Archive for July, 2013

On children fasting Ramadan in UK primary and secondary schools

July 31, 2013

Bismillah. A couple of weeks ago, a UK primary school asked me for advice. They had allowed Year 5-6 pupils (aged 9-11) to fast during Ramadan, but not anyone younger. This policy was agreed after input from local mosque leaders and the school’s Muslim governors.  However, a Year 4 child (aged 8-9) fasted the 18 hours every day and his parents insisted that he continue, even though his performance was affected negatively in the afternoons (the school admitted that this effect was no more than that on the Year 5-6 pupils). The school threatened to refer the family to social services, who could have taken the child away from parents and into care.  The parents felt their religious wishes were most important; the school held that their duty of care towards the children’s health and wellbeing was the top priority.

The advice I gave, in my personal capacity, is below, but this may be something to prepare for by next year, when nearly all of Ramadan will be in term-time and the fasts will be even longer. (This year, about half the month was during term-time.)  We have a year for proper consultation between UK schools and the Muslim parents and governors associated with them – perhaps the points below may be used as a basis for discussion.

NB 1)The primary school in question indicated that it might be easiest for them to ban fasting altogether for the next few years, as Ramadan moves through midsummer.

NB 2) Some UK mosque timetables were operating a 20-hour fast this year, others had 18 hours – the average length of the fast will increase for the next 3 years.

Anecdote: about 30 years ago, with Ramadan around midsummer in the UK, I kept my first and only full fast whilst at school, aged 11 and in the equivalent of Year 6 primary.  I was sick after iftar.  Like my brothers and many children of my generation, I began fasting the full month of Ramadan aged around 14-15, when the fasts were a little shorter.  My two sisters began the full fasting aged a couple of years younger, due to the prevalent traditional view mentioned in 2(a) below.

ISLAMIC RULES FOR CHILDREN FASTING IN UK PRIMARY & SECONDARY SCHOOLS

1. In Islamic law, children are not required to fast during Ramadan: they are only required to fast when they become adults.

2. a) The age of adulthood is disputed: some traditional views look at only biological factors, i.e. puberty. This usually equates to 12-15 years old for boys and 9-15 years old for girls (depending on when their periods start).

b) The stronger traditional view is that emotional and intellectual maturity is also required for adulthood, ie 15-20 years old for both sexes. [This view is found in all four of the main Sunni schools of law – cf. Sheikh Wahba Zuhayli’s Al-Fiqh al-Islami wa adillatuhu (Islamic Jurisprudence and its Evidential Bases); the age of 18 or 19 was often mentioned classically as true adulthood.]

3. In Islamic tradition, children are often encouraged to fast, even though it is not a legal requirement, in order to prepare them for adulthood. The situation here is analogous to that of prayer (5 times a day), which is also expected of adults. For prayer, the ages of 7-10 are traditionally when they begin. Hence, many parents introduce their children to fasting at a similar age.

4. In Islamic law, the health of an individual is the first priority after their faith. This is why adults are exempt from fasting if they are sick or face other hardships that make fasting too difficult, eg travelling or unduly laborious or safety-critical work, e.g. medical surgeons or airline pilots.

5. In Islamic law, the decisions of relevant authorities in disputed matters are upheld and respected, eg court judgments or school policy.

6. Hence, if a school has a policy on fasting in the best interest of children, with input from Muslim parents, governors and leaders, parents are obliged by Islamic law to abide by that policy, even if it goes against their wishes.

7. Violation of such a policy by parents would entail going against their religion in two ways:

(i) by breaking their agreement with the school to abide by its policy and rules; and

(ii) by mistreating their child, since the school policy and Islamic law have the same purpose, ie to safeguard the health and education of the child.

8. a) Since social services have the same aim as Islamic law also, ie to safeguard children, a school’s referral to them would also be in accordance with Islam.

b) Such a step is not ideal, of course, because of the status and importance of parents and the parent-child relationship in both Islam and UK society, and all attempts should be made to reach agreement such that a referral is not necessary.

Sheikh Dr. Usama Hasan – London, July 2013 (Ramadan 1434)

SACRED TIME – THE NIGHT OF MAJESTY – LAYLAT AL-QADR

July 31, 2013

Bismillah

SACRED TIME – THE NIGHT OF MAJESTY

Laylat al-Qadr is a special night mentioned in the Qur’an, with a whole chapter devoted to it. The name means, “The Night of: Power, Destiny, Decree, Predestination, Fate, Majesty, Honour, Glory, Value.” It is the greatest night of the Islamic year.  The short Qur’anic chapter (no. 97) reads as follows:

Truly, We have sent it down in the Night of Majesty. 

And what will tell you what is the Night of Majesty? 

The Night of Majesty is better than a thousand months! 

The angels and the Spirit descend in it, by the permission of their Lord, along with every command. 

Peace! … It is, until the rise of Dawn.

