Dr Andreas Christmann has written a chapter entitled “Islamic Scholar and Religious Leader: Shaikh Muhammad Sa’id Ramadan al-Buti” in John Cooper, Robert Nettler and Mohamed Mahmoud (eds), Islam and Modernity: Muslim Intellectuals Respond (2000) published by IB Tauris, London.
Christmann notes that the (now deceased) Shaykh promoted the idea that Muslims could borrow from the West what they saw as useful and vice versa. He spoke from a position of Islamic ideas being superior to those of the West, whose people have separated themselves unnecessarily from religion as part of their rejection of the authority of the Church.
However, despite this appealing analysis of recent developments concerning Muslim mentality, he is less clear and straightforward about how to achieve an Islamic society based on Islamic worship (‘ibadat) and law (shari’a). In his most controversial book, Jihad in Islam: How we understand it and how we apply it, the Shaikh basically rejects jihad (self-exertion in the cause of Allah) as a violent means to change the balance of of power and society. Against today’s mainstream Islamism, he declares the ultimate reason (‘illa) for jihad to be the prevention of robbery or brigandage (daf al-hirabah) and the defence of existing things, and not as a means to fight against unbelief (qada’ al-kufr).
Christmann also claims that al-Buti differentiates between mujahideen committing baghi (an evil or false endeavour) and those committing hiraba (highway robbery). The latter fall into an illegitimate and unlawful category as their jihad is without legitimacy. The former can still be legitimate in Islamic jurisprudence.
So who are those engaging in hiraba? Is it just those who hold up carriages on the freeway? al-Buti describes such people as:
… those who proclaim their attacks on their rulers, who are dedicated to kill, to assassinate treacherously (fatk), and to steal (khatf).
Little wonder al-Buti fell foul of many in the current Syrian opposition. His views effectively provided a basis for Assaad and other Middle Eastern dictators to use religious sanction to crush political opponents. At the very least, as Christmann notes:
… al-Buti’s differentiation has harsh consequences if mujahids are accused of being muharibun, then the ruler is allowed by Islamic law to treat them as such, as murtaddun or kuffar (people actively against Islam), which could lead to their execution. Because of this judgment, al-Buti was criticised for being in the same camp as the currently ruling despots.
al-Buti’s position appears more complex than this brief summation. However, his views have proven influential in Western Muslim circles, especially those describing themselves as following the “traditional Islam” of scholars in Yemen, Syria, Jordan and Western countries.
al-Buti’s views on jihad will be explored further elsewhere in this blog.