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The Faith of the Faithless

All quiet on the Journal Eastern front for a few weeks – I’ve been on solitary retreat. One of the perhaps too many books I read whilst away was philosopher Simon Critchley‘s exquisite – and timely – book The Faith of the Faithless: Experiments in Political Theology.

The starting point for the book is an attempt to make sense of current times in terms of politics, religion and violence. Critchley claims that ‘religiously justified violence is increasingly employed as the means to a political end.’ The blurb for the book says that ‘the return to religion has perhaps become the dominant cliché of contemporary philosophy’ and that ‘the secular age has given way to a new era where political action flows directly from metaphysical conflict.’

The events of this week seem to bear this out, with the start of the trial of Anders Breivik, the man who killed 77 people in Norway last July. Breivik described himself on Wednesday, his second day in the witness box, as a “militant Christian”. He said he would ‘rather be executed than receive Norway’s “pathetic” maximum punishment of 21 years in jail’. (Guardian) ‘He contrasted his “operation” with the… Baader Meinhof gang, who he said were atheists who did not want to die because they “didn’t believe in the afterlife”. He added: “That’s what’s unique about both militant nationalists and militant Islamists … we do believe in an afterlife, at least many of us [militant nationalists] do, because we are Christians.”‘ (Guardian)

Critchley contrasts active and passive nihilism in Infinitely Demanding: Ethics of Commitment, Politics of Resistance. ‘In the face of the increasing brutality of reality, the passive nihilist tries to achieve a mystical stillness, calm contemplation: ‘European Buddhism’. In a world that is all too rapidly blowing itself to pieces, the passive nihilist closes his eyes and makes himself into an island. The active nihilist also finds everything meaningless, but instead of sitting back and contemplating, he tries to destroy this world and bring another into being.’ (‘European Buddhism’ is a reference to Nietzsche’s take on Buddhism in The Will to Power.)

Critchley defended non-violence in Infinitely Demanding. In The Faith of the Faithless, however, he modifies his position, saying that to prejudge all political struggles ‘on the basis of an abstract conception of nonviolence is to risk dogmatic blindness’, and that his previous defense of nonviolence ‘suffers from this dogmatism’.

What is our response to all of this, given the first Buddhist precept: nonviolence? One response that I have would be to refer Simon Critchley to Robert Morrison’s wonderful Nietzsche and Buddhism: A Study in Nihilism and Ironic Affinities, which addresses Nietzsche’s misunderstanding of Buddhism as nihilistic. Another response is to write a longer review of The Faith of the Faithless, which I hope to do before too long. One response for you could be to come along to the LBC this Saturday at 230-4pm to discuss Buddhism, violence and nonviolence in the light of these issues: I’m running a Buddhism and current affairs discussion group for the next eight Saturdays, with Ambaranta and other friends. Do join us, if you can, for these ‘Experiments in Political Buddhology’.

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2 Responses to “The Faith of the Faithless”

  1. Jnanavaca says:

    Very interesting Manjusiha. And all the best for the Buddhism and Current Affairs group.

  2. f says:

    re ‘religiously justified violence is increasingly employed as the means to a political end.’ and ‘What is our response to all of this, given the first Buddhist precept: nonviolence?’

    Blasphemy law in Islamic law. Islam QA [ a very popular muslim web site] explains this, using both Qur’an and Hadith to make its argument:

    I heard on a tape that whoever insults the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) should be executed even if he shows that he has repented. Should he be killed as a hadd punishment or because of kufr? If his repentance is sincere, will Allaah forgive him or will he go to Hell and his repentance will be of no avail? Praise be to Allaah.
    The answer to this question may be given by addressing the two following issues:
    1 – The ruling on one who insults the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him)
    The scholars are unanimously agreed that a Muslim who insults the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) becomes a kaafir and an apostate who is to be executed. This consensus was narrated by more than one of the scholars, such as Imaam Ishaaq ibn Raahawayh, Ibn al-Mundhir, al-Qaadi ‘Iyaad, al-Khattaabi and others. Al-Saarim al-Maslool, 2/13-16
    This ruling is indicated by the Qur’aan and Sunnah.
    In the Qur’aan it says (interpretation of the meaning):
    “The hypocrites fear lest a Soorah (chapter of the Qur’aan) should be revealed about them, showing them what is in their hearts. Say: ‘(Go ahead and) mock! But certainly Allaah will bring to light all that you fear.’
    If you ask them (about this), they declare: ‘We were only talking idly and joking.’ Say: ‘Was it at Allaah, and His Ayaat (proofs, evidences, verses, lessons, signs, revelations, etc.) and His Messenger that you were mocking?’
    Make no excuse; you disbelieved after you had believed”
    [al-Tawbah 9:64-66]
    This verse clearly states that mocking Allaah, His verses and His Messenger constitutes kufr, so that applies even more so to insulting. The verse also indicates that whoever belittles the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) is also a kaafir [unbeliever], whether he was serious or joking.
    With regard to the Sunnah, Abu Dawood (4362) narrated from ‘Ali that a Jewish woman used to insult the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) and say bad things about him, so a man strangled her until she died, and the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) ruled that no blood money was due in this case.
    Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah said in al-Saarim al-Maslool (1/162): This hadeeth is jayyid, and there is a corroborating report in the hadeeth of Ibn ‘Abbaas which we will quote below.
    This hadeeth clearly indicates that it was permissible to kill that woman because she used to insult the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him).

