Posts Tagged ‘Sharia’

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

Advertisements

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)

WHAT HAPPENS TO A MARRIAGE IF ONE OF THE COUPLE CONVERTS TO ISLAM?

January 13, 2012

Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim

WHAT HAPPENS TO A MARRIAGE IF ONE OF THE COUPLE CONVERTS TO ISLAM?

 Traditional Islamic jurisprudence says that Muslims should only marry each other.  The only exception to this is that Muslim men are allowed to marry women who are Ahl al-Kitab (People of Scripture), usually limited to Jews and Christians.  Traditionally, Muslim women were not allowed to marry non-Muslim men.  But what happens to a non-Muslim couple who are married, and later one or both of them convert to Islam?  Here are some fatwas on the issue, that slightly differ from each other:

A. Fatwa of The European Council for Fatwa & Research, including Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, Sheikh ‘Abdullah bin Bayyah, Sheikh ‘Abdullah al-Judai, Sheikh Suhaib Hasan and others (from Sheikh ‘Abdullah bin Bayyah, Sina’at al-Fatwa, pp. 356-7)

  1. If both of the couple become Muslim, and they are not close relatives by blood or suckling that would make the marriage invalid, their marriage continues in its validity. (NB they do not need an Islamic nikah ceremony.)
  2. If only the husband converts to Islam, they are not close relatives and the wife is a person of scripture, their marriage continues in its validity.
  3. If only the wife converts to Islam, the view of the Council is that: a) if she converts before the marriage is consummated, she must leave him immediately; b) if she converts after consummation and her husband converts within 3 months or within 3 of her monthly cycles, their marriage continues in its validity; c) as before, but if a long time period has passed, she may remain with him in the expectation that he will convert also.  If he eventually converts, their marriage continues in its validity, without needing a new marriage ceremony.  d) If she wishes to leave her husband after the 3-month time period, she should seek dissolution of her marriage from the relevant authorities.

4. If the wife is Muslim and the husband is not, the four Madhhabs do not allow her to remain with him after the expiry of the 3-month period, or to have sexual relations with him.  However, some scholars allow her to remain with him, fully-married, as long as he does not harm her regarding her religious practice and as long as she has hope that he will also convert to Islam eventually.

It is authentically narrated from ‘Umar bin al-Khattab that a woman became a Muslim while her husband remained non-Muslim: he ruled, “If she wishes, she may leave him or if she wishes, she may remain with him.”  Also, there is an authentic narration from ‘Ali bin Abi Talib: “If the wife of a Jewish or Christian man becomes Muslim, he is entitled to remain her husband, since he has a covenant with the Muslims.”  Similar views are authentically-narrated from Ibrahim al-Nakh’i, Imam Sha’bi and Hammad bin Abi Sulayman.

 

