Connect with us


Hadith: Between Muslim Conviction & Western Criticism | Dr. Jonathan Brown

Jonathan Brown PhD



In fact, there is no kind of modern criticism of the content of a hadith, there is no type of criticism that I have come across in the modern world of the content of hadith that does not have precedence amongst Muslims. Even Sunni scholars who nowadays are seen as the kind of arch proto-salafis like  Shamsadeen ad Dhahabi or Ahmed ibn Hanbal or Bukhari, these scholars who are often seen as the archetypal or kind of, I don’t want to say..brainless hadith scholar, these were actually often times the most critical of the content of hadith.

So there’s one hadith, its actually in the Sunan of aTirmidhi where one of the companions describes the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), that one day he came out of his house and he had two books, one in each hand and in these books was written all the names of all the people, all the human beings from the beginning of time till the end of time, what tribe they’re from, where they lived, and whether they’re going to heaven or hell. So what does Ad Dhahabi – and anybody who knows anything about the famous scholar Shamsadin ad Dhahabi knows he hates logic, he hates philosophy, he hates these Asharis with their kalam, he hates anybody  who’s trying to use their brain too much..he doesn’t like them – what does he say about this hadith?

He says this is impossible because these books would be so big that no human being could possibly carry them. He’d have to have like donkeys, mule train or something to carry these books with you. So he rejects the hadith. But why is it that then it’s very rare that we see classical Muslim scholars engaging in that kind of criticism?

They might find a problem with a hadith, like the hadith of the sun prostrating before the throne of God. They might look at it and say hmm, I don’t understand this, it seems to be problematic to me. Why is it that they don’t just throw it out like a lot of modern people do? Because their worldview, they place they came from was a world view of humility, of deference to God, of acceptance of prophecy and acceptance of the presence of a prophetic message in the world. What’s very interesting about Muslim scholars in the pre-modern period is that they wanted to believe hadiths, they wanted to believe hadiths. If you could come up with any decent argument why this hadith was reliable, they wanted to accept it. They wanted more information that might be traceable back to the Prophet. They wanted more connections to the Prophet.

Whereas today, Muslims, they’re reacting to the world around them, they’re reacting to the environment around them and it’s an environment that wants the world to be disenchanted, wants a disenchanted world, wants a world that’s emptied of God, wants a world where if you believe in God, you just believe that He created the world and it runs like a watch and there’s no miracles, there’s nothing that can ever change in the world it’s just totally material.

They don’t want the Prophetic presence interfering in their lives. They don’t want to find a statement from the Prophet that can give them guidance, that might have wisdom for them. and you see this so often, especially with hadiths dealing with gender, and I know this is a controversial topic.

One of the things that I was doing research on for this book that I’m almost done with now, is  you know these hadiths that talk about whether or not that there’s more women in hellfire than men, do you know that actually in the chapter of Sahih Muslim that deals with this issue, the first report in that chapter is an opinion of Abu Hurayrah raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him), it’s not a Prophetic hadith, it’s an opinion of Abu Hurayrah.

A group of muslims in Madinah, this is after the death of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him),  a group of muslims in Madinah are debating whether or not there’s more women or men in heaven. They come to him [Abu Hurayrah] and ask him what his opinion is and he thinks and he says there’s more women in heaven. Why? Because the Prophet said that this group of people who enter heaven, each man will have two wives. Therefore there are more women than men in heaven. And then you see but there’s other hadiths where the prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) says that the women are the smallest number of people in heaven, men are the greater number.

And this is very interesting, what does a great scholar like Ibn Hajr al Asqalaani, who’s a famous, probably the most famous kind of medieval hadith scholar -he’s from Cairo, he died in 1449- he says this person narrating this hadith probably made a mistake because this person thinks that if there is more women in hell, there have to be less women in heaven whereas if women are the majority of mankind. Ibn Hajr says, if women are the majority of mankind then even if you have exactly half of all men going to hell and exactly half of all men going to heaven and exactly half of all women going to hell and exactly half of all women going to heaven, you still have more women in both heaven and hell. He says this is my explanation for these hadiths.

He’s very flexible and in fact Muslim scholars were always very flexible when they were dealing with these issues because they knew they were dealing with the realm of the unseen, the afterlife, which none of us can ever possibly understand. That’s why they’d always use the famous saying of the companion Ibn Abbas, There’s nothing in this world that’s in the next world except names. The only thing we know in common is names. We can’t possibly understand the details or the exact nature of the afterlife. But why is this important? Because this is the kind of things that Muslims become obsessed with when they find these hadiths. “oh this is a misogynist hadith, this is a sexist hadith,” No, it’s not because the very people, not only the companions of the prophets but generations and generations of Muslim scholars after them never thought this was saying that actually there are more women in hellfire than men. They never interpreted like that. As I said most of them actually believe that there are more women in heaven than men. What were they interested in? They were interested in the wisdom that the second part of all these hadiths, no one ever talks about the second parts of the hadiths where the prophet says to the women he’s talking to, he’s trying to give them lessons to help them improve their lives. So he says you women you’re cursing a lot and you’re being ungrateful to your husbands. And he continues and he says..what is ungrateful? It means your husband is always good to you but one day he doesn’t do something good for you and you say to him “I’ve never seen anything good from you.”

And this is a very interesting phrase. I think maybe people in the room have heard the phrase before. Very good advice the prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) is giving these women. He’s saying: be grateful when you have a good husband. And then in other hadiths he gives advice to men and yet we still are obsessed because of the world view from which we come, we’re obsessed with reading these hadiths through this kind of sometimes what people call a hermeneutic  of suspicion. We look at these hadiths and we’re suspicious of them, these are sexist hadiths, like the famous hadith that says that women was created from a bent rib and if you try to straighten her out you’ll break her. So you have to enjoy her as she is, if you try to straighten her out and break her you’ll be divorced from her. People look at this.. “oh this is sexist.” But why is it that we jump to that conclusion? We should actually just look at the meaning of the hadith first.

