Posts Tagged ‘Sharia’

NO SEX, PLEASE – WE’RE MUSLIM! (Ramadan edition)

May 6, 2020

Bismillah-ir-Rahman-ir-Rahim

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

NO SEX, PLEASE – WE’RE MUSLIM!

Q&A about Sex and Ramadan

[CAUTION: 18+ only – PLEASE DO NOT READ IF YOU ARE OFFENDED BY DISCUSSION OF SEXUAL MATTERS]

 

Just before Ramadan this year, the Muslim Mamas private Facebook group for Muslim mothers, that has over 20,000 members and is like a Muslim version of Mumsnet, asked if I would answer some questions about Ramadan and “intimacy” (read: ahem, sex). They were sending these questions to a number of different people with the aim of publishing all answers, so that readers could make up their own minds. I consented, and my answers were published on the group, I believe.  I am reproducing the questions here, followed by my answers.  These have been updated slightly from the ones I sent to Muslim Mamas.

  1. What affectionate acts between husband and wife are permissible during Ramadan, and which ones break the fast? (Kissing, fondling, open mouth kissing, dry humping, …)
  2. What does Islam say about the importance of female sexual pleasure?
  3. What is your opinion of self-pleasure. Is it permissible in Islam? (If you do not agree that it is permissible, how is it that one person can then teach another about their own pleasure?)
  4. What is your opinion about the permissibility of sex toys in Islam?
  5. What is your opinion about oral sex in Islam?
  6. If a woman is raped by her husband during Ramadan, does she have to make up the fast?
  7. What advice do you have for couples in order to nurture love, affection and intimacy?
  8. What examples did our Prophet pbuh leave us to follow with regards to spirituality and intimacy?
  9. What rewards are there in Ramadan for being intimate – is it more rewarding to abstain?
  10. Who can we turn to if our knowledgeable people are all men and mamas feel shy to ask about intimate questions?
  11. A couple had intimate relations during fasting hours, just after fajr. What is the kaffarah [expiation]?
  12. Can a couple resume intimate relations if neither is fasting? Or is it prohibited during the day?

 

 

 

 

All Praise is due to God.  May God bless all His Noble Prophets and Messengers, especially our Prophet Muhammad, Seal of the Prophets.  May God bless all of humanity with the blessings of Ramadan (Ramzan), especially during the current, global crisis caused by the Covid-19 disease.

Thank you for consulting me about these questions – it is an honour to participate in this conversation with your readers and the scholars to whom you are posing these questions.  May Allah guide us to what is good and true.  I must apologise in advance if any of my answers offend people, since that is not the intention: the intention is to try to discuss important questions sensitively.  Please forgive me if you are offended by anything I say.

Before I give my answers, I would like to mention a couple of principles that guide them.  One is related to Hadith, and one to Fiqh (Jurisprudence).  I have been studying these subjects, all deriving from study of the Qur’an, for over 40 years now.  This study is not just academic using books, but by learning from people: our teachers but also our brothers and sisters.  I’ve had the honour of serving as an imam for almost 40 years, trying to serve my brothers and sisters.  There are many different views and approaches to the Islamic sciences, including Hadith and Fiqh, but I’m presenting my current approach to them – scholars throughout the centuries have discussed these principles and taken their own independent positions, and I’m trying to follow a little in their footsteps, by the grace of God I hope.

  • Firstly, about Hadith. There are hundreds of thousands of these. The sciences of Hadith are an amazing Islamic contribution to human civilisation.  However, we must accept that there is no way we can ever know for sure 100% exactly what the Prophet said or did, with all the conflicting narrations and methods of transmission.  As students of this subject, we have to weigh up many things before deciding what to follow. So, I will say from the outset that *no* collection of Hadith is 100% authentic, because there are so many doubts and possibility of error, even in the most “authentic” books.  We also know that the number of fabricated hadiths, the fake news of its time, dwarfs the number of authentic hadiths.  So as Muslims we have to make a judgment, if we believe that Prophet Muhammad was the greatest human being ever and the ultimate personification of Mercy, as to whether he really said many of the things that are ascribed to him, even in “authentic” (sahih) collections.  We have to sift the immense wisdom in the Hadith from the fabricated nonsense, the fake news of the early centuries about the Prophet.  Of course, we will differ about these but there is no harm in that because the Islamic tradition in its totality is very diverse and open to many interpretations in theory and practice.  I can only give my own views and judgments, since I can only speak for myself.Furthermore, it is worth saying that many marfu’ hadiths are actually mawquf or maqtu’, i.e. many teachings attributed to the Prophet are probably actually from his Companions (including his family and descendants), or their Followers, or the next one or two generations of learned and pious people after that, who are collectively known as the Salaf.  So, we must be careful about saying that there is no disagreement about something because “the Prophet said so” when in fact it is often quite possible that this statement was from a Companion or Follower – a respected opinion, but often contradicted by other Companions.  This is also one of the reasons why there are often contradictory hadiths on the same topic, ascribing conflicting views to the Prophet himself.  Furthermore, the Sahaba (Companions) and the Salaf were not monolithic, and nor were they all at the same level of learning and piety.  And of course, half of them were women.So when I quote a hadith, it’s because I judge it to be more or less true, especially in meaning.  Others have the right to differ about that, and argue that this hadith might be fake news, i.e. a very weak or fabricated tradition.  (Many “weak” hadiths are actually teachings from the Salaf, and not directly from the Prophet.) And vice-versa: I may think a hadith is weak, whilst others think it’s sound.  The best we can do is to argue our case. Scholars of Hadith have been doing this since the earliest times.I often use a principle that a true hadith must have the “light of prophethood” (nur al-nubuwwah) about it, based on the first-century Hadith expert al-Rabi’ bin Khaitham’s statement:“Some hadiths have a light like that of day, which we recognise [and makes us accept them]; others have a darkness like that of night, which makes us reject them.
  • Secondly, about Fiqh. Just a reminder that fiqh judgments lie on a spectrum: the whole point of fiqh, which means “understanding,” is to try to understand (i) our situation and (ii) what God wishes from us in our situation.  In terms of practice, there is of course halal and haram, the lawful and the prohibited.  But as one of the foundational hadiths says: the lawful is clear and the prohibited are clear.  In between are many grey areas.  This is why five dominant categories of rulings emerged: obligatory, recommended, allowed, disliked, prohibited (wajib, mandub, mubah, makruh, haram).  These are not sharp categories, which is why some jurists distinguished between fard and wajib amongst obligatory matters, and others added makruh tanzihi and makruh tahrimi as “shades of severity” between the categories of disliked and prohibited.  Furthermore, the situation can dictate that the ruling on something can flip to its complete opposite, such as pork and wine being generally prohibited, but obligatory to consume if one is in danger of dying of hunger or thirst. Also, even obligations and prohibitions have degrees, so some obligations are more obligatory than others, and some prohibitions are stronger than others. For example, from the Sunnah, the obligation of honouring your parents takes precedence over hijrah and jihad, even when the latter are obligatory.  Similarly, murdering someone is obviously much, much more haram than say, getting drunk.So we have to think of situations, decisions and judgments in life on a multidimensional spectrum: there is often not a simple answer, and much depends on a person’s own preference and situation.  This is obvious with the categories of mubah (allowed) and mandub (recommended): both are okay, and we cannot tell people what to do: it is up to them.  There is No Compulsion in Religion.  Furthermore, we cannot say something is haram and therefore sinful unless we are pretty much 100% sure about it: there must be no doubt about the texts cited, their meanings, and their application to the question being asked.  However, we who are asked such questions should give the different interpretations that we know and then, perhaps, give our own view if we have one.  Ultimately, it is up to the individual person to decide what to do, and they have the right to make their own judgment, especially in disputed matters (Ask your heart for a fatwa or follow your heart – hadith), or to trust another’s judgment if they really don’t know (Ask the people of the message if you do not know – Qur’an).

Furthermore, we have to get away with an obsession with the “legal” aspects of these questions and think about the “ethical” aspects, because Sharia is both law and ethics, intertwined.  And because Sharia is fundamentally about promoting goodness and avoiding harm, we should think of the categories of fard/wajib, mandub/mustahabb, mubah, makruh & haram as corresponding to roughly the following: essential, good, neutral, risky & harmful/damaging to your spiritual health.

This is based on the ayah that says that the Prophet allows good things for people (tayyibat) and prohibits filthy or harmful things (khaba’ith) for them (Surah al-A’raf).  In other words, the Sharia will always promote what is good for us, in a holistic physical/spiritual sense.

Okay, so on to the questions – I should note that the Qur’an recognizes the existence of asexual men and women, both in Surah al-Nur (Light), but I’m assuming that these questions are all in a heterosexual context.  Furthermore, I agree with Seyyed Hossein Nasr that “Islam is like a society of married monks and nuns,” – i.e. that we are supposed to be focused on worship of God, but that lawful sexual activity is itself a type of worship, as a famous hadith indicates.

