Connect with us

Aqeedah and Fiqh

Did Egyptian Customs Lead to a New Shafi’i School? Shaykh Alawi Abd al-Qadir al-Saqqaf

Support MuslimMatters for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Translated by Anas Hlayhel.

The original in Arabic by the author, full name Alawi bin Abdul-Qadir bin Mohamed bin Hadi as-Saqqaf, can be found here. His biography in Arabic can be found here.

The Question:

Is it confirmed that Imam al-Shafi’i used to issue certain juridical responses (fatawa, sing. fatwa) in Iraq then after he moved to Egypt, he issued differing fatawa due to the change in culture between Egypt and Iraq. As a result, he had fatawa that suited the people of Iraq and fatawa that suited the people of Egypt? This is what a sheikh mentioned on a satellite channel and he used this act of al-Shafi’i to justify changing the fatwa following the change in locality!

The Answer:

By: Shaykh Alawi Abd al-Qadir al-Saqqaf

No, it is not confirmed that Imam al-Shafi’i used to have one set of fatawa that suited the people of Iraq and another set of fatawa that suited the people of Egypt. Rather, what’s established in the books of the al-Shafi’i juridical school is that al-Shafi’i used to have two juridical schools. One school was established in Iraq and is referred to as the “old school;” which his students there learnt from him and about which he wrote several books. Then, when he moved to Egypt stopping by Mecca, he met a number of scholars and narrators and he retracted many of his earlier opinions which he held in Iraq. This is what became known as the “new school.” At that time, those two schools were not known as the Iraqi school and the Egyptian school. It is said that this new school was formed shortly before his leaving Iraq for Mecca or at least before his leaving Mecca. However, what’s settled is that he wrote it and firmly established it in Egypt. Therefore, the new school was not dependent upon whether it was in Egypt or Iraq.

In order to further prove this point, consider the following:

1. If the matter was simply providing fatawa suiting each locality, then he would not have ordered his students to stop writing from the books he composed in Iraq, nor would he have forbidden the people to narrate from those books. He used to say, “He is not forgiven who narrates from me the old [school]” (Cf. al-Bahr al-Muhit by az-Zarkashi, 4/584). Instead, he would have made for each locality the fatawa that suit it.

2. If the matter was like what those claimed then his students in Iraq would have used his old opinions. The reality though is contrary to that.

3. None of the leading scholars of the al-Shafi’i school, who are the most acquainted with his method, ever mentioned this reason [the change in juridical opinion was due to change in locality]. In fact, when some of them chose some of his old opinions, they didn’t attribute them to al-Shafi’i. Rather, they chose those opinions because of the strength of their proofs, at least from their point of view.

4. The leading scholars of the al-Shafi’i school clearly stated that it’s not permissible to follow the old school of al-Shafi’i, even if the follower is from Iraq. So, how can one claim that the reason for the change was the change of locality and the change of milieu?

5. If it’s true that Imam al-Shafi’i changed his school in Egypt because of the change in locality then his followers outside of Egypt would not have followed him. What’s well known however, among students of knowledge, is that the leading Shafi’i scholars, wherever they are, even the people of Iraq, follow his new school which he founded in Egypt. Imam an-Nawawi said, “Any religious question that has two juridical answers by al-Shafi’i, one old and one new, then the new is the valid answer and should be acted upon.” (al-Majmoo’, 1/66) He also said, “It is not to the mufti (one authorized to issue a juridical ruling) nor to the common man, who follow the school of al-Shafi’i, if there is a religious question that has two answers, to act upon the answer of his liking. Rather, in a situation where there are two answers, he should use the latter of the two.” (al-Majmoo’, 1/68) It’s worthy to note that he [an-Nawawi] did not make a distinction between the mufti in Iraq, the mufti in Egypt, and any other mufti anywhere else. What is so strange about this whole matter is that those who claim that al-Shafi’i changed his juridical opinions due to the change of people’s customs and habits want, through this claim, to issue lenient fatawa even if it contradicts the evidence [found in the main sources]. Their claim in this is that al-Shafi’i issued more tolerant juridical opinions that suited the people of Egypt in order to make it easy on them. What these people do not realize is that his juridical opinions in Egypt are stricter than his juridical opinions in Iraq. In fact, his opinions in Iraq are closer to leniency and tolerance. On the other hand, he formulated his opinions in Egypt based on reservation. In addition, he abandoned the principle of masalih mursala [maximizing the interest of people when they’re faced with a new situation over which the sources are silent]. No consideration is given to customs. All consideration is given to the text along with a complete allegiance to the literal meaning of the texts, as will become clear through some of the examples that I will cite shortly. In fact, there is not a single juridical issue which he [al-Shafi’i] changed his opinion about due to the change of circumstances between Iraq and Egypt. The burden of proof is upon the one who initiates the claim, and that’s nearly impossible in this case.

