Posts Tagged ‘Albani’


November 10, 2017

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




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 and Robert Chesterman ) 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 ( ) 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,, 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 ( ) 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)



December 25, 2016

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









in the hope of helping to increase Christian-Muslim mutual understanding, an absolute necessity for our times




Birthplace of the Virgin Mary according to Christian tradition, on the edge of Temple Mount (al-Masjid al-Aqsa / al-Haram al-Sharif) in Jerusalem. The story of her birth is also in the Qur’an, Family of Imran, 3:33-37. Photo (c) Usama Hasan, May 2015


Chapel inside the birthplace of the Virgin Mary according to Christian tradition, on the edge of Temple Mount (al-Masjid al-Aqsa / al-Haram al-Sharif) in Jerusalem. The story of her birth is also in the Qur’an, Family of Imran, 3:33-37. Note that this site was largely preserved as a place of pilgrimage and prayer for Christians throughout Islamic rule over Jerusalem since c. 640 CE / 17 AH. Photo (c) Usama Hasan, May 2015

Dome of the Rock mosque atop Temple Mount (al-Masjid al-Aqsa), where Mary, Jesus & Muhammad all worshipped God, according to Islamic tradition.

Dome of the Rock mosque atop Temple Mount (al-Masjid al-Aqsa), where Mary, Jesus & Muhammad all worshipped God, according to Islamic tradition. Muhammad was brought here by Gabriel, in one of the many magnificent meetings between these two great Spirits. Photo (c) Usama Hasan, May 2015

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






in the hope of helping to increase Christian-Muslim mutual understanding, an absolute necessity for our times






Jesus Christ is “the Word of God” cast unto Mary (Q. Women 4:171), “a Word from God” (Q. The Family of ‘Imran 3:45) as well as being a Prophet and Messenger of God. In Christian Greek scriptures and theology, the Word of God is the Logos.



The Qur’an is also the Word of God. Hence, there is a parallel between Jesus and the Qur’an, both being Logos.



This Word or Logos is specifically associated with the Divine Word and Command, “Be!” (Kun) that Creates all Being (Kawn), and thus there is a parallel between Jesus and Adam (Q. The Family of ‘Imran 3:59). Islamic views on philosophical discussions about “being” all derive from this Qur’anic teaching about the Divine Command, “Be!”

To God belong the Creation and the Command (Khalq and Amr: Q. The Heights 7:54). Everything besides God is outwardly Creation, inwardly a Divine Command (Sufi teaching, based on the above Qur’anic verse). Adam and Jesus are prime reminders of this reality.

It is for this reason that theologians who later wrote Islamic creeds often included the phrase “… the Word of God: it originated from, and returns to, Him” (kalam Allah, minhu bada’a wa ilayhi ya’ud).

And just as the “Christological controversies” exercised early Christians about the nature of Christ: human, divine or both, the “Qur’anological controversies” exercised early Muslims about the nature of the Qur’an: created, divine or both. For example, both traditions produced the identical phrase “not made” or “uncreated” in attempts to resolve this theological paradox between Creation and Command. The Christian formulation about Jesus being “begotten, not made” (mawlud, ghayr makhluq in Arabic) is identical in its second half to the Islamic formulation about the Qur’an being “the word of God, uncreated” (kalam Allah, ghayr makhluq).





Jesus Christ is also a “Spirit from God” (Q. Women 4:171), and in several hadiths, the “Spirit of God” (Ruh Allah).

When Christians accepted his message, Prophet Muhammad would often ask them to affirm in addition, after the basic declaration of faith, “There is no god but God; Muhammad is the Messenger of God,” that “Jesus Christ is the Messenger of God and His Word, cast unto Mary, and a Spirit from Him,” echoing the Qur’an.



The Archangel Gabriel is also the “Spirit of God” (Q. Mary 19:17), sent to Mary in human form to cast the Word of God into her, resulting in “the effusion of the Spirit of God” into Mary and into her womb (Q. The Prophets 21:91, Prohibition 66:12).

Specifically, Gabriel in the Qur’an is the Holy Spirit (Ruh al-Quds or “Spirit of Holiness” – Q. The Heifer 2:87, 2:253). According to some commentators, Gabriel is also the all-embracing “Universal/Cosmic Spirit” or “Spirit of the Universe/Cosmos” or simply, “The Spirit” (Al-Ruh), i.e. the Spirit that encompasses all created beings, which is why it is called the “Spirit of God.” (cf. commentaries, including Tafsir Ibn Kathir, on Q. The News 78:38, Destiny 97:4)

The Qur’anic Arabic for Gabriel is Jibril or Jibra’il, the meaning of which is variously given as “servant of God” (‘Abdullah) or “higher realms of the Kingdom of God” (Jabarut Allah), which resonates with Gabriel’s title of being “The Spirit” – cf. e.g. Fath al-Bari of Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani.

Note also that it is not only Christians who believe in the Holy Spirit being with them: some Muslims also had this honour; when Prophet Muhammad encouraged his poets such as Hassan bin Thabit during war, he urged them, “Attack them (with your poetry): the Holy Spirit (Ruh al-Quds) is with you!” (Sahih Muslim)



Adam, the first full human, received the effusion of God’s Spirit (Q. Rock 15:29, S 38:72), as did all human beings in turn, since they share in his Adam-ness or humanity (Q. Prostration 32:9; hadiths about foetal development in the womb). This is another parallel between Jesus and Adam.

Adam was created in the image of God (authentic hadith), and was taught all the beautiful Names of God, thus surpassing even the angels (Q. The Heifer 2:31-33).



The Qur’an is “a Spirit, from God’s Command” inspired to Prophet Muhammad (Q. Consultation 42:52). Note that the early Islamic controversy over whether the Qur’an was created or uncreated is related to the aspects of Creation and Command mentioned above (section 1.3).

The Qur’an is a Light and Guidance, just as were the Torah and Gospel before it (Q. The Last Supper 5:44,46). Prophet Muhammad is also a Light and Guidance (Q. The Last Supper 5:15-16).



In a famous hadith (Sahih Muslim), Aisha described the character (khuluq) of the Prophet as being the Qur’an. The character is the inner aspect of creation (khalq). Therefore, the Prophet’s inner reality (haqiqa Muhammadiyya) or spirit is also Logos, being the Qur’an, which is itself a “Spirit from the Divine Command.”




Already mentioned above. Note that Mary was chosen “over all the women of the worlds” (Q. The Family of ‘Imran 3:42), and was a female Prophet (nabiyya or Prophetess) according to some leading Muslim theologians such as Ibn Hazm and Ibn Hajar, based on the fact that God sent His Archangel Gabriel directly to her.


The Qur’an was revealed from God to Prophet Muhammad by Archangel Gabriel as the Holy Spirit (Ruh al-Quds, Q. The Honey Bee 16:102) and the Faithful or Trustworthy Spirit (al-Ruh al-Amin), directly to the Heart (qalb) of the Prophet (Q. The Poets 26:193-4)

These interactions or relationships show that not only are there parallels between Jesus and the Qur’an, but also between Mary and Muhammad, another aspect of interest for Christian-Muslim dialogue and mutual understanding.


  1. MERCY

Where there is Spirit, there is Mercy. (And Love: the Islamic scholar William Chittick states that the Biblical “Love” and the Qur’anic “Mercy” are very close in meaning: we might say that they are Merciful Love and Loving Mercy.)


3.1 When Adam was created in the image of God, this was especially true of the Divine Names of Mercy. (hadith: disputed authenticity, sound meaning)

3.2 The Qur’anic chapter named “Mary” (19) uses the Divine names “All-Merciful” (al-Rahman) 16 times, “God” (Allah) 7 times and “Lord” (Rabb) 23 times. “Mercy” (rahma) is mentioned a further 4 times, all with regard to Abrahamic Israelite prophets, including a description of Jesus as “a mercy from God” (Q. 19:21). The Qur’anic “mercy” is derived from “the womb” (rahm), thus further resonating with the story of Mary, the only woman mentioned by name in the entire Qur’an; all others are described as mothers, sisters or wives with regard to men.

