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Aqeedah and Fiqh

Ali Shehata | Reflections on the Protests in Egypt

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The Need for Understanding and Tolerance

Reading the highly charged words exchanged between Muslims in the past two weeks over the issue of Tunisia, and now Egypt, I felt sad to see a number of people taking very extreme stances and forgetting the middle path of Islam that we have been guided to by Allah.

Thus We have appointed you a middle nation, that you may be witnesses against mankind, and that the Messenger may be a witness against you. [2:143]

There is no doubt that this is an issue that has presented many challenging questions, and that we should all be reminded that when clarity is not present that it is better for us to remain silent and protect ourselves from the evil of both harming others with our words, and worse, speaking about Allah without knowledge. May Allah protect us all from these evils and imbue our words with wisdom.

I myself spent a great deal of time both reflecting on the events as they unfolded, as well as reviewing the various stances of our noble scholars on matters of this nature. Initially, despite my excitement and du’a for the safety and success of the people of Tunis, I was nonetheless very concerned by the number of people who turned away from Allah and instead to major sins like self-immolation to solve their problems.

Yet there is no doubt that there is an indescribable degree of desperation that has taken hold of so many people in these countries, a desperation that may very well have led to outright madness in many of our brothers and sisters. Hence, it is my sincere du’a that Allah, the All-Merciful and All-Forgiving, will overlook their actions done in these dire moments and that He reward them with success against their oppressors and with His pleasure and Mercy – ameen.

On the matter of suicide, let us briefly take the time to remember this important hadith from Sahih Muslim. When the Prophet (saas) made hijrah to Madinah, Tufayl ibn ‘Amr came as well, along with a man from his tribe.  This man became ill when he first reached Madinah and his illness became so severe that he took a knife and slit his wrist, and the blood spilled out until he died.  Tufayl then saw him in a dream, in a good vision, except that his hands were wrapped up.

So he asked him, ‘What has your Lord done with you?’

He replied, ‘He has forgiven me because of my hijrah to His Prophet (saas).’ The he asked, ‘Why are your hands wrapped up?’.

He said, ‘It was said to me: We shall not fix something you have corrupted yourself!’

So Tufayl relayed this to the Messenger of Allah (saas), so he said: ‘O Allah! And forgive his hands (too)!’

From this hadith we understand that suicide does not expel a person from Islam, but rather it is a major sin that can lead to punishment in the Hereafter.

Al-Qaadi ‘Iyadh said in Ikmaal al-Mu’lim:

“In this hadith is proof for Ahlus-Sunnah for what they say, that Allah may forgive the sins of whomever He wants, and it explains the ahadith before it that might seem to give the false impression that someone who commits suicide faces the eternal threat of remaining (in the Fire) forever.”

Yet as the events continued to unfold, I witnessed the images of people being sprayed with water cannons while in sujud, the commitment of the overwhelming majority of the people to keep the protests free of the use of weapons and killing and the selfless acts of the brave and courageous Egyptian youth who set up neighborhood watches to protect their neighbors’ homes and shops. It was then that I realized the goodness of this effort and that the people had continued to remain close to Allah in these difficult days. This point was also mentioned by Shaykh Muhammad Hassan in Egypt, who called the efforts of the people, particularly the youth, “a blessed and good act.”

I then decided to write this article to demonstrate the expansiveness of Islam on the issues relevant to these events because I noticed that the people had turned away from Islam and from the scholars. There is the idea that some people have mistakenly spread, that these events are against Islam – and whereas this may be in fact the opinion of some scholars, it is by far not the only opinion on this issue. To illustrate this point, in having this article reviewed before publication, I had three PhD’s in Islamic Studies as well as a holder of a Master’s degree comment to me on it and I received four completely different opinions subhan’Allah. So let us not by hasty in declaring the issue to be black and white, and let us move past this question to tackle the real issues at hand of how to make an impact.

Scholars and the Knowledge of the Condition

The scholars of Egypt have been divided in their opinions on this matter as it is a very controversial one. There are some who have praised it, others who have been silent and those who have recommended that people not participate in it. Yet, the scholars of Egypt are best aware of the circumstances on their streets and the scholars outside of Egypt have refrained to speak much on the matter since this case is particular to every nation in its own way depending upon several factors.

This reminds us of an important principle in fiqh, that there are some rulings which are universal for time, place and condition; and there are other rulings which will vary to some extent based upon certain factors or circumstances. Ibn al-Qayyim, in his book ‘Ilaam al-Muwaqiyeen, has written that the one who gives fatwa must first have specific practical knowledge of the issue that he is speaking about, and secondly have the religious knowledge of the fiqh of that matter before he issues a ruling.

Many times, people have asked specific questions on this website, at times even demanded answers from the people of knowledge in the West regarding certain matters in the East. Yet, this guiding principle has caused many to rightly remain silent and leave certain matters to the people who know them best, those who are living them and seeing the reality with their own eyes and can thus judge them the best.

Understanding Khurooj Against the Ruler

The concept of khurooj against the leader has been understood by various scholars in different ways, but generally it refers to taking up arms against the ruler in order to forcibly remove him from power. Speaking out against the leader has also been considered by some to also be a form of prohibited khurooj. As Muslims, we must understand that this is a very detailed and elaborate matter and beyond the scope of this simple article to explore in its fullness. I only wish to provide a foundation for those who are unfamiliar with it here. With that in mind, let us now briefly consider the evidences for this important principle.

Allah has said in the Quran what means,

“O you who believe! Obey Allah and obey the Messenger, and those who are in authority over you. If you differ in anything among yourselves, refer it to Allah and His Messenger, if you believe in Allah and in the Last Day.” [4:59]

And the Prophet (saas) also stated,

The best of your leaders are those whom you love and who love you, who pray for you and you pray for them. The worst of your leaders are those whom you hate and who hate you, and you send curses on them and they send curses on you.” He was asked, ““O Messenger of Allah (saas) should we not fight them by the sword?” He said, “Not as long as they are establishing prayer amongst you. And if you see from those in authority over you something that you hate then hate his action and do not remove your hand from obedience” (Muslim)

Imam an-Nawawi said in his commentary on Sahih Muslim:

And as for rebelling against the rulers and fighting them, then it is prohibited by unanimous agreement (ijmā’) of the Muslims, even if they are sinful oppressors. And the ahadith are many with the meaning that I have mentioned. And Ahlus-Sunnah are united that the ruler is not to be removed on account of his sinfulness … And the scholars have said, that the reason for prohibiting his removal (by these means) and the forbidding of revolting against him is due to what accompanies such acts from that of tribulations, shedding of blood, and corruption. Hence, the harm from his removal is greater than from him remaining in place.

From Imam an-Nawawi’s explanation we derive an important point that has been used by some scholars, and that is the prohibition of fighting the Imam stems from the great chaos that accompanies it and most often outweighs the evil of the ruler himself. Those scholars today who have been opposed to the protests racing across the Muslim world have not been opposed to them because they love the tyrants in those countries or because they are pleased with their oppressive and dictatorial policies. No. They are opposed to them because they are afraid of the harm that may come from them when things get out of control. Unfortunately, most of the revolutions in our history have not had positive results and this is something we must keep in mind.

Controversy as Regards the Extent of Obeying the Ruler

The fact that Muslims must listen to and obey their rulers is not a matter of disagreement in Islam, but to what extent they do so, and when do they abandon this obedience is an area of varying opinion among the scholars. The obedience to the ruler is always contingent upon the command of the ruler not being in defiance to Allah and His Messenger (saas) as has been established by a number of ahadith:

The Muslim is required to hear and obey in that which he likes and dislikes, unless he was commanded to sin. When he is commanded with sin, then there is no hearing or obeying.” (Bukhari and Muslim)


… Obedience is only in righteousness.” (Bukhari and Muslim)

Yet, do the Muslims continue to obey when the ruler judges by other than Islam? This specific matter is something relatively new in our time (ruling by other than Shari’ah) and was not experienced by the earliest generations. It is authentically narrated from the Prophet (saas) that he said,

Even if a slave was appointed over you, and he rules you with Allah’s Book, then listen to him and obey him.” (Muslim)

This same stream of thought is found in the noble words of Abu Bakr when he said upon assuming the khilafah,

O people! I have been put in charge over you, but I am not the best of you. If I act well, then help me, and if I act badly, then put me right. Truthfulness is a trust and lying is treachery … Obey me as long as I obey Allah and His Messenger. If I disobey Allah and His Messenger, you owe me no obedience. (Sirat Ibn Hisham)

Do these above ahadith specifically give Muslims the permission to revolt? Upon this, the scholars have differed. Some argue that non-compliance with the leader’s command is not equal to rebelling against him, and others say that when they violate their agreement with their people – the agreement to rule them by the Book of Allah – that the people owe them no allegiance and can act to replace them.

