Posts Tagged ‘Sunnah’

INNER AND OUTER ASPECTS OF ISLAMIC RITUAL PRAYER (SALAT)

June 26, 2015

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

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

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

INNER AND OUTER ASPECTS OF ISLAMIC RITUAL PRAYER (SALAT)

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

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

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

Usama Hasan

London, Ramadan 1436 / June 2015

Advertisements

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/

A 13th-century Moroccan Sufi on the Hadith of the 73 Sects

February 24, 2013

Bismillah.  An important explanation of what is meant by “What I and my Companions are upon” in the hadith of the 73 sects, a phrase often abused nowadays by un-Islamic, sectarian mindsets.  With thanks to Arnold Yasin Mol for digging this out.

In the tafsir by the 12-13th century Moroccan Sufi, Abu al-’Abbas al-Subti, he makes a very interesting exegesis on Qur’an verse 16:90 and the famous 72-sects Hadith. Through Asbab al-Nuzul he sees that 16:90 was revealed about the brotherhood pact between the first Muslims from Mecca (Muhajirun) and the helping community in Medina (Ansar) through which they obliged each other to share everything equally. The word ‘adl (عدل) in 16:90 means ‘equal value/weight/justice’, and so al-Subti understands that true justice means sharing everything equally among everybody. Later he sees that the famous 72-sects Hadith (72 Muslim sects go to Hell, 1 sect is saved) which is abused by many groups and sects to declare themselves the ‘saved sect’ and all others as condemned, was said the day after the ‘equal sharing pact’ was made, and thus equal sharing is what the Prophet and the first Muslims followed. The Hadith isn’t about following detailed sectarian rules concerning creed and ritual; to be saved is to share equally among mankind.

“I found a verse in the Book of God that had a great effect on both my heart and my tongue. It was, ‘Verily, God commands justice and the doing of good.’ I pondered this and said [to myself], ‘Perhaps [finding] this is no coincidence and I am the one who is meant by this verse.’ I continued to examine its meaning in the books of exegesis until I found Gharib at-Tafsir, which stated that [the verse] was revealed when the Prophet established brotherhood between the Emigrants (Muhajirun) and the Helpers (Ansar). They had asked the Prophet to establish a pact of brotherhood between them, so he commanded them to share among themselves. In this way, they learned that the justice commanded [by God] was through sharing. Then I looked into the saying of the Prophet: ‘My community will be divided into seventy-two sects, all of which will be in the Fire except the one followed by me and my companions,’ and found that he said this on the morning of the day that he had ordered the pact of brotherhood [to be established] between the Emigrants and the Helpers … So I understood that what he and his companions adhered to were the practices of equal sharing (mushatara) and favouring others (ithar). Then I swore to God Most High that when anything came to me I would share it with my believing brethren among the poor. I followed this practice for twenty years, and this rule affected my ideas to the point where nothing dominated my thoughts more than uncompromising honesty (sidq).”

[translation: Vincent J. Cornell, “Realm of the Saint: Power and Authority in Moroccan Sufism”]

Cornell also mentions that to Abu ‘l-‘Abbas, every act of human mercy (rahma) evoked a merciful response from the all-merciful God (ar-Rahim). He summed up his theory of reciprocity with the maxim: “[Divine] Being is actualised by generosity” (al-wujud yanfa’ilu bi ‘l-jud).

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

Inner Aspects of Ramadan

August 23, 2011

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

Inner Aspects of Ramadan

Three Levels of Fasting

Imam al-Ghazzali, in his Ihya’ ‘Ulum al-Din (Revival of the Sciences of Religion), describes the following three levels of fasting (cf. Inner Dimensions of Islamic Worship, publ. Islamic Foundation, which is a translation by the late Mukhtar Holland of an extract from the Ihya’):

  1. Fasting of the body: abstaining from food, drink and sex
  2. Fasting of the tongue: abstaining from backbiting, gossip, slander, idle talk, etc.
  3. Fasting of the heart and soul: abstaining from the remembrance of anything or anyone except God and engaging constantly in dhikr Allah, the mention or remembrance of God

Patience & Gratitude (Sabr & Shukr)

Allah says often in the Qur’an (e.g. 14:5, 34:19, 42:33), especially in regard to the ups and downs of life and history that constitute the Days of God (ayyam Allah), “… In this there are Signs for every extremely patient one, given to much gratitude.” (sabbar shakur, both intensive active participles derived from sabr and shukr, respectively)

The Prophet (peace be upon him) taught, “One who eats gratefully is like one who fasts patiently.” (al-ta’im al-shakir ka l-sa’im al-sabir, a sound hadith found in the Sunan collections)  Thus, eating wholesome food with thanks to God is spiritually equal to depriving oneself of food and drink for the sake of God.

