Othman the Italian resurfaces

A few years ago a book was published called Ian Dallas: The Shaykh Who Has No Clothes, which purported to expose the leader of the Murabitun movement as a fraud. The author set up a website and posted details about it to the Usenet newsgroup soc.religion.islam. This resulted in a response from Abdul-Rahman Lomax who was then a regular on this group. This was in 1997 which was a year before I embraced Islam. I never managed to get my own copy of Othman’s book, however, but I did have my own experience with the Murabitun and heard much about them from other Muslims, and most of it was not good. I got in touch with the group through a bookshop two of their members ran in west London. I got talking to the two men who ran the shop, and was eventually invited to their dhikr sessions, known as Laylat al-Fuqara, and spent Ramadan of 1998-9 with the group of Murabitun in London. After Ramadan I attended one or two further dhikr sessions, before I was turned away at the door, having travelled across London to reach the gathering, because I was late. (This was because I had to help my family clear up after their dinner.) I was then told by one of their more senior members that I could return when I had followed his advice and made arrangements to get on an Arabic course, but by the time this happened (I went to Cairo to study Arabic the following summer) I had got in touch with the Haba’ib via Habib Ali al-Jifri, and had no further need of the Murabitun.

I didn’t, however, keep quiet about what I saw with the Murabitun, which is mild compared to what others have said. I noticed that none of their women wear hijab properly. I noticed that at least two nice reviews appeared in Islamic magazines by Murabitun members of their fellow members’ books, where the interest was not declared. I noticed that rock music was played in the group house, and it’s no secret that Abdul-Qadir has written two books with a classical music theme, The New Wagnerian and The Ten Symphonies of Gorka Koenig. Instrumental music is said by nearly all scholars to be unlawful entertainment - it’s the mainstream position in all four madhhabs, and all the proofs people bring to justify it can be shown to refer to other activities. The commonest explanations are that it distracts from the remembrance of Allah Most High, wastes time and that the Qur’an feels heavy on the heart of a person attached to music. Another aspect of its evil is the enormous amount of money that has to be wasted on it - a musical instrument of any quality costs hundreds of pounds, and “classic” instruments such as 1960s Fender Stratocasters sell for thousands of pounds, money which could be better spent on the poor. It’s also easy to notice the huge numbers of people who have passed through the Murabitun (particularly in the 1970s) and left.

I also noticed the shocking remarks made by members of the sect in their published books. Ahmad Thomson, in the preface to the second edition of his book Dajjal - The Antichrist, wrote that the subtitle to his essay, “The King Who Has No Clothes”, “also refers to Allah, the Lord of the Worlds, the King of the Creation, the King Who is over all kings - and yet Who has no clothes!”. Of course, the reference was to the Grimm fairytale The Emperor’s New Clothes and is clearly negative, and the reference is doctrinally inaccurate as the dunya is a veil between us and Allah Most High. But the fact remains that a title which refers to the Dajjal is also applied by Thomson to Allah Most High.

Abdul-Qadir also has a few ugly remarks of his own in some of his books. This passage appears in Root Islamic Education, and it removes him from the fold of Ahlus-Sunnah, which certainly does not regard the Hanafi madhhab as “astray”:

I am saying that the true madhhab is this primary sense of the way of Malik, in the way of the Salafis, is not a legal school, it is the seal of power on the fuqaha’ to make legal judgements in governance of Muslim people. And I am saying that it collapsed! It went astray with the Hanafi madhhab as we will find out, and how, and why, for the reasons that we will discover when we examine it. It went astray because there was something lacking, and the result was that it created empire, and it allowed aristocracy, it allowed elitism by genealogy, which is absolutely forbidden! And so the low were kept low and the high were kept high.

He is also reported to have said in the same text:

This split - between dhahir (or zahir) and batin - this license to make half-men - outward legalists or inward experientialists - had come from al-Ghazali and his notorious Ihya. Indeed his reputation (that he brought together the Sufis and the legalists) rests on the very opposite of his accomplishment … he surgically separated the body from its life support

However, I’ve not been able to find this in the online edition. Maybe he has deleted it, but the fact is that his comment about the Hanafi madhhab is more serious.

Othman the Italian recently resurfaced, posting to the Bewleyupdates Yahoo group in response to a query about his book. I have refrained from posting to that group about this issue and about my views on the Murabitun, because a few months ago I made a passing remark about a known Shi’ite from Iraq who poses as a Sufi, Fadhlallah Haeri, being authorised by a well-known pseudo-Sufi, namely Abdul-Qadir. This led to an emotional response from a follower of Shaikh Nazim, which clouded the issue and generally shed much more heat than light, but the fact remains that however vast and useful to the community their printed works are, they are not an authentic Sufi tariqa and Abdul-Qadir is not a true shaikh. His silsila is broken, and even if it was not, the books on unlawful entertainment, the statements of bid’ah in his books, his preoccupation with German philosophy (Nietzsche, Heidegger etc), and his apparent lack of knowledge of the other Islamic sciences (for example, at the time he recorded a tape I heard, he was unable to pronounce the name of Imam Maturidi, one of the two major imams of aqida) would disqualify him.

But all the same, that does not mean Othman’s approach is correct. The page he has set up, The Murabitun Files, makes out Abdul-Qadir to be a kind of Nazi (and displays two swastikas on his site), continually draws attention to his brief pre-Islamic acting career (and this is an irrelevance and constitutes unlawful backbiting or gheeba; Allah knows best), and publishes an entire report by the Executive Intelligence Review about the “sinister agenda” of the World Wide Fund for Nature which had a tenuous link to the Murabitun via one of its members, Fazlun Khalid. (The EIR is the work of a guy called Lyndon LaRouche, who is an extremely controversial figure and a convicted felon who has been accused of being a demagogue and a cult leader. Do a Google search on him.) There is also the issue of his fiqh, which is not that far removed from the Murabitun’s - he actually praised Root Islamic Education and said its best parts are not yet written, and claimed that it was justifiable to firebomb the places where the dhikr meetings are held. Imam Malik considered group dhikr meetings not to be Sunnah, while there are explicit hadeeth praising them, and in fact Sufis in North Africa have long encouraged them. (A critique of Othman’s writings on the Murabitun and German history and philosophy was posted to the forum today; you can read it here.)

As members of the Bewley forum have pointed out, the Murabitun are a tiny group; and the scandals surrounding it happened a long time ago. But it is still necessary to warn new converts about them, because converts are their target audience and, in my (limited) experience at least, they do not seek recruits among established Muslims. We have a duty to advise those who come into the deen and seek genuine spiritual guidance of where they can find it - and where they can’t. It’s not about attacks on Abdul-Qadir’s origins or pre-Islamic activities. It’s not about a personal grudge based on one wasted journey to a dhikr meeting. It’s also not about encouraging people to come to our shaikh rather than someone else’s. It’s about enjoining the right, and forbidding the wrong, and warning the less knowledgeable about the routes to false Sufism and mostly useless philosophy.

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