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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Was Islam Spread by the Sword?

It is a common misconception with some non-Muslims that Islam would not have millions of adherents all over the world, if it had not been spread by the use of force.
The following points will make it clear, that far from being spread by the sword, it was the inherent force of truth, reason and logic that was responsible for the rapid spread of Islam.
Islam has always given respect and freedom of religion to all faiths.  Freedom of religion is ordained in the Quran itself:
“There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion.  The right course has become clear from the wrong.”  (Quran 2:256)
The noted historian De Lacy O’Leary wrote:[1]  “History makes it clear however, that the legend of fanatical Muslims sweeping through the world and forcing Islam at the point of the sword upon conquered races is one of the most fantastically absurd myths that historians have ever repeated.”
The famous historian, Thomas Carlyle, in his book Heroes and Hero worship, refers to this misconception about the spread of Islam: “The sword indeed, but where will you get your sword? Every new opinion, at its starting is precisely in a minority of one; in one man’s head alone.  There it dwells as yet.  One man alone of the whole world believes it, there is one man against all men.  That he takes a sword and tries to propagate with that will do little for him.  You must get your sword! On the whole, a thing will propagate itself as it can.”
If Islam was spread by the sword, it was the sword of intellect and convincing arguments.  It is this sword that conquers the hearts and minds of people.  The Quran says in this connection:
“Invite to the way of your Lord with wisdom and good instruction, and argue with them in a way that is best.”  (Quran 16:125)

The facts speak for themselves

·      Indonesia is the country that has the largest number of Muslims in the world, and the majority of people in Malaysia are Muslims.  But, no Muslim army ever went to Indonesia or Malaysia.  It is an established historical fact that Indonesia entered Islam not due to war, but because of its moral message.  Despite the disappearance of Islamic government from many regions once ruled by it, their original inhabitants have remained Muslims.  Moreover, they carried the message of truth, inviting others to it as well, and in so doing endured harm, affliction and oppression.  The same can be said for those in the regions of Syria and Jordan, Egypt, Iraq, North Africa, Asia, the Balkans and in Spain.  This shows that the effect of Islam on the population was one of moral conviction, in contrast to occupation by western colonialists, finally compelled to leave lands whose peoples held only memories of affliction, sorrow, subjugation and oppression.
·      Muslims ruled Spain (Andalusia) for about 800 years.  During this period the Christians and Jews enjoyed freedom to practice their respective religions, and this is a documented historical fact.
·      Christian and Jewish minorities have survived in the Muslim lands of the Middle East for centuries.  Countries such as Egypt, Morocco, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan all have significant Christian and Jewish populations.
·      Muslims ruled India for about a thousand years, and therefore had the power to force each and every non-Muslim of India to convert to Islam, but they did not, and thus more than 80% of the Indian population remains non-Muslim.
·      Similarly, Islam spread rapidly on the East Coast of Africa.  And likewise no Muslim army was ever dispatched to the East Coast of Africa.
·      An article in Reader’s Digest ‘Almanac’, yearbook 1986, gives the statistics of the increase of the percentage of the major religions of the world in half a century from 1934 to 1984.  This article also appeared in The Plain Truth magazine.  At the top was Islam, which increased by 235%, while Christianity had increased by 47%.  During this fifty-year period, there was no “Islamic conquest” yet Islam spread at an extraordinary rate.
·      Today the fastest growing religion in America and Europe is Islam.  The Muslims in these lands are a minority.  The only sword they have in their possession is the sword of truth.  It is this sword that is converting thousands to Islam.
·      Islamic law protects the privileged status of minorities, and that is why non-Muslim places of worship have flourished all over the Islamic world.  Islamic law also allows non-Muslim minorities to set up their own courts, which implement family laws drawn up by the minorities themselves.  The life and property of all citizens in an Islamic state are considered sacred whether they are Muslims or not.


It is clear, therefore, that Islam did not spread by the sword.  The “sword of Islam” did not convert all the non-Muslim minorities in Muslim countries.  In India, where Muslims ruled for 800 years, they are still a minority.  In the U.S.A., Islam is the fastest growing religion and has over six million followers.
In his book The World’s Religions, Huston Smith discusses how the prophet Muhammad granted freedom of religion to the Jews and Christians under Muslim rule:
The Prophet had a document drawn up in which he stipulated that Jews and Christians “shall be protected from all insults and harm; they shall have an equal right with our own people to our assistance and good offices,” and further, “they shall practice their religion as freely as the Muslims.”[2]
Smith points out that Muslims regard that document as the first charter of freedom of conscience in human history and the authoritative model for those of every subsequent Muslim state.

[1] In his book Islam at the Crossroads, p.8.
[2] Quoted in The World’s Religions by Huston Smith, Harper Collins, 1991, p. 256

What Does Islam Say about Terrorism?

Islam, a religion of mercy, does not permit terrorism.  In the Quran, God has said:
“God does not forbid you from showing kindness and dealing justly with those who have not fought you about religion and have not driven you out of your homes.  God loves just dealers.” (Quran 60:8)
The Prophet Muhammad, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him, used to prohibit soldiers from killing women and children,[1]  and he would advise them: “...Do not betray, do not be excessive, do not kill a newborn child.”[2]  And he also said: “Whoever has killed a person having a treaty with the Muslims shall not smell the fragrance of Paradise, though its fragrance is found for a span of forty years.”[3]
Also, the Prophet Muhammad has forbidden punishment with fire.[4]
He once listed murder as the second of the major sins,[5]  and he even warned that on the Day of Judgment, “The first cases to be adjudicated between people on the Day of Judgment will be those of bloodshed.[6][7]
Muslims are even encouraged to be kind to animals and are forbidden to hurt them.  Once the Prophet Muhammad said: “A woman was punished because she imprisoned a cat until it died.  On account of this, she was doomed to Hell. While she imprisoned it, she did not give the cat food or drink, nor did she free it to eat the insects of the earth.”[8]
He also said that a man gave a very thirsty dog a drink, so God forgave his sins for this action.  The Prophet, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him, was asked, “Messenger of God, are we rewarded for kindness towards animals?”  He said: “There is a reward for kindness to every living animal or human.”[9]
Additionally, while taking the life of an animal for food, Muslims are commanded to do so in a manner that causes the least amount of fright and suffering possible.  The Prophet Muhammad said: “When you slaughter an animal, do so in the best way.  One should sharpen his knife to reduce the suffering of the animal.”[10]
In light of these and other Islamic texts, the act of inciting terror in the hearts of defenseless civilians, the wholesale destruction of buildings and properties, the bombing and maiming of innocent men, women, and children are all forbidden and detestable acts according to Islam and the Muslims.  Muslims follow a religion of peace, mercy, and forgiveness, and the vast majority have nothing to do with the violent events some have associated with Muslims.  If an individual Muslim were to commit an act of terrorism, this person would be guilty of violating the laws of Islam.

[1] Narrated in Saheeh Muslim, #1744, and Saheeh Al-Bukhari, #3015.
[2] Narrated in Saheeh Muslim, #1731, and Al-Tirmizi, #1408.
[3] Narrated in Saheeh Al-Bukhari, #3166, and Ibn Majah, #2686.
[4] Narrated in Abu-Dawood, #2675.
[5] Narrated in Saheeh Al-Bukhari, #6871, and Saheeh Muslim, #88.
[6] This means killing and injuring.
[7] Narrated in Saheeh Muslim, #1678, and Saheeh Al-Bukhari, #6533.
[8] Narrated in Saheeh Muslim, #2422, and Saheeh Al-Bukhari, #2365.
[9] This saying of Muhammad has been mentioned in more detail on this page.  Narrated in Saheeh Muslim, #2244, and Saheeh Al-Bukhari, #2466.
[10] Narrated in Saheeh Muslim, #1955, and Al-Tirmizi, #1409.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Can Taking a Life be Justified?.........

