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Aqeedah and Fiqh

Misunderstanding Ibn Taimiyyah on the Mawlid

Ali Shehata

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In reading the various seasonal polemics these days on the Mawlid, I have come across those who, of all people, quote Shaykhul Islam Ibn Taimiyyah as a supporter of the Mawlid. They even provide two quotes three pages apart from one of his books, separated conveniently by an ellipses […]. I thought to explore this topic further in a reply which turned into such a beautiful reading that I thought I would share it with you so that maybe more justice could be done to his wise and beautiful words insha’Allah.

Before exploring his words, let us begin with a few important points. The title of the book that was quoted itself says a lot about Ibn Taimiyyah’s position – Iqtidaa’ al-Sirat al-Mustaqeem li Mukhaalafat ashaab al-Jaheem (Following the Straight Path in Differentiating from the Companions of the Hell-Fire). Thus, his book was primarily focused on encouraging Muslims to avoid imitating the ways of the disbelievers. In fact, the very chapter from which the quotes are taken is entitled, “The Chapter on Innovated Festivals of a Seasonal Nature”. In the early part of this chapter he provides us with a very important principle:

إذ الأعياد شريعة من الشرائع ، فيجب فيها الاتباع ، لا الابتداع

“Festivals are acts of a religious nature derived from the Shari’ah, and as such we must have a precedent to follow and not to innovate.”

Moving on to the section that is often only partially quoted, let us now translate it more fully and take some time to discover what else was mentioned in the three pages skipped over by the ellipses […]:

وكذلك ما يحدثه بعض الناس ، إما مضاهاة للنصارى في ميلاد عيسى عليه السلام ، وإما محبة للنبي صلى الله عليه وسلم ، وتعظيمًا . والله قد يثيبهم على هذه المحبة والاجتهاد ، لا على البدعمن اتخاذ مولد النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم عيدًا . مع اختلاف الناس في مولده . فإن هذا لم يفعله السلف ، مع قيام المقتضي له وعدم المانع منه لو كان خيرًا . ولو كان هذا خيرًا محضا ، أو راجحًا لكان السلف رضي الله عنهم أحق به منا ، فإنهم كانوا أشد محبة لرسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم وتعظيمًا له منا ، وهم على الخير أحرص .

“And so is the case with what some people have innovated, either in imitation of the Christians who celebrate the birthday of Jesus (as) or out of love for the Prophet (saas) and in order to exalt him. And it may be that Allah may reward them for this love and for the ijtihaad they made, but not for the innovation of taking the birthday of the Prophet (saas) as a festival; despite the differences regarding his actual birthday. For indeed, this was an act never performed by the earlier generations … had it been good in essence or correct Islamically, then those earlier generations (may Allah be pleased with them) would have more right to such a deed than us, for they had greater love for the Messenger (saas) and exalted him more than we do, and they were more concerned and ardent with performing good deeds than us.”

وإنما كمال محبته وتعظيمه في متابعته وطاعته واتباع أمره ، وإحياء سنته باطنًا وظاهرًا ، ونشر ما بعث به ، والجهاد على ذلك بالقلب واليد واللسان . فإن هذه طريقة السابقين الأولين ، من المهاجرين والأنصار ، والذين اتبعوهم بإحسان . وأكثر هؤلاء الذين تجدهم حراصًا على أمثال هذه البدع ، مع ما لهم من حسن القصد ، والاجتهاد الذين يرجى لهم بهما المثوبة ، تجدهم فاترين في أمر الرسول

“And loving him and exalting him (saas) in truth is through following him, obeying him and adhering to his instructions; by reviving his Sunnah both outwardly and inwardly; by spreading the guidance with which he was sent; and by striving upon all of that with our hearts, hands and tongues. Indeed, this was the way of the foremost among the earlier generations from the Muhajireen and Ansaar and those who followed them with excellence. Whereas the majority of those whom you find enthusiastic to implement such innovations as what we have discussed – despite what they may have of good intentions and ijtihaad, and it is hoped that Allah will reward them for these two (intention and ijtihaad) – yet you generally find them weak and apathetic in regards to adhering to the instructions of the Messenger (saas) …”

وإنما هم بمنزلة من يحلي المصحف ولا يقرأ فيه ، أو يقرأ فيه ولا يتبعه وبمنزلة من يزخرف المسجد ، ولا يصلي فيه ، أو يصلي فيه قليلًا

“Instead, they are like the one who opens the Quran but doesn’t read from it, or if he reads from it, he doesn’t implement it; or like the one who decorates the masjid but doesn’t pray in it, or prays in it rarely …”

تدعو الناس إلى السنة بحسب الإمكان فإذا رأيت من يعمل هذا ولا يتركه إلا إلى شر منه ، فلا تدعو إلى ترك منكر بفعل ما هو أنكر منه ولكن إذا كان في البدعة من الخير ، فعوض عنه من الخير المشروع بحسب الإمكان ، إذ النفوس لا تترك شيئًا إلا بشيء

He then continues by encouraging the reader with two manners in regards to dealing with such innovations, the second of them being:

“to call people to adhere to the Sunnah as best as possible. Hence, if you see someone upon such an innovation (Mawlid), and you suspect that if he leaves it then he will do something worse, then do not forbid an evil that results in a greater evil … but instead, if in any given innovation there is some good, then you should compensate for the evil within it with any legislated good that you can; for indeed the hearts don’t typically abandon something unless it is for something else.”

In case you are trying to make sense of these concepts, an example from Ibn Taimiyyah’s life itself may clarify it greatly insha’Allah. It has been narrated that once Ibn Taimiyyah was walking with his students when they came across some drunken Mongol soldiers. In his time, the Mongolians had invaded the Muslim lands, including Iraq where he was born, and they had decimated these lands with a degree of killing heretofore never seen. From the mercy of Allah though, these invaders came to accept Islam even though this didn’t result in the absolute cessation of their hostilities and atrocities, but it did protect the Muslims to a greater degree alhamdulillah. In any case, Ibn Taimiyyah refrained from censuring these Muslim soldiers and his students asked him why he didn’t forbid the soldiers from the evil (drinking alcohol) that they were openly doing. He answered them with great wisdom by saying that when they are sober they kill Muslims, and this is a far greater evil then their drinking (lesser of two evils).

