Archive for the ‘Qur'an’ Category

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.

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.

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

 

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

 

 

 

Boris Burkas

August 14, 2018

With the Name of God, the Apparent, the Hidden

BORIS BURKAS

 

 

  1. The “Boris Burkas” controversy is a good opportunity to further debate around the Islamic veil in a civil way. A key issue is that the niqab or face-veil does not (currently) have the social acceptability in the UK that it does in some Muslim-majority countries. There needs to be more civilised dialogue to help wider society understand why thousands of British women choose to wear a face-veil in public. Conversely, the principles of Islamic ethics and law dictate that public security and safety is of paramount importance: we also need an internal dialogue amongst proponents or defenders of the face-veil about this issue.
  2. It is important to summarise what Boris said: he critiqued the Danes, some of whom still swim stark naked in public, for banning the burka (or correctly, niqab). He expressed the wish that the fringe practice of face-veiling, at which he poked fun, would disappear in Britain, but opposed a ban. He also echoed Jack Straw’s 2006 call for face-veiling to end.
  3. I recently spent an hour in a residential area of the Highfields district of Leicester, and observed that about half of all women walking on that street wore the niqab. Several had teenage daughters with them who covered their hair but not the face.  There are clearly a few parts of UK cities, such as Birmingham, Leicester, Blackburn and elsewhere, where the niqab is quite common, although nationally it is a fringe practice.
  4. Face-veiling was clearly known in pre-Islamic Arabia, including amongst men. Reasons for it included simple environmental ones such as the problem of sandstorms – Arab horsemen riding with their faces covered are a familiar sight in the desert. Cultural practices often become divorced from their origins. It is for this reason that Tuareg men still cover their faces with the tails of their turbans, sometimes even when indoors. At the Marrakech Declaration conference in 2016, the most senior Islamic cleric of Niger attended wearing this traditional Tuareg dress.
  5. Aside from culture, veiling also of course has religious and spiritual dimensions. Islamic culture and tradition continued and adapted many Jewish, Christian and Arabian pre-Islamic practices. The veiling of women in Islam came to fundamentally symbolise higher theological and metaphysical truths, the most central of which is that God is veiled by creation, and the veil (hijab) between humanity and God is lifted in the Hereafter for those who purify their souls sufficiently. Now, God has the Most Beautiful Names: a traditional Islamic idea is that the masculine represents and manifests Transcendence, Majesty and the Outer whilst the feminine represents and manifests Immanence, Beauty and the Inner. (These metaphysical concepts related to gender are explored in ‘The Tao of Islam: A Sourcebook on Gender Relationships in Islamic Thought’ by Sachiko Murata, 1992.) Of course, there are other, non-traditional views on the subject, especially more modern ones.
  6. Thus, the Muslim woman became veiled because she represented the Divine Beloved and the Divine Beauty. Her veiling in public also became an extension of her home-based role, where she remained in purdah (a curtain or veil), a term that has ironically been borrowed for the suspension of UK parliaments before elections. Occasionally, veiling applied to men too: we can also be beloved sometimes, and there is a minority South Asian Muslim practice of veiling the bridegroom – I have witnessed this at a wedding in the UK. Of course, the Christian practice of veiling the bride is well known in the UK. The Muslim caliph, sultan or local emir was sometimes veiled in public, to preserve an element of mystery, respect and power. His doorkeeper was literally known as “the veiler” (hajib). Metaphysically, the ruler here represented the Divine Majesty and Divine Power. Of course, there is a gender-asymmetry here that may be mistaken for, or perverted into, gender-inequality, as Munira Mirza alludes to in her article on this subject.
  7. Boris was wrong to comment that he could find no scriptural justification for face-veiling in the Koran, on two counts. Firstly, his comment is inaccurate, since traditionally, some Islamic authorities have interpreted some verses to include face-veiling, as I described in detail in my 2011 paper, Islam and the Veil. Secondly, his comment implies that scriptural literalism is justified, whereas scripture was always supposed to be read alongside considerations of history, society, morality, spirituality and ethics. NB: at least Boris was closer to the mark than the Prince of Wales, who famously and inaccurately said in his 1990s lecture at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, that “veiling was a cultural tradition, and not from the Prophet of Islam.”
  8. Clearly, face-veiling is not fully accepted in UK society, as politicians’ comments from Jack Straw (2006) onwards illustrate. However, it is not totally unknown, so there are cultural blindspots in operation. I have already mentioned the bridal veil, a beautiful Christian tradition. There is also the practice of entertainers and party-goers wearing masks. In 2013, I attended an interfaith meeting at Lambeth Palace, that was also addressed by Baroness Warsi: in his closing remarks, Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, referred to “masqued parties” in previous centuries at the palace, that he said were a euphemism for wife-swapping parties. To this day, British newspapers continue to report about private sex parties where all participants wear masks. This again raises the question of private vs. public practice.
  9. In contrast to the UK, face-veiling is clearly socially-acceptable, and even the norm, in some parts of Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan and other Muslim-majority countries, where people might invert Boris’ comments and speak of “bank robbers dressed as women.” In Saudi Arabia, I noticed that niqabs were of different levels of opacity and transparency, and saw young girls having great fun lifting and lowering their veils as they peered out at the world in preparation for a religious, socially-conservative adult life. During my years of teaching at mosque, college and university in the UK and Pakistan, the female students adopted diverse dress-codes with regard to covering or not covering their heads and faces, and there was always social acceptance from other students and teachers, both male and female. I have also come across face-veiling teachers in Islamic schools in the UK and Pakistan. In Pakistan, “Burka Avenger” is a popular cartoon series promoting education and female empowerment.  It was so successful that it was bought by Nickelodeon Pakistan. Islamic face-veiling has come to the UK via British multiculturalism and needs to be understood seriously, rather than treated with knee-jerk reactions.
  10. Having grown up in the UK since the age of five, I was at first uncomfortable talking to women in niqabs, but I learnt to respect their choices and to gauge basic emotions such as sadness or joy from their eyes. To return to a spiritual aspect of this question, I find sunglasses, that are obviously worn by both men and women, annoyingly including indoors, to be far more of a barrier to meaningful contact: in many spiritual traditions around the world, the eyes are a window into, and a mirror of, the soul. Clearly, eye-contact is prohibited by ray-bans, whereas at least you can tell if a niqab-wearer is smiling from the twinkling of her eyes. If we can’t see each other’s eyes, we can’t see into each other’s souls.
  11. Having said all of the above, there is a clear principle of Islamic ethics and law that public welfare (maslaha) overrides most other considerations. In western, (post-)Christian societies, there are genuine concerns about social acceptability and public security. This must be considered in the debate, especially by defenders and proponents of face-veiling.
  12. Anecdotally, I have come across several western non-Muslim men, who describe the veil as being “sexy” and “mysteriously attractive.” This raises another internal question for some Muslims: if the veil is supposed to symbolise and promote modesty and chastity, how do we guard against it becoming counter-productive?

