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Apostasy Among Muslims In The West




Many Muslims and others repeatedly claim that Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world. If there is truth in this claim, it may have more to do with relatively higher birth-rates among Muslim communities than higher rates of conversion to Islam. In any case, the claim somehow deflects attention from a painful reality especially in the UK that many Muslim men and women, those brought up in traditionally Muslim families and, in fewer cases, those who accepted Islam as ‘new’ Muslims, are turning away from Islam. A few make a point of publicly declaring their apostasy and their hatred of Islam, which the media then happily popularise.

Freedom of thought and belief is an important ideal that deserves to be respected by all communities, especially when it is expressed in the form of the positive, religious virtues of tolerance, forbearance, and patience with the doubts and questions of others. The ideal is less impressive when it is a passive, uncaring and careless, indulgence, which lets anyone think and behave as they please so long as no immediate physical harm is done to anyone else: in this attitude there is no concern for harm to the social-ethical environment that becomes apparent only in the longer term, in the same way as damage to the natural environment becomes apparent only in the longer term.

It is a serious failing on the part of Muslims, of their families and their teachers and their institutions, that they are unable to deal with the doubts and questions from within their own community with tolerance, forbearance and patience. Far from striving to understand these doubts and questions, they seek refuge in assertions of group identity, and directly or indirectly reject those who have doubts and questions. Those who doubt and question are either told that they “do not belong”, or they are made to feel that they “do not belong”. Then, sooner or later, publicly or in secret, the feeling of “not belonging” matures into actively “not believing”.

We cannot be indifferent to this outcome. It is a part of every Muslim’s responsibility to contribute, in the best way, to the protection and defence of the religion, which includes educating the young and new Muslims in such a way that they believe in the rightness and benefits of worshipping God in loving obedience. For sure, we will be questioned in the hereafter as to how conscientiously we discharged this responsibility.

First and foremost, we should ensure that, in our homes and in our public life, there is a correspondence between what we say and what we do. It is possible for a hospital nurse to do all the tasks and routines that make up looking after the sick but do them coldly, shutterstock_146952725reluctantly, just for the monthly salary, without any effort of warmth for the situation of the patients, without any care for whether they get better or get worse.

Such a nurse does not inspire respect for the nursing profession, even if the individual acts professionally and executes all the routines correctly: all of that is not enough; there has to be the unpaid, unspecifiable “more” of care and concern for the sick. In the same way, a minimal obedience to the outward forms and expressions of being Muslim is not enough. Obedience and dutifulness must be combined with an active willingness, a loving consent, to do them. God has so created human beings that real, lasting consent is not possible for us without love for, and understanding of, our obligations. Both, the love and the understanding, become embedded in us from the words and example of those who teach us what the obligations are. We learn, implicitly, from the general behaviour, temperament and manners of our teachers and elders that they believe in the worth of the obligations they pass on to us. That belief is, without direct speech, communicated to us through its effects in unselfishness, softness of speech, humility, steadfastness, and all the other virtues and graces that dignify human life. By contrast, one who does all his or her formal obligations rigorously and strictly but otherwise behaves horribly, is selfish, self-righteous, arrogant, impatient with the lapses or shortcomings of others, will not inspire respect for the religion that he or she claims to adhere to.

Secondly, we must learn to accept the historical reality that it is a long, long time in the past that Muslim societies, anywhere in the world, were in control of the many different areas of thought and behaviour that make up collective life. In some places, roughly six shutterstock_83239159generations have passed since it was the case that the norms and rules of an Islamic lifestyle pervaded the curriculums of study in schools and colleges, or informed economic and political choices, or international relations, and the like. Accordingly, over this long time, Islamic life-style, and the learning that goes with it, has shrunk to the core areas of the rites of prayer, fasting and pilgrimage. It is a mistake with very serious consequences that teachers who have studied these core areas — and not studied all the other matters that used to be an integral part of the education of the ulema – tend to stipulate, for all areas of life, those conditions (norms and rules) that are appropriate for the special, formal occasions of the rites. It is not practical to require that the ways of dress, speech, walking, sitting, standing that need to be observed when (for example) attending prayer in a masjid or in a private place, must also be observed when going about everyday business, like shopping or going to work and the like. To demand, of oneself or others, what is not practically possible, is a form of tyranny. Every Muslim knows that our master and guide, God pray over him and give him peace, repeatedly affirmed that he was not sent to make our lives hard but to make them easy in the long term, and this “long term” must include the hereafter. We can neither preserve what we have from our past, nor build up for the future, without patient attention to the realities of life and steadfast devotion and reliance on God.

Thirdly, we should respect all the questions raised by children in the home or by students in the school or college. Respect means a number of things: (1) accepting that the questioner is sincere; (2) doing our best to understand the full import of the question, what is behind it and what is after it (this is especially important as the questioner usually does not know how to express their concern clearly); (3) ignoring any deliberate or unintentional disrespect for the religion or for the teacher of the religion in the manners of the questioner or in the content of their question; and (4) allowing the question.

