April 29, 2008
Posted by Admin under Life  Comments
This set of notes is the basis for a reminder I gave a few days ago, and it really is a reminder because the majority of these notes formed the backbone for a lecture which was presented about 6 years ago (and thus the discussion below might seem a bit out-of-date) not too long after the events of 9/11 when a lot of Muslims were confused about their status living in the Western lands as Muslims yet born citizens of these countries with no other national or social culture and identity to relate to other than of these very same countries.
I must say that some of the things that I said back then were embarrassing and difficult for me to say such as “we have to be good citizens” and “Muslims need to show their community how helpful and nice they really are” because for crying out loud, how on Earth else do Muslims expect to behave?! What is being Muslim all about if it’s not being someone who is an integral member of his Community regardless of the religion of that community? It reminds me of that American comedy sketch a friend showed me once where the African-American father goes up to the comedian and says proudly, “I support my children!” The Comedian turns to the father and says, “What the hell else do you expect a father to do if not look after his children! Do you want a medal or something?!” (All swearing mentioned every two words edited out of course.)
So yes, it is embarrassing to tell someone who because of his contract with Allah and His Messenger (sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) which entails the very best of character, being merciful to all of creation from the animals to the environment to the general public etc, to be good citizens!
But the reasons I decided to re-present this talk now are namely two:
- I was in London recently on a visit and I attended a Jumu‘ah khutbah which I must say I found pretty average, on the topic of Muslims having to be good and trustworthy citizens who want the best for their neighbours etc. As you can imagine, I was thinking to myself, “Does any Muslim with half a brain need to be actually told this?” Anyway, when I came out with my companion that day, he was very quiet, as if he was in deep reflection and so I asked him what was going on whereupon he told me that he had been deeply affected by the Khutbah.
I couldn’t believe my ears. I was like, “What was so shocking?!” And then when he proceeded to explain to me that he hadn’t heard this Khatīb say such things before and that they had never been given a real vision for their long-term future in this country before, I realised that something was really wrong. I had clearly under-estimated how many Muslims were still living in confusion in countries like the UK saying to themselves: do I have a hope or a future here or do I need to make Hijrah to a Muslim country to save my Hereafter?
So that’s the first reason.
- The second reason is that whilst people like myself have been living in our Ivory Towers amongst our own communities thinking them to be handling these issues just fine and getting on with being the best Muslim British Citizens they can possibly be and making long-term plans and investments for a bright future here, other perhaps not so well-intentioned brown sahibs (or what Malcolm X rahimullah termed as “House Negros”), who are closer to kufr than imān, have been busy trying to hijack the direction of the orthodox Muslim community here in the UK in trying to dictate the identity that the Muslims should take whilst they live in these countries.
As you can imagine, such secularists with their new-found and well-supported foundations, forums and councils are very heavy on a dilution of Islamic religious practice, the dilution of individual cultural expression in a multi-cultural society, and quite simply a forcing of their deviant, aberrant and heretical understanding upon the British Muslims and Non-Muslims in order to enact change. This is their new “Western Islam” as defined by these liberal, secularist, “regressives” - they call themselves “Progressive” of course. If this is “Progression”, give me the Stone Age any day.
The problem of course is that some of their positions will undoubtedly match up with those of the scholars of orthodoxy. It’s a good thing that this piece isn’t a movie so I can tell you the ending right now: our lives, our hope and our future as British Muslims is very much in this country with Hijrah being the option and trump card for someone who struggles to make the mark here and needs further support elsewhere or at least recognises that he/she needs help somewhere else in the World to protect their religion.
Now, in this issue (i.e. that we’re here to stay), we’d agree with these liberal secularist Muslims. The problem is that they came to this position through their desires and their deviance. They are fulfilling the dreams of their Paymasters and supporters in the Government in their conclusions. Ahl’l-Sunnah come to it based upon what Allah and His Messenger wants. And perhaps innocent Muslims might mistakenly understand that these extreme deviants are being supported by the Orthodoxy. They couldn’t be more wrong.
The irony is that the founders and advisers of these organisations were completely ignorant and unstable since Day One of their Islamic Experience. These organisations were set up to combat terrorism and extremism – so the government wants us to go to those people who float around in the wind with their religion, one day wanting to blow up everyone to Kingdom come, the next day they want to kiss and hug everyone to Kingdom come! Like hello?! It reminds me of one of the latest Mr. Bean films where this most miskeen of all the masākeen is chosen to be the world’s greatest adviser and expert. Yes, Mr Bean!
So I wish to briefly clarify only, because there is much written and multimedia information on this issue from orthodox sources on what really are the issues affecting the Muslim living in non-Muslim lands; I wish to deal with what I see to be the weakness of the call for all Muslims to make Hijrah from such countries and then I’m going to tell everyone to be really nice and good folk because Muslims really are nice and good folk. Right?
Hijrah in its legal sense can be defined as the “the emigration from the land of non-Muslims to the land of Islam.” Basically, it is understood by some that if a Muslim is having to compromise on their religion to a level where it is being washed away or one’s imān is in danger or one is constantly falling into sin, then to move to a more Islamic environment might help do the trick.
This is an issue which has been differed over, more so in recent times by the contemporary scholars reflecting the fact that it is (in general) a relatively new problem. This difference in essence reflects their varying understanding of what “difficulty in practising their religion” actually means and whether the Muslims really are better off in their non-Muslim lands than other Muslim lands they might be able to move to.
That said, Muslim minorities have always existed in pockets distributed in various non-Muslim lands and areas throughout the last 1400 years; the scholars in general preferred their living with the Muslims under the rationale that their practising of their religion would become more pure, safer and more complete. The classical books of fiqh are replete with statements confirming the obligatory nature of Hijrah unless the Muslims were amongst tribes and people that didn’t restrict their practices.
It becomes an absolute obligation for the Muslims to make Hijrah if they are unable to fundamentally perform their religion because Allah ‘azza wa jall says in Sūrat’l-Nisā’:
إِنَّ الَّذِينَ تَوَفَّاهُمُ الْمَلَائِكَةُ ظَالِمِي أَنْفُسِهِمْ قَالُوا فِيمَ كُنْتُمْ قَالُوا كُنَّا مُسْتَضْعَفِينَ فِي الْأَرْضِ قَالُوا أَلَمْ تَكُنْ أَرْضُ اللَّهِ وَاسِعَةً فَتُهَاجِرُوا فِيهَا فَأُولَئِكَ مَأْوَاهُمْ جَهَنَّمُ وَسَاءَتْ مَصِيرًا
“Verily, as for those whom the angels take while they are wronging themselves, they say, ‘In what condition were you?’ They reply, ‘We were weak and oppressed in the Earth.’ They say, ‘Was not the Earth of Allah spacious enough for you to emigrate therein?’ Those will find their abode in Hell, and what an evil destination.” (4:97-98 )
- Note that as some of the Mufassirīn of the Qur’ān tell us, this above verse refers to in principle those Muslims who were fighting against the Islamic state on the side of the Polytheists, and those who are unable to practise their religion at all. At the very least though, this verse is a severe warning for all Muslims who live in non-Muslim lands to assess their roles and functions in those societies.
- The inability to perform one’s religion leads to the absolute individual obligation of emigration to any other place that allows one to do that, worst case being to another non-Muslim land and best case a true Muslim country running by Sharī‘ah as it should be (and not as it has been claimed to be in the last 100 years). This is of course from the basics of Maqāsid al-Sharī‘ah i.e. that to preserve one’s religion takes priority over preservation of life and wealth and other necessities.
- Also, one must understand that the above verse does not obligate moving to an Islamic state but rather to where there is no fear, weakness and oppression i.e. where the person can live safely in security and confidently practise his/her religion fully. This can be seen in the action of the Companions who were sent by the Prophet (sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) from a land of warring and oppressive non-Muslims to another non-Muslim land (Abyssinia) with its own set of problems yet ultimately being ruled with justice and peace and hence allowing the Muslims to practice their Deen to an acceptable level.
- Also note, there is no evidence to show that the Companions were forced to return back to the Islamic state once the Prophet (sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) took control which would of course have been the case if it was an obligation. Rather they returned out of their own volition.
- Other than in this extreme situation (where one cannot pray, dress modestly and worship etc), there is no clear-cut evidence that puts the Muslims in sin for not emigrating to a Muslim land. The only other exception (which was also differed over) is when the Khalīfah gives a command to the Muslims to do so – unless it is impossible, to disobey him would be sinful according to the majority. Others opined that as a result of their refusal to make Hijrah, their families would not get the full-amount of blood money due if that country/area was attacked as can be found in the books of fiqh. Naturally this discussion doesn’t apply when a Jihād is declared for which it becomes obligatory for the Muslims to participate in.
- It is not lost on you I am sure that rather than having a Khalīfah calling us to Dār’l-Islām at the moment, we have many Muslim leaders trying their very best to make it is as wholly difficult as possible to live in a Muslim country. That is of course, if you can make it in. Once in, and as a foreigner, you can guarantee that you’re already as big a suspect on the “War on Terror” as you think you might be back in the West, except that at least you have a fair chance of escaping torture back in Blighty. At least the Lib Dems and Gareth Pierce might be watching your back.
