A Few Observations

In response to the messages I have received recently on my last two blogs, I have the following observations to make. Since the basic theme of the messages in both blogs is by and large the same and my worthy critics have raised similar points, I am posting this message as one separate blog to respond to the messages on both the previous blogs.

Mawlana Saleemullah Khan, the teacher of Mawlana Taqi Usmani, has accused the latter of indulging in talfīq. The Arabic term is used to mean an act whereby a Muslim follows another Imam (scholar) even though he has vowed to be a muqallid (blind follower) of a different Imam. This happens to be Mawlana Saleemiullah’s biggest objection to Mawlana Taqi Usmani’s model of Islamic banking. Talfīq is haram (prohibited) according to the conventional scholars who believe in taqlīd (blind following of scholars). It has to be said in defence of Mawlana Taqi Usmani, however, that he was forced to do talfīq because he had no choice. Hanafi fiqh, which the Mawlana otherwise follows blindly, leaves such little space to maneuver in financial matters that he was left with no choice but to partly ignore the principle he himself has so strongly pleaded elsewhere in his much celebrated book on taqlīd. Some of the readers probably don’t know that Mawlana Taqi Usmani is the proud author of a book “Taqlid Ki Shara’i Haisiat” (The Correct Islamic Stance on Taqlīd) . The book strongly pleads that taqlīd is the right approach in Islam.

I must acknowledge that Mufti Taqi Usmani deviated from his stance on taqlīd only in Islamic banking. He hasn’t done it in any other case. In fact, Taqi Usmani Sb is so firm on his stance that when he made his inaugural speech to one of his new classes of specialization (takhassus) in jurisprudence, he clearly told his students that the one who disagreed with the views of Mawlana Ashraf Ali Thanvi, a Hanfi-Deobandi scholar of repute, he should not bother to come to his classes. I am narrating this statement on hearing it from a Mufti Sahib who attended that class.

Now I could be completely unaware of the latest developments in Mawlana Taqi Usmani’s approach. If someone helps me in knowing that he has withdrawn his staunch support for taqlīd and that he has retracted from the contents of his book, I will be delighted to know that and I will applaud him as a great scholar, not that I am not his admirer right now. But has he really withdrawn his stance on taqlīd or is Mawlana Saleemullah’s stance correct that he is guilty of contradicting his own principles in the case of Islamic Banking?

The analogy of a madrassah and an ‘Alim on the one hand with a medical college and a certified doctor on the other is an incorrect one. Quacks in the field of medicine don’t challenge loud and clear that what is happening in the medical colleges is not genuine education on medicine. They simply do their medical practice stealthily despite a clear law that they are not legally allowed to do so. Also, if qualified students of medical colleges don’t perform well, the society would protest against them immediately because the results of their practice would show in the form of poor health and deaths of their patients. How shall we be able to know that ‘spiritual colleges’ are showing good or bad results? Probably the moral performance of the followers of the scholars they produce is a barometer to gauge their effectiveness. But the real result would show on the Day of Judgment when it would be too late to realize whether the decision of following the Madrassah-based religion was correct or not. The only genuine way of knowing the efficacy of these institutions was to urge every user of their services to use his/her intellect while benefitting from their views. Unfortunately is the very faculty which targeted to be made ineffective if not completely killed by the Madrassah scholars when they urge their followers to follow them blindly as a matter of religious duty. They scare people by stating that not doing so – in other words using intellect in religious matters was – prohibited (haram) in Islam.

If those who haven’t studied in Madrassas and yet are participating in spreading Islamic message are quacks, then the following are some of the names of ‘religious quacks’ of our times: Abul Kalam Azad, Dr Israr Ahmad, Dr Ghulam Murtaza Malik, Dr Zakir Naik, Dr Farhat Hashmi, Mr Ahmad Deedat, Mr Javed Ahmad Ghamidi etc. All of them resorted to learning about Islam through their own personal, non-Madrassah-based means.

Interestingly, Mawlana Mawdudi was a ‘semi-quack’, going by the definition of it of the admirers of the Madrassah system. Despite his learning from a conventional Madrassah which he couldn’t complete because of his family problems, he faced massive resistance from the clergy of his times because he committed the cardinal crime of spreading the word of Islam despite not being a Madrassah ‘Alim. Dirty slogans like this one were popularized by our Madrassah-based propaganda machinery: “Aik Maududi Sau Yahudi” (One Maududi is the equivalent of hundred [anti-Islam] Jews).