The last mentioned is, perhaps, the most important condition. The teacher needs to make the questioner feel that asking a question or having a doubt is a proper, normal part of the human need to know and understand so that one may give one’s consent, willingly and with love, to what the religion commands. It is necessary that the teacher should indicate the limit of his or her knowledge, should not claim certainty where there is none, and agree that disagreement on certain matters is manageable within the community. This is at the heart of allowing the question. Without this allowing, the teacher denies to him or herself the opportunity to develop the virtues of humility and forbearance. Worse, he or she reduces believing to belonging.

Fourthly, it is important to distinguish religious conformity from cultural conformity. The distinction between the two is not always easy to make because religions inform civilisation and culture, but often it is not that hard either. It is much easier to belong than to believe, so for teachers and learners alike, it is easier if people just go along with (i.e., more or less imitate) what they see others in their group doing. But the truth is that the rewards of a life lived with religious seriousness do not come by this easier route. There is no shortcut to avoid the effort of reflecting on what is most or more important, what is less. Of the most important things, the most important is an informed and dedicated conscience, a clear intention, an educated will to do the right thing. This is not achieved by conforming alone, understanding and consent are necessary. In the process, there is trial and error, and so long as individuals and community do not abandon the effort, the end is success. It may help to make an analogy with how we use language: we often mis-speak, mis-hear and mis-understand what is said to us; only if we refuse to listen any longer, only if we refuse to invite the person to try again and say what they think they mean, do we end up with a complete failure of communication. Any parent who has tried to understand their child’s efforts to recount what happened to them during the day knows that it is necessary to give them the time and opportunity to find the right words in which to tell their story.

Finally, it is worth stressing what is so obvious it never gets mentioned: that we distinguish the duty to say clearly and courageously what is right, according to our knowledge and understanding, from the duty to impose that understanding on whoever disagrees with us. The best of Muslims have always said that before we declare someone an unbeliever — the most extreme form of telling someone that they do not belong — we must first exhaust every possible reason, every possible excuse, for not doing so.

Nearly always, disagreements can be managed, they do not need to be annulled. Had God willed it, it is no matter for Him to have made us all uniformly believers, a single homogenous community, alike in tastes and traits and aspirations, but He did not do so. Our differences, within and between confessional communities, are His means of building in us a sense of proportion about our own sense of righteousness and our capacity to accomplish our aims. The only absolute certainty is that we can neither be right nor achieve our aims without acknowledging our dependence on Him and putting our trust in Him, rather than in ourselves. We are absolutely indebted creatures: we need to develop the humility that goes with that.

Shaykh Mohammad Akram Nadwi is an Islamic scholar from the Indian city of Jaunpur and a graduate of the world renowned Nadwatul Ulama (India) where he studied and taught Shariah. Shaykh Akram is a Muhaddith of the highest calibre who has specialised in Ilm ul Rijal (the study of the narrators of Hadith). He has Ijaza (licenses) from over 600 scholars. Shaykh Akram Nadwi has a doctorate in Arabic Language and has authored and translated over 25 titles on Language, Jurisprudence, Qur’an and Hadith. In May 2010, he completed a monumental 457-volume work on the lives of female scholars of Hadith in Islamic History. Also now available in English is Madrasah Life (2007) the translation (from Urdu) of his personal memoir of a student’s day at Nadwat al-Ulama. Shaykh Akram is the recipient of the Allama Iqbal prize for contribution to Islamic thought. As a leading scholar steeped in traditional Islamic learning and in modern academia, Shaykh Akram is a former research fellow at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, Oxford. He is the Dean and the Academic Director of the Cambridge Islamic College.



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    December 2, 2014 at 3:07 AM

    This was much needed. JazakAllah khair

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      December 23, 2014 at 10:19 AM

      I would like to say to the writer to remove the picture of hijabi women .To the writer, I would like to comment on the muslimmaters article regarding apostasy among muslims in the united kingdom.There is one problem and that is the picture of the muslim hijabi women which is in the article had one of the women’s hands exposed more than necessary as a muslim woman should cover their hands until further up the wrist, but the woman’s hand is exposed more than necessary ij the picture. I know this sounds like small matter but this is involving a muslim woman’s awrah and causes difficulties when a muslim men came across this article and view her awrah.The picture should be removed and replaced with another one.I know the writer meant well but however this matter should be taken into consideration. Peace.

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    Abu Haazim

    December 2, 2014 at 11:54 AM

    Jazak Allah Shaykh Nadwi for this insight. I always wondered how messed up our priorities were when the masjid would rock with Takbirs upon someone’s accepting Islam and at the same, many Muslims especially amongst the youth were not getting the answers that would satisfy them intellectually and they had serious doubts about Islam and some were openly rejecting Islam.

    A friend of mine while rushing to the masjid to join the jamaat which had already started saw a teenager playing basketball(in masjid’s gym) and asked him to come and pray(and it was in a nice way) and the kid responded back that he was not a muslim!

    And while all this happens, some of us are so obssessed with whether one should follow a madhab or be a salafi or lashing at sufis, 8/20 taraweeh, eid with local sighting or Saudi etc etc

    May Allah Ta’ala have mercy on us and give us tawfeeq to set our priorities straight.

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    Ivory Tower

    December 2, 2014 at 2:14 PM

    One of the most eloquent and pertinent articles I’ve read on MM.

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    December 2, 2014 at 3:54 PM

    Asalam aleikum.
    This is a brilliant piece from an enlightened mind.