The religion  of Islam includes a basic set of rules designed to protect the rights and freedoms of individuals and communities.  It is a doctrine concerned with respect, tolerance, justice, and equality.  The Islamic concepts of freedom and human rights are imbedded in  and guaranteed by  the Sharia (Islamic Law).  Islam establishes a legal framework, and embodies a code of ethics, designed to protect the rights of an individual including his or her right to live in a secure community.
Prophet Muhammad said, “Whosoever wakes up (in the morning) feeling that he is secure in his community, free from ailments and diseases in his body, and has enough provision for a single day, it is as if he owns the entire world.”[1]
The Sharia is concerned with preserving five basic rights: the right to practice religion, the protection of life, the safeguarding of the mind or intellect, the preservation of honour and family, and the sanctity of wealth and property.  It is  a moral and ethical base in which individual rights are upheld but  not permitted to overshadow the rights of the community.
Islamic law  contains comprehensive principles and general rules  that take into consideration the changing circumstances of society, as well as the constancy and permanence of human nature.  While the Sharia combines stability, flexibility, and firmness, it has set down immutable punishments for certain crimes, that are not affected by changing conditions and circumstances.  One of these punishments is the death penalty.
There are only two categories of crimes for which the death penalty can be applied under Sharia law.  One is murder and the other is for crimes against the community (sometimes known as spreading mischief).  One of the core principles of Islam is that a cohesive and secure community is absolutely paramount.  Crimes that threaten the community include treason, apostasy (when one leaves the religion of Islam and actively turns against it), , piracy, rape, adultery, practising magic and homosexual activity.
“We ordained ...that if anyone killed a person not in retaliation of murder, or (and) to spread mischief in the land - it would be as if he killed all mankind, and if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of all mankind.” (Quran 5:32)
One of the most grave sins is the intentional taking of a life.  When Prophet Muhammad, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him, was asked what the major sins were, he said, “Associating others with God, disobeying one’s parents, murder and bearing false witness.”[2]  God says,
“And whoever kills a believer intentionally, his recompense is Hell to abide therein; and the Wrath and the Curse of God are upon him, and a great punishment is prepared for him” (Quran 4:93)
It is important to understand that there is no place for vigilantism in Islam.  A person accused of a crime must be properly convicted in an Islamic court of law before any  punishment can be meted out.  In the case of the death penalty the  severity of the punishment requires that very strict evidence standards must be met before a conviction is found.
There are three categories of punishment in the Sharia.  Hadd punishments, for crimes against the community are those that are divinely prescribed in the Quran or the authentic traditions of Prophet Muhammad.  They cannot be changed.  These punishments can only be carried out by a Muslim ruler or his deputy.  It is not permissible for individual Muslims to carry out the hadd punishments (which  sometimes include the death penalty) because of the chaos and tribulation it would cause in the community.  
The second form of punishment, specifically  for  murder or serious assault, is called Qisas. Whenever a person causes physical harm or death to another, the injured or family of the deceased has the right to retaliation.  A unique aspect of Qisas, is that the victim’s family has the option to insist upon the punishment, accept monetary recompense, or forgive the offender, which could even avert the death penalty.[3]  Quran urges families and victims to forgive and show mercy even in the direst of circumstances.
“And there is (a saving of) life for you in Al-Qisas (the Law of Equality in punishment), Oh men of understanding, that you may become pious.” (Quran 2:179)
All other crimes fall into the third category, Tazir, which is a discretionary punishment decided by the court.
God sent down His book of guidance the Quran, He gave humankind Islam, the final message and completion of all religions, He sent Prophet Muhammad, a man capable of leading humankind into a new era of tolerance, respect, and justice.  The words of Quran and the authentic traditions of Prophet Muhammad contain rights and responsibilities granted by God to humankind.  They are not subject to the whims and desires of men and women or the changing allegiances of governments and corporations.
Islamic law, the Sharia, God’s laws  are embed with justice, mercy and forgiveness; it does not involve taking human life unnecessarily.
“We sent our messengers with clear signs and sent down with them the Book and the Balance so that men may conduct themselves with justice.” (Quran 57:25)
“O you who believe, be upholders of justice, witnessing for God alone.” (Quran 4:135)
Even on the rare occasions when the death penalty is called for it is carried out under humane conditions and holds the promise of forgiveness and eternal paradise.  Prophet Muhammad said, “Swear allegiance to me that you will not worship anything besides God, Will not steal, and will not commit illegal sexual intercourse.”  And then (the Prophet) recited from the Quran and added, “And whoever among you fulfils his pledge, his reward is with God.  Whoever commits something of such sins and receives the legal punishment for it, that will be considered as the expiation for that sin.  Whoever commits something of such sins and God screens him, it is up to God whether to excuse or punish him.”
Postscript.  It must be noted that individuals, groups and countries have perpetrated great crimes in the name of Islam and in the name of Sharia law.  Men women and children have been condemned to death without the benefit of the strict evidence standards demanded by the Sharia and without the sense of justice and forgiveness that are characteristic of the teachings of Quran and the authentic traditions of Prophet Muhammad.

[1] At-Tirmidhi
[2] Saheeh Al-Bukhari, Saheeh Muslim
[3] Punishment in Islam: An Eye For An Eye?” Al-Haramain Online Newsletter, Volume 4, Issue 8, July 2000.

Crime and Punishment in Islam (all parts)

Crime and Punishment in Islam (part 1 of 5): Introduction

Security and stability are basic human needs, no less important than food and clothing.  Without security and stability, a human being is not able to properly conduct his daily life, let alone come up with new ideas or contribute to the development of a high level of civilization.
Man has been conscious of the need for security since the beginning of his life on Earth, and he has continuously expressed his awareness of this need in many ways.  With the formation and evolution of human society, he has expressed this and other needs through the establishment of a state and the formation of laws.  This was accomplished in order to ensure general security, settle disputes and conflicts that threaten society, and oppose external threats to its security posed by other nations.  The development of these man-made laws did not come to completion except in the last few centuries as the result of a long process of trial and error.
By contrast, the Law of Islam was sent down to Muhammad, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him, in its complete form as part of His final message to humanity.  Islamic Law pays the most careful attention to this matter and provides a complete legal system.  It takes into consideration the changing circumstances of society as well as the constancy and permanence of human nature.  Consequently, it contains comprehensive principles and general rules suitable for dealing with all the problems and circumstances that life may bring in any time or place.  Likewise, it has set down immutable punishments for certain crimes that are not affected by changing conditions and circumstances.  In this way, Islamic Law combines between stability, flexibility, and firmness.
From what angle does Islam approach combating crime?  What are the principles that the Islamic penal code is based upon?  What are the distinguishing features of this code?  What are the measures that it employs to combat crime?  What types of punishments exist in Islam?  What are the objectives behind their being legislated?  These are the questions that will be dealt with in the following pages.

