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Muslims Under Non-Muslim Rule
By Yahya Michot, Interface Publications, Year 2006, pages 190

Shaikh Taqi Ahmad Ibn Taymiyya (d.1328) is the favorite whipping boy for a wide array of people from US politicians to Middle Eastern academics. He is accused of being an innovator, a radical, and the father of modern day extremist movements by his detractors. The 9-11 Commission Report names him as the wellspring of Islamist militancy. Even a well informed and dispassionate scholar like Vali Reza Nasr lays all the blame for the world’s woes on him. “Indeed, it might not be going too far to say that the surge of extremist Sunnism that troubles the Muslim world and hence the globe today is unimaginable without this one long-dead jurist,” writes Reza in The Shia Revival. Ibn Taymiyya’s  self-proclaimed followers from the radical and militant backgrounds, on the other hand, hail him as a renewer and reviver of the true spirit of Islam and selectively quote his writings to justify their actions. Both groups, however, display a marked ignorance about the teachings of the Damascene Sheikh  and the context in which he operated. Yahya Michot, lecturer at Oxford University,  in his “Muslims Under Non-Muslim Rule” provides a systematic analysis of Ibn Taymiyya’s thought which rescues the great scholar from the clutches of radicals who have misinterpreted his writings to promote their own misguided agenda.

Instead of writing a biographical tome Michot focuses on a Fatwa that Ibn Taymiyya issued on the status of Mardin. A city in present day southeastern Turkey, it was sitting on civilizational fence when the question was asked of Ibn Taymiyya about its status. At that time it was ruled by the Muslim dynasty of Artuqids and served as a protectorate of the Tartars.

Was it a domain of war or a domain of peace? Does a Muslim resident therein have a duty to emigrate to the lands of Islam or not?

In his fatwa Ibn Taymiyyah refused to make black and white distinctions. “It is a (a city of status) composite (murakkab) in which both the things signified (by those terms to be found). It is not in the situation of a domain of peace in which the institutions (ahkam) are implemented because its army is composed of Muslims. Nor is it in the situation of domain of war, whose inhabitants are unbelievers. Rather, it constitutes a third type (of domain), in which the Muslim shall be treated as he merits, and in which the one who departs from the Way/Law of Islam shall be combated as he merits.” ( p.65)

With regards to the second question Ibn Taymiyya advised that a  Muslim in Mardin ‘disabled from putting his religion into effect (iqama) must emigrate to the lands of Islam. But if he is able to practice, ‘that remains preferable but is not obligatory.’ (p.11)

As is apparent Ibn Taymiyyah refused to bifurcate the complex world of his time into compact domains of  war and peace but adopted a reasoned approach on the challenges faced by the Muslim and how they should respond to them. Throwing cold water over the assertions of present day radicals Michot conclusively proves that Ibn Taymiyyah while clearly advocating resistance to foreign invaders but at the same time rejected internal rebellion and insurgency. This idea is clearly captured in the by James Piscatori in the foreword to the book, “External threat may well demand a militant response for the defense of Islam. But the integrity of the internal domain is conditional on the recognition of the primary importance and authority of the moral framework of order—even if that recognition leads in practice to injustices such as in his case, incarceration.” (p.XIV).

Comparing Ibn Taymiyya’s original writing and its interpretations by six modern day radical activists, Michot shows how they have misunderstood or misinterpreted the former’s writings. These writers u give modern connotations to the Ibn Taymiyyah’s ideas and unfairly try to use them to advance their own politico-sectarian agenda. In doing so, they stand guilty of violating the thought of Damascene master who was neither a fanatic nor an extremist. He was an enlightened pragmatist who weighed his options before taking any action and generally favored that which was balanced and practical in the given circumstances. While being resolute in his beliefs he was also patient.  For his outspokenness he suffered tremendously and yet did not advocated rebellion. He was subjected to the cruel punishment of bastinado, beating of the soles with a hard object, and was imprisoned many times. It was in prison that death came upon him.

By bringing out “Muslims Under Non-Muslim Rule” Yahya Michot has rendered a great service to inter-civilizational understanding. Originally written in French, the book has been masterfully translated by Dr.Jamil Qureshi. Hopefully we expect more on the Damascene master from Michot and other researchers who will faithfully expound on his thought.  A more rigorous analysis of his works will also perhaps explain his polemical side which continues to make him a controversial figure of Islamic history.



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