Now, some examples of the fatawa that he issued in Egypt that were stricter than what he issued in Iraq, as is spread across the books of the al-Shafi’i school, are:

1. Using gold and silver vessels is makruh (discouraged) in the old school and haram (forbidden) in the new school.

2. Wiping on the khuff (leather sock) with holes. According to the old school, it’s permissible as long as the hole is not big enough to prevent walking. According to the new school, it’s not permissible if the hole exposes any part of the foot.

3. Forgetting to recite al-Fatiha. According to the old school, the recitation of al-Fatiha is no longer an obligation due to forgetfulness. According to the new school, the recitation of al-Fatiha remains an obligation despite forgetfulness.

4. Washing a vessel that has been licked by a dog. In the old school, it’s not obligatory to wash it. In the new school, it has to be washed six times.

5. Washing a required body part out of order in wudu out of forgetfulness. In the old school, wudu is valid. In the new school, wudu is not valid.

6. Sleeping during the prayer. In the old school, it does not invalidate wudu. In the new school, it invalidates wudu.

7. The wife of the missing. In the old school, she waits four years from the time she stopped hearing from him. Then, she waits the idda [waiting period] of death which is four months and ten days. In the new school, she does not go through any idda nor does she get married again till she ascertains his death. So he adopted the easy opinion of Ibn Abbas in the old school while he adopted the strict opinion of Ali in the new school.

The examples are many and one can refer to them in the sources where they are likely to be found. What one will observe is that there is no effect of locality and culture on the difference between the two opinions of al-Shafi’i, the old and the new. Rather, the reason of the difference goes back to adding precision to his juridical school and fine-tuning it with legal evidence. His student, Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal, was asked, “What’s your opinion about the books of al-Shafi’i, are the books with the Iraqis more beloved to you or the books with the Egyptians?” He replied, “Read the books that he composed in Egypt, for he composed his books in Iraq without precision then he went to Egypt and wrote his books with precision” (al-Bayhaqi, Manaqib al-Imam al-Shafi’i, 1/263). So, his students and those most acquainted with him attributed the reason for changing his juridical school to precision and accuracy. If culture or customs had any role, it would have been mentioned. So to claim that this is the reason is a statement devoid of truth and does not accord well with logical analysis. It can only be stated by one who is ignorant of these facts or by a person of desires. This does not mean that the faqih [scholar of Islamic law] cannot change his fatwa following a change of time or place. In fact, that is possible in the issues that are based on customs, benefits, and removing hardships. As to the issues that are based on authentic legal proofs, then its rulings are sound for all places and times. Allah knows best.

Support Our Dawah for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Born and raised in Lebanon, Hlayhel began attending study circles at his local mosque when he was ten. He came to the United States at 17 and studied electrical engineering at the University of Houston. At its MSA, he met Sh Yasir Qadhi and worked together to raise Islamic awareness on campus. Hlayhel studied traditional sciences of Aqeedah (Islamic creed), Fiqh (Islamic law) and Nahw (Arabic grammar) under Sh Waleed Basyouni and Sh Waleed Idriss Meneese among others. After settling in Phoenix AZ, he worked tirelessly, in the capacity of a board member then a chairman, to revive the then dead AZ chapter of CAIR in order to face the growing Islamophobia in that state and to address the resulting civil right violations. Today, he's considered the second founder of a strong CAIR-AZ. In addition, Hlayhel is a part-time imam at the Islamic Center of the Northeast Valley in Phoenix, husband and father of four. His current topics of interest include positive Islam, youth coaching, and countering Islamophobia.

25 Comments

25 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Loga

    April 19, 2010 at 2:01 AM

    BarakAllah fiikum! A very commonly used argument/point, jazakAllah khier for the clarification.

  2. Avatar

    Irfan

    April 19, 2010 at 5:11 AM

    as-salamu `alaikum

    Is the author of this piece the late Habib Abd al-Qadir al-Saqqaf who recently passed away?