- Likewise, to slightly complicate the issue albeit admittedly this does not provide legal evidence in this debate, it would be absolutely impossible to house the hundreds of millions of Muslims that live in the Europe, the USA, India, China etc into Muslim countries. This is a geographical, social, cultural and most importantly a political fact. Has anyone here actually even tried to get a visa for Saudi? I can’t even go for ‘Umrah when I want to. And they’re going to let us all in?
- At the very least, this reality would lead to a change in the conditions affecting a fiqhi (legal) ruling on the obligatory nature of Hijrah as is well known from the principles of usūl’l-fiqh.
- Muslims should realise that in principle, they belong in Muslim lands where they can practice their Islam with strength, respect and honour. A Muslim shouldn’t normally leave such a land for the land of the non-Muslims except temporarily for a specific legal reason. It is sheer folly to try and argue otherwise. As for the Muslim born and living in a non-Muslim land, it is recommended for him to be in a land where Islam is fully established, so that he can enjoy and utilise the strength of the nation in expressing his religion.
- The oft-repeated ‘narration’ of the Prophet (sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) which many use as the main evidence to prohibit the residence of Muslims in non-Muslim lands namely:
بعث رسول اللَّه صلى الله عليه وسلم سرية إلى خثعم فاعتصم ناس منهم بالسجود، فأسرع فيهم القتل، قال: فبلغ ذلك النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم فأمر لهم بنصف العقل، وقال: «أنا بريء من كل مسلم يقيم بين أظهر المشركين» قالوا: يا رسول اللَّه لِـمَ؟ قال: لا تراءى ناراهما
Jarīr b. ‘Abdullah is reported to have said that the Messenger of Allah (sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) sent a battalion to the tribe of Khuth‘um. Some of the members of the tribe sought salvation in performing prostration. However, the battalion hurriedly killed them. When the Messenger of Allah heard of this, he ordered their families to be paid half the amount of blood money and said, “I am free from every Muslim who lives amongst the Polytheists.” We asked, “Why is that, O Messenger of Allah?” He replied, “You could not distinguish between their two fires.” (i.e. between who were Muslims and who were non-Muslims)
This narration was collected by Abu Dāwūd and Tirmidhi. It was graded weak by al-Bukhāri, al-Nasā’i, Abu Hātim al-Rāzi, al-Dāraqutni as well as many others (see ‘Ilal al-Hadith of Abu Hātim, No. 942). Such a weak (and mursal) report cannot be used as evidence that the Prophet (sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) has prohibited for Muslims to remain amongst non-Muslims.
- For the sake of argument even if the above narration was authentic, it doesn’t in any way indicate that it is impermissible for Muslims to live amongst non-Muslims. Rather it indicates, as is found in the books of fiqh under the chapters of jināyāt and diya, that those who choose to live like this will take responsibility for their own lives.
So for example, if a Khalīfah established himself as a leader of the Jihād in Afghanistan and decided to launch a nuclear attack against the UK in retaliation to the invasion of 2001, and we British Muslims all died alongside British non-Muslims, our extended families would not be able to claim for blood-money, or could only claim limited damages against the Khalīfah, as discussed and differed over by the Fuqahā’. This is because we chose to live here despite being warned by the leader not to. If the above hadith was authentic, then it is the same: the leader declaring himself free of any liability arising out of Muslim or peaceful non-Muslim deaths.
- At the same time, no-one should be so naïve to believe that Muslims have it all good in the non-Muslim lands just because Muslims are able to pray, fast, cover their hair and get double stamp duty exemption. Those scholars who obligated emigration did so for the hidden and subtle damage that occurs to the belief and faith of the Muslim as they live their lives and sub-consciously ingest the diseases of disbelief and hypocrisy. Please do not patronise these scholars and those who sincerely make Hijrah in the belief that they are protecting their families and religion. “And for every man is that what he intended.”
- This fact should make many Muslims in the non-Muslim lands be very careful and wary in case they are indeed in sin. And no doubt, many Muslim families have fallen foul of our religious requirements especially when it comes to protecting the family, failing miserably in the tarbiyyah of their children who are now amongst the biggest drug users and abusers, dealers and pimps in this country; and if not drugs then the Asians and then British Muslims have reached a greater percentage of inmates in the British prison system than their percentage of the population of this country. Yes really.
- Likewise, one shouldn’t be so naïve to believe that one will become a better Muslim just by being in so-called Muslim countries for it often leads to the exact opposite for some. Hence, one should deal with the issue on an individual case-by-case basis; it is all about the maslahah and the mafsadah i.e. whether the good outweighs the bad.
- People need to judge their own situations specifically and make decisions that are well thought out and planned that will be the best for their Deen and Dunya and future generations, ensuring that priority is given to the Right of Allah ‘azza wa jall and then promote His justice throughout the world as the Prophet (sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said collected by Imām Ahmad (1420):
“البلاد بلاد الله، والعباد عباد الله، وحيثما أصبت خيراً فأقم”
“The lands are the Lands of Allah, and the servants are the Servants of Allah, so wherever you come across good, then stay there.”
- The one who studies the Qur’ān carefully will notice that Allah makes Islam something which can be taken anywhere anytime, not something restricted to just one place or one people. Just think about the deep wisdoms of Sūrat’l-Mā’idah and how Allah makes lawful for us the food of the People of the Book and then to marry their women as well. One doesn’t expect to find a large amount of such food or large number of such women in our own Islamic lands (although of course there will be some, and there are other wisdoms as well) but rather it as if Allah is saying to this nation, “Here is a further concession to go and travel and spread out and live life as best you can, wherever you can, and that here are a few more concessions in food and marriage to help you out there if you need it.”
- The Muslim who lives in non-Muslim lands doesn’t have to feel guilty every day and night just because they might not be a scholar or a student of knowledge helping and guiding other people, as is mistakenly quoted by some. Rather the obligation concerns the preservation of one’s own religion and then the propagation of it as a gift to others only if one has that particular ability. And God does not burden a soul more than it can bear.
- Just because the level of fitnah in “The West” is high (although rapidly reaching parity in many Muslim lands) it is not the answer to run away and not a reason to obligate Hijrah; this isn’t just because of the old adage established by ‘Umar (radhy Allāhu ‘anhu) of “worship in times of fitnah being better and more rewardable.” Rather if you believe that by moving to some Muslim land (or even the Khilāfah established upon Prophethood) that you will be protected from fitnah, then you have made a huge mistake.
The Muslim land/country/area that you reside in will not become some sudden shield for you if your heart is still diseased and your mind ignorant from the laws, principles and details of Islam. It is of no surprise to learn then that when Abu al-Dardā’ settled in Palestine and wrote a letter to his very close friend Salmān al-Fārisi (radhy Allāhu ‘anhuma) inviting him to leave Iraq where he was staying and return back to “al-‘Ardh al-Muqaddasah” (the Holy land of Palestine), Salmān replied:
الأرض لا تقدس أحدا وإنما يقدس الإنسان عمله
“The land never sanctifies anybody; rather what sanctifies man are his actions.”
- The real issue is the level and quality of your Islam after your Hijrah. There are some people who take a greater portion from their prayer performed in more difficult circumstances surrounded by fitnah in the lands of disbelief than those who are absent in mind and indeed absent in heart whilst standing in front of the very Ka‘bah itself. In fact, it was Abu Hurayrah who said, “One night spent being on guard in the Path of Allah is better than praying the entire night of Laylat’l-Qadr at The Black Stone.” Never has such an athar made more sense than when one actually experiences this reality.
- It is wholly incorrect to argue against the benefits of making Hijrah to a Muslim country because of illegal bribery, corruption, inefficiency and lower modern standards. Indeed those who live in the non-Muslim lands who know anything about how Governmental agencies and departments work will recognise that all the above occurs here too – but just in a more subtle form and indeed “legalised.”
- We must remember that the reason for Hijrah is to become closer to Allah and use all possible resources to reach that objective in whichever land you reside. Hijrah to some Muslim countries in the form of job promotion to the Middle East or returning back to countries of ethnic origin to live with extended family might be all well and convenient, cheaper, provide high quality education for the kids at private foreign schools (the irony!) and eventually lead to an easier life but has Hijrah been done because one is sick of tired of working 9-5 every day or because it is for the pleasure of your Lord?
