I admit: I am cheesed off. Totally, that is.
Recently, I returned from one of the largest Muslim conferences in North America. While at the convention, I had placed my son Ammaar in the day-long seminars meant for the younger children. When Ammaar got back to the hotel room, the first thing he said as he barged into the room, his eyes wide open in amazement as is his wont, ‘Baba, Baba! Do you know that Doritos and Cheetos are harām?’ I groaned internally, knowing the basic source of this ‘fatwā’, and asked, ‘Why do you say that?’ to which he replied, ‘The auntie in our class said so!’
Sigh………. One more important lesson in fatherhood: make sure you teach your children that much of what they learn in ‘Islamic’ school is not necessarily ‘Islamic’.
As all of us are so (painfully) aware, of recent there has been a flurry of e-mails in Muslim circles regarding popular products, such as Doritos, that use cheese manufactured from porcine rennet. Since these products are sprinkled with such cheese, concerned Muslims have automatically concluded that the aforementioned products must be totally harām, and thus unceremoniously boycotted. Putting aside the nutritional value of such products, such a (cheesy) attitude, although commendable due to its sincere intentions, also betrays a fundamental lack of knowledge regarding halāl and harām foods. Before jumping the gun, it would behoove Muslims to do a little more research and consider the matter from all angles.
In this article, it is my intention to examine the issue in a more academic manner. However, for those who don’t have the time to read it, then to cut a long story short, the strongest opinion appears to be that cheese, in all of its commonly available varieties (except those that actually contain pork as an added flavoring) is absolutely and totally halāl.
In order to prove this point, first we’ll discuss how cheese is actually manufactured. Then, we’ll look at the Islamic perspective on animal rennet and, finally, the ruling on cheese derived from it. As a disclaimer, please note that this is, firstly, a very cursory look at the issue, both from a chemical and an Islamic point of view (although I do feel it is comprehensive despite its brevity), and, secondly, represents only the opinion of its author.
The Manufacture of Cheese
Cheese is a product formed by coagulating milk using a substance called rennet, and an acidification process. Milk from any animal may be used, although of course the most common ingredient is cow’s milk, followed by goat’s milk (some more exotic cheeses are found in cultures that use milk from reindeers, camels, and llamas, to name but a few). Hundreds of different flavors of cheese may be produced, depending on what type of milk is used, whether the milk was pasteurized or not, the butterfat content of the milk, the type of rennet, the addition of specific enzymes and flavoring agents for taste, the acidification process, and the length and environment in which the cheese is aged.
No one knows when man first ‘discovered’ how to make cheese. The origins of cheese pre-date recorded history, and all ancient civilizations, including the Romans, Greeks and Egyptians, are known to have been cheese producers and consumers. One of the folktales regarding the ‘discovery’ of cheese involves an Arab nomad who wished to carry milk across the desert. Finding no container other than an goat’s stomach, he transported the milk in it, only to discover at the end of his journey that the milk had been separated into curd and whey by the rennet from the stomach!
Rennet is, therefore, an essential component of manufacturing cheese. Traditionally, only animal rennet was used in the manufacture of cheese. However, due to the high demand of cheese and the cost and difficulty associated with the production of animal rennet, more and more companies are turning to other sources for rennet. The two primary types of rennet besides animal rennet are: vegetable rennet, and synthetic rennet manufactured in laboratories from various fungi. It is safe to state that in modern times most cheese is manufactured from non-animal rennet, but the percentage of animal rennet is still quite high. (In one of the cheese manufacturing plants that I visited in Holland, a mixture of synthetic and animal rennet was used; another one I visited in Vermont used only vegetable rennet).
It goes without saying that any cheese manufactured with rennet not taken from animal sources does not raise any fiqh controversy, hence the discussion at hand will focus on cheese manufactured with animal rennet.
Rennet is a complex natural enzyme that is produced in mammalian stomachs to digest milk. Animal rennet is typically extracted from the inner linings of the stomachs of young animals, usually cows or pigs. It is the younger animals who need this rennet to fully digest their mother’s milk; older animals do not yield as many necessary enzymes, hence if older animals are used, more stomach lining must be used to produce the same quantity of rennet.
In order to extract the rennet from the stomach linings, a chemical process is used in which the linings are dissolved in a mixture of acid and other solvent. This facilitates the transfer of the enzymes from the stomach linings to the solvent. The final stage involves neutralizing the acid. At the completion of this process, the rennet is available in a viscous liquid form. It is this form of rennet that is actually added to the milk for the coagulation process.
Of interest to note is that most of this final viscous liquid is actually solvent (water, salt and acid remnants); typically less than 1% of the liquid used is actual animal enzyme. The amount of rennet solvent needed for the manufacture of cheese is quite insignificant – as an example, in the factory that I visited in Holland, a small beaker of solvent rennet was added to a large vat of prepared milk.
The Islamic Ruling on Animal Rennet
From an Islamic perspective, animal rennet can be divided into three categories:
Firstly, the rennet derived from animals that have been slaughtered in accordance with the Sharīaah. There is no difference of opinion that such rennet is completely pure.
Secondly, the rennet derived from permissible animals (e.g., cows, sheep and goats) that have not been slaughtered according to the Sharīaah – for example, a cow that has been killed by a means other than ritual slaughtering (zabh). With regards to this second category, there is a difference of opinion amongst the classical scholars (manifested in the four madhabs) regarding the permissibility of such rennet – the opinion of Abū Hanīfa, one of the two opinions narrated from Ahmad (and the one chosen by Ibn Qudāmah), and the opinion of Ibn Taymiyyah, was that such rennet was pure, hence the cheese derived from it would also be considered pure. Other scholars, including the relied upon position in the Shafī’ī and Mālikī schools, is that such rennet is impure, and the cheese derived from it also impure. Many later Hanafīs, disagreeing with Abū Hanīfa’s view on this matter, also claimed that such rennet is impure (for some modern fatwas, the reader is referred here).
Thirdly, the rennet derived from impermissible animals, such as pigs. There is no significant difference of opinion that such rennet is impure, as the source of it is impure. Just like the meat, milk and bones of such animals are impure, similarly the rennet derived from their stomachs is also impure. Rennet of the second category would be permissible for Muslims to produce, buy, or sell if they followed the opinion that it is pure (and this is the correct opinion insha Allah). However, since porcine rennet is Harām, it is impermissible for Muslims to manufacture or sell such rennet, based on the Hadīth, “When Allah prohibits a matter, He prohibits its price” [Narrated by Ahmad]. The ‘price’ in this Hadīth means buying and selling the product.
Having said that, this ruling [viz., that porcine rennet is impermissible to sell or consume] should not be confused with another one: buying, selling and (most importantly) eating cheese manufactured with porcine rennet. Most Muslims simply do not understand that the two rulings are not necessarily identical, hence the confusion.Thus, to reiterate, cheese manufactured with animal rennet of the second and third categories is what is at dispute here. This article will not discuss the ruling of the second category of rennet in detail because, as shall be seen, if cheese from the third category is shown to be Halāl, then ipso facto cheese from the second category will also be considered permissible.
The Islamic Ruling on Cheese Derived from Porcine Rennet
There are two issues which need to be considered in order to derive the Islamic ruling on cheese: firstly, does the rennet undergo a chemical transformation when it is extracted from its source, and secondly, the quantity of rennet vis-à-vis the other ingredients. Both of these issues have a direct and immediate effect on the permissibility or impermissibility of such cheese. [Of interest is to note that although this article is specifically about cheese, these two foundational premises may be extrapolated to derive rulings on all substances and food items.] The first issue, that of a complete chemical transformation, is called in Arabic istihāla. Istihāla basically answers the question: If an impure substance undergoes a complete and total chemical transformation into a pure substance, is that sufficient to consider it to be pure? The classic example used by the early scholars is that of vinegar derived from wine: if left in the right circumstances or agitated in a specific manner, any bottle of wine will undergo a chemical transformation and become vinegar. This resultant vinegar is completely harmless and does not intoxicate.
Classical scholars differed over the issue of istihāla – the Hanafīs and Ibn Taymiyyah claimed that it made the final product pure, whereas the other three madhabs generally did not consider the resultant product pure if the process was intentionally done by human intervention. There is no verse or authentic hadīth that explicit supports either side – both groups base their opinion on sound reasoning and various reports from the Companions. (Also refer to this very beneficial article by a contemporary scholar on a closely related issue and a hadīth that plays an indirect role in this matter). Due to the fact that there is nothing explicit in the Divine Texts on this issue, and taking into account that a chemical transformation does indeed completely alter a compound (as anyone with a basic knowledge of chemistry will attest to), I follow the first opinion, which states that istihāla does indeed make the resultant product pure. Most of the modern fiqh academies also adhere to this first opinion.
