By Dawud Walid
During Black History Month, I have the intention of writing brief summaries, not in depth biographies, of some of the early figures in Islamic history who were black. My usage of the word black, for the sake of what I plan on writing, will not be restricted to Nubians and Abyssinians but also for Arabs who had black and brown colored skin in which in contemporary times would be perceived as black such as Sudanese who are both Arabs and blacks.
The first luminous figure in this series that was a companion is Barakah also known as Umm Ayman. Umm Ayman was Abyssinian and a servant of Abdullah bin Abdil Muttalib, the father of the Prophet . When Aminah, the mother of the Prophet died, Umm Ayman took over as primary care-giver of the Prophet . Umm Ayman was later emancipated at the time of the marriage of the Prophet to Sayyidah Khadijah bint Khuwaylid .
Umm Ayman was one of the early adherents of Islam in Makkah and was one of those who faced persecution from Quraysh. She was among those who migrated from Makkah to Al-Madinah.
Umm Ayman’s first marriage was to Ubayd bin Zayd who was from Bani Khazraj, a prominent tribe in the Hijaz. According to ibn Kathir in Al-Bidayah wa An-Nihayah and others, Ubayd himself was black in color or Al-Habashi though his lineage was from Bani Khazraj, a prominent Arab tribe in the Hijaz. Umm Ayman and Ubayd bore a son named Ayman who was also black. Ubayd was martyred at Ghazwah Khaybar, and Ayman was martyred at Ghazwah Hunayn. Umm Ayman participated in Ghazwah Uhud and Ghazwah Khaybar.
After Ubayd’s martyrdom, it’s reported by Ibn Sa’ad in At-Tabaqat Al-Kubra that the Prophet said to the companions that if anyone wanted to marry a lady from the People of Paradise then marry Umm Ayman . Zayd bin Harithah , the man who the Prophet emancipated and raised like a son, was then married to Umm Ayman . Though Zayd was Arab and there are some conflicting descriptions about his physical appearance, Tanwir Al-Ghabash min Fadl Al-Sudan wa Al-Habash by ibn Al-Jawzi and others states that Zayd was short with a flat nose and had dark skin.
Umm Ayman had a particularly close relationship to Ahl al-Bayt, the Household of the Prophet . She shared intimate moments with Ahl al-Bayt such as being present at the marriage that the Prophet conducted between his daughter Sayyidah Fatimah and Imam Ali . At the time of the passing of the Prophet , she grieved alongside Ahl al-Bayt.
There are conflicting narrations about Umm Ayman’s passing.
Usamah bin Zayd was one of the beloved companions of the Prophet .
Both of Usamah’s parents, Zayd bin Harithah who was Arab and Umm Ayman who was Ethiopian, were freed from slavery by the Prophet . He was born in Makkah seven years prior to hijrah and is described as having black skin.
Much of Usamah’s upbringing was done in the house of the Prophet in the same time-frame as the rearing of the Prophet’s grandson Al-Hasan bin ‘Ali .
Usamah was later married by the Prophet to Fatimah bint Qays, who was Arab and from Quraysh. It is narrated that this marriage took place when Usamah was at the age of 15 years old and that on his ring was etched at the time of the wedding “Love of the Messenger of Allah.”
While a teenager, Usamah was elected by the Prophet to be a general of an expedition against the Romans in Syria. Some of the companions became extremely angry at Usamah being appointed as general over older companions from Quraysh. The Prophet said after praising and thanking Allah , “Oh People! Word has come to me that some of you mad that I appointed Usamah bin Zayd. I swear by Allah that surely your obeying Usamah is certainly your obeying me just as obeying his father before him.”
Usamah passed in 61 A.H. in Al-Madinah during the government of Mu’awiyah bin Abi Sufyan.
One of the black companions of the Prophet was Sa’ad Al-Aswad As-Sulami .
Sa’ad was from the Ansar and suffered discrimination in Al-Madinah.