 

  1. What affectionate acts between husband and wife are permissible during Ramadan, and which ones break the fast? (Kissing, fondling, open mouth kissing, dry humping, …)

I take the view that sexual climax or orgasm breaks the fast, as does intercourse without climax.  Sexual arousal and activity is obviously a precursor to these, hence this becomes disputed: how far are people are allowed to go?  There is much wisdom in Ibn Abbas’ traditional reply to this question: that such things are allowed for older people, but not for younger people.  This makes sense because in general, libido decreases with age, although there are always exceptions. Other learned and pious people amongst the Salaf replied that a person should judge themselves, because they know best how much they are able to control themselves.

It should go without saying that in sexual situations, it is very easy to lose control. (Imam Shafi’i said that when a man is sexually aroused, nine-tenths of his mind departs – many men and women would agree with that from experience, and there is a well-known saying expressing the same truth in modern English.  I wonder whether there is an equivalent statement for women?) This is why when some people objected to being forbidden from kissing etc. during fasting with the objection that, as many hadiths say, the Prophet would kiss his wives whilst fasting, Hazrat Aisha replied that he had the most self-control of any man. In her words, Which of you has the self-control of the Messenger of God?

Summary: avoid these activities as much as possible, and if you do indulge in it, be very careful that you don’t lose control and break your fast, for one thing leads to another and it’s a very slippery slope.

[Anecdote, courtesy of Rashad Ali: An amusing edict mentioned by Abū Shāma on his excellent work on the actions of the Messenger (sallallahu alaihi wa sallam) is the view of Ibn Khuwayzamindad who applied the principle in his view of taking all actions of the Messenger as a duty (wājib) until a dalīl indicates otherwise to take the view that kissing your spouse was a duty in Ramadan as the prophet sallallahu alaihi wa sallam did!]

  1. What does Islam say about the importance of female sexual pleasure?

The Prophet encouraged foreplay and for couples to have fun and play with each other. Caliph Umar, when he fixed the tour of duty for his soldiers, didn’t take their sexual needs into account, but those of their wives.  He asked his sister Hafsa, now a widow of the Prophet, how long a woman could go without sexual intercourse.  She bowed her head out of shyness and replied: four months (the hadith is in Muwatta Imam Malik).  He therefore set the length of each soldier’s tour of duty to four months, so that women’s sexual needs were not neglected.

Note that it would appear that the male soldiers had much greater sexual drives – this is why some of the Companions asked the Prophet’s permission to castrate themselves during military expeditions, because they couldn’t bear the sexual frustration: he didn’t give them permission, because he wanted them to learn self-control!

By the way, the above two examples imply that neither men nor women during the time of the Prophet practised masturbation, otherwise it would have been an obvious option in both cases.  And crucially, the above examples show that it was the women’s sexual needs that needed to be fulfilled, and became the decisive factor in the length of soldiers’ tour of duty. Therefore, it could be argued women’s sexual needs are more important than those of men, from the above examples.

Sadly, a lot of human-trafficking today, a type of modern slavery, involves sexual exploitation of mainly women and children.  And this is almost entirely to satisfy the uncontrolled sexual desires of heterosexual men and paedophiles.

I agree with Asra Nomani’s Islamic Bill of Rights for Women in the Bedroom, that she wrote along with her Islamic Bill of Rights for Women in the Mosque, and in which she included female sexual satisfaction as a fundamental right.

Some later jurists made rulings about these issues that are unthinkable in the modern world.  Professor Kecia Ali’s book, Sexual Ethics in Islam, discusses the issues.  For example, some jurists said that in a marriage, a woman must sexually satisfy her husband whenever he wished it, whereas he only had to satisfy her once a year or even once in the marriage! (Some couples might relate to this from experience!)  This is very much against the spirit of Caliph Umar’s example above, and of Ibn Abbas, who said that he liked to beautify himself for his wife just as he wished her to beautify herself for him.

Summary: The Sunnah indicates that sexual satisfaction is a fundamental right of all human beings, especially women, for societies past and present have tended to be focused on men’s sexual satisfaction.

 

  1. What is your opinion of self-pleasure. Is it permissible in Islam? (If you do not agree that it is permissible, how is it that one person can then teach another about their own pleasure?)

Many of our jurists, but not all, have always said that masturbation is haram based on the identical ayahs of Surah al-Mu’minun (Believers) & al-Ma’arij (Ascending Stairways): “They guard their chastity or private parts, except with their spouses or what their right hands possess.”

Note that the latter phrase referred to slave-women, because the ancient rule was that men could have sex with their unmarried slave-women, since they owned the latter, including their bodies.  (The HBO series Rome depicts examples of this in Roman society.) Strangely enough, the jurists never applied the same rule with genders reversed, i.e. slave-owning women were not allowed to have sex with their unmarried male slaves.  Here, we should note that “sex with slave-women” was probably rape in most cases, and thank God that we as humanity have evolved now to the point of abolishing slavery and criminalising all forms of rape.

Some dry, legal (or perverted) minds even interpreted “what their right hands possess” to include animals and hence justified bestiality – we know about this because Imam Shafi’i refuted them. I seek refuge with Allah!

Ibn Abbas said that masturbation was better than fornication (or adultery, both covered by the term zina).

I agree with Ibn Hazm who said that masturbation is not prohibited, since it simply involves the letting out of bodily fluids, but that it was not a dignified thing to do.  It strikes me that this was the dominant attitude in contemporary Britain also, since the colloquial term for “male masturbator” is a term of abuse (often heard at football matches for a referee making unpopular decisions), signifying society’s disapproval of it.

This relates to my previous point about fiqh rulings being a spectrum: Ibn Abbas pointed out that masturbation, however objectionable it may be to many, wasn’t as bad as zina whilst Ibn Hazm didn’t say it was prohibited, but this didn’t mean that he recommended it either and in fact discouraged it.  From a legal/ethical perspective, we might say that it is makruh (disliked) and better to avoid.

Summary: Ultimately, masturbation has to be weighed in terms of harms and benefits: emotional, physical, medical and spiritual. Studies have shown that pornography-addicted masturbation can lead to a loss of libido. Sheikh Hamza Yusuf, in his famous Dajjal and the New World Order talk given at my local mosque in North London in 1994, pointed out the harms of being addicted to the virtual world, since we would lose contact with the “real” world and “real” sex: We want real sex, not virtual sex!, he said. Ironically, this is now the same message being promoted by the actress Pamela Anderson: avoid pornography, and have sex with real, consenting people.

But masturbation with pornography is nowhere near as bad as destroying several relationships by committing adultery. (As Ibn Abbas said: masturbation is better than fornication.)  On the other hand, there is much harm and exploitation of people, usually women and children, on pornographic websites, so we’re back to benefits and harms.  The ultimate answer lies in the Islamic principle of avoiding harm and maximising benefit.

 

  1. What is your opinion about the permissibility of sex toys in Islam?

Based on the above, because masturbation is neither prohibited nor necessarily desirable, and could well be regarded as undignified and makruh, the same is true of sex toys.  A creative, modern jurist or exegete might even point out that sex toys could fall under “what their rights hands possess”!

 

  1. What is your opinion about oral sex in Islam?

I take the view that it is allowed, since there is no clear text or principle to prohibit it, but that it might be regarded as undignified and makruh.

(I follow the principle that matters are allowed unless specifically prohibited.  This includes sexual matters.  I don’t accept the principle advocated by some that sexual matters are prohibited unless specifically allowed.)

I suppose I’m saying that masturbation, sex toys and oral sex are allowed in general, although probably makruh (disliked, and better to avoid).  However, if there is a lot of harm involved, they might become discouraged (makruh) or prohibited (haram), whereas if there is a lot of benefit, e.g. they are the only way to save a relationship, they might become encouraged (mandub) or even obligatory (wajib), e.g. if sexual satisfaction, a fundamental human right, cannot be achieved in any other way.  Although in the latter case, abstinence and fasting are recommended in the Islamic tradition, as in the famous hadith advising young men and women to fast in order to decrease their sexual drives.

 

  1. If a woman is raped by her husband during Ramadan, does she have to make up the fast?

Firstly, and most importantly, rape, even within marriage, is haram in my view.  It is of course a serious crime in modern, Western countries such as ours (Britain).  Therefore, this question involves a criminal offence and of course the husband could go to jail – there are many cases of this involving a Muslim husband. The criminalisation of rape within marriage is based on principles of human rights and the full, individual autonomy, independence and equality of men and women. These principles are also Islamic.

As for the famous hadiths saying that if a man wishes to have his way with his wife, she must submit to him even if she’s cooking or doesn’t feel like it etc., otherwise God, His angels and the houris of heaven will curse her: we must ask, is this really from the Prophet of Mercy, the Mercy to the Worlds, the final Messenger of God, or is it hadiths fabricated by men to help maintain their power over women?  I have come to the firm conclusion that it is the latter.

Therefore, Muslims, including their religious scholars and jurists must debate these issue and provide clear guidance because of the clear conflict between these hadiths (how authentic are they?), much of our traditional fiqh (how relevant is it?) and these modern laws that I would argue are Islamic in spirit, not un-Islamic or anti-Islamic.