The relevance of this issue to that of rennet is as follows: if animal rennet undergoes a chemical transformation during the extraction process, then even if its source was porcine, the extracted solvent would be considered permissible and pure by the first category of scholars. (Of course the second group of scholars would not be concerned with this issue, and would consider porcine rennet impure even if a chemical transformation occurred.)
Unfortunately, in my (limited) perusal of this subject, I could not verify whether the extraction process causes a chemical change in the rennet or not; however, from what I did read it would appear that no chemical change occurs and the extraction process is merely concerned with the transfer of the animal enzymes from the lining of the stomach into the liquid solvent. (Any information from specialists in this area would be greatly appreciated). Therefore, if the situation is that no chemical change occurs, then this issue is moot, and we move to the next one.
The next issue is really the crux of the matter. It concerns the quantity and residuum of an impure substance when mixed with a pure one. Now, there is pretty much unanimous agreement amongst the scholars that an extremely minute quantity of an impure substance, when added to a large quantity of a pure one, will not make the final substance impure. For example, if a glass of urine is thrown into an average-size lake, no scholar would consider the entire lake to be impure. Although the overall principle is a matter of agreement, there is no clear consensus on exactly how much impurity would affect a pure substance. So the real issue here is how to define what constitutes a miniscule quantity versus what would constitute a significant quantity. But the basic point is agreed upon: if an extremely minute quantity of an impurity is totally dissolved in a much larger quantity of a pure substance, such that the impurity does not leave any discernable presence (this is called istihlāk), the resultant substance will still be pure.
This fiqh principle is primarily derived from the famous hadīth, “When water reaches two qullas (a specific quantity of water), it will not become impure” [Narrated by Abū Dawūd]. Another evidence is the hadīth of the ‘Well of Budā’ah’.
Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah writes, commenting on the hadīth of the two qullas, “So when it is clear that the water being asked about was of a large quantity – two qullas – and a large quantity is not affected by impurities, but rather is dissolved in it, this shows that the ruling [of whether something is pure or not] is dependant on whether the impurity is carried [by the pure substance], meaning that its presence is obvious, and in this case it will be impure. But if it has been completely diffused in the pure substance, then it does not have any residual effects [and the substance is pure]. So, with regards to these oils, and milks, and sweet and sour drinks, and other substances that are pure, since any impurities [contained in it] have been completely consumed (istihlāk) and altered, then how can the pure that Allah has permitted be considered impermissible?! And who is there who has said that if a quantity of impurity mixes with a pure substance such that it is totally consumed by it (itsihlāk) and altered in it, that the substance will be impermissible? Rather, there is nothing to suggest this from the Quran, or the Sunnah, or unanimous consensus, or analogy. And that is why the Prophet (saw) said, in the hadīth of the Well of Budā’ah, when he was told that menstrual pads and dog carcasses and impurities fall into it, ‘Pure water is not made impure by anything’” [Mukhtasar al-Fatāwa al-Masriyyah, p. 20; also see Majmū’ al-Fatāwa vol. 21, p. 502].
Other scholars also give similar rulings. For example, Ibn Hazm claimed that if an impure substance is dissolved in a larger quantity of purity, to such an extent that the final product does not carry the name of the impure substance (i.e., such that the impure substance will not be a significant part of the final product), then the impermissibility that was initially applied to the impure substance will be removed from the final product, since the final product is not called that impure substance. As an example, he states that if a drop of wine were to fall into water, no effect is demonstrated, and the same applies for all other substances as well [al-Muhallā, vol 7, p. 422].
And this is the opinion of many modern fiqh bodies as well. The European Council for Fatwa issued a fatwa (Number 34, issued in Jumad al-Akhirah 1419 A.H.) stating that any impure substance added to pure food items does not make the food impure if either: (a) the substance underwent a complete chemical change (istihāla), or (b) was totally used up and dissolved in the food item, such that its traces became negligible (istihlāk). Based upon this principle, since the quantity of animal rennet in cheese is very insignificant, it would then follow that even if the rennet used to manufacture it was impure, the final cheese would be completely and totally pure. There would be no difference whether impermissible bovine rennet or porcine rennet was used. Since the quantity is so trivial, it is considered to be completely used up (istihlāk) by the pure elements, such as the milk, which makes up the bulk of the cheese. (See below for a more detailed look at the quantity of rennet involved in the manufacture of cheese).
Statements from the Classical Scholars Regarding this Issue
To the best of my knowledge, there is only one explicit hadīth about cheese. Abu Dawud, in his Sunan, has a chapter on eating cheese, in which he narrates a hadīth in which some cheese was presented to the Prophet after the Battle of Tabuk. He called for a knife [to cut it up], said bismillah, and ate of it (al-Sunan of Abū Dawūd, ‘The Chapter of Foods’, # 3819). This is quite an explicit hadīth on the permissibility of cheese manufactured from impure rennet, since no Muslim would have been present at Tabuk to manufacture the cheese. Hence, this hadīth appears to state that the Prophet ate cheese manufactured by idol-worshippers. The chain, however, is not the strongest of chains, and in fact appears to be weak (compare with the mursal narration found in both the Musannaf of ‘Abd al-Razzāq # 8795 and the Musannaf of Ibn Abī Shaybah # 24417). Also, if anything, this narration could only be used directly to support the permissibility of cheese manufactured from the second type of rennet mentioned above, and not porcine rennet, as the Arabs did not eat pig.
Of the famous Imams, we have the report where Imam Aḥmad was asked about eating cheese, to which he replied, ‘It may be eaten from anyone,” meaning regardless of who made it. And he was explicitly asked about the cheese made by the Zoroastrians, to which he responded, “I do not know; but the most authentic hadīth narrated in this regard is the hadīth of ‘Amr b. Sharahbīl, in which he said that ‘Umar was asked about cheese, and he was told that the rennet from dead animals is used, to which he said, ‘You say the bismillah yourself, and then eat.’ And Imam Ahmad also said, “Isn’t most of the cheese we eat manufactured by the Zoroastrians?” [See: al-Mughni, v. 13, p. 352; also al-Inṣāf, v. 27, p. 264].
Thus it is quite explicit that Imam Ahmad considered cheese to be permissible regardless of its source, as the Zoroastrians are not of those who mention Allah’s name at the time of sacrifice, yet the cheese manufactured by them was considered permissible. (It should be noted that, as is typical with the Hanbalī madhhab, there are other opinions narrated as well – but this is the one that is considered stronger within the madhhab).
Amongst the Companions themselves, we find some references to eating cheese, as Imam Ahmed referred to. Both the Musannafs of ‘Abd al-Razzāq and Ibn Abī Shaybah have entire chapters dedicated to cheese. In them, we find that although some of the classical scholars, such as Sa’īd b. al-Musayyab and Sa’id b. Jubayr, were hesitant to eat cheese if it was known that a dead animal (mayta) was used in its preparation, the majority of such scholars saw no sin in this regard. Ibn ‘Abbās is reported to have held the view that there is no problem with cheese that originates from Jews and Christians (Musannaf of ‘Abd al-Razzāq, # 8789). Both ‘Umar b. al-Khattāb and his son ‘Abdullāh b. ‘Umar allowed the eating of cheese, without regards to their origin. ‘Umar is reported to have said, when asked about it, “Eat, for it is only milk or whey,” (Musannaf of ‘Abd al-Razzāq, 8787), and his son said, “Nothing comes to us from Iraq that is more beloved to me than cheese!” (ibid., # 8790). A son of ‘Alī b. Abī Tālib, Muhammad b. al-Hanafiyyah, said, “Eat cheese regardless of its source” (ibid., # 8793). In my humble opinion, some of these narrations (such as the last one of ‘Umar) show that the Companions hinted at the small percentage of impurities in cheese and that it was not so consequential as to cause the entire product to be impure. Also, as Ibn Taymiyyah points out (see following quote), those who allowed the cheese were more aware of its manufacturing process than those who prohibited it.