3.3 All but one of the 114 chapters of the Qur’an begin with the formula, “In the Name of God, All-Merciful, Most Merciful”: the Qur’an is thus inextricably linked with the two foremost Divine Names, being those of Mercy.

3.4 Prophet Muhammad is nothing but a “mercy for the worlds” (Q. The Prophets 21:107) and “most kind and merciful to people of faith.” (Q. Repentance 9:128)



4.1. Although Islam rejects a trinitarian or tri-theistic formulation of God as One (Q. The Last Supper 5:73), the above discussions show how much reverence is accorded to the holy personalities of Jesus Christ and Mary in the Qur’an: Jesus is not “just a prophet”!

4.2. In Islamic teaching, Jesus Christ is one of the manifestations par excellence of spirituality, being a spirit of, or from, God: others are Archangel Gabriel, the Cosmic Spirit, Mary, the Qur’an, Adam and Prophet Muhammad.

4.3 Thus, although Muslims do not believe that God is a trinity of “Father, Son and Holy Ghost/Spirit”, Muslims certainly believe, directly from the Qur’an, that God is “Lord Most Merciful”, that Jesus is a Word and Spirit of God, and that Gabriel is the Holy Spirit and a Spirit of God. Furthermore, the Qur’an is also a Word and Spirit of God, and constitutes the inner reality of the Prophet Muhammad. The Spirit of God was also effused into Adam, and hence into all of humanity.

4.4. All human beings have the potential to be illumined by some of the above divine spirituality and mercy by virtue of sharing in the humanity of the above holy persons, and of being created in imago Dei (the image of God).

4.5. In the Islamic tradition, Jesus and Muhammad are regarded as extremely close, being respectively the last (and “Seals”) of the Israelite and Ishmaelite branches of prophethood deriving from their common Abrahamic ancestry. All prophets are regarded as brothers, and Prophet Muhammad regularly referred to other Abrahamic and Israelite prophets as “my brothers.” He also once joined his index and middle fingers together and declared, “Jesus, son of Mary, and I are this close in this world and the hereafter: there is no prophet between us.” (Sahih al-Bukhari)

4.6. A striking example of the common love and mercy for humanity manifested by both Jesus and Muhammad in the Islamic tradition is as follows:

Prophet Muhammad once spent an entire night awake in worship (in addition to his worship and public duties by day), repeating the following prayer of Jesus Christ for sinners countless times, whilst standing, bowing and in prostration,

“If You (dear God) punish them, they are indeed Your servants;
but if You forgive them, truly You Yourself are the Mighty, Wise!”

(Q. The Last Supper 5:118 – this incident is reported in an authentic hadith widely transmitted by Islamic scholars, from the Sunan-collectors to Ibn Arabi in his Fusus al-Hikam or “Bezels of Wisdom” to Albani in his Sifah Salah al-Nabi or “The Prophet’s Prayer Described”)

4.7 This universal Christian and Muhammadan compassion is a metaphysical reality, and one that Christians and Muslims worldwide need to continue to manifest and enhance, especially in our troubled times. May God bless Prophets Abraham, Moses, Mary, Jesus and Muhammad, peace be upon them and all their followers, and grant us the courage to follow in some of their noble examples.


Usama Hasan

London, 25th December 2016 / 26th Rabi’ al-Awwal 1438 (updated 27/12/2016 // 28/03/1438)


The Black Flags of Khurasan

September 1, 2014

Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim

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


Ottoman soldiers carry a black military flag or banner during the First World War

Ottoman soldiers carry a black military flag or banner during the First World War

Usama Hasan

1st September, 2014

(minor updates: 26/10/2014)

 The Black Flags of Khurasan (PDF)


1       SUMMARY. 2

2       Fabricated hadiths: pro- and anti- ‘Abbasid propaganda. 3

2.1         Pro-Abbasid fabrications. 3

2.2         Anti-Abbasid fabrications. 4

3       Weak hadiths about the black flags or banners from Khurasan. 5

3.1         Shawkani’s brief analysis. 7

3.2         Albani’s analysis of this hadith. 7

3.2.1          [Ibn Taymiyya on the allegedly blasphemous nature of the term, “caliph of God”]. 8

3.3         Conclusion. 9

4       Contemporary propaganda about black flags. 10

4.1         The Ottomans. 10

4.2         Bin Ladin. 10

4.3         The Taliban. 10

4.4         Harmajdun (Armageddon). 10

4.5         Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HT). 10

4.6         The Boston Bombers. 11

4.7         The Ahmadiyya. 11

4.8         Contemporary Jihadist groups. 11



  1. Several hadiths or traditions in Sunni Muslim sources speak of the appearance of an army carrying black flags or banners from the East, specifically Khurasan (Khorasan), in support of an apocalyptic messianic figure, the Mahdi, at the end of time.
  2. Historic Khorasan is largely in modern-day Afghanistan, but parts of it are in modern-day Iran and Turkmenistan.[1] According to another author, Khurasan is a term for a historical region spanning northeastern and eastern Iran and parts of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and northwestern Pakistan.[2]
  3. These traditions are attributed as prophecies to the Prophet Muhammad himself, peace be upon him, thus giving them a powerful resonance in the minds of many devout Muslims who hear them; in particular, modern extremist and terrorist groups regularly quote them.
  4. The traditions were first written down around the 3rd/9th century.
  5. From the earliest times until today, most Hadith scholars regarded these traditions as fabricated Abbasid propaganda that was never uttered by the Prophet. Some Hadith scholars, ignoring their historical context, accepted them as authentic teachings of the Prophet.
  6. During the century-long period of Umayyad rule, the idea of a messianic Mahdi became popular amongst rival Alid and Abbasids (descendants of Ali and Abbas, respectively) and their supporters. Abbasid propaganda in favour of their eventual overthrow of Umayyad rule included many references to the Mahdi, including fabricated hadiths claiming him as an Abbasid in response to the widespread view of him being Alid.
  7. The main Abbasid military commander who led the overthrow of the Umayyads in the 2nd/8th century, was from Khorasan, as his name signifies: Abu Muslim al-Khurasani (c. 700-755).[3] History records that his armies carried black flags or banners, cf. the histories by Tabari, Ibn Kathir, Dhahabi, Ibn Khaldun, Suyuti, etc.
  8. Based on traditional scrutiny of the hadiths’ chains of transmission (isnadsriwayah) as well as rational considerations of history (dirayah), it is the author’s firm conclusion that these hadiths were Abbasid propaganda fabricated 100-150 years after the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, and are in no way true Muhammadan prophecies.
  9. The author was preceded in this view by his father, Sheikh Dr. Suhaib Hasan, who took this view in his PhD thesis: The Concept of the Mahdi amongst Ahl al-Sunna (Sunni Muslims), including a translation of the chapter on the Mahdi from Nu’aym bin Hammad’s Kitab al-Fitan (Book of Tribulations).  Nu’aym bin Hammad is generally agreed to be a weak authority by Hadith scholars, so it is unfortunate that some contemporary writers, speakers and preachers are uncomprehendingly-quoting clearly-fabricated “prophecies” from the Kitab al-Fitan and applying them to current events in Iraq and the Levant! (These fabrications repeatedly mention the “Sufyani” i.e. Umayyad, the Mahdi and real historical figures such as Saffah.)  Rather than dealing with the very real religious, ideological, political and social causes of the current crisis, it is much easier to say, “These are the end times.  This was all prophesied.”
  10. Contemporary Muslim preachers and activists should acknowledge and explain that these hadiths are at the least doubtful and disputed, if not clear fabrications, especially when they are often misused by contemporary extremist and terrorist groups.



There are numerous fabricated (mawdu’) hadiths both in favour and against the Abbasid armies from Khurasan that appeared with black flags in the second century of Islam. This illustrates how hadiths were fabricated for use as propaganda by both sides.