CONCLUSIONS

  1. Boris Johnson should apologise for the offence caused by his comparing face-veiled women to pillar-boxes and bank robbers. Perhaps in the future, such comments will not be offensive because the national debate will be mature and integrated enough for face-veiled women themselves to laugh along with the jokes. But with all the racial and religious tensions in the UK, particularly around Islam, visibly-different Muslim women are one of our most vulnerable minorities, especially those who wear the niqab. A senior politician, a possible future Prime Minister, should display higher standards in public and be more responsible: for example, he probably knows that he would never get away with similarly mocking the characteristic dress of British ultra-orthodox Jews.(DISCLAIMER & APOLOGY: On a private electronic discussion group of salafi activists c. 2009-10, I once made a flippant remark about our men and women dressing like “clowns and ninjas.” I was making a serious point about integration and traditional dress, by which I stand: public perception and respect for local society is important in Islam. But the comment was made public and used against me by my opponents during the 2011 Tawhid Mosque controversy, so for the record, although many salafis told me that they found the comment funny, I would like to apologise for any offence caused.)
  2. We need more civilised and mature debate in the UK to address at least two major aspects of this issue. Firstly, I hope that more proponents of the niqab, especially face-veiled women themselves, articulate their thinking and experience so that wider society understands the practice better, leading to more social acceptance and less fear around it, as exists already in many Muslim-majority countries. Secondly, I hope that the proponents and defenders of the face-veil consider genuine concerns in wider society around security and facial visibility, since the niqab has not been native to these shores in the past.
  3. Those insisting that the niqab be discarded are taking an illiberal position: it is better to have a respectful debate. If, as a result, some or all women remove their niqabs, then all well and good from the perspective of opponents of niqab, but those women’s free choice must be respected. I know of several British Muslim women who used to wear a niqab, but stopped doing so for reasons of social cohesion after 9/11 and 7/7. On the other hand, I was told anecdotally that more young women wore the niqab as a defiant response to Jack Straw in 2006. And in the same year, a white British female convert to Islam who had worn the niqab for 10 years, gave Channel 4’s alternative Christmas Day message.
  4. It is better to debate a matter without settling it, than to settle it without debating. I hope and pray that this whole controversy leads to a better understanding of the issue in the UK through constructive debate.
  5. Boris Bikes were a huge success. There might be a lucrative commercial opportunity right now for someone to market a suitable line of “Boris Burkas.” But joking aside, I would genuinely love to see Boris discuss this issue with a niqab-wearer, especially one that could match his wit and stand up for her free choice. It would be very helpful for both sides to have such an interaction. I hope someone can arrange such an encounter.

 

Usama Hasan

London

14th August 2018

 

Lo que dijo Stephen Hawking sobre dios desde una perspectiva islámica

July 29, 2018

Lo que dijo Stephen Hawking sobre dios desde una perspectiva islámica

RIP Stephen Hawking (1942-2018) – In Memoriam

March 15, 2018

Usama Hasan with Prof Stephen Hawking, Google Zeitgeist Europe Conference, London, 2011

[Download a PDF of this article here (9 pages)]:

Stephen Hawking – In Memoriam by Usama Hasan

Bismillah. So, RIP Prof. Stephen Hawking, often called “the greatest physicist since Einstein,” who returned to his source yesterday.

Here is a brief history, in time, of my encounters with him, intellectually & physically:

 

  1. An early copy of A Brief History of Time, 1988

Hawking’s famous bestseller was originally published by Bantam Press in 1988. That same year, by the grace of God, I achieved a silver medal in the British Physics Olympiad after being entered into it by my school, the City of London School for Boys (CLSB), aged around 17. (Dozens of students from around the country each won gold, silver or bronze medals, and the very best would be selected to represent Britain at the International Physics Olympiad.) My prize was a hardback copy of A Brief History of Time, and it is still a prized possession.

For some reason, they wrote my name in the presentation sticker as “V. Hasan” – perhaps they thought I was an Ancient Roman or something. A classmate, Keith Eyeions, won a gold medal – his prize was a large sum of cash, book tokens or possibly a microcomputer, but in hindsight, my prize was possibly more valuable. Keith also read Natural Sciences at Cambridge and took the History & Philosophy of Science course in the second year – he encouraged me to study it also; I was unable to, but at least he had introduced me to the subject, of which I had never heard before.

I started the book several times, but like the vast majority of people, couldn’t get very far with it.  It would be several years before I was able to understand the book entirely, obviously whilst or after completing a physics degree.

Whilst at school, I did manage to read the excellent In Search of Schrodinger’s Cat by John Gribbin and God & The New Physics by Paul Davies.

 

2. A Christian Union lecture critiquing Hawking at Cambridge University, 1990

During my second year at Cambridge, I attended, along with a fellow Islamic Society committee member, an eye-catching Christian Union lecture on religion and physics. The CU were largely evangelical, literalist, fundamentalist Christians, and quite a few academics had similar beliefs to them. The lecturer, whose name I don’t recall but was probably a colleague of David Wilkinson and a pupil of John Polkinghorne, gave a good, entertaining talk about the new physics, quoting the famous lines, “Whoever is not shocked by quantum theory, has not understood it!” (Niels Bohr) and, “God does not play dice with the universe!” (Albert Einstein). He ended by critiquing Hawking, whose ABHT was already a bestseller and many religious people were engaging with it. He quoted from Hawking’s penultimate paragraph, that seems to incline towards theism amidst a largely agnostic discussion, and concluded,

“Stephen Hawking holds the Lucasian Chair in Mathematics at Cambridge, a post once held by Isaac Newton. Hawking may not share Newton’s faith, but he points us in the same direction.”

This was to have a profound influence on me, and my argument in a 2010 article elsewhere on this blog, A Muslim Response to Stephen Hawking, is partly based on that 1990 lecture.

