Posts Tagged ‘God’

RIP Stephen Hawking (1942-2018) – In Memoriam

March 15, 2018

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

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

Stephen Hawking – In Memoriam by Usama Hasan

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

The question being addressed in the lecture was,

“Is Everything Predestined?”

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

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

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

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

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

Hawking’s conclusion was very interesting:

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

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

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

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

In other Islamic texts, this is stated as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

6. Quoting Hawking in MSc exam, 1993

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

7. The Universe in A Nutshell

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

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

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

 

8. Meeting Hawking at Google Zeitgeist Europe, 2011

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

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

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

This is roughly what I said to him:

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

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

 

9. Islamic reflections about Hawking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Imam Dr Usama Hasan

Cardiff, UK.

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

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Our Common Humanity Includes Evil – my BBC Radio 4 Thought for the Day, 16/02/2018

February 18, 2018

Our Common Humanity Includes Evil
(FINAL TEXT AS DELIVERED)

Thought For The Day, BBC Radio 4, Friday 16 February 2018, broadcast 0749-0752

Imam Dr Usama Hasan

[Listen to the 3-minute audio clip here.]

Good morning. Wednesday’s massacre at a secondary school in the USA has again reminded us of the immense evil of which we humans are capable. Closer to home, we have been agonising nationally over the past week over what to do with the so-called “Beatles” gang of fellow-Britons who became brutal ISIS terrorists, after two of them were arrested in Syria.

We often hear faith leaders and politicians speaking about “our common humanity” as a basis for coming together and being inclusive. But as the above examples illustrate, the concept of our common humanity includes the capacity for diabolical acts of great evil as well as for heroic acts of courage and generosity in the service of others.

It is the most grotesque examples of being bad that we often label as “evil,” whether or not we actually believe in supernatural beings such as angels and demons.

When we speak of our common humanity, we must thus acknowledge that this is a double-edged sword that we all carry within us at some level. This will enable us to have more realistic conversations about how we come together: presumably, on the basis of the “better angels of our nature,” rather than the demons lurking deep within.

In the Qur’an, even your relative’s murderer is described as “your brother,” in the verse allowing you to seek harsh justice against him whilst encouraging forgiveness. Ali bin Abi Talib, the wise early Muslim leader revered by Sunni and Shia Muslims, faced a rebellion by fanatical, violent, extremist and bloodthirsty rebels known as the Khawarij. He won over a large number of them through reasoned debate, but had no choice but to physically fight the others who remained obstinate and stubborn. But throughout the struggle, in contrast to many around him, Ali refused to deny the rebels’ humanity, referring to them as, “our brothers, who’ve transgressed against us.”

Whether we like it or not, we must realise that mass murderers, terrorists, and other criminals are our brothers and sisters in humanity, and sometimes, even in faith. We must punish them within our criminal justice system according to the severity of their crimes.

Yet no-one is born purely evil: on the contrary, children regularly remind adults of the virtues of innocence and good-naturedness. It is a combination of bad experiences, outside influences and terrible moral choices that lead some of us to commit evil acts. But there is always hope for repentance and redemption, and the opportunity to turn our lives around.

Reflecting on that would perhaps allow a more compassionate and forgiving attitude towards others, especially when they have done us relatively-minor wrongs.

Jesuit Muslims

December 28, 2016

JESUIT MUSLIMS (OR MUSLIM JESUITS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Abridgment and Translation: Usama Hasan

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

 

JESUS & MUHAMMAD, PEACE BE UPON THEM – NOTES ON THEIR REALITY IN ISLAMIC TEACHING

December 25, 2016

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

 

 

JESUS & MUHAMMAD, PEACE BE UPON THEM

 

 

– NOTES ON THEIR REALITY IN ISLAMIC TEACHING

 

 

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

 

 

img_20150512_141045

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

img_20150512_140326

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

 

JESUS & MUHAMMAD, PEACE BE UPON THEM

 

– NOTES ON THEIR REALITY IN ISLAMIC TEACHING

 

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

 

 

  1. WORD (LOGOS)

 

1.1 JESUS CHRIST: A WORD OF GOD & THE WORD OF GOD

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.

