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Line in the Sand | Introduction

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Introduction | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

In this series of articles, Br. Yayha Whitmer and I will shed some light on the sad phenomenon of Muslims invoking other than Allah for their needs. Making du’aa to other than Allah is a matter that so clearly violates the message of the Quran, and even the testimony of faith, that its mere existence amongst those who subscribe to Islam, and its justification by people of knowledge, continues to boggle the minds of those Muslims who remain upon the fitrah. 

While many of the other theological innovations of non-Orthodox Islamic groups are truly not as relevant to our modern society, and can for the most part be ignored in public discourse, it is this ‘line in the sand’ that we strongly believe cannot be crossed.  Anyone who propagates the permissibility of making du’aa to other than Allah has violated the most basic message of Islam, and fallen into the essence of shirk that our Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) came to eradicate. It does not matter what pseudo-Islamic arguments, or perverted understandings of the Scriptures,  are employed in attempting to justify this travesty against Allah. The fact remains that turning to other than Allah with the goal of using these beings as intermediaries to get to Allah is the very religion of the pagan Jahili Quraysh that the Quran was revealed to eradicate.

This article serves as the Introduction to a series of other articles. Most will be written by our dear brother, Ustadh Yahya Whitmer (who studied a few years with our teacher Sh. Muhammad b. Salih Ibn Uthaymin, and whom I befriended while studying with the Shaykh as well). A few will be written by myself. Ustadh Yahya has asked that I read over and comment on the series, and graciously insisted that I be listed as co-author, even though (unless otherwise noted) he is the primary author of these articles.

May Allah cause these series to have a positive effect on the Ummah!
–  Yasir Qadhi 

by Yahya Whitmer

I­­­­ remember the moment very clearly. It occurred 15 years ago and though a whirlwind of events have happened in my life since then, the resonance of this memory has not faded. It was the first time that I felt the fear of God. Not the fear of an unidentified spiritual being, but a very defined and focused fear of my Creator, who existed above and beyond me. This was especially remarkable because at the time I was an avowed and belligerent atheist, who relished debate and criticizing various religions. I was 18. I had been born into a non-practicing Christian family and by the age of 16 I had become convinced that Christianity and all its variations were nothing more than a mix of plagiarized mythologies, oppressive social control, and perhaps a bit of historic truth involving a seemingly noble person. By extension and analogy, I assumed all other religions to be the same, Islam included. I attended an international school in my youth and many of its students were from the Middle East, so I had seen enough examples of Muslim debauchery and hypocrisy to know that they were no different from anyone else. So it was with great consternation, during my first year of college, that I received the news that a young man in my dorm had converted to Islam. I had thought that he was like me: worldly, liberal, educated, and rational (yes, at 18 I thought I was pretty hot stuff). He had come from an elite prep school, he was popular, charismatic. So, what the heck was he doing?! The notion that a person from such a background could readily, of his own free will, adopt such an odd and particularly oppressive religion (so I thought) truly bewildered me.

So it began: debate, questioning, and research. Islam, aside from a nod from Malcolm X, seemed to have little validity or modern resonance. But then this person gave me a copy of the Qur’an and upon reading it my world view began to tilt and pivot; my awareness went in directions I was completely unprepared for. I remember one particular session of reading the Qur’an; the verses had thundered at me, declaring that I must submit to the One True God. Over and over, the Qur’anic message challenged me, demanding that I think, that I search, that I recognize that there is a Creator who deserved my allegiance, that living my life without concern for His wishes was not only inherently wrong and ungrateful, but would result in severe consequences. Never had I heard a call so pure. Although the Qur’anic message was expressed in a variety of ways throughout its thousands of verses, the essence of its call was clear, even to my arrogant 18 year old mind: there was a Creator, whose influence and control permeated every nook and cranny of the world, and I was meant to know Him in a more intimate and direct manner than anything I had ever conceived: He knew my heart, He saw my actions, and no one and no thing stood between us. There was no place to hide. The only option was submission, change, saying that I was sorry, and working to better myself. This was the spiritual mandate, the personal covenant that I understood from the Qur’an, and it rocked my world.

Until Islam, the concepts of God that I had encountered were comical, pitiful, fractured. He had created Adam and Eve and then lost sight of them in Eden. He had been a partisan deity, almost like a servant to the people that believed in Him. Or He looked like a giant old man with a long beard. Or He was irrelevant and salvation lied in extinguishing and controlling the self. Or he was splintered into multiple incarnations, 3 or hundreds. Or my relationship with Him occurred through a multitude of human proxies. Or my salvation could be purchased through the church. Or someone else had taken responsibility for my sins. But the Islamic concept of God was different. The Qur’an informed me that God was absolute, undeniable, irresistible. Nothing happened except by His will. He was above and beyond and yet He was close and aware. Nothing was like Him, yet He was described in terms that I could comprehend. He was Merciful and Just and demanded that we live with each other in mercy and justice as well. And finally, this Ultimate Being wanted to deal with me personally. Through submission, recognition, reflection, and prayer I could be in His presence and required no intermediary. I was promised that through embracing this relationship I would know true peace, but it was still my responsibility and my choice to make.

Something long dead inside me stirred. Though I obstinately clung to my atheism, a cognitive awakening had occurred and a question began to creep its way up to the forefront of my consciousness. It was the most basic of questions, but it had been submerged in years of self-indulgence and petty distraction. Finally, one day, as I was heading back to my dormitory, I looked up into the sky and asked myself, sincerely and for the first time, “Was God really there?” And in that moment I knew fear. I knew fear because the simple answer was, “Of course.” My own soul had answered me, my fiṭrah, my innate human nature. The sublime beauty and unified order of the natural world had answered me. The absolute uniqueness and power of the Qur’anic verses had answered me. God was there. I had lived 18 years completely ignoring Him and had planned to live the rest of my life in a similar fashion, but that wouldn’t work anymore. This God, the God that the Qur’an described to me, could not be ignored. And He did not deserve to be either.

I became a Muslim approximately 6 months after that incident. There are many things about those sequences of events that I need to be thankful for, but my main purpose in narrating this story is to say that the essence of Islam has always been clear, pure, and simple: A one on one relationship with the Creator of the heavens and the earth. He alone will take us to account and it is our hearts and our deeds that He will judge and only His Mercy that will save us. It is to this message that my soul responded and continues to respond. My studies at an Islamic University in Saudi Arabia, my time spent with Shaykh Muhammad ibn Salih Al-Uthaymeen, my readings of the works and collected statements of the earliest and best generations of Islam, all testify, agree, support, and expound on this concept. This is Islam.

Until I learned that it wasn’t, at least for a significant segment of the Muslim community.

I generally do not bother myself with what other Muslims are supposedly doing wrong, unless it is directly affecting me and my family. My own flaws tend to cause me more problems than the mistakes of others. However, due to several recent personal events, I felt a responsibility to investigate a particular brand of Sufism … but let me be clear: I abhor blind sectarianism. It is a waste of time in the best of cases and an impediment towards embracing the truth in the worst of cases. But because people I knew and cared for seemed to be heavily influenced by this ideology I felt compelled to investigate it. On one of their primary websites I found what I feared to find: to call upon other than Allah was not a problem, the website said. It was not only your actions that drew you close to Allah, but people as well; through invoking them, you could gain favor with God and your prayers might be answered. It was not singularity (tawḥīd) of worship that Allah required from us, only singularity in recognizing Allah as the Creator.

I was unnerved. Did people really see Islam this way? Did they not realize that through these amendments, these exceptions, the purity of the relationship between Creator and creation was compromised? Is not duʿāʾ the essence of worship, as the Prophet taught us? Was worship not for Allah alone? Were my hopes, my prayers, my salvation subject to the influence of other than God? Then to how many beings may my heart be attached? To how many other beings may a Muslim’s heart turn to in times of need?!

As naïve as it may seem to some readers, discovering these fatāwa, reading their justifications, and considering the spiritual implications truly disturbed me. I was familiar that concepts such as these existed in some Sufi traditions, but here it was at my doorstep, affecting people I knew and in many ways admired. Yet the difference between day and night paled in comparison to how different our views of Islam were.

This discussion about the true spirit of Islam is not irrelevant or superficial. I truly understand that we have many pressing social issues that need to be addressed. Education, spousal relations, parenting, personal and community finances, all of these are immensely important. But this issue is one that defines Islam, it is at the heart of what it means to be a servant of God. This is what opens or closes the gates of Heaven and Hell. It is the first building block of a personal relationship with the Creator; the first step towards true love and loyalty, or the first step towards infidelity and ingratitude. Even at the community level, this is relevant because unity is only achieved through a common sense of purpose. The Muslim ummah is not different from other communities because of its Arab origins or its specific rituals. It is different and defined by the message, “Lā ilāha illa Allāh” and discussion about what that really means will never be inconsequential.

Unlike previous explorations of similar topics, I intend to not just discuss whose evidence is stronger and more convincing, but also the spiritual implications of the two opposing viewpoints. The decisions you make about how you interact with your Creator are not detached intellectual choices, rather they have a direct and immediate impact upon your soul. What happens to your personal sense of responsibility, your spiritual work ethic, if you believe in direct intercession? What does it mean to believe that your actions are your only means (waṣīlah) to God’s Mercy? Are the pious a model to be imitated or something else? What of praise, what of love and attachment? Questions like these define the servant’s path to his Creator.

My ultimate goal in writing this series is not condemnation, but dialogue. Shaykh Ibn Uthaymeen had a very specific method for dealing with differences within the Islamic ummah. He insisted that only the opinion and its evidences be discussed without mentioning the name of the person whom he disagreed with. By doing this, he was able to maintain focus on analyzing the strength of each argument and minimize individual reasoning from being clouded due to personal attachments. Following in the footsteps of my mentor, I will only be discussing the opinions, through direct quotation and minimal paraphrasing, and I will not mention names. I will also not pass judgment, implied or otherwise, on any person, no matter how vehemently I disagree with them. As a student of knowledge, I am equipped to discuss concepts, but judging individuals and their creed is far beyond my capabilities or responsibility.

Compassion, wisdom, and patience were the hallmarks of the Prophet’s call and so should they be with us. The people of the Qiblah have done enough to deserve such courtesy. My only request of any person who reads this series and disagrees with me is that s/he make the arguments and implications of each opinion the primary criteria, not the people who hold the opinions. Allah sent us this Book, this Messenger, and this Message, in Truth and it is to the Truth that we are ultimately obligated.

In this series, Shaykh Yasir Qadhi and I will discuss 4 main domains, where the evidences, conclusions, and implications of the 2 opposing viewpoints will be contrasted:

1. The Jamāʿah. What is this “main body” of Muslims that the Prophet (peace be upon him) has instructed us to adhere to?

2. Tawaṣṣul and Waṣīlah. What are the “means of approach”, the ways in which we may seek closeness to our Creator?

3. Tawḥīd. What does this word really mean and which interpretation of it is represented by “Lā ilāha illa Allāh”?

4. What now? Equipped with the information presented, what should a Muslim do? What attitude should he/she take with people that disagree? What other insights are needed to keep this message relevant and compelling? And how should it affect his/her relationship with Allah?

My secondary goal is to inspire a deeper appreciation of the tenets of Islam that I believe in. There is an old Arabic saying, bi-ḍiddi yatabayyanu al-ashyāʾ (by opposites things become clear); in comparing the differing opinions, I have grown in gratitude and love for the concepts that provide the foundation for my faith; I have a greater realization of how deep their roots grow and of how firm they stand in the face of challenges and opposition… much like a blessed tree. I hope that the reader may find similar or greater inspiration.

