Al-Azhar Grand Imam's Speech during the International Conference in Uzbekistan on “Imam Abu Mansūr Al-Matrīdi and His Teachings”
Here is the speech by the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Prof. Ahmed Aṭ-Ṭayyeb, Chairman of the Muslim Council of Elders during the international conference in Uzbekistan on “Imam Abu Mansūr al-Matrīdi and His Teachings: Past and Present”. The conference was held from 8-10 Rajab, 1441A.H. (3-5 March 2020).
In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful
Dear respectable scholars,
Ladies and gentlemen,
May the Peace and Blessings of Allah be with you all!
It gives me pleasure to begin my speech by expressing my gratitude to the state of Uzbekistan its President, its government, and its people. I do thank Mr. President Mirziyoyev for inviting me to participate in this great conference for his hospitality and for his warm welcome.
The temporal and geographical contexts in which this conference takes place highlight its significance and the importance of its topic. This testifies to the prudence of those in charge of it, their interest in discovering our roots, and searching for our great legacy of the well-established fundamentals and principles of religion to make use of them, in their attempt to get safeguarded within the conflict of civilizations.
This conference indeed focuses on discovering our unique character, and the detailed features of our identity. It is an attempt to remove the dust off our cultural resources, and our intellectual and spiritual cognitive inheritance, whether those obtained by transmission or by reasoning. Furthermore, this knowledge, whose light was about to fade away and whose landmarks almost blurred, was affected by the periods of darkness through which your country, and the rest of the Muslim countries, have gone through.
If you scrutinize the case of the Muslim Nation today, you will undoubtedly realize that it has to make a choice between two alternative roads. We need to either make progress in emphasizing our identity and maintaining it, seen as a reference for what to adopt and what to discard, or otherwise get lost and commit suicide by losing our identity, running away from it, or disregarding it. I hope not to sound pessimistic when I say that our Muslim and Arab World would still hesitate between those two extremes, unable to make a decision. We are still unsure where to go although we were liberated from Western imperialism more than half a century ago. This period would be enough for the Muslim World to recuperate, make its decision, and correct its course.
What has made matters worse is the tyranny of globalization, which calls for reshaping the whole world in a new universal way. It wants to shape the whole world after one cultural type that enables the strong to impose their inhuman dictatorship. Philosopher Roger Garaudy says that such policies would facilitate devouring the weak nations under the pretext of mutual trade and free markets.
We are not exaggerating if we say that globalization is but a ferocious version and a new era of imperialism that splits the world into two parts: the world of the producers, which dominates through corporations, banks, and webs, and the world of consumers of imposed canned foods and drinks, and forced images and information. As usual, the imperialists have not forgotten to introduce to us imperialist theories of globalization in the form of philosophy and scientific research. For example, they have introduced the theories of “Conflict of Civilizations” and “End of History” which attempt to falsify the cognition of nations, paralyze their will, and warn them against restoring their character or discovering their identity. These theories are not completely new or newly devised, but, as are mere “old wine sold in new bottles” as the proverb goes.
In fact, such theories are exact replicas of the racist theories employed by the European imperialists throughout the three previous centuries. Such theories include “the white man’s burden”, “the white man’s mission”, and his responsibility before Allah to teach the non-white people who have not reached his level of knowledge and civilization. This was known as the theory of “Aryan Racism”, a theory soon proved by research to be nothing but a racist claim and a big lie, supported by neither science nor history.
The same thing applies to other current imperialist philosophies that have promised us with the Lost Paradise if we turned our back on Allah, disbelieved in Him and His messages, discarded our three-thousand-year old legacy that is the fruit of divine religions. Instead, they want us to resort to atheist philosophies and dialectical natural science and history, the myth of the unseen world, ethical chaos, unbridled ideas, and freedom of values, and to destroy the demarcation lines between good and evil and between what conforms to our tradition and what does not. Such ideas have been embodied in plays, novels, movies, university curriculums of philosophy, politics, and economics. We thank Allah that we have lived to see how their theories collapse before our eyes, suddenly without anticipated precursors or matching reasons.
I do not want you to think that this rather lengthy introduction deviates from the main focus of the conference topic, which is Imam of Guidance Abu Mansūr Al-Matrīdi, may Allah be pleased with him. In fact, it straightforwardly points out the significance of the conference. This conference is not inspired by the need to praise the pioneers of the early scholars and intellects but it is rather motivated by the needs of the poor and the oppressed nations. These nations have the right to enjoy safety and peaceful coexistence. We hope that peace will pervade the East as well as the West; otherwise, the crisis may exasperate and the whole world can suffer wild circumstances similar to pre-historic eras. We should look at this conference as being a torch of light at the end of a semi-dark tunnel, or a boat sailing safely through high waves.
This conference can thus be seen from two perspectives:
The first is to determine the attitude of the Muslim Nation towards the deluge of modernism and post-modernism. All the modern means of communication are employed to target the minds of the Muslim people, old and young, especially the minds of perplexed youth. They target the youth with their messages whether printed, televised on space channels, or transmitted over social media. What is even more dangerous is that some of those who wear our cloaks and speak our tongue mistake the Arabic version of modernism for the call to renewal or reformation of religious thought. This intentional or unintentional confusion has encouraged some of those alien to the sciences of Islam to speak ill of the great Muslim scholars, including the most distinguished ones. This state of religious turmoil leads the whole nation towards only one exit, which is the revival of its legacy. It is necessary to study and teach this legacy at specialized institutes and universities, and to select from it what helps us achieve a modern revival that combines the values of the legacy with technical and intellectual developments.