 

3. Hawking’s lecture on “Imaginary Time”, c. 1990/1

The Cambridge University Physics Society organised this, at a science lecture theatre that accommodated a few hundred people: Hawking rarely lectured publicly, so it was packed, although very few of us had any idea what the title meant.  I arrived quite early, to guarantee a spot. An orthodox Jewish chap called Mark Israel had arrived before me, and was intensely reading what looked like a pocket Torah. As a fellow Abrahamic monotheist, he seemed to be preparing himself to take on someone who was becoming a star for atheist scientists. (Mark had been a year above me at CLSB, but we were now in the same year at university, since he had taken a gap year in Israel, working on a kibbutz or studying at a yeshiva or something. We barely knew each other.)

Hawking’s pre-loaded lecture, delivered via his computer and voice-synthesiser, began by explaining the difference between real and imaginary numbers: basic, A-level mathematics. He then accelerated up several gears and lost the vast majority of us in his details, talking about solving Einstein’s equations for General Relativity in imaginary or complex (real+imaginary) time, avoiding infinities and renormalisations, promoting his no-boundary proposal and his positivist philosophical position. Although he lost me and others in the details, I think I got the gist of his lecture, as above. His link between the mathematical physics and his philosophical position was interesting: he argued that we could not know to begin with (a priori) whether time was best represented by real, imaginary or complex numbers, if at all. But given that we could not solve the GR equations in real time, but could do so in imaginary/complex time, this was evidence or proof that imaginary time existed. (To my mind, time clearly has a real dimension as well, but no-one used the term, “complex time,” i.e. real+imaginary time, at the time!)

When the lecture ended, there was stunned silence: most of us were still trying to process the whirlwind of mathematics & physics ideas to which we had just been exposed. There were only one or two questions, and I think Mark Israel bravely asked the first question: an undergraduate natural scientist and devout Abrahamic monotheist trying to take on one of the world’s greatest scientists who was also agnostic/atheist. Mark asked (in paraphrase), beginning with a typically-British understatement,

“This is all very complicated. But this positivism of yours – isn’t it a cop-out from accepting the reality that we all experience?”

We waited with bated breath for many minutes for Hawking’s pithy answer: because he had to compose his answer, character by character, using only one finger to operate his computer, even a one-sentence answer could take quite a while to produce. But Hawking eventually answered (in paraphrase),

“Give me an experimental test for any ‘reality’ and I will accept its existence if it is empirically (experimentally) proved.”

I’ve remembered the entire exchange, but it was many years before I understood Hawking’s answer, and what on earth he was talking about.

These were of course some of the intensely salafi years: when I told JIMAS colleagues about attending Hawking’s lectures, Abu Muntasir remarked, “the Sheikh Albani of physics!”

 

4. Hawking’s lecture on “Predestination”, c. 1991/2

This was organised by the university’s Philosophical Society at, if I remember correctly, the Lady Margaret Hall on the Sidgwick Site. [Lady Margaret, whose name adorns several Cambridge roads and buildings, was the wife of Henry VI, mother of Henry VII and hence grandmother of Henry VIII, again if I remember correctly.]

This was a large hall, and again, it was standing-room only: I estimated that about 2,000 people attended.

The question being addressed in the lecture was,

“Is Everything Predestined?”

Hawking’s answer was one of pure determinism: he argued that the laws of physics determined absolutely everything, including our brain configurations and neuronal firing patterns. As a fellow-student once put it,

“If the laws of physics determine exactly how an object falls, why shouldn’t they determine exactly how our brain neurons fire?”

Those who knew Hawking well, often comment that he had an irresistible sense of humour. This was on display at this lecture when, to illustrate how the laws of physics have determined, according to his view, everything from the Big Bang to the most trivial details of human behaviour, Hawking mischievously put up a copy of a Page 3 of The Sun, featuring a famous female, topless model, declaring,

“The laws of physics even determine that Samantha Fox appears nude on Page 3!”

The audience roared with laughter – my, such goings-on at one of the world’s most prestigious learned societies and universities!

Hawking’s conclusion was very interesting:

“Is Everything Predestined? Yes, everything is predestined, but it might as well not be, since we can never know!”

His reasoning for this conclusion was that although the laws of physics did determine everything, we could not possibly predict the future since, to do so, we would need to solve zillions of non-linear equations simultaneously, and this is simply impossible.

Obviously, predestination is a major topic in Islam, and I grappled with Hawking’s conclusion for a long time.  Many years later, I read in the famous book by Ali al-Hujwiri (Data Ganj Bakhsh, 1009-1077 CE, buried in Lahore), Kashf al-Mahjub [Unveiling of the Veiled, trans. Reynold A. Nicholson] that he had taught,

“Believe that everything is predestined, but act as though nothing is.”

In other Islamic texts, this is stated as follows:

“Believe like a jabari [determinist], but behave like a qadari [free-willer].”

It is also alluded to in the later Ash’ari text, Hashiyat al-Disuqi ‘ala Umm al-Barahin, when the commentator claims that,

“The People of the Sunna [Ahl al-Sunna, according to the Ash’ari school] are rationally determinist (jabariyya ‘aqlan).”

The dispute between the determinists [jabariyya] and absolute free-willers [qadariyya] dates back to the Sahaba (Companions of the Prophet, may God bless him and grant him peace, and be pleased with them) and will continue until the Day of Judgment, with a whole spectrum of views within Islam, amongst the Sunni, Shia, Mu’tazili, Ash’ari, Maturidi, Hanbali/Athari/Salafi, etc. As Imam ‘Ali said, and was echoed by Imam Tahawi in his Creed [‘Aqida],

“Predestination [qadar] is a secret/mystery (sirr) of God in His Creation.”

But here we have a leading Muslim Sufi saint, whose tomb is visited by lakhs of people every year, taking a compromise position between belief and action, between jabar and qadar, over nine centuries before a great mathematician and physicist who essentially comes to the same conclusion. From Hujwiri to Hawking – Glory be to God!

 

5. Hawking on Grange Rd, c. 1991/2

I was cycling along Grange Road, Cambridge, dressed in my usual dress at the time of a flowing Arab robe and turban, when I passed Hawking coming the other way in his motorised wheelchair. It was a powerful moment for me, and remains etched in my memory: this great scientist, silently and serenely passing by, with only the quiet hum of his wheelchair, like the force of nature (God’s creation) that he was. I wonder if he remembered a cyclist in Arab dress?

