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Shall I not be a Thankful Servant? A Brief Guide to Understanding Shukr

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Bismillah

Let’s go back in time. Back to Madinah, through the masjid and to the Prophet’s ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) home. We see him there, in the darkeness of the night, praying to his Lord. He is crying as he reads the ayat of the Qur’an. He has been standing for so long, and you see that his blessed feet have swelled and the skin is cracking.

Many of us would think what A’ishah, his beloved wife, raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) asked him afterward. She said, “O Prophet of Allah, why do you undergo so much hardship despite the fact that Allah has pardoned for you your earlier and later sins?” He ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) responded, “Afala akuna abdan shakura? Should I not prove myself to be a thankful servant?”

We learn from this hadith that gratitude is shown through deeds. Shukr is by action. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was not commanded to worship to this degree but rather it was a complete act of devotion and thankfulness to Allah (azza wa jall).

When we want to thank someone, we go the extra mile to make them happy, especially when they are beloved to us. We go to great lengths to show our parents, spouse or friend that we appreciate them. We offer our help without their asking. We plan time to spend together. We give them gifts without expecting one in return. We do whatever will make them happy. We show our love and appreciate through our actions.

Yet, how can we claim that we love Allah when we do not even act this way with Him? We do not abide by His Rulings. We hardly go past the bare minimum of worship. We do not honor His Book. We swear by His Name in vain. We are not shy to sin in front of Him while we are shy when others are watching. We delay our daily conversations with Him, and when we finally do go to pray, we do it as fast as we can – rushing back to what we think is more important than Him.

Would we ever claim to love our mother, spouse, or friend if we treated them this way? Would they feel that we love them and appreciate them if we treated them this way?

Aren’t we ashamed that we treat our family and friends better than we do our own Creator? Surely for Allah is the Highest Example.

Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) does not need us or our worship at all. We are not harming Him or benefiting Him in any way by worshiping Him or disobeying Him. He does not need anyone or anything, rather He is Self-Sufficient and always deserving of praise. This parable is to show how we contradict ourselves – we say that we love Allah, that we are thankful to Him, yet our actions show the complete opposite. Our actions show that we are careless, ungrateful and that we are very good at saying what we don’t mean.

What is Shukr

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As a creation, we are wired to love those who give to us. In an authentic hadith, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) taught us, “Give gifts and you will love one another.” Linguistically, shukr is used to describe a healthy cow – a cow that has visible signs of nourishment. Islamically, the scholars define shukr as the mentioning of Allah’s Blessings upon the slave’s tongue, the slave’s recognition of these blessings in his heart, and obedience of the limbs due to these blessings.

Being thankful to Allah does not mean to only say “alhamdulillah” or doing a quick sajdah when we feel blessed. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) taught A’ishah that night that you must show your thankfulness to Allah. You have to strive to prove it.

We also learn from the Qur’an that shukr is by action. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He)says to the family of Dawud 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him):

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“Work, O family of David, in gratitude.” (34:13)

Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) did not say, “Be grateful!” rather He said to work in gratitude. We learn from the Prophet [saw] that the most beloved fasting and prayer to Allah is the fasting and prayer of Dawud 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him).

Thabit al-Binani (rahimahullah) says regarding this ayah, Dawud 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) would divide the hours of the night and day between his family so that there wouldn’t be an hour of the night or day except that a person from the family of Dawud would be praying, so Allah addressed them all by saying, ‘Work, O family of David, in gratitude. [Uddat al-Saabireen]

From this ayah, Imam ibn al-Qayyim (rahimahullah) states that there are three branches of shukr:

1. Knowledge: Knowledge is the foundation of shukr. We must be aware and knowing of the fact that Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala) is the One who is bestowing us with these blessings. We attribute all of our blessings to Him ta’ala. Some people attribute good to themselves, and when they are faced with difficulty or hardship, they attribute it to Allah. This is not gratitude rather it is kufr, a defiant denial of Allah’s favors.

2. Recognition and Awareness: The slave remembers Allah and His favors with his tongue – by praising Allah, and remembering Him through supplication and words of remembrance, and acknowledges it in his heart. It is reported in Tafsir al-Qurtubi that Dawud (alayhi salaam) said, “O my Lord! How can I be grateful to You when gratitude is a blessing from You?!” Allah (azza wa jall) responded to him, “Now you have shown true gratitude (because you’ve recognized that all blessings are from Me).”

