Laylat-ul-Qadr (The Night of Majesty and Destiny) and simple astronomy – some reflections

May 22, 2020

Laylat-ul-Qadr (The Night of Glory and Destiny)

& simple astronomy – some reflections

Bismillah.

Laylat-ul-Qadr (LQ – The Night of Glory, Majesty, Decree and Destiny, etc.) is in one sense the climax of the month of Ramadan / Ramzan (R).

* Some of the hadiths about its exact date, even the allegedly authentic ones, are mutually contradictory, which is why scholars try to reconcile them.

* It is night-time for half the earth at any moment; the other half is in daytime. Day and night are relative to each person’s location on earth.

* It is presumably possible for the Angels & the Spirit to descend around the half of the earth that’s in night-time for a period of exactly 24 hours, thus giving a specific date for LQ. Presumably, this would start at sunset for the first location on earth from where the new crescent moon was visible.

* Since Muslims have differed for decades about the beginning of R, and hence about its odd nights, this presents a difficulty in finding LQ in the last 5 odd nights. One solution is to look for it throughout the last 10 nights. But what if LQ falls just before your last 10 nights or just after, i.e. on your Eid night whilst others are still observing R?

* Do the Angels & the Spirit descend throughout the last 10 nights?

* MY SOLUTION: Due to considerations like these, I follow the view of the Companion, Abdullah bin Mas’ood: LQ can be on any night of the year. Or we could say: it is on every night of the year. Every night is LQ!

* This is why the hadiths say: SEEK IT in the last 10 nights of R, etc., because it would be too difficult to seek it all year long. We are prepared with fasting & worship for a whole month to help find LQ during the last 10 nights, preferably in i’tikaf (spiritual retreat). Remember, the Prophet pbuh once did i’tikaf for the whole month of R in order to find LQ.

* These are some of the many wisdoms behind the spiritual practice of Ramadan/Ramzan. May ours have been blessed, and may we have found our Night of Powerful, Glorious Destiny, had all our prayers answered and been illuminated by The Light for at least another year!

PS “Better than a thousand months” means “Better than all of time.”

(khayrun min al-dahri kullihi – Tafsir Qurtubi)

In other words, Laylat-ul-Qadr is an opportunity to transcend Time, or experience Eternity or Timelessness.

I alluded to some of these lessons about Ramadan (Ramzan) & LQ in this poem, based on the famous opening of William Blake’s Auguries of Innocence:

To break your fast with a wholesome date
And recite noble verses of Light.
To seek Infinity in your unfolding Fate
And Eternity in One Night.

Usama Hasan

22 May 2020 / 28 Ramadan 1441

Tadworth, UK.

ليلة القدر و علم الفلك:

الليل والنهار أمران نسبيان لمكان كل شخص في الأرض، وهما آيتان من آيات الله تعالى.

والأحاديث في تحديد تاريخ ليلة القدر متناقضة، حتى الصحيحة منها، ولذالك حاول علماء الحديث الجمع بينها دائماً.

فنصف الأرض في أي وقت في ظلمة اليل، والنصف الآخر في ضوء النهار.

قد تنزّل الملائكة والروح لمدة ٢٤ ساعة كل عام، فتكون لليلة القدر تاريخ معيّن. ولكن عندنا مشكلة: الاختلاف في بداية شهر رمضان يؤدي الى اختلاف في اليالي العشرة الأخيرة.

من أجل هذه الاعتبارات وغيرها، أرى برأي عبد الله بن مسعود رضي الله عنه أن ليلة القدر قد تقع في أي ليلة في السنة. ولذالك جاء في الأحاديث «إلتمسوا ليلة القدر في العشرة الأخيرة من شهر رمضان» لأن إلتماسها طول العام أمر محرج وصعب جداً على المسلمين.

فشرع شهر العبادة من صوم وصلاة وزكاة وإطعام المساكين وإعتكاف وغيرها من أعمال الخير ليسهل إلتماس الليلة العظمى في العام:

إنا أنزلناه في ليلة القدر، وما أدرىٰك ما ليلة القدر؟ ليلة القدر خير من ألف شهر، تنزّل الملائكة والروح فيها بإذن ربهم من كل أمر، سلام هي حتى مطلع الفجر.

ومعنى «خير من ألف شهر» يعنى: «خير من الدهر كله» كما ذكره الإمام القرطبي في تفسيره. فإن وجدت ليلة القدر، فكأنما خرجت من حدود الزمان ولمست قدسية الدهر وذقت معنى الخلود في جنات النعيم.

اللهم بارك لنا في شهرنا و أيامنا وليالينا، آمين.

APPENDIX: A GLIMPSE OF SOME OF THE VIEWS ABOUT THE DATE OF LQ, TO SHOW THE IMMENSE DIVERSITY ABOUT THIS IN THE ISLAMIC TRADITION

NB: where “[odd nights of the] last 10” is mentioned, even this was disagreed about, e.g.: Ibn Hazm stated that if the month has 30 days, then these odd nights are 21, 23, 25, 27 & 29 but if the month has 29 days, then the last 10 nights are nights 20-29 and hence the odd nights are 20, 22, 24, 26 & 28! This was another argument for seeking LQ in all of the last 10 nights, because in the past, we were unable to know for sure in advance how many days the month would have.

IBN KATHIR

Hadith (Tayalisi): 27 or 29

Hadith (Ahmad): LQ in last 10, odd nights: 29 or 27 or 25 or 23 or the last night of the month.  The hadith has other details.  IK: the isnad is hasan, but the matn has strange, weak content (gharabah) and in some versions, rejected (nakarah) content or meaning.

Hadith (Ibn Abi Asim): LQ in last 10.

Hadith (Ahmad): Seek it in the first 10 or last 10 … Seek it in the last 10 … Seek it in the last 7.

Narration: from Ibn Mas’ood and those who followed him of the people of knowledge of Kufa that it is found throughout the year, and is hoped for in every month equally. (IK disagrees with this view)  Ibn Mas’ood used to say, “If you stand in prayer at night all year long, you will find LQ.”

Hadith (Abu Dawud): LQ may be throughout R.

Narration: from Abu Hanifa: LQ is hoped for throughout R.  This is also a view quoted by Ghazzali [i.e. in the Shafi’i madhhab? – UH] Rafi’i declared this to be an extremely strange view.

LQ is the 1st night of R: Abu Razin.

LQ is 17th R, because it was the night before the Battle of Badr, described as being on the “Day of Decision” (Yawm al-Furqan) in the Qur’an, hence it relates to LQ as the night of decision, decree and destiny: narrated from the Prophet, Ibn Mas’ood, Zayd bin Arqam, ‘Uthman bin Abil-‘Aas, Imam Shafi’i & Hasan Basri.

LQ is 19th R: narrated from ‘Ali & Ibn Mas’ood.

LQ is 21st R: Hadith of Abu Sa’id al-Khudri in Bukhari & Muslim.  Imam Shafi’i said that this was the most authentic narration on the subject.

LQ is 23rd R: Hadith of Abdullah bin Anees in Sahih Muslim – it is a very similar narration to the previous hadith (21 R).

LQ is 24th R: Hadith of Abu Sa’id al-Khudri in Tayalisi. IK: the narrators are trustworthy.  Also narrated as a hadith by Bilal, but a weak isnad. Also contradicted by the next consideration:

LQ is in the first 7 of the last 10 nights: more authentic view of Bilal rA, narrated by Bukhari.  Also narrated as the view of Ibn Mas’ood, Ibn Abbas, Jabir, Hasan, Qatadah & Ibn Wahb, and from the Prophet by Wathilah bin al-Asqa’.

LQ is 25th R: based on the hadith of Bukhari from Ibn Abbas from the Prophet: Seek it in the last 10 nights: in the 9 remaining, 7 remaining, 5 remaining.

IK: Most people of knowledge understood this to mean the odd nights, but others understood it to mean the even nights, e.g. Abu Sa’id (Sahih Muslim). IK: Allah knows best.

LQ is 27th R: narrated from the Prophet, several Companions, a group of the Salaf, the preferred view in the madhhab of Imam Ahmad and quoted also from Imam Abu Hanifa.

LQ is the 7th of last 10 (i.e. 27) or with 7 remaining (i.e. 22 or 23): narrated from Ibn Abbas.

LQ is 21, 23, 25, 27, 29 or last night of the month: Hadith of Imam Ahmad.

LQ is 27 or 29: Hadith of Imam Ahmad.

LQ is the last night of R: Hadith of Ahmad, Tirmidhi, Nasa’i.

 

 

NO SEX, PLEASE – WE’RE MUSLIM! (Ramadan edition)

May 6, 2020

Bismillah-ir-Rahman-ir-Rahim

With the Name of God, All-Merciful, Most Merciful

NO SEX, PLEASE – WE’RE MUSLIM!

Q&A about Sex and Ramadan

[CAUTION: 18+ only – PLEASE DO NOT READ IF YOU ARE OFFENDED BY DISCUSSION OF SEXUAL MATTERS]

 

Just before Ramadan this year, the Muslim Mamas private Facebook group for Muslim mothers, that has over 20,000 members and is like a Muslim version of Mumsnet, asked if I would answer some questions about Ramadan and “intimacy” (read: ahem, sex). They were sending these questions to a number of different people with the aim of publishing all answers, so that readers could make up their own minds. I consented, and my answers were published on the group, I believe.  I am reproducing the questions here, followed by my answers.  These have been updated slightly from the ones I sent to Muslim Mamas.

  1. What affectionate acts between husband and wife are permissible during Ramadan, and which ones break the fast? (Kissing, fondling, open mouth kissing, dry humping, …)
  2. What does Islam say about the importance of female sexual pleasure?
  3. What is your opinion of self-pleasure. Is it permissible in Islam? (If you do not agree that it is permissible, how is it that one person can then teach another about their own pleasure?)
  4. What is your opinion about the permissibility of sex toys in Islam?
  5. What is your opinion about oral sex in Islam?
  6. If a woman is raped by her husband during Ramadan, does she have to make up the fast?
  7. What advice do you have for couples in order to nurture love, affection and intimacy?
  8. What examples did our Prophet pbuh leave us to follow with regards to spirituality and intimacy?
  9. What rewards are there in Ramadan for being intimate – is it more rewarding to abstain?
  10. Who can we turn to if our knowledgeable people are all men and mamas feel shy to ask about intimate questions?
  11. A couple had intimate relations during fasting hours, just after fajr. What is the kaffarah [expiation]?
  12. Can a couple resume intimate relations if neither is fasting? Or is it prohibited during the day?

 

 

 

 

All Praise is due to God.  May God bless all His Noble Prophets and Messengers, especially our Prophet Muhammad, Seal of the Prophets.  May God bless all of humanity with the blessings of Ramadan (Ramzan), especially during the current, global crisis caused by the Covid-19 disease.

Thank you for consulting me about these questions – it is an honour to participate in this conversation with your readers and the scholars to whom you are posing these questions.  May Allah guide us to what is good and true.  I must apologise in advance if any of my answers offend people, since that is not the intention: the intention is to try to discuss important questions sensitively.  Please forgive me if you are offended by anything I say.

Before I give my answers, I would like to mention a couple of principles that guide them.  One is related to Hadith, and one to Fiqh (Jurisprudence).  I have been studying these subjects, all deriving from study of the Qur’an, for over 40 years now.  This study is not just academic using books, but by learning from people: our teachers but also our brothers and sisters.  I’ve had the honour of serving as an imam for almost 40 years, trying to serve my brothers and sisters.  There are many different views and approaches to the Islamic sciences, including Hadith and Fiqh, but I’m presenting my current approach to them – scholars throughout the centuries have discussed these principles and taken their own independent positions, and I’m trying to follow a little in their footsteps, by the grace of God I hope.

  • Firstly, about Hadith. There are hundreds of thousands of these. The sciences of Hadith are an amazing Islamic contribution to human civilisation.  However, we must accept that there is no way we can ever know for sure 100% exactly what the Prophet said or did, with all the conflicting narrations and methods of transmission.  As students of this subject, we have to weigh up many things before deciding what to follow. So, I will say from the outset that *no* collection of Hadith is 100% authentic, because there are so many doubts and possibility of error, even in the most “authentic” books.  We also know that the number of fabricated hadiths, the fake news of its time, dwarfs the number of authentic hadiths.  So as Muslims we have to make a judgment, if we believe that Prophet Muhammad was the greatest human being ever and the ultimate personification of Mercy, as to whether he really said many of the things that are ascribed to him, even in “authentic” (sahih) collections.  We have to sift the immense wisdom in the Hadith from the fabricated nonsense, the fake news of the early centuries about the Prophet.  Of course, we will differ about these but there is no harm in that because the Islamic tradition in its totality is very diverse and open to many interpretations in theory and practice.  I can only give my own views and judgments, since I can only speak for myself.Furthermore, it is worth saying that many marfu’ hadiths are actually mawquf or maqtu’, i.e. many teachings attributed to the Prophet are probably actually from his Companions (including his family and descendants), or their Followers, or the next one or two generations of learned and pious people after that, who are collectively known as the Salaf.  So, we must be careful about saying that there is no disagreement about something because “the Prophet said so” when in fact it is often quite possible that this statement was from a Companion or Follower – a respected opinion, but often contradicted by other Companions.  This is also one of the reasons why there are often contradictory hadiths on the same topic, ascribing conflicting views to the Prophet himself.  Furthermore, the Sahaba (Companions) and the Salaf were not monolithic, and nor were they all at the same level of learning and piety.  And of course, half of them were women.So when I quote a hadith, it’s because I judge it to be more or less true, especially in meaning.  Others have the right to differ about that, and argue that this hadith might be fake news, i.e. a very weak or fabricated tradition.  (Many “weak” hadiths are actually teachings from the Salaf, and not directly from the Prophet.) And vice-versa: I may think a hadith is weak, whilst others think it’s sound.  The best we can do is to argue our case. Scholars of Hadith have been doing this since the earliest times.I often use a principle that a true hadith must have the “light of prophethood” (nur al-nubuwwah) about it, based on the first-century Hadith expert al-Rabi’ bin Khaitham’s statement:“Some hadiths have a light like that of day, which we recognise [and makes us accept them]; others have a darkness like that of night, which makes us reject them.
  • Secondly, about Fiqh. Just a reminder that fiqh judgments lie on a spectrum: the whole point of fiqh, which means “understanding,” is to try to understand (i) our situation and (ii) what God wishes from us in our situation.  In terms of practice, there is of course halal and haram, the lawful and the prohibited.  But as one of the foundational hadiths says: the lawful is clear and the prohibited are clear.  In between are many grey areas.  This is why five dominant categories of rulings emerged: obligatory, recommended, allowed, disliked, prohibited (wajib, mandub, mubah, makruh, haram).  These are not sharp categories, which is why some jurists distinguished between fard and wajib amongst obligatory matters, and others added makruh tanzihi and makruh tahrimi as “shades of severity” between the categories of disliked and prohibited.  Furthermore, the situation can dictate that the ruling on something can flip to its complete opposite, such as pork and wine being generally prohibited, but obligatory to consume if one is in danger of dying of hunger or thirst. Also, even obligations and prohibitions have degrees, so some obligations are more obligatory than others, and some prohibitions are stronger than others. For example, from the Sunnah, the obligation of honouring your parents takes precedence over hijrah and jihad, even when the latter are obligatory.  Similarly, murdering someone is obviously much, much more haram than say, getting drunk.So we have to think of situations, decisions and judgments in life on a multidimensional spectrum: there is often not a simple answer, and much depends on a person’s own preference and situation.  This is obvious with the categories of mubah (allowed) and mandub (recommended): both are okay, and we cannot tell people what to do: it is up to them.  There is No Compulsion in Religion.  Furthermore, we cannot say something is haram and therefore sinful unless we are pretty much 100% sure about it: there must be no doubt about the texts cited, their meanings, and their application to the question being asked.  However, we who are asked such questions should give the different interpretations that we know and then, perhaps, give our own view if we have one.  Ultimately, it is up to the individual person to decide what to do, and they have the right to make their own judgment, especially in disputed matters (Ask your heart for a fatwa or follow your heart – hadith), or to trust another’s judgment if they really don’t know (Ask the people of the message if you do not know – Qur’an).

