Posts Tagged ‘Sunnah’

Laylat-ul-Qadr (The Night of Majesty and Destiny) and simple astronomy – some reflections

May 22, 2020

Laylat-ul-Qadr (The Night of Glory and Destiny)

& simple astronomy – some reflections

Bismillah.

Laylat-ul-Qadr (LQ – The Night of Glory, Majesty, Decree and Destiny, etc.) is in one sense the climax of the month of Ramadan / Ramzan (R).

* Some of the hadiths about its exact date, even the allegedly authentic ones, are mutually contradictory, which is why scholars try to reconcile them.

* It is night-time for half the earth at any moment; the other half is in daytime. Day and night are relative to each person’s location on earth.

* It is presumably possible for the Angels & the Spirit to descend around the half of the earth that’s in night-time for a period of exactly 24 hours, thus giving a specific date for LQ. Presumably, this would start at sunset for the first location on earth from where the new crescent moon was visible.

* Since Muslims have differed for decades about the beginning of R, and hence about its odd nights, this presents a difficulty in finding LQ in the last 5 odd nights. One solution is to look for it throughout the last 10 nights. But what if LQ falls just before your last 10 nights or just after, i.e. on your Eid night whilst others are still observing R?

* Do the Angels & the Spirit descend throughout the last 10 nights?

* MY SOLUTION: Due to considerations like these, I follow the view of the Companion, Abdullah bin Mas’ood: LQ can be on any night of the year. Or we could say: it is on every night of the year. Every night is LQ!

* This is why the hadiths say: SEEK IT in the last 10 nights of R, etc., because it would be too difficult to seek it all year long. We are prepared with fasting & worship for a whole month to help find LQ during the last 10 nights, preferably in i’tikaf (spiritual retreat). Remember, the Prophet pbuh once did i’tikaf for the whole month of R in order to find LQ.

* These are some of the many wisdoms behind the spiritual practice of Ramadan/Ramzan. May ours have been blessed, and may we have found our Night of Powerful, Glorious Destiny, had all our prayers answered and been illuminated by The Light for at least another year!

PS “Better than a thousand months” means “Better than all of time.”

(khayrun min al-dahri kullihi – Tafsir Qurtubi)

In other words, Laylat-ul-Qadr is an opportunity to transcend Time, or experience Eternity or Timelessness.

I alluded to some of these lessons about Ramadan (Ramzan) & LQ in this poem, based on the famous opening of William Blake’s Auguries of Innocence:

To break your fast with a wholesome date
And recite noble verses of Light.
To seek Infinity in your unfolding Fate
And Eternity in One Night.

Usama Hasan

22 May 2020 / 28 Ramadan 1441

Tadworth, UK.

ليلة القدر و علم الفلك:

الليل والنهار أمران نسبيان لمكان كل شخص في الأرض، وهما آيتان من آيات الله تعالى.

والأحاديث في تحديد تاريخ ليلة القدر متناقضة، حتى الصحيحة منها، ولذالك حاول علماء الحديث الجمع بينها دائماً.

فنصف الأرض في أي وقت في ظلمة اليل، والنصف الآخر في ضوء النهار.

قد تنزّل الملائكة والروح لمدة ٢٤ ساعة كل عام، فتكون لليلة القدر تاريخ معيّن. ولكن عندنا مشكلة: الاختلاف في بداية شهر رمضان يؤدي الى اختلاف في اليالي العشرة الأخيرة.

من أجل هذه الاعتبارات وغيرها، أرى برأي عبد الله بن مسعود رضي الله عنه أن ليلة القدر قد تقع في أي ليلة في السنة. ولذالك جاء في الأحاديث «إلتمسوا ليلة القدر في العشرة الأخيرة من شهر رمضان» لأن إلتماسها طول العام أمر محرج وصعب جداً على المسلمين.

فشرع شهر العبادة من صوم وصلاة وزكاة وإطعام المساكين وإعتكاف وغيرها من أعمال الخير ليسهل إلتماس الليلة العظمى في العام:

إنا أنزلناه في ليلة القدر، وما أدرىٰك ما ليلة القدر؟ ليلة القدر خير من ألف شهر، تنزّل الملائكة والروح فيها بإذن ربهم من كل أمر، سلام هي حتى مطلع الفجر.

ومعنى «خير من ألف شهر» يعنى: «خير من الدهر كله» كما ذكره الإمام القرطبي في تفسيره. فإن وجدت ليلة القدر، فكأنما خرجت من حدود الزمان ولمست قدسية الدهر وذقت معنى الخلود في جنات النعيم.