3. Deeds: The slave works in gratitude by being an obedient slave to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He).  It is reported in Tafsir al-Tabari that Abu Abdur-Rahman al-Hubaly (rahimahullah) said, “Prayer is shukr, fasting is shukr and any deed done for the sake of Allah is shukr.”

Imam ibn al-Qayyim states that the pillars of being grateful to Allah are:

1- Submission of the believer to Allah
2- Love of Allah
3- Acknowledging His favors
4- Praising Him for His favors
5- Refraining from utilizing the favors in a way displeasing to Allah

Benefits of Shukr

Allah calls mankind ‘ungrateful’ in many ayat in the Qur’an, and He says that only few of His slaves are grateful. It is easier for us to be heedless of His blessings because being a thankful slave is not easy. When we do show gratefulness to Allah, He blesses us in many ways:

1. Allah will increase you in blessings. He ta’ala says, “And (recall) when your Lord proclaimed: ‘If you thank, I shall certainly increase (My blessings on) you, and if you are ungrateful, then My torment is surely severe.'” (14:7)

2. Allah will reward you for being thankful. He subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) says, “Allah will give reward to the thankful.” (3:144)

3. Shukr saves you from punishment. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) tells us in the Qur’an, “The people of Lot denied the warning. Indeed, We sent upon them a storm of stones, except the family of Lot – We saved them before dawn. As a favor from Us. Thus do We reward he who is grateful.” (54:33-35)

4. Allah will be pleased with you. “And if you are grateful, He is pleased with you.” (39:7)

5. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) will love you.

Practical Ways to Show Shukr

Now that we know what shukr really means, how can we be among al-shaakireen?

1- Take the first step. For many of us, extra deeds seem difficult because we are so used to the little we do. Don’t think that you cannot do more, rather remember the hadith qudsi: “When my slave walks to Me, I run to him.” If you take that first step, which is the most difficult, Allah will make everything else easy for you. It’s time we push ourselves to do more for Allah (azza wa jall). It’s time that we don’t accept the bare minimum from ourselves. It’s time that we have great goals for our Deen just as we do for our education, career and families. And for this to happen, we go to step #2:

2- Seek the help of Allah by means of du’a. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) taught us to say: “Allahumma a’inni ‘alaa dhikrika wa shukrika wa husni ebadatika. O Allah, help me to remember You, to be thankful to You and to worship You in the best way.” Say it like you mean it. Beg Allah from your heart with this duaa. Ask Him to make you from among His few slaves that are grateful.

3- Work, work and more work. Nothing comes without work. If we want to worship Allah more, we must work for it. If we want to enjoy our worship, we must put in the effort. For some, praying and fasting is easy. For others, it is extremely difficult. If it is difficult for you, don’t interpret it to mean that you do not love Allah. Rather, it means that you have to strive more and work more to see the fruits of your labor. Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala) says,

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And those who strive for Us – We will surely guide them to Our ways. And indeed, Allah is with the doers of good. (29:69)

Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) used the word “jaahadu” here, meaning they strive and work hard for the sake of Allah (azza wa jall).

We can all do something extra in one way or another. Start slow and it will become easier, inshaAllah. You know yourself the best, so get out of your comfort zone to train yourself.

  • If you cannot fast three days every month, fast at least one day.
  • If you want to pray qiyam but already struggle with fajr, stay awake after fajr to remember Allah and read Qur’an before heading back to sleep, even for 15-30 minutes.
  • Keep your tongue moist with the remembrance of Allah by learning the du’as from the Sunnah for various actions we perform throughout the day.
  • Always do your adkhar – a collection of supplications and remembrances to make after fajr and asr prayers.
  • Keep a portion of day, even 30 mins, just to remember Allah – reading Qur’an, making du’a and reflecting.
  • Thank those around you. It is stated in a hadith, “Whoever does not thank the people has not thanked Allah.”
  • Help others in your community. You can help at a soup kitchen, or prepare a meal for a needy Muslim in your community.

Make it your habit to not belittle any good deed. If you have a chance to do a good deed, then do it. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said in the hadith about the man who gave a drink to the thirsty dog that, “Allah thanked him for that deed and forgave him.” (Bukhari) We learn from this that a small deed sincerely for Allah can earn Allah’s forgiveness and appreciation.