B. FATWA OF SHEIKH ‘ABDULLAH AL-JUDAI (from his book Islam Ahad al-Zawjayn, pp. 249-251)

  1. There is no decisive, unequivocal text (nass qati’) about this matter.
  2. There is no consensus (ijma’) about this matter.
  3. Pre-Islamic marriages are sound and valid.  They can only be annulled for definite reasons.  Difference of religion is not a definite cause of invalidity due to the absence of an unequivocal text and due to the existence of a difference of opinion about the matter.
  4. Evidence from the Qur’an and Sunnah shows that a couple remaining together with a difference of religion does not damage the basis of their faiths.  Their relationship remains sound, not corrupt.
  5. The simple fact that one of them converts to Islam does not invalidate the marriage.
  6. Despite the multitude of people converting to Islam in his time, it is not recorded at all that the Prophet (pbuh) separated a husband and wife or ordered their separation due to one of them converting, or due to one of them converting before the other.  What is authentic from him is the opposite, as in the case of his daughter Zaynab who remained married to Abul-‘As for six years after she converted to Islam and before he did so, just before the Conquest of Mecca and after the revelation of Surah al-Mumtahinah.  The most that happened was that she emigrated and left him in Mecca after the Battle of Badr, but her emigration (hijrah) did not nullify their marriage.
  7. To say that the ayah of al-Mumtahinah ends marital relations due to a difference of religion is not correct.  It only applies when one spouse is at war with Islam (harbi), not simply a non-Muslim (kafir).
  8. The ayah of al-Mumtahinah allows a believer to marry a believing woman whose husband is at war with Islam.  It does not obligate this.  The story of Zaynab shows that a woman’s marriage to a non-Muslim (harbi) man changes from being binding to being allowed.  The reason for this is the difficulty of her returning to her harbi husband, and the difficulty she faces without a husband.
  9. The ayah forbids a Muslim man from retaining a non-Muslim wife who has not joined him in emigrating from a land of kufr to a land of Islam, or has fled from him, renouncing her faith and joining non-Muslims who are at war with Islam.  The reason for this is to prevent an inclination towards ones enemies, as happened with Hatib bin Abi Balta’ah, who wrote to the polytheists about some of the movements of the Muslims due to the presence of some of his relatives in Mecca.
  10. When one of the couple converts to Islam whilst the other is not at war with Islam, they are allowed to remain together.  They are not separated simply due to difference of religion.  The evidence for this is the practice of the Prophet (pbuh) and the Companions regarding those who embraced Islam in Mecca before the Hijrah and at the Conquest of Mecca.  This was also the fatwa given by ‘Umar during his caliphate without any opposition, and also by ‘Ali.
  11. A difference in religion due to the conversion of one of the couple to Islam allows the annulment of the marriage but does not obligate it, as shown by the judgment of ‘Umar with the endorsement of the Companions.
  12. The conclusions of the Madhhabs in this matter are not to be given precedence due to their opposition to what is established, weakness of evidence (dalil), weakness of juristic indication (istidlal), or all of the above.
  13. The allowance for the couple to remain together means that their marital life together is permitted, including sexual intercourse.

 

C. TAKING INTO ACCOUNT THE LIKELY EFFECTS ON CHILDREN

The majority of jurists regard a man who doesn’t pray regularly out of laziness as still a Muslim and not a kafir, so his wife is not obliged to divorce him.

In certain situations, the wife is allowed to have patience and persevere with her marriage, despite the objectionable behaviour of her husband, especially if she has children from him and she fears that they will become psychologically ruined and wasted.

(Sheikh ‘Abdullah bin Bayyah, Sina’at al-Fatwa, p. 353)

Compiled and translated by Usama Hasan, London, 13th January 2012

Minor updates: 21/12/2015

A PDF version of this article can be found here: One of a couple converting to Islam

Update: 26/01/2017

D. A SIMILAR ANSWER GIVEN BY SHAYKH GIBRIL FOUAD HADDAD

Q&A reposted from http://eshaykh.com/halal_haram/convert-required-to-divorce-non-muslim-spouse/

Convert required to divorce non-Muslim spouse?

Question:

As-salamu ‘alaikum,

An urgent question that has certainly come up again and again, requiring an absolutely authoritative answer, is what is to be done if a married woman accepts Islam but her husband does not.

Let’s say as an extreme example that they’ve been married for fifty years, have ten children together and love each other dearly. The wife has no job skills with which to provide for herself, much less for her children; the husband is ill or handicapped and his wife takes care of his needs. He’s fine with her new faith and lets her practice as she likes and teach it to their children but does not want to accept or commit to it for himself.

What to do? Telling a Muslim woman who is already married to a non-Muslim man that she must divorce him because staying with him is haram, deserves the death penalty and will earn her Hell isn’t the same thing as telling an unmarried Muslimah that their intended marriage to a non-Muslim man is prohibited and will nullify her profession of Islam. Moreover, there are no children involved who love their father and might end up traumatized and hating Islam if it the breakup of the household. Additionally, forcing *already-married couples *to break up would certainly deter many non-Muslim women from converting to Islam, no matter how much they may wish to if it means breaking an existing or possible future marriage.

Please understand that I’m not arguing with Allah Subhanuhu wa T’a’ala. Hasha,  God forbid! Rather, I’m just trying to understand how the Islamic Shar’iah deals with this specific situation, which is certainly not rare in our time. The website,

https://unity1.wordpress.com/2012/01/13/what-happens-to-a-marriage-if-one-of-the-couple-converts-to-islam/

deals with the issue but I need to know how acceptable this opinion is for Ahl-us-Sunnah wal-Jam’ah. May Allah greatly reward you for any help you can give.