Furthermore, we have to get away with an obsession with the “legal” aspects of these questions and think about the “ethical” aspects, because Sharia is both law and ethics, intertwined.  And because Sharia is fundamentally about promoting goodness and avoiding harm, we should think of the categories of fard/wajib, mandub/mustahabb, mubah, makruh & haram as corresponding to roughly the following: essential, good, neutral, risky & harmful/damaging to your spiritual health.

This is based on the ayah that says that the Prophet allows good things for people (tayyibat) and prohibits filthy or harmful things (khaba’ith) for them (Surah al-A’raf).  In other words, the Sharia will always promote what is good for us, in a holistic physical/spiritual sense.

Okay, so on to the questions – I should note that the Qur’an recognizes the existence of asexual men and women, both in Surah al-Nur (Light), but I’m assuming that these questions are all in a heterosexual context.  Furthermore, I agree with Seyyed Hossein Nasr that “Islam is like a society of married monks and nuns,” – i.e. that we are supposed to be focused on worship of God, but that lawful sexual activity is itself a type of worship, as a famous hadith indicates.

 

  1. What affectionate acts between husband and wife are permissible during Ramadan, and which ones break the fast? (Kissing, fondling, open mouth kissing, dry humping, …)

I take the view that sexual climax or orgasm breaks the fast, as does intercourse without climax.  Sexual arousal and activity is obviously a precursor to these, hence this becomes disputed: how far are people are allowed to go?  There is much wisdom in Ibn Abbas’ traditional reply to this question: that such things are allowed for older people, but not for younger people.  This makes sense because in general, libido decreases with age, although there are always exceptions. Other learned and pious people amongst the Salaf replied that a person should judge themselves, because they know best how much they are able to control themselves.

It should go without saying that in sexual situations, it is very easy to lose control. (Imam Shafi’i said that when a man is sexually aroused, nine-tenths of his mind departs – many men and women would agree with that from experience, and there is a well-known saying expressing the same truth in modern English.  I wonder whether there is an equivalent statement for women?) This is why when some people objected to being forbidden from kissing etc. during fasting with the objection that, as many hadiths say, the Prophet would kiss his wives whilst fasting, Hazrat Aisha replied that he had the most self-control of any man. In her words, Which of you has the self-control of the Messenger of God?

Summary: avoid these activities as much as possible, and if you do indulge in it, be very careful that you don’t lose control and break your fast, for one thing leads to another and it’s a very slippery slope.

[Anecdote, courtesy of Rashad Ali: An amusing edict mentioned by Abū Shāma on his excellent work on the actions of the Messenger (sallallahu alaihi wa sallam) is the view of Ibn Khuwayzamindad who applied the principle in his view of taking all actions of the Messenger as a duty (wājib) until a dalīl indicates otherwise to take the view that kissing your spouse was a duty in Ramadan as the prophet sallallahu alaihi wa sallam did!]

  1. What does Islam say about the importance of female sexual pleasure?

The Prophet encouraged foreplay and for couples to have fun and play with each other. Caliph Umar, when he fixed the tour of duty for his soldiers, didn’t take their sexual needs into account, but those of their wives.  He asked his sister Hafsa, now a widow of the Prophet, how long a woman could go without sexual intercourse.  She bowed her head out of shyness and replied: four months (the hadith is in Muwatta Imam Malik).  He therefore set the length of each soldier’s tour of duty to four months, so that women’s sexual needs were not neglected.

Note that it would appear that the male soldiers had much greater sexual drives – this is why some of the Companions asked the Prophet’s permission to castrate themselves during military expeditions, because they couldn’t bear the sexual frustration: he didn’t give them permission, because he wanted them to learn self-control!

By the way, the above two examples imply that neither men nor women during the time of the Prophet practised masturbation, otherwise it would have been an obvious option in both cases.  And crucially, the above examples show that it was the women’s sexual needs that needed to be fulfilled, and became the decisive factor in the length of soldiers’ tour of duty. Therefore, it could be argued women’s sexual needs are more important than those of men, from the above examples.

Sadly, a lot of human-trafficking today, a type of modern slavery, involves sexual exploitation of mainly women and children.  And this is almost entirely to satisfy the uncontrolled sexual desires of heterosexual men and paedophiles.

I agree with Asra Nomani’s Islamic Bill of Rights for Women in the Bedroom, that she wrote along with her Islamic Bill of Rights for Women in the Mosque, and in which she included female sexual satisfaction as a fundamental right.

Some later jurists made rulings about these issues that are unthinkable in the modern world.  Professor Kecia Ali’s book, Sexual Ethics in Islam, discusses the issues.  For example, some jurists said that in a marriage, a woman must sexually satisfy her husband whenever he wished it, whereas he only had to satisfy her once a year or even once in the marriage! (Some couples might relate to this from experience!)  This is very much against the spirit of Caliph Umar’s example above, and of Ibn Abbas, who said that he liked to beautify himself for his wife just as he wished her to beautify herself for him.

Summary: The Sunnah indicates that sexual satisfaction is a fundamental right of all human beings, especially women, for societies past and present have tended to be focused on men’s sexual satisfaction.

 

  1. What is your opinion of self-pleasure. Is it permissible in Islam? (If you do not agree that it is permissible, how is it that one person can then teach another about their own pleasure?)

Many of our jurists, but not all, have always said that masturbation is haram based on the identical ayahs of Surah al-Mu’minun (Believers) & al-Ma’arij (Ascending Stairways): “They guard their chastity or private parts, except with their spouses or what their right hands possess.”

Note that the latter phrase referred to slave-women, because the ancient rule was that men could have sex with their unmarried slave-women, since they owned the latter, including their bodies.  (The HBO series Rome depicts examples of this in Roman society.) Strangely enough, the jurists never applied the same rule with genders reversed, i.e. slave-owning women were not allowed to have sex with their unmarried male slaves.  Here, we should note that “sex with slave-women” was probably rape in most cases, and thank God that we as humanity have evolved now to the point of abolishing slavery and criminalising all forms of rape.

Some dry, legal (or perverted) minds even interpreted “what their right hands possess” to include animals and hence justified bestiality – we know about this because Imam Shafi’i refuted them. I seek refuge with Allah!

Ibn Abbas said that masturbation was better than fornication (or adultery, both covered by the term zina).

I agree with Ibn Hazm who said that masturbation is not prohibited, since it simply involves the letting out of bodily fluids, but that it was not a dignified thing to do.  It strikes me that this was the dominant attitude in contemporary Britain also, since the colloquial term for “male masturbator” is a term of abuse (often heard at football matches for a referee making unpopular decisions), signifying society’s disapproval of it.

This relates to my previous point about fiqh rulings being a spectrum: Ibn Abbas pointed out that masturbation, however objectionable it may be to many, wasn’t as bad as zina whilst Ibn Hazm didn’t say it was prohibited, but this didn’t mean that he recommended it either and in fact discouraged it.  From a legal/ethical perspective, we might say that it is makruh (disliked) and better to avoid.

Summary: Ultimately, masturbation has to be weighed in terms of harms and benefits: emotional, physical, medical and spiritual. Studies have shown that pornography-addicted masturbation can lead to a loss of libido. Sheikh Hamza Yusuf, in his famous Dajjal and the New World Order talk given at my local mosque in North London in 1994, pointed out the harms of being addicted to the virtual world, since we would lose contact with the “real” world and “real” sex: We want real sex, not virtual sex!, he said. Ironically, this is now the same message being promoted by the actress Pamela Anderson: avoid pornography, and have sex with real, consenting people.

But masturbation with pornography is nowhere near as bad as destroying several relationships by committing adultery. (As Ibn Abbas said: masturbation is better than fornication.)  On the other hand, there is much harm and exploitation of people, usually women and children, on pornographic websites, so we’re back to benefits and harms.  The ultimate answer lies in the Islamic principle of avoiding harm and maximising benefit.

 

  1. What is your opinion about the permissibility of sex toys in Islam?

Based on the above, because masturbation is neither prohibited nor necessarily desirable, and could well be regarded as undignified and makruh, the same is true of sex toys.  A creative, modern jurist or exegete might even point out that sex toys could fall under “what their rights hands possess”!

 

  1. What is your opinion about oral sex in Islam?

I take the view that it is allowed, since there is no clear text or principle to prohibit it, but that it might be regarded as undignified and makruh.

(I follow the principle that matters are allowed unless specifically prohibited.  This includes sexual matters.  I don’t accept the principle advocated by some that sexual matters are prohibited unless specifically allowed.)

I suppose I’m saying that masturbation, sex toys and oral sex are allowed in general, although probably makruh (disliked, and better to avoid).  However, if there is a lot of harm involved, they might become discouraged (makruh) or prohibited (haram), whereas if there is a lot of benefit, e.g. they are the only way to save a relationship, they might become encouraged (mandub) or even obligatory (wajib), e.g. if sexual satisfaction, a fundamental human right, cannot be achieved in any other way.  Although in the latter case, abstinence and fasting are recommended in the Islamic tradition, as in the famous hadith advising young men and women to fast in order to decrease their sexual drives.

 

  1. If a woman is raped by her husband during Ramadan, does she have to make up the fast?

Firstly, and most importantly, rape, even within marriage, is haram in my view.  It is of course a serious crime in modern, Western countries such as ours (Britain).  Therefore, this question involves a criminal offence and of course the husband could go to jail – there are many cases of this involving a Muslim husband. The criminalisation of rape within marriage is based on principles of human rights and the full, individual autonomy, independence and equality of men and women. These principles are also Islamic.

As for the famous hadiths saying that if a man wishes to have his way with his wife, she must submit to him even if she’s cooking or doesn’t feel like it etc., otherwise God, His angels and the houris of heaven will curse her: we must ask, is this really from the Prophet of Mercy, the Mercy to the Worlds, the final Messenger of God, or is it hadiths fabricated by men to help maintain their power over women?  I have come to the firm conclusion that it is the latter.

Therefore, Muslims, including their religious scholars and jurists must debate these issue and provide clear guidance because of the clear conflict between these hadiths (how authentic are they?), much of our traditional fiqh (how relevant is it?) and these modern laws that I would argue are Islamic in spirit, not un-Islamic or anti-Islamic.

On the secondary question about a raped woman making up fasts, the answer is: No, because no-one is liable for anything they’ve been forced or coerced into doing, just as someone being force-fed doesn’t break their fast. More importantly, she will need to recover from the trauma and might need emotional help and counselling.

 

  1. What advice do you have for couples in order to nurture love, affection and intimacy?

Keep love and romance alive with fun, laughter, exchanging gifts and activities together and, in general, spending quality time together doing healthy, positive stuff.  Or as one rabbi put it, have an affair with your husband or wife!

For couples with children, find ways of finding babysitting so that you can take time out as a couple and enjoy a romantic, dinner date that will remind you of that distant memory when you were a couple without kids. I know groups of friends or siblings who take turns to babysit each other’s kids, giving one couple every weekend to go on a date together, for example.  If this isn’t possible, pay a babysitter if you can afford it.  It costs money, but is a worthwhile investment in your relationship.  It also helps the babysitter of course, since they get an income.  This is how a healthy economy works: we benefit from each other in a win-win situation.

Do not get trapped in a loveless, dysfunctional and harmful marriage.  As we are told in Surahs al-Baqarah (The Cow) and Talaq (Divorce): live together in goodness, or separate with goodness.  In other words: make it work, and if it doesn’t work out, split up amicably. But please don’t remain in a relationship that is only bad for both of you and your children.  Damaged relationships can always be healed in theory, but often not in practice.

Having said that, it strikes me that some marriages continue as “mercy-marriages.”  I coined this term some years ago based on the famous verse of Surah al-Rum that mentions “love and mercy” between couples.  We often hear of love-marriages, so why not mercy-marriages? (The ideal is, of course, love-and-mercy-marriages.)  But a loveless marriage might continue as long as there is no abuse or harm, e.g. husband and wife stay together out of mercy for each other and for their children.

In all cases, seek help from Al-Wadud, Al-Rahman, Al-Rahim: the Loving and Beloved, All-Merciful, Most Merciful.

 

  1. What examples did our Prophet pbuh leave us to follow with regards to spirituality and intimacy?

As Sheikh Abdul Hakim Murad once told me: spirituality enhances sexuality.  The Prophet taught us that lawful sexual activity is a type of worship of God, and is rewarded.  This is because everything is imbued with the Divine – it’s just that we often forget it’s there because there are so many veils in creation, within us and outside us. In other words, sex is sacred.  This is why the Prophet taught us to say Bismillah and other short prayers before having sex, and why intimacy is better with increased spirituality of both partners.