2.1        Pro-Abbasid fabrications


  1. Fabrication, falsely attributed to the Prophet: “The Mahdi will be a descendant of my uncle ‘Abbas.” – related by Daraqutni[4]
  2. Fabrication, falsely attributed to the Prophet: “O ‘Abbas! God opened this matter by me and will seal it by a young man from your descendants who will fill the world with justice as it had been filled with tyranny. He is the one who will lead Jesus in prayer.” – related by Khatib Baghdadi in Tarikh Baghdad [“The History of Baghdad”][5]
  3. Fabrication, falsely attributed to the Prophet: “Should I not give you good tidings [O ‘Abbas]? God opened this matter by me and will seal it by your descendant.” – related by Abu Nu’aym in Hilyah al-Awliya’ [“Adornment of the Saints”][6]
  4. Khatib Baghdadi transmitted a fabrication, falsely attributed to Ibn Abbas: “When the black flags emerge, bid the Persians well, for our rule [dawlah, also meaning ‘state’] will be with them.”[7]
  5. Fabrication, falsely attributed to the Prophet: “O Abbas! When year thirty-five comes, it [the rule] will be for you and your descendants. Amongst them will be the Slayer (al-Saffah), and amongst them will be the One Helped to Victory (al-Mansur), and amongst them will be the Guided One (al-Mahdi).”[8]

2.2        Anti-Abbasid fabrications


  1. Fabrication, falsely attributed to the Prophet: “The flags of the descendants of Abbas have come from Khurasan, signifying the death of Islam. Whoever marches under their banner will not benefit from my intercession on the Day of Resurrection.”[9]
  2. Fabrication, falsely attributed to the Prophet: “When the black flags appear from the east: their beginning is strife, their middle period is killing, their end period is misguidance.”[10]
  3. Fabrication, falsely attributed to the Prophet: “Woe to my nation from the descendants of Abbas! … Their destruction will be at the hands of one of her household [the Umayyads],” pointing to Umm Habiba [daughter of Abu Sufyan and sister of Mu’awiya, the first Umayyad caliph][11]



[Below, I use the following notation for hadith isnads, first introduced by my father in his PhD thesis on Hadith: == denotes a strong mode of transmission, such as haddathana (he narrated to us) or akhbarana (he informed us), whilst – denotes a weak mode such as ‘an (“on the authority of”)]

  1. Sunan Ibn Majah, Kitab al-Fitan (Book of Tribulations), Chapter: Emergence of the Mahdi (Guided One), Hadith no. 4082[12] Ibn Majah == ‘Uthman b. Abi Shaybah == Mu’awiyah b. Hisham == ‘Ali b. Salih – Yazid b. Abi Ziyad – Ibrahim [al-Nakh’i] – ‘Alqamah – ‘Abdullah [b. Mas’ud], who said: Whilst we were with the Messenger of God, may God bless him and grant him peace, some young men of Banu Hashim arrived. When the Prophet, may God bless him and grant him peace, saw them his eyes flooded with tears and his colour changed. I asked, “Why do we continue to see something undesirable in your face?” He replied, “Truly, we the People of the House:[13] God has chosen the Hereafter for us over this world. The people of my house will face calamity, dispersal and exile after me until a group of people come from the east with black banners. They will ask for goodness [i.e. authority] but will not be granted it, so they will fight and achieve victory. They will then be given what they asked for [i.e. authority] but will not accept it until they assign it to a man of my house who will fill the earth with justice as others had filled it with tyranny. Whoever amongst you is alive at the time should go to them, even if he has to crawl over snow.” Albani declares this hadith to be weak.[14] Sindi, the commentator on this hadith, states: Ibn Kathir said that this indicates the kingdom of the Banu ‘Abbas [Abbasids]. However, this is precluded by his saying, “He will fill it with justice,” clearly referring to the promised Mahdi, which is why the author included this hadith in this chapter, and God knows best what is correct. [Haythami states] in al-Zawa’id, “Its chain of narration is weak because of the weakness of Yazid b. Abi Ziyad of Kufa, although he was not alone in narrating it from Ibrahim, for Hakim has related it in al-Mustadrak via ‘Umar b. Qays – Hakam – Ibrahim.”[End of quote from Sindi]
  2. Sunan Ibn Majah, Kitab al-Fitan (Book of Tribulations), Chapter: Emergence of the Mahdi (Guided One), Hadith no. 4084[15] Ibn Majah === Muhammad b. Yahya and Ahmad b. Yusuf === ‘Abd al-Razzaq [al-San’ani] — Sufyan al-Thawri — Khalid al-Hadhdha’ — Abu Qilabah — Abu Asma’ al-Rahbi — Thawban, who said:The Messenger of God, may God bless him and grant him peace, said, “Three people, each of them the son of a caliph, will fight over your treasure. It will go to none of them. Then, the black flags will appear from the east: they will kill you with a slaughter not meted out (or faced) by any people.” He then mentioned something that I do not remember. Then he said, “When you see him [their leader], pledge allegiance to him, even if you have to crawl over snow, for he is the vicegerent (caliph of God), the Guided One [al-Mahdi].”Sindi, the commentator on this hadith, says:“Over your treasure,” i.e. “over your kingdom.” Ibn Kathir said, “The apparent meaning of the treasure mentioned is that it is the treasure of the Ka’bah.”“Then, the black flags will appear”: Ibn Kathir said, “These [armies with] black flags are not the ones that Abu Muslim of Khurasan brought, by which he toppled the Umayyad state. Rather, they are other black flags that will accompany the Mahdi, whose appearance is one of the Conditions of the Hour [i.e. Signs of the end of the world and the Day of Judgment].”[Haythami states] in al-Zawa’id, “Its chain of narration is sound; its narrators are reliable. Al-Hakim narrated it in al-Mustadrak and said: It is authentic (sahih) according to the conditions of the two shaykhs [i.e. Bukhari and Muslim].”[End of quote from Sindi]
  3. Sunan al-Tirmidhi, Kitab al-Fitan (Book of Tribulations), Hadith no. 2269[16] Tirmidhi == Qutaybah === Rishdin b. Sa’d — Yunus — Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri — Qabisah b. Dhu’ayb — Abu Hurayrah, who said:The Messenger of God, may God bless him and grant him peace, said, “From Khurasan will emerge black flags: nothing will repulse them until they are planted in Jerusalem.” This is a strange (gharib) hadith. Thus, Imam Tirmidhi declared it to be a weak hadith by describing it only as gharib (“strange”, having links as narrow as one narrator in its chain). Albani also declared its chain of narration (isnad) to be weak (da’if). Mubarakpuri, in his commentary on Tirmidhi, confirms that the black flags refer to military banners at the heads of armies. He also elaborates on Tirmidhi’s statement, “This is a strange (gharib) hadith” as follows: “In its chain is Rishdin b. Sa’d, who is weak. In the chain of the hadith of Thawban in Musnad Ahmad [i.e. the hadith of Ibn Mas’ud, below] there is Shurayk b. Abdullah the Qadi, whose memory declined after he took the position of judge in Kufah. It also contains Ali b. Zayd, who would appear to be Ibn Jud’an, and there is some talk about him.”

3.1        Shawkani’s brief analysis[17]


Al-Azadi related from Ibn Mas’ud from the Prophet, “When the black flags come from Khurasan, go to them, for truly amongst them is the caliph of God, the Mahdi.”


Ibn al-Jawzi said, “It has no basis,” and mentioned it amongst the fabricated traditions.


Ibn Hajar said in al-Qawl al-Musaddad [fi l-Dhabb ‘an Musnad al-Imam Ahmad, The Accurate Word in Defence of the Musnad of the Imam Ahmad], “Ibn al-Jawzi was not correct, for Ahmad has transmitted it via ‘Ali bin Zayd bin Jud’an who is weak but was not an intentional liar such that the hadith should be classified as fabricated when he alone narrates it. How more so, then, when his narration has been supported via a different route? This has been transmitted by Ahmad and by Bayhaqi in Dala’il [al-Nubuwwa, Indications of Prophethood] from the hadith of Abu Hurayra from the Prophet, ‘Black flags will come from Khurasan, that will not be stopped until they are planted in Jerusalem.’ In its chain of narration is Rishdin bin Sa’d, who is weak.”


