Islamic Liberation Theology, Why Not?

October 21, 2016 OPINION/NEWS

Susan Baaghil/Reuters



Sami Jamil Jadallah

If anyone thinks that the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was not a social and theological liberation revolutionary, they had better think twice.

I have been thinking of writing this essay for more than a few years after I became aware of the Christian Liberation Theology which has its roots in Latin and Central America and arose from the Catholic Church indifference to the poor, oppressed and disfranchised, especially during the bloody years when the military dictatorship ruled with impunity and the murder of hundreds of thousands mainly in Central America, while the church remained silent.

The Muslim and the Arab world are going through the same period where military dictatorship has ruled for decades since the end of colonialism and, like the Catholic Church, the established Muslim religious established were and continue to be indifferent to the misery and misfortune of hundreds of millions of Muslims throughout the Muslim world.

Liberation Theology came about as a reaction to the poverty and social injustice in the region when the Peruvian priest Gustavo Gutierrez wrote “ A Theology of Liberation” in 1971.

This movement found support from many of the leaders of the Catholic Church such as Leonardo Boff of Brazil, San Sobrino of Spain, Juan Luis Segundo of Uruguay, the US of course as sponsor of these military dictatorships opposed to the “Liberation Theology”, accusing it of being “Marxists” inspired, the Vatican and the US being on the same side.

The Vatican saw the “Liberation Theology” as a fight between the political establishment and the religious establishment and rejecting, in the word of Pope John Paul II “ this idea of Christ as political figure, a revolutionary, as the subversive of Nazareth, does not tally with the Church catechesis.”

However, there was a change of mind when the “Second Vatican Council” addressed and recognized the Liberation Theology in Medellin, Columbia (68) and Pueblo, Mexico (79) thus giving legitimacy to the Liberation Theology which took hold in Latin and Central America.  Soon after the words of John Paul II, the Latin American priest issued a 20-page rebuttal, which influenced the outcome of the conference and gave full legitimacy to the Liberation Theology. The Liberation Theologists argued, “Jesus’s mission was to bring about justice to the world” and “with preference to the insignificant, marginalized, unimportant, needy, despised and the defenseless.” The present Pope came from this school.

In Islam the story is no different, with all schools of thoughts or ‘Mathaheb’ siding with the political establishments of the time, continuing to do so until now, giving justifications and excuses that it is God’s will that people live in such misery.

It is so unfortunate that leaders of the “religious establishment” do not see the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) as a social and theological revolutionary and must be recognized as such. The social revolution he started 1400 years ago must continue now and for the future.

The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) must be seen as a liberator that brought about a “just society” with so many social changes that must be seen then and now as totally revolutionary.

It was his leadership, his vision, his commitment to social change that truly ended the “Age of Ignorance” in Arabia using the new faith as an instrument of social change addressing the rights of faith, gender, education, racial issues and conflict resolution, way ahead of civilization or faith of his time.

While many “religious leaders” today call for the execution of Nonbelievers or those committing blasphemy, the Prophet (pbuh) reciting the Sura (2.256) “ there is no compulsion in religion” adding that there must not be “compulsion, no destruction of houses of religion, no damage.”. These words are lost today.

While it took America some 200 years after independence to give Slaves full freedoms, the Prophet addressed racial equality when he stated, “A White has no superiority over Black, nor does a Black have superiority over White except by piety and God’s action.”

Though Islam per se did not abolish slavery (an issue that I raise many times), it did however introduce the very idea of “presumption of freedom” and addressed this issue when freeing slaves was deemed an act of religious duty, atonement of sins, using Alms for “manumission”. In these times these special rulings were revolutionary in comparison to the status of slaves in the Greco-Byzantine empires.

While the religious establishment in certain Arab and Muslim countries fights against education, especially women’s education, learning was mandated and given priority; “he who gives the best upbringing and education to his daughters shall enter paradise.” Not so sure which Islam the likes of the Taliban and those opposed to women’s education learned. Certainly, it is not Muhammad’s teaching.

It is due to these revolutionary ideas of education by the Prophet (pbuh) that Islam at one time before the “religious establishment” took over and had great advances during the Golden Age, with science, algebra, medicine, astronomy and philosophy, all of which contributed to the Western Renaissance, which Muslims badly needed if and when they decide they need a new Islamic Renaissance.

While many in the West berate Muslims and Islam for the status of women, it was the revolutionary Muhammad (pbuh) that gave recognition and status to women as equal members of society, banning “honor killings” or “female infanticide,” granting women the right to approve a marriage, the right to own her own property even during marriage (this right was granted to women in the US in the mid 70s) to have and keep her own name after marriage (granted to women in US in mid 70s), the right to unilateral divorce in abuse cases, the right of widowed or divorce woman to decide on her own to remarry, and of course the right to inheritance and the rights to have support for her and her children. Yes, these are the revolutionary ideas of the time. Marriage was deemed a “contract” not a “status”. What went wrong and why did it stop there?