I pray that Allah pours His Mercy upon all my teachers, both living and dead, and I pray that you find true benefit in what I have written. And Allah knows best.

Sh. Dr. Yasir Qadhi is someone that believes that one's life should be judged by more than just academic degrees and scholastic accomplishments. Friends and foe alike acknowledge that one of his main weaknesses is ice-cream, which he seems to enjoy with a rather sinister passion. The highlight of his day is twirling his little girl (a.k.a. "my little princess") round and round in the air and watching her squeal with joy. A few tid-bits from his mundane life: Sh. Yasir has a Bachelors in Hadith and a Masters in Theology from Islamic University of Madinah, and a PhD in Islamic Studies from Yale University. He is an instructor and Dean of Academic Affairs at AlMaghrib, and the Resident Scholar of the Memphis Islamic Center.

45 Comments

45 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Javad Ayaz

    March 9, 2012 at 3:18 AM

    As a sufi….i will be watching this with interest :)

    • Avatar

      Yahya Whitmer

      March 9, 2012 at 9:26 AM

      Glad to have you in the discussion.

  2. Avatar

    Javad Ayaz

    March 9, 2012 at 3:32 AM

    Have you actually attended a gathering of sufis? It may change your perspective, although I do agree that some people may go over the top and commit shirk.

    Becoming a Sufi has changed my life. The Shaykh commands that you recite 150000 “La ila illala” a day as a bare minimum a day.  This along with the mandatory regular daily prayers.

    Indeed Islam for a substantial time during the time of the Prophet SAW was dhikr of the Almighty.

    • Avatar

      Yahya Whitmer

      March 9, 2012 at 9:33 AM

      Yes, I have attended Sufi gatherings and personally know some of the big names in the Western Sufi scene. As I mentioned in the article, there are many things that I respect and admire about these various brothers, but this particular issue is something that I cannot ignore. I never would have become a Muslim if not for the purity of worship to the Creator alone. A central theme in this series is to explore what “La Ilaha Ill Allah” really means. I’m sure you can appreciate that it is just as important for its meaning to be clear in the heart and then implemented through daily life, as it is to say the blessed Kalimah.

      • Avatar

        Javad Ayaz

        March 9, 2012 at 9:45 AM

        Indeed it is their lack of knowledge that leads people to such practices but I also believe Islam is as much spiritual as it is ritualistic. 
        La Ilaha Ill Allah and Huwa Hu ( He who is) are the essence of all life.

        I am familiar with both eastern and western Sufi gatherings and it is indeed us Easterners who kind of go overboard with this. In my experience, reverts are much more rational thinking when it comes to Sufi practices.

        Many Sufi’s ( African for example) incorporate the singing and dancing which is perhaps debateable.

        May I ask which of the Sufi’s gathering you attended?

        • Avatar

          Yahya Whitmer

          March 9, 2012 at 10:00 AM

          I think it’s best not to mention names or even the specific tareeqa. And to tell you the truth, the practices of the various gatherings is not even my concern at the moment, but rather whether or not they consider dua to anyone other than the Creator to be shirk.

          • Avatar

            Javad Ayaz

            March 9, 2012 at 10:06 AM

            I can only speak for my own tariqa and can confirm I have never heard of the instances you have mentioned…Alhamdullilah

          • Avatar

            Yahya Whitmer

            March 9, 2012 at 10:34 AM

            Alhamdulillah, yes thankfully many Sufis reject these types of practices.

    • Avatar

      Yahya Whitmer

      March 9, 2012 at 9:39 AM

      Yes I have been to Sufi gatherings and personally know some of the big names in the Western Sufi scene. As I mentioned, there are many things that I respect and admire about these brothers, but this issue is something that cannot be sidelined. I never would have become a Muslim were it not for the purity of worship to Allah alone. One of the main themes of this series is to explore what “La Ilaha Ill Allah” means. I’m sure you can appreciate that it is just as important to have the Kalimah’s meaning clear in the heart and implemented in everyday life, as it is to say it on a regular basis.

  3. Avatar

    siraaj

    March 9, 2012 at 4:07 AM

    Salaam alaykum Sh Yahya,

    Jzk for this introduction, and I’m looking forward to reading the rest of this series.  I personally cannot see the logic in calling out to other than Allah for help.  However, I do realize that humankind has a general problem of emotionally affiliating itself with groups, organizations, individuals, leaders, political parties, and so on in varying degrees and within the muslim religious community, it sometimes manifests itself in madhab followers in one madhab denouncing others (eg hanafis vs shafi’ees) or making up stories about the piety of the individual followed.

    on the more extreme side, I do see how this over-emotional attachment can morph from devoted student / follower to something beyond which is undesirable.  I think this characteristic is generally problematic among all muslim groups, especially when you have different groups with different paradigms in approaching a problem converse with one another (they dont really “converse”, they fight, and by they, I mean the followers, and to a certain extend, their leaders), and while it may be irritating, at least on a theological level it can be tolerated, but when it crosses into something similar to roman catholic sainthood, I believe we’ve now gone too far across the line.

    Siraaj

  4. Avatar

    Umm Zahrah

    March 9, 2012 at 9:37 AM

    alHamdulillah, I was so happy to see the start of this series, may Allah bless this effort. 

    I remember attending a sisters’ social on dealing with depression and the one thing that kept going through my mind as I listened to the stories was that this is a problem with Iman.  And indeed, at the heart of so many social issues is this, this relationship with Allah which has suffered so much and it reverberates throughout every other aspect of our worldly life.  And I’m not just referring to repenting for our sins, but the whole concept of submitting one’s self to Allah completely and calling upon none other than Him. 

    If this one, simple act was rectified, so many other problems would be easily solved. Every single time I get a question about or request for advice from sisters regarding any issue, I would turn back to calling upon Allah alone and Tawheed.  Immediately, it’s as if something inside these sisters clicks and they realize the true reality of their affairs and they no longer need advice.  They only need to remain firm on the straight path.

    May Allah bless this effort, and bring the much needed clarity our Ummah needs, Ameen!

    • Avatar

      Yahya Whitmer

      March 9, 2012 at 10:02 AM

      The barakah of a pure and personal relationship with Allah is truly limitless, thanks for commenting.

  5. Avatar

    Amal

    March 9, 2012 at 1:29 PM

    A much needed series
    Barak Allahu feekum

  6. Avatar

    Salman Muhammad

    March 10, 2012 at 12:19 PM

    I used to be fascinated with sufism long time ago but soon abandoned it after discovering that it had far too many Greek and Christian philosophical concepts which are foreign to what I understand about Islamic faith.  My original fascination was due to Al Ghazali books, first Ihya and then his memoir Munqih.  Alas, most sufi books that I read thereafter were different from Al Ghazali’s. 

    Further, central to sufism of Al Ghazali is zuhud, but I soon to find out that most sufis I know lead the kinds of lives far from being zuhud.  Many, in fact, appear to live the opposite way.

    For the last few decades I have been more interested in seerah, history and fiqh, which appear to make more sense to me. 

    You have made a nice introduction, a sort of a preamble to what you are going to say.  I shall be looking forward to next entries. 

  7. Avatar

    Ssa227

    March 10, 2012 at 6:33 PM

    This looks like a very interesting series. I will also be following this closely. I have many friends who are staunchly Sufi and these are some of the thoughts I also have.

  8. Avatar

    abu Rumaysa

    March 10, 2012 at 6:50 PM

    as one who comes from a background of sufi tradition and one who entered into the fold of Islamic orthodoxy and had to deal with the subsequent confrontations with influential family members, I can directly relate to this article… i do recall that for most evidences provided, they would essentially have their own interpretations and I guess being a lone “baby” sheep, my words had little or no influence…

    now that I look back in hindsight, I recall that good character and patience  were primarily the keys in keeping those relationships healthy and provided fruition in the struggle for clarifying those issues…mind you this all took place over many years….

    I also think that due to the lack of due attention and due consideration of Allah’s attributes and Tawheed itself, many well known leaders sometimes cross lines (either explicitly or in-explicitly), may Allah ta`ala guide and forgive us and them..ameen..

    for instance if a well known leader in our times here in the west tries to justify the following statement made by a “saint”: 
    “If you ( O my followers/students, fall into a calamity, call unto me and I will come to your aid”)

    or 
    another well known leader tells his congregation about his own particular experiences of being in a life threatening situation and he called on to the jinn to help him…

  9. Avatar

    Gibran Mahmud

    March 11, 2012 at 12:42 AM

    Assalamualaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh

    “non-Orthodox Islamic groups”Now you are becoming more like Orthodox Jews. This is a fulfilment of the Prophecy. We are literally following these men into the lizard hole.Don’t use the word “orthodox”. Just say “pseudo-Islamic groups”.

    We are called Muslims and our religion is Islam. We do not need to call ourselves Sunni-the Quran and Sunnah are what we hold onto to keep aright. The Shias are exactly that-sect of Ali RA(in their distorted version). Hadith rejectors are just that. Ahlul Bidah is just that.Lets let someone else follow them into the Lizard Hole. What do we have Surah Al Fatiha for? Samina wa ata’na. We hear and we obey.

  10. Avatar

    Hassan

    March 13, 2012 at 10:58 AM

    Assalam-o-Alaikum. I have a question to the respected shyookh about the naming “Orthodox Muslims”.

    Now from previous articles and discussion, it seems scholars of muslimmatters were trying to get away from labels. Is that my correct understanding? If they were indeed trying to get away from the labels (like salafis, wahabis, deobandis etc), then may I humbly ask if calling oneself Orthodox muslims would create a new label? Of course I do not know details of what/how they categorize orthodox muslims (like what sort of belief to be held etc), but it definitely seems that you are calling yourself a new name distinguished form names used in past.

    And if that was not the intention (trying to get away from labels), rather you felt that there is no proper name to classify the ideologies you hold, and hence you described yourself as orthodox muslim, may I ask the details of it. (from outside it seems somewhere between salafis and ikhwanis).

    I am sorry this question may have not be relevant directly to the topic, but I been thinking about it for a while, and there is always been debate here and there about calling oneself something other than muslim.

  11. Avatar

    Naimabrobert

    March 13, 2012 at 4:04 PM

    A compelling introduction, masha Allah. Will be following with interest…

  12. Avatar

    Mohammed

    March 13, 2012 at 10:12 PM

    asSalamu `alaykum

    Please have a listen to what the science of tasawwuf is truly about. They are a bit long but they are worth every second, alhamdulillah.

     http://www.sacredlearning.org/tasawwuf

    Also, you can a better understanding through this site insha’Allah:
    http://tasawwuf.org/

    • Avatar

      Omar

      June 19, 2012 at 12:58 PM

      Wa alaykum Assalam,

      I personally used to listen to the speaker on that website. His name is sh Hussein if I remember correct. One thing which didn’t sit well with me and eventually made me stop listening to his lectures completely was that far too often he would say “my sheikh said the prophet sws did..”. Maybe he has that much trust for his sheikh but for me personally, I would much rather have heard the reference for the Hadith as opposed to these vague references. After stopping listening to him I have learnt more and there are other mistakes in his methodology which I am able to identify, but due to my lack of knowledge I don’t trust myself to articulate clearly, so I’ll leave that to anyone else who may have also heard some of this speaker’s recordings.