On the secondary question about a raped woman making up fasts, the answer is: No, because no-one is liable for anything they’ve been forced or coerced into doing, just as someone being force-fed doesn’t break their fast. More importantly, she will need to recover from the trauma and might need emotional help and counselling.

 

  1. What advice do you have for couples in order to nurture love, affection and intimacy?

Keep love and romance alive with fun, laughter, exchanging gifts and activities together and, in general, spending quality time together doing healthy, positive stuff.  Or as one rabbi put it, have an affair with your husband or wife!

For couples with children, find ways of finding babysitting so that you can take time out as a couple and enjoy a romantic, dinner date that will remind you of that distant memory when you were a couple without kids. I know groups of friends or siblings who take turns to babysit each other’s kids, giving one couple every weekend to go on a date together, for example.  If this isn’t possible, pay a babysitter if you can afford it.  It costs money, but is a worthwhile investment in your relationship.  It also helps the babysitter of course, since they get an income.  This is how a healthy economy works: we benefit from each other in a win-win situation.

Do not get trapped in a loveless, dysfunctional and harmful marriage.  As we are told in Surahs al-Baqarah (The Cow) and Talaq (Divorce): live together in goodness, or separate with goodness.  In other words: make it work, and if it doesn’t work out, split up amicably. But please don’t remain in a relationship that is only bad for both of you and your children.  Damaged relationships can always be healed in theory, but often not in practice.

Having said that, it strikes me that some marriages continue as “mercy-marriages.”  I coined this term some years ago based on the famous verse of Surah al-Rum that mentions “love and mercy” between couples.  We often hear of love-marriages, so why not mercy-marriages? (The ideal is, of course, love-and-mercy-marriages.)  But a loveless marriage might continue as long as there is no abuse or harm, e.g. husband and wife stay together out of mercy for each other and for their children.

In all cases, seek help from Al-Wadud, Al-Rahman, Al-Rahim: the Loving and Beloved, All-Merciful, Most Merciful.

 

  1. What examples did our Prophet pbuh leave us to follow with regards to spirituality and intimacy?

As Sheikh Abdul Hakim Murad once told me: spirituality enhances sexuality.  The Prophet taught us that lawful sexual activity is a type of worship of God, and is rewarded.  This is because everything is imbued with the Divine – it’s just that we often forget it’s there because there are so many veils in creation, within us and outside us. In other words, sex is sacred.  This is why the Prophet taught us to say Bismillah and other short prayers before having sex, and why intimacy is better with increased spirituality of both partners.

Remember that sex can be sacred or profane. I agree with the tafsir view that the “forbidden tree” of Adam and Eve was the act of sexual intercourse. What other “fruit of a tree” makes you feel naked, such that you rush to cover your nakedness with fig leaves? Furthermore, Satan wasn’t lying when he told Adam and Eve that they would “become angels” (referring to the ecstasy of orgasm) or “live forever” (through their progeny from sex). The word ecstasy literally refers to “leaving your body,” i.e. departing the human realm.  This is why orgasm is potentially contact with a higher plane, i.e. the spiritual world of angels, if the sexuality is accompanied by spirituality.  (Presumably, profane or prohibited sex leads to contact with the diabolical world of devils and demons – the bad jinn or shaytans!)

The author Dan Brown writes that the moment of orgasm is the only time when your brain stops ticking and whirring -if true, this is presumably one of the reasons why it feels so good and removes many of the worries and anxieties that can plague our brains.  This whole discussion is also related to Sheikh Hamza Yusuf’s point after 9/11, replying to the endless questions about battlefield martyrdom and 70 virgins in heaven, when he said that this was a sexual metaphor to help people understand the immense spirituality of true martyrdom, because for many people, the only truly ecstatic experiences they have are in bed.  (He was defending the hadith, not the terrorists.)

And on this point of orgasm, it is well-known that Muslim men and women are required to shower or wash their entire bodies after sexual intercourse, especially if orgasm is achieved, because the post-orgasm state is unclean (junub). It is recommended to shower or at least perform the ablution (wudu’) before sleeping after sex if possible, although this is not compulsory for sleep, only for salat prayers.  Ibn Arabi commented that the reason for this is that the entire body enjoys orgasm, so washing is stipulated to remind ourselves not to become slaves to carnal desire but to remember to purify ourselves externally and internally to stand before God again.

According to many hadiths, the Prophet also sexually satisfied all his wives, sometimes all nine in the same night.  This evokes the Torah’s description of Moses in old age: “his natural powers had not abated.”  They were Prophets of God, and clearly their spirituality enhanced their sexuality. The Prophet taught, and manifested with his wives: love, laughter, play, affection, foreplay and sacred sex followed by purification and prayer.

 

  1. What rewards are there in Ramadan for being intimate – is it more rewarding to abstain?

Lawful sexual intercourse is a type of worship of God and is rewarded.  This includes the nights of Ramadan. However, it is recommended to abstain in the last ten nights as one searches for the Night of Destiny (Laylat al-Qadr).  Hence the hadith: the Prophet would tighten his waist-wrapper for the last ten nights, i.e. abstain from sex and focus on individual worship, which is also why the last ten nights are the best ones for i’tikaf (spiritual seclusion or retreat in the mosque for men and women, although the Hanafi school recommends this at home for women).

NB: this is a recommendation, not an obligation: in practice, what people do will reflect their spiritual state.  Lawful matters are good, and recommended ones are even better.

 

  1. Who can we turn to if our knowledgeable people are all men and mamas feel shy to ask about intimate questions?

Search harder for knowledgeable and pious women: there are many of them around, as there have always been – Allah will guide you to them if you seek them sincerely.

If you don’t feel shy, feel free to ask – many men would feel shy to be asked and answer, but they shouldn’t be, because it is said that the Prophet was asked about anal sex and other intimate matters.  Before he replied, he quoted the Qur’an, Sural al-Ahzab (The Allies): Truly, God is not ashamed of the Truth!

(By the way, the tafsir and hadiths on anal sex have contradictory views and classically, it was a disputed matter as to whether or not it is halal or haram.  It is probably accurate to say that most authorities declared it haram, but a significant minority regarded it as halal including Ibn Rushd and, in our own times, the British-Iraqi sheikh Abdullah al-Judai.)

There were certainly female Sahaba who did not feel shy asking such questions.  Sahih al-Bukhari records that a woman came to the Prophet and asked for divorce from her husband because he was not, ahem, “well-endowed.” The phrase she used was, “What he has is like the corner of a piece of cloth.”  (Again, there is a well-known phrase for this in modern English.) Abu Bakr, who was present, disapproved, saying to another witness, “Look at this woman and how she speaks to the Messenger of God!”  But the Prophet did not rebuke her for asking forthrightly about intimate matters, and gave her the guidance she needed.

 

  1. A couple had intimate relations during fasting hours, just after fajr [dawn]. What is the kaffarah [expiation]?

Assuming they were fasting, I agree with the view that the kaffarah or expiation for this is to make up the fast, as one of the views mentioned by Imam Qurtubi in his tafsir, repent to God for breaking their promise to the Divine, and optionally to do as much charitable activity as possible.

By the way, there is a famous view based on a hadith, usually regarded as sahih, that says that the kaffarah is to free a slave, or to fast for two months consecutively, or to feed sixty needy people (twice a day). My firm conclusion is that this hadith was a mistake in narration, from a narrator who confused it with another Qur’anic ruling.  The latter ruling is in Surah al-Mujadilah (She Who Argued), and has exactly the same three options for someone who swore an oath not to have sex with his wife. The hadith itself says that the Prophet gave these options in turn to a man who had had sex with his wife whilst fasting in Ramadan (I think the narrator got confused: a study of the commentary on this hadith in Fath al-Bari will show the confusion in the various narrations).

For the first option, the couple couldn’t afford to free a slave. For the second option, the Companion is said to have replied: How can we fast two months consecutively, when we couldn’t manage one day?! For the third option, the Prophet asked them to feed sixty needy people.  They replied: There is no-one more needy than us! The Prophet is said to have laughed lovingly at their answers.  So in the end, the couple were so poor that they needed charity themselves, and their kaffarah (expiation) ended up being to feed themselves for two months with food aid donated by someone else!

Notwithstanding the touching aspects of this hadith, it is clearly a mistake, even though it is in Sahih al-Bukhari, because the expiation for breaking one fast cannot possibly be to fast two months consecutively in the Law of God The Wise (al-Hakeem), as the Companion himself says in the alleged hadith.

Therefore, I agree with the Egyptian fatwa above, and not the Saudi or “Seekers Guidance” one. As for “additional charitable activity” I would recommend for example that, if the couple can afford it, they could feed up to sixty needy people, twice a day, in a nod to the mistaken hadith.  The easiest way to do this is in the developing world.  For example, I know of a three-generation family of 12 refugees today in Africa, who can all be fed twice a day for a fiver (five British pounds sterling or £5). The expiation would thus cost £25 each, or £50 per couple – this would be of huge help to needy people abroad, and might serve as a deterrent to the couple from breaking the rules that they voluntarily entered into in a promise to God.

