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Aqeedah and Fiqh

UPDATED! The Permissibility of Zakat for Islamic Dawah Organizations: A Detailed Analysis




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zakah.gif*The conclusion or answer to the question of permissibility can be found towards the bottom of this article, after an analysis of the many opinions on this issue. Ultimately, the author believes that in light of the evidences, it is permissible to give Zakah to Islamic Dawah organizations. Please take the time to read the discussion here carefully before taking a position one way or the other. JazakumAllah khair*

From one of the most important matters that face every caller to Islam and every organisation, taking on the noble task of calling to this beautiful and perfect religion, is the question of sources of finance. After the terrorist incidents around the world, the ensuing drama and scrutiny over Islamic organisations struggling to do good has worsened and along with it anyone who funds Islamic projects. This has further resulted in large numbers of the general Muslim population not being as charitable as they normally are. I remember a friend of mine from a large charitable Islamic organisation telling me that the charity levels from people go down to less than half, after any major incident around the world. It seems that people become weary of being linked to anyone that may later be found to use the funds inappropriately. This paranoia and fear has gripped many people and has lead to a serious lack of finances for Islamic projects everywhere. In times as difficult as these, it falls upon the Shariah to bring in ease and legislate in a manner that would allow for its rulings to mould and adapt to our time and circumstances, so that its goals and purposes can be realised in all times and circumstances.

Allah the Most High legislated Zakat as a major source of revenue for the Islamic ummah. It was legislated to cater for some of the neediest sections of the ummah. These days however, when Zakat is given, usually only the poor and miskeen are sought out despite the fact that the poor only comprise one fourth of the recipients of the Zakat described in verse 60 of Surah Tawbah – since they are only two categories out of the 8 mentioned in the verse. It was defined by Allah rigidly enough for there to be divine clarity on the recipients of Zakat, but wide enough to leave the exact definition of each of the types of recipients, upon the ijtihaad of the scholars.

At the beginning of this article it is important to mention an important argument posed by some scholars, may Allah have mercy on them all, that: Ultimately, the Zakat was not intended by the Shariah to be for every cause that is good. If this was the case, then there would be little wisdom in the Quran restricting the recipients of Zakat to the eight categories in Surah Tawbah, verse 60. Therefore, the seventh category: “Fi-sabeelillah” must not mean except a limited number of recipients that fall under the “Fi-sabeelillah” category. Imam Ibn Hazm rahimahullah says: “…And every act of good is ultimately from the path of Allah, the Most High, except that there is no difference of opinion that He did not intend every type of goodness in the division of the obligatory charity. As a result, it is not permissible for the Zakat to be given except where the verse has clearly restricted – and that is what we had mentioned before and Allah is the source of inspiration and clarity.” [AlMuhalla (6/151)] Although what the Imam mentions here “…that there is no difference amongst the scholars in this point” is not entirely accurate . However, it may be more accurate to say that Allah did not intend every act of goodness for giving Zakat to. However, what He did exactly intend, is a matter of difference amongst the scholars, may Allah have mercy on them. What exactly is the benefit of mentioning the other seven categories along with fi-sabeelillah? Is it to restrict the meaning of “fi-sabeelillah” to only a very small limited category, or was it to emphasise the importance of those other categories as the more worthy recipients of Zakat, whilst the Zakat itself being suitable for a larger category than these seven? This article will attempt to shed more light on this issue inshaAllah.

Firstly, all the scholars of Islam are of the agreement that the wording “in the path of Allah” in surah at-Tawbah, verse 60, includes physical struggle in the path of Allah. This is a matter about which there is no difference of opinion amongst the scholars of Islam. [Ahkamul-Quran of Ibnul-Arabi al-Maliki (1/396) reporting from Imam Malik, AlMughni (6/333), AlMubdi’ (2/424), Kasshaf al-Qana’ (2/283) and others]. This is based on the fact that Allah says “Fight in the path of Allah…” [2: 190], “Struggle in the path of Allah…” [5: 35], “Allah loves those who struggle in His path…” [61: 4]. However, this Ijma does not mean that this phrase is to be restricted to this meaning only, since there exists in the body of scholarly opinions – a number of important differences amongst the scholars regarding the exact boundary of the meaning of this phrase. Before I go into the main issue of difference that is the centre point of this article, below are two points of differences that the also differed on regarding adding or restricting from the meaning of “in the path of Allah” which we will allude to towards the end of this article inshaAllah:

· Some of the scholars of Islam were of the opinion that this verse only refers to the poor voluntary conscript Mujahideen and not the rich voluntary conscript Mujahideen. This is the opinion of Imam Abu Haneefah rahimahullah. As for the rest of the scholars, they were of the opinion that it refers to all voluntary conscript Mujahideen whether rich or poor, due to the hadeeth of Rasulullah sallallahu alaihi wa sallam: “Verily, (obligatory) sadaqah is not permissible for any rich person except for five..” [Abu Dawud (No. 1635), Ibn Majah (No. 1841), AlMustadrak of AlHakim (1/566) and others] and amongst them the Prophet sallallahu alaihi wa sallam mentioned a mujahid. [For details of the difference, see AlMajmoo of An-Nawawi (6/211)] As for this phrase referring to “voluntary conscripts” and not to salaried army of a Muslim nation, then this is a point of general agreement amongst many of the scholars of Islam. [See Al-Insaaf (3/235), AlMajmoo (6/211) and others]

· Some of the scholars of Islam were of the opinion that the phrase “in the path of Allah” includes Muslims as well as non-Muslims struggling in the path of Allah – such as a non-Muslim who may be spying for Muslims, [Ash-Sharh al-Kabeer Hashiyyah ala ad-Dasooki (1/456)], or to those non-Muslims, if the Muslims require their defence. [Al-Umm of Ash-Shafi (2/60)]

Does the phrase “fi-sabeelillah” only mean those physically fighting in the cause of Allah?

The vast majority of the earlier scholars of Islam such as Imam Abu Haneefah, Imam Malik, Imam Shafi, Imam Abu Thawr, Imam Ibn Mundhir, as well as the official position of the three madhabs, including many Hanbali scholars such as Imam Ibn Qudamah who mentioned that it was the opinion of the Hanbali madhab as well; as well as Imam Ash-Shawkani and many of the earlier scholars of Ahlul-Hadeeth, may Allah have mercy on them all, were of the opinion that “in the path of Allah” is restricted to those voluntary conscripts that were physically battling in Allah’s cause only. Some of them also mentioned the purchasing of weaponry to be included in this meaning. In our time, this was the original and first fatwa of the Kibar-ulema o] Saudi Arabia that was passed in the year 21/08/1394A.H, No. 24 by agreement of the majority with 6 scholars opposing, and from those who consented to the fatwa from the Kibar-ulema, were the majority of the permanent committee for fatwa, such as Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Baz and others.

Other scholars of Islam were of the opinion that in addition to the voluntary conscripts in the path of Allah, it also included those who were doing Hajj. This is the opinion of a number of the esteemed companions of the Prophet sallallahualaihi wa sallam such as Ibn Umar, Ibn Abbas, Abu Hurairah, Abu Saeed al-Khudri radiallahu anhum and some of the Tabiuun and scholars such as Imam AlHasan AlBasri, Imam Bukhari, Imam Ahmed, Imam Ishaq bin Rahaweih and is the Hanbali madhab according to some of the scholars of the madhab, may Allah have mercy on all the ulema of Islam.

Yet others are of the third opinion that it includes many general acts of goodness, such as building mosques, defending Islam through Islamic dawah and so on and so forth. This opinion states that although those physically fighting in the cause of Allah are more worthy, nevertheless, there are others who are also struggling to uplift His religion, in other forms of struggle in the broader category of Jihad who are worthy as well. This is the opinion of some of the earlier scholars and a large number of the later scholars, such as Imam Ar-Razi [Tafsir Ar-Razi (16/113)], Imam Al-Qasimi [Mahasin a-Ta’weel (8/318)], AlAloosi [Rooh al-Ma’ani (10/123)], Imam Siddeeq Hasan Khan [Ar-Rawdahtun-Nadiyyah (1/206)], Imam As-San’ani [Subul as-Salam (2/198)], Sheikh Rashid Ridha [Tafsir al-Manar (10/585-587)], Sheikh Muhammad Shaltoot [Al-Islam Aqeedah was-Sharee’ah (pg: 97-98)], Sheikh Muhammad bin Ibrahim Aalus-Sheikh the former grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia [Fatawa ash-Sheikh Muhammad bin Ibrahim (4/132)]. This is also the later and final opinion of Sheikh Abdul-Aziz bin Baz the former grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Abdur-Razzaq al-Afifi professor of Azhar and the former vice grand Mufti to Saudi, and others [Fatwa Lajnah ad-Da’imah (No. 12627, dated 11/2/1410A.H.), also see (No. 7746)] may Allah have mercy on all the scholars of Islam. This is also the decree of the Fiqh council of Makkah consisting of a large number of the scholars of Saudi Arabia under the chairmanship of Sheikh Ibn Baz rahimahullah in its 8th seating in the year 1405 A.H. which states: “The council agrees with total majority, that dawah to Allah and that which helps it and benefits it, is in the meaning of (in the path of Allah) as in the verse.” [AlQararat (pg. 173)]

The proofs of those who hold the first opinion, that “in the path of Allah” is restricted to those voluntary conscripts that were physically battling in Allah’s cause only, state that.:

1. “Fi-sabeelillah” is mentioned in the Quran more than 60 times and in the wording of the Shariah, it usually means Jihad as if the phrase is only always used for it. This is because in the Quran, “fi-sabeelillah” is only used a few times in the general sense, whilst referring to physical struggle in the path of Allah in the specific sense most of the time.

2. The hadeeth of Rasulullah sallallahu alaihi wa sallam: “The [obligatory] charity is not permissible for any rich person, except for five: The fighter in the cause of Allah, or the [Zakat] collector, or the one in debt, or for a person who purchases an item given in Zakat from his own wealth, or for a person who has a neighbour that is poor to whom he gives his Zakat and then the poor neighbour gives the Zakat item as a gift to a rich man.” [Reported by Abu Dawud (2/119), Ibn Majah (1/590), Sunan Al-Baihaqi alKubra (7/15), and AlMustadrak (1/566). Sheikh AlAlbani graded it as authentic due to other reports (Saheeh lighay’rihi)]. So this authentic hadeeth explains the phrase “fi-sabeelillah” and so its meaning should be restricted to it.

3. If fi-sabeelillah were to have a general meaning, then there would be no benefit in mentioning the rest of the types of recipients of the Zakat such as faqeer and miskeen, since they would all be included in the meaning of fi-sabeelillah.

4. Linguistically, it has not been reported in the Quran for there to be a phrase that is general in meaning that occurs in a listing between two phrases that denote specific meaning. Rather what has been reported is that a specific may be mentioned after a general, such as “On that night [of Laylatul-Qadr], the angels and the Ruh descend by the command of their Lord with every decree.” [97: 4] Here, although “Ruh” meaning Jibraeel alaihis salam is from the species of angels, he is mentioned after the angels showing that in a listing, a specific may be named after a general. Similarly is the case in the verse: “Whosoever is an enemy to Allah, His angels, His messengers, to Jibreel and Meekal (Mikaeel), then indeed Allah is an enemy to such disbelievers.” [2: 98] As a result, linguistically, the phrase “fi-sabeelillah” cannot have a general meaning since it occurs between “gharimeen” (those in debt) and “ibnus-Sabeel” (the wayfarer) which are both terms that have specific meaning. This argument was mentioned in a lesson that I was attending in the Prophet’s mosque delivered by Sheikh Muhammad bin Muhammad al-Mukhtar as-Shanqeeti hafidahullah in his explanation of the chapter of Zakat from Umdatul-Fiqh of Imam Ibn Qudamah rahimahumullah.

The proofs of those who hold the second opinion, that in addition to the voluntary conscripts in the path of Allah, it also included those who were doing Hajj, state that:

1. It is authentically reported from the Prophet sallallahu alaihi wa sallam that he considered an item that was specifically kept for physical fighting,] to also be suitable for Hajj, with the reasoning that both were from the path of Allah. This is from the Hadeeth of Abu Taleek radiallahu anhu who said that his wife Umm Taleek radiallahu anha asked him: “Give me your camel so that I can perform Hajj upon it.” He (Abu Taleek) replied: “Do you not remember that I have kept it safeguarded only for the path of Allah (fi-sabeelillah)?” She replied: “Verily, Hajj is from the path of Allah – so give it to me, may Allah have mercy upon you.” So Abu Taleek said: So I went to Rasulullah sallallahu alaihi wa sallam and I passed on her salam to him and I told him what Umm Taleek told me. So the Prophet sallallahu alaihi wa sallam replied: “Umm Taleek spoke the truth! If you were to give her the camel, then it would be in the path of Allah.” [Mu’jam al-Kabeer of Tabarani (22/324), Ad-Dulaabi in AlKuna wal-Asmaa (No. 249, 1/121) and AlHaithami reports this hadeeth from AlBazzar in Majma’ az-Zawaid (3/280), however I did not find it. This hadeeth was considered good by Ibn Hajr in AlIsaabah and authenticated by AlAlbani. See Irwa al-Ghaleel (3/376)]

2. Similar to the above is another incident that was reported from the Prophet sallallahu alaihi wa sallam from the story of Umm Ma’qal radiallahu anha. She said: “When the Prophet sallallahu alaihi wa sallam performed the final Hajj – at that time we used to have a camel that Abu Ma’qal had kept exclusively for the purpose of using it in the path of Allah. Thereafter, we became sick and Abu Ma’qal passed away and the Prophet sallallahu alaihi wa sallam set off for Hajj. So when he came back from his Hajj, I went to him, so he asked me: O Umm Ma’qal what prevented you from going out (to Hajj)? So I replied: Abu Ma’qal wanted to (but passed away), and he has a camel that I was going to do Hajj on however Abu Ma’qal willed that it be only for the path of Allah. So he said: So why did you not come out on it? Indeed Hajj is from the path of Allah!” [Reported by Ahmed (No. 27107), Abu Dawud (No. 1979) and others. Graded Hasan by AlAlbani in Al-Irwa (3/376)]

3. Ibn Abbas radiallahu anhuma said: He (the slave) should be freed from the Zakat of his (owners and others) wealth and given from it (Zakat) for Hajj. [Reported by AlBukhari in Ta’leeq form and connected by Ibn Abi Shaibah in his Musannaf (4/41) and declared Hasan by AlAlbani in Al-Irwa (3/377)] Similarly it has been reported by an acceptable chain from Ibn Abbas by Abu Dawud in his Sunan (No. 1990) that Ibn Abbas said: “Verily, Hajj is from the path of Allah.”

4. Ibn Umar radiallahu anhuma said when asked about using a camel for hajj that was originally kept for fighting in battle: Indeed Hajj is from the path of Allah. [Reported with a connected chain by Abu Ubaid in AlAmwal (No. 1976), Sunan Ad-Darimi (2/519) and authenticated by Ibn Hajr in Fathul-Bari (3/332)]

5. Ibn Abbas radiallahu anhuma said: We took Rasulullah sallallahu alaihi wa sallam for Hajj upon a camel from the camels of (obligatory) charity. [Musnad Ahmed (4/221), AlMustadrak (1/611), Sahih Ibn Khuzaimah (4/73), Sunnan alBaihaqi alKubra (5/252) Also supporting evidence for the narration as mentioned by Ibn Hajr in Fathul-Bari (3/331) and Musannaf of Ibn Abi Shaibah (3/180). This narration has Idtiraab in it, however it is most probably authentic up to Ibn Abbas. Also this narration was mentioned by AlBukhari in the introduction of this chapter in a mu’allaq form. Sheikh Shuaib Arnaut said in his checking of the hadeeth in Musnad Ahmed: Its isnad is Hasan (acceptable) See: Musnad Ahmed (4/221)]

6. There is no known difference to the opinions of the companions that they used to permit giving the Zakat for Hajj as well. It is for this reason, that some scholars use the absence of any authentic report of any difference from other companions as silent Ijma on this topic. Sheikh AlAlbani rahimahullah says after mentioning the statements of Ibn Abbas and Ibn Umar radiallahu anhum on this point: “And I say: In the two Abdullahs: Meaning (Abdullah) Ibn Abbas and (Abdullah) Ibn Umar is the best and superior guidance, especially given that there is no known difference to them from the companions, as well as what has preceded mention of from the hadeeths (that support their opinion).” [Irwa al-Ghaleel of AlAlbani (3/377)]

The proofs of those who hold the third opinion, that it includes many general acts of goodness, such as building mosques, defending Islam through Islamic dawah, etc, include the proofs of the second opinion, as well as the following additional proofs:

1. In addition to Hajj, the Sunnah also mentions other matters that are from the path of Allah showing that it is not restricted to physical struggle only. From that, is the hadeeth which is elevated [Ar. Marfu’] to the Prophet sallallahu alaihi wa sallam: “Whoever leaves (his home) to seek knowledge then he is fi-sabilillah until he returns.” [Tabarani (8/66)] It is also for this reason that it is reported from Abu Dhar radiallahu anhu that he said: Whoever thinks that seeking knowledge is not Jihad, then there is a deficiency in his intelligence!