So, in summary what may seem like Ibn Taimiyyah validating or permitting the celebration of the Mawlid is in theory no different than this example. While there are some observant Muslims who do participate in these celebrations, there is also a large group of people as he observed above, who take this as another excuse for another party. It is well known in many Muslim societies what happens at Mawlids from mixing of the sexes, tabarruj (women coming out displaying their beauty), people neglecting their prayers or partying so late that they sleep through fajr, etc. Again, this is not to say that this is only what happens, but it happens often enough unfortunately.

As regards those who are observant and keen to follow the Sunnah, such people should be presented with the evidences and encouraged to repent – and it should suffice most observant Muslims that celebrating the Mawlid was never a deed that was practiced among the early generations (nor was the concept of celebrating a birthday even to be found among them) and that there is no report in the Quran, hadith or statements of the Companions on this matter whatsoever. As for the less observant group, one has to use wisdom. Is it possible to try to influence these gatherings so as to reduce the mixing and tabarruj and to increase the focus on learning the life of the Prophet (saas) and his Sunnah? What good exists in any particular Mawlid celebration that we can try to build upon so as to diminish the impact of the evil that exists in it? This is the wisdom with which Ibn Taimiyyah approached this matter.

As for the remainder of the text, for completion it will be translated here as well insha’Allah so that one can continue to appreciate Ibn Taimiyyah’s very fair minded approach to the whole issue and to remind those who would censure others to remember their own shortcomings:

وكثير من المنكرين لبدع العبادات والعادات تجدهم مقصرين في فعل السنن من ذلك ، أو الأمر به . ولعل حال كثير منهم يكون أسوأ من حال من يأتي بتلك العبادات المشتملة على نوع من الكراهة . بل الدين هو الأمر بالمعروف والنهي عن المنكر ، ولا قوام لأحدهما إلا بصاحبه ، فلا ينهى عن منكر إلا ويؤمر بمعروف يغني عنه كما يؤمر بعبادة الله سبحانه ، وينهى عن عبادة ما سواه

“And many of those who censure others in regards to innovations either in worship or traditions, you find them deficient in practicing some acts from the Sunnah in these two categories or in encouraging others to do them. And indeed it may even be that their condition is worse than some of those who are practicing these innovations that are tainted with some degree of dislike (makruh). For the religion is to command good and to forbid evil and neither of these two takes precedence over the other. So one should not forbid an evil without commanding a good to take its place in the same way that we call people to the worship of Allah alone after having forbid them from worshipping others beside Him.”

To briefly comment on this beautiful point, we are reminded of the statement of Ibn ‘Abbaas wherein he said,

عن ابن عباس قال ما أتى على الناس عام إلا أحدثوا فيه بدعة وأماتوا فيه سنة حتى تحيا البدع وتموت السنن

“Never will a year come to pass except that its people will invent in it an innovation and kill thereby a Sunnah until the innovation is established and the Sunnah dies off.”

It is not enough to simply forbid someone from a deed, but we should help them to replace what they were upon of innovation or disobedience with something from the Quran and Sunnah thereby reviving the practice of the Prophet (saas) and killing off the evils. Also, we must remember that humility is a great part of righteousness and this entails the assumption that the one to whom we are speaking is better than us. Even though they may have erred and been swept up by a certain innovation or temptation from the evils of the world, it may be that they are more sincere than us and practice more of the Sunnah elsewhere than us. This is why Ibn Taimiyyah humbly hoped that Allah would reward them, for who knows what innovations we may unknowingly be practicing or even worse, if we have some hidden shirk within our hearts. This was among the reasons the Prophet (saas) used to encourage us with the following du’a which he taught to Abu Bakr (ra):

الشرك فيكم أخفى من دبيب النمل وسأدلك على شيء إذا فعلته أذهب عنك صغار الشرك وكباره تقول اللهم إني أعوذ بك أن أشرك بك وأنا أعلم وأستغفرك لما لا أعلم تقولها ثلاث مرات

The Shirk among you is more hidden than the crawling of an ant, but I shall guide you to that which if you do it, will protect you from both minor shirk and the greater type as well; to say three times:

Allahumma innee a’uthu bika an ushrika bika wa ana a’lam wa-astaghfiruka limaa laa a’lam

“O Allah, I seek refuge in You from that I ascribe partners to You knowingly and I seek forgiveness from You for those things which I do not know.” (Sahih – Albaani, Sahih al-Jaami’ as-Sagheer; similar narration in Bukhari’s Adab al-Mufrad)

Back to the translation though:

فتعظيم المولد ، واتخاذه موسمًا ، قد يفعله بعض الناس ، ويكون له فيه أجر عظيم لحسن قصده ، وتعظيمه لرسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم ، كما قدمته لك أنه يحسن من بعض الناس ولهذا قيل للإمام أحمد عن بعض الأمراء : إنه أنفق على مصحف ألف دينار ، أو نحو ذلك فقال : دعهم ، فهذا أفضل ما أنفقوا فيه الذهب ، أو كما قال . مع أن مذهبه أن زخرفة المصاحف مكروهة . … إنما قصده أن هذا العمل فيه مصلحة ، وفيه أيضًا مفسدة كره لأجلها . فهؤلاء إن لم يفعلوا هذا ، وإلا اعتاضوا بفساد لا صلاح فيه ، مثل أن ينفقها في كتاب من كتب الفجور

“So to magnify the birthday of the Prophet (saas) and to take it as a seasonal celebration, as some people might do and it might be that they are rewarded greatly for their good intentions and for their exalting of the Messenger of Allah (saas), for as I have previously mentioned that some among them do so in a good way … and in this regards it has been reported that Imam Ahmad once said about one of the Muslim rulers that had reportedly spent one thousand dinaars or so for a (decorated) copy of the Qur’an, “Leave him be, for that is the best thing which gold can be spent upon”. But it is well known that the math-hab of Imam Ahmad looks upon the decoration of the Qur’an as something disliked (makruh). Yet what the Imam meant by his statement was that this act had some goodness in it and also some defect that we dislike. For if they were prevented from doing this act it may be that they will then turn to another deed which has no goodness in it whatsoever but is instead evil in its entirety like buying immoral books and so forth …”

In conclusion, there is no doubt that the Mawlid celebrations of our era have evolved to some degree from the time of Ibn Taimiyyah, but his principles hold true and we must approach each group, and indeed each innovation we may come across, in a way that is filled with wisdom and the sincere desire to help our Muslim brothers and sisters – whom we are commanded to love, prefer and respect – to achieve that which is over-all better for them as regards their relationship with Allah while at the same time remembering that we may be speaking to those who despite their error may indeed be better than us and more beloved to Allah, and Allah knows best.

