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Path of Allah or Paths of Allah? Survey of Classical and Medieval Interpretations of Salvific Exclusivity | Yasir Qadhi Vid

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There are a number of areas of discussion that are at times especially controversial among Muslim communities in the West including, or perhaps especially, among those who are attempting to maintain strong connections to Orthodox Islamic belief and practice, while at the same time trying to consciously articulate an identity relevant to the particular place and point in history in which Allah (swt) has placed us.  One can see many of these controversies playing out here  in the articles and comment sections here on MuslimMatters, among the authors as well as other readers of the site.  Some of these issues include issues of gender roles and interaction in our communities,  politics and our relationship to secular governing authorities and legal systems, and relationships among Muslim communities which are minorities but which are internally diverse in terms of background, methodology and socioeconomic categories, among many others.  Two issues that may not spur as much commentary in the Islamosphere in general but which I think are very important to be discussed as the community moves forward on an intellectual level came together in a fascinating way earlier this year at an academic conference hosted by the University of Illinois Department of Religion which was entitled an “International Symposium on Islam, Salvation, and the Fate of Others.”

The issue of salvific exclusivity (that understanding that Islam is the only true path to salvation) versus soteriological or salvific pluralism  (the notion that there are many different paths which lead to salvation) is one which is a highly relevant theological issue for Muslims living in modern (or postmodern) pluralistic societies.  As I attended the symposium and listened to the presentations, I felt that this particular theological question was interacting in a fascinating way with another area which I think Orthodox Muslims need to come to terms with as we envision a future in these societies: what role will believing and practicing Muslims play in the western academic study of Islam and what effects or influence will the academic realm of Islamic studies in western universities come to exert over Muslim communities’ understanding of their tradition?

The lineup of presenters at the Symposium was quite impressive, and as a regular reader of academic writing on Islam in english, it was quite amazing to suddenly find myself in a room with Amir Hussain, Kevin Reinhart, Muqtedar Khan, Dr. Sherman Jackson, Asma Afsaruddin, William Chittick, Marcia Hermansen, Bruce Lawrence, Farid Esack, Muhammad Legenhausen, and MM”s own Yasir Qadhi among many others.  Tariq Ramadan joined to present a paper by telelink.  Video of Shaykh Yasir Qadhi’s presentation is below and many of the other presentations are available at the University of Illinois Department of Religion website.

In order to appreciate the atmosphere in which Shaykh Yasir delivered his paper, I want to present some general observations regarding the other papers.  I will have to be brief, but perhaps I can expand upon my thoughts in the comments section as I hope to show why I think that reflecting upon this conference provides an opportunity to not only engage the theological issue of salvific exclusivity but the broader issue of Muslim participation in the academic study of Islam.

Some of the other presenters at the conference attempted in various ways to show that Islam was open to the salvation of the “other.”   Salvific Exclusivity, which was the dominant understanding not only of Muslims but of course of Christian thinkers as well in the medieval period, is an uncomfortable position for many today.  In fact, for many in our time the very concept of salvific exclusivity is incompatible with living in a pluralist society and treating people outside of one’s faith in a dignified and fair manner.   Two of the common themes that come up in an attempt to justify a pluralist understanding and were explored in many of the other papers include: the idea of ahl al kitab as a separate category from kuffar or mushrikun in the Qur’an especially with reference to verses such as 2:62 which speak about the salvation of Jews, Christians, and Sabians and the notion that verses in the Qur’an that refer to “Islam” being the only path accepted by God refer to “islam” in the general sense of submission to God’s will and not in the specific sense of the religion revealed to Muhammad (saw).

Shaykh Yasir has written previously for MM on the topic of Salvific Exclusivity.  Shaykh Yasir has presented the case for why the correct understanding of this issue should be a defining characteristic of orthodox Muslim thought.  The importance of the issue cannot be denied.  Not only is understanding salvation vital to every individual who believes in the Day of Judgment and the hereafter, but the question of salvation is a major recurring theme in the Qur’an.  One will find that many scholars of the past have dealt with the issue of salvation, but as Shaykh Yasir argues in his paper, none of them, regardless of differences in methodology and widely varying opinions over many other issues, took the position of Soteriological pluralism for which a growing number of muslims, including many of the other presenters at the conference, seem to be arguing.  As Dr. Mohammad Khalil from the University of Illinois, who convened the conference, outlines in his dissertation, scholars of the past did allow for the possibility of non-Muslims entering into jannah, but it was always done in the context of categories such as those who did not receive the message, or received a biased and distorted understanding of the message, or the position taken by some that Hellfire would eventually cease to exist.