If we look at the personalities that were responsible, directly or indirectly, for the spreading of Madrassah education in the sub-continent, we find that some of the more prominent ones amongst them weren’t Madrassah graduates themselves. Qasim Nanautvi, the founder of Deoband school, Ahmad Raza Khan Barelvi, the founder of the Barelvi school, and Abdullah Ibn Abdul Wahhab, one of the most significant spiritual leaders of the Ahle Hadith movement in Pakistan, were all quacks by the definition of the term given by the Madrassah enthusiasts.

It is also interesting to note that there have been several instances when the ‘scholars’ have studied from ‘quacks’. I personally know ‘scholars’ who teach at Madrassahs and yet come to one of the ‘quacks’, Mr Javed Ahmad Ghamidi, to learn Arabic and religion from him.

It must also not be forgotten that Madrassas were created during the British rule as a reaction to the British occupation of the sub-continent. If there were elements of extreme conservatism in the structure and constitution of these institutions it wasn’t therefore surprising. The surprising thing however is the fact that what started as a reactionary movement has become in the opinion of many the only institution relevant to solve all the religious problems of the Ummah in the contemporary times. It is like Mawlana Ilyas started preaching to the poor and religiously ignorant Muslim Maiwatis of UP, India by paying them an amount equivalent to their daily wages and taking them out of the hustles of life to teach the very basics of Islam. However, what started as an improvised strategy to educate the very ignorant became the biggest preaching movements of Muslims. Such are the tragedies of the contemporary Muslim Ummah. Of course, the sincerity of the followers of either of these movements is not in question.

If a reality as stark as the tendency of blind following of the elders is continuing to plague the Ummah and hollow its foundations, its criticism has to be shouted repeatedly. If an epidemic continues to stay in a society, its cure needs to be regularly reminded and administered. Like it would be foolish to suggest to the doctors that their efforts to make a society aware for remedying an epidemic should be discontinued because it had become monotonously repetitive, similarly it is unwise to suggest that the curse of taqlīd shouldn’t be lamented anymore because the exercise has already taken too long. When we criticize for religious reasons, we are not in the business of story-telling where repetition makes the message stale. So long as poverty stays we shall continue to raise our voice of concern against it.

If a person claims to be belonging to Al-Mawrid’s way of thinking, he may not necessarily be truly representing the institute’s viewpoint. If an Al-Mawrid’s representative ridicules a scholar belonging to another school of thought, he needs to be condemned too. If he stops people from listening to others, he is not doing what Al-Mawrid stands for. However, if an individual belonging to the Madrassah-based, traditional system stops people from listening to others, he is doing exactly what his school of thought promotes. However, not all representatives of the traditional system ridicule scholars different from their school of thought. Blocking the way of dialogue is however a matter of basic policy for them.

My blog ‘The Story Goes On’ has received a fair share of criticism. I must admit that it deserved to be criticized. I have also criticized myself, not for posting it but, for failing to clarify what I really wanted to communicate. If a reporter of a murder doesn’t do well enough to make people aware of the fact that he was a witness to a ghastly crime, it is the fault of the reporter. Likewise I should be blamed for not telling well enough that in one of the most prestigious universities of the country a teacher was guilty of teaching his students that blindly following Madrassah-scholars was a religious duty of all Muslims. Of course, I should be criticized for not being clear enough in mentioning that the one who protested against the crime was the one who was put to sword by the university authorities. I apologize to my critics the same as TM apologized to the students of PPI.

Mawlana Amin Ahsen Islahi, who was my mentor’s mentor, urged the inaugural class of al-Mawrid in 1983 of which I was a participant to carry out a crusade against the evil of blind conservatism in our society. Mawlana was a graduate of Madrassatul Islah, Azamgarh, UP (India) where he taught for several years. He was therefore an insider of the Madrassah system. I am paraphrasing a part of his speech which carries a lot of significance for me:

If the women, the old, and the feeble of a society present an excuse on not responding to the need of removing garbage from a society, it is understandable. However, if the youth make similar excuses, it doesn’t befit them. Even more dangerous than the physical filth is the decay in the system of our religious education. The situation urges the conscientious youth of the society to do something about it or else they will be held guilty of ignoring an exceedingly important moral and religious duty.

7 thoughts on “A Few Observations

  1. Salman Ahmed

    Assalam-u-Alaikum Dr. Khalid,

    Thanks for writing the article. I will submit following observations on your article.