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    December 2, 2014 at 5:23 PM

    Assalamu alaykum,

    Is there anywhere where we can send in our own questions to the sheikh? He seems to have grappled with hard issues in Islam, and controversial ones – I have a question that I think that he would be able to answer specifically as a scholar of Hadith.

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    December 2, 2014 at 5:37 PM

    I may have misunderstood the author, in his writing I do not read anything about how to deal with apostasy in the west or how it is regulated by Islam. Would you please elaborate on that?
    As I understand, Islam kills apostates, there are several occurrences in the life of Mohamed where he killed apostates. Right?

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      December 5, 2014 at 9:18 AM

      Apostates are give the chance to repent and return back to Islam, a total of 3 times. How? Well, someone or people with knowledge and understanding of the religion should be consulted with said apostate, where he/she would attempt to clarify their doubts and explain the religion better. I know the Daily Mail / Fox News etc. likes to go with this angle, but it doesn’t work like, “Oh, you’re an apostate? BAM! There goes your head.”

      Anyway, I do not claim to be a scholar, nor is English my first language, perhaps someone could help me out more eloquently?

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        December 9, 2014 at 8:26 PM

        Ismail, so you are saying that an apostate should be told 3 times to repent and/or have someone explain Islam to him in a way to get back to Islam and if after this is done and he/she still reject Islam then it is OK to ” BAM! There goes his/her head.”
        You are not getting it. I am telling you that no matter what you should never execute a person for his religious belief or lack of it.

        I really cannot understand your logical thinking and justifications of such a crime no matter what Islam’s teaches. Let me know if you want to debate this more. Thank you.

        FYI: I am no fan of the Daily Mail / Fox News etc. I follow logic and this apostasy rule is just inhuman and immoral.

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      December 5, 2014 at 7:39 PM

      Wa’alaykum Salam brother, as far as I know, there were NO instances in the life of God’s messenger (s) where he killed apostates, but rather he let apostates leave Islam without an issue (see In the conditions of the Treaty of Hudaybia, he (s) allowed apostasy (people who left Medina for Mecca were free to do so). The actual sunnah of God’s messenger (s) thus shows immense confidence that apostasy does not harm Islam or God in the least.

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      December 7, 2014 at 3:20 PM

      Salaams/Peace Tolerance, the reason the author was very subtle in his article is due to the sensitivity of the topic and controversy surrounding it, well I would assume. I tend to ramble ona bit, but I’ll try to be brief, please bear with me.

      The reason some people were killed for apostasy during the time of Muhammad (SAW) was due to their degree of influence and opposition to Islam. Even if we lived in an Islamic state, even if it is governed under the shariah as we know it today, who’s punishment is death for apostasy, there would have to be a proper court proceeding and judgement passed before the sentence of death can be carried out. It doesnt mean people have any right to become vigilantes and start doing things according to their limited judments.

      But in a nutshell, the Quran does not stipulate the death penalty for apostasy, and the reason that apostates were killed in certain circumstances during the time of Muhammad (SAW) and the reason the first Caliph Hazrat Abu Bakr (RA) spent most of his time as leader fighting against the apostates was because they were a danger not only to the entire social order which had been established by Muhammad (SAW), but also to the religion of Islam, and the peace of the entire arabia as a whole, most of which was almost entirely under Muslim rule by then. And not due to compulsion of course, as the western media would have you believe.

      Rather Allah says, “let there be no compulsion in religion, truth stands clear from falsehood”, which is the answer Muhammad (SAW) once gave a man when her asked whether he should compell his 2 sons who were Christian to believe in Islam, he said, “No, there is no compulsion in religion”.

      I recommend you read this article which a read some time ago. It confirmed what I had already believed, and I agreed with most of what the author said. My humble advice, please read the article as per the link below.

      I havent read much else on the site, so please be careful of what you read and always verify the information before making any judgement or internalising any of it.

      Please forgive any inaccuracies in my post. Im no mufti or authority on religion to pass any fatwa (judgement), all this is in my humble opinion, and whatever giood comes of this post is but a grace and favour upon me by Allah, and all bad is my own deficiency.

      My advice to all readers who want a clear unbiased perspective pertinant to this topic, please, read the link provided.

      May Allah the Most Merciful bless us and guide us all to the path of righteousness. Ameen

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    December 2, 2014 at 10:59 PM

    MashaAllah! This is so true, and alhamdulillah we have some scholars like you. May Allah reward you.

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    December 2, 2014 at 11:40 PM

    Asalamualaykum such an important (and slightly taboo) topic and it is addressed in a most respectful and appropriate way.

    It is VERY true that if someone does not feel welcomed in Islam, pretty soon they will also see no reason to be a part of the faith that seemingly rejects them. We each have such an important role to play. What a difference we can make with a smile and loving words and company. Speaking from experience of times when I went through my own doubts.

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    December 3, 2014 at 8:16 AM

    I have dealt with a number of muslim apostates and their reasons for leaving their religion.
    Many have left because of their perception of what Islam is. what is this perception?
    Well it is the image of Islam portrayed by Wahabism and this takes centre stage.

    Many institutions and organisations have adopted Wahabi versions of Islam.
    This is thanks to decades of indocdrintation and propaganda spewed by Saudi to turn the entire muslim world into wahabis, the plan is working pretty well.

