Hardly an Antidote: the Folly of Mustafa Aykol’s Comments on Irja’ and ISIS

Mustafa Akyol’s latest article titles “A Medieval Antidote to ISIS” could perhaps be titled: “Let’s all be Murjiah” or better yet: “When cluelessness meets political collusion.”
The folly of the article’s proposition is three-fold:
  1. It conflates medieval forms of irja’. There were several (about 12). The author mis-characterizes them or doesn’t seem to know they exist.
  2. It then precedes to present this the author’s personal vision of Irja’ as a kinder, gentler Islam.
  3. It fails to realize the political implications of the confused form of Irja’ presented as a panacea.
While the Murjiah al-Fuqaha did not use Iman as jargon for actions, did this mean that faith was “a matter of the heart” alone? Absolutely not. They consider actions to be part of “birr,” “taqwa,” and “ihsan.” All of these are integral to a person’s salvation, although they did not describe this as “faith” because to them faith was a fixed position (believing in God, his angels, books, etc.) to be built upon with variable things like “taqwa,” “birr,” etc. The rest of Ahl al-Sunnah used the jargon of “iman” to describe actions. They viewed faith as two-part: a fixed part (believing in God, his angels, books, etc.) that then varied in two ways: 1) the strength of that belief, 2) how well it was built upon by “taqwa,” “birr,” etc. Because of this difference in perspective about using faith as jargon, some scholars reduced this difference above to semantics. Obviously this is a detailed topic, and I have not exhausted the discussion here. Nevertheless, those the author upholds are not those he defined, and definitions matter.
The point here is: Abu Hanifa, Hanafis, the Muslims of the Balkans, Asia Minor, and Central Asia were not ones that merely considered faith as a matter of the heart alone. They certainly were not people that did not take faith and its practice seriously! They were from the most pious, practicing, and dedicated Muslims in history. Their tolerance was not due to some novel idea about faith, as the author would have us believe, but instead because of their dedication to Islam as a concept in both statement and practice. Their faith and practice informed their ethics and morals. 
 
Non-Hanafi Murjia (i.e. those that held faith as a matter of the heart alone, i.e. not those described above, ) were statists. Because action wasn’t part of faith, and because it was a matter known in the heart alone, faith in action must be subdued. This is why many of the Salaf used to say “The end of Irja’ is found with swords.” Meaning in order to protect their social, political, and economic positions from the imposition of ANY moral, ethical framework, they would resort to state violence. Although an anachronism, think Laïcité. This is hardly democratic or progressive, and certainly is no solution to IS’ ideology.
 
This article is an example of an author grasping at ideological straws to try and solve a problem created by political repression. By unknowingly co-signing another, albeit “left leaning” medieval group, the author leans closer to government repression and authoritarianism, which was the initial cause of ISIS in the first place.
Hardly an antidote.

Featured Image from the article quoted, Spencer Charles.
Found at: http://mobile.nytimes.com/2015/12/21/opinion/a-medieval-antidote-to-isis.html

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