3.2        Albani’s analysis of this hadith[18]


In another narration of this hadith: “When you see that the black flags have come out of Khurasan, go to them even if you have to crawl …” to the end of the hadith.[19] These narrations were transmitted by Ahmad, Ibn Majah and Hakim.


Ibn al-Jawzi included the hadith in his collection of fabricated (mawdu’) hadiths; Dhahabi said that it was rejected (munkar). Imam Ahmad’s isnad includes ‘Ali b. Zayd b. Jud’an: Ahmad, Ibn Hajar, Munawi and others agreed that he is a weak narrator. Ibn Hajar said about Ibn al-Jawzi’s judgment, “He is not correct, because none of the narrators is accused of lying.” Albani agrees with Dhahabi that the hadith is rejected (munkar).


Ibn al-Jawzi’s isnad for this hadith is via ‘Amr b. Qays — Hasan — Abu ‘Ubaydah — ‘Abdullah [b. Mas’ud] — the Prophet (pbuh). Ibn al-Jawzi stated, “This has no basis: ‘Amr is nothing, and did not hear hadiths from Hasan; Hasan did not hear hadiths from Abu ‘Ubaydah.” Albani adds, “And Abu ‘Ubaydah did not hear hadiths from his father, Ibn Mas’ud … Haythami said in al-Zawa’id (249/2), ‘Its chain is authentic; the narrators are reliable.’ Hakim said, ‘It is authentic according to the conditions of the two shaykhs [Bukhari and Muslim].’ Dhahabi agreed with Hakim, although he said in the Mizan [al-I’tidal] that the hadith is rejected (munkar); the latter is correct. Those who authenticated this hadith overlooked its subtle defect, which is the ‘an’anah (ambiguous mode of reporting) of Abu Qilabah – he was known to conceal some of his authorities (tadlis), as is quoted from Dhahabi and others.”


Albani goes on to say, “However, the hadith is correct in meaning apart from the statement, ‘… for amongst them is the vicegerent of God [khalifat Allah], the Mahdi,’ for it has been transmitted by Ibn Majah (2/517) via ‘Alqamah from Ibn Mas’ud from the Prophet (pbuh), similarly to Thawban’s second narration. Its chain of narration is good (hasan), and does not include the phrase ‘vicegerent of God [khalifat Allah]’.”


3.2.1        [Ibn Taymiyya on the allegedly blasphemous nature of the term, “caliph of God”]


Albani continues:


This addition, ‘vicegerent of God [khalifat Allah],’ does not have an established route of narration, nor a supporting one. Thus it is rejected (munkar – a weak narration that contradicts authentic ones) as follows from Dhahabi’s statement quoted earlier. Part of its abhorrence is that it is not permissible in religion to refer to someone as ‘vicegerent of God’ [khalifat Allah] because that implies a shortcoming and incapacity that does not befit God the Exalted. The Shaykh of Islam Ibn Taymiyyah, may God Exalted have mercy upon him, explained this in his Fatwas (2/461):


‘Some mistaken commentators, such as Ibn Arabi, thought that the vicegerent [the function of khalifah attributed to Adam in Qur’an 2:30] is a vicegerent on behalf of God, like God’s deputy. But God Exalted cannot have a vicegerent, and that is why when they said to Abu Bakr, “O caliph (vicegerent) of God!” he replied, “I am not the caliph (vicegerent) of God, but the caliph (vicegerent) of the Messenger of God – that is sufficient for me.”[20] Rather, it is He, may He be glorified, Who is the vicegerent of others: the Prophet, may God bless him and grant him peace, prayed, “Dear God! You are the Companion during a journey, and the vicegerent amongst family. Dear God, please accompany us during our journey and deputise for us amongst our families!” This is because God is the Living, Ever-Present Witness, Guardian, Self-Subsisting, Observer, Safeguarder, Independent of the Worlds, needing no partner or supporter, and none can intercede before Him except by His permission. A vicegerent or deputy only occurs when the one whose place is taken is non-existent due to death or absence, such that a deputy called a vicegerent is required … all of these meanings are impossible regarding God the Exalted, and He is absolved of them, for He is the Living, Self-Subsisting, Ever-Present Witness who does not die or become absent … It is not possible for anyone to deputise for Him or to take His place, for He has no equal or anyone worthy of His name: whoever attributes a deputy or vicegerent to Him is associating a partner with Him.’[21]

3.3        Conclusion

Note that none of the hadith scholars quoted above took the historical record into account, basing their discussions purely on the chains of narrators and thus reaching opposite conclusions, with some authenticating these traditions and others doubting them severely. From the history of the Abbasid armies from the east, specifically Khurasan, led by black banners, it would appear to be obvious that all these supposedly prophetic traditions are in fact fabrications.




The use of black flags is an ancient Eastern, Arab and Islamic tradition. Its significance has changed over the centuries. Below is a summary of recent developments.

4.1        The Ottomans

Some people believe that one of the Prophet’s original banners, known as the Uqab, was black, that it eventually passed to the Ottomans and that remnants of it are housed at the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul.[22]

4.2        Bin Ladin

Usama bin Ladin often signed his name with the location, “Khurasan, Afghanistan” at the end of his messages whilst a guest of the Taliban. His organisation, Al-Qa’ida, also specifically adopted black flags from the 1990s. Reading between the lines, it is obvious that Bin Ladin saw Al-Qa’ida as fulfilling a sacred prophecy, bringing armies led by black flags towards Damascus and Jerusalem, in preparation for the coming of the messianic figure, the Mahdi.

4.3        The Taliban

According to one contemporary writer, “Very interestingly, the Taliban hail from the Pashtun ethnicity and have traditionally used two flags, a white flag with a black Shahada (Kalma) embossed for their government and diplomatic purposes and a reversal of this i.e. a black flag with a white Shahada embossed for their military. These types of black flags are also vividly seen across the tribal Pashtun areas that are now reportedly under the control of Pakistani Taliban.”[23]

4.4        Harmajdun (Armageddon)

This influential, populist book authored by an Egyptian Azhari sheikh in 2001 quoted some of these fabricated hadiths.[24] One in particular that begins, “There will be strife at the death of a caliph …” was interpreted to refer to the impending death of King Fahd of Saudi Arabia. Furthermore, the black flags were taken to refer to the black turbans of the Taliban. The book also claimed to be based on recently-discovered manuscripts of hadith, some of which were said to predict the 1990-1 war between Iraq and the US over Kuwait: the hadiths were said to mention a place called “little Kut” which is the literal meaning of “Kuwait.” Although popular amongst the masses, this book was dismissed by serious scholars of hadith and history.

4.5        Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HT)

HT adopted a black flag with the Islamic declaration of faith, possibly from its inception. Recently, this has led to confusion between HT flags and ISIS flags.[25] On one of HT’s public, international discussion forums, there is a lengthy discussion between October 2009 and October 2010 about the authenticity of the hadiths of the black flags, the coming of the Mahdi and the re-establishment of the caliphate, with a suggestion that the black flags refer to the Taliban.[26]

4.6        The Boston Bombers

Four months before carrying out the Boston bombings of 2013 along with another suspect, Tamerlan Tsarnaev appears to have “liked” and shared a video on YouTube entitled, The Emergence of Prophecy: The Black Flags From Khorasan ([27] This video claims about the hadiths mentioned in it that “majority of scholars say is authentic and others say is weak [sic].”

