Archive for the ‘Sharia’ Category

REFLECTIONS FROM KUNAR 1990 AND HELMAND 2010 – THE TRAGEDY OF AFGHANISTAN’S WARS

November 10, 2017

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

REFLECTIONS FROM KUNAR 1990 & HELMAND 2010

– THE TRAGEDY OF AFGHANISTAN’S WARS

Introduction

I am publishing this partly because I am tired of telling the same story about Kunar to dozens of journalists and academic researchers, partly because I am fed up of questions about my one-minute video message in support of British troops (2010), and partly because I hope that people may benefit and learn from the story.

I began writing this on the last day of Ramadan 1433/2012, and completed the bulk of it shortly after Eid.  The recent death of two British soldiers in Nad Ali in Helmand (Matthew Smith http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-19228325 and Robert Chesterman http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-19227317 ) brought back vivid memories of our FCO-sponsored four-man delegation’s “Projecting British Muslims” trip to Helmand during Ramadan in August 2010, a visit that included ISAF’s Forward Operating Base at Nad Ali.  As I finalise it, I’m reading about the 2,000th US soldier to die in Afghanistan since 2001.

*Update: I am finalising and publishing this on 10th November 2017 – it has been sitting in my draft folder for five years.*

 

Memories from the Jihad in Kunar, 1990-1

This was my second 10-day visit to Afghanistan: the first had been in December-January 1990-1991, during my second-year Cambridge University holidays, as part of a three-man fact-finding mission of senior JIMAS (www.jimas.org ) figures to Kunar.  The other two people were up to a decade older than me: Abu Muntasir and Abu Aaliyah.  I was fortunate to have the strongest Arabic at the time, and served as interpreter for much of the trip, although of course other mujahideen helped also.

We drove to Afghanistan from Islamabad via Peshawar and Bajaur, and spent a week at a training camp near Asadabad, Kunar, for Arab fighters run by Jama’ah al-Da’wah ila l-Qur’an wa l-Sunnah (JDSQ, “Group of Calling to the Qur’an and Sunnah”), the major Salafi organisation that controlled large parts of Kunar province as well as of neighbouring Nuristan.  There were separate training camps for Arab, Afghan and Pakistani fighters – we chose the Arab one, for access to more Arabic-speaking scholars.  The camp rules stated that disagreements would be solved in a last resort by referring to the fatwas of Sheikhs Ibn Baz and Albani. On our introduction to the camp, I introduced myself with my first name, upon which I was immediately corrected by a Kuwaiti mujahid: “In Jihad, we only use aliases.” Specifically, he meant aliases of the kunya type that take the form of “Abu X” meaning “Father of X.”  My colleagues were fathers and already had kunyas, so I used, for the first time, my middle name that my grandfather had given me when he named me upon birth: Abu Dharr, after an austere, ascetic Companion of the Prophet.  The emir of the training camp was a tall, well-built, muscular, fair-skinned, charismatic and learned Palestinian fighter called Abu Asim.  In appearance and character, he reminded me of Abdur-Raheem Green, then also a senior JIMAS figure.  I shed many tears upon hearing about Abu Asim’s reported death in a training accident some years later, when a weapon exploded accidentally.

Upon joining the training camp, we had to fill in a registration form, giving personal details and skills that might be useful for the jihad. The three of us all put down our computer/IT skills, and I also mentioned my mathematics and physics knowledge. A quarter of a century later, ISIS, who had turned defensive, liberating jihad into bloodthirsty terrorism, had similar registration forms, with one striking addition: asking registrants whether they wanted to be regular fighters, suicide-bombers or suicidal attackers (inghimasi).

This was Abu Muntasir’s second trip to the same region: he had trained and fought at the front line in 1989 or early 1990 also, with a close companion known as Brother Mushtaq.  JIMAS’ contacts with the Afghan mujahideen had come about via salafi scholars in Holland and meetings in London that had involved Dawood Burbank (d. during Hajj 2011, may Allah have mercy on his soul) and Brother Mushtaq.  Abu Muntasir later fought in Kashmir and even in Burma with Rohingya militia in the early 1990s.

Note that JIMAS (Jamiat Ihyaa’ Minhaaj al-Sunnah: The Society for the Revival of the Way of the Messenger) had earlier been called HISAM (Harakatu Islahish Shabab al-Muslim: The Movement to Reform the Muslim Youth) but had recently had a name-change after an offshoot insisted on retaining the name HISAM.  During this episode, one of the suggestions for the name of JIMAS was in fact JDQS – this was directly copied from the Afghan group.  The current Pakistani salafi/Ahl-e-Hadith jihadi group Jama’at-ud-Da’wah, linked to Lashkar-e-Taiba, may also have based its name on the Afghan one.

We also met and interviewed Sheikh Jameel-ur-Rahman, an Afghan salafi/Ahle-e-Hadith muhaddith-mujahid (scholar of Hadith and warrior), founder and emir of JDQS.  Sheikh Jameel was an elderly, learned man with a long beard, dyed with henna.  He was accompanied by elders who constituted his shura and by a group of younger, heavily-armed men who served as his bodyguards.  Abu Muntasir conducted the interview in English: Sheikh Jameel replied in Arabic.  One of the questions was whether or not the Jihad in Afghanistan was fard ‘ayn or fard kifaya, i.e. an individual or collective obligation: his reply was the former.  The interview was recorded and it was many months before Dawood Burbank translated it into English for the benefit of other JIMAS members.  Abu Muntasir may still have this material in his possession.

The Arab mujahidin credit Sheikh Jameel with having begun the “Jihad against the communists” in 1973, way before the Soviet invasion.  Sheikh Jameel gave a talk after dawn prayers on one occasion whilst we were at the training camp, during which the camp generator failed, leaving the prayer tent in darkness.  At the end of that talk, he took questions.  One of the questions was about whether or not there was any dhikr to be recited during the prostration of gratitude (sajdah al-shukr) – this was related to the story of The Prophet’s disciples Ka’b bin Malik, Murara bin Rabi’ah and Hilal bin Umayyah and their missing a military expedition followed by their subsequent ostracism and eventual repentance recounted in the long hadith of Bukhari and Muslim in reference to Qur’an 9:118 (Surah al-Tawbah or Chapter: Repentance).  In this heart-rending story that had been recounted by one of the younger scholar-warriors at the camp after dawn prayers the day before, Ka’b performs such a prostration of gratitude.  Sheikh Jameel replied that no specific dhikr had been narrated about this prostration, and therefore any dhikr would suffice, but a young Saudi mujahid argued vehemently with him that there was no dhikr in this prostration for the same reason.  Salafism in a nutshell!

Sheikh Jameel had announced an “Islamic emirate” (imarat-e-Islami) in Kunar. One day at the training camp, one of the commanders gave us the “good news” of the full establishment of Sharia in the emirate: predictably, this involved the hudud, with which islamists are obsessed: a thief’s hand had been amputated as corporal punishment for his crime.

We were holy warriors: ascetic monks and soldiers, simultaneously. With regular congregational prayer, scriptural study, physical exercise and weapons training. Being halfway up a valley, there wasn’t much food: on one day, the camp had run out of food and all we had for 24 hours was a glass of milk and an orange. Soldiers know all about the rationing of supplies. At the firing range, Abu Muntasir embarrassed our instructor by being the only one to hit the target during a sniping contest. (This reminds me of a story about Caliph Omar: he came across some people practising archery and found that they weren’t very good at hitting their target. When he enquired as to why this was the case, they replied in ungrammatical Arabic that they were learners. “Your Arabic is even worse than your archery,” the Caliph quipped!)

Around 1993/94 we heard the awful news that Sheikh Jameel had been assassinated by an Arab fighter – many salafis blamed this on forces loyal to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (Hizb-e-Islami), who was backed by the Jamat-e-Islami of Pakistan and the Arab Muslim Brotherhood.  Hekmatyar denied these accusations, but the incident was one of the many causes of tension between salafis and the Brotherhood, a tension that continues all over the world until today.  A few years later at Imperial College London, I asked the Riyadh-based Syrian salafi Sheikh Adnan Arour, who had taken part in Saudi-sponsored mediation amongst the warring mujahidin groups after the fall of Kabul in 1992, about Hekmatyar’s denial of being behind Sheikh Jameel’s assassination.  He replied, “Who killed him then, Ibn Baz and Albani??!”

With hindsight, it was probably for the best that the Kunar emirate had fizzled out with the death of Sheikh Jameel, otherwise the obsession with hudud might have led to a situation similar to ISIS.

Around 2004, I briefly met one of Sheikh Jameel’s sons who was studying at the Islamic University of Madinah during my only visit there, facilitated by Yasir Qadhi.

Back to Kunar: we spent a day and night at the front line, taking part in the Jihad against forces loyal to President Najibullah.  The Soviets had of course withdrawn in early 1990, but most mujahideen groups fought on, firstly against Najib’s communists, and then against each other during the vicious civil war of 1992-6.  The latter war helped me realise the emptiness of the Islamist dream that the mujahideen were going to establish the ideal “Islamic state” after taking Kabul in 1992.

The Saudis subsidised half the cost of mujahidin’s flights to Pakistan, but kept a record of all names. There was, of course, close co-operation amongst the US, Saudis and Pakistanis during the anti-USSR Jihad.  We met a couple of Libyans at the front line who had burnt their passports, since returning mujahideen were not too welcome in Gaddafi’s police-state.

The training camp’s courtyard had a disused Soviet tank in the centre and was covered in snow: many of the Arabs, religious scholars and committed warriors, had never seen snow before and thoroughly enjoyed their first snowball fights whilst we, the British trio, looked on bemused.  The Arabs were from various countries, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Libya, Egypt and Palestine.  There was also a trio of Indonesian or Filipino fighters who kept to themselves since they didn’t know Arabic.  At the camp, we received basic weapons training: Kalashnikov/M16 and also studied scripture after regular, congregational prayers.  In between the prayer rows would be lines of AK-47s belonging to the warrior-worshippers. At the front line, we exchanged artillery fire with invisible communist forces, as several mountain ridges separated us.  Our guns were 76mm cannon.  One enemy shell, fired from several miles away, landed a hundred feet from us but we were quite safe: this taught me about the fragility of life, but not to be afraid of the ever-present danger of death.  A disturbing scene throughout Kunar was the sight of large cemeteries in place of villages.

At the front line, I had hoped to use my expert Further Mathematics A-level knowledge of precise mathematical calculations of projectile motion to help with the accuracy of our shelling. (18 months earlier, I had been the only one to score 100% in our Lower Sixth Form mathematics examination at the City of London School for Boys, where I held the John Carpenter Scholarship, 1987-9, and been awarded the Mathematics Prize in the Upper Sixth Form, although a couple of Jewish friends were better mathematicians than me.) But we were only there for a day, and there were no PCs or calculators. The mujahideen’s method to ensure shelling accuracy was simple: it was piety – we were encouraged to mention and remember God in dhikr every time we fired a shell!

There were many funny incidents during our stay: a sense of humour helps in tough situations.  The Kuwaiti who stopped the jeep to pick up snow for the first time: “This is not like the snow in our freezer!” (Snow and ice are synonyms in Arabic: thalj.)  The young Saudi who had studied English “whilst he wasn’t religious” in Cambridge some years ago and knew the Pakistani-run Nasreen Dar store there, famous amongst Fitzwilliam and Churchill College students for selling cheap, out-of-date biscuits.  This was a surreal moment for me: I had travelled thousands of miles from Cambridge to meet an Arab mujahid in the mountains of Afghanistan and talk about a shop back home.  (Partly due to our salafist influence in Cambridge, Nasreen Dar eventually stopped selling alcohol. And it finally closed recently.)  Abu Muntasir nicknaming the Indonesian or Filipino mujahid, “Brother One-Bullet” since he could only afford one bullet for his M16 gun (these bullets were much more scarce and therefore expensive, compared to AK-47 bullets). Abu Muntasir saying to Abul Qa’qa’ (named after a Companion of the Prophet), “They’re calling you,” when a flock of crows crowed loudly: caw! caw! The 007-style “pen gun,” disguised as a heavy ink pen that housed a bullet instead of an ink cartridge, with the pen clip as the trigger, and used for close-range assassinations.  The Arabs called it the “ben gun” since there is no “p” in Arabic, and this made me think of my primary-school days spent reading Treasure Island.  At the front line, I described the “man in the moon” that I could see in the full moon through binoculars.  Our Arab guide there, unfamiliar with the nuances of the English language, rebuked me gently although unfairly with the teaching of the Prophet (pbuh), “Tell the truth, even if you are joking.”