  13. Avatar

    Dawud Israel

    March 14, 2012 at 4:47 AM

    EDIT THIS (in my last comment): The dua came from the means, so you invoke that means, that is the Prophet (salallahu alayhi wasalam). 

    TO READ AS THIS: The dua came and was taught by the means (the Prophet salallahu alayhi wasalam), so you invoke that means (the Prophet salallahu alayhi wasalam) in making dua to Allah. It is like the hadith: Abu Umamah (May Allah be pleased with him) reported: The Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu ’alayhi wa sallam) made many supplications which we did not memorize. We said to him: “O Messenger of Allah! You have made many supplications of which we do not remember anything.” He said, “Shall I tell you a comprehensive prayer? Say: `Allahumma inni as’aluka min khairi ma sa’alaka minhu nabiyyuka Muhammadun sallallahu `alaihi wa sallam. Wa `a`udhu bika min sharri mas-ta`adha minhu nabiyyuka Muhammadun sallallahu `alaihi wa sallam. Wa Antal-Musta`anu, wa `alaikal-balaghu, wa la hawla wa la quwwata illa billah (O Allah, I beg to You the good which Your Prophet Muhammad (sallallaahu ’alayhi wa sallam) begged of You; and I seek refuge in You from the evil where from Your Prophet Muhammad (sallallaahu ’alayhi wa sallam) sought refuge. You are the One from Whom help is sought and Your is the responsibility to communicate (the truth). There is no power or strength except with Allah the Exalted, the Great.”'[At-Tirmidhi]

  14. Avatar

    Yahya Whitmer

    March 15, 2012 at 12:06 PM

    This not a point by point response to your comment, just an answer to some of your more salient points:1.In regards to your accusation of attempting to stir up controversy for the sake of publicity, I ask you to please not interpret people’s intentions. You can’t demand honesty and fair conduct when you undermine those very principles yourself. Take everything at face value and leave our intentions to God. And besides, to use the names of the Sufi scholars, label them and their followers with the most inflammatory titles possible, and engage in personal attacks and accusations would have been a better recipe for publicity.2.This debate is indeed old, going back to the time of Nuh (alayhis-salam). I believe that every generation of revelation concerns itself with this topic and I am attempting to follow in that path.3. The term “Tawassul” is ambiguous and has many different interpretations and implementations. There is only one interpretation that I am addressing in this article: supplications(du’a) directed to other than Allah. The tawassul via Abbas (May Allah be pleased with him) was not of this type, as Abbas himself proceeded to make du’a to Allah.4. Your accusation of placing “my own understanding above that of Allah, His Rasul (salallahu alayhi wasalam) and his Companions” is extraordinarily presumptuous. You are again presuming to know my internal state. I kindly request that you adhere to the common etiquette of debate, as exemplified by the likes of Al-Shafi’i and Abu Haneefah.5. I am unfamiliar with the book that you have mentioned, but I am familiar with the general arguments and interpretations that you have presented to justify your position. They will be addressed soon in sha Allah.6. I am unfamiliar with the class you are referring to that was taught by Yasir Al Qadhi, but I do know Yasir to some degree and I believe that he addresses topics with an academic rigor and fairness that is rarely found in modern Islamic discourse.7. I strongly disagree that Judaism, Christianity represent Tawhid. Please continue to be a part of this discussion as we will address this topic in detail later. The Tawhid that the Messengers taught, singularity in worship, is only currently manifested in the world by true Islam. It is very interesting that you consider religions that permit the worship of created beings to represent Tawhid, but your belief is in accordance with what we understand about this brand of Sufi theology; it espouses that Tawhid only represents a recognition of singularity in Creation and Control. We contend that Tawhid also demands singularity of worship.8. I strongly disagree that da’wa fails when the focus is solely on Tawhid, but again, our interpretations of that word differ radically. My interpretation involves a strengthening of every aspect of the intimate and direct relationship with the Creator, both internally and externally. It involves knowing His names and attributes and recognizing and praising the manifestations of those attributes throughout the created world. It involves absolute trust in my unseen Lord, a trust possible only through faith and contemplation of his signs and verses. It involves admitting my deepest fears and darkest sins to the only being who has been with me through every moment of my life, and the only being in whose strength, mercy, and forgiveness I can truly rely. I am very sorry that you find this to be unfullfilling.Please realize that you have described Tawhid as being an inadequate platform upon which to base da’wah. Your opinion is in direct contradiction with the wisdom of the Creator Himself and every generation of messenger that He has sent, including our Prophet Muhammad(peace be upon him). It is in direct contradiction with the path “of those whom You have favored” (as is referenced in Al Fatiha). I’m sorry friend, but it is hard for me to imagine a clearer indicator that there is something very wrong with your perception of fundamental principles of Islam. I hope that you take time to reflect upon this point. Surah Al A’raf is particularly relevant.

    • Avatar

      Yahya Whitmer

      March 15, 2012 at 1:02 PM

      ugh. I apologize for the poor formatting. I would delete and redo if I could.

  15. Avatar

    Yahya Whitmer

    March 15, 2012 at 1:30 PM

    This not a point by point response to your comment, just an answer to some of your more salient points:
    1.In regards to your accusation of attempting to stir up controversy for the sake of publicity, I ask you to please not interpret people’s intentions. You can’t demand honesty and fair conduct when you undermine those very principles yourself. Take everything at face value and leave our intentions to God. And besides, to use the names of the Sufi scholars, label them and their followers with the most inflammatory titles possible, and engage in personal attacks and accusations would have been a better recipe for publicity.

    2.This debate is indeed old, going back to the time of Nuh (alayhis-salam). I believe that every generation of revelation concerns itself with this topic and I am attempting to follow in that path.

    3. The term “Tawassul” is ambiguous and has many different interpretations and implementations. There is only one interpretation that I am addressing in this article: supplications(du’a) directed to other than Allah. The tawassul via Abbas (May Allah be pleased with him) was not of this type, as Abbas himself proceeded to make du’a to Allah.

    4. Your accusation of placing “my own understanding above that of Allah, His Rasul (salallahu alayhi wasalam) and his Companions” is extraordinarily presumptuous. You are again presuming to know my internal state. And I’m not sure if you realize it, but you are accusing me of Kufr. I kindly request that you adhere to the common etiquette of debate, as exemplified by the likes of Al-Shafi’i and Abu Haneefah.

    5. I am unfamiliar with the book that you have mentioned, but I am familiar with the general arguments and interpretations that you have presented to justify your position. They will be addressed soon in sha Allah.

    6. I am unfamiliar with the class you are referring to that was taught by Yasir Al Qadhi, but I do know Yasir to some degree and I believe that he addresses topics with an academic rigor and fairness that is rarely found in modern Islamic discourse.

    7. I strongly disagree that Judaism, Christianity represent Tawhid. Please continue to be a part of this discussion as we will address this topic in detail later. The Tawhid that the Messengers taught, singularity in worship, is only currently manifested in the world by true Islam. It is very interesting that you consider religions that permit the worship of created beings to represent Tawhid, but your belief is in accordance with what we understand about this brand of Sufi theology; it espouses that Tawhid only represents a recognition of singularity in Creation and Control. We contend that Tawhid also demands singularity of worship.

    8. I strongly disagree that da’wa fails when the focus is solely on Tawhid, but again, our interpretations of that word differ radically. My interpretation involves a strengthening of every aspect of the intimate and direct relationship with the Creator, both internally and externally. It involves knowing His names and attributes and recognizing and praising the manifestations of those attributes throughout the created world. It involves absolute trust in my unseen Lord, a trust possible only through faith and contemplation of his signs and verses. It involves admitting my deepest fears and darkest sins to the only being who has been with me through every moment of my life, and the only being in whose strength, mercy, and forgiveness I can truly rely. I am very sorry that you find this to be unfullfilling.

    Please realize that you have described Tawhid as being an inadequate platform upon which to base da’wah. Your opinion is in direct contradiction with the wisdom of the Creator Himself and every generation of messenger that He has sent, including our Prophet Muhammad(peace be upon him). It is in direct contradiction with the path “of those whom You have favored” (as is referenced in Al Fatiha). I’m sorry friend, but it is hard for me to imagine a clearer indicator that there is something very wrong with your perception of fundamental principles of Islam. I hope that you take time to reflect upon this point. Surah Al A’raf is particularly relevant.

    • Avatar

      Abu Musa

      March 16, 2012 at 1:15 AM

      MashAllah – I was looking forward to this piece before i read the Ustadh’s response to brother Dawud – NOW I AM REALLY LOOKING FORWARD TO IT!
      Many sufi groups inherently claim adab, ikhlaas etc..but the manor in which the Ustadh responded to the presumptuous nature of the post is MashAllah a clear indication that no one can claim a mononpoly on those qualities.
      Well answered, balanced and void of emotional baggage – MashAllah.

      • Avatar

        BintKhalil

        March 16, 2012 at 3:22 AM

        Assalamu alaikum

        Indeed Dawud Israel’s comment shows just how needed this series is.

    • Avatar

      Sarmd

      March 18, 2012 at 2:58 AM

      Salam Br. Yahya,

      You wrote “he (Shaykh Ibn Uthaymeen) was able to maintain focus on analyzing the strength of each argument and minimize individual reasoning from being clouded due to personal attachments.”

      This statement sound fine.  In fact, it easier said than done.  Shaykh Ibn Uthaymeen’s (RA) ideas issued from a certain Islamic prespective. Like others he didn’t begin from a clean slate.  He was one of the leaders of the Wahabi/Salafi perspective.  I hasten to add that I am not using the word ‘Wahabi’ in a deragotary way.  I see it as one of the legitimate view points within Islam.  Just as the ‘Sufis’ for example, do not get mad when they are labelled ‘Sufis’, the Wahabis should not when they are labelled ‘Wahabis’.  The label doesn’t mean much, what matters are the contents.

      I understand that you studied in Saudi Arabia.  I did too. But my major was not in Islamic Studies but in Mathematics.  I obtained by BS from King Saud University. However, I attende many of the teaching majalis of the Shaykh.  I am sure we were not there at the same time because I left Riyadh in 1986.  I respected the Shaykh a lot and still do.  But I came to know later that the Shaykh’s belief regarding Tawasul was not only in the minority but is at odds with, even,  Imam Ahmad’s belief.

      It is not easy to brand muslims mushrikiin because they beleive in the efficacy of Tawasul, espicailly when the vast majority of the ulama accepted it. Of course, calling others mushrikin will not do them any harm, but will come to haunt the caller a Day when it is too late to rectify. Why would one put oneself in such a position?

      Wassalam

      • Avatar

        Yahya Whitmer

        March 18, 2012 at 11:21 AM

        Wa alaikum assalam wa rahmatullah Br. Sarmd,

        I appreciate your comments and understand where you are coming from. Thank you for your genuine concern. Indeed labeling anyone a mushrik is an ENORMOUS issue, it’s truly hard to express just how serious it is. Thankfully the ability and responsibility to do that are not a part of my life. This article has not and will not (by the grace of God!) make a declaration of kufr/shirk on any person of the Qibla.

