1 The word ‘orthodoxy’ in English comes from the Greek ortho–doxia meaning ‘correct opinion’.
2 This number includes those senior scholars, such as Shaykh Abdullah bin Bayyah of Mauritania and Mufti Taqi ‘Uthmani of Deoband, whose fatwas did not arrive in time for the actual July 2005 International Islamic Conference, but were later added to its documents.
3 Authority in Islam
Islam has no central authority, no church and no sacerdotal caste. It is and has been held together over history by texts—starting with the very word of God, the Holy Qur’an, and the sayings or hadith of the Prophet Muhammad, may peace and blessings be upon him—and common practices. Whilst all Muslims have a basic, fundamental common ground, each branch of Islam, each school of jurisprudence (Mathhab) and each school of Islamic thought have their own distinct legal methodologies, authoritative interpretations of the Qur’an, canonical collections of hadith, and recognized (formally or informally) contemporary authorities. Thus in order to bring about an universal Islamic consensus on a given subject or situation it is necessary not only that it be inherently compatible with Islam’s fundamental texts, but also, practically speaking, that the leading recognized authorities from all the branches, Mathhabs and schools of thought of Islam endorse and recognize it as being fundamentally truly Islamic.
4 The Branches and Schools of Shari’ah and Thought within Islam
After the death of the Prophet—may peace and blessings be upon him—Islam spilt into two large branches (Sunnis and Shi’as) and one small one (the Kharwarij). Today, the Sunnis comprise around 88 per cent of all Muslims, the Shi‘a around 11 per cent, and the radical Khawarij no longer exist, and have been replaced by the Ibadhis who comprise less than 1 per cent of all Muslims. The Ibadhis survive only in Oman and the Southern Sahara. The Shi’a are divided into 3 branches: the majority Ja’fari Shi‘a who are concentrated in Iran and Iraq (with some minorities into the Arabian Gulf, Syria and Lebanon, Pakistan, India and Afghanistan); the Ismaili Shi’a who are spread out over Central Asia, the Indian Subcontinent, East Africa, North America and elsewhere; and the Zeidi Shi’a who are concentrated in the Yemen. The Sunnis are everywhere the majority except Iran, Iraq and parts of the Arabian Gulf.
These three main divisions of Islam then developed their own schools of juridical methodology (Mathhabs) and consequently of Islamic holy law (Shari’ah): the Sunnis developed four major Madhhabs (Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi‘i and Hanbali,) dating back to around 800 CE; the Shi‘a developed two major Madhhabs (the Ja‘fari Madhhab — the so-named ‘Twelvers’, named for the number of their infallible Imams; and the Zeidi Madhhab — the so-named ‘Fivers’, likewise named for the number of their imams). The Ismaili Shi’a (the ‘Seveners’—so-named because of the number of their infallible imams) have two branches: (A) the Dawudi Buhara who follow the fiqh of Qadi Nu’man and thus are basically Shafi’i with some Ja’fari fiqh under the aegis of their Chief Dai’i, the Sultan of the Buhara, and (B) the Nizaris who follow their living Imam, the Aga Khan, and (see letter of the 49th Aga Khan to the International Islamic Conference of July 2005) affirm loyalty to the Ja’fari Mathhab. The Ibadhis developed their own Madhhab, and mention must be made of the Thahiri Madhhab which developed in Muslim Andalusia (there are no Thahiris as such alive today but scholars still consider the methodology of Madhhab as valid). These together formed the so-called ‘eight Madhhabs’ of Islam.
Within the eight Madhhabs of Islam, which are Juridical schools and not necessarily doctrinal ones (‘aqidah) necessarily, there are different schools of thought. Most Sunnis of the four Madhahib—with the notable exception of the Salafis/Wahabis (who are Hanbali of origin but have their own distinct formulation of Sunni ‘aqidah)—follow the Ash’ari-Maturidi (despite slight differences, the two are essentially one tradition) theology and ‘aqidah. Mention must then be made of the Sufis (perhaps a quarter of Sunnis are associated with Sufism in one form or another—legitimate Sufism being typified by the writings of Imam Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali) and the students of Irfan. These are not followers of new legal schools — quite the contrary, the Sufis are fully Sunni, and the students of Irfan are fully Shi‘a — but rather mystics within those legal schools: they are, in theory at least, the ascetics of Islam—their principle concern being to intensify the remembrance (dhikr) of God.