My parents, siblings and extended family, plus the JIMAS group in the UK, were very supportive of our jihad trip and very proud of us. My grandfather, Sheikh Abdul Ghaffar Hasan, a very senior salafi scholar of India, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, quoted to me the hadith of the Prophet, peace be upon him, upon my return, “There are two eyes that will not be touched by the Fire: an eye that watches guard at night in the path of God [esp. holy war], and an eye that weeps from the awe of God.” My grandfather added, “I hope that you will qualify on both counts.” It was a quarter of a century later, prompted by a journalist’s question, that I asked my dear mother how she felt whilst I was away for a fortnight – I had remembered her tears upon both my departure and return. She told me that there were some days when she couldn’t eat, out of worry. The FATE video showing a family of a jihadi fighter at a dinner table gives some idea of how she must have felt.

JIMAS and other UK groups later sent dozens of fighters to Afghanistan and hundreds to Bosnia (1992-5).  One young man from Southall spent months in Afghanistan and described fishing in the river by use of hand-grenades: the explosion would blast the fish onto the banks.  One Londoner I know, currently a primary schoolteacher, spent a year or so in Afghanistan in the mid-90s, having gone there with the intention of a “sacred migration to the Islamic state” (hijrah), but became disillusioned when he heard talk of plans to attack western countries: some of the mujahideen were of course building Al-Qaeda.

So, fast-forward 20 years to 2010, almost a decade after 9/11 and the whole idea of Jihad had become utterly confused, including in the UK after the 7/7 attacks.  British involvement in the war in Afghanistan was deeply unpopular amongst UK Muslims, so when the FCO offered me a trip to the country to project British Muslims, I jumped at the chance, deciding that I would also treat it as a fact-finding mission again as to what was going on there.

 

Ex-Taliban Mullahs at the UK Embassy in Kabul, August 2010

We flew from London to Kabul via Dubai, after having undergone two days of “Hostile Environment Training” in Shropshire provided by ex-army people.  The training included practice in wearing the body armour (with ceramic plates) and helmet that we would need everywhere in Afghanistan, a simulated roadside bomb attack on the armoured jeeps in which we would travel and advice on what to do if we got kidnapped (co-operate with your kidnappers, don’t try anything silly, and hope to get rescued).  Whenever I wore the body armour, I thought of the Qur’anic story of Prophet Sulayman, or King Solomon, manufacturing iron armour under divine inspiration for protection in war: modern body armour, with its light but strong material that is ever-improving due to science and technology, is the latest manifestation of the Solomonic Sunnah.

At the heavily-fortified UK embassy in Kabul, we had iftar with a couple of ex-Taliban, including Mullah Ishaq Nizami, who had once served as a junior communications minister for Mullah Omar.  Nizami spoke of the need for human rights and corruption-free institution-building in Muslim-majority countries, something much stronger in western ones. He was also working with other, higher-profile ex-Taliban, including Mullah Mutawakkil and Mullah Zaeef (author of My Life With The Taliban, http://www.hurstpublishers.com/book/my-life-with-the-taliban/), in negotiations between Karzai’s government and Taliban leaders.  The iftar was hosted by Ambassador Sir William Patey and his staff.

 

Lashkar Gah ISAF Base, Helmand

The next day we flew to Lashkar Gah (“Lash”) via the formidable Kandahar Air Base.  At Lash we met the Commander of Task Force Helmand, Brigadier Felton.  (He had the England v Pakistan cricket test match from Lord’s on TV in the background via satellite: Sky Sports, but switched it off when we entered. This was the test match when Mohammed Amir bowled “those no-balls.”) I led the delegation in that meeting and my first question to him was about civilian casualties: his reply was that the Taliban were now killing more civilians than ISAF were, and that the new strategy under US General Petraeus was to minimise civilian casualties.

The head of the civilian mission here was Arthur Snell, formerly head of UK Prevent and now (2012) our High Commissioner in Barbados.  At the Lash command centre, one poster showed a big gun with the caption: “One size fits all: Taliban, Al-Qaeda, Haqqanis and HIGs” – the latter referring to Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin, i.e. the fighters still loyal to our old friend-or-foe Hekmatyar.  (Hekmatyar finally laid down his arms in 2017, after almost 40 years of fighting.) Another striking recruitment poster read, “Who is fighting in place of your son?”

One striking feature at Lash was the presence of a handful of young, female soldiers. I saw a couple of male soldiers pumping iron whilst staring lustfully at a young female who was jogging in her shorts, and looking quite scared. I felt an air of fear and tension, as these young, British men and women had been transplanted into the midst of a war against a ferocious enemy: they were thousands of miles from home, and millions of miles away from any understanding of the surrounding Afghan Muslim culture. I asked the base chaplain about sexual ethics in the camp. His reply was that the soldiers were advised “not to have sex” but that if a female soldier became pregnant, she could return home immediately.

We also met the local mullahs at Lash’s rebuilt Central Mosque, including the Chief Mullah. A few years ago, a suicide-bomber had destroyed the mosque and killed the previous Chief Mullah: his shrine was next door.  There was a long queue of local men waiting to apply for the Hajj programme.  All of the mullahs were anti-Taliban; most were vehemently anti-Pakistan also, blaming the country for supporting insurgents.  The day before we eventually left Helmand, the Chief Mullah was arrested on charges of corruption relating to the embezzlement of Hajj application fees.


Nad Ali and the death of a young, British soldier

We also spent a few days in Nad Ali, where facilities were much more primitive compared to the relative luxuries of Lash (nicknamed “Lash Vegas” by soldiers).  We flew there and back by helicopter (RAF Merlin and Chinook, respectively): my first rides in a chopper.

We again met local mullahs in the main Nad Ali mosque.  There was almost a riot outside because two ISAF soldiers, both Muslim (one British male, one American female), had entered the mosque: a mob became very angry at the fact that foreign soldiers and a woman had “desecrated” their place of worship: they found it very difficult to comprehend that NATO soldiers could be Muslim.  Some of the mullahs accompanied us back to the base to show the public that NATO were not anti-Islam.

A Scottish army major here told me that many of the young Taliban recruits were clearly very devoted and brave fighters who believed in their Jihad, attacking NATO posts in their flip-flops, armed only with AK-47s: they stood no earthly chance against NATO’s superior firepower.

During our stay in Nad Ali, Lance Corporal Jordan Bancroft (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-11068103 ) was killed.  All private communications by troops were disabled whilst the MoD officially informed the family, rather than them receiving the news via friends.  Back at Lash, almost everyone turned out for a moving memorial service.  Bancroft’s commanding officer read a tribute to him and the chaplain read from Psalm 23 and the Lord’s Prayer.  The service happened to occur at the time of the late afternoon Muslim prayer, so throughout the ceremony, the Islamic call to prayer rang out from the speakers of local mosques.  The total effect was something like:

The Lord is my shepherd

God is Greatest! God is Greatest!

I shall not be in want

He makes me lie down in green pastures

I bear witness that there is no god but God

He leads me beside quiet waters

He restores my soul.

I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of God

He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Come to life-giving prayer!

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil

Come to life-giving success!

For you are with me; your rod and staff they comfort me.

God is Greatest! God is Greatest!

There is no god but God.

God is Greatest! God is Greatest!

Our Father, who art in heaven

Hallowed be thy name

I bear witness that there is no god but God

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done

On earth as it is in heaven

I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of God

Give us this day our daily bread

And forgive us our trespasses

Come to life-giving prayer!

As we forgive those who trespass against us

And lead us not into temptation

Come to life-giving success!

But deliver us from evil

God is Greatest! God is Greatest!

For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory

For ever and ever, amen!

There is no god but God!

 

A friend commented that many of Bancroft’s comrades would have been offended by the Islamic prayers, that they associated with the Taliban, throughout his memorial service, but this was a poignant moment for me: here we had thousands of western soldiers and Jihadist insurgents fighting each other, with no understanding at all of their shared, Abrahamic, religious heritage that is utterly devoted to the Glory of God.  As a Muslim believer in the divine origin of the Torah, Psalms, Gospel and Qur’an, the futility of the war was summed up for me in this scriptural and liturgical encounter: when will the Children of Abraham ever stop killing each other, I wondered?


Visit to a British-run training camp for Afghan police recruits

 We visited a British-run camp training Afghan police to take over security roles.  Helmand has a very high illiteracy rate, and the literacy levels of these police officers after training was that of 5-year-old children.  As may be expected, “unlettered” nations like this rely heavily on oral tradition and word-of-mouth means of communication and education.

 

Visit to the British-built Lashkar Gah Prison, and the would-be suicide-bomber aged 16

We also visited a relatively state-of-the-art British-built prison, where a significant minority of the inmates were Taliban or Pakistani and there was a separate wing for women, who were probably in the safest place for them.  Here we met 18-year-old Umar, a madrasa graduate from Pakistan who had served two years of his sentence ever since being intercepted before he could carry out a suicide-bombing attack.  “I came for Jihad,” he told me, “… The people who sent me are not good.  I won’t return to them when I’m released.”  I also asked him whether or not he got to exchange letters with his parents in Pakistan.  (Twenty years earlier, I had met a Pakistani fighter at the front line of the Jihad whose family home happened to be near my parents’ one in Karachi.  He had given me a letter and message to convey to his family, since he hadn’t seen them for years: my mother had accompanied me when I did so, feeling the pain of another woman whose son was at war in a far-off land.)  But Umar’s reply was a sign of the times: “I speak to them via mobile phone, two or three times a week.”

Another tragic story at the prison was that of the child imprisoned, mainly for his own safety, after he shot dead his own father in a fit of rage after the latter had shot dead the family’s pet goat in a fit of anger.  The authorities said that there was no drug problem in the prison, but we noticed a discarded hypodermic needle lying in the yard.  They also told us that they had procured TVs for the prisoners, and that all of the Taliban had gratefully accepted these, despite Mullah Omar’s fatwa banning television.

 

Other visits in Lashkar Gah

We met officials dealing with the problem of poppy-farming and opium-production: most of the world’s heroin supply originates in Helmand.  We were shown official UN figures to this effect, which also recorded the remarkable anomaly of near-zero poppy production in summer 2001 after Mullah Omar’s decree prohibiting it: 9/11 followed soon afterwards and narcotics production resumed.  Instability and war are clearly in the interests of the drug-traffickers, and the drugs trade is of course a massive source of income for warlords and insurgents.

We met a senior local judge whose work was supported by British officials: a traditional version of Hanafi Sharia law was applied, but the penal code consisted of fines, imprisonment or the death penalty by hanging: there were no floggings, amputations or stonings to death.  The judge maintained that Sharia embodied justice in all matters.

We had iftar at the official residence of the Governor of Helmand, a humble and educated man who served us personally.  Governor Mangal has come to the UK several times on FCO-sponsored trips.  He was himself not from Helmand but from one of the other 33 provinces: bringing outsiders to govern provinces is a common practice in Afghanistan due to the tribal rivalries everywhere.  I discussed with him the importance of education for the future of Afghanistan, having noticed the fledgling Helmand University in Lash, occupying two floors of a multi-storey building and reminding me of universities similarly-housed in simple surroundings in Pakistan.

We also had suhur (the pre-dawn meal in preparation for fasting) with the local head of the Afghan National Army, after which I remember seeing the familiar and reassuring sight of the Pleiades, Taurus, Orion and Sirius rising in the eastern sky.  In the middle of war-torn Helmand, it was nice to be reminded that we were actually still on the same planet as our comfortable homes in the UK.

Our scheduled 3-day stay in Helmand was extended to a week due to a large sandstorm that grounded all flights – a common occurrence, during which insurgent attacks are more dangerous since air cover is not available.  Back in the UK, families and civil servants were desperately worried about an official delegation being stranded in a war-zone, but we took the opportunity to benefit as much as possible from the experience.  I even did a half-hour interview by phone for Edinburgh’s Radio Ramadan, discussing lunar visibility, Islamic dates and prayer-times etc.