Al-Shakur: The Most Appreciative

Remember that this work of yours is not in vain. It may be difficult for you to fast those extra days. It may be hard for you to get to sleep early so you can wake up at night, but do not forget the One you are worshiping! You are worshiping Al-Shakur, The Most Appreciative. He ta’ala does not only look at your deeds, but He looks at the effort behind it. Imam al-Qurtubi (rahimahullah) explains this Name by saying, “He accepts the little from their good deeds, and repays them with a great reward.”
He is Al-Shakur:He does not waste your efforts. He does ihsan to you – utmost good by accepting your few deeds and giving you greater in return. He blesses you with something better when you leave something for His sake.

Allah, Al-Shakur, not only rewards you for your deeds but He increases them for you because He appreciates your obedience to Him. He is Al-Shakur of your shukr! While you are struggling to show your thankfulness to Him, Al-Shakur is keeping account of all that you do, of all the effort you are putting in, of how much you sincerely want to worship Him in the best way. He will reward you with what you do not even deserve. Our deeds can never earn Paradise, but this is how Al-Shakur shows His Appreciation to His righteous servants.

Always remind yourself of this Name of Allah (azza wa jall), it is the key to coming closer to Him. Remind yourself of the Day that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) shows His Gratitude by saying:

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“Indeed, this is for you a reward, and your effort has been appreciated.” (76:22)

We ask Allah (azza wa jall) to make us of those who hear these words. May He make us among His truly grateful servants and we ask that He blesses us to worship Him, remember Him and thank Him in the best and most beautiful way. Ameen.

Amatullah is a student of the Qur'an and its language. She completed the 2007 Ta'leem program at Al-Huda Institute in Canada and studied Qur'an, Tajwid (science of recitation) and Arabic in Cairo. Through her writings, she hopes to share the practical guidance taught to us by Allah and His Messenger and how to make spirituality an active part of our lives. She has a Bachelors in Social Work and will be completing the Masters program in 2014 inshaAllah. Her experience includes working with immigrant seniors, refugee settlement and accessibility for people with disabilities.

32 Comments

32 Comments

  1. Avatar

    abu Abdullah

    July 15, 2011 at 7:30 AM

    barak Allahu feeki..

    • Avatar

      abu Abdullah

      July 16, 2011 at 7:43 PM

      Remembrance said in the morning and evening

      ‘O Allaah, what blessing I or any of Your creation have risen upon, is from You alone, without partner, so for You is all praise and unto You all thanks.’

      …whoever says this in the morning has indeed offered his day’s thanks and whoever says this in the evening has indeed offered his night’s thanks.

      Above could be a nice add for ways to Thank Allah daily.

      Does shukr include being content with Allah about what one does not has ? Isn’t it sub set of Sabr? may Allah make us content with His decree, in all situations. Ameen.

  2. Avatar

    MuslimNoise

    July 15, 2011 at 8:59 AM

    Nice advice, brilliant piece. It’s important for us to understand what it means to be thankful and how we should go about doing this properly to gain maximum reward and a boosted iman.

  3. Avatar

    MuslimAmerican

    July 15, 2011 at 10:45 AM

    When i hear or read the verse 76:22, it brings tears to my eyes.

    Rabbana taqabbal minna innaka antas sameeul aleem. Ameen.

    Jazak Allah Khair

  4. Avatar

    Fear Allah

    July 15, 2011 at 10:50 AM

    Ameen! Beautiful article ukhti, Jazakillahu khairaa!

    a very comprehensive analysis of shukr… should be its own brochure/booklet.

  5. Avatar

    The Shardul of Allah

    July 15, 2011 at 12:06 PM

    Jazakhallah Khair for this beautiful reminder.

  6. Avatar

    FloussOnline

    July 15, 2011 at 12:42 PM

    salam aleykum,

    masha’Allah, beautiful !

    “5- Refraining from utilizing the favors in a way displeasing to Allah” …this struck me, because we don’t really think of it in when thinking about Shukr…

  7. Avatar

    sara

    July 15, 2011 at 1:04 PM

    jazakillahu khairan ukhti al-kareema, Amatullah. <3

  8. Avatar

    Ibn Masood

    July 15, 2011 at 3:36 PM

    now THIS, is an article mashaAllah. BarakAllahu feeki.

    If only we got the same amount of comments on these articles as political ones, wAllahu musta’aan.