    How come Maulana Taqi Usmani, student of Maulana Saleemullah got greater recognition, juridical following and intellectual respect more than his teacher if the Madarsa system is based on absolute ‘Taqlid’. On Islamic banking alone, several scholars from Dar-ul-uloom have agreed with Maulana Saleemullah though the Dar-ul-uloom itself has a different stance as an institution. There are several scholars from Jamia Rasheed and Binnoria, who have agreed with Maulana Taqi Usmani though the Binnoria and Jamia Rasheed itself has a different stance as an institution.

    Second, you have yourself submitted that you do not know of any recent academic development on the exchange between proponents and critics of Islamic Banking. Maulana Taqi Usmani has written a book ‘Ghair Soodi Bainkari” in which he has mentioned in detail the principle of using other jurists’ decision/opinion/ruling by mentioning several scholars from olden school of thought. Kindly read that.

    Third, it is astonishing that a general follower from Al-Mawrid can not be taken as a representative of Al-Mawrid, but, the general follower of Madarsa would be taken as a representative of traditional Madarsa system in your opinion. What have you provided as an evidence for it has already been questioned in the above mentioned points.

    Fourth, Taqleed for scholars as a principe is not “allowed” in Madarsas let alone “recommended” or “made obligatory”. If you read the meeting minutes of several important historical conferences on Islamic jurisprudence including but not limited to Islamic banking only, there were several disagreements. If scholars are of same caliber on both ends, they do disagree.

    I will give you this much credit that even if a scholar of a lesser stature raises a similar concern, he must be given answers based on the same principle and footing i.e. reasoning either from religious sources or logic. But, saying that they absolutely observe ‘Taqlid’ is grossly exaggerated statement.

    Finally, no university would hire an economist that claims to be an economist, but has not done his graduation altogether. Academic institutions work under some system. Not anyone can be allowed to play with it.

    Ghamidi Sahab received education from Maulana Islahi, but he did not attend Madarsa. But, now, since he is regarded as a learned scholar, the traditional schools have written seven books on his work in a matter of two and a half years. I do not agree with almost any of them. But, I am just telling you the change that has happened since then.

    Maulana Taqi Usmani was about to hand over Ghazi Sahab of Lal Masjid to the government when Ghazi sahab knowing what would happen disapproved making Mufti Sahab as a arbitrator. Government was in favor of Mufti Sahab acting as an arbitrator.

    Finally, Maulana Maududi was personally consulted by Yousuf Binnori Sahab himself because he was most aggrieved of his teachings.

    Can’t you see any change in last 20 years. I see a lot of change. I am not saying everything is right about Madarsa. Definitely, many things went wrong in history, but there is strong reasons to believe that I see that things are changing for good.

    Thanks for your time.

  2. Khalid Zaheer

    Assalamo Alaikum Salman

    When Mawlana Taqi Usmani says taqlid is binding, he means taqlid of the earlier Imams, not of the present lot. However, his statement about Mawlana Thanvi is an exception or may be we don’t know the whole truth. My point is: How on earth can one claim that blindly following Imam Abu Hanifa is binding? What is the basis of this principle? If the author has realized that the principle is incorrect why is he not declaring it loud and clear to let those whom he had convinced earlier about taqlid to come out of the wrong understanding?

    We need to have specialists in every field and we need to have institutions that make those specialists. But those institutions need to be validated first. Our religious seminaries have institutionalized sectarianism. Our ‘specialized institutions’ are not prepared to accept that. They don’t even allow people to probe their affairs. There is a strong barrier that prevents debate from taking place. Deobandis consider Barelvis misguided and vice versa. Our mosques are bastions of this sectarian war. They only get united against common enemies. In the process, sects get protected and Islam gets compromised.

    Those who are satisfied with the present state of affairs, good luck to them. Those who are not, they have a duty to create new institutions which are free of the defects of the earlier ones. If some of the people belonging to the traditional institutions are interested in joining the new trend, they are most welcome. I can understand that at times it is difficult to admit faults in one’s system openly. One would like to defend one’s traditions and reform them gradually. If that is the case, I welcome the tendency. Despite my differences with Mawlana Taqi Usmani, I have a likeness for him. I believe he is a man with good potential. However, to convert his goodness into greatness, he needs to do much more.