    • Avatar

      Anas Hlayhel

      April 19, 2010 at 11:23 AM

      wa alaikum assalaam,

      I’m not aware of Habib as-Saqqaf. The only other Saqqaf I’m aware of is Hassan as-Saqqaf, and he’s definitely different than Alawi as-Saqqaf :)

    • Avatar

      Mustafa

      April 20, 2010 at 2:10 PM

      The author of this article is indeed the son of al-Qutb al-Habib `Abd al-Qadir al-Saqqaf (radiy Allah `anh).

      Jazak Allah khayran Shaykh Anas for translating. Could you possibly post (a link to) the Arabic?

  3. Avatar

    Mr. Muslim

    April 19, 2010 at 5:39 AM

    Asalaamu Alaikum.

    Is this why in certain Fiqh books they mention the earlier and later opinion of Al-Shafi’i Rahimullah?

    Jazakh Allahu Khair.

  4. Avatar

    Omar

    April 19, 2010 at 8:52 AM

    Egyptian Customs … for some reason I thought that meant the people that check your luggage at the airport and make you pay for expensive foreign goods.

    I have been reading too much Egyptian politics

    • Avatar

      Sister

      April 19, 2010 at 9:57 AM

      lol that’s what I thought too….

    • Avatar

      Youssef Chouhoud

      April 19, 2010 at 11:32 AM

      So to avoid paying an import tax the Imam left some of his fatawa back in Iraq? :P

  5. Avatar

    Abu Rayyan

    April 19, 2010 at 9:49 AM

    Salams,

    Jazakallah for posting this article, brother Anas. It might also be a good idea to post the original link (in Arabic) from the Dorar.net website.

  6. Avatar

    Curious Muslim

    April 19, 2010 at 10:20 AM

    He translated al-khuff as ‘leather socks’.

    Isn’t it any ‘footwear’?

    • Avatar

      Anas Hlayhel

      April 19, 2010 at 11:32 AM

      As far as I’m aware, the original definition of Kuff is leather sock, though you may find some scholars expand that definition to other types of socks. But even in the Hadith of the Prophet, you find a distinction between Khuff (leather sock), Jawrab (other types of socks like from wool or cotton), and Na3l (sandals). For example, the Hadith of al-Mugheerah narrated by the 4 Sunan which says that the Prophet made wudu and wiped on his 2 Jawrabs and sandals. Also, in his Musannaf, ibn Abi Shayba has a chapter entitled, “the 2 Jawrabs are same in ruling as the 2 Khuf”, which shows that they’re different but have the same ruling.

      Off course, whether they have the same ruling or not is a different topic (maybe worthy of a blog on its own), but I think it’s clear in Fiqh literature that Khuff is a leather sock.

  7. Avatar

    NurKhan

    April 19, 2010 at 11:44 AM

    It can only be stated by one who is ignorant of these facts or by a person of desires.

    I’ve read/heard hundreds of rebuttals by learned islamic scholars on the internet, and a lot of them end by accusing the other party of either 1) being ignorant or 2) following desires.

    Is this necessary? Does it add any strength to the merits of the argument?
    Is this part of Islamic/scholarly manners?

    Just wondering.

    • Avatar

      elham

      April 19, 2010 at 7:49 PM

      Salam alaikum,

      Isn’t it that if a person does something wrong out of ignorance he is forgiven out Allah’s swt Mercy? So by that they (the scholars) are giving him the benefit of the doubt.

      But if he has knowledge of a fact but chooses to ignore it deliberately, then he is clearly following his desires and may be harming others by misleading them or causing confusion.

      There are certain Islamic manners to be followed ofcourse and our scholars ,may Allah protect them, are more aware of them. But I think when an issue needs to be clarified in a clear-cut and and un-ambiguous manner they just need to tell us like it is:)

      • Avatar

        NurKhan

        April 20, 2010 at 11:25 AM

        Isn’t it that if a person does something wrong out of ignorance he is forgiven out Allah’s swt Mercy?

        Then why embarass the other person (in this case another scholar) publicly?

        But if he has knowledge of a fact but chooses to ignore it deliberately, then he is clearly following his desires

        Right. Are most issues black & white and clear-cut? So if someone does not agree with you and doesnt see the ‘facts’ the way you see them then you jump to judging their intentions by accusing them of ‘following desires’.