And the reason I thought about this was because before I got married I was reading Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus book that everyone was telling me I had to read and what was it saying? It was saying don’t try to solve your wife’s problems for her, don’t expect her to be like you, you have to accept her for as she is. Don’t expect her to change, you just have to be there for her and sometimes she’s going to do things that don’t make sense, you have to accept that. This is because men are from Mars and women are from Venus. And then I realized when I read this hadith, this is exactly the same message. Here it’s talking to men. It’s saying men, and I guarantee you, if you get all the men in this conference in one room they’ll all start talking about how I wish my wife was more reasonable, why doesn’t she just think like I do, why doesn’t she just see it this way. If men sit around like this all the time, they’re going to be miserable and they’re going to end up with miserable marriages because you’re never going to get your spouse to be exactly like you. You’re never going to be able to straighten her out to be with you. You have to accept her for the person she is  and then if you do that, you can have a happy life together.

So the reason  I thought of this when I was reading this book on Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus, I realized this is the same message in the hadith. when you see on discussion lists or when Muslims get together or when there’s a conference and some speaker comes and talks about hadith, there’s always someone who gets up in the audience and says, “But you know brother, what about the hadith of the crooked rib and isn’t this sexist?” Why is it that we always jump on that bandwagon? Why don’t we stop and say maybe the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) actually has teachings, has wisdom to offer us? And maybe it’s actually talking to men in this case and telling men that they have to change the way that they look at their marriages and their relationships.

When we are confronted with issues about hadith, and we often are, Muslims are always confronted with hadith that seem bizarre or unusual or that they reject or that they can’t accept as part of their religion or that seems stupid or vulgar, right. But ask yourself: Where’s the problem here? Is the problem really in hadith or is the problem with me? Why am I jumping to the conclusion I do? Why am I reading the hadith in the way I do? Why aren’t I willing to look at other interpretations that might actually find something valuable in this hadith? I think often times when Muslims have a skeptical or suspicious approach to hadith it’s because they’ve adopted a skeptical and suspicious approach to religion really and they need to look in their hearts and ask themselves whether they really want a world that’s filled with God, a world with a prophetic presence in it.

Because if you do, if you want to look for the wisdom in the prophet’s legacy then you’ll take on more of the mindset of those classical Muslim scholars and it’s not uncritical, it’s not irrational, its not fideistic or simplistic. Those classical Muslim scholars were just as smart, just as critical, often times just as scientifically aware as we are today. So when you look at these things, remember the words of Yoda, “Often times what you’re finding there and what you’re objecting to is really what you’ve taken with you.”

Thank you very much, Assalamu ‘alaykum.

Pages: 1 2

Jonathan Brown is the Alwaleed bin Talal Chair of Islamic Civilization in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, and he is the Director of the Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim Christian Understanding.He received his BA in History from Georgetown University in 2000 and his doctorate in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations from the University of Chicago in 2006. Dr. Brown has studied and conducted research in countries such as Egypt, Syria, Turkey, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, South Africa, India, Indonesia and Iran.His book publications include The Canonization of al-Bukhari and Muslim: The Formation and Function of the Sunni Hadith Canon (Brill, 2007), Hadith: Muhammad’s Legacy in the Medieval and Modern World (Oneworld, 2009) and Muhammad: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2011), which was selected for the National Endowment for the Humanities' Bridging Cultures Muslim Journeys Bookshelf.His most recent book, Misquoting Muhammad: The Challenges and Choices of Interpreting the Prophet’s Legacy (Oneworld, 2014), was named one of the top books on religion in 2014 by the Independent. He has published articles in the fields of Hadith, Islamic law, Salafism, Sufism, Arabic lexical theory and Pre-Islamic poetry and is the editor in chief of the Oxford Encyclopedia of Islam and Law. Dr. Brown’s current research interests include Islamic legal reform and a translation of Sahih al-Bukhari.



  1. Pingback: Rejecting Hadiths: The Fitnah of the Quranists | Islamic Students' Blog

    • Avatar


      April 24, 2016 at 11:00 PM

      Assalamualaikum I think that the Quran is already complete without Hadith

  2. Pingback: Minaret of Freedom Weblog » News and Analysis (4/25/14)

  3. Avatar

    The Salafi Feminist

    April 25, 2014 at 12:18 PM

    Excellent talk, mashaAllah, and deeply appreciated.

    One question, if someone could fwd this to Dr. Jonathan Brown somehow:

    “In the chapter of Sahih Muslim that deals with this issue, the first report in that chapter is an opinion of Abu Hurayrah, it’s not a prophetic hadith, it’s an opinion of Abu Hurayrah. A group of muslims in Madīnah, this is after the death of the Prophet ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), a group of muslims in Madīnah are debating whether or not there’s more women or men in heaven. They come to him [Abu Hurayrah] and ask him what his opinion is and he thinks and he says there’s more women in heaven. Why? Because the prophet said that this group of people who enter heaven, each man will have two wives. Therefore there are more women than men in heaven.”

    Is there somewhere online I can find the exact wording of this opinion of his, as well as the opinion of Imam Ibn Hajr? I’d appreciate the exact wording as well as the exact source – jazaakAllahu khayran.

    • Avatar


      April 25, 2014 at 1:04 PM

      It’s funny – that hadith never really bothered me because we know that one of the signs of the Hour is that women will highly outnumber men on earth…so the logical conclusion for me is that there are more women in hell and heaven.

    • Avatar

      Umm ZAKAriyya

      April 25, 2014 at 10:44 PM

      Me too.

      And also it’s possible some of those women in hell are there only temporarily ( as in case if believers) until they have paid for all of their sins. The sin being ‘ ungrateful to husband ‘ and backbiting . Which is why perhaps rasoolullah gave a very specific advice.