  

Reflection: three decades of brutal war in Afghanistan

During this trip, talking to many experienced people helped me build up a picture of the tragic story of Afghanistan over the past century, a story of which I had been entirely oblivious when joining the Jihad as a well-intentioned but naïve undergraduate in 1990. Here is a rough timeline:

1919-1973: A monarchy rules Afghanistan.  (In the mid-90s, I saw the copy of the Qur’an used in the early 20th-century initiation ceremony of the King of Afghanistan into Freemasonry on public display at the United Grand Lodge near Holborn – and no, I am not a freemason!)  By the end of this phase of history, the royals are living in obscene luxury whilst most of the people are in abject poverty.  Hence, it is no surprise when …

1973: A coup overthrows King Zahir Shah.  Many of the various political factions and warlords are in touch with the neighbouring Communist superpower USSR, vying for influence and funding.

1979: The USSR invades to support the Marxist-Communist coup of 1978.  Warlords and tribal leaders announce a Jihad against the “atheist, communist enemy.”  The Jihad is backed heavily by the Pakistani, Saudi and US governments.  Thousands of Jihad fighters (mujahideen) flock to Afghanistan from all over the Muslim-majority world.  The Soviets commit many massacres: between 600,000 and 2 million Afghans, mainly civilians, die in the war.

1989: The Soviets withdraw, defeated by a combination of mujahideen operations and US-supplied Stinger anti-aircraft missiles that erase Soviet mastery of Afghan airspace; the Jihad continues against Afghan communist forces.

1992: Kabul falls to the mujahideen.

1992-6: A vicious civil war ensues, as the various Afghan mujahideen warlords fight for power: Hekmatyar (backed by Pakistan’s Jamat-e-Islami), Massoud, Mujaddedi, Rabbani, Sayyaf, Dostum, etc.  The Saudis attempt to broker peace, with limited success.  The warlords commit many massacres, notably including the regular, heavy shelling of Kabul by Hekmatyar’s forces, said to be far worse than any Soviet bombardment.

1996-2001: The Taliban emerge and rapidly take over most of the country, disarming the warlords.  Civil war continues as the Northern Alliance fights the Taliban.  Both sides commit atrocities.  Massacres of Afghan Shias almost lead to war between the Taliban and Iran. (Religious sectarianism is a serious problem in Afghanistan, as in many countries: in the Lash prayer-room, I found a polemical Shia text deeply offensive to Sunnis; no doubt, reverse cases are in abundance too.)

2001-12: The US-led invasion force removes the Taliban from power after 9/11 and  continues fighting Al-Qaeda.  NATO and the Taliban (the latter allied with Al-Qaeda, the Haqqani Network and remnants of Hekmatyar’s fighters) commit many atrocities in over a decade of fighting.

 

Conclusion: hope from Helmand?

Back in the UK, I was asked by a video-wall company to record a short message of support for British troops in Afghanistan who were obviously missing their families back home.  I obliged, wording it carefully with the hope that we could help end the war, leave the Afghans with the peace and freedom to rebuild their devastated country, and bring our troops home as soon as possible.  With UK combat troops set to withdraw by 2014, that hope is closer to fruition.  And with it being an open secret that NATO is negotiating with the Taliban and GIROA (Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan), the talks being hosted in Qatar, the seeds of peace and mediation efforts that we saw in 2010 seem to have also borne some fruit.

But what next for the Afghans?  I had asked many people this question whilst in the country, and of course everyone was very uncertain.  One thing they generally agreed upon was that the country was caught between brutal, religious extremists and corrupt, secular politicians, with most people simply wishing to get on with their lives in peace: sadly, a familiar story in Muslim-majority nations.

Wherever we had driven in Helmand, children had mostly waved at our prominent, armoured jeeps but a few boys would always hurl pebbles at the convoys.  During one of our excursions in Lash, I had watched a very old woman slowly cross a busy road. (She reminded me of my Indian-Pakistani grandmothers and great-grandmothers).  It struck me that this woman had probably been in Helmand all her life, and would have lived through most of the history described above, including three decades of near-constant war.  What’s more, there were probably millions of men and women like her in Afghanistan: all touched by war and death, yet determined to achieve the best for themselves and their families.  The old woman’s enduring, wrinkled face was a tribute to humanity’s courage, faith and perseverance in the midst of constant tragedy: a message of hope from Helmand.

© Usama Hasan

London, UK

30th September 2012 (minor edits & publication: 10th November 2017)

Advertisements

UK Ramadan fasting times for 2017

May 22, 2017

Bismillah. As I’ve written about before, there are different views on excessive fasting hours in the summer at high latitudes such as the UK. I am not going to repeat those, but try to provide the scientific, astronomical data, information and knowledge to help support others to come to their own conclusions.

In this post, I give the dawn, sunset & possible fasting times for 2017, when mid-summer occurs towards the end of Ramadan: the average fasting times are slightly shorter than last year (2016), when they were maximum in the 33-year lunar/solar cycle, but not by much.

*I urge mosque timekeepers (muwaqqits) or others who develop fasting timetables to be transparent about the method they are using, and not vague references like “fiqh according to Madhhab X” because there are many views in every Madhhab. E.g. using an 18-degree or even 15-degree rule gives no timings for most of the UK. Fasting timetables in the UK summer should clearly state what method is used to arrive at the beginning time of fasting. Many timetables have excessive gaps between ‘dawn’ and sunrise of 2-3 hours with no sensible justification, since this is merely one possibility amongst many others and is indeed the most difficult for people. Indeed, with the summer midnight being at 1am BST, some of these timetables are forcing people to fast from soon after midnight. With the sunset-sunrise night length being 6-8 hours across the UK, the most reasonable view within this paradigm in my view is that of the last 1/6th, 1/7th or 1/8th of the night, giving a fasting time beginning an hour before dawn. However, other approaches are even more preferable. Over to others for discussion and to arrive at their own conclusions.*

Examples of dawn/sunset timings for the UK, 2017 (four UK capital cities)

This data is taken from HMNAO’s Websurf 2.0 website, and was reproduced with permission by the ASCL in their Ramadan 2017 guidelines. I have used the four UK capital cities, with three dates for each, roughly corresponding to the beginning, middle & end of Ramadan.

Date City Dawn (AST) Dawn (15D) Dawn (NAUT) Sunrise Sunset Fasting length (AST) Fasting length (15D) Fasting length (NAUT)
27 May London *** 0220 0305 0454 2103 *** 18:43 17:58
10 June   *** 0139 0245 0444 2117 *** 19:38 18:32
25 June   *** 0122 0243 0444 2122 *** 20:00 18:39
27 May Ed’burgh *** *** 0201 0441 2140 *** *** 19:39
10 June   *** *** *** 0428 2157 *** *** ***
25 June   *** *** *** 0428 2203 *** *** ***
27 May Cardiff *** 0232 0318 0506 2115 *** 18:43 17:57
10 June   *** 0152 0257 0456 2129 *** 19:36 18:32
25 June   *** 0136 0255 0457 2134 *** 19:58 18:39
27 May Belfast *** *** 0245 0500 2143 *** *** 18:58
10 June   *** *** 0159 0448 2158 *** *** 19:59
25 June   *** *** 0134 0448 2204 *** *** 20:30


AST
refers to astronomical twilight, when begins or ends when the sun is 18 degrees below the horizonKey:

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

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

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

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

 

NOTES:

  1. As confirmed by HMNAO, there is always a possible error of 1-2 minutes in sunrise and sunset timings: although we can calculate exactly the position of the sun relative to our horizons, refraction of the sun’s rays can introduce an error: the sun may be below the horizon but we see it just above, due to refraction.  (This does not always happen, of course: hence the error will be zero, one or two minutes.) This means that technically, mosque prayer timetables may wish to add 2 minutes to sunset timings and subtract 2 minutes from sunrise timings, just to be safe about the timings of the sunset and dawn prayers, and for breaking the fast.  However, this might also be hair-splitting: I recommend making these adjustments, but would not worry if they are not made.
  2. If we use astronomical twilight (Sun’s depression = 18 degrees) as the start of dawn, this does not occur at all during Ramadan 2017 in any of the four capital cities. Therefore, the fasting start time and fasting length would be undefined.
  3. If we use (Sun’s depression = 15 degrees) as the start of dawn, this does not occur at all during Ramadan 2017 in Edinburgh or Belfast. Therefore, the fasting start time and fasting length would be undefined in those cities. However, it does occur in London and Cardiff, giving fasting lengths of 19.5-20 hours during the month.
  4. If we use nautical twilight (Sun’s depression = 12 degrees) as the start of dawn, this results in fasting hours during Ramadan 2017 in London and Cardiff of 18-19 hours, and in Belfast of 19-20.5 hours. We only get defined fasting hours at the beginning of Ramadan for Edinburgh, of 19.5-20 hours.
  5. Hence, it should be obvious that some ijtihad is required, eg a fraction of the night or a lower angle of the Sun below the horizon to designate the “beginning” of dawn. Another option is sunrise-sunset fasting rather than dawn-sunset, as done by some of the Sahaba (Tafsir Ibn Kathir & Ibn Hazm’s Al-Muhalla), or other, non-literalist options that I have described elsewhere.

NB: Our local latitude determines the lowest angle the Sun will dip below the horizon at mid-summer (~22 June). This angle can easily be calculated by subtracting 66.5 degrees (the latitude of the Arctic & Antarctic Circles) from the local latitude.

E.g.:

Within the Arctic Circle (66.5 deg or higher latitude), lowest Sun angle = zero or higher: the sun doesn’t set at all in the “land of the midnight sun.”

Edinburgh (56.0 deg lat): lowest Sun angle at midsummer = 56.0 – 66.5 = 10.5 deg below the horizon

Belfast (54.6 deg lat): lowest Sun angle at midsummer = 54.6 – 66.5 = 11.9 deg below the horizon

London & Cardiff (both 51.5 deg lat): lowest Sun angle at midsummer = 51.5 – 66.5 = 15 deg below the horizon

*NB: even using these angles of 10.5 deg, ~12 deg, 15 deg & 15 deg for Edinburgh, Belfast, London & Cardiff respectively will give very long fasting hours, as the table of timings above demonstrates.

Btw for Paris (48.9 deg lat): lowest Sun angle at midsummer = 48.9 – 66.5 = 17.6 deg below the horizon, so using the 18-degree rule gives no timings for Paris or anywhere north of it either at midsummer.

Have a blessed Ramadan 1438 / 2017!

Usama Hasan, Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, UK

UK Ramadan fasting times for last year (2016)

May 22, 2017

Bismillah. As I’ve written about before, there are different views on excessive fasting hours in the summer at high latitudes such as the UK. I am not going to repeat those, but try to provide the scientific, astronomical data, information and knowledge to help support others to come to their own conclusions.

In the first of these posts, I am including the dawn, sunset & possible fasting times from last year (2016) because then, mid-Ramadan coincided with mid-summer, hence giving the longest average fasting lengths in the 33-year cycle as the lunar years move through solar years.

Examples of dawn/sunset timings for the UK, 2016
(four UK capital cities)

This data is taken from HMNAO’s Websurf 2.0 website, and was reproduced with permission by the ASCL in their Ramadan 2016 guidelines. I have used the four UK capital cities, with three dates for each, roughly corresponding to: beginning, middle & end of Ramadan.