    But why is wahabism a problem? Well incase you have been living on Mars, you would only need to look at the media to see why it is a problem. Every time of extreme, absurd, reactionary, violent, savage and blood thirsty action that some muslim or another commits almost always can be traced back to the wahabi manhaj which lacks compassion, mercy, tolerance and a high level of comprehension.

    Wahabism teaches its follows to reject legal precedents, reject the islamic schools of thought, and adopt a literalist interpretation of the text.

    This website, and Dr Nadwai and other moderate wahabi orientated organisations will not accept their responsbility for imparting this mind set amongst their followers and students.

    And it is the actions of this wahabi mind set that is causing revulsion in born muslims, convert muslims and non-muslims.

    The wahabi literalism that cant tolerate difference of opinions, or expression or art or science or political views.
    You cant even pray in a wahabi orientated mosque without being harassed for the way you stand, or hold your hands or the length of your trousers and you expect these neanderthals to understand and tolerate higher levels of disagreements?

    I personally avoid praying around or near someone who even hints at that kind of mind set, and Im pretty liberal. why because I am repulsed by the behaviour, I would rather stay away from a mosque over run with those kind of people than have to deal with their revolting behaviour.

    The behaviour of these people is driving people away not in the 100s but thousands.
    People simply say, if this is Islam I’d rather not bother. Who wants to defend these savages everyday to work colleagues or friends or neighbours, its easier to just say you are not muslim for many people.

    Im tired of having to try to clear up the mess of wahabism.
    You meet apostates and their objections stem from what they think Islam is based on wahabi version of Islam.
    The violence, backwardness, harshness, sectarianism, hatred for science, tolerance, poetry, art, progress, women’s issues etc;

    It is my view that all the wahabi set ups such Muslim matters, maghrib, institute, madinah univeristy, dr akram etc; are all responsible directly or indirectly for creating a revulsion towards Islam because of their wahabi literalism.

    But do they have the courage to admit it??? No they will blame the media or mosque committee, but not the clerics who are indoctrinating their followers to be savage morons.

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      Kibda Dabal

      December 3, 2014 at 12:14 PM

      I lost my faith twice after being exposed to wahhabism, as someone who grew up in saudi arabia learning islam there I always asusmed this is how horrible islam is and both times that returned my faith was a moderate interpretation of islam, now the islam that brought me back is not really islam at all its mostly secularism that was picked up by the scholars a few years ago. But beggars cant be choosers am I right?

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      Abu Milk Sheikh

      December 4, 2014 at 4:08 AM

      Preach, brother! Fight intolerance and ignorance with more intolerance and ignorance!

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    Kibda Dabal

    December 3, 2014 at 12:06 PM

    This guy has been repeatedly calling me a kuffar ever since I told him that if sharia is really what ISIS is doing then I dont want to be any part of it. Ofcourse I pray 5 times a day (or atleast try) and I believe in Allah but this guy keeps calling me a kuffar whenever he sees me and akss me if I have repented or not.

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    Former Muslimah

    December 3, 2014 at 12:27 PM

    Well then I have a question.

    WHy in Islam is belief more important than being the good person? And why is disbelief punished so strong with hellfire and boiling hot water and torture forever, when it is only correct or incorrect judgement on some factual matter. This is even more serious when you see there is no conclusive proof for Islam to begin with.

    I would never lay a hand on my daughter if she told me the world is flat.

    It makes more sense to me that belief is #1 in Islam because it was a good way of uniting the Arab tribes to rise into power, rather than God being so strangely punishing for a thought crime.

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      December 4, 2014 at 5:58 PM

      Excellent question – please read:

      the problem is a fundamental misunderstanding of Islam by Muslims as abstract theoretical doctrines whereas Islam expounds itself as a system of spiritual guidance to transform oneself into a better person. A person who prayed and fasted abundantly but was abusive to her neighbour was condemned by the Prophet (Tabarani) while a prostitute who gave a thirsty dog water was said to have pleased God (Bukhari).

      Because we talk about ‘belief’ with very different connotations than ‘eemaan’ (which includes actions) we find fallacies when it comes to epistemology as well. How would one prove that helping others at one’s own expense is a desirable behaviour to adopt? How would one prove that one’s life is worth living? How would one prove that the concept of proof itself is coherent? These and many other questions are addressed here:

      and also

      more detailed discussion to come in forthcoming articles iA

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      December 6, 2014 at 11:51 PM

      Islam is the only religion I know which without leaving any room for interpretation explicity states that there is only one God and not to associate any partners with God. Logically, this is the only concept of God which would make sense, for instance stating there is more than one God would imply a dependency or redundancy between them. God gave us intellect and expects us to use it. It is one of the main things, if not the thing, which differentiates us from His other creation and this should be obvious. Most of us have been given enough time in our lives to think about this and reach the conclusion that there can be only one God, i.e. Tawheed. Ofcourse, we have been given the choice to be careless or heedless if a reminder is given to us. In that case, then what exactly would be the purpose of life?

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      Abu MIlk Sheikh

      December 7, 2014 at 3:13 AM

      “Why in Islam is belief more important than being the good person?”

      False dichotomy. Islam commands people to be good. “Good” is objectively defined by God Almighty, not the ebb and flow of popular culture.