- Back to the issue of “being able to practice one’s religion”. A good working standard could be that which was offered by the hadith of Fudayk (radhy Allāh ‘anhu), despite the difference over its authenticity:
– وكان قد أسلم، وأراد أن يهاجر فطلب منه قومه وهم كفار أن يبقى معهم، واشترطوا له أنهم لن يتعرضوا لدينه، ففر فديك بعد ذلك إلى النبي – صلى الله عليه وسلم – فقال: يا رسول الله إنهم يزعمون أنه من لم يهاجر، هلَكَ فقال النبي – عليه الصلاة والسلام –: “يا فديك أقم الصلاة، واهجر السوء، واسكن من أرض قومك حيث شئت”
A Companion called Fudayk became Muslim and wanted to make Hijrah but his people – who were non-Muslims – wanted him to stay, and promised him that he could practice his religion freely. He came to the Prophet (sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) and said, “O Messenger of Allah, they claim that the one who doesn’t emigrate is destroyed,” to which the Prophet (sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) replied, “O Fudayk, establish the Prayer, stay away from sin and then live in the land of your people wherever you wish.” (Ibn Hibbān, 4861)
What are the key points or conditions then of living in a land like ours: to establish the prayer i.e. you must be able to perform all your prayers at any time without any problem. Secondly, that you must stay away from and protect yourself (and family) from as much sin as possible. If you are sinning yourself or having problems with prayer which are related to your location, then you must leave – it becomes a fardh al-‘ayn and that’s why the asl of Hijrah is obligatory, i.e. that one moves to a place where Islam can be established and the Deen can be practiced.
In conclusion to all these many random points, listed here only really to show the depth of the discussion concerning Hijrah and illustrate some potential mistakes that protagonists on both sides are guilty of, I would like to end with this:
The practical reality (and not the legal ruling of course) is that there are millions of Muslims who are firmly settled in their countries and societies from birth and who have a huge responsibility to safeguard their Deen and that of their families, friends and communities. Many have claimed that the grass is greener on the other side but it has proved anything but for a small number of Muslims who became too concerned with the external Hijrah and left the internal Hijrah for later.
The internal always comes first, then followed by the external. If we can all focus how to purify our lives and preserve our surroundings the best we can, we might be able to fulfill the Prophetic injunction which precedes any physical Hijrah to another land, rather it starts with the internal Hijrah obligatory on every soul in every corner of the Earth, namely:
المهاجر من هجر ما نهى الله عنه
“The real Muhājir is the one who leaves that which Allah has forbidden.”
So we come back to the title of this piece: Hope or Hijrah?
We should try our best to preserve our Islamic values and identity as well as progressing forward with our British identity as every other citizen would be expected to do. This country is our “culture”, is our home and is our future. We benefit from the political environment and practice our religion freely as a result of it. We need to step up now and ensure that our wider community also sees a benefit from our presence here. They need our help. They need advice. They need a shoulder to cry on sometimes. They need sugar sometimes next door, but just be careful if they ask for coffee. They need their medicines, they need their legal advice. They need their lifts and they need their curries too! The atheists from them need our focus and direction and trust me, the Muslims in Britain are the best hope Judaism and Christianity have.
More than anything else, our country wants from us to be normal good citizens and we can do that whilst being upright practising Muslims preserving our deeni identity without counter-terrorism departments and “I can’t think-tanks” and foundations telling us what to do.
Again, I hate to say this because it is just so darn obvious, but it’s like telling someone, “if someone opens the door, tell them thank you!” I don’t wish to patronise but clearly there are Muslims who because of their confusion, aren’t sure where their loyalties lie. We have to remember that our loyalties lie to mankind itself. Don’t forget that the Prophet (sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said:
- “The best of people are those with the most excellent character.” [Tabarâni, Sahîh]
- “The best of people are those that bring most benefit to the rest of mankind.” [Dâraqutni, Hasan]
- “The best of people are those who are best in fulfilling [rights].” [Ibn Mâjah, Sahîh]
We have to get active in our communities, our charities, our local councils, our schools, our PTAs, our hospices, our neighbourhood watch schemes and anything and everything else that helps the Community. This is an absolute given in Islam requiring no further evidences but you know of course that the Prophet (sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) praised such work, so even if it is little, just do your bit because as the Prophet (sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said:
- “The most beloved of deeds according to Allah are the continuous ones, even if they are little.” [Agreed upon]
And we take this identity and struggle to maintain it and perform and do civic good, not because the deviants of x and y foundation want us to, but because Orthodox Islam and the Scholars of Ahl’l-Sunnah have demanded it from that mighty, blessed and honoured group called Muslims.
And Allah knows best.
April 26, 2008
Posted by Admin under Life  Comments
There has been an overwhelming sense of sadness this week in parts of Manchester as people reflect and realise that life really is too short to hold old grudges, to spend most of our lives at work, to miss out on gathering good deeds and many other lessons.
But alhamdulillah, such grief is transient for the Muslim. That’s what we signed up for when we ticked the religion box: Islam. So we’re moving on, but before we do, for those who are struggling to come to terms with such situations, here is a really beneficial piece sent to me by Shaykh Hood Bradford from Madinah, may Allah reward him.
Every phonecall cuts like a knife.
When you’ve lost a loved one, the last thing you want to do is answer the phone or be around someone, but then again the one thing you want most is some normality, so you pick up the phone and open the door. Clarity of mind is something sought after, not something to be expected at this time. Some people call you not knowing, and wonder why or how you can be so despondent or stand-offish to them. Others would call and say with the sensitivity of a schizophrenic “Sorry for your loss, but hey you know what can I say…” Silence from some may be safe, but not sound in the hurting heart. There are though those that actually console, ask real questions, make dua, and most importantly let you know they are there for you. Not that they are in fact physically there, but the sentiment and the short visits are what counts.
Pain subsides in the cool words of condolences, like a thick salve spread over an open wound on a hot summer’s day is then covered with fresh cotton. You know the pain is there, that it will take time to heal, and that there will always be a scar. But the temporary relief is so soothing.
Sadly, there is a shortage of medicaments these days.
When a relative dies, the last thing a survivor wants to hear is someone decide their fate (explicitly or implied). Even worse is when someone expects you to play Quincy MD, Colombo, and Perry Mason combined, expounding on all reasons for the death in reply to their so-well-phrased question of “But, why…?” I understand of course that the shock for some people is too much, but it is certainly not more than that experienced by those closest to the deceased.
I’m not sure of the causes of human insensitivity. After much deliberation it seems to be due to one main cause: the fact that we are all human. For many of us, death is a thing too far off to recognize, even when he presents himself at our doorsteps, barges in on us, or comes like a thief in the night.
Every human soul is due respect, regardless of the faith that it lives by or passed away on. Bukhari narrates from Abdul-Rahman ibn Abi Layla that Sahl ibn Hanif and Qays ibn Sa’d were sitting in the town of Qadisiyyah when a funeral procession passed, upon which they stood in respect. Someone said to them “It was a procession of the people of this land” (i.e. Non-Muslims). They replied to this saying “A Jewish funeral procession once passed God’s Messenger, upon which he stood. Someone said to him: It’s a Jewish funeral procession. He replied: Is it not a soul?”
In a similar narration from Jabir found in Muslim he said “Death comes by surprise; when you see a funeral then stand.”
Several people I’ve spoken say quite simply they don’t know what to do at the time of death, don’t know what to say (or what not to), or even if they should do or say anything at all. Regaining equilibrium is something essential to coping. Small visits and kind words count; not a hands-off approach, but not a fully hands-on one either.
God’s Messenger –as narrated in Bukhari- said, “God helps his servant as long as he is helpful to his brother.” As such God’s Messenger would console Muslims during their troubled times. Al-Aswad b. Abdullah narrates that God’s Messenger said “Whoever gives condolences to an afflicted person will be given a like reward.”
There is no one way to offer condolences, any which way they are given is acceptable. Some scholars preferred the following when giving condolences:
When consoling a Muslim upon the death of a Muslim:
أعظم الله أجرك ، وأحسن عزاءك ، وغفر لميّتك
May God make your reward great, ease your pain, and forgive the deceased.
When consoling a Muslim on the loss of a non-Muslim:
أعظم الله أجرك ، وأحسن عزاءك
May God make your reward great and ease your pain.
When consoling a non-Muslim on the loss of a non-Muslim:
أخلف الله عليك
May God reward your loss.
The best manner in which one console someone is to say:
إنّ لله ما أخذ، ولله ما أعطى ، ولكل شيء أجل مسمّى ، فلتصبر ولتحتسب.
“To God belongs what he took, and to him belongs what he gave, and he has set for everything an appointed time. So have patience and seek reward.”
Imam al-Nawawi commenting on this hadith said “This is the best phrase one can use for condolences.”
There are ways in which early Muslims expressed condolences. AbdulRazzaq al-San’ani narrates that Al-Hasan would pass by the deceased’s family and say to them “May God make your reward great. May God forgive your companion.” AbdulRazzaq was then asked by his students “Who specifically should we console?” He replied “Every sorrowful person, because a person may be more affected by the loss of his friend or brother than even the deceased’s own family.”
Many Muslims can become over conscientious and feel awkward when giving condolences, and especially if they did not share the faith of the deceased. Ask yourself a simple question: “Is it not a soul?” Condolences for non-Muslims are not only permissible, but may be recommended, this being the stronger and more supported view. Sending condolences upon the death of a non-Muslim is the same as visiting him when sick, the Prophet having visited his Jewish neighbor and consoled while his son was dying (as is narrated in the Sahih).