Acting to Replace a Tyrannical Ruler

Allah states in the Quran what means,

And cooperate with one another in righteousness and obedience to Allah, and do not cooperate with one another in sin and transgression, and obey Allah.” [5:2]

In the very important hadith of Umm Salamah (ra), the Messenger of Allah (saas) said:

You shall have leaders over you, some of their actions you will accept and other things you will reject; whoever rejects with his tongue will be safe from sin, and whoever hates with his heart he will at least have escaped blame, but whoever follows and accepts (he shall be guilty)!” It was said, “Should we not fight them?” The Messenger of Allah (saas) said, “No, as long as they pray.” (Abu Dawud)

This hadith of Umm Salamah has other ahadith which support its meaning. For example, the Prophet (saas) also said,

Whoever from amongst you sees an evil should change it by his hand, if he is unable to do so then he should change it by his tongue (by speaking against it), and if he is unable to do so then he should reject it in his heart – and this is the weakest of Iman.” (Muslim)

He (saas) also said,

The best Jihad is the word of Justice in front of the oppressive Sultan.” (Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi, ibn Majah)

And the Prophet (saas) also said,

If the people witness an oppressor and they do not take him by his hands (to prevent him) then they are close to Allah covering them all with punishment.” (Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi, ibn Majah)

These very important ahadith on this issue provide some options in the Islamic approach towards rulers who transgress. The greater action, which is among the highest forms of Jihad, is to reject with the tongue by speaking out against their crimes and thus be safe from sin. Yet, there are conditions in which speaking out or acting may bring greater harm to both the person and the society and in these cases one must be patient and refrain from speech as it is the lesser of the two evils. In this case, he hates in his heart, and he will still have escaped blame.

The case for being patient and hating in the heart was evidenced by one of the statements of the great tabi’ee al-Hasan al-Basri. A group of Muslims came to him seeking a ruling for rebelling against al-Hajjaj. So they said: “O Abaa Sa’eed! What do you say about fighting this oppressor who has unlawfully spilt the blood, and unlawfully taken wealth, and did this, and did that?” So al-Hasan said:

“I say not to fight him. If this is a punishment from Allah, then you will not be able to remove it with your swords. If this is a trial from Allah, then be patient until Allah’s Judgment comes, and He is the Best of Judges.” (Tabaqat ibn Sa’d)

Here al-Hasan recognized the relative impotence of the people before the strength and ruthlessness of al-Hajjaj and thus he recommended patience. Notice that he did not tell them that this act was forbidden, only that he advised them against it for practical reasons. Had the people been greater in number or greater in strength, then the situation may well have been different.

Furthermore, Ibn Hajar records in his commentary to Sahih al-Bukhari:

Imam Nawawi said: “…one should not object to the actions of the rulers unless they carry out clear and open transgression, and that which is contrary to the general principles of Islam.”

Ibn Teen narrates from al-Dawudi: ‘The scholars have stated that if one is able to remove a transgressing ruler, without causing any Fitnah and oppression, then he should be removed, otherwise it is necessary to be patient.”

The real question that remains then, a question that can only be assessed by each population in its own land, “will our efforts to remove this tyrant create a greater fitnah and oppression than that which he has exacted upon us?”

Thus, if a leader or ruler becomes corrupt he should first be advised, in private if possible, or in public if his evil deeds were done in public. [This unfortunately is an act which is limited to a select group of people in our time and is not a practical point for the majority of the Ummah.] If he does not turn away from his evil deeds, he should be overthrown or removed from position if this can be done without creating further upheaval in the society. However, in the process of removing him from position, he should not be physically fought, such as waging war with weapons. And Allah knows best.

The Position of Some Contemporary Scholars Who Uphold the Legality of Protests

Shaykh Salman al-‘Awdah in Saudi Arabia has previously expressed that he sees no harm in gathering for protests so long as they remain for the most part peaceful and civil. He states that the foundation of matters such as this (peaceful protests) is that it is permissible and doesn’t require any specific evidence to support it. It suffices us that there is no evidence that forbids this type of action unless it is accompanied by obvious harm or sin.

In this valuable statement, we understand that some scholars see protests as a worldly act and not a religious one. Among the principles of Islam is that all religious actions are by default forbidden and can only be done when one has a clear evidence from the Quran or Sunnah. On the other hand, worldly actions are by default permissible and can only be forbidden by clear evidence against them from Quran or Sunnah.  Some other scholars disagree and see protests as a religious action wherein Muslims aim to command good and forbid evil and thus say that an evidence is required (despite the fact that the gathering is simply a means and not a religious act itself). Again, a matter of controversy.

This same position voiced by Sh. Salman has also been taken by Shaykh AbdulRahman Abd al-Khaliq who used a similar reasoning, and added that the concept of Muslims going out in large numbers to demonstrate their strength is well established in Islam by such things as the Jumu’ah prayer, the two Eid prayers and so forth.

Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi has also supported these protests and supported the removal of Mubarak from his office as can be read elsewhere on this website. And from within Egypt, Shaykh Muhammad Hassan as already alluded to has voiced support for the act of the youth and said in a televised statement, “I am not blaming you for what you have done.” And he also emphasized the peaceful nature of this protest that calls for the rights of the people and for goodness in praising it.

Concluding Remarks

From these various ahadith and statements of our scholars across the width of Islamic history, we can find evidence to support the protests in the Muslim nations today. They have gathered together to reject with their tongues the evils in their respective governments after having been patient for many years and restraining themselves. They have furthermore kept their efforts relatively peaceful and free from much harm and they have avoided the greater harm, and potential sin, of raising weapons against their leaders. As an Egyptian myself who knows what many of these people have experienced of fear, oppressive policies, illegal detainments, police brutality and so forth; I believe that their efforts thus far have been the lesser evil – and Allah knows best.

It is also important for us to remember that these protests are far from reaching any real gains. Yes, the people have thrown aside the shackles of fear, but what awaits them tomorrow and the next day? For those who equated Mubarak with Pharaoh, then the appointment of Omar Sulaiman as the next leader is equivalent to Pharaoh taking Haman as his confidant. Sulaiman, in his role as head of the murky Egyptian Intelligence, has been the supervisor of numerous evils not limited to the torture of the citizenry (including the scholars), the illegal rendition programs, and of course a key player in walling off the people of Gaza. To have him take over the helm in Egypt is a nightmare that I ask Allah to protect all the Muslims from.

Will there be those among the scholars and thinkers that disagree with the actions of the Tunisians, Egyptians and those who follow this path? There is no doubt that such disagreement has already occurred, as it is very controversial and always has been.  But as Muslims we must live in the real world and recognize that there will be differences of opinion on such controversial issues. The reality at hand is that these protests have already begun and we need to do more for our brothers and sisters in these lands than argue the legitimacy of their efforts. They have begun and they have a valid Islamic case for their actions, alhamdulillah.

My humble recommendation to readers is that they spend their efforts wisely in helping these noble causes by turning to Allah. Gathering to show support in our own cities is wonderful and gives us a sense of unity, alhamdulillah, but what is needed now more than anything is calling upon Allah to accept these efforts and overlook whatever wrong may be in them. To show our sincerity in our love to them by waking up in the night to cry out to Allah to aid them and make their feet firm, and to bring about good from their efforts and rid them of the tyrants. Ameen!

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



  1. Avatar


    February 1, 2011 at 5:26 AM


    JazakAllah Khayr for a very insightful article which sheds light in a balanced way on what is no doubt a very controversial issue.

  2. Avatar


    February 1, 2011 at 6:14 AM

    Mashallah. Good read

  3. Avatar

    M Fatayerji

    February 1, 2011 at 7:01 AM

    Very nice article. Jazak Allah khair!

  4. Avatar


    February 1, 2011 at 7:40 AM

    may Allah reward you for this insightful post. You’ve reconciled the various opinions well and outlined many important principles in Islam. I found the info on suicide quite eye opening as well. Inshallah please keep on posting these type of posts Dr Ali.

    The Qur’an says:
    – “Verily! The believers are but a single brotherhood,” (Al-Hujurat: 10)
    – “The believers, men and women, are protectors, one of another.” (At-Tawbah: 71)

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    February 1, 2011 at 7:58 AM

    I feel sad for these muslims that are protesting. The alternative leader that you mentioned is not much better than the first. i think for us now as you said is to pray to Allaah SWt. for afterall, prayer is one thing no one can take away from us, not munafiqeen and not the kuffar and not the dhaalimeen.

  6. Avatar


    February 1, 2011 at 8:13 AM

    very insightful. i was always confused on the conflicting ahadeeth on obeying a tyrant versus speaking up.
    This article brought the whole picture and conterversial issues to my knowledge, and shows me that the Shari’ah is ultimately there for that which will be the best long term interest of the people both in terms of the dunya and akhirah. jazakAllahukhair dr. Ali.

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    Abu Zayd

    February 1, 2011 at 9:00 AM

    I think our tone should be much more optimistic, and the events reveal one thing very clearly- the era of Mubarak and his repression is over. The people have arisen and it shows that our hearts are still alive.