        There are certain Islamic manners to be followed ofcourse and our scholars ,may Allah protect them, are more aware of them

        Sorry, but I don’t agree. I’ve seen too much of this kind of attitude that young people are picking up on. We need to learn to treat each other with respect. The sunnah is to treat each other the way we would like to be treated. How would this scholar feel if he made a mistake and someone else said about him that he is ‘ignorant’ or ‘following desires’?

        Of course, issues need to be clarified. But stick to the issue. Don’t attack someone’s competency or intentions.

        • Avatar

          elham

          April 20, 2010 at 8:50 PM

          ”Then why embarass the other person (in this case another scholar) publicly?”

          Who you do mean? I never stated that somebody/ scholar should embarrass someone publicly!

          ”Right. Are most issues black & white and clear-cut? So if someone does not agree with you and doesnt see the ‘facts’ the way you see them then you jump to judging their intentions by accusing them of ‘following desires’.”..

          ”How would this scholar feel if he made a mistake and someone else said about him that he is ‘ignorant’ or ‘following desires’?”

          Well, say if a hadith or an ayah IS clear-cut about an issue then why would someone want to ignore it ? The scholars that I see/listen to humbly accept each other’s corrections and reiterate that the Quran and Sunnah are more important than anybody’s views or opinions.
          Moreover I was merely trying to answer your open question and was not speaking about myself, so Inshallah there is no need to attack anyone.

          I think there could be one of two things when someone who is supposed to be Qualified, a scholar, misjudges.That ‘s my opinion . If a great scholar like Imam Shafi’ (ra) acknowledges his mistake and admits that he was ignorant of something ( and Allah swt is All- Knowing) after he was shown a hadith/evidence then it shouldn’t be a problem for us.

          ”We need to learn to treat each other with respect. The sunnah is to treat each other the way we would like to be treated.”

          Agree. Inshallah we practice the Sunnah as you say and return each others Salaams :)

  8. Avatar

    Abu Ibrahim

    April 19, 2010 at 2:52 PM

    Assalamu alaykum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh,

    Jazak Allahu khayran for translating the piece. It seems that most of the scholars who have researched this issue meticulously agree with the conclusions of Shaykh Saqqaf.

    However, some have argued that although the Egyptian `urf was not the *main* cause for Imam Shafi`i changing his opinions, it did play a relatively minor role, and therefore it should not be negated altogether. For more on this, please see al-Qawasimi’s al-Madkhal ila Madhhab al-Imam al-Shafi`i (Dar al-Nafa’is, 2nd edition, p.307-309).

    Wallahu a`lam.

  9. Avatar

    Shahzad

    April 20, 2010 at 12:28 PM

    Assalamu ‘alaikum,

    I think an important point is missing or needs clarification:

    There is a difference between “fatwa” and “hukum”. The examples the sheikh gave are clear-cut ahkaam from the Quran and Sunnah that local custom cannot change. For instance, using gold/silver or washing the utensil after a dog has licked from it are clearly defined in the texts. The reason why a scholar may change his ruling when moving from one region to another is because he has come across new ahadith or corroborating narrations which he did not have previosly. This explains why rulings of the various madhaahib are different: each scholar lived and travelled in different regions of the Muslim world and thus came across different ahadith.

    A fatwa however is a ruling often applied to a novel situation and may take into account local circumstances. An example could be whether to combine maghrib or isha in northern countries where the sun doesn’t set fully. I feel this article did not properly distinguish between these two terms and gives the impression that ALL rulings are written in stone without local adaptation.

    Another way of looking at this is that Islamic rulings are of two types: Non-changeable (muthaabit) and changeable (mutaghayyiraat). Non-changeable rulings imutable such as salat, tahaarah, etc. which are clearly defined for everyone at all times. Changeable rulings such as forms of government, dress, etc. are defined by general priciples in the Quran and Sunnah but details can be adapted to local custom.

    Allah knows best.

  10. Avatar

    Saif

    April 20, 2010 at 1:02 PM

    May Allah have mercy on him and fill his grave with noor! With his and Dr. Israr’s deaths, the ummah has two of its gems.

  11. Avatar

    Anas Hlayhel

    April 20, 2010 at 11:09 PM

    Brother Irfan and Mustafa,

    I don’t think the author is the son of Habib Abdul-Qadir as-Saqqaf who died recently.

    The full name of our author is Alawi bin Abdul-Qadir bin Mohamed bin Hadi as-Saqqaf

    The full name of the person you both are referring to is Abdul-Qadir bin Ahmad bin Abdur-Rahman as-Saqqaf.

