First published, 4 July, 2020
No doubt there is a rare genius in him. He is sincere. He is industrious. He is resourceful. He is focused. He is fierce and resolute. Hardly one comes across an accomplished professor with his kind of sharpness, adroitness and intellectual consistency. He seems to be quite aware of the abundant resources he is intrinsically made up hence he is often very boastful. While one may disagree with him or try to fault his logic but cannot easily deny the substance of many of the cases he advance based on his own chosen paradigm and methodologies; though they are quite nebulous and left to speculations by spectators at the moment (the main subject of this review). He can take an issue impromptu, navigate through its complex nuances; reach its peak and journey gracefully back to its trough and wrap up arguments on the tone with which he started the more than one hour or so lecture. He hardly loses the thread and the trail. Each breath, pause, gesture and laughter is sure to be seen synchronised within the contexts of each of his presentations. He is harmonious as a piece of music; synchronous as a highly nuanced essay. Certainly he has earned the title of Amirul Wa’izina (the cleric general) that he is nicknamed.
I have followed his lectures and debates – which are very central to my faith – for years now, enough to enable me with the ability to form an opinion, as a layperson and a student, seeking for understanding in this world and salvation in the hereafter. But there is a possibility that what Sheik Abduljabbar Kabara is saying about the companions of the Prophet of Islam, his family, entire body of Hadith literature or Bukhari & Muslim is not new. Like a stale gist. They have been discussed almost a millennium ago. Especially if one reads Sheik Jonathan Brown’s, The Canonisation of Bukhari and Muslim. Maybe because I am not an Islamic scholar or cleric; but I can see that most of the problematic Hadiths the Sheik speaks about are not in the general use. In that they don’t form the necessary components of faith or work or rituals or foundations of accepted Islamic Principles in many counts.
If all my readings, reflections and systhesisations in these things have been fruitful, then I will want to rephrase the French, 20th century, Jesuit Priest, idealist philosopher, Pierre Teilhard De Chardin, in a form of a paradigmatic theological question, before I proceed: Are we human beings having spiritual experience or are we spiritual beings having human experience? I will ask, are things (animate or inanimate, events, ideas and actions) inherently good or bad on their own; or they only acquire such attributes because God says they are at a certain period (which He can change their nature at any time of His wishes)? Then there is the oft repeated, more than a millennium old question in the early Muslim theological debates; is the Qur’an God’s creation with permanent character and attributes, meanings; or God’s word that its interpretations maybe context specific? These are questions related to a general paradigm with which anything might make sense to one – since ancient philosophy – East or West, which are capable of determining how one interprets anything around them past, present to future. Remember the famous Epicurean Question/Paradox/Dilemma? Question of theodicy in the religious thoughts?
The Shiites say we are spiritual beings having human experience; in that the prophet of Islam – our leader, is not a human being like any other, he was not a man that was enlightened to deliver a message only; he was the message itself walking the earth in flesh and blood. Therefore they view any single reported gesture of the Prophet to be a divine instruction. The Sunni say, no, we are human beings having spiritual experience. That there were moments in the life of the Prophet of Islam – our leader, was not as perfect as the message he delivered. He had views that were different from the message even though he held that the message was superior to his views whenever it came. So Sunni Muslims are enjoined to always try deciphering the difference between him and the message in accounting for what is Islam.
The Shiites hold that the inherent goodness of the prophet of Islam follow through his lines of descendants wherever the maybe till the judgement day. Abu Talib who was good also will have Ali and so the chosen ones are among the descendants of Ali with Fatima – who was the daughter of the Prophet in marriage to him – in a particular. On the other hand, Abu Sufyan who was once bad will pass that attribute to his descendants, Mu’awiya inclusive; and thereafter subsequently. The Sunni on their part say no, it is possible to have the descendants of the Prophet that are not so distinctively upright always. That Abu Sufyan can really experience transformation from bad to very good. Ali can get certain things wrong as much as Mu’awiya can get certain others right.
The Shiites hold that Qur’an is in the whole, God’s creation; that there has never been, during the course of revelation, anything like abrogated verses. Because abrogating verses from Qur’an will easily translate to amputating limbs from one whole creation of Allah. The Sunni on their part believe Qur’an to be words of God that was revealed in piecemeal with changes and abrogation of verses from time to time until it was made a whole.
These positions had eaten deeply into the paradigmatic construction of virtually everything the two groups touch; from Tafsir, Fiqh, Hadith and the question of faith and the position or place of things generally in the hereafter; from points in concepts to theories, general or specific. Needless to say that one will find a number of times where Shiites don’t hold blood or ancestry higher in the question of righteousness just as the Sunnites often are found arguing in the light of genealogical relevance in the same question of righteousness. Also all the positions mentioned above can find support copiously in the both, the Qur’an and Sunnah, plus history both religious and secular. However one distinctive point of divergence which is very important is, always, when either of the two groups argues, one will have their identified paradigm to be highly prominent in the corpus of their theses and rationalisations.