    For those who always sound the alarm and talk about the alternatives to oppressive rulers being much worse, it is hard to imagine what could be worse than large scale oppression, state-sanctioned murder, the absence of rule of law, institutionalized injustice, physical torture of human beings, the ruthless suppression of Islamic voices raising the call of Islam, etc., etc.

    Those who quote scholars statements from the past, should know that, with all due respect to them, these statements and views represent their human understanding of their historical conditions which are not eternally binding principles of religion.

    • Avatar


      February 1, 2011 at 10:31 PM

      Agree with everything you said.

  8. Avatar


    February 1, 2011 at 10:12 AM

    Jazakallahkhair Dr. Ali, for shedding some light on this issue. May allah protect everyone in egypt. Your words were extremely beneficial and clear.

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    Yus from the Nati

    February 1, 2011 at 10:17 AM

    Assalaamu ‘alaikum,

    Not to be a jerk, but, was there a reason behind not placing the level of authenticity of the various hadith mentioned? (I could only assume, that various opinions stem from this as well? or maybe I am wrong) Nonetheless, jazakAllahukhair for a diff perspective.

    • Dr. Ali

      Dr. Ali

      February 1, 2011 at 3:30 PM

      Salaam alaikum

      All of the ahadith mentioned are authentic alhamdulillah.

  10. Avatar

    Sis Wardah

    February 1, 2011 at 10:45 AM

    JazakAllahKhayr Dr. Ali for such a clear understanding to this very deep issue. I feel much more at ease knowing the various vantage points (at least a small bit, knowing there is much more to consider) and believe we need to continue spreading these words of balance and constructive thinking.

    Also, the recommendation to turn to Allah is one that indeed reaps most benefit, so I pray all readers do so for our fellow Muslims.

    Give the gift of one night of Qiyaam, and I ask Allah to accept it from us. (Ameen)

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    February 1, 2011 at 10:55 AM

    MashAllah great article Dr. Ali – it really cleared up a lot of confusion. May Allah (swt) help the Muslim ummah and restore ‘izza to us. Ameen.

  12. Avatar

    Abdur Rahman

    February 1, 2011 at 11:51 AM

    great article

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    S. Sheikhly

    February 1, 2011 at 12:43 PM

    Well said Dr. Ali. As far as calling for a new leader, he could be worse than Mubarak or better? Like you said, history on revolution never ended with good results. In my opinion is that no matter who you replace, they probably will not rule by the Shariah 100 percent. So what’s the point of replacing someone who’s not going to rule with Shariah? Look what happened after Saddam Hussein! More Iraqi people are getting killed after his death than when he was alive all because they think that replacing him would bring positive future. WRONG.

    Insha’Allah I hope that Allah subhan wa’tala protects from Fitna from all over the world.

    • Avatar


      February 3, 2011 at 8:59 PM

      The protestors shouldnt be looking for a New LEADER but should be thinking in terms of having the right system of governing and ruling. If the system is right then whoever rules doesnt matter!

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    February 1, 2011 at 2:25 PM

    You know, for all the opinions of various scholars, reality sometimes takes precedent.

    In 1971, the people of what was then East Pakistan chose to revolt against an oppressive regime of West Pakistan. The rulers were muslim, the country was an Islamic country and FOUNDED as a place for Muslims – yet from 1947 to 1971 the people of Bengal had tolerated the oppression and tyranny of the West.

    They rose without any consideration that the outcome of rebellion would be bad. 3 million people were killed in the resulting genocide (Pak soldiers butchering their own brothers) – the numbers can be disputed but even the Hamidor Rashid commission agrees about the atrocities. Thousands of women were raped, again by the so-called Muslim soldiers and brothers of West Pakistan. Finally, with the help of India, a new country was born.

    Today, as a democratic Bangladesh goes forward and Pakistan remains a failed nation subject to bombings and warfare, not a single Bengali will dispute that rising up against tyranny (the best form of jihad according to hadith) was the correct option.

    And guess who the people were who were saying to tolerate the tyranny , to accept the oppression and not react? Why – the Jamaat Islami and some other mullahs. Good thing the people didn’t listen to them.

    • Avatar


      February 1, 2011 at 3:23 PM

      Not really sure why you think Bangladesh is in such a rosy condition. It might have democracy but it just as, if not more corrupt than India, Pakistan, etc. Poverty is still rampant and rule of law is fickle at best. Add to that the floods that come every year.

      I pray for the people of Bangladesh to get better and improve their condition but don’t lose sight of reality.

      • Avatar

        Uncle Tom

        February 1, 2011 at 8:54 PM

        Bangladesh has it’s own issues, but atleast it’s no Pak-istan.

        • Avatar


          February 1, 2011 at 10:28 PM

          In some ways it is better, in other ways it is worse.

        • Avatar


          February 2, 2011 at 8:50 AM

          I smell nationalism and jaahiliyah….

          The Prophet (sal Allahu ‘alaiyhi was salam) said: “Leave it, it is rotten.” [Muslim and Bukhari]

          And : Whoever fights under the banner of the blind, becoming angry for ‘asabiyyah (nationalism), or calling to ‘asabiyyah, or assisting ‘asabiyyah, then dies, he dies a death of jaahiliyyah.” [Sahih Muslim]

          Im neither. But Pakistan,Bangladesh: Muslim with different names.

          • Avatar


            February 2, 2011 at 9:01 AM

            Here is a Wall Street Journal article comparing Bangladesh and Pakistan.

            Bangladesh – Basket case no more

            Pakistan and Bangladesh are now very different countries. There’s no travel warning for Bangladesh as a whole – most of the population is young and thriving. Go to Dhaka and it’s a vibrant city with 50% of the young workforce being female. It’s not as conservative as the Pakistani society and the while politics is always there, the country is doing quite well on many markers. Garments industry is thriving, as is the software and pharmaceutical industries. Literacy is way up.

          • Avatar


            February 2, 2011 at 9:04 AM

            The point of comparing Bangladesh and Pakistan is that every case has its own fatwa and in 1971, all the mullahs (mostly supporting the tyrannical rulers in West Pakistan) were saying to the people not to rise up in revolt and using the same hadiths out of context to show that revolting is haram.

            Mashallah the people didn’t listen to these bought mullahs and did the right thing.

          • Avatar


            February 2, 2011 at 11:27 AM

            I agree with you sr. Ahlam.
            We don’t need a us vs. them mentality amongst the Muslims. Instead of thinking of how one is better than the other, simply make dua for each other and wish them the best.

    • Avatar

      Arif Kabir

      February 2, 2011 at 1:03 PM

      First off, great article, Dr. Ali! We need more of these articles to eliminate the doubt that may arise in our minds.

      Getting to Br. Mezba’s comment:

      not a single Bengali will dispute that rising up against tyranny (the best form of jihad according to hadith) was the correct option.

      I am Bengali (Bangladeshi to be politically correct) and dispute what you have said. True, Bangladesh was the wealthiest nation in the Indian subcontinent up until the 17th century, when the East India Trade Company (and India and Pakistan soon after) began to rob the region of its resources. True there was a lot of misrepresentation of Bangladesh in Pakistan, but the situation is no better than it was before. Not only that, but thousands upon thousands died upon a war that was supposedly about not faith, but language. This was the main rallying cry of the ‘freedom fighters’ and it led to death, the language of war. Alongside the Muslim Pakistanis were the Hindu Biharis, who did not have a single shred of compassion unlike many of the Pakistani troops. They slaughtered, pillaged, and raped many, and is considered by many historical scholars to be considered the greatest undocumented genocide in the past century.

      Look at Bangladesh now, and you will see that the founding party, and current party in power, is an offshoot of the real party in India. Look at our entertainment, and you will see that Indian Idol and other Indian serials are the smashing hits, with no more consideration given to stopping the television during Adhan times. Look at our country, and no Bengali living there can dispute that it is any better than it ever was in the past. True the Pakistanis had many faults in their rule, but we did as well and we fared no better. Allahu ‘Alam how the country would be now if it remained East Pakistan, but I daresay it would have been better and given the country a more unified religious identity.

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    February 1, 2011 at 4:35 PM

    Don’t be afraid of the future, The article didn’t mention the different opposition forces, some of which has been strengthened by the protest. Omar Sulaiman is Hosni Mubaraks Crony.

    The article didn’t address the different political movement, we know that the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwanul Muslimoon) has a broad mass popular support and is considered the largest and most effective opposition.

    If they participate in a free and fair election [this is a key demand of all the protesters, secularists or otherwise] – then they have a very good chance of winning if not by a majority then surely a major player in any new government. Imagine what can happen, economic blockade in Gaza lifted, peace treaty with Israel abolished and a more Islamic orientated government.

    I am not passing opinions about Ikhwan or their activities – i am aware that they are a corrupt-free Islamic social and political movement which runs hospitals schools and other services in Egypt.

