By Shaykh Abdullah bin Bayyah, Zaytuna Institute
Shaykh Abdullah bin Bayyah visited the Bay Area in the last week of July 1999. He offered a week long course on Usool al-Fiqh in Fremont, California. He then gave a talk on July 31, 1999 at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, California. An edited transcription of that talk appears below. As Shakyh Abdullah spoke, Shaykh Hamza Yusuf translated. At times, Shaykh Hamza added some of his own comments and explanations. These appear in brackets in the text.
Shaykh Abdallah bin Bayyah, hafidhu Allah, is an extremely well-known and well-respected scholar amongst scholars. In fact, he is a scholars' scholar since many of his students are actually considered scholars now in the Muslim world. His students study extremely difficult texts with him that even very well qualified scholars are not capable of understanding with any facility.
Shaykh Abdallah bin Bayyah grew up in one of the eastern provinces in West Africa in Mauritania. From a very young age, he showed extreme gifts intellectually and a profound ability to absorb a lot of information and a lot of the text. During his studies, he memorized an extraordinary number of texts. Then, at a very early age, he was appointed with a group of people to study legal judgements in Tunis and went there for a period of time. When he returned to Mauritania, he became a minister of education and later, a minister of justice. He was also one of the vice-presidents of the first president of Mauritania. However, due to the conditions in Mauritania and the military change of governments that took place, he began to teach, and he ended up going to Saudi Arabia and becoming a distinguished professor at The University of Usool al-Fiqh.
The shaykh is presently involved in several organizations in the Muslim world, such as the organization which is known as Al Majma' al-Fiqhi, which is comprised of a body of scholars that come together from all over the Muslim world and from all the different madhhabs and different viewpoints; they analyze and study a lot of the modern issues to come up with Islamic solutions to the issues confronting modern Muslims in the modern world.
Shaykh Abdallah is also involved in writing. He has written several books and has delivered lectures all over the world. This is the first time that he has come to America, so I think we are very fortunate that he has come a long way for us. His books are really interesting, and he has expertise in a lot of areas that have been ignored. One of the areas of expertise that he has is in what is know as fiqh al-aqaliyaat which is the fiqh or juristic rulings related to minority Muslims. Because the Muslims tended to prefer hijra to countries where Muslims were the majority, there are not a lot of scholars that work in the area of dealing with how Muslims in minority areas should actually live their lives and how they should behave when confronted with issues that often are in contradistinction to their deen. So, we asked him if he would talk about this subject tonight, and I'm hoping that we will gain a lot of benefit, and I'm certain we will in sha' Allah. The shaykh is going to speak in Arabic-he is very fluent in French, but he is not fluent in English yet. So, we are going to go section by section, and as he speaks, I'm going to translate in sha' Allah for the people who do not know Arabic.
The Shaykh's Insights on the Muslims' Condition and Responsibilities in America
[Bismillah irahman iraheem. The shaykh began his talk by praising Allah subhaana wa ta'aala and sending prayers on the Messenger of Allah, sallallaahu 'alayhi wa sallam.] I wanted to speak tonight about your conditions, your circumstances here. You are a group that is small in number and yet strong in faith, a group that has diverse ideas and understandings and whose individuals come from many different cultural and ethnic backgrounds, a group that is few amongst a dominant group that is many. The dominant group is strong in many areas; in fact, they are controlling many areas of the world. I would like to speak tonight about what the priorities of such a group would be: What are the obligations of such a group? What are the responsibilities of such a group? I would like to present some ideas to you, and I hopes that Allah subhaana wa ta'aala helps me to present some ideas that relate to a methodology, to approaches, and to things that will be beneficial to this group if they implement them.
I want to speak about the responsibilities that you carry here. In contrast to Muslims living in the dominant Muslim world at large, you are, in many ways, strangers in a strange land. The Messenger of Allah, sallallaahu 'alayhi wa sallam, said, "Tuba lil guraba." In other words, the conditions of the stranger are blessed conditions, and it also means, "lahum al-jannah: they have paradise" for bearing the burden of alienation. An Arab proverb is, "ya ghareeb kun adeeba: oh stranger in a strange land, be a man of courtesy and cultivation." There is also a hadith, "Islam began alienated and will return as it began, alienated. So, blessed are the alienated ones." This alienation should not mean that you distance yourselves from the rest of the people. That is not the meaning of this state of estrangement. It does not mean you should not work with others or that you should avoid the dominant society and distance yourselves completely from it even though your state is one of estrangement.