Relatedly, I read in the newspapers later that year, after leaving Cambridge, that Hawking had had another encounter with a Muslim using Grange Rd: a Pakistani taxi-driver (who else?) had crashed into Hawking, destroying his wheelchair although Hawking escaped unhurt. Thank God he was relatively unharmed – had he been seriously injured or killed, it might have been the biggest Pakistani influence on theoretical physics and cosmology since Prof Abdus-Salam’s Nobel Prize. [I am of Pakistani origin, so I’m allowed to poke fun at my own countrymen.]

 

6. Quoting Hawking in MSc exam, 1993

For my MSc in Information Processing & Neural Networks at King’s College London, one of our modules was Advanced Neural Networks, taught by Prof. John Taylor, who had a previous career as a TV actor before returning to science. Taylor was an excellent lecturer. His exam paper included a question about whether our artificial (computerised) neural networks could ever emulate the human brain. In my answer, I argued that this might be possible in principle, but we were astronomically far away from achieving it in practice. As an analogy, I quoted Hawking’s famous passage in ABHT where he argued that, in principle, we could build a particle accelerator of enough size and energy to recreate the high energy of the early universe, but it was very unlikely that we would achieve this in practice. With more of his wry humour, he had written something like,

“Such an accelerator would need to be roughly the size of the solar system, and is unlikely to be funded in the current economic climate.” (Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time)

In the post-exam discussion with fellow students, I told a colleague that I had quoted Hawking. His reply was,

“Oops! Don’t you remember what Hawking wrote about Prof. John Taylor?”

I had no recollection of this, but he told me and I went home and was horrified to verify it via my copy of ABHT. The story may be summarised as follows:

Hawking gave his seminal lecture at a physics conference where he first announced his theory that “black holes ain’t so black”, i.e. the decay of black holes via Hawking radiation, a quantum effect. Hawking described one of the reactions as follows: “One man, John Taylor of King’s College London, stood up and said that this was all rubbish … [But my theory was later proved right, and he was proved wrong]” (summarised from Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time)

This was not Taylor’s finest hour, but nor was it Hawking’s, when he wrote about it: academics, like sports players or generals, should be gracious in victory and defeat. But both of them taught me mathematics, physics & AI – we all know how awkward it is when your parents or teachers quarrel.

I hope Prof Taylor wasn’t offended by my quoting Hawking in the exam, a scientist who was arguably even more famous than Taylor, from a book in which Hawking had publicly avenged an academic insult from one or two decades earlier. I don’t think Taylor was offended, at least not too much, because he gave me an ‘A’ grade in the exam.

 

7. The Universe in A Nutshell

Towards the end of the 2000s, two decades after publishing ABHT, Hawking wrote another excellent book, The Universe in A Nutshell. He proposed his version of M-theory, a generalised string theory, that involved high-dimensional spaces called ‘branes.’ These are like 2- or 3-dimensional membranes, but in higher dimensions. But which letter should mathematicians use to denote the number of dimensions: x, n or d, etc.? With characteristic humour, Hawking decided to use p, hence cutting edge theoretical physics and cosmology now involved p-branes, a pun on “pea-brains.”

The title of this book derived from the fact that Hawking argued that our universe was enclosed by high-dimensional spaces (p-branes) that were shaped like a peanut shell.

Arguably, Hawking had taken an agnostic position regarding God in his ABHT. But based on his TUIAN, he now publicly announced an atheist position. I wrote my Muslim Response … to him in 2010, available elsewhere on this blog.

 

8. Meeting Hawking at Google Zeitgeist Europe, 2011

In 2011, by the grace of God, I got to finally meet Hawking after his lecture at Google’s Zeitgeist Europe conference near Watford in Greater London, attended by hundreds of people. It was a bi-annual conference at the time, with the alternate year having a Zeitgeist USA conference, I think. I was invited to this conference as part of Quilliam’s work with Google and YouTube, specifically with regard to the later, international Summit Against Violent Extremism in Dublin, June 2011.

Hawking lectured on M-theory, based on his TUIAN, and also attacked religion but especially philosophy: he argued that modern philosophy had lost all touch with (scientific) reality, and that philosophers were often speculating theoretically based on outdated, ancient philosophical ideas about the mind, life, etc. He argued that they were not taking into account modern knowledge about the workings of the brain, the laws of physics, the life sciences etc.

I got to meet Hawking as a fellow-speaker at the conference, and because of my physics background. Because of his limited communication technology, most people were simply taking a photo with him. I was advised that I needed to ask his permission to do this first, though: we were able to ask him brief questions, and he would respond with one twitch of his cheek muscle for yes, and two for no (or vice-versa, I don’t recall precisely – it had been 20 years since I had seen him in person, and he had lost the movement of the only working finger, and was restricted to one muscle with which to communicate).

This is roughly what I said to him:

“Professor Hawking, it is an honour to finally meet you.  I attended two of your lectures whilst a Cambridge undergraduate about 20 years ago: one on ‘Imaginary Time’ and one on ‘Predestination’ at the Lady Margaret Hall. Do you remember those lectures? And may I have a photo with you?”

I remember thinking that my first question was very daft: I was asking a genius, scientist and professor with a very precise mind, whether he remembered two of his major public lectures at his beloved university, about his beloved subjects. Of course he remembered them! He replied in the affirmative to both my questions, hence the photo reproduced above.

 

9. Islamic reflections about Hawking

Hawking was a bit of a dilemma for theists, but his brilliance and humour endeared him to most. One of his students was Prof Brian Carr, later of QMUL, who is a devout Christian as well as a brilliant physicist.  I’ve met him twice via the Scientific & Medical Network, and had brief discussions on religion and science. He loved his teacher, despite the difference in religious beliefs.

When I posted briefly on Facebook in 2011 about meeting Hawking, a young islamist woman kept posting nasty, rude comments about him, condemning him for his atheism. I deleted her comments, but when she continued, I blocked her. He was probably 2-3 times her age, and had inspired millions to love knowledge and God’s creation, even if he himself didn’t believe, yet she, with good intentions to defend theism, was despicably rude about someone with a crippling illness, and whom she had clearly never met. May Allah forgive me and her. On the other hand, a young, devout Muslim physicist friend praised Hawking in glowing terms when some were criticising him on our Islamic Astronomy yahoogroup that ran for many years in the 2000’s.