Answer:

Alaykum salam,

If there is acceptance on his part and tolerance for his wife’s religion then there is hope for himself eventually accepting Islam. This hope is the basis for validating the continuity of their marriage as in the case of Fatima bint Asad and her non-Muslim husband Abu Talib.

And Allah knows best.

Hajj Gibril Haddad

Have You Stopped Beating Your Wife? The Quran, Hadith and Domestic Violence

January 3, 2011

Bismillah.  I began work on this at about 5am on 1st January and, Praise God, have completed it around 55 hours later.  I am grateful to all my teachers and friends who encouraged me to write this work.

My conclusion is simple: God and Muhammad, peace be upon him, clearly wished to
ban domestic violence, as numerous hadiths indicate.  The verse was always known
to be a temporary compromise, an extremely limited concession that required
minimum use of violence, if at all.  “New” findings are:

1. Numerous hadiths say emphatically, “Don’t beat your wives.”  The Qur’an
apparently says, “You may beat your wives.”  This apparent difficulty must be
resolved.  The verse is perhaps the most quoted by critics and enemies of Islam,
the Qur’an and the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him.

2. The article tries to highlight a basic and serious flaw with the way many
Muslims read and teach the Qur’an, including some preachers and clerics.
Helping to correct this problem will, God-willing, open the way to dealing with
numerous other controversial issues and “problematic” ayahs and hadiths.

3. Many issues around human rights and women’s rights, gender-equality,
dhimmitude etc. may be fruitfully-addressed along similar lines.

Feedback is welcome, especially from students and scholars of Islam as well as activists and reformers, particularly those involved with women’s rights.  If you find the work of value, I would be grateful if you could help circulate it as widely as possible, and publicise its conclusions that are given in a 2-page summary at the beginning of this 17-page study, and repeated below (with additions) for easy reference.  May Allah reward you. – U.H.

Read the study here: Have You Stopped Beating Your Wife – The Quran on Domestic Violence

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

HAVE YOU STOPPED BEATING YOUR WIFE?

THE PLAIN TRUTH ABOUT DOMESTIC VIOLENCE & THE “WIFE-BEATING” VERSE OF THE QUR’AN, INCLUDING A HOLISTIC STUDY OF IMPORTANT BUT RARELY-QUOTED HADITHS ON THE SUBJECT

© Usama Hasan (London, UK)