    Of course another dictator can come rule tyrannically, but alhamdulillah these protesters are different, never in Egyptian or Arab history over the past 50 years has all the people come united demanding social justice, reform of government, corrupt-free civil service/police. The sheer number who came out to protest is unimaginable a month ago.

    They may not be perfect, but they have a track record for corruption-free, serving the people, the poor, delivering core services and calling people to Islam.

    This of course is down to the Will of Allah, we hope Allah guides the people of Egypt and establishes a just authority Inshallah.

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    February 2, 2011 at 6:14 AM

    nice article islamickorner

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    February 2, 2011 at 10:37 AM

    As’salaamu Alaikum wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakaatu

    JazakAllahu Khayran for the article. Is it possible for a follow-up now that violence has broke out.

    • Dr. Ali Shehata

      Dr. Ali Shehata

      February 2, 2011 at 8:18 PM

      Salaam alaikum

      The violence that has erupted came almost entirely from forces of the government. News reports today showed that among the “pro-government” protesters were those who had police ID’s, people who told CNN that they were ordered by their companies to attend the protests and people who were paid to attend (50 Egyptian pounds, or about $8.50), etc. This doesn’t change the fact that those who initiated the protests were peaceful for days and committed to peace. For them to defend themselves is not a sin.

      • Avatar

        Nabeel Azeez

        February 3, 2011 at 2:16 AM

        Dr. Shehata, isn’t that why the prohibition (or extreme reprehensibility) exists?

        It doesn’t matter who starts it, Islam allows self defense, so you just end up with Muslims killing each other. As is evident today.

        Allahu a’lam but I think dozens of Muslims, if not hundreds, will die before this fitna is over.

        I don’t really know what to think about this situation.

        We take refuge in Allah ‘azza wa jal from this fitna and ask Him to protect the lives, wealth and honor of our brothers and sisters in Egypt. We ask Him to guide all Muslim rulers to rule with justice and mercy on the Straight Path.

  18. Avatar


    February 2, 2011 at 10:49 AM

    lol how ironic…nothing islamic about these protests in Egypt. They never end in peace I’m sure it will cause more chaos now and more sin.

    • Dr. Ali Shehata

      Dr. Ali Shehata

      February 2, 2011 at 8:15 PM

      Salaam alaikum

      Do you suggest that they continue to face the impossible conditions they were facing forever? I urge you to remain silent if you have nothing good to say because you are not in their position and do not know what they have faced for decades now. This is more proper manners towards our bothers and sisters who are willing to bleed and die to ensure that this oppressive rule ends, and we should ask Allah to help and protect them rather than criticizing them from the comfort of our own homes.

      • Avatar

        Mansoor Ansari

        February 4, 2011 at 10:31 AM

        Dr. Ali with all due respect, I feel that this statement contradicts the article u published last month. Once can make the same exact statement in regards to ur article. I m confused as to why the change of heart?

        • Dr. Ali Shehata

          Dr. Ali Shehata

          February 7, 2011 at 10:18 PM

          Salaam alaikum Brother Mansoor,

          Please see my reply to the last comment on the page (with all the quotes from previous articles). I hope this will clarify exactly why there is no contradiction along with another look through this article insha’Allah.

      • Avatar

        Ahmed el Hewari

        February 4, 2011 at 4:01 PM

        Salaamu alaikom Dr. Ali.
        This is exactly what i have been saying. You have people that never felt hunger or thirst saying that the people shouldnt rebel against the govmnt. that it will make it worse. If people are dying for this cause, then obviously emotions are running high. And some people really need change more then wanting it. So inshallah these people that just sit there and without knowledge make judgments will recoginize that its not as clear as black and white.

        • Dr. Ali Shehata

          Dr. Ali Shehata

          February 7, 2011 at 10:18 PM

          Jazak Allahu khayr ya Ahmed

  19. Avatar


    February 2, 2011 at 11:57 AM

    Assalaamu alaykum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh,

    Jazaka Allah khair Dr. Ali for an interesting article. It clarified some things I’ve been thinking about lately. I have questions I’d like your input on if you don’t mind please.

    I heard of an incident in the Seerah where the prophet salla Allahu alayhi wassalam came by a dead muslim man in the battle field and said to his companions this man was in hell fire because he took his own life away with his dagger instead of being patient with the pain of his wounds.. Is this an authentic narration? If yes; does “he is in hell fire” mean it is temporary or permanent?

    My second question, do you mind sharing the names of the contemporary ulama that hold protests to be a religious act and what evidence they use?

    We said in the article that at the time of AlHajjaj, AlHassan AlBasri urged the people to not rebel against him. Did Abdullah bin Zubair and Saeed ibn Jubair follow this opinion of AlHassan or did they get killed because they chose to rebel?

    Jazaka Allah khair yaa shaykh… I hope you have the time to answer these.

    Fi Amaani’Laah

    • Dr. Ali Shehata

      Dr. Ali Shehata

      February 2, 2011 at 8:12 PM

      Salaam alaikum

      1. As regards the man who killed himself in the battlefield, (“This man is from the people of the Fire.”) this is an authentic narration in Bukhari. The position of Ahlus-Sunnah on suicide is: A person who has killed himself should be washed, prayed over and buried with the Muslims, because he is a sinner but he is not a disbeliever. Killing oneself is a sin but it is not kufr. If he killed himself – may Allah protect us – he should be washed, shrouded and prayed over, but the leader and scholars and important people should not pray for him, by way of rebuke, lest anyone think that they approve of what he did.

      2. As for the contemporary Ulama that hold protests to be a religious act, among them are Sh. Abu Ishaaq al-Huwayni and Sh. al-Fawzaan. I don’t have a complete list of them but they tend to hold that rebellion in all its forms is impermissible. And Allah knows best.

      3. Al-Hassan’s advice was not directed to Sa’eed ibn Jubayr and ibn az-Zubayr, so I cannot comment on this since I do not know if they heard this from him or not. Ibn az-Zubayr had his reasons and did what he thought was right and we ask Allah to honor him and Sa’eed ibn Jubayr (and they are already honored) – and Allah knows best.

  20. Avatar


    February 2, 2011 at 3:42 PM

    Jazakallahu Khairan for the article, our dear Dr. and may Allah bless you!

    But these demonstrations are still not justified; they are revolutionaries merely motivated by western doctrines and ideologies, ideas like “freedom” of everything and making everyone believe the distorted belief that they have the right to say anything they wish. This is a Fitnah, and we ask Allah to rectify this matter. How can we praise the youth and all of these demonstrators when they believe that democratic reforms, seeking the media’s attention, and seeking help from the west is correct and supersedes the help and Dua of Allah?

    It is the Aqeedah of Ahlus-Sunnah that it is not permissible to revolt against the rulers. And it is interesting that the groups of people speaking in favour of the demonstrations have not addressed this fundamental belief, and instead just accuse the ruler of being a Kafir.

    The average people have been motivated for change and to have their say, but they are not aware of the clear and pristine view of the Salaf so the confusion of these revolutionaries rages in their minds. And to Allah do we complain.

    • Avatar


      February 3, 2011 at 2:59 AM

      So what all these people are doing is disbelief? This is an ‘aqeedah issue, not a fiqh issue?


      • Amad


        February 3, 2011 at 4:14 AM

        That has been claimed before but no tangible evidence provided.

    • Avatar

      Middle Ground

      February 3, 2011 at 8:10 AM

      “It is the Aqeedah of Ahlus-Sunnah that it is not permissible to revolt against the rulers.”

      Especially against the Saudi rulers, who have the most to lose if the people decide to get rid of them. Just a coincidence, I’m sure.

      • Dr. Ali Shehata

        Dr. Ali Shehata

        February 7, 2011 at 10:23 PM

        The latest news is that the Saudi ruler has pressured the US telling them that it is not fair to pull the carpet out from under Mubarak’s feet after all the service he has done to them in the past.

        Interesting to note how the tone of the US almost immediately changed from “change now” to “we think he needs to stay for the sake of stability”. He literally said that they needed to get control of this issue before “other nations” started to get the same idea (hmm, maybe the Saudis?).

        This of course all came after both the Egyptian and Saudi muftis issued a “fatwa” that these protests need to stop as they are impermissible.

        May Allah protect our Ummah from these conniving, hypocritical tyrants and bless us with noble, righteous leaders who will serve our interests and not the interests of everyone else against us!

        • Avatar


          February 8, 2011 at 2:18 AM

          Assalaamu alaikum Dr. Ali. It is sad that you finally said this statement regarding the rulers of saudi arabia, who are muslim and who deserve that dua’aa be made for them and for Allah to strengthen them in upholding Islaam. This is the way of Ahlus sunnah and it is embodied in the way Imaam Ahmad dealt with the rulers who uttered clear kufr in front of him.