 

  1. Can a couple resume intimate relations if neither is fasting? Or is it prohibited during the day?

Fasting involves abstaining from food, drink and sex during the day.  If a couple are not fasting, then they may have sex during the day, just as they may eat and drink during the day.

An anecdote: Imam Abu Hanifa, known for his sharp legal mind that characterised the Hanafi school, was once consulted by a man who had sworn an oath to have sex with his wife during the day in Ramadan.  So now he was torn between two obligations: to fast and to fulfil his oath.  Imam Abu Hanifa replied: Go travelling with her! As travellers, they could now lawfully break the fast and fulfil the oath. (I learned this anecdote from Abuz-Zubair!)

This completes my answers, based on my knowledge and understanding at the moment.  Anything correct in them comes from Allah.  Any mistakes, for which I seek forgiveness from Allah, are from me and Shaytan.  May Allah bless and accept our efforts during Ramadan, and make it one of healing and self-reflection for the ummah of humanity.

 

© Usama Hasan

1st Ramadan 1441 / 25th April 2020

Temporarily resident at The Children’s Trust, Tadworth, Surrey, UK

NB a note to younger generations: The title of this blog piece is adapted from a famous British comedy of the 1970s called, No Sex, Please – We’re British! In the 1980s, there was a comedy sketch on British TV spoofing this called, No Sex, Please – We’re Iranian! This came after detailed coverage of the enforcement of the chador in Iran after the 1979 revolution, and may have been related to the anecdote of the Iranian bank that enforced headscarves on their female staff, even the non-Muslim ones, in their London branch.

Minor updates: 14 Ramadan 1441 / 8 May 2020.

Modern Islamic Warfare Ethics

November 10, 2019

Modern Islamic Warfare Ethics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boris Burkas

August 14, 2018

With the Name of God, the Apparent, the Hidden

BORIS BURKAS

 

 

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

CONCLUSIONS

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

 

Usama Hasan

London

14th August 2018

 

UK Ramadan fasting times for 2017

May 22, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

 

NOTES:

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

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

E.g.:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a blessed Ramadan 1438 / 2017!

Usama Hasan, Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, UK

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

Abortion – Rulings in Islamic Jurisprudence and Muslim-majority countries

October 23, 2014

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

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

Rulings on Abortion – Islamic Jurisprudence (PDF)

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

[Update 26/10/2014:]

Here are some suggested study/discussion questions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

ABORTION, STAGES OF THE EMBRYO AND THE BEGINNING OF LIFE

 

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

 

Summary and translation by Dr. Usama Hasan

August 2014

 

 

Contents

 

1        A General Ruling on Abortion. 2

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

2.6        [The view of modern science] 5

2.7        Our view.. 5

 

3        Rulings on Abortion. 7

 

3.1        [Fatwa of the Islamic Fiqh Academy] 8

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

3.3        Views of past jurists about abortion. 8

3.4        [Discussion] 9

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

3.4.2        [Ibn Taymiyyah’s view] 10

3.5        Summarised Juristic Rulings Related to Foetuses. 10

3.6        The Ruling on Abortion due to Deformities. 11

 

 


1. A General Ruling on Abortion

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

2.5    When is the spirit breathed in? [ensoulment]

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

2.6    [The view of modern science]

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

2.7    Our view

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

In terms of life:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

3. Rulings on Abortion

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

 

3.1    [Fatwa of the Islamic Fiqh Academy]

 

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

 

3.2    [Resolution of the Islamic Organisation for Medical Sciences]

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

 

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

 

3.3    Views of past jurists about abortion

 

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

3.4    [Discussion]

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

3.4.2   [Ibn Taymiyyah’s view]

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

3.5    Summarised Juristic Rulings Related to Foetuses

 

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

 

3.6    The Ruling on Abortion due to Deformities

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

[1] Q. 5:32

[2] Q. 6:151

[3] Q. 17:31

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

[5] Q. 76:1

[6] Q. 3:59

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

[8] Q. 23:13

[9] Q. 23:14

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

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

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

[13] Q. 23:14

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

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

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

[17] Fath al-Bari 11/481

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

[19] Fath al-Bari 11/481

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

[21] Q. 17:85

[22] Fath al-Bari 11/468

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

[24] Q. 38:71-72

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

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

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

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

[29] Ibn ‘Abidin, Hashiyah, 1/602

[30] See sources previously cited.

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

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

[33] Ibn ‘Abidin 2/380

[34] Nihayat al-Muhtaj 8/416

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

[36] Al-Mudawwanah 2/437

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Sent from my BlackBerry® smartphone http://www.blackberry.com

Islam and the Veil – Opening Up the Discussion About Hijab

February 3, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Usama Hasan

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

NO COMPULSION IN RELIGION: ISLAM AND THE FREEDOM OF BELIEF

September 5, 2013

Bismillah.  Here is the full text of a publication from July 2013, available with better formatting here.  It is an updated version of an earlier text from October 2012, but with the addition of an Appendix discussing the death penalty for apostasy in Sharia: http://www.quilliamfoundation.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/publications/free/no-compulsion-in-religion-islam-and-the-freedom-of-belief.pdf

 

NO COMPULSION IN RELIGION:
ISLAM & THE FREEDOM OF BELIEF

Dr. Usama Hasan, Senior Researcher in Islamic Studies, Quilliam

 

Introduction

Following the international furore in 2012 over the amateurish, inflammatory and offensive film, Innocence of Muslims, there were calls around the world to introduce[1] or strengthen rules that would become akin to global blasphemy laws.[2]  Dozens of people were killed during violent protests in Muslim-majority countries, including US Ambassador Stevens in Libya by a terrorist attack under cover of anti-film protests, and a Pakistani minister placed a $100,000 bounty on the head of the film-director.

 

For many of us, this felt like a case of “Here we go again.”  From books and films to cartoons, teddy bears and desecration of copies of the Qur’an by a handful of American fundamentalists and soldiers, the story is the same: instead of ignoring material insulting and offensive to Islam, or forgiving their authors as the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) would have done, some immature Muslims resort to violence that ends up killing people who had done more than most to actually help Muslims or Muslim-majority countries.  Furthermore, the poor-quality “offending” material receives far more publicity than it deserved, and the image of Islam is dragged through the mud yet again, to the exasperation of the vast majority of ordinary, decent Muslims.

 

In the 1980’s, Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, an expletive-laden, largely-unreadable book was catapulted, along with its author, into international fame by an Islamist campaign of “raising awareness” by publicising its satirical insults towards holy figures of Islam, culminating in Ayatollah Khomeini’s notorious fatwa ordering Rushdie’s murder.  The same story was repeated, two decades later, with the Danish cartoons satirising the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him): these were largely unknown when first published, until a Denmark-based Egyptian cleric began a campaign publicising them.  Surely, to love the Prophet and his disciples means not to publicise gross insults directed at him.  If people insult our loved ones, such as parents, children or siblings, would we broadcast those offensive comments or depictions to the whole world?

 

In all these cases, dozens of ordinary people died in riots and protests around the world: this is extremely ironic, when the Prophet himself is said to have taught that the destruction of the Ka’bah, the holiest site of Islam, is lighter in the sight of God than the taking of a single life.  The following represent particularly horrific incidents during 2011:

 

a)      a number of UN staff who had endured much hardship to help Afghanistan, an overwhelmingly-Muslim nation, were beheaded after a violent mob protest against the burning of the Qur’an by a negligible handful of US evangelicals.[3]

b)      Salman Taseer, Governor of Punjab province in Pakistan, was murdered by one of his own bodyguards who later accused Taseer of “insulting the Prophet” by intervening to secure a presidential pardon in the case of Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman sentenced to death under blasphemy laws in a situation suspected of involving neighbourly feuds with Muslims.

 

 

The Case for Freedom of Belief and the Relaxation of Blasphemy Laws

 

It is important to condemn attempts to provoke religious or anti-religious hatred and bigotry, violence in response to provocation and mindless violence and rioting upon the pretext of taking offence.   However, this paper outlines an Islamic case for Freedom of Belief, opposes the idea of strengthening blasphemy laws and supports the reconsideration of such laws around the world, based on the following arguments:

 

  1. Blasphemy is difficult to define in a global context: one person’s blasphemy may be another’s freedom of belief
  2. Blasphemy laws are notoriously open to abuse, and are used by repressive governments to enforce discrimination against religious minorities
  3. From an Islamic perspective, the prohibition of compulsion in religious matters is a fundamental Qur’anic principle: true faith is based on free will and free choice 
  4. Religious faith and practice under coercion is clearly not genuine, and therefore counter-productive 
  5. There is no explicit sanction in the Qur’an and Sunnah (teachings of the Prophet Muhammad) for the criminalisation and punishment of blasphemy: in fact, the opposite is the case; the few scriptural texts that are misquoted in this regard all refer to wartime situations, and the harsh, mediaeval Islamic jurisprudence on blasphemy was developed centuries after the Prophet himself
  6. The Islamic scriptures promote faith and respect for sacred symbols; any penalties for violations of these are spiritual and other-worldly, and not the business of worldly legislation and punishment
     
  7. The Qur’anic spirit is to freely discuss and debate matters of faith and religion to enable people as free, moral agents to make informed choices about such matters
     
  8. Debate and discussion should ideally be polite, respectful and civilised: when it is not, the Muhammadan character is to respond to insults, uncivilised behaviour and violence with patience, forbearance, forgiveness and compassion

 

 

The above considerations are now discussed in more detail:

 

1.      The difficulty of defining blasphemy

Blasphemy is difficult to define in a global context: one person’s blasphemy may be another’s freedom of belief.