    Khalid Zaheer

  3. maaz bin noor

    Khalid Sb! Please mention some of the ways through which a student like me can join this knowledge movement. I really find truth in this message. Do I have options to join any Al-Mawrid Madrasssah system after i complete my BBA (HONS) in the coming june? Why don’t I find any such institution in islamabad? I think Al-Huda institute of Farhat Hashmi is doing its work in the same effective manner.

  4. salman Ahmed


    In Meezan Bank, the head of the Shariah Department is Ahmed Ali Siddiqui, a barelvi. Dr. Imran Usmani, Shariah Advisor is a deobandi. If you take a broader picture, in other fiqhs, the differences are fewer as compared with Hanifi fiqh. I think there is a lot of validity in saying that if one decides to follow a certain fiqh (school of Islamic jurisprudence), then he is agreeing to follow the basis of jurisprudence of this fiqh. Basis of jurisprudence or principles of jurisprudence will give consistent results in rulings for present and future matters. If one decides to follow any school of jurisprudence (agreeing to the basis of jurisprudence or principles of jurisprudence in that school), one must not look for exceptions by looking at other school of jurisprudence because they have different basis or principles of jurisprudence. Traditionalists say one agrees to the basis or principles of the jurisprudence not on the end result or the effects or outcome of those bases. End result follows from the principles and the outcome of it has to be followed to remain ‘just’ and ‘honest’ in taking guidance and not serving one’s ‘interests’.

    Now, why we don’t take this view and have a different opinion is that we consider Fiqh as a collection of opinions sincerely given based on each Fuqaha’s understanding of sources of Islam i.e. Quran and Way of Prophet. But, we do not take it as a school of jurisprudence as such. We do not take it as a law. But, if one does take it as a law. Then, one is obliged to follow a consistent law based on uniform principles. But, since we take it as a collection of viewpoints and not rulings, that is why, we propose pluralism. We are right, but as do they in saying that follow one law or the other and not a mixture if one wants to take it as a law.

    The difference of opinion is in this understanding that we do not deem it necessary to take it as a law but they do. But, if one does take it as a law, then it is logical to follow uniformity than pluralism (in law only).

    I hope it helps us understand the issue better.

    Allah Hafiz

  5. Salman Tahir

    AoA Dr. Khalid Zaheer and Salman Ahmed Sahib,

    Thank you for a very interesting discussion. I had a few points to add to it:

    1) Maulana Taqi Usmani is an important scholar of our times. From some of his books that I have read, I can rate his research efforts as top-class. An interesting example is his research paper on the law of property rights in Islam, where he has carefully gathered the opinions on all four schools, despite claiming to be a Hanafi, and has gone to the extent of explaining how scholars within a school (Mazhab) have differed with each other on certain issues. At the end of the discussion, he would give his own judgement as to which opinion is a preferred one in his view. So it is not uncommon for scholars like him to benefit from other schools, but ofcourse a certain methodology must be there to guide the scholars on under what conditions they can use this convenience. I am guessing that a disagreement on whether that methodology was correctly followed or not might have resulted in Maulana Sameeullah’s statement.

    2) Their paradigm as I understand it, makes Taqleed (following one mazhab) binding on followers but not on Mujtahids. Infact, please correct me if I am wrong, a Mujtahid is not encouraged to follow a single school.

    3) Incase the criticism is on why refer to these earlier schools and scholars and why not refer to Quran and Sunnah directly. Even in the mainstream education systems, in subjects of social sciences, philosophy & economics it is considered mandatory to review the works of earlier scholars. So that it is clear that one is attempting to add to the body of knowledge instead of re-inventing the wheel…

    3) Giving deference to your teachers to the extent that makes disagreement impossible is certainly not a desirable attitude. But to some extent it is natural as well, for example although Al-Mawrid as an institution claims to have some sort of openness in research, yet the material that is published in their monthly Ishraq and Renaissance are often, to a large extent, reproduction or translation of the opinions of Ghamidi Sahib. It is at times interesting to note that, not only the authors present the same viewpoint in religious matters, but their suggestions regarding different worldly matters such as education etc. also match, word to word, to those of Ghamidi Sahib. Despite the fact that there is no compulsion on these competant scholars to follow the same opinions, there is seldom any original research, which challenges the framework of Ghamidi Sahib.

    4) Strategically, I am not sure how useful it is to create a parallel system of new institutions against these Madrassahs. I feel that it would be much more efficient to bring about a change if reforms are made in the existing system. Given the size of the existing system, the reforms can have a larger effect and change would have a better momentum. Creating a new system has its appeal as it is a romantic goal, but whether it is workable, I am not sure. It would require a miracle.