Building off of this, we find several condolences upon the death of non-Muslim friends, neighbors and relatives narrated from early Muslims. For instance, al-Ajlah would say to those surviving “I advise you to fear God and be patient.” Ibrahim would say “May God grant you many children, much wealth, and a long life.” Al-Hasan would say “May nothing but good come to you.” Abdullah b. Battah would say “May God grant you in your time of need the best thing he would grant anyone of your faith.”
We all miss those we’ve lost, and though we cannot bring them back, we can help those still with us to cope.
A man once came to Al-Hasan al-Basri expressing his sorrow at the loss of his son.
Al-Hasan said to him: “Did your son ever travel, leaving you behind?”
The man said: “Yes, he was travelling more than he was ever around.”
At this Al-Hasan said to him: “Then consider him travelling, because he’s never left you alone in a time in which your reward was greater than it is now.”
The man said: “Abu Sa’id, you’ve lessened the sorrow of my son’s departure.”
والله الموفــّق وصلى الله على نبينا محمد،
May God Almighty give us strength, and may he grace our Prophet Muhammad.
 – Many scholars of the past disliked (to the extent that some declared it an innovation) to sit with the deceased’s family for extended periods of time. They viewed this as not only an invasion of privacy, but as a cause for more sorrow, negating the reason why condolences are recommended to be given in the first place. See al-Nawawi below.
 – Musannaf Abdulrazzaq 3/395
 – Tirmidhi #1073. This hadith however contains some weakness; there is however narrations of similar meaning that support it.
 – al-Adhkar P. 162
 – Musannaf Abdulrazzaq 3/395
 – Jami’ al-Khallal P. 223
 – al-Mughni 2/545
 – al-Adhkar P. 163
April 21, 2008
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It is with great sadness that I inform you of the shocking news that our dear beloved brother and my close personal friend Atta-ul-Qudoss Munawar has passed away this afternoon.
Innā lillāhi wa innā ilayhi rāji‘ūn.
He was a wonderful brother masha’Allah, known to many of the local folk in Manchester and surrounding areas and one of my first friends in Manchester who then went on to become one of my closest confidants and someone I always sought advice from on many matters. He will be massively missed, and by Allah, the only thing that brings a smile to my face now in the midst of our tears and broken hearts is the fact that he loved Allah and His Messenger (s), and such people will not miss out on ending up with whom they love.
Qudoss was driving home on the M6 today when a Camper van on the other side of the motorway veered across the barrier and hit his car head on. Qudoss passed away instantly, and I can only ask you O Allah to accept our brother into your Garden, to forgive him all his sins and shower him with Your infinite Mercy, ameen.
I wish to say something else: it is unfortunately very easy to exaggerate when someone dies, especially if you are close to the deceased. Yet without exaggeration, I have just returned from the hospital where I went in with his brothers to the mortuary to identify him. Subhanallah. Despite the severity of the accident, his face was in utter peace and serenity, and…radiant. So radiant.
Just like his name: Munawwar. Brilliantly Radiant.
I ask you again O Allah by all Your blessed Names, to forgive and pardon your slave Qudoss, to give him strength during the Questioning, to protect him from the Grave, and to give him the very best place in the Akhirah, ameen.
Our thoughts and du’as I request of you are with his wife and his wonderful daughter Maryum and little boy Yahya, Goshi’s parents, and his brothers. May Allah give them patience and reward them for their loss, ameen.
(Qudoss’s Janazah was performed at Makki Masjid after the Dhuhr Prayer on Tuesday, 22nd April, 2008, may Allah have Mercy upon him.)
April 20, 2008
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Well, it goes something like this: the aata is absolutely fundamental to the keema paratha because without it, well there’s no paratha innit?
That was easy enough wasn’t it? A darn sight easier than this post here:
The Role of Atomism in the Groups of Kalam – Yasir Qadhi
Seriously speaking though, it’s a good read and a good discussion. In fact, it’s a nice piece by Yasir to be honest. Be warned though that you might fall asleep half way through it because it is really for those studying theology, yet I s’pose it’s better to fall asleep reading this than using Temazepam…
April 19, 2008
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How are things?
Anyway, it’s fatwa time. I say: you are allowed to play lame today and thereby ensure we win the title at the Bridge. Like it should be.
And anyway, you’re 10/1 to score first so why don’t we keep it that way…
The kobedas are on you tonight.
April 18, 2008
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For the last time before the new Prophetic Guidance site, forum and community portal go up in the next few weeks insha’Allah, please take note of the following events, talks and the Riyadh’l-Salihin Weekend Maqra’ah retreat happening over the next month in and around Manchester. Those events with posters are included below:
- Fundraising Dinner for Crescent Community High School for Girls, Sanam’s Restaurant, 18th April, 6pm. See poster below.
- ”Palestine Appeal”, Saturday 26th April 2008 at Hijrah School (KD Grammar School for Boys, Alexandra Rd South, Whalley Range, Manchester. Call 0161 881 6200 or Aasiyah on 07934 699 382 or Robina on 07985 438 485.
All men, women and children welcome. Show your support. Donations welcome!
Entertainment for all: Stalls include food, Islamic clothing, toys, face painting, henna designs and much much more. Starts 2pm until 5pm.
- “Muslims in Britain: Hope or Hijrah?” event at CMA, 26th April 2008, 7.30pm. See poster below.
- “Gaza Appeal at the Eastern Pearl”, 10th May 2008. See poster below.
- Medical Ethics in Islam, 26th April 2008. Click this link.
- “Riyadh’l-Salihin Maqra’ah” at CMA, May Bank Holiday Weekend, 3rd – 5th May 2008. See poster below.
- There will be another more intense Maqra’ah in Arabic only of the Sunan of Imam Abu Dawud (r) at Markaz’l-Bukhary again on the second May Bank Holiday Weekend, starting at 7pm on Friday night 23rd May all the way through until Monday evening on 26th insha’Allah, under the wonderful supervision of Shaykh Kehlan al-Juboori (hafidhullah).
April 14, 2008
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This was what I wrote in response to a comment on another thread, but after I wrote it, it was so long that I thought it’d be better up here instead. So there you go.
Asslamo ‘alaikum Sheikh,
First of all, my apologies but htis isn’t going to be a joke, so I’m sorry
Wa ‘alaykum salam wa rahmatullah.
Is this what they call a “thread killer”?
I want to make a request that the question I put to the sheikh is not turned into a joke…
Hey, I was just kidding!
Q:what are the lines around which we can/should interact with people of the opposite sex at work?
Let me give you a few general points that hopefully cover your various scenarios mentioned above.
Firstly, we have to recognise that there are two worlds out there for the practising Muslim in the UK/West. The first is the working world/environment and the second is the non-working environment.
Taking the second first: this kind of life for the practising Muslim in the UK is just a piece of cake. Peace, stability, no stress, and no areas of risk and danger with respect to working in doubtful areas such as haram commodities, riba, isolation with the opposite sex etc. Sure, you might not get a true exerience of the country’s people - there’s only so much you can learn from meeting the mums at the school run, speaking to the checkout girl/bloke when shopping, discussing with the electrician when he comes round and taking round food for the neighbours every once in a while - but for the one desiring safety over da’wah, then he/she couldn’t get it better.
Even the Muslim studying in the Educational system is largely protected from problems due to various legislations and due to the freedoms found in higher education and the fact that one’s livelihood is not directly under threat although admittedly, we start to experience a few difficulties.
So the real challenge to Muslims in the UK/West is to be found when they start work. Here, you can’t just do as you wish or demand what you want because you are under contract, you’re the one in need and the employers are the ones who are in power with their own interests to pursue.
This is all important to note because this uneven relationship creates a state of relative weakness for the practising Muslim as one’s livelihood is on the line: this thereby enacts a few usuli principles that allow insha’Allah small areas of doubt to be “overlooked” which help every single one of us who are involved in our wider societies. Of course, this is based on the general understanding that Muslims are meant to be living all around the world in all types of communities and societies, often in non-Islamic environments, and thus to simply “move away to the Muslim Lands” is a mantra which is more suited to Wonderland as opposed to the reality millions of us find ourselves in today, and Allah knows best.
Let me mention a few things that are permissible intrinsically but become doubtful because of other factors: working with non-mahram women is permissible, speaking to non-mahram women is permissible, being in the company of more than one woman is permissible, being polite and initiating conversation and asking about other women without being asked first is permissible, etc.
But as always, the presence of carnal desires and the fear of fitnah make give all the above actions a different legal status to their status quo.
So we see various factors and realities that make things less straight-forward: for example the state of undress of all the womnen we work with. Normally that is unacceptable. But what else can we do other than restrict ourselves to our houses for the rest of our lives? How can we avoid that when we spend our entire day walking around with pictures of non-mahram women in our pockets – yes, all those British Sterling notes (and no, the Queen’s crown isn’t a suitable hijab). Now before you laugh, this is a valid point. You wouldn’t have normally thought about that as an issue but from a fiqhi point of view, this is entirely unacceptable but we know that it’d be impossible to live in the wider world if we didn’t regretfully overlook all these various nuances of secular dominated 21st Century life today.