It was the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) who, according to the Jewish scholar Bernard Lewis, denounced aristocracy and privilege, rejecting the hierarchy without talent, and with Islam as an egalitarian revolution as the basis of Islamic Doctrine.

It was not so easy to introduce all these revolutionary ideas in Pagan Arabia, but he did it. Not only did the Prophet (pbuh) introduce total social reforms, he used the new faith to introduce moral credence and a social values system for the safety and security of the community, barring violence, introducing a taxing system for the public goodm in addition to being in support of society, dispute resolutionsand individual rights, that everyone is accountable for his or her actions.

So what went wrong?

Not so dissimilar to the different doctrines within the Catholic Church, Islam also had its own “schools of thoughts” doctrine, or “jurisprudence” some based on “hadith” or “tradition/narrative” others based on “opinion” or “Rai, others based on “Aqidah/Creed” predestined or free will, while others based on “logic/rationalism”. The latter is nowhere to seen or heard.

However, all of these “Mathahib” were not too independent of the rulers of the time and in most cases were used like today, in support of the ruler, irrespective of just or no just. We all should remember the birth of the Anglican Church at the demands of Henry VIII.

There are 5 schools of thoughts (Mathaheb) since most Sunnis recognize the 4 but ignore the 5th. These are:


–    Ja’fari representing 23% of the Muslim faith.

–    Hanafi representing 31% of the Muslim faith.

–    Maliki representing 25% of the Muslim faith.

–    Shafi’i representing 16% of the Muslim faith and

–    Hanbali representing 4% of the Muslim faith.


I should note here that the Ja’fari or the 6th Imam of the 12 Imam of the Shiite represent the views and the doctrine that Ahl al-Bayt (The House of Muhammad) i.e. Ali are the legitimate successors of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) to rule the Muslim world.

As I stated before, all of these Imams lived during the end of the Omayyad Empire, during the Abbasid Empire and the Fatimid Empire and all were at one time or the other servant and instrument of the rulers of the time. Some like Imam ibn Malik was dragged through the streets of Baghdad stripped of his clothes and all his wealth was confiscated. Imam el-Shafi was killed in Egypt.

These Imams were funded and supported by the rulers through funding of their schools or publishing of their books and other financial incentives, no different from today, where the established religion is the beneficiary of the political establishment.

Most, if not all of these Imams lived during the period of 80 H and 700 H, with Imam Hanafi the earliest and Imam ibn Hanbal the last one. Since that time “Ijtihad” was closed forever.

Since that time, there has been no effort from any religious leadership be it the one located in Al-Azhar, Mecca, Najaf or the one in Qom to dare to open and debate these doctrines of centuries ago, doctrines that appeared to doom intellectual and theological discourse, let alone address the miserable times the Muslim Umma is living through from poverty to illiteracy, to hunger, to sectarian wars, to corruption to denying women their rights, to failing to come up with a credible accountable governing political systems and institutions that takes into account the diversity of faith, race and culture that makes the Muslim world a unique place, rich and enriched with its diversity.

One has to ask what ever happened to the very revolutionary ideas of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and why there is no Islamic Liberation Theology that speaks for the hundreds of millions if not billions of Muslims disfranchised and denied the basic right to life, liberty and dignity? The religious establishment is too busy serving its masters, forfeiting the rights to represent the “Ummah”. Time to pick up where the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) left and carry his mantle of “Islamic Liberation Theology”.









Sami Jamil Jadallah

Sami is a Palestinian-American immigrated to the US while in high school. He was drafted in the US Army during Vietnam War earning the leadership award from the US Sixth Army Non-Commission Officer Academy.

After honorable discharge, Sami enrolled at Indiana University where he was active in student politics, elected class president, student president and chairman of the Indiana Student Association representing students from all colleges and universities in the State of Indiana.

Sami earned his Bachelor Degree (economics and politics), Master of Public and Environmental Affairs and Doctor of Jurisprudence. After a 2 years stint with a major Wall Street law firm Sami took on the job as general counsel of a major international construction company in Saudi Arabia. As an international legal and business consultant, Sami served as owner representative on major projects such as hotels, conservation foundation, defense, and technology.

In the area of public service, Sami was the founding member of the United Palestinian Appeal, a well known not for profit organization serving the needs of Palestinians refugees with over $100 millions in projects and donations serving 16 years as a trustee.

Sami as founding member and executive director of the New Arab Foundation, a US based Not for Profit Tax Exemp, a think tank (with a mission) and management consulting organization, and is working now on the launching of the Arab Peace Crops inspired by President John F Kennedy’s American Peace Corps.

Sami lives in Fairfax, VA and is married to Dr. Alma Abdul-Hadi Jadallah an international expert in mediations and conflict resolution, they have three children all living and working in Washington DC.


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