Finally, as regards ‘religious orientations’ it might be said that these are basically of three different kinds: (1) ‘traditionalists’ who respect the Madhhabs as described above (at least 95 % of all Muslims could be described as such); (2) ‘fundamentalists’ who basically want to do away with 1400 years of Islamic tradition and practice in the name of ‘going back to’ (what they imagine to be) the age of the Prophet—may peace and blessings be upon him (less than 5% of all Muslims could be described as such), and (3) modernists who basically want to do away with 1400 years of Islamic tradition in the name of ‘keeping up with modern times’ (these are less than 1% of all Muslims, mostly Westernized, wealthier and with secular academic educations ).
5 This number includes those scholars who were not able to attend the conference in person, but fully concurred with the conference’s results and final statement and sent their signatures to that effect.
6 By the ‘Ash’ari creed’, it is understood that this includes the whole Ash’ari-Maturidi tradition insofar as this tradition affirms Islamic essentials of the Unity of God, the Prophet Muhammad, the Holy Qur’an and the five pillars of Islam (submission) and six articles of Iman (faith).
7 The Islamic Fiqh Academy even expanded on the ‘third point’ of the Amman Message (about fatwas) going into further detail in its own studies and discussions about the specific subjective and objective preconditions necessary before any fatwa.
8 Another example: two weeks after the meeting of the Islamic Fiqh Academy, on 16th Jumada II 1427 AH / July 12th 2006 CE, the Muslim Brotherhood Party in Jordan (the country’s largest Islamic party), after a controversial episode, issued a 7-point statement of loyalty to king and country and general principles, the fifth and sixth point of which affirmed their adherence to the Amman Message, its Three Points and the Islamic Fiqh Academy’s elaboration on the necessary conditions for the issuing of fatwas.
9 Abu Dawud, Sunan, Kitab al-Fitan wal-Malahim, Hadith no.4255.
10 Al-Tirmidhi, Sunan, Kitab al-Fitan, Hadith no. 2320; Al-Hakim al-Nisaburi, Al-Mustadrak (Dar al-Fikr, Beirut, 1398/1978, vol. 1 p. 116) Kitab Al-‘Ilm.
11 Ibn Majah, Sunan, Kitab al-Fitan, Hadith no.4085
12 Ibn Hanbal, Musnad, (Dar al-Fikr, Beirut, in six volumes, Vol. 6 p. 396) Hadith no.26682; Al-Hakim al-Nisaburi, Al-Mustadrak, (Dar al-Fikr, Beirut, 1398/1978, vol. 1 p. 117) Kitab Al-‘Ilm.
13 Consultation (Shura) in Islam
The process of shura (the ruler consulting the ruled) is mandatory in Islam, for God commends:
And those who answer the call of their Lord and establish worship, and whose affairs are a matter of counsel, and who spend of what We have bestowed on them (Al-Shura, 42:38).
However, acting upon the results of that consultation is not mandatory (at least certainly not for the Prophet, may peace and blessings be upon him, since God left the ultimate decision to him alone—the ‘you’ in the Arabic in the verse below being in the singular form).
It was by the mercy of God that thou wast lenient with them (O Muhammad), for if thou hadst been stern and fierce of heart they would have dispersed from round about thee. So pardon them and ask forgiveness for them and consult them upon the conduct of affairs. And when you are resolved, then put your trust in God. Lo! God loveth those who put their trust (in Him). (Al-‘Imran, 3:159)
God knows best. Certainly, however, God gives an example of consultation at work in the Holy Qur’an in the story of the Queen of Sheba and her chieftains:
She said: O chieftains! Pronounce for me in my case. I decide no case till ye are present with me.
They said: We are lords of might and lords of great prowess, but it is for thee to command; so consider what thou wilt command. (Al-Naml, 27:32-33)
14 Abu Dawud, Sunan, Kitab al-Fitan wal-Malahim, Hadith no.4297.