Likewise the gaze – in principle we don’t look at a woman directly more than once but when put in a position when having to work with someone or advising a patient/customer or delegating jobs, it simply isn’t possible to keep avoiding looking at a woman without unfortunate consequences. It is for this reason that some of the Fuqaha’ mentioned the different type of “look” that exists between the sexes of which there is immense detail. Needless to say, the scholars allowed repeated looks as part and parcel of business or the completion of the transaction as per necessary on the condition that there is safety from falling into fitnah or inflaming one’s sexual desires.
An important note here is to realise that the path of caution which you yourself are taking is the correct and blessed one. Unfortunately there are an increasing number of Muslims today in the West that simply ridicule such caution or even the methodological approach to determining what is permissible by itself and then what becomes permissible due to a need. Such people make simple blanket statements like “if you want to live in the West, this is the score” or “go and live in a cave then!” etc, not realising the ignorance and indeed danger of making such dismissive statements about the importance of sticking to Shari’ah as much as possible in our lives.
The key then to remember is to avoid all possible doubtful issues and then to minimise as much as possible all other areas of possible haram.
With these principles in mind, let me put them into practice and just give a few direct answers to your questions:
- At work, never isolate yourself with a member of the opposite sex. At the very least, if you have to be in a room or an office, try and keep the door open at all times. If you have the choice to arrange meetings or appointments then plan in advance and ensure open areas, a third person present, or a room which has much window space etc. And when there is no choice, then fear Allah as much as you can and minimise the time that you are in that isolated state.
- Try to minimise conversation with the opposite sex. That doesn’t mean stop asking about them, helping them, talking about yesterday’s TV etc. It just means don’t initiate meaningless chat, don’t let the conversation go to difficult places, don’t drop your guard when talking freely and also, don’t become a zombie or a non-responsive stiff so as to invite suspicion and feelings of insult which I have seen in the workplace too from a few Muslims.
Making dhikr at work is very useful because people tend to think you’re busy and leave you alone. Making the du’a of the workplace to help you in the battle against Shaytan is a must of course. Yet your dhikr should not prevent you conversing with your work colleagues, even if there is no immediate need or it is pure general conversation. But the good thing is that your colleagues will soon start to see you as a serious person who doesn’t just talk for fun but will be there for them if they need company or quality conversation.
Basically, don’t flirt about at work or try and be the women’s favourite who is the “life of the party” and yet at the same time, don’t make yourself into that unsocial difficult person who doesn’t care about anything. And yes, it would definitely be bad da’wah if you “locked them off”. As always, balance is the solution.
- These rulings do indeed differ when there is no fitnah, but the definition of that is not left up to you to decide! Things like general conversation as mentioned above is fine anyway and is from good manners and da’wah.
The problem comes about when some people say ”there is no fitnah” because they might think that their female colleague looks pretty average (or less even!) or that they are some Superman who doesn’t care for women in the slightest, or even more unlikely, his wife waiting at home would put Claudia Schiffer to shame. Those who have experience in the workplace will tell you that fitnah is not in the eye of the beholder but rather a reality that cannot be defined and protected against easily and thus taking the safe option of minimising free contact is the best and most beloved to Allah.
And anyway, what kind of argument is “she’s not pretty at all, she’s no fitnah” anyway?! What about the other way round and the fact that could be proving to be a fitnah for her? Who said women didn’t have desires, however unattractive/religious/scary you may look with your beard and all the rest of it. Think Salman Rushdie. Exactly.
- Your final question about going out for lunch or any special events etc is one of the more difficult realities of working life today. Muslims are not people who wish to intentionally frequent eateries where haram food is served, alcohol is present on the premises, women are exhibiting various levels of nakedness and illicit music is pumping away. Now technically speaking, one could argue that as long as one doesn’t eat haram food, one doesn’t eat with alcohol on their table, women are everywhere and we can’t do too much about it and being in a place where there is music and you hearing it is not the same as listening to it - well, that’d be a fair argument.
You might also hear from the same people that these things are “mudrikun la mahala” (as in the famous hadith of the adultery of the limbs) i.e. that such things and potential haram moments will definitely happen whatever happens. But when we look at it as a package then there is no doubt that the practising Muslim is not to be found chilling out in such areas.
With this in mind, we need to try and avoid such invitations. But on the odd occasion, especially when our non-Muslim colleagues go so far out of their way to choose locations without alcohol and halal food etc (and the Muslim mustn’t feel too guilty about this kind of arrangement, indeed insisting on such conditions will decrease the number of times such events will occur!) then as long as all the obvious haram aspects are avoided such as haram food, alcohol, isolation of the sexes etc then to attend is not a major issue insha’Allah. If you have a good relationship with your colleagues, this will certainly help. Taking myself for example, I will tell my friends clearly that I’m not interested in Christmas dinners and the like but I’ll got out with them later in the year. And they better not be coming all tarted up otherwise there’ll be trouble. My colleagues actually know that if the women come in dresses and the like, they’ll get blasted for the evening and the next two months after as well. But then few people are strong enough in character to pull such lines off so again, it’s all about minimising the haram, fearing Allah as much as possible and presenting as much Islamic decorum as possible.
And Allah knows best.
I also want to briefly mention something about women in the workplace: I am an absolute extremist in this issue in that I don’t have any time for the opposing arguments. Women should not be in the workplace whatsoever. Full stop. Yes we need women doctors and dentists and all the rest of it but there’ll always be Muslim women who’ll go ahead and do that anyway, whatever the scholars tell them so let them go ahead. As for the rest of the practising Muslimat: after 17 years of experience in the workplace, I simply cannot imagine how we will safeguard our Islamic identity in the future and build strong Muslim communities in the West with women wanting to go out and becoming employed in the hell that it is out there. I don’t feel the need to offer any explanation. That’s just the way it is. I’ve seen far too many families split up, childrens’ lives ruined and ones Islamic development curtailed for myself to ever support women being outside the family home more than they already are.
The irony of my statement is not lost upon me, especially if I tell you that from an interaction point of view, it is much better to be a Muslim woman in the workplace than a Muslim man. The male cannot look at the woman other than her face and hands for some given need. The female on the other hand is allowed with the same given need to look at everything below the knees and above the navel of the man as per the most correct opinion of the scholars. So you tell me: how do you avoid looking at the hair of your female colleague compared to your Muslim sister working with men in their normal state? There is no comparison.
Yet despite this fact, the warnings of our scholars have been actualised and the new generation of Muslims in the West are throwing away their future at a time ironically when the UK’s leading family judges are looking desperately to cultures like ours to save the family breakdown which is all too common to the native citizens who have been obsessed in getting women into the workplace.
Whether you agree with me or not my dear sisters, the success of building a Qur’anic generation from our children is almost completely dependent on the mothers educating themselves as much as humanly possible on the Qur’an and Sunnah before marriage, and then utter devotion to them after marriage. Call me old-fashioned, bigotted, extremist, backward and whatever else you want for now, as long as you also call me “honest” in 20 years time when you realise the truth.
There is so much that I could talk about here but then it’d just turn into a very long and legal discussion. I’ll be very honest and say that the Fuqaha’ have gone into enough detail with respect to the interaction between the non-related sexes that a fatwa can be found for most of the things you mention. But as the Salihin have always asserted, it should be taqwah instead of fatwah that governs our day-to-day lives.
We ask Allah jalla wa ‘ala to protect us all in these testing times, and give us the taqwah and tawfiq to practise this great favour of Islam in the very best way possible, ameen.
April 10, 2008
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Read the article below (and click here if you want to read the original with all the comments). Ignore the fact that it’s from the Daily Bakwas, because it brings up a good deeni discussion:
- There is possibly an argument about what Ahtisham Ali has said in that the Muslim, whatever his crime, is meant to keep that to himself, and not make “israr” of that sin as such i.e. making it apparent. One assumes that he has come to this conclusion based on the various ahadith that call for the sinner to conceal his or her sins/mistakes, as well as those ahadith which mention the sin itself of the one who confesses his sin openly “after Allah had concealed it.”
- Yet how else is one expected to regain confidence in such a person when they are released unless there has been some kind of rehabilitation attempt? Is rehabilitation simply a new, modern, non-islamic method of dealing with criminals or can there be space found for such a method in Islam as well?
- Actually, a deep study of Sharī‘ah reveals that our Islamic system aims for complete rehabilitation through the concealing of ones crime when appropriate and the confession of one’s crime when appropriate but always sincerely seeking repentance. As is known, from the conditions of a correct repentance is a real regret for what has been done as well all attempts exhausted to correct any wrongs caused. This is indeed the mode of most rehabilitation attempts as well so we can clearly support all rehabilitation projects for either Muslim or non-Muslim criminals from our authorities.
- More importantly, one must assert that the “legitimate Islamic position” as claimed by Ahtisham Ali of not partaking in rehabilitation for Muslim prisoners is not quite correct, indeed perhaps a “mistaken Islamic position”? It seems that the ahadith on this subject i.e. “to conceal ones sin and not openly announce it” have not been understood correctly. Rather, these narrations are aimed at those people who commit sin, no-one finds out about it because it has been concealed, and then the sinners go around and bragg about it to their friends and so forth. For such people there is indeed a grevious punishment. Also, the narrations that prohibit the announcing of one’s sins refer to that time when no-one else knows about the sin. Here, the sin has become public and the humiliation has been suffered and thus there is little effect in telling a few others of the sin when the public at large already know. Also, it can be argued that as the sin has become public, it might prove to be more beneficial to examine the psychology behind it openly to encourage people not to revisit such a crime again, part of any good rehabilitation programme.