4.7        The Ahmadiyya

Some of the Ahmadiyya refer these hadiths to their founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian, due to his Persian ancestry. One of their writers says, “Black Flag of Khorasan … Thawban (ra) narrated that the Prophet (sa) said: ‘If you see the black banners emerging from Khurasan (Persia), seek to join their supporters even if creeping, because among them will be caliph Al-Mahdi.’ (Sunan Ibn Majah, Vol. 3, 4084) This flag is the flag of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community today (contrary to popular belief it is not the flag of any Jihadist groups since this flag would be for the followers of the Mahdi).”[28]

4.8        Contemporary Jihadist groups

In the modern era, black flags with the Islamic declaration of faith have become very popular amongst Jihadist and other Islamist groups. For example: Al-Qaeda, al-Shabab in Somalia, Boko Haram in Nigeria, Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria, al-Tawhid wal-Jihad in Iraq, Jihadist fighters in Chechnya and of course the self-styled “Islamic State,” formerly “The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria” (ISIS) have all adopted black flags, with white Arabic writing consisting of the basic Islamic declarations of faith (the shahadatayn), as their emblems. The extremist but non-Jihadist international group, Hizb al-Tahrir, also employs a black flag with white shahadatayn, as its emblem. All these groups occasionally reverse these colours: a black flag for war; a white flag for peace. A white flag with black shahadatayn was especially adopted by the Taliban in Afghanistan for peacetime.

ISIS have recently adopted a black flag with white writing: an ancient-looking script for the first shahada, with the second shahada in the form of a seal, based upon the hadiths mentioning the Prophet’s own seal and ring. No-one knows for sure what the script on this seal looked like, but the form adopted by ISIS (and al-Shabab and Boko Haram) has ironically been popularised over the past two decades by populists such as the unscientific Turkish writer, Harun Yahya (Adnan Oktar).

Minor article edits: 11th September, 2014


[1] (accessed 9 Sep 2013)

[2] See Charles Cameron, Ali Soufan: AQ, Khorasan and the Black Banners,

[3] (accessed 9 Sep 2013)

[4] Albani, Silsilah al-Ahadith al-Da’ifah, 4th ed., al-Maktab al-Islami, Beirut/Damascus, 1398, vol. 1 p. 108, no. 80

[5] Albani, Silsilah al-Ahadith al-Da’ifah, 4th ed., al-Maktab al-Islami, Beirut/Damascus, 1398, vol. 1 p. 109, no. 81

[6] Albani, Silsilah al-Ahadith al-Da’ifah, 4th ed., al-Maktab al-Islami, Beirut/Damascus, 1398, vol. 1 pp. 109-110, no. 82

[7] Shawkani, al-Fawa’id al-Majmu’ah fi l-Ahadith al-Mawdu’ah [Collected Insights about Fabricated Traditions], Book of Praiseworthy Qualities, Chapter: Virtues of the Four Caliphs, the Prophet’s Household and the Rest of the Companions, Generally and Specifically, may God be pleased with them, and Virtues of Other People –hadith no. 1010,

[8] Shawkani, al-Fawa’id al-Majmu’ah fi l-Ahadith al-Mawdu’ah [Collected Insights about Fabricated Traditions], Book of Praiseworthy Qualities, Chapter: Virtues of the Four Caliphs, the Prophet’s Household and the Rest of the Companions, Generally and Specifically, may God be pleased with them, and Virtues of Other People –hadith no. 1015, This is a very clear fabrication, since the three titles mentioned were adopted by the first three Abbasid caliphs.

[9] Shawkani, al-Fawa’id al-Majmu’ah fi l-Ahadith al-Mawdu’ah [Collected Insights about Fabricated Traditions], Book of Praiseworthy Qualities, Chapter: Virtues of the Four Caliphs, the Prophet’s Household and the Rest of the Companions, Generally and Specifically, may God be pleased with them, and Virtues of Other People –hadith no. 1009,

[10] Shawkani, al-Fawa’id al-Majmu’ah fi l-Ahadith al-Mawdu’ah [Collected Insights about Fabricated Traditions], Book of Praiseworthy Qualities, Chapter: Virtues of the Four Caliphs, the Prophet’s Household and the Rest of the Companions, Generally and Specifically, may God be pleased with them, and Virtues of Other People –hadith no. 1011,

[11] Shawkani, al-Fawa’id al-Majmu’ah fi l-Ahadith al-Mawdu’ah [Collected Insights about Fabricated Traditions], Book of Praiseworthy Qualities, Chapter: Virtues of the Four Caliphs, the Prophet’s Household and the Rest of the Companions, Generally and Specifically, may God be pleased with them, and Virtues of Other People –hadith no. 1014,


[13] Ahl al-Bayt: a phrase referring to the Prophet’s immediate family and descendants

[14] Ibn Majah, Sunan, ed. Albani & Mashhur Hasan Salman, Maktabah al-Ma’arif, Riyadh, 1417 H, hadith no. 4082. According to Shawkani (hadith no. 1013), a very similar hadith is transmitted by Hakim and Abu l-Shaykh, and includes the addition describing the flags or banners as “flags of guidance.”


[16] Tirmidhi, Sunan, ed. Albani & Mashhur Hasan Salman, Maktabah al-Ma’arif, Riyadh, 1417 H, hadith no. 2269;

[17] Shawkani, al-Fawa’id al-Majmu’ah fi l-Ahadith al-Mawdu’ah [Collected Insights about Fabricated Traditions], Book of Praiseworthy Qualities, Chapter: Virtues of the Four Caliphs, the Prophet’s Household and the Rest of the Companions, Generally and Specifically, may God be pleased with them, and Virtues of Other People – Mention of Mu’awiya, hadith no. 1012

[18] Muhammad Nasir al-Din al-Albani, Silsilah al-Ahadith al-Da’ifah wa l-Mawdu’ah wa atharuha l-sayyi’ fi l-ummah, al-Maktab al-Islami, Beirut/Damascus, 4th ed., 1398 H, vol. 1, hadith no. 85, pp. 119-121

[19] This narration is also mentioned by al-‘Ajluni, Kashf al-Khafa’, no. 241 – where he simply says, “Related by Ahmad and Hakim on the authority of Thawban.”

[20] Related by Ahmad similarly in the Musnad (1/10-11)

[21] Although Ibn Taymiyya was responding to what he saw as the neo-incarnationist Sufi notions of Ibn Arabi, the same critique has been applied since the 20th century to the over-politicisation of the Qur’anic term “caliph/vicegerent” by the ideologues of political Islam such as Mawdudi and Qutb, cf. Jaafar Sheikh Idris, IS MAN THE VICEGERENT OF GOD? Journal of Islamic Studies (1990) 1 (1): 99-110, Oxford

[22] See e.g. The Wake-Up Project, Ukab- banner of our Prophet Muhammad (saas), See also a YouTube video featuring a supposed still of this banner accompanied by Islamic songs, and tellingly uploaded by “Abu Muslim Khurasani” at

[23] Black Banners From Khurasan: The Bilad-e-Khurasan in Making, Research Paper by Bilal Khan, March 30th, 2008

[24] For an Urdu translation of this book, see

[25] See Seth Frantzman, A SHORT HISTORY OF THE ISLAMIC ‘BLACK FLAG’ IN JERUSALEM, 10th August 2014,

[26] See discussion thread, Black flags In Khorasan,

[27] For more information, see Adam Serwer, Did Boston Bombing Suspect Post Al Qaeda Prophecy on YouTube?, Mother Jones, 19th April 2013,


Fatwa on fasting in Ramadan during the UK summer

June 30, 2014

UPDATE 1st Ramadan 1436 / 18 June 2015: Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim

1. There seems to be unnecessary fuss and controversy about this scholarly and practical discussion: disagreement is not disunity; a healthy discussion is not “fitnah.” A reminder: this is not a new fatwa – it was issued by Sheikh Muhammad Abduh 100 years ago, and re-iterated by Sheikh Mustafa al-Zarqa’, a leading 20th-century jurist.  The fatwa also applies to most of Europe – see below.