2. “Fi-sabeelillah” in the majority of the verses of the Quran means Jihad, however it does not necessarily have to mean the restricted definition of Jihad only – that of physical armed struggle. Rather, Jihad has a deeper and broader meaning.

a. Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala says: “… And strive against them with it (the Quran), a greater struggle.” [25: 52] This verse very clearly shows that dawah is also a form of Jihad.

b. The Prophet sallallahu alaihi wa sallam explained that it has a more comprehensive meaning, when he said: “Fight the [transgressing] Mushrikeen with your money, your bodies, and your tongues.” [Musnad Ahmed (3/124, 153), Abu Dawud (3/10), Ad-Darimi (2/280), AlMustadrak (2/91). Shuaib Arnaut said in the checking of Musnad Ahmed: The hadeeth is authentic upon the condition of Muslim. AlAlbani graded the hadeeth as authentic in Sahih Sunan Abi Dawud]. Explaining the comprehensive meaning of Jihad, Sheikhul-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah says: “That is because the reality of Jihad is to expend effort in achieving that which is beloved to Allah from acts of emaan and righteous actions, and to repel that which is disliked by Allah from disbelief, transgression and disobedience.” [Majmoo al-Fatawa (10/191-192)]

3. From one of the most important proofs that show that the Prophet sallallahu alaihi wa sallam used Zakat for that which is generally for the good of Muslims and removal of harm from them, is the incident wherein: The Prophet sallallahu alaihi wa sallam gave 100 camels from the camels of (obligatory) charity to the family of Abdullah bin Sahal, when he was killed and no one knew who had killed him. [Reported by AlBukhari (No. 6898) and Muslim (No.1669)] AlQurtubi says about this incident: “Truly he did this on account of his noble nature, perfect governance, in order to achieve the good and ward off all harm, to quell any argument and to rein in the emotions and upon the inability to establish the truth (i.e. the punishment of manslaughter) due to lack of clarity in the matter (i.e. not knowing who the killer was).” [AlMufhim Sharh Sahih Muslim of AlQurtubi (5/15,16)] The point of witness from this hadeeth is that blood money is not one of the places where Zakat can normally be spent, unless we categorise it under the fi-sabeelillah category under the broad meaning of that phrase. Some scholars tried to deny the apparent clarity of the hadeeth of using Zakat for general good by insisting on different arguments such as perhaps the narrator of the hadeeth made a mistake, or perhaps the family of Abdullah bin Sahal were poor and so they were given the 100 camels by way of being poor or by way of being from the category of Mu’allafati quloobihim so that their hearts may be inclined towards Islam – these arguments are not based on any clear evidence and are simply based on conjecture. Imam An-Nawawi rahimahullah says: And the saying of some of them that the guardians of the dead were in need (poor), from those deserving of Zakat, then this is a futile argument since this (100 camels) is a huge amount that is not given to a singular beneficiary of Zakat as against the noblemen of a tribe and also because, he (the narrator) called it Dee’ah (blood money). And also the ta’weel of some of them that he (the Prophet sallallahu aliahi wa sallam) gave it to them from the portion of the Mua’llafati quloobihim from Zakat to soften their hearts perhaps that they may accept Islam, then this is weak! This is because it is not permissible to give the zakat to the disbeliever [Translator’s comment: This is the opinion of the vast majority of the ulema] so the chosen argument is what we have mentioned from the majority, that he purchased it from the camels of (obligatory) charity [Translator: Imam Nawawi mentions this as his preferred opinion since he is upon the opinion of the Shafiyyah that Zakat is not to be given to all worthy causes].” [Sharh Sahih Muslim (11/150)] Therefore, what is clear is that this hadeeth shows that the camels of zakat were used for a matter of general good and forbidding general harm and evil. [See also Fathul-Bari (12/235)]

Discussion of the proofs:

From what is clear from the list of the proofs provided by each opinion, is that:

· There is no clear definitive proof about the explanation of the phrase “fi-sabeelillah” in the verse in surah Tawbah, verse 60 that has been directly reported from the Prophet sallallahu alaihi wa sallam. Although the phrase has been used to mean physical warfare in the Quran the majority of the times, this is not proof enough that it should also only mean physical warfare in this verse as well. Also, a large number of times it has also been used in the Quran to mean the general path of guidance and acts of goodness, such as in [31:6], [4:89], [6:116], [2:262], [38:26], [22:58], [16:125], [12:108], [9:34] (Ibn Hajr mentions this verse 9:34 refers to those that do not spend money in general acts of goodness). There are many other examples of such verses. As a result, to insist on restricting this phrase in the ayah of Zakat to only mean the fighters in Jihad – is not apparent. It is for this reason that Imam Siddeeq Hasan Khan says: “There is no clear proof to restrict the meaning of this portion to them (fighters) only, rather it is correct to give it in every cause that is in the path of Allah, glorified be He. This is the meaning of the phrase linguistically. It is obligatory to restrict oneself upon the linguistic meaning since nothing authentic (and clear) has been reported in this matter from the Shariah.” [Ar-Rawdatun-Nadiyyah (1/206)] Similarly, the hadeeth that mentions that Zakat can’t be given to the rich except 5 and that the rich mujahid is amongst them, cannot be used to restrict the meaning of the verse to fighters only. The hadeeth simply shows how the verse can refer to the Mujahideen, however this does not in any way restrict it to this meaning. Similarly, mentioning the numerous narrations, such as the narrations from the companions and tafsir of ayahs to show that fi-sabeelillah means Jihad – is of no consequence here, since the opposing views already agree that physical warfare is already included in the meaning of the verse and is from the more worthy recipient of the portion of fi-sabeelillah. The point of disagreement is whether it is only restricted to this meaning or whether it can include other acts of goodness as well.

· There are numerous ahadeeth that are authentic as mentioned by those who hold the second and third opinion – that show that fi-sabeelillah is not restricted only to fighters in the path of Allah. The authentic proofs show that Hajj, as well as blood money which were from general good and benefit for the community are also from the sources that deserve Zakat. There is also no known opposition to this understanding from the companions of the Prophet sallallahu alaihi wa sallam and had there be any opposing narration, then it would have been related to us.

· As for the argument that if “Fi-sabeelillah” were to mean all acts of goodness, then this would defy the purpose of mentioning the other recipients of Zakat in the verse, then this can be explained in the following way: That the mentioning of other recipients that can also be in the greater meaning of fi-sabeelillah is by way of increasing affirmation [Ar. Ta’keed] and not by way of division and separation [Ar.Tafreeq]. Singling out the other recipients who may also be from the general meaning of fi-sabeelillah, shows that the Zakat should not be simply put into the Baitul-Mal as from other sources of revenue, such as should be done with Kharaaj (produce of the land) and Jizyah, rather that is should specifically be used for these 8 types of recipients. Therefore, regarding fi-sabeelillah, the meaning would be that – the Zakat should be used for all those projects and matters that raise the word of Allah, defend it, protect it and sanctify it.

· It should be clear to the one that researches this topic closely, that the vast majority of the ulema of the past, simply reported the other opinions and proofs – and a large number of them did so without actively seeking to clarify which opinion is stronger than the other. [Dr Ahmed Awid Abu Shabab, Majallah alBuhooth alFiqhiyyah alMua’sarah (No. 68, dated 1/7/2005)] They simply reported the view of the majority and moved on from that. An example of this is what Abu Ubaid reports in his book AlAmwal, after authenticating the narration from Ibn Umar that people going for hajj can be given from Zakat: “And the ulema are not upon this, and I do not know of anyone who has given the fatwa that Zakat should be given to those going for Hajj.” [AlAmwal pg. 723] This is largely because of the fact that since physical warfare was regular and constant throughout the centuries of Islamic history, there were hardly any other causes that matched the worthiness and importance of having a capable Muslim army that was well equipped and trained. Thus, there was little need to expand the meaning of fi-sabeelillah. The reader will note that the trend to expand the meaning of fi-sabeelillah occurred more from the scholars of the later centuries and particularly in our time given the fact that our times and situation are so different.

· It is very evident that the scholars of the past would explain the verse of the Zakat upon their prevailing situations at that time. So even though the majority generally agreed that in the path of Allah means physical warfare – they still differed on its exact limits. As has preceded, some allowed Zakat for all types of fighters, other restricted it to only voluntary conscripts; some allowed Zakat only for those far away from their lands, others allowed it for those near and far; some restricted Zakat to the poor fighters, whereas others allowed it for all; some allowed the purchase of weaponry with Zakat money, whereas others disallowed it. This shows how the scholars were applying the verse of Zakat to their situations and times as their situation dictated and called for it. This is also what is noticeable from the opinions of a large number of scholars who have chosen to apply the broader meaning of fi-sabeelillah to the verse, given that in our time, many of the types of recipients of Zakat are difficult to find or limited in different parts of the world only, and there are other similarly worthy causes that fall under the broader meaning of fi-sabeelillah that are also in need in our time today. It is for this reason that interestingly, Syed Qutb rahimahullah says: “Fi-sabeelillah is a broad terms that encompasses every good that uplifts the word of Allah for the muslim community. From the most clear proofs of this is the preparations for battle and equipping and training voluntary conscripts and the sending of missionaries for calling to Islam and to clarify and spread its teachings to all people. Also to setup schools and universities that will teach and raise a generation upon the correct fundamentals, so that we do not leave them to the public schools that teach them everything but Islam, nor to the schools of the Christian missionaries who exploit their childhood and innocence with false teachings about religion – that which they are not able to defend against.” [Fi Dhilaal al-Quran (10/82)] It is also equally interesting to note that the companions of the Prophet sallallahu alaihi wa sallam – permitted giving the wealth kept for fi-sabeelillah – for hajj, when the times and situation had changed in one of the years – in which there were no wars going on in the Muslim empire, such as the incident reported by the student of Ibn Umar – Nafi rahimahullah who said that a man came to Ibn Umar and said: Verily a man (who passed away) gifted a camel to me in his will, to use in the path of Allah only, and this is not the time when there are any battles going on. Can I use the camel for doing Hajj? So Ibn Umar replied: “Hajj and umrah are both fi-sabeelillah!” [Ad-Darimi (2/519) and authenticated in AlFath (3/332)]

The preferred opinion:

From what has preceded mention, the broader meaning of fi-sabeelillah is the preferred opinion and Allah the most High knows best. In times like we are in today, it is imperative that the scholars, may Allah have mercy on them all, give their fatwas in a manner that caters for the needs of our society to defend against the intellectual onslaught against our values and way of life and aid us in fulfilling our obligation to show case to the world the beauty of our religion. This cannot be done except by appropriate funding for dawah and community development organisations, Islamic radio and media, Islamic institutes and universities, funding students of knowledge and supporting teachers of goodness – and any project or worthy cause that is directly involved in working in the broader meaning of the path of Allah. Such was the guidance of the Prophet sallallahu alaihi wa sallam when he gave the blood money of Abdullah bin Sahal from the Zakat – that ultimately the Zakat is meant for the attainment of benefit and prevention of harm from the Muslim ummah.

And Allah knows best.

Written by

Tawfique Chowdhury
Mission and AlKauthar Institute
8th Shawwal 2007 A.H. corresponding to 20th October 2007 C.E.

PDF Version for Distribution & Dissemination:


Sh. Tawfique Chowdhury is the founder of AlKauthar Institute, the unrelated Australian twin of AlMaghrib. A graduate of Islamic University of Madinah, he has also excelled in secular fields: An IT Project Manager, and soon to be a doctor as well (he is completing his medicine degree). He is very active in working with many Islamic organizations around the world and is also an international media contributor appearing on numerous TV and radio stations. The most notable are his appearances on ABC Asia Pacific, AlMajd Channel and the Islam Channel in the UK, where his lectures are frequently shown.



  1. Amad


    October 24, 2007 at 8:22 AM

    jazakAllahkhair Shaykh Tawfique…

    I really believe that this analysis is of great significance to the Muslim communities in the West. Everyday is a struggle for our institutions, our schools, our dawah organizations, etc. to just survive financially. Historically, by earmarking most of our Zakat for needy causes outside America (and no doubt they are needy), we do miss out on building what we need to sustain the future generations of Muslims in the West.

    I hope inshallah that Shaykh Tawfique’s message is spread far and wide so that it may help sustain the next generation of activities and institutions for the protection and betterment of Muslims in the West.

  2. Avatar


    October 24, 2007 at 10:00 AM

    Wow. You had the daleel on lock, mashaAllah!

    So now what organizations qualifies as an “Islamic Dawah Organization”?

  3. Avatar


    October 24, 2007 at 10:53 AM

    Salaam ‘alaikum,

    Assuming that one accepts the legitimacy of the third opinion, there is a lot that has to be worked out in order to actualize such a ruling.

    -Since Zakat is an act of worship and some Muslim organizations are not all that they should be- how much research into the organization should the individual Muslim do in order to insure that their ibadah is accepted?

    -What sort of organizations fall under the definition of fisabilillah? And perhaps more importantly, is that a decision that can be left up to the individual Muslim?

    -What organizations would definitely not qualify?

    -Would it be better to have an oversight committee made up of Ulema and financial professionals to certify organizations that wish to receive zakat funds?

    And I’m sure there’s a lot that I’ve missed.

  4. Avatar

    Comments of Muhammad al Jibaly

    October 24, 2007 at 11:52 AM

    The following is from Muhammad Jibaly’s mailing list ..I have only quoted what is relevant ..

    Jibaly said:
    The author brings many examples where the Prophet (S) considered hajj expenses as legitimate “fee sabeel-illaah” zakaah expenditure. There is little difference among the `ulamaa that hajj counts as “fee sabeel-illaah”, and bringing all those hadeeths serves only to diffuse the issue and make it appear as though there are so many violations to the understanding that “fee safeel-illaah” refers only to the physical struggle for Allaah’s cause.

    The author then brings a lone example other than hajj: The Prophet (S) gave from the sadaqah camels as blood-money to a family whose family-head was killed and his killer was not known. None of the reports I saw in al-Bukhaaree and Muslim indicate that these “sadaqah” camels were “zakaah” camels. And even if they were, this incident can be explained so as not to conflict with the established shar’ee rule regarding “fee sabeel-illaah”: that the deceased’s family was eligible for zakaah under the “mu’allafati quloobuhum” (those who need to be fortified in Islaam) category or the “needy” category. The author waves off the latter possibility as mere conjecture! And why is that? Is he only seeking a conclusion that serves his organization’s needs? The correct fiqhee rule is that an established legislation cannot be overridden by doubts, not that doubts can override the legislation! Since there are doubts in this case as to why the Prophet (S) used the zakaah fund (if it was zakaah), we cannot use this example to override the shar’ee rule regarding “fee sabeel-illaah”.

    Just before his conclusion, the author cites a long quotation from Sayyid Qutub which, in essence, cancels the eight categories mentioned in the aayah of soorat at-Tawbah, making “fee sabeel-illaah” inclusve to most of them! Is Sayyid then, to our friend the author, the final word and “Hujjat ul-Islaam” in this and other issues of Islaam? We seek Allaah’s protection from misguidance.

    A very important note that our Shaykh al-Albani (r) often emphasized is that those who try to widen the scope of “fee sabeel-illaah” provide a great “service” to wealthy Muslims who are reluctant to give any sadaqah besides the required zakaah (if they give it at all). They essentially tell them: “You only need to pay your zakaah, and we will apply it to all paths of good. You do not have to pay anything extra for building schools and masjids, paving roads, different forms of da’wah, etc.” This is far from being true. The welathy Muslimd have a great obligation: to spend much more than the required zakaah for supporting various Islamic projects. Otherwise, Allaah (T) would deprive them of their wealth like He deprived the farmers mentioned in Soorat Noon.

  5. Avatar

    Islam Blog

    October 24, 2007 at 12:58 PM


    Here are some additional fataawa relevant to the issue:

    Giving zakaat to a primary school which is in need of funds

    Printing the Qur’aan is not one of the things that zakaah should be spent on

    Building mosques from zakaah funds

    Jazakallah for post. It was very educative

  6. Avatar

    Abu Bakr

    October 24, 2007 at 10:38 PM

    Assalamu Alaykum

    Firstly, I must say that I respect Sh. Tawfique and he has made a good case for his view.