 

1.2 THE QUR’AN: THE WORD OF GOD

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

 

1.3 LOGOS, CREATION & COMMAND

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).

 

  1. SPIRIT

 

2.1 JESUS CHRIST: A SPIRIT FROM GOD & THE SPIRIT OF GOD

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.

 

2.2 ARCHANGEL GABRIEL: A SPIRIT OF GOD & THE SPIRIT OF GOD

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)

 

2.3 ADAM & HUMANITY: RECIPIENTS OF GOD’s SPIRIT

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).

 

2.4 THE QUR’AN: A SPIRIT FROM GOD

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).

 

2.5 PROPHET MUHAMMAD’S SPIRIT

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.”

 

2.6 INTERACTION OF THE SPIRITS:

GABRIEL — JESUS (LOGOS) — MARY:

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.

GABRIEL — QUR’AN (LOGOS) – -MUHAMMAD:

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)

 

  1. DISCUSSION / CONCLUSIONS

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)

 

FREEDOM – Islamic reflections on Liberty

December 25, 2016

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

FREEDOM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ibn ‘Ashur’s Discussion of the Hadith Cursing Women Who Wear Wigs, Tattoos, Etc.

July 25, 2016

Bismillah.  Many people think that tattoos are absolutely prohibited (haram) in Islam due to a particular hadith. The following discussion from Ibn ‘Ashur shows that this is not the case.

Ibn ‘Ashur’s Discussion of the Hadith Cursing Women Who Wear Wigs, Tattoos, Etc.

 

Translation: Usama Hasan, 25/07/2016

 

(1) al-Tahrir wa al-Tanwir

 

وليس من تغيير خلق الله التصرّف في المخلوقات بما أذن الله فيه ولا ما يدخل في معنى الحسن؛ فإنّ الختان من تغيير خلق الله ولكنّه لفوائد صحيّة، وكذلك حَلق الشعر لفائدة دفع بعض الأضرار، وتقليمُ الأظفار لفائدة تيسير العمل بالأيدي، وكذلك ثقب الآذان للنساء لوضع الأقراط والتزيّن، وأمّا ما ورد في السنّة من لعن الواصلات والمتنمّصات والمتفلّجات للحسن فممّا أشكل تأويله. وأحسب تأويله أنّ الغرض منه النهي عن سمات كانت تعدّ من سمات العواهر في ذلك العهد، أو من سمات المشركات، وإلاّ فلو فرضنا هذه مَنهيّاً عنها لَما بلغ النهي إلى حدّ لَعن فاعلات ذلك. وملاك الأمر أن تغيير خلق الله إنّما يكون إنما إذا كان فيه حظّ من طاعة الشيطان، بأن يجعل علامة لِنحلة شيطانية، كما هو سياق الآية واتّصال الحديث بها. وقد أوضحنا ذلك في كتابي المسمّى: النظر الفسيح على مشكل الجامع الصحيح .

 

(Tafsir or Qur’an-commentary of: {ولأضلنهم ولأمنينهم ولآمرنهم فليبتكن آذان الأنعام ولآمرنهم فليغيرنَّ خلق الله}

 

[Satan says: I will misguide them, and give them false hopes; I will instruct them and they will surely cut the ears of cattle; I will instruct them and they will surely change the creation of God, al-Nisa’, 4:121])

 

 

 

Ibn ‘Ashur says:

 

Modifying creation, in ways that God has allowed, or in beautification, is not included in “changing the creation of God.” For example: circumcision changes the creation of God but is done for health benefits; shaving the hair gives the benefit of preventing some harms; clipping the nails is for the benefit of facilitating manual work; ear-piercing for women is for adornment with ear-rings, etc.