        Please bear in mind that there are many interpretations of the term tawassul, some of which are agreed upon by all generations of scholars, some of which there is legitimate difference and discussion, and some of which are an absolute aberration, only rearing its head in the late part of the third Hijri century, after the passing of the three blessed generations that the Prophet (alayhis-salam) had mentioned. This form of tawassul involved Direct Invocation of the “pious”. This is shirk,  a betrayal of the Creator’s divine right and that is why we are attempting, to the best of our ability, to address this issue. In our theology, where we believe that Allah alone has the right to be worshiped (and du’a is the essence of worship!) this is an issue that simply cannot be ignored for the sake of unity. 

        Interestingly enough, I started my personal journey from several “dirty” slates. I was heavily prejudiced against Islam, but its light pushed through all that grime. After becoming a Muslim, I was heavily influenced by Sufi figures and in all fairness I can say that they had my emotional loyalty more than Salafism. It was a great struggle to overcome that emotional attachment and realize that the simple principles of following the sunnah/evidence and singularity of worship were the true spirit of Islam that deserved my dedication.

        To see that spirit for yourself, please reflect upon Islam’s darkest hour. After the passing of the beloved, a man who was loved in ways that the human heart could never feel towards any other person, in that moment where the greatest flame flickered and went out from the world, leaving it in darkness… how did the light return? What were the words that were said that rekindled the light of Islam and that did justice to the life, legacy, and mission of the Prophet? What did Islam’s first Caliph say? “Who ever used to worship Muhammad, let him know that Muhammad has died. And who ever worships Allah, let him know that Allah is the Ever Living!” We were not told to assuage our despair by making dua to or through the Prophet (alayhis-salam), but rather to re-devote ourselves to the direct and intimate relationship with our Ever Living Creator.

        Thanks for your time and concern.

    • Avatar

      Dawud Israel

      March 19, 2012 at 3:36 PM

      “Text without context is pretext.” 

      Re-read my comment because it seems you are, again, cherry-picking or read quickly edited
      Addressing what you said… 

      #4 is not what I was saying about your internal state, just the general thought process and mentalities that manifest in these discussions. I am calling that tendency out before it falls into that state. My point was about ISTIHSAN and arbitrary understanding as opposed to the understanding Qur’an/Sunna/Ijma makes clear. 

      #5 As I said, my views are my views, they are NOT representative of the ideas in that book. I STRONGLY suggest you read that book. If you disagree, then mashallah, Allah wills it, and that is definitely your free choice, but at least understand the topic entirely before you talk about it like you are an expert. I mean, claiming objectivity and then proceeding with complete bias is shameless. Be just. Be honest. If you are scared of the idea that you might be wrong and won’t read the other viewpoint, then you aren’t loyal to ‘ilm, but you are loyal to your own ideas. Where is the sacrifice? 

      If you have the courage and fairness to read the book, then do so, if not, then I know this conversation and discussion will not bear fruit and despite your hardest efforts, you will be frustrated. You have to be honest and actually understand what most Muslims think of when they say tawassul/istighata, not what you or a few new Muslims think of when tawassul/istighata are mentioned. Its one thing to be told, “someone told me the sufi people believe this…” and arguing against that, basically attacking a straw man and its another thing to go and learn. We have to verify our sources and that is also part of our deen with the isnad. Hearsay has no isnad and that is why it has no basis in our religion. 

      #6 Make no mistake, I have a lot of respect for sh. Yasir Qadhi. I am just pointing out the deficiencies I’ve seen in approaching this topic in the past, namely cherry-picking quotations in the LUL course. I think he unknowingly did that so I am not casting aspersions, but it sets a precedent that if one side cherry picks (knowingly or unknowingly) then so does the other-side and it becomes a cherry-picking contest and truth is lost. Showing half the picture is not like showing the whole picture and so we have to strive to get the whole picture. And again, text without context, is pretext. 

      The problem is when you don’t know that you don’t know. Meaning, its not like so-and-so is concealing something intentionally, but it is probably that they think they have a complete understanding but don’t know that they actually have an incomplete understanding due to their lacking exploration of Sunni Islam. That is why I suggested reading that book; if there is something you don’t know you don’t know, it will become clear. And Islam is a religion of clarification as the Quran is kitabil mubeen. #7/#8 Semantics. I am using the term tawhid broadly, to mean monotheism. Tawhid as per Islam is something else and that is what we both treasure and value. What makes this umma unique is sayyidina Muhammad (salallahu alayhi wasalam) and the Qur’an was given to him, not Moses. If Moses and Muhammad (salallahu alayhi wasalam) lived at the same time, Moses would have to follow Muhammad (salallahu alayhi wasalam). That needs to be underlined. Don’t cherry-pick my statements, because you expose your own competency. 

      di. 

      • Avatar

        Hassan

        March 19, 2012 at 5:28 PM

        Wow, you did not use to be arrogant and disrespectful before, what has happened to you?

        This article is just introduction to actual series of articles, I would suggest you point out opposing view on each point that you disagree, you are refuting things even before the articles are published.

  16. Avatar

    Regular Baba

    March 15, 2012 at 3:42 PM

    Salam Bro Dawud,

    One comment here about this statement:  “Tawhid and dawa fails when it focuses solely on tawhid”.  I’m sorry I don’t understand how you can make such a statement.  Allah SWT says in the Quran that the ONLY sin He does not forgive is shirk.  To me, that means that if a muslim neglects every single thing in his deen, but keeps his tawhid, then there is still a chance for him.  But if a muslim obeys Allah SWT in every single matter, but somehow falls into shirk, then there is absolutely no chance for him whatsoever.  The Quran was revealed by Allah SWT to be read and pondered upon not just by non muslims but by muslims.  Why does the topic of tawhid come again and again and again in the Quran?  To me, it’s clear why : because there are traps of shirk which muslims can fall into, and as a muslims we must take great care to watch out for those traps.  Honestly bro, your statement reminds me of what many Christians say, when they say that believing in Jesus is more important for them than tawhid.  Without 100% absolute, correct tawhid, there is NO ISLAM.

    One thing which I have never understood about those people who claim that you can call to others than Allah is that the Prophet(SAW) warned us to stay away from doubtful things.  Many such people take this to be stuff like the food of the people of the book (which is actually explicitly stated as being HALAL in the Quran), but somehow seem to allow doubtful things when it comes to tawhid.  At a very minimum, calling on someone other than Allah is surely a big question mark.  That being the case, why not regard it as being from the doubtful things and staying away from it?

    • Avatar

      Dawud Israel

      March 19, 2012 at 3:56 PM

      Wa aleikum salam wa rahmatullah, 

      “One comment here about this statement:  “Tawhid and dawa fails when it focuses solely on tawhid”.  I’m sorry I don’t understand how you can make such a statement.  Allah SWT says in the Quran that the ONLY sin He does not forgive is shirk.  To me, that means that if a muslim neglects every single thing in his deen, but keeps his tawhid, then there is still a chance for him.  But if a muslim obeys Allah SWT in every single matter, but somehow falls into shirk, then there is absolutely no chance for him whatsoever.  The Quran was revealed by Allah SWT to be read and pondered upon not just by non muslims but by muslims.  Why does the topic of tawhid come again and again and again in the Quran?  To me, it’s clear why : because there are traps of shirk which muslims can fall into, and as a muslims we must take great care to watch out for those traps.  Honestly bro, your statement reminds me of what many Christians say, when they say that believing in Jesus is more important for them than tawhid. Without 100% absolute, correct tawhid, there is NO ISLAM.”

      So, where do you get “100% absolute, correct tawhid” from? Where did you get it from? Did you talk to Jibril? Did you find a ladder to the heavens and get it directly from Allah? You got it from Rasulullah (salallahu alayhi wa alihi wasalam). Without Rasulullah (salallahu alayhi wasalam) your Islam is nothing. In fact even your dua is nothing. 

      This hadeeth was narrated by al-Tirmidhi (486) from ‘Umar ibn al-Khattaab (may Allaah be pleased with him) who said: “Du’aa’ is suspended between heaven and earth and none of it is taken up until you send blessings upon your Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him).” Ibn Katheer said: Its isnaad is jayyid. It was classed as hasan by al-Albaani in Saheeh al-Tirmidhi. 

      • Avatar

        Regular Baba

        March 21, 2012 at 8:04 AM

        So, where do you get “100% absolute, correct tawhid” from?

        From the Quran and Sunnah.  And one thing that is crystal clear FROM THOSE SOURCES is what Brother Yahya is planning to address, that calling upon others than Allah is shirk, plain and simple. 

      • Avatar

        Skillh

        April 2, 2012 at 10:07 PM

         Dear sheikh yasir qahdi and Yahya Whitmer can you please in the follow up articles go in depth in the defintion of Ilah?

        The Asharis/sufis have a problem with the Definition of Ilah as  being something worshipped…

        “The Ash`ari definition of ilah, which,Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, means ‘the
        one who can independently create’. Hence, if you don’t believe your dead
        Shaykh can create life or give you sustenance himself, but rather does
        so by a power given to him by Allah, this would not be shirk according
        to that definition.”

         He, i.e. Ibn Jareer Al-Tabari, then went on to
        say a couple of lines down;

         “If it is said; And what proves that uluhiyyah
        means worship and that an Ilah “إله” is one that is worshipped and that it has an
        originality in “Fa’al and yaf’al” “فعل, يفعل”(i.e. it being an Arabic verb)” .

        And then he went on to prove it with
        an Arabic poem said by Ru’bat Ibn Al ‘Ajaaj. And then he brought the
        interpretation of Ibn Abbas on the verse in Surah Al’Araf, verse 127 where
        Allah says, “And the chiefs of Pharaoh’s people said: Do you leave Musa and his
        people to make mischief in the land and to forsake you and your gods? He said:
        We will slay their sons and spare their women, and surely we are masters over
        them”, but Ibn Abbas used to read the verse differently by reading وإلاهتك instead of وآلهتك and he’d say upon
        interpreting the word وإلاهتك which is the way he’d read it, he’d say; “i.e.
        your worship”.

          So the verse will mean according to the
        interpretation of Ibn Abbas “And the chiefs
        of Pharaoh’s people said: Do you leave Musa and his people to make mischief in
        the land and to forsake you and your worship? He said: We will
        slay their sons and spare their women, and surely we are masters over them”.

         So this is a clear indication that the word
        Ilah means worship since Ibn Abbas interpreted وإلاهتك to mean “And your worship”, and
        he said (i.e. Ibn Abbas) in support to his interpretation by saying as Ibn
        Jareer Al-Tabari supplies in his tafseer;

         “Forsake you and your worship; Only Pharaoh was worshipped and he
        never worshipped. And that’s how Ibn Abbas and Mujahid used to read this verse.
        On the authority of Mujahid in the (interpretation of the verse), “Forsake you
        and your uluhiyyah” i.e. your worship”

         

        Ibn
        Jareer then says;

         “And there’s no doubt that Al-Ilahah “الإلاهة” – according to how Ibn Abbas and
        Mujahid interpreted it – is from the source of the saying of one; so and so has
        divined Allah a divinity. Like it is said so and so worshipped Allah a worship
        and he interpreted the dream an interpretation. It indeed became clear from the
        words of Ibn Abbas and Mujahid that “Aliha” “أله” means worshipped and
        that “الإلاهة” “Al-Ilaha” is its
        source”. [End quote].

          So you see here
        that a verse was interpreted with another verse and the saying of a companion
        was transmitted with the linguistic meaning of the word touched upon at great
        lengths. So the one who strips his eyes from blind-following and throwing
        unfound accusations towards the people of knowledge would submit to the
        interpretation of Ibn Abbas, Mujahid and Ibn Jareer Al-Tabari to the word
        “Ilah” and that it means one that is worshipped.