The Night of Majesty is thus a night of intense spirituality and peace: The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, taught, “Whoever stands in prayer during The Night of Majesty, motivated by faith and seeking reward from God, their past and future sins will be forgiven.” [Bukhari & Muslim have “past sins”; other authentic hadiths add “and future sins”]

“It” in the first verse is masculine, and refers to the Qur’an but generates a sense of awe for it by not naming it.  The previous surah is precisely “Recite!” (Iqra’, no. 96), so the openings of these two surahs correspond.  “It” in the last verse is feminine, and refers to the night.

The Prophet, peace be upon him, once spent the entire month of Ramadan in I’tikaf (retreat or seclusion in the mosque) in order to find this night.  Traditionally, this night is said to fall on one of the odd nights during the last ten of Ramadan, i.e. the 21st, 23rd, 25th, 27th or 29th nights.  Ibn Hazm argued that the last 10 ten nights depend on whether Ramadan has 29 or 30 days, something not usually known in advance: if Ramadan has 29 days, then the odd nights of the last 10 are the 20th, 22nd, 24th, 26th and 28th, so one should seek for it throughout the last ten nights, not just the odd ones. The commentators further disagree as to whether this special night is on a fixed date every year, or whether it changes from year to year.  The most popular traditional date for the night is the 27th – it is said that the Qur’an indicates this because the 27th word in the above surah is hiya (“It”), referring to the night itself.  Other views are that it occurs on the first or last night of Ramadan, or the 17th or 19th.  Some authorities (eg Ibn Mas’ud) insisted that it may fall on any night of the year. [cf. Tafsir Ibn Kathir for all these views]

But what does it mean to say that it is “better than a thousand months!”?  Traditional commentators often point that, taken literally, this equates to 83 years 4 months, a longer-than-average human lifetime.  Thus, this night’s worship is better than a lifetime of devotion. 

Other commentators, say that the phrase “a thousand months” is metaphorical; it is a bit like saying in English, “It is better than a million years!”  Eg Imam Qurtubi says that it means “better than all of time” (khayrun min al-dahri kullihi).  In other words, it is “better than forever” or “better than eternity” – the Night of Majesty is a search for eternity, for timelessness, for the connection with God that transcends all space and time.  No wonder, then, that this precious night is associated with the angels, with the Cosmic Spirit that permeates all of creation and with the outer and inner peace that we all crave and seek.

 

A Prayer

Ayesha, the Prophet’s honoured wife, asked him what prayer to say on this night.  He taught her the following words, that have been repeated billions of times by Muslims since, all of whom who learnt it via the Prophet’s wife from him:

Allahumma innaka ‘afuwwun tuhibbu l-‘afwa fa’fu ‘anni

“Dear God, truly: You are Forgiving; You love Forgiveness: so please Forgive me!”

 

Poetry – William Blake, Auguries of Innocence

To see a world in a grain of sand

And a heaven in a wild flower.

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand

And Eternity in an hour.

 

Poetry – Auguries of Innocence Ramadanified

To break your fast with a wholesome date

And recite noble verses of Light.

Seek Infinity in your unfolding Fate

And Eternity in one Night!

Usama Hasan, with apologies to William Blake

Seeking Rahma

July 31, 2013

Bismillah. A wonderful article by Hafsa. On Portia’s “mercy seasons justice”: God is never unjust, ie we expect Justice at minimum from God; at maximum, we hope for Mercy, Forgiveness and Love from God. We are also required to be fair and just (minimum), forgiving, loving and merciful (maximum) – “God commands justice and kindness” (Q. 16:90). The Prophets were known for these qualities, as were the first two Caliphs of Islam: Abu Bakr for mercy, ‘Umar for justice.

The Olive

 It’s that wonderful time of year again for seeking Rahma. Ramadhan, the month of mercy and forgiveness. Rahma– what a beautiful word, concept and feeling! It conveys mercy, compassion, favour, tenderness and more, all in one word. In its intensive form it gives us the two names of God that are repeated most often by muslims, Al-Rahman and Al-Raheem. Names that constantly remind us that creation and life itself are a mercy. The famous passage Al-Rahman from the Quran is a sweeping and awe-inspiring description of the perfect balance and rhythm of creation, every aspect of its existence permeated by the essence of rahma.

 From the same root word we have also Rahm, literally meaning womb and also implying the concept of having relationships. In Arabic etymology the connections between words and concepts that come from the same root word are particularly strong, and in this…

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Light upon Light – the Mystical Symbolism of the Olive

July 31, 2013

The Olive

Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim

Light upon Light – the Mystical Symbolism of the Olive

Olive Tree

by Usama Hasan

Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim

1. Light upon Light

Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth.

The Parable of His Light is as if there were a Niche and within it a Lamp:

The Lamp enclosed in Glass: the glass as it were a brilliant star:

Lit from a blessed Tree, an Olive, neither of the east nor of the west,

Whose oil is well-nigh luminous, though fire scarce touched it:

Light upon Light! Allah guides whom He will to His Light:

Allah sets forth Parables for humanity: and Allah knows all things.[1]

As Abdullah Yusuf Ali says, the above Qur’anic verse contains,

This glorious parable of Light, which contains layer upon layer of transcendental truth about spiritual mysteries. No notes can do adequate justice to its full meaning. Volumes have been…

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