 

Due to the nature of religious belief, one person’s faith often implies that another’s is wrong and perhaps even offensive, constituting blasphemy.  For example, the major world religions often have very different formulations and beliefs concerning God, Muhammad, Jesus, Buddha and the Hindu deities, as well as about various ethical and social matters.  There are intellectual and religious approaches to reconciling the major world religions, such as via mystical traditions and perennialist philosophies, but these tend to be marginalised from public discourse.

 

Critics of a particular religion or of religion in general, as well as converts from one religion to another, may thus be easily accused of blasphemy and discriminated against on that basis, perhaps even being subject to criminal codes.[4]

 

Ironically, Muslims are often the worst offenders when it comes to blaspheming against other religions, yet the most vociferous in taking offence when their sacred symbols are insulted.  For example, offensive tirades against Jews are commonplace in Egyptian society and media, whilst incitement of hatred against Christians has directly led to violent, mob attacks in Egypt[5], Pakistan and Indonesia.[6] 

 

Another example of this is the Qur’anic story about an Israelite community tested with regard to Sabbath law: the tolerant Islamic tradition has always read this introspectively, drawing lessons for Jews, Christians and Muslims.  However, Muslim fundamentalist hate-preachers regularly misquote this story to justify referring to Jews (and occasionally, Christians) as “apes and pigs.”[7]

 

It should be noted that inconsistent behaviour like this is condemned in the Qur’an:

 

Woe to those that deal with double standards: those who, when they are owed by others, exact full measure but when they have to reciprocate, give less than due.  Do they not think that they will be called to account? On a Mighty Day, a Day when all humanity will stand before the Lord of the Worlds! (83:1-6)

 

2.      The prevalent abuse of blasphemy laws

 

Blasphemy laws are notoriously open to abuse, and are used by repressive governments to enforce discrimination against religious minorities.

 

There are numerous documented cases of these.  A recent report by a human rights NGO details examples of how blasphemy laws:

 

(i) stifle discussion and dissent in the public sphere,

(ii) spark outbreaks of mob violence,

(iii) violate freedom of religion, thought, or belief and

(iv) are used as a weapon to settle private disputes.[8]

 

The vast majority of the dozens of cases documented in the above report involve allegations of blasphemy against Islam in Muslim-majority countries, although there are a handful of exceptions to this dominant pattern.

 

3.      The Qur’anic principle of “No Compulsion in Religion”

From an Islamic perspective, the prohibition of compulsion in religious matters is a fundamental Qur’anic principle: true faith is based on free will and free choice.

 

(i)                 The Qur’anic verse, “Let there be no compulsion in religion” (2:256) is proverbial and regarded as expressing a fundamental Islamic value, especially as it occurs immediately after the “Verse of the Throne” (2:255) that is devoted to the majesty of God and was described by the Prophet Muhammad as “the greatest verse in the Qur’an.”

Significantly, Ibn ‘Abbas, a cousin and disciple (Companion) of the Prophet Muhammad and one of the foremost authorities in Qur’anic commentary, explained that this verse (2:256) was revealed regarding examples where the Companions had children who had converted to Judaism and Christianity; the Companions were forbidden, on the basis of this verse, from forcing their children to convert to Islam.[9]  Thus, this verse not only prohibited converting people to Islam by coercion, it also allowed people to leave the faith of Islam voluntarily.

(ii)               Another crucial and clear Qur’anic verse in this regard is the following, addressed to the Prophet Muhammad, “If your Lord wished, everyone on earth would have faith: all of them, together.  Will you then force people to become believers?” (10:99)

Ibn Kathir, a leading commentator, explains this verse with reference to many others affirming that matters of faith are between individuals and God: no other person can intervene.[10]

(iii)             A similar verse quotes Prophet Nuh (Noah) rhetorically asking his people, “Shall we force you to accept this message unwillingly?” (11:28)

The traditional commentators confirm that this verse means, again, that there is no compulsion in religion.  Tabari and Ibn Kathir also quote Qatada, an early authority, as saying, “By God, if Noah was able to force his people to have faith, he would have done so, but that was not within his power.”[11]

 

4.      Faith under coercion is invalid

Religious faith and practice under coercion is clearly not genuine – this has been noted by Islamic theologians and jurists over the centuries since the early days of Islam.

 

This obvious consideration follows logically from the previous one.  Ghazzali, one of the most famous theologians of Islam, emphatically asserted that faith and non-faith involve active belief or unbelief, rather than a passive state or coercion.[12] 

 

Therefore, it is never in the public interest to attempt to force belief and faith on other people and restrict their right to question, criticise and explore.  Incitement to hatred and violence is a different matter, of course, but that is not limited to religious settings and can be covered by general, civil laws.

 

5.      The scriptural sources of Islam do not criminalise blasphemy

There is no explicit sanction in the Qur’an and Sunnah (teachings of the Prophet Muhammad) for the criminalisation and punishment of blasphemy: in fact, the opposite is the case; the few scriptural texts that are misquoted in this regard all refer to wartime situations, and the harsh, mediaeval Islamic jurisprudence on blasphemy and apostasy was developed centuries after the Prophet himself.

As noted earlier, the Qur’an affirms freedom of faith and religion[13], with some verses revealed specifically to safeguard this principle for Jews and Christians, even though some of the latter’s beliefs would constitute blasphemy (kufr or unbelief) from a Muslim viewpoint: e.g. rejection of the Prophethood of Muhammad, rejection of the Christhood of Jesus and deification of Christ. 

 

Some of the verses in this regard are as follows:

 

(i)                 Those who believe, and those who follow the Jewish scriptures, and the Christians and the Sabians,- any who believe in God and the Last Day, and work righteousness, shall have their reward with their Lord; on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve. (2:62 & similarly 5:69)

This verse has a clear universal message that favours inclusivist interpretations, where salvation is open through a variety of sincere religious endeavours, over exclusivist ones, where the criteria for salvation are understood to be fulfilled only by faithful Muslims.

(ii)               Those who believe, those who follow the Jewish scriptures, and the Sabians, Christians, Magians, and Polytheists,- God will judge between them on the Day of Judgment: for God is witness of all things. (22:17)

This verse does not guarantee salvation to all the religious groups mentioned, but reiterates that Divine Judgment amongst them will be manifested in the afterlife.  It suggests an obvious, reasonable, practical and pragmatic Islamic approach to peaceful coexistence amongst different religious groups: each religious community is entitled to follow its own path without harming others, perhaps believing and arguing that it is better than others, and God will judge between them all in the Hereafter.

 

The often-misquoted verse, “Kill them wherever you find them” (2:191, 4:89 & 4:91) refers to pagan enemies and treacherous Muslims in wartime.  It does not refer to Jews, despite the repeated false claims of writers such as Melanie Phillips. This is clear from preceding verses such as “Fight, in the way of God, those who fight you but do not transgress: God does not love transgressors.” (2:190)

 

It is true that, according to Islamic tradition, one or two pagan poets were killed for mocking the Prophet, but these were in the context of war: in the 7th-century Arabian culture dominated by an oral tradition, poetry was used for propaganda and psychological warfare, and was indeed employed effectively by the Prophet Muhammad himself, with Hassan bin Thabit and Abdullah bin Rawaha amongst his most skilful composers of verse: “Your verses hurt them far more than our arrows,” as the Prophet observed to Hassan.[14]

 

6.      God alone can judge and punish sacrilege

The Islamic scriptures promote faith and respect for sacred symbols; but any penalties for violations of these are described as spiritual, other-worldly and reserved for the life after death: they are not the business of worldly legislation and punishment.

 

This is true even for mocking God, the Prophet Muhammad and the Qur’an that entails blasphemy against Islam.  There are many verses that make this point, for example:

 

(i)                 Say, “Mock! But God will bring to light all that you fear.”  If you question them, they declare, “We were only joking and playing.” Say, “Was it God, His Signs and His Messenger that you were mocking?”  Make no excuses: you have rejected Faith after you had accepted it. If We pardon some of you, We will punish others amongst you, for that they are in sin. (9:64-66)

For mocking faith, this verse mentions both divine forgiveness and punishment: the latter is understood to occur in the hereafter, as stated by classical commentators.