اللهم بارك لنا في شهرنا و أيامنا وليالينا، آمين.

APPENDIX: A GLIMPSE OF SOME OF THE VIEWS ABOUT THE DATE OF LQ, TO SHOW THE IMMENSE DIVERSITY ABOUT THIS IN THE ISLAMIC TRADITION

NB: where “[odd nights of the] last 10” is mentioned, even this was disagreed about, e.g.: Ibn Hazm stated that if the month has 30 days, then these odd nights are 21, 23, 25, 27 & 29 but if the month has 29 days, then the last 10 nights are nights 20-29 and hence the odd nights are 20, 22, 24, 26 & 28! This was another argument for seeking LQ in all of the last 10 nights, because in the past, we were unable to know for sure in advance how many days the month would have.

IBN KATHIR

Hadith (Tayalisi): 27 or 29

Hadith (Ahmad): LQ in last 10, odd nights: 29 or 27 or 25 or 23 or the last night of the month.  The hadith has other details.  IK: the isnad is hasan, but the matn has strange, weak content (gharabah) and in some versions, rejected (nakarah) content or meaning.

Hadith (Ibn Abi Asim): LQ in last 10.

Hadith (Ahmad): Seek it in the first 10 or last 10 … Seek it in the last 10 … Seek it in the last 7.

Narration: from Ibn Mas’ood and those who followed him of the people of knowledge of Kufa that it is found throughout the year, and is hoped for in every month equally. (IK disagrees with this view)  Ibn Mas’ood used to say, “If you stand in prayer at night all year long, you will find LQ.”

Hadith (Abu Dawud): LQ may be throughout R.

Narration: from Abu Hanifa: LQ is hoped for throughout R.  This is also a view quoted by Ghazzali [i.e. in the Shafi’i madhhab? – UH] Rafi’i declared this to be an extremely strange view.

LQ is the 1st night of R: Abu Razin.

LQ is 17th R, because it was the night before the Battle of Badr, described as being on the “Day of Decision” (Yawm al-Furqan) in the Qur’an, hence it relates to LQ as the night of decision, decree and destiny: narrated from the Prophet, Ibn Mas’ood, Zayd bin Arqam, ‘Uthman bin Abil-‘Aas, Imam Shafi’i & Hasan Basri.

LQ is 19th R: narrated from ‘Ali & Ibn Mas’ood.

LQ is 21st R: Hadith of Abu Sa’id al-Khudri in Bukhari & Muslim.  Imam Shafi’i said that this was the most authentic narration on the subject.

LQ is 23rd R: Hadith of Abdullah bin Anees in Sahih Muslim – it is a very similar narration to the previous hadith (21 R).

LQ is 24th R: Hadith of Abu Sa’id al-Khudri in Tayalisi. IK: the narrators are trustworthy.  Also narrated as a hadith by Bilal, but a weak isnad. Also contradicted by the next consideration:

LQ is in the first 7 of the last 10 nights: more authentic view of Bilal rA, narrated by Bukhari.  Also narrated as the view of Ibn Mas’ood, Ibn Abbas, Jabir, Hasan, Qatadah & Ibn Wahb, and from the Prophet by Wathilah bin al-Asqa’.

LQ is 25th R: based on the hadith of Bukhari from Ibn Abbas from the Prophet: Seek it in the last 10 nights: in the 9 remaining, 7 remaining, 5 remaining.

IK: Most people of knowledge understood this to mean the odd nights, but others understood it to mean the even nights, e.g. Abu Sa’id (Sahih Muslim). IK: Allah knows best.

LQ is 27th R: narrated from the Prophet, several Companions, a group of the Salaf, the preferred view in the madhhab of Imam Ahmad and quoted also from Imam Abu Hanifa.

LQ is the 7th of last 10 (i.e. 27) or with 7 remaining (i.e. 22 or 23): narrated from Ibn Abbas.

LQ is 21, 23, 25, 27, 29 or last night of the month: Hadith of Imam Ahmad.

LQ is 27 or 29: Hadith of Imam Ahmad.

LQ is the last night of R: Hadith of Ahmad, Tirmidhi, Nasa’i.

 

 

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

May 6, 2020

Bismillah-ir-Rahman-ir-Rahim

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

NO SEX, PLEASE – WE’RE MUSLIM!

Q&A about Sex and Ramadan

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

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

© Usama Hasan

1st Ramadan 1441 / 25th April 2020

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

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

Minor updates: 14 Ramadan 1441 / 8 May 2020.