Due to an inferiority complex, Sa’ad asked the Prophet if he too could enter into Jannah because of his low position among the Muslims. The Prophet replied to him that he was entitled to the same reward as other believers. Sa’ad then inquired that if he was an equal believer then why would none of the Arabs allow him to marry one of their daughters.
The Prophet then told Sa’ad to go to the home of ‘Amr bin Wahb to ask him for his daughter for marriage. When Sa’ad told ibn Wahb that the Prophet sent him to request for his daughter for marriage, Ibn Wahb became angry at the proposal. Ibn Wahb also stated to him that didn’t he know that his daughter is known for her beauty! When Ibn Wahb’s daughter heard this, she told her father that she could not turn down a proposal that came at the suggestion of the Messenger of Allah !
Sa’ad was later martyred in a battle in which it is narrated that the Prophet wept over him while holding him in his lap.
One of the helpers of the Prophet who is mentioned in a number of texts is the companion known as Julaybib .
Julaybib accepted Islam in Al-Madinah, thus is described as one of the men from the Ansar. His lineage was unknown among the Arabs which made him an outcast. According to ibn Al-Jawzi in Tanwir Al-Ghabash, he was described as black (aswad). The companion Abu Barzah according to ibn Al-Athir also described him as short (qasir) and ugly (damim).
Being that Julaybib had no tribal and family connections in Al-Madinah as well as no wife, he spent more time in the company of the Prophet than many of the other Ansar. In fact, the People of Al-Madinah used to ridicule Julaybib and would not befriend him.
In narrations that are deemed sound, the Prophet proceeded to find a wife for the honorable Julaybib. When he went to the home of one of the Ansar, a father opened the door in which the Prophet told him that he came to him for a marriage proposal. The father immediately said yes thinking that his daughter would get the honor of being one of the Prophet’s wives. The Prophet told him that he did not come for himself but was asking on behalf of Julaybib. The father then said that he was going to defer the decision to his wife.
When the wife of the Ansari came, the Prophet told her that he had a marriage proposal. The wife also became happy and said yes. Then the Prophet told her that he came on behalf of Julaybib. The wife then replied that she would not allow her daughter to marry a man like Julaybib!
Upon hearing noise, the daughter of the two came out and asked the reason for the Prophet coming to their home. The mother told the daughter that he came on behalf of Julaybib but that she was not accepting for her to marry him! The daughter replied, how can we turn down a proposal coming from the Messenger of Allah ? She said to send Julaybib to her, for surely he will not bring ruin to her!
In Al-Asabah by ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, it is mentioned in reference to this event the application of Surah 33, Ayah 36, “It is not fitting for a believing man or woman that when Allah and His messenger decree a matter that they should have an opinion about it from their matter. And whoever disobeys Allah and His messenger surely is in clear error.” It is mentioned in several texts including Al-Musannaf by ibn Abi Shaybah in the Chapter of Compatibility in Marriage that the Prophet then performed the marriage between Julaybib and the lady.
In a battle after the marriage, Julaybib achieved martyrdom. When the Prophet saw the martyred Julaybib, he said twice, “This [man] is from me, and I am from him.” An-Nanawi said in his commentary of Sahih Muslim that the Prophet used exaggeration (mubalaghah) showing the importance of Julaybib as if Julaybib was a member of his own klan such as when the Prophet said about Salman [ranua], who was Persian, “Salman is from us, the People of the Household (Ahl al-Bayt).”
It is also narrated that the Prophet personally dug the grave of Julaybib and placed him in the grave without washing him, signifying his status as a martyr.
One of the companions who has several narrated merits pertaining to his faith, personality and resilience is ‘Ammar bin Yasir .
‘Ammar is described in Al-Mustadarak ‘ala As-Sahihayn by Al-Hakim and authenticated by Adh-Dhahabi as being tall in stature, black in skin color and having kinky hair. His father Yasir was Arab.