The Islamic Approach to Combating Crime

The ultimate objective of every Islamic legal injunction is to secure the welfare of humanity in this world and the next by establishing a righteous society.  This is a society that worships God and flourishes on the Earth, one that wields the forces of nature to build a civilization wherein every human being can live in a climate of peace, justice and security.  This is a civilization that allows a person to fulfill his every spiritual, intellectual, and material need and cultivate every aspect of his being.  This supreme objective is articulated by the Quran in many places.  God says:
“We have sent our Messengers with clear signs and have sent down with them the book and the criterion so that man can establish justice.  And we sent down iron of great strength and many benefits for man...” (Quran 57:25)
And He says:
“…God wants ease for you, not hardship...” (Quran 2:185)
And He says:
“God wants to make things clear for you and to guide you to the ways of those before you and to forgive you.  God is the All knowing, the Wise.  God wants to forgive you and wants those who follow their desires to turn wholeheartedly towards (what is right).  God wants to lighten your burdens, and He has created man weak.” (Quran 4:26-28)
And He says:
“God commands justice, righteousness, and spending on ones relatives, and prohibits licentiousness, wrongdoing, and injustice…” (Quran 16:90)
Since the Islamic legal injunctions are aimed at achieving human welfare, they can all be referred back to universal principles which are necessary for human welfare to be secured.  These universal principles are:
1.    The preservation of life.
2.    The preservation of religion.
3.    The preservation of reason.
4.    The preservation of lineage.
5.    The preservation of property.
The Islamic penal system is aimed at preserving these five universal necessities.  To preserve life, it prescribes the law of retribution.  To preserve religion, it prescribes the punishment for apostasy.  To preserve reason, it prescribes the punishment for drinking.  To preserve lineage, it prescribes the punishment for fornication.  To preserve wealth, it prescribes the punishment for theft.  To protect all of them, it prescribes the punishment for highway robbery.
It should therefore become clear to us why the crimes for which Islam for which the Law has prescribed fixed punishments are as follows:
1.    Transgression against life (murder or assault).
2.    Transgression against property (theft).
3.    Transgression against lineage (fornication and false accusations of adultery).
4.    Transgression against reason (using intoxicants).
5.    Transgression against religion (apostasy).
6.    Transgression against all of these universal needs (highway robbery).

Crime and Punishment in Islam (part 2 of 5): Forms of Punishment in Islam

Distinguishing Features of the Islamic Penal System

In the aforementioned principles, Islamic Law and contemporary law coincide, though Islamic Law has the distinction of being first.  However, the Islamic penal system also has unique virtues and distinguishing features, among the most important of which are the following:
1.    The inner deterrent of man’s moral conscience is fully integrated with external supervision.  This is due to the fact that Islamic Law, when dealing with social problems such as crime, does not rely merely on legislation and external deterrents.  It focuses more on the internal deterrent, placing the greatest emphasis on man’s moral conscience.  It endeavors to develop this conscience within a person from childhood so that he can be brought up with the noblest moral character.
It promises success and salvation for those who work righteousness and warns wrongdoers of an evil fate.  In this way, it stirs up emotions, making a criminal renounce his ways by inspiring him with faith in God, hope for divine mercy, fear of divine punishment, adherence to moral virtues, love for others, and a desire to do good to others and refrain from causing injury and harm.
2.    It has a balanced outlook with respect to the relationship between the individual and society.  This becomes clear from the fact that while the Divine Law protects society by legislating punishments and preventative measures against crimes, it does not marginalize the individual for the sake of society.  On the contrary, its priority is the protection of the individual, his freedom, and his rights.  It provides every safeguard to leave no excuse for a person to have to resort to crime.  It does not set out to punish without first preparing for the individual a situation conducive to a virtuous and happy life.

Forms of Punishment in Islam

Islamic Law, in confronting the problems of life and setting down solutions for them, is established on two complimentary principles.  These are: the stability and permanence of its basic tenets on the one hand and the dynamism of its subsidiary injunctions on the other.
For the unchanging aspects of life, Islamic Law brings fixed statutes.  For the dynamic aspects of life that are affected by social development, broadening horizons, and advances in knowledge, Islamic Law comes with general principles and universal rules capable of being applied in a number of different ways and in a variety of circumstances.
When we apply these principles to the penal system, we find that Islamic Law has come with clear texts prescribing fixed punishments for those crimes that no society is free of, crimes that do not vary in their forms because they are connected with the constant and unchanging factors of human nature.
Islamic Law confronts other crimes by stating the general principle that decisively indicates their prohibition, leaving the punishment to be decided by the proper political authority in society.  The political authority can then take the particular circumstances of the criminal into consideration and determine the most effective way to protect society from harm.  In accordance with this principle, punishments in Islamic Law are of three types:
1. Prescribed punishments
2. Retribution
3. Discretionary punishments

Crime and Punishment in Islam (part 3 of 5): ‘Hudood’-Prescribed Punishments

1.      Prescribed Punishments

Crimes that fall under this category can be defined as legally prohibited acts that God forcibly prevents by way of fixed, predetermined punishments, the execution of which is considered the right of God.
These punishments have certain peculiarities that set them apart from others.  Among these are the following:
1.    These punishments can neither be increased nor decreased.
2.    These punishments cannot be waived by the judge, the political authority, or the victim after their associated crimes have been brought to the attention of the governing body.  Before these crimes are brought before the state, it may be possible for the victim to pardon the criminal if the damage done was only personal.
3.    These punishments are the ‘right of God’, meaning that the legal right involved is of a general nature where the greater welfare of society is considered.
The following crimes fall under the jurisdiction of the fixed punishments:

1.      Theft

Theft is defined as covertly taking the wealth of another party from its secure location with the intention of taking possession of it.

2.      Highway Robbery

Highway robbery is defined as the activity of an individual or a group of individuals who go out in strength into the public thoroughfare with the intention of preventing passage or with the intention of seizing the property of passers-by or otherwise inflicting upon them bodily harm.

3.      Fornication and Adultery

This is defined as any case where a man has coitus with a woman who is unlawful to him.  Any relationship between a man and a woman that is not inclusive of coitus does not fall under this category and does not mandate the prescribed, fixed punishment.

4.      False Accusation

This is defined as accusing the chaste, innocent person of fornication or adultery.  It also includes denying the lineage of a person from his father (which implies that his parents committed fornication of adultery).  False accusation includes any claim of fornication or adultery that is not backed up by a proof acceptable to Islamic Law.

5.      Drinking

One of the most important objectives of Islam is the realization of human welfare and the avoidance of what is harmful.  Because of this, it “permits good things and prohibits harmful things.”  Islam, thus, protects the lives of people as well as their rational faculties, wealth, and reputations.  The prohibition of wine and the punishment for drinking it are among the laws that clearly show Islam’s concern for these matters, because wine is destructive of all the universal needs, having the potential to destroy life, wealth, intellect, reputation, and religion.
God says:
“O you who believe!  Verily wine, gambling, idols, and divination are but the abominations of Satan’s handiwork, so abandon these things that perchance you will be successful.  Satan only wishes to cause enmity and hatred between you through wine and gambling and to prevent you from the remembrance of God and prayer.  Will you not then desist?” (Quran 5:90-91)

6.      Apostasy

Apostasy is defined as a Muslim making a statement or performing an action that takes him out of the fold of Islam.  The punishment prescribed for it in the Sunnah is execution, and it came as a remedy for a problem that existed at the time of the Prophet, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him.  This problem was that a group of people would publicly enter into Islam together then leave Islam together in order to cause doubt and uncertainty in the hearts of the believers.  The Quran relates this event to us:
“A group from the People of the Scripture said: ‘Believe in what is revealed to those who believe at the beginning of the day, then disbelieve at the end of the day, so perhaps they might return from faith.” (Quran 3:72)
Thus, the prescribed punishment for apostasy was instituted so that apostasy could not be used as a means of causing doubt in Islam.
At the same time, the apostate is given time to repent, so if he has a misconception or is in doubt about something, then his cause of doubt can be removed and the truth clarified to him.  He is encouraged to repent for three days.