Thinking of theist/atheist scientist friends, I am reminded of Newton’s friendship with Hooke or Boyle, at least for a while. Whenever his atheist friend would try to preach atheism to him, Newton, a Unitarian Christian who wrote treatises refuting the Trinity, replied,

“Don’t go there. I have studied theology, whereas you haven’t.” (paraphrase)

Perhaps if Hawking had a friend who was a greater scientist than him and also a theist like Newton, he may have believed. But it is all God’s will.

Pope John Paul II told Hawking upon their meeting, not to investigate the first three minutes or first six seconds after the Big Bang, because these were “the moment of God’s creation.” Hawking was utterly put off religion by this, as he described in ABHT. Perhaps if, instead of this advice, Hawking had met a Muslim rationalist leader cut from the cloth of the Abbasid Caliph Al-Ma’mun who might have wholeheartedly encouraged Hawking to pursue such research, he may not have turned against religion. But it is all God’s will.

So, Hawking did not believe in God for most of his life. But in the Islamic tradition: God is Truth. God is Beauty. God is Time (al-dahr, in a famous hadith qudsi – since the commentators explain al-dahr as “extended time,” some contemporary sheikhs have suggested that this means: God is Spacetime). God is Infinitely Wise and Forbearing.

Hawking certainly believed in Truth and the search for Truth. He certainly believed in Beauty, especially the beauty of nature and of its laws of mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology. He helped and inspired millions of people all around the world to study these subjects [I was excited to see an Arabic copy of ABHT on sale in Amman in 2017, & today’s media coverage shows crowds of Israelis and Arabs flocking to see him – he especially encouraged Palestinians to study physics]. He inspired us to probe into the mysteries of space and time, that are sacred because of the above hadith qudsi and because of God’s taking an oath, swearing by the sacred token of Time, as in Surah al-‘Asr, one of two Qur’anic Chapters entitled: Time, referring to long-term and short-term respectively.

Living patiently with a crippling illness for over half a century: not just living, but working, leading the world in his subjects and inspiring generations with his intelligence, humanity and humour – he knew Forbearance, again a quality of the Divine.

So farewell, Professor Stephen Hawking: may you rest in God’s Peace (al-Salam): you understood more than most the mysteries of the infinite: may you be admitted into God’s Infinite Mercy. Amen.

Imam Dr Usama Hasan

Cardiff, UK.

Thursday 15th March 2018, approximately 24 hours after the fateful death.

Islam and China

December 13, 2017

Niu Jie Mosque – Beijing. The mosque was established in 996 CE, so it is over 1,000 years old, in its successive manifestations. The mosque front faces due west, which is used as the approximate qibla. The man in the foreground is a Chinese Muslim trader from Xinjiang province, fluent in Arabic.

Bismillah. I visited the sacred land of China (Beijing) for the first time last week, by the grace of God. The sacredness and spirituality of the land and its people was palpable. Here are some reflections from my reading and experiences:

 

1. The alleged hadith, “Seek knowledge, even unto China,” is a traditional Islamic saying, but unlikely to be from the Prophet, peace be upon him.

As I wrote in the Introduction and Appendix to my father Sheikh Suhaib Hasan’s Introduction to the Science of Hadith, “This additional statement is found in a few of the (weak) narrations of the previous hadith [‘Seeking knowledge is a duty upon every Muslim’], and is declared as mawdu’ [fabricated] by Ibn Hibban, Ibn al- Jawzi, al-Sakhawi and al-Albani.” The views of these hadith scholars may be found in the following works by Albani: Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Da’ifah, no. 416; Da’if al-Jami’ al- Saghir, nos. 1005-6.

Furthermore, the text of this alleged hadith “otherises” China, whereas the Prophet was a mercy to the worlds (Qur’an, The Prophets, 21:107) and all languages in their diversity, including the Chinese languages, are amongst the Signs of God (ayatullah – Qur’an, The Romans or Byzantines, 30:22). At the most, “even unto China” is an Arab-centric phrase in this context, and does not fit with the universality of the Qur’anic and Prophetic message.

2. There are legends about the Prophet’s Companions visiting China, and even of up to four of them being buried there.

They include Sa’d bin Abi Waqqas. Since he conquered Persia, it is highly plausible that he could have ventured further east to India and China. If he was buried in China, this would be more widely known to the scholars of Hadith and Rijal, who compiled detailed biographies of the Companions. I would be grateful for learned contributions to this question.

The following is from Wikipedia (not the most reliable source I know, but this is a blog, not an academic paper), under Emperor Tang Gaozong (649-683):

Known by Islamic sources as Yung Wei, which was in fact the name of the first era in his reign (Yonghui era from February 650 to February 656; see era name), Islamic sources credit him with building the first mosque, a mosque that still stands in Guangzhou. According to those records, Islam was introduced to China and Emperor Gaozong by the visit of Sa`d ibn Abi Waqqas, a companion of the Prophet Muhammad, in the year 650. According to these sources, Emperor Gaozong is said to have respected the teachings of Islam greatly, feeling the teachings were compatible with Confucianism, and offered the building of the mosque as a sign of admiration. The emperor himself did not convert as he felt Islam was too restrictive for his own preferences, but according to those sources, did not stop him from allowing Sa`d and his company to spread the teachings throughout the region. These sources, however, were not corroborated by Chinese records.

[1]  Lan Xu, Tianfang zheng xue (The true learning of Arabia), Beijing: Niujie Mosque, 1925 edition (first edition 1852), juan 7; quoted in Zhang Xinglang, p. 744.

 

3. An anecdote from al-Mas’udi’s Meadows of Gold (Muruj al-Dhahab) about a Sino-Arab encounter

Reproduced from elsewhere on this blog: al-Masu’di of Baghdad (c. 276-344 H / 890-956 CE) wrote,

The story of Habbar bin al-Aswad, an Arab notable of Basra who left during the Zanj [negro slaves’] rebellion there, is entertaining. He went to China via India. A Chinese king showed his Arab visitor portraits of prophets including Noah, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad. The king stated that Noah’s flood didn’t reach India or China.

He further showed him portraits of Indian and Chinese prophets’ portraits, depicting them as pointing the index finger to the heavens, warning of the power of God, or making a circle with the thumb and index finger, to indicate that creation is a circle.