    However, with all due respect, although I feel the words of Sh. Jibaly were a bit harsh I agree with his conclusion. In particular, for some time, I have also felt as Sh. Jibaly mentions:

    ((A very important note that our Shaykh al-Albani (r) often emphasized is that those who try to widen the scope of “fee sabeel-illaah” provide a great “service” to wealthy Muslims who are reluctant to give any sadaqah besides the required zakaah (if they give it at all). They essentially tell them: “You only need to pay your zakaah, and we will apply it to all paths of good. You do not have to pay anything extra for building schools and masjids, paving roads, different forms of da’wah, etc.” This is far from being true. The welathy Muslimd have a great obligation…))

  7. Avatar


    October 25, 2007 at 1:06 AM

    As far as i know the mufti of Saudi Arabia, al-Shaykh, has given a similar fatwa, permitting the zakah per the purpose of dawa or islamic institution.

  8. Avatar


    October 25, 2007 at 1:07 AM

    Assalamualiakum all

    I will try and answer most of the comments inshaAllah, however let me start off with the arguments and aspersions raised on the article.

    Let me start off which the attempt at refuting the content of the article by Sh Md AlJibaly. With all due respect to the Sheikh, he is a friend of mine, however the arguments he provides are not strong in the least bit and some of them are plainly argumentative without any point being made. Let me take each argument step by step:

    Our beloved Sheikh hafidahullah says: “The author brings many examples where the Prophet (S) considered hajj expenses as legitimate “fee sabeel-illaah” zakaah expenditure. There is little difference among the `ulamaa that hajj counts as “fee sabeel-illaah”, and bringing all those hadeeths serves only to diffuse the issue and make it appear as though there are so many violations to the understanding that “fee safeel-illaah” refers only to the physical struggle for Allaah’s cause.”

    This is incorrect. Rather, there is a huge amount of difference amongst the scholars that Hajj is included in the ‘fi-sabeelillah’ category. Infact the vast majority of the madhabs and including as Ibn Qudamah rahimahullah says, the hanbali madhab as well, as he leaves the established narration from Imam Ahmed about including Hajj in the fi-sabelillah category and chooses the opinion that it is not included. Even a cursory look at the books of fiqh of each madhab will show that. So how can it therefore be said that “there is little difference among the `ulamaa that hajj counts as fee sabeel-illah”? Similarly, I quoted in the article the statement of Imam Abu Ubaid in his book AlAmwaal pg 723 wherein he says: “And the ulema are not upon this, and I do not know of anyone who has given the fatwa that Zakat should be given to those going for Hajj.” So again, how can it be said that there is little difference amongst the ulema that fi-sabeelillah includes Hajj? Rather, there is a lot of difference and it is precisely this reason why I mentioned all the proofs that exist out and all the existing hadeeths and narrations to show that hajj is indeed from the fi-sabeelillah category – and not as you state – “to diffuse the issue”!

    Then the sheikh argues: “The author then brings a lone example other than hajj: The Prophet (S) gave from the sadaqah camels as blood-money to a family whose family-head was killed and his killer was not known. None of the reports I saw in al-Bukhaaree and Muslim indicate that these “sadaqah” camels were “zakaah” camels. And even if they were, this incident can be explained so as not to conflict with the established shar’ee rule regarding “fee sabeel-illaah”: that the deceased’s family was eligible for zakaah under the “mu’allafati quloobuhum” (those who need to be fortified in Islaam) category or the “needy” category. The author waves off the latter possibility as mere conjecture! And why is that? Is he only seeking a conclusion that serves his organization’s needs? The correct fiqhee rule is that an established legislation cannot be overridden by doubts, not that doubts can override the legislation! Since there are doubts in this case as to why the Prophet (S) used the zakaah fund (if it was zakaah), we cannot use this example to override the shar’ee rule regarding “fee sabeel-illaah”.”

    With all due respect, to recollect the fiqhi arguments that were presented by that point, it may have been a single incident from the hadeeth that I reported, but it was by no means the only proof that was presented by that point. By that point, I had already shown that:
    a. There is no authentic hadeeth that fi-sabeelillah is only restricted to physical jihad.
    b. That nothing authentic is established from the Prophetic guidance on this matter.
    c. That even in the Quran, fi-sabeelillah has been used in over 8 different verse for general good and not just for physical warfare.
    d. That the ijmaa of the companions is that hajj is included in the category of fi-sabeelillah showing that it is not just as simple as physical struggle only.

    Also, as for the fact that the camels were camels of Zakat and not of any other charity, is that in the Urf of the shariah, when sadaqah is mentioned in the the ma’rifah form – al-sadaqah – it usually and almost always means the obligatory sadaqah i.e. Zakat. Examples of this is: in the verse of surah tawbah, verse 60 wherein Allah starts the verse by saying: Innama alsadaqaatulil fuqaraa… and others. Also I personally myself have yet to find a narration where in Ibilus-Sadaqah is mentioned and it does not mean the camels of obligatory charity (i.e. Zakat). Also the discussion presented by ibn Hajr in FathulBari for that hadeeth as in alFath (12/235) and by alQurtubi in alMufhim (5/15-16) shows that the ulema understood the hadeeth to mean that the camels were from Zakat.

    Secondly, why did I dismiss the argument that the camels were given to the family of the dead by way of mu’allafati qulubihim or being from the faqeer category – because of the following reasons:
    1. Ibn Hajr mentions in AlFath (12/235) that a number of ulema and fuqaha who did indeed reject the arguments since there is no proof to limit the understanding of the hadeeth to the zakat being given for being poor or mua’llafati quloobihim.
    2. There is little justification for giving 100 camels (!) to the poor. Yes if a family is poor – give him 2, 3, 5, or even 10 camels if you so wish. But 100 camels? Does this not seem even slightly farfetched that Rasulullah sallallahu aliahi wa sallam would give so many camels by way of zakat to a family for being poor? Rather, it as AlQurtubi states in alMufhim (12/15-16) when he comments on this hadeeth saying: “Truly he did this on account of his noble nature, perfect governance, in order to achieve the good and ward off all harm, to quell any argument and to rein in the emotions and upon the inability to establish the truth (i.e. the punishment of manslaughter) due to lack of clarity in the matter (i.e. not knowing who the killer was).”
    3. Another reason that it is clear that the 100 camels from Zakat was not given because of being poor or for being mu’allafi qulubihim and that this is a very weak argument and essentially conjecture and speculation, is what Imam Nawawi rahimahullah mentions in Sharh Sahih muslim in the explanation of this hadeeth and he clearly says: “And the saying of some of them that the guardians of the dead were in need (poor), from those deserving of Zakat, then this is a futile argument since this (100 camels) is a huge amount that is not given to a singular beneficiary of Zakat as against the noblemen of a tribe and also because, he (the narrator) called it Dee’ah (blood money). And also the ta’weel of some of them that he (the Prophet sallallahu aliahi wa sallam) gave it to them from the portion of the Mua’llafati quloobihim from Zakat to soften their hearts perhaps that they may accept Islam, then this is weak! This is because it is not permissible to give the zakat to the disbeliever [Translator’s comment: This is the opinion of the vast majority of the ulema] so the chosen argument is what we have mentioned from the majority, that he purchased it from the camels of (obligatory) charity [Translator: Imam Nawawi mentions this as his preferred opinion since he is upon the opinion of the Shafiyyah that Zakat is not to be given to all worthy causes].” [Sharh Sahih Muslim (11/150)]
    4. What we are arguing with is with the dhahir [Tr. clear, apparent] wording of the hadeeth and our argument is dhahir whereas your argument is an extension upon the nass [Ar. Text] and upon the qaaidah that says: A’yee amr dakhala fihi-ihtimaal batala bihi al-istidlal – which every argument that enters upon it uncertainty, then to use it as a proof is false. So the argument of Sh Muhammad here is not dhaahir and is ziyaadah (extra and extension) of the text and that is muhtamal (speculative) and thus weak in argument.
    5. As for what Sh Muhammad says: “The correct fiqhee rule is that an established legislation cannot be overridden by doubts, not that doubts can override the legislation! Since there are doubts in this case as to why the Prophet (S) used the zakaah fund (if it was zakaah), we cannot use this example to override the shar’ee rule regarding “fee sabeel-illaah” then this argument is absolutely unbelievable! Here you are doing istidlal bi ma’rad alKhilaaf (using the point of difference as if it is an established proof in and of itself)! This is plainly incorrect. Since when has it been an issue of ‘established legislation’? The whole argument of my article is that this is NOT established legislation – so how can someone use the point of difference that I am showing and clarifying in the article to argue that I am wrong?? My argument from the hadeeth is not ‘doubts’, it is holding on to the dhaahir of the text of the hadeeth which is an established point of proof in usul-ul-fiqh and not ‘doubt’.
    6. As for what Sh Muhammad says: “The author waves off the latter possibility as mere conjecture! And why is that? Is he only seeking a conclusion that serves his organization’s needs?” – With all due respect, this is a low blow! I would urge that the Sheikh keeps his arguments on the fiqh dimensions of the article and not speculate on intentions and amaanah behind writing this article. This not a place that anyone should attempt to go to and throws aspersions on people’s characters. This is just not on!

    Then the Sheikh says: “Just before his conclusion, the author cites a long quotation from Sayyid Qutub which, in essence, cancels the eight categories mentioned in the aayah of soorat at-Tawbah, making “fee sabeel-illaah” inclusve to most of them! Is Sayyid then, to our friend the author, the final word and “Hujjat ul-Islaam” in this and other issues of Islaam? We seek Allaah’s protection from misguidance.”

    This is argumentative and raising hue and cry for what? Just because I mentioned Sayyid Qutb? By that time, I had already spent 8 pages making my point already and I only mentioned him since his comment was in agreement with the point I was trying to make and he phrased it in an emphatic manner, not for any non-reason. Since when have I said he is hujjah and or hujjatul-islam?? Sheikh Muhammad, this is quite clearly inappropriate and not required and frankly I expected more from a refuation. I never used Sayyid Qutb’s argument to prove my case, I merely stated it in the context of showing how the earlier commentators would understand the verse from the perspective of their own situation and the later ones – from there’s. Please read my last paragraph and you will see the context. Ultimately, I ended my argument with the narration from Ibn Umar and not from Sayyid Qutb – and there in that is the clarity. So please, there is no need to taint the article with speculation and raising hue and cry and as if I have misled people just simply because of quoting Sayyid Qutb! Out of 9 pages of proofs and adillah, and one quote from Sayyid Qutb and this becomes a point of interest? This is simply amazing!

    Lastly, the sheikh says: “A very important note that our Shaykh al-Albani (r) often emphasized is that those who try to widen the scope of “fee sabeel-illaah” provide a great “service” to wealthy Muslims who are reluctant to give any sadaqah besides the required zakaah (if they give it at all). They essentially tell them: “You only need to pay your zakaah, and we will apply it to all paths of good. You do not have to pay anything extra for building schools and masjids, paving roads, different forms of da’wah, etc.” This is far from being true. The welathy Muslimd have a great obligation: to spend much more than the required zakaah for supporting various Islamic projects. Otherwise, Allaah (T) would deprive them of their wealth like He deprived the farmers mentioned in Soorat Noon.”

    Again, this is simply not a point to disprove an opinion of fiqh. What the sheikh is mentioning is relevant to those ill informed zakat agents who when collecting the zakat from the rich, do not clarify the truth to them, that the zakat is not enough, rather more is required. So they should be corrected in their advice to the rich when taking money from them, not that, this point itself is an argument to disprove the validity of the opinion itself.

    Wallahu alim. I am not on the Sheikh’s list, so pls send this to the list. Jzk.


    • Avatar

      Islam Blog

      February 28, 2011 at 12:30 AM

      Why there are too many “�” in your comment?

  9. Avatar


    October 25, 2007 at 1:50 AM

    argh, my comment got caught in Akismet’s faulty spam filter!

    I suggested for the MM crew to please have these articles by the Shuyookh available as PDFs so it’s easy to print them out and read them. Reading a looong entry on a blog is mind-numbing at times :(


  10. Avatar


    October 25, 2007 at 2:31 AM

    Well done Alex, your questions are very pertinent mashaAllah.

    – You asked: “Since Zakat is an act of worship and some Muslim organizations are not all that they should be- how much research into the organization should the individual Muslim do in order to insure that their ibadah is accepted?” Well, a person is required by the shariah to ascertain that the recipient is genuine. This means to look into the needs of the person and that which is clear and apparent from the recipient. There is no requirement to open up people’s hearts and look into their chests, or to ask for detailed analysis of their accounts. So, as long as a person is reasonably sure that a person is poor and needy, then the zakat can be given to him in reasonable amounts. Same should be the case with dawah organizations. So saying, I encourage all dawah organizations in general to lift their level of transparency and accountability by having annual reports or AGMs or other sources and means that clarify to the public that they are collecting zakat and sadaqah from. I am aware that this is being done by many organizations already.

    – You asked: “What sort of organizations fall under the definition of fisabilillah? And perhaps more importantly, is that a decision that can be left up to the individual Muslim?” This is an important issue. Generally the zakat is not left upon individuals to decide on who is or isn’t needy. It is the responsibility of the muslim government and amir. If there is no muslim government, then the responsbilty is on each community to come together and have central zakat collection points to enforce the maslahah of zakat. Lastly, failing this, then nothing is left except for each individual to exercise his or her best judgement. If this can be done regarding the poor and who the poor are, then so too it can be done regarding dawah organizations as well.

    – You asked: “What organizations would definitely not qualify?” those organizations that are clearly misusing funds, or have enough already or are not doing enough for the money with them. I am sure Allah will show those that are more worthy from the less worthy and thus make it clear in time which organizations are more worthy than others. Wallahu alim.

    -you asked: “Would it be better to have an oversight committee made up of Ulema and financial professionals to certify organizations that wish to receive zakat funds?” Yes definitely. This definitely what is required – a central zakat collection and distribution agency in each community consisting of ulema and professionals for zakat auditing of individuals and businesses and then delivery of these funds to all suitable recipients.

    Wallahu alim.

    Abu yusuf

  11. Amad


    October 25, 2007 at 1:22 PM

    ((A very important note that our Shaykh al-Albani (r) often emphasized is that those who try to widen the scope of “fee sabeel-illaah” provide a great “service” to wealthy Muslims who are reluctant to give any sadaqah besides the required zakaah (if they give it at all). They essentially tell them: “You only need to pay your zakaah, and we will apply it to all paths of good. You do not have to pay anything extra for building schools and masjids, paving roads, different forms of da’wah, etc.” This is far from being true. The welathy Muslimd have a great obligation…))

    With all due respect, Shaykh Abu Bakr, and Sh. Jibaly as well, the above-quoted contains an emotional appeal of sort, it is not a point of fiqh or a refutation of an evidence. This is merely a distraction from the info. presented.

    And even from a non-fiqhi perspective, this line of reasoning is faulty. We have to first try to make the wealthy Muslims to just pay the obligatory Zakah, before being concerned about a reduction in Sadaqah. We all know that the percent of Muslims who keep up with Zakah, esp. the rich guys, is small. And even if we can “sell” the organizational support idea and make them complete their obligation, that will be a victory for them and for the Muslims. Because otherwise they may have had not paid anything– in sadaqah or Zakah. That is the unfortunate reality of the situation.

  12. ibnabeeomar


    October 25, 2007 at 1:32 PM

    this may be too specific of a question for the topic at hand, but it came to my mind when reading this, what about how the actual dawah organization uses the funds? for example, someone may be starting a dawah project and they have various expenses like print materials, website, etc. if they choose to say pay extra for a fancy website, would something like that make a difference in their accepting of zakaat for the organization?

    jazakallahu khayr

  13. Amad


    October 25, 2007 at 1:46 PM

    Aarij, the PDF file for the article has been added now (see bottom of article)

  14. Tawfique


    October 25, 2007 at 10:38 PM

    Article updated with crucial additional quote from imam nawawi refuting those who use the hadeeth of abdullah bin sahal’s blood money. Jzk

  15. Avatar

    Abu Adam

    October 26, 2007 at 9:44 AM

    Assalaamu Alaykum,

    I have a question about this:

    Da’wah organisations (in the form we know today) have existed for decades. Other Islamic organisations have existed for hundreds of years.
    Zakah has existed for 1400 years.

    So why do we have a student give a fatwa on this subject only now?
    Where are the fatwas from the scholars (i mean real scholars – in the proper sense of the word) on the subject??

    I don’t understand this….



    Abu Adam

  16. Avatar


    October 27, 2007 at 12:16 PM

    Jazakallahulkhair Abu Adam, but it seems you havn’t read the article properly.