      God Almighty is more deserving of a person’s “goodness” since God Almighty is the one who created that person, provided for him/her, took care of him/her, kept him/her safe from harm etc. Someone whose goodness only extends to other creations and is not to his/her Creator can’t be thought of as “good” at all. Rather, such rejection is the height of criminality and evil.

      “This is even more serious when you see there is no conclusive proof for Islam to begin with…”

      Millions of converts to Islam would beg to differ.

      “And why is disbelief punished so strong with hellfire and boiling hot water and torture forever…”

      Actions are only by intentions…

      The punishment is eternal because the intent to disbelieve is eternal. God Almighty, through His infinite knowledge, knows that had He allowed the disbeliever eternal life, he/she would have remained a disbeliever eternally.

      Conversely a believer is rewarded with eternal Paradise, even though he/she believed for a finite period of time, because the intent to believe is eternal.

      “…when it is only correct or incorrect judgement on some factual matter…”

      It is “only” a rejection of the One that created you and ordered you to fulfill the purpose of your creation, which is to worship Him.

      A disbeliever is only punished with eternal Hellfire if he/she rejects Islam and dies on that intent, after the message of Islam reaches him/her.

      “I would never lay a hand on my daughter if she told me the world is flat.”

      But you do discipline her if she does something wrong. You have authority over her by virtue of her being your daughter and she has to obey you.

      I wonder what you would do if one day she turned around and said “I don’t believe you’re my mother because I didn’t see you give birth to me.”

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      December 10, 2014 at 4:16 PM

      This isn’t to agree with you that belief is MORE important but to give you a sort of understanding why belief in Allah is so important.

      You gave an example of “I would never lay a hand on my daughter if she told me the world is flat”. Consider this instead. Say After the 9 months of painful dreadful pregnancy and the excruciating pain of delivery, you had your beautiful baby daughter. You washed her, clothed her, fed her milk from your own body, took care of her, stayed up the nights and worried when she got sick. As she grew up, you did everything in your power to make her the happiest little child and did what you know to be the best for her. You taught her how to be a good person, took her to the best schools, helped her in every aspect of her life and loved her with your whole heart. Then as soon as she turned 18, she told you that you are not her mother, you have done nothing for her, as a matter of fact, she’s leaving the house and you’ll never see her again. How would you feel about that? The least you would want is for her to recognize what you’ve done for her. Right?

      To Allah belongs the highest of examples so He is far above saying this is His relationship with us. But this is to say that disbelieving in Allah is to reject Him as your Creator and to reject the innumerable blessings He has bestowed upon you. A person who rejects the existence of His own Creator and rejects his bounties and blessings deserves to be punished especially after receiving the message of His Creator.

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      December 10, 2014 at 8:45 PM

      Salaams former Muslimah, you seem to have some grave misconceptions about Islam, please bear with me and allow me to clarrify things a bit, InshaAllah (God willing), all readers will benefit. Apologies for the length of my post in advance. Please bear with me.

      Let me start by stating, that Islam (peace attained through submission to the will of God), is much more than a choice. Imaan (faith) is the most precious gift anyone could receive in this world. And believe me, it IS a gift, which not everyone will be blessed with, unfortunately. Every soul shall reap what it has sewn, and never will He wrong any soul or act unjustly in the least, but rather, it is we, who wrong our own selves. To those who think that to be a Muslim is a concious choice you could simply make at any time, guess again! Each and every believer on this planet, has been HAND PICKED by Allah to receive this gift. Even this ability just to think about and contemplate Him, the ability to mention Him, the ability to believe in Him and worship Him, is from none other than Him, to Who’m belongs this entire existence and everything in it.

      Allah only selects the best for this gift of Imaan, And no, having a Muslim name or being born into a Muslim family does not guarantee you this gift (although technically, we are all born with Imaan, every person). And even if you are given this gift from Allah, theres no guarantee that you will die with it. In fact, the prophet of Allah (SAW) said something to the effect that “a time will come when holding onto ones Imaan will be like holding onto burning coal” and that “a man would awake a believer by day, but sleep a disbeliever by the night” and vice versa. Unfortunately, this is the time we live in.

      Basically, Imaan is something extremely fragile… it is our life long ambition and duty to cultivate this Iman, to strengthen it, to make it unshakeable, till we attain the level of Ighsaan (an extremely of high level of awareness of God at all times, the perfection of Imaan). And then, that life long battle of Istighaamat (consistency and constancy), trying to ever maintain a high level of faith, so that InshaAllah, we increase our odds of dying with faith in the one true God, Allah. Unless you die with this belief, you are in for serious trouble, whether it will be an eternal torment though, Allah knows best and will judge for Himself.

      Please note that not everything is always black and white. Not everyone will JUST go to hell forever, some will be allowed to enter heaven eventually among the sinning believers and even those who had just an atoms worth of belief in the One true Creator, will one day still enter paradise Inshallah, to abide therein eternally. Only after the eventual realease of that last person from hell who was destined for paradise, will the remainder then abide therein eternally. So youd probably had to have been a really wicked, proud, arrogant, utterly faithless person who was beyond saving for Allah to punish you eternally in hell. But this will happen to some people unfortunately, may Allah save us all’ from Jahannum. Ameen ya Kareem (The Benevolent).