- Actually, once one’s sin has been become known, then using an analogy from the story of ifk i.e. the slander of A‘ishah (r) as narrated in Sahih Muslim, the Prophet (s) told A‘ishah that if she really was sinful (of course, Allah jalla wa ‘ala cleared her shortly afterwards in the Qur’an) then she should make “i‘tirāf” i.e. accept and recognise her sin and then make tawbah to Allah. This concept of i‘tirāf can quite plausibly include some kind of public confession and thus one feels that any form of rehabilitation offered by the Prison Service for Muslim offenders is a good thing if the person does so wholeheartedly in a sincere attempt by all parties for a complete repentance on behalf of the sinner.
And Allah knows best.
Here’s the article:
Muslim sex offenders could opt out of treatment programme ‘because it’s against their faith’
Muslim sex offenders are asking to be let off a prison treatment programme on religious grounds.
Rapists, paedophiles and other dangerous attackers are expected to discuss their crimes with other inmates as a condition of release.
But Muslim prisoners complain that criminals should not have to talk about their offences – a “legitimate Islamic position”, according to Ahtsham Ali, the Prison Service’s Muslim adviser.
One thousand inmates were put on the Sex Offender Treatment Programme last year with places usually reserved for the most dangerous attackers.
Failure to complete the course can weigh against an offender at parole hearings.
The possibility of an exemption for Muslims came to light in a letter from an unnamed inmate to Inside Time, a newspaper for prisoners.
The convict said: “I have always insisted that it was against Islamic teachings to discuss your offence to anyone, let alone act it out within a peer group.”
Experts said ministers, who have launched a review of the issue, could face a legal challenge from Muslims kept longer in prison because they had not undergone the treatment programme.
Harry Fletcher, of the probation union Napo, said: “If they do not take part, Muslim sex offenders are likely to serve longer sentences, possibly the whole of their term, before they are released.”
Nick Herbert, Tory justice spokesman, said: “There can be no religious discrimination when it comes to deciding the appropriate and safe time to release a prisoner.
“In any case, all prisoners, regardless of religion, should have their release made conditional on their behaviour and progress in custody, not be given automatic release at the half-way mark.”
A Prison Service spokesman said officials were seeking to ensure the treatment programme was sensitive to “the diversity of religions within the prison context”.
“Membership of a particular religion is not a bar to participation in accredited programmes,” she insisted, adding that offenders were carefully vetted to ensure they were suitable candidates for the course.
April 9, 2008
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I promised Sammy that I’d put this joke up so if you like it, all respect to me and if you don’t, then blame him.
“A Passenger boards a plane and takes his window-seat ready to fly. Suddenly, a man with a dog come to his row and the dog leaps on to the vacant seat settling down nicely next to the Passenger and looks him up and down carefully.
The Passenger turns to the dog owner sitting on the adjacent aisle seat and complains bitterly about his new seating companion for the flight, which lifts off.
“You don’t know how lucky you are my friend,” replies the owner. “This is a very special dog with incredible skills. Do you want to see him an action?” He then turned to his dog and started barking to him in dog language upon which the dog jumped down, ran up the aisle and then came back a few minutes later, barking to the owner, “gruff, gruff, gruff!” and jumped back on to his seat.
“What is he saying?!” asked the Passenger.
“It said that there is a man further down with a stash of cannabis in his pocket. How about that!” said the owner.
“Really? Ok, let’s see the dog do something like that again then,” said the Passenger, beginning to melt to the charms of the dog. The owner then barked at the dog in dog language and off it went only to come back a few minutes later barking and gruffing away to its owner and motioning further down the aisle, and then jumped back on to his seat.
“What’s he saying? What’s he saying?” asked the Passenger.
“He said that there is a guy down there with cocaine on him, just 6 rows down,” replied the owner.
“Wow! This is really unbelievable…can we send him out one more time?” asked the Passenger.
“Ok this is the last go,” said the owner and started barking to the dog who then ran off down the aisle for a few minutes only to come running back barking and then jumped on to the seat and started defecating (this is the halal version remember?) all over the place, on the floor, on the passenger, on his hair, on the aisles until the entire place is absolutely smothered.
“What the…! What the hell is going on?! What happened to the dog?! What’s it saying for crying out loud?!” shouted the Passenger.
“Oh, that chap further down has a bomb…”
April 7, 2008
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This is a very useful article written by someone I’ve got a lot of time and space for, Noah Feldman, in last month’s New York Times. It’s an interesting perspective especially for budding tullab’l-ilm who wish to put their theory into action…
Last month, Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury, gave a nuanced, scholarly lecture in London about whether the British legal system should allow non-Christian courts to decide certain matters of family law. Britain has no constitutional separation of church and state. The archbishop noted that “the law of the Church of England is the law of the land” there; indeed, ecclesiastical courts that once handled marriage and divorce are still integrated into the British legal system, deciding matters of church property and doctrine. His tentative suggestion was that, subject to the agreement of all parties and the strict requirement of protecting equal rights for women, it might be a good idea to consider allowing Islamic and Orthodox Jewish courts to handle marriage and divorce.
Then all hell broke loose. From politicians across the spectrum to senior church figures and the ubiquitous British tabloids came calls for the leader of the world’s second largest Christian denomination to issue a retraction or even resign. Williams has spent the last couple of years trying to hold together the global Anglican Communion in the face of continuing controversies about ordaining gay priests and recognizing same-sex marriages. Yet little in that contentious battle subjected him to the kind of outcry that his reference to religious courts unleashed. Needless to say, the outrage was not occasioned by Williams’s mention of Orthodox Jewish law. For the purposes of public discussion, it was the word “Shariah” that was radioactive.
In some sense, the outrage about according a degree of official status to Shariah in a Western country should come as no surprise. No legal system has ever had worse press. To many, the word “Shariah” conjures horrors of hands cut off, adulterers stoned and women oppressed. By contrast, who today remembers that the much-loved English common law called for execution as punishment for hundreds of crimes, including theft of any object worth five shillings or more? How many know that until the 18th century, the laws of most European countries authorized torture as an official component of the criminal-justice system? As for sexism, the common law long denied married women any property rights or indeed legal personality apart from their husbands. When the British applied their law to Muslims in place of Shariah, as they did in some colonies, the result was to strip married women of the property that Islamic law had always granted them — hardly progress toward equality of the sexes.
In fact, for most of its history, Islamic law offered the most liberal and humane legal principles available anywhere in the world. Today, when we invoke the harsh punishments prescribed by Shariah for a handful of offenses, we rarely acknowledge the high standards of proof necessary for their implementation. Before an adultery conviction can typically be obtained, for example, the accused must confess four times or four adult male witnesses of good character must testify that they directly observed the sex act. The extremes of our own legal system — like life sentences for relatively minor drug crimes, in some cases — are routinely ignored. We neglect to mention the recent vintage of our tentative improvements in family law. It sometimes seems as if we need Shariah as Westerners have long needed Islam: as a canvas on which to project our ideas of the horrible, and as a foil to make us look good.
In the Muslim world, on the other hand, the reputation of Shariah has undergone an extraordinary revival in recent years. A century ago, forward-looking Muslims thought of Shariah as outdated, in need of reform or maybe abandonment. Today, 66 percent of Egyptians, 60 percent of Pakistanis and 54 percent of Jordanians say that Shariah should be the only source of legislation in their countries. Islamist political parties, like those associated with the transnational Muslim Brotherhood, make the adoption of Shariah the most prominent plank in their political platforms. And the message resonates. Wherever Islamists have been allowed to run for office in Arabic-speaking countries, they have tended to win almost as many seats as the governments have let them contest. The Islamist movement in its various incarnations — from moderate to radical — is easily the fastest growing and most vital in the Muslim world; the return to Shariah is its calling card.
How is it that what so many Westerners see as the most unappealing and premodern aspect of Islam is, to many Muslims, the vibrant, attractive core of a global movement of Islamic revival? The explanation surely must go beyond the oversimplified assumption that Muslims want to use Shariah to reverse feminism and control women — especially since large numbers of women support the Islamists in general and the ideal of Shariah in particular.
Is Shariah the Rule of Law?
One reason for the divergence between Western and Muslim views of Shariah is that we are not all using the word to mean the same thing. Although it is commonplace to use the word “Shariah” and the phrase “Islamic law” interchangeably, this prosaic English translation does not capture the full set of associations that the term “Shariah” conjures for the believer. Shariah, properly understood, is not just a set of legal rules. To believing Muslims, it is something deeper and higher, infused with moral and metaphysical purpose. At its core, Shariah represents the idea that all human beings — and all human governments — are subject to justice under the law.