Remember that sex can be sacred or profane. I agree with the tafsir view that the “forbidden tree” of Adam and Eve was the act of sexual intercourse. What other “fruit of a tree” makes you feel naked, such that you rush to cover your nakedness with fig leaves? Furthermore, Satan wasn’t lying when he told Adam and Eve that they would “become angels” (referring to the ecstasy of orgasm) or “live forever” (through their progeny from sex). The word ecstasy literally refers to “leaving your body,” i.e. departing the human realm.  This is why orgasm is potentially contact with a higher plane, i.e. the spiritual world of angels, if the sexuality is accompanied by spirituality.  (Presumably, profane or prohibited sex leads to contact with the diabolical world of devils and demons – the bad jinn or shaytans!)

The author Dan Brown writes that the moment of orgasm is the only time when your brain stops ticking and whirring -if true, this is presumably one of the reasons why it feels so good and removes many of the worries and anxieties that can plague our brains.  This whole discussion is also related to Sheikh Hamza Yusuf’s point after 9/11, replying to the endless questions about battlefield martyrdom and 70 virgins in heaven, when he said that this was a sexual metaphor to help people understand the immense spirituality of true martyrdom, because for many people, the only truly ecstatic experiences they have are in bed.  (He was defending the hadith, not the terrorists.)

And on this point of orgasm, it is well-known that Muslim men and women are required to shower or wash their entire bodies after sexual intercourse, especially if orgasm is achieved, because the post-orgasm state is unclean (junub). It is recommended to shower or at least perform the ablution (wudu’) before sleeping after sex if possible, although this is not compulsory for sleep, only for salat prayers.  Ibn Arabi commented that the reason for this is that the entire body enjoys orgasm, so washing is stipulated to remind ourselves not to become slaves to carnal desire but to remember to purify ourselves externally and internally to stand before God again.

According to many hadiths, the Prophet also sexually satisfied all his wives, sometimes all nine in the same night.  This evokes the Torah’s description of Moses in old age: “his natural powers had not abated.”  They were Prophets of God, and clearly their spirituality enhanced their sexuality. The Prophet taught, and manifested with his wives: love, laughter, play, affection, foreplay and sacred sex followed by purification and prayer.

 

  1. What rewards are there in Ramadan for being intimate – is it more rewarding to abstain?

Lawful sexual intercourse is a type of worship of God and is rewarded.  This includes the nights of Ramadan. However, it is recommended to abstain in the last ten nights as one searches for the Night of Destiny (Laylat al-Qadr).  Hence the hadith: the Prophet would tighten his waist-wrapper for the last ten nights, i.e. abstain from sex and focus on individual worship, which is also why the last ten nights are the best ones for i’tikaf (spiritual seclusion or retreat in the mosque for men and women, although the Hanafi school recommends this at home for women).

NB: this is a recommendation, not an obligation: in practice, what people do will reflect their spiritual state.  Lawful matters are good, and recommended ones are even better.

 

  1. Who can we turn to if our knowledgeable people are all men and mamas feel shy to ask about intimate questions?

Search harder for knowledgeable and pious women: there are many of them around, as there have always been – Allah will guide you to them if you seek them sincerely.

If you don’t feel shy, feel free to ask – many men would feel shy to be asked and answer, but they shouldn’t be, because it is said that the Prophet was asked about anal sex and other intimate matters.  Before he replied, he quoted the Qur’an, Sural al-Ahzab (The Allies): Truly, God is not ashamed of the Truth!

(By the way, the tafsir and hadiths on anal sex have contradictory views and classically, it was a disputed matter as to whether or not it is halal or haram.  It is probably accurate to say that most authorities declared it haram, but a significant minority regarded it as halal including Ibn Rushd and, in our own times, the British-Iraqi sheikh Abdullah al-Judai.)

There were certainly female Sahaba who did not feel shy asking such questions.  Sahih al-Bukhari records that a woman came to the Prophet and asked for divorce from her husband because he was not, ahem, “well-endowed.” The phrase she used was, “What he has is like the corner of a piece of cloth.”  (Again, there is a well-known phrase for this in modern English.) Abu Bakr, who was present, disapproved, saying to another witness, “Look at this woman and how she speaks to the Messenger of God!”  But the Prophet did not rebuke her for asking forthrightly about intimate matters, and gave her the guidance she needed.

 

  1. A couple had intimate relations during fasting hours, just after fajr [dawn]. What is the kaffarah [expiation]?

Assuming they were fasting, I agree with the view that the kaffarah or expiation for this is to make up the fast, as one of the views mentioned by Imam Qurtubi in his tafsir, repent to God for breaking their promise to the Divine, and optionally to do as much charitable activity as possible.

By the way, there is a famous view based on a hadith, usually regarded as sahih, that says that the kaffarah is to free a slave, or to fast for two months consecutively, or to feed sixty needy people (twice a day). My firm conclusion is that this hadith was a mistake in narration, from a narrator who confused it with another Qur’anic ruling.  The latter ruling is in Surah al-Mujadilah (She Who Argued), and has exactly the same three options for someone who swore an oath not to have sex with his wife. The hadith itself says that the Prophet gave these options in turn to a man who had had sex with his wife whilst fasting in Ramadan (I think the narrator got confused: a study of the commentary on this hadith in Fath al-Bari will show the confusion in the various narrations).

For the first option, the couple couldn’t afford to free a slave. For the second option, the Companion is said to have replied: How can we fast two months consecutively, when we couldn’t manage one day?! For the third option, the Prophet asked them to feed sixty needy people.  They replied: There is no-one more needy than us! The Prophet is said to have laughed lovingly at their answers.  So in the end, the couple were so poor that they needed charity themselves, and their kaffarah (expiation) ended up being to feed themselves for two months with food aid donated by someone else!

Notwithstanding the touching aspects of this hadith, it is clearly a mistake, even though it is in Sahih al-Bukhari, because the expiation for breaking one fast cannot possibly be to fast two months consecutively in the Law of God The Wise (al-Hakeem), as the Companion himself says in the alleged hadith.

Therefore, I agree with the Egyptian fatwa above, and not the Saudi or “Seekers Guidance” one. As for “additional charitable activity” I would recommend for example that, if the couple can afford it, they could feed up to sixty needy people, twice a day, in a nod to the mistaken hadith.  The easiest way to do this is in the developing world.  For example, I know of a three-generation family of 12 refugees today in Africa, who can all be fed twice a day for a fiver (five British pounds sterling or £5). The expiation would thus cost £25 each, or £50 per couple – this would be of huge help to needy people abroad, and might serve as a deterrent to the couple from breaking the rules that they voluntarily entered into in a promise to God.

 

  1. Can a couple resume intimate relations if neither is fasting? Or is it prohibited during the day?

Fasting involves abstaining from food, drink and sex during the day.  If a couple are not fasting, then they may have sex during the day, just as they may eat and drink during the day.

An anecdote: Imam Abu Hanifa, known for his sharp legal mind that characterised the Hanafi school, was once consulted by a man who had sworn an oath to have sex with his wife during the day in Ramadan.  So now he was torn between two obligations: to fast and to fulfil his oath.  Imam Abu Hanifa replied: Go travelling with her! As travellers, they could now lawfully break the fast and fulfil the oath. (I learned this anecdote from Abuz-Zubair!)

This completes my answers, based on my knowledge and understanding at the moment.  Anything correct in them comes from Allah.  Any mistakes, for which I seek forgiveness from Allah, are from me and Shaytan.  May Allah bless and accept our efforts during Ramadan, and make it one of healing and self-reflection for the ummah of humanity.

 

© Usama Hasan

1st Ramadan 1441 / 25th April 2020

Temporarily resident at The Children’s Trust, Tadworth, Surrey, UK

NB a note to younger generations: The title of this blog piece is adapted from a famous British comedy of the 1970s called, No Sex, Please – We’re British! In the 1980s, there was a comedy sketch on British TV spoofing this called, No Sex, Please – We’re Iranian! This came after detailed coverage of the enforcement of the chador in Iran after the 1979 revolution, and may have been related to the anecdote of the Iranian bank that enforced headscarves on their female staff, even the non-Muslim ones, in their London branch.

Minor updates: 14 Ramadan 1441 / 8 May 2020.

UK Ramadan fasting times for 2020

April 26, 2020

ASTRONOMICAL DATA FOR RAMADAN 2020


– by Imam Dr Usama Hasan, Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society

 

Ramadan & Eid Dates 2020-2025 (approx.)

Based on Crescent Moon Visibility data for London from HMNAO’s Websurf 2.0 website

(Moon Visibility is estimated on a scale of A-F. The following dates are based on the approximation that A-C represent a visible crescent moon; D-F represent an invisible moon.)

YEAR Beginning of Ramadan (+/- 1 day) Eid al-Fitr
(+/- 2 days)
2020 25 April 25 May
2021 14 April 14 May
2022 03 April 02 May
2023 23 March 22 April
2024 12 March 10 April
 2025 02 March 31 March

 

Examples of dawn/sunset timings for the UK (four UK capital cities), 2020

Dates used are: 25th April (~1st Ramadan), 9th May (~15th Ramadan) & 23rd May (~29th Ramadan)

Date City Dawn
(18°)
Dawn (15°) Dawn (12°) Sunrise
(SR)
Sunset
(SS)
Fasting length (18°) Fasting length (15°) Fasting length (12°) Fasting length SR-SS
25 April London 03:23 03:53 04:19 05:43 20:15 16:52 16:22 15:56 14:32  
9 May   02:32 03:12 03:44 05:18 20:37 18:05 17:25 16:53 15:19  
23 May   *** 02:31 03:13 04:58 20:58 *** 18:27 17:45 16:00  
25 April Edin-burgh 02:45 03:28 04:03 05:42 20:41 17:56 17:13 16:38 14:59  
9 May   *** 02:23 03:15 05:11 21:09 *** 18:46 17:54 15:58  
23 May   *** *** 02:19 04:46 21:34 *** *** 19:15 16:48  
25 April Cardiff 03:35 04:05 04:31 05:56 20:27 16:52 16:22 15:56 14:31  
9 May   02:44 03:24 03:57 05:30 20:50 18:06 17:26 16:53 15:20  
23 May   *** 02:43 03:25 05:10 21:10 *** 18:27 17:45 16:00  
25 April Belfast 03:15 03:52 04:23 05:57 20:47 17:32 16:55 16:24 14:50  
9 May   *** 02:58 03:40 05:28 21:13 *** 18:15 17:33 15:45  
23 May   *** *** 02:57 05:05 21:37 *** *** 18:40 16:32  

 

 

KEY:

18° refers to astronomical twilight, which begins or ends when the sun is 18 degrees below the horizon

15° refers to when the sun is 15 degrees below the horizon

12° refers to nautical twilight, which begins or ends when the sun is 12 degrees below the horizon

The astronomical definition of “dawn” is disputed, with various Muslim religious authorities adopting one of the three possible definitions given above.

*** in the above table means that the timing is not available, because the sun does not reach that far below the horizon. This happens every year during the summer at high latitudes, such as the UK.

 

NOTES:

  1. We must emphasise that the actual dates of the beginning of Ramadan and Eid, given above, are subject to vary by one or two days, within Muslim communities in the UK, due to different community approaches to determining these dates.
  2. If we use 18° astronomical twilight (Sun’s depression = 18 degrees) as the start of dawn, the fasting start time and fasting length are undefined for most of Ramadan 2020 in Edinburgh & Belfast. They are defined for most of the month, except towards its end, in Cardiff & London, where the fasting length is around 17-18 hours.
  3. If we use 15° (Sun’s depression = 15 degrees) as the start of dawn, the fasting start time and fasting length are undefined for most of Ramadan 2020 in Edinburgh & Belfast, except towards its end, where the fasting length is 17-19 hours. However, dawn does occur throughout the month in both London and Cardiff, giving fasting lengths of 16.5-18.5 hours.
  4. If we use 12° nautical twilight (Sun’s depression = 12 degrees) as the start of dawn, this results in fasting hours during Ramadan 2020 in London and Cardiff of 16-18 hours, in Belfast of 16.5-18.5 hours, and in Edinburgh of 16.5-19 hours.
  5. If we use Sunrise as the start of fasting, this results in fasting hours during Ramadan 2020 in London and Cardiff of 14.5-16 hours, in Belfast of 15-16.5 hours, and in Edinburgh of 15-17 hours.

The HMNAO data portal is: http://astro.ukho.gov.uk/ – please note that there is no www. prefixing this resource address.

Taqiyyah Sunrise: Shining Light on Contemporary Deception

December 22, 2019

 

With the Name of God, All-Merciful, Most Merciful

Let not the Believers

Take for friends or helpers

Unbelievers rather than Believers:

If any do that, in nothing will there be help

From Allah: except by way of precaution,

That ye may guard yourselves from them.

[Qur’an, The Family of Imran (Amram), 3:28 – Abdullah Yusuf Ali’s translation]

There has been some discussion over the past few weeks over the uses and misuses of the term taqiyyah within Islamic jurisprudence. This article seeks to clarify the origins, meaning, and application of the concept of taqiyyah. In doing so, my purpose is to minimise its use, as part of a hostile narrative which paints Muslims are religiously-obligated liars.

I also attempt to explain the damage which the malicious misuse of that term inflicts on British Muslims.

The context of the verse quoted above is the melodramatic battle between the Meccan Unbelievers and Medinan Believers that took place in the earliest days of Islam. The Arabic for “precaution” is tuqaah, an alternative version of which is taqiyyah. As a footnote, as advanced students of Qur’anic studies will know, there are 20 equally-valid recitations of the Qur’an from a basic text that had no vowels or diacritical marks: two of these versions read taqiyyah, whilst the rest read it as the synonymous tuqaah.

The main meaning of the verse is very simple and rather obvious: in times of conflict, one may protect oneself from one’s enemy by apparently ingratiating oneself with them means of dissimulation. This was particularly important for the Muslims persecuted in Mecca, and explains why Ibn Kathir, the 14th-century Qur’anic scholar of Damascus, related it explicitly to the following one:

Anyone who, after accepting Faith in Allah,

Utters unbelief – except under compulsion,

His heart remaining firm in Faith – but such as

Open their breast to Unbelief – on them is Wrath from Allah,

And theirs will be a dreadful penalty.