Since we know that Islam has legal injunctions and that Muslims have a code of law, a question that occurs immediately to us in looking at these conditions here is whether or not there are rules in our deen that apply to one land and do not apply to another land. As we know, the Messenger of Allah, sallallaahu 'alayhi wa sallam, said that Allah subhaana wa ta'aala has made incumbent upon you to fulfill certain obligations, and Allah has also set boundaries for you, so do not transgress those boundaries. As we know, these rules in Islam relate to every Muslim. In terms of human beings, every one is equal in relation to these rules. You cannot say that one Muslim does not have to pray and another one does. All Muslims who are responsible adults have to pray. So, these rules of prayer and fasting, what are know as the arkan al-Islam-the pillars of Islam, the foundations of Islam-are things that are binding upon all Muslims, no matter where they are or what place they are in.
In addition, there is another type of set of rules in Islam that is known as al-ahkam as-sultania, and these are rules related to governmental authority, to the state. These rules involve certain things, such as the penal code of the Muslims. There is a code related to criminal law: if you do this, then this is the punishment. The implementation of those laws is related to the ahkam as-sultania or the rules related to the legitimate authority of the state. The ahkam as-sultania include the rules related to jihaad-in other words, martial activity in which men fight in war and battles. They also include the rules related to zakaah collecting: the gathering of wealth that Allah has obliged people to pay. In addition, they relate to the establishment of imams, not only the greatest imam, who would be the khalifa, but also the aaimma who will be in the masaajid and the qadaat who are the people who give the khutba on the jumu'a. All these types of things are traditionally related to the authority of the legitimate governing body of the Muslims. Muslims need judges; they need courts; they need police-all of these things relate to these ahkam. These types of rules which are known as the ahkam as-sultania are not the concern of those people who are living in a land in which there is not a legitimate state authority of Muslims.
If we want to look at an analogy, we will find it in the Makkan stage of the Messenger of Allah, sallallaahu 'alayhi wa sallam. If you look at the Makkan period, the Messenger of Allah, sallallaahu 'alayhi wa sallam, was not making any claims to government authority. He was calling people to tauheed: the unity of Allah. He was calling people to prayer. He was calling people to the purification of their hearts. He was calling people to leave shirk. All this is known as the jihaad of the tongue: jihaad al-kalima; it is not the jihaad of the sword-or now the gun or the atom bomb or whatever. It was the jihaad of the tongue. Allah subhaana wa ta'aala said, "jaahidhum bihi jihaad al-kabir." "Jaahidhum bihi" means to struggle against them with the Quran. In other words, "speak the Quran to them, and struggle against them with the truth in word;" and this was the jihaad of Makkah. You can say in a modern sense that this is speaking with a strong tongue in the face of wrong, in the face of injustices.
When the Prophet, sallallaahu 'alayhi wa sallam, went to Medina, a different stage began, and there was now a jihaad of a physical type, a martial struggle where they went out. However, Allah subhaana wa ta'aala says to fight them until the war comes to an end. This type of jihaad has an end in time, and yet jihaad in its broader understanding in the sharia' never ends. The struggle for the sake of Allah never ends as long as somebody is in this abode. This is why jihaad is the expenditure of one's efforts for the sake of good. It means to do good things. It means to exert one's effort in the society to help people, to expend one's wealth-to give charity-to change the conditions around you: if they are bad, make them better. This can be done without martial effort in many places, and this is still a type of jihaad. This is why it is wrong for people to narrow the understanding of jihaad to some limited definition which only gives the understanding of military struggle because that is not what jihaad means in Islam.
Next, I would like to address the issue of our responsibilities. Given our state of weakness and our minority status here, the governmental aspects of the sharia' do not apply to us. We are not legally responsible for the governmental aspects because of our condition here. Given that, what becomes our responsibility? If Allah has removed from us those governmental responsibilities here, what then are the responsibilities that we have? I want to look at two aspects.
