Monday, May 1, 2017
Mapping the Schools of Islamic Law; locating the epicenter of terror
About 1/4 of the world's population practices Islam -- 1.8 billion adherents in 2015. The two major branches of Islam are Sunni (80%) and Shia (20%). The purpose of this map is to help us understand that the primary source of violence in the Islamic world comes from a particular subset of one of its legal schools. That Hanbali school centered in Saudi Arabia is the smallest, strictest, and most literal of the four legal traditions in Sunni Islam. Islam means submission to God. Its legal traditions of law and right practice are unlike the theological disputes that have defined many of the intra-religion divisions in Christianity. Islam is, above all, a practice -- starting with the prescribed recitations to the one God of the five daily prayers.
Sharia is a general word for God's Law. When interviewers ask a Muslim if we should all live under Sharia, he would insult the sovereignty of God to say no. The Christian tradition of natural law is rooted in a similar obligation to obey the Divine Law of God. As Ronald Reagan said, "If we ever forget we are a nation under God we will be nation gone under." In Islam, Sharia is a general term of living under God's law, while fiqh is the interpretation of that Divine law.
There are four major schools of legal tradition (fiqh) in Sunni Islam. The major source of modern violence in Islam is not so much Sunni vs Shia, as one legal school of Sunnis set against the Shia violently and against other Sunnis ideologically. Within Sunni Islam, the Hanafi school is the largest tradition representing about 42% of Sunnis. The map shows their predominance in Turkey, Central Asia and South Asia where 3 of the 4 largest national Muslim populations live. The Shafi'i school has 30% of Sunni Muslims and is the tradition of both Indonesia and the Somalians in the Horn of Africa. The Maliki school (18%) predominates in the countries of northern Africa with the exception of Egypt.
The smallest school of jurisprudence in Sunni Islam is the Hanbali school. This last school to form was organized by the followers of Ahmad ibn Hanbali (780-855 AD). He had led a purification movement against the elasticity of interpretation which he thought was betraying the original teachings and practices of Muhammad. He proposed that approved actions and the law be based more exclusively on the actions and sayings of Muhammad. If the prophet did some action or advised it then that was warrant to do it today. Most interpretations and analogies modifying the actions of believers according to Hanbali were methods of softening the original purity and strength of the Prophet's message. A more general word for a return to the ancestors is salafism (salafi = ancestor). This purification movement was further refined by ibn Taymiyyah (1263-1328) and in more modern times by Muhammad ibn Wahhabi (1707-1792). It was ibn Wahhabi who made the initial pact with Muhammad Saud that continues to this day in the form of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.The discovery of oil in Saudi Arabia and the military alliance of the Saudis and US has financed an aggressive international building program of Wahhabi schools (madrasas) in Muslim countries with other fiqh traditions (esp. Somalia and Pakistan). Saudi oil wealth has also provided for new mosques (and Hanbali interpretations) for Muslims living in western countries. The Saudis are extremely active in funding University chairs and think tanks in the West as well.
The Salafist Wahhabi brand of the Hanbali school targets Shia, Jews, and Christians as their chief enemies. They justify violence since it was the practice of the early ancestors and therefore a model for practice today. It would be as if a school of Jewish thought today emulated the slaughter by Moses and Aaron of the 3000 Jews worshiping the Golden Calf as a fitting method for dealing with the American Jewish Reform movement. The salafist Hanbalis rule the streets of Saudi Arabia and are the ideology behind Al Qaeda, ISIS, Boko Haram, and Al Shabaab just to name a few. They have exerted a huge influence in Pakistan. The five last attacks on US soil by terrorists have all been by Salafist Sunnis. Their behavior represents a gross deviation from Shia Islam and the three other traditional schools of Sunni Islam (95% of Sunnis). The map is clear: this ideology is centered in Saudi Arabia and controls both Holy Cities. The map shows us also the encircling coalition that can be built to isolate and eradicate this demonic twisting of Islam. This smallest school of law is the richest and most missionary-minded of all the fiqh traditions. For centuries it was shrinking and losing status. But the historical troika of American arms, Saudi oil, and Wahhabi ideology has created a nightmare in the Mideast that spilt over into America on 9/11/2001. The American political, military and intellectual class has never attained the religious literacy to understand the loyalties that still shape this conflict. The map shows the geostrategic vulnerability of this movement if it is named and isolated. Such an encirclement will not be led by "moderate Muslims." It will take courageous men of God who are willing to submit to His Will and dare look the devil in the eye. They will be men of Sharia, strong Muslims, who set themselves against the lawlessness of the Wahhabi cult. For now the most powerful Christian nation, America, and the only Jewish nation, Israel, are in league with a demonic sect perverting Islam. May we understand this map and work that nations might live in fraternity under His Law.
David Pence and A Joseph Lynch