Along these lines, I think it is vital that the actual question Shaykh Yasir is addressing here in this paper is clear.  He is not addressing the question of people who have not heard the message, or who have heard a version of Islam so distorted that it cannot be said that the message has reached them.  He is attempting to make clear that for those who have been taught the Message of Islam in an accurate way, that there is nothing worthy of worship except God and that Muhammad (saw) is the final Messenger of God and they have chosen to reject that understanding of reality that one cannot say that they are on a path that leads to salvation.  This was the position and understanding of “every single systematic theology developed in the classical and medieval period in Islam,” that the religion of Islam was the only path to salvation.  In fact, as Shaykh Yasir relates in the lecture, across all the fiqh schools of thought, it was agreed that even to suggest that another religion outside of Islam was a valid path to salvation was agreed to be an act of apostasy, or rejection of Islam itself.  Shaykh Yasir responds to these arguments in his paper, but he also points out that it is interesting that these particular arguments were not seen before in Islamic history.  The one argument that we have seen in the past for a more pluralist view of salvation was that of the well known Sufi Ibn ‘Arabi, and William Chittick presented a paper outlining this perspective, which relies on the concept of wahdat al wujud, and does not rely on the type of interpretations of the above ayat that we see some liberal or progressive Islamic thinkers embracing.  Muqtedar Khan presented a paper which was very personal and in which he basically expressed a personal frustration in studying the commentaries of classical Islamic scholarship on these ayat and not finding them convincing.  A great problem with much of the contemporary discussion of these particular verses is that too often they take place in complete isolation from all the hundreds of other Qur’anic verses, let alone from all the evidence of the Sunnah.  So, people cannot see why these verses taken by themselves cannot be interpreted the way they wish they would be, in a manner which supported salvific pluralism, but they don’t seem to often step back and try to see if the pluralist readings can be understood consistently with all of the other types of verses in the Qur’an — in his presentation Shaykh Yasir carefully and enthusiastically delineates  in his well known and well loved style just how great is the weight of the Qur’anic evidence which weigh against these pluralist readings.  Based on that Shaykh Yasir argues that perhaps we should not question the motivations or character of all the traditional scholars of Islam, but rather question our own motivations and what clear prejudices we may be bringing to the text today which might hinder us from seeing what God is trying to present.

I just want to quickly mention three other aspects of the conference that stood out.  Muhammad Legenhausen, a scholar of philosophy who comes out of the Shi’a tradition, attempted to lay out categories which go beyond the dichotomy of salvific exclusivity and soteriological pluralism and look at the reality that there are different types of pluralism.  There is surely a type of pluralism reflected in the Qur’anic message with its many positive references to previous prophets, books, and communities, but it is not the reductive pluralism which would hold all traditions as valid paths to salvation.  Farid Esack presented on some of the ways in which the Qur’an refers to Jews, but he was perhaps even more memorable at the conference simply for his charismatic presence.  He was always asking provocative questions and engaging in discussions. Interestingly with regards to this question of Muslims in western academia, one of the most well known of the “progressive Muslims” expressed some ambivalence toward that term and for the fact that he is known so predominantly for his book Qur’an Liberation & Pluralism which was published more than thirteen years ago.  While Esack is clearly still committed to seeing Islam as a force which is liberating and respectful of all human’s dignity, he also expressed  discomfort with the fact that academia seems to privilege certain kinds of readings of the tradition which may not be faithful and which are not of the high intellectual quality and integrity that the tradition demands.  Finally, it must be said that Dr. Mohammad Khalil deserves a great amount of credit for organizing this outstanding and thought provoking symposium.  This young scholar not only attracted a great lineup of speakers, but I was very impressed by the way that invitations were so warmly extended to students and the general public and the hospitality with which all the guests were treated.  I enjoyed many of the presentations greatly, was troubled by some, but as someone with an interest in the future of Muslims in western academia a highlight of the event for me was to see so many of the Muslim presenters who travelled to the nearby masjid for Jumu’ah prayer, where Shaykh Yasir delivered the Khutbah.

[vimeo]http://vimeo.com/12807641[/vimeo]

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Abdul-Malik was born Michael P. Ryan in Chicago, Illinois. His study of African-American history in high school and at DePaul University and his encounter with the life and legacy of Malcolm X (Malik Shabazz) led to his accepting Islam in 1994. He was one of the founding members and is a past President of the Board of Directors of the Inner City Muslim Action Network, IMAN. He is a graduate of the Georgetown University Law Center and he has been working as an attorney for children in the foster care system in Chicago for the past ten years. In addition to almost anything regarding Islam, his major interests include Irish History, Comparative Religion (especially Judaism), and Historical Mystery Fiction. He will rarely be found without several books that he is currently reading. He also blogs and comments under his kunya and nisba Abu Noor Al-Irlandee.