Crime and Punishment in Islam (part 4 of 5): Retribution and Discretionary Punishments

2.      Retribution

This is the second type of punishment in Islamic Law.  This is where the perpetrator of the crime is punished with the same injury that he caused to the victim.  If the criminal killed the victim, then he is killed.  If he cut off or injured a limb of the victim, then his own limb will be cut off or injured if it is possible without killing the criminal.  Specialists are used to make this determination.

Important Rules Regarding Retribution

1.    Retribution is not lawful except where the killing or injury was done deliberately.  There is no retribution for accidentally killing or injuring someone.  God says:
“O you who believe, retribution is prescribed for you in the case of murder...” (Quran 2:178)
And He says:
“…There is retribution in wounds...” (Quran 5:45)
2.    In the crimes where the criminal directly transgresses against another, Islam has given the wish of the victim or his family an important role in deciding whether or not the punishment should be carried out.  Islam permits the victim to pardon the perpetrator, because the punishment in these crimes is considered the right of the victim.  Islam even encourages pardon, promising a reward in the hereafter for the one who does.  God says:
“If anyone waives the right to retaliation out of charity, it shall be an expiation for him.” (Quran 5:45)
The pardon can either be to the payment of blood money, a fixed, monetary compensation, or can be total, where no worldly compensation is demanded.  God says:
“To forgive it is closer to piety...” (Quran 2:237)
3.    The punishment must be carried out by the government.  The family of the victim cannot carry it out.

The Wisdom behind Retribution:

With regard to Islamic punishments in general, and retribution in specific, we find that they have two complementary characteristics.  The first of these is the severity of the punishment.  This is in order to discourage the crime and limit its occurrence.
The second characteristic is the difficulty of establishing guilt, reducing the opportunities for carrying out the punishment, and protecting the accused.  In this vein, we see the principle that punishments are waived in the presence of doubt, and that the benefit of the doubt is always given to the accused.  Some prescribed punishments are even waived on the grounds of repentance, as we can see in the case of highway robbery.  This is also seen in the permissibility of pardon in the case of retribution and the fact that pardon is encouraged and preferred.
These two elements complement each other in that crime is effectively discouraged, protecting society, and the rights of the accused are safeguarded by the fact that speculation and accusations cannot be grounds for punishment, and that the accused enjoys the greatest guarantee of justice and being spared the punishment whenever possible.  Most people will abstain from committing crime, because of the severity of the punishment, and the punishments for these crimes will rarely be carried out.  In this way, the general security of society and the rights of the individual are equally realized.

3.      Discretionary Punishments

These are punishments that are not fixed by Islamic Law, for crimes that either infringe on the rights of God or the rights of an individual, but do not have a fixed punishment or a set expiation.
Discretionary punishments are the broadest category of punishments, because the crimes that have fixed punishments are few in number and all other crimes fall under the scope of this last category.
They are the most flexible type of punishment, because they take into consideration the needs of society and changing social conditions.  Consequently, they are flexible enough to realize the maximum general benefit to society, effectively reform the criminal, and reduce the harm that he causes.
Islamic Law has defined different types of discretionary punishments starting from exhortations and reprimands to flogging, to fines, and to imprisonment.  These discretionary measures are left to the decision of the legal authorities within the general framework of Islamic Law and the universal purposes of Islam that balance between the right of society to be protected from crime and the right of the individual to have his freedoms protected.

Crime and Punishment in Islam (part 5 of 5): The Objectives of the Islamic Penal System

The Objectives of the Islamic Penal System

The Islamic penal system has many objectives, the most important of which are as follows:
The First Objective: Islam seeks to protect society from the dangers of crime.  It is common knowledge that if crimes are not countered with serious punishments, then society will be in grave danger.  Islam seeks to make social stability and security widespread, making life in society secure and peaceful.  It has made this consideration a platform for action, legislating punishments that will discourage crime.  This purpose has been articulated by the following verse that discusses retribution and its effects on society:
“There is (preservation of) life for you in retribution, O people of understanding, that you may become pious.” (Quran 2:179)
If the murderer, or any other criminal for that matter, knows the extent of the negative consequences for himself that his crime will cause, he will think a thousand times before committing it.  Awareness of the punishment will cause the criminal to abstain from committing the crime in two ways.  The criminal who has already been subject to the punishment will most likely not return to the crime again.  As for the rest of society, their awareness of the effects of this punishment will keep them from falling into the crime.  To realize a general effect from the punishment, Islam has established the principle of publicly announcing when it will be carried out.  God says:
“…A group of the believers should witness the punishment.” (Quran 24:2)
The Second Objective: Islam seeks to reform the criminal.  The Quran often makes mention of repentance in association with the crimes that it deals with, making it clear that the door to repentance is open whenever the criminal abandons his crime and behaves properly.  It has made repentance a means of waiving a fixed punishment in some instances, like the punishment for highway robbery.  God says:
“…except for those who repent before you take hold of them.  Then know that God is the Forgiving, the Merciful.” (Quran 5:34)
God says regarding the punishment for fornication:
“It they both repent and mend their ways, then leave them alone.  Verily, God is the Accepter of repentance, the Merciful.” (Quran 4:16)
God says after mentioning the punishment for false accusation:
“… except for those who repent afterwards and makes amends, then verily God is the Forgiving, the Merciful.”
God says after mentioning the prescribed punishment for theft:
“Whoever repents after his wrongdoing and makes amends, then verily God will accept his repentance and verily God is the Forgiving, the Merciful.” (Quran 5:39)
This objective is seen more frequently with regard to discretionary punishments, whereby it is incumbent upon the judge to take into consideration the circumstances of the criminal and what will insure his betterment.
The Third Objective: The punishment is a recompense for the crime.  It is undesirable to treat a criminal lightly who threatens the security of society with danger.  The criminal should receive his just recompense as long as he is pleased with taking the path of evil instead of the path of righteousness.  It is the right of society to be secure in its safety and the safety of its individual members.  The Quran has asserted this objective when mentioning a number of punishments.  God says:
“The thieves, male and female, cut off their hands as a recompense for what they have earned...” (Quran 5:38)
“The recompense for those who wage violent transgression against God and His Messenger and who go forth spreading corruption in the Earth is that they should be killed or crucified or that their hands and feet should be cut off on alternate sides or that they should be sent into exile…” (Quran 5:33)

Islam in China.....all parts

Islam in China (part 1 of 2)