      //WHy in Islam is belief more important than being the good person?//

      Do you know former Muslimah, that the heaviest of all deeds on scales on the day of judgement will be Akhlaaq (character)? That means, ‘good character’ will be the heaviest thing to be weighed on the scales of justice where your good deeds will be weighed against your bad ones. And Muhammad (SAW) was the embodiment of perfect character and morals, to the highest degree possible.

      What I just mentioned above is the absolute truth, no matter what anyone else would have you believe, take it to the bank. NOTHING will be as heavy on the scale of deeds on that day than ‘good character’. This means, being a good person, in EVERY respect, not just being good when it suites us, but we’re talking about genuine kindness, soft spokeness, good manners, the ability to forgive… etc etc. So basically, being a good person is in actuality an ESSENTIAL PART of Islam.

      //And why is disbelief punished so strong with hellfire and boiling hot water and torture forever, when it is only correct or incorrect judgement on some factual matter.//

      That is because there is NOTHING more important in life than “Truth” coupled with “Conviction” therein. (I am using the term ‘Truth’ synonomously with ‘Faith’ here) Unless you have grasped the essence of this existence, the true nature of reality, the self (soul) and most importantly, the existence of the All Powerful Creator/Designer/Sustainer who made this entire existence possible, then you have not yet achieved your purpose in this life.

      Tell me, does it make sense for the mass murderer, the mass rapist, the paedophile, the saint, the drunkard, the priest, the pious believer, all to be equal? One kills all day and the other drinks, while one prays and fasts all day, can they be equal? Can one who, God forbid, kills, rapes or mollests someone you love, a dear family member perhaps, can such a criminal be equal to the one who invites you and your family over for dinner and shows you utmost kindness, respct, hospitality and gives you gifts?

      You can obviously never equate the two. The reason for the existence of hellfire is not only obvious, but absolutely logical and essential. The truth is that life makes no sense otherwise, and I truly pity the poor soul deluded by darwinism, which is as much a religion or belief system as any other. And the truth will be made manifest if you are TRUE in your search for it InshaAllah.

      I’ll end with this. At the time when Muhammad (SAW) became a prophet, the world was in what is now known in history as the ‘dark ages’, a period of utter ignorance when the world was in total darkness, both spiritually and morally. The true’ renaissance, did not start in Florence or anywhere in Europe as western historians and media would have you believe, it actually started… in Arabia. Do the research for yourself, even on youtube if you prefer. Of course you might need to sift through lots of junk before actually coming across some truth in this web of deceipt which ensnares most if not all of us. May Allah grant us all wisdom and the ability to judge truth from falsehood. Ameen.

      Please dont judge the religion by its followers, sadly but truly, this ummah (nation) IS misguided, all but a few. So dont expect the truth of Islam to be easy to find, even for a Muslim, these are tough times were are living in, a period of great lies, and deception, as was foretold to us by our prophet Muhammad (SAW). If a born Christian man named Charles Manson was a serial killer, does that make all Christians serial killers now? No, that would be absurd. So similarly, dont look at all the loons in the Muslim world slapping their daughters for saying the world is flat and stuff :P cummon, seriously, we’re the only true worshippers of the One True God left in this otherwise corrupted world, so shaytaan (satan) is much harder on us, although the true’ believer is protected to a great degree (depending on various factors), satan works even harder on those with true faith to make them sin and disbelieve in the truth. So dont expect to find many sterling examples among us.

      Youtube this: “miracles in the quran”, “scientific proof God exists”, “science and Islam”, “the nature of reality” and the like thereof, and know that the Quran is truly a miracle, its preservation, poetry, everything about it. Understand that life is a miracle, and that Islam is the only truth in the world today, which is why the western world portrays Islam so badly. Ask yourself why all the Mulsim countries are continously invaded and occupied? Ask yourself why there is this blatant war on Islam worldwide, both in the media and in reality? Why only a war on Islam, not Hinduism, or Christianty, or Judaism or Bhuddism or any other faith, but ONLY on Islam? I’ll leave you with that for thought.

      All that I have said is purely in my opinion. I apologise for the long post, and hope that reading it was bearable at least. All good that is in it is purely a grace and favour upon me by Allah and all bad in it is due to my own deficiency. May Allah the Most Benevolent, Most Compassionate, Most Loving, Most Forgiving, Most Merciful, bless us and guide us all to the straight path. Ameen.

      • Avatar

        Aly Balagamwala

        December 13, 2014 at 7:44 AM

        Dear Shahin

        Please keep your comments short and to the point. Also we can not have multiple revisions to comments from your side. So please take your time, ponder on your comment and then post.

        JazakAllahu Khairin

        Comments Team Lead

        • Avatar


          December 16, 2014 at 5:03 PM

          Salaams Aly, apologies for my long posts and all the amendments. InshaAllah I will be more to the point and accurate in future.

          maaf for being a nuisance, I am moderately o/c, InshaAllah I will definitely take your advice in future.

          JazakAllah kheir

  12. Avatar


    December 5, 2014 at 12:37 PM

    It is not practical to require that the ways of dress, speech, walking, sitting, standing that need to be observed when (for example) attending prayer in a masjid or in a private place, must also be observed when going about everyday business, like shopping or going to work and the like.”