Relationships of Muslims with Other Muslims
The first aspect concerns the relationships that we have with one another. These relationships have to be based on brotherhood. They have to be relationships based on love. Since we are minorities here and are few in number, we have to understand that we need to have solidarity. In order for us to have solidarity, there is something that is very important that we must understand about our legal structure, which is the jurisprudence of difference of opinion: fiqh al-khilaaf. We have to look deeply into this because if we understand this, this is a way in which we can be united and have good feelings towards each other and not negative feelings based on our understandings of valid differences of opinion amongst us. This last week in the classes that many of you have attended, we have been looking at usool al fiqh: the foundations upon which our fiqh is based. We looked at many differences of opinion amongst the scholars and how they were linguistically valid, how they were actually differences of opinion that had foundations; they were not differences based upon empty opinions. They were differences based on real issues that have validity and substance. If we understand that, this will enable us to rise up spiritually to another level of relationship with our fellow Muslims. It will take us to a higher level so that we begin to have differences that are still based on love and mutual respect. We will begin to see that there are different ways of doing things and that there is validity in them all.
We can learn a lesson from the western people who have individuality as one of the foundations of their culture. They respect the rights of people to explore their individuality. There is some good in this understanding, and the Muslims should learn from this even though it is originally from our own tradition. We should see that part of their strength lies in this ability. What this will enable us to do is build bridges. Despite the fact that there are two different opinions which place us in two different positions, this love and mutual respect enables a bridge to be built from one perspective to another perspective, and this creates contact; this creates the ability for us to visit each other, to be together. We should look at these hadiths in which the Messenger of Allah, sallallaahu 'alayhi wa sallam, said, "the Muslims are one hand;" "the Muslims are strong;" "a Muslim is strong by his brother;" "the Muslims come together as one hand against those who oppose them;" "the Muslims are like one body: if one part becomes afflicted with some illness, the rest of the body shares in that affliction with insomnia and fever."
Furthermore, the Quran says, "Do not disagree:" do not "tanaasi'u;" that is a strong word in Arabic. It is different from "ikhtilaaf: disagreement." "Tanaasi'u" is saying, do not have conflict with one another-not disagreement-but conflict. Do not have conflict with one another, and if you do that, the wind that gives you strength to move forward will dissipate, and you will fail in your task. You will fail in what you want to achieve. Allah subhaana wa ta'aala said, "Rectify what is of between you." That is, Allah says to rectify the differences that you have. Rectify the hearts, so that you come together. The Messenger of Allah, sallallaahu 'alayhi wa sallam,said, "Al-muslimu akh ul-muslim: The Muslim is a brother of his fellow Muslim." He does not oppress him nor does he give him up to the enemy. Thus, all of these are indications that we should be together in spite of our differences if those differences are based on valid fiqhi differences; and this is why we must look into the jurisprudence related to differences of opinion.
We should look at these differences of opinion like different trains that are carrying different baggage or that are going to different places. These trains could be traveling on the same track at different times. If you do not organize them, the result is a disaster. They will crash. But if you organize them, the trains could be using the same tracks even though they are going to different destinations, have different concerns, and have different purposes. So, the blessing of organizing these differences is that the differences do not cause us to crash into each other so that we do not get anything done in the end.
In a sense, we could look at this like a famous fable. There is a legend about a lion and three bulls who were in the jungle. One of them was white, one was yellow, and one was black. The lion was not able to eat these three bulls because if he came near them, they would all stand up together, and each one of them would face the lion, so he could not eat them. The lion began to think about how he could get them to become divided.
He saw the bulls grazing once, and he approached the black and the yellow ones, and he said, "You know that white one over there" He kind of looks like the people around here. He's different from us. Why don't you let me eat him?"
The two bulls said, "Yeah, go ahead. Get rid of him." So, the lion went and ate the white one.
Then, the next day, the lion came to the yellow bull, and he said, "Haven't you noticed that you and I look the same? We have the same color. We're really cousins! And this black one over here-he's different from you. So, why don't you let me eat him?" The yellow one said, "Yeah, you're right. Go ahead."<