Date City Dawn (AST) Dawn (15D) Dawn (NAUT) Sunrise Sunset Fasting length (AST) Fasting length (15D) Fasting length (NAUT)
07 June London *** 0147 0248 0445 2114 *** 19:27 18:26
22 June (midsummer)   *** 0117 0241 0443 2122 *** 20:05 18:41
06 July   *** 0156 0256 0452 2118 *** 19:22 18:22
07 June Ed’burgh *** *** *** 0429 2154 *** *** ***
22 June (midsummer)   *** *** *** 0427 2203 *** *** ***
06 July   *** *** *** 0437 2158 *** *** ***
07 June Cardiff *** 0159 0300 0457 2126 *** 19:27 18:26
22 June (midsummer)   *** 0131 0254 0456 2134 *** 20:03 18:40
06 July   *** 0209 0308 0504 2130 *** 19:21 18:22
07 June Belfast *** *** 0209 0450 2156 *** *** 19:47
22 June (midsummer)   *** *** *** 0447 2204 *** *** ***
06 July   *** *** 0219 0457 2200 *** *** 19:41

Key:

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

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

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

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

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

 

NOTES:

  1. As confirmed by HMNAO, there is always a possible error of 1-2 minutes in sunrise and sunset timings: although we can calculate exactly the position of the sun relative to our horizons, refraction of the sun’s rays can introduce an error: the sun may be below the horizon but we see it just above, due to refraction.  (This does not always happen, of course: hence the error will be zero, one or two minutes.) This means that technically, mosque prayer timetables may wish to add 2 minutes to sunset timings and subtract 2 minutes from sunrise timings, just to be safe about the timings of the sunset and dawn prayers, and for breaking the fast.  However, this might also be hair-splitting: I recommend making these adjustments, but would not worry if they are not made.
  2. If we use astronomical twilight (Sun’s depression = 18 degrees) as the start of dawn, this did not occur at all during Ramadan 2016 in any of the four capital cities. Therefore, the fasting start time and fasting length were undefined.
  3. If we use (Sun’s depression = 15 degrees) as the start of dawn, this did not occur at all during Ramadan 2017 in Edinburgh or Belfast. Therefore, the fasting start time and fasting length were undefined in those cities. However, it did occur in London and Cardiff, giving fasting lengths of 19.5-20 hours during the month.
  4. If we use nautical twilight (Sun’s depression = 12 degrees) as the start of dawn, this resulted in fasting hours during Ramadan 2016 in London and Cardiff of ~18.5 hours, and in Belfast of just under 20 hours at the beginning and end of Ramadan, but not in mid-Ramadan (mid-summer). We had no defined fasting hours throughout Ramadan 2016 for Edinburgh.
  5. Hence, it should be obvious that some ijtihad is required, eg a fraction of the night or a lower angle of the Sun below the horizon to designate the “beginning” of dawn.

NB: Our local latitude determines the lowest angle the Sun will dip below the horizon at mid-summer (~22 June). This angle can easily be calculated by subtracting 66.5 degrees (the latitude of the Arctic & Antarctic Circles) from the local latitude.

E.g.:

Within the Arctic Circle (66.5 deg or higher latitude), lowest Sun angle = zero or higher: the sun doesn’t set at all in the “land of the midnight sun.”

Edinburgh (56.0 deg lat): lowest Sun angle at midsummer = 56.0 – 66.5 = 10.5 deg below the horizon

Belfast (54.6 deg lat): lowest Sun angle at midsummer = 54.6 – 66.5 = 11.9 deg below the horizon

London & Cardiff (both 51.5 deg lat): lowest Sun angle at midsummer = 51.5 – 66.5 = 15 deg below the horizon

*NB: even using these angles of 10.5 deg, ~12 deg, 15 deg & 15 deg for Edinburgh, Belfast, London & Cardiff respectively will give very long fasting hours, as the table of timings above demonstrates.

Btw for Paris (48.9 deg lat): lowest Sun angle at midsummer = 48.9 – 66.5 = 17.6 deg below the horizon, so using the 18-degree rule gave no timings for Paris or anywhere north of it either, at midsummer.

Usama Hasan, Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, UK

UK Ramadan dates, 2017-2025

May 22, 2017

Bismillah.

Ramadan dates 2017-2025 (approx.) for the UK

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

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

NB: The following dates may vary by 1 or 2 days because even with a visible crescent moon, there are intra-Muslim disagreements over how far this applies geographically.

YEAR Beginning of Ramadan Eid al-Fitr
2017 27 May 26 June
2018 17 May 16 June
2019 07 May 05 June
2020 25 April 25 May
2021 14 April 14 May
2022 03 April 02 May
2023 23 March (~ Spring equinox) 22 April
2024 12 March 10 April
2025 02 March 31 March

 

FREEDOM – Islamic reflections on Liberty

December 25, 2016

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

FREEDOM

Reflections by Imam Usama Hasan, Head of Islamic Studies at Quilliam Foundation, in preparation for the Inspire Dialogue Foundation conference in Cambridge, Saturday 17th September 2016, hosted by Lord Rowan Williams, Emeritus Archbishop of Canterbury

There are many universal human rights: arguably, freedom is one of the basic ones, intertwined with life itself. As Tipu Sultan, the famous Indian resistance leader against the British, exclaimed: “better to live one day, free as a lion, than to live as a slave for a thousand years.” Caliph Omar once berated one of his commanders, who had followed the common pre-Islamic medieval wartime practice of enslaving the women and children of a defeated army, asking: “how could you enslave people whom God had created free?!” echoing Moses’ defiant response to Pharaoh in the Qur’an (26:22), which asks: “is this the favour, of which you are reminding me, that you have enslaved the Children of Israel?”

Theologically, true faith is based on free will and free choice: any practice that is not free, including faith and religious observance, cannot be genuine. Hence the famous Qur’anic declaration (2:256), “There is no compulsion in religion!”

The centrality of freedom to faith raises important issues: drugs, alcohol, mental illness, carnal lusts and social pressures all mean that our choices and decisions in life are not totally free. How, then, are these actions judged by fellow humans and by God? In particular, one of the goals of religious practice has always been to remove internal shackles that inhibit our expression of humanity, enabling greater self-awareness and realisation of our potential. Thus, a tradition of the Prophet Muhammad says that “the world is a prison for the believer,” i.e. the moral person, and great sages survived imprisonment because they were, internally, free spirits. Ideas of freedom and liberty have, of course, strongly shaped the modern world since the 18th century with the abolition of slavery, French and American republican ideals and anti-colonial independence movements.

It is my firm belief that the great philosophers, sages and prophets: Moses, Mary, Christ and Muhammad, Buddha and Confucius, and men and women of God through the ages, supported the liberation of men and women of all colours, races and religions, children and slaves, individuals and populations, from the yokes of tyranny and oppression. Our modern heroes in this regard range from Wilberforce to Jefferson to Gandhi, Jinnah, Martin Luther King and Mandela.

But today, we still have our modern forms of slavery: bonded and child labour; entire multiple-generation families working in sweatshop factories; highly-organised international rings dealing in human trafficking, including that of children, for financial and sexual exploitation. Therefore, we need to address the above problems by rekindling the same spirit that historically liberated children from labour into education, slaves from enslavement into liberty, peoples from colonisation into independence, and people of colour from segregation and apartheid into civic equality.

Tony Blair, whilst UK Prime Minister, once said in an historic speech on Capitol Hill that “to be American is to be free.” In reality, as spiritual-animal beings made in the image of the Divine, to be human is to be free. Now, let’s continue with working towards inner and outer freedom, and sharing it with our fellow travellers, with the goal of reaching our full and common humanity.

A FATWA ON ZAKAT AL-FITR AND FOOD BANKS IN THE UK

July 16, 2015

WITH THE NAME OF GOD, MOST GRACIOUS, MOST MERCIFUL

A FATWA ON ZAKAT AL-FITR (“FAST-BREAKING ALMS-GIVING” AT THE END OF RAMADAN) & FOOD BANKS IN THE UK

Measuring foodstuffs for zakat al-fitr

(Please click here for a PDF of this fatwa: Zakat al-Fitr and food banks)

All Praise be to God, Lord of the Worlds.  Peace and Blessings of God be upon His Noble Messengers.

  1. The “fast-breaking alms-giving” (zakat al-fitr or sadaqat al-fitr) is a confirmed Islamic tradition at the end of Ramadan, of donating food (in the form of staple foodstuffs) to poor people before Eid prayer in the morning of the day of Eid. The majority of jurists hold that zakat al-fitr is compulsory (fard), whilst a minority hold that it is a highly-recommended tradition (sunna); a small minority even argued that it was abrogated by the full obligation of zakat.
  2. Any charitable donation may be sent abroad. However, it is a basic Islamic principle, in common with other religions, that “Charity begins at home,” or as the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, expressed it repeatedly, “Begin with your dependants.” (ibda’ bi man ta’ul, a sound hadith with several narrations)  Thus, it is recommended for Muslims in Britain to distribute their zakat al-fitr offerings locally.  Furthermore, God and His Prophets repeatedly recommend the rights of neighbours: regarding food, the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, emphatically taught, “By God, they are not trustworthy believers: those who spend the night with stomachs full whilst their neighbours go hungry!”
  3. Zakat al-fitr is usually given as food items; the Hanafi jurists allowed the giving of cash, but this was with the intention that the poor recipients may use the cash to buy food or other essential items. Therefore, it remains an option to donate zakat al-fitr as either food items or cash.
  4. The amount of zakat al-fitr payable is, per wealthy Muslim head (adult or child), traditionally equal to one saa’ (approximately 3 litres in volume[1]) of the staple food item, or possibly half of one saa’ (approximately 1.5 litres) for more expensive foodstuffs.[2] One saa’ equates to the following approximate weight of common UK staple foods: rice 2.5kg, flour 2kg, pasta 1kg, porridge (porage) oats 1kg; by comparison, one saa’ of dates (not a UK staple food) weighs approximately 2kg.[3]
  5. The retail prices of the above items imply that UK zakat al-fitr is approximately £3-£5 per person. Some jurists recommend, to be safe, giving 3kg of staple food, which would be more than one saa’ in the vast majority of cases of staple food.
  6. Alternatively, the zakat al-fitr amount was traditionally understood to be the equivalent of food for one or two meals, each meal consisting of one or two mudds (one saa’ = four mudds). Since an average, filling meal costs roughly £2.50-5.00 in the UK currently, this approach gives us a similar answer, i.e. zakat al-fitr at £2.50-5.00 or £5-10.
  7. Traditionally, zakat al-fitr was mostly given to poor Muslims: most jurists held that poor people who were not Muslim were not eligible to receive zakat al-fitr, since both poverty and Islam were conditions for recipients. But Imam Abu Hanifa and others held that poor dhimmis (non-Muslim People of Scripture, protected by Muslim authorities) were eligible to receive it, since poverty was the only condition for recipients.
  8. Since the category of dhimmis was abolished by the Ottoman caliph in 1856 in favour of equal citizenship (muwatana) irrespective of faith or religion, and since Muslims comprise only 4-5% of the population of Britain where all citizens are equal, zakat al-fitr in the UK may simply go to poor people, irrespective of their religion, faith or belief (or lack thereof).
  9. With up to a million annual estimated uses of food banks by people in the UK to complement their situation of poverty, an obvious way for Muslims to distribute their zakat al-fitr locally is via their local food banks. Since the recipients do not have to be Muslim, based on the view of Imam Abu Hanifa, this should pose no problem religiously.  Food banks based in areas of the UK with Muslim-majority populations, or those run by mosques, are likely to have recipients who are mainly Muslim.
  10. Suggestions for the staple foodstuffs of people in the UK include, but are not limited to: bread, potatoes, rice, pasta, cereals, flour, couscous, etc. (Traditionally, zakat al-fitr has been given in solid staple foodstuffs, whereas for fidya and kaffara, bread was prominently given, accompanied by oil, fat, vinegar, meat, etc. – cf. Tafsir Ibn Kathir on Qur’an 5:89 & 5:95. Long-life milk and juice is in demand at UK foodbanks, and it is arguable that these liquids are also UK staple foods.)
  11. It is thus recommended for wealthy Muslims in the UK who wish to distribute their zakat al-fitr to do so either directly to needy families, else via their local food bank, else via cash to a local, national or international charity.
  12. May God accept and bless our worship during Ramadan, Eid and all year round, and guide us towards helping to eliminate poverty and unnecessary hunger.

(Sheikh Dr) Usama Hasan: London (UK), 29th Ramadan 1436 / 16th July 2015

APPENDIX: SOME BACKGROUND RESEARCH

 

  1. EXTRACTS FROM THE BOOK OF ZAKAT AL-FITR (“FAST-BREAKING ALMSGIVING”) by IBN RUSHD / AVERROES[4]

Its ruling: The majority of jurists hold that zakat al-fitr is compulsory (fard).