3rd January, 2011

CONTENTS

1    SUMMARY OF THIS STUDY.. 3

2    INTRODUCTION & BACKGROUND.. 5

3    THE QUR’ANIC VERSE REFERRING TO WIFE-BEATING.. 6

3.1       Notes on this verse. 6

3.2       Ibn ‘Ashur’s Contextualisation of the Verse: Then and Now.. 8

4    SOME HADITHS RELATED TO THE VERSE OF WIFE-BEATING   9

4.1       An Apparent Difficulty. 10

4.2       Resolution of the Difficulty. 10

4.3       A Fundamentalist Interpretation. 10

4.4       The Normative, Orthodox Interpretation. 10

4.5       A Refutation of Alternative Interpretations of “Beat Them”. 13

4.6       A Weak Hadith That Might Otherwise Justify Wife-Beating. 15

5    CONCLUSION.. 17

SUMMARY OF THIS STUDY

  1. There is a verse (ayah) of the Qur’an (Surah al-Nisa’ or Chapter: Women, 4:34) that may appear to condone domestic violence against women.  The verse says, “You may beat your wives.”
  2. Domestic violence is a problem in most, if not all, communities and societies.  For example, current statistics indicate that approximately 1 in 3 British women experience domestic violence during their lifetime.  Although the overwhelming majority of cases of domestic violence in Muslim households are due to wider human factors such as difficulties with relationships and anger-management, a handful of cases involve the husband feeling justified in using violence against his wife on the basis of this Qur’anic text.
  3. Such an attitude is not uncommon amongst socially-conservative Muslims who are “religious” in a formal sense: for example, a conservative leader of Indian Muslims is said to have given a public statement in 2010 denouncing a new law in India that criminalised domestic violence, thus: “They are taking away our divine right to hit our wives.”
  4. This fundamentalist misinterpretation of the Qur’an is sometimes sanctioned by the legal system in Muslim-majority countries, for example, as in the UAE’s Federal Supreme Court ruling of October 2010.
  5. A large number of hadiths (traditions of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him) contain the explicit, emphatic prohibition, “Do not beat your wives!”
  6. These hadiths may appear to contradict the Qur’an, if the latter is read in a superficial, fundamentalist way.
  7. A holistic reading of the Qur’an, Sunnah and Hadiths, taking into account the socio-historical context of the revelation of the Qur’an and of the Prophetic guidance preserved in authentic hadiths, shows clearly that God and Muhammad wished to ban wife-beating and domestic violence completely.  As a temporary measure, and as a step on the way, an extremely limited, reluctant concession was given that only allowed minimal violence as a symbolic gesture of displeasure on a husband’s part.  This was in a strongly patriarchal society that used to bury baby girls alive because of their gender and where sons would inherit their fathers’ wives.  Such practices were outlawed by Islam, which also granted rights to women in 7th-century Arabia that were only achieved by European women in the 19th century, such as the independent right to own their property upon marriage.
  8. The evidence for this interpretation is overwhelming, from the 8th-century AD Mufti of Mecca, ‘Ata bin Abi Rabah, who ruled that “a man may not hit his wife” to the 20th-century Mufti of the Zaytuna in Tunis, Ibn ‘Ashur, who ruled that the State may ban domestic violence and punish any man who assaulted his wife.
  9. The “gradualist” approach of the Qur’an and Sunnah described in this case is a common feature in Islam.  Other examples are the prohibition of wine, gambling, fornication and adultery.  Modern reformers argue that the same principle applies to the abolition of slavery and the struggle towards gender-equality.
  10. Recently, a number of Muslim thinkers and scholars, unfamiliar with the holistic approach to the Qur’an, Hadith and Shari’ah embodied in the universalist Maqasid theory of Islamic law, have attempted to re-translate the “wife-beating” verse to mean something else.  Alternative translations and interpretations include temporary separation of husband and wife, travelling and even making love as a way of solving marital disputes.  A prominent example of this is Dr. Laleh Bakhtiar’s recent translation, The Sublime Qur’an (2007) that is largely-promoted based precisely on her translation of the wife-beating verse. Although well-intentioned, such interpretations and translations are either grammatically unsound or far-fetched, or both.  Furthermore, they ignore the overwhelming evidence provided by the Hadith traditions and simply do not placate the critics of Islam.  The normative, orthodox account of the issue in this study provides a thorough, honest and principled solution to the difficulties apparently posed by the wife-beating verse.
  11. The presence of hadiths with weak isnads (chains of narration) that would otherwise justify wife-beating may be evidence that some early Muslims themselves misunderstood the issue and either fabricated or misreported traditions on the subject.  The value of the work of expert Hadith scholars throughout the ages who meticulously sifted genuine narrations from the weak ones, may be seen to be crucial.  The work of al-Albani, a 20th century Hadith scholar, is especially valuable, for example his gradings for every hadith in the four famous Sunan collections of Sunni Islam.  Albani concentrated more on the chains of narration than the meanings of the traditions, but nevertheless confirmed that all the hadiths banning wife-beating or only allowing a limited concession are authentic whereas all those justifying it absolutely are weak.
  12. This study highlights a fundamental problem with the way many Muslims, including some scholars and clerics, read the Qur’an.  Rather than being read as a “textbook” or “instruction manual” as some superficial, populist, fundamentalist or Hadith-rejecting preachers advocate, it should be remembered for what it is: a collection of divine signs, guidance and wisdom revealed by God to the heart of His Beloved, Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, by God via the Archangel Gabriel (Jibril), the Holy Spirit, peace be upon him.  This guidance was transmitted by practice and oral teaching (remember that “Qur’an” means “A Reading” and hence oral transmission) at first, and only collected by the Companions as a written book after the time of the Prophet, peace be upon him, for fear of this Divine Treasure being lost for ever.  Furthermore, this guidance was always supposed to be manifested by righteous people of piety, humility, good character and the remembrance of God, taking their situation and socio-historical contexts into account.  A critical awareness of hadith and history has always been required, along with the worship of God and the service of humanity, to be guided towards the true way of following the Qur’an.