The ‘Great Mosque of Guangzhou’ is also known as Huaisheng Mosque which means ‘Remember the Sage’ (A Memorial Mosque to the Prophet) and is also popularly called the ‘Guangta Mosque’ which translates as ‘The Beacon Tower Mosque’.  Huaisheng Mosque is located on Guantgta Road (Light Pagoda Road) which runs eastwards off Renmin Zhonglu.
Prior to 500 CE and hence before the establishment of Islam, Arab seafarers had established trade relations with the “Middle Kingdom” (China).  Arab ships bravely set off from Basra at the tip of the Arabian Gulf and also from the town of Qays (Siraf) in the Persian Gulf.  They sailed the Indian Ocean passing Sarandip (Sri Lanka) and navigated their way through the Straits of Malacca which were between the Sumatran and Malaysian peninsulas en route to the South China Sea.  They established trading posts on the southeastern coastal ports of Quanzhou and Guangzhou.  Some Arabs had already settled in China and probably embraced Islam when the first Muslim deputation arrived, as their families and friends back in Arabia, had already embraced Islam during the Prophet’s revelation (610-32).
Guangzhou is called Khanfu by the Arabs who later set up a Muslim quarter which became a centre of commerce.  Guangzhou’s superior geographical position made it play an important role as the oldest trading and international port city in China.  Witnessing a series of historical events, China has become a significant place in history and one of the fastest growing regions in the world enjoying unprecedented prosperity.
Whilst an Islamic state was founded by Prophet Muhammad, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him, China was enduring a period of unification and defense.  Early Chinese annals mentioned Muslim Arabs and called their kingdom al-Medina (of Arabia).  Islam in Chinese is called “Yisilan Jiao” (meaning “Pure Religion”).  A Chinese official once described Mecca as being the birthplace of Buddha Ma-hia-wu (i.e. Prophet Muhammad).
There are several historical versions relating to the advent of Islam in China.  Some records claim Muslims first arrived in China in two groups within as many months from Abyssinia (Ethiopia).
Ethiopia was the land where some early Muslims first fled in fear from the persecution of the Quraysh tribe in Mecca.  Among that group of refugees were one of Prophet Muhammad’s daughters Ruqayya, her husband Uthman ibn Affan, Sad Ibn Abi Waqqas and many other prominent Companions who migrated on the advice of the Prophet.  They were successfully granted political asylum by the Abyssinian  King Atsmaha Negus in the city of Axum (c.615 CE).
However, some Companions never returned to Arabia.  They may have traveled on in the hope of earning their livelihood elsewhere and may have eventually reached China by land or sea during the Sui Dynasty (581-618 CE).  Some records relate that Sad Ibn Abi Waqqas and three other Companions sailed to China in c.616 CE from Abyssinia (Ethiopia) with the backing of the king of Abyssinia.  Sad then returned to Arabia, bringing a copy of the Holy Quran back to Guangzhou some 21 years later, which appropriately coincides with the account of Liu Chih who wrote “The Life of the Prophet” (12 vols).
One of the Companions who lived in China is believed to have died in c.635 CE and was buried in the western urban part of Hami.  His tomb is known as “Geys’ Mazars” and is revered by many in the surrounding region.  It is in the northwestern autonomous province of Xingjian (Sinkiang) and about 400 miles east of the latter’s capital, Urumqi.  Xingjian is four times the size of Japan, shares its international border with eight different nations and is home to the largest indigenous group of Turkic-speaking Uyghurs.  Hence, as well as being the largest Islamized area of China, Xingjian is also of strategic importance geographically.
The Quran states in unequivocal words that Muhammad was sent only as a Mercy from God to all peoples (21:107), and in another verse:
“We have not sent thee but as a Mercy to all Mankind…” (34:28)
This universality of Islam facilitated its acceptance by people from all races and nations and is amply demonstrated in China where the indigenous population, of ethnic varieties of Chinese Muslims today is greater than the population of many Arab countries including that of Saudi Arabia.
The history of Huaisheng Mosque represents centuries of Islamic culture dating right back to the mid-seventh century during the T’ang Dynasty (618-907) - “the golden age of Chinese history”.  It was in this period, eighteen years after the death of the Prophet, that Islam - the last of the three monotheistic religions - was first introduced to China by the third Caliph, Uthman Ibn ‘Affan (644-656 CE/23-35 AH ).
Uthman was one of the first to embrace Islam and memorize the Holy Quran.  He possessed a mild and gentle nature and he married Ruqayyah and following her death, Umm Kulthum (both were daughters of the Prophet).  Consequently he was given the epithet of ‘Dhu-n-Nurayn’ (the one with the two lights).  Uthman was highly praised for safeguarding the manuscripts of the Quran against disputes by ordering its compilation from the memories of the Companions and sending copies to the four corners of the Islamic Empire.
Uthman sent a delegation to China led by Sad Ibn Abi Waqqas (d. 674 CE/55 AH) who was a much loved maternal uncle of the Prophet and one of the most famous Companions who converted to Islam at the age of just seventeen.  He was a veteran of all the battles and one of the ten who it is reported that the Prophet said were assured a place in paradise.
In Medina, Sad, using his ability in architecture added an Iwan (an arched hall used by a Persian Emperor) as a worship area.  He later laid the foundation of what was to be the first Mosque in China where early Islamic architecture forged a relationship with Chinese architecture.
According to the ancient historical records of the T’ang Dynasty, an emissary from the kingdom of al-Medina led by Sad Ibn Abi Waqqas and his deputation of Companions, who sailed on a special envoy to China in c.650 CE, via the Indian Ocean and the China Sea to the famous port of Guangzhou, thence traveled overland to Chang’an (present day Xi’an) via what was later known as the “Silk Route”.

Islam in China (part 2 of 2)

Sad and his deputation brought presents and were warmly received at the royal court by the T’ang Emperor Kao-tsung, (r. 650-683) in c.651 CE, despite a recent plea of support against the Arabs forwarded to the Emperor in that same year by Shah Peroz (the ruler of Sassanid Persia).  The latter was a son of Yazdegerd who, along with the Byzantines, already had based their embassies in China over a decade earlier.  Together they were the two great powers of the west.  A similar plea made to Emperor Tai Tsung (r.627-649) against the simultaneous spread of Muslim forces was refused.
First news of Islam had already reached the T’ang royal court during the reign of Emperor Tai Tsung when he was informed by an embassy of the Sassanid king of Persia, as well as the Byzantiums of the emergence of the Islamic rule.  Both sought protection from the might of China.  Nevertheless, the second year of Kao-tsung’s reign marks the first official visit by a Muslim ambassador.
The emperor, after making enquiries about Islam, gave general approval to the new religion which he considered to be compatible with the teachings of Confucius.  But he felt that the five daily canonical prayers and a month of fasting were requirements too severe for his taste and he did not convert.  He allowed Sad Ibn Abi Waqqas and his delegation freedom to propagate their faith and expressed his admiration for Islam which consequently gained a firm foothold in the country.
Sad later settled in Guangzhou and built the Huaisheng Mosque which was an important event in the history of Islam in China.  It is reputedly the oldest surviving mosque in the whole of China and is over 1300 years old.  It survived through several historical events which inevitably took place outside its door step.  This mosque still stands in excellent condition in modern Guangzhou after repairs and restorations.
Its contemporary Da Qingzhen Si (Great Mosque) of Chang’an (present day  Xi’an) in Shaanxi Province was founded in c.742 CE.  It is the largest (12,000 sq metres) and the best early mosque in China and it has been beautifully preserved as it expanded over the centuries.  The present layout was constructed by the Ming Dynasty in c.1392 CE, a century before the fall of Granada, under its (ostensible) founder Hajj Zheng He who has a stone tablet at the mosque in commemoration of his generous support, which was provided by the grateful Emperor.
A fine model of the Great Mosque with all its surrounding walls and the magnificent, elegant appearance of its pavilions and courtyards can be seen at the Hong Kong Museum placed gracefully besides the model of the Huaisheng Mosque.  I was fortunate to visit the real mosque last year during Asr prayer, after which I met the Imam who showed me an old handwritten Quran and presented me with a white cap.
Walking to the prayer hall is like sleepwalking through an oriental oasis confined in a city forbidden for the impure.  A dragon symbol is engraved at the footstep of the entrance opposite the prayer hall demonstrating the meeting between Islam and the Chinese civilisation.  All in all it is a dazzling encounter of the architecture of Oriental China with that of the indigenous fashionable taste of Harun ar-Rashid (147-194 AH/764-809 CE) of Baghdad - a newly founded city that was to become the greatest between Constantinople and China, fifty years after the time of Harun.
The Sheng-You Si (Mosque of the Holy Friend), also known as the Qingjing Si (Mosque of Purity) and Al-Sahabah Mosque (Mosque of Companions), was built with pure granite in 1009 CE during the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127).  Its architectural design and style was modeled on the Great Mosque of Damascus (709-15) in Syria thus making the pair the oldest extant Mosques to survive (in original form) into the twenty-first century.
Qingjing Mosque is located at “Madinat al-Zaytun” (Quanzhou) or, in English, “City of Olives” in Fujian Province, where also two Companions of the Prophet who accompanied Sa’d Ibn Abi Waqqas’s envoy to China are buried.  They are known to the locals by their Chinese names of “Sa-Ke-Zu and Wu-Ku-Su”.
Zhen-Jiao Si (Mosque of the True Religion), also known as Feng-Huang Si (the Phoenix Mosque) in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, is believed to date back from the Tang Dynasty.  It has a multi-storied portal, serving as a minaret and a platform for observing the moon.  The Mosque has a long history and it has been rebuilt and renovated on a number of occasions over the centuries.  It is much smaller than it used to be, especially with the widening of the road in 1929, and it was partly rebuilt in 1953.
The other ancient Mosque is located in the city of Yangzhou in Jiangsu Province, once the busiest city of trade and commerce during the Song Dynasty (960-1280).  Xian-He Si (Mosque of Immortal Crane) is the oldest and largest in the city and was built in c.1275CE by Pu-ha-din, a Muslim preacher who was a sixteenth-generation descendant of the Prophet Muhammad.
According to Chinese Muslim historians, Sad Ibn Abi Waqqas died in Guangzhou where he is believed to be buried.  However Arab scholars differ, stating that Sad died and was buried in Medina amongst other Companions.  One grave definitely exists, while the other is symbolic, God only knows whether it is in China or Medina.  As one can see, the spread of Islam in China was indeed a peaceful one.  The first envoy reached the southeast via the Zhu Jiang (The Pearl River) and was later followed by contact via an overland route from the northwest.  Muslim communities are present over a wide geographical area in China today, including some in the remote places of Tibet, where I once met Tibetan Muslims in the middle of nowhere, while on a trek.