      • Avatar


        March 19, 2015 at 6:05 AM

        He is not being honest about Quranist. Quranist don’t have problems with many hadiths because of Western influences as he claims, they have problems with many hadiths because they contradict the Quran and make binding what the Quran did not.

  4. Pingback: Critical Reading of Hadiths | WISDOM 2.0

  5. Avatar


    April 25, 2014 at 2:24 PM

    This is an excellent article. I learned quite a bit. Still, I’d like to respond to one point, where he said:

    “They don’t want the prophetic presence interfering in their lives. They don’t want to find a statement from the prophet that can give them guidance, that might have wisdom for them. and you see this so often, especially with hadiths dealing with gender, and I know this is a controversial topic.”

    That’s undoubtedly true with many, perhaps most, people who reject hadiths. At the same time, it leaves out a portion of people who want the prophetic presence, but don’t believe that a particular hadith is really authentic despite it being in one of the six collections. They might be wrong about it’s not being authentic and they might not understand its meaning correctly. What they’re objecting to in this case is their own wrong understanding.

    • Avatar


      April 26, 2014 at 6:12 PM

      Well, in case anyone was confused, hadith rejectors ARE kuffar. There are some people among this Ummah who come across a hadith and find their nafs’s object to it or it’s understanding.

      Islam is submission. It isn’t easy except if Allah makes it easy.

      • Avatar


        April 29, 2014 at 11:21 AM

        chill bro, chill.

      • Avatar


        April 29, 2014 at 12:45 PM

        Br. Mahmud,
        You need to be careful with your pronouncements.
        In Abu Hanifa’s madhhab, ahad hadith can be rejected or de-prioritized if it is seen to “restrict” a Quranic verse and in Maliki madhhab it can be rejected in favor of amal of Madinah. It’s not as simple as black/white position of submission or kufr unless you consider Abu Hanifa and Malik to be kafirs bro!

        • Avatar

          O H

          April 30, 2014 at 10:49 PM

          Shaykh Saaalih Ibn Uthaymeen said the following regarding this in one of his fatawa:

          “Denying (the sunnah) could be of two types: a denial with regards to interpretation or a denial of rejection. If it is a denial of rejection, in the sense that one might say, “Yes, I realize that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said this, but I reject it and don’t accept it,” then the person is a kaafir (unbeliever) and has committed apostasy. Thus, it would be impermissible to pray behind him. If, on the other hand, it is a denial of interpretation, then he is granted a respite, if the interpretation is possible and warranted by the language, and he knows the sources of Islamic law and its resources. In this case, it is not an act of kufr, but rather under the category of those who innovate incorrect practices in the religion (if his interpretation is such).”

          May Allaah grant us all understanding of the deen, Ameen.

          • Avatar


            April 30, 2014 at 11:23 PM

            Brother OH,
            Have to keep in mind that many hadith are weak…and that includes some hadith found in the sitta. Further many hadith could have been abrogated by other hadith or even by Qur’an. It is on THIS basis that Imam Abu Hanifa and Imam Malik prioritized other things over certain hadith. It is therefore not as stark a choice as denial of interpretation or denial of rejection.

            Whether the prophet even said it, whether the hadith was abrogated and both of those things weighed against stronger clear evidences in Qur’an, stronger hadith or, in Malik’s case, aml Madinah play a role.

            This is why weak ahad hadith are also not used for hukm, especially in the case of hadd and also why individual ahad hadith are not incumbment in determining kufr or imaan. These are the positions of recognized, valid schools of thought.People who prioritize or prefer the Hanbali and Sha’afi positions are free to disagree, but even in disagreement it is going too far to call it kufr.

            As for Shaykh Uthaymeen’s comment, some context is required: was he talking about mutawattir, qati that has unanimous ijma, sahih,weak or what? The quote doesn’t clarify. If it relates to the first two Hanafi and Maliki scholars would agree…but if relates to the other three it is more complicated than a stark choice of either/or and would have to respectfully disagree with the shaykh. There are other factors involved. He has a right to his opinion, but we are not all Salafis nor do we all follow sha’afi or Hanbali fiqh…and we don’t think our positions make us kafir.

          • Avatar

            O H

            May 17, 2014 at 3:07 AM

            Well obviously the Shaykh Uthaymeen statement is a general one to summarise the issue for the laymen where the denial of rejection is sort of highlighted and its danger. The reasons many muhadith & scholars may reject hadith are obviously plenty and are definitely not of the category of rejecting hadith knowingly without any valid shariah reason. A study in mustalah al- hadith, usool al hadeeth, usool al Fiqh, etc is needed for a more comprehensive & detailed answer. What we do have to be careful is knowing the grave danger of outright rejection of hadith without a valid shariah reason. For example if a person rejects the ahadeeth of hadd punishments because he/she feels its morally reprehensible.

  6. Avatar


    April 25, 2014 at 4:02 PM

    It says, 5 comments. I only see two :(

    • Avatar


      April 25, 2014 at 4:07 PM

      I really found this video/lecture highly informative and extremely beneficial. It is more crucial for our ummah to know this stuff than what Shaykh Yasir’s position is on Salafism. Question in the grave will be about the Messenger of Allah (SAW), not the strand/flavor of Islam. May we all find lessons, wisdoms and peace in the sayings of our beloved Muahmmad (SAW).

  7. Avatar


    April 25, 2014 at 10:17 PM

    what an amazingly well researched and eloquently expressed talk. mashaALLAH!