A detailed fatwa about music and singing – by Sheikh Abdullah al-Judai

February 13, 2010

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

The fatwa is given below, and in PDF format here: Juday – Music and Singing – Conclusions

Some of the Sheikh’s analysis of texts from the Qur’an and Hadith on the subject are found in this presentation here.

A brief biography of Sheikh ‘Abdullah al-Judai can be found here.

Ibn Khaldun on music & singing (pp. 328-331 of the Muqaddimah, abridged translation by Rosenthal/Dawood).

A DETAILED FATWA ABOUT MUSIC & SINGING

by Sheikh ‘Abdullah b. Yusuf al-Juday’

Taken from the author’s al-Musiqi wa l-Ghina’ fi Mizan al-Islam (“Music & Singing in the Balance of Islam”), Al Judai Research & Consultations, Leeds, UK, 1425/2004, pp. 597-601

Translation by Usama Hasan, 13th February 2010

SUMMARY & CONCLUSION

After this detailed presentation of the evidence and legal ruling related to the two issues of music and singing in respective, detailed chapters, I now highlight briefly the main conclusions of this study:

  1. There is no consensus (ijma’) about the legal ruling on music and singing, whether considered together or as separate issues.
  2. There is no unequivocal text (nass) from the Noble, Generous Qur’an that speaks about these two issues.
  3. There is no unequivocal text (nass) from the Sunnah that definitely forbids music or singing.
  4. In the legal positions (madhahib) of the Companions and Successors, there is no clear prohibition of music or singing.  Rather, some of them listened to music and singing and permitted this.  Precursors of the view of prohibition began to appear after them, but without indisputable, clear-cut prohibition.
  5. To claim that the Imams of the four main Sunni Madhhabs agreed on the absolute prohibition of music or singing is inaccurate.
  6. The issues of music and singing return to the basic principle (asl) in matters of habits and objects, and the established position based on evidence in this regard is one of permission (ibahah), which cannot be modified without evidence.
  7. The basic principle (asl) in sounds and speech is the permissibility of making and listening to these, and similarly for humming.  A beautiful voice or sound, in itself, is a blessing (from God).
  8. All that is narrated in condemnation of music and singing, which some hold to, thinking it is legal evidence, includes very little that is clear and indisputable.  The latter is not authentically-narrated, and it is not permissible to base legal judgments on unsound narrations.
  9. Those texts from the authentic Sunnah which the prohibitors of music and singing think is legal evidence, are in reality evidence against them to falsify their claims.  Rather, there are numerous unequivocal texts (nusus) in the authentic Sunnah that confirm the basic principle and necessitate the view that music and singing are permissible.

A Principled Judgment on Music and Singing

  1. Musical instruments were found in Arabian society before Islam and remained afterwards: no clear-cut, authentic, indisputable text (nass) came to forbid these.
  2. Sounds arising from musical instruments are lawful (halal) in principle.  They remain within the sphere of permissibility unless they are used as a means towards disobedience (of God).
  3. The exact definition of permissible singing is: that which involves intrinsically-permissible words or lyrics, whether or not it is accompanied by music.
  4. Use of the permissible for purposes involving vice changes the ruling of permissibility to prohibition in that circumstance, not in general.
  5. There is no distinction between men and women in the ruling of permissibility for music and singing.
  6. Males listening to the singing of females, or vice-versa, is intrinsically harmless: this is authentically-narrated in several evidential texts.
  7. The usage and learning of music and singing are permissible (mubah), since there is no basis to forbid what is permissible in principle.A ruling derived from this is that practising the arts of music and singing, being attracted to these or listening to them, do not by themselves damage the integrity (‘adalah) of a person.
  8. To amuse oneself by songs, whether these are called “Islamic” or “national” or other, is permissible and allowed (mubah ja’iz), whether accompanied by music or not, as long as the lyrics are intrinsically acceptable (mashru’ah).As for the remembrance of Allah Exalted by words of sanctification and praise, and as for prayers of blessing upon His Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, it is acceptable and encouraged to gather together for such purposes.  It is permissible to do this melodiously (bi l-taghanni), as it is permissible to recite the Qur’an melodiously.  However, it should be noted that all of this is worship (‘ibadah) and not amusement (lahw), and so it cannot be accompanied by music because the latter is a form of amusement, and amusement cannot be a means of worship.  Similarly, it was disliked to use the trumpet or bell to call people for prayer, and the announcement by a human voice (adhan) was legislated instead.
  9. The ruling on music and singing does not differ in our times from previous ages.  Any judgment on what is popular in these matters is based on the individual lyrics.  If these lead to a prohibited matter, then the judgment is one of prohibition (haram).  If it (permissible music and singing) is accompanied by prohibited scenes, such as the uncovering of private parts (‘awrah), the forbiddance would extened to looking at such scenes, but not to the music and singing itself.