[Qur’an, The Honey-Bee, 16:106]

That passage makes it clear that the exception to the basic moral obligation to tell the truth about one’s religious faith applies only in circumstances of compulsion. This was not a purely hypothetical situation in the first days of Islam. Many of the Prophet’s early followers were forced, under pain of death, to practice taqiyyah, although some of them notably preferred to express their faith and achieve martyrdom. The above verse was revealed to the Prophet regarding the case of Ammar, son of Yasir and Sumayyah, all of whom were slaves owned by Meccan polytheists. Yasir and Sumayyah were both killed by their owners for rejecting polytheism and embracing monotheism: Sumayyah, a woman, was the first martyr of Islam. But Ammar wasn’t quite as strong as his parents, and was given permission to hide his monotheistic faith by outwardly professing polytheism.

Throughout Islamic history, therefore, persecuted people often had to resort to taqiyyah. The most famous examples of these originate in the experience of the Shia minority, who were often oppressed by Sunni rulers: although this situation was sometimes reversed in regional variations. Muslims persecuted during the Crusades, Reconquista and Spanish Inquisition also applied the principle of taqiyyah for self-preservation.

The principle of taqiyyah is, as you might expect, not limited to Islam: faced with severe persecution or death, and especially in war, most moral and religious codes permit dissimulation. “War is deception” is a principle found across many cultures, from Sun-Tzu’s The Art of War onwards. A takfiri jihadist, particularly one who had been caught and imprisoned while engaged in terrorism, might well believe that he was being persecuted, or was at war, and therefore was permitted to engage in religiously sanctioned dishonesty. It is not objectionable to point that out. However, many of the most deadly forms of incitement and stereotyping often take the form of distortion and misapplication.

To take a parallel example, the Hebrew term “hasbara”, which means “explaining” or “diplomacy” is commonly deployed by antisemites to suggest that Jews customarily engage in insincere propagandistic deception, and so should never be believed. There is a significant difference between observing, on the one hand, that a particular statement from a named Israeli government minister is propaganda, and suggesting that everything that Jews say can be dismissed as lies, on the other.

In a similar manner, it has become a common trope of anti-Muslim hatred, in particular by the far-right, to accuse all Muslims of taqiyyah. It is an accusation that is obviously impossible to rebut in the eyes of the haters, because no matter what Muslims may say or do, they may be practising taqiyyah!

That the alt-right and far-right peddle conspiracy theories involving taqiyyah is not surprising. But it is disappointing that The Times of London, one of the most important newspapers in the world, should publish Melanie Phillips saying so.

Melanie Phillips is a Times columnist and often appears on the BBC in its TV and radio programmes such as Question Time and The Moral Maze. She also writes for the Jewish Chronicle. In her article, “Islamists are not the same as other prisoners,” (The Times, 3 December 2019) she claims that “taqiyya, the command to deceive for Islam … is of fundamental importance in Islam. Practically every Islamic sect agrees to it and practises it.” Her authority? A minor Lebanese academic who is a member of the relatively heterodox Druze sect. This is a bit like deploying Neturei Karta against mainstream Jewish sects, or quoting a Jehovah’s Witness as an authority on the doctrinal content of post-Nicene Christianity.

There is value in deepening our collective understanding of the commonalities between the approaches Abrahamic faiths: a task which I, a priest and a rabbi attempt to undertake in our book: People of the Book: How Jews, Christians and Muslims understand their Sacred Scriptures. Jewish and Islamic jurisprudence have many similarities, and an analogous principle to taqiyyah is found in Judaism: Rabbi Michael C. Hilton writes, “Melanie Phillips should know that there are important Jewish precedents for hiding your beliefs in a situation of persecution.”

And Rabbi Mark Solomon of London writes,

“I teach about taqiya in the context of medieval philosophers (like Maimonides) using taqiya to obscure their most radical ideas behind a screen of orthodoxy, but to accuse all Muslims of it is deception of a different order.”

Ironically, the vast majority of Muslims, 80% of whom are non-Arab, are probably unaware of this obscure concept that is mentioned only once in the entire Qur’an. To give an example, Osama Filali-Naji, founder of the Arab Millenials network, comments:

Interestingly, growing up as a Sunni Muslim, I never heard of the concept. The first I learned of it was from islamophobes who claimed I was practising taqiyyah. Ultimate paranoia!

It is true that hardened islamist terrorists, such as the Al-Qaeda & ISIS supporter Usman Khan who murdered two people at Fishmongers’ Hall, do misuse the principle of taqiyyah in order to further their cause. However, the charge that all Muslims are generally religiously obligated to lie, and do so routinely, is both dangerous and untrue. Moreover, it is dehumanising. It suggests that deception is in our nature, and that we are not to be trusted. At secondary school in North London in the 1980s, I learned in history classes that the Nazis had compared Jews to rats in cinema films. In 2013, at the Museum of the Jewish People at Tel Aviv University, I remember my horror in viewing the Nazi footage that painted Jews as a plague on humanity. We understand, from the experience of too many persecuted minorities throughout the world, the deadly consequences of years of the steady, drip-drip effect of demonisation.

This is not a new complaint: just over a decade ago, Ed Husain warned of such use of the taqiyyah trope by the same writer. More recently, the Deputy Director of Hope Not Hate, writing in the Jewish Chronicle, TellMAMA and Dr Hisham Hellyer have raised similar concerns.

I cannot overstate how damaging the charge that Muslims are directed by their religion to lie has been. It is impossible for us to “prove ourselves” against the backdrop of this pernicious accusation of taqiyyah and consequent implication that Muslims can never be trusted. The Times, the JC, the Spectator, and the BBC should be ashamed of promoting someone who has made this charge against us for so many years.

Seventeen years ago, the New Statesman published an issue with a front cover which referred to a “Kosher Conspiracy”. The language of that headline invoked ancient accusations that Jews were conspiring to control the government. The subsequent reputational damage to that magazine, and to its then editor Peter Wilby, was significant.

The Times should learn the lessons of that episode. It is outrageous that a respected national newspaper should render the tropes of anti-Muslim hatred mainstream in this manner.


(Imam Dr) Usama Hasan

London, UK

22nd December, 2019

This article is slightly modified from the version published by the Jewish Chronicle on 19/12/19.  The main modification is the addition of several hyperlinks, plus a couple of other edits.  In particular, the taqiyyah reading is found in 1/10 qira’ats (Ya’qub al-Hadrami only), equating to 2/20 riwayats (Rawh & Ruways from Ya’qub), and not 1/20 as I incorrectly stated in the JC version.

Modern Islamic Warfare Ethics

November 10, 2019

Modern Islamic Warfare Ethics

[Bismillah.  Part of the conclusion to Usama Hasan & Salah al-Ansari’s Tackling Terror: A Rebuttal of ISIS’ Fiqh al-Dima’  or Jurisprudence of Blood (Quilliam, 2018), consisting of 13 aspects of modern, Islamic warfare ethics as discussed by 20th-21st century Muslim jurists.]

During the course of this study, we have been able to demonstrate that ISIS’ warfare ethics are often medieval. We have also countered their positions by pointing out the balanced positions of mainstream scholars that effectively constitute modern Islamic warfare ethics. We summarise those here, as a positive alternative to ISIS’ medieval barbarism.

1.  Warfare can only be waged legitimately by modern nation-states.

2.  Peace is the default, basic norm governing international relations.

3.  War is only permitted for self-defence or to remove persecution in accordance with international law, not to coerce others into Islam.

4.  Suicide is prohibited, according to Islamic ethics. Suicide attacks are unethical, inhuman and un-Islamic.

5.  Islamic warfare ethics have always distinguished between combatants and non-combatants. Modern interpretations agree with the Geneva Conventions on legitimate targets in warfare.

6.  Weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, and “scorched earth” operations including the killing of animals, are prohibited by Islamic warfare ethics.

7.  The kidnapping of civilians is not permitted in Islam and contravenes basic human rights and the Geneva Conventions, to which Muslim-majority states have generally signed up.

8.  Mutilation and decapitations (beheading) are prohibited; this prohibition of mutilation also includes the harvesting of organs for sale or trafficking.

9.  In a nation-state where the citizens are equal before the law, the army is composed of personnel whose loyalty to one another lies not in their religious affiliation but in their shared sense of obligation and citizenship.

10.  There is no harm in any state recruiting anyone who is eligible to work in the army; and, moreover, that no impediments should be made because of a citizen’s religious beliefs. Equally, there is no harm in a state going into an alliance with foreign forces if it is believed that this will achieve the best interests of their nation.

11.  There is great similarity between modern Islamic morality and humanitarian international law. The two moral frameworks agree that espionage is a punishable crime but that the punishment varies from one country to another. International law gives a special status to combatant spies. According to The Hague Regulations (1899), Article 31 provides that: a spy who, after re-joining the army to which he belongs, is subsequently captured by the enemy, is treated as a prisoner of war. Moreover, they are to incur no further punishment for their previous acts of espionage. This is consistent with the modern adapted principles of the sharia.

12.  The Geneva Conventions on prisoners of war (POWs) are in harmony with the Islamic tradition of warfare ethics.

13.  Military retreat, surrender and other strategies are acceptable, depending on pragmatism; there is no religious requirement to “fight to the death.”

TEN TRUTHS ABOUT JIHAD

November 10, 2019

With the Name of God, All-Merciful, Most Merciful

 

TEN TRUTHS ABOUT JIHAD

 

Bismillah. During the Islamic lunar month of Rabi’ al-Awwal [originally, the “first month of spring”], when the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, was born and died, thus fulfilling an ancient Jewish or Israelite prophecy about the Prophets being born and dying on the same date, thus completing a cosmic cycle, I am moved to republish this article that I wrote in 2017, since the Prophet and his name continues to be praised and vilified around the world.  I suggest that it may be useful as a basis for Friday sermons (Jumu’ah / Jumma khutbahs) about Jihad, for those who agree with this content.

Within those last two years, some more things have happened:

(1) I was reminded that there are narrations in the Sirah tradition saying that the Prophet’s birth name was not Muhammad, but Qutham, and that Muhammad (“The Oft-Praised One”) was a title given to him later.  If these are true, then “Muhammad” would be much like “Christ” or “Buddha,” i.e. a title originally, not a name, although of course many titles become names later, and vice-versa, as with Caesar.

(2) Sheikh Hamza Yusuf Hanson recommended to me the book by Juan Cole, Muhammad: Prophet of Peace Amid the Clash of Empires (Hachette USA, 2018).  I’ve read a few chapters, and it is a very interesting read.  And it tends to confirm my own conclusions that I wrote on 1st August 2017 for the Muslim Reform Movement, and that are republished here as: Ten Truths About Jihad.  In particular, see the quote from Ibn Sa’d via Ibn al-Qayyim on the context of Qur’an, Repentance, 9:29, that appears to be the most militant verse in the Qur’an, but the context again suggests a meaning of self-defence!

(3) A modified version of this article was included by me and my friend, Sheikh Dr Salah al-Ansari al-Azhari in our Tackling Terror (Quilliam, 2018), a rebuttal of ISIS’ Fiqh al-Dima’ or Jurisprudence of Blood.

(4) I also discussed some of this with Prof. Rabbi Dan Cohn-Sherbok and Dr. George Chryssides in our chapter on “War and Peace” in our People of the Book – How Jews, Christians and Muslims Understand Their Sacred Scriptures (Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2018)

But here we are, back to my original article [with a few additions in square brackets]:

 

TEN TRUTHS ABOUT JIHAD

With the Name of God, All-Merciful, Most Merciful

[Note: the Meccan period of the Prophet’s mission represented peaceful preaching under persecution; the Medinan period represented city-state-power and included war. Hence the reference to Meccan & Medinan verses, to understand context.]

 

  1. THE ESSENTIAL QUR’ANIC TEACHING ABOUT JIHAD IS THAT IT IS A LIFELONG, NONVIOLENT STRUGGLE FOR GOODNESS, JUSTICE AND TRUTH AGAINST EVIL, INJUSTICE AND FALSEHOOD

The essential Qur’anic teaching about Jihad is that it is a non-violent struggle for goodness of all kinds, and against evil of all types.  This is clear from the following Meccan verses of the Qur’an:

“Struggle in God, as the struggle (jihad) deserves …” (Pilgrimage 22:78); and

“Obey not the concealers (of truth), and struggle against them with it (the Qur’an): a great struggle (jihad).” (The Criterion 25:52)

 

  1. DURING HIS 13 YEARS’ MISSION IN MECCA, THE PROPHET AND HIS FOLLOWERS WERE SUBJECTED TO PERSECUTION, BUT WERE ORDERED TO REMAIN PATIENT & NONVIOLENT

This is clear from verses such as the following:

“Withhold your hands (from violence in self-defence): establish prayer and give in charity” (Women 4:77)

Note that during this time, the Prophet’s followers were persecuted, tortured and killed. He himself was the subject of assassination attempts and plots (Spoils of War 8:30), but the Muslim response remained peaceful and nonviolent.

 

  1. DURING THE PROPHET’S 10-YEAR MISSION IN MEDINA, MILITARY JIHAD IN SELF-DEFENCE WAS EVENTUALLY PERMITTED

This is clear from Medinan verses such as the following:

“Permission has been given to those who were fought (to fight back), because they have been oppressed … those who were unjustly expelled from their homes, only for saying: ‘Our Lord is God’.” (Pilgrimage 22:39-40)

“Fight, in the way of God, those who fight you, and transgress not: truly, God does not love transgressors.” (The Heifer 2:190)

 

  1. MILITARY JIHAD MAY ONLY BE DECLARED BY A LEGITIMATE AUTHORITY

An example of such an authority was the Prophet Muhammad, undisputed leader of the city-state of Medina – see the Medina Charter, an agreement between the Prophet and the non-Muslim, largely Jewish, tribes of Medina, for clauses relating to mutual defence of Medina against external aggression.

Several Qur’anic verses that speak of fighting and concluding peace are addressed in the singular to the Prophet, e.g. Women 4:84 and Spoils of War 8:61. This is because only he, as the legitimate ruler of the city-state of Medina, had the authority to declare a state of war or peace.