        • Avatar

          Yahya Whitmer

          April 3, 2012 at 11:08 AM

          Absolutely, that is one of the sub-topics that we will address. It’s awesome to see people showing such insight into the deep rooted nature of the problem. As you mentioned, certain theological schools define a “god” as a being capable of creation. All of this is a result of their interaction with Greek philosophy. The Arabic/Quranic definition of “god/ilah” is a being that is worshiped. The ramifications are just as you mentioned and this is not empty theory either. Yasir had a frank conversation with one of the greatest living classical Asharite scholars, who said that to call upon the Awliyaa was haram, but not Shirk. Subhan Allah wa la ilaha illa Huwa. Allah bless.

          • Avatar

            Skillh

            April 3, 2012 at 3:08 PM

             Jazakallah khair dear brother looking forward to it also It would be greatly appreciated that you talk about the issue of affirmation and negation regarding the shahada which is also linked to this topic.

            You stated brother
            “Tawḥīd. What does this word really mean and which interpretation of it is represented by “Lā ilāha illa Allāh”

            We know that in the Shahada we have to Negate and then Affirm but different sects have a different opinion specially ashari/sufis and shia

            The Hanbali/Salafi/Athari Negation is:

            “Kufr bi Taghoot”

            Then Hanbali/Salafi/Athari Affirmation is:

            “There is only one God worthy of worship”

            But Ashari/Sufi/ Shia see it different they say:

            The Negation is Hasr Meaning  the negation we are negating everything other then god”

            And they say the Affirmation is:

            “No God but Allah”

            So because of this Negation and Affirmation Difference they see no wrongs in the actions when they go to the graves and ask for intercession and to them it doesn’t violate the kalimah.

            This is the Root of Wasila/tawasuul etc as well as the issue of Ilah. I hope you and Sheikh Yasir Qahdi give insightful view on why many islamic sects follow the above?

  17. Avatar

    siraaj

    March 19, 2012 at 9:12 PM

    Dawud, I considered offering a response to your comments, but then someone went and wrote this article:

    http://muslimmatters.org/2012/03/19/a-muslims-guide-to-facebook-arguments-and-online-ridiculousness-in-general/

    and I laughed, remembering I didn’t want to return to these types of online “discussions” I left behind years ago :)

    You’ve written some pages-worth of critical material in this discussion without having read the body of Sh Yahya Whitmer’s work.  I would suggest / request that you extend him the courtesy that you requested for the book you asked him to read, that you read his articles in full, and then discuss your disagreements.

    You almost seem guilty of what you condemn.

    I’d also ask for a sampling of quotes out of context from LUL with (in your estimation) full context.  One or two of the more egregious misreadings should suffice.

    Siraaj

  18. Avatar

    none

    March 21, 2012 at 2:40 PM

    This series will not eradicate extreme sufism, shirk or grave worship or do justice to the call of Imam Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab (rahimullah), Abdul Qadir Al-Jilani (rahimullah). These factions are here to stay as long as Allah wills, as a means for the people of Tawheed to improve their ibadaah and their imaan and to worship Allah alone properly as commanded. However we all fall into traps and learning about it will inshaAllah have an impact on us. We need to better understand these concepts to protect ourselves, not necessarily to put down others, but to save ourselves from falling into the traps of Shaytan. May Allah bless the effort and allow us sinners to benefit from it and repent to Him. 

  19. Avatar

    Fathin

    March 23, 2012 at 6:22 AM

    May Allah bless you. ALLAH IS GREATEST 8)

  20. Avatar

    Yahya Whitmer

    April 11, 2012 at 4:51 PM

    2nd part coming soon in sha Allah

  21. Avatar

    wir349

    May 16, 2012 at 10:50 PM

    Alhumdulilah, another Aqeedah article. What I like best about these articles is not only do we learn about Aqeedah but the discussion that follows has many lessons about how people think, how to give Da’wah, differing viewpoints  and lessons of Adaab. Really beneficial.

    • Avatar

      Yahya Whitmer

      May 17, 2012 at 2:12 PM

      Glad to have you aboard, the continuing conversation is a big part of what keep me interested as well. I have learned alot.

  22. Pingback: Line in the Sand | Part 1 - MuslimMatters.org

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#Islam

Should I Pray Taraweeh Or Make Up Prayers?

Danish Qasim

Published

on

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[7]

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

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

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

————————————————————

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

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

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Shedding Light on the Moonsighting, Isha / Fajr times, and Long Fasts

Shaykh Abdullah Hasan and Shaykh Naveed Idrees discuss the many issues that crop up pre-Ramadan, seeking harmony amid confusion.

Sh. Abdullah Hasan

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The aim of this discussion paper is to place the annual debate on moonsighting and fasting in its jurisprudential context, namely, that it is an area where the application of the sacred texts are open to different but valid interpretations ( ijtihadat). The sincere efforts of scholars on all sides to arrive at what they believe is the strongest opinion must be acknowledged and respected. This discussion paper does not seek to promote any particular viewpoint, but merely to illustrate the breadth of acceptable opinion.

It is also important to recognise that difference of opinion in these matters relates to the furu’ (derivative law) and not the core definitively established aspects of Religion. As individuals and groups, we should not allow differences of opinion on peripheral matters to undermine the cohesion of our families and communities. When strongly held views in Fiqh lead to dissension, discord and division, then we should give greater weighting to community cohesion and seek to avoid the negative impact on the lives of the Muslim community. There are definitively established texts that regard unity and community cohesion as wajib (an obligation). In addition, the principle of muwafaqa ahl-al-bilad (conforming with the local community) should be followed, irrespective of one’s belief in the correctness or otherwise of the dominant ijtihad in one’s locality.

Preliminaries[1]

  1. Islamic Law and the Natural World

It is part of the sacred beauty of Islam – the religion of natural disposition (din al-fitra) – that throughout our lives, our daily worship interpenetrates the rhythms of nature: the rising and setting of the sun, the waxing and waning of the moon, the turning of the seasons, and the elemental forces of fire, air, earth and water. The external world is a manifestation of the attributes of the Creator; everything within it a sign of Allah perceived by the senses (ayatullah al-manzur).

We are not merely urged to turn our gazes to the created world as an act of sacred contemplation; but rather are compelled to do so, in order to consecrate acts of worship to the Lord who transcends that same creation. The times of obligatory prayer can only be known through observation of sunlight and shadow; the obligatory and optional fasts through the phases of the moon. The length of those fasts are determined by the order of the seasons; purification for prayer is attained through water or earth.

Considering this, it is clear that far from there being animosity between ‘fiqh’ and ‘fact,’ they are mutually dependent. Science is nothing but the systematization of the same kind of observations as determine the times of prayer and fasting, and their extrapolation on the basis of sound, verifiable principles. Therefore the opinions of experts in fields such as astronomy have always been taken into consideration when issuing fatwa. An example might be the expert medical opinion which has always played a central role in applying various dispensations regarding purification, prayer, fasting and hajj.  Given this fact of our scripture and our history, the idea that both legal and scientific experts can and should work collaboratively to determine the onset of true dawn is both right and proper. At the same time, one should be cognisant of where priority lies when the opinions of these experts appear mutually contradictory.

  1. The Imperative to Follow Qualified Scholarship

Allah describes the Quran as ‘a comprehensive explanation of all things (tibyan li-kulli shay).’ However, a central pillar of its revealed guidance has been the commanding of recourse to those eminently qualified to guide others as to the true interpretation – or interpretations – of the Divine scripture. First without equal among these guides is, of course, our beloved Master Muhammad (endless peace and blessing upon him and his family); the imperative to obey him is one of the most oft-repeated commands found in the Quran. Thereafter, believers are commanded to follow those steeped in understanding of the Quran and Prophetic Sunnah – known variously as: ‘possessors of living hearts (ulu al-albab),’ ‘those deeply rooted in knowledge (al-mustanbitin fi al-ilm)’, and ‘the people of the Remembrance (ahl al-dhikr).’

The central Quranic verse on this subject is, ‘if you know not, ask the people of the Remembrance.’[2] Its clear implication is that, when matters are unclear or uncertain, the primary responsibility of the Muslim is to have the critical self-honesty to acknowledge his or her own lack of understanding. Thereafter, it behoves one to have the humility to consult those who do have true expertise in the field of religion, whom the Holy Prophet (s) termed ‘inheritors of Prophetic knowledge[3] – the scholars of Sunni Islam. These are the authorised representatives of the four orthodox schools of law – the Hanafi, Maliki, Shafii and Hanbali madhabs.

These four knowledge traditions, though they concur on most major articles of law, will often differ in its various derivative aspects, providing different answers to the same question. This is sometimes a matter of consternation for the lay Muslim – for how can the truth be multiple? And if the truth is indeed one, how can one determine which school has grasped it? The doctrine of Sunni Islam clarifies that, although the truth is indeed one, attaining unto that truth is not always obligatory.

To explain further: if the lay Muslim has obeyed Allah by asking the people of knowledge about an obscure or difficult matter, then he or she has fulfilled God’s right over them. Similarly, if those scholars have obeyed Allah by exercising all their learning and expertise to sincerely comprehend Allah’s command, they have fulfilled God’s right over them. In both cases, they will be rewarded and brought near to Allah, even if their conclusions are wrong. This is clear from the hadith, ‘if the verifying scholar is correct, he (or she) receives two rewards; if incorrect, they receive one.’[4]

On the contrary, if a lay Muslim seeks to bypass the Prophetic inheritors and determine the truth for himself – despite having none of the pre-requisite knowledge, qualities or skills – they will have disobeyed Allah and deserve His censure – even if they stumble across the right answer! This is similarly based on the hadith, ‘whoever interprets the Quran on based on [unqualified] opinion should prepare to take their seat in Hell.’[5]

It is clear, then, that the responsibility of the individual Muslim begins and ends with seeking qualified scholars to advise them on the derivative rulings of sacred law, such as the issue of when precisely the fast begins and fajr can be prayed. Thereafter, it is the responsibility of the ulamah to exert all their efforts to determine the answer to this question with as much precision as possible.

It should, of course, be noted that the terms ‘lay Muslim’ and ‘scholar’ are not absolute divisions; a learned 21st century Muslim, university-educated in physics and astronomy, is not the same as an illiterate peasant farmer in a 15th Century Turkish village. In legal terms, there is a difference between an educated non-specialist (‘aami thaqafi) and an ignorant non-specialist (‘aami jahil). The difference between them, however, lies in the nature of the questions they might ask, rather than their ability to answer them in correspondence with the sophisticated legal principles of the religion.

  1. Respecting Valid Differences of Opinion

The preceding indicates that one sometimes finds a range of opinions on a particular matter of law. There would not merely be a difference of opinion between schools, but sometimes within schools as well. Classically, these discussions would be conducted in closed classes, private debates or by correspondence between the scholars concerned. Crucially, the debates were between people who – by and large – understood the ethics of debate and disagreement. Their longstanding and sometimes fiercely contested arguments would nonetheless be characterised by civility and mutual respect.