Dr. Ali Shehata is the author of Demystifying Islam: Your Guide to the Most Misunderstood Religion of the 21st Century. Dr. Ali is an Emergency and Family Medicine physician currently living in an area of central Florida. He was born in Maryland to parents who had immigrated to the US from Egypt. He has studied Islam mainly through traditional methods among various scholars, du'at and students of knowledge here in the US.

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A Word On Muslim Attitudes Toward Abortion

Dr Abdullah bin Hamid Ali, Guest Contributor

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The Qur’an describes Muslims committed to its mores as “a moderate nation,” and that sense of balance qualifies them to stand as “witnesses over humanity” (Q 2:143). Contemporary Muslims revel in this assertion, especially when it seems that “Islam” proposes a via media solution to a highly polarizing subject as abortion. What currently constitutes “Islam” on a given topic, however, often reflects the personal prerogative apparently offered to the average Muslim by a list of diverse legal perspectives. In other words, the mere fact that multiple legal opinions exist on one or more topics is now taken as license to appropriate any one of them, without any deep ethical reflection on the implications of the opinion, however anomalous it may be.

“Islam is the golden mean between all ethical extremes” is what certain Muslims would assert. So if one extreme bars abortion under all circumstances and the other seeks to allow it throughout the duration of the pregnancy, one would assume that Islam must land somewhere in the middle, both forbidding and allowing abortion in certain circumstances. This moral assumption isn’t far from the truth. However, the mere existence of multiple opinions on a topic does not mean that each opinion has equal validity, nor does it mean that every opinion is valid for one to adopt. Similarly, “Islam” or “Islamic law” cannot be summed up into a simple formula like “majority rules” or “when in doubt about prohibition or allowance, the action is, therefore, merely disliked.”

Legal positivism plagues both religious and secular-minded people. Just as an act does not acquire its moral strength simply because it is legal, morally appropriate opinions are not always codified into law. If it is true that any unjust law is no law at all, where is the injustice and to whom is it being perpetrated against in the debate between pro-lifers and pro-choicers? Is it deemed unjust to prevent a pregnant woman from disposing of an “insignificant lifeless part of her body” that no one other than herself should be able to decide what to do with? Or is one “depriving a helpless growing person” of the opportunity and right to exist after its Creator initiated its journey into the world? Does a law that prevents a woman impregnated by a family member or rapist from an abortion oppress her? Or does such a law protect the life of a vulnerable fetus, who, like other weak members of society, is expected to be protected by the strong? Does it do both or neither? And if one is taking the “life” of this fetus, what proof is there that it is a living creature?

While these are all extremely important questions, this missive is neither intended necessarily to answer them nor to resolve today’s raging political debate. The main goal here is to offer ideas that should be on the minds of Muslims when deciding to join such debates or promoting the idea that their “religion” provides the best solution to social polarization, when by “religion” we mean the opinion of a small minority of scholars in some place and time in Muslim history.

Islamic law is very sophisticated; the legislative process is not facile, nor is it a place where any Muslim is entitled to pragmatically select the opinions that he/she finds attractive and accommodating. It demands knowledge of particular aims, the ability to properly realize those aims in the lives of people, and understanding the epistemic and metaphysical foundations that ensure that judgments conform to coherent rationale. In other words, the laws of Islam and the opinions of jurists cannot be divorced from their philosophical and evidentiary underpinnings. Otherwise, the thread holding the moral tapestry of Islam together falls apart completely at its seams.

Is Abortion Lawful in Islam?

Many past and present have written about the Islamic view of abortion. The ancient scholars prohibited it at all stages of the pregnancy and made practically no exception. Some would later allow for it only if the mother’s life was in danger. That notwithstanding, six popular legal opinions exist regarding abortion:

  • Unlawful (haram), in all stages of the pregnancy.
  • Permitted (ja’iz), during the first 40 days but unlawful (haram) afterwards.
  • Disliked (makruh), before the passage of 40 days but unlawful (haram) afterwards.
  • Permitted (ja’iz), if it is from illicit intercourse (zina).
  • Permitted (ja’iz) without conditions, before 120 days.
  • Permitted only for a legitimate excuse.

The late mufti of Fez, Morocco, Shaykh Muhammad Al-Ta’wil (d. 2015) said,

The first opinion forbidding that during the [first] 40 [days] and beyond, regardless of whether or not it is due to an excuse, even if from illicit intercourse, is the view of the supermajority [of jurists].[1]

The Qur’an is a Book of Ethical Teaching

The reasons for the cavalier attitude among contemporary Muslims about abortion are multiple. The most significant reason may be that at times Islam is seen as a synonym for shariah. The truth, however, is that the shariah is only part of Islam. Islam covers law (fiqh), creed (aqidah), and ethics (akhlaq). Even though the Qur’an consists of laws, it is not a book of law. It is a book of ethical teachings. Merely 10%–12% of the Qur’an relates to legal injunctions. It is not characteristic of the Qur’an to enjoin upon Muslims to command what is “compulsory” or “recommended” and to forbid what is “unlawful” and “disliked.” What is common though is for it to command us to do what is “ma’ruf” and to avoid what is “munkar.”

“Ma’ruf” and “munkar” can be translated respectively as “what is socially commendable” and “what is socially condemnatory.” This is in spite of the fact that social acceptability and unacceptability are often subjective. This does not mean that the Qur’an is morally relativistic. It is quite the contrary. What this means, however, is that the Qur’an’s aim is not merely to teach Muslims what one can and cannot do. It means, rather, that the Qur’an has a greater concern with what Muslims “should” and “should not” do. For this very reason, the companions of the Prophet seldom differentiated between his encouragement and discouragement of acts by the juristic values of disliked, unlawful, recommended, and compulsory. Rather, if the Prophet encouraged something beneficial, they complied. And, if he discouraged from something potentially harmful, they refrained.