    Abu Dawood (4361) narrated from Ibn ‘Abbaas that a blind man had a freed concubine (umm walad) who used to insult the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) and say bad things about him. He told her not to do that but she did not stop, and he rebuked her but she did not heed him. One night, when she started to say bad things about the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) and insult him, he took a short sword or dagger, put it on her belly and pressed it and killed her. The following morning that was mentioned to the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him). He called the people together and said, “I adjure by Allah the man who has done this action and I adjure him by my right over him that he should stand up.” The blind man stood up and said, “O Messenger of Allaah, I am the one who did it; she used to insult you and say bad things about you. I forbade her, but she did not stop, and I rebuked her, but she did not give up her habit. I have two sons like pearls from her, and she was kind to me. Last night she began to insult you and say bad things about you. So I took a dagger, put it on her belly and pressed it till I killed her.” Thereupon the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “Bear witness, there is no blood money due for her.”
    (Classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in Saheeh Abi Dawood, 3655)

    It seems that this woman was a kaafir, not a Muslim, for a Muslim could never do such an evil action. If she was a Muslim she would have become an apostate by this action, in which case it would not have been permissible for her master to keep her; in that case it would not have been good enough if he were to keep her and simply rebuke her.
    Al-Nasaa’i narrated (4071) that Abu Barzah al-Aslami said: A man spoke harshly to Abu Bakr al-Siddeeq and I said, ‘Shall I kill him?’ He rebuked me and said, ‘That is not for anyone after the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) .'” (Saheeh al-Nasaa’i, 3795)
    It may be noted from this that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) had the right to kill whoever insulted him and spoke harshly to him, and that included both Muslims and kaafirs.

    The second issue is: if a person who insulted the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) repents, should his repentance be accepted or not?
    The scholars are agreed that if such a person repents sincerely and regrets what he has done, this repentance will benefit him on the Day of Resurrection and Allaah will forgive him.
    But they differed as to whether his repentance should be accepted in this world and whether that means he is no longer subject to the sentence of execution.
    Maalik and Ahmad were of the view that it should not be accepted, and that he should be killed even if he has repented.
    They quoted as evidence the Sunnah and proper understanding of the ahaadeeth:
    In the Sunnah, Abu Dawood (2683) narrated that Sa’d ibn Abi Waqqaas said: “On the Day of the Conquest of Makkah, the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) granted safety to the people except for four men and two women, and he named them, and Ibn Abi Sarh… As for Ibn Abi Sarh, he hid with ‘Uthmaan ibn ‘Affaan, and when the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) called the people to give their allegiance to him, he brought him to stand before the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him). He said, “O Prophet of Allaah, accept the allegiance of ‘Abd-Allaah.” He raised his head and looked at him three times, refusing him, then he accepted his allegiance after the third time. Then he turned to his companions and said: “Was there not among you any smart man who could have got up and killed this person when he saw me refusing to give him my hand and accept his allegiance?” They said, “We do not know what is in your heart, O Messenger of Allaah. Why did you not gesture to us with your eyes?” He said, “It is not befitting for a Prophet to betray a person with a gesture of his eyes.”
    (Classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in Saheeh Abi Dawood, 2334)
    This clearly indicates that in a case such as this apostate who had insulted the Prophet (S), it is not obligatory to accept his repentance, rather it is permissible to kill him even if he comes repentant.

    ‘Abd-Allaah ibn Sa’d was one of those who used to write down the Revelation, then he apostatized and claimed that he used to add whatever he wanted to the Revelation. This was a lie and a fabrication against the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him), and it was a kind of insult. Then he became Muslim again and was a good Muslim, may Allaah be pleased with him. Al-Saarim 115.
    With regard to proper understanding of the ahaadeeth:
    They said that insulting the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) has to do with two rights, the right of Allaah and the right of a human being. With regard to the right of Allaah, this is obvious, because it is casting aspersions upon His Message, His Book and His Religion. As for the right of a human being, this is also obvious, because it is like trying to slander the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) by this insult. In a case which involves both the rights of Allaah and the rights of a human being, the rights of the human beings are not dropped when the person repents, as in the case of the punishment for banditry, because if the bandit has killed someone, that means that he must be executed and crucified. But if he repents before he is caught, then the right of Allaah over him, that he should be executed and crucified, no longer applies, but the rights of other humans with regard to qisaas (retaliatory punishment) still stand. The same applies in this case. If the one who insulted the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) repents, then the rights of Allaah no longer apply, but there remains the right of the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him), which still stand despite his repentance.
    If it is said, “Can we not forgive him, because during his lifetime the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) forgave many of those who had insulted him and he did not execute them?” The answer is:
    The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) sometimes chose to forgive those who had insulted him, and sometimes he ordered that they should be executed, if that served a greater purpose. But now his forgiveness is impossible because he is dead, so the execution of the one who insults him remains the right of Allaah, His Messenger and the believers, and the one who deserves to be executed cannot be let off, so the punishment must be carried out.
    Al-Saarim al-Maslool, 2/438
    Insulting the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) is one of the worst of forbidden actions, and it constitutes kufr and apostasy from Islam, according to scholarly consensus, whether done seriously or in jest. The one who does that is to be executed even if he repents and whether he is a Muslim or a kaafir. If he repents sincerely and regrets what he has done, this repentance will benefit him on the Day of Resurrection and Allaah will forgive him.
    Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah (may Allaah have mercy on him) wrote a valuable book on this matter, entitled al-Saarim al-Maslool ‘ala Shaatim al-Rasool which every believer should read, especially in these times when a lot of hypocrites and heretics dare to insult the Messenger (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) because they see that the Muslims are careless and feel little protective jealousy towards their religion and their Prophet, and they do not implement the shar’i punishment which would deter these people and their ilk from committing this act of blatant kufr [unbelief].
    And Allaah knows best.
    May Allaah send blessings and peace upon our Prophet Muhammad and all his family and companions.

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