Posts Tagged ‘Islamic law’

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

Hadiths on Female Circumcision (FGM)

March 19, 2014

Bismillah. Further to Quilliam’s press release last week against the call to reintroduce female circumcision (FGM) in the Maldives, here are further thoughts on the issue, including a discussion of hadiths about the subject:

1. FGM is a cultural practice that was known in pre-Islamic Arabia. It is also found in parts of Africa.

2. FGM has no religious Islamic sanction – there are just two traditions on the subject, both of which are strongly disputed, with many jurists throughout history discounting them as having nothing to do with the Prophet of Islam.

There are two hadiths in the Sunan collections (medium-level authenticity) relevant here. To paraphrase, these two hadiths say, “Cut, but don’t cut too much” and “Female circumcision is a way of honouring (!) women.”

The isnads (chains of narration) of these two hadiths are acknowledged to be weak, including by the Sheikh Albani. However, regrettably, Albani judged that the two hadiths support each other and that they are therefore sound (hasan). This judgment is quoted by many writers, including the influential Saudi scholar al-‘Arifi/’Urayfi in his “Etiquettes of Welcoming the Newborn in Islam” (Adab Istiqbal al-Mawlud fil Islam), to support FGM. [Note that thousands of copies of the latter book in Arabic were distributed for free in the UK by salafist organisations.]

However, the UK-based British-Iraqi Sheikh Abdullah al-Judai vehemently disagrees with Albani about this, declaring these hadiths to be seriously weak and FGM to be a custom not approved by Islam. [See Postscript below for more details.]

Here, it is worth analysing three claims made in the recent Lapido Media article on Maldives FGM (http://www.lapidomedia.com/node/3987):

(a) “the four Sunni schools approved of female circumcision”

This may well be the case, because of the above hadiths being accepted by jurists without scrutiny, although many Hadith scholars pointed out their weakness. Like the blasphemy and apostasy laws of medieval Islam, FGM became a theoretical juristic position even though it was rarely practiced. These issues need to be addressed by the proponents of so-called “traditional Islam” (that is actually mediaeval Islam), of both the madhhabist and salafist varieties.

(b) “one reason for this was to reduce women’s sexual appetite”

Ibn Taymiyyah certainly says so, and endorses it. He goes on to claim that “non-Muslim women, being uncircumcised, have excessive sexual desire.” (Ibn Taymiyyah, Fatawa al-Nisa’ or Jurisprudential Pronouncements relating to Women.) Other mediaeval jurists, also known for their xenophobia and misogyny notwithstanding positive qualities in other aspects, probably agreed with him.

(c) [A Maldivian cleric] quotes a hadith of the collection by Prophet Mohammed’s wife, Aisha, as saying, ‘A bath becomes obligatory if one sleeps with your wife and the circumcised parts touch each other.’ The cleric concludes: ‘The word circumcision has been applied to both men and women here. The hadith demonstrates that women must be circumcised as well.’

This hadith may be more sound but, as Sheikh Judai states, it contains no approval of (male or female) circumcision, merely providing a factual description. To claim that this hadith obliges FGM (“women must be circumcised”) is an example of very poor and flawed logic and juristic reasoning.

3. The fact that FGM is cultural, not religious, is obvious from two matters: (i) it is/was known in non-Muslim communities in Arabia and parts of Africa; (ii) female circumcision is a very rare practice in the Muslim world, unlike male circumcision that is universal in Muslim societies.

4. The hadith (of 40 Nawawi) and fundamental Sharia principle of outlawing harm (la darar wa la dirar), that is based on numerous Qur’anic verses, dictates a total Islamic ban on FGM today, now that the medical, physiological, sexual, emotional and psychological harms are indisputable. This is the position of Al-Azhar and other institutions.

5. We should welcome the recent tougher legislation and enforcement against FGM in the UK and commend the campaign of the young British-Somali woman from Bristol in this regard. We should note also that there a number of British clerics who are stuck in a mediaeval mindset and poor understanding of the hadiths and fiqh (jurisprudence) who openly promote FGM and regard it as “preferable” because of what is written in centuries-old human texts. I hope that these clerics will reconsider their positions, both intellectually and societally.

6. The literalist, fundamentalist thinking behind this call in the Maldives has also given rise to the same cleric’s insistence on the reintroduction of ancient hudud punishments such as amputation and flogging, that have no place in modern society. These punishments were abolished by the scholars and sultans of the Ottoman Empire in the 1850’s, but have been reintroduced in Muslim-majority countries by literalists in the 20th and 21st centuries.

7. An example of the danger of the above is the case of the 15-year old Maldivian girl who was sentenced to flogging for fornication, even though she was the victim of rape and sexual abuse by her stepfather. This sentence under the regressive hudud laws was only overturned after a year-long international uproar and campaign (eg https://www.amnesty.org/en/news/maldives-girl-rape-victim-be-spared-outrageous-flogging-sentence-2013-08-21), in which I served as Avaaz’s consultant on Islamic law in 2013. And, of course, there have been many similar contemporary cases under hudud laws in Pakistan, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan and other countries.

Usama Hasan
London, UK
19th March 2014

Postscript: In 2004 I attended some sessions near Watford (UK) of the European Council for Fatwa and Research, as an observer. The scholars present included Sheikhs Ibn Bayyah, Qaradawi, Judai, Faysal Mawlawi, Qarahdaghi, Anas Abu Ghuddah, Suhaib Hasan and others.

The FGM issue came up. A French-Arab cleric had written in his submission that FGM was recommended, based on the hadiths discussed above (no. 2). Sheikh Judai disagreed vehemently, stating that FGM is not a sunnah and declaring that “These hadiths are utterly weak, even though Sheikh Albani, whom I venerate in Hadith studies, authenticated them!” No other scholar contradicted Judai in that session. I asked him afterwards about the “circumcised parts meeting” hadith: he immediately replied that it contains no promotion of FGM, being merely a description (cf. 2c above).

As Imam Ghazzali said, as quoted by Ibn Bayyah, nine-tenths (90%) of juristic understanding is to understand society and other contextual realities. Even total mastery of the scriptural texts (Qur’an and Hadith) comprises no more than one tenth (10%) of jurisprudence.

Muslim clerics and jurists need to develop deeper understanding of scripture as well as human nature and society before pronouncing on critical issues and promoting harmful rules and laws for entire populations in the name of God.

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