    • Avatar


      April 25, 2014 at 10:34 PM

      When I was in high school and was studying Islam, I came across all of the controversial hadiths and after a-lot of research, sleepless nights due to constant reflection and research, I concluded at the age of 17, “anything that sounds or seems weird in Islam is not because its lacking wisdom, but its because I LACK wisdom to comprehend it at the time. My intellectual capacity only allows me to understand as much Allah has permitted but people with slightly higher comprehension ability explain complex sciences and math like its a piece of cake. If that slight difference in comprehension can make such a huge difference in IQ level and comprehension ability, then how can the deen given to us by the “All Knowing, All wise” not make sense. Its only my intellectual short-coming that Its not making sense to me at the time but in due time I will learn and I will get the wisdom to understand. Even if I die not understanding the particular hadith, at-least I know its because of my own intellectual imperfection but this Deen is PERFECT”

      And that was always the case. I understood the wisdom behind many things with age and with time.

      You know how they say, “The more I know, The more I know that I DON’T KNOW!”

  8. Avatar


    April 26, 2014 at 12:16 PM

    Best lecture I have ever listened to. Very well written and very well delivered. I loved it! Took out a lot of of my frustration. I didn’t think it was possible to explain this problem of people reading, even, the Qur’an with critical minds. ..Well Done

  9. Avatar

    Tariq Ahmed

    April 26, 2014 at 3:13 PM

    How I love Dr. Brown for the sake of Allah! :)

    As I read the article that love really grew inside me. May Allah be pleased with him and protect him.

  10. Avatar

    Tariq Ahmed

    April 26, 2014 at 3:27 PM

    Wish a link were added to skip down to where Dr. Brown begins to speak. But this is a great speech, walhamdolillah, and I am glad for the transcript.

  11. Avatar


    April 26, 2014 at 6:07 PM

    Assalamualaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh

    I remember watching in NOVA that the Sun DOES actually move up and down through the galaxy……………………………………………………

    And since the throne is above is, maybe that is it’s form of Sajda.

  12. Avatar

    A reader

    April 27, 2014 at 7:39 AM

    As Salamu Alaikum,

    Truly an excellent talk by Dr. Brown. He explained critical questions of how we deal with hadiths in a clear and almost poetic way. I really appreciated his insistence made that the point isn’t accepting *beyond all shadow of doubt* any specific hadith ‘really came’ from the Prophet (s).

    Rather, the point for us when dealing with hadiths is recognizing what baggage/word view we carry with us when we read hadiths (especially ‘disturbing ones’). The point is to assume the best about our Prophet (s), and take whatever wisdom and guidance we can from hadith in leading our lives.

    With all that being said, I don’t think the issues regarding (certain) hadith and gender has been fully dealt with: for those of us who are troubled by these hadiths, I don’t think the issue is that we don’t want Prophetic guidance in our lives, or even that these hadiths are bizarre.

    My reaction to a hadith that states that my (female) nature comes from being made of a ‘bent rib’ and therefore can’t be ‘corrected’ is far different from a hadith which says that the sun ‘goes down’ and prostrates to the throne of God.

    The bent rib hadiths (and others like it) ***hurt*** – they really hurt…while the sun hadith is simply an intellectual curiosity.

    My reaction would be very different if the hadith had said ‘women are made of a different essence than men. Therefore, women and men think/behave/act differently. Those who want happy marriages simply accept this, and don’t try to change their spouse to think/act like them.’ Excellent advice indeed!

    The question remains why certain hadiths regarding women have to be so painful. Why must women plow through hurtful messages which we see as demeaning our nature, or creation, in order to pluck bits of wisdom, profound as the wisdom is?

    I do not know of any hadiths specifically regarding the male gender which are so painful– no hadiths which specifically state that men’s nature/intelligence/creation/behavior etc (as compared to women’s) is deficient in any way. (Please correct me if I am wrong here!)

    Of course, Dr. Brown is probably right even here: that the fact these hadith hurt is also due to baggage that we carry. In Arabian society around the time of the Prophet (s), where females were given almost no rights until Islam, where girls were buried alive in graves, being told your creation is derivative (women created from a part of a man, while men were the original item) and your nature is crooked was probably less of a big deal than it is today, where we expect (rightly or wrongly) expect equality or equity between the genders.

    Anyway, just some food for further thought…certainly not issues that can be fully covered in a 30 minute lecture on hadith as a whole!

    • Avatar

      The Salafi Feminist

      April 27, 2014 at 10:33 AM

      I think that the problem of us viewing various gender-related ahadith as ‘hurtful’ is not because of the wording of the ahadith themselves – but rather, how those ahadith have been translated, related, and explained to us by those who are the scholars/ du’aat of our regions (who in turn have been taught by the people of their era and regions, which include cultural connotations and attitudes that were not necessarily included by the original transmitters of the ahadith).

      The Sahabiyaat were the greatest of women, as well as incredibly intelligent, strong-willed, and determined… as well as being amongst those who transmitted huge numbers of the ahadith. If anyone was going to feel hurt by these ahadith, it would have been them – yet they did not express such hurt as we do today.

      We have our own cultural baggage and emotional hurts attached to these ahadith NOT because of the ahadith themselves but because of how these ahadith have been manipulated and wielded against women for so long, by so many people who clearly do not have a holistic understanding of the Sunnah.

      For myself, recognizing the emotional baggage we carry within ourselves has helped a great deal in how I approach these ahadith. Once again, it is NOT the ‘fault’ of the ahadith but rather of those who taught a warped understanding of them.

      • Avatar

        A reader

        April 28, 2014 at 12:02 PM

        Jazaki Allahu Khayran, Salafi Feminist!

        I need to more and more to be sure, but I think you are likely right right, for at least a majority of these hadiths.

        Even though only a day passed since my post above, I’m already getting a bit more clarity…

        1. As per the explanation of Sr. Amel regarding the ‘rib’ hadith below, it makes all the difference what words we use for translation (‘curved’ which has a neutral connotation, versus ‘crooked’ which definitely has a negative connotation).