 

As for what is narrated in the Sunnah of cursing women who use false hair and wigs, pluck their eyebrows [to thin them] or widen the gaps in their teeth, all for the sake of beauty, this is one of the difficult matters for interpretation (ta’wil). [Translator’s note: some versions of this hadith also mention women who have tattoos on their bodies.] I think its interpretation (ta’wil) is that its purpose is to forbid characteristics that were regarded as those of prostitutes or idolatrous, polytheistic women in that era. Otherwise, even if we regard these as (still) being forbidden, the forbiddance would not reach the extent of cursing the women who do so.

 

In short, “changing the creation of God” only applies where there is an element of obeying Satan by placing a symbol of a Satanic quality, as is the context of the verse and its link with the hadith. We have explained this clearly in my book, al-Nazar al-Fasih ‘ala mushkil al-Jami’ al-Sahih (A Broad Analysis of the Difficulties of [al-Bukhari’s] Authentic Collection).

 


 

(2) Maqasid al-Sharia

 

 

 

Maqasid al-Shari’a (3/268-9; Wizarah al-Awqaf al-Qatariyya)

Chapter/Section fi maqasid al-tashri’ al-‘aammah: ‘umum shari’ah al-islamOn the General Principles of Legislation: the Generality of the Law of Islam:

 

We are certain that customs of people have no right – as customs – to be forced upon other people in legislation, nor in fact to be forced upon the original people themselves. It is true that the Sharia does force such customs upon people if they do not depart from them, because their adhering to these [customs] and the customs being central to them renders the customs as equivalent to mutual conditions that are considered in their mutual transactions, since the people are silent about anything contrary to these. An example of this is the view of Malik, may God have mercy upon him, that a noble woman is not to be forced to suckle her child, since that is the custom generally accepted by the people, and thus is like a [legal] condition. Hence, he applied the saying of God Exalted, “Mothers are to suckle their children for two complete years” (2:233) specifically to women not of the nobility, or regarded its context as being for the purpose of specifying the time period and not for the principle of mandating suckling.

 

From this principle of imposing a tribe’s customs upon it within the Sharia, where such customs are related to obligatory or prohibited matters, it becomes clear to us how to clear the confusion and huge problems presented to the jurists in understanding many of the Sharia’s prohibitions of matters where one finds no harm at all.

 

For example: the prohibition of wigs, widening gaps between teeth and tattoos for women, in the hadith of Ibn Mas’ud that “the Messenger of God, may God bless him and grant him peace, cursed women who use or ask for wigs or tattoos, or who pluck their eyebrows or widen the gaps between their teeth for the sake of beauty, who change the creation of God.” The mind is almost lost at this, because it sees categories of adornment for women, of which other types are permitted, such as rouge, perfume and the tooth-stick, so it is confounded by such a strict forbiddance of them.

 

The correct interpretation of this in my view, and which I have not seen anyone else articulate, is that those states [qualities and actions] were symbols of a woman’s weak morality amongst the Arabs. Thus, the forbiddance of these was a forbiddance of the underlying cause, or of becoming exposed to a violation of dignity or honour because of these states [qualities and actions].

Click here for a PDF with both extracts from Ibn ‘Ashur, in Arabic and English: tattooing-etc-with-english-translation

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

July 16, 2015

WITH THE NAME OF GOD, MOST GRACIOUS, MOST MERCIFUL

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

Measuring foodstuffs for zakat al-fitr

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

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

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

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

APPENDIX: SOME BACKGROUND RESEARCH

 

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

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

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

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

 

When does zakat al-fitr become obligatory?

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

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

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

 

Recipients

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

  1. ABOUT UK FOOD BANKS

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Rice 5kg

Pasta 3kg

Porridge oats 2.5kg

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

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

FOOTNOTES / REFERENCES

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

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

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

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

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

INNER AND OUTER ASPECTS OF ISLAMIC RITUAL PRAYER (SALAT)

June 26, 2015

Bismillah. This is about some of the beautiful symbolism and meaning behind the salat or ritual prayer, one of the five pillars of Islam and to be performed at least five times a day.  When the salat is reduced to pure ritual without any understanding of the Arabic words or of the symbolism of the actions, many inward and outward problems arise, God forbid!  But the salat is the believer’s daily ascension (mi’raj) and communion with God: it is up to us to deepen this daily experience of ours. It is the Muslim’s daily practice of mindfulness, meditation and remembrance, to develop a deep wellspring of love, faith and humility to equip us for life’s individual, social and political challenges. May God continue to bless our journeys!

