Minha in Medieval Islam

Question 1

            Minha is a period in Medieval Islam characterized by religious prosecution during the Abbasid Era, under the reign of Caliph al-Ma’mun in 833 CE, when he died. The Minha lasted for 15 years and ended in 848 CE. During this period, the ulama, religious scholars, were punished for having differing views from the Caliph. The inquisitorial question during the Minha was if the Quran was created. There were two groups, the traditionalists, and the rationalists. The traditionalists (Mutakallimun) were the ulama who believed that the Quran was not created because they believed that the Quran is God’s attribute. The words and actions of Muhammad were God’s speech. Therefore, the Quran is uncreated. Conversely, the rationalists (Muhaddithun) supported the theory that the Quran was created because God must have preceded his speech in the Quran and that the holy book expresses His eternal will. Therefore, God must have created the work at some point in time. The ulama were the religious leaders in the Islamic world, especially in Raqqa, where Caliph Ma’mun was situated. They developed different ideas about the Quran and were later divided into the rationalists and traditionalists.

            Mihna was a result of the intervention of the Caliphs in the debate among the rationalist and traditionalist ulamas[1]. During the Abbasid dynasty, the ulamas had power superseded that of the Caliphs in matters related to  religion. The ulamas were considered competent, while the Caliphs attempted to acquire their level of competence. They were also at the top of the Islamic hierarchy, a position that Caliphs aspired to reach. Caliph al-Ma’mun was conscious of the rivalries between the two groups of the ulama. He supported the muhaddithun faction, who were the traditionalists that supported the dogma that the Quran was uncreated. He realized that the muhaddithun, the traditionalists, were losing to the mutakallimun, the rationalists, and began his discourse against the latter by describing them as incompetent ulamas who would lead the masses astray.

            The traditionalists received support from Caliph al-Mamun. The Caliph believed that the rationalists were at the lower strata of the commonality and that they were incapable of comprehending the religious truths[2]. He then considered the rationalists the “adherents of sunna” and that they abuse their position by using it to win over the influential groups in the society, especially those who led an ascetic life. They were also considered the ignorant people that had false beliefs, and their perspective was a problem in the dynasty considering the caliphs within the dynasty were keen on strengthening their power and influence. With these ideas in mind, al-Ma’mun initiated the Mihna that continued after his death.

            Caliph al-Mutawakkil ended the Mihna in 848 CE after he professed the uncreatedness of the Quran. This pivotal ending came after al-Mamun writing to the rulers in Baghdad, asking them to end the interrogation in the larger groupings of the ulamas, ordering judges and witnesses to declare the Quran as created, and those who refused were disqualified from official duty. After his death, the Mihna continued under the reigns of caliphs al Mu’tasim and al-Wathiq. When al-Mutawakkil ascended to power, he proclaimed the holy book’s uncreatedness, systematically ending the Mihna[3]. The ending of the Mihna is symbolic of the Abbasid dynasty because its ending was because of power struggles within the dynasty and the invasion by the Mongols. The end of the Mihna also marked the end of the interference from the caliphs in religious matters.

Question 2

            Islamic law, also referred to as Sharia law, is the religious law in Islam derived from Quran and the hadith. This religious law is believed to be a form of guidance from Allah. He set the path for Muslims to be good servants to Him[4]. According to Sharia, Allah has an impact in every Muslim’s life. It also governs every aspect of their lives. Islamic law also governs how Muslims should live their lives and how to pray to Allah. The two primary sources of Islamic law are the Quran and the hadith. The Quran is the central holy book in Islam that contains revelations from Allah. The hadith are the records and words of Prophet Muhammad and are considered a source of religious law in Islam and a path for moral guidance.

There are additional Sharia sources that include the sunnah, qiyas, and ijma. The sunnah is also referred to as the authentic hadith and comprises of the traditional practices of Prophet Muhammad. The qiyas refers to the comparison of the teachings in hadith and Quran in the application of new injunctions in law[5]. The ijma refers to the consensus from various Islamic scholars on Islamic law. It is important to note that Sharia differs from fiqh, which refers to the human scholarly interpretations of the law whose sources are from the Quran, hadith, qiyas, and ijma, which are also the primary sources of Islamic jurisprudence. The Muslims practicing ijma, the Sunnis, view the Shia Muslims as individuals who go against the ijma because they introduced qiyas in the Islamic teachings through their rationalist views of mutakallimun.

Within the fiqh jurisprudence, the Sunni jurists used qiyas, ijma, istihsan to interpret religious law. Fiqh is, therefore, not considered sacred because the different sources of laws are different in principles and details. The differences led to the development of madhhab, which refers to the different schools of thought within Sunni Islam, because different scholars subscribed to more than one school of thought in their interpretation of Islamic law.

The Madhhab System

The Madh’hab system developed within Sunni Islam because of the different schools of thought that emerged within fiqh. The leading schools of thought include Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’I, and Hanbali, which emerged between the 9th and 10th centuries. The Hanafi school is dominant in South and Central Asia, the Maliki school in North and West Africa, Shafi’i school in East Africa, and the Hanbali school in North and Central Arabia.