And my favorite scholar, Shaykh al-Islām Ibn Taymiyyah, wrote, “As for the milk and rennet of dead animals, then there are two well-known opinions about this issue. The first of them is that it is pure, and this is the opinion of Abū Hanīfa and others, and one of the two opinion of Ahmad. The second opinion is that it is impure, and this is the opinion of Mālik, and Shāfi’ī, and the other opinion from Ahmad. Based on this difference of opinion, they then differed regarding cheese manufactured by the Zoroastrians, for the animals sacrificed by the Zoroastrians are considered impermissible [to eat] by the vast majority of scholars of the past and present, so much so that it is said that the Companions unanimously agreed on this ruling. Hence, if they made cheese – and cheese is made from rennet – then these two opinions will apply. But the stronger opinion is that their cheese is indeed permissible, and that the rennet and milk of dead animals is pure. And the proof for this is that when the Companions conquered Iraq, they ate the cheese of the Zoroastrians, and this was something common and well-known amongst them. As for what has been narrated of the disapproval of some of them in this matter, then there is a problem with it, since it is of the opinion of some of the people of Hijaz [i.e., Arabia]. And the people of Iraq were more knowledgeable of this, as the Zoroastrians were in there land and not in the land of the Hijaz. What makes this matter even clearer is that Salmān al-Farsi, who was the governor of ‘Umar b. al-Khattāb over al-Madā’in (in Iraq) and was active in calling the Zoroastrians to Islam, was asked about fat and cheese, to which he responded, ‘The halāl is what Allah has made permissible in His Book, and the ḥarām is what Allah has prohibited in His Book. And whatever He has remained silent about has been forgiven.’ And Abū Dawūd also reported this as a prophetic hadīth. Of course, it is understood that he was not being asked about the cheese of the Muslims or Ahl al-Kitāb, for that is a clear-cut issue; rather, the question was about the cheese manufactured by Zoroastrians. This shows that Salmān gave a fatwā for its permissibility…” (Majmū’ al-Fatāwā, vol. 21, p. 102-103). Note here that Ibn Taymiyyah is not talking about rennet derived from pigs but rather rennet derived from cows and sheep that have not been slaughtered according to the Sharī’āh (i.e., the second category of rennet in the tripartite division given above). However, his quote can be used here in the general context of the permissibility of cheese, regardless of its source. Also, in other fatāwā (some of which were quoted above), Ibn Taymiyyah clearly shows that he ascribes to the view that istihlāk of a impure substance in a pure material does not make the entire material impure.
Although it is healthy to note that many Muslims are very concerned about the laws of the Sharī’ah, before jumping to any hasty conclusions it is essential that these laws be understood and studied.
The primary issue that needs to be considered when it comes to the permissibility or impermissibility of cheese, in this author’s humble opinion, is the quantity of animal rennet that exists in it. Consider the following: In a crude experiment, 2 square centimeters of a prepared calf’s stomach lining was immersed in 30 grams of water to produce the initial rennet solvent. After the extraction process, the remaining linings were removed via a fine sieve, and then one teaspoon of the solvent rennet (i.e., around one-seventh of the initial solvent) was then mixed with approximately five gallons of prepared milk to produce around five pounds of cheese. Someone with a little more time than myself may easily work out the precise percentages and the final quantity of animal rennet in an average slice of cheese, but from these numbers it is pretty clear than a very insignificant quantity of actual animal enzyme ends up in the final cheese. To quote only one reference, Wikipedia states that 1 kg of manufactured cheese contains about 0.0003 grams of rennet enzymes. Again, that’s one kilogram – imagine how much rennet would be present in one slice, and now imagine how much would be in a corn chip that has only been coated with dried cheese.
Such a miniscule quantity of impurity (i.e., less than 0.00003 %) simply cannot make the entire product impure – a drop of najas blood that falls into a ten-gallon container of water is actually more concentrated than the amount of rennet enzymes in cheese.
Hence, to conclude, it is the humble opinion of this student of knowledge (and of many great ‘ulamā) that cheese, regardless of how it is manufactured or who it is manufactured by, is permissible. [The only exception would be if other impure additives of a sufficient quantity were incorporated in the manufacturing process – such as bacon flavored cheese.]
So go ahead Ammaar – eat away! Oh, and pass the dip…
Note: Please feel free to disseminate this article per: Online — please do not copy and paste the whole article, rather add excerpts with proper reference to the original here. Print, non-profit distribution — the entire article can be printed with proper reference to MM at the top. There are two reasons for this: (a) The comments provide more insight and clarification so we want to encourage people to read them as well, (b) any changes and correction will be made within this article and by keeping one main source, it will avoid uncorrected versions at multiple locations. JazakumAllahkhair– MM
What Does Sharia Really Say About Abortion in Islam
Abortion is not a simple option of being pro-life or pro-choice, Islam recognizes the nuance.
The following article on abortion is based on a research paper titled ‘The Rights of the Fetus in Islam’, at the Department of Sharia at Qatar University. My team and I presented it to multiple members of the faculty. It was approved by the Dean of the Islamic Studies College, an experienced and reputed Islamic authority.
In one swoop, liberal comedian Deven Green posing as her satirical character, Mrs. Betty Brown, “America’s best Christian”, demonized both Sharia law as well as how Islamic law treats abortion. Even in a debate about a law that has no Muslim protagonist in the middle of it, Islam is vilified because apparently, no problem in the world can occur without Islam being dragged into it.
It is important to clarify what Sharia is before discussing abortion. Sharia law is the set of rules and guidelines that Allah establishes as a way of life for Muslims. It is derived from the Qur’an and the Sunnah, which is interpreted and compiled by scholars based on their understandings (fiqh). Sharia takes into account what is in the best interest for individuals and society as a whole, and creates a system of life for Muslims, covering every aspect, such as worship, beliefs, ethics, transactions, etc.
Muslim life is governed by Sharia – a very personal imperative. For a Muslim living in secular lands, that is what Sharia is limited to – prayers, fasting, charity and private transactions such as not dealing with interest, marriage and divorce issues, etc. Criminal statutes are one small part of the larger Sharia but are subject to interpretation, and strictly in the realm of a Muslim country that governs by it.
With respect to abortion, the first question asked is:
“Do women have rights over their bodies or does the government have rights over women’s bodies?”
The answer to this question comes from a different perspective for Muslims. Part of Islamic faith is the belief that our bodies are an amanah from God. The Arabic word amanah literally means fulfilling or upholding trusts. When you add “al” as a prefix, or al-amanah, trust becomes “The Trust”, which has a broader Islamic meaning. It is the moral responsibility of fulfilling one’s obligations due to Allah and fulfilling one’s obligations due to other humans.
The body is one such amanah. Part of that amanah includes the rights that our bodies have over us, such as taking care of ourselves physically, emotionally and mentally – these are part of a Muslim’s duty that is incumbent upon each individual.
While the Georgia and Alabama laws in the United States that make abortion illegal after the 6-week mark of pregnancy are being mockingly referred to as “Sharia Law” abortion, the fact is that the real Sharia allows much more leniency in the matter than these laws do.
First of all, it is important to be unambiguous about one general ruling: It is unanimously agreed by the scholars of Islam that abortion without a valid excuse after the soul has entered the fetus is prohibited entirely. The question then becomes, when exactly does the soul enter the fetus? Is it when there is a heartbeat? Is it related to simple timing? Most scholars rely on the timing factor because connecting a soul to a heartbeat itself is a question of opinion.
The timing then is also a matter of ikhtilaf, or scholarly difference of opinion:
One Hundred and Twenty Days:
The majority of the traditional scholars, including the four madhahib, are united upon the view that the soul certainly is within the fetus after 120 days of pregnancy, or after the first trimester.
This view is shaped by the following hadith narrated by Abdullah bin Masood :
قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: إن أحدكم يجمع خلقه في بطن أمه أربعين يوما ثم يكون في ذلك علقة مثل ذلك ثم يكون في ذلك مضغة مثل ذلك ثم يرسل الملك فينفخ فيه الروح..
“For every one of you, the components of his creation are gathered together in the mother’s womb for a period of forty days. Then he will remain for two more periods of the same length, after which the angel is sent and insufflates the spirit into him.”
The exception to the above is that some scholars believe that the soul enters the fetus earlier, that is after the formation phase, which is around the 40 days mark of pregnancy.
This view is based on another hadith narrated by Abdullah bin Masood :
قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: إذا مر بالنطفة إثنتان وأربعون ليلة بعث الله إليها ملكاً، فصوره، وخلق سمعها وبصرها وجلدها ولحمها وعظمها…
“If a drop of semen spent in the womb forty-two nights, Allah sends an angel to it who depicts it and creates its ears, eyes, skin, flesh and bones.”
Between the two views, the more widespread and popular opinion is the former, which is that the soul enters the fetus at the 120 days (or 4 months) mark, as the second hadith implies the end of the formation period of the fetus rather than the soul entering it.
Even if one accepts that the soul enters the fetus at a certain timing mark, it does not mean that the soul-less fetus can be aborted at any time or for any reason. Here again, like most matters of Islamic jurisprudence, there is ikhtilaf of scholarly difference of opinion.
No Excuse Required:
The Hanafi madhhab is the most lenient, allowing abortion during the first trimester, even without an excuse.
Some of the later scholars from the Hanafi school consider it makruh or disliked if done without a valid reason, but the majority ruled it as allowed.
Only Under Extreme Risks:
The Malikis are the most strict in this matter; they do not allow abortion even if it is done in the first month of pregnancy unless there is an extreme risk to the mother’s health.