    Please read the article carefully and you will find all the details of all the real scholars who have given tens of fatwas on this including full references. I believe its on page 3.



  17. Avatar


    October 27, 2007 at 12:19 PM

    Ibnabeeomar you made a very valid question there. Generally it goes back to the one running the organisation and the person giving it to be careful to not misuse funds.

    Remember my friend: Ultimately there is something called fatwa and before all of that, there is taqwa!


  18. Amad


    October 27, 2007 at 12:32 PM

    salam… I love all the catch phrases coming out on MM:

    -Taqwa before Fatwa
    -Sending a Knee-Mail to Allah (Sajdah)

  19. ibnabeeomar


    October 27, 2007 at 1:16 PM

    jazakallahu khayr!

  20. AnonyMouse


    October 27, 2007 at 3:13 PM

    We should have a “Catchy Islamic phrases” post (or page!) :p

  21. Avatar

    Mahdi Bray

    October 28, 2007 at 9:59 PM

    Very interesting read

    Thanks for posting this

  22. Amad


    October 28, 2007 at 10:39 PM

    Welcome Imam Mahdi to MM. JazakAllahkhair for stopping by. You are doing a wonderful service for the Muslims… may Allah assist you in all your endeavors. I hope everyone visits your blog and keeps up with the efforts inshallah:

  23. Avatar

    Mahdi Bray

    October 30, 2007 at 3:50 PM

    Thank you Brother Amad. I encourage you all to continue the good work that you all have been doing as well

  24. Pingback: » And One Year Ago, MM was Born

  25. Avatar


    May 29, 2008 at 6:04 AM


    i would love to hear the opinion of shaykh yasir on this topic – as in one of his talks he clearly stated that he was against this opinion and that can be heard on the below talk.

    i don’t know if the shaykh has changed his mind as he has changed alot of his opinions recently.

  26. AbdulHasib


    May 29, 2008 at 9:01 AM

    @ brother ‘IF”

    ‘alaikum as-salam wa rahmatullah,

    If you ARE from please pass on a message to those brothers to have some adab and learn some manners in asking a question, and learning some adab ul ikhtilaaf.

    Secondly, your ‘inquiry’ certainly does not come off as intending to seek knowledge but rather try to make some kind of ‘point.’

    I urge you and the brothers in that If you have honest disagreements that is alhamdulillah MORE than fine, but when one can’t even show respect in expressing those disagreements with people who call to the ‘Aqeedah of Ahlus Sunnah wal Athaar, and in advising them with HIKMAH. (hikmah means to put something in it’s proper place, to say the right thing to the right person at the right time in the right context in the right way, intending good).

    May Allah bless you and those brothers, i urge you to truly Fear Allah and exercise hikmah when attempting to give ‘nasiha’ – whose root even MEANS Sincerity.

    MORE so with regards to speakers and students of knowledge, and i’m sure the teachers of the students at would vouch in ardently calling the students to give these type of nasiha in private with such person.

    Thirdly, if we disagree with someone in the realms of fiqh and, other areas, it does not mean an all inclusive pass for us to bring a critize-fest in all of their opinions. We are human beings in need of nasiha – even if the nasiha comes from a person of less knowledge than us, we are all in need of it.

    And lastly, as students or lay, we need to know our role. We can’t but utter a few sentences in Arabic, have some basic fiqh and usool, read some books of hadith, and listened to a whole ton of lectures, and attend ‘forums of benefit’ online… It’s simple. Know your Role.

    As Ibnul Jawzi rahimahullah mentioned in Talbees Iblees – The Devil’s Deception, of the ways that shaytan deceives the son of Adam is that he busies himself with something that is good where as in reality he could be doing something that is BETTER.

    May Allah forgive us and grant us blessing in our affairs. Ameen.

    WAllahu ‘Alam

  27. Pingback: Retread: Zakat-ul-Fitr in Money | Zakat-ul-Maal to Islamic Organizations |

  28. Avatar


    October 30, 2008 at 12:22 AM

    The main issue of our time is there is no Islamic government, hence the state funding by bait-ul-maal doesn’t exists anymore to support Islamic projects and initiatives, and the rich Muslims are not doing enough to support them..

    It’s important to mention that Zakat is not the only charity in Shariah, rather its one specific kind of charity. Hence, we can divide Charity in two types:
    ■ Obligatory or Special Type Charities, e.g. Zakat (زكاة), Zakat-ul-Fitr (زكاة الفطر)
    ■ Voluntary or General Charities, e.g. Sadaqat (صدقات)
    There are differences in applications between these two types of charities. The Prophet (pbuh) gave money in charity to variety of reason, and number of them fell into Sadaqat. Zakat has rather very specific purpose. Sadaqa is very general in nature as the Prophet (pbuh) said: كلُّ معروفٍ صدقهٌ – “Every good thing is Sadaqa” [Sahih Bukhari/Muslim].

    Then, whatever is not covered under these two types of charities is to be provided by Bait-ul-Maal for general public welfare.

    Unfortunately, the bail-ul-maal is occupied by people like Zardari, so it seems some people who are trying to do good deeds are expanding scope of Zakat to get their funding, which should otherwise be covered from bait-ul-maal.

    Hence, it creates this paradox where contemporary scholars are trying to find means to support Islamic dawah and education and other activities. And I don’t blame em. However, we don’t see same level of intensity to collect zakat for jihad, which is the main purpose of zakat fi-sabeel-allah.. Why is that.. don’t we need it for that..

    Let say we can agree that because in current times, when all Muslim wealth and bait-ul-maal is occupied by agents of Taghoot, then Muslims can pool their Zakat money to do jihad fi-sableel-allah with his expended scope but with sincere and honest intention to spread or defend Islam with right methodology

    However, if we need to pay zakat fi-sabeel-allah, then should we sent it to mujahideen or give it to give to Islamic Centres of americas.. which is closer in meaning?

    and if ‘today’s circumstances’ are the basis, then whose circumstances are worse? mujahideens or islamic cetres of america..

    just a thought..

    and Allah knows best.

  29. Avatar

    Da'wah Organisations?

    July 28, 2009 at 6:55 PM

    I wonder what constitutes a da’wah organisation, are institutes such as al-Maghrib and al-Kauthar included under such an umbrella or would they come under the banner of businesses?

  30. Avatar


    September 16, 2009 at 5:21 PM

    Jazak Allahu kheirun, very informative article

  31. Avatar


    August 9, 2010 at 12:39 PM

    I am an American seeking more knowledge into Islam. I read the above analysis and find myself somewhat lost. I have two simple questions and would enjoy reading simplistic answers to these questions.

    Question # 1: Is it the opinion of the author that Islam is a “beautiful and perfect religion” or a widely held belief of Muslims from around the world? I am not questioning the “beauty” of Islam, but the “perfect” aspect of this comment.

    Question #2: Can the “fi-sabeelillah” aspect of Zakat donations include organizations or individuals that directly or indirectly fund, support, or participate in violent jihad?

  32. Avatar

    Islam Blog

    February 28, 2011 at 12:28 AM


    It’s a very big article, I do not have any intermet connection and thats why I am browsing this website from a cyber cafe, can I make a PDF of this post for reading this full post on my home?


  33. Avatar


    February 25, 2012 at 5:48 PM

    I think this is an important issue that needs to be discussed in detail especially by those Involved in public finance. In a society of Muslims Zakat would play a vital role in public finance as it would be one of the main sources of income of the state. I do not see why we tend to narrow the meaning of fi sabillah to just a physical fight. In my humble view any public expenditure that leads to the betterment of the society would fall into this category. Perhaps we need to consider the fact that social fulfillment leads to harmony and help people accept a given system of governance. Hence, if Zakat plays the vital role of fulfilling the needs of the society then it gives Muslims a reason to hold on to their belief while compelling the non-Muslims to think about Islam as a comprehensive solution to life both in this world and the hereafter.

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Shaykh Hamza Yusuf And The Question of Rebellion In The Islamic Tradition

Dr Usaama al-Azami



Sepoy rebellion, Shaykh Hamza
Which deeds are most beloved to Allah?

Alhamdulillah, by the blessings of Allah (swt) and readers like yourself, MuslimMatters has been an independent platform for our best thought leaders to educate us in our faith and catalyze change through powerful, necessary conversations. Since our humble beginnings as a basic wordpress blog in 2007, our content has remained free.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support us with a monthly donation of $10 per month, or even as little as $1. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

In recent years, Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, a notable Islamic scholar from North America, has gained global prominence by supporting efforts by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to deal with the fallout of the Arab revolutions. The UAE is a Middle Eastern autocracy that has been the chief strategist behind quelling the Arab revolutionary aspiration for accountable government in the region. Shaykh Hamza views himself as helping prevent the region from falling into chaos by supporting one of its influential autocratic states. However, more recently, he has become embroiled in another controversy because of comments he made regarding the Syrian revolution in 2016 that surfaced online earlier this week and for which he has since apologised. I will not discuss these comments directly in this article, but the present piece does have a bearing on the issue of revolution as it addresses the question of how Islamic scholars have traditionally responded to tyranny. Thus, in what follows, I somewhat narrowly focus on another recent recording of Shaykh Hamza that has been published by a third party in the past couple of weeks entitled: “Hamza Yusuf’s response to the criticism for working with Trump administration”. While it was published online at the end of August 2019, the short clip may, in fact, predate the Trump controversy, as it only addresses the more general charge that Shaykh Hamza is supportive of tyrannical governments.

Thus, despite its title, the primary focus of the recording is what the Islamic tradition purportedly says about the duty of Muslims to render virtually unconditional obedience to even the most tyrannical of rulers. In what follows, I argue that Shaykh Hamza’s contention that the Islamic tradition has uniformly called for rendering obedience to tyrannical rule—a contention that he has been repeating for many years—is inaccurate. Indeed, it is so demonstrably inaccurate that one wonders how a scholar as learned as Shaykh Hamza can portray it as the mainstream interpretation of the Islamic tradition rather than as representing a particularly selective reading of fourteen hundred years of scholarship. Rather than rest on this claim, I will attempt to demonstrate this in what follows. (Note: this article was sent to Shaykh Hamza for comment at the beginning of this month, but he has not replied in time for publication.)

Opposing all government vs opposing a government

Shaykh Hamza argues that “the Islamic tradition” demands that one render virtually absolute obedience to one’s rulers. He bases this assertion on a number of grounds, each of which I will address in turn. Firstly, he argues that Islam requires government, because the opposite of having a government would be a state of chaos. This is, however, to mischaracterise the arguments of the majority of mainstream scholars in Islamic history down to the present who, following explicit Qur’anic and Prophetic teachings, opposed supporting tyrannical rulers. None of these scholars ever advocated the removal of government altogether. They only opposed tyranny. For some reason that is difficult to account for, Shaykh Hamza does not, in addressing the arguments of his interlocutors, make the straightforward distinction between opposing tyranny, and opposing the existence of any government at all.

A complex tradition

Rather than support these tyrannical governments, the Islamic tradition provides a variety of responses to how one should oppose such governments, ranging from the more quietist—opposing them only in one’s heart—to the more activist—opposing them through armed rebellion. The majority of later scholars, including masters such as al-Ghazzali (d. 505/1111), Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali (d. 795/1393), and Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani (d. 852/1449) appear to have fallen somewhere between these two poles, advocating rebellion only in limited circumstances, and mostly advising a vocally critical posture towards tyranny. Of course, some early scholars, such as the sanctified member of the Prophetic Household, Sayyiduna Husayn (d. 61/680) had engaged in armed opposition to the tyranny of the Umayyads resulting in his martyrdom. Similarly, the Companion ‘Abdullah b. Zubayr (d. 73/692), grandson of Abu Bakr (d. 13/634), and son of al-Zubayr b. al-‘Awwam (d. 36/656), two of the Ten Companions Promised Paradise, had established a Caliphate based in Makkah that militarily tried to unseat the Umayyad Caliphal counter-claimant.

However, the model of outright military rebellion adopted by these illustrious scholars was generally relinquished in later centuries in favour of other forms of resisting tyranny. This notwithstanding, I will try to show that the principle of vocally resisting tyranny has always remained at the heart of the Islamic tradition contrary to the contentions of Shaykh Hamza. Indeed, I argue that the suggestion that Shaykh Hamza’s work with the UAE, an especially oppressive regime in the Arab world, is somehow backed by the Islamic tradition can only be read as a mischaracterisation of this tradition. He only explicitly cites two scholars from Islamic history to support his contention, namely Shaykhs Ahmad Zarruq (d. 899/1493) and Abu Bakr al-Turtushi (d. 520/1126), both of whom were notable Maliki scholars from the Islamic West. Two scholars of the same legal school, from roughly the same relatively peripheral geographic region, living roughly four hundred years apart, cannot fairly be used to represent the swathe of Islamic views to be found over fourteen hundred years in lands as far-flung as India to the east, Russia to the north, and southern Africa to the south.

What does the tradition actually say?

Let me briefly illustrate the diversity of opinion on this issue within the Islamic tradition by citing several more prominent and more influential figures from the same tradition alongside their very different stances on the issue of how one ought to respond to tyrannical rulers. Most of the Four Imams are in fact reported to have supported rebellion (khuruj) which is, by definition, armed. A good summary of their positions is found in the excellent study in Arabic by Shaykh ‘Abdullah al-Dumayji, who is himself opposed to rebellion, but who notes that outright rebellion against tyrannical rule was in fact encouraged by Abu Hanifa (d. 150/767) and Malik (d. 179/795), and is narrated as one of the legal positions adopted by al-Shafi‘i (d. 204/820) and Ahmad b. Hanbal (d. 241/855). As these scholars’ legal ideas developed and matured into schools of thought, many later adherents also maintained similar positions to those attributed to the founders of these schools. To avoid suggesting that armed rebellion against tyrants was the dominant position of the later Islamic tradition, let me preface this section with a note from Holberg Prize-winning Islamic historian, Michael Cook, who notes in his magisterial study of the doctrine of commanding right and forbidding wrong that “in the face of the delinquency of the ruler, there is a clear mainstream position [in the Islamic tradition]: rebuke is endorsed while [armed] rebellion is rejected.”

But there were also clearly plenty of outliers, or more qualified endorsements of rebellion against tyrants, as well as the frequent disavowal of the obligation to render them any obedience. Thus for the Malikis, one can find Qadi Abu Bakr b. al-‘Arabi (d. 543/1148) who asserts that advocating rebellion against tyrants is the main position of the madhhab; similarly among later Hanafis, one finds Qadi Abu Bakr al-Jassas (d. 370/981); for the Hanbalis, one may cite the positions of the prolific scholars Imam Ibn ‘Aqil (d. 513/1119), Ibn al-Jawzi (d. 597/1201), and in a more qualified sense, Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali. Among later Shafi‘is, I have found less explicit discussions of rebellion in my limited search, but a prominent Shafi‘i like the influential exegete and theologian al-Fakhr al-Razi (d. 606/1210) makes explicit, contrary to Shaykh Hamza’s claims, that not only is obeying rulers not an obligation, in fact “most of the time it is prohibited, since they command to nothing but tyranny.” This is similar in ways to the stance of other great Shafi‘is such as al-hafiz Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani who notes concerning tyrannical rulers (umara’ al-jawr) that the ulama state that “if it is possible to depose them without fitna and oppression, it is an obligation to do so. Otherwise, it is obligatory to be patient.” It is worth noting that the normative influence of such a statement cited by Ibn Hajar transcends the Shafi‘i school given that it is made in his influential commentary on Sahih al-Bukhari. Once again, contrary to the assertions of Shaykh Hamza, there is nothing to suggest that any of the illustrious scholars who supported rebellion against tyrannical rulers was advocating the anarchist removal of all government. Rather they were explicitly advocating the replacement of a tyrant with a just ruler where this was possible.

Al-Ghazzali on confronting tyrants

A final example may be taken from the writing of Imam al-Ghazzali, an exceptionally influential scholar in the Islamic tradition who Shaykh Hamza particularly admires. On al-Ghazzali, who is generally opposed to rebellion but not other forms of opposition to tyranny, I would like to once again cite the historian Michael Cook. In his previously cited work, after an extensive discussion of al-Ghazzali’s articulation of the doctrine of commanding right and forbidding wrong, Cook concludes (p. 456):

As we have seen, his views on this subject are marked by a certain flirtation with radicalism. In this Ghazzālī may have owed something to his teacher Juwaynī, and he may also have been reacting to the Ḥanafī chauvinism of the Seljūq rulers of his day. The duty, of course, extends to everyone, not just rulers and scholars. More remarkably, he is prepared to allow individual subjects to have recourse to weapons where necessary, and even to sanction the formation of armed bands to implement the duty without the permission of the ruler. And while there is no question of countenancing rebellion, Ghazzālī is no accommodationist: he displays great enthusiasm for men who take their lives in their hands and rebuke unjust rulers in harsh and uncompromising language.