TEN TRUTHS ABOUT JIHAD

November 10, 2019

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

 

TEN TRUTHS ABOUT JIHAD

 

Bismillah. During the Islamic lunar month of Rabi’ al-Awwal [originally, the “first month of spring”], when the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, was born and died, thus fulfilling an ancient Jewish or Israelite prophecy about the Prophets being born and dying on the same date, thus completing a cosmic cycle, I am moved to republish this article that I wrote in 2017, since the Prophet and his name continues to be praised and vilified around the world.  I suggest that it may be useful as a basis for Friday sermons (Jumu’ah / Jumma khutbahs) about Jihad, for those who agree with this content.

Within those last two years, some more things have happened:

(1) I was reminded that there are narrations in the Sirah tradition saying that the Prophet’s birth name was not Muhammad, but Qutham, and that Muhammad (“The Oft-Praised One”) was a title given to him later.  If these are true, then “Muhammad” would be much like “Christ” or “Buddha,” i.e. a title originally, not a name, although of course many titles become names later, and vice-versa, as with Caesar.

(2) Sheikh Hamza Yusuf Hanson recommended to me the book by Juan Cole, Muhammad: Prophet of Peace Amid the Clash of Empires (Hachette USA, 2018).  I’ve read a few chapters, and it is a very interesting read.  And it tends to confirm my own conclusions that I wrote on 1st August 2017 for the Muslim Reform Movement, and that are republished here as: Ten Truths About Jihad.  In particular, see the quote from Ibn Sa’d via Ibn al-Qayyim on the context of Qur’an, Repentance, 9:29, that appears to be the most militant verse in the Qur’an, but the context again suggests a meaning of self-defence!

(3) A modified version of this article was included by me and my friend, Sheikh Dr Salah al-Ansari al-Azhari in our Tackling Terror (Quilliam, 2018), a rebuttal of ISIS’ Fiqh al-Dima’ or Jurisprudence of Blood.

(4) I also discussed some of this with Prof. Rabbi Dan Cohn-Sherbok and Dr. George Chryssides in our chapter on “War and Peace” in our People of the Book – How Jews, Christians and Muslims Understand Their Sacred Scriptures (Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2018)

But here we are, back to my original article [with a few additions in square brackets]:

 

TEN TRUTHS ABOUT JIHAD

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

[Note: the Meccan period of the Prophet’s mission represented peaceful preaching under persecution; the Medinan period represented city-state-power and included war. Hence the reference to Meccan & Medinan verses, to understand context.]

 

  1. THE ESSENTIAL QUR’ANIC TEACHING ABOUT JIHAD IS THAT IT IS A LIFELONG, NONVIOLENT STRUGGLE FOR GOODNESS, JUSTICE AND TRUTH AGAINST EVIL, INJUSTICE AND FALSEHOOD

The essential Qur’anic teaching about Jihad is that it is a non-violent struggle for goodness of all kinds, and against evil of all types.  This is clear from the following Meccan verses of the Qur’an:

“Struggle in God, as the struggle (jihad) deserves …” (Pilgrimage 22:78); and

“Obey not the concealers (of truth), and struggle against them with it (the Qur’an): a great struggle (jihad).” (The Criterion 25:52)

 

  1. DURING HIS 13 YEARS’ MISSION IN MECCA, THE PROPHET AND HIS FOLLOWERS WERE SUBJECTED TO PERSECUTION, BUT WERE ORDERED TO REMAIN PATIENT & NONVIOLENT

This is clear from verses such as the following:

“Withhold your hands (from violence in self-defence): establish prayer and give in charity” (Women 4:77)

Note that during this time, the Prophet’s followers were persecuted, tortured and killed. He himself was the subject of assassination attempts and plots (Spoils of War 8:30), but the Muslim response remained peaceful and nonviolent.

 

  1. DURING THE PROPHET’S 10-YEAR MISSION IN MEDINA, MILITARY JIHAD IN SELF-DEFENCE WAS EVENTUALLY PERMITTED

This is clear from Medinan verses such as the following:

“Permission has been given to those who were fought (to fight back), because they have been oppressed … those who were unjustly expelled from their homes, only for saying: ‘Our Lord is God’.” (Pilgrimage 22:39-40)

“Fight, in the way of God, those who fight you, and transgress not: truly, God does not love transgressors.” (The Heifer 2:190)

 

  1. MILITARY JIHAD MAY ONLY BE DECLARED BY A LEGITIMATE AUTHORITY

An example of such an authority was the Prophet Muhammad, undisputed leader of the city-state of Medina – see the Medina Charter, an agreement between the Prophet and the non-Muslim, largely Jewish, tribes of Medina, for clauses relating to mutual defence of Medina against external aggression.