42 Comments

42 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Hassan

    July 2, 2010 at 7:03 AM

    It says private video…how can I watch it?

  2. darthvaider

    darthvaider

    July 2, 2010 at 8:42 AM

    I was really impressed with Shaykh Yasir’s presentation at the conference. He clearly stood out in his firmness for salfivic exclusivity along with his commitment to scripture which was noticeable by his consistent references to the Quran and ayaat therein.

    Sadly, I was a little disappointed by a number of presenters and their equivocation on the Quranic message. Arguing purely in social terms about how soteriological pluralism creates greater tolerance is one thing, but to simply harp on one ayah in isolation without reference to context or traditional exegesis came off a little self serving in advancing their own, predetermined, theological framework.

    I remember once giving a speech to a religious studies class about Islam and the question of Islam and salvation came up. I responded by stating that Islam believes that salvation is attained through Islam alone, contingent on people understanding the message of Islam. Frankly, the crowd was shocked, and even a Muslim sister in the class raised her hand objecting to my response, telling everyone that the Quran preaches respect and tolerance for all faiths, especially the ahlul kitab, and that if we’re good people we’ll all go to paradise. As you can imagine, it was an extremely difficult position to convey, even if posited in the most PR-friendly terms.

    In my mind, that’s what makes this discussion so difficult- how can we communicate this message when even Muslims find the idea of salfivic exclusivity an arrogant stance that produces Islamic exceptionalism?

    I feel sometimes that this is an issue we should avoid talking about to the masses because it could adversely affect their emaan, but at the same time, if we don’t talk about it, all they’ll hear is the ‘other side’ if you will. Allahu A’alem.

    • Avatar

      abu Abdullah

      July 2, 2010 at 11:08 AM

      Dear Mobeen,

      may Allah increase you in good. ameen.

      It happened many times to me, while explaining a concept of Islaam a muslim stands up against your point of view and you are speechless.

      @11:05-11:15 , verse 3:85 quoted instead of 3:19. Message remains essentially the same.

      Allahumma Ahdina fi man hadayta wa zidna imaana. ameen.

      • darthvaider

        darthvaider

        July 3, 2010 at 12:20 AM

        May Allah increase us both in good. Ameen. Jazak Allah khayr for the kind dua and comments.

    • Avatar

      Mohammad Sabah

      July 2, 2010 at 12:58 PM

      Assalam alaykum. Yasir Qadhi is excellent as usual mashaAllah tabarakAllah. The sister who objected to the truth in your case is something that is always going to be case – there will always be muslims who consider themselves ‘liberal’ or ‘progressive’ or any other label that they want to attach, but who are not grounded firmly in understanding of the Quran and Sunnah. We see this all the time on MM itself in the comments and articles. I think we should talk about this issue and present it as it is, and be careful that we don’t dilute the message when trying to make it too PR-friendly. If anything, the negative criticism only points to the ignorance that exists in the Muslim minds and the only way to fix it is by the light of authentic ilm of Islam.

      • darthvaider

        darthvaider

        July 3, 2010 at 12:35 AM

        wa-‘alaykum salaam wa rahmat Allahi wa barakaatuhu Br. Mohammad,

        Jazak Allah khayr for the comment.

        I dont subscribe to the view that dissenting opinions should assume the dissenter as being from a specific faction or wholly ignorant. True, it may be that a particular individual is agenda-driven and others might be unaware of the issue at hand, but more often than not – especially when speaking about salvation- the objections raised by Muslims come from Muslims of all shades. The reasons for this are many and Abu Noor highlighted three crucial reasons in his post below.

        I think perhaps my usage of the word PR wasnt the best, but the point I was trying to make was that even in trying to be cognizant of peoples sensitivities and approaching the subject tactfully (or at least I felt I did so), the position created angst in the audience I addressed. Popularity shouldnt be a driver in determining our beliefs, but preconceptions and sensitivities should be taken into account when addressing any issue so that we know how to best speak about those issues to the people. Allahu A’alem.

        Jazak Allah khayr once again.

    • Avatar

      Zulander

      July 5, 2010 at 12:06 AM

      Sensitive topics will always be just that – sensitive. When it comes to such topics I have always found it easier to state the opinion as opposed to vie for it.

  3. Avatar

    SonicSoriyah

    July 2, 2010 at 9:19 AM

    This is a very thorny issue, that many people may have a hard time swallowing and may ultimately have no clear answer because of the nature of Allah and our dean.