2. A senior Hanafi UK mufti informed me recently that medieval Hanafi jurists gave a similar fatwa, after Muslims travelled to Northern Europe including Rus (Russia).  Ibn Fadlan (Hollywood’s “Thirteenth Warrior”) famously travelled to Scandinavia, so Muslims were aware of these issues going back centuries.

3. A junior UK mufti has recently claimed that previous fatwas only applied to places where sunrise and sunset do not occur, i.e. “lands of the midnight sun.” This is simply not true: Sheikh Zarqa’ explicitly stated that the fatwa applies to lands with a latitude higher than 45 degrees (which includes most of Europe and all of Canada, Alaska and some Northern US states – as a quick glance at a map will show; it only excludes Spain, Portugal, Southern France (roughly, Bordeaux or further south), Italy etc.), whilst the “lands of the midnight sun” begin at 66.5 degrees (in the Arctic and Antarctic Circles, during their respective summers).  This is because of the earth’s tilt of 23.5 degrees, first measured by the Abbasid astronomers at the Bayt al-Hikma (House of Wisdom) in Baghdad, 11-12 centuries ago: 23.5 degrees away from the Equator gives us the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn; whilst 23.5 degrees away from the poles (90 – 23.5 = 66.5) gives us the Arctic and Antarctic Circles.

Have a happy and blessed Ramadan, with positive and pure thoughts, words and deeds!



1. A number of people have asked me since last year about the excessive length of fasting during UK summer months.

2. This has included those new to the practice of fasting, elderly and middle-aged people, who wish to fast but simply cannot manage the very long days. Since last year, I’ve heard reports of such people in hospital, as well as of children falling seriously ill, due to fasting more than 18 hours per day.

3. The day length in London during a midsummer Ramadan is almost 17 hours *sunrise-sunset*. Since there is no agreed beginning of dawn, the dawn-sunset timings vary from 19 to 20.5 hours.

4. The day length increases as we go further north, especially in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

a) E.g. I visited Dublin in June 2000: sunset prayers at the Dublin Islamic Centre (Clonskeagh Mosque) were held at 10.30pm, followed by night prayers at 12am and dawn prayers at 2am. Assuming dawn at 1am, this gives a 21.5-hour dawn-sunset fast.

b) On the other hand, I visited Stockholm in December 1999: sunrise was at 10.30am and sunset at 3.30pm. In winter there, the dawn-sunset fast is barely 6-7 hours, whereas it is 9-10 hours in the southern UK.

5. To reduce the fasting length, note that some of the Sahaba (Prophet’s Companions), including Hudhayfa bin al-Yaman, and Successors ate until sunrise or just before. Tabari and Ibn Kathir mention numerous narrations proving this under Qur’an 2:187, although both of them reject the practice based on a literalist reading of the verse (they lived in moderate climes). Ibn Hazm also approves the practice in his Al-Muhalla.

6. The jurists have discussed this matter for high latitudes (anything over 45 degrees, being halfway between the equator and poles, according to Mustafa Zarqa’.). As Sheikh Muhammad Abduh, Grand Mufti of Egypt, mentions in Tafsir al-Manar, classically they mentioned two possibilities to follow more moderate timings:

a) follow timings of the lands of revelation, viz. Mecca and Medina (Hijaz) – throughout the year, the dawn-sunset fast here is 12-15 hours

b) follow timings of the nearest “moderate land”

Abduh adds, “Both of these are valid, since it is a matter of judgment (ijtihad), and there is no unequivocal text (nass) about it.”

7. Note that following timings of the nearest “moderate land” is similar to following timings of the nearest “moderate time” in your own land, e.g. spring or autumn timings, when the days and nights are approximately of equal length.

8. Abduh is not alone in the above fatwa: he is quoting from centuries of earlier jurists. After him, his fatwa has been echoed by Muhammad Hamidullah, Mustafa Zarqa, Sayyid Tantawi, Jad al-Haqq, and Ali Gomaa amongst others. Texts and discussions of these fatwas may be found on the internet, e.g. see

9. The above fatwa implies partially decoupling fasting from dawn/sunset.

10. The spirit of fasting is clearly “from morning until evening” and to focus on its inner aspects, without hair-splitting about external matters.

11. The famous Qur’anic passage about fasting 2:183-7 begins and ends with taqwa (God-consciousness), and includes the memorable wisdom, “God wishes ease for you, not hardship … that you complete the course, magnify God for guiding you, and that you give thanks.”

This verse is in fact the basis of the numerous hadiths about making matters in religion relatively easy and not difficult, of the classical Hanafi principle of istihsan (attaining goodness, even if opposed to analogical reasoning) along with 39:17-18, cf. the first page of Kitab al-Istihsan in Al-Mabsut of al-Sarakhsi, and of contemporary jurists’ emphasis on taysir (easing matters), part of the Prophetic spirit and one of the principles of jurisprudence.

12. In exceptional circumstances, the Prophet (peace be upon him) understood that “morning” and “evening” were relative to people’s habits and culture.

Hadith: Safwan bin Mu’attal, who as a virgin was caught up with Aisha, Mother of the Believers, in the scandalous rumours that rocked Medina after the Mustaliq expedition, eventually got married. His wife once came to the Prophet and complained about her husband on three counts. (The Prophet defended and made excuses for him regarding all three matters.) One of these was that “he does not get up for the dawn prayer, and only offers it after sunrise when he rises.” When the Prophet asked him about this, he replied that his people or tribe customarily rose after sunrise, and not at the crack of dawn. The Prophet’s wise answer was, “In that case, pray when you wake up.” (Fa idha-stayqazta fa salli, a sound hadith in the Sunan, rated as authentic by Albani in his evaluation of the hadiths of Mishkat al-Masabih.)

Thus, for example, those who work night-shifts, working throughout the night and sleeping during the day, should fast during the night. This is because night has become day for them and vice-versa. The Qur’an that encourages fasting during the day also states that night is for sleep whilst the day is for work (e.g. 78:9-11).

13. An Azhari sheikh recently suggested to me that 12 hours’ fasting was sufficient, based on the average length of a day over a whole year: this is true of the sunrise-sunset day, for every place on earth. If we use dawn-sunset instead, we get 13-14 hours’ fasting. Note that this approach implies keeping a similar-length fast irrespective of the season in which Ramadan falls: in the winter, fasting would be much longer than the dawn-sunset timing, and some of us do follow that approach. This has an element of “continuous fasting” (sawm al-wisal, where fasting continues by night) about it: the Prophet practiced this regularly for several days at a time, but disallowed it for his followers, unless they were sure they could manage it.

14. I am reliably informed that Muslims in Norway use a 14-hour fasting timetable in the summer.

15. A case may be made for 16-hour fasts, based on Imam Ghazzali’s view that the maximum a person should sleep at night is a third of the day and night, i.e. 8 hours.

16. Insisting that those unable to complete long fasts should make them up at another time is practically equivalent to moving Ramadan out of the summer and into the seasons of autumn, winter or spring.


All Praise belongs to God. Peace and Blessings be upon the Messengers of God.

1. Those who wish to follow dawn-sunset timings of 18-21 hour fasts and can do so safely, are free to do so.

2. Those who find this genuinely unbearable, or are convinced of the non-literalist approach of “morning to evening” rather than the literalist “dawn to sunset”, may wish to fast for 12 or preferably 14-16 hours, beginning from dawn, sunrise or even their usual morning meal (breakfast!). Such moderate timings are based on the fatwas of jurists over many centuries for high latitudes.

3. Whatever length a person fasts, they should not feel superior to others. The spirit of Ramadan and fasting includes God-consciousness, patience, perseverance, gratitude, prayer, worship, charity, generosity, humility, self-purification, self-development, helping others, mercy, compassion, forgiveness, lowering the gaze (of the eyes from lustful glances and of the heart from other than God)  and the remembrance and love of God.

May Allah, the One and Unique having Infinite Beautiful Names, bless all of humanity during this month, and shower upon us its internal and external grace.