‘Ammar was one of the earliest Muslims to accept Islam and was regularly tortured along with his family. Once while being severely tortured, he unwillingly recanted Islam. He later came to the Prophet in a state of tears saying that he verbally recanted Islam but did not mean it, in which the Prophet wiped away his tears and recited Surah 16, ayah 106, “Whoever disbelieves in Allah after belief except who is forced and whose heart is still content with faith…”
After much persecution, ‘Ammar with other companions migrated to Abyssinia finding protection under a just Christian king though ibn Ishaq disputes that he was one of those companions in Abyssinia. He later migrated with other companions to Al-Madinah making him within a select group of companions that made two migrations for the sake of Allah .
‘Ammar later participated in the major campaigns to protect the Muslim community including Badr and Uhud. He also was a witness to the Farewell Pilgrimage and the event of Ghadir Khumm.
Prior to the death of the Prophet , he told ‘Ammar, “You will be killed by a group of transgressors.” This hadith is sahih and mutawatir, meaning narrated so widely by many sound people that it is beyond doubt.
During the government of ‘Umar bin Al-Khattab, ‘Ammar was nominated to be the governor of Kufah in Iraq to be later removed from his position when ‘Umar consolidated the governorship of Kufah with Basrah under Abu Musa Al-Ashari.
During the government of ‘Ali bin Abi Talib , ‘Ammar accompanied Imam Ali’s army at the Battle of Jamal and defended him against the Khawarij movement, the original takfiris. ‘Ammar later achieved martyrdom at the Battle of Siffin by being killed by a man from the army of Mu’awiyah bin Abi Sufyan.
One of the famed companions of the Prophet is Mihja’ bin Salih . Mihja’ was one of the early adherents of Islam in Makkah, and one of those who migrated for the sake of Allah to Al-Madinah.
According to At-Tabaqat Al-Kubra of ibn Sa’ad, Mihja’s lineage traces back to Yemen. He’s described as has having black skin (aswad al-lawn) and Arab. He was enslaved in the Hijaz and suffered as other enslaved (wo)men did. He was later emancipated by Umar bin al-Khattab.
In Makkah, Quraysh used to mock the Prophet because he used to sit and keep company with his poor followers who were formerly enslaved. Allah told the Prophet in Surah 6, Ayah 52, “Do not repel those who call upon their Lord in the morning and the evening seeking His face.” According to Abdullah bin Abbas in Zad Al-Masir fi ‘ilm At-Tafsir by ibn Al-Jawzi, those people that Allah was referring to were Bilal, Suhayb, Khabbab, ‘Ammar, Mihja’, Salman, ‘Amir bin Quhayrah and Salim, who was freed by Abu Hudhayfah.
After migration according to At-Tabari and others, Mihja’ was the first to be martyred at Ghazwah Badr.
It is narrated by Al-Hakim in Al-Mustadrak ‘ala As-Sahihayn and authenticated as sahih by As-Suyuti in Al-Jami’ As-Saghir that the Prophet said, “The best of the blacks are three: Bilal, Luqman [who is mentioned in the Qur’an] and Mihja’.”
One of the honorable companions, who is known for his faithfulness and concern for the poor was Abu Dharr .
Abu Dharr’s full name was Jundab bin Junadah from the Tribe of Ghifar. He was described by ibn Sa’ad in At-Tabaqat Al-Kubra and others as being tall with brown (asmar) skin.
In the Era of Ignorance, the Ghifari tribe was known for banditry and alcohol consumption besides worshiping idols. Abu Dharr, however, turned away from these tribal norms even before embracing Islam.
When a man from his tribe informed his people that he saw a man in Makkah, meaning the Prophet , who he saw enjoining good and forbidding evil, Abu Dharr set off for Makkah. After meeting the Prophet , Abu Dharr swiftly accepted Islam. He went to the Ka’bah to publicly declare his faith in which Quraysh proceeded to beat him. He went the following day to proclaim his faith again in which he was beaten again. After days of doing this and facing beatings, the Prophet told him to go back to his tribe, so he could declare his message to them.