The maddhab system developed after the Mihna in the 9th century during the Abbasid dynasty, where the rationalists were pitted against the traditionalists[6]. The rationalists focused on personal opinion and interpretation of the holy texts, which automatically made the text subjective to them. In contrast, the traditionalists focused on the sources as the basis of law and minimized rationalism in the interpretation of religious law. They followed the Quran to the letter and opposed anyone who tried a subjective approach to interpretation of the holy texts and teachings. Traditionalists managed to dominate the rationalists, leading to the development and domination of the Sunni Islam. With time, the differences in Sunni interpretation led to the development of the madhhab system, which comprised the four schools[7]. The closure of the gates of ijtihad marked the madhhab system’s institutionalization and limited the forum for ijtihad. This system eliminated the need for individual jurists who practice the rationalist approach to Sharia interpretation[8]. Despite the closure of the gates of ijtihad, the Shia Muslims continue to practice ijtihad. In contrast, the Sunni Muslims continue to apply the different schools of thought in legal interpretation within Sharia law.

Question 3

The period between the 1940s and the 1960s saw many Arab countries achieve independence from their colonizers. Their new leaders would soon adopt imperialist approaches in leadership, leading to the oppression of the people and corruption of nations. This sad state of affairs prompted significant movements that were followed by Pan-Arabism and socialism. These noteworthy principles were in response to the secularist and imperialist modes of leadership and life in the troubled Arab nations. One of the most significant anti-imperialist movements is the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

This Brotherhood was founded in 1928 by Hassan al-Banna[9]. Its central concept is hinged on Da’wa. Da’wa means a call for Islam, where the society seeks to Islamize the communities in the Arab nations. The Islamization of these communities attracted criticism from the confrontationists whose primary concern is that Islamism stirs the European fears and destabilizes Muslim societies. Another concern is that Islamism inspires terrorism and intolerance, which is precarious for the United States because it stands to lose, should it show willingness to side with the Islamist movements. These concerns imply that Islamic fundamentalism cannot reconcile with the secular world, which demonizes the religion.

The Muslim Brotherhood, however, seeks to dispel the confrontationist perspectives that smear the essence of Islamism. As an anti-imperialist movement, the Brotherhood’s slogan is “Islam is the solution”[10]. The movement is based upon da’wa, the call for Islamism from the Quran and the Sunna. Additionally, the movement uses methods that are adherent to the Sunna, and its reality is in tandem with the purity of one’s soul. It is also a political, cultural, educational, and economic enterprise with a social concept.

The movement’s primary techniques are Islamization of the community by building societies of people who support the da’wa and the reforming of individual hearts and souls. The development of the virtuous community would be a practical approach in Islamizing society because people would then practice the right form of Islam. The Islamization of the societies is the first step because the rest of the techniques are contingent upon Islamic principles.

An essential Islamic principle that guides the Muslim Brotherhood is the achievement of democracy in society. The Pan-Arabism that developed as an anti-imperialist approach was geared towards developing a democratic society and dispelling the beliefs that democracy and Islam are incompatible. According to Abed-Kotob, democracy is at the heart of Islamic rule and urges Muslims to devote to justice unto death. Therefore, within the Brotherhood, the brothers reject violence and encourage the expansion of democracy by practicing respect for the constitution, forming an independent judiciary, and protecting man from torture, among other agenda.

Another approach that the Brotherhood uses in alleviating the problems imposed by the imperial west is by emphasizing social security as one of the aspects of Islamic precepts and narrowing the socioeconomic gaps between the social classes[11]. Economic justice lies at the heart of Islam. This is among the reasons behind the rise of the Arab Spring because the citizens across the Arab league wanted a change in regime and eliminate economic oppression. The Brotherhood’s main actions are mainly accommodationist in nature because they are pragmatic, seek regional stability within the Arab nations, provide help to those neglected by the state, and operate on the slogan that Islam is the solution.


Abed-Kotob, Sana. “The Accommodationists Speak:Goals And Strategies Of The Muslim Brotherhood Of Egypt”. International Journal Of Middle East Studies 27, no. 3 (1995): 321-339. doi:10.1017/s0020743800062115.

Hallaq, Wael B. “On The Origins Of The Controversy About The Existence Of Mujtahids And The Gate Of Ijtihad”. Studia Islamica, no. 63 (1986): 129. doi:10.2307/1595569.

Hurvitz, Nimrod. “The Mihna And The Public Sphere”. In The Public Sphere In Muslim Societies. New York: State University of New York Press, 2002.

Kersten, Carool. Islam In Indonesia. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016.

[1] Nimrod Hurvitz, “The Mihna And The Public Sphere”, in The Public Sphere In Muslim Societies (New York: State University of New York Press, 2002).

[2] Ibid,

[3] Ibid.

[4] Carool Kersten, Islam In Indonesia (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016).

[5] Nimrod Hurvitz, “The Mihna And The Public Sphere”, in The Public Sphere In Muslim Societies (New York: State University of New York Press, 2002).

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Wael B. Hallaq, “On The Origins Of The Controversy About The Existence Of Mujtahids And The Gate Of Ijtihad”, Studia Islamica, no. 63 (1986): 129, doi:10.2307/1595569.

[9] Sana Abed-Kotob, “The Accommodationists Speak:Goals And Strategies Of The Muslim Brotherhood Of Egypt”, International Journal Of Middle East Studies 27, no. 3 (1995): 321-339, doi:10.1017/s0020743800062115.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

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