        2. In certain instances, it seems that the Female companions (RA) did take into account ‘questionable’ hadith narrations from male counterparts (RA) with regard to gender…

        [Edited from

        Abu Huraira reported: THE MESSENGER OF ALLAH (may peace be upon him) SAID: A WOMAN, A DONKEY AND A DOG DISRUPT THE PRAYER, but something like the back of a saddle guards against that. (Sahih Muslim, Book 004, Number 1034)

        Narrated ‘Aisha: The things which annul the prayers were mentioned before me. They said, “Prayer is annulled by a dog, a donkey and a woman (if they pass in front of the praying people).” I said, “You have made us (i.e. women) dogs. I saw the Prophet praying while I used to lie in my bed between him and the Qibla. Whenever I was in need of something, I would slip away, for I disliked to face him.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 1, Book 9, Number 490)

        Anyway, much more for me to learn!

    • Avatar


      August 29, 2015 at 3:41 PM

      “We have revealed the Qur’an in clear verses. God gives guidance to whom He will.” (Qur’an 22:14–there are other places it says the same thing.)

      OK, if you believe that the Qur’an is “clear,” then I think you have to ask yourself why it’s NOT clear: why do you need hadith to explain “clear” passages? Why do Muslims believe in abrogation (some verses have been declared null and void or replaced by other verses)? Why do you need an elaborate fiqh to explain “clear” directives???

      Either it’s “clear” (because the Qur’an is the infallible word of God) or it’s NOT “clear” and you need all this other stuff to explain it. To me–a non-Muslim–this is a logical contradiction.

      Brown’s lecture reveals something of his Anglican background, although he probably doesn’t see it and wouldn’t admit it even if he did. In other words, you need to go beyond the literal meaning of a passage and ask yourself what the overall message is. As a technique, I think that’s the correct way to do it. But Muslim try to turn black into white: for example, on the issue of women. It’s clear from multiple verses of the Qur’an and a lot more hadith that women weren’t exactly equal, or even close. Muslims weren’t too worried about that until they began to be criticized by the West; then they tied all sorts of contortions to justify Islam’s position on women. If you believe all the verbal gymnastics, good for you, but it’s just not logical. Women are inferior in Islam. That’s it. If you like that, remain a Muslim; if you don’t, leave.

      • Avatar


        August 30, 2015 at 10:50 AM

        Dear mamlukman, with your citation of the Qur’an at the beginning of your comment you have already answered yourself but you do not see it. God indeed gives guidance to whom He will. I believe He gave me guidance through your citation… an insight really, to your (a non-muslim person’s) thoughts about our religion. Your problem isn’t and cannot be with our holy book. Because I fear Qur’an already dismisses you in revealing itself to you. However, that is only my opinion God knows your heart best. You might understand Qur’an better than I do. That is not an issue I want to point out in my comment.

        You said “Brown’s lecture reveals something of his Anglican background, although he probably doesn’t see it and wouldn’t admit it even if he did.” I think you are right. That might be why it had appealed to me so greatly. And having an Anglican take isn’t a bad thing. After all that is part of our history; our own religion.

        But you are wrong about your implications that Islam is the only religion unequal towards women. Why do you think your so called “West” had their fair share of problems with Women’s Rights Movement…Feminism… ! Gender discrimination is global. Yes there are people who hide behind the scriptures and claim it is their God-given right to dominate women and treat them the hell they want. I liken those people to the people who goes around saying God’s words ” Thou shall not kill”, yet draws an overall conclusion that it is all right to kill perhaps sometimes. Well we will all see on the judgement day!

        May God prevent us all from hatred, anger, and wanting to dominate one another.

  13. Avatar


    April 27, 2014 at 12:44 PM

    As-salamu Alaykum,

    I’m not exactly qualified to interpret hadeeths, but I thought I’d weigh in on the specific hadeeth you mentioned (the “bent rib” hadeeth).

    I am a professional translator and have seen many times how easy it is to mistakenly convey a meaning that was not necessarily intended by the original author or speaker.

    In English, the words “crooked” and “bent” have negative connotations because they are words we use to describe people who are dishonest or evasive. If you look into this hadeeth, however, you will see other translations of the same hadeeth using the word “curved.” I don’t know about you, but I feel that “curved” is more about the shape of a rib and not about whether it is defective. It is a statement of fact that a rib is curved, bent, or even “crooked,” if one wants to use that word in translation…just like a road can be curved or crooked without making an assumption about whether this is positive or negative.

    One version of the hadeeth reads:

    “Treat women kindly, for they were created from a rib, and the most curved part of a rib is its uppermost. So, treat women kindly.”

    Like you, I have seen the various explanations, even scholarly ones, saying that the hadeeth refers to a woman’s deficiencies or shortcomings.

    However, I do not take from this hadeeth that women are crooked or deficient in any way. What I understand from these words is that women are created with a specific nature, and putting undue stress on them may cause them to break. A rib is curved by design, and you would not try to manipulate its shape because it would then cease to maintain its proper function. I don’t think we think of ribs as deficient due to being curved; rather they are evidence of Allah’s perfect creation.

    As I stated at the beginning, I am not qualified to interpret hadeeths and would not want to mislead anyone, but I actually think that this hadeeth is quite lovely and comforting if you think about it on a deeper level.

    • Avatar


      April 27, 2014 at 12:55 PM

      I just wanted to clarify that my post was in response to “A Reader” above and not to the author of the article, who addressed the matter of this hadeeth on the second page of his article (which I did not realize when I wrote my post).