Some of the early Muslim authorities (Salaf) said, especially in explaining the above Qur’anic ayah, “Faith has two halves: half of faith is patience; the other half is gratitude.” (al-iman nisfan: nisf sabr wa nisf shukr)

Thus, as Imam Ibn al-Qayyim explains, Patience and Gratitude are two sides of the same coin of faith: we are required to have patience in troubled times, and show gratitude to God in good times.  This is why these two qualities are mentioned in the Qur’an alongside lessons from time and history, or the Days of God.

Showing gratitude to God includes being grateful to people through whom we receive God’s favours. It also includes using our God-given talents, skills and faculties for good and noble purposes, rather than for disobeying God and engaging in mischief and evil: all good actions thus become part of the worship of God.

Imam Ibn al-Qayyim, further explains the importance of balancing these two qualities to achieve true faith and grow closer to God, with the following simile: “Patience and Gratitude are like the two wings of a believer in their flight to their Lord.”

Another beautiful teaching of the Prophet, peace be upon him, that reinforces these themes, is the following: “Wonderful is the situation of the believer! If he or she is afflicted by misfortune, he or she is patient, and this is good for him or her.  If he or she is touched by good fortune, he or she is grateful, and this is good for him or her.  This (grace) is not available to anyone except the believer!” (A sound hadith transmitted by Bukhari and Muslim)

(For further reading, refer to Patience and Gratitude by Ibn al-Qayyim, trans. Huda Khattab, publ. Dar al-Taqwa, London)

Life & Death

The Prophet (peace be upon him) famously taught that “The person fasting enjoys two moments of happiness: (1) happiness upon breaking the fast and (2) happiness upon meeting the Lord.”

Thus, the joy of iftar or Fitr (breaking the fast) is a foretaste of the joy of meeting God.

The daily cycle of fast and break-fast is a symbol of life and death: the daily fast symbolises the constraints, difficulties and tribulations of life; the daily break-fast symbolises the joy of death and meeting God, for the believer.

These inner meanings are wider: the entire month of fasting symbolises the tribulations of life, whilst ‘Id al-Fitr (the Festival of Breaking the Fast) symbolises the joy of meeting God.

The practice of I’tikaf (Seclusion in the Mosque) during the last ten days and nights of Ramadan, partly in order to seek the greatest night of the year, also contains reminders of these themes, amongst many other benefits.  Seclusion in the mosque entails devoting time to prayer, remembrance of God and other types of worship, avoiding worldly matters completely and minimising profane thought and talk.  Seclusion affords much time for silence and reflection.  The time of I’tikaf, i.e. the last third of Ramadan, is followed immediately by the ‘Id celebration.

I’tikaf may thus be seen and felt as a foretaste of our time in the grave, followed by ‘Id, which we hope is a foretaste of Paradise!

The authentic Sunnah (Way of the Prophet, peace be upon him) is that women may also stay in the mosque also for the spiritual seclusion of I’tikaf: many of the Prophet’s wives and female disciples engaged in this practice.  Mosques should thus be available to women for this uplifting bodily-and-spiritual practice.

Ramadan Cheer, Generosity and Spirit

As described by his Companions, Allah be pleased with them, the Prophet, peace be upon him, was the most generous of people and was especially generous during the month of Ramadan: even more generous than the winds that herald live-giving rains.  He, peace be upon him, himself explained why this was so: it was because the Archangel Jibril (Gabriel), the Ruh al-Qudus (Spirit of Holiness or Holy Spirit), would visit him daily to rehearse the Qur’an with him, consolidating during each Ramadan all that had been revealed of the Qur’an so far.  In the final Ramadan of the Prophet’s life, Jibril rehearsed the Qur’an with him twice, indicating that the revelation of the Qur’an was almost complete.  All the minor variations in the Qur’anic revelation were thus superseded by this “final rehearsal” (al-‘ard al-akhir), as it is known in Qur’anic studies.

Much may be learnt from this breathtaking meeting of Spirits (the Prophet Muhammad, the Noble Qur’an and the Archangel Gabriel) during Ramadan in Madinah during that Blessed Age:

  • The importance of visiting each other to strengthen spiritual contact.  The Prophet, peace be upon him, would sometimes complain to Gabriel outside Ramadan that the latter did not visit him enough, upon which the verse of the Qur’an was revealed, describing the movements of the angels, “We do not descend, except by the command of your Lord …” (19:64)
  • The blessed practice of rehearsing as much as one knows of the Qur’an during Ramadan, especially with someone who has preserved it equally or better (e.g. a teacher or colleague).  This should be done whether a person knows one verse or ten, one surah or ten, and in the case of preservers of the whole Qur’an (huffaz), one recitation (qira’ah) or ten.
  • The blessings of spirituality and generosity that arise from the above two matters: the Prophet’s generosity peaked during Ramadan due to these two factors.

Thus, Ramadan is the month of: fasting, recitation of the Qur’an, remembrance of God, generosity, mercy, charity and Jihad (struggling against all forms of evil).  And just as our Christian friends speak about “Christmas cheer,” Muslims should manifest the “Ramadan cheer, generosity and spirit.”