    • Hena Zuberi

      Hena Zuberi

      July 18, 2011 at 3:40 AM

      So true – we should have a LOVE button-
      Share, digg, retweet
      It really encourages our writers when people leave generous comments :)
      Please do start a blogversation here on how you (our readers) exhibit shukr to Allah Subhanwa Ta’ala

  9. Avatar

    farhen ahmad

    July 15, 2011 at 9:45 PM

    feeling closer to Allah by reading this
    jazakAllah for printing such a wonderful article

  10. Avatar

    shiney

    July 16, 2011 at 12:52 AM

    May Allah Reward you and Bless you for writing this sister! I had almost forgotten that hadith where the Prophet (SAW) said, “Shall I Not Be a Thankful Servant?”
    JZK for the beautiful reminder=)

    May Allah (SWT) make us all among those who Thank Him the He way He deserves to be thanked. AMEEN

  11. Avatar

    birkah

    July 16, 2011 at 8:24 AM

    JKhair for the comprehensive article. I gained a basic understanding of shukur last summer, and it changed my relationship with Allah SWT. I briefly wrote about the ayah that was the catalyst:
    http://birkah.wordpress.com/2010/10/26/give-thanks-get-more/

  12. Avatar

    Jamilah Iman

    July 16, 2011 at 10:51 AM

    Ameen!!

  13. Avatar

    ummmanar

    July 16, 2011 at 6:37 PM

    jazakallahu kirn sister this is good reminder may allah guid us all to the right path and make us of the shakirun,

  14. Avatar

    Amal

    July 17, 2011 at 12:20 PM

    jazaki Allahu khairan

  15. Avatar

    Abu Ubayday

    July 17, 2011 at 5:29 PM

    Jazakhallah Khair!

  16. Avatar

    Nasteha

    July 17, 2011 at 11:44 PM

    May the Almighty God bless you tremendously for this amazing article.jazakallahu kheiran kathiran

  17. Avatar

    birkah

    July 18, 2011 at 6:57 AM

    Can you please explain why a health cow is called Shukur? Im guessing due to the sign of nourishment, which will bring the indidivudal profit, hence they should be thankful. JKhair.

    • Avatar

      Amatullah

      July 21, 2011 at 6:20 PM

      That can be one explanation. From what I’ve learned and heard, it means that the blessings are apparent..Just like you are able to see the healthiness of the cow, you can see the blessings of Allah in your life as well. Allah knows best.

  18. Avatar

    Mariam E.

    July 19, 2011 at 6:02 AM

    Asalamu alikum warahmatu Allah

    mashaAllah, beautiful! May Allah reward you and increase you in good.

  19. Avatar

    Sadaf Farooqi

    July 19, 2011 at 8:23 AM

    Beautiful article. It brought tears to my eyes, especially this part:

    “While you are struggling to show your thankfulness to Him, Al-Shakur is keeping account of all that you do, of all the effort you are putting in, of how much you sincerely want to worship Him in the best way. He will reward you with what you do not even deserve.”

    Barak Allahu feeki, Amatullah.

  20. Avatar

    Amatullah

    July 21, 2011 at 6:21 PM

    Jazakum Allahu khayran for the comments everyone :) may Allah accept our deeds.

  21. Avatar

    Reehab

    July 24, 2011 at 1:28 PM

    Beautiful :) Tabarak Allah.

  22. Avatar

    Tariq Nisar Ahmed

    July 24, 2011 at 3:51 PM

    Allah make it a cause of Jannat al Firdaus for you.

  23. Avatar

    Sanusie

    January 8, 2013 at 7:34 AM

    We thank you a lot for sharing your knowledge and wisdom.

  24. Avatar

    Musodiq Bello

    August 23, 2013 at 7:56 AM

    Very beneficial article!!

  25. Pingback: Gratitude challenge: day 3 | Aysha la Rosa

  26. Pingback: Gratitude | Stories for Muslim Kids

  27. Avatar

    Muhammad Majeed

    November 25, 2015 at 1:12 PM

    Please explain who used the meaning of Shukr a healthy cow, when and where it was used, Thanks

  28. Avatar

    Mohammed Bilal

    June 26, 2016 at 12:38 AM

    Subhanallah, very nice article indeed..

  29. Avatar

    AYEINA

    March 27, 2017 at 2:34 AM

    gratitude was the reason we started #AlhamdulillahForSeries and then the #gratitudeCAPTIONcontest to spread positivity <3

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#Life

So You Are The Wali, Now What?

Dr Shadee Elmasry

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The way most Muslims (as well as conservative Christians and Jews) live, a man asks for a woman’s hand in marriage from the father.