Throughout the centuries of Islamic jurisprudence on warfare ethics, the jurists have agreed that only a legitimate authority can declare a state of war or military jihad. In modern times, this means that only legitimate states have the authority to declare a state of war or military jihad: vigilante or non-state actors such as terrorist groups have no Islamic authority whatsoever to issue a call to arms in the name of jihad. This is why we stated in the Muslim Reform Movement Declaration that “we reject violent jihad.” [i.e. by non-state actors]

 

  1. EVEN THE MOST APPARENTLY-BELLIGERENT VERSES ABOUT JIHAD ARE IN SELF-DEFENCE

For example, the eighth and ninth surahs or chapters of the Qur’an, al-Anfal (Spoils of War) and al-Tawbah (Repentance):

In Surah al-Anfal, the command to “Prepare against them your strength to the utmost …” is followed by the exhortation to accept overtures of peace from the enemy: “If they incline towards peace, then also incline towards it, and trust in God.” (Spoils of War 8:60-61)

Thus, the preparation of utmost strength is largely a deterrent, to encourage any enemies to sue for peace.

In Surah al-Tawbah, the command to “Fight them: God will punish them at your hands …” was preceded by the cause: “They violated their oaths and … attacked you first.” (Repentance, 9:12-15)

Thus, as in The Heifer 2:190 and Pilgrimage 22:39, fighting was ordered in self-defence. Note that in the Medinan era, the pagan, polytheistic Meccan armies attacked the Muslims in Medina several times, aiming to wipe the latter out, e.g. at the Battles of Uhud and the Trench. Thus, the Prophet and the Muslims in Medina were utterly justified in waging military jihad to protect themselves. The numerous Qur’anic verses dealing with military jihad against the Meccan polytheists must be understood in this context.

Finally, the verse of jizya (Repentance 9:29) was revealed when the Byzantines and their allies under Emperor Heraclius threatened the northern regions of Islamic Arabia from Syria, resulting in the Tabuk expedition that ended without any fighting.[1]

The jizya protection- and poll-tax, the name itself deriving from Persian [according to a narration by Imam al-Qurtubi under 9:29], was always a political tax, not religious. This is evident in the fact that some Islamic jurists later advised Muslims under the Reconquista in Andalusia to pay jizya to their Christian conquerors. Furthermore, the Ottoman Caliph abolished the jizya and the associated category of dhimma in the mid-19th century CE, with the agreement of his most senior Islamic scholars, recognising that it was no longer relevant to the modern world of the time.[2]

Thus, although early Muslim armies did take part in expansionist campaigns, at least partly motivated by the war strategem that ‘Offence is the best form of defence’, Muslim authorities, both political and religious, have recognised for at least two centuries that this kind of military jihad has no place in the modern world that is governed by treaties, peace agreements and international collaboration.

 

  1. MILITARY JIHAD WAS ALSO LEGISLATED TO PROTECT & PROMOTE RELIGIOUS FREEDOM

This is clear from the following Qur’anic verse:

“Permission has been given to those who were fought (to fight back), because they have been oppressed … those who were unjustly expelled from their homes, only for saying: ‘Our Lord is God’.

And were God not to check some people by means of others, then monasteries, churches, synagogues and mosques, where God’s name is mentioned often, would surely be demolished.” (Pilgrimage 22:39-40)

Thus, military Jihad was also legislated to protect the religious freedom of Muslims, Jews and Christians, according to the explicit text of the Qur’an. Muhammad bin Qasim, the 8th-century CE Muslim commander who first brought Islam to India, extended this religious protection to Zoroastrian and Hindu temples.[3]

Note that this religious protection also originally extended to the idolatrous polytheists of Mecca and Medina – the latter were included in the Medina Charter, and both were covered by the Qur’anic dictum, “To you, your religion: to me, my religion.” (The Concealers of Truth, 109:6) It was only when the Meccan polytheists refused to be peaceful and violently persecuted the Muslims, attempting genocide, that they were fought. Even then, the Hudaybiya peace treaty was concluded with them later.

 

  1. MILITARY JIHAD WAS ALWAYS CONDITIONED BY STRONG ETHICAL RESTRICTIONS

Numerous hadiths speak of the obligation of avoiding the killing of women, children, old people, peasants, monks and others in war – in the 7th-century CE, these were advanced, civilised teachings. Further hadiths forbid the chopping down of trees, burning of orchards or poisoning wells or other water supplies as part of war tactics. These teachings may be seen as Islamic forerunners of modern warfare ethics, such as the Geneva Conventions, that are also Islamic in spirit and must be seen as binding upon Muslims worldwide.

The 12th-13th century CE Andalusian philosopher and jurist, Ibn Rushd (Averroes), in his short ‘Book of Jihad’, part of his Bidayat al-Mujtahid (available in English as ‘The Distinguished Jurist’s Primer‘), discusses ten issues related to the philosophy and ethics of war or military jihad. Thus, Islam has a long tradition of warfare ethics.

 

  1. TO REITERATE, JIHAD IS A STRUGGLE FOR GOOD AGAINST EVIL

This may take many forms: jihad bil-mal is charitable spending; jihad bil-lisan is speaking truth or goodness against evil and injustice. Thus, all forms of social, intellectual and political struggle with noble aims are a type of jihad, in traditional Islamic terminology.  An example of this is the hadith or Prophet’s teaching, “The best jihad is to speak a word of truth before a tyrant ruler.”

However, this teaching does not privilege so-called ‘Islamic political parties’ or islamist groups that wrongly claim to monopolise interpretations of Islam in the social and political realms.

Jihad is a universal struggle for good against evil. The verse, “Struggle in God, as the struggle (jihad) deserves …” (Pilgrimage 22:78) also includes the teachings, “… This is the path of your father Abraham … Establish prayer, give charity and hold to God: He is your Protector  …”

 

  1. THE OUTER JIHAD IS ALWAYS UNDERPINNED BY INNER JIHAD

Inner jihad or jihad al-nafs (struggle against the self’s base desires) has always been understood as a prerequisite for taking part in the outer jihad, or struggle for goodness and truth in the world.

This is reflected in the Qur’anic promise of heaven to whoever fears standing before God and “forbids their self from base desires” (The Snatchers 79:40-41). Furthermore, a hadith states, “The true mujahid (holy warrior) is the one who struggles against their own self for the sake of God.”

Ibrahim bin Abi Ablah, an early ascetic of Islam, once remarked after a military expedition, “We have returned from the lesser jihad to the greater jihad,” i.e. from the lesser, military jihad to the greater jihad of lifelong struggle against evil. This teaching was also attributed to the Prophet himself and widely favoured by the Sufis, who were keen to preserve the spiritual dimensions of Islam during the early centuries of astonishing Islamic military conquests and worldly success. [Although many Hadith scholars did not accept this as a saying of the Prophet, they accepted its meaning, since it came from someone regarded as a holy main or saint (wali). Such scholars include Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani.]

 

  1. JIHAD TODAY

As shown above, Islamic teachings about jihad are essentially spiritual and non-violent. All charitable efforts or struggles by Muslims today for goodness, truth and justice against evil and injustice may be termed jihad. For example, the Prophet termed “struggling to help widows and orphans” and “struggling to serve elderly parents” as types of jihad. [Sound hadiths of Bukhari & Muslim, etc.]

Armed or military jihad is the strict preserve of legitimate authority such as modern nation-states engaging in ethical warfare: this is why the Muslim Reform Movement firmly rejects ‘violent jihad’ carried out by non-state actors or vigilante groups such as terrorist organisations.

What we really need is a jihad for universal human rights, dignity, equality, peace and justice, tempered by the mercy and compassion that are the essential spirit of Islam and the Qur’an.

 

Imam Dr Usama Hasan (briefly an armed mujahid alongside the anti-communist mujahideen in Afghanistan, 1990-1)

London, UK, 1st August 2017

Modified & republished: 10th November 2019 / 12th Rabi’ al-Awwal 1441

 

NOTES:

 

[1] Ibn Sa’d said, “It reached the Messenger of God, may God bless him and grant him peace, that the Romans [Byzantines] had gathered large multitudes in Syria, and that Heraclius had prepared provision for his men for a year. He had brought with him the tribes of Lakhm, Judham, ‘Amilah and Ghassan. They had sent an advance party to al-Balqa’.” – cf. Ibn al-Qayyim, Zad al-Ma’ad, Al-Matba’ah al-Misriyyah wa Maktabatuha, n.d., vol. 3, p. 2

[2] cf. Usama Hasan, From Dhimmitude to Democracy, Quilliam, 2015

[3] Al-Baladhuri, as quoted by Ihsanoglu. cf. Usama Hasan, From Dhimmitude to Democracy, Quilliam, 2015, p. 26

 

In Memoriam: Amatul Haseeb of Dehli, Karachi and Lahore (c. 1928-2019)

September 7, 2019

Grave of Amatul-Haseeb, Bait-ur-Rehmat cemetery, Lahore, Jumma 6th Muharram 1441, Friday 6th September 2019. Photo (c) Abdullah Qazi

Grave of Amatul-Haseeb, Bait-ur-Rehmat cemetery, Lahore, c. 12th Rabi’ al-Awwal 1441, Sunday 10th November 2019

“Whoever biographs a believer, it is as though he has brought him or her back to life.”
(man arrakha mu’minan fa ka’annama ahyahu) – Imam Sakhawi

[I would extend the above phrase to biographing any person.]

Amatul-Haseeb

Bismillah.  I write this after helping with the funeral prayers & burial of my mum’s mum (Nani Ammi), Amatul-Haseeb (servant/slave of the Reckoner), of the Ahl-e-Hadees families of Dehli (Delhi): Shah Waliullah of Delhi (Dehli) is the most famous name in our intellectual, scholarly and spiritual lineage.  Her father-in-law was Mawlana Yunus Qureshi, nephew of Mawlana Ahmadullah, student of Sayyid Nadheer Husain of Dehli. She outlived her husband, Mawlana Zubair Qureshi, by approximately 50 years, living as a pious, ascetic widow devoted to God and then to family.

Dada Abba and Nani Ammi

When our Dada Abba or paternal grandfather departed a decade ago, leaving Nani Ammi as our only surviving grandparent, my sister Hafsa observed that Nani Ammi didn’t have the public limelight that Dada Abba had (he had served as a senior Islamic scholar in India, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia), but that she was an unsung heroine who quietly lived her saintly life.

[A mathematical interlude]

According to the famous hadith, the most special people in the world, in order, are: Mum, Mum, Mum, Dad. Here is some mathematical analysis – I would be grateful for other mathematical insights into this kind of calculation: there is a unity of knowledge, so there should be no problem mixing mathematics and hadith.

If we use simple arithmetic, the relative importance is: Mum 3, Dad 1. Or as fractions converted to percentages:

Mum 75%, Dad 25%

Multiplying to grandparents, we get:

Mum’s Mum: 9 (56%)

Mum’s Dad: 3 (19%)

Dad’s Mum: 3 (19%)

Dad’s Dad: 1 (6%)

TOTAL: 16 (100%)

If we use exponents, what happens?

[Answers on a postcard or in the comments below, please: I don’t have time to do the math(s) right now.]

Nani Ammi the Qur’an-teacher

I have been honoured to accompany my mum on her last two trips to Lahore – to see our Nani Ammi alive for the last time in the Spring, with my brother Mujahid, and now to participate in her funeral and burial.  My sisters Khola and Hafsa visited her last year along with their husbands.

I didn’t know that Nani Ammi had been a Qur’an teacher: she had taught my mum and her three sisters and brother, and completed that career by the time of my earliest memories of her in Karachi: devoted to prayer, reading the Qur’an and domestic duties as a widow with young children. So she is the grandteacher of the hundreds of Mum’s Qur’an students, including myself and my siblings.  She only lost her own mum about 24 years ago, after attending a wedding in the UK.

Karachi: Dehli Colony & North Nazimabad

Dehli Colony in Karachi was literally a small town of people transplanted from Dehli after Partition in 1947: entire families living in one room, clay pots for cooking and storing water, simple sewage systems, house doors that remained open throughout the day guarded by a curtain, and daily life revolving around the five daily prayers at the mosque, with the boys playing cricket and even football between the late afternoon and sunset prayers, when it was much cooler.

In North Nazimabad, one of my abiding memories of her was breaking down the huge blocks of ice that we bought a couple of days a week from the ice-seller: a huge block covered in matting, and wheeled through the streets on a cart, in the days before refrigerators. She would break the ice into small pieces so they could fit into the water cooler using a little chisel, although we as naughty kids would eat most of these ice pieces.  She would also encourage us to observe the five daily prayers in the mosque as far as possible, and to do our daily Qur’an study.  Being woken up for the dawn prayer by the prodding of her bony fingers was tough love!

Visiting the UK

Nani Ammi visited the UK several times, attending most of her grandchildren’s weddings there.  She clearly felt like a fish out of water in the UK.  She also gently rebuked me once for spending too much time in front of the television!

Dehli again, and the comparison of the Partitions of India (1947) & Palestine (1948)

During my year in Pakistan in 2002-3 (as Visiting Associate Professor at NUST, the National University of Sciences & Technology, in Rawalpindi-Islamabad), I was obviously more aware of the history of the region.  I realised that Nani Ammi must have been a teenager or about 20 when partition happened (I’m still trying to confirm her year of birth).  I asked her, “Do you remember Dehli much?”  Her reply astonished me: “I think about Dehli every day! It was such a lovely place and a nice life.” This was after approximately 56 years in exile from Dehli in Karachi!  My yearning for Dehli grew that day, and I often think about the parallels between the Partition of India in 1947 and that of Palestine in 1948.

(Azzam Tamimi once said in a public talk at Cambridge University, when I shared a panel with him in the early 2000s, that he would not stop struggling until “he was able to return to his grandmother’s house in Beersheba” and I wondered whether we Dehlawis or Dehli-origin people would be justified in applying the same logic to our grandmothers’ houses in Dehli.)

The end

Her final, bedridden year has been very tough on all the family.  During our last visits, Dr. Liaquat Ali had been able to help on medical aspects, whilst Shaharuddin applied his photography expertise to take stunning photos of our aged grandmother. During my visit in April, I thought the best thing I could do was to recite her beloved Qur’an to her loudly, because she had become quite hard of hearing.  My brother Hafiz Dr Mujahid was able to help on medical aspects as well as recite the Qur’an to her!