Tips for Getting the Most out of Ramadan

The following obvious tips may be derived from the Divine guidance to the Prophet, peace be upon him, “So when you have completed and become free (of worldly matters), stand (in worship).  And to your Lord, turn your desire!” (94:7-8)

  • Take time off work if possible
  • Get important worldly matters out of the way before Ramadan, e.g. house/car/furniture purchases and maintenance, bills, payments, etc.
  • Devote time to worship in all its forms, e.g. prayer, fasting, charity, reconciliation amongst people, serving people and the rest of God’s creation in general

May Allah shower upon us all the blessings of Ramadan, this year and every year.

© Usama Hasan

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.

On Prophetic birthdays and dates of death

February 25, 2010

Bismillah. An ancient Jewish tradition says that Prophets of God die on the same date as their birthday, thus nicely completing a cosmic, spiritual cycle. (I learnt this via a letter from a Jewish reader printed in a Christian newspaper, a couple of years ago).

The tradition certainly fits the last Prophet, Muhammad (peace be upon him).

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.

40 Hadith from 40 Hadith Collections, by Imam al-‘Ajluni

October 10, 2009

Bismillah.

The Hadith scholars have the lovely tradition of composing short works comprising about 40 Hadith.  Often these are about specific subjects.  The most famous and influential such collection is of course by Imam Nawawi, because his 42 ahadith covered the major principles of Islam.

Here is a beautiful work by Imam Isma’il b. Muhammad of ‘Ajlun, Syria, who lived 1087-1162 H, i.e. about 75 lunar years.  The Gregorian dates would be 1676-1749, roughly.  His teachers included the Shaykh ‘Abd al-Ghani of Nablus.

‘Ajluni’s most famous work is probably his Kashf al-Khafa’ wa Muzil al-Albas ‘an ma-shtahara min al-Ahadith ‘ala Alsinah al-Nas (“Unveiling the Hidden Truth and Removing the Confusion about the Ahadith that are Widespread upon the Tongues of the People”), in which several hundred popular ahadith are listed in alphabetical order with his comments (of variable length) about the sources (takhrij) and authenticity of each hadith.  He confirms that many widely-quoted and popular ahadith are not, in fact, authentic as genuine statements of the Prophet, peace be upon him. Many others are, of course, and still others have slightly different wordings than their popular versions.  The Kashf was almost unique and the reference work in its field until the Shaykh al-Albani came along!  However, the Kashf is still an extremely valuable resource in addition to Albani’s works.  Some readers will remember that I quoted several times from the Kashf, in addition to Albani’s books, when I wrote the Introduction and Appendix to my father’s An Introduction to the Science of Hadith (Al-Quran Society, London, 1990’s – later republished and distributed widely by Darussalam, Riyadh).

One matter mentioned by Imam ‘Ajluni in the Kashf is that, contrary to the popularly-held belief, the head of Imam Husain, the revered grandson of the Prophet peace be upon him, is not buried in Cairo.  The site has a major mosque and shrine there currently, known as al-Husainiyyah.  Imam Husain was martyred at Karbala’ in Iraq, and in fact there are one or two other shrines in different countries where it is claimed that his head is buried.  I was rather bemused by the fact that the esteemed, pioneering and inspirational Prof. Seyyed Hossein Nasr mentions in his autobiography that, out of all the places he had ever visited, he found his spiritual centre at the alleged burial-place of Imam Husain’s head in Cairo.  One can understand its significance if one believes the story to be true, but surely the place cannot be more sacred than Medina and Mecca, whether you’re Sunni or Shia, Sufi or not?

Anyway, back to the current work which collects 40 hadiths from 40 different Hadith collections.  (Most of us would probably be hard-pressed to name 10 Hadith collections, let alone 40).  The hadith in each case is often the one which opens the relevant book.

The Arabic title of the book is ‘Iqd al-Jawhar al-Thamin fi Arba’in Hadithan min Ahadith Sayyid al-Mursalin (“A Necklace of Precious Jewels: Forty Traditions of the Chief of the Messengers”).  It is described as a sanad (chain of narration) for the books of Hadith, so that a student of Hadith would have sanad in 40 books by gaining a sanad for this book.  The later Hadith scholar Jamal al-Din al-Qasimi, also of Syria, wrote an excellent commentary on the ‘Iqd called al-Fadl al-Mubin (“The Clear Grace”).

The book is available here, only in Arabic, in Word and PDF formats, and would be a lovely one for someone to translate, even a list of the 40 Hadith books and an indication of the relevant hadith in each case, since some of the 40 hadiths are quite long.  I’d be very grateful if someone could do this for the sake of God and for the benefit of non-Arabic readers.  I’m very grateful to Ibrahim Ali for sending me these files.

Iqd al Jawhar_Ajluni_Mutii al Hafiz_another edn (Word format)

Iqd al Jawhar_Ajluni_Mutii al Hafiz_another edn (PDF format)