The Qur’an permits many actions. However, to permit an act is not equivalent to encouraging it. It permits polygyny (Q 4:3), the enslavement of non-Muslim war captives (Q 8:70), and marrying the sister of one’s ex-wife (Q 4:23). Similarly, some Muslim jurists validate marriage agreements wherein the man secretly intends to divorce the woman after a certain period of time known only to him.[2] This is the case, even though the average Muslim man is monogamous; practically no Muslim today believes it is moral to enslave a person; the vast majority of Muslims find the marriage of one’s sister-in-law upon the death of one’s wife to be taboo; and they chide men who marry with a temporary intention of marriage. If the mere existence of permission or legal opinion permitting a socially condemnable act is a legitimate reason to adopt it, why would Muslims be uneasy about these cases but inclined to take a different stance when it comes to abortion?

The proper Islamic position on any given issue of public or private concern should not only consider what the law or jurists have to say about the topic. Rather, one should also consider how theology and ethics connect with those laws or opinions. That is to say, one should ask, “What wisdom does God seek to realize from this injunction or opinion?” assuming that such a wisdom can be identified. Secondly, one need ask,

“Who and how many will be helped or harmed if this action is undertaken?”

The Qur’an is the primary source of Islam’s ethics. And, one often observes a major difference between its morality and the morality validated by certain jurists, often lacking a clear connection to Qur’anic and prophetic precepts. That notwithstanding, a juristic opinion can sometimes masquerade as one that is authentically Islamic, especially when it aims to appease or assuage a social or political concern. Consequently, one finds some contemporary scholars championing opinions simply­ because they exist, like that of mainstream Shafi’is who traditionally argued that the reason for jihad was to rid the world of unIslamic doctrines (kufr); or certain contemporaries who validated taking of the lives of innocent women, children, and other non-combatants in suicide bombings; those who endorsed the execution of Jews for converting to Christianity and vice versa;[3] or others who classified slaves as animals rather than human beings?[4] For, surely, there are Muslim jurists who validate each one of these opinions, despite their evidentiary weakness. Hence, simply because there is an opinion allowing for abortions does not necessarily mean that it is something Islam allows, even in cases of rape and incest.

When Does Life Begin?

Medieval Muslim scholars, naturally, lacked the scientific tools that we have today to determine whether or not the fetus growing in its mother’s womb was actually a viable creation and a living creature from conception. Other than when the fetus first showed signs of movement in its mother’s belly, scholars took their cues from the Qur’an and prophetic tradition on when the fetus possessed a soul or if it did so at all. For this reason, very few scholars have offered clear answers to the question of when human life begins, while they agreed that upon 120 days, the child is definitely a living person.

According to the Andalusian scholar of Seville, Ibn al-‘Arabi (d. 1148),

The child has three states: 1) one state prior to coming into [material] existence …, 2) a state after the womb takes hold of the sperm …, and 3) a state after its formation and before the soul is breathed into it …, and when the soul is breathed into it, it is the taking of a life. [5]

Al-Ghazzali (d. 1111) said,

Coitus interruptus (‘azl) is not like abortion and infanticide (wa’d) because it [abortion] is a crime against an actualized existence (mawjud hasil). And, it has stages, the first being the stage of the sperm entering into the womb, then mixing with the woman’s fluid, and then preparing for the acceptance of life. To disturb that is a crime. Then, if it becomes a clot (‘alaqah) or a lump (mudghah), the crime is more severe. Then, if the soul is breathed into it and the physical form is established, the crime increases in gravity. [6]

These are some of the most explicit statements from Medieval Muslim scholars; they deemed that life begins at inception. The Qur’an states, “Does man think that he will be left for naught (sudan)? Was he not a sperm-drop ejected from sexual fluid?” (75:36-37). In other words, the “sperm-drop” phase is the start of human existence, and existence is the basis for human dignity, as with other living creatures. The human being was a “sperm-drop.” If that is so, this strongly suggests that meddling with this fluid, even before the fetus begins to grow and develop limbs and organs, would be to violate the sanctity of a protected creature. The Qur’an further says, “Did We not create you from a despicable fluid? And then, We placed you in a firm resting place, until a defined scope” (Q 77:20-22). The use of the second person plural pronoun (you) in these verses strongly suggests that the start of human life begins at inception. This is not to mention the multiple verses forbidding one from killing one’s children due to poverty, fear of poverty, or out of shame or folly.

The Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) similarly offers sufficient indication that even though the fetus is not fully formed, it is still an actualized existence and living creature. The Prophet reportedly said, “The miscarried fetus will remain humbly lying with its face down at the gates of heaven saying, ‘I will only enter when my parents do.’”[7] Similarly, it is reported that when the second caliph ‘Umar b. al-Khattab ordered that an adulteress discovered to be pregnant be stoned to death, the companion, Mu’adh b. Jabal, said to him, “Even if you have a right to punish her, you do not have a right to punish what is in her belly.”[8] The Prophet and his followers after him never executed a pregnant woman guilty of a capital crime until she gave birth and someone had taken on the care of the child. In addition, they imposed a hefty fine on those who were directly responsible for a woman’s miscarriage.[9] All of this indicates that the fetus is to be respected from the time the male’s sperm reaches the ovum of the woman.

Imam Al-Razi’s Ethical Reflection on the Qur’anic Verse, 6:140

God says in the Qur’an, “Ruined are those who murder their children foolishly without knowledge and forbid what God has provided them with while inventing falsehoods against God. They have strayed and are not guided aright” (6:140).