As for the Shafi’i and Hanbali schools of thought, there are multiple opinions within the schools themselves, some allowing abortion, some only allowing it in the presence of a valid excuse.
Valid excuses differ from scholar to scholar, but with a strong and clear reason, permissibility becomes more lenient. Such cases include forced pregnancy (caused by rape), reasons of health and other pressing reasons.
For example, consider a rape victim who becomes pregnant. There is hardly a more compelling reason (other than the health of the mother) where abortion should be permitted. A child born as a result in such circumstances will certainly be a reminder of pain and discomfort to the mother. Every time the woman sees this child, she will be reminded of the trauma of rape that she underwent, a trauma that is generally unmatched for a woman. Leaving aside the mother, the child himself or herself will lead a life of suffering and potentially neglect. He or she may be blamed for being born– certainly unjust but possible with his or her mother’s mindset. The woman may transfer her pain to the child, psychologically or physically because he or she is a reminder of her trauma. One of the principles of Sharia is to ward off the greater of two evils. One can certainly argue that in such a case where both mother and child are at risk of trauma and more injustice, then abortion may indeed be the lesser of the two.
The only case even more pressing than rape would be when a woman’s physical health is at risk due to the pregnancy. Where the risk is clear and sufficiently severe (that is can lead to some permanent serious health damage or even death) if the fetus remained in her uterus, then it is unanimously agreed that abortion is allowed no matter what the stage of pregnancy. This is because of the Islamic principle that necessities allow prohibitions. In this case, the necessity to save the life of the mother allows abortion, which may be otherwise prohibited.
This is the mercy of Sharia, as opposed to the popular culture image about it.
Furthermore, the principle of preventing the greater of two harms applies in this case, as the mother’s life is definite and secure, while the fetus’ is not.
Absolutely Unacceptable Reason for Abortion:
Another area of unanimous agreement is that abortion cannot be undertaken due to fear of poverty. The reason for this is that this mindset collides with having faith and trust in Allah. Allah reminds us in the Quran:
((وَلَا تَقْتُلُوا أَوْلَادَكُمْ خَشْيَةَ إِمْلَاقٍ ۖ نَّحْنُ نَرْزُقُهُمْ وَإِيَّاكُمْ ۚ إِنَّ قَتْلَهُمْ كَانَ خِطْئًا كَبِيرًا))
“And do not kill your children for fear of poverty, We provide for them and for you. Indeed, their killing is ever a great sin.” (Al-Israa, 31)
Ignorance is not an excuse, but it is an acceptable excuse when it comes to mocking Islam in today’s world. Islam is a balanced religion and aims to draw ease for its adherents. Most rulings concerning fiqh are not completely cut out black and white. Rather, Islamic rulings are reasonable and consider all possible factors and circumstances, and in many cases vary from person to person.
Abortion is not a simple option of being pro-life or pro-choice. These terms have become political tools rather than sensitive choices for women who ultimately suffer the consequences either way.
Life means a lot more than just having a heartbeat. Islam completely recognizes this. Thus, Islamic rulings pertaing to abortion are detailed and varied.
As a proud Muslim, I want my fellow Muslims to be confident of their religion particularly over sensitive issues such as abortion and women’s rights to choose for themselves keeping the Creator of Life in focus at all times.
Should I Pray Taraweeh Or Make Up Prayers?
Every Ramadan I’m asked by Muslims whether they should pray Taraweeh or make up missed prayers. They have the guilt of missed prayers but the desire to pray Taraweeh. They do not want to miss out on the special Taraweeh prayer but know that they have to make up obligatory prayers.
I find Muslims bogged down by not only the number of prayers to make up but by the fact that they have to make up prayers that they missed, sometimes too many to count. They emotionally want to move past the memory of missing prayers. While one should not dwell on the sin of missed prayer, at the same time, they should also realize that the prayers remain a debt that needs to be addressed.
Many of us feel a shame associated with past sins. This connection is a sign of true repentance. Shame due to sins, however, becomes problematic when it serves as an impediment for our religious progress. When the guilt reaches this level, one should seek refuge in Allah from Shaytaan and ignore all negative thoughts.
We, as Muslims, should believe that Allah has forgiven our sins, including missed prayers. Forgiveness is done through our repentance. Therefore, we should see makeup prayers as an opportunity to draw closer to Allah, rather than a punishment. Allah tells us in a Hadith Qudsi that
“My servant does not draw nearer to Me with anything more beloved to Me than what I have ordained upon him. He continues to draw near to me with nafl (non-obligatory) actions until I love him” (Bukhari).
Each time we perform a make-up prayer, we are doing what Allah loves us to do the most- an obligatory action. We are drawing nearer to Allah and should feel grateful for being able to do so.
In the Hanafi school of thought, one can pray makeup prayers as non-emphasized sunnahs, which include the prayer of greeting the mosque and Tahajjud prayer. Many Muslims feel more spiritual praying these types of nafl prayers, and they will take their time to pray with the presence of heart. However, when they pray makeup prayers, they rush, praying quickly to get past it as soon as possible. The dreadful feeling of makeup prayers is due to a negative association for the initial neglect, but we must see makeup prayers as not only more critical than nafl prayers, but as something that can be done as nafl prayers.
Taraweeh is an emphasized Sunnah and for Hanafis that means one does not neglect taraweeh due to previously missed prayers. One should have a regiment of making up prayers, such as praying one makeup of Zuhur after praying Zuhur for the day and manage that along with Taraweeh.
For Malikis and Shafis however, one is not supposed to pray Taraweeh if he has prayers to make up. For those following this view, I would advise them to still go to the masjid if that is their habit during the Taraweeh time and pray those due prayers in a space outside of the congregation so they can still enjoy the Ramadan atmosphere in the masjid. Also, it’s worth noting that in the Shafi school, one can have the intention of a makeup prayer even if the imam is praying a different prayer. Hence, twenty rakah of Taraweeh in units of two can be prayed by a follower as ten makeup prayers for Fajr.
Ramadan is a great time to form positive habits. If you do not already have a routine of making up missed prayers, establish one this Ramadan. Make your routine something that you can be consistent with throughout the year, not just when you have the Ramadan energy. We are advised in a hadith to only take on the amount of good actions that we are able to bear because the best actions are those in which we can be persistent, even if they are minor (Ibn Majah 4240).
Lastly, as Ramadan is here, I urge everyone to remember that praying Isha in congregation is more important than praying Taraweeh in congregation. Taraweeh is more alluring due to its uniqueness, and you will see latecomers quickly praying Isha so they can join the Taraweeh prayer. Each prayer is worship, but the priorities of worship are based on its status. Obligatory prayer is more important than a non-obligatory prayer, although every prayer is important. We must prioritize what God prioritizes.
 “ويسن تحية ) رب ( المسجد ، وهي ركعتان ، وأداء الفرض ) أو غيره ، وكذا دخوله بنية فرض أو اقتداء ( ينوب عنها ) بلا نية)”
(رد المحتار على الدر المختار)
 (التراويح سنة مؤكدة لمواظبة الخلفاء الراشدين للرجال والنساء إجماعا ” ( رد المحتار على الدر المختار
 (والسنة نوعان : سنة الهدي ، وتركها يوجب إساءة وكراهية…” (رد المحتار على الدر المختار”
 وأما النفل فقال في المضمرات : الاشتغال بقضاء الفوائت أولى وأهم من النوافل إلا سنن…”
المفروضة وصلاة الضحى وصلاة التسبيح والصلاة التي رويت فيها الأخبار . ا هـ . ط أي كتحية المسجد ، والأربع قبل العصر والست بعد المغرب” (رد المحتار على الدر المختار،باب قضاء الفوائت)
 (ولا يتنفل من عليه القضاء، ولا يصلي الضحى، ولا قيام رمضان…” (لأخضري”
 “وَإِنْ كَانَتْ فَاتَتْ بِغَيْرِ عُذْرٍ لَمْ يَجُزْ لَهُ فِعْلُ شَيْءٍ مِنْ النَّوَافِلِ قَبْلَ قَضَائِهَا”
(الفتاوى الكبرى الفقهية على مذهب الإمام الشافعي ,فتاوى ابن حجر الهيتمي)
تنبيه : تصح قدوة المؤدي بالقاضي ، والمفترض بالمتنفل ، وفي الظهر بالعصر ، وكذلك القاضي بالمؤدي ، والمتنفل بالمفترض ، وفي العصر بالظهر ؛ نظراً لاتفاق الفعل في الصلاتين وإن تخالفت النية ، والانفراد هنا أفضل ؛ خروجاً من الخلاف ، وعلى أن الخلاف في هذا الاقتداء ضعيف جداً فلم يقتض تفويت فضيلة الجماعة ، وإن كان الانفراد أفضل . ( تحفة المحتاج مع حاشية الشر واني ۲ / ۳۳۲ – ۳۳۳ )
وذكر في ( إعانة الطالبين ۲ / ۷ ) : وإن لم تتفق مقضيتها شخصاً . . فهي خلاف الأولى ولا تكره
. وذكر في « البجيرمي على المنهج ۱ / ۳۳۳ ) : قوله ( ويصح الاقتداء لمؤد بقاض ومفترض بمتنفل . . . ) : أي ويحصل له فضل الجماعة في جميع هذه الصور على ما اعتمده الرملي .