    • Avatar


      April 27, 2014 at 3:04 PM

      I think there are so many words in religious texts that are chosen very carefully. Most convey more than just one simple meaning. And what is magical about it is the fact that they all can be interpreted negatively. I say magical, because, whatever your mood is when you are reading, you will be supported in your ideology. For example, if you read them with scepticism in mind, you can see almost everything contradictory and supporting your scepticism. And if you read them with dark mind, with no respect for women, you will be supported in those claims too. I noticed this when I was reading the Qur’an (and the Bible). I have noticed that I was reading them as if they were written directly for me. So if I am told I am made from a bent/curved rib. I would question how I might relate to that statement? I have respect for my God and I know with that statement He is trying to help me. Some days I interpret it as ‘I can be unbearable’, some days I interpret it as ‘I am vulnerable and fragile (need extra special protection from Him)’, and some days I feel ‘very precious, unique’… If a man, however, tells me viciously I am made from a bent rib, I will never change and I am inherently bad… this to me is nothing but someone who read the text when in a bad mood and trying to take it out on me. I will seek refuge in God.
      You might ask; why then, God made everything with negative meanings? Because, the religious texts are so magical that every individual can relate them into their own personal lives. And all of us lead different lives. And not every day is ever the same. And, most importantly, we all are given a choice in how we practice the things we learn.

      • Avatar

        A reader

        April 28, 2014 at 12:28 PM

        Jazaki Allahu Khayran Sr. Gunal for your very thoughtful answer. Definitely something for me to reflect on…

        I guess the only issue (baggage?) that comes up for me is that it seems that texts regarding women specifically seem to be capable of being interpreted negatively. As you mention, they can also be interpreted positively or neutrally, but the negative interpretation seems to be right on the surface for most. Its the neutral/positive interpretations that we have to struggle to get at more.

        Texts regarding men just do not seem to have the similar issues.

        Again, perhaps this is more my cultural baggage, or our shared cultural baggage as a human Muslim society more than what is in the texts themselves?

        • Avatar


          April 28, 2014 at 7:55 PM

          A reader, when you are reflecting could you ask this question to yourself: Why is it important for you that there are no such texts regarding men? Vengeance? Unfairness in a religion you desperately want to trust? … If you haven’t found any such texts, this might indicate that you mean well, otherwise you would have found a lot of them by now…

          I apologise, I must have sound like someone who feels positive most of the time. When it comes to me I am my own worst enemy (if I may say, I feel you are no different). I don’t think it is just the baggage that affects our thoughts. Even the weather can make us feel negative and make us see our glass half empty. It can help the baggage to surface.

          ‘Cultural baggage’. I can see this affecting me. Most of us are concerned too much about what everyone else thinks and what everyone else does. It is wonderful that you are reflecting. Try and reflect on yourself only. Yes, baggage! See what baggage you have and how they are affecting your thoughts and behaviour. Are your thoughts and behaviour unattached to the thoughts of others? No one can understand you better than God, and then your own self. Therefore, my reflections are between God and I. The rest is irrelevant.

          ‘Shared cultural baggage’. You should not share the cultural baggage. Because everyone is in the same position as you (at least they ought to be) –trying to sort the baggage out. No one can sort any of it out for others but only for themselves.

        • Avatar

          O H

          May 3, 2014 at 9:04 PM

          In a Hadith Qudsi Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu ’alayhi wa sallam) said
          Allah, the Exalted says, ‘I am just as My slave believes me to be and I am with him when He remembers Me’. This is part of a bigger hadith.

          Ibn al-Qayyim (may Allah have Mercy upon him) said: “Most people – in fact, all of them except those protected by Allah – assume other than the truth, and assume the worst. Most people believe that they are deprived of their rights, have bad luck, deserve more than what Allah gave them, and it is as if they are saying: ‘My Lord has wronged me and deprived me of what I deserve,’ and his soul bears witness to this while his tongue denies it and refuses to openly state this. And whoever digs into his soul and comes to know its ins and outs will see this in it like fire in a triggered explosion…And if you dig into anyone’s soul, you will see that he blames fate and would rather have something else happen to him than what actually did, and that things should be this way or that…So, dig into your own self: are you protected from this? If you are safe from this, you have been protected from something great. Otherwise, I do not see that you have been saved.” [Zad al-Ma’ad]

          We have to be extremely careful when it comes to what assumptions we have with regards to Our Lord, His commandments and every other aspect of the Deen.

          “This is because they hate what Allah has sent down, so He made their deeds fruitless.” [47:9]”

          Allaah Subhana wa ta’ala has mentioned in His book a quality of the disbelievers and an attitude which could render all our deeds vain-a nullifier of the shahada as scholars have commented on this ayah!

          I am not saying that any such thing has occurred with your statements but it is an advice to myself and others that assuming good of Allaah & his Verses plus assuming good of the Prophet (sallallaahu ’alayhi wa sallam) and his ahadeeth/narrations is an absolute necessity for the contrary could lead to misery in this life and the next, Allaahu’l Musta’an!

          • Avatar


            May 4, 2014 at 11:04 AM

            @ O H. I agree with all that you said. There is still an issue, however, in determining (1) what the Prophet (pbuh) said (is this hadith authentic or not), (2) the meaning of what was said, (3) the context in which it was said, and (4) its applicability (is it generalizable or specific to the context). It’s not impossible for someone to assume good of the Prophet (pbuh) and still have problems with a translation or interpretation of an authentic hadith or problems believing (based upon one’s understanding of the Quran) that a particular hadith is authentic.

          • Avatar


            May 5, 2014 at 5:30 PM

            I don’t think the problem is that we cannot justify the authenticity of some Hadiths, (or even particular texts from Qur’an). Everything is written for the very best intentions. All tries to make us understand something that our physical minds cannot easily grasp… On top of that there is the problem of some negative schools of thoughts giving their own negative thoughts on the matter. Naturally you doubt and reconsider your own thoughts on the matter. All this is normal. How can we even consider a thought without two opposing or different arguments?

            However, if you have and show a genuine curiosity in getting answers to your questions, Qur’an promises that even the fishes in the sea will be made to answer your questions.