The ‘Iraqi jurists and some of the later Maliki ones hold that it is a recommended tradition (sunna).

Some said that it was abrogated by the obligation of zakat, based on the hadith of Qays bin Sa’d bin ‘Ubadah, who said, “The Messenger of God, may God bless him and grant him peace, used to order us to give it [zakat al-fitr] before the obligation of zakat was revealed.  When the verse of zakat was revealed, we were neither commanded to, nor forbidden from, giving it [zakat al-fitr], but we continue doing so.”[5]

 

When does zakat al-fitr become obligatory?

Abu Hanifa and Malik via Ibn al-Qasim: At dawn on the day of Eid al-Fitr.

Shafi’i and Malik via Ashhab: At sunset on the last day of Ramadan.

Thus, for a newborn baby between these two times, there is disagreement as to whether or not zakat al-fitr is due on his/her behalf.

 

Recipients

Poor Muslims may receive it, by consensus (ijma’).

As for poor dhimmis [protected non-Muslims], most of the jurists say that they may not receive it. Imam Abu Hanifa said that they may receive it. Some said that only monks amongst dhimmis may receive it.

 

 

  1. EXTRACT FROM FATH AL-BARI, IBN HAJAR AL-‘ASQALANI’S COMMENTARY ON SAHIH AL-BUKHARI, CHAPTERS ON SADAQAH AL-FITR, HADITHS NOS. 1503-1512 (translations of these hadiths widely available)

http://hadith.al-islam.com/Page.aspx?pageid=192&TOCID=965&BookID=33&PID=2783

Ja’far al-Firyabi narrated in his Kitab Sadaqat al-Fitr (Book of Fast-Breaking Almsgiving) that when Ibn ‘Abbas was the governor of Basra, he ordered the giving of zakat al-fitr: a saa’ of dates etc. or half a saa’ of wheat. When ‘Ali came and saw the cheap prices, he commanded that a saa’ measure be used for all foodstuffs, indicating that he considered the value of the food, whilst Abu Sa’id considered the volume of the food.

ويدل على أنهم لحظوا ذلك ما روى جعفر الفريابي في ” كتاب صدقة الفطر ” أنابن عباس لما كان أمير البصرة أمرهم بإخراج زكاة الفطر وبين لهم أنها صاع من تمر ، إلى أن قال : أو نصف صاع من بر . قال : فلما جاء علي ورأى رخص أسعارهم قال : اجعلوها صاعا من كل ، فدل على أنه كان ينظر إلى القيمة في ذلك ، ونظرأبو سعيد إلى الكيل كما سيأتي .

 

  1. ABOUT UK FOOD BANKS

In the UK, the Trussell Trust (http://www.trusselltrust.org/) runs a network of foodbanks, although there are many other independent foodbanks and collection points run by churches, mosques, synagogues, temples, community centres, etc.  Trussell can help community and faith organisations to begin a foodbank, and also have a partnership with Tesco, such that every Tesco store is potentially a foodbank collection point.  Many foodbanks distribute food parcels to the needy on one day each week.

Trussell’s recommended items for foodbanks, based on http://www.trusselltrust.org/resources/documents/foodbank/website-shopping-list.pdf and variations in printed leaflets from Trussell:

  • Milk (long-life/UHT or powdered)
  • Sugar
  • Fruit Juice (long-life or carton)
  • Soup / Hot Chocolate
  • Pasta Sauces
  • Sponge Pudding (tinned)
  • Cereals
  • Rice pudding / Custard
  • Tea Bags / Instant Coffee
  • Instant Mashed Potato
  • Rice / Pasta
  • Tinned Meat / Fish
  • Tinned Fruit, incl. tomatoes
  • Jam
  • Biscuits or Snack Bars
  1. APPROXIMATE WEIGHT (MASS) OF ONE SAA’ (THREE LITRES) OF VARIOUS FOODSTUFFS, THE RECOMMENDED AMOUNT OF ZAKAT AL-FITR TO BE GIVEN PER PERSON

This is based on simple measuring out and weighing using a measuring container and scales found in an average kitchen, by the author on the date of the fatwa. (This is a fun, instructive and educational activity for adults and children towards a religious, humanitarian objective.)

  • Rice 2.4kg
  • Flour (medium chapatti) 1.8kg
  • Dates (sticky Saudi ones) 2.1kg
  • Pasta (white fusilli) 1.0kg
  • Porridge / porage oats (Scott’s) 1.1kg
  • Corn Flakes (Kellogg’s) 480g
  • Crunchy Nut Corn Flakes (Kellogg’s) 600g
  • Cheerios (Nestle) 360g

 

  1. EXAMPLE OF DIY ZAKAT AL-FITR IN ACTION IN THE UK

On this date, the author and his wife are blessed with four children, so the following foodstuffs, all in 500g packets, were bought from a local supermarket and delivered to a local foodbank collection point, by the grace of God:

Rice 5kg

Pasta 3kg

Porridge oats 2.5kg

Total cost: £20, working out at just under £3.50 per head for a family of six

May Allah (God) accept and bless our Ramadan and Eid!

FOOTNOTES / REFERENCES

[1] Cf. http://www.bakkah.net/en/zakat-fitr-measurements-saa-three-litres-mudd.htm

[2] Cf. Sahih al-Bukhari, Book of Zakat, Chapters on Sadaqat al-Fitr, Hadiths nos. 1503-1512

[3] Note that 3 litres of water weigh exactly 3kg, so this implies that all these foods are less dense (“lighter”) than water. In fact, they are denser than water but the air trapped between the food particles means that 3 litres of food generally weighs less than 3 litres of water (3kg).

[4] Extracted from: Ibn Rushd al-Qurtubi al-Andalusi [Averroes], Bidayat al-Mujtahid [The Distinguished Jurist’s Primer], Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, Beirut, 1418/1997, vol. 1, pp. 413-420; a full English translation of this work is available, by Prof. Imran Ahsan Khan Nyazee

[5] Nasa’i, Ibn Majah, Hakim & Bayhaqi

Some thoughts on the Tunisia massacre, including why it is absurd to link an attack against a Muslim-majority state to Islam

July 1, 2015

Bismillah.

I would like to express my thoughts and prayers for the victims of the Sousse massacre, about 30 of whom are British citizens.

This was a monstrous attack, accompanied by a disgusting statement of justification (see previous blog post). The Imperial Hotel was hardly a “den of prostitution, vice and unbelief” – it was a legitimate holiday destination authorised by the state of “Muslim Tunisia” (to use ISIL’s own phrase). Rezgui is not a gallant knight, but a coward who attacked unarmed men and women holidaying with their families and friends, often with little children, some of whom are now traumatised and emotionally scarred.  Many of the victims were old enough to be the killer’s parents or grandparents, but he still showed them no mercy during his attention-seeking, narcissistic rampage.  “Look at me!  I am a deluded, wannabe holy warrior!”

The previous week, another deluded young man massacred nine African-Americans in a church in Charleston.  Some of the victims’ families have already forgiven the killer.  I hope that at least some of the British victims’ families will find it in their hearts to forgive the Tunisia killer, although that is of course easier to say than do, and it will be a painful internal journey for all the survivors and relatives – life is a constant journey, outwardly and inwardly, of course.

We are just days away from the 10th anniversary of the Al-Qaeda-inspired terrorist attacks in London on 7 July 1995. The ringleader of that attack claimed it was on behalf of “his people,” i.e. the people of Iraq, even though he had never set foot in that country. British Muslims should all stand in solidarity with the victims of 7/7 and of the Sousse massacre, and make it clear in no uncertain terms to the members, supporters, sympathisers and apologists of Al-Qaeda and ISIL everywhere, that include hundreds of deluded Brits, that the British people are “our people,” as are the vast majority of decent, civilised people everywhere. And all British people should come together against the horror and barbarism being perpetrated by ISIL and similar groups worldwide.

The terrorist mass-murderer, Seifeddine Rezgui, was clearly a loser who became a monster. The attacker’s title al-Qayrawani is carefully chosen: it claims that he is from Qayrawan or a graduate of it, an ancient Islamic city in Tunisia, and site of one of the oldest mosques and universities in the world. Hence the symbolism: a holy warrior, steeped in prayer and learning, slaughtering the Crusaders to protect them from “Muslim Tunisia.” This illustrates the utterly delusional, fantasy world of ISIL, although unfortunately, given the right conditions, there are millions of people seduced by this stupid and monstrous, ahistorical narrative. In reality, “Muslim Tunisia, a 99% Muslim-majority country, has an overwhelmingly secular constitution, approved by a coalition of post-Islamists and Muslim secularists, and this “Muslim Tunisia” is an enemy of ISIL, committed to protecting itself and its economy from being ravaged by ISIL madmen. Rezgui was clearly, utterly ignorant of the centuries-old ethical tradition of Islam, including in regard to warfare, never mind somehow being al-Qayrawani, or a graduate of Qayrawan, one of the oldest universities and centres of learning in the entire world.

Muslim Tunisian hotel workers saved the lives of their holiday-maker guests at the Imperial hotel. Muslim Tunisian doctors and nurses, including veiled and unveiled women, saved lives and treated the injured in the hospitals of Sousse. Crowds of Muslim Tunisians chased the ISIL fanatic, putting themselves in great danger, and some of them threw rubble at him from rooftops. It was Muslim Tunisian security forces and snipers who finally shot him dead, cutting short his rampage and saving many more lives. Since the massacre, crowds of Muslim Tunisians have rallied in protest against the massacre, carrying Tunisian and British flags, making heart signs in solidarity with the victims, and holding candlelit vigils in their memory.

This reality destroys the fiction entertained by both Muslim extremists and anti-Muslim bigots, that somehow Rezgui represents Islam or Muslims in any meaningful sense. It also illustrates the absurdity of linking this terrorism, overwhelmingly rejected by a 99% Muslim nation on the basis of their faith, to that faith itself.  Similar logic applied when terrorists murdered Muslim schoolteachers and schoolchildren last year in Peshawar, Pakistan, a 95% Muslim-majority country.  Just as no serious Brit associated IRA terrorism with Christianity, knowing the sublime ideals of that religion, no serious Muslim has any doubt about the disgusting, filthy nature of takfiri terrorism.  It is only to people outside the faith, often swayed by ignorance, fear and/or prejudice, that such questions are unclear. Westerners associating ISIL with Islam is equivalent to Easterners associating Breivik, with his symbols of the cross and crusade, with Christianity.  Neither position makes any meaningful sense.

Tunisia has produced the most ISIL foreign fighters ‎because of the relative success of the democratic process there: takfiris go abroad to live out their fantasies. In neighbouring Libya, the civil war provides ample opportunities for takfiri violence.

Thus, Muslim Tunisia has embraced democracy and secularism as antidotes to both dictatorship and islamism. This ISIL attack is a pathetic, cowardly attempt by childish, attention-seeking islamists to stop the consensus of the good people of Tunisia in favour of liberty, democracy and religiously-neutral secularism: the separation of mosque and state, a principle praised by one of the leading Sunni Muslim theologians of our time, Sheikh Abdullah bin Bayyah, in his Sina’at al-Fatwa as far back as 1428 / 2007.  A full translation of his arguments may be found in my essay, From Dhimmitude to Democracy, available elsewhere.

I end with my translation of a few selected phrases from the new Tunisian constitution (2014) that illustrates this “Islamic civil secular democracy”: for study, discussion and analysis. Note that this constitution has been endorsed by (the party of) Sheikh Rachid al-Ghannouchi [Rashid al-Ghannoushi], who has a Muslim Brotherhood background, but is effectively post-islamist:

Tunisia is a free, independent, sovereign state …

Islam is its religion. Arabic is its language. Democracy is its system …

It is a civil state, based on citizenship, the will of the people & the primacy of the law …

The people are sovereign, and are the source of authority, which they practise via elected representatives …

State slogans are: freedom, dignity, integrity, order. [hurriya, karama, ‘adala, nizam – all of which are maqasid or universal objectives of the ethical and legal tradition of Islam known as Sharia]

And because ISIL and their apologists do not believe in freedom, dignity, integrity and order, and have effectively lost the intellectual argument about the future of Islam, they will continue threatening their childish attacks and terrible violence whilst throwing a massive, global tantrum. And they will lose, because this madness is unsustainable in the face of the millions of decent, civilised people who will continue to stand strong for truth, justice, mercy and beauty, all of which are reflections of the Names of God, and will therefore always attract Divine help, intrinsically and extrinsically.