Most of the material Cook bases his discussion upon is taken from al-Ghazzali’s magnum opus, The Revival of the Religious Sciences. Such works once again demonstrate that the Islamic tradition, or great Sufi masters and their masterworks, cannot be the basis for the supportive attitude towards tyrannical rule on the part of a minority of modern scholars.

Modern discontinuities and their high stakes

But modern times give rise to certain changes that also merit our attention. In modern times, new technologies of governance, such as democracy, have gone some way to dealing with challenges such as the management of the transition of power without social breakdown and the loss of life, as well as other forms of accountability that are not possible in absolute autocracies. For their part, absolute autocracies have had their tyrannical dimensions amplified with Orwellian technologies that invade private spaces and facilitate barbaric forms of torture and inhumane degradation on a scale that was likely unimaginable to premodern scholars. The stakes of a scholar’s decision of whether to support autocracy or democracy could not be higher.

Modern scholars like Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi (b. 1345/1926), someone who Shaykh Hamza’s own mentor, Shaykh Abdullah b. Bayyah (b. 1353f./1935) considered a teacher until fairly recently, has advocated for an Islamic conception of democracy as a possible means to deal with the problem of tyranny that plagues much of the Muslim world. He is hardly the only scholar to do so. And in contrast with some of the scholars of the past who advocated armed rebellion in response to tyranny, most contemporary scholars supporting the Arab revolutions have argued for peaceful political change wherever possible. They have advocated for peaceful protest in opposition to tyranny. Where this devolved into violence in places like Libya, Syria, and Yemen, this was generally because of the disproportionately violent responses of regimes to peaceful protests.

Shaykh Hamza on the nature of government

For Shaykh Hamza, the fault here appears to lie with the peaceful protestors for provoking these governments to crush them. Such a conception of the dynamics of protest appears to assume that the autocratic governmental response to this is a natural law akin to cause and effect. The logic would seem to be: if one peacefully calls for reform and one is murdered in cold blood by a tyrannical government, then one has only oneself to blame. Governments, according to this viewpoint, have no choice but to be murderous and tyrannical. But in an age in which nearly half of the world’s governments are democracies, however flawed at times, why not aspire to greater accountability and less violent forms of governance than outright military dictatorship?

Rather than ask this question, Shaykh Hamza Yusuf appears to be willing to defend autocracy no matter what they do on the grounds that government, in principle, is what is at stake. Indeed, in defending government as necessary and a blessing, he rhetorically challenges his critics to “ask the people of Libya whether government is a blessing; ask the people of Yemen whether government is a blessing; ask the people of Syria whether government is a blessing?” The tragic irony of such statements is that these countries have, in part, been destroyed because of the interventions of a government, one for which Shaykh Hamza serves as an official, namely the UAE. This government has one of the most aggressive foreign policies in the region and has been instrumental in the failure of representative governments and the survival of tyrannical regimes throughout the Middle East.

Where do we go from here?

In summary, Shaykh Hamza’s critics are not concerned that he is “supporting governments,” rather they are concerned that for the last few years, he has found himself supporting bad government and effectively opposing the potential for good government in a region that is desperately in need of it. And while he may view himself as, in fact, supporting stability in the region by supporting the UAE, such a view is difficult if not impossible to reconcile with the evidence. Given his working relationship with the UAE government, perhaps Shaykh Hamza could use his position to remind the UAE of the blessing of government in an effort to stop them from destroying the governments in the region through proxy wars that result in death on an epic scale. If he is unable to do this, then the most honourable thing to do under such circumstances would be to withdraw from such political affiliations and use all of his influence and abilities to call for genuine accountability in the region in the same way that he is currently using his influence and abilities to provide cover, even if unwittingly, for the UAE’s oppression.

And Allah knows best.

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Can Women Attend The Burial Of The Deceased?

A short survey on what leading scholars and the four schools of law (madhhabs) have to say on the issue

Dr Usaama al-Azami



Quran at graveyard, woman attend burial
Which deeds are most beloved to Allah?

Alhamdulillah, by the blessings of Allah (swt) and readers like yourself, MuslimMatters has been an independent platform for our best thought leaders to educate us in our faith and catalyze change through powerful, necessary conversations. Since our humble beginnings as a basic wordpress blog in 2007, our content has remained free.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support us with a monthly donation of $10 per month, or even as little as $1. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

A few weeks ago, my brother passed away, may Allah have mercy on his soul. By Allah’s grace, his funeral was well-attended by many friends, relatives, and students of his, including a number of women. In this context, someone asked me about the Sharia’s guidance regarding women attending the burial of the deceased, and in what follows I consider what leading scholars and the four schools of law (madhhabs) have to say on the issue. The short survey below is by no means exhaustive, something that will need to be left for a much longer piece, but I hope it can be considered representative for the purposes of a general readership. 

This is not a fatwa, but rather a brief outline of what past scholars have argued to be the case with some suggestions as to how this might be understood in modern times. Finally, I should note that this is a discussion about accompanying the deceased to their final resting place (ittiba‘/tashyi‘ al-jinaza) after the conducting of funeral prayers (salat al-janaza). Accompanying the deceased on the part of women is considered more contentious than simply attending the funeral prayer, so in general, jurists who permit such accompaniment would allow for attending the prayer, while jurists who do not permit accompaniment of the deceased may be more reluctant to permit prayer. Whatever the specific cases may be, I do not go into this discussion below.

Key positions and evidence

In brief, I have been able to discern three general positions regarding women accompanying the deceased until they are buried: 1. A clear majority of scholars indicate that women are permitted to attend the burial of the deceased, but it is generally discouraged (makruh). 2. Some scholars permitted elderly women’s attendance of the burial unconditionally. 3. Others prohibited all women’s attendance unconditionally.

Overall, it is clear that most schools have permitted women’s attendance of burial, with most of these scholars discouraging it for reasons we shall consider below. The notion that women should not attend the burial of the deceased will thus clearly be shown to be a minority position in the tradition, past and present. Being a minority position does not mean it cannot be practiced, as we will consider in due course. The evidence from the Sunnah is the main legal basis for the ruling, and I shall now consider the most authentic hadiths on the matter.

The general rule for legal commands is that they apply to both genders equally. Accordingly, in a hadith narrated by Bukhari and Muslim, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) strongly encouraged attending the burial of the deceased. That the ruling for women would be one of discouragement (karaha) rather than of encouragement (istihbab) would thus necessarily arise from countervailing evidence. This may be found in another hadith narrated by both of the earlier authorities. This short hadith is worth quoting in full: 

(‏متفق عليه‏) قالت أم عطية: نهينا عن اتباع الجنائز، ولم يعزم علينا

In translation, this reads: Umm ‘Atiyya said, “We were prohibited from following the funeral procession, but it was not insisted upon.”

Interpreting the evidence

The Sharia’s ruling on this matter hinges on how this hadith is understood. On this point, scholars of various schools have adopted a range of positions as outlined earlier. But on the specifics of how the wording of the hadith should be understood, it is worth considering the reading of one of the towering figures of hadith studies, Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani (d. 852/1449). In his authoritative commentary on Sahih al-Bukhari entitled Fath al-Bari, he glosses the phrase in the aforementioned hadith “but it was not insisted upon” as meaning, “the prohibition was not insisted upon.” He adds: “It is as though she is saying: ‘it was discouraged for us to follow the funeral procession, without it being prohibited.’”

The hadith has, however, been interpreted in various ways by the schools of law. A useful summary of these interpretations may be found in encyclopedic works of fiqh written in recent decades. In his al-Fiqh al-Islami wa-Adillatuhu, the prolific Syrian scholar Wahba al-Zuhayli (d. 1436/2015) notes (on p. 518) that the majority of jurists consider women’s joining the funeral procession to be mildly discouraged (makruh tanzihi) on the basis of the aforementioned hadith of Umm ‘Atiyya. However, he adds, the Hanafis have historically considered it prohibitively discouraged (makruh tahrimi) on the basis of another hadith in which the Prophet reportedly told a group of women who were awaiting a funeral procession, “Return with sins and without reward.”

Al-Zuhayli inclines towards this ruling despite noting in a footnote that the hadith he has just mentioned is weak (da‘if) in its attribution to the Prophet. However, he also adds that the Malikis permitted elderly women to attend the burial of the deceased unconditionally, and also young women from whom no fitna was feared. What constitutes fitna is not generally specified in these discussions and perhaps needs further study, but one contemporary Hanafi defines it as “intermingling with the opposite sex,” and thus suggests that where there is no such intermingling between members of the opposite sex, it is permissible for young women to attend funerals and burials.

Another valuable encyclopedic source for learning about the juristic rulings of various schools and individual scholars is the important 45-volume al-Mawsu‘a al-Fiqhiyya compiled by a team of scholars and published by the Kuwaiti Ministry of Endowments a quarter of a century ago. In its section on this issue, it notes that the Hanafis prohibitively discourage women’s attendance of the funeral procession, the Shafi‘is mildly discourage it, the Malikis permit it where there is no fear of fitna, and the Hanbalis mildly discourage it. The reasoning behind these positions may be found in the Arabic original, and ought to be made available in English by Muslims in the West investing in translating such voluminous works into English. 

From the above, we may gather that of the four schools, only the pre-modern Hanafis prohibit women’s attendance of funeral processions. I have already indicated one example of a modern Hanafi who moves closer to the position of the less restrictive schools in this issue, but it is worth highlighting another. Shaykh Nur al-Din ‘Itr (b. 1355/1937), one of the greatest Hanafi hadith experts alive today, in his commentary on the hadith of Umm ‘Atiyya writes that the report indicates that women’s attending a funeral procession is only mildly discouraged (makruh tanzihi). Additionally, in a footnote, he criticises a contemporary who interprets the hadith as indicating prohibition and then proceeds to cite the less restrictive Maliki position with apparent approval.

The fiqh of modernity

In none of the above am I necessarily arguing that one of these positions is stronger than the other. I present these so that people may be familiar with the range of opinions on the matter in the Islamic tradition. However, this range also indicates the existence of legitimate difference of opinion that should prevent holders of one position from criticising those who follow one of the legitimate alternatives with the unfounded charge that they are not following the Qur’an and Sunna.

Furthermore, there are often interesting assumptions embedded in the premodern juristic tradition which modern Muslims find themselves out of step with, such as the assumption that women should generally stay at home. This is clearly an expectation in some of the fiqh literature, and in modern times, we sometimes find that this results in incoherent legal positions being advocated in Muslim communities. We find, for example, that in much of the premodern fiqh literature, Hanafis prohibit women from attending the mosque for fear of fitna, while we live in times in which women frequently work outside the home. As one of my teachers in fiqh, the Oxford-based Hanafi jurist Shaykh Mohammad Akram Nadwi, once remarked in class, is it not absurd for a scholar to prohibit women from attending the mosque for fear of fitna while none of these scholars would prohibit a woman from going to a mall/shopping centre?

This underlines the need for balanced fiqh that is suited to our times, one that allows both men and women to participate in spiritually elevated activities, such as going to the mosque and attending funerals while observing the appropriate Islamic decorum, so that the rest of their lives may be inspired by such actions. The answer to modernity’s generalised spiritual malaise is not the shutting out of opportunities for spiritual growth, but rather its opposite. This will only come about when Muslims, individually and communally, invest more of their energy in reflecting on how they can faithfully live according to the Qur’an and Sunna in contexts very different to those in which the ulama of past centuries resided.

And God knows best.

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Reflections on Muslim Approaches to the Abortion Debate: The Problem of Narrow Conceptualization

American Muslims must go beyond simplistic and emotionally-charged approaches to the abortion question.

Shaykh Salman Younas



Which deeds are most beloved to Allah?

Alhamdulillah, by the blessings of Allah (swt) and readers like yourself, MuslimMatters has been an independent platform for our best thought leaders to educate us in our faith and catalyze change through powerful, necessary conversations. Since our humble beginnings as a basic wordpress blog in 2007, our content has remained free.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support us with a monthly donation of $10 per month, or even as little as $1. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

“Islam is the golden mean between all ethical extremes’ is what certain Muslims would assert… This moral assumption isn’t far from the truth.”

Shaykh Abdullah Hamid Ali in A Word on Muslim Attitudes Toward Abortion

“The golden mean is kind of a summit, and it is a struggle to get there. The ego does not want balance because you have to think and make sacrifices.”

Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad in Paradigms of Leadership (6)

A few months ago, Governor Kay Ivey signed into law House Bill 134, or the Human Life Protection Act, which prohibited all abortion in the state of Alabama except in cases where it was deemed necessary to prevent a serious health risk to the mother. The bill additionally criminalized abortion or any attempt to carry it out in situations deemed non-necessary. A motion to exempt rape and incest victims from this law was defeated in the Alabama state senate, which give the state the (dubious) distinction of possessing one of the most restrictive abortion laws in America. This move by Alabama to place extreme restrictions on abortion followed a spate of similar legislative moves by other states, such as Georgia, Kentucky, and Mississippi.

This escalation in anti-abortion legislation occasioned intense debate within the Muslim community.[1] Muslims who self-identify as progressives chanted the familiar mantra of “my body, my choice” to affirm a notion of personal rights and bodily autonomy in defending a woman’s right to choose. The ideological underpinnings of this view are extremely problematic from a theological perspective, and the practical policies arising from it that sanction even late-term abortions contravene the near-consensus position of classical jurists and is rightly seen as an assault on inviolable human life. For this reason, this essay will not pay any particular attention to this view.

Several people pushed back against this permissive attitude by arguing that abortion is essentially prohibited in Islam in all but the direst of situations, such as when the life of the mother is at genuine risk. This opinion has a sound precedent in the legal tradition and is the mainstream view of some of the legal schools, but it has often been presented in a manner that fails to acknowledge the normative pluralism that exists on the matter in the shariah and rather perniciously presents these alternative opinions as ‘liberal’ or ‘progressive’. Similarly, those who favour the more lenient view found in other legal schools are often seen characterizing the stricter opinion as ‘right-wing’ or reflective of the Christianization of Islamic law. Despite having legal precedent on their side, both groups engaged the abortion question in a manner that was rather superficial and fundamentally problematic.


Did Jurists Only Permit Abortion in ‘Dire’ Circumstances?

I will begin this essay by offering a corrective to the mistaken notion that classical jurists only permitted abortions in cases of necessity, an assertion that has become very common in current Muslim discourse on abortion in America. One need not look much further than the Ḥanafī school to realize that this claim is incorrect. Though there are opinions within the school that only permit abortion before 120 days with the existence of a valid excuse, the view of several early leading authorities was that abortion was unconditionally permissible (mubāḥ) before this period and/or prior to the physical form and features of a fetus becoming clearly discernible.[2] In his encyclopaedic work al-Muḥīṭ al-Burhānī, Burhān al-Dīn ibn Māza (d. 616/1219) presents two main opinions on abortion in the school:

(i) It is permitted “as long as some physical human features are not clearly discernible because if these features are not discernible, the fetus is not a child (walad)” as per Fatāwā Ahl al-Samarqand. Some scholars asserted that this occurs at 120 days,[3] while others stated that this assertion, though incorrect, indicated that by discernibility jurists intended ensoulment.[4]

(ii) It is disliked because once conception occurs, the natural prognostication is life and so the fetus is granted this ruling at the moment of conception itself. This was the view of ʿAlī ibn Mūsā al-Qummī (d. 305/917-18).[5]

The first opinion of unconditional permissibility was not a solitary one in the school. It was forwarded by many of the foremost Ḥanafī authorities, such as Ḥussām al-Dīn ibn Māza (d. 536/1141),[6] Raḍī al-Dīn al-Sarakhsī (d. 575/1175),[7] Jamāl al-Dīn al-Ghaznawī (d. 593/1196),[8] Zayn al-Dīn al-Rāzī (d. 666/1267),[9] ʿAbd Allāh ibn Maḥmūd al-Mawṣilī (d. 683/1284),[10] Fakhr al-Dīn al-Zaylaʿī (d. 743/1343),[11] Qiwām al-Dīn al-Kākī (749/1348),[12] Jalāl al-Dīn al-Khawārizmī (d. 767/1365),[13] Kamāl ibn al-Humām (d. 861/1457),[14] Muḥyī al-Dīn Jawīzāda (d. 954/1547),[15] Muḥammad ibn ʿAlī al-Ḥaṣkafī (d. 1088/1677),[16] and several others.[17] The reasoning underlying this view was that prior to a specific period (whether defined by days or by fetal development), a fetus is not a ‘child’ or ‘person’.[18] Therefore, no ruling is attached to it at this stage.[19]

Another opinion in the school, and one that has gained wide acceptance amongst contemporary Ḥanafī jurists, argued that abortion prior to 120 days was disliked and sinful unless carried out with a valid excuse. This view was most famously expressed by Fakhr al-Dīn Qāḍīkhān (d. 592/1196) in his Fatāwā and subsequently supported by the likes of Ibn Wahbān (d. 768/1367),[20] Ibn Nujaym (d. 970/1563),[21] and Ibn ʿĀbidīn (d. 1252/1836).[22] These sources, however, do not define or fully flesh out what constitutes an excuse, sufficing mainly with a single example as illustrative of a case where abortion would be permitted, namely when a woman ceases to produce milk on account of pregnancy and her husband is unable to provide an alternative source of sustenance for their child and fears his or her perishing. Cases of rape, incest, adultery, and other possible excuses are not discussed by most of these authors, and it is not clear whether they would have deemed these valid excuses or not.[23]

The Ḥanafī school, therefore, had three main opinions on the issue: unconditionally permissible prior to a specific time period; unconditionally disliked; and conditionally permissible prior to a specific time period. Of the three, the first view seems to have been the dominant one in the school and held by multiple authorities in virtually every century. The view of conditional permissibility was also a strong one and notably adopted by several later jurists. It is also the view that has gained currency among modern Ḥanafī scholars who are generally not seen forwarding the view of unconditional permissibility.