[Muslims daily indicate the unity of God with the right index finger (cf. Michaelangelo’s famous painting depicting God and Adam). During prayer, they also sometimes make a circle with the thumb and middle finger, following the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him.

Furthermore, according to a sound hadith: Umm Salama emigrated to Abyssinia with her first husband Abu Salama as part of the early sacred migration (hijra). In the churches there, she saw images of prophets with index fingers raised (cf. Michaelangelo again), a feature of daily Islamic prayers. See Albani, Sifah Salah al-Nabi or The Prophet’s Prayer Described, for these hadiths. – U.H.]

Al-Mas’udi continued:

The people of China are the most skilful in painting and arts. No other nation can compare with them in any craft whatsoever.

China was prosperous due to its justice until the Huang Chao rebellion of 878. He attacked Khanfu, massacring 200,000 Muslims, Christians, Jews and fire-worshippers [Zoroastrians/Parsees].

 

4. Admiral Zheng He (Cheng Ho) was one of the great figures of Chinese history, and was Muslim.

As a child, I read a kids’ book about Admiral Cheng-Ho and his voyages, part of a series about “Heroes of Islam.” I remember nothing from the stories, except the striking name. I always thought that he was highlighted in this series simply because he was Muslim, and was amazed to discover later that he was the greatest Chinese admiral in history. (By the way, admiral is an English word derived from the Arabic, amir al-bahr: ‘commander of the sea.’)

Yuval Noah Harari’s Homo Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (Vintage, 2011) is described by its publisher as a ‘Number One Bestseller.’ In it, the author writes these glowing lines about Zheng He (Cheng-Ho), but unfortunately does not mention that he was an integrated Chinese Muslim who assumed a major leadership position, like millions of his fellow Chinese Muslims. Harari wrote:

Many scholars argue that the voyages of Admiral Zheng He of the Chinese Ming dynasty heralded and eclipsed the European voyages of discovery. Between 1405 and 1433, Zheng led seven huge armadas from China to the far reaches of the Indian Ocean. The largest of these comprised almost 300 ships and carried close to 300,000 people. They visited Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea and East Africa. Chinese ships anchored in Jedda, the main harbour of the Hejaz, and in Malindi, on the Kenyan coast. Columbus’ fleet of 1492 – which consisted of three small ships manned by 120 sailors – was like a trio of mosquitoes compared to Zheng He’s drove of dragons.

Yet there was a crucial difference. Zheng He explored the oceans, and assisted pro-Chinese rulers, but he did not try to conquer or colonise the countries he visited. Moreover, the expeditions of Zheng He were not deeply rooted in Chinese politics and culture. When the ruling faction in Beijing changed during the 1430s, the new overlords abruptly terminated the operation. The great fleet was dismantled, crucial technical and geographical knowledge was lost, and no explorer of such stature and means ever set out again from a Chinese port. Chinese rulers in the coming centuries, like most Chinese rulers in previous centuries, restricted their interests and ambitions to the Middle Kingdom’s immediate environs.

(Harari, p. 324)

Harari (p. 325) then provides a striking, visual illustration of his comparison between the fleets of Zheng He and Christopher Columbus:

from Yuval Noah Harari, Homo Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, Vintage Books, 2011, p. 325

5. The Niu Jie Mosque in Beijing has been a place of Islamic worship for over a thousand years, and is well worth a visit, including to non-Muslim visitors.

The mosque is easily reachable by subway to Guang’AnMennei: take the SE exit, turn left, heading due west and take the second major right onto Niu Jie Street. The mosque is clearly visible on the left, a couple of blocks down.

The mosque embodies “Islam with Chinese characteristics”: the pagoda- or Chinese palace-style is obvious. Many of inscriptions on the rock steles and in the ante-hall to the main worship hall are in Chinese. (Inside the main worship hall, all the calligraphy is in Arabic, in a distinctive font known as Sini [Chinese], influenced by Chinese calligraphy.) Look carefully, as in the photo of the mosque, and you will see small carved dragons on top of the mosque buildings, presumably to drive away evil spirits. This of course violates the traditional Judeo-Islamic prohibition on graven images, but illustrates the integration of Chinese Muslims: they seem to have tolerated small dragons, that certainly do not dominate the mosque buildings, most of which uphold the ban on graven images.

The mosque consists of several buildings: the main (men’s) worship hall with an ante-hall, a minaret and two pavilions, all pagoda-style. The main worship hall holds about 500 men, according to my estimate. There were some women attending prayers too, so presumably there must be a women’s prayer hall. There is an old sundial that can be used to tell the time generally, and specifically zawal (noon), and hence zuhr or afternoon prayer time. The sundial looks very similar to the one I saw in the Forbidden City, to the side of Tian’Anmen Square.

The qibla direction of the mosque appears to be due west, which is reasonable for China, although I would like to check this more precisely.

The main prayer hall effectively has three open and interconnected mini-courtyards within it, due to an array of pillars and arches. The outer sides of the pillars and arches are plain, but the inner sides are beautifully decorated with floral motifs and Islamic calligraphy. As you enter the mosque, the courtyard sizes are small, large and medium, in that order.

As one enters the main hall, the first archway has three Qur’anic verse inscribed in a series of six circular designs. I was unable to work out the first verse, reading from right to left. The middle verse is “Truly, God has bought from the believers their selves and their possessions, in exchange for their owning the Garden.” (Qur’an, Repentance, 9:111). The verse on the left is “Whoever brings goodness will receive ten times like it; whoever brings evil, will only be recompensed in like measure” (Qur’an, Cattle, 6:160).

The entire texts of the following surahs are written in gorgeous calligraphy on the remaining arches: al-Fath (Victory, 48), al-Rahman (Most Merciful, 55), al-Mulk (Kingdom, 67), al-Naba’ (News, 78) and al-Nazi’at (Tearers, 79). There is precise attention to detail, e.g. the small circle above the word s(ui)’at in 67:27 indicating that the first vowel is to be read initially as a damma (u), followed by a long kasra (i), in a one-third:two-thirds ratio, as is well-known in the science of Qur’an-recitation or tajwid. However, seven verses appear to be missing from al-Naba’, nos. 21-27, except that the last two letters of 78:27 are present, the long ba. This is something I’ve occasionally seen in Qur’anic calligraphy in old mosques, since it’s not easy to fit passages precisely onto buildings, especially when your canvas is a curved arch.