    I’ve heard the argument that there is “Islam” (with an uppercase i), which is what we know of as the religion of Islam with its beliefs and practices, and then there is “islam” (with a lowercase i), which goes beyond what we know of as “Islam” and is submission and oneness with Allah that is not necessarily through the fundamental beliefs and practices of Islam (the religion). Both are still focused on worship and following of Allah, but islam (with a lowercase i) attains that worship and following of Allah through ways that may be outside of what we understand as Islamic worship and following to be. So, salvation may come only through “islam,” but it could also be the islam that goes beyond what we know of as Islamic beliefs and practices.

    It is only Allah who truly knows what is in our hearts.

  4. Avatar

    ummahmed

    July 2, 2010 at 10:20 AM

    Assalamualykum ,

    Subahanallah.What an excelllent lecture!!! With out the seed of imaan how can we expect to eat the fruits of good deeds.One of my favorite verses from surah baqara

    177. It is not Birr that you turn your faces towards east and (or) west; but Birr is the one who believes in Allah, the Last Day, the Angels, the Book, the Prophets and gives his wealth, in spite of love for it, to the kinsfolk, to the orphans, and to Al-Masakin (the poor), and to the wayfarer, and to those who ask, and to set servants free, performs As-Salah (Iqamat-As-Salah), and gives the Zakah, and who fulfill their covenant when they make it, and who are patient in extreme poverty and ailment (disease) and at the time of fighting (during the battles). Such are the people of the truth and they are Al-Muttaqun (the pious)

    Jazakallahu khairaan .

  5. Avatar

    elham

    July 2, 2010 at 10:45 AM

    I think apart from those who’ve never heard of the True Message of Islam or or any other excuse they are granted by Allah on the D Day ,there’s not one human being who will not in their lifetime experience any form of longing for their Creator because of that inner fitrah that He(swt) has gifted us with. But there will always be people who would not even want to ”feel” or heed the call of Islam and would prefer to go about their lives just as it is.So, I think everybody has a chance to succeed and every one has been given an opportunity,whether sooner or later, to enter Jannah because simply put,Allah is the Most Just. WalLahu ‘Alam

  6. Avatar

    Abu Noor Al-Irlandee

    July 2, 2010 at 11:12 AM

    Although Shaykh Yasir refers specifically to these questions in both his presentation and other writings on Salvific Exclusivity, I think that the following are the issues that need to be addressed in more detail, once one accepts the basic idea that Islam presents itself (in the Qur’an and Sunnah) as the correct path to salvation.

    First, the question of what effect this has on relations between people in this world. Is there a tension in living with, being a good neighbor to, working together for good with, being friends with, being equal citizens with, people who one believes are not on a path which will lead to salvation?

    Second, there is the even more emotional and difficult issue of family members. Dr. Hermansen addressed in her presentation the issue of praying for deceased family members who were not Muslim. Especially for believing Muslims, it would be hard to estimate the intensity of feeling surrounding this issue. One can see this, of course, even in the life of the Prophet (saw). Even if one refrains from making specific du’a, is it wrong to maintain hope in the heart that one’s family members may indeed be successful relying on confidence in the Mercy and Justice of Allah? And of course there is the issue of non-Muslims that Muslim men are permitted to marry.

    Third, we should be clear amongst ourselves on the methodology by which we can determine which issues are up for fresh interpretation and which are not. Are understandings of theology valid for all times and places? If so, whose understanding is binding upon us, issues where the sahaba all agreed or do we look beyond that? What exactly is the authoritative nature of understandings of the scholars of the past for us?

    For those interested in this topic, Dr. Khalil’s dissertation is also quite interesting. In that discussion, he focuses on the issues Shaykh Yasir addresses above, such as those who did not get the message or did not get it correctly, and what is the role of fitrah and reason in the view of some of the major scholars of the past? But one issue which he spends a good deal of time on, which I don’t recall seeing Shaykh Yasir address, is the question of the nature of the hellfire, is it eternal or not? He especially spends a lot of time on the opinions and arguments of Ibn Taymiyyah and Ibn al-Qayyim and the extent to which although they accepted that those who rejected the Message would be in hellfire as long as it lasted, that hellfire itslef would at some point come to an end, opening up the possibility for those people to eventually enter the eternal jannah.

