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Blind Fanaticism and Its Consequences | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Under the pretext of religious zeal and defending one’s religious doctrine, a religious scholar issued a fatwa saying that were he in political power he would impose a tax on all followers of the Hanbali doctrine [one of the four Islamic Juristic Doctrines of Sunni Islam]. This fatwa was seen in the book “Al-Abr” [The Pious] written by the Shafi’I jurist Abu Hamed al-Barwa al-Tawsi. This clergyman arrived in Baghdad more than 800 years ago, where he caused unrest amongst the Hanbali followers. The Hanbali followers at the time escalated this conflict with al-Tawsi causing him to make the controversial statement “If I was in power, I would impose a tax upon the Hanbali followers.”

I would like to relate a story that emphasizes the limitless blind fanaticism and its disastrous consequences, even to those who differ on simple and marginal judicial issues to all those who were frightened by the recent mosque burnings committed by extremist Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq and Pakistan, which is something that only added further fuel to the fire. The story goes that a militant Hanbali burned a large Shafi’i mosque to the ground in the city of Khiva in 1074 AD. This resulted in the city’s ruler calling for the Hanbali militant to pay for the reconstruction of the mosque. What is shocking about this story is not only the burning down of a mosque, but the sheer diversity of the mosques seen in the city at this time. The Muslim community was so disunited that followers of each doctrine would pray in their own mosques, and so one mosque would be a Shafi’i mosque, another a Hanbali mosque, and a third a Hanafi mosque. This story was related in Ibn Al Kathir’s book “Al Bidaya Wal Nihaya” [The Beginning and the End].

Some of us may think that such militant examples can only arise from the common people, but this is incorrect as scholars are the [social] catalysts, either stirring up or putting down unrest. In his book “Al Bidaya Wal Nihaya” Al Kathir mentions that Aba Al-Mali al-Jilli, a Shafi’i scholar with Ash’ari leanings [Ash’ari is an early school of Muslim speculative theology] also displayed signs of intolerance. Al-Jilli was a ruler and judge in an area known as Bab al-Azij, and there was hostility between him and the [majority] Hanbali community there. One day al-Jilli heard a man calling for his lost donkey upon which he invited the man to enter “Bab al-Azij” and freely take whatever he wanted from the people there. Another time, al-Jilli said that if a man promised not to look at a human-being, and then entered “Bab al-Azij” [and looked at the followers of the Hanbali doctrine there] he would not have broken his oath.

All the depressing examples of blind intolerance and the rejection of the opinions of others cannot be counted here. It is also worth pointing out that by the end of the 19th century, such juristic disagreements had escalated and had even more destructive and devastating consequences which jeopardized the common interests and gave the enemy the upper hand. Prominent features of this age were political, economic, juristic, and military weaknesses and these are somewhat similar to the realities faced by Islam today.

The intolerance virus can be found in all places and times. Just like other viruses, whenever intolerance finds an atmosphere that it can grow in, it thrives, breeding and taking over everything. It is sad that modern technologies such as the internet, satellite television, internet chat-rooms and forums, as well as SMS text messaging, has strengthened the blind fanaticism and uncontrolled zeal of religious doctrines, ideology, movements, and sects. We have reached a stage where one’s notability is measured by his ability to belittle and discredit others, and utter the worst insults possible, this is something that requires a radical remedy by the political, juristic, and intellectual leadership.