Freedom of opinion in Islam

By Dr. Mohammad Ghitreef (shahbaz Nadwi)*

Imam Sabki, one of the great imams and historians of Islam, said that imam Mohammad and Abu Yosuf (both are the great disciples of Abu Hanifa) had differed with their beloved master so much so that their differences with their teacher nearly stands to be 2/3 of the Hanafi corpus of Fiqh which is the production of a forum of fiqhi discussions, research and dialogues. The forum was consisting nearly on 40 of the disciples of the great master of Fiqh,Abu Hanifa. It clearly means that Mohammad and Abu Yousuf had their own opinions in a major part of Hanafi school of thought. It is a known fact that the forum of discussions ,established by Abu Hanifa, had different talents and various capacities. Some were Hadith scholars, some were scholars of Quran while others had specialization in other branches of learning. When an issue arrived, the great master would open the house for free discussions and every one would give his opinion. Even women of caliber were allowed to do so. AS the daughter of the great Imam himself, named Hanifa, was a fiqh scholar, who was giving her opinions freely on different issues and problems. The great imam was proud of her, that is why after her name, he assumed the surname of Abu Hanifa.(the original name of the imam was Numan bin Sabit)

This shows the true picture of Islam in its golden periods. This was the method of the holy prophet himself, who when an issues arose, and with no divine injunction revealed, generally calls a meeting of selected companions and takes  wide consultations, and after taking in view their opinions he would reach to a certain resolution.

This very approach was very strictly followed by the four righteous and guided caliphs of Islam. As it is testified by a great historian of Islam Ibn Kathir, who has stated how the third caliph Uthman bin Uffan (Ra) was elected to be the third caliph. In fact when the second caliph Umer bin Al-khattab had been stabbed to death by a member of a clandestine cable of conspirators against Islam, a Persian slave Abu loloo, then the great Umer established a council comprising six great companions, and entrusted one of the members of this council ,namely Abdur Rahman bin Auf to take a wide consultation, and through this way should choose the next caliph. Then Abdur Rahman bin Auf took the errand in his hands and accomplished it in the best way. So with a rare zeal, utmost honesty, and without any bias and prejudice towards any candidate, he had done the job. In the words of Ibn Kathir, “Abdur Rahman took consultations  from every man and woman, from women in their household and even from children in their schools, and he included in this franchise the guests and visiting strangers too. He dedicated himself wholly for this job a complete three days’ period. And after the thorough, fair and wide consultations, when he was satisfied to the core, then he called the people to the mosque and took the baiat(بيعة)and allegiance for Uthman as the third caliph of Islam.(vide Albidaya wannihayah volume 7 page:641)

Umer bin Alaas was a great companion famous for his dexterity, stratagem, and political farsighteness, who won Egypt for Islam and consequently was appointed the governor of the same province. Once, his son in a fit of rage and anger had slapped a Coptic Egyptian Christian. The Coptic sued him in the court of the great Umer, the caliph. On his part Umer called not only son, the convicted, but his father Umer bin Al-Aas too, being a potential source of help to his son. And having heard the case, he gave his verdict against the due, and then said his historic sentence which became a maxim in Islamic history, “when you did enslaved the people while their mothers had born them free?” Hence the French philosopher Roussu inspired and said his famous dictum known to every Political science student.

This was the golden period of Islam when every Muslim man and woman was imbibed and imparted the higher and democratic values, but alas! In latter periods of Islamic history the situation was changed and democratic government was replaced by a perpetual series of hereditary monarchies, kingdoms and sultanates. Under their influence there developed a Muslim psyche of love of dictatorship, inhuman rulers and despotism. Now you go and visit Muslim countries and Muslim societies and you find there are small sheikhdoms, tiny states and individual fiefdoms. Yes thanks to the Arab spring, the ice is melting somehow, but larger picture of Muslim world is not different. Common Muslim behavior also has changed to a great extent, higher Islamic human values are replaced with hatred, bitter complaints towards others and readymade fatwas of Takfir (dubbing somebody as kafir and infidel) with clergy especially with Salafi groups ,who promote hate, intolerance and anti Non Muslim feelings among Muslim masses. You dare to differ with them in any point and you are instantly faced with a fatwa to be kafir, no matter how strong your point of view and your argument may be.

*Dr.Mohammd Ghitreef  is the director of Foundation for Islamic Studies ,New Delhi, he can be contacted on:

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