  7. Avatar

    Dawud Israel

    July 2, 2010 at 12:37 PM

    Salaam aleikum,

    “For those who believe in All-Merciful and All-Wise God, we leave it to Him to judge people and we trust His judgment.” -Sh. YQ (I think that summarizes it beautifully–connected it with husnuddhun of Allah)

    Jazaka Allahu khayran. I personally am and I know many other Muslims are wary of scholars that associate with academia, because there is always the possibility of them ‘militarizing’ the knowledge and using it to hurt Muslims, but this is a nice open discussion. I think its difficult to disagree with the argument Shaykh Yasir is making since its so clear, and so inline with the Risalah. I’m glad ya stuck up for the Sunni position! :D

    Its good to see a discussion on the spectrum of ‘disbelievers’- sects, or people who did not hear the message, or heard it in a distorted form, or were disabled to the point didn’t hear it, or to those who openly rejected Islam. That shows its being taken seriously. al-Ghazali mentioned that Christians and Jews, are guilty of shirk only insofar as their rejection of Muhammad (salallahu alayhi wasalam). I think most people consider people who haven’t heard of Islam, are totally clueless, are kuffaar, but I don’t think many of us have dealt with REAL KUFFAR–people who outright reject Islam consciously after understanding it and being invited. I think when more of us have that experience, we’ll really see how easy belief in Islam is. And lets not forget, the hypocrite (munafiq) is worse than the disbeliever, and hence, in a sense, we believers are in greater danger than the disbelievers, if we fall into nifaq.

    Annemarie Schimmel wrote an essay that shows Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi did not embrace Christian and Jews as believers or accepted their beliefs nor did he accept the pagans as saved. Much of his poetry has been mistranslated, or construed to be literal and not metaphorical- and hence so many make him out to be some hippy New Age figure, which is really not the case. She argues that he stood as squarely in orthodox Islam as all ulema have, especially since he was a scholar himself, and at no time downplayed jihad against the disbelievers, or believed they’d be saved and I think even in some poetry of his he ridiculed the disbelievers. I think this is a huge myth of our time, that has prevented Muslims from benefiting from his wisdom.

    I think it’d be interesting to compare “kafir” to the Jewish “kofer” which has very similar meanings. When the Quran calls them kafir, then that means something, first and foremost to them because they recognize that terminology in their own tradition and how its played itself out among the Bani Israel.

    Here are some ideas Shaykh Abdul Hakim Murad mentioned that open up the POSSIBILITY (i.e. not guaranteed) of salvation for disbelievers, via the Intercession of the Prophet (salallahu alayhi wasalam) i.e. NOT through their own religions but through the noble rank of Muhammad (salallahu alayhi wasalam) on Yawmul Qiyamah:

    Here is another paper that is realllly important read on this subject. And here are some interesting hadith quotes…

    Shafa’ati bi ahlil kabair minal ummati (My intercession is for the sinners of my community hadith)
    Shafa’ati bi akhthari man fil ardh min khajarin wa mudhar (My intercession will be for the majority of the people of Earth hadith-that can mean non-Muslims as well, so will they be saved? Maybe. Allahu Alam. )

    • Avatar

      Justin

      July 2, 2010 at 6:25 PM

      Good links. Thanks.

  8. Avatar

    Atif

    July 2, 2010 at 4:51 PM

    Assalamu’alaykum, I have a few questions that I’ve been pondering on for a while and asking about with people of knowledge that I still haven’t got a full grasp on.

    The 3 groups that Imam al-Ghazali mentioned (which was quoted in the video):
    1. Those who haven’t heard about Islam
    2. Those who got a distorted version of Islam
    3. Those who knowingly reject it.

    I understand that group #3 are Kuffaar and destined to eternal Hellfire.

    Q1. Are groups 1 and 2 still considered under the category of Kuffaar, since at the end of the day they don’t believe in the message of Islam? (The reason I ask is because I have heard scholars say something to the effect of “All non-muslims are kuffaar”)

    Q2. If the answer is yes, and we say that in general, all non-muslims are kuffaar, do we still refrain from saying that all non-muslims are damned to eternal Hellfire?

    Q3. I know that we don’t pass verdicts on specific people (if they are people of the Hellfire or not). For someone who is clearly not muslim, could we say that “this specific person is a kaafir but we don’t know of his fate in the Hereafter”?

    If anyone with knowledge can respond, jazaahu Allahu Khayr!

    Atif

    • Avatar

      Justin

      July 2, 2010 at 6:34 PM

      Hamza Yusuf said people who do not know Islam or have a distorted view are not properly kuffar. How can you takfur (deny, reject) something you do not know is true yet? Because a kafir is someone who knowingly, consciously rejects the truth. Rather, those people are in a state of Ghaflah (heedlessness). I do not think it is good to call them kuffar in general because Allah may judge differently, and it leads to a certain self-righteous pride to call all other communities and people kuffar.