In fact, “Shariah” is not the word traditionally used in Arabic to refer to the processes of Islamic legal reasoning or the rulings produced through it: that word is fiqh, meaning something like Islamic jurisprudence. The word “Shariah” connotes a connection to the divine, a set of unchanging beliefs and principles that order life in accordance with God’s will. Westerners typically imagine that Shariah advocates simply want to use the Koran as their legal code. But the reality is much more complicated. Islamist politicians tend to be very vague about exactly what it would mean for Shariah to be the source for the law of the land — and with good reason, because just adopting such a principle would not determine how the legal system would actually operate.
Shariah is best understood as a kind of higher law, albeit one that includes some specific, worldly commands. All Muslims would agree, for example, that it prohibits lending money at interest — though not investments in which risks and returns are shared; and the ban on Muslims drinking alcohol is an example of an unequivocal ritual prohibition, even for liberal interpreters of the faith. Some rules associated with Shariah are undoubtedly old-fashioned and harsh. Men and women are treated unequally, for example, by making it hard for women to initiate divorce without forfeiting alimony. The prohibition on sodomy, though historically often unenforced, makes recognition of same-sex relationships difficult to contemplate. But Shariah also prohibits bribery or special favors in court. It demands equal treatment for rich and poor. It condemns the vigilante-style honor killings that still occur in some Middle Eastern countries. And it protects everyone’s property — including women’s — from being taken from them. Unlike in Iran, where wearing a head scarf is legally mandated and enforced by special religious police, the Islamist view in most other Muslim countries is that the head scarf is one way of implementing the religious duty to dress modestly — a desirable social norm, not an enforceable legal rule. And mandating capital punishment for apostasy is not on the agenda of most elected Islamists. For many Muslims today, living in corrupt autocracies, the call for Shariah is not a call for sexism, obscurantism or savage punishment but for an Islamic version of what the West considers its most prized principle of political justice: the rule of law.
The Sway of the Scholars
To understand Shariah’s deep appeal, we need to ask a crucial question that is rarely addressed in the West: What, in fact, is the system of Islamic law? In his lifetime, the Prophet Muhammad was both the religious and the political leader of the community of Muslim believers. His revelation, the Koran, contained some laws, pertaining especially to ritual matters and inheritance; but it was not primarily a legal book and did not include a lengthy legal code of the kind that can be found in parts of the Hebrew Bible. When the first generation of believers needed guidance on a subject that was not addressed by revelation, they went directly to Muhammad. He either answered of his own accord or, if he was unsure, awaited divine guidance in the form of a new revelation.
With the death of Muhammad, divine revelation to the Muslim community stopped. The role of the political-religious leader passed to a series of caliphs (Arabic for “substitute”) who stood in the prophet’s stead. That left the caliph in a tricky position when it came to resolving difficult legal matters. The caliph possessed Muhammad’s authority but not his access to revelation. It also left the community in something of a bind. If the Koran did not speak clearly to a particular question, how was the law to be determined?
The answer that developed over the first couple of centuries of Islam was that the Koran could be supplemented by reference to the prophet’s life — his sunna, his path. (The word “sunna” is the source of the designation Sunni — one who follows the prophet’s path.) His actions and words were captured in an oral tradition, beginning presumably with a person who witnessed the action or statement firsthand. Accurate reports had to be distinguished from false ones. But of course even a trustworthy report on a particular situation could not directly resolve most new legal problems that arose later. To address such problems, it was necessary to reason by analogy from one situation to another. There was also the possibility that a communal consensus existed on what to do under particular circumstances, and that, too, was thought to have substantial weight.
This fourfold combination — the Koran, the path of the prophet as captured in the collections of reports, analogical reasoning and consensus — amounted to a basis for a legal system. But who would be able to say how these four factors fit together? Indeed, who had the authority to say that these factors and not others formed the sources of the law? The first four caliphs, who knew the prophet personally, might have been able to make this claim for themselves. But after them, the caliphs were faced with a growing group of specialists who asserted that they, collectively, could ascertain the law from the available sources. This self-appointed group came to be known as the scholars — and over the course of a few generations, they got the caliphs to acknowledge them as the guardians of the law. By interpreting a law that originated with God, they gained control over the legal system as it actually existed. That made them, and not the caliphs, into “the heirs of the prophets.”
Among the Sunnis, this model took effect very early and persisted until modern times. For the Shiites, who believe that the succession of power followed the prophet’s lineage, the prophet had several successors who claimed extraordinary divine authority. Once they were gone, however, the Shiite scholars came to occupy a role not unlike that of their Sunni counterparts.
Under the constitutional theory that the scholars developed to explain the division of labor in the Islamic state, the caliph had paramount responsibility to fulfill the divine injunction to “command the right and prohibit the wrong.” But this was not a task he could accomplish on his own. It required him to delegate responsibility to scholarly judges, who would apply God’s law as they interpreted it. The caliph could promote or fire them as he wished, but he could not dictate legal results: judicial authority came from the caliph, but the law came from the scholars.
The caliphs — and eventually the sultans who came to rule once the caliphate lost most of its worldly influence — still had plenty of power. They handled foreign affairs more or less at their discretion. And they could also issue what were effectively administrative regulations — provided these regulations did not contradict what the scholars said Shariah required. The regulations addressed areas where Shariah was silent. They also enabled the state to regulate social conduct without having to put every case before the courts, where convictions would often be impossible to obtain because of the strict standards of proof required for punishment. As a result of these regulations, many legal matters (perhaps most) fell outside the rules given specifically by Shariah.
The upshot is that the system of Islamic law as it came to exist allowed a great deal of leeway. That is why today’s advocates of Shariah as the source of law are not actually recommending the adoption of a comprehensive legal code derived from or dictated by Shariah — because nothing so comprehensive has ever existed in Islamic history. To the Islamist politicians who advocate it or for the public that supports it, Shariah generally means something else. It means establishing a legal system in which God’s law sets the ground rules, authorizing and validating everyday laws passed by an elected legislature. In other words, for them, Shariah is expected to function as something like a modern constitution.
The Rights of Humans and the Rights of God
So in contemporary Islamic politics, the call for Shariah does not only or primarily mean mandating the veiling of women or the use of corporal punishment — it has an essential constitutional dimension as well. But what is the particular appeal of placing Shariah above ordinary law?
The answer lies in a little-remarked feature of traditional Islamic government: that a state under Shariah was, for more than a thousand years, subject to a version of the rule of law. And as a rule-of-law government, the traditional Islamic state had an advantage that has been lost in the dictatorships and autocratic monarchies that have governed so much of the Muslim world for the last century. Islamic government was legitimate, in the dual sense that it generally respected the individual legal rights of its subjects and was seen by them as doing so. These individual legal rights, known as “the rights of humans” (in contrast to “the rights of God” to such things as ritual obedience), included basic entitlements to life, property and legal process — the protections from arbitrary government oppression sought by people all over the world for centuries.
Of course, merely declaring the ruler subject to the law was not enough on its own; the ruler actually had to follow the law. For that, he needed incentives. And as it happened, the system of government gave him a big one, in the form of a balance of power with the scholars. The ruler might be able to use pressure once in a while to get the results he wanted in particular cases. But because the scholars were in charge of the law, and he was not, the ruler could pervert the course of justice only at the high cost of being seen to violate God’s law — thereby undermining the very basis of his rule.
In practice, the scholars’ leverage to demand respect for the law came from the fact that the caliphate was not hereditary as of right. That afforded the scholars major influence at the transitional moments when a caliph was being chosen or challenged. On taking office, a new ruler — even one designated by his dead predecessor — had to fend off competing claimants. The first thing he would need was affirmation of the legitimacy of his assumption of power. The scholars were prepared to offer just that, in exchange for the ruler’s promise to follow the law.
Once in office, rulers faced the inevitable threat of invasion or a palace coup. The caliph would need the scholars to declare a religious obligation to protect the state in a defensive jihad. Having the scholars on his side in times of crisis was a tremendous asset for the ruler who could be said to follow the law. Even if the ruler was not law-abiding, the scholars still did not spontaneously declare a sitting caliph disqualified. This would have been foolish, especially in view of the fact that the scholars had no armies at their disposal and the sitting caliph did. But their silence could easily be interpreted as an invitation for a challenger to step forward and be validated.
The scholars’ insistence that the ruler obey Shariah was motivated largely by their belief that it was God’s will. But it was God’s will as they interpreted it. As a confident, self-defined elite that controlled and administered the law according to well-settled rules, the scholars were agents of stability and predictability — crucial in societies where the transition from one ruler to the next could be disorderly and even violent. And by controlling the law, the scholars could limit the ability of the executive to expropriate the property of private citizens. This, in turn, induced the executive to rely on lawful taxation to raise revenues, which itself forced the rulers to be responsive to their subjects’ concerns. The scholars and their law were thus absolutely essential to the tremendous success that Islamic society enjoyed from its inception into the 19th century. Without Shariah, there would have been no Haroun al-Rashid in Baghdad, no golden age of Muslim Spain, no reign of Suleiman the Magnificent in Istanbul.