The nature of the modern world – especially the near-total eradication of private space – has entailed these debates spilling over into the ever-expanding public domain. Increasingly, they have been witnessed by the Muslim laity who do not understand the ethics of disagreement, and erroneously assume that differences of opinion must entail antagonism. Imam Ghazali stated that, ‘debating over religion is disliked for scholars and forbidden for the laity.’[6]

A fundamental principle of our religion is that, on matters genuinely differed-upon, there can be no mutual condemnation (la inkar fi masa’il mukhtalaf fihi).[7] This has been elucidated by many scholars from the earliest generations up until present day, and accounts for the harmonious co-existence of different schools of law who worship, trade and conduct their family lives in different ways. The fact that a Hanafi might pray Dhuhr when a Shafii is praying Asr brings about no acrimony or dissension.

This does not entail a free-for-all in the domain of legal opinion; it has been further expounded by our scholarly tradition that genuine difference of opinion (alikhtilaf) is based on opinions that are derived through sound methodology from authenticated narrations. As the ulamah state, ‘if you transmit a position, let it be an authenticated one; if you make a claim, prove your point.’[8] It thus excludes aberrant, unfounded opinions or roundly rejected interpretations from the ambit of this toleration.

Overview of the specific issues that are a source of difference of opinion

There are 3 key issues that are matter of difference of opinion amongst scholars and different groups:

  1. Determining the start and end of Ramadan
  2. Determining the start and end time of Isha and start time of Fajr/Suhur in periods of persistent twilight during the summer months
  3. How to deal with the issue of long fasts during the summer period?

A Summary of the Context of these Issues

  • Scripture provides broad indicators to establish prayer and fasting times linked to the Sun and moon that are generally reliable in hot climates where the skies are clear and day & night are of moderate length
  • These indicators are not defined in a scientific manner e.g. based on precise minutes or degrees, but rely upon general observations that any ordinary person could make as part of their daily life
  • Over the last 100 years sizable communities of Muslims have established themselves in the Northern Hemisphere above 48.5 degrees latitude
  • The climate in the these regions makes it difficult to observe the Sun and Moon consistently. There are days when there is persistent twilight which means Isha and Fajr/Suhur times are difficult to establish, and there are extreme variations in the length of night and day, especially in Summer and Winter periods
  • The growth in the use of artificial lighting, industrialisation of society, and progress in the means of communication over the last 150 years has meant that work and leisure patterns were no longer linked to sunrise and sunset; instead, clocks became the means of telling the time and regulating daily life. In practice, the shari’ah indicators no longer directly play an active part in daily life.
  • Although there are texts in the Qur’an and Sunnah on these matters (see below), their application in Northern Regions above 48.5* latitude is not clear-cut and requires scholarly interpretation. This is the source of difference of opinion on these matters.
  • Scholars have attempted to convert astronomical signs which were meant to be broad into scientific and precise formulas, relying on scientific definitions, e.g. 18* as definition of disappearance of twilight and start of night/true dawn
  • Scholars continue to debate the strength and weaknesses of each opinion and whether they accurately reflect the shari’ah indicators. All opinions are supported by strong direct or indirect proofs and evidences, and are backed by references to the works of eminent scholars

An Overview of the Different Positions

Issue 1: Moonsighting

A variety of methods have been suggested in classical and modern scholarship to determine the beginning of the new month, especially Ramadan, Shawwal and Dhul Hijja. They are all based on some interpretation of what the hadith ‘fast when you see it and cease the fast when you see it’ actually means – who are ‘you’ and what does ‘seeing’ mean?

 

Position Notes Issues
Local sighting Only sighting by a local populace validates the new month, else 30 days are completed. The classical strong position of the Shafii and Maliki schools. ‘You’ means ‘the local community’ What does ‘local’ mean in the context of the modern ease of communication over vast distances, and why? On what legal basis should one restrict ‘local’ to a city, country or region?
Global sighting A valid sighting anywhere in the world is applicable to everywhere in the world. The classical strong position of the Hanafi school and some Malikis. ‘You’ means ‘the Muslims in general’ Practically, this would entail that a sighting of the moon in California at 6pm would be retrospectively valid for Muslims in Indonesia, for whom it would be 2pm the next day, so this is impractical despite the ease of communication
‘Horizonal’ sighting A valid sighting anywhere to the east, north or south is applicable for everyone to the west. A strong variant of the Shafii position and the Hanafi school Avoids the logistical difficulties of the first two options, but introduces an arbitrary restriction for which there is no textual basis. Effectively assumes the possibility of sighting the moon to the west if it has been actually sighted in the east.
Calculation If it is determined (by agreed criteria) that it is possible to sight the crescent, that possibility is deemed an actual sighting.   A strong position in the Shafii school, and held by others as well. ‘See’ means ‘potentially see’ – based on the variant hadith of Bukhari: ‘if it is obscured, then calculate’ Potential sighting criteria need to be agreed. Deviates from the literal sense of the central hadith and rejected by a number of schools. However, enables future planning of calendars and so determination of important dates in advance.[9]
Following Saudi Arabia Effectively the proposal that the Saudi decision should be binding on all Muslims. Possible to adopt as any country may choose to follow the ruling of Qadi outside its jurisdiction. ‘See’ means only the Saudis. Not a classical position despite being possible in the Middle East. Significant concerns about the validity of sightings done there, given the calculation basis of the rest of the year’s calendar (Umm al-Qura). Major Saudi scholars reject the position.

Issue 2 – Determining Suhur and Isha time during persistent twilight

Both the fajr prayer and the fast commence at al-subh al-sadiq (true dawn) by consensus, which Allah describes as being when ‘the white thread (of the sky) has become clearly distinct to you from the black thread (of the horizon) at the time of fajr’. Any fajr prayer performed before this, or fast commenced after, is definitively invalid. What precisely constitutes al-subh al-sadiq, however, is not definitive, because dawn is not a binary event: the intensity and spread of light on the horizon changes incrementally over time, making the precise determination of phenomenon open to interpretation. Equally, isha time commences by consensus at the disappearance of twilight (ghuyub al-shafaq), but there is similarly a difference of opinion about what this constitutes and how to determine it. There are thus a variety of opinions on what precise observable phenomena constitute these two critical periods.

Far northern latitudes, however, additionally experience persistent twilight, where the sun does not sink sufficiently low beneath the horizon during summer, and twilight can persist through the night until morning. This entails that the normal signs indicating the onset of isha, fajr, and the fast are absent. Classical jurists have discussed this intermittently over 800 years, focussing almost entirely on isha rather than fajr, and reaching no consensus on how to deal with this issue. In modern times, a number of suggestions have thus been propounded, given how many people are now affected by this issue. A summary of these options, most of which revolve around determining a time (taqdir) for isha and fajr, follows:

Position Notes Issues
Perform isha after midnight Assumes that there was a very brief isha time that has been missed, so it is performed effectively in fajr time Fajr therefore begins just after midnight, leading to a very long fast (up to 21-22 hours).   There also clearly is no isha time that has been missed
Taqdir according to the nearest place/time where isha enters The classical Shafii position, adopted by Malikis, Hanbalis and some Hanafis Entails a very brief isha period between 0100-0130 if adopted strictly, as well as a very long fast.
Taqdir by fixing a duration A modern solution (including Umm al-Qura) of creating an isha by adding 90 mins to sunset and subtracting 90 mins from sunrise Creates a reasonable isha and fajr time, but has no basis in observation, astronomy or Islamic law. Also entails a jump between a very early fajr/late isha to the 90 min taqdir
Taqdir by an average of the normal durations The so-called ‘1/7th of the night position’ – formed by looking at the average ration of maghrib : isha through the year A variant of the original Shafii position that avoids the hardship of the nearest place/time position but also has some basis in the observations through the year and scholarly precedent
Combine maghrib and Isha This is the position of the Islamic Fiqh Council, European Council for Fatwa & Research. This of course should not be done in perpetuity. A means of avoiding hardship, but why should it not be applied also to a very late but validly entering isha? If it should, when does it become hard? Also does not answer the question of when fajr begins
Isha is not obligatory A position debated in the classical Hanafi school, because its signs do not enter Rejected by the virtual consensus of modern scholarship, as would entail no performance of isha for months.

Issue 3 – Dealing with a Very Long Fast

The length of the fast varies much more widely in northern latitudes than in any of the classical Muslim lands, with the significant exception of the lands of Bulghar, which are now in Kazakhstan. In summer, the fasts can reach to 18-21 hours, depending on how far north one is and what position to determine fajr one adopts. As such, very little attention is paid to the length of the fast in summer months in northern latitudes in classical works, likely because a textually-specified dispensation for hardship already exists. The default is that the fast remains obligatory no matter how long it is, though the time of al-subh al-sadiq can be determined by taqdir. Should keeping the fast prove too onerous, it should be broken and made up on easier days. This has been the default practice of the Bulghars for hundreds of years, as well as the Muslim populations of the west for the last 40 years or so.

However, a number of renowned Egyptian scholars in the 19th-20th centuries proposed that fast durations should be artificially set in far northern countries in the same way that prayer times were determined there by taqdir. It was proposed that the length be set by either the length of that day’s fast in Makka or another mid-latitude country. Their rationale was three-fold: an extension of the taqdir of prayer times in the absence of their signs (in this case the onset of dawn), the relieving of excessive and harmful difficulty from people in having to keep such long fasts, and retaining the sanctity of Ramadan – as it would be inconceivable to simply not fast during a summer Ramadan. Scripture relating to the timings of the fast needed to be understood in the context of the geographical realities of mid-latitude countries, and to not exempt those outside this range would be to misunderstand the underlying purpose of sacred law related to the fast.

The position has been critiqued from a number of perspectives: the explicit delineation of fasting times by scripture, the fact that – though the onset of the fast can be estimated by taqdir – sunset does in fact occur and should be adhered to, the existence of a scripturally-mandated dispensation for difficult fasts, and the crucial factor that there is neither medical or experiential evidence that fasting 18-21 hours daily is significantly harmful to health or functioning in most cases. Given this, the position of these late Azhari scholars should be considered anomalous (shadh) and in contradiction to that of the overwhelming majority of both classical and modern scholars, and therefore not followed. If people are genuinely struggling and fasting causes harm then the legal dispensation is present in the shari’ah to break the fast. Individuals should consult reliable and authoritative scholars in their locality.

General Counsel to the Muslims

We would strongly counsel the lay Muslim to remember and act upon the following principles in their daily practice:

  1. It is a communal obligation (fard kifaya) to accurately determine the prayer times and the start and end times of the fast, as well as the commencement of Islamic months. If some members of the community have fulfilled the responsibility, it is lifted from the remainder.[10]
  2. Furthermore, such determinations are a matter of public order (min al-umur al-intizamiyya) – that is, they are not meant to be carried out by just anyone. Rather, in the traditional Muslim world, fulfilling this particular duty would be the role of a government department or authorized working group. For those living as minorities in non-Muslim lands, the responsibility devolves onto the community as a whole, who in turn appoint figures of authority, such as the ulamah and educated mosque committees, to fulfil the task on their behalf. In either case, it is imperative to act in consultation with those qualified for the task (ashab al-ahliyya) – in this case, legal and scientific experts.
  3. By the grace of Allah, this fard kifaya has already been performed by a number of scholars over the decades in the UK. Their differing results are likely a function of the sighting difficulties and differing legal positions noted earlier on.
  4. Most importantly, it should be noted that senior, qualified scholars have given fatwa on the differing positions. In accordance with the well-known legal principle, in the absence of a judge (qadi) to rule decisively or a clear preponderance of opinion in a school, the lay Muslim may follow any of the positions agreed by their scholars without fear of their prayers or fasts being invalid. By doing so, they have fulfilled their personal responsibility to Allah.
  5. At the same time, we urge those given responsibility by the community to come together, clearly review the evidence – scriptural, legal, astronomical and observational – and agree upon a way forward for all their communities that brings unity (muwafaqa) despite any ethnic, legal or minor doctrinal differences that may exist in our diverse community.
  6. Finally, it is imperative that we avoid sowing doubt in people’s minds about the validity of their fasts and prayers. This is a matter of genuine scholarly debate and ongoing discussion – there is much work that still needs to be done. We would therefore urge everybody to remember that there should be no condemnation about matters genuinely differed upon in the religion.[11]

May Allah provision our minds with clear understanding, our bodies with willing and joyful submission, and our hearts with a unity that comes from love and mutual respect, despite our differences.