      Further, the Quran does not address Jews and Christians as “O Kuffar!” but rather “O people of the Book!” emphasizing their common beliefs with the Muslims. Tariq Ramadan believes we should make a distinction between someone who non-Muslim (ghayru Muslim) and someone who is an outright disbeliever. Most people are simply non-Muslims rather than insidious enemies of Allah.

      Our belief that Islam is the true path should in no way diminish our support for ecumenical and pluralist initiatives amongst Muslims and non-Muslims:

      http://www.ammanmessage.com
      http://www.acommonword.com

    • Avatar

      Abu Noor Al-Irlandee

      July 2, 2010 at 7:21 PM

      Atif,

      I am not a person of knowledge, so perhaps I shouldn’t respond, but just for the sake of discussion, not for the sake of answering — I think the key to at least much of your questions lies in the fact that there is a legalistic ruling in this world, this is necessary for certain purposes in this world but we do not presume that this defines the fate of the person in the Hereafter. For example, munafiqoon are considered and treated as believers in this world because that is how they outwardly present themselves (may Allah save us from nifaq). Similarly if people have not accepted Islam and do not practice it, they have the ruling of a kafir in this world but this is not meant to necessarily determine their state in the Hereafter, which is of course with Allah (swt).

      Allah knows best.

  9. Avatar

    Justin

    July 2, 2010 at 6:21 PM

    Yasir Qadhi,

    Please understand that absolute, unqualified salvific exclusivity leads people to arrogant self-righteousness and bigotry. We have seen more than enough Muslims who act like they are certain they are going to heaven and others are not. Just the other day we heard a Muslim saying whole other masajids are in Hell because of this or that. A convert was driven away because of this arrogant display.

    We can be sure that Islam is the true path to salvation, but we cannot pretend to know how Allah will judge individual Muslims or non-Muslims. Do we want to believe Allah’s mercy is so restricted? You know that Allah can forgive theological mistakes. Think of the hadith of the man who wanted to cremate himself so Allah would not resurrect him, Allah forgave him his lack of understanding of Tawheed Ruboobiyah. You used this hadith to make that point.

    I believe we can maintain our traditional belief that Islam is the sure path to salvation, but also be humble enough to understand that Allah is the Judge, not us, so we should not pass sweeping judgments on people just because they are Sufi, non-muslim, whatever. This is very important because an unnuanced and absolute understanding of salvific exclusivity leads to arrogance. You really need to balance this theological question because I am sick sick sick of arrogant Muslims judging with judgment that belongs only to the Most Just of Judges.

    “Indeed, those who have believed and those who were Jews and the Sabeans and the Christians and the Magians and those who associated with Allah – Allah will judge between them on the Day of Resurrection. Indeed Allah is, over all things, Witness.” (Surat al-Hajj 22:17)

    • Avatar

      Abu Noor Al-Irlandee

      July 2, 2010 at 8:58 PM

      Justin, did you watch the lecture? I think many people, even some at the conference, react strongly to this issue without listening carefully to what Shaykh Yasir is saying which leads to a distorted discussion. Other issues regarding the implications of a theological principle need to be discussed but there also has to be a place for having the separate theological discussion. I don’t know what you mean by absolute, unqualified salvific exclusivity but I don’t think Shaykh Yasir engaged in that — he specifically said he was only referring to the question of the fate of those who consciously rejected the message of Islam after it having reached them in an accurate manner. Shaykh Yasir is simply stating the position of the classical scholars of all the schools of theology. Do you claim that all of the major scholars in Islamic history are guilty of all the things you charge?

      As long as you are a little more clear in your understanding of what Shaykh Yasir is saying, I think there would be plenty of room to discuss the other concerns you bring up. If people become prideful or self-satisfied in their belief that they are righteous or if people arrogantly consider themselves better than others than these are character faults that people can fall into that need to be addressed.

      Jazzak Allahu Khayr for your comments and for sharing your obviously heartfelt thoughts Justin.

      • Avatar

        Justin

        July 3, 2010 at 9:58 AM

        I watched the lecture briefly and I have nothing against Shaykh Yasir. I really admire how he faithfully conveys the orthodox position.

        My concern is that Muslims do not put this belief into correct practice. Some Muslims use this belief to be arrogant and to put down others. In contrast, this belief should actually make us humble, should make us thankful Allah has guided us and hope that He guides others.

        In other words, our belief in the salvation of Islam should not let us neglect the inward tazkiyya and good character of Islam.

        I will review the lecture again. Thanks.

        Wa Salaam.