          In addition to that you also seemed to give a underhanded remark regarding the mufti’s of saudi regarding their fatwa about the demonstrations. I believe you might be talking about shaikh luhaidaan, wasi’ullah ‘abbaas, abdur rahmaan al-ajlaan and others who gave such a fatwa.

          Now, i cannot stop anyone from holding the opinions they hold, but we knew these ulama to be the leaders of the way of the salaf before this fitnah started, and we dont know anything about them to show that they have fallen in their status. they are the ones that deserve to be referred to and maashaallah their opinions on the situation are according to the sunnah and not according to the wishes of the people and their emotions.

          neither you nor any of us here are worthy of having their opinions promoted on forums, especially during times like these of fitnah.

          shaikh fawzaan reminds people here

          that it is not for every zaid amr and khalid to voice his opinion on what happens in the muslim world and especially if they are in a position to be followed.

          It is specifically in times like these that we should be going back to the people who are firmly grounded in knowledge and sunnah. As Allah said in surat an-nisa ayat 83, this would have been better for everyone.

          It is a very worrying thing to realize that most people do not know who the right people are to whom we should turn in rgards to islamic guidance during these times.

          It is just as dissappointing for me to learn that you, someone who seemed to research issues and provide answers based on the quraan and sunnah, has shown such an ugly side of himself in regards to the muslims rulers deserving our support (the ones in saudi atleast) and have done something you only expect from emotional youth and not from students of knowledge upon the way of the salaf.

          may Allah guide you and us to the truth. aameen.

          your brother, shariq

          • Avatar

            Abu Ibaad

            February 8, 2011 at 2:48 AM

            Jazzakallaahu khayran Shariq.

            I wish to ask, do we have precedence for these types of protests in the lives of the early muslims? I mean in which the people demand the resignation of the ruler by demonstrations.

            May Allaah forgive us.

        • Avatar


          February 8, 2011 at 8:18 AM

          Dr. Ali Shehata
          February 7, 2011 • 10:23 pm

          The latest news is that the Saudi ruler has pressured the US telling them that it is not fair to pull the carpet out from under Mubarak’s feet after all the service he has done to them in the past. ….

          Seems like an impersonator rather than real Dr. Ali Shehata

        • Avatar

          Mansoor Ansari

          February 8, 2011 at 9:07 AM

          Is this really Dr. Ali saying this? Admins can u pls verify for us.

    • Avatar


      February 3, 2011 at 8:54 PM

      quote – It is the Aqeedah of Ahlus-Sunnah that it is not permissible to revolt against the rulers. And it is interesting that the groups of people speaking in favour of the demonstrations have not addressed this fundamental belief, and instead just accuse the ruler of being a Kafir. – unquote

      The ruler being talked about here and in any hdeeth is not just any ruler, he is the ruler who is enforcing and implementing the Shariah. it does not refer to rulers we have today who implement un islamic ruling systems

  21. Avatar


    February 2, 2011 at 5:11 PM

    i think it’s good to be optimistic. when i look at this revolution, i see it as just one piece of an elaborate stream of events that is the work of Allah. Muslims have been at the bottom of the barrell for a long time, with wars in Muslim countries and people turning away from the deen. the past decade has seen a resurgence in people not only practicing Islam, but praciticing true Islam and turning away from backwards practices. the internet and social media has gotten us all in touch with knowledge, and one with another, in ways that were before impossible.

    when you’re at the bottom, the only way to go is up, and i think if we look at this historically and see that everything is really cyclical, its time to go up =)

  22. Avatar


    February 2, 2011 at 7:06 PM

    Asalamu alaykum warahmatuAllahi wabaraktu,

    Jazakallah khair Dr. Ali. Your article is very beneficial, Alhamdulillah. All we can do is make du’as for our brothers and sisters. We, in the west, have no right to say who is right or wrong because we don’t know the conditions of these people. We shouldn’t be commenting on their situation and judging them unless we have lived the kind of life they are living. Allah knows best. May Allah swt protect our brothers and sisters all over the world. May He grant them patience and overlook their mistakes Insha’Allah Allahuma ameen…We owe them our du’as. The Muslim ummah is one and if a Muslim suffers, we should be feeling the pain with them. May Allah swt unite this blessed ummah Insha’Allah!!!

  23. Avatar

    Yasser MB

    February 3, 2011 at 2:39 AM

    Jazak Allah Khayran Shaykh !! Very insightful article …

  24. Avatar


    February 3, 2011 at 7:51 AM

    Salamoaleikom! Very good and insightfull article… One question: You said that sh. al-Fawzaan held it to be permissable with protest? Can you maybe link that fatwa?

    • Dr. Ali Shehata

      Dr. Ali Shehata

      February 3, 2011 at 12:29 PM

      Salaam alaikum

      No, I did not say that Sh. al-Fawzan said it was permissible. He was listed as among those who hold it to be prohibited as do many of the other Saudi scholars. Sh. Salmaan al-Awdah was the Saudi scholar who saw nothing wrong with them.

  25. Avatar


    February 3, 2011 at 10:47 AM

    asalaam aleikum Dr. Ali,

    Thank you for this article, it certainly cleared some of the gray areas for me.

    As this “revolution” unfolding in front of my eyes, I feel at ease seeing how the real muslims handling such a difficult situation. They took over the job of the police to protect their own people from the criminals. I have not seen that in too many places. They have no way of communicating, yet very well organized in so many ways. Setting up check points, protecting museums and shops etc., and getting more people out on the street to voice their demands. Can anyone tell me if anything like this happened before in any other country?
    sadly some believe that all the killings, setting fires are the doing of the demonstrators. based on this belief they condemn this action.
    As you said Dr. Ali dua have a great power, and us muslims should use it more often to ask Allah to help the people of Egypt right now.
    Against all odds they still standing up for their rights in a very noble way.
    May Allah protect the believers, may Allah give victory to the oppressed…ameen
    May Allah guide us all..ameen

  26. Avatar


    February 3, 2011 at 11:55 AM

    Jazak Allah khairan Dr. Ali for this well balanced article.

    Having lived in Egypt for seven years and experienced the difficult conditions that the Egyptian people have been living under for so many years, my surprise always was that a revolt like this didn’t happen sooner. There were minor revolts while I was there, but they were poorly supported and quashed quite quickly, mainly it seemed because the people didn’t have hope in their ability to make any changes. The repression that they had lived under for so long had taken hope away from them, but the success of the Tunisian revolt seems to have given them the spark of hope that maybe their voices could be heard at last and they have begun to lose their fear of the regime.

    I’m in great pain at all the suffering that is being caused through these events and torn when I see behaviour from the people that is not Islamic, but I feel joy when I see the bravery of the people standing up and speaking out. The image of the people praying in the streets, while being sprayed by the water cannons will be the enduring image of this protest.

    May Allah grant khair to the Muslims from all that is happening throughout Egypt and the Arab world and remove the oppressors!

  27. Avatar


    February 3, 2011 at 3:58 PM

    Masha Allah. Very enlightening.

  28. Avatar

    abu abdullah

    February 3, 2011 at 5:39 PM

    The hadith talk about obeying OUR rulers not rulers put there and supported by the enemies of Islam, Who embrace and hold hands with leaders who bomb and use depleted Uranium on Muslim children and women (Ohh yes, you gonna tell me they deserve it because there Aqeeda is wrong) and fight against the Establishment of Islam.

    Even the biggest Oppressers like Hajjaj bin Yusuf fought to spread and establish Islam. But these new mafia go beyond oppression and fight and aid kuffar against the muslims who want to establish Islam. And I dont want to hear you quote some corrupt government Scholar. As one Diplomat to the English at the time of Abdul Azziz said. “Abdul Azizz built an army of scholars to defend his position”.

    AS Ali R.A said judge a man by the Truth not the truth by a man. I guess now im a Takfeeri, khawariji, devient.Lol.the only words the Super Salafi know.

    What more fitna coulfd there be now than what is happening in the world. Millions dying without knowing Allah. Half a million children of Iraq died from UN sanctions. And still dying from depleted Uranium.Civilians of Afghanistan and pakistan being killed daily. The Prophet (SAW)being insulted internationaly. How many women of Kashmeer and Bosnia were raped. What more Fitna do you want LYING COWARDS

    • Avatar


      February 5, 2011 at 12:51 PM

      quite rightly said brother.
      the rulers about whom the ahadith have been quoted are not these, they are for the rulers of an ISLAMIC STATE where shariah is implemented. the system in place in so called muslim countries, is it islamic?