‘Oh Allah, let us see the truth as true and follow it, and let us see falsehood as false, and avoid it.’

Appendix 1: Central Source Texts for Moonsighting, Prayer Times and Fasting

As a starting point, ijtihad (independent juristic reasoning) is only permissible in the absence of a clear and unequivocal text (Nass) whose authenticity is established (qat’i al-dalalah, qat’i- al wurud). In the context of these issues, the sacred texts establish clear positions in general terms, but are open to multiple interpretations when applied in different contexts. For ease, only basic referencing will be used – for further discussion, please refer to specialist works on the topics.

Texts relevant to Key Issue 1 (determining the start and end of Ramadan – moonsighting)

“They ask you concerning the crescent moons, say they are measurements of time for people and for the pilgrimage” (2:189).

Abu Huraira narrated: The Prophet (s) said, “Start fasting on seeing the crescent (of Ramadan), and give up fasting on seeing the crescent (of Shawwal), and if the sky is overcast, complete thirty days of Sha’ban.”

(Sahih Bukhari, book 30, hadith 19).

Do not fast until you see the crescent-moon, and do not break the fast until you have seen the crescent moon, but if conditions are overcast for you then calculate it (f’aqdiruhu).”

[Bukhari, Muslim, Muwatta]

What is definitively established from the above texts (qat’i al dalala) is that the start and end of Ramadan should be established based on the sighting of the moon.   These texts, however, are not definitive on the issue of what should be done if visibility is impaired, or whether some form of local sighting (ikhtilaf al matal’i) is sufficient, or can a sighting anywhere (ittihad al-matal’i) in the world be relied upon, or whether calculations can be relied on if atmospheric conditions do not permit sighting of the moon.   There are multiple interpretations within the parameters of these texts that are possible, and this has been an area of discussion and debate amongst scholars both past and present. Similarly, scholars have differed over the nature of seeing e.g actual physical sighting, scientific data only as ru’ya can mean to know, or actual physical sighting with use of scientific data to support or negate (Ithbat wa Nafiy). Completing 30 days in regions such as the UK over a number of months will lead to some months eventually being 25 or 26 days, and the lunar year would become more than 355 days!

Texts relevant to Key Issue 2 (determining suhur and prayer times during periods of persistent twilight)

‘And eat and drink until the white thread (light) of dawn appears to You distinct from the black thread (darkness of night), Then complete Your Saum (fast) till the nightfall.’ (2:187)

The above text is definitive in establishing the start of the Fast (imsak) where these astronomical signs are observable. However, in regions above 48.5 degrees latitude the phenomenon of persistent twilight means that the distinguishing signs are no longer observable. In these regions, this is an area where ijtihad is permitted, as the text is not clear on what approach should be taken in the absence of these signs. Scholars have resorted to various methods of estimating the start time of suhur (subh Sadiq) by trying to find an equivalence based on solar degrees of depression ranging from 12-18 degrees ( see Appendix). However, it is important to note that there is no direct text that links the astronomical signs with any particular degree. These correspondences are based on the ijithad of scholars. Similarly, there is no (definitive and unequivocal) text that supports the options for taqdir (calculation of a time): nearest day, nearest city, one seventh of the night, Umm al Qura time (1hour 20/30 mins), Half night (nisf-ul-layl). The legal basis of all these is the intellectual efforts of scholars since the 4th Century Hijri.

As for the timings of prayer, many texts establish these times. For example:

‘Establish regular prayers – at the sun’s decline till the darkness of the night, and the morning prayer and reading: for the prayer and reading in the morning are witnessed.’ (15:78)

“The time for the morning prayer lasts as long as the first visible part of the rising sun does not appear and the time of the noon prayer is when the sun declines from the zenith and it is not time for the afternoon prayer and the time for the afternoon prayer is so long as the sun does not become pale and its first visible part does not set, and the time for the evening prayer is that when the sun disappears and (it lasts) till the twilight is no more and the time for the night prayer is up to the midnight.”

(Sahih Muslim)

This and other similar texts are clear that Isha time starts with the disappearance of twilight. The scholars have differed on the meaning of twilight whether it refers to the redness or whiteness after sunset. In addition, these texts are not definitive on the issue of when Isha time starts during periods of persistent twilight. This again is an area where the scholars have exerted their efforts to arrive at a solution.

Texts relevant to key issue 3 (long fasts in summer days)

‘And eat and drink until the white thread (light) of dawn appears to You distinct from the black thread (darkness of night), Then complete Your fast till the nightfall … but if anyone is ill, or on a journey, the prescribed period (Should be made up) during later days. Allah intends every facility for you; He does not want to put to difficulties.’ (2:187)

Allah’s Messenger (s) said, “When night falls from this side and the day vanishes from this side and the sun sets, then the fasting person should break his fast.” (Sahih Bukhari)

The phenomenon of fasts of more than 18 hours is an issue that has arisen in modern times due to the settlement of significant Muslim communities in the Northern Hemisphere. This text is definitive and unequivocal in regions that do not experience persistent twilight. In regions that experience this phenomenon it is impossible to distinguish darkness of night from twilight, therefore 2:189 is not a Nass that can be applied.   The scholars have proposed various solutions to resolve this issue (see appendix 1).

There is a difference of opinion amongst scholars whether the texts that relate to timings of prayer are applicable only where day and night are roughly equal. In regions where there is a significant disparity e.g day length is more than 18 hours, these texts are silent and therefore ijtihad can be relied upon to achieve an outcome that is consistent with the aims of the Shari’ah. This is based on the juristic principle that a hadith scholar, “The [primary] texts pertain to common and normal circumstances and not to what is uncommon.” (Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani, in Fath al-Bari (2/62): and “the general texts are construed in reference to what is prevalent and common and not in reference to what is uncommon and unknown. (Ibn ‘Abdin, Rad al-Muhtar ‘ala al-Dur al-Mukhtar (2/123), and “The [prayer] times, which Jibril (pbuh) taught the Prophet [pbuh], and which the Prophet [pbuh] taught his community, are those which the scholars mentioned in their books, and which refer to normal days.” (Sheikh Ibn Taymiyah, Mukhtasar al-Fatawa al-Misriyyah (1/38). As a result some scholars ( e.g Sh Mustafa Zarqa’) have stated that people living in these regions should fast based on an average day, and have proposed fasting to the length of Makkah or Madinah. العقل والفقه في فهم الحديث النبوي للشيخ الزرقا   ص : 124 طبعة دار

القلم 1996

Ayah 2:185 is a definitive and unequivocal text on creating an exemption from fasting for one who is ill or is travelling. However, it is not clear on the issue of one who is struggling to fast during long summer days. Based on ijtihad some scholars have extended the exemption in 2:185 to include people living in regions that have abnormal length of day, based on analogy (qiyas) with those who are ill, and have advised people to make up (qadaa’) of fasts at another time of the year.

Appendix 2: Key Texts on The principle of Muwafaqa Ahl-al-Bilad (conforming with the local community)

The importance of maintaining community cohesion and not dividing the family or community has been explicitly mentioned in the Quran, and is a core principle of religion.

3:13. the same Religion has He established for you As that which He enjoined on Noah – the which we have sent by inspiration to Thee – and that which we enjoined on Abraham, Moses, and Jesus: Namely, that ye should remain steadfast In religion, and make no divisions therein: to those who worship other things than Allah, hard is the (way) to which Thou callest them.

19:94. He [Hârûn (Aaron)] said: “O son of My mother! seize (me) not by My beard, nor by My head! Verily, I feared lest You should say: ‘You have caused a division among the Children of Israel, and You have not respected My word!’ “

In matters relating to communal religious practice that are not based on qat’i texts and that relate to differences of opinion, it is obligatory to maintain unity within a local community than to insist on following one’s opinion. An example of this is the principle of ‘muwafaqa ahl al-bilad’ (conforming with the local community) which seeks to avoid ill feeling, hatred and division in a local community. There are countless examples of the pious predecessors (salaf) giving up their opinion to maintain community cohesion. In the context of Eid and Ramadan, the principle of Muwafaqa states that one should fast with the local community even if it means that you end up fasting one day extra or one day less. Aisha overruled Masruq when he sought to fast out of caution on the day of Sacrifice stating:

‘Sacrifice is on the day that people make the sacrifice, and the end of the fast is when people end the fast’

This is supported by the following hadith:

The fast is the day when you all fast, and the end of the fast is when you all end the fast, and the Eid of sacrifice is when you make the sacrifice.

(Tirmidhi 697 – hasan gharib), Abu Dawud (2324), Ibn Majah (1660)

Commenting on this Hadith Imam Tirmidhi states: ‘some of the people of knowledge have explained this to mean that one should fast and end the fasting with the community (Jama’a) and the majority of the people.’   Similarly, San‘ani comments: ‘in this is evidence that the conformity of a people on can be taken into account when establishing the Day of Eid, and that it is obligatory (wajib) on a solitary witness who has sighted the moon, to conform with the local community.

The scholars are clear that even if the local community makes an error in their ijtihad on the day of Eid or Ramadan, this will not affect the validity of the fasts and Eid even if it later transpires that a mistake was made. For instance Abu Dawud narrated the aforementioned hadith of the Prophet under the chapter heading: ‘if people make an error in sighting the moon’. Finally, the following hadith also has bearing on this matter:

‘If you see differences, then stick with the vast majority…’

It is important to point out that there can never be Eid on one day all over the globe, due to different time zones. However, what is obligatory is that within one family, neighbourhood or city, there should be one Eid. This is in keeping with the core principle of religion which came to bring people together, it is time to revive the Sunnah of the pious predecessors (salaf) and give up our opinions on matters that are from the ‘Furu’ (peripheral) aspects of religion, in order not to fall into the conundrum of creating fitnah and division amongst the believers.