(ii)               God and His angels send blessings on the Prophet: O believers! Send blessings on him, and salute him with all respect.   Those who annoy God and His Messenger – God has cursed them in this World and in the Hereafter, and has prepared for them a humiliating Punishment.  And those who annoy believing men and women undeservedly, bear on themselves a calumny and a glaring sin. (33:56-58)

These verses have always inspired the dignified Muslim response in the face of provocation: to worship God and revere the Prophet, but to leave offensive behaviour against God, Muhammad and the believers to God to deal with in the Hereafter.  The only exception to this is criminal violation of the life, property and honour of living people, for which laws are required to facilitate just redress.

 

7.      The Qur’anic spirit is to freely discuss and debate matters of faith

The Qur’anic spirit is to freely discuss and debate matters of faith and religion to enable people as free, moral agents to make informed choices about such matters.

 

Important but lesser-known Qur’anic verses in this regard are:

 

(i)                 Announce the Good News to My Servants!  Those who listen to the Word and follow the best meanings in it: those are the ones whom God has guided, and those are the ones endued with understanding. (39:17-18)

The renowned commentator Zamakhshari confirms that this verse may be interpreted as follows: people are entitled to different interpretations of scripture (and therefore, of Islam and religion in general), and to follow whatever makes most sense to them.[15]  Qurtubi quotes Ibn Abbas as widening the meaning of this verse further, by explaining “the word” to mean all speech, not just the Divine Speech recorded in scripture.[16]  This Qur’anic principle, where people listen to each other and follow what they regard as best, provides a further Islamic basis for peaceful coexistence amongst different religious communities and sects.

(ii)               Whatever you disagree about, its judgment belongs to God (42:10)

One traditional view of this verse is that it refers to the Day of Judgment, similar to 22:17 that was discussed above[17], i.e. that humans need to defer judgment on their disagreements to God in the Hereafter.

(iii)             Say, “Who gives you sustenance, from the heavens and the earth?” Say, “It is God. Truly, either we or you are on right guidance or in manifest error!” (34:24)

This verse, as is clear from its Meccan context, is part of a debate between Islam and the pagan idolatry and polytheism prevalent in Arabia during Muhammad’s lifetime.  The Qur’an reiterated on numerous occasions that Islamic monotheism was far superior to the primitive, Arabian idolatry.  However, in this verse, for the sake of argument, the Prophet was instructed to adopt a neutral stance: let’s present our arguments – either of us may be right or wrong.  This Qur’anic principle was one of the inspirations for the rich Islamic tradition of free thought, debate and discussion.

 

 

Free debate in Islamic history

 

In Islamic history, some of the caliphs actively encouraged high-level, interfaith, theological debates about core issues of belief.  Some of these debates were held in the courts of the caliph himself with leading Rabbis, Bishops and Islamic theologians.  Furthermore, leading Muslim thinkers, philosophers and poets openly expressed “heretical” views without facing prosecution.  For example, the greatest Muslim scientists and philosophers such as Al-Kindi, Al-Razi, Al-Farabi, Ibn Sina (Avicenna) and Ibn Rushd (Averroes) were denounced as heretics and accused of blasphemy by “orthodox” Sunni Muslim theologians such as Ghazzali and Ibn Taymiyyah.  In fact, the leading “orthodox” figures were often denounced as heretics and accused of blasphemy in their own lifetimes by others, and even subjected to imprisonment, flogging and mob violence: this is true, for example, of some of Sunni Islam’s greatest figures such as Abu Hanifa, Ahmad bin Hanbal, Ashari, Bukhari, Ghazzali, Qadi Abu Bakr, Ibn Arabi, Ibn Taymiyyah, Subki and Ibn al-Qayyim.

 

The state-sponsored rationalist (Mu’tazilite) mihna or inquisition (827-847) instituted by the Abbasid Caliph al-Mamun against traditionalist beliefs and teachings such as those of Ahmad bin Hanbal was eventually abandoned by later caliphs after two decades.  Mainstream Islam generally learnt from this experience about the folly of attempting to enforce religious beliefs upon others, given the wide diversity of traditional, jurisprudential, legal, rational, intellectual, philosophical and theological interpretations of Islamic scripture that had blossomed within two centuries of the Prophet Muhammad.  According to one contemporary Christian academic, this explosion of thought within such a short time-span was unparalleled in human history.[18]

 

Other examples of free thought, including satirising contemporary religious practice, are provided by Muslim poets.  For example, a leading poet during Abbasid times was Abul Atahiya (748-828), who famously commented, less than two centuries after the Prophet, that:

 

There are only two types of people amongst mankind:

Those of mindless faith, and those of faithless mind.

 

Atahiya was accused of heresy but never prosecuted for this: he was only imprisoned for upsetting a caliph by writing love poems about one of the caliph’s concubines.

 

Another example is the 12th-century poet Omar Khayyam, whose Rubaiyat has been known and loved throughout the English-speaking world ever since the 19th-century publication of its translation by the Victorian poet Edward Fitzgerald.  In the Rubaiyat, Khayyam famously pours scorn on following religious paths or worrying about mysteries such as heaven and hell, life after death and fate, and sings the praises of drowning one’s confusion by regularly getting drunk on wine. 

 

Although devout Muslims still abhor some of the sentiments expressed by Atahiya and Khayyam, it is a fact of Islamic history that they were commonly expressed by poets during their times, i.e. 900-1200 years ago.

 

 

8.      Forbearance in the face of provocation

Debate and discussion should ideally be polite, respectful and civilised.  When it is not, the Muhammadan character is to respond to insults, uncivilised behaviour, provocation and violence with patience, forbearance, forgiveness and compassion.  Those who claim to be following Islam and the Prophet Muhammad should be showing such characteristics rather than being provoked into mindless acts of violence and bloodshed, or into attempts to close down freedom of thought and expression.

 

The following Qur’anic verses are just some of those that extol the virtues of forbearance and forgiveness in response to provocation and insult:

 

(i)                 Hold to the path of forgiveness; enjoin goodness; turn away from the ignorant. (7:199)

(ii)               The servants of the All-Merciful are those who … when addressed by ignorant people, they reply, “Peace!” (25:63)

(iii)             We know indeed the grief which their words do cause you (O Muhammad). It is not you they reject: it is the signs of God that the unjust deny. Rejected were the messengers before you: with patience and constancy they bore their people’s rejection and wrongdoings, until Our victorious help did reach them.  There is none that can alter the words and decrees of God. Already, there have come to you some stories of those messengers. (6:33-34)

(iv)              We do indeed know how your heart is distressed at what they say. But celebrate the praises of your Lord, and be of those who prostrate themselves in adoration. And serve your Lord until there comes to you the Hour that is Certain. (15:97-99)

 

The following incidents from the life of the Prophet, taken from the most authentic Hadith literature that represents canonical Islamic tradition, illustrate how Muhammad practically manifested the sublime teachings of the Qur’an about patience, restraint, forbearance and forgiveness:

 

(i)                 The Prophet’s enemies in Mecca referred to him as Mudhammam (“the oft-cursed”), an inversion of Muhammad (“the oft-praised”).  The Prophet simply stated, “Their words do not apply to me, for they are using a false name, whereas I am Muhammad.”[19]

(ii)               When the Prophet went to the mountainous town of Taif to preach his message, its people rejected him and incited their youth to throw stones at him, leaving his feet bleeding.  The Archangel Gabriel came to him and offered to crush the people of Taif between the mountains, having the power to do so.  Muhammad replied, “Don’t do that: I hope that one day, their descendants will worship the One God.”  Within a decade or two, the entire population of Taif had converted to Islam.

(iii)             The Prophet was asked repeatedly to curse his enemies who had persecuted, tortured and killed Muslims and were trying to obliterate them.  He replied, “I was sent as a mercy to people, not as one who curses them.”

(iv)             A group of people came to the Prophet’s house and greeted him with as-samu alaykum (“Death be upon you”) rather than as-salamu alaykum (“Peace be upon you”).  Aisha was provoked by this and replied, “May the curse of God be upon you!” Muhammad reprimanded her saying, “God is gentle, and loves gentleness.”

(v)               The Prophet owed a Bedouin some money.  The latter came to angrily ask for repayment and pulled the Prophet’s cloak violently in such a way that his neck was bruised.  When his disciples demanded retaliation, he replied, “Leave him alone, for a creditor is entitled to have his say.”

(vi)             The Prophet once distributed some spoils of war amongst the Muslims.  One of them accused of him of not being just, and of showing favouritism.  Although the Prophet rebuked him verbally, he took no further action against him, despite the fact that accusing the Prophet of injustice is tantamount to blasphemy.

(vii)           The Prophet taught, “The strong person is not the one who throws his opponent during a wrestling match: the strong person is one who controls himself when angry.”

(viii)         A man came to the Prophet and repeatedly requested him, “Please advise me.”  The Prophet replied every time, “Do not become angry.” Muslim scholars have explained that this advice includes avoiding any situation that is likely to make a person unnecessarily angry.  This certainly applies to viewing offensive films, cartoons or books about the Prophet or other sacred symbols.