      • Avatar

        Abu Abdullah

        February 5, 2011 at 5:51 PM

        No way! The prophet SAW said

        The Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) said: The Prophethood will remain amongst you for as long as Allah wills it to be. Then Allah will raise it when He wills to raise it [meaning the prophet will die]. Then there will be the khilafah upon the Prophetic methodology. And it will last for as long as Allah wills it to last. Then Allah will raise it when He wills to raise it. Then there will be biting kingship, and it will remain for as long as Allah wills it to remain. Then Allah will raise it when He wills to raise it. Then there will be tyrannical (forceful) kingship and it will remain for as long as Allaah wills it to remain. Then He will raise it when He wills to raise it. Then there will be a khilafah upon the Prophetic methodology. Then he (the Prophet) was silent. (Musnad Imam Ahmad (v/273)

        Are any of the other muslim countries under the last category? if not they must fall under one of the others.

  29. Avatar

    Farraj Islahi

    February 3, 2011 at 8:35 PM

    Masha Allah to abu abdullah’s talk….
    Please be kind enough to realities of the Muslim named rulers!! They are just attempting to experience their enjoyed life style beyond their enemies of Islam…..isn’t it.

    Please don’t be like their tails even if you are educated or non educated..Try to comprehend the real situation; most of the Islamic people are harassed and stressed by these muslim named politicians through the enemies of Islam, isn’t it!

    So realize the realities, oh my brothers & sisters!

  30. Avatar


    February 4, 2011 at 11:14 AM

    I appreciate this balanced viewpoint. There’s always a fine line between being so neutral as to be impotent and being so partisan as to be ignorant and emotional. You’re walking it well alhamdurillah.

  31. Pingback: Ali Shehata | Reflections on the Protests in Egypt | « Yahyasheikho786's Blog

  32. Avatar


    February 5, 2011 at 9:15 AM

    salaam aleikum,

    one aspect not covered by this article that should be emphasized is that the people who supported the invasion and occupation of Iraq and the prohibition of Muslims building masjids in North America are the VERY SAME people who are now in support of Mubarek, the Egyptian regime, and all of the other tyrants in the Muslim world, many are openly boasting of this:

    Mubarek’s American Fan Club

    This should not make Muslims defensive or apologetic about Islam when discussing with Non-Muslims and should serve as a point of da’wah to Non-Muslims that all of the rhetoric about “freedom” “liberty” and “democracy” is hollow when it comes to securing economic and political interests.

  33. Avatar


    February 6, 2011 at 10:51 AM

    Clarification needed, from

    Instead of neglecting Allah’s command and fighting against the rulers, have we not turned to consider our own sins and our own distance from Him? If these people who fought against their rulers and who attack innocent and unaware civilians in such a cowardly manner by sneaking up on them to detonate hidden weapons – if these people were upon the truth then where is the victory? Where is the help of Allah? Instead we only see more difficulties following their actions – and this is nothing but the result of sin and disobedience to the rule of Allah. In the noble hadith we read,

    قَالَ حُذَيْفَةُ بْنُ الْيَمَانِ
    قُلْتُ يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ إِنَّا كُنَّا بِشَرٍّ فَجَاءَ اللَّهُ بِخَيْرٍ فَنَحْنُ فِيهِ فَهَلْ مِنْ وَرَاءِ هَذَا الْخَيْرِ شَرٌّ قَالَ نَعَمْ قُلْتُ هَلْ وَرَاءَ ذَلِكَ الشَّرِّ خَيْرٌ قَالَ نَعَمْ قُلْتُ فَهَلْ وَرَاءَ ذَلِكَ الْخَيْرِ شَرٌّ قَالَ نَعَمْ قُلْتُ كَيْفَ قَالَ يَكُونُ بَعْدِي أَئِمَّةٌ لَا يَهْتَدُونَ بِهُدَايَ وَلَا يَسْتَنُّونَ بِسُنَّتِي وَسَيَقُومُ فِيهِمْ رِجَالٌ قُلُوبُهُمْ قُلُوبُ الشَّيَاطِينِ فِي جُثْمَانِ إِنْسٍ قَالَ قُلْتُ كَيْفَ أَصْنَعُ يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ إِنْ أَدْرَكْتُ ذَلِكَ قَالَ تَسْمَعُ وَتُطِيعُ لِلْأَمِيرِ وَإِنْ ضُرِبَ ظَهْرُكَ وَأُخِذَ مَالُكَ فَاسْمَعْ وَأَطِعْ

    Narrated Hudhaifa ibnul Yaman, I asked the Messenger of Allah (saas), “no doubt, we had an evil time (the days of Jahiliyya or pre-Islamic ignorance) and God brought us a good time (the Islamic period) through which we are now living. Will there be a bad time after this good time?” He (the Prophet) said: “Yes.” I said: “Will there be a good time after this bad time?” He said: “Yes.” I said: “Will there be a bad time after good time?” He said: “Yes.” I asked: “How?” Whereupon he said: “There will be leaders who will not be led by my guidance and who will not adopt my ways. There will be among them men who will have the hearts of devils in the bodies of human beings.” I asked: “What should I do if I should live to see that time O’ Messenger of Allah?” He replied: “You must listen to the ruler and carry out his orders, even if your back is flogged and your wealth is snatched, you must still listen and obey.” (Muslim)

    قال شارح الطحاوية : ” أما لزوم طاعتهم وإن جاروا ، فلأنــه يترتب على الخروج عن طاعتهم من المفاســـد أضعاف ما يحصل من جورهــم ، بل في الصبر على جورهم تكفير السيئات ، ومضاعفة الأجور ، فإن الله تعالى ما سلطهــم علينا إلا لفساد أعمالنا ، والجزاء من جنس العمل

    Ibn Abil-‘Izz al-Hanafi states on this issue: “And as for obeying the Rulers, even if they commit oppression, then this is because the evils and harms that arise on account of rebelling against them are numerous times more than that which occurs as a result of the oppression of the Rulers themselves. Rather, in having patience over their oppression there is expiation of sins, and a multiplication of the reward. For Allah did not empower them over us, except due to the corruption in our actions, and the recompense for an action is its like (al-jazaa’u min jins al-’amal).” Thus if we don’t like our rulers, then we should look into the mirror to see what we don’t like in our own selves!

    Hence, it is upon us to strive in seeking forgiveness, repenting and purifying our actions. Indeed, Allah (swt) has said,

    وَمَا أَصَابَكُمْ مِنْ مُصِيبَةٍ فَبِمَا كَسَبَتْ أَيْدِيكُمْ وَيَعْفُو عَنْ كَثِيرٍ

    And whatever affliction befalls you, then it is from what your hands have earned, yet He pardons much. [42:30]

    And His (swt) statement:
    وَكَذَٰلِكَ نُوَلِّي بَعْضَ الظَّالِمِينَ بَعْضًا بِمَا كَانُوا يَكْسِبُونَ

    And thus do we turn some of the oppressors against others on account of what they used to earn. [6:129]

    Ibn Kathir quotes in regards to this ayah, “A poet once said, ‘There is no hand, but Allah’s Hand is above it, and no wrongdoer but will be tested by another wrongdoer’.”

    Hence, if the subjects (of a state) wish to save themselves from the oppression of the tyrannical ruler, then let them abandon oppression themselves. And from Malik bin Dinar (who said) that it has come in some of the (previous revealed) Books of Allah:

    I am the King of the dominion, the hearts of the kings are in my Hand. So whoever obeyed me, I made them (the kings) a mercy over him, and whoever disobeyed me, I made them a vengeance upon him. So do not occupy yourselves with reviling the kings, but rather repent and I will make them compassionate upon you.

    And from the same article in comment section:

    Ali Shehata
    December 1, 2010 • 11:59 am

    Sadly, it often appears to me that some people only skim through what is written and then jump to insult – often with the worst of manners. I really wonder Kashif if you read the article at all. You question the words of the Prophet (saas) when they are quite clear. You ignore the words of Ibn Abil-‘Izz al-Hanafi and Malik ibn Deenar. So if you would ignore all of that, what then could I possibly say?

    And one more comment:

    Ali Shehata
    December 1, 2010 • 12:21 pm

    Salaam alaikum Sister

    Please read the article well before accusing me. I am rather saddened by the sharp and classless words that have been thrown at me thus far in these comments. It is possible that you may have missed where I wrote:

    The real issue here is that America – as other countries and empires have done from time immemorial – is acting internationally upon its strategic interests.

    America doesn’t care about setting up a Sharia court anymore than it cares about setting up a monkey court; it cares about how that system will impact its own people and its own interests. America is not doing anything different than what any empire has ever done since the beginning of time, and that is to preserve its own interests. At the present moment in history, it is beneficial for America to at times be in conflict with Muslims and it is beneficial at times for them to support Islamic initiatives in some countries. This is the norm.

    I am not a lawyer here for American foreign or domestic policy. I never once said that I agree with every one of their policies, nor that they are upon the truth that Allah has sent down. I only said that what they are doing is irrelevant to how we practice and implement our deen.

    And while we are on the issue, don’t think for one moment that I haven’t experienced their heavy hand in my own personal life. I have spent many a sleepless night because of various American agency actions in my life. Just because I don’t blog about it doesn’t mean I am unaffected. I complain of that to Allah and I reflect upon my own deficiencies as a Muslim as I have advised people to do in this post.