Back in April, I recited from Surah al-Baqarah (The Heifer, 2) to her one day.  We were leaving Lahore on the Friday night, and I had a meeting planned with Prof. Suheyl Umar in the afternoon/evening before our flight to Karachi.  So I resolved to recite Surah al-Kahf (The Cave, 18) to her on the Friday morning before Jumma (Friday congregational) prayers, as per traditional practice. I sat beside her and asked if I could recite the Qur’an to her.  “Yes,” she said, “recite Surah Ya Sin (Y.S., 36).” Traditional Muslim practice is to recite this surah over dying or deceased people.  Freaked out, and not in the mood to recite Surah Ya Sin over my beloved grandmother, I said, “Nani Ammi, I would like to recite Surat-ul-Kahf to you because it is Jumma.”  “Aaj Jumma hai? (Is it Jumma today?)” she asked, because of course she had lost track of time, and deeply regretted not being able to pray according to the natural cycles of day and night.

I replied that yes, it was Jumma, and recited the first few verses (ayat) of Surat-ul-Kahf to her.  I paused to check that she could hear me all right? “I can hear you,” she replied, “but you’re reading it wrong. Recite Surah Ya Sin!” I was now overruled, and duly recited Surah Ya Sin to her.  Her last words to me were, “You recite the Qur’an very well. May God forgive all your sins and bless your wife and children!”  I will obviously treasure those words for the rest of my life.

She breathed her last in the company of her only son, our uncle, on Thursday 5th Muharram 1441 / 5th September 2019.  A few days earlier, Mum had had a vivid dream where Nani Ammi came to hug her goodbye, although Mum couldn’t feel the flesh and bones of her Mum.

When we arrived this morning, Mum embraced the walls of the room where Nani Ammi had spent her final year, the room now being bare after her death, in the way pilgrims embrace the walls of the Ka’bah in Mecca.  The bare room did remind me of the inside of the Ka’bah (I’ve been there aged 11, as a guest of the Saudis, may God guide us and them – for all their faults, they have served the Holy Places of Mecca and Medina well, at least outwardly.) It now has chairs for the guests arriving for condolences.

I reflected that this was appropriate, because the House of God in Mecca is a symbol of the House of God in the heart, and in the Islamic tradition, after God, Mum is number one, being the reflection and manifestation par excellence of Divine Mercy.

Mum later prayed in that room.  For those who understand such realities: on a spiritual level, Mum was praying inside the Ka’bah (trust me: I’ve been there, at least outwardly).

The local mosque imam led her funeral prayer – family wanted me to lead, but I preferred to defer to authority, otherwise the imam becomes redundant if family members always lead the funeral prayer.  The imam offered the prayer in the traditional Hanafi style, with her body outside the mosque on a small verandah, and no women inside the mosque.  Just as we finished, Mum and some aunties and female cousins arrived, so I led them in another funeral prayer, taking the opportunity to follow an Ahl-e-Hadith method based on sound hadiths, for over the past quarter-century, some brothers and sisters in the West have tried to replace salafi straitjackets with medieval-madhhabi straitjackets that are just as bad or even worse. This salafi method allows women at the prayer and inside the mosque, reciting the funeral prayer loudly as well as recitation after the Fatiha, based on an authentic expression of the Sunnah, one amongst many.  The verses I chose were Surat al-Ikhlas (Sincerity, 112), preceded by the last four verses of Surat al-Fajr (Dawn, 89:27-30) that are especially appropriate because they are addressed to the feminine (soul), so the final verses recited over her in prayer were:

O contented soul! 

Return to your Lord, pleasing and pleased with.

Enter amongst My servants:

Yea, enter My Garden!

In the Name of God, Most Merciful, All-Merciful

Say: He [or It] is God, One!

God, the Source of All!

Not giving birth, not being born:

Nothing equal to Him: No-One!

 

[These verses often form epitaphs over Muslim graves, including that of my wife’s beloved aunt, Mrs. Anjum Manazir Ahsan in the Muslim section of the Saffron Lane cemetery in Leicester, UK.]

Mum had led the washing of her mum’s body, along with two of her sisters. The ambulance had sped Nani Ammi’s to the local mosque for the funeral prayer, with its flashing light and siren.  Now, the men took over and we accompanied Nani Ammi to the graveyard. One of my relatives commented that the noise of the siren was a little disrespectful to the dead, but upon reflection, I thought it was appropriate: after a 90-year-lifetime serving others ahead of herself, it was entirely appropriate now that people of the blessed city of Lahore were making way for her and that she was speeding towards the cemetery, reminding everyone in the way of the inevitable reality of death.  (The speed is from the Islamic tradition of hastening burial.)

We buried her between the late afternoon (‘asr) and sunset (maghrib) prayers at the Bait-ur-Rehmat (House of Mercy) graveyard in Lahore.

[Note to fellow students: I haven’t Arabised this to Bayt al-Rahmah as I would have done in the past: we Indian Muslims with ancestry including Arabs, Persians and Turks, did not overthrow British colonial rule in order to be re-colonised by Arabs! We speak Urdu, Hindi, Bengali and other local languages that have strong Arabic influences but are not pure Arabic, so let’s please stop pretending to be Arabs, especially given the appalling racism faced by our people in parts of the Arab world, though not all. End of rant.]

The skies were clear, and the first-quarter moon shone at its zenith overhead as the sun set and the call to sunset prayer was chanted from the adjacent mosque, indicating the first week of Muharram and the new Islamic year, reckoning time and dates appropriately for her name, Amat-ul-Haseeb (Servant/Slave of the Reckoner).

[An astronomical interlude]

The sun reaches its zenith daily at midday or noon.  The moon’s zenith depends on its phase:

New moon: same as the sun, although invisible.

First quarter: zenith at sunset [as with the timing of Nani Ammi’s burial.  There will be a mystical symbolism to this, but I haven’t been able to reflect on it yet.]

Full moon: zenith at midnight

Last quarter: zenith at sunrise.

The Bait-ur-Rehmat [House of Mercy] cemetery, Lahore

The appropriately-named cemetery is the most beautiful I’ve ever seen, with lots of trees, including palm trees, dotted around the graves, providing much shade and coolness.  We know from the science that the bodies of the deceased are literally recycled to life in the trees and plants that grow in the soil. Until today, I had thought that woodland burials, where trees grow out of the graves, were unique to the West, but this is clearly not the case!

I can honestly say that in over 40 years, I cannot recall even a single unkind word from Nani Ammi.

Nani Ammi is survived by her son and four daughters, approximately 20-25 grandchildren and approximately 40 great-grandchildren. May we too be blessed with some of her light, Amin.

A Fitting Poem

And in a nod to some of her blessed great-grandchildren in London: last month our sons bought us an anniversary present.  (I’m old-fashioned and prefer not to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries, preferring communal celebrations only such as Eid, although there is of course goodness too in the Western individualism of celebrating birthdays, such as valuing individuals.)  It was the BBC publication, The Nation’s Favourite Poems, edited with an introduction by Griff Rhys-Jones.  The BBC conducted a poll and published the top 100 British people’s poems.  But the editor included a brilliant poem in the introduction that did not make the top 100.  It’s the only one I’ve read so far in the collection, and so it was waiting for Nani Ammi:

Do not stand at my grave and weep:
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.

(c) Usama Hasan

Lahore, Pakistan.

7th Muharram 1441 / 7th September 2019 [updated 8/1/41, 8/9/19, 10/11/19 – Remembrance Sunday & the Prophet’s Birthday]

Grave of Amatul-Haseeb before burial, Bait-ur-Rehmat cemetery, Lahore, Jumma 6th Muharram 1441, Friday 6th September 2019. Photo (c) Abdullah Qazi

Brown Hawk over Lahore sunset, taken from the balcony opposite Amatul-Haseeb’s room, 4th April 2019, five months before her departure from this world. Photo: (c) Usama Hasan

Postscripts

Wohaib Hasan [6/9/19]: Her patt [sheets of caramelised nuts] was legendary, but it’s the poverty of Delhi Colony that will always be my recollection of her. The one time Mum came unannounced, there was nothing to eat at home aside from daal chawal [rice & lentils]. But Naani’s mother, sitting on her throne (bed) always in white as everyone else paid their respects, totally a scene from Pakeezah. Jum’ah days were the highlight of the week, we would always have her lamb salan [curry] after the prayers with roti, fresh off her tawa. And she taught us to read the Quran, yes, we learnt from our Mum but she is the one I remember guiding me through the qaida [Qur’anic Arabic primer, and nothing to do with Al-Qaida]. In those early days she wore the white shuttlecock burka to be replaced with the black one as time passed. But, I’ll always remember the rickshaw rides with her, the wind blowing in my face, the scent of Karachi, and her leaning forward as she shouted directions to the driver. But yes, our uncle was her favourite, and her saying his name in that scoldy fashion will be my enduring memory of her.

Hafsa Hasan [7/9/19]: Just as an aside, I did go back to her house in Delhi that you mentioned, well, as close as I could … The lane behind the mosque in Chandni Chowk directly opposite the Red Fort & mosque complex. The houses are all a jumble of famous bazaars now and the atmosphere… if you can imagine at the foot of the greatest Mughal buildings ever built: My one year of studying Mughal history at SOAS made so much sense …

Khola Hasan [7/9/19]: Read her reflections here.

ISLAM AND UNIVERSAL EQUALITY (A FRIDAY OR EID SERMON FOR HAJJ OR EID AL-ADHA)

August 9, 2019

With the Name of God, All-Merciful, Most Merciful

 

ISLAM AND UNIVERSAL EQUALITY
(A FRIDAY OR EID SERMON FOR HAJJ OR EID AL-ADHA)

 

Mount of Mercy (Jabal al-Rahma), Arafat, near Mecca, during the annual Hajj pilgrimage, 2006. This is where the Prophet Muhammad delivered his Farewell Sermon to humanity in 632 CE, echoing God’s last message to humanity in the Qur’an [49:13].  Photo credit: (c) Haris Ahmad

 

The “Million Man March” on Washington DC, 23 August 1968, that included Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic, “I Have A Dream” speech. Photo credit – Wikipedia

[This sermon is written to be read out, or adapted and edited by each individual preacher, khateeb or khateeba according to their unique situation, community and congregation. Delivery time is approximately 20-30 minutes, depending on your oratory style and any gems of wisdom that you would like to add further. You may also wish to add the traditional blessings upon mention of the Messengers of God, such as: “may God bless him and grant him peace.” You will also probably want to recite the Qur’anic verses quoted in Arabic as well – apologies that I do not have the time or technology at the moment to add the proper, mushaf text in Arabic. I hope to do that in the future, God-willing.]

 

[FIRST SERMON]

Al-hamdu li’Llahi rabbi-l-‘alamin. Was-salatu was-salamu ‘alal-mursalin – All Praise belongs to God, Lord of the Worlds. Blessings and Peace be upon the Messengers of God.

 

As hundreds of millions of people around our world mark the occasion of Hajj and Eid al-Adha this week, let us be reminded and inspired by the Qur’an,

 

O Humanity! We created you from Male and Female, and made you into Nations and Tribes, that you may know each other. Truly, the most honoured of you in the presence of God are the most pious of you. Truly, God is All-Knowing, All-Aware [Qur’an, Surat-ul-Hujurat, Chapter: The Chambers, 49:13]

 

… And by the Prophet Muhammad’s “Farewell Sermon” or Khutbat-ul-Wida’ delivered at the Hajj in the 10th year of the Islamic calendar or the year 632 of the Christian or Common Era. The Prophet’s farewell sermon was appropriately, and breathtakingly-symbolically, delivered at the “Mount of Mercy” (Jabal al-Rahma), for he was the most merciful messenger of God Most Merciful, and echoed the Qur’anic verse above:

 

“O people, truly your Lord is One and your ancestor is one. Truly, there is no superiority of Arab over non-Arab, of non-Arab over Arab, of white over black, of black over white, except by piety: all of you descended from Adam, and Adam was created from dust (or the soil of the earth).”  This is a soundly-transmitted, authentic or sahih hadith, and perfectly-congruent in meaning with the individual and holistic messages of the Qur’an.

 

These are the definitive Islamic declarations of universal equality: although clearly some people do more good than evil and vice-versa, since piety is only known to God, outwardly and essentially in this life, all people are absolutely equal.

 

When Martin Luther King Jr. famously declared,

 

I have a dream … that one day people will be judged not by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character …

 

he was actually not stating anything new, except perhaps in the 1960s US context of the civil rights movement, a clear example of a blessed, social jihad, despite the US founding declaration that it was a self-evident truth that “all men are created equal.” The Muslim world had possessed this teaching for over 13 centuries, for “content of character” is another way of saying “piety” or “righteousness”, as in the above examples from the Book of God and the Way of His Messenger.

 

Let’s reflect on that again:

 

Firstly, in the 7th century of the Christian or Common Era, that is, in what many people today regard as backward medieval times, the Prophet Muhammad was inspired with a message of God that began, ya ayyuhan-nas: “O people or humanity!” Now, we know that there are many ayat or verses of the Qur’an, dozens in fact, that begin with ya ayyuhan-nas: “O people or humanity!” But if we study their tarteeb an-nuzul or chronological, time-based order of revelation, do you know which one was revealed last after 23 long years of prophethood, persecution and patient struggle in the path of God?

 

It was this verse of Surat-ul-Hujurat!

 

Secondly, after those long, 23 years of utter submission, servitude and spirituality, the Prophet chose, and he was guided by God as always, to impart this key teaching, or deliver this key message, as part of his farewell sermon on the Mount of Mercy that, like Jesus Christ’s Sermon on the Mount of Olives and Moses’ receipt of the revelation of the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai centuries earlier, would resonate for millenia with the millions and millions of men and women of God.

 

The last verse of the Book of God addressed explicitly to humanity, and the last major message of the Messenger of God to mankind, delivered in the mountains of Mecca, the mountains that witnessed the message and still resonate with it, if only we knew. Therefore, this is indeed a universal, Islamic declaration by God and then by the Messenger of God, echoing and confirming his Brother-Messengers before him. But what does this universal Muhammadan proclamation say after ya ayyuhan-nas?

 

The Prophetic proclamation says, to paraphrase, that God created us and reflected in us the breathtaking beauty of His diversity, as males and females, and across the spectrum of gender and sexuality, for as we learn in multiple fields of God-given, beneficial knowledge, all of which is drops from the oceans of the Divine Knowledge, from mathematics to music to medicine to metaphysics, and from physics to photography to philology to politics and philosophy, the “opposite poles” of a spectrum such as “male and female” are often the dominant forces, normal modes, eigen-vectors and eigen-functions, but they also imply the entire spectrum itself.  “We created you from Male and Female.”