Abortion – Rulings in Islamic Jurisprudence and Muslim-majority countries

October 23, 2014

Bismillah.  Here is a translation I put together for my presentation at the International Summer School on Science and Religion, Paris, August 2014.

The discussion is interesting because these Sharia scholars refer to the modern science of embryology in their discussion, although there are one or two minor errors in the scientific references.  The traditional juristic positions are based on Qur’an/Hadith, so abortion is prohibited after 0, 40 or 120 days, with some exceptions.  Thus the hadiths are not conclusive.  But the science is not conclusive either as to “beginning of life”: people make a case for 0 days (conception), 40 days (foetal brain activity) or 120 days (development of major organs).  Note that the latter two views are relevant to “end of life” discussions also, i.e. brain-death vs. organ-death.  In the end, this is a complex ethical problem with medical and religious input: the material provided below is intended to educate, clarify and provoke thought and debate around this difficult topic.

Rulings on Abortion – Islamic Jurisprudence (PDF)

Abortion laws in OIC countries – summary (PDF with UK, US & France for comparison; the 7 most common justifications for abortion in legal systems around the world are interesting, according to the UN; research by Sofia Patel)

[Update 26/10/2014:]

Here are some suggested study/discussion questions:

1. What does Islamic tradition say about the beginning of life? (0 days = conception; 40-49 days = 6-7 weeks; 120 days = 4 months = 17 weeks 1 day)

2. Are the hadiths about ensoulment after 40 or 120 days related to Aristotle’s view (40 days for boys; 80 days for girls) ?  Do these have a common origin (e.g. divine revelation), or did Greek ideas influence the transmission of some hadiths?

3. Is Ibn al-Qayyim’s comparison of pre-ensoulment foetal life to plant life valid? Is this related to the Ikhwan al-Safa’s theory about mineral/plant/animal/human soul, all derived from the Cosmic Spirit?

4. Is abortion ever justifiable in Islam?  If so, under what conditions?

5. How far are the 7 international legal justifications for abortion, listed by the UN, compatible with the holistic, universal objectives of Islamic law (maqasid al-sharia) ?

6. Islamic jurists often speak about the danger to a mother’s life or health in discussions about abortion.  Are considerations of a mother’s mental health also relevant or included in such discussions?

7. Are there are any other considerations regarding the welfare (maslaha) of mother and foetus/child, consistent with the letter and spirit of Islamic law, that should be taken into account in such discussions?

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

 

ABORTION, STAGES OF THE EMBRYO AND THE BEGINNING OF LIFE

 

Summarised from: Dr. Ali Muhyi l-Din al-Qarahdaghi & Dr. Ali Yusuf al-Muhammadi, Fiqh al-Qadaya al-Tibbiyyah al-Mu’asirah (Jurisprudence of Contemporary Medical Issues), Dar al-Basha’ir al-Islamiyyah, Beirut, 1426/2005, pp. 428-451

 

Summary and translation by Dr. Usama Hasan

August 2014

 

 

Contents

 

1        A General Ruling on Abortion. 2

 

2        Specific Rulings on Abortion, related to the Stages of the Embryo. 2

 

2.1        The “mixed fluid” stage (al-nutfah al-amshaj): days 0-8. 3

2.2        The “clinging” stage (al-‘alaqah): days 9-22/23. 3

2.3        The “chewed lump” stage (al-mudghah): days 23/24-42, i.e. up to 6 weeks. 3

2.4        The stage of the creation of bones, and the clothing of them with flesh. 4

2.5        When is the spirit breathed in? [ensoulment] 4

2.6        [The view of modern science] 5

2.7        Our view.. 5

 

3        Rulings on Abortion. 7

 

3.1        [Fatwa of the Islamic Fiqh Academy] 8

3.2        [Resolution of the Islamic Organisation for Medical Sciences] 8

3.3        Views of past jurists about abortion. 8

3.4        [Discussion] 9

3.4.1        [Abortion is prohibited in general, as per Ghazzali’s view] 9

3.4.2        [Ibn Taymiyyah’s view] 10

3.5        Summarised Juristic Rulings Related to Foetuses. 10

3.6        The Ruling on Abortion due to Deformities. 11

 

 


1. A General Ruling on Abortion

Abortion is, in general, haram (morally and legally prohibited and sinful) unless out of necessity due to the mother’s life: abortion is allowed if the mother’s life is in danger, or if she is in danger of great and severe harm.

 

This is indicated by all the Qur’anic verses that prohibit transgression on any person’s life in any stage of life, e.g. Whoever kills one person … it is as though he has killed all people;[1] Do not kill your children due to poverty: we sustain you and them;[2] Do not kill your children due to fear of poverty: we sustain them and you.[3]

 

As for abortion being allowed to save the mother’s life, this is from the evidence indicating that the foetus owes its existence to the mother so it cannot cause her death; also, her life is real and stable, and is therefore preferred over the foetus’ life that is not certain. This falls under repelling a greater harm by tolerating a lesser harm.[4]

 

2. Specific Rulings on Abortion, related to the Stages of the Embryo 

The specific ruling on abortion is connected to the stages of the embryo, from the fertilisation of ovum by sperm to the breathing of the spirit into it and the completion of these stages.

 

The Qur’an mentions that the human was created from dust that turned to dry clay. Clay includes various minerals such as iron, phosphorus, calcium, copper, etc. It also has subtle plant-like and animal-like structures. God created Adam from this clay, and from Adam He created Eve. Then natural reproduction continued with the mixing of the man’s semen and the woman’s ovum, each one of them contributing 23 chromosomes to the genetic code. God calls this the “mixed fluid.”[5] This is the basis of the creation of humans, except for the miraculous creation of Jesus, peace be upon him.[6]

 

The stages of the embryo, [that give rise to] the ruling on abortion at each stage, are as follows:

 

2.1    The “mixed fluid” stage (al-nutfah al-amshaj)[7]: days 0-8

 

This is the fertilisation of the ovum by sperm, and may be done artificially outside the womb. The fertilised cell divides, becoming 16 cells after about 4 days. These settle in what the Qur’an calls a “safe place,” i.e. the womb: Then We made him a drop of fluid in a safe place.[8]

 

2.2    The “clinging” stage (al-‘alaqah): days 9-22/23

 

God described this stage with “creation”[9] whereas the previous stage was described as “making,” indicating that this stage has characteristics and changes that make it deserving of such a label.[10]

 

The ‘alaqah linguistically relates to “clinging,” i.e. to the womb wall. The group of cells that developed by division from a single one are composed essentially of a nucleus and cytoplasm, having no limbs or other distinguishing structures of a human body, but they suck their necessary sustenance and oxygen inside the womb from the structures and fluids around them.[11] This stage lasts 2 weeks.

 

2.3    The “chewed lump” stage (al-mudghah): days 23/24-42, i.e. up to 6 weeks

 

This stage is so named[12] because the embryo looks like it has been chewed by a human mouth. During this stage, the heart cavity forms, as do the reproductive organs. The small umbilical cord, which grows as the foetus develops, transports the necessary sustenance and oxygen to the foetus from the mother and its waste products in the other direction.

 

All the stages, up to and including this one, end around 40-42 days, as stated by specialist doctors and embryologists. Around 42 days, a new stage of development begins, when the embryo begins to take the form of a human being with all its apparatus, following which the stage of a new creation beings after the breathing of the spirit: We clothed the bones with flesh, then We began a new creation – so Blessed is God, the Best of Creators![13]

 

Scientific instruments and investigation, as well as imaging of the foetus inside the womb, have all shown us that the foetus takes the form of a human after the sixth week, i.e. after about 42 days of pregnancy,[14] and this is also indicated by the hadith of Sahih Muslim (see below).

 

2.4    The stage of the creation of bones, and the clothing of them with flesh

 

The skeleton begins to become apparent after 40 days. Its initial centres of development are the jaw and collar-bone, followed by the thigh and shin.

 

2.5    When is the spirit breathed in? [ensoulment]

 

[Canonical hadiths speak of three stages of creation of the foetus, each lasting 40 days, after which there is ensoulment. However, the hadiths are slightly ambiguous as to whether these three stages are consecutive or parallel. Respectively, these two interpretational possibilities imply ensoulment after 120 days or 40 days, and traditional authorities are indeed divided into two camps about this. Interestingly, Aristotle taught that ensoulment for boys and girls occurred after 40 days and 80 days, respectively. – Translator’s note]

 

All the stages, up to and including this one, end around 40-42 days, as stated by specialist doctors and embryologists. Around 40-42 days, a new stage of development begins, when the embryo begins to take the form of a human being with all its apparatus, following which the stage of a new creation beings after the breathing of the spirit. The foetus takes the form of a tiny human after the sixth week, i.e. after about 42 days of pregnancy. This is also indicated by the various narrations of Sahih Muslim that mention the basic creation of a person in their mother’s womb taking 40, 42 or 45 days and nights. One narration mentions “40 plus a few nights.”[15]

 

Hafiz Ibn Hajar says, “Once the fluid remains in the womb for 40 days or nights, God gives permission for its [full] creation … this is when the angel descends upon it … The narrations of the hadith of Ibn Mas’ud agree on 40 days; the hadith of Anas does not mention any timing; the narrations of Hudhayfah’s hadith differ: some of them mention 40, others 42, 43, 45 or ‘40 plus a few’.”[16]

 

The scholars reconcile these narrations by saying that they may differ according to individual embryos; according to Qadi ‘Iyad, the narrations mean that the following stages occur at the beginning of the second period of 40 days, i.e. days 41-80.[17]

 

2.6    [The view of modern science]

 

In modern embryology, this period of days 40-49 is when the embryo becomes a foetus, and when ultrasound is able to detect the beating heart. The bone skeleton also begins to appear.[18] Hence, these narrations do not contradict.

 

Modern science also indicates that the initial creation (Stages 1-3) is completed in the first 40-odd days. However, one hadith in Bukhari and Muslim appears that to say that each of Stages 1-3 takes 40 days, after which the spirit is breathed in, i.e. after four months or 120 days.[19]

 

However, if we analyse this hadith carefully, we find it does not unequivocally indicate the meaning that the previous people of knowledge understood. In fact, its beginning agrees with the others hadiths of Sahih Muslim which say that all three stages are completed within the first 40-odd days. The word thumma can mean “then” for consecutive stages or “moreover” for simultaneous stages. “With such interpretations,” says the leading authority Dr. Muhammad Salam Madhkur, “the hadith agrees with modern medicine.”[20]

 

2.7    Our view

 

There are three major stages, based on our understanding of the hadith of Ibn Mas’ud in Bukhari:

 

  1. From the fertilised egg to the beginning of the small human form (0-40 days, roughly)
  2. Formation of a small human (40-120 days, roughly)
  3. Breathing of the spirit (ensoulment), i.e. 120 days onwards

 

Any intentional harm to the embryo is haram (prohibited) after 40 days.

 

In terms of life:

 

  1. 0-40 days – there is the lowest level of life, beginning with the developing cell life. Cell division leads to similar living cells that form a structure, but this does not reach the level of human life.
  2. Week 6: the foetus begins to take the form of a small human. Ultrasound detects its heart beating. Blood circulation begins to work. Major skeletal nodes appear.
  3. Week 7: Thigh and shin bones appear.
  4. Week 8: Upper and lower arm bones appear, as do weak, stretching movements.       However, this does not represent complex human life.
  5. End of Week 11- Week 12: the foetus enters a new, distinctive stage. Its brain is developed, its functions start: the beginning of a human entity emerges clearly, as follows. Movements develop from reflex reactions to complex, compound actions such as bending the back, raising the head, kicking the feet and moving the mouth and lips. Brain stem activity begins, sending electrical signals to the heart.       Periods of rest and stillness follow activity and movement: sleep and waking, sensation and shock, jump and play. Electrical signals appear that can be recorded and traced to the foetal brain, indicating surface brain activity.

