, Ibn
     al-Jawzi, and Ibn Rajab. 

     In fact, virtually all the great luminaries of medieval Islam: al-Suyuti, Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, al-Ayni, Ibn Khaldun, al-Subki,
     Ibn Hajar al-Haytami; tafsir writers like Baydawi, al-Sawi, Abu'l-Su'ud, al-Baghawi, and Ibn Kathir[12] ; aqida writers such as
     Taftazani, al-Nasafi, al-Razi: all wrote in support of Sufism. Many, indeed, composed independent works of Sufi inspiration.
     The ulema of the great dynasties of Islamic history, including the Ottomans and the Moghuls, were deeply infused with the
     Sufi outlook, regarding it as one of the most central and indispensable of Islamic sciences. 

     Further confirmation of the Islamic legitimacy of Sufism is supplied by the enthusiasm of its exponents for carrying Islam
     beyond the boundaries of the Islamic world. The Islamization process in India, Black Africa, and South-East Asia was carried
     out largely at the hands of wandering Sufi teachers. Likewise, the Islamic obligation of jihad has been borne with especial zeal
     by the Sufi orders. All the great nineteenth century jihadists: Uthman dan Fodio (Hausaland), al-Sanousi (Libya), Abd al-Qadir
     al-Jaza'iri (Algeria), Imam Shamil (Daghestan) and the leaders of the Padre Rebellion (Sumatra) were active practitioners of
     Sufism, writing extensively on it while on their campaigns. Nothing is further from reality, in fact, than the claim that Sufism
     represents a quietist and non-militant form of Islam. 

     With all this, we confront a paradox. Why is it, if Sufism has been so respected a part of Muslim intellectual and political life
     throughout our history, that there are, nowadays, angry voices raised against it? There are two fundamental reasons here. 

     Firstly, there is again the pervasive influence of Orientalist scholarship, which, at least before 1922 when Massignon wrote
     his Essai sur les origines de la lexique technique, was of the opinion that something so fertile and profound as Sufism could never
     have grown from the essentially 'barren and legalistic' soil of Islam. Orientalist works translated into Muslim languages were
     influential upon key Muslim modernists - such as Muhammad Abduh in his later writings - who began to question the
     centrality, or even the legitimacy, of Sufi discourse in Islam. 

     Secondly, there is the emergence of the Wahhabi da'wa. When Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, some two hundred years ago,
     teamed up with the Saudi tribe and attacked the neighbouring clans, he was doing so under the sign of an essentially
     neo-Kharijite version of Islam. Although he invoked Ibn Taymiya, he had reservations even about him. For Ibn Taymiya
     himself, although critical of the excesses of certain Sufi groups, had been committed to a branch of mainstream Sufism. This
     is clear, for instance, in Ibn Taymiya's work Sharh Futuh al-Ghayb, a commentary on some technical points in the Revelations of
     the Unseen, a key work by the sixth-century saint of Baghdad, Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani. Throughout the work Ibn Taymiya shows
     himself to be a loyal disciple of al-Jilani, whom he always refers to as shaykhuna ('our teacher'). This Qadiri affiliation is
     confirmed in the later literature of the Qadiri tariqa, which records Ibn Taymiya as a key link in the silsila, the chain of
     transmission of Qadiri teachings.[13] 

     Ibn Abd al-Wahhab, however, went far beyond this. Raised in the wastelands of Najd in Central Arabia, he had little access
     to mainstream Muslim scholarship. In fact, when his da'wa appeared and became notorious, the scholars and muftis of the day
     applied to it the famous Hadith of Najd: 

         Ibn Umar reported the Prophet (upon whom be blessings and peace) as saying: "Oh God, bless us in our Syria; O
         God, bless us in our Yemen." Those present said: "And in our Najd, O Messenger of God!" but he said, "O God,
         bless us in our Syria; O God, bless us in our Yemen." Those present said, "And in our Najd, O Messenger of
         God!". Ibn Umar said that he thought that he said on the third occasion: "Earthquakes and dissensions (fitna) are
         there, and there shall arise the horn of the devil."[14] 

     And it is significant that almost uniquely among the lands of Islam, Najd has never produced scholars of any repute. 

     The Najd-based da'wa of the Wahhabis, however, began to be heard more loudly following the explosion of Saudi oil wealth.
     Many, even most, Islamic publishing houses in Cairo and Beirut are now subsidised by Wahhabi organisations, which prevent
     them from publishing traditional works on Sufism, and remove passages in other works considered unacceptable to
     Wahhabist doctrine. 

     The neo-Kharijite nature of Wahhabism makes it intolerant of all other forms of Islamic expression. However, because it has
     no coherent fiqh of its own - it rejects the orthodox madhhabs - and has only the most basic and primitively anthropomorphic
     aqida, it has a fluid, amoebalike tendency to produce divisions and subdivisions among those who profess it. No longer are
     the Islamic groups essentially united by a consistent madhhab and the Ash'ari [or Maturidi] aqida. Instead, they are all trying to
     derive the shari'a and the aqida from the Quran and the Sunna by themselves. The result is the appalling state of division and
     conflict which disfigures the modern salafi condition. 

     At this critical moment in our history, the umma has only one realistic hope for survival, and that is to restore the 'middle
     way', defined by that sophisticated classical consensus which was worked out over painful centuries of debate and
     scholarship. That consensus alone has the demonstrable ability to provide a basis for unity. But it can only be retrieved when
     we improve the state of our hearts, and fill them with the Islamic virtues of affection, respect, tolerance and reconciliation.
     This inner reform, which is the traditional competence of Sufism, is a precondition for the restoration of unity in the Islamic
     movement. The alternative is likely to be continued, and agonising, failure. 


       1.Sura 13:11. 
       2.For a further analysis of this passage, see Habib Ahmad Mashhur al-Haddad, Key to the Garden (Quilliam
         Press, London 1990 CE), 78-81. 
       3.Sura 26:89. The archetype is Abrahamic: see Sura 37:84. 
       4.This hadith is in fact an instance of takhsis al-amm: a frequent procedure of usul al-fiqh by which an
         apparently unqualified statement is qualified to avoid the contradiction of another necessary principle. See
         Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri, Reliance of the Traveller, tr. Nuh Ha Mim Keller (Abu Dhabi, 1991 CE), 907-8
         for some further examples. 
       5.Ibn Asakir, Tabyin Kadhib al-Muftari (Damascus, 1347), 97. 
       6.Cited in Muhammad al-Jurdani, al-Jawahir al-lu'lu'iyya fi sharh al-Arba'in al-Nawawiya (Damascus, 1328),
       8.79:40., al-Risala (Cairo, n.d.), I, 393., Ithaf al-sada al-muttaqin (Cairo, 1311), I, 27. 
      11.Sha'rani, al-Tabaqat al-Kubra (Cairo, 1374), I, 4. 
      12.It is true that Ibn Kathir in his Bidaya is critical of some later Sufis. Nonetheless, in his Mawlid, which he
         asked his pupils to recite on the occasion of the Blessed Prophet's birthday each year, he makes his
         personal debt to a conservative and sober Sufism quite clear. 
      13.See G. Makdisi's article 'Ibn Taymiyya: A Sufi of the Qadiriya Order' in the American Journal of Arabic
         Studies, 1973. 
      14.Narrated by Bukhari. The translation is from J. Robson, Mishkat al-Masabih (Lahore, 1970), II, 1380.