Appendix 3: Parameters within which the Moonsighting and Ramadan Debate should take place

  1. The issue of which method should be used is a matter that relates to the Furu’ (Peripherals) and not the Usul (Core matters) of the Deen established by definitive /texts/ proofs based on al-Dalil al-Qat’i)
  2. This is a matter that relates to Fiqh and not Aqidah
  3. It is not a matter on which takfir of individuals or groups should be made
  4. The Nusus (text) on many of these issues are open to different interpretations
  5. There is no ijma’ (consensus) amongst the scholars on which method to deploy if visibility is impaired, or there is persistent twilight
  6. All parties are sincerely trying to arrive at what they believe is the strongest shar’i (legal) position
  7. People are free to follow any of the sound and valid ijtihads
  8. It is not wajib to follow any of these ijtihads exclusively
  9. It is legally (in fiqh terms) wrong to claim that the fast/Eid of those who follow a different ijtihad is invalidated.
  10. The matter of creating harmony and avoiding discord amongst the community of Believers is established by definitive texts. This is wajib.
  11. Giving up the ijtihad of the group or scholar you follow to avoid discord and division will not invalidate your fast/Eid
  12. In some cases it may be considered wajib to give up the opinion you feel strongly about, if it will cause division within a family or a town/city
  13. The Qur’an and Sunnah are full of examples of prioritising community cohesions and harmony e.g The prophet pbuh ordered a Mosque to be pulled down, as it was dividing the Muslim community, the Prophet Haroon did not enforce his will on the Children of Israel for fear of splitting the community (faraqta bayna bani israeel, Surah Taha)
  14. Disagreements in this area amongst the Muslims, leads to a negative portrayal of Islam, and is damaging from a Dawah perspective
  15. The Maqasid of Eid as a celebration that brings the entire community together is violated by having Eid on different days within the same family, town or city
  16. There is no precedent in Fiqh that justifies Eid being celebrated on different days within the same family, town, city for people who are resident there (Ahadith refer to companions who were travelling and returning to their city)
  17. Having Eid on different days disrupts the education of children, makes it difficult to organise holiday leave for working people, which means that many people end up booking the wrong day and therefore end up working on Eid day

Appendix 4: further reading

Book: Shedding light on the dawn: on the determination of prayer and fasting times at high latitudes by Sheikh Asim Yusuf

The challenge of how to determine twilight prayer and fasting times at high latitudes is an issue that has vexed successive generations of Muslims since the community first began to dwell in northern lands. This work represents the most comprehensive, meticulous and balanced approach to the subject composed in any language. The author has both demonstrated and collapsed the complexity of the subject by exploring it from the perspective of definitions, science, scripture, and sacred law, as well as providing a literature survey of classical and modern attempts at observation, before presenting the results of his own systematic, scientifically-rigorous set of observations. As well as providing a comprehensive set of recommendations for the issue under discussion, this work sets a standard for works on modern legal issues in general.

This is a necessary read on this subject. The author is a friend and colleague who has tirelessly and meticulously researched the issues of long fasts and prayer times. Some of the discussions above have been taken from the book.

For more information on the book and how to purchase it: http://www.lightonthedawn.com/

Few articles providing overview of some issues discussed:

http://www.understanding-islam.org.uk/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=8054:towards-understanding-the-moonsighting-debate-in-the-u-k&Itemid=102

Arguments for using calculation:

https://musafurber.com/2015/06/06/ramadan-moonfighting-shafi%CA%BFic-calculations/

An Analysis of Moon Sighting Arguments

The argument against using calculation:

http://www.islam21c.com/islamic-law/964-an-insight-into-moon-sighting/

https://almadinainstitute.org/blog/an-islamic-legal-analysis-of-the-astronomical-determination-of-the-beginnin/

Issues of the long fast:

http://www.islamtoday.net/bohooth/artshow-86-136794.htm

http://www.exploring-islam.com/fasting-during-the-long-summer-days-in-some-western-countriesworship.html

http://alrukn.com/long-fasts-fiqh/

Combining Maghreb and Isha:

https://www.e-cfr.org/%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A8%D9%8A%D8%A7%D9%86-%D8%B1%D9%82%D9%85-3-2/

https://www.leedsgrandmosque.com/isha-prayer-in-british-summer

https://www.islam21c.com/fataawa/166-summer-isha-a-fajr-prayer-times/

[1] All from the introduction to ‘Shedding Light on the Dawn’

[2] Al-Nahl 16:43

[3] Jami’ Tirmidhi 2683

[4] Bukhari 7352, Muslim 4487

[5] Jami Tirmidhi

[6] Ihya Ulum al-Din, Kitab al-Ilm

[7] Al-Ashbah wa al-Naza’ir of Suyuti – a very well-known principle among the righteous predecessors (salaf) and their successors (khalaf).

[8] Kubra al-Yaqiniyyat al-Kawniyya 34: in kunta naqilan fa al-sihha, wa in kunta muda’iyyan fa al-dalil.

[9] NB: contrary to popular opinion, crescent visibility curves are not a modern invention, having been known about in the classical Muslim period. There are many examples in medieval astronomical literature that look very similar to modern ones

[10] Ibn Qudama in his al-Mughni [2:30-31], for example, notes that, ‘when one hears the adhan from a reliable source, one should commence prayer, without attempting to work out whether the time has entered oneself, for the Prophet (s) said, ‘the muadhins are entrusted,’ (Abu Dawud) and ‘there are two duties Muslims must perform that hang from the necks of the muadhins: their prayers and their fasts’ (ibn Majah). – dar alam al-kutub

[11] Al-Ashbah wa al-Naza’ir of Suyuti 224 – la yunkar al-mukhtalaf fihi, innama yunkar al-mujma’ alayh: a well-known principle among the righteous predecessors (salaf) and their successors (khalaf).

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Prophets and Social Activism

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Bt Shaykh Tarik Ata

The undeniable primary role of prophets was to call society to Allah and establish a relationship with him. Along with their ideological engagement, the Quran references the social aspects prophets addressed. In long passages from chapters 7 and 11,[1] the Quran describes particular social problems that seemingly were widespread at the time. For example, the people of Noah suffered from a system of social hierarchy which stereotyped the commoner as being weak minded and invaluable “So the eminent among those who disbelieved from his people said, “We do not see you but as a man like ourselves, and we do not see you followed except by those who are the lowest of us [and] at first suggestion. And we do not see in you over us any merit; rather, we think you are liars.”[2] The people of Madyan suffered from widespread monetary conning and exploitation “And do not decrease from the measure and the scale.”[3] Prophet Lot called out his people’s practice of homosexuality as being something despised by God “Do you approach males among the worlds And leave what your Lord has created for you as mates? But you are a people transgressing.” They said, “If you do not desist, O Lot, you will surely be of those evicted.” He said, “Indeed, I am, toward your deed, of those who detest [it]. My Lord, save me and my family from [the consequence of] what they do.”[4]

What must be pointed out, however, is that the social change sought out by prophets was related to their theological duty. These social ails threatened, first and foremost, society’s relationship to Allah. Therefore, these verses constantly reference Allah and return the issue back to theology. After every attempted refutation of the prophet’s position, the prophet responds with theology as if to make it known that their duty as prophets is to call people to Allah and establish that relationship between the individual and their Creator. Thus, elements of social activism enacted by prophets were not to allow unrestricted lifestyles with the ability to choose what is right or wrong based solely on their customs or desires. Rather, their efforts aimed at redirecting society to Allah; to free them from the creation in order to become servants of the creator.

One may attempt to refute this analysis of these Quranic passages as being selective and not representative of the larger picture. Such a concern is invalid since these stories are presented in multiple chapters throughout the Quran consistently portraying the prophets as upholding the duty of changing theology and calling people to follow Allah’s commands.[5] It does not limit their social engagement to the political authority with the intention of freeing society from their shackles or to allow them the freedom to choose any lifestyle they please. Even the story of Moses, which involves a great tyrant, centralizes monotheism. Likewise, the final phase of his life dealt with rebuilding the children of Israel after enduring decades of oppression and injustices. Even then the central focus is their theological deviations while alluding to their social deviations as being rooted in weak theology.[6]

To put it concisely, prophets’ involvement in greater society revolved around preaching theology and expressed social criticism using theology. The primary goal of social engagement and criticisms of injustice and oppression was an effort to alleviate society from that which taints its theology or creates barriers between the individual and Allah. One example from the Quran is Surah Al-Ma’oun which reads “Have you seen the one who denies the Recompense [the Day of Judgement]? (1) For that is the one who drives away the orphan (2) And does not encourage the feeding of the poor. (3)” The verses ascribe abuse of orphans and the poor to disbelief in the day of judgement – a pillar of faith.

Labeling Prophets as Activists

Another recent phenomenon is the labeling of prophets as activists. Since prophets hold a high status in Islam and are considered a pillar of faith the topic of prophets and speaking on their behalf is sensitive. Furthermore, it indicates that improper belief in them threatens the person’s faith as a whole and for this reason the Quran forbids speaking ill of them or mocking them even lightheartedly “And if you ask them, they will surely say, “We were only conversing and playing.” Say, “Is it Allah and His verses and His Messenger that you were mocking? Make no excuse; you have disbelieved after your belief. If We pardon one faction of you – We will punish another faction because they were criminals.”[7] Following these verses is a description of hypocrites (those who outwardly accept Islam but their hearts reject it) eluding to the reader that disrespect of prophets is an attribute of hypocrites and a form of hypocrisy. Anything less than the utmost reverence and respect for prophets is unacceptable and therefore is best to refer to them in a manner that the Quran and hadith affirm.

Both the Quran and hadith tradition address the prophets with titles and attributes that highlight their piety and relationship with Allah. They are not labeled with secular titles void of religious connotation. Furthermore, these titles and attributes can only be understood in a positive manner. For example, al-ameen, which means the truthful and trustworthy, is consistently a praiseworthy attribute that is understood in a positive manner. Words that can be understood both positively and negatively, such as an activist, should not to be used as titles for prophets such as referring to them as activists. An activist can promote good and can promote evil depending on what they are actively promoting. And although prophets had elements of social activism, activism in contemporary times is packaged with politics and ideologies that are often inconsistent with Islamic principles and prophetic characteristics.

One may say that they referring to prophets as activists does not indicate any disrespect so what is the problem? Allah says in the Quran “Do not make [your] calling of the Messenger among yourselves as the call of one of you to another.”[8] Bedouins during the time of the Prophet would call upon him with loud voices using his name or kunya Abu Al-Qasim. Such was the nature of Bedouins who had rough personalities and this verse prohibited them from this characteristic. Calling prophets does not carry positive religious value nor does it offer an aspect of uniqueness. Anyone can be an activist, a Muslim and non-Muslim, a good person and a bad person, a pious person and an un-pious person, but only people chosen by Allah can be prophets and messengers. Therefore the most appropriate manner to address them is with the title “messenger” or “prophet.”

I encourage Muslims to reflect upon the following verse “O you who have believed, do not raise your voices above the voice of the Prophet or be loud to him in speech like the loudness of some of you to others, lest your deeds become worthless while you perceive not.” Disrespect of the Prophet can occur without one being aware and could have dire consequences such as the nullifying of the person’s deeds.

Allah knows best.

Shaykh Tarik Ata was born and raised in the Southwest Suburbs of Chicago. Shaykh Tarik pursued his higher education at Northern Illinois University where he attained a BA in psychology. After graduating from NIU, Shaykh Tarik studied at the World Islamic and Science Education University (also called the Islamic University) in Jordan. He received a BA in Islamic Jurisprudence and its foundations, as well as an MA in Islamic Jurisprudence with a specialty in Islamic commerce and finance. While working on his degrees, Sheikh Tarik also studied with scholars and achieved various certifications (ijazat) in Islamic Jurisprudence, the foundations of Jurisprudence, the science of Hadith, the Arabic language, Quranic recitation, and Islamic creed/theology. He is currently the imam at the Orange County Islamic Foundation.

[1] Quran 7:59-93, 11:25-95

[2] Quran 11:27

[3] Quran 11:84

[4] Quran 26:169

[5] See Quran 6:74-82, 7:59-94, 11:25-95, 26:1-191

[6] Quran 2:40-105, 7:138-163

[7] Quran 9:65-66

[8] Quran 24:63

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