    5) I have worked in Meezan Bank, Ahmed Ali Siddiqui is an ex-colleague, a competant banker, and a friend. He was Dr. Imran Usmani’s student at IBA Karachi. Dr. Imran Usmani, the Shariah Advisor is Son of Maulana Taqi Usmani. And Maulana himself is Chairman Shariah board. As you can see, the uniformity of opinion is deliberately kept intact to ensure convenience for the organization.

    I hope I was able to make some sense in my random points.

    Thanks & Regards,
    Salman Tahir

  6. Salman Ahmed

    Assalam-u-Alaikum Salman Sahab,

    I agree with all the points, but just one clarification. Al-Mawrid school of thought encourage openness to the extent that they have invited Shia Muslim Scholars with which there is so much difference of opinion by non-Shias. Ghamidi sahab himself disagreed with his teacher and mentor Maulana Amin Islahi on many matters. In Hyderabad, we have had for several months, a Ahl-e-Hadith Alim teaching us Arabic and giving us Dars-e-Quran. Women are encouraged to reach scholarly levels unlike in Madarsas where women can not learn beyond 6th grade and can not become a Mufti.

    The very critical lines I wrote before for some of Khalid Sahab’s viewpoints were written while I have been in agreement with Al-Mawrid school of thought on almost all issues. Javed Sahab has repeatedly revisited his opinion on many issues when he discovered a better explanation.

    There are serious questions in our traditional Islamic literature that need some serious revision.

    Testimony of women is considered half of that of men; while women are judges and advocates in west and in east as well. Women are considered half as intelligent as men. ‘Diyat’ (ransom money) for women is half of that of men. Share of a wife and a daughter in inheritance is less than a husband and a son. Muslims did not ban slavery until America did it in South America/North America war. To get justice against ‘spoil of honor’ i.e. rape, the woman needs 4 witnesses else there will be a case against her. Women, if they want divorce, they still need to ask men to give it. Muslims if they find power would give ultimatum to non-Muslims state and upon non-acceptance; they will wage a war against them until they succeed. A convert from Islam would be given death punishment and a convert to Islam would be welcomed and helped as anything.

    There are many other such issues that require answers. Lack of answers has made most people almost neutral to religion and made some educated, honest and devoted Muslims being apologetic to such issues and give away the social system given by Islam and restrict themselves only to things that make sense. There are others who are not well educated, poor and fall prey to the hands of extremists and take the line of violence to defend even the things which I mentioned earlier and they even oppose any talk on those issues.

    The real worth of Janed Ahmed Ghamidi Sahib’s work is that he has given answers to such issues. Even great Allama Iqbal in “Reconstruction of Religious thought in Islam” said that there are 20 to 25 things in Islam which we can not present as applicable in 21st century. Therefore, just like Umar (RTA) suspended the punishment of cutting hands in a drought, we can by way of the reasoning that those times are not applicable to present and implement such 20 to 25 issues, stop advocating them. That was the seriousness of the situation. The biggest intellectual who provided answers to Kant, Nietzsche, Marx, Hegel etc went clueless to support such issues.

    But, I might not agree with all that Ghamidi sahib says, but he has made me and others confident and content that Islamic teachings are just.

    Mufti Faisal Khurshid Sahab was given a task to write a critical book on Javed Sahib’s teachings and show that his teachings are unislamic. But, he could not find anything contrary to Islam in his teachings apart from intellectual difference of opinion, he published the book with a neutral tone and now he is running the Dawah part of Al-Mawrid (an organization established by Javed Sahab). Though, I was myself once a traditional student of Madarsa, but, I am in almost 90% in agreement with his thought.


  7. Salman Tahir


    I am aware of the worth of Ghamidi Sahib’s work. I also recognize the fact that a lot of confusions have been resolved through his presentation. However, the point I am making is the same as you made earlier that it is not possible to simply disregard the methodology of traditionalists. Despite its shortcomings in issues such as Hudood, Diyat etc. It is very robust in some cases. The works of Maulana Taqi Usmani is an example of that.

    Although, we feel that it is difficult to make any marginal improvement to traditional Madrassahs, because they categorize everything outside them as a “fitna”, we have to recognize the huge difference it will make, probably within our lifetimes, if we are able to do so. While it is worth the effort to experiment with new institutions, the potential size of change that improving older institutions can bring is not ignorable.


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