Good Governance in Islam in the Light of Takhalluq Bi Asmaa Allah Al Husna: A Classical Approach to Human Rights and Governance


[This is the seventh in a series of my notes on the International Institute of Islamic Thought conference on Good Governance in Islam: Classical and Contemporary Approaches held in Herndon, VA. These notes have only been lightly edited and represent my perception of the discussion. The proceedings will be published by IIIT at a later time. Responsibility for any errors in the notes is mine alone. Names of participants (other than mine) in the general discussion have been omitted by request of the organizers.]

“Good Governance in Islam in the Light of Takhalluq Bi Asmaa Allah Al Husna:
A Classical Approach to Human Rights and Governance”

Dr. Kenneth Honerkamp, Professor of Religion and Arabic Studies, University of Georgia, Athens

Ethical and moral values insure the sustainability of freedom and justice. There is an interplay of ethics and rights. Islamic society defends the rights of individuals as members of socio-political collectivity. God, al-Haqq assures the rights of His creation in mankind. A discourse has developed between rule-based (fiqh) and virtue-based (akhlâq) ethics. One side saw education as essential recognizing the right (haqq) of certainty (yakîn) of one’s rational faculty interacting with a tawhidi attitude. An inner attitude of shukr (gratitude) is to know particular grace is a gift from God and then use it. Tahalluq is the active principle of the educational method of the Sufi scholars and mentors to put the interest of others ahead of one’s own. It is a model for normative ethical comportment. I will discuss al-Ghazali’s analysis of tahalluq and other scholars representing both tasawwuf and fiqh.

In Surat-ar-Ra’d Allah says he will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in their hearts, and also God will never change a blessing he has conferred on a people unless they change what is themselves. Ibn Qayim sees the situation of the human is that he is among abundant gifts of which he is oblivious and instead imagines a better state for which he longs.  He thinks that it is because of a lack of appreciation of the good state in which we are that the human falls into a negative state; thus the need of a change of attitude. The Islamic quest for wisdom was not to believe God is One, which they already knew, but to understand the implication of unity, with two complementary dimensions, to recognize the meanings of the attributes of God and to put it into practice by assuming as one’s own the character traits of God. Knowing human attributes we can recognize the difference between the sick and healthy; by knowing the difference between right and wrong we can actualize the socio-economic imperatives our role entails.

Yaqîn, certainly, opposes `aql, which must take a secondary role. Ibn `Abad perceived yaqîn as the principle upon which the religion is founded and the connection between truth and right-action, haqq, and Sharia, haqîqah. The contemplation of Divine unity replaces an eschatological view of the world. More than a source of the law, it is a means of conformity to Divine reality, in which we see ourselves as an actor in the divine drama. The one who engages in remembrance is the one aware that God sees him in every situation. Tawhid and gratitude form an alternative methodology to an adherence to a detailed code. Mushahid at-tawhidiyyah: Inward and outward submission is the base for good governance. Sound knowledge is self-governance. Ethical comportment and good governance form a classical Islamic perspective.

The best known work is by al-Ghazali is Maqâsid al-FalâsifaI.  Ch. 6 says that the happiness of man consists on conformance with the divines name insofar as it is conceivable for man. After hearing and understanding the name, share in the meaning 1) through an interior awareness that clarifies the meaning in a way that allows no error, 2) esteem for the names in a way causes a great longing to implement and actualize the attributes, and 3) the aspiration to acquire the meaning of the attributes and to conform to their meanings to imitate them and adorn oneself with them. A lengthy commentary follows based on the hadith of the 99 names. He then provides tanbîh (counsel). Humanity’s share of ar-Rahman is to show mercy to the negligent treating every misfortune in the world as his own. The share of ar-Rahîm is not to turn away from anyone in need or poverty without interceding on their behalf and if he cannot do so then to pray on their behalf as if it were his own need.

There are many commentaries, all dealing with how we conform spiritually and socially to these names. Ibn Arabi counsels contemplation, devotion, and conformity.

Discussant: Muhammad Faghfoory

I’m not comfortable with the dichotomy between rule-based ethics and virtue-based ethics. The idea of Haqq-al-yaqîn presumes the grounds on which haqq-al-yaqîn is built. The use of asmâ al husna in magic was only on the popular level. In the Sufi orders they were not used for magic. Popular attitude towards governance is different from the implications of Sufi orders on governance. Sufism is personal transformation not social transformation.

Discussant: Yahya Michot

What I see of the influence of this focus on ismâ al husna is its use in magic rather than governance. Junata-al-asmâ (Shield of the Names) of Ghazali leads to that kind of talismanic use. Your presentation is about becoming one with God, but where is the Prophet? Isn’t that another way of actualizing the names of God and would it have more use for good governance. What about hadith an-nawâful (e.g., who declares war against my servant, I declare war against him, etc.)?

Honerkamp: I think it is a mistake to say Sufism is aimed at the individual. History does not support the view that Sufis are in the zâwiya. I agree on the overlap between Sufis and fuquha, but that doesn’t mean there was no tension between the bases of ethics. As for `ilm-al-yaqîn, etc., that is a good point in that there are different levels. As for the Prophet, he is the exemplar. As to magic, yes that is in his commentary.

General Discussion

Michot: It is now known that Ibn Arabi had the same teacher as the author of the Bible of Magic.

The definition of magic is not clear.

The Sufi notion of the perfect man differs from Iqbal’s. Is there a contradiction between qadr and working towards perfection.

The Qur’an too has been used magically. The degrees of yaqîn comes from the Quran.

Ahmad: The definition of magic involves a congruence of microcosm and macrocosm.

This is not magic but occult sciences. Martin Lings wrote a good article on the Qur’anic origins of Sufism.

Honerkamp: This is a complex issue. There is an annotated bibliography in my book. Get Al-Ghazali’s Ninety-Nine Beautiful Names.

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute

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