This cause requires holding more than one conference to which all Muslim scholars should converge. They should discuss how to achieve this revival and to determine the principles of sorting out legislative frameworks and fundamentals of jurisprudence that allow partial changes and replacements, and to leave out what is outdated when it cannot anymore be applied in our time. In this way, revival of the legacy and the specialized conferences should be encouraged and praised. Again, I would like to thank the State of Uzbekistan on this honorable initiative with which it should be proud.
The second perspective, which shows the value of this conference, represents the religious school of the people of Sunnah and Jamāʿah, which is the approach of the great majority of the Muslims worldwide. This includes, in the first place, the Ash‛arī scholars, the Matrīdi scholars, the scholars of Ḩadith from the Ḩanafiy, Mālkiy, Shaf‛iy and Ḩanbaliy schools of jurisprudence, the mystic Sufis and the scholars of Arabic language and rhetoric. It is regretful to refer once more to a portion of the youth of this nation in whose minds the concept of the Sunnah and Jamāʿah has been confused and used as a pretext for radicalism and extremism. They exaggerate, charge others with blasphemy, allow the killing of others, and consider those who do not maintain the same doctrine as theirs to be out of the cloak of the Sunnah and Jamāʿah. At Al-Azhar, we work day and night to correct such misconceptions and to restore the true meaning of genuine concepts that have been approved by the consensus of the Muslims for more than a thousand years.
In fact, we are doing our best to introduce the doctrine of the Ḩanafiy Imam, Al-Matrīdi and the doctrine of his contemporary, the Shaf‛iy Imam Al-Ash‛arī to this country and its neighbors out of loyalty to Al-Azhar. I joined Al-Azhar institution in 1956 and completed my primary and secondary schools where the two books Sharḩ ul-Kharīdah and Sharḩ ul-Jawharah were taught. These two textbooks teach the genuine doctrine of the people of the truth. Then in 1965, I joined the Faculty of the Fundamentals of Religion where we continued our study of theology. It was Imam An-Nassafī’s opening phrase of his creed that we first heard at this venerable faculty: “The people of the truth say, ‘Facts are established and knowledge about them is obtainable, contrary to what Sophist philosophers claim’”. We also learnt from the commentators that the people of the truth are the Matrīdīs and the Ash‛arīs.
According to Taj ud-Dīn As-Subkī in his book Ṭabaqāt ul-Shāfiʿyyah, the doctrine of these two Imams was destined to live long because it was not an innovation of the two Imams. It was not biased to reason at the cost of transmitted texts or vice versa; rather, it confirmed what the Prophet (p.b.u.h.) and his companions approved and practiced, adhering to it, arguing for it, and introducing evidence supporting it.
In conclusion, I have a question that might seem superficial though in essence it is a major one: Is the Muslim Nation in need of the doctrine of these two Imams today? The direct answer is ‘Yes, for sure’. I even go so far as to say that nothing can stop the bloodshed due to extremism except the doctrine of the people of Sunnah and Jamāʿah (the mainstream Muslims). We certainly know that the militant groups who claim to belong to Islam commit their crimes of killing on the basis of a corrupt doctrine. According to their doctrine, those who commit a grave sin (kabīrah) are unbelievers, hence it is allowable to kill them even if they prayed, fasted, and declared their faith in Islam. To them, whoever commits a grave sin is an unbeliever, so he is denied the right of safety for his life, money, or dignity. Charging people with disbelief because of their sins is a means towards murdering them. It is a bloody doctrine in disguise exploiting religion for its purposes. I would like to draw the attention of non-specialized people to the fact that the doctrine of the Sunnah and Jamāʿah is the only doctrine that does not charge other Muslims with blasphemy. It is the only doctrine, I repeat, that does not drive any Muslim out of the cloak of Islam even if they committed all the grave sins and died as such. On his deathbed in Baghdad, Imam, Al-Ash‛arī said to his attendants, “I want you to testify that I do not charge anyone who faces the Qiblah (direction of Kaʿba in prayer) with blasphemy, because all of them are facing one God, regardless of the different religious approaches they have”.
Imam Al-Matrīdi maintains the same principle. He also extensively traced the views and opinions of the Khawarij and the Muʿtazilah as well as the rest of those who charge people with blasphemy on account of their sins. Then, he refuted all their claims in fifty six pages in the fourth chapter of his great book Kitabu t-Tawḩīd (the Book of Monotheism). The Prophet of this Nation (p.b.u.h.) has clearly confirmed, “Whoever prays like us, faces our Qiblah and eats our slaughtered animals is a Muslim and is under Allah's and His Messenger’s guardianship. So do not betray Allah by betraying those who are in His Guardianship”.
I wonder if Imam Al-Matrīdi, whose doctrine we today meet to revive in his hometown Samarkand near his tomb, does not represent a life jacket for our youth involved with murderers and extremists! Should not the whole Muslim Nation promote this doctrine which sincerely represents the spirit of Islam and its care for human beings, their lives, their property and their dignity? Should not the Nation make an effort to teach it to the young students? Should not the Nation give room, limited as it may, to it in the programs and interviews broadcast on its information media?
In conclusion to my speech, I invite the researchers to do their best to uncover the legacy of this genius Imam who was gifted in many fields of knowledge. I say proudly that Scholars of Al-Azhar have done some of what Imam Al-Matrīdi deserves as they have introduced about fifty dissertations on him and his school. More dissertations about his school of jurisprudence, creed, and Qur᾿ānic exegesis are on the way.
Thank you for your attentive listening, and may the Peace and Blessings of Allah be with you.