  12. Avatar

    Anas Hlayhel

    April 20, 2010 at 11:25 PM

    Abu Ibrahim and Shahzad,

    I think I agree with you both that the tone of the article was a bit too decisive. In fact, while translating, I felt the author could have been a bit more flexible allowing room for other factors (e.g. changes due to locality). I’m not sure if the author took the time to study each issue where Imam al-Shafi’i changed his opinion and made sure that change of locality was not a factor! Anyway, he seems to rely on strong statements from experts in al-Shafi’i school such as Imam an-Nawawi which affirm his opinion, and that may have made him make such bold conclusions and Allah knows best.

  13. Avatar

    DawahIT

    April 21, 2010 at 12:43 PM

    Assalamu alaikum,

    JazakAllah khair. Very useful in understanding fiqh.


    dawahit.wordpress.com
    facebook: dawahit

  14. Avatar

    Wael - IslamicSunrays.com

    February 26, 2011 at 2:33 AM

    This is very interesting and I don’t mean to open a can of worms, but this kind of thing is why I do not follow a particular madhhab. We see clearly from stories like this that the great Imams (may Allah have mercy on them) were fallible. They were limited by the knowledge that came to them, and even they were aware of that. They lived in times when travel was arduous and long-distance communication was nonexistent. Their access to authentic information was limited by the realities of their time. How many of their rulings would have been different if they had met this scholar, or heard that hadith, or read that book, or traveled to this city…

    I appreciate texts that give me the rulings of various Imams and scholars on a particular issue, along with their proofs and reasonings. Then I can read, and made a decision for myself which is most convincing.

    • Avatar

      ashrafh

      June 12, 2013 at 1:04 PM

      @Wael, you have completely confused the difference between an Imam, and the maddhab that is named after him…they are not the same. The maddhab simply follows the usul of the Imam, and many of his views of course, but if the Imam did not have access to a certain hadith, and the Imams that followed his usul came into contact with that hadith and tradition, THEY CHANGED THE POSITION of the maddhab. Your statement stems from complete lack of knowledge, as there are multitudes of positions within each maddhab that are contrary to the position of the Imam.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

#Culture

Messiah, A Fitnaflix Production

Support MuslimMatters for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Netflix released Season 1 of a new thriller series called “Messiah”. The series imagines the emergence of a character claiming to be sent by God, the Messiah, or Al-masih (messiah in Arabic) as he is referred to in the television series. 

This so-called Al-masih first emerges in Damascus at a time when ISIS is about to storm the city. He then appears in Palestine, Jordan and ultimately America. Along the way, he performs miracles and dumbfounds the Israeli and American intelligence officers charged with tracking him and figuring out who is enabling him. The season ends with a suggestion that he is truly a divine man, with the ultimate miracle of reviving the dead.

The entertainment value here is quite limited. Some stretches of the series are just flat or straight out boring, and the acting is not all that great. However, the series does create an opportunity for discussion about Muslim eschatology (the knowledge of the end of times), response to fitnah (faith testing tribulations) and Muslims portrayal in and consumption of entertainment media. 

The series shows some sophistication in the portrayal of Muslim characters relative to what people have been accustomed to with Hollywood. Characters that are situated in the Middle East are performed by actors from that region who speak authentic regional Arabic (including Levantine and North African dialects). The scenes appear authentic. While this is progress, it is limited, and the series falls into oversimplification and caters to typical stereotypes. While several Muslim characters draw the viewers’ empathy, they are not used to provide context or nuance for issues that the series touches on: ISIS, refugees, the Israeli occupation and suicide bombings. The two American Muslim characters are never really developed. In fact, all Muslim characters tend to be “flat” and one dimensional. This is in contrast, for example, to American and Israeli characters which appear multi-dimensional and complex, often dealing with personal challenges that a Western audience is likely to identify with (caring for an aging parent, mourning the loss of a spouse, balancing career and life, dealing with family separation, abortion, etc.). While Muslim characters are shown as hapless refugees, terrorists, religious followers, political activists, a university professor and student, their stories are never developed.

The show repeatedly refers to Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. There is also consistent normalization of Israeli occupation and glorification of the occupying forces.  