 

However, the doctors say that the brain is not fully-formed in terms of its basic structure until the 4-month mark. Dr. Muhammad Ali Albar says, “At the end of the fourth month, the foetus can hear and make movements by its own will. Individual, personalised facial features appear. Do not all these indicate the breathing of the spirit?”

 

All this is the medical aspect of the issue, revealed by modern medicine and rare, modern instruments that monitor the development and movements of the embryo and foetus; none of these means were available in the past. If we analyse this modern knowledge and the hadiths on the subject, we find that there is no contradiction. In particular, only one hadith seems to mention three periods of 40 days; most of the narrations mention a total of 40, 42, 45 or 40-odd days.

 

Modern medicine does not speak about the spirit, which is mentioned in the hadith. Only God knows the nature and reality of this spirit.[21] The Messenger of God, peace be upon him, informed us that this spirit is breathed in after 120 days, so this must be affirmed.

 

Although bear in mind that only one narrator from Ibn Mas’ud, Zayd b. Wahb, mentioned the breathing of the spirit after 120 days; the rest of the narrators mentioned the writing of sustenance, lifetime and eventual misery or happiness, but did not mention the breathing of the spirit; neither did the other Companions who narrated the hadith: Ibn ‘Abbas mentioned it, but did not attribute it to the Prophet, peace be upon him.[22] It is possible to reconcile these two hadiths: the angel visits twice – once after 40 days to arrange the formation of the foetus and again after 120 days to breathe the spirit.[23] God knows best.

 

According to the doctors, life begins with a single cell but gradually develops into a full human life. The jurists draw the line (for full human life) at 120 days, which is when the spirit is breathed in. Similarly, all plants and animals enjoy life but do not benefit from the spirit of God that is breathed into humans, and on the basis of which the angels were commanded to prostrate to the human.[24]

 

The moment of breathing the spirit at 120 days is a matter of the unseen – humans and our medicine cannot know it, so we must accept it without interpretation or explanation, especially since it does not contradict modern science. After 120 days, the foetus is a complete human, deserving all that a human being enjoys after birth: respect, rights and the prohibition of harm against it.

 

Plant life has less power than animal life, which has less than human life. Animals may have more or less chromosomes: apes have more than other animals, whilst humans have the most at 46 chromosomes.[25]

 

Imam Ibn al-Qayyim mentions two types of embryonic life:

 

  • plant-like life before ensoulment, and
  • complete, human life after ensoulment.[26]

 

Foetal life after 40 days is complete in a material sense, just like complete animal life but more respected than the latter since it is in the fundamental human form. However, it lacks the divine breathing that bestows, and God knows best, the special human attributes such as knowledge, logical thinking, deduction and analysis as explained in the verses about the creation of Adam. God created Adam to settle in the world and civilise it and to be its steward, so He breathed His Spirit into him, taught him the Names. He gave him, along with knowledge and logical deduction, the capability to act. Along with intellect, He gave him choice and will. These higher attributes do not appear in the early stages of the foetus, but only after 120 days, e.g. voluntary movement etc.

 

3. Rulings on Abortion

It is undoubtedly haram (prohibited) to harm the embryo that is younger than 40 days. The prohibition becomes more severe after 40 days. The greatest prohibition occurs after 120 days, in which case killing the foetus would be like murdering an independent human being. These levels of prohibition are appropriate in Islam to describe the size of the crime and its effects.

 

3.1    [Fatwa of the Islamic Fiqh Academy]

 

The Islamic Fiqh Academy issued a ruling (no. 56-6/7) prohibiting abortion absolutely, and mandating medical techniques to save and protect the lives of embryos and foetuses. Furthermore, Ruling No. 113 (12/7) says in Clause 2 that, “The embryo has a right to life as soon as it is formed. It must not be harmed by abortion, or by any type of damage …”

 

3.2    [Resolution of the Islamic Organisation for Medical Sciences]

The Council on Conception, part of the Islamic Organisation for Medical Sciences, issued the following resolution: “The Council has considered contemporary medical, scientific realities explained by modern research and medical technology. It concluded that:

 

  • the foetus is alive from the beginning of pregnancy
  • its life is to be respected during all stages, and especially after ensoulment
  • transgression against the foetus by abortion is not permissible, except for an extreme medical necessity
  • some members disagreed, allowing abortion before 40 days, especially in case of a valid reason”[27]

 

3.3    Views of past jurists about abortion

 

  • The schools of jurisprudence in the past agreed that abortion was haram (prohibited) after 120 days.[28] Some of them even said that this was so when the mother’s life was in danger, e.g. Ibn ‘Abidin said, “If the foetus is alive, abortion is prohibited, since the mother’s death is hypothetical and it is not permissible to kill a human being on the basis of a whimsical matter.”[29] But if her death is certain or very likely, not simply hypothetical, then her life is to be given precedence over the foetus’, which may be aborted.
  • As for before ensoulment, most jurists regard abortion as prohibited (haram) also, unless it is to safeguard the mother. This is the view of the Malikis and Ibadis, the dominant view of the Hanafis and Shafi’is, one view of the Hanbalis and the apparent view of the Zahiris.[30] Some of the Hanafis, Shafi’is, Malikis and Hanbalis allowed abortion before ensoulment[31], as did the Zaydis on condition that both parents agreed. Some jurists, including Lakhmi (Maliki) and Abu Ishaq Marwazi (Shafi’i) allowed abortion before 40 days, but prohibited it thereafter.[32] Some Hanafis allowed abortion before ensoulment for a valid reason, even if it did not reach the level of necessity, whilst others specified the condition of necessity.[33] Some Shafi’is allowed abortion before ensoulment if the conception was via illegal extra-marital sex (zina: fornication or adultery).[34]

3.4    [Discussion]

 

The majority of jurists held that abortion was prohibited at any stage based on:

 

  • the verses prohibiting the taking of life, e.g. 6:151 and 17:33. A foetus is a life without doubt.
  • God forbade pilgrims from hunting (5:95), and the Prophet forbade the destruction of ostrich eggs by pilgrims, stipulating their value in compensation in cases of violation.[35] Malik said, “I have always heard that the compensation due upon a pilgrim for killing an ostrich is a camel. In case of an ostrich egg, my view is that the amount is a tenth of a camel’s value, just as the compensation for the foetus of a freewoman is to free a slave, male or female; these are worth 50 dinars, which is a tenth of his mother’s blood-money.”[36] Ibn al-Qasim said, “Malik compared the egg to a foetus,” i.e. in essence, like a foetus that is prohibited to harm.

 

3.4.1   [Abortion is prohibited in general, as per Ghazzali’s view]

 

Thus, the stronger view is that of the majority, i.e. that harming embryos is prohibited, even before ensoulment. One researcher who emphatically supported this position was Imam Ghazzali. In explaining the difference between coitus interruptus and abortion before ensoulment, he said: “The child is formed when the sperm enters the womb … Coitus interruptus is not like abortion or burying the infant alive because the latter two are crimes against an existing thing that is of different stages. The first stage is that the sperm enters the womb, mixes with the woman’s water and prepares to accept life: spoiling this would be a crime. Once it becomes a chewed lump and a suspended lump, the crime becomes more obscene, and even more so once ensoulment has taken place and the process of creation has levelled out. The extremity of such obscenity is once the foetus has become an independent life [i.e. been born as a baby].” He then mentioned that the beginning of the embryo’s existence is from the entry of semen into the womb.[37]

 

3.4.2   [Ibn Taymiyyah’s view]

 

Shaykh-ul-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah was asked about a man who said to his wife, “Abort your foetus: the sin is upon me.” If she does this, what expiation is due upon them both?

 

He answered: “They must free a believing slave: if they are unable to, they must both fast two months consecutively. In addition, they must give compensation to the heirs of the foetus who did not kill it: not to the father, for he ordered its killing, and so deserves nothing.” In answer to another question, he said, “Abortion is prohibited by the consensus of the Muslims: it is like burying children alive or killing them, which God has forbidden (81:8-9 & 17:31).”

 

He also said about a woman who aborted her foetus by striking her belly or by drinking medicine, “She must give compensation to the heirs of the foetus, other than the mother, by the Sunnah of the Messenger of God and the agreement of the Imams.”[38]

 

3.5    Summarised Juristic Rulings Related to Foetuses

 

  1. Blood-money and expiation if prohibited abortion is carried out: the perpetrator, whether father, mother or someone else, must pay the blood-money, which is a tenth of that of the mother according to the Malikis and Shafi’is; others distinguish between a male and female foetus.[39] According to the Shafi’is and Hanbalis, expiation is also due, being the freeing of a slave if possible, otherwise fasting for two consecutive months.[40]
  2. The waiting-period (‘iddah) of a widow or divorced woman ends by [termination of the pregnancy:] delivery of the child or abortion of the foetus.
  3. The father of the child must pay maintenance for the pregnant mother in case of divorce.[41]
  4. A pregnant woman may break her fast during Ramadan if she fears harm.[42]
  5. Delay of the punishment for extra-marital sex [i.e. flogging and/or stoning to death] whilst the woman is pregnant. [43]
  6. The foetus has incomplete personhood, so it has rights of inheritance etc.[44]

 

3.6    The Ruling on Abortion due to Deformities

 

The following declaration was issued by the Islamic Fiqh Academy of the Muslim World League:

 

The Academy analysed this matter during its twelfth meeting held in Mecca 15-22 Rajab 1410 H / 10-17 February 1990 CE. The council of religious scholars, after consultation with specialist medical experts who attended for this purpose, declares the following:

 

  • Once pregnancy reaches 120 days, abortion is not permissible, even if medical analysis shows that the foetus is deformed. The only exception is if it is established, by a medical panel consisting of reliable, specialist experts, that the continuation of pregnancy comprises a confirmed danger to the life of the mother, in which case abortion is allowed, whether or not the foetus is deformed, in order to repel the greater of two evils.
  • Before 120 days of pregnancy, if it is established and confirmed, by a medical panel consisting of reliable, specialist experts, using instrument-based monitoring, that the foetus is dangerously and incurably deformed, and that if it remains and is born to term, it will have a bad life, with both it and its family suffering much pain, then in that case: abortion is permissible if the parents request it. The academy, whilst making this declaration, advises the doctors and parents in such cases to save themselves from God, and to take every caution in this matter.

 

[1] Q. 5:32

[2] Q. 6:151

[3] Q. 17:31

[4] Ibn ‘Abidin 5/377, al-Sharh al-Kabir with commentary by Disuqi 4/268, Sharh al-Kharshi 5/274, al-Iqna’ 4/129, Kuwaiti Encyclopaedia of Jurisprudence 2/59.

[5] Q. 76:1

[6] Q. 3:59

[7] al-nutfah: the ejaculated fluid of the man or woman; amshaj: a mixture of the essential parts of a thing. See the lexicons al-Misbah al-Munir, Lisan al-‘Arab and al-Qamus al-Muhit.

[8] Q. 23:13

[9] Q. 23:14

[10] Muhammad Salam Madhkur, al-Jinin [Foetuses], 1389, p. 56

[11] Dr. Mukhtar al-Mahdi, The Beginning of Human Life, Book 2 of the Islamic Organisation for Medical Sciences, Kuwait, pp. 65 onwards.

[12] Q. 23:14 & 22:5

[13] Q. 23:14

[14] Papers by Dr. Hassan Hathout, Dr. Mukhtar al-Mahdi, Dr. Ahmad Shawqi, Dr. Muhammad Na’im Yasin & Dr. Abdullah Salamah.

[15] The Arabic for “a few” here is bid’, which refers to a single-digit number, i.e. 1-9 maximum. (Translator’s note)

[16] Fath al-Bari 11/480-1

[17] Fath al-Bari 11/481

[18] Dr. Mukhtar al-Mahdi’s paper, p. 65

[19] Fath al-Bari 11/481

[20] Al-Jinin (Foetuses), p. 54

[21] Q. 17:85

[22] Fath al-Bari 11/468

[23] Ibn al-Qayyim, Kitab al-Ruh [The Spirit], p. 205

[24] Q. 38:71-72

[25] This is not true: some apes have 48 chromosomes, with a very clear and close relationship to the 46 human chromosomes. (Translator’s note)

[26] Kitab al-Ruh, p. 38 & Shifa’ al-‘Alil, pp. 38-41

[27] Book 1, Islamic Organisation for Medical Sciences, p. 351

[28] Fath al-Qadir 2/495 [Hanafi], Hashiyah al-Disuqi 2/267 [Maliki], Nihayat al-Muhtaj 8/416, Al-Majmu’ 5/301 [Shafi’i], Al-Mughni 7/815 [Hanbali], Al-Muhalla 11/29-31 [Zahiri].

