The author discusses at the onset of the book the birth of Islamic parties or what is otherwise known as the ‘Arabian legacy of governance’. The Arabian Peninsula came under royal regime prior to the first pledge of Al-Aqaba between Prophet Mohammad and Banu Khazraj, which resulted in the establishment of the Arab Islamic states. Besides the religious factor, one of the primary reasons for this pledge was the pursuit of political, economic and social change after the Jews had seized Yathrib and its vicinity.
The earliest subject to cause dissent among Muslims and led them to draw their swords and resort to interpretation, was the issue of khilafah, i.e. the process of succession to Prophet Mohammed. Even after the appointment of Abu Bakr As-Seddiq as Caliph over Muslims, the conflict did not end and is still dragging on today. Whether under Abi Bakr or Omar or Uthman or Ali, the factors that contributed to the conflict over Imamate varied from tribal, to economic and to national. In addition to the fact that Islam emerged and survived in a climate where clans both had the final say and the highest standing and where the community refused to acknowledge the individual who had no tribal affiliations, the economic factor also played an important role in kindling power struggle, particularly during the reign of Ali Bin Abi Talib who recovered the land granted by Uthman and ordered the recovery of everything the elites had acquired before his election. Money thus served as a main element against the new Caliph. As for the national factor, it came into play after Ali shifted the seat of the Caliphate from Medina to Kufa in Iraq, thus prompting an outcry from people in Damascus.
As to whether the selection and designation of the Imam is a right belonging exclusively to God or whether a group of Muslims interferes in choosing, appointing and dismissing him on the grounds that the Imamate is a ramification of religion rather than a cornerstone, the answers varied among Muslims.
According to the Shia’a, appointing the Imam and entrusting him with religious custodianship can only come from God and the Ummah thus loses its right to determining governance. This was known as the ‘divine right’ or the ‘religious state’. Power struggle in Islamist communities was also religiously interpreted and the companions who put Abi Bakr ahead of Ali Bin Abi Taleb in khilafah were declared as disbelievers.
Al-Mu’tazila though, which is a movement of opposition that arose in the Arab community under the Umayyads believed that the khilafah al-rashida (rightly-guided caliphate) was a political system that the Muslims, through their human will, had contributed to building and was therefore of a political, not a religious nature.
The I’tizal (neutrality) means withdrawing from the conflict and devoting oneself to one’s own affairs, be they spiritual or mundane. The qualities of the Imam and the requirements he should meet can only be dictated by the civil and political nature of the matters that he is assigned to fulfill. The Imam is a supreme ruler who guarantees the enforcement of the sharia’a and the law, he is not a holder of religious authority soliciting infallibility and connection with the heavens. The doctrines of Al-Mu’tazil were advocated by Ahl al-Sunna, noting that the principle of shura, i.e. consulting others, existed during the era of the Caliphs.
The book addresses a central issue in both our intellectual history and political heritage, an issue that led to the most fundamental and intrinsic division of the Muslim Ummah between Sunni and Shia’a. It is no surprise to hear social and political spheres abuzz with talks about Islamic civilized identity at a time when slogans of the ‘religious authority ordained by God’ are raised and the Imam is seeking a religious government dominated by scholars and clerics that eclipse the political, social and economic life of the Ummah.