Islamic eschatology 

Orthodox Muslims affirm a belief in “the signs of the End of Times, including the appearance of the Antichrist, and the Descent of Jesus 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) the son of Mary 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him), from the celestial realm. We also believe in the sun’s rising from the west and the appearance of the “Beast of the Earth from its appointed place” [1]. Dr. Omar Al-Ashqar gives a detailed review of the authentic narrations regarding the signs of the end of times in his book Al-Qiyamah Al-Sughra [2]. When it comes to actual figures who will emerge in the end of times, Sunni scholars generally affirm the following:

  • Imam Mahdi, who is a just ruler who will share the Prophet’s ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) name. 
  • The False Messiah (Antichrist), or Al-Masjih Al-Dajjal, who will be the greatest fitna to ever to afflict this Ummah. 
  • The True Messiah, Isa ibn Maryam, who returns in the end of days, kills the Antichrist and rules for 40 years and establishes justice and prosperity – close to the time of the day of judgement. 

The Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) warned that the fitna of Al-Dajjal will be the most severe ever. In a hadith narrated by Ibn Majah and others, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) is reported to have said, “Oh people, there has not been a fitna on the face of the earth, since God dispersed the progeny of Adam, greater than the fitna of Al-Dajjal. Every prophet of God warned his people from Al-Dajjal. I am the last prophet. You are the last Ummah. He will appear amongst you no doubt!”

Al-Dajjal comes after a period of famine and drought. He will be one-eyed and will claim to be God. Believers will recognized a mark or word of disbelief on his forehead. He will perform many miracles. He will endow those who follow him with material prosperity and luxury, and those who deny him will be inflicted with deprivation and suffering. He will travel at high speeds, and  roam the whole world, except Makkah and Madinah, which he will not be able to enter. He will create a heaven and hell, command rain, the earth, animals, and resurrect the dead – all supernatural occurrences that he has been afforded as a trial and test for others. The Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) went as far as encouraging us to flee from confronting him, because it will be a test of faith like no other.

Reflections on the series and lessons to be learned

The Prophets and the righteous are not tricksters and riddlers.

The Netflix series portrays the character ‘al-masih’ as someone who speaks cryptically; it is never clear what he is teaching and why. He leads his followers on long physical journeys without telling them where they are going or why. He speaks in riddles and tortures his followers with mental gymnastics and rhetorical questions.

On the other hand, a true prophet of God offers real guidance and brings clear teachings and instructions – the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) spoke clearly to his followers, he taught them how to worship Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) alone, to be just, to uphold the ties of kinship, to look after one’s neighbour, and so on. He did not abandon them in a state of confusion to fend for themselves. Moreover, “al-masih” deceives his followers by concealing his true name (“Payam Golshiri”) and background – something a righteous person would never do, let alone a prophet.

What Netflix got right and what it got wrong

The Al-masih character initially emerges in Damascus (and the Islamic tradition mentions Isa ibn Mariam 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) will descend in Damascus). However, the character is eventually revealed to hail from Iran. A number of ahadith refer to Al-Dajjal first appearing in Khurasan, which is part of modern-day Iran. He poses as a righteous person, but it is revealed that he doesn’t pray at all. He quotes religious scripture, but only to service his cryptic speeches. That Al-Dajjal would pose as a religious person would not surprise Muslims, since some hadith mention he will emerge from the remnants of the Khawarij, a heterodox group known for overzealousness and fanaticism [3]. Al-Dajjal travels the world at fast speeds, disappearing from one land and appearing in another, just as the character in the series does. 

messiah

photo credit: IMDb

However, numerous features of Dajjal would make his identity obvious to believers, not the least of which is that the word ‘disbeliever’ will be written – whether literally or metaphorically (scholars differ) – on his forehead in such a manner which even those unlettered would be able to read. Physically, Dajjal is a short man, with a deformity of his legs, and one of his eyes is likened to a “floating grape”, sightless, and “green like glass”. The Prophet is said to have focused on these physical features because they are so manifest and eliminate any confusion.

Al-Dajjal’s time overlaps with that of two other eschatological figures – Imam Mahdi and Esa ibn Maryam 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him). Imam Mahdi is prophesized to fill the world with justice and rule for seven years, after which Dajjal will emerge. While the Muslims following al-Mahdi are taking shelter in Damascus, Prophet Esa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) will descend and eventually slay the Dajjal. Therefore, according to the Islamic eschatological tradition, things will get better before they get worse before they get better again – Imam Mahdi precedes Dajjal and Dajjal precedes Prophet Esa [2].