About this verse, Imam Fakr al-Din al-Razi (d. 1210) comments,

Many issues relate to the verse: the first issue is that God mentioned, in the preceding verse, their murder of their children while depriving themselves of the sustenance that God provided them with. Then, God brings these two matters together in this verse while clarifying to them all that is a logical consequence of this judgment, such as ruin, folly, lack of knowledge, the deprivation of what God has provided them, false statements against God, straying, and the privation of guidance. So these are seven characteristics, each of which is an independent cause for censure. The first is ruin (khusran), and that is because a child is an immense blessing from God upon a person, so when one strives to terminate its existence, he/she suffers great ruin and especially deserves great censure in life and a severe punishment in the hereafter due to terminating its existence. Censure in life is warranted because people say one has murdered one’s child out of fear of it eating one’s food. And there is no censure in life greater than such. Punishment in the hereafter is warranted because the closeness resulting from childbirth is one of the greatest sources of love. Then, upon achieving it, one sets out to deliver the greatest of harms to it [the child], thereby committing one of the gravest sins. As a consequence, one of the greatest punishments is warranted. The second is folly (safahah), which is an expression of condemnable frivolousness. That is because the murder of the child is only committed in light of the fear of poverty. And, even though poverty is itself a harm, murder is a much graver harm. Additionally, this murder is actualized, while the poverty [feared] is merely potential (mawhum). So enforcing the maximum harm in anticipation of a potential minimal harm is, without doubt, folly. The third regards God’s saying, “without knowledge.” The intent is that this folly was only born of the absence of knowledge. And there is no doubt that ignorance is one of the most objectionable and despicable of things. The fourth regards depriving one’s self of what God has made lawful. It is also one of the worst kinds of stupidity, because one denies one’s self those benefits and good things, becoming entitled by reason of that deprivation of the severest torment and chastisement. The fifth is blaspheming God. And it is known that boldness against God and blaspheming Him is one of the cardinal sins. The sixth is straying from prudence (rushd) with relation to the interests of the faith (din) and the benefits found in the world. The seventh is that they are not guided aright. The benefit of it is that a person might stray from the truth but may return to proper guidance. So God clarifies that they have strayed without ever obtaining proper direction. So it is established that God has censured those described as having murdered children and denied what God has made lawful for them, with these seven characteristics necessitating the worse types of censure. And that is the ultimate hyperbole.[10]

The Ethical Contentions of a Moroccan Mufti

We have already quoted Shaykh Muhammad Al-Ta’wil of Morocco. Like the medieval scholars, he maintained a very conservative opinion on abortion, allowing it only if the mother’s life was at risk. The following is a list of his nine ethical contentions against abortion and those scholarly opinions allowing it. The bulk of what follows is a literal translation of his views. Regarding why abortion is immoral, he says:

  • Firstly, it is a transgression against a vulnerable creature who has committed neither sin nor crime, a denial of it from its right to existence and life that God has given it and Islam has guaranteed as well as the taking of a life in some situations.
  • Secondly, it is a clear challenge to God’s will and a demonstratively defiant act meant to stubbornly contend with God’s action, creative will, and judgment. And that manifests itself in the murder of what God has created, the voiding of its existence, and a commission of what He deems unlawful.
  • Thirdly, it a decisively demonstrative proof of hard-heartedness, the absence of mercy, and the loss of motherly and fatherly affection or rather the loss of humanity from the hearts of those who daringly undertake the act of abortion with dead hearts and wicked dark souls.
  • Fourthly, it is the epitome of self-centeredness, selfishness, narcissism, and sacrifice of what is most precious¾one’s own flesh and blood, sons and daughters¾to gratify the self and enjoy life and its attractions far away from the screams of infants, the troubles of children, and the fatigue resulting from them.
  • Fifthly, it is a practical expression of one’s bad opinion of God, the lack of trust in His promise to which He decisively bounded Himself to guarantee the sustenance of His creation and servants. It also shows ignorance of His saying, “And, there is not a single creature on earth except that God is responsible for its sustenance, just as He knows its resting place and place from which it departs. Every thing is in a manifest record (Q 11:6); as well as His saying, “And do not kill your children due to poverty. We will provide for you as well as for them” (Q 6:151); in addition to His saying, “And, do not kill your children out of fear of poverty. We will provide for them and for you” (Q 17:31). This is in addition to other verses and prophetic traditions that indicate that all provisions are in God’s control and that no soul will die until it exacts its sustenance in full as the Prophet said.
  • Sixthly, it is a bloody war against the Islamic goal, introduced by the Prophet and to which he called and strongly encouraged, of population growth and increase in posterity.
  • Seventhly, it undermines the aims of the Islamic moral code that considers the preservation of offspring to be one of the five essentials upon which the sanctified revealed moral code is built.
  • Eighthly, it goes against the nature to which God has disposed both animals and human beings to of love of children, childbearing, and the survival of progeny….
  • Ninthly, it is the grossest display of bad manners towards God and the epitome of ingratitude towards a blessing and the rejection of it. And that is because both pregnancy and children are among God’s favors upon His servants and among His gifts to the expectant mother and her husband.

These are some important matters of consideration. Every Muslim, woman, and man, will ultimately need to decide what burdens he/she is prepared to meet God with. While abortion is an emotionally charged matter, especially in Western politics, emotions play no role in the right or wrong of legislation. Although our laws currently may not consider a fetus aborted before its survival outside of the womb to be viable, the Muslim who understands that legal positivism does not trump objective or moral truths should be more conscientious and less cavalier in his/her attitude about the taking of life and removing the viability of life.


[1] Al-Ta’wil, Muhammad b. Muhammad b. Qasim. Shadharat al-Dhahab fi ma jadda fi Qadaya al-Nikah wa al-Talaq wa al-Nasab. Hollad: Sunni Pubs, 2010, p. 148.

[2] Muhammad b. ‘Abd Al-Baqi Al-Zurqani quotes Ibn ‘Abd Al-Barr as saying,

They unanimously agreed that anyone who marries without mention of a particular condition while having the intention to remain with her for a period that he has in mind is permitted (ja’iz), and it is not a temporary marriage. However, Malik said this is not an attractive thing to do (laysi hadha min al-jamil). Nor is it part the conduct of moral people (la min akhlaq al-nas). Al-‘Awza’i took a solitary view saying that it is a temporary marriage. And, there is no good in it (la khayra fihi). ‘Ayyad stated it.