    We cannot influence American, European, Asian or Middle Eastern foreign policy – but we can influence our own community actions. We can keep crying about injustices in the system until we are blue in the face, but that is a waste of time and makes us only forget the role that we do have to play in bettering ourselves. I remind you with the authentic hadith of Khabbab ibnal-Arrat:

    ‘I approached the Prophet when he was reclining in the shade of the Ka‘bah one day. This was in the days when we had received some harm from the pagans (tortured by them). I said to him: ‘O Messenger of Allah, will you not ask God to help us? Will you not pray for our relief from this persecution?” He sat up red in the face and said: “Among the followers of God before you were those who were thrown in a ditch and then sawed in half. Yet this did not make them turn away from the worship of God. And others had their skin combed with iron combs to the point that the flesh was lifted from the bones yet they too were not swayed from the worship of God. For there is no doubt that God will cause Islam to spread until a person can ride from San’a to Hadramaut (two distant cities in Yemen) and he will not fear anything except God and the wolf regarding his sheep. Yet you are a people who are too hasty!” (Ahmad)

    Here he also complained of heavy handed and unjust tactics, and the Prophet (saas) got angry with him for that! We have not experienced so much harm compared to what others did before us and THEY were more patient than us. I ask you not to consider me, for I know that I am insignificant, but how can you disregard the words of the Prophet and our noble scholars that I have continued to resort to?


    Ali Shehata
    December 1, 2010 • 7:25 pm

    Salaam alaikum

    I didn’t discuss it because Sh. Yasir already hit on the issue and it doesn’t serve any purpose to keep repeating that point because it is not something we can change in the near future. I discussed things that we can change and things that we never discuss in our circles today, yet it was what the Prophet (saas) discussed with his Companions and what the scholars for 1000 years discussed. You can’t change the decisions of government but you can effect a change in Allah’s Mercy by turning to Him – was this message not presented clearly?

    and last but not least:

    Ali Shehata
    December 4, 2010 • 12:46 am

    Salaam alaikum

    I have actually mentioned aspects of this in the response to other comments. The answer in general is that I don’t know.

    The answer may have much to do with the fact that once a government is established – and there are a number of people who understand the government in power now to be the Karzai group (I know they are corrupt – let’s not get started on that) – that Islamically you do not fight it. Even if a ruler uses deception and force to install himself into power then he is to be obeyed if he is able to establish himself. The basis for this comes from the hadith of al-’Irbaad ibnu Saariya. The reason you don’t fight him was mentioned in my first post – because the result of this fight is far worse than anything he will do himself while in power and this has been historically proven many times.

    Ever since he established himself over the government even the Muslim scholars of the East stopped discussing the matter of fighting. The latest news I read on general news sites (AP, BBC, al-Jazeera) was also that factions of Afghani resistance were also meeting with Karzai to discuss a power sharing agreement of sorts. Again, I imagine this may be because they have also understood the danger of fighting a ruler who establishes Islam, even though he may be guilty of major sins.

    The issue of fighting the ruler is something that despite being quite clear in the ahadith, has yet been a matter that some groups – Khawarij and Jihadis – refuse to submit to and they try to twist a variety of statements and interpretations to give license to their revolts. Yet, the record of history has shown this to be a losing battle and again, there are many who after years of playing this game have repented alhamdulillah.

    This is my knowledge of this matter so please ask someone else if this did not answer your question. Please don’t ask for elaboration either as I will not respond because this is more an academic discussion and for the majority of Muslims today has no practical significance. I only explained this much to try to be responsive to those who wish to understand Islamic thought better, but I have limited time and prefer to use that on issues of practical significance to myself and others as opposed to academic discussions.

    Please read your comments in previous articles. I know you enough to say that you are very good person and sincere. I would suggest you and rest of scholars of muslimmatters write a comprehensive article on the manhaj/methodology you guys have adopted. Once that is clear, we can easily understand the articles you guys write and/or comment.

    • Dr. Ali Shehata

      Dr. Ali Shehata

      February 7, 2011 at 10:15 PM

      Salaam alaikum

      I appreciate the extensive reminder of previous comments and I am also aware of what I had written previously. I cannot comment on anyone else’s manhaj as this site provides the views of a number of different voices which are not always going to agree with each other as this is the nature of the religion.

      As far as what was written before and the question that some people have asked regarding what they perceive as a contradiction, then it is not insha’Allah a contradiction at all and I had tried to mention this in the beginning of this very post.

      The ahadith regarding khurooj that I used in my posts on violent extremism, many of which you copied above, speak specifically of the use of violence to remove the ruler. I referred to this because of the fact that a number of extremist groups had used violent means to overthrow their rulers and this has appeared to make matters worse. My position on that has not changed – I still see that as forbidden.

      The people of Egypt and Tunisia (and Yemen and Jordan) have repeatedly shown their protests to be of a peaceful nature and have not resorted to taking up arms to overthrow their leader. They have been patient for decades and those who know these countries have seen a great number of improvements stemming from the successful dawah in many of these lands alhamdulillah. It may be this increase in their righteousness and imaan that led Allah to inspire so many of them to come out at one time to speak the word of truth against their tyrannical despots.

      In those lands where such a gathering is still difficult, Syria for example, and there are no peaceful means of attempting change, then I still believe that for them patience is best as al-Hassan al-Basri advised the group that set out to attack al-Hajjaj. I believe firmly that when the conditions of the heart are right that Allah will make a good way for them to achieve changes as changes have already occurred peacefully in other lands without much damage to their lands.

      And Allah knows best.

  34. Pingback: Ali Shehata | Reflections on the Protests in Egypt | | Abdul Kareem's Blog

  35. Avatar


    February 8, 2011 at 3:38 AM

    Assalamu alaikum,

    As much as I respect the Saudi scholars for their knowledge and for their fiqh, I cannot trust them regarding political matters. Sorry. Why?

    1. Saudi Arabia was started by fighting with the help of the British against the Ottoman Empire.

    2. Imam AbdulWahhaab fought together with Aal AsSaud to establish Islam in the country. It was then agreed that Aal AsSaud would take the rulership. Is this really Islamic?

    3. They made a fatwa saying it was OK to ask the help of the Americans against Iraq. We all know the evil that came from that. America is still on Muslim lands. Sadam might have been declared a kafir but what about all those Muslims who had no choice but be in the army?

    There are many other things that I could state but these should be enough.

    Now, for those who say that those demonstrations are not halaal, ask yourself these questions:

    1. Have you lived in Egypt? Have you noticed these days the brutality of the police? Is speaking against oppression in the street not allowed?

    2. Have you lived under an oppressive regime? Are you still living there?

    3. Are you a black living in America or even in the rest of the world? If so, did the status of the black people of America get better overnight or did the blacks fight for it and demonstrate for it?

    4. Were you born in America or was it the choice of your parents or your choice to go and live in America? If the last one, why did you go and live there? Are you sure that Islamically, such a move was permissible. For example, the great majority of those who went from Muslim countries to non-Muslim ones was “to have a better life”, i.e. so that we are not hungry anymore. Is there a difference between that and going in the street to stop oppression.

    I will reiterate again and again that these demonstrations are NOT because of hunger. The people in the square are NOT asking of the kuffaar’s help; actually the Jazeera network is enough. The people in the square DO NOT want America to intervene; actually they dread it. One of them even said that the media is UNDERMINING it in the fact that they say how much Egypt is losing every day. Do you know who is losing money? Mubarak and his gang.

    These demonstrations are because of OPPRESSION. I live in Egypt and I have seen how many foreigners Muslims fled the country because they feared of what will happen or they feared there won’t be any food on their table. I then said to myself that Muslims are not ready for jihad, especially those who have lived in the West. Ten days after the 28th of January, things are going back to normal, alhamdulillah. We always speak of the Sahabah, examples of their endurance, … but where is the practical side of it after the talk?

    Those who are in the square now live on a little food that mostly poor people give them. People who sell bread in the street will give them free bread. Some people will bring them food but they share everything and they sleep at night hungry. Are you ready for that?

    You want to experience, from the comfort of your lives, what we experienced?

    1. Go one full day without a mobile phone. Total blackout. Then for about a week after that, you might be able to receive calls, you might not. As people’s credit was finished, they couldn’t phone either.

    2. Go without Internet for a week.

    3. Stand outside all night or at least two hours at night being a vigil.

    4. On a weekend, when you usually sleep in, make sure you are in the house before 3.00 pm.

    If you want to experience what a Google experienced, then stay blindfolded for 11 days just because you write on this blog. ;)

    • Avatar


      February 8, 2011 at 8:21 AM

      Sister – even though we side with you on this issue in particular, just a few points that need to be addressed.

      With all due respect, just because people here from 3 or 4 names that they only know from the scholar of Saudi Arabia does not mean that they represent the whole of the ‘ulama in the kingdom.