The father is not just a turnstile who has to say yes. He is a “wali” or protector and guardian of his daughter’s rights. So he will be asking some serious questions that would be awkward if the woman had to ask them.

Furthermore, in the Muslim community today esp. in the West, there are many converts that seek out a wali because they have no male relative who is Muslim. In this post, I share some guidelines aimed at the wali in his new role and stories that are useful.

Being a wali is not an honorary role. You’re not just throwing out the first pitch. You’re actually trying to throw curveballs to see whether the proposal checks out or has issues.

Here are some questions and demands a wali should make:

Background check: Call and meet at least four people that were close to the man who has proposed and interview them. There’s no husn al-zann (good opinion) in marriage. As a potential suitor, you are rejected until you prove yourself, much like an application for employment. These days, most people’s background can be found on their social media, so the wali has to spend time scrolling down. Keep scrolling, read the comments, look at the pictures, click on who’s tagged in those pictures. Get a good idea. You are a private investigator *before* the problem happens, not after. 

Check financials:  You need to see the financials to make sure they are not in some ridiculous debt or have bad credit such that they can’t even rent an apartment or cover basic needs. You want some evidence that he can fulfill the obligation of maintenance.

Check the educational background or skill set: This is a given. If it’s solid, then it can outweigh lack of funds at this moment.

Check medical records: If this is a stranger, the wali needs medical records. There was once a wealthy, handsome young man that was suave and a seemingly amazing prospect who proposed for a girl who was comparatively of average looks and from a family of very modest means. The mother and daughter were head over heels, but the dad had enough common sense to know something was up.

“Why would he come knocking on our door?,” he asked.

So the father demanded medical records. The guy never produced them. When the dad pressed him, the man admitted, he had a sexually transmitted disease (STD) and that’s why he couldn’t find anyone else to marry him.

Now note, there are legitimate cases where people have a past when they have made mistakes. This happens to the best of us, and the door for tawbah (repentance) is open. In those cases, there are organizations that match-make for Muslims with STDs. People should act in a responsible manner and not damage the lives of other humans beings.

Lifestyle: It is your job to check if the two parties have agreed on life essentials such as religious beliefs, where to live, how to school kids, etc?

In-laws: Have you at least met the family of the suitor and spent some time with them to make sure there’s nothing alarming?

Engagement: Contrary to popular understanding, there is such a thing as engagement in Islam. It’s an announcement of a future commitment to marriage. Nothing changes between the fiancees, but nobody is allowed to propose anymore. The purpose of engagement is to give time for both parties to get ready. For example, the groom may want to save up some money, or the girl may be finishing up college. Also, it’s easy to put on a face during the get-to-know process, but it’s hard to fake it over an eight or nine-month period. I remember a story where a young woman was engaged, and four months into the engagement they discovered the young man was still getting to know other women. He basically reserved the girl and then went to check for better options. Needless to say, he was dumped on the spot. Engagements are commonly a few months. I think more than a year is too much.

Legal/Civil:  The marriage should be legal/civil in the country where you will settle. If you accept a Shariah marriage but not a civil one, know that you’re asking for legal complications, especially if a child enters the picture. (Ed. Note- we realize that some countries do not allow legal registration of more than one marriage- if that is a consideration please look at all options to protect your ward. There are ways to get insurance that can be set up.)

Mahr: Get 50% of the dowry upfront (or some decent amount) and whatever is scheduled to be paid later should be written and signed. I’ve seen too many cases where a really nice dowry is “promised” but never produced.

The dowry should be commensurate to current standards depending on the man’s job. For example in our area in America 5, 7, or 10k is a common range.

In sum, there are very few things in life that are as bad as misery in marriage. The wali’s job is to eliminate the bad things that could have been avoided. If that means he has to be demanding and hated for a few months, it’s worth the cost.

It’s preventative medicine.

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#Islam

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

Dr Usaama al-Azami

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Sepoy rebellion, Shaykh Hamza

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

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

Opposing all government vs opposing a government

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

A complex tradition

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

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

What does the tradition actually say?

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

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

Al-Ghazzali on confronting tyrants

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

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

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

Modern discontinuities and their high stakes

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

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

Shaykh Hamza on the nature of government

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

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

Where do we go from here?

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

And Allah knows best.

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Can Women Attend The Burial Of The Deceased?

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

Dr Usaama al-Azami

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Quran at graveyard, woman attend burial

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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