            What Ibn al-Qayyim said sounds correct OH, however, you cannot ignore the verse about asking questions and Qur’an’s promise in helping you getting the answers. If you asked Ibn al-Qayyi;m; I believe I fall into the category of those people who thinks ‘I am deprived of my thoughts, my Lord has wronged me…’ are you suggesting I should just give up and accept my damnation? Do you think he will say yes? Unlikely! Yet, you are suggesting that is the case. If he did answer yes would that not nullify the verse from Qur’an?… A responsible religious leader would tell you the possible consequences of your thoughts and also help and encourage you to change those thoughts, would give you hope that each day is a present from our God and a wealth of knowledge out there to be gained if you are willing… Not just confirm your wrong path and let you carry on in that wrong path. I cannot believe you can even suggest this therefore, I am beginning to think what you meant in your comment is not what I understood. And this would confirm what Reed pointed out ‘each person might derive different meanings to any given text’.

          • Avatar

            O H

            May 7, 2014 at 12:53 AM

            @gunal: What I meant was quite straightforward, nothing sinister. We have to assume good about Allaah, His Messenger, the Ayaat of the Qur’an and ahadeeth. I have reservations with comments such as the texts for females looking negative on the surface and being susceptible to negative interpretation whereas incase of the texts relating to men this isn’t the case as mentioned by ‘A reader’. Such comments don’t seem fitting and in my initial post I have not condemned reflection and analysis but such rash conclusions. It’s a continuation of the point made by the author of this article that it’s issues in our understanding and approach which may lead us to doubt or have ill understanding of texts.

          • Avatar


            May 7, 2014 at 11:11 AM

            I am glad you have replied OH. I didn’t think you meant anything sinister. I would like you to notice something that I have observed. When I listen to people who are claiming to do Dawa, with the first inclination of my wrongdoing they take the position of ‘the judge, the jury and the executioner all in one’.

            If I said ‘I hate something’, with the ayah you have cited: “This is because they hate what Allah has sent down, so He made their deeds fruitless.” [47:9]”, they (so called Dawa people) are quick to condemn me. This type of Dawa or consultation of Qur’an does not serve any benefits. The best way would be; the person (I) should be encouraged to think on this verse whether he/she personally hate what Allah sent. If so, in what ways (as there are millions of ways; they might love some of the things and not love some other things therefore may have not realized that they do hate some of the things).

            You mentioned the scholars’ points of view on this ayah: “Allaah Subhana wa ta’ala has mentioned in His book a quality of the disbelievers and an attitude which could render all our deeds vain-a nullifier of the shahada as scholars have commented on this ayah!” This did sound to me as if you may be prosecuting in the same way. My apologies!

    • Avatar

      A reader

      April 28, 2014 at 12:19 PM

      Jazaki Allahu Khayran, Sr Amel!

      I had two main ‘concerns’ about hadiths which mention women’s creation from the rib, and you clearly answered one of them.

      My first issue was indeed the translation of our nature being ‘crooked’ as we are made of a bent rib. You clearly addressed that the Arabic word does not have to be translated in a negative fashion such as ‘crooked’ but could potentially be translated in a neutral sense ‘curved.’

      I especially took your following statement to heart:

      “A rib is curved by design, and you would not try to manipulate its shape because it would then cease to maintain its proper function. I don’t think we think of ribs as deficient due to being curved; rather they are evidence of Allah’s perfect creation.”

      Right on :D! As a person with extensive training in biology, I agree it would be inefficient and inelegant if the heart/lungs were protected with bones that were straight. In fact, it would look ludicrous (like a robot!!).

      My other issue, does not have to do with being created from a rib per se, as much as that women are stated to be created (from a rib) of a man.

      My interpretation has been as follows: men are the original creation, the archetype of the species, while women are sidekicks/after thoughts.

      After reading Dr. Brown’s article, I realize that much of my interpretation maybe due to my own baggage more than anything else – but this has always been the way I interpreted these hadiths

      Would appreciate any help in ‘unloading’ my baggage :D!

      • Avatar


        April 28, 2014 at 8:17 PM

        Only you can ‘unload’ your own baggage A reader. Carry on reflecting… Another important question to think over: What does sidekick means to you? Is it hundred percent a bad thing? Being an after thought? I can find a lot of good things about being an after thought. Imagine the improvements God must have done on us… It is you seeing the glass half empty.If you cannot think positively about your own self then think of an ideal woman. God’s intention perhaps?And then try to be like one. It does seem impossible but nevertheless, God’s intention cannot be bad right?

      • Avatar


        April 30, 2014 at 8:04 AM

        @a reader,
        “Men are the archetypes, while women are the sidekicks.”
        I def can see where you’re coming from, but ask yourself why Hawa(Eve)news created in the first place. Adam was in the best of places, but he still felt deficent/ a lack without a companion. So if anyone was originally deficient, it would have to be man. So that the only ever Being that’s not deficient is Allah (swt). It’s a sexist reinterpretation but just trying to get you to see another side.

      • Avatar


        April 30, 2014 at 9:20 AM

        “men are the original creation, the archetype of the species, while women are sidekicks/after thoughts.”

        I do not want to speak without knowledge but it would seem to me that while it may seem men are “the original, the archetype” Allah, in all His Wisdom, already knew the nature of man when He created him and so already knew He would create the female too. Thus she is not an “afterthought.” And while it may seem women are “derivative” because they were created from a part of man it seems more to me like it makes it so that one is not complete without the other. We compliment and complete each other. I think there is something in the Qur’an about women being like clothing for men AND LIKEWISE men are like clothing for women.

        Your interpretation sounds an awful lot like Anita Sharkesian’s interpretation she made in her “Mrs. Male Character” video in her Tropes vs. Women in Video Games. While I appreciate her working to bring awareness and change to the misrepresentation and mistreatment of women in media I certainly thought she was…. wrong when she essentially said Hawa was a trope. It presents a fundamental misunderstanding of how men and women are to be viewed (and function) within Islam.