        • Avatar

          Abu Noor Al-Irlandee

          July 4, 2010 at 2:06 AM

          In other words, our belief in the salvation of Islam should not let us neglect the inward tazkiyya and good character of Islam

          I think we can all agree to that!

  10. Avatar

    Shuaib Mansoori

    July 2, 2010 at 11:57 PM

    Assalamu Alaikum Abu Noor,

    BarakAllahu Feek for this post. Indeed a profound area of discussion. I have been looking forward to this since earlier this year…btw what was the topic of Shaykh Yasir’s Khutbah? I guess “The Benefits of Dhikr” (because that’s one of his favorites :P )

    May Allah reward him and his family and grant us all steadfastness upon the Deen.

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    AbdulBasit Khan

    July 3, 2010 at 5:54 PM

    When Yasir Qadhi finished speaking at 40:05 — it was so beautiful; simply brilliant and outstandingly excellent! He really hit it right on the mark.

  13. Avatar

    Hamza 21

    July 3, 2010 at 7:02 PM

    Why no mentioned of Dr. Abdul Hakim Jackson’s presentation? I always noticed Dr. Jackson to be right on point when explaining Islam’s stances on issues. Quite odd not to include his position on this issue considering he’s a professor of Islamic studies and someone who has a vast amount knowledge of fiqh and classical Islamic thought.

    • Avatar

      Abu Noor Al-Irlandee

      July 4, 2010 at 2:09 AM

      Hamza21,

      Dr. Jackson did not present a paper of his own at the symposium. He was present and gave some very beneficial closing remarks and observations….but it is not so much about him taking a position or trying to explain “Islam’s stance.”

  14. Avatar

    Zuhayr

    July 3, 2010 at 10:29 PM

    “Verily the only acceptable religion to Allah is Islam.” [Quran 3:19]

  15. Avatar

    abu Rumay-s.a.

    July 4, 2010 at 5:40 AM

    abo Noor, jazak Allahu khairun for your efforts in presenting this topic. Masha`Allah, as usual, Shaikh Yasir did a superb job in his presentation to the point where I believe he actually convinced if not clarified the issue to some of the other professors who posed the questions.

    I believe the crux of the matter is what was mentioned in the 1st article on this thread which reads,

    Lastly, in part four, we will touch upon some political ramifications of this belief, specifically in the context of Western liberal secular democracies. Should politicians in our lands be concerned with this issue? Are such beliefs necessarily or even potentially harmful for a healthy, multi-cultural and multi-religious society?

    I believe the discussion needs to focus on these important questions because in reality most of the other issues are moot because those matters are fairly clear and etched in stone.

    I think the approach of such topic needs to be pragmatic and it should be integrally pinned with the other religions and ideas, by that i mean the following;
    – salvific exclusivity in Islam compared to salvific exclusivity in Christianity or Judaism.
    – Salfvic exclusivity in Islam is bound by other limiting rules and guidelines (i.e. it is general, there are rights towards those outside of this exclusivity, etc,) as opposed to other religions which do not necessarily have these limits or guidelines and perceive themselves “holier than thou” which is one of the reasons of conflict
    – Salvific exclusivity in other world ideologies such as communism, fascism, secularism, etc. and its effects on society
    – the benefits of salvific exclusivity in Islam
    – historical record of salvific exclusivity in Islam vs other religions and beliefs
    – the misuse of salvific exclusivity by extremist groups and its refutation
    (This would definitely make for a good thesis or book)

    these are some ideas which can be used to focus the whole discussion in a more productive direction as opposed to discussing things which are already established in “stone” and trying to redefine them.

    And God, The Exalted, knows best

    abu Rumay-s.a.

  16. Avatar

    AZ

    July 4, 2010 at 6:59 PM

    Assalamu ‘Alaikum.

    I was really impressed with this lecture. Another link can be found here:

    http://www.halaltube.com/yasir-qadhi-he-path-of-allah-or-the-paths-of-allah-a-survey-of-classical-and-medieval-interpretations-of-salvific-exclusivity

    I tend to feel at war on the inside when I come across this topic. On one hand, I totally agree with Shaikh Yasir Qadhi and how he presented this issue, but on the other hand, I come across lectures like the one posted below by Shaikh Abdal-Hakim Murad and I get confused. Can these two ideologies be reconciled?

    http://vimeo.com/6781008

  17. Avatar

    hannah

    July 6, 2010 at 5:57 PM

    MashaAllah mashaAllah. May Allah preserve Shk Yasir and his students.

  18. Avatar

    MAK

    July 7, 2010 at 6:03 AM

    As-salamu Alaykum.

    Where can i find the whole of this video? With Prof. Tariq ramadan talking also?