Spread of Islam in West Africa (all part ):

Spread of Islam in West Africa (part 1 of 3): The Empire of Ghana

Muslim geographers and historians have provided excellent records of Muslim rulers and peoples in Africa.  Among them are Al-Khwarzimi, Ibn Munabbah, Al-Masudi, Al-Bakri, Abul Fida, Yaqut, Ibn Batutah, Ibn Khaldun, Ibn Fadlallah al-’Umari, Mahmud al-Kati, Ibn al Mukhtar and Abd al-Rahman al-Sa’di.  Islam reached the Savannah region in the 8th Century C.E., the date the written history of West Africa begins.  Islam was accepted as early as 850 C.E.  by the Dya’ogo dynasty of the Kingdom of Tekur.  They were the first Negro people who accepted Islam.  Trade and commerce paved the way for the introduction of new elements of material culture, and made possible the intellectual development which naturally followed the introduction and spread of literacy.
Eminent Arab historians and African scholars have written on the empires of Ghana, Mali, Songhay, and Kanem Bornu.  They document famous trade routes in Africa - from Sijilmasa to Taghaza, Awdaghast, which led to the empire of Ghana, and from Sijilmasa to Tuat, Gao and Timbikutu.  Al-Bakri describes Ghana as highly advanced and economically a prosperous country as early as the eleventh century.  He also discusses the influence of Islam in Mali in the 13th century and describes the rule of Mansa Musa, whose fame spread to Sudan, North Africa and up to Europe.

Spread of Islam in West Africa

Islam reached the Savannah region in the 8th Century C.E., the date the written history of West Africa begins The Muslim-Arab historians began to write about West Africa in the early 8th century.  The famous scholar Ibn Munabbah wrote as early as 738 C.E., followed by Al-Masudi in 947 C.E.  As Islam spread in the Savannah region, it was quite natural that commercial links should also come to be established with North Africa.  Trade and commerce also paved way for the introduction of new elements of material culture, and made possible the intellectual development which naturally followed the introduction and spread of literacy, and for which parts of the Sudan were to become famous in the centuries to come.  In the Kingdom of Tekur, situated on both banks of the Senegal, Islam was accepted as early as 850 C.E., by the Dya’ogo dynasty.  This dynasty was the first Negro people who accepted Islam.
It was for this reason that Muslim-Arab historians referred to Bilad al-Tekur as ‘The Land of the Black Muslims.’  War-jabi, son of Rabis, was the first ruler of Tekur in whose reign Islam was firmly established in Tekur and the Islamic Shari’ah system was enforced.  This gave a uniform Muslim law to the people.  By the time the Al- Murabitun of Almoravids began their attack on Tekur in 1042 C.E., Islam had made a deep impact on the people of that area.  Al-Idrisi in 1511 described the Tekur Country as ‘secure, peaceful and tranquil.’  The capital town of Tekur was also called Tekur which had become center of commerce.  Merchants used to bring wool to sell there from Greater Morocco and in return, took with them gold and beads.
We have enough documents about the history of this region since it was known to the Arab historians as the Bilad al-Sudan, the land of the Blacks.  In the medieval period, the most well-known empires that grew there are known until our day: The empires of Ghana, Mali, Songhay, and Kanem Bornu.  Eminent Arab historians have written about the glories of these lands, notable among whom are Al-Bakri, Al-Masudi, Ibn Batutah and Ibn Khaldun.  Besides these scholars, there were local scholars whose works have come down to us.  As for example Tarikh al-Sudan, the History of the Sudan, by Al-Sadi and Tarikh al-Fattash by Muhammad al-Kati.
There were famous trade routes, like the one from Sijilmasa to Taghaza, Awdaghast, which led to the empire of Ghana, and another from Sijilmasa to Tuat, Gao and Timbikutu.  There were others which connected the present Nigeria with Tripoli via Fez to Bornu and Tunisia with Nigeria via Ghadames, Ghat, and Agades to Hausa land.  These routes had made all the above mentioned places famous trade centers.  These centers of trade invariably became centers of Islamic learning and civilization.  New ideas came through visiting traders in the field of administrative practices.  We shall study briefly the expansion of Islam in each of the ancient empires of Western Sudan.

Islam in the Ancient Empire of Ghana

Al-Bakri, the Muslim geographer, gives us an early account of the ancient Soninke empire of Ghana.  His Kitab fi Masalik wal Mamalik (The Book of Roads and Kingdoms) describes Ghana of 1068 as highly advanced.  Economically, it was a prosperous country.  The King had employed Muslim interpreters and most of his ministers and treasurers were also Muslims.  The Muslim ministers were learned enough to record events in Arabic and corresponded, on behalf of the king, with other rulers.  “Also, as Muslims, they belonged to the larger body politic of the Islamic world and this would make it possible to establish international relations.”
Al-Bakri gives the following picture of Islam in Ghana in the 11th century:
The city of Ghana consists of two towns lying on a plain, one of which is inhabited by Muslims and is large, possessing 12 mosques one of which is congregational mosque for Friday prayers: each has its Imam, Muezzin and paid reciters of the Quran.  The town possesses a large number of jurists, consults and learned men.