[29] Ibn ‘Abidin, Hashiyah, 1/602

[30] See sources previously cited.

[31] See sources previously cited; also al-Furu’ 6/191, al-Insaf 1/386

[32] See sources previously cited; also Rahuni’s commentary on Zurqani 3/264; Sharawani 6/248; Nihayat al-Muhtaj 8/416

[33] Ibn ‘Abidin 2/380

[34] Nihayat al-Muhtaj 8/416

[35] Ibn Majah, Sunan – Manasik 3077; Ahmad 744-5

[36] Al-Mudawwanah 2/437

[37] Ghazzali, Ihya’ ‘Ulum al-Din [Revival of the Religious Sciences], 2/53

[38] Ibn Taymiyyah, Majmu’ Fatawa [Collected Fatwas], 34/159-161

[39] Meaning that the blood-money for a male is double that of a female. (Translator’s note)

[40] See sources previously cited; also Bidayat al-Mujtahid 2/656

[41] This implies that this payment comes to an end upon abortion. (Translator’s note)

[42] This implies that this concession comes to an end upon abortion. (Translator’s note)

[43] This implies that this punishment is due upon abortion.  The authors are referring to ancient/mediaeval punishments, although the Ottomans abolished these in the mid-19th century, since they were no longer suitable for the age. (Translator’s note)

[44] See the brilliant book by our teacher, Muhammad Salam Madhkur: Al-Jinin [Foetuses], where he has explained this in detail.

Ramadan in the summer at high latitudes – by Sheikh Ahmad Kutty

April 15, 2014

Bismillah. An interesting fatwa published last Ramadan (July 2013). Parts of Ramadan will be in midsummer for the next few years, so this discussion will continue.

I’d add the following notes:

1) According to Ibn Kathir, in his Tafsir under 2:187, Tabari narrated from several Successors (Tabi’in) that fasting only becomes obligatory at sunrise. (In my view, this is based on, and a logical extension of, the difficulty of defining “dawn” precisely – when the sun appears, there is no argument!) Ibn Kathir adds that in his view, “No person of knowledge can remain stable on this view, since it contradicts the unequivocal text of the Qur’an.”

2) Does anyone have the text of Mustafa al-Zarqa’s fatwa cited below? As quoted, it says that fasting at high latitudes in the summer can follow clock timings from more temperate latitudes, ie to end fasting before local sunset.

U.H.

http://www.onislam.net/english/shariah/contemporary-issues/islamic-themes/453299-sunnah-and-determining-the-times-of-fajr-and-imsak.html

Determining the Times of Fajr and Imsak
By Sheikh Ahmad Kutty, Senior Lecturer, The Islamic Institute of Toronto

Conclusion

(Since the day hours are excessively long, such rigidity when determining imsak can be viewed as only dampening one’s spirit about fasting.)

In light of the above incontrovertible evidence, it should be rather easy for us to conclude that relying on astronomical dawn to determine the time of imsak is unwarranted, and that we cannot go wrong if we consider the nautical dawn, if not the civil dawn, as the starting time of imsak and beginning of fajr. Furthermore, there is no basis for compelling people to start the imsak way before fajr, for, as it has been clearly demonstrated, the companions were in the habit of standing up for fajr soon after finishing their suhur.

Furthermore, it has been clearly demonstrated from the Sunnah and the practices of the pious generations that the time of imsak and fajr is not determined by minutes, seconds, or degrees, but by sufficient latitude, ease, and flexibility. Hence, there is no compelling reason for us to insist on the astronomical definition of dawn.

Still another point to note: When we consider the above statements and reports carefully, it is clear that their approach to the issue unravels another fundamental principle of jurisprudence. This has been often phrased as “That which is certain cannot be removed by doubts.” When we apply this principle to the issue at hand, since the night precedes dawn, that is a certainty, as such, it cannot be ruled out until we can clearly determine that the dawn has arrived.

Closely allied with the above is the importance of taking into account our own times and circumstances. No one can doubt we are living at a time where Muslims are showing increasing complacency and are slipping away from the practice of Islam. Moreover, since the day hours are excessively long, such rigidity when determiningimsak can be viewed as only dampening one’s spirit about fasting.

We saw all of the above leniency and latitude as pointed out above were demonstrated in standard time zones like those of Makkah and Madinah. So one might legitimately ask: By applying a far more stricter rule in calculating the time of imsak, are we trying to prove to be more pious than the Prophet’s companions and successors, and end up causing greater and greater hardship for people, who reside in less than standard time zones?

In this regard, therefore, let us recognize that the juristic traditions in all of the acceptable schools of jurisprudence have taken into account the circumstances of people and countries, for they knew too well that Shari`ah is based on tangible maqasid (higher purposes) and masalih (benefits). They also understood that the function of an `alim (scholar) is to render ease where there is difficulty. Long ago, Imam Sufyan Ath-Thawri said, “A true scholar is one who finds (based on sound principles) an easier way for people, because as far as making things difficult is concerned, one need not have any knowledge to do that!”

It is perhaps pertinent to mention here that, according to one of the great jurists of the Hanafi school of the twentieth century, the late Shaikh Mustafa Az-Zarqa, Muslims living in time zones where daylight hours are unusually long may base their times for imsak and iftar on the regular timetables followed in Makkah and Madinah.

If this is the inference of an eminent Hanafi jurist, coming as he is from a long lineage of authentic representatives of the Hanafi school, how can we be faulted for going by a time-table which calculates the Fajr in a slightly flexible manner?

As a final word, it would be wise to remind ourselves of the dire warning of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), “There are among you those who simply drive people away from Islam.” (Bukhari and Muslim).

I pray to Allah to guide us to the straight path, make us instruments of guidance and gather us all under the banner of the seal of prophets and messengers.

Usama Hasan, https://unity1.wordpress.com

Islam and the Veil – Opening Up the Discussion About Hijab

February 3, 2014

Bismillah.  With the global discussion about the veil due to “World Hijab Day” on 1st February, 2014, this is a good time to re-publish here a detailed, academic paper from 2011.  It is from the following book: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Islam-Veil-Theoretical-Regional-Contexts/dp/1441187359/ – one of the editors was kind enough to say that mine was the best paper in the collection, which was quite a compliment since other authors include Javaid Ghamidi and other experts.

Please click here to download the full paper: Islam and the Veil – Usama Hasan

I also suggest the following questions as a guide to study/discussion sessions about this topic:

STUDY/DISCUSSION QUESTIONS ABOUT VEILING (FOR A HETEROSEXUAL CONTEXT)

1. Distinguish between the terms hijab (veil), khimar (headscarf) and jilbab (covering).  Are these religious or cultural aspects of dress/clothing, or a mixture of the two, i.e. religio-cultural?

2. God is veiled from humanity.  What is the nature of the veil(s), and what is meant by the veil being lifted for the believers’ Vision of God?  How did veiling (of women, caliphs – who had a hajib, etc.) symbolise the above truths?

3. What is the significance, if any, of the fact that in Surah al-Nur, men are instructed before women to “lower their gaze and guard their chastity” ?

4. Surah al-Nur: women were instructed to draw their headscarves (khimar) over their bosoms.  Is this a command to cover the head and hair, or to cover the breasts, or all of the above?

5.  Surah al-Nur: What is meant by the “ordinarily-apparent adornment” (zinah zahirah) that may be displayed by women? Is it parts of the body, the top layer of clothing, jewellery, make-up or a combination of these?  What would then be the implied “hidden beauty/charms” (zinah batinah) that men and women would only reveal to close family, spouses, etc. ?

6. Some Companions insisted that women must be covered top to toe in public, including the face; others excepted the face and hands, as did the majority of early authorities; others excepted the forearms, half-way to the elbows (Tabari) or all the way to the elbows (Qadi Abu Yusuf, for women who worked in bakeries and thus had to roll up their sleeves – mentioned by Imam Sarakhsi in Al-Mabsut); others excepted the feet also (Abu Hanifah); some even excepted the head and hair (minority view mentioned by Ibn ‘Ashur).  Some female Companions gathered their skirts when nursing warriors in battle such that their ankles or shins were visible (‘Aisha & Hafsa – Sahih al-Bukhari).  How are these views to be understood from the text?  Do the above views indicate that the context and ‘urf (social custom) is influential in what constitutes modest and appropriate dress?

7. Is the hadith of Asma about “covering up except face and hands” genuine or weak?  If the latter, does that support the niqab-obligation view or the khimar-not-necessary view?

8.  Is a woman to be regarded as “naked” and “sinful” if her face, hands, head, hair, feet, ankles, shins and/or forearms are visible in public, as per the above views? Or should the onus be on men to restrain lustful glances, as they are ordered to do so beforehand in Surah al-Nur?

9.  Surah al-Nur: In terms of the males “having no sexual desire” before whom a woman doesn’t need to worry about veiling, the commentators have extended this to several categories.  How should this be understood in modern societies?  What is your view about the classical view that obliged women to cover in front of their fathers and brothers to prevent the latter having incestuous thoughts?

10. Surah al-Nur: About “their women” before whom women can unveil, does this apply only to Muslim women or to all women (both views are classical) ?  Does it matter about the morality of such female company, i.e. is the matter related to appropriate dress and behaviour?

11. Surah al-Ahzab (hijab meaning curtain or screen): Does this verse imply gender-segregation?  If so, is that a general principle or was it only for the Prophet’s wives and family?

12. Surah al-Ahzab: what is meant by the jilbab?  Is it simply a shawl (Ibn al-Arabi & Ibn Kathir), any dress that reasonably covers the body, an outer garment or cloak on top of usual clothes, or a cloak with a hood that must go on top of a khimar (Albani’s view) ?

13. Surah al-Ahzab: The jilbab is explicitly “that they may be recognised (as noble women) so they are not harassed.” How is that to be understood and practiced in the modern world? Is it true that traditional clothing, i.e. khimar/jilbab/niqab protects Muslim women from sexual harassment in various societies?

14.  How does fiqh al-ma’al (jurisprudence of consequences, cf. Sheikh Abdullah bin Bayyah) apply to issues of gender-segregation and veiling/unveiling in the modern world?  In particular, what implications do veiling/unveiling have for working or professional women in Muslim/non-Muslim societies?

15.  Is the khimar or headscarf (mistakenly called hijab) a normal part of clothing in some cultures, analogous to a hat or cap, or a symbol of faith, modesty, purity, identity, or some combination of these?

16.  What are the psycho-spiritual effects of wearing a headscarf and/or jilbab and/or niqab for women?  Do these lead to confidence, subjugation, control, spirituality, modesty, pride, purity, ostentation, humility, holier-than-thou attitude or a combination of these?

17.  What are the psycho-spiritual effects upon men of women wearing a headscarf and/or jilbab and/or niqab?  In men, do these lead to feelings of purity, increased/decreased/repressed desire, a positive/negative attitude towards veiled/unveiled women, or a combination of these?  How does all this affect the attitudes of Muslim/non-Muslim men towards Muslim/non-Muslim women, whether veiled or unveiled, and their perceptions of beauty, attractiveness, sexuality and desire?

18.  What is all the fuss really about, and are men and women equal in this whole discussion?  Do the notions of gender-equality and women’s liberation have any bearing on the whole issue?

19. Who should ultimately decide what is appropriate dress and behaviour for men and women in a given society?  Is it men, or women, or male religious scholars, or female religious scholars, or panels of religious scholars, or society as a whole including parents, families, religious/spiritual authorities, etc.?

20. And finally, how does God, with the 99 Names of Beauty (jamali) and Majesty (jalali), to Whom we are all returning, relate to all of this in our lives?

Usama Hasan

London, 3rd February 2014 / 3rd Rabi’ al-Thani 1435