Safeguarding against tribulations

The best safeguard is to have sound knowledge of theology and law, and to have our iman rooted in revelation and reason. For example, the most basic understanding of Islamic theology would lead us to reject any man who claims to be God, as Al-Dajjal will claim. With basic Islamic knowledge and reasoning, we would know that Allah does not manifest in human-like form, much less one that is deformed, as Allah is the all Powerful and Perfect. Could it be that at the end of times even such essential Islamic knowledge is lacking? 

walking on water

Al-Dajjal deceives people by his miracles and supernatural abilities. Our iman should not be swayed by supernatural events and miracles. We should measure people and ideas according to their standing with the Shari’ah. We must keep our heads level and not be manipulated because we cannot explain an occurrence. 

Al-Dajjal also lures people by his miracles and by his ability to give them material prosperity, comfort and luxury. We must tie our happiness and sense of satisfaction to eternal spiritual truths, not to the comforts of this life, and be willing to give up what we have for what we believe. We should live simply and not follow into the path of excessive consumerism and materialism.  

Another important consideration is not to base our connection to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) on another human being (except the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). Scholars, celebrity preachers, imams and teachers are all prone to error and sin. We must use the Shariah and the Prophet Muhamamd’s ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) character and teaching as the filter by which we evaluate them, not the other way around. Despite his obvious deformities, the Antichrist will be a mesmerizing blinding celebrity, but whose falsehood will be uncovered by believers who make judgements based on loyalty to principle, not personality. 

Is it time to live on a remote mountain?

The clearest indication of the nearness of the Day of Judgement is the prophethood of Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). The Prophet likened the difference between his time and the Day of Judgement as the difference in length between the index and middle fingers. However, before we sell everything and move to a remote mountain, let’s exercise care in projecting Islamic eschatology on the political events of our times. The reality is that no one knows when these things will happen. Explaining the current phase in our history away by end of times theories or conspiracy theories, are simpleton intellectual copouts that lead our Ummah away from actively working towards its destiny. Anyone who has claimed that this event (remember Y2K) or that event is a major sign of the Day of Judgement has been wrong, so far. There were scholarly guesses in the early centuries of Muslims that expected the Hour 500 years after the Prophet’s ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) death. Yet, here we are. No one knows.

The best you can do is stay calm and make salat!

Muslims and the entertainment media

This increased sophistication and the apparent familiarity with Islamic sources exhibited by Messiah producers should lead us to value the importance of producing accurate, authentic and polished material and content about Islam and Muslims and our community’s role as a source of information. 

It is also important for Muslims to produce works for the mass media and entertainment industries. This is no longer the era of the sole MSA Da’wah table. Sophisticated, entertaining and authentic media production is an imperative for modern Muslims.  When we don’t tell the story, someone else will. 

Make it a Netflix Night?

We may refer to it as Fitnaflix, but let’s all admit that we cannot avoid television and the entertainment industry, for better or for worse. We can however moderate, guide and channel its use. Start breaking the isolation in which many of our children and young adults consume media. Families should watch TV together and use it as an opportunity to model how we select appropriate material and to create teaching and discussion moments. Parents should know what is influencing their kids even if they don’t like it. 

Some parts of the series Messiah, despite its flaws (and an explicit sexual scene in episode 9, not to mention profanity), could be used as a teaching moment about trials and tribulations, the end of times and the importance of Muslims engaging in the entertainment industry in a principled and professional manner. 

Ed’s note: Much of the series’ content is R-rated. Besides depictions of terrorism and other mayhem, sexual activity and brief rear nudity are shown. Mature themes include abortion, adultery, infertility and alcoholism.

Works Cited

[1] T. C. o. I. Al-Tahawi, Hamza Yusuf (trans), Zaytuna Institute, 2007. 
[2] O. Al-Ashqar, Al-Qiyamah Al-Sughra, Dar Al-Nafa’is, 1991. 
[3] [Online]. Available: https://abuaminaelias.com/dailyhadithonline/2014/06/23/dajjal-emerges-khawarij/.

Support Our Dawah for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Continue Reading

#Islam

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

Sepoy rebellion, Shaykh Hamza
Support MuslimMatters for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. 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.

Support Our Dawah for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Continue Reading

#Islam

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

Quran at graveyard, woman attend burial
Support MuslimMatters for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. 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.

Support Our Dawah for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Continue Reading

Trending