Spread of Islam in West Africa (part 2 of 3): The Empires of Mali and Songhay

Islam in the Empire of Mali

The influence of Islam in Mali dates back to the 15th century when Al-Bakri mentions the conversion of its ruler to Islam.  There was a miserable period of drought which came to an end by offering Muslim prayers and ablutions.  The Empire of Mali arose from the ruins of Ghana Empire.  There are two important names in the history of Islam in Mali: Sundiata (1230-1255) and Mansa Musa (1312-1337).  Sundiata is the founder of the Mali Empire but was a weak Muslim, since he practiced Islam with syncretic practices and was highly disliked by the scholars.  Mansa Musa was, on the other hand, a devout Muslim and is considered to be the real architect of the Mali Empire.  By the time Sundiata died in 1255, a large number of former dependencies of Ghana also came under his power.  After him came Mansa Uli (1255-1270) who had made a pilgrimage to Makkah.
Mansa (Emperor) Musa came to power in 1312 and his fame reached beyond the Sudan, North Africa and spread up to Europe.  Mansa Musa ruled from 1312 to 1337 and in 1324-25 he made his famous pilgrimage to Makkah [Hajj].  When he returned from his pilgrimage, he brought with him a large number of Muslim scholars and architects who built five mosques for the first time with baked bricks.  Thus Islam received its greatest boost during Mansa Musa’s reign.  Many scholars agree that because of his attachment to Islam, Mansa Musa could introduce new ideas to his administration.  The famous traveller and scholar Ibn Batutah came to Mali during Mansa Sulaiman’s reign (1341-1360), and gives an excellent account of Mali’s government and its economic prosperity - in fact, a legacy of Mansa Musa’s policy.  Mansa Musa’s pilgrimage projected Mali’s enormous wealth and potentialities which attracted more and more Muslim traders and scholars.  These Muslim scholars and traders contributed to the cultural and economic development of Mali.  It was during his reign that diplomatic relations were established with Tunis and Egypt, and thus Mali began to appear on the map of the world. 

Islam in the Empire of Songhay

Islam began to spread in the Empire of Songhay some time in the 11th century when the ruling Za or Dia dynasty first accepted it.  It was a prosperous region because of its booming trade with Gao.  By the 13th century it had come under the dominion of the Mali Empire but had freed itself by the end of the 14th century when the dynasty was renamed Sunni.  The frontier of Songhay now expanded and in the 15th century, under the leadership of Sunni ‘Ali, who ruled between 1464-1492, the most important towns of the Western Sudan came under the Songhay Empire.  The great cities of Islamic learning like Timbuktu and Jenne came under his power between 1471-1476.
Sunni ‘Ali’s was a nominal Muslim who used Islam to his ends.  He even persecuted Muslim scholars and practiced local cults and magic.  When the famous scholar Al-Maghilli called him a pagan, he punished him too.  The belief in cults and magic was, however, not something new in Songhay.  It existed in other parts of West Africa until the time the revivalist movements gained momentum in the 18th century.  It is said of Sunni ‘Ali that he tried to compromise between paganism and Islam although he prayed and fasted.  The scholars called it merely a mockery.
Sunni ‘Ali’s syncretism was soon challenged by the Muslim elites and scholars in Timbuktu, which was then a center of Islamic learning and civilization.  The famous family of Agit, of the Berber scholars, had the post of the Chief Justice and were known for their fearless opposition to the rulers.  In his lifetime, Sunni ‘Ali took measures against the scholars of Timbuktu (in 1469 and in 1486).  But on his death, the situation completely changed: Islam and Muslim scholars triumphed.  Muhammad Toure (Towri), a military commander asked Sunni ‘Ali’s successor, Sunni Barou, to appear before the public and make an open confession of his faith in Islam.  When Barou refused to do so, Muhammad Toure ousted him and established a new dynasty in his own name, called the Askiya dynasty.  Sunni ‘Ali may be compared with Sundiata of Mali, and Askiya Muhammad Toure with Mansa Musa, a champion of the cause of Islam.
On his coming to power, he established Islamic law and arranged a large number of Muslims to be trained as judges.  He gave his munificent patronage to the scholars and gave them large pieces of land as gifts.  He became a great friend of the famous scholar Muhammad Al-Maghilli.  It was because of his patronage that eminent Muslim scholars were attracted to Timbuktu, which became a great seat of learning in the 16th century.  Timbuktu has the credit of establishing the first Muslim University, called Sankore University, in West Africa; its name is commemorated until today in Ibadan University where a staff residential area has been named as Sankore Avenue.
Like Mansa Musa of Mali, Askia Muhammad Toure went on a pilgrimage and thus came into close contact with Muslim scholars and rulers in the Arab countries.  In Makkah, the King accorded him great respect; he was turbanned.  The King gave him a sword and the title of the Caliph of the Western Sudan.  On his return from Makkah in the year 1497, he proudly used the title of Al-Hajj. 
Askia took such a keen interest in the Islamic legal system that he asked a number of questions on Islamic theology from his friend Muhammad al-Maghilli.  Al-Maghilli answered his questions in detail which Askia circulated in the Songhay empire.  Some of the questions were about the fundamental structure of the faith, such as ‘who is a true Muslim?’  and “who is a pagan?”  When we read Shehu ‘Uthman Dan Fodio’s works, we can see some of his arguments quoted on the authority of Al-Maghilli.  In other words, Al-Maghilli’s detailed discussions of the issues raised by Askiya Muhammad played a great role in influencing Shehu.

The Spread of Islam in West Africa (part 3 of 3): The Empires of Kanem-Bornu and Hausa-Fulani Land

Islam in Kanem-Bornu Empire

Kanem-Bornu in the 13th century included the region around Lake Chad, stretching as far north as Fezzan.  Kanem today forms the northern part of the Republic of Chad.  Islam was accepted for the first time by the Kanem ruler, Umme-Jilmi, who ruled between 1085-1097 C.E., through a scholar named Muhammad B. Mani, credited for bringing Islam to Kanem-Bornu.  Umme-Jilmi became a devout Muslim.  He left on a pilgrimage but died in Egypt before reaching Makkah.  Al-Bakri also mentions that Umayyad refugees, who had fled from Baghdad following plans to liquidate their dynasty at the hands of the Abbasids, were residing in Kanem [21, 22].
With the introduction of Islam in Kanem, it became the principal focus of Muslim influence in the central Sudan and relations were established with the Arab world in the Middle East and the Maghrib.  Umme’s son Dunama I (1092-1150) also went on a pilgrimage and was crowned in Egypt, while embarking at Suez for Makkah, during the third pilgrimage journey.  During the reign of Dunama II (1221-1259), a Kanem embassy was established in Tunisia around 1257, as mentioned by the famous Andalusian historian Ibn Khaldun (d. 1406 C.E.).  It was almost at the same time that a college and a hostel were established in Cairo, named Madrasah Ibn Rashiq.  Toward the end of the 13th century, Kanem became a center of Islamic knowledge and famous teachers came from Mali to teach in Kanem.  By the middle of the 13th century, Kanem established diplomatic relations with Tuat (in the Algerian Sahara) and with the Hafsid state of Tunis at embassy level.  The Kanem scholars and poets could write classical Arabic of a very high standard.  We have evidence of this in a letter written by the Chief scribe of the Kanem court dating from 1391 to 1392.
The historian Ibn Khaldun calls Dunama II as the ‘King of Kanem and Lord of Bornu,’ because his empire had expanded as far as Kano in the west and Wadai in the east.  It is said that Dunama II opened a Talisman (Munni or Mune), considered sacred by his people, and thus brought a period of hardship to his people.  It was because of his enthusiasm for the religion of Islam that he committed this ‘abomination’ (perhaps the talisman was a traditional symbol of divine (kingship) and alienated many of his subjects).
In the late 14th century, a new capital of the Kanem empire was established in Bornu at Nigazaragamu by ‘Ali b. Dunama, also called ‘Ali Ghazi, who ruled during the period 1476 to 1503.  This thriving capital continued until 1811. ‘Ali revived Islam.  He was keen on learning its principles.  He used to visit the chief Imam ‘Umar Masramba to learn more about the Islamic legal system.  He, by his own example, persuaded the nobility and Chiefs to limit the number of their wives to only four.
The Islamization of Bornu dates from the time of Mai Idris Alooma (1570-1602).  We come to know about him through his chronicler, Ahmad bin Fartuwa.  In the 9th year of his reign, he went on a pilgrimage to Makkah and built a hostel there for pilgrims from Bornu.  He revived the Islamic practices and made all and sundry follow them.  He also set up Qadhis courts to introduce Islamic laws in place of the traditional system of customary law.  He built a large number of brick mosques to replace the existing ones, built with reeds.
In 1810 during the period of Mai Ahmad the glories of the Empire of Bornu came to an end, but its importance, as a center of Islamic learning, continued.