Al-Zurqani, Muhammad b. ‘Abd Al-Baqi b. Yusuf. Sharh al-Zurqani ‘ala Muwatta’ al-Imam Malik. Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, (no date), 3/201.

[3] Hafiz Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani said about the prophetic tradition, “Kill whoever changes his lifepath”, “Some Shafi’i jurists clung to it concerning the killing of anyone who changes from one non-Islamic faith to another non-Islamic faith (din kufr)…”

Al-‘Asqalani, Ahmad b. ‘Ali b. Hajar. Fath Al-Bari Sharh Sahih al-Bukhari. Muhammad Fu’ad ‘Abd Al-Baqi Edition. Riyadh: Al-Maktabah Al-Salafiyyah, (no date), 12/272.

[4] Al-Ra’ini, Muhammad al-Hattab. Qurrah al-‘Ayn bi Sharh Waraqat al-Imam al-Haramayn. Beirut: Mu’assassah al-Kutub al-Thaqafiyyah, 2013, p. 78.

[5] Al-Wazzani, Abu ‘Isa Sidi al-Mahdi. Al-Nawazil Al-Jadidah Al-Kubra fi ma li Ahl Fas wa ghayrihim min al-Badw wa al-Qura al-Musammah bi Al-Mi’yar Al-Jadid Al-Jami’ Al-Mu’rib ‘an Fatawa al-Muta’akhkhirin min ‘Ulama al-Maghrib. Rabat: Wizarah al-Awqaf wa al-Shu’un al-Islamiyyah, 1997, 3/376.

[6] Al-Ghazali, Muhammad Abu Hamid. Ihya ‘Ulum al-Din. Beirut: Dar Ibn Hazm, p. 491.

[7] This is how Qadi Abu Bakr b. al-‘Arabi relates the report as related by Al-Wazzani in his Nawazil 3/376. In the Musnad of Abu Hanifah, however, the Prophet reportedly said, “You will see the miscarried fetus filled with rage.” When it is asked, “Enter Paradise”, it will respond, “Not until my parents come in [too].” Al-Hanafi, Mulla ‘Ali Al-Qari. Sharh Musnad Abi Hanifah. Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1985, p. 252.

[8] Ibn ‘Asakir, Abu al-Qasim ‘Ali b. al-Hasan. Tarikh Madinah Dimashq wa Dhikr Fadliha wa Tasmiyah man hallaha min al-Amathil aw ijtaza bi Nawahiha min Waridiha wa Ahliha. Beirut: Dar al-Fikr, 1997, p. 342.

[9] Among the fines due for causing the miscarriage of a fetus are: 1) prison or flogging; 2) the penance for murder (kaffarah), which is the freeing of a slave, fasting two consecutive months which is compulsory for Shafi’is and recommended for Malikis; and 3) the gifting of a slave to the woman who lost her child.

[10] Al-Razi, Fakr al-Dina. Tafsir al-Fakr al-Razi al-Mushtahir bi Al-Tafsir Al-Kabir wa Mafatih al-Ghayb. Beirut: Dar al-Fikr, 1981, pp. 220-221

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What Does Sharia Really Say About Abortion in Islam

Abortion is not a simple option of being pro-life or pro-choice, Islam recognizes the nuance.

Reem Shaikh

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The following article on abortion is based on a research paper titled ‘The Rights of the Fetus in Islam’, at the Department of Sharia at Qatar University. My team and I presented it to multiple members of the faculty. It was approved by the Dean of the Islamic Studies College, an experienced and reputed Islamic authority.

In one swoop, liberal comedian Deven Green posing as her satirical character, Mrs. Betty Brown, “America’s best Christian”, demonized both Sharia law as well as how Islamic law treats abortion. Even in a debate about a law that has no Muslim protagonist in the middle of it, Islam is vilified because apparently, no problem in the world can occur without Islam being dragged into it.

It is important to clarify what Sharia is before discussing abortion. Sharia law is the set of rules and guidelines that Allah establishes as a way of life for Muslims. It is derived from the Qur’an and the Sunnah, which is interpreted and compiled by scholars based on their understandings (fiqh). Sharia takes into account what is in the best interest for individuals and society as a whole, and creates a system of life for Muslims, covering every aspect, such as worship, beliefs, ethics, transactions, etc.

Muslim life is governed by Sharia – a very personal imperative. For a Muslim living in secular lands, that is what Sharia is limited to – prayers, fasting, charity and private transactions such as not dealing with interest, marriage and divorce issues, etc. Criminal statutes are one small part of the larger Sharia but are subject to interpretation, and strictly in the realm of a Muslim country that governs by it.

With respect to abortion, the first question asked is:

“Do women have rights over their bodies or does the government have rights over women’s bodies?”

The answer to this question comes from a different perspective for Muslims. Part of Islamic faith is the belief that our bodies are an amanah from God. The Arabic word amanah literally means fulfilling or upholding trusts. When you add “al” as a prefix, or al-amanah, trust becomes “The Trust”, which has a broader Islamic meaning. It is the moral responsibility of fulfilling one’s obligations due to Allah and fulfilling one’s obligations due to other humans.

The body is one such amanah. Part of that amanah includes the rights that our bodies have over us, such as taking care of ourselves physically, emotionally and mentally – these are part of a Muslim’s duty that is incumbent upon each individual.

While the Georgia and Alabama laws in the United States that make abortion illegal after the 6-week mark of pregnancy are being mockingly referred to as “Sharia Law” abortion, the fact is that the real Sharia allows much more leniency in the matter than these laws do.

First of all, it is important to be unambiguous about one general ruling: It is unanimously agreed by the scholars of Islam that abortion without a valid excuse after the soul has entered the fetus is prohibited entirely. The question then becomes, when exactly does the soul enter the fetus? Is it when there is a heartbeat? Is it related to simple timing? Most scholars rely on the timing factor because connecting a soul to a heartbeat itself is a question of opinion.

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The timing then is also a matter of ikhtilaf, or scholarly difference of opinion:

One Hundred and Twenty Days:

The majority of the traditional scholars, including the four madhahib, are united upon the view that the soul certainly is within the fetus after 120 days of pregnancy, or after the first trimester.