In addition, three of the arches are inscribed with a collection of about 45 salawat or blessings upon the Prophet. They follow an identical pattern: each is comprised of the formula, Allahumma salli ‘ala Muhammad sayyid … (Dear God, Bless Muhammad, Master of …). Each blessing is then completed with a plural noun: the first is al-mursalin (the Messengers); others are al-muttaqin (the Pious)al-tawwabin (the Oft-Repenting), etc.

 

6. The Sinofication of Chinese Muslim surnames from Arabic.

Some years ago, a Chinese imam called Sheikh Ibrahim Ma visited London and spoke at a number of locations, including Masjid al-Tawhid. This Wikipedia entry under “Islam during the Ming dynasty”, if correct, gives the origin of Chinese Muslim surnames such as Ma:

Foreign origin Muslims adopted the Chinese character which sounded the most phonetically similar to the beginning syllables of their Muslim names – Ha for Hasan, Hu for Hussain and Sa’I for Said and so on. Han who converted to Islam kept their own surnames like Kong, Zhang. Chinese surnames that are very common among Muslim families are Mo, Mai, and Mu – names adopted by the Muslims who had the surnames Muhammad, Mustafa and Masoud.

 

7. Are Allama Iqbal’s famous lines of poetry beginning with “Cheen (China)” imperialist or universalist?

Iqbal wrote these famous lines, known as Tarana-e-Milli or “Anthem of the Muslim Nation”, that begins:

Cheen-o-Arab hamara, Hindustan hamara
Muslim hain hum, watan hai sara jahan hamara

China and Arabia are ours; India is ours.
We are Muslims, the whole world is ours.

Touheed ki Amanat seenon mein hai hamare
Asan nahin nitana naam-o-nishan hamara

God’s unity is held in trust in our hearts.
It is not easy to erase our name and sign …

I first learnt this as a child in its Arabic translation, such was Iqbal’s influence:

al-sinu lana wa l-hindu lana

wa l-‘arbu lana wa l-kullu lana

adha l-islamu lana dinan

wa jami’u l-kawni lana watana

tawhidullahi lana nurun …

Since Iqbal was a poet, he may have meant all of this metaphorically and universally, in the sense that the earth belongs to God and therefore to the true people of God. But many people read these verses literally, and imagine that they have the right to conquer and dominate other people. The age of military conquests is largely over, and any non-Chinese person who visits China and sees a fraction of its billion-and-a-half population, should know immediately that it is ridiculous to pretend or dream that China belongs to anyone but the Chinese. And the same goes for India, Arabia, Africa, Europe, the Americas, Oceania etc.

But such delusions do persist: in Pakistan in 2003, I met a LeT supporter who had helped to establish a mosque in Islamabad and told me that the “mujahideen” during the Kargil incident had come close to “liberating Kashmir” and that they would have gone on to “liberate India” !! We Muslims need to have honest conversations about such matters. The divisions and conflicts are such a shame, especially when it is obvious that Indians, Pakistanis and Chinese etc. have so much in common, not least their eastern-ness.

Which reminds me: there is a famous saying, “East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet.”

But the reality is: “East is East, and West is West, and the twain have met many times in all kinds of ways, and continue to do so.”

8. Ibn Arabi’s curious visionary prediction that the the last human ever to be born will be a boy, immediately preceded by his twin sister, in China. This boy will also grow up to be the last saint or holy person of humanity.

This is in his Fusus al-Hikam (Bezels of Wisdom) under the bezel of Seth (Shith):

It will be in the line of Seth that the last true Man will be born, bearing his mysteries [of divine Wisdom], nor will such be born after him. He will be the Seal of Offspring. There will be born with him a [twin] sister who will be born before him, so that his head will be at her feet. He will be born in the land of China and will speak the language of that land. Sterility will then overcome the men and women of this land and, although there will be much consorting, there will be no bringing forth of children [as true men (?)]. He will call them to God without success and when God has taken him and those of his time who believed, the others will remain living like beasts with no sense of right and wrong, giver over to the law of the [lower] nature, devoid of intellect and Sacred Law [and Ethics]. The Last Hour will overtake them.

The above is in Austin’s translation, p. 70, with slight modifications by me. Austin summarises this prediction as follows (pp. 61-2):

Ibn al-‘Arabi concludes this chapter with a curious prediction concerning the fate of man as defined in his teachings. He says that the last true human, in the line of Seth, will be born in China and that he will have an elder sister. He goes on to prophesy that thereafter men will become as beasts, bereft of spirit and law, until the coming of the Hour. Thus, he indicates that that particular human synthesis of spirit and nature, of which we are all a part, will come to an end and the link be broken.

 

Usama Hasan (Ha)

London, UK

13/12/2017

Jesuit Muslims

December 28, 2016

JESUIT MUSLIMS (OR MUSLIM JESUITS)

From Ibn ‘Arabi, al-Futuhat al-Makkiyyah [The Meccan Revelations], Dar Ihya’ al-Turath al-‘Arabi [House of Revival of Arab Heritage], Beirut, 1418/1997, vol. 1, pp. 286-291.

[NB: This is not about the Christian, Roman Catholic Order of Jesuits, but refers to Muslims who also follow Jesus in their practices and states.]

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

Chapter 36: On the recognition of [Muslim] Jesuits …

Know, may God strengthen you, that the Way of Muhammad, may God bless him and grant him peace, includes all previous ways, and that the latter have no validity in this world save that of them that is endorsed by the Muhammadan Way, by the endorsement of which they remain valid. We exert ourselves in worship via these ways because Muhammad, may God bless him and grant him peace, endorsed them, not because the prophet specific to that way in his time endorsed it.

This is why the Messenger of God, peace be upon him, was given “Comprehensive Words” (jawami’ al-kalim). Thus, when a Muhammadan does a work, and the entire responsible universe today of human and jinn is Muhammadan, for there is no divine way in the universe today except for the Muhammadan Way, this worker from the [Muslim] nation may coincide in his work, with an opening in his heart and path, with a path of one of the previous prophets that it is included in this Way, which endorses it and the result of following it. Thus, such a person will be attributed to the founder of that way and called Jesuit (‘Isawi), Mosaic (Musawi) or Abrahamic (Ibrahimi) …

There is no prophethood with a way (shar’) after Muhammad, may God bless him and grant him peace … This is why it is mentioned in the report that “the people of knowledge are the inheritors of the prophets” …

The original Jesuits are the disciples and followers of Jesus … the second Jesuits are those who followed Jesus directly without a veil and then followed him via Muhammad, may God bless him and grant him peace, and there is an experiential difference between the two. This is why the Messenger of God, may God bless him and grant him peace, said about such a person, “Truly, he will be rewarded twice” [cf. Qur’an, The Story, 28:52-55], and similarly, such a person has two different sets of inheritances, openings and experiences, in each of which he is only attributed to the relevant prophet.

