Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Noah Feldman - The Fall and Rise of the Islamic State

For long I wanted to express my belief that Islamic era, especially the golden age of Muslims in the world, was different (being closest to the natural social order)then the golden age of other empires. The reason for this belief was its Islamic nature in the form of governance of Allah’s rule on earth. To express this belief I didn’t know of any solid reason or argument until now. I have been reading Noah Feldman’s The Fall and Rise of Islamic State, and in this book the author has deliberated on the constitutional and legislative system of Muslim Empire in the time of Ottomans.

He has explained it by explaining the balance of power in Islamic state. It is natural that authority is always rampant and leads to injustice in a society, the autocratic and monarchial rules indicate towards this reality. But in case of Muslim empire, although the power of caliph rose and fell in the form of hereditary magnificence of different lineages of royal families, still government required legitimacy from the scholars of eminent authority and prominent stature in public. The legitimacy of every caliph, until the reforms period of Ottomans, was issued by the people of the book. Even the bureaucratic and administrative orders of the government were to be legitimized by scholars.

This provided the necessary balance required for the government to be under Shari’a guided laws and decrees. The authoritative power resided in the hands of caliph through the famous and authoritative scholars of that time and they constantly provided the necessary balance required for justice in the society. The scholars were bearers of God’s law on earth and it was there task to interpret the shari’a to provide legal solutions. Legal was what God demanded and illegal was what God prohibited. Every ruler had to affirm this oath that he would abide by God’s law and the source of that law rested in the scholars.

In the early Islamic period rulers were the most pious of the people. They were not only learned scholars of deen but were also administrators and leaders of exceptional quality. The administrative body of Islamic state was founded by these Khulafa e Rashidun and presumably it became a norm to expect both of these qualities in caliph in the subsequent periods of Muslim Empire. After khulafa e Rashidun, highest in stature were sahabas and their opinion was of high regard in the society. After sahaba there were tabaeens and taba tabaeens these people were also of prominent religious cadre as well as performed there task as a check on rulers as their opinion was popular among the general public. This practice of constant check provided a counter weight in the Islamic state and shari’a was never abandoned.

The physical role of this check was performed by Qazis. These were appointed by state and were from amongst the best of the scholars. The Qazi was a state position and he administered orders according to different fatawas issued by different schools and applied them appropriately to different requirements. This enabled a plurality in law that gave each school of Islamic jurisprudence to play its role in interpreting and implementing God-Law.
Muftis were not part of the state and therefore free from any bias. From time to time muftis adhered to the wishes of the rulers, but they never compromised the place of shari’a in view of general public and it was always shari’a that upheld the legal and administrative requirements of the society.

It follows from above discussion that the bureaucratic requirements of Muslim state were also governed by the laws of shari’a. Whenever any order or law clashed with shari’a public resisted against it and ulema were the rallying points for public. This is the hallmark of Muslim era; this is the reason for a just rule for so long, that simply cannot be exemplified anywhere else in the history of mankind.

Noah Feldman then endeavors to explain the ultimate decline of Islamic state of Ottoman Empire vis-à-vis its constitutional and legislative decline. However, following a natural rule of decline this hereditary claim and position of scholars and ulema met a steady decline over the centuries and gained extraordinary momentum during the final century of Ottoman rule. These scholars were once the torch bearers of Islamic civilization and development. When moral corruption did encroach edifices of mosques in the time of Ottoman’s, the structure of Islamic civilization came crumbling down.

It is necessary to expound here the historical perspective of this argument taking into consideration both periods of rule of Umayyads and Abbasids as they were the models of rule available for the Ottoman’s.

The questions I seek an answer to here is what was the form and process of legitimization of caliph by scholars in the early period of Islamic era? How scholars pragmatically held shari’a based law in order, despite of near absolute rule of different lineages? What was the state apparatus in place to ensure uplifting of shari’a, when government was in transition?
These answers will to some extent clarify the difference between Islamic state and other world civilizations.
As Feldman says that before Islamic civilization the world had never seen this way of governance where the authority laid in the hands of learned religious scholars.