    The impractical ways of dress is all too familiar. Especially some muslim mothers that are doing school runs, on days that it rains, you see them holding the hem of their long abayas, pushing the buggy with the other hand and still trying to keep the other little ones behind them in check.

    I wonder at their lack of creativity, when it is obvious they are struggling with the long abayas, a simple calf length trench coat and a calf boots will keep them modest and still be practical.

    Another example is a sister who is crossed eye, limpy and totally swathed in a long abaya, that was just too long for her, that it nearly caused her to trip and fall. For someone like her, that overly long abaya is nothing but an hazard to her. A lot of people hardly think for themselves and what their personal situation is, they just follow blindly and sheepishly at whatever is been passed down to them without analysing it.

    You can’t help but wonder at some people’s intellect, and if they really think deeply at all.

  13. Avatar


    December 5, 2014 at 3:55 PM

    Shaykh Akram has said it well in this article: “Finally, it is worth stressing what is so obvious it never gets mentioned: that we distinguish the duty to say clearly and courageously what is right, according to our knowledge and understanding, from the duty to impose that understanding on whoever disagrees with us.” (And Allah swt has said it many times in the Quran that the duty of the Prophet pbuh was simply to CONVEY the message.)

    This is a much needed article, but it should have included references to many ayaat of the Quran which support these arguments. The omission of Quran and hadith, and the repeated use of the word “God” rather than the specific god of Muslims, “Allah”, is sending the wrong message that the writer’s opinions are not borrowed from Islam. Muslims do not have to leave or moderate their religious beliefs in order to be tolerant and forbearing. Also, the use of the word “love” is a bit excessive as respect and dignity are far more important that love in daily interactions outside the home.

    One of the reasons that Islam lost its power in many countries is because it had been abandoned and abused by dominating groups of Muslims in the past. It is crucial that sexism and its connotations (EVEN IF UNINTENDED) be avoided in articles and speeches by current Muslim scholars. For example, the use of the example of nurses (who are mostly women) is unpleasant as it reminds of how women are often blamed for the ills of societies. Also, photographs of women wearing heavy makeup should be avoided as they remind of the double standards that the majority of Muslim men hold – they push women to extreme lengths of “beautifying” themselves (and they go bride-shopping etc), while at the same time, requiring them to hide themselves / stay at home / be ashamed, and constantly monitoring them for signs of lewdness. There is a need for articles about sexual objectification of women by uninformed Muslim men, who exist in large numbers.


  14. Avatar


    December 12, 2014 at 6:23 PM

    “Islam is not just a choice, it’s a Destiny”

    To all those who have been honoured with Islam as your deen, hold on tightly to the rope of Allah and dont EVER take it for granted. For although we may have been destined to be recipients of this most precious gift of Imaan, we have no guarantee that we will meet our fate in the same state.

    We should therefore continously make lots of Shukr (thanks) to Allah for this great bounty which he has bestowed us with. Truly, it is impossible for us to EVER thank Allah enough for this favour upon us. But we can try our best to do so, by always praising Him, fulfilling our obligations towards Him, by giving in charity of what He has bestowed upon us, and by performing as many good actions as possible, all SOLELY for His pleasure. For to Him is our final return.

    The catch is, we only live once, and as much as some people in the afterlife will beg to be sent back to the world, to the extent that people will cry tears of blood after they have no more normal tears to cry, begging Allah to send them back so that they may now worship Him and work righteous deeds, Allah will tell them that this is not possible, that they had their chance in life, and they squandered it. So we need to be very careful of the beds we make… for some day we will have to lie in them, such is the logical reality.

    Can anybody here truly imagine the regret that person will feel on that day when the sun is as a mile above us, a day 50 000 years long, when the world will be transformed into a new world, flattened (ie. no hills or mountains etc.), where ALL humanity from ALL times will be gathered together naked upon an open plane awaiting judgement, a day wherein there will be no shade other than the shade of Allah, imagine the regret that person will feel, who will be distant from those under the shade and protection of Allah, who will be DISTANT from the believers, but will see their hands and faces glowing from afar, marks of distinction due to their wudu (ablutions) , this person who had the correct faith, and was just an arms length from attaining an eternal salvation, but at the last moments before their death, maybe in that month, in that year, or that decade… or however long, they FORSOOK their faith, squandered it, discarded it, as if it was nothing, and in so doing, earned themselves, an ETERNAL regret, the like of which is almost inconceivable to the human mind, such is the severity and extent, of this regret. Truly try to imagine this scene dear reader… not only is it scary, the really scary thing is, it is a REALITY, which by Allah, most certainly, will come to pass. I’ll put my head on the block if thats what conviction takes.