This view is shaped by  the following hadith narrated by Abdullah bin Masood raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him):

قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: إن أحدكم يجمع خلقه في بطن أمه أربعين يوما ثم يكون في ذلك علقة مثل ذلك ثم يكون في ذلك مضغة مثل ذلك ثم يرسل الملك فينفخ فيه الروح..

“For every one of you, the components of his creation are gathered together in the mother’s womb for a period of forty days. Then he will remain for two more periods of the same length, after which the angel is sent and insufflates the spirit into him.”

Forty Days:

The exception to the above is that some scholars believe that the soul enters the fetus earlier, that is after the formation phase, which is around the 40 days mark of pregnancy.

This view is based on another hadith narrated by Abdullah bin Masood raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him):

قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: إذا مر بالنطفة إثنتان وأربعون ليلة بعث الله إليها ملكاً، فصوره، وخلق سمعها وبصرها وجلدها ولحمها وعظمها…

“If a drop of semen spent in the womb forty-two nights, Allah sends an angel to it who depicts it and creates its ears, eyes, skin, flesh and bones.”

Between the two views, the more widespread and popular opinion is the former, which is that the soul enters the fetus at the 120 days (or 4 months) mark, as the second hadith implies the end of the formation period of the fetus rather than the soul entering it.

Even if one accepts that the soul enters the fetus at a certain timing mark, it does not mean that the soul-less fetus can be aborted at any time or for any reason. Here again, like most matters of Islamic jurisprudence, there is ikhtilaf of scholarly difference of opinion.

No Excuse Required:

The Hanafi madhhab is the most lenient, allowing abortion during the first trimester, even without an excuse.

Some of the later scholars from the Hanafi school consider it makruh or disliked if done without a valid reason, but the majority ruled it as allowed.

Only Under Extreme Risks:

The Malikis are the most strict in this matter; they do not allow abortion even if it is done in the first month of pregnancy unless there is an extreme risk to the mother’s health.

Other Views:

As for the Shafi’i and Hanbali schools of thought, there are multiple opinions within the schools themselves, some allowing abortion, some only allowing it in the presence of a valid excuse.

Valid excuses differ from scholar to scholar, but with a strong and clear reason, permissibility becomes more lenient. Such cases include forced pregnancy (caused by rape), reasons of health and other pressing reasons.

For example, consider a rape victim who becomes pregnant. There is hardly a more compelling reason (other than the health of the mother) where abortion should be permitted. A child born as a result in such circumstances will certainly be a reminder of pain and discomfort to the mother. Every time the woman sees this child, she will be reminded of the trauma of rape that she underwent, a trauma that is generally unmatched for a woman. Leaving aside the mother, the child himself or herself will lead a life of suffering and potentially neglect. He or she may be blamed for being born– certainly unjust but possible with his or her mother’s mindset. The woman may transfer her pain to the child, psychologically or physically because he or she is a reminder of her trauma. One of the principles of Sharia is to ward off the greater of two evils. One can certainly argue that in such a case where both mother and child are at risk of trauma and more injustice, then abortion may indeed be the lesser of the two.

The only case even more pressing than rape would be when a woman’s physical health is at risk due to the pregnancy. Where the risk is clear and sufficiently severe (that is can lead to some permanent serious health damage or even death) if the fetus remained in her uterus, then it is unanimously agreed that abortion is allowed no matter what the stage of pregnancy. This is because of the Islamic principle that necessities allow prohibitions. In this case, the necessity to save the life of the mother allows abortion, which may be otherwise prohibited.

This is the mercy of Sharia, as opposed to the popular culture image about it.

Furthermore, the principle of preventing the greater of two harms applies in this case, as the mother’s life is definite and secure, while the fetus’ is not.

Absolutely Unacceptable Reason for Abortion:

Another area of unanimous agreement is that abortion cannot be undertaken due to fear of poverty. The reason for this is that this mindset collides with having faith and trust in Allah. Allah reminds us in the Quran:

((وَلَا تَقْتُلُوا أَوْلَادَكُمْ خَشْيَةَ إِمْلَاقٍ ۖ نَّحْنُ نَرْزُقُهُمْ وَإِيَّاكُمْ ۚ إِنَّ قَتْلَهُمْ كَانَ خِطْئًا كَبِيرًا))

“And do not kill your children for fear of poverty, We provide for them and for you. Indeed, their killing is ever a great sin.” (Al-Israa, 31)

Ignorance is not an excuse, but it is an acceptable excuse when it comes to mocking Islam in today’s world. Islam is a balanced religion and aims to draw ease for its adherents. Most rulings concerning fiqh are not completely cut out black and white. Rather, Islamic rulings are reasonable and consider all possible factors and circumstances, and in many cases vary from person to person.

Abortion is not a simple option of being pro-life or pro-choice. These terms have become political tools rather than sensitive choices for women who ultimately suffer the consequences either way.

Life means a lot more than just having a heartbeat. Islam completely recognizes this. Thus, Islamic rulings pertaing to abortion are detailed and varied.

As a proud Muslim, I want my fellow Muslims to be confident of their religion particularly over sensitive issues such as abortion and women’s rights to choose for themselves keeping the Creator of Life in focus at all times.

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Should I Pray Taraweeh Or Make Up Prayers?

Danish Qasim

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Every Ramadan I’m asked by Muslims whether they should pray Taraweeh or make up missed prayers. They have the guilt of missed prayers but the desire to pray Taraweeh. They do not want to miss out on the special Taraweeh prayer but know that they have to make up obligatory prayers.

I find Muslims bogged down by not only the number of prayers to make up but by the fact that they have to make up prayers that they missed, sometimes too many to count. They emotionally want to move past the memory of missing prayers. While one should not dwell on the sin of missed prayer, at the same time, they should also realize that the prayers remain a debt that needs to be addressed.

Many of us feel a shame associated with past sins. This connection is a sign of true repentance. Shame due to sins, however, becomes problematic when it serves as an impediment for our religious progress. When the guilt reaches this level, one should seek refuge in Allah from Shaytaan and ignore all negative thoughts.