Some Contemporary Views on Abortion

A wide range of opinions is also found in the discourse of contemporary jurists. Shaykh Muṣṭafā Zarqā (d. 1999) presented a gradated scheme where abortion prior to 40 days was permitted without a “severe excuse”, which included “undertaking necessary travel where pregnancy and giving birth would prove a hindrance, such as for education or for work that requires a couple to move.”[24] He also considered financial strain arising from a child as a valid excuse during this limited time period. According to him, the threshold for a valid excuse would become higher as the pregnancy proceeded beyond 40 days.

Muftī Maḥmūd Ḥasan Gangohī (d. 1996), one of the foremost scholars of the Deobandī school, permitted abortions when conception occurred out of wedlock (zinā).[25]

Muftī Salmān Manṣurpūrī states emphatically that the basis is that abortion is impermissible unless there is a valid excuse before 120 days, such as the life of the mother being at risk, serious consequences to her general health, an actual inability to bear pregnancy, clear harm or danger to one’s current children, and adultery, but not fear of economic difficulty nor the decision not to have children.[26]

In Fatāwā Dār al-ʿUlūm Zakariyya, Muftī Raḍā’ al-Ḥaqq states that a fetus diagnosed by medical professionals with an incurable and serious disorder that will prove to be an extreme burden on the child and its family is permitted to abort prior to 120 days as per the Islamic Fiqh Academy in Mecca.[27] Elsewhere, he divides pregnancy into three stages. The first stage is when the general form and facial features of the fetus take shape but prior to the formation of its limbs. At this stage, it is permitted to carry out on abortion with a valid and established excuse, such as the fetus suffering from a “dangerous hereditary disease”, “physical abnormality/deformity”, the life of the mother being at risk, or reasonably-established fear of the mother’s “physical and mental health” being impacted. The second stage is when the limbs of the fetus are clearly formed and discernible, and the third stage is after 120 days. In both these stages, the respected Muftī rules that abortion is not permitted except in cases of necessity, such as saving the life of the mother.[28] The permission to abort the fetus is also extended to cases of rape.[29]

Mawlānā Zubayr Aḥmad Qāsmī (d. 2019), a founding member of the Islamic Fiqh Academy, India, argued that the permission to carry out an abortion before ensoulment (even after discernibility) is not simply restricted to cases of necessity (ḍarūra) but includes cases of need (ḥāja), which broadly includes “any situation that entails bodily or psychological harm for the parents or the child and is a cause for continual distress.”[30] Examples of valid excuses include “danger to the general health, mental health, or life of the mother”, pregnancy resulting from rape or fornication (so long as it is not someone who has engaged in the latter habitually), the strong possibility that the child will be born with serious physical abnormalities or defects as determined by a medical professional, and the genuine inability of the parents to raise and maintain/sustain more than one child without it negatively impacting their current children.[31]

Mawlānā Khālid Sayf Allāh Raḥmānī states, “Essentially, abortion is impermissible in Islam, and there is no time period in which it is acceptable to abort a fetus. However, this impermissibly has degrees. In the first scenario (i.e. post-ensoulment) it is a grievous sin and categorically prohibited; in the second scenario (i.e. pre-ensoulment but post-discernment of limbs) it is lesser than this; in the third scenario (i.e. before features/limbs become discernible) it is relatively less severe than the previous two.” He then goes on to rule that abortion is not permitted for the following reasons: not desiring more children; conception out of wedlock; or being physically or mentally unable to care for a child, since others may be able to do so. Excuses that permit abortion before ensoulment include a doctor concluding with reasonable-surety that the child will suffer from a dangerous hereditary disease, physical abnormalities, and deformities, and the life of the mother is at serious risk.[32]

There are stricter views than some of those mentioned above, especially from non-Ḥanafī scholars. Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, taking the Mālikī school as his basis,[33] has argued that abortion before 40 days is prohibited “with rare exception.”[34] This view of impermissibility is also held by Shaykh Yūsuf al-Qaraḍāwī although he allows for a dispensation to be given to victims of rape.[35]

Shaykh ʿAbd Allāh ibn Bayya also deems abortion at all stages of pregnancy to be sinful to varying degrees except in situations where the life of the mother is at risk.[36]

Shaykh Wahba al-Zuhaylī (d. 2015) ruled that abortion was impermissible from the moment of conception “except in cases of necessity” such as being afflicted with cancer or an incurable disease.[37]

Framing the Problem: Basic Levels of Engaging the Law

The discussion so far makes one point quite evident: there are an array of opinions on the issue of abortion ranging from the extremely restrictive to the more permissive. Though ‘difference of opinion’ (ikhtilāf) has generally been viewed as one of the outstanding and unique features of Islamic legal discourse, it is precisely the range of views that exist in the tradition on abortion that partly plays a role in the problematic approaches to the issue seen amongst certain Muslims. It is not so much the differences themselves that are the issue, but the manner in which particular opinions are selected by individuals who subsequently propagate them to the community as binding doctrine.

To better understand this, one can broadly identify four basic levels of engagement with religious law applicable to Muslim leaders and scholars in the West in the context of the abortion issue,[38] which often overlap with one another: (a) personal, (b) academic, (c) fatwā, public preaching, and irshād, and (d) political.

(a) The Personal

The ‘personal’ level concerns an individual’s own practice where he or she can follow the legal school (or trusted scholar) of their choosing or decide on the rulings that govern their lives when possessing the ability to do so. This level does not directly concern anyone but the individual himself.

(b) The Academic

The ‘academic’ level in the current context refers primarily to a process of study, reflection and deduction, and research to arrive at a personal conclusion regarding some aspect of the law that is undertaken in conversation with a guild of peers and not the general population. Such academic activity is often theoretical, abstract, and conceptual, and even when it addresses more practical concerns, it constitutes a general articulation of an opinion, not an individualized responsa, that others engage with as members of a scholarly class. This scholarly class includes the ʿulamā’ and others whose input is relevant to a particular issue.

(c) Fatwā, Irshād, and Public Preaching

The realm of fatwā is exclusively for a qualified scholar. Here, the scholar enters most directly into the practical implementation of a legal ruling. Fatwā does involve an academic process, and it is often conveyed by a jurist as a universal ruling in accordance with his academic conclusions. However, the practice of fatwā is commonly understood as an answer directed by a qualified jurisconsult (muftī) to an individual (mustaftī) who requires guidance on a particular religious matter. The jurisconsult providing said individual with an answer is now tasked with translating the abstract, theoretical, and academic into a practical solution, which requires taking into account the circumstances of the questioner.[39]

The delicateness of this matter has led some scholars to compare the relationship of a jurisconsult with the questioner to that of a doctor and his patient.[40] Indeed, the answer that a scholar provides a questioner may not be fully in accordance with the theoretical and abstract conclusions the former has reached in an academic setting, it may disregard an opinion that the jurisconsult otherwise deems a valid legal interpretation because its application is not appropriate in the specific case at hand, it may be strict or lenient, in accordance with the legal school of the scholar or a dispensation from another, and it may be inapplicable to anyone but the questioner. Further, a fatwā is non-binding (unlike a judicial court ruling) and does not negate other valid opinions or peoples’ choice to follow them. This is important to note in contexts where a fatwā is issued to communicate a universal rule.

In many cases, the answer that is provided to a person is not presented as a fatwā but merely a form of religious advice or irshād. Though there is presumably a difference between these two concepts, they are sometimes indistinguishable in a Western context. Irshād has a seemingly less formal quality to it, and it can be offered by a non-scholar though the prerequisite of sound knowledge still remains. Like fatwā, the proffering of religious advice and guidance can assume a more public form and have an academic flavour to it. The articles written by non-scholars on the blogosphere, lectures and speeches delivered by speakers, and religious counsel extended to others falls within this general category of irshād. For those in leadership roles, the public nature of their work means that high standards are required even here when it comes to addressing and conveying religious issues of a complex or delicate nature.

(d) The Political

If the issuance of a fatwā and providing religious advice is a delicate matter, the process of forming, advocating for, and/or enacting laws on the political level is far greater in this regard. Such laws are made in the context of human societies and affect large swaths of people who objectively vary in their circumstances – individual, social, religious/ideological, and economic. Unlike a fatwā or irshād, once a law has been settled upon by the state, it becomes binding upon an entire population and any reasonable alternative ceases to hold validity in practice at least until the law is reviewed and amended. Exemptions are only tolerated when affirmed by the law itself. Further, law interacts with and influences society in complex ways. This is true for all forms of law, not just ones that are state-enacted.

A core question in legal philosophy is what the law ought to be or what makes a law good. The ‘good’ is a moral concept and might be described as one that is essentially contested in so far as people differ over its conception and the criteria for its application. Some emphasize the consequences of a rule (consequentialism), while others favour a deontological moral ethic or one that is virtue-centred. Each of these families of theories subsume within them further particular theories that differ with one another. There are also considerations of fairness, equity, distributive justice, enforceability, practicality, and/or efficiency that those evaluating the law might assign significant value to. These notions of morality and the good influence policy-making and legal systems.

How do Muslims approach this issue? Islam is viewed by Muslims as a comprehensive moral and philosophical system where the moral value of an act is determined by the divine will. It is the commands and prohibitions of God that render an action good or evil, and under this divine command theory, revelation is the primary source for moral knowledge.[41] However, this legal notion of moral value is not as straightforward as it sounds since a significant number of legal rulings are probabilistic in nature and differed upon. Consequently, the moral value attached to these rulings lack a decisive character, which engenders a plurality of moral outlooks. This pluralism is an indelible feature of the tradition itself creating a paradox whereby Muslims can affirm that good and evil are known through revelation, while recognizing that differences concerning moral judgments are part of the moral vision of revelation itself.

This raises important questions regarding the political approach a minority Muslim population in the West might take regarding the abortion issue. Should Muslims seek to accommodate a pluralism justified by tradition and avoid commandeering the state to coercively impose laws that negate the right of people to follow an acceptable and mainstream Islamic legal opinion?

Should Muslims simply support restrictions on abortion practices that contravene the consensus position of Islam? Or should Muslims seek to promote an opinion, or some combination of opinions, among those found in the legal schools on the basis of a reasonably defined criteria that assesses the issue holistically from the perspective of the theological, legal, ethical, and the public good?

Indeed, there are many classical opinions whose validity scholars did not accept, others that were prima facie valid but not put into practice, and classical jurists themselves erected systems to keep a check on legal chaos resulting from people being allowed to arbitrarily follow any opinion with a basis in precedent. Yet, Muslim societies always tolerated differences of opinion, and for most of its history, people living in these societies had recourse to various scholars from multiple legal schools. Unlike the centralizing and homogenizing tendencies of the modern nation-state, Islamic law was centrifugal and operated on a grass-roots level to produce self-governing societies. In many periods, this diversity was even found in judicial settings where courts were established for each of the legal schools. This was extended to non-Muslim populations living under Islamic governments as well who were accorded a high degree of autonomy. While this might strike some as a thing of the past, a nostalgic yearning for a bygone era, there are many lessons the community can draw from the attitudes and approaches of past societies.

In a political context, the notion of the ‘public good’ (maṣlaha) is particularly relevant given the scope and consequences of legislative actions, but it is a notoriously complicated one to pin down and, like the ‘good’, might be described as essentially contested. Even the basic question “who will this law or opinion impact, and in what manner” takes one into a complex maze of considerations and perspectives that demand careful attention and thought. It is hard to imagine any informed answer to this question without the input of a variety of experts. While Muslims are not quite in a position to craft legislation, influential religious activists and scholars who advocate for specific legislation and/or discourse on it to the wider community should keep the above points in made for any advocacy that proceeds in the name of religion is one that must be approached with care and seriousness.


Identifying the Problem: Beyond Personal Preferences, Emotions, and Selective Madhhab Picking

With this framework in mind, it is now possible to identify a major problem in current American Muslim discourse on abortion, which is that it does not meaningfully engage any of the levels described above save the personal. The distinction between these various engagement contexts is hardly recognized. Most public discourse on abortion promotes one traditional opinion over another based not on a rigorous standard that is grounded in revelation, theology, legal theory, ethics, the public good, and a keen awareness of human nature, the individual, political, social, and ideological currents and factors, historical trends, and the challenges of the contemporary world, but seemingly on personal opinions based on little more than a reaction to a perceived ideological threat, individual proclivities, or pure taqlīd. The mainstream opinions of the legal school simply act as tools of legitimation for one’s personal view.

The Problem of Imposition

On a personal level, this is not a problem per se, and people have their reasons to select certain views as opposed to others and even vociferously promote them in some limited capacity to friends, colleagues, or family over a session of tea or a short-lived social media feud with random individuals. However, for those in positions of leadership and influence, this cannot be the basis for a fatwā, general communal irshād, or public advocacy impacting millions of people. The imposition of the personal onto these areas in this manner is both ill-advised and potentially harmful. Even the conclusions reached by a scholar on the basis of sound academic research may be put aside in these contexts, i.e. fatwā and political activism/legislation, when the scholar feels that competing considerations and interests demand so. Thus, a scholar may believe in a reading of revelation that is extremely restrictive on abortion but recognizing the probabilistic nature of his interpretation and the variety of individual circumstances, the ethical norms of ease and warding off hardship, profound societal and economic changes, complex and strained community and family structures, the advice of other experts, and the general public good chooses not to advocate for this view as a matter of policy to be implemented as law or provided to a specific individual as a legal edict.

The Sunna Imperative for Leniency, The Lack of Depth of the Lenient

It is often forgotten that a peculiar response by some classical jurists to the degenerated state of society was not in toughening up legal prescriptions but relaxing them: “Our time is not one of avoiding the doubtful (shubuhāt), meaning if a person only avoids the impermissible, it is sufficient.”[42] This was an ethical consideration influencing the judgment of the jurist who saw it not as compromising religion nor a dereliction of his duty but part of the guidance of the sunna itself where facilitating the affairs of people was deemed important.[43] As Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad states commenting on the instruction of al-Birgivī (d. 981/1573) not to give the laity the more difficult opinion on an issue validly differed upon:

This, of course, is a Prophetic counsel. The ego doesn’t always like giving people easy options because we assume it is because of our laziness or some kind of liberal Islam. For al-Birgivī it is taqwā to give the ordinary Muslims the easier interpretations… but nowadays, we tend to assume that the narrower you are, the less compromises you make, the more the West will be angry and, therefore, the better the Muslim you must be.[44]

The Prophetic counsel that Shaykh Abdal Hakim refers to is known to many: “Make things easy and do not make them difficult.” This attitude of facilitating matters for people, granting them leniency, and not repulsing them with harshness and difficulty is a part of Islam. As Imām al-Shāṭibī stated, the removal of hardship (rafʿ al-ḥaraj) is a decisively established foundational principle in the shariah.[45] From this foundational principle arises some of the most important legal and ethical principles in the Islamic tradition, such as hardship necessitates ease, there is no harm nor reciprocating harm, harm is lifted, the lesser of two evils, taking into account the consequences of an act, custom as a source of law, and more. In fact, some jurists opined that when the evidence for an issue was contradictory or conflicting, the more lenient opinion was to be given preference due to the generality of revelatory texts affirming ease in the shariah.[46]

But there is a problem. Many of those who promote and relay the lenient Ḥanafī opinion of unconditional permissibility approach it in a manner that lacks substance. On the academic plane, even basic questions regarding this position are not addressed or understood, much less entertained. Take, for example, the difference between the statement of Ḥanafī jurists that abortion is impermissible after the physical features of the fetus become discernible and the statement of others in the school that this impermissibility comes into effect after a 120-day period. Are these the same? Who in the madhhab held these positions? Is there a clear preference for one or the other? How was discernibility understood? What features needed to be discernible? Did discernibility refer to what is normally observable by humans or to what is discernible by modern embryogenesis? How have contemporary jurists addressed this issue? Then there is the matter that one is hard-pressed to find a single contemporary Ḥanafī jurist who favours the view of unconditional permissibility. What does this reveal about this opinion and the possibility of critically evaluating past opinions that fall within the scope of differences of opinion?[47]

These questions largely fall within the parameters of an intra-school discussion and do not even begin to address the broader social and political considerations mentioned earlier.