All italicised phrases are from the Qur’an and Sunna; references are omitted for ease of reading and clarity: this is not an academic article, but an attempt to elucidate certain indications and symbols, with the hope of helping people on their own journeys.

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

INNER AND OUTER ASPECTS OF ISLAMIC RITUAL PRAYER (SALAT)

  1. Prayer times: Time is sacred (God says, I am Time); we offer each prayer within its time in order to share in the sacredness of every part of the day and night, and to give thanks for that portion of sacred time.
  2. Washing (ablutions) before prayer: we cleanse our limbs and hearts of wrongdoing.
  3. Ablutions are nullified by toilet or sexual acts: these represent our basic animal natures, so we wash again to symbolise recovering our angelic natures in order to stand before God.
  4. Facing Mecca: The Ka’bah, as the House of God, symbolises the heart, which is also the House of God. Whilst facing Mecca outwardly, we turn inwardly to face the home of God at the centre and core of our being. So turn your face towards the Sacred Mosque!
  5. Standing in straight rows: we are in fellowship, equal before God, and imitating the ranks of the angels. The hearts of the people of Paradise beat as one … By Those Who Stand in Ranks!
  6. Raising the hands at the beginning of the prayer: symbolises the “lifting of the veil” between us and God. In prayer, we are talking directly to our Lord.
  7. Standing before God in prayer: facing up to life as a journey to God; a foretaste and preparation for standing before God on Judgment Day.
  8. Keeping the eyes open, rather than closed, in prayer: do not be veiled by multiplicity from Unity, nor by Unity from multiplicity.
  9. Lowering the head and looking at the ground (if practised): humility before God.
  10. Keeping the chin up and looking straight ahead towards Mecca (if practised): facing life, and one’s inward reality, directly.
  11. Folding the arms across the body (if practised): the servant’s pose before the Master.
  12. Reciting the Opening Chapter of the Qur’an (Surat al-Fatiha): we are sharing in a communion with God. God says, I have divided the prayer between Me and My servant …
  13. Praise be to God, Lord of the Worlds; All-Merciful, Most Merciful; Master and King of the Day of Judgment: God says, These belong to Me, as our glorification is of God.
  14. You alone we worship; You alone we ask for help: God says, This is (shared) between Me and My servant; the God-human relationship.
  15. Guide us to the Straight Path; the path of those whom You have favoured, who neither receive (Your) anger nor stray: God says, These belong to My servant, and My servant shall have whatever he or she requests.
  16. Reciting further from the Qur’an: the remembrance of God continues; God and the angels bear witness to it. Truly, the recitation at dawn was witnessed.
  17. Bowing: humility before God; bearing life’s hardships, followed by standing tall again.
  18. Prostration, with forehead, nose, hands, knees and feet pressed to the ground: ultimate humility before God; one is closest to God in this posture, which is outwardly humiliation, inwardly elevation; our hearts are higher than our brains, whilst the rest of the time, our brains are higher than our hearts; Pray hard, for your prayers are most likely to be accepted in this position; death.
  19. The second prostration, after a brief sitting: the second death, at the blowing of the Horn. Our Lord! You caused us to die twice, and to live twice …
  20. In prayer, do not sit like a dog, peck like a cockerel or squat like a monkey: throughout prayer, we must rise above our animal natures and try to inhabit our angelic natures.
  21. Standing, bowing, prostration: the body forms the Arabic letters Alif (A), Dal (D) and Mim (M) respectively, hence spelling Adam during the prayer; we are seeking our original Paradisal, primordial humanity before the Fall through our communion with God.

    [In Hebrew and Arabic, the Aleph/Alif (A) also signifies the number 1, so “Adam” is identical to “1 dam” meaning “one blood”: humanity is united; we have different skin colours, but we bleed the same colour. Red blood cells have no DNA (although white ones do), so in a sense blood represents our common humanity – much of it does not have our unique, genetic fingerprints that are found in every other of the trillions of cells of our body.]

