Archive for the ‘Sharia’ Category

Taqiyyah Sunrise: Shining Light on Contemporary Deception

December 22, 2019

 

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

Let not the Believers

Take for friends or helpers

Unbelievers rather than Believers:

If any do that, in nothing will there be help

From Allah: except by way of precaution,

That ye may guard yourselves from them.

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

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

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

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

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

Anyone who, after accepting Faith in Allah,

Utters unbelief – except under compulsion,

His heart remaining firm in Faith – but such as

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

And theirs will be a dreadful penalty.

[Qur’an, The Honey-Bee, 16:106]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Rabbi Mark Solomon of London writes,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


(Imam Dr) Usama Hasan

London, UK

22nd December, 2019

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

Modern Islamic Warfare Ethics

November 10, 2019

Modern Islamic Warfare Ethics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TEN TRUTHS ABOUT JIHAD

November 10, 2019

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

 

TEN TRUTHS ABOUT JIHAD

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

TEN TRUTHS ABOUT JIHAD

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

This is clear from verses such as the following:

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

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

 

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

This is clear from Medinan verses such as the following:

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

This is clear from the following Qur’anic verse:

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

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

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

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

 

  1. MILITARY JIHAD WAS ALWAYS CONDITIONED BY STRONG ETHICAL RESTRICTIONS

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

  1. THE OUTER JIHAD IS ALWAYS UNDERPINNED BY INNER JIHAD

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

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

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

 

  1. JIHAD TODAY

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

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

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

 

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

London, UK, 1st August 2017

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

 

NOTES:

 

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

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

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

 

 Muslim Modernism – A Case For A New Pakistan

August 8, 2019

Muslim Modernism: A Case For A New Pakistan

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

Review & Discussion by Imam Dr Usama Hasan

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Usama Hasan

London, UK

6th Zul Hijja 1440 / 7th August 2019

(minor modifications: 7.12.1440 / 8.8.2019)

 

Boris Burkas

August 14, 2018

With the Name of God, the Apparent, the Hidden

BORIS BURKAS

 

 

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

CONCLUSIONS

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

 

Usama Hasan

London

14th August 2018

 

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)

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.