بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
والصلاة والسلام على اشرف الانبياء والمرسلين
In this third part of my series on religious freedom, I shall examine the concept of Zandaqah, usually translated to mean heresy.
The creed of Islam is quite simple, basic and straightforward. It has repeatedly been summarized in its fundamentals in the Quran, and in the well-known Hadith of Gabriel. Within a generation after the Prophet’s صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم death, the Muslims began dividing into sects and sub-sects over hairsplitting theological controversies. This was similar to the evolution of Christianity after the death of Jesus Christ; the amusing but hairsplitting Christological controversies which divided the Christians into multiple theological camps, each branding the other ‘heretics’. Nevertheless, in comparison to Christianity, the creed and doctrines of Islam are quite simple, straightforward and even rational. Take for example the simple doctrine of unitarian monotheism of Islam as opposed to the complex and sophisticated theology required to make sense of the mystery of the trinity, and the precise reality of how the three persons of that triune godhead relate to each other. Unlike Islam, Christianity has never been able to present an agreed upon, concise formula or method for an individual to become a Christian. In our Religion, the agreed upon formula is for a person to bear witness that there is none worthy of worship except Allah, the One God, and that Prophet Muhammad is His Apostle. And that is the first of the Five Pillars that define the basic praxis of Islam.
Sadly, some of the early Muslim jurists and legal experts introduced principles which defined Zandaqah (heresy) and how to deal with it. I find that objectionable because the primary sources of our Religion, the divinely revealed Scripture and the basic Shari’ah of our Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم do not actually address the issue of Zandaqah. The word itself is foreign to the vocabulary of Islam. It is from a Middle Persian word of Zoroastrian origin that was used to denote adherents of alternative religions present in Iran, such as Manichaeism.
In my understanding of the Shari’ah, there are three basic categories of the kuffar (disbelievers): 1. Kafir Asli (original disbeliever), someone who was never a Muslim because they were born in a non-Muslim household, 2. Murtad (apostate), someone who was a Muslim at one point in their life but subsequently renounced it, 3. Munafiq (hypocrite), someone who outwardly professes Islam and identifies as a Muslim, but who has concealed disbelief and rejection of Islam in their heart.
After the cessation of Prophetic Revelation, it is impossible to identify with any degree of certainty a munafiq. Therefore, Muslims are enjoined to judge by what is apparent, and if someone is apparently a Muslim and manifests the outward signs of Islam, he or she is to be treated as such and it is forbidden to do otherwise on the mere suspicion, however strong, that they are a hypocrite that is concealing disbelief in their heart.
But the medieval jurists invented a fourth category of disbeliever, namely the Zindiq (heretic), which they define as someone who professes Islam, but whose creed and/or practice of Islam is manifestly contrary to what is necessarily understood as being Islam. For example, someone who professes to be a Muslim but believes in dualism, i.e., in the existence of two opposing gods, whereas Islam clearly and fundamentally teaches monotheism, that there is only One God. And though that is a hypothetical scenario, in our time there are indeed certain groups who profess Islam and identify as Muslim, but hold beliefs and certain practices that are clearly against the very fundamentals of Islam. Take for examples the Zikris of Baluchistan, a sect which rejects the Second Pillar of Islam, the offering of the five daily prayers, which is the most salient feature of Islamic practice. Though they nominally identify as Muslim, it is admittedly difficult to characterize them as such beyond that mere profession. Likewise there historically were and continue to exist certain Ghali sects like the Nusayris who believe that Ali bin Abi Talib رضى الله عنه is God incarnate. Because such tendencies did not exist in the lifetime of Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم it has not been directly addressed in the divine Law of Islam. Indeed, the Prophet, in conducting a census to determine the exact number of Muslims in his domain, put forward only a single criterion for identifying a Muslim:
اكْتُبُوا لِي مَنْ تَلَفَّظَ بِالإِسْلاَمِ مِنَ النَّاسِ
Write for me (the name) of everyone who professes Islam from among the people (Sahih al-Bukhari)
Therefore, it is apparent to me that from a purely legal perspective, every individual who professes Islam, despite having clearly heretical beliefs, may be considered a Muslim for the purpose of law, enjoying the legal rights of a Muslim. This is the way of caution, and it is always better to err on the side of caution. The Prophet صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم strongly warned against the danger of takfir, declaring someone who professes Islam to be a disbeliever. Nevertheless, because the kufr of the heretics is so obvious, the Muslim mainstream should boycott and disassociate from them on a social level. In other words, Muslims should certainly not enter into marriage with heretics, pray behind them, participate in their funerals, or eat meat from their butchers. In other words, the state may treat them as though they are Muslims, but Muslim society should obviously separate and isolate them to the extent it is allowed to separate from and boycott misguided people of innovation and deviation under the Shari’ah. It is well known that some eminent individuals among the Salaf used to boycott the people of innovation, i.e., those people guilty of having introduced innovations in terms of praxis and doctrine while not rejecting any of the fundamentals of Islam. It is agreed upon by the authorities of Sunni Islam that the people of innovation are Muslims, entitled to all the legal rights of a Muslim, but that they may be socially boycotted to a certain extent as a means of protesting and expressing one’s displeasure with their innovations and misguidance. So I would only like to put the Zanadiqah (heretics) in the same category as the Mubtadi’ah (innovators) in terms of social dealings, though clearly the Mubtadi’ah are certainly preferable to the Zanadiqah and are actually Muslims, while the Zanadiqah are only being considered Muslim by me as a matter of extreme caution, though for all intents and purposes they are virtually disbelievers. Like I said, it is a quite a challenge for us to consider someone who believes in two deities, or believes God has incarnated Himself into a particular mortal human, a Muslim. Indeed, it is quite strange that any reasonable person who professes such beliefs would consider himself a Muslim, since it is common knowledge that Islam zealously emphasizes monotheism, that being its central tenet. So in actuality, the heretical groups of Zanadiqah are few and far between. They tend to be isolated communities living on the margins. Surely, their existence can be tolerated as they tend to be secretive and insular. They are not actively propagating their falsehood among the Muslim mainstream. At any rate, like the apostates, I find no justification whatsoever in putting them to the sword.
Finally, it should be noted that the invented principles and regulations of the medieval Islamic jurists concerning how the Zanadiqah are to be treated are dangerous in that zandaqah (heresy) has not been clearly defined. Deviation is in degrees, and there is a point at which certain deviations from normative Islam can be said to be in the no man’s land that lies between kufr and shirk from a minor form of misguidance and from innovation. If the boundaries of zandaqah are broadened too much, it will begin to encompass a large number of people who profess Islam, and lead to a great tribulation of takfir and consequently bloodshed or at the very least, grave social tensions within Muslim society. Regrettably, a large fraction of today’s Ulama, the narrow minded among whom I refer to as ‘Mullas’, are too quick and too eager to brand other Muslims with whom they have minor differences with in terms of doctrine and practice as being heretics. For example, the Ahmadiyyah or ‘Qadiyanis’ are largely considered Zanadiqah, despite the fact that their disagreement with the Muslim mainstream is quite minor, limited to a harmless difference of interpretation over the doctrine of the cessation of prophesy. Indeed, in terms of praxis, the Ahmadis are overall strictly observant of the Shari’ah and the Sunnah, and at times even exceed Sunni Muslims in their traditionalism and conservatism. So this concept of zandaqah has clearly been abused by our largely irresponsible Ulama, mostly due to misunderstanding the beliefs of other sects, and also due to political factors.