      And people’s facts on history need to be understood in proper context. Some of which is skewed. Because people don’t realize that the first kingdom of Saudi Arabia that Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab was part of FELL, and then the second kingdom was the birth of the King ‘Abdul Aziz establishment, let’s learn a bit of history before we repeat what is told to us by popularity.

      This is beyond the point.

      To blame an entire group of scholars and their “political” understandings based on skewed historical facts, is hardly insaaf – equal or just.

      There have been scholars who’ve been jailed who are senior and some just before all of these demonstrations were house arrested, scholars such as Abdullah Sa’ad the great muhhadith, AbdulAziz al Julayyil, Sulaiman ‘Alwan, and recently Khalid Rashid – may Allah free them from captivity.

      And current scholars in the kingdom who state the haqq as well and spoke in light of these demonstrations
      Nasir Omar
      AbdurRahman ibn Nasir al Barrak
      Muhammad al Araify even

      And I personally use to hear Shuraim’s khutbah’s being severe and strong against the government’s positions during Gaza, and most people say this is part of the reason why he hasn’t been giving sermon’s.

      We as muslims have been taught to understand and judge things based on understanding and not emotional fallacies, and it’s a HUGE disrespect to an entire nation of scholars whether in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, or wherever that we just make sweeping judgements on people who’ve dedicated their lives, and gone to prison in order to stand for the truth.

      If you wish to make a point, do so without succumbing the ‘ulama to unjust blame. There are those that obviously have affected by governments and this is what has been going on since the Abbasid and Ummayid era’s, and there are the MANY, MANY out there alhamdulillah that stand for the truth.

      Just because the public isn’t popularized with their names, and only knows the names of a few, does not mean they don’t exist.

      May Allah rectify us all. Ameen.

      • Avatar


        February 8, 2011 at 11:52 PM

        Jazak Allahu khairan for your post. Unfortunately we hear little of those scholars and their arguments.

        I now understand why the khateeb reads the khutbah in Makkah and Madinah straight out of a paper, not being able to say one sentence without looking at it. Sad.

        • Avatar


          February 9, 2011 at 1:13 PM

          Allah knows best why the Imams of the Harmain read out of a paper. We cannot come to conclusions and judge others based on a mere observation. The Imams don’t just lead prayers and Friday Khutbahs, but they also have many other responsibilities (some are professors in university, some judges). We do not know what their daily schedule looks like. Maybe they do not get the time to memorize an entire khutbah.

          Besides each Imam has his own style and choice of words. If one frequently listens to these khutbahs they’ll notice the difference.

          The Imam is not talking to their local Muslim community but they’re talking to the entire ummah. It’s definitely a huge responsibility to address a million or more Muslims in the heartland of Islam. One has to choose the words carefully as to not create fitnah.

          Personally, I prefer to listen to the Friday khutbahs in Makkah and Madinah rather than watch. When you just listen to it you feel like it’s really coming from their hearts.

    • Avatar

      Fulaan ibn Fulaan

      February 10, 2011 at 5:21 AM

      You missed out a few things – like the crazy queues for food the day after the 25th on the first days of the curfew when we had to queue for hours to buy food and when the prices started to rise for everything, and people had to queue for hours to buy bread which was doubled in cost.

      When the call from the mosques came to stand outside the buildings and protect your houses the initial fear that people had when they were told that criminals had been let lose from prisons and had stolen weapons, and we were standing outside with sticks and kitchen knives.

      Leave the scholars who spoke against the demonstrations – the actions of those scholars from Egypt who demonstrated and are in Tahrir is enough for us from their words and their speeches as they understand the situation on the ground here.

      There is still massive uncertainty about what is going to happen here – and planeloads of foriegn students have left – but I have not met a single Egyptian who is unhappy about the change.
      They are upset about the price of the change, the chaos or ‘fowdah’ the instability and lack of security – but everyone always complains about the price of change, and no one want to pay the ‘dariybah’ for the situation.

      Even the most negative person who I have met who says they love Mubarak and he is is our president (and at least two people said this to me) recognises that it is time for change and they deserve something better as the country has not progressed in 30 years and there is massive inequality here.

  36. Avatar


    February 8, 2011 at 7:59 AM

    Dr.Ali – Allah yahfadhak wa yujzik al khair – I’m sure now you can see the situation of the laity when it comes to many issues that we face today, when the people are not taught uniformly or systematically and then when issues do happen – people start bringing about their contentions, doubts, and confusions.

    Allahul musta’an.

    This new methodology of dealing with teaching and da’wah trend has these kind of negative affects upon people, and you can witness it right here and now.

    May Allah grant us all patience and steadfastness and guide us to reminding people their actions are to worship Allah with, to stay away that which is doubtful or does not concern us, and to grant our du’aat and scholars the correct vision and ability to stand through fitan to guide people out of ignorance, rather than lead them into deeper ignorance. Ameen

    WAs-salamu ‘alaikum

  37. Avatar


    February 8, 2011 at 8:25 AM

    Shaykh Muhammad AbdulMaqsud in Tahrir Square – advising the crowd and making du’a at the end to relieve them of the fitan, corruption, and relinquish them from the Taghut, Hosni Mubarak.

  38. Avatar


    February 10, 2011 at 11:08 PM

    MashaAllah! Finally, well researched and argumented note from Islamic perspective. It is a good response to this type of shallow positions too –

    Salams and duas from Uzbekistan to Egyptian brothers/sisters and to everyone who stands against oppression!

    • Avatar


      February 11, 2011 at 5:20 PM

      LOL Talaba! I was expecting sense from the article you referenced but it was complete rubbish on so many counts which has now been proven false by subsequent events. Dire warnings against mixing of men and women in the street, praise for the murder of progressive Islamic scholars. A litany of loony!

  39. Avatar


    February 22, 2011 at 3:50 PM

    Selem Aleikom wa Rahmatullahi wa Baraketuh,
    Jazakom Allahu kheir for this article.
    As far as I am concerned, I do not understand at all the position of some respected scholars or thinkers against the current protests in Tunisia, Egypt, or now, Libya… I know particularly Tunisia and the tyran Ben Ali, so I will only talk about this country, and you will understand that I see this protests foremost as a religious act.
    After Bourguiba, Ben Ali kept banning the hijab in the public premises and public places ? (it’s written in Tunisia constitution since 1981, the same constitution that Mr. Ghanushi, the acting president, want to keep)… I have many friends who have been beaten and hurt badly by policemen in the streets just because they were wearing hijab.
    I remember a hadith which tells us about a woman who has been humiliated by some jews who took her hijab off to make fun of her… what the Suhaba did then ? They declared the war to defend her honour. Yes, this was the value of a muslim woman in the past… Nowadays, muslims women are humiliated every day, and what is done ? too many muslims keep silent or even worse, they defend those who humiliate us !
    What about the brothers that they used to torture because of their « islamic » beards ? One of my relatives has been beaten by a group of policemen just because he had a beard and because he prays his 5 compulsory prayers in the mosque… They asked him why he prays 5 times a day in the mosque ! « the mosques are for old people only », they laughingly said !…
    They used to force practicing muslims to sign a document on which it was written « I undersigned… I will not pray in the mosque, I will not show any religious signs in public, etc, etc… ».
    A minister dared to say in the parliamant (few days before the revolt) that the adhan was a noise pollution and there were too much mosques in Tunisia ??? Do these politicians see Tunisia as a muslim country ?? I don’t think so… Can we still consider them as muslims ?… anyway, they are liars, thieves, perverts, manipulators and do not deserve to lead a muslim country…

    May Allah give success to muslims and destroy the enemies’ plots !

    • Avatar


      February 23, 2011 at 1:21 AM

      wa alaikum assalam wa rahmatullah wa barakatuh,

      I’ve just received this video for those interested. Comments are in Arabic but it is the pictures that are important: Money found in the Tunisian presidential palace of Sisi BouSaid.

      • Avatar


        February 24, 2011 at 7:10 PM

        Indeed, this video confirms once again that they are liars, thieves, megalomaniacs, greedy, perverts; so they do not deserve to lead a muslim country.

        May Allah give victory to the mujahiddins fisabilihi.

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

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

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

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

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

Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad in Paradigms of Leadership (6)


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

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

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


Did Jurists Only Permit Abortion in ‘Dire’ Circumstances?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some Contemporary Views on Abortion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Framing the Problem: Basic Levels of Engaging the Law

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

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

(a) The Personal

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

(b) The Academic

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

(c) Fatwā, Irshād, and Public Preaching

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

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

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

(d) The Political

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

The Problem of Imposition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thou Shalt Make No Exceptions, But Should We?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Web MD

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion: Refining our Conceptualization & The Bigger Picture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God alone is our sufficiency.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[28] Ibid., 6:755.

[29] Ibid., 6:763.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

[40] al-Rāshidī, al-Miṣbāḥ, 28.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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