  19. Avatar

    Junayd

    July 7, 2010 at 11:59 AM

    Jazak’Allah Khair Sheikh Yasir. This was a topic long overdue by our eminent teachers. Allah reward you and preserve you for taking the first step towards rebuking an idea that has somehow seeped into the minds of the Muslims. Insh’Allah you will be able to deliver similar initiatives in the future…

    I am glad to see you covering those “bigger” issues at hand. Postmodernism, dialectical materialism, quantum physics, evolution, democracy, capitalism, secularism are all ideas that, I believe, have been given little attention, but pose great hazards. Although it is worthwhile mentioning that Sheikh Jafar Idris, on his website, has written some reputable articles refuting contemporary ideologies at odds with Islam.

    There is one area I wish Muslims intellectuals would cover more often, which is the illegitimacy and hypocrisy of modern warfare. It may be because we lack in terms of knowledge and interest in the area of current events, political science, international relations, etc. Will you also be looking into these issues in the future which allege that Muslims are terrorists and are always putting Muslims on the defensive? I personally believe that the U.S. and their ideological and psychological tactics have been so successful that the U.S. can literally kill 27 Afghans like on Feb 22 of this year, and nobody will ever question anything or the implications of modern warfare. Furthermore, non-Muslims and even Muslims seem to be desensitized to these kills, because there’s no effort to humanize the victims of war, but rather to portray them as mere villagers with no significance in the world. In a sophisticated manner, do you plan to discuss why Afghan and Iraqi civilian casualties do not get as much airtime as Western casualties? Additionally, I would support the our Imams addressing U.S. foreign policy and image of Western superiority, especially focusing on the ideological and psychological propaganda being fed to us in school and in the media? IslamOnline has done an excellent analysis of Cheryld Bernard’s “Civil Democratic Islam” paper, also known as the RAND report. Lastly, the AlMaghrib forums in “Book Nook” section, there’s a list of resources under the post “Current Affairs and Documentaries” which you may find interesting…

    Yours in brotherhood,

  20. Avatar

    Tesia

    August 2, 2010 at 9:30 PM

    Hello,

    I would just like to say that I appreciate this video and conversation. I’m not a muslim, but rather a Seminary student and a Christian. This has been very thought-provoking and educational.

    Thanks!

  21. Avatar

    Sidiq

    August 5, 2010 at 6:00 PM

    Yasir Qadhi mentioned a verse that I simply cannot find, somebody care to help? Khadhaba rusulee fakayfa kaana wa’eed.

    • Avatar

      ahmed

      August 5, 2010 at 10:39 PM

      i did not watch the video, but i think you are referring to Qaf:14

      • Avatar

        Sidiq

        August 6, 2010 at 9:22 AM

        Jazakallah khair for that but it isn’t the wording that Shaykh Yasir said. It is interesting the similarities between the verses though.

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#Culture

Messiah, A Fitnaflix Production

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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/.

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#Islam

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

Sepoy rebellion, Shaykh Hamza
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In recent years, Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, a notable Islamic scholar from North America, has gained global prominence by supporting efforts by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to deal with the fallout of the Arab revolutions. The UAE is a Middle Eastern autocracy that has been the chief strategist behind quelling the Arab revolutionary aspiration for accountable government in the region. Shaykh Hamza views himself as helping prevent the region from falling into chaos by supporting one of its influential autocratic states.

However, more recently, he has become embroiled in another controversy because of comments he made regarding the Syrian revolution in 2016 that surfaced online earlier this week and for which he has since apologised. I will not discuss these comments directly in this article, but the present piece does have a bearing on the issue of revolution as it addresses the question of how Islamic scholars have traditionally responded to tyranny.

Thus, in what follows, I somewhat narrowly focus on another recent recording of Shaykh Hamza that has been published by a third party in the past couple of weeks entitled: “Hamza Yusuf’s response to the criticism for working with Trump administration”. While it was published online at the end of August 2019, the short clip may, in fact, predate the Trump controversy, as it only addresses the more general charge that Shaykh Hamza is supportive of tyrannical governments.

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

Opposing all government vs opposing a government

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

A complex tradition

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

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

What does the tradition actually say?

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

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

Al-Ghazzali on confronting tyrants

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

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

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

Modern discontinuities and their high stakes

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

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

Shaykh Hamza on the nature of government

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

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

Where do we go from here?

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

And Allah knows best.

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Can Women Attend The Burial Of The Deceased?

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

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

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

Key positions and evidence

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

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

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

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

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

Interpreting the evidence

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

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

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

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

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

The fiqh of modernity

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

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

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

And God knows best.

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