  22. Standing, bowing, prostration: the body forms a straight line, right angle and (semi-)circle respectively, the bases of all geometry and form; we are signifying that we are at one with Nature and its beautiful forms. God is Beautiful, and loves Beauty.
  23. Sitting in remembrance of God at the end of the prayer: a foretaste of the eternal rest in Paradise.
  24. The prayer ends with the greeting of peace (salam): Their greeting on the Day they meet Him is Peace; Their greeting there (in the Garden) is Peace; they hear no vain or sinful talk, only the words, Peace, Peace!

Usama Hasan

London, Ramadan 1436 / June 2015

Mirrors

August 1, 2013

Bismillah. The Prophet, peace be upon him, taught: al-mu’min mir’at al-mu’min – “the believer is the mirror of the believer.”

This morning, I read a mind-boggling commentary on this teaching from Ibn ‘Arabi, of which more later.

But first, here is a traditional explanation of the hadith, adapted slightly from Sheikh Abdul Ghaffar Hasan in his Way of the Prophet:

In this Hadith, a believer has been declared to be the mirror of another believer. This is a profoundly meaningful comparison. Keeping this comparison in mind, the following aspects of a believer’s relationship with another believer become apparent:

 (1) A mirror reflects only those spots and stains that actually exist. It neither reduces nor enlarges them.

(2) The mirror only reveals spots and stains when the face is present. If the person goes away, the tongue of the mirror is silenced.

(3) We have never heard of anyone becoming annoyed or angry at seeing their spots and stains in the mirror. On the contrary, we see that people gratefully keep the mirror in a safe place so that it may used when needed later.

(4) The mirror only reveals the spots and stains when it is level with the person’s face. If the mirror is above or below the face, it does not serve its essential purpose.

Instead of simile and metaphor, it can be stated in plain words that through the comparison with the mirror, the Messenger of Allah (may God bless him and grant him peace) has given us four pieces of guidance:

(1) If there is a need to mention a person’s defect, it should only be described as far as it exists.

(2) The defect should be mentioned in the person’s presence, not behind their back.

(3) If someone informs us of a defect or criticises us, we should be grateful to them instead of being annoyed with them.

(4) When a sincere adviser or critic criticises, he should neither show himself as greater and higher, nor use flattery and sycophancy [to be lower].

Now onto Ibn ‘Arabi: al-Mu’min (the Source or Guardian of Faith) is also a Name of God [Qur’an 59:23]. Hence, the hadith also means:

a) “The believer is the mirror of God” and

b) “God is the mirror of the believer.”

Explanations:

a) A person of pure faith has annihilated the ego and inculcated godly or saintly qualities such that the person’s heart and being is filled with (faith in) God, so God and other people only see a reflection of God in the person.

b) Since the World (the Universe or Nature) is also a locus or place of the reflection of God’s Names, and the human is a microcosm of the universe (the macrocosm), the believer learns about himself/herself through experiencing life, looking at the world and God’s action in it.  This teaching is related to the one that “a believer sees by the light of God”: s/he also sees by the multiple, renewed reflections of God’s light.

 

A MUSLIM RESPONSE TO STEPHEN HAWKING’S LATEST PRONOUNCEMENTS ABOUT GOD

September 17, 2010

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

WHAT BREATHES FIRE INTO THE EQUATIONS?

A MUSLIM RESPONSE TO STEPHEN HAWKING’S LATEST PRONOUNCEMENTS ABOUT GOD

by Usama Hasan, 7th September 2010

 

 

The Introduction to the original 1988 edition of Prof. Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time (Bantam Press) was written by the late Carl Sagan, a leading American physicist who was also atheist. In this Introduction, Sagan put a decidedly atheist slant on Hawking’s work:

“In this book are lucid revelations on the frontiers of physics, astronomy, cosmology, and courage … This is also a book about God … or perhaps the absence of God. The word God fills these pages. Hawking embarks on a quest to answer Einstein’s famous question about whether God had any choice in creating the universe. Hawking is attempting, as he explicitly states, to understand the mind of God. And this makes all the more unexpected the conclusion of the effort, at least so far: a universe with no edge in space, no beginning or end in time, and nothing for a Creator to do.”