– قول متن المنهاج ( وتصح قدوة المؤدي بالقاضي ، والمفترض بالمتنفل . . . ) قضية كلام المصنف – أي النووي – كالشارح الرملي أن هذا مما لا خلاف فيه ، وعبارة الزيادي وابن حجر : ( والانفراد هنا أفضل ؛ خروجاً من الخلاف( فيحتمل أنه خلاف لبعض الأئمة وأنه خلاف مذهبي لم يذكره المصنف ، لكن قول ابن حجر بعد على أن الخلاف في هذا الاقتداء ضعيف جداً . . ظاهر في أن الخلاف مذهبي . ( الشبراملسي ) . ( حاشية الشرواني ۲ / ۳۳۲ )
وهذا لا يجوز في المذهب الحنفي “…يشترط أن يكون حال الإمام أقوى من حال المؤتم أو مساويا” (رد المحتار على الدر المختار(
Shedding Light on the Moonsighting, Isha / Fajr times, and Long Fasts
Shaykh Abdullah Hasan and Shaykh Naveed Idrees discuss the many issues that crop up pre-Ramadan, seeking harmony amid confusion.
The aim of this discussion paper is to place the annual debate on moonsighting and fasting in its jurisprudential context, namely, that it is an area where the application of the sacred texts are open to different but valid interpretations ( ijtihadat). The sincere efforts of scholars on all sides to arrive at what they believe is the strongest opinion must be acknowledged and respected. This discussion paper does not seek to promote any particular viewpoint, but merely to illustrate the breadth of acceptable opinion.
It is also important to recognise that difference of opinion in these matters relates to the furu’ (derivative law) and not the core definitively established aspects of Religion. As individuals and groups, we should not allow differences of opinion on peripheral matters to undermine the cohesion of our families and communities. When strongly held views in Fiqh lead to dissension, discord and division, then we should give greater weighting to community cohesion and seek to avoid the negative impact on the lives of the Muslim community. There are definitively established texts that regard unity and community cohesion as wajib (an obligation). In addition, the principle of muwafaqa ahl-al-bilad (conforming with the local community) should be followed, irrespective of one’s belief in the correctness or otherwise of the dominant ijtihad in one’s locality.
- Islamic Law and the Natural World
It is part of the sacred beauty of Islam – the religion of natural disposition (din al-fitra) – that throughout our lives, our daily worship interpenetrates the rhythms of nature: the rising and setting of the sun, the waxing and waning of the moon, the turning of the seasons, and the elemental forces of fire, air, earth and water. The external world is a manifestation of the attributes of the Creator; everything within it a sign of Allah perceived by the senses (ayatullah al-manzur).
We are not merely urged to turn our gazes to the created world as an act of sacred contemplation; but rather are compelled to do so, in order to consecrate acts of worship to the Lord who transcends that same creation. The times of obligatory prayer can only be known through observation of sunlight and shadow; the obligatory and optional fasts through the phases of the moon. The length of those fasts are determined by the order of the seasons; purification for prayer is attained through water or earth.
Considering this, it is clear that far from there being animosity between ‘fiqh’ and ‘fact,’ they are mutually dependent. Science is nothing but the systematization of the same kind of observations as determine the times of prayer and fasting, and their extrapolation on the basis of sound, verifiable principles. Therefore the opinions of experts in fields such as astronomy have always been taken into consideration when issuing fatwa. An example might be the expert medical opinion which has always played a central role in applying various dispensations regarding purification, prayer, fasting and hajj. Given this fact of our scripture and our history, the idea that both legal and scientific experts can and should work collaboratively to determine the onset of true dawn is both right and proper. At the same time, one should be cognisant of where priority lies when the opinions of these experts appear mutually contradictory.
- The Imperative to Follow Qualified Scholarship
Allah describes the Quran as ‘a comprehensive explanation of all things (tibyan li-kulli shay).’ However, a central pillar of its revealed guidance has been the commanding of recourse to those eminently qualified to guide others as to the true interpretation – or interpretations – of the Divine scripture. First without equal among these guides is, of course, our beloved Master Muhammad (endless peace and blessing upon him and his family); the imperative to obey him is one of the most oft-repeated commands found in the Quran. Thereafter, believers are commanded to follow those steeped in understanding of the Quran and Prophetic Sunnah – known variously as: ‘possessors of living hearts (ulu al-albab),’ ‘those deeply rooted in knowledge (al-mustanbitin fi al-ilm)’, and ‘the people of the Remembrance (ahl al-dhikr).’
The central Quranic verse on this subject is, ‘if you know not, ask the people of the Remembrance.’ Its clear implication is that, when matters are unclear or uncertain, the primary responsibility of the Muslim is to have the critical self-honesty to acknowledge his or her own lack of understanding. Thereafter, it behoves one to have the humility to consult those who do have true expertise in the field of religion, whom the Holy Prophet (s) termed ‘inheritors of Prophetic knowledge’ – the scholars of Sunni Islam. These are the authorised representatives of the four orthodox schools of law – the Hanafi, Maliki, Shafii and Hanbali madhabs.
These four knowledge traditions, though they concur on most major articles of law, will often differ in its various derivative aspects, providing different answers to the same question. This is sometimes a matter of consternation for the lay Muslim – for how can the truth be multiple? And if the truth is indeed one, how can one determine which school has grasped it? The doctrine of Sunni Islam clarifies that, although the truth is indeed one, attaining unto that truth is not always obligatory.
To explain further: if the lay Muslim has obeyed Allah by asking the people of knowledge about an obscure or difficult matter, then he or she has fulfilled God’s right over them. Similarly, if those scholars have obeyed Allah by exercising all their learning and expertise to sincerely comprehend Allah’s command, they have fulfilled God’s right over them. In both cases, they will be rewarded and brought near to Allah, even if their conclusions are wrong. This is clear from the hadith, ‘if the verifying scholar is correct, he (or she) receives two rewards; if incorrect, they receive one.’
On the contrary, if a lay Muslim seeks to bypass the Prophetic inheritors and determine the truth for himself – despite having none of the pre-requisite knowledge, qualities or skills – they will have disobeyed Allah and deserve His censure – even if they stumble across the right answer! This is similarly based on the hadith, ‘whoever interprets the Quran on based on [unqualified] opinion should prepare to take their seat in Hell.’
It is clear, then, that the responsibility of the individual Muslim begins and ends with seeking qualified scholars to advise them on the derivative rulings of sacred law, such as the issue of when precisely the fast begins and fajr can be prayed. Thereafter, it is the responsibility of the ulamah to exert all their efforts to determine the answer to this question with as much precision as possible.
It should, of course, be noted that the terms ‘lay Muslim’ and ‘scholar’ are not absolute divisions; a learned 21st century Muslim, university-educated in physics and astronomy, is not the same as an illiterate peasant farmer in a 15th Century Turkish village. In legal terms, there is a difference between an educated non-specialist (‘aami thaqafi) and an ignorant non-specialist (‘aami jahil). The difference between them, however, lies in the nature of the questions they might ask, rather than their ability to answer them in correspondence with the sophisticated legal principles of the religion.
- Respecting Valid Differences of Opinion
The preceding indicates that one sometimes finds a range of opinions on a particular matter of law. There would not merely be a difference of opinion between schools, but sometimes within schools as well. Classically, these discussions would be conducted in closed classes, private debates or by correspondence between the scholars concerned. Crucially, the debates were between people who – by and large – understood the ethics of debate and disagreement. Their longstanding and sometimes fiercely contested arguments would nonetheless be characterised by civility and mutual respect.
The nature of the modern world – especially the near-total eradication of private space – has entailed these debates spilling over into the ever-expanding public domain. Increasingly, they have been witnessed by the Muslim laity who do not understand the ethics of disagreement, and erroneously assume that differences of opinion must entail antagonism. Imam Ghazali stated that, ‘debating over religion is disliked for scholars and forbidden for the laity.’
A fundamental principle of our religion is that, on matters genuinely differed-upon, there can be no mutual condemnation (la inkar fi masa’il mukhtalaf fihi). This has been elucidated by many scholars from the earliest generations up until present day, and accounts for the harmonious co-existence of different schools of law who worship, trade and conduct their family lives in different ways. The fact that a Hanafi might pray Dhuhr when a Shafii is praying Asr brings about no acrimony or dissension.