Several Qur’anic verses that speak of fighting and concluding peace are addressed in the singular to the Prophet, e.g. Women 4:84 and Spoils of War 8:61. This is because only he, as the legitimate ruler of the city-state of Medina, had the authority to declare a state of war or peace.

Throughout the centuries of Islamic jurisprudence on warfare ethics, the jurists have agreed that only a legitimate authority can declare a state of war or military jihad. In modern times, this means that only legitimate states have the authority to declare a state of war or military jihad: vigilante or non-state actors such as terrorist groups have no Islamic authority whatsoever to issue a call to arms in the name of jihad. This is why we stated in the Muslim Reform Movement Declaration that “we reject violent jihad.” [i.e. by non-state actors]

 

  1. EVEN THE MOST APPARENTLY-BELLIGERENT VERSES ABOUT JIHAD ARE IN SELF-DEFENCE

For example, the eighth and ninth surahs or chapters of the Qur’an, al-Anfal (Spoils of War) and al-Tawbah (Repentance):

In Surah al-Anfal, the command to “Prepare against them your strength to the utmost …” is followed by the exhortation to accept overtures of peace from the enemy: “If they incline towards peace, then also incline towards it, and trust in God.” (Spoils of War 8:60-61)

Thus, the preparation of utmost strength is largely a deterrent, to encourage any enemies to sue for peace.

In Surah al-Tawbah, the command to “Fight them: God will punish them at your hands …” was preceded by the cause: “They violated their oaths and … attacked you first.” (Repentance, 9:12-15)

Thus, as in The Heifer 2:190 and Pilgrimage 22:39, fighting was ordered in self-defence. Note that in the Medinan era, the pagan, polytheistic Meccan armies attacked the Muslims in Medina several times, aiming to wipe the latter out, e.g. at the Battles of Uhud and the Trench. Thus, the Prophet and the Muslims in Medina were utterly justified in waging military jihad to protect themselves. The numerous Qur’anic verses dealing with military jihad against the Meccan polytheists must be understood in this context.

Finally, the verse of jizya (Repentance 9:29) was revealed when the Byzantines and their allies under Emperor Heraclius threatened the northern regions of Islamic Arabia from Syria, resulting in the Tabuk expedition that ended without any fighting.[1]

The jizya protection- and poll-tax, the name itself deriving from Persian [according to a narration by Imam al-Qurtubi under 9:29], was always a political tax, not religious. This is evident in the fact that some Islamic jurists later advised Muslims under the Reconquista in Andalusia to pay jizya to their Christian conquerors. Furthermore, the Ottoman Caliph abolished the jizya and the associated category of dhimma in the mid-19th century CE, with the agreement of his most senior Islamic scholars, recognising that it was no longer relevant to the modern world of the time.[2]

Thus, although early Muslim armies did take part in expansionist campaigns, at least partly motivated by the war strategem that ‘Offence is the best form of defence’, Muslim authorities, both political and religious, have recognised for at least two centuries that this kind of military jihad has no place in the modern world that is governed by treaties, peace agreements and international collaboration.

 

  1. MILITARY JIHAD WAS ALSO LEGISLATED TO PROTECT & PROMOTE RELIGIOUS FREEDOM

This is clear from the following Qur’anic verse:

“Permission has been given to those who were fought (to fight back), because they have been oppressed … those who were unjustly expelled from their homes, only for saying: ‘Our Lord is God’.

And were God not to check some people by means of others, then monasteries, churches, synagogues and mosques, where God’s name is mentioned often, would surely be demolished.” (Pilgrimage 22:39-40)

Thus, military Jihad was also legislated to protect the religious freedom of Muslims, Jews and Christians, according to the explicit text of the Qur’an. Muhammad bin Qasim, the 8th-century CE Muslim commander who first brought Islam to India, extended this religious protection to Zoroastrian and Hindu temples.[3]

Note that this religious protection also originally extended to the idolatrous polytheists of Mecca and Medina – the latter were included in the Medina Charter, and both were covered by the Qur’anic dictum, “To you, your religion: to me, my religion.” (The Concealers of Truth, 109:6) It was only when the Meccan polytheists refused to be peaceful and violently persecuted the Muslims, attempting genocide, that they were fought. Even then, the Hudaybiya peace treaty was concluded with them later.

