Connect with us

Aqeedah and Fiqh

Line in the Sand | Introduction




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.



  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


    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.


  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


    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


    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”)

    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


    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


    March 13, 2012 at 4:04 PM

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

  12. Avatar


    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.

    Also, you can a better understanding through this site insha’Allah:

    • Avatar


      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


        March 16, 2012 at 3:22 AM

        Assalamu alaikum

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

    • Avatar


      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?


      • 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. 


      • Avatar


        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


        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”


        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


            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


    March 19, 2012 at 9:12 PM

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

    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.


  18. Avatar


    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


    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


    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 -

  23. Pingback: Line in the Sand | Part 2: Definitions Matter -

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.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


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

Dr Usaama al-Azami



Sepoy rebellion, Shaykh Hamza

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

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

Opposing all government vs opposing a government

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

A complex tradition

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

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

What does the tradition actually say?

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

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

Al-Ghazzali on confronting tyrants

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

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

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

Modern discontinuities and their high stakes

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

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

Shaykh Hamza on the nature of government

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

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

Where do we go from here?

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

And Allah knows best.

Continue Reading


Can Women Attend The Burial Of The Deceased?

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

Dr Usaama al-Azami



Quran at graveyard, woman attend burial

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

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

Key positions and evidence

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

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

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

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

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

Interpreting the evidence

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

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

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

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

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

The fiqh of modernity

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

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

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

And God knows best.

Continue Reading


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

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

Shaykh Salman Younas




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

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

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

Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad in Paradigms of Leadership (6)

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

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

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


Did Jurists Only Permit Abortion in ‘Dire’ Circumstances?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some Contemporary Views on Abortion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Framing the Problem: Basic Levels of Engaging the Law

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

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

(a) The Personal

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

(b) The Academic

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

(c) Fatwā, Irshād, and Public Preaching

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

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

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

(d) The Political

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

The Problem of Imposition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thou Shalt Make No Exceptions, But Should We?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Web MD

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion: Refining our Conceptualization & The Bigger Picture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God alone is our sufficiency.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[28] Ibid., 6:755.

[29] Ibid., 6:763.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

[40] al-Rāshidī, al-Miṣbāḥ, 28.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Continue Reading