(ix)             Abdullah bin Ubayy was the leader of the Hypocrites of Madina: they had converted to Islam because of its dominant position there compared to the Jewish, Christian and polytheist communities.  However, the hypocrites constantly betrayed the Muslims, including their last-minute withdrawal from the Muslim army on the eve of the Battle of Uhud.  After yet another incident of treachery, Umar bin al-Khattab and others insisted that the traitors should be executed, a step that was well within the rules of war at the time.  However, the Prophet famously replied, “Leave them alone, lest other people say that ‘Muhammad kills his companions’.”

This incident shows that the Prophet was extremely concerned about the reputation of Islam and Muslims.  Today’s angry fanatics who scream “blue murder” at every insult to Islam, real or imagined, would do well to learn from the Prophet’s example of restraint, especially when there is now a significant difference: the calls for revenge often break the laws of the societies where these are made.

 

Conclusion

 

Islam historically had a strong tradition of tolerance and freedom of thought and debate, even regarding fundamental aspects of faith.  Discussions of faith, and even religious belief itself, necessarily entail statements that may be offensive to others and interpreted as blasphemy.  The Islamic response to provocation is based on spirituality, dignity and forgiveness.  This tradition of openness and generosity desperately needs to be revived in Muslim-majority countries and societies today, especially given the appalling amount of violence generated by religious intolerance and bigotry.

 

 

APPENDIX: The Mediaeval Sharia Law on a Death Penalty for Apostasy from Islam

 

Regrettably, mediaeval interpretations of Sharia law are dominated by the idea that apostates from Islam, i.e. Muslims who leave their faith and/or convert to another, must be killed.  This rule, found in all the major texts of mediaeval jurisprudence that are still taught in Islamic seminaries and universities around the world, blatantly contradicted the Qur’anic principle that “There is no compulsion in religion,” and was based on a few hadiths (traditions ascribed to the Prophet Muhammad, rightly or wrongly) found in the major, canonical Hadith collections. 

 

 

Analysis of major hadiths cited to support a death penalty for apostasy

 

There now follows a brief discussion of the two most well-known hadiths in this regard:

 

A. The first of these hadiths is especially well-known due to its inclusion in the popular, short collection of fundamental Prophetic traditions, the Forty Hadith by Imam al-Nawawi (1234-1278).  The text of this hadith is as follows:

Abdullah bin Mas’ud narrated that the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said, “The blood of a Muslim may not be legally spilt other than in one of three [instances]: the married person who commits adultery; a life for a life; and one who forsakes his religion and abandons the community.”[20]

Note that the primary sources of this hadith, Bukhari and Muslim, are regarded as the two most authentic hadith collections in Sunni Islam, and numerous commentaries have been written on these. 

In a representative example of classical scholarly views, the 13th-century Syrian scholar Imam Nawawi comments on the relevant part of this hadith thus: “It applies generally to every apostate from Islam, whatever the type of apostasy, such that it is obligatory to kill him if he does not return to Islam.  The people of knowledge say that this also includes everyone who leaves the community through heresy [bid’ah], rebellion [baghy] or such like.  It also includes the Rebels [Khawarij].”[21]

Similarly, the 15th-century Egyptian scholar Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani approvingly quotes both Nawawi and his contemporary Ibn Daqiq al-‘Id, who said, “There is consensus that apostasy legalises the killing of a man; the case of the woman is disputed.”[22]

As expanded upon below, contemporary Muslim thinking has rejected this view, reading the “abandonment of community” in the hadith as placing a condition of serious treason for any punishment to be applied in earlier times.  In such ancient times, faith-allegiance often equated to political allegiance and therefore, leaving one’s faith was akin to political treason, especially in situations when different faith communities lived effectively in a state of war.

 

B. Abdullah bin ‘Abbas related that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “Whoever changes his religion, kill him.” (man baddala dinahu fa’qtuluhu) – related by Bukhari and others

The context of this hadith will be discussed later.  In an extreme example of traditional jurisprudence, Imam Nawawi, in the commentary on Hadith A above under his own Commentary on the Forty Hadith, quotes Hadith B to defend his Shafi’i school’s literalist position that anyone who changes their religion must be killed, including “a Jew who converts to Christianity and vice-versa”!  This literalist position holds that all converts from one religion to another must be killed, except for converts to Islam.  The 20th-century scholar, Muhammad Rashid Rida, in his notes to the Commentary on the Forty Hadith, criticized Nawawi for supporting this position.  In Rida’s view, Hadith B must be understood in the light of Hadith A, which clearly applies only to converts from Islam.

Both Rida and Nawawi take a literalist approach: the problem with such an approach is highlighted by the extreme conclusions drawn by Nawawi and other Shafi’i authorities.  Contemporary Muslim thinking would agree with Rida that Hadith B should be understood in the light of other texts such as Hadith A, and that the changed modern context as well as the original Islamic spirit necessitates the abolition of any death penalty or punishment for apostasy.  Contemporary Muslim thinking thus seeks to reconcile these hadiths with the Qur’anic passages quoted earlier.  Reconciling texts is a traditional principle of jurisprudence.

Context of the hadith

The contemporary scholar Taha Jabir al-‘Alwani disputes the authenticity of this hadith but also argues that, even if it is authentic, it referred to treacherous plots by non-Muslim enemies of Islam to pretend to convert to Islam and then leave the faith in the hope of persuading some believers to follow suit, as mentioned in the Qur’an (3:72).[23]

Traditional and mediaeval jurists’ views on a death penalty for apostasy[24]

 

1)      The Hanafi school held that that adult, male (but not female) apostates from Islam must be put to death on the basis of the second hadith discussed above.

2)      The Maliki school held that all adult apostates, male or female, are to be put to death due to the danger that they may take up arms and wage war against the Muslim community.  This is after they have been given an opportunity to repent.  For example, Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr claimed that “There is no disagreement over the death penalty for apostasy.”[25]

3)      The Shafi’i school held that apostates are to be put to death since polytheism and unbelief (kufr) are sufficient reason to kill people; the only exception to this is dhimmis, non-Muslims who are protected by Muslim authority in return for payment of a per-capita tax, the jizya.[26]

4)      The Hanbali school held, similarly to the Malikis and Shafi’is, that male and female apostates are to be put to death after giving them three days to repent.

5)      The Imami (Twelver Shia) school held that born Muslims who apostasise are to be executed without being given an opportunity to repent.  Apostates who previously converted to Islam from another faith are to be given an opportunity to repent.  Unrepentant female apostates are not to be killed, but imprisoned.

6)      The Zahiri (Literalist) school, represented by Ibn Hazm, held that all apostates are to be executed.  Ibn Hazm declared that the Qur’anic verse, “There is no coercion in religion,” is either abrogated or only applies to specific people.  The contemporary scholar Alwani describes Ibn Hazm’s discussion and stance as intransigent, self-contradictory and embroiled in confusion.

7)      The Zaydi and Ibadi schools held that all apostates, male and female, are to be executed since their apostasy amounts to a potential or actual declaration of war on the Muslim nation.[27]

 

Modern Muslim jurisprudence on apostasy

 

The mediaeval jurisprudence on apostasy has been developed significantly and progressively in more recent times, although many contemporary traditionalist Muslims appear to be unaware of such developments, of which the following are examples:

 

1)      Ottoman reforms:  The Ottoman Sultanate is regarded by all modern Islamists as the only legitimate Caliphate of its time.  The Gulhane Decree (Hatt-i-Sharif) of 1839 promised many reforms, including the total abolition of jizya or any other poll-tax on non-Muslims and giving equal citizenship status to Jews, Christians and Muslims.  This was followed by a new penal code in 1843 that attempted to follow the rest of Europe in modernizing and updating its mediaeval religious heritage.  In 1844, the death penalty for apostasy from Islam was abolished.  The Ottoman Penal Code of 1858 was based on the 1810 Napoleonic code, and put aside traditional Islamic punishments.[28]

Sheikh Abdal Hakim Murad (aka Dr. Tim Winter), a prominent British Muslim scholar, comments on the Ottoman reforms thus, “The Ottoman Caliphate, the supreme representative of Sunni Islam, formally abolished this penalty in the aftermath of the so-called Tanzimat reforms launched in 1839. The Shaykh al-Islam, the supreme head of the religious courts and colleges, ratified this major shift in traditional legal doctrine. It was pointed out that there is no verse in the Qur’an that lays down a punishment for apostasy (although chapter 5 verse 54 and chapter 2 verse 217 predict a punishment in the next world). It was also pointed out that the ambiguities in the hadith (the sayings of the Prophet) suggest that apostasy is only an offense when combined with the crime of treason.”[29]

2)      In the second half of the 20th century, Al-Azhar of Egypt, the millennium-old institution that is currently one of the Islamic world’s most influential religious authorities, followed the Ottomans regarding a death penalty for apostasy.  “The debate triggered by the Ottoman reform was continued when al-Azhar University in Cairo, the supreme religious authority in the Arab world, delivered a formal fatwa (religious edict) in 1958, which confirmed the abolition of the classical law in this area.”[30]

3)      Even the European Council for Fatwa and Research, a contemporary body of traditionalist jurists including some leading Islamists, has endorsed the understanding of the hadiths quoted above to mean that only apostasy accompanied by political treason is punishable.[31]

 

Implications of these developments include:

 

(i)         The claim that there is a consensus on a death penalty for apostasy is false.