This does not entail a free-for-all in the domain of legal opinion; it has been further expounded by our scholarly tradition that genuine difference of opinion (al–ikhtilaf) is based on opinions that are derived through sound methodology from authenticated narrations. As the ulamah state, ‘if you transmit a position, let it be an authenticated one; if you make a claim, prove your point.’ It thus excludes aberrant, unfounded opinions or roundly rejected interpretations from the ambit of this toleration.
Overview of the specific issues that are a source of difference of opinion
There are 3 key issues that are matter of difference of opinion amongst scholars and different groups:
- Determining the start and end of Ramadan
- Determining the start and end time of Isha and start time of Fajr/Suhur in periods of persistent twilight during the summer months
- How to deal with the issue of long fasts during the summer period?
A Summary of the Context of these Issues
- Scripture provides broad indicators to establish prayer and fasting times linked to the Sun and moon that are generally reliable in hot climates where the skies are clear and day & night are of moderate length
- These indicators are not defined in a scientific manner e.g. based on precise minutes or degrees, but rely upon general observations that any ordinary person could make as part of their daily life
- Over the last 100 years sizable communities of Muslims have established themselves in the Northern Hemisphere above 48.5 degrees latitude
- The climate in the these regions makes it difficult to observe the Sun and Moon consistently. There are days when there is persistent twilight which means Isha and Fajr/Suhur times are difficult to establish, and there are extreme variations in the length of night and day, especially in Summer and Winter periods
- The growth in the use of artificial lighting, industrialisation of society, and progress in the means of communication over the last 150 years has meant that work and leisure patterns were no longer linked to sunrise and sunset; instead, clocks became the means of telling the time and regulating daily life. In practice, the shari’ah indicators no longer directly play an active part in daily life.
- Although there are texts in the Qur’an and Sunnah on these matters (see below), their application in Northern Regions above 48.5* latitude is not clear-cut and requires scholarly interpretation. This is the source of difference of opinion on these matters.
- Scholars have attempted to convert astronomical signs which were meant to be broad into scientific and precise formulas, relying on scientific definitions, e.g. 18* as definition of disappearance of twilight and start of night/true dawn
- Scholars continue to debate the strength and weaknesses of each opinion and whether they accurately reflect the shari’ah indicators. All opinions are supported by strong direct or indirect proofs and evidences, and are backed by references to the works of eminent scholars
An Overview of the Different Positions
Issue 1: Moonsighting
A variety of methods have been suggested in classical and modern scholarship to determine the beginning of the new month, especially Ramadan, Shawwal and Dhul Hijja. They are all based on some interpretation of what the hadith ‘fast when you see it and cease the fast when you see it’ actually means – who are ‘you’ and what does ‘seeing’ mean?
|Local sighting||Only sighting by a local populace validates the new month, else 30 days are completed. The classical strong position of the Shafii and Maliki schools. ‘You’ means ‘the local community’||What does ‘local’ mean in the context of the modern ease of communication over vast distances, and why? On what legal basis should one restrict ‘local’ to a city, country or region?|
|Global sighting||A valid sighting anywhere in the world is applicable to everywhere in the world. The classical strong position of the Hanafi school and some Malikis. ‘You’ means ‘the Muslims in general’||Practically, this would entail that a sighting of the moon in California at 6pm would be retrospectively valid for Muslims in Indonesia, for whom it would be 2pm the next day, so this is impractical despite the ease of communication|
|‘Horizonal’ sighting||A valid sighting anywhere to the east, north or south is applicable for everyone to the west. A strong variant of the Shafii position and the Hanafi school||Avoids the logistical difficulties of the first two options, but introduces an arbitrary restriction for which there is no textual basis. Effectively assumes the possibility of sighting the moon to the west if it has been actually sighted in the east.|
|Calculation||If it is determined (by agreed criteria) that it is possible to sight the crescent, that possibility is deemed an actual sighting. A strong position in the Shafii school, and held by others as well. ‘See’ means ‘potentially see’ – based on the variant hadith of Bukhari: ‘if it is obscured, then calculate’||Potential sighting criteria need to be agreed. Deviates from the literal sense of the central hadith and rejected by a number of schools. However, enables future planning of calendars and so determination of important dates in advance.|
|Following Saudi Arabia||Effectively the proposal that the Saudi decision should be binding on all Muslims. Possible to adopt as any country may choose to follow the ruling of Qadi outside its jurisdiction. ‘See’ means only the Saudis.||Not a classical position despite being possible in the Middle East. Significant concerns about the validity of sightings done there, given the calculation basis of the rest of the year’s calendar (Umm al-Qura). Major Saudi scholars reject the position.|
Issue 2 – Determining Suhur and Isha time during persistent twilight
Both the fajr prayer and the fast commence at al-subh al-sadiq (true dawn) by consensus, which Allah describes as being when ‘the white thread (of the sky) has become clearly distinct to you from the black thread (of the horizon) at the time of fajr’. Any fajr prayer performed before this, or fast commenced after, is definitively invalid. What precisely constitutes al-subh al-sadiq, however, is not definitive, because dawn is not a binary event: the intensity and spread of light on the horizon changes incrementally over time, making the precise determination of phenomenon open to interpretation. Equally, isha time commences by consensus at the disappearance of twilight (ghuyub al-shafaq), but there is similarly a difference of opinion about what this constitutes and how to determine it. There are thus a variety of opinions on what precise observable phenomena constitute these two critical periods.
Far northern latitudes, however, additionally experience persistent twilight, where the sun does not sink sufficiently low beneath the horizon during summer, and twilight can persist through the night until morning. This entails that the normal signs indicating the onset of isha, fajr, and the fast are absent. Classical jurists have discussed this intermittently over 800 years, focussing almost entirely on isha rather than fajr, and reaching no consensus on how to deal with this issue. In modern times, a number of suggestions have thus been propounded, given how many people are now affected by this issue. A summary of these options, most of which revolve around determining a time (taqdir) for isha and fajr, follows:
|Perform isha after midnight||Assumes that there was a very brief isha time that has been missed, so it is performed effectively in fajr time||Fajr therefore begins just after midnight, leading to a very long fast (up to 21-22 hours). There also clearly is no isha time that has been missed|
|Taqdir according to the nearest place/time where isha enters||The classical Shafii position, adopted by Malikis, Hanbalis and some Hanafis||Entails a very brief isha period between 0100-0130 if adopted strictly, as well as a very long fast.|
|Taqdir by fixing a duration||A modern solution (including Umm al-Qura) of creating an isha by adding 90 mins to sunset and subtracting 90 mins from sunrise||Creates a reasonable isha and fajr time, but has no basis in observation, astronomy or Islamic law. Also entails a jump between a very early fajr/late isha to the 90 min taqdir|
|Taqdir by an average of the normal durations||The so-called ‘1/7th of the night position’ – formed by looking at the average ration of maghrib : isha through the year||A variant of the original Shafii position that avoids the hardship of the nearest place/time position but also has some basis in the observations through the year and scholarly precedent|
|Combine maghrib and Isha||This is the position of the Islamic Fiqh Council, European Council for Fatwa & Research. This of course should not be done in perpetuity.||A means of avoiding hardship, but why should it not be applied also to a very late but validly entering isha? If it should, when does it become hard? Also does not answer the question of when fajr begins|
|Isha is not obligatory||A position debated in the classical Hanafi school, because its signs do not enter||Rejected by the virtual consensus of modern scholarship, as would entail no performance of isha for months.|
Issue 3 – Dealing with a Very Long Fast
The length of the fast varies much more widely in northern latitudes than in any of the classical Muslim lands, with the significant exception of the lands of Bulghar, which are now in Kazakhstan. In summer, the fasts can reach to 18-21 hours, depending on how far north one is and what position to determine fajr one adopts. As such, very little attention is paid to the length of the fast in summer months in northern latitudes in classical works, likely because a textually-specified dispensation for hardship already exists. The default is that the fast remains obligatory no matter how long it is, though the time of al-subh al-sadiq can be determined by taqdir. Should keeping the fast prove too onerous, it should be broken and made up on easier days. This has been the default practice of the Bulghars for hundreds of years, as well as the Muslim populations of the west for the last 40 years or so.
However, a number of renowned Egyptian scholars in the 19th-20th centuries proposed that fast durations should be artificially set in far northern countries in the same way that prayer times were determined there by taqdir. It was proposed that the length be set by either the length of that day’s fast in Makka or another mid-latitude country. Their rationale was three-fold: an extension of the taqdir of prayer times in the absence of their signs (in this case the onset of dawn), the relieving of excessive and harmful difficulty from people in having to keep such long fasts, and retaining the sanctity of Ramadan – as it would be inconceivable to simply not fast during a summer Ramadan. Scripture relating to the timings of the fast needed to be understood in the context of the geographical realities of mid-latitude countries, and to not exempt those outside this range would be to misunderstand the underlying purpose of sacred law related to the fast.