Since many, if not most, people who bought the bestseller failed to make much headway into a rather difficult read for the non-specialist, Sagan’s resounding words at the beginning of the book had enormous influence, no doubt. Many people would have been left unaware that Hawking’s short, concluding chapter maintained an agnostic position, rather open to the idea of God. Just over two decades later, the publication of extracts from Hawking’s latest book, The Grand Design, shows that the “greatest physicist since Einstein” has not followed the latter’s mystical view of God, but rather opted for a Sagan-like position.

Over the past week, many journalists and commentators have dug up Hawking’s concluding paragraph from 1988 (p. 175), and reasoned that he has now simply changed his mind:

“However, if we do discover a complete theory … it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason – for then we would know the mind of God.”

However, Hawking had made the more important, philosophical points a couple of paragraphs earlier (p. 174), points that have largely been ignored in the recent debate:

“Even if there is only one possible unified theory, it is just a set of rules and equations. What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe? The usual approach of science of constructing a mathematical model cannot answer the questions of why there should be a universe for the model to describe. Why does the universe go to all the bother of existing? Is the unified theory so compelling that it brings about its own existence?”

It would now appear that Hawking has forgotten these crucial questions by claiming in his latest book (as reported in The Times, 2nd September 2010) that,

“Because there is a law such as gravity, the Universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the Universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the Universe going.”

Here, Hawking fails to explain where the law of gravity comes from, and fails to answer his own question from 1988,

“What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe?”

Or, as Professor Paul Davies puts it,

“A much tougher problem now looms, however. What is the source of those ingenious laws that enable a universe to pop into being from nothing?”

Hawking’s “spontaneous creation” is God-by-another-name: our atheist friends, like theists, have many names for God!

Hawking’s reliance on M-theory (related to string theory) is objectionable because it goes against his own strong positivist position that demands experimental tests for any theory. Paul Davies says, “It is not testable, not even in any foreseeable future,” and Professor Jon Butterworth adds, “M-theory is highly speculative and certainly not in the zone of science that we’ve got any evidence for.” (Both quotations are from The Times)

Furthermore, the physicists Lee Smolin and Peter Woit have both written popular books about the problems of string theory (The Trouble With Physics and Not Even Wrong: The Failure of String Theory, respectively).

As to the idea of the multiverse, the cosmos as a vast (possibly infinite) collection of universes inferred by Hawking from M-theory, Neil Manson once said that, “the multiverse is the last resort of the desperate atheist.” However, whereas some of our Jewish, Christian and Muslim friends may have objections to the multiverse, given the centrality of the Israelite people, Christ and Muhammad respectively in our theologies, others have no such problems. The Qur’an teaches that God created “seven earths” (Surah al-Talaq or Chapter: Divorce, 65:12). The great early commentator, Ibn ‘Abbas, taught that “on each earth there is an Adam, a Moses, a Jesus and a Muhammad.” In other words, there is life on other planets and possibly in parallel universes, and since all creation is there to glorify God, other forms of intelligent life may also reach the heights of spirituality amongst their species.

God as Creator (al-Khaliq, and also the intensive form al-Khallaq) is able to create as many universes as He wishes. So in answer to the question, “God or multiverse?” it is obviously possible to believe in God as Lord of the Multiverse (Rabb al-‘alamin).

In conclusion, it should be remembered that Hawking is a brilliant scientist.  Science does an excellent job of describing Nature, or as a theist would say, how God creates.  But science can say nothing essential about why we are here and how we should live our lives: only true and balanced faith and religion can answer those questions, with Messengers of God to show us the Way.

Dr. Usama Hasan is Senior Lecturer in Engineering at Middlesex University, an imam at Al-Tawhid Mosque in London and a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Click here for a PDF version of this article: On God and Hawking 7-Sep-2010