These are the second Jesuits. Their base of principles is to unify God, free of all likenesses. This is because the initiation into existence of Jesus, peace be upon him, was not by way of a human male, but by the manifestation (or likeness) of a spirit in the form of a human [Q. Mary 19:17]. This is why the doctrine of God manifested in a form dominated the nation of Jesus, son of Mary, over all other nations: they make forms, images and likenesses in their churches, and worship within themselves by focusing their attention on these. The origin of their prophet, peace be upon him, was by a likeness, so this reality has continued amongst his nation until now.

Then, when the Way of Muhammad, may God bless him and grant him peace, came and forbade likenesses (images), whilst he, peace be upon him, included the reality of Jesus, and his way in his, he laid the path for us, peace be upon him, “that we worship God as though we see Him,” in imagination, which is the meaning of making images. But he forbade us from this (making images) in the sensual/physical world, lest physical forms or images [of God] should appear in this nation.

Furthermore, this particular teaching, “Worship God as though you see Him,” was not stated to us by Muhammad, may God bless him and grant him peace, directly; rather, it was stated by Gabriel, peace be upon him, and it was he who appeared in the total likeness of a man to Mary at the conception of Jesus, peace be upon him … We were the ones addressed by that statement, which is why it occurs at the end of the tradition, “This was Gabriel: he wished for you to know, since you would not ask”; or in other narrations, “He came to teach the people their religion,” or “He came to you, to teach you your religion” …

Moreover, you should know that their [the Jesuits’] base of principles also includes the teaching that comes from ways other than that of Jesus, peace be upon him, “… but if you were not able to see Him, then truly, He sees you.”

Our shaykh, Abu l-‘Abbas al-‘Uraybi, may God have mercy upon him, was Jesuit at the end and extent of his path, which was the beginning of ours [i.e. the beginning of Ibn ‘Arabi’s path was Jesuit]; then we moved to a solar, Mosaic opening, then to Hud, peace be upon him, then to all the prophets, peace be upon them. After that, we moved to Muhammad, may God bless him and grant him peace. Thus was our matter in this path, may God establish us in it and not divert us from the straightness of the path …

Jesuits have extremely active aspiration, their prayers are answered and their speech is heard. One of the signs of the Jesuits, if you wish to recognise them, is that you will see each of them having mercy and compassion towards everyone, whoever they are, no matter what religion they follow. They entrust other people’s matters to God: when they address the servants of God, they do not utter anything that will constrain people’s hearts in respect of anyone at all.

Another of their signs is that they see the best in everything and only goodness flows from their tongues … e.g.

(1) What is narrated from Jesus, peace be upon him, that he saw a pig and said to it, “Go safely, in peace.” Upon being asked about this, he replied, “I train my tongue to speak goodness.”

(2) The Prophet, may God bless him and grant him peace, passed by a carcass and said, “How beautifully white are its teeth!” whereas those with him said, “How horrible is its stench!”

(3) The Prophet, may God bless him and grant him peace, commanded the killing of snakes in specific situations and informed us that God loves courage, even if only in killing snakes. However, despite this, when he was in the cave in Mina where Surah al-Mursalat [Qur’an Chapter: The Messengers, no. 77] descended upon him (it is known as the Cave of al-Mursalat until today – I have entered it, seeking blessings), a snake came out of its hole and the Companions rushed to kill it but it frustrated them, the Messenger of God, may God bless him and grant him peace, said, “Truly, God saved it from your evil just as He saved you from its evil.”

[3a] He thus named it (killing snakes) “evil”, even though it is a commanded matter, just like His saying, Most Exalted, regarding retribution, “The reward of a bad deed is a bad deed like it; [so whoever forgives and reforms, their reward is with God: truly, He does not love the oppressors” – Q. Consultation 42:40] – He named retribution a “bad deed” and encouraged forgiveness.

Thus, the Prophet’s eye, may God bless him and grant him peace, only fell upon the best aspect of the carcass. Similarly, the friends of God only see the best in everything they look at: they are blind to the faults of people, although not to faults in themselves, for they have been commanded to avoid these. Similarly, they are deaf against listening to obscenity and dumb against uttering bad words, even if this is allowed in some places.

This is how we have known them [the Jesuits], so Glory be to the One who purified them, chose them and guided them to the straight path. “They are the ones whom God has guided: by their guidance, follow!” [Q. Cattle 6:90]

This is the station of Jesus, peace be upon him, within Muhammad, may God bless him and grant him peace, for he preceded him in time and these states were transmitted from him by the latter. God said to His Prophet [Muhammad], may God bless him and grant him peace, after mentioning several prophets including Jesus, peace be upon them, “They are the ones whom God has guided: by their guidance, follow!” [Q. Cattle 6:90].

However, the station of Messenger determines that the beautiful must be explained and distinguished from the ugly in order to be known, as the Exalted said, “… that you may explain to the people what has been revealed to them” [Q. The Honey-Bee 16:44]. Thus, when he explained the bad side of a person, it was by inspiration from God, such as his saying about someone, “What a bad son of his tribe!” Similarly, Khidr killed a lad and said about him, “His nature had been stamped as an ingrate unbeliever (kafir)” and reported that if he had left him alive, he would have behaved badly towards his parents. He also said, “I did not do that of my own accord.” [i.e. it was by God’s command; Q. The Cave 18:74, 80-82]

Thus, the essences of such people, whether prophets or saints, are characterised by kind speech, seeing the best in everything and listening attentively only to goodness. However, if there is the occasional exception to this, it is by divine command, not from their own tongue.

This is what we have mentioned of the states of the Jesuits, as facilitated by God upon my tongue, “and God speaks the Truth and He guides to the Way.” [Q. The Confederates 33:4]


Abridgment and Translation: Usama Hasan

London, 28th December 2016 / 29th Rabi’ al-Awwal 1438