 

And in the Farewell Sermon, the Prophet reminded the male-dominated society that gender-based rights are mutual and that people of both sexes, the opposite pairs that imply the entire spectrum in between, complement each other in all aspects of life:

 

O People, it is true that you have certain rights with regard to your women, but they also have rights over you … Do treat your women well and be kind to them, for they are your lifelong partners and committed helpers.

 

Another passage of the Qur’an reminds us of our humble origins, our need for loving partners and spouses, and our ethnic and linguist diversity:

 

Amongst His Signs is this, that He created you from dust; and then,- behold, you are people scattered (far and wide)!

 

And amongst His Signs is this, that He created for you mates, partners and spouses from among yourselves, that you may dwell in tranquillity with them, and He has placed love and mercy between your (hearts): truly, in that are Signs for those who reflect.

 

And amongst His Signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the variation and diversity in your languages and your colours: truly, in that are Signs for those who know.

[Qur’an, Surat al-Rum, Chapter: The Romans or Byzantines, 30:20-22]

 

The message of the Messenger continues with this depth of diversity by reminding us that we are different nations and tribes: different peoples in language, culture, with collectively multi-coloured skins and multi-coloured personalities. We have individual identities, but also group identities: nations and tribes, a tribe being a very large family. People now have new tribes, from political and religious affiliations to fans and supporters of particular sports-clubs and genres of art or music.

 

Nations and tribes lead to nationalism and tribalism, both of which can be good or bad, or a mixture of the two. The positives of nations and tribes is that these matters give us a sense of belonging and the comfort of community, for we are social creatures. Nations and tribes can do great things, such as feeding the poor, looking after widows, widowers and orphans, caring for animals and the earth, toppling tyrants, fighting oppression and injustice and building great civilisations that reflect the Majesty and Beauty of God by harnessing the power of collective effort and the synergy of diverse material and spiritual forces.

 

But nations and tribes can do immense evil when these forces descend, like vicious, collective egos into cycles of hatred, violence and revenge. “My nation first, whether it’s right or wrong!  My tribe first, whether it’s right or wrong!” The whole of human history, including the past, present and future, is littered with the awful cruelty, violence, warmongering and genocide caused by God-given nations and tribes being utterly misused, for evil rather than good.

 

And this is why, in this verse of Surat-ul-Hujurat, God follows mention of nations and tribes with: li ta’arafu: that you may know and recognise each other deeply. Know yourself, and know your nation and tribe, to give you a strong sense of the positive values, individual and collective, that inspire you to goodness, but do not use them to hate other people, other nations, other tribes, other sports fans, other political parties, simply for being different to you and irrespective of right and wrong.

 

Fourteen centuries ago, the Qur’an reminded us to dig deep and harness our individual and collective energies for goodness, and to bring people together. God didn’t say: li tanafaru or li taqatalu, that I created you in different nations and tribes to hate each other or to fight and kill each other and indulge your mad, genocidal impulses, but li ta’arafu: that you may know and recognise each other deeply, and see the beauty of God in each other’s good qualities, for people are mirrors of each other, with all our goodness and evil reflected back at us.

 

One of the great strengths and positive resources of today’s world is that through our God-given learning, telecommunication and travel, We, the peoples of the world, not just “We, the people” of America or Britain or Russia or Saudi Arabia or Iran or India or Pakistan or the blessed lands of Africa and the other great continents, but “We, the peoples of the world” are able to know, communicate with, learn about and develop deep friendships, and therefore to recognise each other on a deep human level, individually and collectively, more than ever before.

 

I seek the forgiveness of God, for me and for you all, for all of us. Seek His forgiveness, for truly, He alone is the Forgiver, the Merciful.

 

 

[SECOND SERMON]

Al-hamdu li’Llahi rabbi-n-nas, maliki-n-nas, ilahi-n-nas. All Praise belongs to God, Lord of humanity, King of humanity, Deity of humanity.

We now come to the crux, literally, of these majestic, divine teachings that are perhaps more relevant today than in all the bygone millenia of human history, because of the ever-increasing size of the human race and the competition for the earth’s scarce resource. Within our lifetimes, ours and our living parents and grandparents, the human family has rocketed from 2 billion people to nearly 8 billion today.

 

God says: Truly, the most honoured of you in the presence of God are the most pious of you.

 

And the Prophet said in his last message to the crowds of thousands gathered around him on his Hajjat-ul-Wida’ or Farewell Pilgrimage to Mecca:

 

O people, truly your Lord is One and your ancestor is one. Truly, there is no superiority of Arab over non-Arab, of non-Arab over Arab, of white over black, of black over white, except by piety: all of you descended from Adam, and Adam was created from dust (or the soil of the earth).

 

In other words, we are united despite our diversity: we are one human family, for as our scientists tell us, we are a narrow species as a human race, and there is no real scientific evidence for different races, only different skin-colours, that themselves will disappear through the increasing inter-marriage accelerated by globalisation, so that humans in a few centuries or millenia will all be the same colour and it will be clearer that there is only one race: the human race, and that is our ultimate nation and tribe.

 

There is no superiority of Arab over non-Arab, of non-Arab over Arab, of white over black, of black over white, except by piety.

 

And let’s face it bluntly and honestly, many Muslims have forgotten this and our communities and societies are plagued with racism: Arab v. non-Arab, North African Arab v. Black African, Arab v. Turk v. Kurd v. Persian v. Indian v. Chinese and all the subdivisions underneath. This jahiliyyah that Islam brilliantly eradicated in the City of the Prophet is back with a vengeance.  As we know from other Qur’anic verses and commentary and study of history from a Qur’anic lens, God honoured the Israelites with being custodians of His Covenant. Then this duty and honour passed to the Ishmaelites or Arabs. A century after the Prophet, it passed to the Persians and North Africans and Black Africans and Kurds and Mongols and Indians and Turks.  And now, each of these groups have nation-states that are vying for leadership of the Muslim world, and each one is claiming superiority over the other based on its history and supposedly-better culture. And the Arabs in particular – and my family, like most families of Indian Muslim heritage, claim Arab ancestry, have no superiority over others because, as Imam al-Shafi’i categorically showed, every Muslim is an Arab of sorts because every Muslim can recite at least one line from the Qur’an in Arabic. Furthermore, the Qur’an being in classical Arabic, does not make any Arab or Indian or Turk or Persian superior, if we do not live by the exalted ideals of God’s Holy, Noble and Majestic Word.

No!  The people who deserve to lead the “Muslim world” are the true people of God, plain and simple, those who love God and are loved by Him and who are always with the poor and the oppressed and the marginalised. And sometimes, it requires the greatest courage to keep saying basic truths when these are being forgotten and ridiculed.

As the greatest custodians and authorities of the Islamic tradition agreed:

God will give dominance to a non-Muslim state that practises justice over a Muslim state that practises oppression.

This is because God is Truth, and God is Just, and He underpinned His creation with the Balance, that we may not transgress the Balance. And there is no point countering Islamophobia with Westophobia, for Western, non-Muslim societies that are more just and better at human rights will continue to dominate Muslim societies that are culturally infested by racism, inequality, oppression of women, have appalling human rights records and even practise medieval slavery in a few places, although human-trafficking of men, women and children for forced labour and sexual slavery is a new problem all over the world, and it is called “modern slavery.”

 

 

Piety, or God-consciousness or true spirituality, is ultimately the most important “content of character.”

May Allah inspire us with the examples of His beloved servants. May Allah bless all of our countries, our nations, our peoples, our tribes, and enable us to do good and avoid evil.

 

[DU’AS OR SUPPLICATIONS]

 

[May Allah be with you, and accept and bless your sermons and your prayers!]

 

 

 

 

 

 

Usama Hasan

London, UK

Friday 8th Dhul Hijjah 1440 / 9th August, 2019

 

 

 

 Muslim Modernism – A Case For A New Pakistan

August 8, 2019

Muslim Modernism: A Case For A New Pakistan

Review & Discussion of the book by Nadeem Farooq Paracha
(Vanguard Books, 2019)

Review & Discussion by Imam Dr Usama Hasan

Bismillah. I recommend this concise and readable book, “Muslim Modernism – A Case for Naya [New] Pakistan” by the leading Karachi-based Pakistani journalist, Nadeem Farooq Paracha, for those interested in the field, as it highlights key issues for debate. Paracha’s main points are that the Islam/state relationship was understood by different Pakistani political leaders, roughly as follows:

 

(i) 1900-1950s: “Muslim Modernism” – Iqbal and Jinnah; continued by General Ayyub Khan and others. “Muslim Modernism” is a 19th-century idea, whose evolution I also traced, discussing similar concepts in my essay, From Dhimmitude to Democracy (Quilliam, 2016). In a nutshell, “Muslim Modernism” could be described as embracing all the positive aspects of modernity, including beneficial science and technology, democracy and national self-determination, whilst remaining faithful to the positive principles and practices of Islam.

For illustration, both Paracha and I feature this famous quote from Jinnah, founding father of Pakistan, at the inception of the state in 1947:

“You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State … We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one State … Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State.”

(ii) 1960s-70s: “Islamic socialism” – Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, father of Benazir. The cleric Mawdudi, founder of the Jamaat-e-Islami, critiqued this idea by saying that Islam was inherently committed to social justice, so that the “socialism” part was redundant.  However, many islamist leaders were inconsistent, not applying the same critique to terms such as “Islamic democracy,” that they used themselves.  Their defence was that Bhutto’s “socialism” was a cover for godless, atheist communism, and therefore could not be Islamised.  The “Islamic socialists” argued that “Muslim communism,” rooted in some of the strictly-egalitarian, social and economic teachings of the Prophet, was important, as discussed in this 2016 New York Times article. (I have a 90-year-old relative in Karachi, who is basically a “Wahhabi communist,” and committed to strict egalitarianism in religion, society, economics and politics.)

(iii) 1980s-90s: Islamism – General Zia-ul-Haq, influenced by Mawdudi, Dr Israr Ahmad and others. [Paracha says that Zia, as a young army officer, used to distribute Mawdudi’s booklets within the barracks.  However, this was disputed by a senior JI leader to whom I spoke.  It is certainly true that Dr Israr was a major TV preacher during the Zia era.] This was a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam that especially emphasised its political aspects: Zia justified his support of the Afghan military jihad against the Soviet invasion on its basis.  Zia’s Islamisation policies also included educational aspects, such as the Pakistan Hijra Council’s translations into English of medieval Islamic texts about mathematics, science and technology.  Zia’s cultural “Islamisation” led to many restrictions on the once-thriving Pakistani arts scene.

(iv) 1990s-2000s: “Enlightened moderation” – General Pervez Musharraf, who attempted to reverse some of Zia’s influence but was largely pre-occupied by the US-led “War on Terror”, in which Pakistan has been a willing and unwilling ally, after 9/11.  Just as the medic-turned-preacher, Dr Israr Ahmad, had arguably been one of Zia’s most influential clerics, Musharraf brought in Javed Ghamidi, a traditional scholar with a strong rationalist outlook who was forced into self-imposed exile since 2010, firstly in Malaysia and now in the USA, by security threats from Taliban-style militias in Pakistan.

(v) 2000s-10s: a return to “Muslim Modernism” – General Raheel Sharif and possibly Imran Khan.  It may be that the current rulers of Pakistan are once again trying to recapture the spirit of Jinnah, according to Paracha.  However, since the book was written, General Sharif has resigned as Pakistan’s military leader to head up the Saudi-led international Muslim military effort against ISIL.

Imran Khan, being a powerful blend of Eastern and Western influences, much like Iqbal, Jinnah and Benazir before him, and having fathered two children with the English socialite and activist Jemima Khan (née Goldsmith) is a complex leader placed in an extraordinarily-complex situation as current PM of Pakistan. (Just a few years ago in 2016, Imran Khan helped Jemima’s brother Zac Goldsmith’s campaign as Mayor of London candidate against the eventual winner, Sadiq Khan, also of Pakistani origin. These examples illustrate Pakistani influence around the world, e.g. via the million-strong Britons of Pakistani origin.)

Seemingly-trivial details often mask huge controversies.  For example, the word “Islamic” in the official name, “Islamic Republic of Pakistan” was dropped for some years, but later restored after a tense debate about the implications of these terms for religion/state relationships.

For another example, despite his otherwise-brilliant analysis, Paracha makes a basic error when he refers to zakat (an alms-tax regarded as one of the five, basic pillars of Islam) as a “voluntary” tax.  This is perhaps on the opposite extreme to the fundamentalist position espoused by the influential Muslim jurist Qaradawi, who describes zakat, in his Fiqh al-Zakat or Jurisprudence of Zakat, as a unique, divinely-revealed system that is perfect in every way, as though the Bible and other scriptures have nothing similar and as though Muslim jurists have never differed about the voluminous details of zakat. The simple truth is that, similarly to other basic practices in Islam and other religions, zakat has individual as well as communal and political aspects, some voluntary and others enforceable by political authority, all of which have been hotly debated and disputed by jurists and politicians throughout the history of Islam, and these aspects and differences should be acknowledged.  The clearest example of this is the first Caliph of Islam, Abu Bakr’s war on the newly-Islamised Arabian tribes who refused to continue paying the zakat for political and economic reasons after the death of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him.

The relationship(s) between Islam and the modern nation-state is one of the key issues of our time. There are about 50 Muslim-majority states in the world, each grappling with these issues in different ways. Pakistan’s experience in this regard is instructive in many ways, and on various levels.  Paracha’s brief and accessible book is a good start for interested readers, and his basic thesis, that Pakistan (and presumably, other Islamic republics and Muslim-majority countries) must adopt an appropriate form of “Muslim Modernism”, deserves to be taken seriously.