After the Abbasids overthrew the Ummayads on the basis of claim of exclusive right to rule based on their belief in their own inherent superior tendency to uprightness than others, for their closeness in kin with the Prophet of Islam. They too supported a school in Sunni that held the notion of Qur’an being God’s creation against being God’s words; it is the Mu’tazilite school of theology. Also in the larger Sunni sub groups are some Sufi who always upheld the conception that we are first spiritual beings having human experience. That it is possible for one to achieve perfect unity with Godhead while here on earth. They identify the love of the prophet at the level of emotional commitment to be higher than even practical work for the hope of attaining salvation. The Shiites also, especially in the recent times have been found to be generous with the gift of accommodating others whom hitherto are not known to have had any genealogical links to the prophet’s family, into the family and extending to them all positions of righteousness otherwise reserved only for the family.
This is the more reason why I am curious to know where truly, Amirul Wa’izina stands in all these three issues against nebulousness. For it will rest my inquisitiveness and help others interested in responding to him to do so with ease. But sadly even his recent over 1:30hr presentation on the occasion of his golden jubilee birthday celebration did not clear the air enough.
In my little wisdom I used to think that those who are committed to understanding these issues with the view of forming opinion or taking position – helping us through – may need to make themselves very clear about the basics in the three paradigmatic templates, in their own ways, as repeated thus: are things made good on their own or they can acquire goodness while journeying through life? Are we spiritual beings having human experience or human beings with all our frailties, having spiritual experience, seeking for purification? Are we interacting with the Qur’an as God’s word or is it another complete highly synchronized creature like us?
However the main position of the Sunni – majority of his audience across northern Nigeria – seems to be that God is very republican in sharing vices and His virtues. We can be evil in the morning and attain enlightenment before the evening experiencing major transformation towards good nature. It is this conviction that paves ways for different people, cultures to be able to appropriate Islam and passionately stay as its vanguards as defenders with their hearts and souls for centuries. The legacies of Umar and Abubakar, immediately after the demise of the Prophet seems to have guaranteed that, as it came down to us. It is on these thoughts that modern democracy with its claims to shared, equal opportunity in a very republican manner reached us. No lineage has the guarantee to remain forever saintly and no other has the misfortune to remain perpetually cursed in sin or as second class citizens in this free garden of God, after an exercise in repentance.
Both camps for and against can delve into the literature and produce volumes on the subject matter as evidence. Bukhari & Muslim on their face value as Sunni canons are as bad – if they really are – as Al-Kafi lil Alkulayni, their equivalent in Shiism. A discussion with an expert in Shi’i Hadithiy will tell that Kulayni is a no go area for non-experts just as a Sunni Hadithiy will tell that Bukhari & Muslim are no go area for non-experts.
As a layman and non-expert, I give a lot of respect for Hadith as a body of literature set to be used to create boundaries to our thoughts, imaginations and practices of what we gleaned from Qur’an. Perfection as I reckon is not sought in it. Whenever there is the need, individual Hadith are always only used selectively, carefully and discreetly to arrive at a position or ruling. Hadith is a product of Islamic inner cultural dialectics; for Shiites or Sunnites, differently, as they grew into distinct communities, across history, with conflicting paradigms. It was not a tradition that came or was suggested from the outside Muslim communities.
Also the Banu Umayyah who are said to have done a lot through Sunni Hadith canons to change the original message of Islam couldn’t have really done as much as they are accused of. They couldn’t have been – none can ever be – that strong enough to distort what Allah has vowed to protect. They didn’t or don’t have the intellectual wherewithal nor the resolve and the industry to do it. In fact if they had, they could have stopped the Prophet in Mecca before he even migrated to Medina. God saw the Prophet through all the harsh schemes of his enemies we were told about in Mecca and Medina; only to hand over everything to Mu’awiya and his “gangs” to distort? Or was God originally wishing to send Mu’awiya and empower him to victory and so he took that long route to get to him? Are we sure we are not committing to narratives in red herring with these debates in this century? I suppose the texts of Hadith should be read to us, for enlightenment, within the original paradigms and contexts given to them by their copyrighted owners. Then critiques can be given accordingly for certainly there is room for improvement, in whatever is on ground any day, anywhere!
Once again I wish Sheik Abduljabbar Kabara happy Golden-Jubilee celebration. I will continue to be very proud of his study sessions. What is right in my observation is God’s, to Him be thanks; what is not so right is mine, we forsake it into the debris!