(ii)        Those who claim that changing such a death penalty is “kufr (blasphemy)” contradict themselves by recognising the Ottoman Caliphate as “Islamic.”

(iii)       This debate was settled by the Ottomans as well as al-Azhar, only to be re-opened by modern fundamentalists and Islamists who thus rebelled against tradition, rather than reviving it.  In April 2013, Morocco’s Supreme Council of Religious Scholars reportedly called for the death penalty to be reintroduced for apostates from Islam.[32]

 

Key points

 

1)      The mediaeval death penalty for apostasy is clearly opposed to the Qur’anic principle, “There is no coercion in religion.”

2)      This was eventually recognised by leading Islamic authorities such as the Ottoman Caliphate and Al-Azhar, who repealed this death penalty in the 19th and 20th centuries, respectively.

3)      The popular Forty Hadith of the 13th-century scholar, Imam Nawawi, is taught worldwide to beginners as well as advanced students of Islam.  However, it contains a hadith that is often used to justify a blanket death penalty for apostates.  It is a duty of all current teachers of the Forty Hadith to explain that the basic, universal Qur’anic principle of freedom of religion and belief overrides all other interpretations, and that the mediaeval death penalty for apostasy has been formally abolished by the Shaykh al-Islam of the Ottoman Caliphate as well as by al-Azhar of Egypt.


[1] e.g. Anglican Bishops in the Middle East wrote to Mr. Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary General of the United Nations, asking for a declaration that outlaws “intentional and deliberate insulting or defamation of persons (such as prophets), symbols, texts and constructs of belief deemed holy by people of faith.” (Anglican Communion News Service, Anglican leaders condemn anti-Islam film and violence, 19th September 2012,  http://www.anglicancommunion.org/acns/news.cfm/2012/9/19/ACNS5185 )

 

[2] Cf. Statement by The Permanent Representatives of the OIC Member States to the United Nations, OIC Group in New York Condemns the Release of the Anti Muslim Video, and Calls for Collective Action against Provocations and Systematic Incitement to Hatred, 22nd September 2012, http://www.oic-oci.org/topic_detail.asp?t_id=7189 )

[3] “UN staff were hunted down and slaughtered in Afghanistan,” The Daily Telegraph, 3rd April 2011 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/afghanistan/8424805/UN-staff-were-hunted-down-and-slaughtered-in-Afghanistan.html

[4] For examples, see Compass Direct, ‘Blasphemy’ Laws in Egypt, Sudan Threaten Converts, May 2011, http://www.compassdirect.org/english/country/egypt/article_112328.html

[5] Ibid.

[6] Human Rights First, Blasphemy Laws Exposed: The Consequences of Criminalizing “Defamation of Religions”, Updated March 2012, http://www.humanrightsfirst.org/wp-content/uploads/Blasphemy_Cases.pdf

[7] See Usama Hasan, When Words Are Immutable, The Guardian’s Comment Is Free, 2010, http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2010/feb/26/quran-translation-tafsir for more details

[8] Human Rights First, Blasphemy Laws Exposed: The Consequences of Criminalizing “Defamation of Religions”, Updated March 2012, http://www.humanrightsfirst.org/wp-content/uploads/Blasphemy_Cases.pdf

[9] See the commentaries on Qur’an 2:256 by Tabari, Qurtubi and Ibn Kathir, also available online at http://quran.al-islam.com

[10] Ibn Kathir’s commentary on the Qur’an, 10:99

[11] See the commentaries on Qur’an 11:28 by Tabari, Qurtubi, Ibn Kathir and Jalalayn, also available online at http://quran.al-islam.com

[12] See Hamza Yusuf, Who are the Disbelievers?, Seasons Journal, Zaytuna Institute, USA, Spring 2008, pp. 30-50.  Available to read online at http://sandala.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Who-are-the-Disbelievers.pdf

[13] The only exception to this, according to many authorities, was the case of the Arabian mushrikun (idolaters or polytheists) because they continuously persecuted the Muslims and waged war on them with a view to eliminating them entirely.  That particular historical rule has long been obsolete since the Islamic conquest of Arabia in the 7th century CE.

[14] Sahih Muslim

[15] Zamakhshari’s commentary on the Qur’an 39:17-18, Al-Kashshaf, Dar al-Kutub al-‘Arabi, n.d.

[16] See the commentary on Qur’an 39:18 by Qurtubi, also available online at http://quran.al-islam.com

[17] See Tafsir al-Jalalayn, commentary on Qur’an 42:10, also available online at http://quran.al-islam.com.  See also Zamakhshari’s commentary on the same verse.

[18] Wael Hallaq, Introduction to Ibn Taymiyya Against the Greek Logicians, Clarendon, 1993.

[19] In The Satanic Verses (1988), Salman Rushdie used a mediaeval, anti-Islamic Christian corruption of the Prophet’s name for the main figure in his novel: Mahound.  The above hadith suggests an obvious Prophetic answer that may be paraphrased as, “Don’t worry, since that is not my name anyway!”

[20] An-Nawawi, Forty Hadith, trans. D. Johnson-Davies & E. Ibrahim, Islamic Texts Society, 1997, Hadith No. 14.

[21] An-Nawawi, Sharh Sahih Muslim (Commentary on Sahih Muslim), under the hadith under discussion, Kitab al-Qisas wal-Diyat (Book of Retaliation and Blood-Money), no. 1676; also available at http://hadith.al-islam.com/Page.aspx?pageid=192&BookID=34&TOCID=772.  The original Khawarij were devout but extremist Muslims whose excessive piety led them to excommunicate and kill other Muslims, including Imam Ali, the fourth Caliph of Islam.  The term is often used to describe extremist political and religious sects that emphasise rebellion against “un-Islamic” authority and indulge in the excommunication (takfir) of Muslims who do not agree with them.  Ironically, Imam Nawawi here endorses the killing of anyone whom “orthodox Muslims” deem to have left the faith of Islam.

[22] Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani, Fath al-Bari (Commentary on Sahih Bukhari) under the hadith under discussion – Bukhari, Kitab al-Diyat (Book of Blood-Money) no. 6878; also available at http://hadith.al-islam.com/Page.aspx?pageid=192&BookID=33&TOCID=3788

[23] For more details, see T.J. al-Alwani, Apostasy in Islam – A Historical & Scriptural Analysis, The International Institute of Islamic Thought, London/Washington, 1432/2011, Chapter 4

[24] Al-Alwani, Chapter 5

[25] Al-Alwani, pp. 77 & 101-4

[26] Al-Alwani, pp. 104-9; see also Recep Senturk, Sociology of Rights: Human Rights in Islam between Communal and Universal Perspectives, Emory University Law School, 2002 for a brilliant exposition of the fundamental differences between the communal (Shafi’i) and universal (Hanafi) approaches to human rights in Islam, as well as a history of the Ottoman developments regarding human rights and democracy based on the universalist Hanafi approach.

[27] For the last five schools summarised, see al-Alwani, pp. 109-116

[28] Ishtiaq Hussain, The Tanzimat (1839-1876): Secular Reforms in the Ottoman Empire, Faith Matters, 2011, also available at: http://faith-matters.org/images/stories/fm-publications/the-tanzimat-final-web.pdf

[29] Abdal Hakim Murad, On Faith: Muslims Speak Out – What Islam Really Says About Violence, Human Rights and Other Religions, Washington Post / Newsweek, July 2007, reproduced at: http://ageofjahiliyah.wordpress.com/2007/09/01/abdal-hakim-murad-on-jihad-apostasy-rights-of-muslim-women/

[30] Murad (2007)

[31] Fatawa al-Majlis al-Urubbi lil-Ifta’ wal-Buhuth (Fatwas of the European Council for Fatwa and Research), available in printed form as well as online at http://www.e-cfr.org/

ECFR Fatwa on a Muslim inheriting from non-Muslim relatives

February 1, 2012

Bismillah.

The Council [European Council for Fatwa and Research] holds that Muslims should not be prevented from inheriting from their non-Muslim relatives.  This does not contradict the authentic hadith, “A Muslim must not inherit from a disbeliever, and vice-versa,” since the latter is to be understood as applying to a harbi or disbeliever who is at war with Islam.  It should also be noted that during the early period of Islam, Muslims were not prohibited from inheriting from their non-Muslim relatives.

Amongst the Companions [of the Prophet, peace be upon him], the following took this view: Mu’adh bin Jabal and Mu’awiyah bin Abi Sufyan, as did a number amongst the Successors [of the Companions], including Sa’id bin al-Musayyib, Muhammad bin al-Hanafiyyah, Abu Ja’far [Muhammad] al-Baqir and Masruq bin al-Ajda’.  This is also the view of Sheikh-ul-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah and his student, Ibn al-Qayyim.

(Sheikh ‘Abdullah bin Bayyah, Sina’at al-Fatwa, p. 395)