For generations, Western students of the traditional Islamic constitution have assumed that the scholars could offer no meaningful check on the ruler. As one historian has recently put it, although Shariah functioned as a constitution, “the constitution was not enforceable,” because neither scholars nor subjects could “compel their ruler to observe the law in the exercise of government.” But almost no constitution anywhere in the world enables judges or nongovernmental actors to “compel” the obedience of an executive who controls the means of force. The Supreme Court of the United States has no army behind it. Institutions that lack the power of the sword must use more subtle means to constrain executives. Like the American constitutional balance of powers, the traditional Islamic balance was maintained by words and ideas, and not just by forcible compulsion.
So today’s Muslims are not being completely fanciful when they act and speak as though Shariah can structure a constitutional state subject to the rule of law. One big reason that Islamist political parties do so well running on a Shariah platform is that their constituents recognize that Shariah once augured a balanced state in which legal rights were respected.
From Shariah to Despotism
But if Shariah is popular among many Muslims in large part because of its historical association with the rule of law, can it actually do the same work today? Here there is reason for caution and skepticism. The problem is that the traditional Islamic constitution rested on a balance of powers between a ruler subject to law and a class of scholars who interpreted and administered that law. The governments of most contemporary majority-Muslim states, however, have lost these features. Rulers govern as if they were above the law, not subject to it, and the scholars who once wielded so much influence are much reduced in status. If they have judicial posts at all, it is usually as judges in the family-law courts.
In only two important instances do scholars today exercise real power, and in both cases we can see a deviation from their traditional role. The first is Iran, where Ayatollah Khomeini, himself a distinguished scholar, assumed executive power and became supreme leader after the 1979 revolution. The result of this configuration, unique in the history of the Islamic world, is that the scholarly ruler had no counterbalance and so became as unjust as any secular ruler with no check on his authority. The other is Saudi Arabia, where the scholars retain a certain degree of power. The unfortunate outcome is that they can slow any government initiative for reform, however minor, but cannot do much to keep the government responsive to its citizens. The oil-rich state does not need to obtain tax revenues from its citizens to operate — and thus has little reason to keep their interests in mind.
How the scholars lost their exalted status as keepers of the law is a complex story, but it can be summed up in the adage that partial reforms are sometimes worse than none at all. In the early 19th century, the Ottoman empire responded to military setbacks with an internal reform movement. The most important reform was the attempt to codify Shariah. This Westernizing process, foreign to the Islamic legal tradition, sought to transform Shariah from a body of doctrines and principles to be discovered by the human efforts of the scholars into a set of rules that could be looked up in a book.
Once the law existed in codified form, however, the law itself was able to replace the scholars as the source of authority. Codification took from the scholars their all-important claim to have the final say over the content of the law and transferred that power to the state. To placate the scholars, the government kept the Shariah courts running but restricted them to handling family-law matters. This strategy paralleled the British colonial approach of allowing religious courts to handle matters of personal status. Today, in countries as far apart as Kenya and Pakistan, Shariah courts still administer family law — a small subset of their original historical jurisdiction.
Codification signaled the death knell for the scholarly class, but it did not destroy the balance of powers on its own. Promulgated in 1876, the Ottoman constitution created a legislature composed of two lawmaking bodies — one elected, one appointed by the sultan. This amounted to the first democratic institution in the Muslim world; had it established itself, it might have popularized the notion that the people represent the ultimate source of legal authority. Then the legislature could have replaced the scholars as the institutional balance to the executive.
But that was not to be. Less than a year after the legislature first met, Sultan Abdulhamid II suspended its operation — and for good measure, he suspended the constitution the following year. Yet the sultan did not restore the scholars to the position they once occupied. With the scholars out of the way and no legislature to replace them, the sultan found himself in the position of near-absolute ruler. This arrangement set the pattern for government in the Muslim world after the Ottoman empire fell. Law became a tool of the ruler, not an authority over him. What followed, perhaps unsurprisingly, was dictatorship and other forms of executive dominance — the state of affairs confronted by the Islamists who seek to restore Shariah.
A Democratic Shariah?
The Islamists today, partly out of realism, partly because they are rarely scholars themselves, seem to have little interest in restoring the scholars to their old role as the constitutional balance to the executive. The Islamist movement, like other modern ideologies, seeks to capture the existing state and then transform society through the tools of modern government. Its vision for bringing Shariah to bear therefore incorporates two common features of modern government: the legislature and the constitution.
The mainstream Sunni Islamist position, found, for example, in the electoral platforms of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the Justice and Development Party in Morocco, is that an elected legislature should draft and pass laws that are consistent with the spirit of Islamic law. On questions where Islamic law does not provide clear direction, the democratically chosen legislature is supposed to use its discretion to adopt laws infused by Islamic values.
The result is a profound change in the theoretical structure underlying Islamic law: Shariah is democratized in that its care is given to a popularly elected legislature. In Iraq, for example, where the constitution declares Shariah to be “the source of law,” it is in principle up to the National Assembly to pass laws that reflect its spirit.
In case the assembly gets it wrong, however, the Islamists often recommend the judicial review of legislative actions to guarantee that they do not violate Islamic law or values. What is sometimes called a “repugnancy clause,” mandating that a judicial body overturn laws repugnant to Islam, has made its way into several recent constitutions that seek to reconcile Islam and democracy. It may be found, for example, in the Afghan Constitution of 2004 and the Iraqi Constitution of 2005. (I had a small role advising the Iraqi drafters.) Islamic judicial review transforms the highest judicial body of the state into a guarantor of conformity with Islamic law. The high court can then use this power to push for a conservative vision of Islamic law, as in Afghanistan, or for a more moderate version, as in Pakistan.
Islamic judicial review puts the court in a position resembling the one that scholars once occupied. Like the scholars, the judges of the reviewing court present their actions as interpretations of Islamic law. But of course the judges engaged in Islamic judicial review are not the scholars but ordinary judges (as in Iraq) or a mix of judges and scholars (as in Afghanistan). In contrast to the traditional arrangement, the judges’ authority comes not from Shariah itself but from a written constitution that gives them the power of judicial review.
The modern incarnation of Shariah is nostalgic in its invocation of the rule of law but forward-looking in how it seeks to bring this result about. What the Islamists generally do not acknowledge, though, is that such institutions on their own cannot deliver the rule of law. The executive authority also has to develop a commitment to obeying legal and constitutional judgments. That will take real-world incentives, not just a warm feeling for the values associated with Shariah.
How that happens — how an executive administration accustomed to overweening power can be given incentives to subordinate itself to the rule of law — is one of the great mysteries of constitutional development worldwide. Total revolution has an extremely bad track record in recent decades, at least in majority-Muslim states. The revolution that replaced the shah in Iran created an oppressively top-heavy constitutional structure. And the equally revolutionary dreams some entertained for Iraq — dreams of a liberal secular state or of a functioning Islamic democracy — still seem far from fruition.
Gradual change therefore increasingly looks like the best of some bad options. And most of today’s political Islamists — the ones running for office in Morocco or Jordan or Egypt and even Iraq — are gradualists. They wish to adapt existing political institutions by infusing them with Islamic values and some modicum of Islamic law. Of course, such parties are also generally hostile to the United States, at least where we have worked against their interests. (Iraq is an obvious exception — many Shiite Islamists there are our close allies.) But this is a separate question from whether they can become a force for promoting the rule of law. It is possible to imagine the electoral success of Islamist parties putting pressure on executives to satisfy the demand for law-based government embodied in Koranic law. This might bring about a transformation of the judiciary, in which judges would come to think of themselves as agents of the law rather than as agents of the state.
Something of the sort may slowly be happening in Turkey. The Islamists there are much more liberal than anywhere else in the Muslim world; they do not even advocate the adoption of Shariah (a position that would get their government closed down by the staunchly secular military). Yet their central focus is the rule of law and the expansion of basic rights against the Turkish tradition of state-centered secularism. The courts are under increasing pressure to go along with that vision.
Can Shariah provide the necessary resources for such a rethinking of the judicial role? In its essence, Shariah aspires to be a law that applies equally to every human, great or small, ruler or ruled. No one is above it, and everyone at all times is bound by it. But the history of Shariah also shows that the ideals of the rule of law cannot be implemented in a vacuum. For that, a state needs actually effective institutions, which must be reinforced by regular practice and by the recognition of actors within the system that they have more to gain by remaining faithful to its dictates than by deviating from them.
The odds of success in the endeavor to deliver the rule of law are never high. Nothing is harder than creating new institutions with the capacity to balance executive dominance — except perhaps avoiding the temptation to overreach once in power. In Iran, the Islamists have discredited their faith among many ordinary people, and a similar process may be under way in Iraq. Still, with all its risks and dangers, the Islamists’ aspiration to renew old ideas of the rule of law while coming to terms with contemporary circumstances is bold and noble — and may represent a path to just and legitimate government in much of the Muslim world.
Noah Feldman, a contributing writer for the magazine, is a law professor at Harvard University and an adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. This essay is adapted from his book “The Fall and Rise of the Islamic State,” which will be published later this month.
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