The position has been critiqued from a number of perspectives: the explicit delineation of fasting times by scripture, the fact that – though the onset of the fast can be estimated by taqdir – sunset does in fact occur and should be adhered to, the existence of a scripturally-mandated dispensation for difficult fasts, and the crucial factor that there is neither medical or experiential evidence that fasting 18-21 hours daily is significantly harmful to health or functioning in most cases. Given this, the position of these late Azhari scholars should be considered anomalous (shadh) and in contradiction to that of the overwhelming majority of both classical and modern scholars, and therefore not followed. If people are genuinely struggling and fasting causes harm then the legal dispensation is present in the shari’ah to break the fast. Individuals should consult reliable and authoritative scholars in their locality.
General Counsel to the Muslims
We would strongly counsel the lay Muslim to remember and act upon the following principles in their daily practice:
- It is a communal obligation (fard kifaya) to accurately determine the prayer times and the start and end times of the fast, as well as the commencement of Islamic months. If some members of the community have fulfilled the responsibility, it is lifted from the remainder.
- Furthermore, such determinations are a matter of public order (min al-umur al-intizamiyya) – that is, they are not meant to be carried out by just anyone. Rather, in the traditional Muslim world, fulfilling this particular duty would be the role of a government department or authorized working group. For those living as minorities in non-Muslim lands, the responsibility devolves onto the community as a whole, who in turn appoint figures of authority, such as the ulamah and educated mosque committees, to fulfil the task on their behalf. In either case, it is imperative to act in consultation with those qualified for the task (ashab al-ahliyya) – in this case, legal and scientific experts.
- By the grace of Allah, this fard kifaya has already been performed by a number of scholars over the decades in the UK. Their differing results are likely a function of the sighting difficulties and differing legal positions noted earlier on.
- Most importantly, it should be noted that senior, qualified scholars have given fatwa on the differing positions. In accordance with the well-known legal principle, in the absence of a judge (qadi) to rule decisively or a clear preponderance of opinion in a school, the lay Muslim may follow any of the positions agreed by their scholars without fear of their prayers or fasts being invalid. By doing so, they have fulfilled their personal responsibility to Allah.
- At the same time, we urge those given responsibility by the community to come together, clearly review the evidence – scriptural, legal, astronomical and observational – and agree upon a way forward for all their communities that brings unity (muwafaqa) despite any ethnic, legal or minor doctrinal differences that may exist in our diverse community.
- Finally, it is imperative that we avoid sowing doubt in people’s minds about the validity of their fasts and prayers. This is a matter of genuine scholarly debate and ongoing discussion – there is much work that still needs to be done. We would therefore urge everybody to remember that there should be no condemnation about matters genuinely differed upon in the religion.
May Allah provision our minds with clear understanding, our bodies with willing and joyful submission, and our hearts with a unity that comes from love and mutual respect, despite our differences.
‘Oh Allah, let us see the truth as true and follow it, and let us see falsehood as false, and avoid it.’
Appendix 1: Central Source Texts for Moonsighting, Prayer Times and Fasting
As a starting point, ijtihad (independent juristic reasoning) is only permissible in the absence of a clear and unequivocal text (Nass) whose authenticity is established (qat’i al-dalalah, qat’i- al wurud). In the context of these issues, the sacred texts establish clear positions in general terms, but are open to multiple interpretations when applied in different contexts. For ease, only basic referencing will be used – for further discussion, please refer to specialist works on the topics.
Texts relevant to Key Issue 1 (determining the start and end of Ramadan – moonsighting)
“They ask you concerning the crescent moons, say they are measurements of time for people and for the pilgrimage” (2:189).
Abu Huraira narrated: The Prophet (s) said, “Start fasting on seeing the crescent (of Ramadan), and give up fasting on seeing the crescent (of Shawwal), and if the sky is overcast, complete thirty days of Sha’ban.”
(Sahih Bukhari, book 30, hadith 19).
Do not fast until you see the crescent-moon, and do not break the fast until you have seen the crescent moon, but if conditions are overcast for you then calculate it (f’aqdiruhu).”
[Bukhari, Muslim, Muwatta]
What is definitively established from the above texts (qat’i al dalala) is that the start and end of Ramadan should be established based on the sighting of the moon. These texts, however, are not definitive on the issue of what should be done if visibility is impaired, or whether some form of local sighting (ikhtilaf al matal’i) is sufficient, or can a sighting anywhere (ittihad al-matal’i) in the world be relied upon, or whether calculations can be relied on if atmospheric conditions do not permit sighting of the moon. There are multiple interpretations within the parameters of these texts that are possible, and this has been an area of discussion and debate amongst scholars both past and present. Similarly, scholars have differed over the nature of seeing e.g actual physical sighting, scientific data only as ru’ya can mean to know, or actual physical sighting with use of scientific data to support or negate (Ithbat wa Nafiy). Completing 30 days in regions such as the UK over a number of months will lead to some months eventually being 25 or 26 days, and the lunar year would become more than 355 days!
Texts relevant to Key Issue 2 (determining suhur and prayer times during periods of persistent twilight)
‘And eat and drink until the white thread (light) of dawn appears to You distinct from the black thread (darkness of night), Then complete Your Saum (fast) till the nightfall.’ (2:187)
The above text is definitive in establishing the start of the Fast (imsak) where these astronomical signs are observable. However, in regions above 48.5 degrees latitude the phenomenon of persistent twilight means that the distinguishing signs are no longer observable. In these regions, this is an area where ijtihad is permitted, as the text is not clear on what approach should be taken in the absence of these signs. Scholars have resorted to various methods of estimating the start time of suhur (subh Sadiq) by trying to find an equivalence based on solar degrees of depression ranging from 12-18 degrees ( see Appendix). However, it is important to note that there is no direct text that links the astronomical signs with any particular degree. These correspondences are based on the ijithad of scholars. Similarly, there is no (definitive and unequivocal) text that supports the options for taqdir (calculation of a time): nearest day, nearest city, one seventh of the night, Umm al Qura time (1hour 20/30 mins), Half night (nisf-ul-layl). The legal basis of all these is the intellectual efforts of scholars since the 4th Century Hijri.
As for the timings of prayer, many texts establish these times. For example:
‘Establish regular prayers – at the sun’s decline till the darkness of the night, and the morning prayer and reading: for the prayer and reading in the morning are witnessed.’ (15:78)
“The time for the morning prayer lasts as long as the first visible part of the rising sun does not appear and the time of the noon prayer is when the sun declines from the zenith and it is not time for the afternoon prayer and the time for the afternoon prayer is so long as the sun does not become pale and its first visible part does not set, and the time for the evening prayer is that when the sun disappears and (it lasts) till the twilight is no more and the time for the night prayer is up to the midnight.”
This and other similar texts are clear that Isha time starts with the disappearance of twilight. The scholars have differed on the meaning of twilight whether it refers to the redness or whiteness after sunset. In addition, these texts are not definitive on the issue of when Isha time starts during periods of persistent twilight. This again is an area where the scholars have exerted their efforts to arrive at a solution.
Texts relevant to key issue 3 (long fasts in summer days)
‘And eat and drink until the white thread (light) of dawn appears to You distinct from the black thread (darkness of night), Then complete Your fast till the nightfall … but if anyone is ill, or on a journey, the prescribed period (Should be made up) during later days. Allah intends every facility for you; He does not want to put to difficulties.’ (2:187)
Allah’s Messenger (s) said, “When night falls from this side and the day vanishes from this side and the sun sets, then the fasting person should break his fast.” (Sahih Bukhari)
The phenomenon of fasts of more than 18 hours is an issue that has arisen in modern times due to the settlement of significant Muslim communities in the Northern Hemisphere. This text is definitive and unequivocal in regions that do not experience persistent twilight. In regions that experience this phenomenon it is impossible to distinguish darkness of night from twilight, therefore 2:189 is not a Nass that can be applied. The scholars have proposed various solutions to resolve this issue (see appendix 1).