 

Usama Hasan

London, UK

6th Zul Hijja 1440 / 7th August 2019

(minor modifications: 7.12.1440 / 8.8.2019)

 

FROM THE PROPHET TO THE KING (A FRIDAY SERMON FOR MARTIN LUTHER KING DAY)

January 25, 2019

With the Name of God, All-Merciful, Most Merciful

 

FROM THE PROPHET TO THE KING – AN ISLAMIC FRIDAY SERMON ON THE UNIVERSAL EQUALITY OF HUMANITY, TO MARK THE WEEK OF MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. DAY

 

Mount of Mercy (Jabal al-Rahma), Arafat, near Mecca, during the annual Hajj pilgrimage, 2006. This is where the Prophet Muhammad delivered his Farewell Sermon to humanity in 632 CE, echoing God’s last message to humanity in the Qur’an [49:13].  Photo credit: (c) Haris Ahmad

 

The “Million Man March” on Washington DC, 23 August 1968, that included Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic, “I Have A Dream” speech. Photo credit – Wikipedia

[This sermon is written to be read out, or adapted and edited by each individual preacher, khateeb or khateeba according to their unique situation, community and congregation. Delivery time is approximately 20-30 minutes, depending on your oratory style and any gems of wisdom that you would like to add further. You may also wish to add the traditional blessings upon mention of the Messengers of God, such as: “may God bless him and grant him peace.” You will also probably want to recite the Qur’anic verses quoted in Arabic as well – apologies that I do not have the time or technology at the moment to add the proper, mushaf text in Arabic. I hope to do that in the future, God-willing.]

 

[FIRST SERMON]

Al-hamdu li’Llahi rabbi-l-‘alamin. Was-salatu was-salamu ‘alal-mursalin – All Praise belongs to God, Lord of the Worlds. Blessings and Peace be upon the Messengers of God.

 

As tens of millions of people around our world marked Martin Luther King Jr. Day this week, let us be reminded and inspired by the Qur’an,

 

O Humanity! We created you from Male and Female, and made you into Nations and Tribes, that you may know each other. Truly, the most honoured of you in the presence of God are the most pious of you. Truly, God is All-Knowing, All-Aware [Qur’an, Surat-ul-Hujurat, Chapter: The Chambers, 49:13]

 

… And by the Prophet Muhammad’s “Farewell Sermon” or Khutbat-ul-Wida’ delivered at the Hajj in the 10th year of the Islamic calendar or the year 632 of the Christian or Common Era. The Prophet’s farewell sermon was appropriately, and breathtakingly-symbolically, delivered at the “Mount of Mercy” (Jabal al-Rahma), for he was the most merciful messenger of God Most Merciful, and echoed the Qur’anic verse above:

 

“O people, truly your Lord is One and your ancestor is one. Truly, there is no superiority of Arab over non-Arab, of non-Arab over Arab, of white over black, of black over white, except by piety: all of you descended from Adam, and Adam was created from dust (or the soil of the earth).”  This is a soundly-transmitted, authentic or sahih hadith, and perfectly-congruent in meaning with the individual and holistic messages of the Qur’an.

 

These are the definitive Islamic declarations of universal equality: although clearly some people do more good than evil and vice-versa, since piety is only known to God, outwardly and essentially in this life, all people are absolutely equal.

 

When Martin Luther King Jr. famously declared,

 

I have a dream … that one day people will be judged not by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character …

 

he was actually not stating anything new, except perhaps in the 1960s US context of the civil rights movement, a clear example of a blessed, social jihad, despite the US founding declaration that it was a self-evident truth that “all men are created equal.” The Muslim world had possessed this teaching for over 13 centuries, for “content of character” is another way of saying “piety” or “righteousness”, as in the above examples from the Book of God and the Way of His Messenger.

 

Let’s reflect on that again:

 

Firstly, in the 7th century of the Christian or Common Era, that is, in what many people today regard as backward medieval times, the Prophet Muhammad was inspired with a message of God that began, ya ayyuhan-nas: “O people or humanity!” Now, we know that there are many ayat or verses of the Qur’an, dozens in fact, that begin with ya ayyuhan-nas: “O people or humanity!” But if we study their tarteeb an-nuzul or chronological, time-based order of revelation, do you know which one was revealed last after 23 long years of prophethood, persecution and patient struggle in the path of God?

 

It was this verse of Surat-ul-Hujurat!

 

Secondly, after those long, 23 years of utter submission, servitude and spirituality, the Prophet chose, and he was guided by God as always, to impart this key teaching, or deliver this key message, as part of his farewell sermon on the Mount of Mercy that, like Jesus Christ’s Sermon on the Mount of Olives and Moses’ receipt of the revelation of the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai centuries earlier, would resonate for millenia with the millions and millions of men and women of God.

 

The last verse of the Book of God addressed explicitly to humanity, and the last major message of the Messenger of God to mankind, delivered in the mountains of Mecca, the mountains that witnessed the message and still resonate with it, if only we knew. Therefore, this is indeed a universal, Islamic declaration by God and then by the Messenger of God, echoing and confirming his Brother-Messengers before him. But what does this universal Muhammadan proclamation say after ya ayyuhan-nas?

 

The Prophetic proclamation says, to paraphrase, that God created us and reflected in us the breathtaking beauty of His diversity, as males and females, and across the spectrum of gender and sexuality, for as we learn in multiple fields of God-given, beneficial knowledge, all of which is drops from the oceans of the Divine Knowledge, from mathematics to music to medicine to metaphysics, and from physics to photography to philology to politics and philosophy, the “opposite poles” of a spectrum such as “male and female” are often the dominant forces, normal modes, eigen-vectors and eigen-functions, but they also imply the entire spectrum itself.  “We created you from Male and Female.”

 

And in the Farewell Sermon, the Prophet reminded the male-dominated society that gender-based rights are mutual and that people of both sexes, the opposite pairs that imply the entire spectrum in between, complement each other in all aspects of life:

 

O People, it is true that you have certain rights with regard to your women, but they also have rights over you … Do treat your women well and be kind to them, for they are your lifelong partners and committed helpers.

 

Another passage of the Qur’an reminds us of our humble origins, our need for loving partners and spouses, and our ethnic and linguist diversity:

 

Amongst His Signs is this, that He created you from dust; and then,- behold, you are people scattered (far and wide)!

 

And amongst His Signs is this, that He created for you mates, partners and spouses from among yourselves, that you may dwell in tranquillity with them, and He has placed love and mercy between your (hearts): truly, in that are Signs for those who reflect.

 

And amongst His Signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the variation and diversity in your languages and your colours: truly, in that are Signs for those who know.

[Qur’an, Surat al-Rum, Chapter: The Romans or Byzantines, 30:20-22]

 

The message of the Messenger continues with this depth of diversity by reminding us that we are different nations and tribes: different peoples in language, culture, with collectively multi-coloured skins and multi-coloured personalities. We have individual identities, but also group identities: nations and tribes, a tribe being a very large family. People now have new tribes, from political and religious affiliations to fans and supporters of particular sports-clubs and genres of art or music.

 

Nations and tribes lead to nationalism and tribalism, both of which can be good or bad, or a mixture of the two. The positives of nations and tribes is that these matters give us a sense of belonging and the comfort of community, for we are social creatures. Nations and tribes can do great things, such as feeding the poor, looking after widows, widowers and orphans, caring for animals and the earth, toppling tyrants, fighting oppression and injustice and building great civilisations that reflect the Majesty and Beauty of God by harnessing the power of collective effort and the synergy of diverse material and spiritual forces.

 

But nations and tribes can do immense evil when these forces descend, like vicious, collective egos into cycles of hatred, violence and revenge. “My nation first, whether it’s right or wrong!  My tribe first, whether it’s right or wrong!” The whole of human history, including the past, present and future, is littered with the awful cruelty, violence, warmongering and genocide caused by God-given nations and tribes being utterly misused, for evil rather than good.

 

And this is why, in this verse of Surat-ul-Hujurat, God follows mention of nations and tribes with: li ta’arafu: that you may know and recognise each other deeply. Know yourself, and know your nation and tribe, to give you a strong sense of the positive values, individual and collective, that inspire you to goodness, but do not use them to hate other people, other nations, other tribes, other sports fans, other political parties, simply for being different to you and irrespective of right and wrong.

 

Fourteen centuries ago, the Qur’an reminded us to dig deep and harness our individual and collective energies for goodness, and to bring people together. God didn’t say: li tanafaru or li taqatalu, that I created you in different nations and tribes to hate each other or to fight and kill each other and indulge your mad, genocidal impulses, but li ta’arafu: that you may know and recognise each other deeply, and see the beauty of God in each other’s good qualities, for people are mirrors of each other, with all our goodness and evil reflected back at us.

 

One of the great strengths and positive resources of today’s world is that through our God-given learning, telecommunication and travel, We, the peoples of the world, not just “We, the people” of America or Britain or Russia or Saudi Arabia or Iran or India or Pakistan or the blessed lands of Africa and the other great continents, but “We, the peoples of the world” are able to know, communicate with, learn about and develop deep friendships, and therefore to recognise each other on a deep human level, individually and collectively, more than ever before.

 

I seek the forgiveness of God, for me and for you all, for all of us. Seek His forgiveness, for truly, He alone is the Forgiver, the Merciful.

 

 

[SECOND SERMON]

Al-hamdu li’Llahi rabbi-n-nas, maliki-n-nas, ilahi-n-nas. All Praise belongs to God, Lord of humanity, King of humanity, Deity of humanity.

We now come to the crux, literally, of these majestic, divine teachings that are perhaps more relevant today than in all the bygone millenia of human history, because of the ever-increasing size of the human race and the competition for the earth’s scarce resource. Within our lifetimes, ours and our living parents and grandparents, the human family has rocketed from 2 billion people to nearly 8 billion today.

 

God says: Truly, the most honoured of you in the presence of God are the most pious of you.

 

And the Prophet said in his last message to the crowds of thousands gathered around him on his Hajjat-ul-Wida’ or Farewell Pilgrimage to Mecca:

 

O people, truly your Lord is One and your ancestor is one. Truly, there is no superiority of Arab over non-Arab, of non-Arab over Arab, of white over black, of black over white, except by piety: all of you descended from Adam, and Adam was created from dust (or the soil of the earth).

 

In other words, we are united despite our diversity: we are one human family, for as our scientists tell us, we are a narrow species as a human race, and there is no real scientific evidence for different races, only different skin-colours, that themselves will disappear through the increasing inter-marriage accelerated by globalisation, so that humans in a few centuries or millenia will all be the same colour and it will be clearer that there is only one race: the human race, and that is our ultimate nation and tribe.

 

There is no superiority of Arab over non-Arab, of non-Arab over Arab, of white over black, of black over white, except by piety.

 

And let’s face it bluntly and honestly, many Muslims have forgotten this and our communities and societies are plagued with racism: Arab v. non-Arab, North African Arab v. Black African, Arab v. Turk v. Kurd v. Persian v. Indian v. Chinese and all the subdivisions underneath. This jahiliyyah that Islam brilliantly eradicated in the City of the Prophet is back with a vengeance.  As we know from other Qur’anic verses and commentary and study of history from a Qur’anic lens, God honoured the Israelites with being custodians of His Covenant. Then this duty and honour passed to the Ishmaelites or Arabs. A century after the Prophet, it passed to the Persians and North Africans and Black Africans and Kurds and Mongols and Indians and Turks.  And now, each of these groups have nation-states that are vying for leadership of the Muslim world, and each one is claiming superiority over the other based on its history and supposedly-better culture. And the Arabs in particular – and my family, like most families of Indian Muslim heritage, claim Arab ancestry, have no superiority over others because, as Imam al-Shafi’i categorically showed, every Muslim is an Arab of sorts because every Muslim can recite at least one line from the Qur’an in Arabic. Furthermore, the Qur’an being in classical Arabic, does not make any Arab or Indian or Turk or Persian superior, if we do not live by the exalted ideals of God’s Holy, Noble and Majestic Word.

No!  The people who deserve to lead the “Muslim world” are the true people of God, plain and simple, those who love God and are loved by Him and who are always with the poor and the oppressed and the marginalised. And sometimes, it requires the greatest courage to keep saying basic truths when these are being forgotten and ridiculed.

As the greatest custodians and authorities of the Islamic tradition agreed:

God will give dominance to a non-Muslim state that practises justice over a Muslim state that practises oppression.

This is because God is Truth, and God is Just, and He underpinned His creation with the Balance, that we may not transgress the Balance. And there is no point countering Islamophobia with Westophobia, for Western, non-Muslim societies that are more just and better at human rights will continue to dominate Muslim societies that are culturally infested by racism, inequality, oppression of women, have appalling human rights records and even practise medieval slavery in a few places, although human-trafficking of men, women and children for forced labour and sexual slavery is a new problem all over the world, and it is called “modern slavery.”

 

 

Piety, or God-consciousness or true spirituality, is ultimately the most important “content of character.”

 

Hence, we’ve gone from the Prophet, Messenger of God, to the King, Reverend Martin Luther King, a man of God:

 

I have a dream … that one day people will be judged not by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character …

 

 

Whether you’re inspired to universal equality by the Qur’an, the Prophet Muhammad, Martin Luther King Jr. or any other person, scripture or text, please remember that all people are indeed equal, and entitled to basic respect. We may disagree and criticise each other’s views, behaviour and actions, but we remain equal in our essence and our source, and our own behaviour and responses to others should reflect this fundamental truth.

 

In the week that many people remember Martin Luther King Jr., let us Muslims remember that Prophet Muhammad, Messenger of God, delivered the same message, but with even more depth, spirituality and heroic human spirit, and lived it out from Mecca to Medina and back to Mecca, nearly a millennium and a half ago.

 

May Allah inspire us with the examples of His beloved servants. May Allah bless all of our countries, our nations, our peoples, our tribes, and enable us to do good and avoid evil.

 

[DU’AS OR SUPPLICATIONS]

 

[Recommendation for the 2-rak’at salat (Friday prayer): recite Surah al-Hujurat over the two rak’ahs, preferably all of it or at least some of it, e.g.:

 

1st rak’ah: Verses 1-10

2nd rak’ah: Verses 11-17

I recommend also reading, just reading with no comment, a good translation of the entire Surah, after the prayer – we must rekindle the effect of sacred words, eloquently said from the heart, for then the Word of God needs no explanation, and will move mountains and hearts.

May Allah be with you, and accept and bless your sermons and your prayers!]

 

 

 

 

 

 

Usama Hasan

USA

Friday 25th January, 2019

 

[Version 1.0: 12.30pm GMT/UST ~2,000 words or 15-20 minutes’ sermon

Version 1.1:  11pm GMT/UST ~2,800 words or 20-30 minutes’ sermon]