We, as Muslims, should believe that Allah has forgiven our sins, including missed prayers. Forgiveness is done through our repentance. Therefore, we should see makeup prayers as an opportunity to draw closer to Allah, rather than a punishment. Allah tells us in a Hadith Qudsi that

“My servant does not draw nearer to Me with anything more beloved to Me than what I have ordained upon him. He continues to draw near to me with nafl (non-obligatory) actions until I love him” (Bukhari).

Each time we perform a make-up prayer, we are doing what Allah loves us to do the most- an obligatory action. We are drawing nearer to Allah and should feel grateful for being able to do so.

In the Hanafi school of thought, one can pray makeup prayers as non-emphasized sunnahs, which include the prayer of greeting the mosque[1] and Tahajjud prayer. Many Muslims feel more spiritual praying these types of nafl prayers, and they will take their time to pray with the presence of heart. However, when they pray makeup prayers, they rush, praying quickly to get past it as soon as possible. The dreadful feeling of makeup prayers is due to a negative association for the initial neglect, but we must see makeup prayers as not only more critical than nafl prayers, but as something that can be done as nafl prayers.

Taraweeh is an emphasized Sunnah[2] and for Hanafis that means one does not neglect taraweeh[3] due to previously missed prayers[4]. One should have a regiment of making up prayers, such as praying one makeup of Zuhur after praying Zuhur for the day and manage that along with Taraweeh.

For Malikis[5] and Shafis[6] however, one is not supposed to pray Taraweeh if he has prayers to make up. For those following this view, I would advise them to still go to the masjid if that is their habit during the Taraweeh time and pray those due prayers in a space outside of the congregation so they can still enjoy the Ramadan atmosphere in the masjid. Also, it’s worth noting that in the Shafi school, one can have the intention of a makeup prayer even if the imam is praying a different prayer[7]. Hence, twenty rakah of Taraweeh in units of two can be prayed by a follower as ten makeup prayers for Fajr.

Ramadan is a great time to form positive habits. If you do not already have a routine of making up missed prayers, establish one this Ramadan. Make your routine something that you can be consistent with throughout the year, not just when you have the Ramadan energy. We are advised in a hadith to only take on the amount of good actions that we are able to bear because the best actions are those in which we can be persistent, even if they are minor (Ibn Majah 4240).

Lastly, as Ramadan is here, I urge everyone to remember that praying Isha in congregation is more important than praying Taraweeh in congregation. Taraweeh is more alluring due to its uniqueness, and you will see latecomers quickly praying Isha so they can join the Taraweeh prayer. Each prayer is worship, but the priorities of worship are based on its status. Obligatory prayer is more important than a non-obligatory prayer, although every prayer is important. We must prioritize what God prioritizes.

[1]  “ويسن تحية ) رب ( المسجد ، وهي ركعتان ، وأداء الفرض ) أو غيره ، وكذا دخوله بنية فرض أو اقتداء ( ينوب عنها ) بلا نية)”
(رد المحتار على الدر المختار)

[2]  (التراويح سنة  مؤكدة لمواظبة الخلفاء الراشدين  للرجال والنساء إجماعا ” ( رد المحتار على الدر المختار

[3] (والسنة نوعان : سنة الهدي ، وتركها يوجب إساءة وكراهية…”  (رد المحتار على الدر المختار”

[4] وأما النفل فقال في المضمرات : الاشتغال بقضاء الفوائت أولى وأهم من النوافل إلا سنن…”
المفروضة وصلاة الضحى وصلاة التسبيح والصلاة التي رويت فيها الأخبار . ا هـ . ط أي كتحية المسجد ، والأربع قبل العصر والست بعد المغرب” (رد المحتار على الدر المختار،باب قضاء الفوائت)

[5]   (ولا يتنفل من عليه القضاء، ولا يصلي الضحى، ولا قيام رمضان…”  (لأخضري”

[6]   “وَإِنْ كَانَتْ فَاتَتْ بِغَيْرِ عُذْرٍ لَمْ يَجُزْ لَهُ فِعْلُ شَيْءٍ مِنْ النَّوَافِلِ قَبْلَ قَضَائِهَا”
(الفتاوى الكبرى الفقهية على مذهب الإمام الشافعي ,فتاوى ابن حجر الهيتمي)

[7]

تنبيه : تصح قدوة المؤدي بالقاضي ، والمفترض بالمتنفل ، وفي الظهر بالعصر ، وكذلك القاضي بالمؤدي ، والمتنفل بالمفترض ، وفي العصر بالظهر ؛ نظراً لاتفاق الفعل في الصلاتين وإن تخالفت النية ، والانفراد هنا أفضل ؛ خروجاً من الخلاف ، وعلى أن الخلاف في هذا الاقتداء ضعيف جداً فلم يقتض تفويت فضيلة الجماعة ، وإن كان الانفراد أفضل . ( تحفة المحتاج مع حاشية الشر واني ۲ / ۳۳۲ – ۳۳۳ )

وذكر في ( إعانة الطالبين ۲ / ۷ ) : وإن لم تتفق مقضيتها شخصاً . . فهي خلاف الأولى ولا تكره

. وذكر في « البجيرمي على المنهج ۱ / ۳۳۳ ) : قوله ( ويصح الاقتداء لمؤد بقاض ومفترض بمتنفل . . . ) : أي ويحصل له فضل الجماعة في جميع هذه الصور على ما اعتمده الرملي .

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– قول متن المنهاج ( وتصح قدوة المؤدي بالقاضي ، والمفترض بالمتنفل . . . ) قضية كلام المصنف – أي النووي – كالشارح الرملي أن هذا مما لا خلاف فيه ، وعبارة الزيادي وابن حجر : ( والانفراد هنا أفضل ؛ خروجاً من الخلاف( فيحتمل أنه خلاف لبعض الأئمة وأنه خلاف مذهبي لم يذكره المصنف ، لكن قول ابن حجر بعد على أن الخلاف في هذا الاقتداء ضعيف جداً . . ظاهر في أن الخلاف مذهبي . ( الشبراملسي ) . ( حاشية الشرواني ۲ / ۳۳۲ )

وهذا لا يجوز في المذهب  الحنفي  “…يشترط أن يكون حال الإمام أقوى من حال المؤتم أو مساويا”  (رد المحتار على الدر المختار(

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