Sheikh Dr. Usama Hasan (London, UK)

1st Ramadan 1435 / 29th June 2014 (updated: 4th Ramadan 1435/ 2nd July 2014; 11th June 2015)

Download a 2-page PDF of this fatwa here: Fasting in the UK summer

Islam and the Veil – Opening Up the Discussion About Hijab

February 3, 2014

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Usama Hasan

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

Husam Kaikati of Cambridge returns to Allah

March 25, 2010

29/3/10: Bismillah.  We buried Husam on Saturday, rahimahullah. Omar Mahroo, jazahullahu khayran, drove me and our elder boys up to Cambridge. At the funeral prayer and/or burial, amongst several hundred mourners, were: Sheikh Sejad, the young Bosnian imam (behind whom I used to say the Friday prayers at Hendon mosque) who led the Zuhr prayer; Abdul Jalil Mirza, who flew all the way from Saudi the day before, just for the funeral; Abdul Qayyum Arrain; Abdul Lateef Rajput; Aahmer, his dad and many of their clan; Dr. Abdul Ma’bud of the Islamic Academy in Cambridge and student of the late Prof. Syed Ali Ashraf rahimahullah; Ellis Karim; the sons of Abdul Shakoor Chilwan, who was abroad; Yusuf, teenage son of Sheikh Abdul Hakim Murad (also abroad).  Husam’s younger brother Yasir and three sons were there, of course: Muhammad, Abdullah & Umar.  They are all handsome young men now, masha’Allah, but are obviously devastated at the moment.  The last time I saw the elder two, they were toddlers running around their house, 18 years ago.  Their mum Julie and younger sister Safiyyah were presumably in the women’s section of the mosque; there were no women at the burial.

It was good to see several children, all boys aged 7-12 roughly, at the funeral and burial: children above an appropriate age are not traumatised or emotionally scarred by witnessing a funeral; rather, they are strengthened emotionally and begin to learn that most valuable of lessons: that death often punctuates life unexpectedly.  The more materialistic our lives and societies are, the more we become in a state of denial about death, and the harder it becomes for us to face up to the reality of the death of a loved one.  And, as far as I know, it is perfectly acceptable in Islamic tradition for women to attend burials if they so wish, and perhaps this should be encouraged, especially since it may help a grieving mother, wife, sister or daughter etc. come to terms with their loss.

There were many old friends there: a very emotional reunion in obviously sad circumstances.  Husam was buried next to Abdul Majid Arain, Abdul Qayyum’s father who died last year, rahimahullah.  Here are some tributes to Husam.

Yasir Kaikati: “My brother was an imam and khatib who wasn’t afraid to speak the truth based on what Allah and His Messenger said.  He visited prisoners to help them and also made many trips to talk to students at universities in London.  He would often be the first to literally jump into graves to help bury deceased people.  People would ask him to lead the funeral prayers for their relatives.  It’s almost unbelievable that it’s now his turn to be buried. Rahimahullah.”

Aahmer: “A great loss to Cambridge.”

Mujahid Khalid: “inna lillahi wa inna elaihi raajioon – I’m devastated to hear this news. I loved this brother for the sake of Allah. We last met in Riyadh 2 years ago with our brother Muhammad an-Najjar. May Allah have mercy on him and his family.”

Ziyad Abubacker: “Inna lillahi wa inna ilaihi rajioon. IA may Allah grant him peace and rahmah. He was Alhamdulillah, a kind man and brings back many fond memories of our early days in Cambridge. He was the khateeb in the masjid and used to run the Friday study circle.”

Ibn Abdil Shakoor Chilwan: “My father moved with us, the entire family, from Haverhill to Cambridge to be closer to Husam and Mustafa.” [Mustafa is a Libyan brother, another regular at the Friday circle during my time, now settled abroad.]

Which reminds me, that at the Friday circle 1989-92, we would all introduce ourselves briefly at the end of the circle, before the tea & biscuits.  Dr. Ahmad Ibrahim insisted on this: it was a good practice he seemed to have learnt from his al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun training, although it seemed a bit pointless on the days when there were no newcomers, since we all knew each other pretty well by then. Br Abdul Shakoor would always say, “… I live in Haverhill, about 20 miles from here.” After hearing this weekly for months, Husam finally teased him once, asking, “Why do you always say: about 20 miles from here ?!”

I’ve just remembered another anecdote: Husam once took me and another student friend to visit a middle-aged Turkish friend of his, originally from Adana. (Syria & Turkey share a border, of course, and there is much friendship between the peoples of the two countries.)  This chap was well-educated and a wise man.  During our conversation he mentioned the story of Sayyidina Umar b. al-Khattab, whilst in Madinah, having a waking vision of his commander Sariyah in trouble battle in Syria or Persia.  Sayyiduna Umar called out, “Sariyah! [Move towards] the mountain!”  Sariyah heard a voice exclaiming the same advice hundreds of miles away and somehow knew that it was from Umar.  He obeyed the advice and the tactic proved successful.  Anyway, this was the first time I had heard this story (which I finally read over a decade later in Suyuti’s Tarikh al-Khulafa’ or History of the Caliphs) and my initial reaction was that it was a weak hadith or some Sufi nonsense, and said so. (Remember, I was a radical young salafi at this time.) Husam corrected me, and the two of them seemed to be surprised that I didn’t know the story.  One lesson I’ve learnt from this and countless other incidents is that many Western Muslims, converts and others, travel to the East with wide-eyed wonder and learn many things which we then give lectures, sermons or talks based on, when many Eastern Muslims learnt those things as children and often scratch their heads in amusement at their Western friends’ wearing of a very childish Islam on their sleeves.

To reiterate: I knew Husam 1989-92 and got to know him very well, and loved him a lot.  He was roughly 25-28 years old during this period: a young man with a young wife and children.  He recited the Qur’an beautifully, although he didn’t lead the Friday prayers etc. until the mid-90’s, although he was always an active member of the community.  Unfortunately, I largely lost touch with the Cambridge mosque community over the last 18 years although I maintained intermittent contact with the university Isoc.  Husam spent much of those 18 years abroad, pursuing his business interests, but his family were now resettled in Cambridge and he was hoping to move back there himself, although he obviously paid regular visits.  I hope that other people will share their memories of Husam, especially those who kept his company for longer, such as his close family and friends, since my recollections are for a relatively short period and long ago.  Imam Sakhawi said, “Whoever biographs a believer, it is as though s/he has brought him/her back to life.”

Husam’s mum and his wife had requested that someone who knew him personally should lead his funeral prayer: his sons were the obvious choice but had no experience of doing so.  So the family asked br. Abdul Qayyum to lead, but he asked me to lead.  Sheikh Sejad was kind and understanding in this regard.  I thank Allah and then the Kaikati family & friends for the immense honour and privilege of leading the janazah prayer of a long-lost, dear friend, although I was trembling internally at the time, as I am know whilst writing about it.  And I’ve never buried a dearer friend, so it was difficult to leave the graveside.  I can’t imagine what it must be like for those who have to bury close family members.  I thought of my father leading his own father’s funeral prayer, three years ago.

It was a beautiful, sunny day in Cambridge during the burial on Saturday afternoon, just like the sunny Eid al-Adha day many years ago when I last saw Husam alive.  Allah’s decree is most mysterious: Husam had invited me to lead the Eid prayer, and I didn’t see him again until I led another prayer that has no adhan or iqamah, his funeral prayer 18 years later.  The two Eids are themselves symbolic of the believer’s joy at meeting God, coming as they do after the month of fasting, which symbolises the tribulations of life, or the Day of ‘Arafah, which is a symbol of the Day of Resurrection.  I therefore pray that Husamuddin Kaikati’s funeral prayer was indeed like the Eid prayers, a prelude to the Ultimate Happiness.

