Apaloosa, Kings & Islam
Yesterday I was in the mood for a Western, so I watched Apaloosa. It's funny how the genre has moved on from being completely absurd (John Wayne, who I can't stand) to being absurdly realistic.
The Spaghetti Westerns, personified by "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly", are classics on three fronts: their score, the close-ups and the long drawn out silences. The imagery is one of solitude, and that imagery continues throughout the genre.
At the frontiers, of absolutely anything, you must be prepared to go it alone. But then whether you achieve, or not, depends on the slow movement of civilization. And it is that system of organization that is necessary, both for your survival and your posterity (that which you leave behind after you have gone).
Clash of Civilizations?
Of course the civilization I talk of here is not one of absolutes, or norms.
And so that frontier, there, was not one of Civilization versus Non-Civilization. And that the Western Civilization eventually destroyed the Native Indian Civilization, does not mean that it was necessarily any better. But in order to effect the destruction of another Civilization it is imperative to create chaos and lawlessness, so your claim of superiority might better be believed. And that was the Wild West.
And maybe we are seeing that same dynamic in action in Baghdad, Kabul and now Pakistan; the onslaught of one Civilization against another.
But then maybe, just maybe, the real frontier is someplace else. Maybe that frontier is in this blog that I pen.
This because Islam is not a place, but a most powerful and relevant ideal.
But what, I hear you ask, has this all to do with Kings and Islam?
In Apaloosa in order to deal with the lawlessness of the frontier, the people were forced to give over the right to make LAW to a hired hand. The PEACE-maker, as he called himself, came with a ready solution. He held in his hand a document that once signed into statute, allowed him to become the LAW.
Ibn Khaldun, the first analytical historian, argued that that Royal Authority, to become the Law and make War or Peace, is a function of the measure of bonding between a people (Assabiyah) and hence their needs. For adversity, normally, causes people to rediscover their commonality and ignore their differences.
And just as in Apaloosa, I can well imagine a time when banditry and lawlessness were the order of the day, and where every man, family, town and city was forced to seek shelter and normality in Kingship.
And so at the beginning the common need for security drove people to make Kings. But Kingship is unnatural. A King cannot be free, but of a necessity has to be bound by convention. Every King of Men is a King on the proviso that the people maintain him as such. The taller the tree, the harder the fall. And so a King’s continuous pre-occupation must always be the maintenance of his authority, so that it might not vanish. And then of course Absolute Power corrupts Absolutely.
Thus every King of Men is crushed between one of two extremes: the ability to fulfill his every whim, and the desperate need to maintain his standing both for himself and his posterity.
In Apaloosa we see the absurdity of that conundrum come into play.
And Ibn Khalid noted the temporariness of Kingships in the Maghreb; that in general they lasted but three generations. Whereas other un-natural Kingships are shorn up by convention, in our Muslim lands our GOD-given conventions make poor ground for Kingships.
The Natural Way.
This because of our Deen-al-Fitra.
For Muslims call their faith "Deen al-Fitra", the way of man's natural inclination, and usually explain this with reference to man's inward and psychological life. That to worship is a natural element of what it means to be a man, and that then the sole remaining question is who deserves to be worshiped? One who is deaf, dumb, blind and in need, or the ONE who is free from all needs, sees, hears and knows all? Truly the ONE who deserves is the Creator, the Able, the Living, the Ever-Living.
But surely we all also know that man is a sociable creature. And that thus it is natural that we would want to organize ourselves in a way that adds to that natural sociability. Therefore an aspect of our religion being "Deen al-Fitra" must encompass the means of our Social and hence Political organization.
And the most fundamental matter in respect of all Political Authority is the matter of succession.
And this matter must have been especially urgent for our Prophet (saw), most especially because of his foretelling of all the problems that would come upon his Nation following his departure from this World.
The end of Kingdoms.
And with the coming of Muhammad (saw) Kingship ended.
Such portents were evident in the first years of the Meccan period when Quraish offered up Kingship to Muhammad (saw), on condition of his abandonment of the ONE God. His (saw) refusal was the first indication in his life that he was sent to abolish Kingships.
And then later on in the late Meccan period ALLAH t’ala revealed HIS direct Kingship of not just the Heavens but most importantly of the Earth and ALL on it and ALL in it and ALL between them (Heaven and Earth).
And still later in the early Medinan period ALLAH t’ala revealed to us Man’s stewardship over the Earth and all on it. Those verses reveal a time at the very beginning of archetypal Man’s Creation (Nabi Adam (as)) when ALLAH t’ala designed our creation and thereafter when HE empowered us with the knowledge of Words (S. Baqara).
Thus what was portended in Muhammad (saw)’s refusal of the Quraishi Kingship, was fulfilled in the Words of ALLAH t’ala where HE gave over to us the sacred trust of our World. That Kingship ended, and all ownership became the calling, of all of us, to account at the appointed time, on the Day of Truth. And all LAW became the Sacred Law, and its fulfillment and application, through interpretation, for the betterment of all of us.
The Rights of Succession.
And when Muhammad (saw) said "Obey those placed in authority over you" he did not mean, as many people misrepresent, "Do not rock the boat". For that was an argument of the Kings before him, and also of the Kings that came after him, that theirs was a GOD given authority.
Nor did he (saw) mean the rule of the Imams, for critically examining “Choose the one who best knows the Qur’an” will cause you to realize it’s specificity as opposed to its generality.
For did not Khalid bin Walid (ra) lead Abu Ubaydullah bin al-Jarrah (ra) whilst they both were in Khalid’s army? Evidently they understood it to mean “Choose the one who best knows the Qur’an” when no designated leader is available or present. Our Imams may be the inheritors of the Prophets in Knowledge, but not of their political authority.
However, Muhammad (saw) did teach us that "The Leader of a People is the one who best serves them."
In the instance of the urgency of a multitude of problems, to have left without specifying a successor in all but extremely vague terms can only mean that Muhammad (saw) wished the people to choose their leader for themselves.
A Great Legacy.
And so by these tokens the people were empowered to appoint leaders unto themselves, on the proviso that those leaders would seek to fulfill Mans obligations to ALLAH t’ala (GOD, Most High) (the fardh of the true religion) and then secondarily fulfill man’s obligation to his fellow man (enact justice), and then to do good to the people.
This most perfect form of social organization found expression in the Medina of our Prophet (saw) where every man and woman, irrespective of social status, was given the right to extend protection to whomsoever they wished on the proviso that those so protected would not seek to harm any other member of Medina. The power to make and declare PEACE traditionally lay with a King, and Muhammad (saw) extended that power of PEACE to every man and woman irrespective. Not for naught is this the religion of PEACE.
And not for naught is Islam known as the true religion of Democracy.
The rule of Enlightened Philosopher Kings as advocated by the Greek Philosophers, or Marcus Aerulius (Roman Emperor), was not for Muhammad (saw). Nor was the rule for any Imam or Religious Leader. Rather for Muhammad (saw) the rule to enact GOD’s way was for those who do good to the people and those who are chosen by them.
Muhammad (saw) must, at the very least, be credited with the creation of an open / vibrant society that took the whole World out of the dark ages. And that empowered every individual with the means to work for our collective betterment, all of us. A truly open and free society.
May ALLAH t’ala reward Muhammad (saw) abundantly, for but for him we would never have believed. I bear witness that there is no god but ALLAH t’ala, and I bear witness that Muhammad (saw) is HIS true Messenger and Prophet, who fulfilled that which he was obliged to fulfill, who delivered the True Message even unto us down through the centuries. Ameen.
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