There is a difference of opinion amongst scholars whether the texts that relate to timings of prayer are applicable only where day and night are roughly equal. In regions where there is a significant disparity e.g day length is more than 18 hours, these texts are silent and therefore ijtihad can be relied upon to achieve an outcome that is consistent with the aims of the Shari’ah. This is based on the juristic principle that a hadith scholar, “The [primary] texts pertain to common and normal circumstances and not to what is uncommon.” (Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani, in Fath al-Bari (2/62): and “the general texts are construed in reference to what is prevalent and common and not in reference to what is uncommon and unknown. (Ibn ‘Abdin, Rad al-Muhtar ‘ala al-Dur al-Mukhtar (2/123), and “The [prayer] times, which Jibril (pbuh) taught the Prophet [pbuh], and which the Prophet [pbuh] taught his community, are those which the scholars mentioned in their books, and which refer to normal days.” (Sheikh Ibn Taymiyah, Mukhtasar al-Fatawa al-Misriyyah (1/38). As a result some scholars ( e.g Sh Mustafa Zarqa’) have stated that people living in these regions should fast based on an average day, and have proposed fasting to the length of Makkah or Madinah. العقل والفقه في فهم الحديث النبوي للشيخ الزرقا ص : 124 طبعة دار
Ayah 2:185 is a definitive and unequivocal text on creating an exemption from fasting for one who is ill or is travelling. However, it is not clear on the issue of one who is struggling to fast during long summer days. Based on ijtihad some scholars have extended the exemption in 2:185 to include people living in regions that have abnormal length of day, based on analogy (qiyas) with those who are ill, and have advised people to make up (qadaa’) of fasts at another time of the year.
Appendix 2: Key Texts on The principle of Muwafaqa Ahl-al-Bilad (conforming with the local community)
The importance of maintaining community cohesion and not dividing the family or community has been explicitly mentioned in the Quran, and is a core principle of religion.
3:13. the same Religion has He established for you As that which He enjoined on Noah – the which we have sent by inspiration to Thee – and that which we enjoined on Abraham, Moses, and Jesus: Namely, that ye should remain steadfast In religion, and make no divisions therein: to those who worship other things than Allah, hard is the (way) to which Thou callest them.
19:94. He [Hârûn (Aaron)] said: “O son of My mother! seize (me) not by My beard, nor by My head! Verily, I feared lest You should say: ‘You have caused a division among the Children of Israel, and You have not respected My word!’ “
In matters relating to communal religious practice that are not based on qat’i texts and that relate to differences of opinion, it is obligatory to maintain unity within a local community than to insist on following one’s opinion. An example of this is the principle of ‘muwafaqa ahl al-bilad’ (conforming with the local community) which seeks to avoid ill feeling, hatred and division in a local community. There are countless examples of the pious predecessors (salaf) giving up their opinion to maintain community cohesion. In the context of Eid and Ramadan, the principle of Muwafaqa states that one should fast with the local community even if it means that you end up fasting one day extra or one day less. Aisha overruled Masruq when he sought to fast out of caution on the day of Sacrifice stating:
‘Sacrifice is on the day that people make the sacrifice, and the end of the fast is when people end the fast’
This is supported by the following hadith:
The fast is the day when you all fast, and the end of the fast is when you all end the fast, and the Eid of sacrifice is when you make the sacrifice.
(Tirmidhi 697 – hasan gharib), Abu Dawud (2324), Ibn Majah (1660)
Commenting on this Hadith Imam Tirmidhi states: ‘some of the people of knowledge have explained this to mean that one should fast and end the fasting with the community (Jama’a) and the majority of the people.’ Similarly, San‘ani comments: ‘in this is evidence that the conformity of a people on can be taken into account when establishing the Day of Eid, and that it is obligatory (wajib) on a solitary witness who has sighted the moon, to conform with the local community.
The scholars are clear that even if the local community makes an error in their ijtihad on the day of Eid or Ramadan, this will not affect the validity of the fasts and Eid even if it later transpires that a mistake was made. For instance Abu Dawud narrated the aforementioned hadith of the Prophet under the chapter heading: ‘if people make an error in sighting the moon’. Finally, the following hadith also has bearing on this matter:
‘If you see differences, then stick with the vast majority…’
It is important to point out that there can never be Eid on one day all over the globe, due to different time zones. However, what is obligatory is that within one family, neighbourhood or city, there should be one Eid. This is in keeping with the core principle of religion which came to bring people together, it is time to revive the Sunnah of the pious predecessors (salaf) and give up our opinions on matters that are from the ‘Furu’ (peripheral) aspects of religion, in order not to fall into the conundrum of creating fitnah and division amongst the believers.
Appendix 3: Parameters within which the Moonsighting and Ramadan Debate should take place
- The issue of which method should be used is a matter that relates to the Furu’ (Peripherals) and not the Usul (Core matters) of the Deen established by definitive /texts/ proofs based on al-Dalil al-Qat’i)
- This is a matter that relates to Fiqh and not Aqidah
- It is not a matter on which takfir of individuals or groups should be made
- The Nusus (text) on many of these issues are open to different interpretations
- There is no ijma’ (consensus) amongst the scholars on which method to deploy if visibility is impaired, or there is persistent twilight
- All parties are sincerely trying to arrive at what they believe is the strongest shar’i (legal) position
- People are free to follow any of the sound and valid ijtihads
- It is not wajib to follow any of these ijtihads exclusively
- It is legally (in fiqh terms) wrong to claim that the fast/Eid of those who follow a different ijtihad is invalidated.
- The matter of creating harmony and avoiding discord amongst the community of Believers is established by definitive texts. This is wajib.
- Giving up the ijtihad of the group or scholar you follow to avoid discord and division will not invalidate your fast/Eid
- In some cases it may be considered wajib to give up the opinion you feel strongly about, if it will cause division within a family or a town/city
- The Qur’an and Sunnah are full of examples of prioritising community cohesions and harmony e.g The prophet pbuh ordered a Mosque to be pulled down, as it was dividing the Muslim community, the Prophet Haroon did not enforce his will on the Children of Israel for fear of splitting the community (faraqta bayna bani israeel, Surah Taha)
- Disagreements in this area amongst the Muslims, leads to a negative portrayal of Islam, and is damaging from a Dawah perspective
- The Maqasid of Eid as a celebration that brings the entire community together is violated by having Eid on different days within the same family, town or city
- There is no precedent in Fiqh that justifies Eid being celebrated on different days within the same family, town, city for people who are resident there (Ahadith refer to companions who were travelling and returning to their city)
- Having Eid on different days disrupts the education of children, makes it difficult to organise holiday leave for working people, which means that many people end up booking the wrong day and therefore end up working on Eid day
Appendix 4: further reading
Book: Shedding light on the dawn: on the determination of prayer and fasting times at high latitudes by Sheikh Asim Yusuf
The challenge of how to determine twilight prayer and fasting times at high latitudes is an issue that has vexed successive generations of Muslims since the community first began to dwell in northern lands. This work represents the most comprehensive, meticulous and balanced approach to the subject composed in any language. The author has both demonstrated and collapsed the complexity of the subject by exploring it from the perspective of definitions, science, scripture, and sacred law, as well as providing a literature survey of classical and modern attempts at observation, before presenting the results of his own systematic, scientifically-rigorous set of observations. As well as providing a comprehensive set of recommendations for the issue under discussion, this work sets a standard for works on modern legal issues in general.
This is a necessary read on this subject. The author is a friend and colleague who has tirelessly and meticulously researched the issues of long fasts and prayer times. Some of the discussions above have been taken from the book.
For more information on the book and how to purchase it: http://www.lightonthedawn.com/
Few articles providing overview of some issues discussed:
Arguments for using calculation:
The argument against using calculation:
Issues of the long fast:
Combining Maghreb and Isha:
 All from the introduction to ‘Shedding Light on the Dawn’
 Al-Nahl 16:43
 Jami’ Tirmidhi 2683
 Bukhari 7352, Muslim 4487
 Jami Tirmidhi
 Ihya Ulum al-Din, Kitab al-Ilm
 Al-Ashbah wa al-Naza’ir of Suyuti – a very well-known principle among the righteous predecessors (salaf) and their successors (khalaf).
 Kubra al-Yaqiniyyat al-Kawniyya 34: in kunta naqilan fa al-sihha, wa in kunta muda’iyyan fa al-dalil.
 NB: contrary to popular opinion, crescent visibility curves are not a modern invention, having been known about in the classical Muslim period. There are many examples in medieval astronomical literature that look very similar to modern ones
 Ibn Qudama in his al-Mughni [2:30-31], for example, notes that, ‘when one hears the adhan from a reliable source, one should commence prayer, without attempting to work out whether the time has entered oneself, for the Prophet (s) said, ‘the muadhins are entrusted,’ (Abu Dawud) and ‘there are two duties Muslims must perform that hang from the necks of the muadhins: their prayers and their fasts’ (ibn Majah). – dar alam al-kutub
 Al-Ashbah wa al-Naza’ir of Suyuti 224 – la yunkar al-mukhtalaf fihi, innama yunkar al-mujma’ alayh: a well-known principle among the righteous predecessors (salaf) and their successors (khalaf).
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