        While she claims the “Mrs. Male Character” sets up Male as normal and Female as essentially abnormal, this is not the case with creation of man and woman and she was way out of bounds to make that claim/comparison. Unlike in video games, where a female character is often created only to try to appeal to the demographic the industry has systematically shut out over the past few decades or to reinforce certain stereotypes, in Islam women are not (supposed to be) seen as abnormal, derivative, or inferior.

        As for the “sidekick” comparison, think of man and woman as more like the Wonder Twins than as Batman and Robin. Once again, it was already planned to have a male and female, the woman was not an afterthought. She is not a sidekick but an absolute necessity since their powers do not work if they are out of range of each other.

      • Avatar


        August 29, 2015 at 3:48 PM

        I think you’d have to go back to a classical dictionary, maybe Lisan al-Arab, to see the possible definitions: “curved” or “crooked.” Are both possible? Is one used 90% of the time and the other 10%? Did the author of that hadith use the same word elsewhere? If so, what did it mean there? This is simply “Western” scholarship–not assuming some divine meaning, but simply looking at the facts. If you start by saying “This is the divine word of God,” you automatically rule out any other possibilities. You can do this, of course, but it’s not scientific.

  14. Avatar


    April 27, 2014 at 6:37 PM

    SubhanAllah the analysis on the hadiths about “misogyny” really refuted the simplistic claims of non-hadith laymen like Myriam Francois Cerrah and Adam Deen.

  15. Avatar


    April 28, 2014 at 1:35 AM

    Mashallah very good article!

    Does anybody know Dr.brown if he is a muslim…if he isn’t I make dua that Allah gives him tawfeeq. Ameen

    • Avatar


      April 28, 2014 at 3:21 AM

      He is. You will notice at the beginning of the transcript that he starts off with the Basmalah. Dr. Brown also delivered a khutba in a Bay Area masjid sometime back.

    • Avatar


      August 29, 2015 at 3:50 PM

      He’s been a Muslim since he was 20, in 1997. Like all other converts, he never bothered to learn anything about his own religion.

  16. Avatar


    April 28, 2014 at 10:53 AM

    Amazing lecture mA! Can’t wait to read his book.

  17. Avatar

    Zaytuna Staff

    April 28, 2014 at 2:54 PM

    Can you please give proper attribution to the fact that this was at Zaytuna College which was hosting the event! Thank you.

  18. Pingback: Hadith: Between Muslim Conviction & Western...

  19. Avatar


    May 8, 2014 at 10:31 AM

    “The difference between that approach and a classical Islamic approach was that classical Muslim scholars, they believed that the Qurʾān contained the truth. They believed that the message of the Prophet ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), if it’s preserved accurately, it also contains truth. And that anything outside the scriptures that’s true, can be reconciled with the Qurʾān and the authentic sunnah.”

    The key question, then, Is a particular hadith “authentic”?

    “So if you discover that the sun actually doesn’t go below the earth and disappear from human sight, that it’s actually always up somewhere in the world, then what do you do with that hadith I just told you about? You just interpret it figuratively, just interpret it figuratively.”

    With a hadith that touches upon a reality that science deals with, you can interpret it figuratively. But with those that don’t, what does one do when the hadith is obviously not in accordance with the Prophet’s (pbuh) character?

    “What’s very interesting about Muslim scholars in the pre-modern period is that they wanted to believe hadiths, they wanted to believe hadiths. If you could come up with any decent argument why this hadith was reliable, they wanted to accept it. They wanted more information that might be traceable back to the Prophet. They wanted more connections to the Prophet.”

    In other words, the scholars had a tremendous amount of confirmation bias that allowed non-authentic hadiths to be classified as authentic.

    “They don’t want the Prophetic presence interfering in their lives. They don’t want to find a statement from the Prophet that can give them guidance, that might have wisdom for them. and you see this so often, especially with hadiths dealing with gender, and I know this is a controversial topic.”

    Again, I imagine that most “don’t want the Prophetic presence interfering in their lives.” But just as that’s true of those who reject hadiths, it’s even more true of those who accept them uncritically because they prefer to conform to their group understanding instead of seeking truth. Rejecting a hadith because one has the wrong understanding of it means that one is really rejecting an understanding that does not accord with the Quran or the Prophet’s (pbuh) character. (Of course, one needs to acknowledge that a hadith might be authentic and that one’s understanding of it is possibly wrong.) Similarly, accepting a hadith with a wrong understanding of it means that one prefers his/her group’s wrong interpretation to what is known of the actual character of the Prophet (pbuh) or of the Quran.

    • Avatar


      August 29, 2015 at 3:53 PM

      This is a great technique: reject any evidence you think doesn’t support your position; accept as authentic any evidence you agree with. Scientific? I don’t think so.

  20. Avatar


    June 22, 2014 at 6:43 AM

    Reed, great comment!

    Please speak out and write to the Muslims more!

  21. Pingback: Creation from a crooked rib: Does Islam deride women? | ICRAA

    • Avatar


      August 29, 2015 at 3:57 PM

      I would be a lot happier with the Qur’an and hadith if:
      1) women could marry 4 men at a time.
      2) women could divorce men by repeating a sentence three times.
      3) women had a straight rib and men had a crooked rib.
      4) women’s testimony were two times as acceptable as a man’s.
      5) women had 72 male sex slaves in Heaven.
      6) get the idea? Women are ALWAYS in the inferior position in Islam. ALWAYS. If you’re a female masochist, Islam is for you.

  22. Pingback: Rejecting Hadiths: The Fitnah of the Quranists | The Thinking Muslim

Leave a Reply

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


So You Are The Wali, Now What?

Dr Shadee Elmasry



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

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

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

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

Here are some questions and demands a wali should make:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s preventative medicine.

Continue Reading


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