Here, the sheer fact that there were over six-hundred thousand abortions reported in America in 2015, the latest year for which statistics exist from the CDC, should be alarming to people and cannot be callously dismissed.

Though the overwhelming majority of these occurred well within a 120-day period (≤13 weeks’ gestation, which is measured from the first day of the woman’s last menstruation and not from the day of conception), most of those who obtained these abortions were unmarried women who did so in non-dire circumstances.[48] The culture of sexual freedom out of which the abortion movement emerged and its ideological grounding in notions of bodily autonomy and personal choice cannot be ignored in this discussion.[49] Nor can the devaluing of family and motherhood,[50] the practice of female foeticide, the increasingly materialistic outlook of society, and its mechanistic view of human beings.

Additionally, some Muslims seem largely oblivious to the fact that abortion politics link to many other issues that have little do with abortion itself, such as assisted suicide or end-of-life care. In a famous district court case on assisted suicide, Compassion in Dying vs. Washington, it was Planned Parenthood vs. Casey that was cited as an important precedent to rule that a ban on physician-aided suicide was unconstitutional.[51] Clearly, it is not sufficient to make simplistic appeals to leniency to justify promulgating an opinion that leads to such wider consequences. Abortion, in other words, cannot be treated as a ‘stand-alone’ issue with little or no relation to a broader philosophical outlook that downplays a sanctity of life ethic.[52]

Thou Shalt Make No Exceptions, But Should We?

Many of the issues highlighted in the previous paragraph raise serious theological and ethical concerns for Muslims and should push them to reflect on the type of society they wish to create and sustain in America. Is the abortion movement today in line with the moral vision envisioned for society by God and His Prophet (blessings upon him)? Clearly not. But while the seriousness of this crisis cannot be understated, a core question, at least in the context of this debate, is often missed: if it is misplaced and dangerous to forward the most lenient opinion in this context, in what way does the strictest possible position on abortion where exemptions are not even extended to victims of rape and incest ameliorate the current situation? Or to put it differently, how do these social and ideological problems make the strictest possible opinion on abortion the most appropriate one to adopt for the individual and society?

The answer to this question is not usually satisfactorily provided. Generally, such a view returns to a genuine moral belief one holds regarding a fetus being an inviolable living person. This moral belief may be grounded in a preferred reading of revelation, simple adherence to a specific legal school, a reaction to a perceived ideological battle framed in the language of pro-life vs. pro-choice, personal inclinations, or, as is usually the case, some combination of these factors. But the no-exception view is at least initially a personal view one holds, which is then forwarded as a broad religious and political solution. One may wonder why this is an issue. After all, why shouldn’t a person forward what he or she personally believes to be the Islamic ruling on an issue?

Certainly, this is expected especially when it concerns human life, but as stated earlier, it is problematic when that personal view, which it should be noted in this case lacks a decisive legal/moral character from a religious perspective, moves into the realm of fatwā and public advocacy without taking into account the many considerations required to make an informed decision in these areas. This is in addition to the fact that those who hold this view feel perfectly within their rights to tell others to set aside their personal moral views permitting abortions precisely in view to a broader context.

Here, it is worth sharing the response given by Shaykh Yūsuf al-Qaraḍāwī when he was asked about abortions for Bosnian Muslim women who were raped during war. After mentioning that his basic view is that abortions are impermissible “from the moment of conception” and “this is what we give preference to”, he states:

However, in cases of need, there is no harm in taking one of the two alternative views (i.e. permissibility before 40 or 120 days), and whenever the excuse is more severe, the dispensation will be more established and manifest, and whenever it is before the first 40 days, it is closer to dispensation.

We know that there are jurists who are very strict on this matter and do not permit abortion even a day after conception… but what is most preferable is a middle path between those who are expansive in granting permission and those who are excessively strict in prohibition.[53]

This is, of course, how knowledge and fiqh operate. They do not merely float around in the world of the abstract but address a complex world of real people, which in the context of fatwā, irshād, and politics often requires setting aside individual feelings and personal adherences to particular legal opinions: “Know that this ikhtilāf [between scholars] may be a reason to provide facilitation and ease, which is one of the higher aims of the shariah affirmed by the unequivocal text of the Qur’an and sunna.”[54]

Too often, many of those who vociferously promote the strictest view on abortion address the issue on the level of the abstract and then transfer it to the practical realm with little further thought. Take, for example, the argument that Muslims should oppose the legalization of abortion because a majority of abortions are due to economic anxiety or a feeling of unreadiness, which in turn return to the increasingly materialistic outlook of society and crumbling family structures.

This materialistic outlook and erosion of the family must be remedied. However, no justification is ever furnished as to why a no-exception abortion stance is the best method to address this social problem, and there is almost no focus on the individual. It never crosses the mind of the proponents of this view that it is the very fact that society is materialistic to its core and the family lay in ruins that causes economic anxiety and feelings of unreadiness to be felt much more palpably and intensely by young, unmarried, pregnant women.

Web MD

By largely confining their analysis and presentation of the issue to ‘materialism’, ‘decay of family’, ‘feminism’, etc., proponents of the restrictive view (inadvertently) divert attention away from the lived realities of people. This leads to neglecting the more concrete conditions and circumstances people are subject to, such as poverty, unemployment, drug abuse, poor health, psychological issues, sexual abuse, incarceration, social inequality and stratification, and the varying abilities of people to cope with life pressures and struggles. This focus away from the individual produces an unsympathetic, even antagonistic attitude, where the solution favoured is uncompromising and rigid. The ethical is erroneously conflated with strictness even though it might entail leniency in recognition of individual and social conditions.

To take one example where these broader considerations come into play, take the issue of pregnancy resulting from rape. Though statistics regarding rape are inconsistent because the crime is so underreported, it is safe to say that hundreds of thousands of women are victims of rape every year with tens of thousands of these rapes resulting in pregnancy (approximately five percent).[55] A significantly high number of rape victims are under eighteen with many actually being under the age of twelve.[56] Victims of rape spend many weeks simply recovering from physical injuries and managing mental health symptoms, which can remain with them for years. Beyond the physical and psychological symptoms common after rape, if a rape victim decides to carry her child to term, she is forced to go through a lengthy and exhausting process to prosecute her rapist in a criminal court and contest custody in a family or dependency court.

The political and legislative context makes matters even more difficult. Not every state has legislation in place allowing for parental rights to be terminated for a rapist. Most states that do have such legislation in place require a criminal conviction of rape beyond a reasonable doubt, which is the highest standard of evidence possible, with several also requiring a civil court conviction by clear and convincing evidence that conception resulted from rape.

Some states require the rape to be of the first-degree, which is varyingly defined.[57] Generally, the chances of obtaining a conviction of first-degree rape are slim. Not only do rape crimes go unreported in a majority of cases,[58] there are numerous hurdles in the criminal justice system that disadvantage rape victims at every stage of the process, such as ‘rape myths’ that influence police, investigative officers, jurors, and judges.[59]

In most cases, a rapist will plead guilty to lesser crimes in order to avoid prolonged jail time, which would potentially allow him to gain parental rights in states requiring first or second-degree rape convictions for such rights to be terminated.[60] In view of this, one can state that the suggestion by some Muslims that abortion should not be permitted even in such contexts because a woman can simply put her child up for adoption is seriously misinformed and potentially harmful.[61] Is the correct solution in this context to support the most restrictive view on abortion?

Conclusion: Refining our Conceptualization & The Bigger Picture

American Muslims must go beyond simplistic and emotionally-charged approaches to the abortion question. This issue, like many others, cannot be properly addressed through a narrowly defined law, politics, or clash of ideologies narrative, especially at the level of individual fatwā, communal irshād, or political activism, advocacy, and legislation.

Nor can the wider community be shown direction on this issue, or have a course charted for them, merely on the basis of narrowly-informed personal opinions and proclivities neatly presented in the classical opinions of our choosing. Our approach must address the issue through real fiqh, namely deep understanding, where the question of abortion is tackled with an academic rigor that is cognizant of lived realities and is grounded in the ethics and guidance of revelation.

Today in America, a crisis we face is of an activism not based in, or guided by, real scholarship, and a scholarship that is wanting, uninspiring, and disconnected from those it seeks to guide. The first step scholars must take on this issue is to gain a proper and thorough conceptualization of the issue. No sound and effective conclusion can arise without such a conceptualization. This is true for any issue we find ourselves dealing with.

On the level of addressing the broader community, this is not an issue to be decided by an individual but a collectivity of minds coming together to exchange ideas and opinions. The laity should understand that American Muslims will not reach an agreement on this matter, and nor should we demand that they do. People will continue to forward different opinions and solutions. The progression of time will likely result in a plurality of acceptable views emerging within our context. This should not be met with confusion.

Muslims once lived in an age of ambiguity where opinions were confidently held but differences embraced. Today, we live in an age of anxiety, people with confused identities, threatened by modernity and various ideologies, so much so that “the only form of Islam [we] can regard as legitimate is a totalitarian, monolithic one” as Shaykh Abdal Hakim once remarked. Let us avoid this, allow for different perspectives, but demand higher standards from those who seek to guide us and speak on our behalf especially when the matter veers into a space that impacts people and communities in a very real way.

Finally, and most importantly, Muslims must break out of the mindset that social problems can simply be legislated away or solved through polemical battles waged on the internet against pernicious ideologies. The political and social are intimately intertwined, but it is all too common to see many Muslims neglecting the latter while imagining that the activities they are engaged in to address the political are actually meaningful and impactful. In fact, it is often detached from the real world, a mouthing of clichés and idle moralizing on social media platforms that elicits rage and fails to yield actual solutions on the ground. If television altered the meaning of being informed as Neil Postmann asserted, social media has undoubtedly taken things a step further by altering the meaning of ‘taking action’.

The erosion of family, the decay of morality, the rise of materialistic outlooks, the loss of higher purpose and meaning, and the devaluing of life must be addressed more directly through education, the creation of a real community, the nurturing and training of leaders who embody knowledge and wisdom, and the erection of structures that support peoples’ faith and anchor them in times of crisis. It should not be forgotten that these non-legal institutions play an important role in shaping behaviours and promoting social mores.

Muslims should learn from the many conservative Christian activists who, contrary to popular stereotypes, demonstrate an acute awareness of the struggles and anguish that many women contemplating abortion experience. As the prominent pro-life activist Frederica Mathewes-Green states:

This issue gets presented as if it’s a tug of war between the woman and the baby. We see them as mortal enemies, locked in a fight to the death. But that’s a strange idea, isn’t it? It must be the first time in history when mothers and their own children have been assumed to be at war. We’re supposed to picture the child attacking her, trying to destroy her hopes and plans, and picture the woman grateful for the abortion, since it rescued her from the clutches of her child.

If you were in charge of a nature preserve and you noticed that the pregnant female mammals were trying to miscarry their pregnancies, eating poisonous plants or injuring themselves, what would you do? Would you think of it as a battle between the pregnant female and her unborn and find ways to help those pregnant animals miscarry? No, of course not. You would immediately think, “Something must be really wrong in this environment.” Something is creating intolerable stress, so much so that animals would rather destroy their own offspring than bring them into the world. You would strive to identify and correct whatever factors were causing this stress in the animals.[62]

It is this realization, which arises from a perspective that looks beyond abortion as simply an ideological battle between ‘the feminist’ or ‘the liberal’, that generates a sense of empathy within many conservative Christian activists who are then motivated to assist women in concrete ways.

Take the example of Embrace Grace, a Texas-based non-profit organization, which describes its purpose as “providing emotional, practical and spiritual support for single, young women and their families who find themselves in an unintended pregnancy” and to “empower churches across the nation to be a safe and non-judging place for the girls to run to when they find out they are pregnant, instead of the last place they are welcomed because of shame and guilt.” Christians have set up hundreds of pregnancy care centers across the United States, which, despite issues of concern, provide resources and services to pregnant women. Various churches have set up support groups for single mothers and mothers-to-be, while the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) has set out to confront systemic injustices in society that lead women to seek out abortions, such as poverty.[63]

Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad said reaching the golden mean requires that we think and make sacrifices. It is time for leaders, thinkers, and scholars in our community to begin thinking more deeply and contemplatively about the issue of abortion in its various contexts, and it is time for our community to sacrifice their time, wealth, and energies in providing concrete solutions and remedies that demonstrate a true concern for both the unborn and the women who carry them.

God alone is our sufficiency.

[1] References to Muslims in this article should be primarily understood as referring to people in positions of leadership and influence. In this article, I discuss some of the technical aspects surrounding the legal debate over abortion, but my intent is to simply provide a brief overview of this aspect of the debate in order for a general audience to appreciate some of the complexities of the topic.

[2] Though the term fetus technically refers to the unborn after 8 weeks of gestation, many use it to refer to the unborn throughout the period of pregnancy. I will be using the latter convention for the sake of simplicity.

[3] al-Ḥasan ibn Manṣūr al-Farghānī, Fatāwā Qāḍīkhān, on the margins of Fatāwā Hindiyya (Bulāq: al-Maṭbaʿa al-Amīriyya, 1310 A.H.), 3:410.

[4] Ibn Māza himself framed the ruling in terms of ensoulment. He stated that jurists differed on the permissibility of abortion pre-ensoulment with some permitting it. He then cited the text of Fatāwā Ahl al-Samarqand, which only speaks of discernibility. Qāḍīkhān mentioned how the discernibility of physical features and limbs was “determined” by some as occurring at 120 days. Kamāl ibn al-Humām and others correctly pointed out that observation proves otherwise but proceed to state that the connection made between discernibility and ensoulment shows that scholars intended the latter when expressing the former. Ibn ʿĀbidīn, however, questioned this. I agree for several reasons: firstly, many jurists make no reference to 120 days or ensoulment when presenting this ruling; secondly, discernibility and ensoulment are clearly different stages during the pregnancy, a fact that was known to classical scholars who sometimes applied different terms to these two stages, such as taṣwīr/ṣūra and takhlīq/khalq; and, thirdly, most Ḥanafī rulings premised on determining personhood rely on the discernibility criterion. Given this, there are two possible views in the Ḥanafī school regarding the period before which abortion is permissible: before some of the physical features of the fetus become discernible or prior to ensoulment at 120 days. Additionally, there was discussion in the Ḥanafī school on the features that were to be given consideration when assessing whether a fetus was a ‘person’. These discussions are highly significant in modern debates for if the criterion for personhood is discerning a particular physical form on the basis of observation, this potentially broadens the scope for modern Ḥanafī understandings of the concept of personhood and how/when it is established. I hope to address these issues in a separate paper. See Maḥmūd ibn Aḥmad ibn Māza, al-Muḥīṭ al-Burhānī fī al-fiqh al-Nuʿmānī, ed. Nuʿaym Ashraf Nūr Aḥmad (Karachi: Idārat al-Qur’ān wa’l-ʿUlūm al-Islāmiyya, 2004), 8:83-84; al-Farghānī, Fatāwā Qāḍīkhān, 3:410; Muḥammad Amīn ibn ʿĀbidīn, Radd al-Muḥtār (Būlāq: al-Maṭbaʿa al-Kubrā al-Amīriyya, 1323 A.H.), 1:201.

[5] Ibn Māza, al-Muḥīṭ al-Burhānī, 8:83-84. It is worth noting that al-Qummī did not say fetus is a life at conception but that it has begun a process that concludes with life.

[6] Ḥussām al-Dīn ʿUmar ibn Māza, al-Fatāwā al-Kubrā (Istanbul: Rāghib Bāshā #619), ff. 96b.

[7] Raḍī al-Dīn al-Sarakhsī, al-Wajīz (Istanbul: Koprulu #684), ff. 116a.

[8] Jamāl al-Dīn Aḥmad ibn Muḥammad, al-Ḥāwī al-Qudsī, ed. Ṣāliḥ al-ʿAlī (Lebanon: Dār al-Nawādir, 2011), 2:326.