I conclude with the following words:

Firstly, music and singing are forms of amusement (lahw), so the basic principle is that they should be used to realise recognised benefits (maslahah mu’tabarah) such as expressing acceptable happiness or warding off boredom and tedium.  If they are used too much, the benefits will be correspondingly obstructed.  The permissible is harmless as long as it does not overcome the obligatory or recommended, or lead to what is prohibited or disliked, in which case it changes from being permissible to being prohibited or disliked.

Secondly, the fact that many people exceed the bounds of permissibility with such amusement does not falsify the basic principle regarding music and singing.  What is rejected of their actions is what is excessive, and it is not allowed to make changing times or improper use into a reason to prohibit the permissible.  Keeping people to the basic principle of the Law is safest for the responsibility of the person of knowledge, even if this agrees with the desires of a person of lust, for the sin is not incurred by doing what is lawful (halal), but by falling into the prohibited (haram).

Thirdly, the way to recognise the lawful (halal), the prohibited (haram) and the major symbols (sha’a’ir) of Islam is the Book and the authentic Sunnah, based upon clear principles and evident rules. It is not by rejected and fabricated ahadith, or by opinions devoid of proof or baseless views.  Otherwise, whoever wished to could say whatever they wanted, and people’s religion would become corrupted for them.  This is just one issue where you can see how far false narrations and weak opinions have played with the views of many people, whilst infallibility is only for the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, in what he conveyed on the authority of his Lord, Most Exalted.

This conclusion to this study will not agree with the wishes of many people, but it is enough for me that I have only arrived at it in the light of the evidence and proof of the Law, following the guidance of the basic principles and proper analysis in matters of disagreement with my opponents.

Thus, if you would like to criticise me in any aspect, let it be with arguments from the Book, the authentic Sunnah or agreed principles, not with mere opinion, for one opinion defeats another by its argument.  The most critical thing that can be said about someone who holds such as a view (as mine), it that he is to be excused according to the extent of his striving (ijtihad) and rewarded for his good intentions. Perfection is neither my attribute nor yours, and I have sought an excuse for you despite my disagreeing with your view and refuting it.

Further, I entreat you by Allah, do not refer the argument to the view of the “minority” or the “majority,” or to the dominant fatwa in a particular country, for these are not the refuges of intelligent authorities but rather, such is the state of those who follow uncritically.  And that is enough for you!

Moreover, I entreat you by Allah, do not say to me, “Your view is a tribulation (fitnah),” for tribulation lies in what opposes the message of the Messenger, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, as Allah Exalted said, “Let those who oppose his command beware that a tribulation or painful punishment may befall them.” (Al-Nur or Light, 24:63)  I have referred both you and me in judgment to what the Messenger, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, brought: I have arrived at a view different to yours.  Tribulation lies in concealing the verdict of the Law and covering it up, imagining that exposing it will mislead the masses.

It is Allah alone whom I ask for forgiveness for slips of the mind and tongue, and excesses of the pen and hand.

I also ask Him, Blessed and Exalted, to accept from me my efforts with this book, and similarly for those who have helped me from my family and brethren.  I ask Him to make this and other studies of mine examples that are followed in analysing many issues for this nation: by referring to principles and not to disagreement.  He is the One Whose Help is Sought, and there is no change of state or power except by Him.

You are Glorified, O Allah, and Praised.  There is no god but You.  I seek Your forgiveness and turn in repentance to You.

May Allah bless our master Muhammad, his family and companions, and grant them peace.