27/3/10: Bismillah. The funeral prayer of our dear, departed friend, Husam Uddin Kaikati, will be held after the afternoon prayer (1.15pm) today, Saturday 27th March 2010 at Abu Bakr Siddiq Mosque on Mawson Road, Cambridge CB1 2DZ. Burial at the crematorium, Huntingdon Road, Cambridge CB3 0JJ, God-willing.

Husam, originally from Syria, died on Thursday 25th March at the age of 46 of some kind of heart attack, it seems – he had been fitted with a pacemaker many years ago.  He was in Austria, attending to some business interests, when he died.  He leaves behind his English wife Julie, and four children: three sons and a daughter, the youngest.  I’m told that the two elder children are in their twenties whilst the younger two are teenagers.  Condolences to them all.

I first met Husam at the Cambridge Mosque in 1989 when I began at university.  He was a regular at the daily prayers and at the Friday night tafsir circle where Dr. Ahmad Ibrahim (the mosque khatib at the time), Hisham Quwaidir, Abdul Jalil Mirza, Abdul Shakoor Chilwan and others were also active. The other regular students at the circle included Mujahid Khalid (Girton), Ridzuan Abdul Rahim (Churchill), Wan Ahmed Saifuddin (St. Catherine’s), Elyas Patel and Samir Siksek.  In later years, there were Taqi Hashmi, Mahbub Gani, Ziyad Abubacker, Tawqeer Rashid and others.  All of these people will be heartbroken at Husam’s departure, as I am.  Condolences to them also.

Husam recited the Qur’an beautifully – he had a lovely voice.  His recitation was probably the best at the tafsir circle during my time there. And I’m told he led the Friday prayers at the mosque in the years after I left Cambridge.

But he wasn’t a scholarly type: rather, an active businessman.  Always wheeling and dealing, buying and selling cars from auctions etc, a kind of “Del Boy” with the joviality and sense of humour to match.  He opened a grocery shop around the corner from the mosque around 1990 and we would often have lunch there.  I remember he once stopped me from buying a £2 sandwich from his own shop, saying that it was a rip-off and would be taken back by the sandwich company in the evening, since it was on a sale-or-return basis.  “For £1, you can buy a loaf of bread and cheese: you can eat, I can eat, everyone here can eat!”  On another occasion in the same shop, he was speaking to Abu Muntasir on the phone and before passing the phone to me, pretended to put me through on a switchboard with a Fonejacker-esque crackling sound.

All my memories of him involve his smiling face and his constant humour.  Like many of the Arab brothers in Cambridge, he was very keen on football: playing and watching.  I remember he took me to a friend’s flat after our final exams in 1992 for dinner etc. and an England match was on during the European championships.  Husam had nicknamed England’s midfielder Carlton Palmer, “the chicken-man,” because of the way he ran with his long legs and noticed that Palmer would often fall over whilst in possession of the ball.  He kept saying during that match, “Weyn [colloquial Arabic for “where is”] chicken-man?  He’s gonna fall over!” and chuckling away.

Husam used to pray at Sheikh Albani’s mosque in Damascus as a young man. He once told me that Albani would usually say his dhikr after the fard prayers whilst walking home, where he would pray the sunnah rak’at.  I had come to Cambridge as an ardent Albani-fan (all of us at JIMAS were, at the time, of course, except that JIMAS was called HISAM at the time, a word essentially the same as Husam, meaning “Sword” [of Islam]). It was Husam who, upon discovering that I was a fan of his Sheikh, immediately gave me a brand-new paperback copy of the Sheikh’s book on prayer which I translated into English by the grace of Allah, 1989-90, eventually published by JIMAS in 1993 as The Prophet’s Prayer Described.  That book has had an official print-run since then of about 50,000 plus unauthorised prints, so alhamdulillah, tens of thousands of people have benefited from it, especially from the full range of exquisite Prophetic supplications for every posture in prayer, a feature that I have not seen in any other book, in any language.  Certainly not in such an accessible manner.  The book also raised the ijtihad/taqlid issue and eventually helped to provoke a furious, though erroneous, madhhabist reaction.  The madhhabist/anti-madhhabist debate is still ongoing in English-speaking circles although more and more people are realising how anachronistic it is, as we appreciate the significance of Maqasid theory.  Thus, I hope that the reward for every person who has benefited from that translation, or still does or will benefit from it in the future: the reward will accrue to Husam’s account in the presence of the Almighty.  I don’t think Husam knew that it was his gift to a young student that would become a best-selling book in translation, since we never met after it was published.

Husam always reminded me of the Companion of the Prophet (peace be upon him) who would laugh and joke a lot.  When some of the more austere Companions complained about this to the Prophet, he replied, “da’hu fa innahu yuhibbu’Llaha wa rasulahu – Let him be, for he loves Allah and His Messenger.”

عَنْ أَبِي سَعِيدٍ، عَنْ النَّبِيِّ ﷺ، قَالَ: التَّاجِرُ الصَّدُوقُ الْأَمِينُ مَعَ النَّبِيِّينَ وَالصِّدِّيقِينَ وَالشُّهَدَاءِ. سنن الترمذي، مشكواة، باب المسائلة.

Imam Tirmidhi transmitted the hadith on the authority of Abu Sa’id, who said: The Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) said, “The honest trader will be (raised) with the Prophets, the truthful ones and martyrs.”

(Mishkat, Chapter on Mutual Flexibility, hadith nos. 2796-7).

Although Tirmidhi and Albani declared the isnad to be weak, the meaning of the hadith is acceptable: my grandfather included it in his Intikhab-e-Hadith (no. 283) / Way of the Prophet (Islamic Foundation, no. 276) and Yusuf al-Qaradawi quoted it in his Al-Halal wa l-Haram fi l-Islam (The Lawful and the Prohibited in Islam).  My grandfather commented thus:

This Hadith makes it clear that Islam is not merely a few rituals of worship; rather, honesty and integrity in trade are also important parts of the religion, without which the performance of worship rituals have no weight with Allah.

Husam certainly loved God and His Messenger and was a scrupulously-honest trader in our estimation, and only Allah knows everyone’s true state.

I’m pretty sure that the last time I met Husam was on Eid day in 1992: he had invited me up to Cambridge from London to lead the Eid prayer, so I spent Eid night at his house and he drove me to the community centre for prayer in the morning.  There had been some confusion as to whether or not there was anyone available in Cambridge to lead the prayer, and someone else led in the end.  But it means that the last time I saw my dear friend alive in this world, it was a day of immense happiness for both of us and our families and communities.  I pray that we meet in the next life, also in a state of overflowing joy.

May Allah accept Husam Kaikati’s lifetime of love, worship and hard work, forgive his mistakes and draw him near to His Presence in the Gardens of Paradise.  May He bless Sister Julie and the rest of Husam’s family and grant them peace, strength and fortitude.

Usama Hasan, London.  Completed at the breaking of dawn, Saturday 27th March 2010 / 11th Rabi’ II 1431

The original 20-year-old copy of Albani's prayer-book that Husam Kaikati gave to Usama Hasan

The first English edition of Albani's prayer-book, 1993

Bismillah. Sad news received this morning (Thurs 25th March 2010).

Verily to Allah belongs what He took and to Him belongs what he gave, and everything with Him has an appointed time.

Assalaam alaykum wrwb. It is with great sadness that we announce on behalf of Sister Julie and the Kaikati family that their beloved husband and father, Husam Uddin Kaikati, passed away in Austria early this morning. We will forward on details of the funeral arrangements for those of you who would like to attend as soon as they are received Insha’Allah. Wasalaam.

The Office of Cambridge Muslim Trust
Registered United Kingdom Charity
Registration Number: 1125964

“O Allah, guide me among those you have guided. Grant me safety among those you have granted safety. Take care of me among those whom you have taken care of. Bless me in what you have given. Protect me from the evil you have decreed, for you decree and nothing is decreed upon you. No one who is in your care is humiliated and there is no honour for the one you take as enemy. Blessed and Exalted are you. O our Lord may you bless the Prophet Mohammed.”