    The bottom line dear reader, for anyone to leave Islam is a most unfortunate and terrible transgression against themselves. But something even worse than forsaking Islam… is forsaking Imaan. For even if one has even an iota of faith in Allah, they have hope in an eternal salvation. But to lose faith, is to lose hope, and to lose hope it to lose everything. Im not saying that it is ok not to be a practicing Muslim, for ones amaal (actions) will be directly proportionate to their level of Imaan. But if youre willing to be that last person who is freed from hell after millions or billions of years (Allah knows best how long), and receive that lowest jannah which is ten times this world and everything in it, if youre willing to settle… for even a SECOND in jahannum,…. if you are truly that brave and arrogant, by all means, be happy and complacent with the little faith ye have, continue worshiping your own whims and desires, and await that which you sent forth for yourself. How wicked a deal indeed, which they have purchased, and at what expense! If only they realised…

    For know this… as the saying goes, that if you aim for the stars, maybe youl hit the ceiling. But if you aim for the ceiling, you might never leave the ground. Same applies here, that if your imaan is actually weak enough to put you into a mindset that youre willing to go to Jahannum for even a minute, just for some meager gain in this world, odds are, if youre willing to settle, high chance is you will not be given the taufiq (ability) to die as a muslim. For only one who lives by LailahaillAllah, will die by LailahaillAllah, and none of us have any guarantees. This kalima (testification) needs to be ENGRAINED into out hearts, and this requires we make a concerted effort on strengthening and cultivating our Imaan.

    A silver lining, it is written that so long as anyone recites the kalima just once in their life with sincerity, jannah becomes wajib (almost compulsary) on them. But again, we cannot judge sincerity and only Allah knows what is in our hearts of hearts, so we cannot bank on any of that. All we will have to trade with on that day will be our amaal (actions), ie our good deeds, and that is all that we will take with us to our graves, that… and our caffan (burial garb). So bottom line, correct intentions, devout prayers and all other forms of ibaadah (worship), performed with due cognisance, recognition and awareness of Allah, are all vital for our salvation. Ibaadah performed SOLELY for His pleasure, THIS is what the currency in the life hereafter is, and that is what we should all not only be striving for, but dedicating our entire lives towards.

    In conclusion, even if one has transgressed against their own soul, even if one has turned away from the straight path, NEVER be despondent of the Mercy of your Lord, the Most Merciful of ALL those who show mercy. For despondancy is a quality not befitting the believer, nor is it inherent in us. For Allah will forgive all sins as long as you turn to Him sincerely in repentance. All sins except Shirk (joining partners with Him), for this most heinous sin, He will never pardon. May Allah save us all from ever committing such an evil. Ameen

    Although just something worth mention. Even a Mushrik (one who commits shirk, who associates partners with God) could still receive hidaayat (guidance) in this life, if Allah so wills. For Allah guides whomsoever He wills. But if a mushrik dies in such a state, then unfortunately, eternal damnation most certainly does await him. For it is said that not only will the anger of Allah be so severe that day that even the prophets will fear Allah’s punishment when hellfire is brought near, but His mercy will be so vast on that day, that even shaytaan will think he has hope of the forgiveness and mercy of Allah. But unfortunately, no forgiveness will there be for the Mushrik on that day, so heinous is the crime which he is guilty of in the sight of his Lord.

    To be in a state of hope and fear, this is Imaan. Always hope in the mercy of Allah, and at the same time, always fear His anger and punishment. This is to hope that if Allah said that only one person out of all humanity was going to heaven, out of all the saints, prophets and pious predecessors, you will still hope that person going to heaven is you. And conversely, if Allah said that out of all humanity, only one person is going to Hell, out of all the pharaos, hitlers, killers, rapists and paedophiles, you will still TRULY fear, that the person going to hell is you. THIS is what Imaan is, in terms of an emotional state of being.

    Sorry, I notice that I have rambled on way too much again. My apologies for the long post. Hope that you found this beneficial. Hope you havent fallen asleep reading this. hehe

    As always, all that I have said is purely in my humble opinion. I am no mufti to pass any fatwa nor is it my intention to do so. All good that is in my post is purely a grace and favour upon me from Allah and all bad in it is due to my own deficiency. May Allah bless us, guide us, grant us all the true understanding of Islam, and give us firm belief therein. Ameen

  15. Avatar

    stella constant

    January 17, 2015 at 7:08 PM

    I would like to comment on apostasy in Islam.I know an extremely intelligent,questioning young muslim person who does not now believe in Islam due to his experience of mental,physical and sexual abuse in an Islamic boarding school in the UK.Alsothe experience of his parents superstitious beliefs that he was possessed by a jinn and their ATTEMPTS TO EXORCISE THIS JINN.HE LOATHES HIS PARENTS ATTITUDE TO HIS SISTER WHO IS VIRTUALLY PRISONER IN THE HOME and spends her time doing housework and not allowed to work.This young person is brave and extremely erudite but is terrified of letting his parents know of his apostasy de to fears for his safety within the community. How does such a situation arise in a civilised society that a British citizen is so frightened of his community of origin that he cannot express his strongly held views and is basically traumatised by his experiences ?

  16. Avatar

    Rushda Malik

    March 12, 2015 at 12:57 AM

    As Salamualiqum everybody, please watch this video on “Apostasy in Islam” It has clarified many the misconceptions!
    Do subscribe to their YouTube channel for other videos like responses to Anti-islamists!

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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.

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Can Women Attend The Burial Of The Deceased?

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

Dr Usaama al-Azami



Quran at graveyard, woman attend burial

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

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

Key positions and evidence

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

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

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

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

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

Interpreting the evidence

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

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

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

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

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

The fiqh of modernity

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

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

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

And God knows best.

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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.

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