 

  1. MILITARY JIHAD WAS ALWAYS CONDITIONED BY STRONG ETHICAL RESTRICTIONS

Numerous hadiths speak of the obligation of avoiding the killing of women, children, old people, peasants, monks and others in war – in the 7th-century CE, these were advanced, civilised teachings. Further hadiths forbid the chopping down of trees, burning of orchards or poisoning wells or other water supplies as part of war tactics. These teachings may be seen as Islamic forerunners of modern warfare ethics, such as the Geneva Conventions, that are also Islamic in spirit and must be seen as binding upon Muslims worldwide.

The 12th-13th century CE Andalusian philosopher and jurist, Ibn Rushd (Averroes), in his short ‘Book of Jihad’, part of his Bidayat al-Mujtahid (available in English as ‘The Distinguished Jurist’s Primer‘), discusses ten issues related to the philosophy and ethics of war or military jihad. Thus, Islam has a long tradition of warfare ethics.

 

  1. TO REITERATE, JIHAD IS A STRUGGLE FOR GOOD AGAINST EVIL

This may take many forms: jihad bil-mal is charitable spending; jihad bil-lisan is speaking truth or goodness against evil and injustice. Thus, all forms of social, intellectual and political struggle with noble aims are a type of jihad, in traditional Islamic terminology.  An example of this is the hadith or Prophet’s teaching, “The best jihad is to speak a word of truth before a tyrant ruler.”

However, this teaching does not privilege so-called ‘Islamic political parties’ or islamist groups that wrongly claim to monopolise interpretations of Islam in the social and political realms.

Jihad is a universal struggle for good against evil. The verse, “Struggle in God, as the struggle (jihad) deserves …” (Pilgrimage 22:78) also includes the teachings, “… This is the path of your father Abraham … Establish prayer, give charity and hold to God: He is your Protector  …”

 

  1. THE OUTER JIHAD IS ALWAYS UNDERPINNED BY INNER JIHAD

Inner jihad or jihad al-nafs (struggle against the self’s base desires) has always been understood as a prerequisite for taking part in the outer jihad, or struggle for goodness and truth in the world.

This is reflected in the Qur’anic promise of heaven to whoever fears standing before God and “forbids their self from base desires” (The Snatchers 79:40-41). Furthermore, a hadith states, “The true mujahid (holy warrior) is the one who struggles against their own self for the sake of God.”

Ibrahim bin Abi Ablah, an early ascetic of Islam, once remarked after a military expedition, “We have returned from the lesser jihad to the greater jihad,” i.e. from the lesser, military jihad to the greater jihad of lifelong struggle against evil. This teaching was also attributed to the Prophet himself and widely favoured by the Sufis, who were keen to preserve the spiritual dimensions of Islam during the early centuries of astonishing Islamic military conquests and worldly success. [Although many Hadith scholars did not accept this as a saying of the Prophet, they accepted its meaning, since it came from someone regarded as a holy main or saint (wali). Such scholars include Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani.]

 

  1. JIHAD TODAY

As shown above, Islamic teachings about jihad are essentially spiritual and non-violent. All charitable efforts or struggles by Muslims today for goodness, truth and justice against evil and injustice may be termed jihad. For example, the Prophet termed “struggling to help widows and orphans” and “struggling to serve elderly parents” as types of jihad. [Sound hadiths of Bukhari & Muslim, etc.]

Armed or military jihad is the strict preserve of legitimate authority such as modern nation-states engaging in ethical warfare: this is why the Muslim Reform Movement firmly rejects ‘violent jihad’ carried out by non-state actors or vigilante groups such as terrorist organisations.

What we really need is a jihad for universal human rights, dignity, equality, peace and justice, tempered by the mercy and compassion that are the essential spirit of Islam and the Qur’an.

 

Imam Dr Usama Hasan (briefly an armed mujahid alongside the anti-communist mujahideen in Afghanistan, 1990-1)

London, UK, 1st August 2017

Modified & republished: 10th November 2019 / 12th Rabi’ al-Awwal 1441

 

NOTES:

 

[1] Ibn Sa’d said, “It reached the Messenger of God, may God bless him and grant him peace, that the Romans [Byzantines] had gathered large multitudes in Syria, and that Heraclius had prepared provision for his men for a year. He had brought with him the tribes of Lakhm, Judham, ‘Amilah and Ghassan. They had sent an advance party to al-Balqa’.” – cf. Ibn al-Qayyim, Zad al-Ma’ad, Al-Matba’ah al-Misriyyah wa Maktabatuha, n.d., vol. 3, p. 2

[2] cf. Usama Hasan, From Dhimmitude to Democracy, Quilliam, 2015

[3] Al-Baladhuri, as quoted by Ihsanoglu. cf. Usama Hasan, From Dhimmitude to Democracy, Quilliam, 2015, p. 26

 

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

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.