Islam in Hausa-Fulani land

There is a well-known Hausa legend concerning the origin of the Hausa state, attributed to Bayajida (Bayazid) who came from Begh to settle down in Kanem-Bornu.  The ruling Mai of Bornu of that time (we do not have any information about the time) welcomed Bayajida and gave his daughter in marriage to him but at the same time robbed him of his numerous followers.  He fled from the Mai with his wife and came to Gaya Mai Kano and asked the goldsmith of Kano to make a sword for him.  The story tells us that Bayajida helped the people of Kano by killing a supernatural snake which had prevented them from drawing water from a well.  It is said that the queen, named Daura, married him in appreciation of his service to the people.  Bayajida got a son named Bawo from Daura.  Bawo, himself, had seven sons: Biran, Dcura, Katsina, Zaria, Kano, Rano and Gebir, who became the founders of the Hausa states.  Whatever may be the merit of this story, it tries to explain how Hausa language and culture spread throughout the northern states of Nigeria.
Islam came to Hausaland in early 14th century.  About 40 Wangarawa graders are said to have brought Islam with them during the reign of ‘Ali Yaji who ruled Kano during the years 1349-1385.  A mosque was built and a muedthin (one who calls to prayer) was appointed to give adthan (call to prayer) and a judge was named to give religious decisions.  During the reign of a ruler named, Yaqub (1452-1463), one Fulani migrated to Kano and introduced books on Islamic Jurisprudence.  By the time Muhammad Rumfa came into power (1453-1499), Islam was firmly rooted in Kano.  In his reign Muslim scholars came to Kano; some scholars also came from Timbuktu to teach and preach Islam.
Muhammad Rumfa consulted Muslim scholars on the affairs of government.  It was he who had asked the famous Muslim theologian Al-Maghilli to write a book on Islamic government during the latter’s visit to Kano in the 15th century.  The book is a celebrated masterpiece and is called The Obligation of the Princes.  Al-Maghilli later went to Katsina, which had become a seat of learning in the 15th century.  Most of the pilgrims from Makkah would go to Katsina.  Scholars from the Sankore University of Timbuktu also visited the city and brought with them books on divinity and etymology.  In the 13th century, Katsina produced native scholars like Muhammadu Dan Marina and Muhammadu Dan Masina (d. 1667) whose works are available even today.
The literature of Shehu ‘Uthman Dan Fodio, his brother, Abdullahi, and his son Muhammad Bello speaks of the syncretic practices of the Hausa Fulanis at the end of the 18th century.  The movement of ‘Uthman Dan Fodio in 1904 was introduced as a revivalist movement in Islam to remove syncretic practices, and what Shehu called Bid’at al-Shaytaniyya or Devilish Innovations.
The spread of Islam in Africa is owing to many factors, historical, geographical and psychological, as well as its resulting distribution of Muslim communities, some of which we have tried to outline.  Ever since its first appearance in Africa, Islam has continued to grow.  The scholars there have been Africans right from the time of its spread.  Islam has become an African religion and has influenced her people in diverse ways.

Interest and its Role in Economy and Life (part 8 of 8): The Islamic Solution

The Islamic Solution

The Islamic solution to the issue of interest rests upon two basic principles:
(1)  If an individual wishes to lend money to another in order to help the latter, this act must be based on “brotherly principles” and it is absolutely unacceptable to charge any interest in such a case.  It is not helping another individual to put him into a cycle of debt where he has to pay more than what they borrowed.  This principle applies as well to Islamic international relations.  If this important principle were applied today, countries would truly give “aid” and assistance to other countries, rather than sucking them into a pattern of dependency and debt burden.
(2)  If an individual wishes to use his money to make more money, then he must be willing to put his money at risk.  In other words, he cannot guarantee for himself a fixed return (whose amount keeps growing over time) regardless of the result of the investment that his money is used for.  If he puts his money at risk, he is deserving of some share of the profits.  However, this also means that he must accept losses if losses occur.  This is a system that is based on justice.  It also has numerous benefits to it.  The one who invests becomes concerned about the results of his investment and cannot demand his “pound of flesh” regardless of what may occur to the debtor.
This Islamic solution works for individuals as well as for society as a whole.  Banks are essentially financial intermediaries.  They take money from those who have excess money (savings) and turn it over to those who need money for investment purposes.  Interest is not necessary for such a system to work.  The bank and its depositors (shareholders) invest, rather than simply loan, their holdings.  The money is put at risk and the return to the depositors will be based on the amount of profits made in the respective investments.  Under normal circumstances of a growing economy, if the bank is big enough and it diversifies its portfolio, the bank is virtually “guaranteed” a positive return on its total investments.  Thus, those who invest their money with the bank will also receive a positive return on their money without it being guaranteed or fixed ahead of time.
Numerous “Islamic” financial institutions have been set up throughout the world today.  They have been established on the principle of avoiding interest and some of them have flourished.[1]


For the most part, “modern civilization” has decided to turn its back on Divine Guidance (mostly due to the experience in the West with Christianity) and have attempted to construct their own economic systems, political systems, international laws and so on.  When doing so, though, they have to admit that they are attempting something that is beyond their means.  The social sciences are very different from the physical sciences.  There are no labs in which humans can be entered to determine what may be the best results under different scenarios (and even that would have to assume that humans will always react the same under the same circumstances).
In the realm of economics, the first thing that may come to mind is the collapse of the theories of socialism and communism.  One should, though, also take a closer look at capitalism and how far its reality is from what it is supposed to be.  The early capitalist theorists envisioned a theory that would lead to “the best of all possible worlds.”  However, their theories were based on assumptions that never were and will never be fulfilled.  They assumed perfect competition, perfect knowledge, free trade and so forth.  Once these assumptions are violated, which they inevitably are, they do not lead to the “best of all possible worlds.”  Instead, they easily lead to a world of exploitation, wherein the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.  One of the diving forces behind this system is the institutionalization of interest.
God has blessed humans with the guidance of the Quran—a book that has been minutely preserved since its revelation.  This book contains the guidance that humankind needs to lead a successful life in both this world and the Hereafter.  It is therefore no surprise that this book absolutely prohibits and condemns interest in the strongest fashion.

[1] For more details on the theoretical and practical workings of such institutions, see El-Gousi, pp. 199-247; Frank E. Vogel and Samuel L. Hayes III, Islamic Law and Finance: Religion, Risk, and Return (The Hague: Kluwer Law International, 1998), pp. 181-295.