[9] Zayn al-Dīn Muḥammad ibn Abī Bakr al-Rāzī, Tuḥfat al-Mulūk, ed. Ṣalāḥ Abū al-Ḥajj (Amman: Dār al-Fārūq, 2006), 290.

[10] ʿAbd Allāh ibn Maḥmūd al-Mawṣilī, al-Ikthiyār, ed. Shuʿayb Arna’ūṭ (Damascus: Dār al-Risāla 2009), 4:153.

[11] ʿUthmān ibn ʿAlī al-Zaylaʿī, Tabyīn al-Ḥaqā’iq Sharḥ Kanz al-Daqā’iq (Multan: Maktaba Imdādiyya, n.d.), 2:166.

[12] Amīr Muḥammad ibn Muḥammad al-Kākī, Miʿrāj al-Dirāya (Istanbul: Koprulu #619), ff. 395b.

[13] Jalāl al-Dīn ibn Shams al-Dīn al-Khawārizmī, al-Kifāya Sharḥ al-Hidāya, on the margins of Fatḥ al-Qadīr (Cairo: Maṭbaʻat al-Maymaniyya, 1901; reprint Dār al-Kutub al-ʿIlmiyya, n.d.), 3:373.

[14] Kamāl ibn al-Humām, Fatḥ al-Qadīr (Cairo: Maṭbaʻat al-Maymaniyya, 1901; reprint Dār al-Kutub al-ʿIlmiyya, n.d.), 3:372-73.

[15] Muḥyī al-Dīn ibn Ilyās Jawīzāda, al-Īthār li-Ḥall al-Mukhtār, ed. Ilyās Qablān (Istanbul: Maktabat al-Irshād, 2016), 4:98.

[16] Muḥammad ibn ʿAlī al-Ḥaṣkafī, al-Durr al-Mukhtār (Lebanon: Dār al-Kutub al-ʿIlmiyya, 2002) 197.

[17] I am usually disinclined to list names of jurists in this manner when relating who held a specific legal opinion. One reason for this is that it creates the mistaken illusion that every one of these jurists came to this conclusion on the basis of their individual ijtihād when it may in fact simply be an exercise in taqlīd. Thus, one finds that most of these authors merely relate verbatim those who preceded them without any additional comments. However, it still indicates that these jurists accepted the ruling in question as the position of the school without qualms.

[18] When does a fetus qualify as a ‘person’ or a ‘human’? What are the necessary and sufficient features for personhood? Does personhood correspond to the beginning of life? If not, when does life begin? How is this connected to ensoulment? When does ensoulment occur? When does a fetus have moral standing? What is the nature of this moral standing over the course of a pregnancy? These are central questions in classical and modern debates on abortion. Sometimes, one finds that ‘person’, ‘human’, ‘life’, and related terms, are not properly defined, which is a problem given that conclusions regarding abortion are often premised on their proper conceptualization. Further, when attempts at proper definition are undertaken, people naturally come to different conclusions. For example, some modern pro-life philosophers argue that ‘persons’ are individuals of a rational nature and a fetus has no capacity for sentience, at least not until mid-gestation. Conception, therefore, cannot mark the beginning of a person. Yet even here, some scholars note that the fetus is a potential person. Therefore, it has some moral value and standing, but others counter with a “person-affecting restriction” that argues that merely potential people possess no moral claims. Some people work under material assumptions regarding the nature of the mind and opine that a moral person must be a ‘self’ and a necessary condition for something to be a self is some form of electrical brain activity. The bioethicist, Baruch Brody (d. 2018), also relied on this criterion of brain waves in his conception of personhood. Jane English presents a range of features or ‘factors’ that she views as being found in typical conceptions of a person: biological, psychological, rationality, social, and legal. There are religious conservative thinkers who define being human on the basis of genetics. John T. Noonan stated, “The positive argument for conception as the decisive moment of humanization is that at conception the new being receives the genetic code. It is this genetic information which determines his characteristics, which is the biological carrier of the possibility of human wisdom, which makes him a self-evolving being. A being with a human genetic code is man.” Many religious conservatives also maintain that there is no moment during pregnancy that can be identified as conferring moral significance on the unborn, i.e. it possesses moral standing before birth and after. Thus, brain waves, sentience, quickening, viability, physical human form, etc., are given no consideration as points at which moral standing is affirmed for the fetus and prior to which it is denied. For important early works on this topic see John T. Noonan, The Morality of Abortion: Legal and Historical Perspectives (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1970); Jane English, “Abortion and the Concept of a Person,” Canadian Journal of Philosophy 5, no. 2 (1975): 233-43; Baruch Brody, Abortion and the Sanctity of Life (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1975); Stephen Buckle, “Arguing From Potential,” Bioethics 2, no. 3 (1988): 226–253; Mary Anne Warren, Moral Status: Obligations to Persons and Other Living Things (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000); Michael Tooley, Abortion and Infanticide (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983); Richard Warner, “Abortion: The Ontological and Moral Status of the Unborn,” Social Theory and Practice 3 (1974). The literature on this is vast.

Classical jurists of Islam were guided fundamentally by revelation in their answers to these questions, but they still had substantial disagreements. Some identified a fetus as a person from the moment of conception, others as potentially so, yet others as a person only when its physical features became discernible, while some seemingly assigned no status to it at any fetal stage prior to ensoulment. When it came to ensoulment, the majority said this occurred at 120 days, while others said 40 days. Some equated ensoulment with personhood, while others distinguished between them. There were other conceptual frames utilized in discussions concerning the fetus as well, such as dhimma and ḥuqūq, being ‘animate’ or ‘inanimate’, a constituent part (juz’) of the mother or a separate self (nafs), and so forth. This occasioned a degree of ambiguity regarding the moral standing of the fetus at various stages of pregnancy. For example, Imām al-Ghazālī prohibited abortion at all stages of pregnancy but stated that the sin of doing so is less severe in earlier stages than later ones. Some jurists deemed it permissible to undergo an abortion due to a minor excuse in the first 40 days, requiring a more serious excuse from that point up until 120 days, and impermissible in all but the direst of situations following ensoulment. The fetus, therefore, seems to have a diminished moral standing at the beginning of the pregnancy and full moral standing post-ensoulment even in the eyes of jurists who affirmed personhood from conception. This is also reflected in rulings concerning financial compensation (ghurra) and expiation (kaffāra) owed by someone who causes a woman to miscarry. Meanwhile, many Ḥanafīs seemed to have assigned no moral status to the fetus before it had a discernible human form. The moral standing of the fetus was also influenced by the manner of conception with some jurists suggesting that a fetus conceived out of wedlock was not similar to a fetus that was conceived through a religiously sanctioned relationship. Besides revelation, observation played an important role in these determinations, as did the specific legal traditions jurists operated within. Today, science and embryology have guided the conclusions of many scholars, which has raised questions regarding the epistemological and interpretive value of the former. There is arguably a need to go beyond limited legal conceptions of personhood and life and engage in deeper theological and philosophical discussions on this matter.

[19] This ruling was consistent with several others in the school regarding whether a miscarried fetus is named, shrouded, and washed, whether a miscarriage concludes the waiting-period of a pregnant woman, and even whether a fetus is resurrected in the next-life. These rulings, among others, returned to whether the miscarried or stillborn fetus was actually considered a child/person, which in turn related to the formation and discernibility of its physical features. I believe this strengthens the view that discernibility of physical features was the main criterion for personhood in the Ḥanafī school. For some of these rulings see Muḥammad ibn al-Ḥasan al-Shaybānī, al-Aṣl, ed. Mehmet Boynūkālin (Beirut: Dār Ibn Ḥazm, 2012), 1:296, 4:415, 481, 5:144. This interconnectedness of legal doctrine, or its organic unity, is expressed in a famous aphorism, “The law is a seamless web.” These discussions are also present in the other three legal schools.

[20] Abū Muḥammad ʿAbd al-Wahhāb ibn Wahbān, ʿIqd al-Qalā’id wa-Qayd al-Sharā’id, ed. ʿAbd al-Jalīl al-ʿAṭā (Damascus: Maktabat al-Fajr, 2000), 195.

[21] Zayn al-Dīn ibn Nujaym, al-Baḥr al-Rā’iq (Cairo: al-Maṭbaʿa al-ʿIlmiyya, 1893; reprint by H.M. Saeed, n.d.), 3:215.

[22] Muḥammad Amīn ibn ʿĀbidīn, Radd al-Muḥtār (Būlāq: al-Maṭbaʿa al-Kubrā al-Amīriyya, 1323 A.H.), 2:388-89.

[23] The Hidāya mentions that a child conceived out of wedlock is still muḥtaram and so cannot be aborted. Imām ʿAbd al-Ḥayy al-Lakhnawī mentions that this only applies to a fetus that has reached the stage of post-discernibility. He then goes onto state that the fatwā position in his time is that it would be permissible pre-discernibility and post-discernibility. See Burhān al-Dīn al-Marghinānī, al-Hidāya Sharḥ Bidāyat al-Mubtadī maʿa Sharḥ al-ʿAllāma ʿAbd al-Ḥayy al-Lakhnawī, ed. Naʿīm Ashraf Nūr Aḥmad (Karachi: Idārat al-Qur’ān wa’l-ʿUlūm al-Islāmiyya, 1417 A.H.), 3:25.

[24] Muṣṭafā Zarqā, Fatāwā (Damascus: Dār al-Qalam, 2010), 285.

[25] Maḥmūd Ḥasan Gangohī, Fatāwā Maḥmūdiyya (Karachi: Idārat al-Fārūq, 2009), 18:321.

[26] Sayyid Muḥammad Salmān Manṣurpūrī, Kitāb al-Nawāzil (Muradabad: al-Markaz al-ʿIlmī lil-Nashr wa’l-Taḥqīq, 2016), 16:248-81.

[27] Muftī Raḍā’ al-Ḥaqq, Fatāwā Dār al-ʿUlūm Zakariyya (Karachi: Zam Zam Publishers, 2015), 6:756.

[28] Ibid., 6:755.

[29] Ibid., 6:763.

[30] Zubayr Aḥmad Qāsmī, “Khāndānī Manṣūbabandī,” in Jadīd Fiqhī Mabāḥith (Karachi: Idārat al-Qur’ān, 2009), 1:332.

[31] Ibid., 1:331-32.

[32] Khālid Sayf Allāh Raḥmānī, Kitāb al-Fatāwā (Karachi: Zam Zam Publishers, 2008), 6:218-226

[33] The relied-upon position in the Mālikī school prohibits abortions almost entirely even if done prior to ensoulment, which Mālikī jurists opine as occurring at 40 days.


[35] Yūsuf al-Qaraḍāwī, Fatāwa al-Muʿaṣara (Cairo: Dār al-Qalam, 2005), 2:541-50.

[36] ʿAbd Allāh ibn Bayya, Ṣināʿ at al-Fatwā wa-Fiqh al-Aqaliyyāt (UAE: Masār lil-Tibāʿa wa’l-Nashr, 2018), 577-78.

[37] Wahba al-Zuhaylī, al-Fiqh al-Islāmī wa-Adillatuhu (Damascus: Dār al-Fikr, 1985), 3:557.

[38] The delineation and explanation I have presented here should not be seen as a comprehensive exposition of the concepts being discussed. Rather, it should be seen as a basic explanatory framework to understand the problem I wish to highlight in the next section. I have intentionally left out many details surrounding fatwā, siyāsa, taqlīd, etc., for the sake of the average reader.

[39] Muḥammad Kamāl al-Dīn al-Rāshidī, al-Miṣbāḥ fī Rasm al-Muftī wa-Manāhij al-Iftā’ (Deoband: Ittiḥād Book Depot, n.d.), 61-62 in the Takmila; Ibn Bayya, Ṣināʿ at al-Fatwā, 28-29, 230.

[40] al-Rāshidī, al-Miṣbāḥ, 28.

[41] ʿ Abd al-Malik ibn Yūsuf al-Juwaynī, Kitāb al-Irshād ilā Qawāṭiʿ al-Adilla fī Uṣūl al-Iʿtiqād, ed. Aḥmad ʿAbd al-Raḥīm (Cairo: Maktabat al-Thaqāfa al-Dīniyya, 2009), 210-11. This is admittedly a simplification of a very complex debate on the role of reason, its meaning and limitations, its relationship to revelation, deontological vs teleological theories of Islamic normative ethics, and more. These were issues of fundamental debate between the great theological schools, namely the Ashʿarīs, Māturīdis, and the Muʿtazila.

[42] Ibrāhīm ibn Ḥusayn Bīrīzāda, ʿUmdat Dhawī al-Baṣā’ir li-Ḥall Muhimmāt al-Ashbāh wa’l-Naẓā’ir, ed. Ilyās Qablān & Ṣafwat Kawsa (Istanbul: Maktabat al-Rushd, 2016), 2:415.

[43] This is also seen in the tradition of rukhas, or dispensations, and ḥiyal, or legal stratagems/loopholes.

[44] From his Paradigms of Leadership (6) lecture series.

[45] Ibrāhīm ibn Mūsā al-Shāṭibī, al-Muwāfaqāt, ed. Mashhūr Ḥasan (Cairo: Dār Ibn ʿ Affān, 1997), 1:520.

[46] For reference to this see Ibn Bayya, Ṣināʿ at al-Fatwā, 273-75.

[47] One might state that these people are simply engaging in a form of taqlid. This is fair, but there is still a level of diligence and rigor expected from anyone who wishes to publicly opine on a matter of such nature.


[49] Take the following statements made by Judith Thomson in her well-known defence of abortion, which continues to be loudly echoed by the pro-choice movement: “My own view is that if a human being has any just, prior claim to anything at all, he has a just, prior claim to his own body” and “No doubt the mother has a right to decide what shall happen in and to her body.” The violinist analogy she forwards, among others, expresses this point quite clearly. See Judith Jarvis Thomson, “A Defense of Abortion,” Philosophy & Public Affairs 1, no. 1 (1971): 48, 54.

[50] The sociologist Kristen Luker noted over three decades ago that pro-life and pro-choice activists were mainly divided due to their differing views on the meaning of sexuality, motherhood, and the role of women. See Kristin Luker, Abortion and the Politics of Motherhood. Berkeley (California: University of California Press, 1984), especially Ch 7.

[51] Compassion in Dying v. Washington, 850 F. Supp. 1454 (WD Wash. 1994). This was unanimously overturned by the Supreme Court in 1997.

[52] The phrase ‘sanctity-of-life’ has featured prominently in theological, political, and biomedical ethical discussions related to abortion and end-of-life questions. Some members of congress, for example, have tried repeatedly to introduce a ‘Sanctity-of-Life Act’ to protect the unborn. However, the origins, meaning, and application of the phrase remain unclear and heavily debated. For a basic overview see the edited volume Sanctity of Life and Human Dignity (Boston: Springer Dordrecht, 1996).

[53] al-Qaraḍāwī, Fatāwa al-Muʿaṣara, 2:609-13.

[54] Ibn Bayya, Ṣināʿ at al-Fatwā, 273.

[55] The Federal House Bill 1257 that passed in 2015 as the Rape Survivor Child Custody Act cites between 25,000 and 32,000 pregnancies from rape annually but this is almost certainly an underestimate.

[56] For details on these and other related statistics see

[57] For detailed information regarding state statutes and provisions on the termination of pregnancy in contexts of children born as a result of sexual assault see

[58] For statistics on this see the Department of Justice Criminal Victimization analysis (revised, 2018) at There are several reasons why women choose not to report such crimes, which include fear of retaliation, shame and guilt, and a belief that police will not be able to help them.

[59] For a brief discussion on existing research around rape myths see Olivia Smith & Tina Skinner, “How Rape Myths Are Used and Challenged in Rape and Sexual Assault Trials,” Social & Legal Studies 26, no. 4 (2017): 442-45.

[60] Rachael Kessler, “Due Process and Legislation Designed to Restrict the Rights of Rapist Fathers,” Northwestern Journal of Law and Social Policy, no. 10, vol 1 (2015): 199-229.

[61] There is a sensitive discussion surrounding the definition of rape in Islamic law specifically as it relates to intimate married partners. I have ignored this issue because it would distract from the main purpose of this article.


[63] There have been initiatives in the Muslim community directed at addressing these pressing issues, such as the work of Dr. Aasim Padela of the University of Chicago and his Initiative on Islam and Medicine, Dr. Rafaqat Rashid and the work of al-Balagh Academy, Dr. Mansur Ali of Cardiff University and his research on bioethics, and several others. This is not to mention the many individuals who have tried to create practical spaces to assist people who may find themselves in difficult life circumstances. While there is much more to do, the efforts of these people should not go unnoticed.

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