He later migrated to Al-Madinah and participated in Ghazwah Badr and other expeditions with the companions.
During the government of ‘Uthman, Abu Dharr was one of the outspoken companions against the lavish lifestyle and large amounts of money which particular Muslims were receiving from the treasury. After conflict between Abu Dharr and Marwan in Al-Hakam, a cousin of ‘Uthman, over a payment that he received of 500,000 dirhams, Abu Dharr was sent away from Al-Madinah to Damascus. While in Damascus, Abu Dharr continued to speak out against luxuries and neglect of the poor which brought him into conflict with the Governor of Damascus, Mu’awiyah bin Abi Sufyan, who was also a cousin of ‘Uthman.
The Prophet predicted to Abu Dharr, “You will live alone, die alone, rise from the dead alone, and enter Jannah alone.” This prediction of his living and dying manifested itself. Due to the circumstances of the time, Abu Dharr left Damascus for Ar-Rabathah desert with virtual no possessions in which he eventually died alone.
One of the faithful companions of the Prophet was Ayman bin ‘Ubayd .
Ayman’s roots were Abyssinian through his mother. He was born through the union of his mother Barakah, a woman who was eventually freed from slavery by the Prophet and his father ‘Ubayd bin Zayd who was from the tribe of Harith bin Khazraj; their marriage took place in Makkah in the Era of Al-Jahiliyyah. Ayman was also born in Makkah.
Ayman embraced Islam in Makkah and made migration for the sake of Allah to Al-Madinah. He was a shepherd and was entrusted by the Prophet to look after his goats.
Ayman was a participant in the campaigns to defend Islam. At Ghazwah Hunayn when some of the Muslims became panicked, Ayman was one of eight Muslims who stood by the Prophet and defended him. The Muslims ended up winning the battle. In the process, Ayman achieved martyrdom.
After his martyrdom, Al-Abbas , one of the Prophet’s uncles who was one of those eight that stood firmly with Ayman to defend the Prophet, composed a poem praising the steadfastness and bravery of Ayman.
So You Are The Wali, Now What?
The way most Muslims (as well as conservative Christians and Jews) live, a man asks for a woman’s hand in marriage from the father.
The father is not just a turnstile who has to say yes. He is a “wali” or protector and guardian of his daughter’s rights. So he will be asking some serious questions that would be awkward if the woman had to ask them.
Furthermore, in the Muslim community today esp. in the West, there are many converts that seek out a wali because they have no male relative who is Muslim. In this post, I share some guidelines aimed at the wali in his new role and stories that are useful.
Being a wali is not an honorary role. You’re not just throwing out the first pitch. You’re actually trying to throw curveballs to see whether the proposal checks out or has issues.
Here are some questions and demands a wali should make:
Background check: Call and meet at least four people that were close to the man who has proposed and interview them. There’s no husn al-zann (good opinion) in marriage. As a potential suitor, you are rejected until you prove yourself, much like an application for employment. These days, most people’s background can be found on their social media, so the wali has to spend time scrolling down. Keep scrolling, read the comments, look at the pictures, click on who’s tagged in those pictures. Get a good idea. You are a private investigator *before* the problem happens, not after.
Check financials: You need to see the financials to make sure they are not in some ridiculous debt or have bad credit such that they can’t even rent an apartment or cover basic needs. You want some evidence that he can fulfill the obligation of maintenance.
Check the educational background or skill set: This is a given. If it’s solid, then it can outweigh lack of funds at this moment.
Check medical records: If this is a stranger, the wali needs medical records. There was once a wealthy, handsome young man that was suave and a seemingly amazing prospect who proposed for a girl who was comparatively of average looks and from a family of very modest means. The mother and daughter were head over heels, but the dad had enough common sense to know something was up.
“Why would he come knocking on our door?,” he asked.
So the father demanded medical records. The guy never produced them. When the dad pressed him, the man admitted, he had a sexually transmitted disease (STD) and that’s why he couldn’t find anyone else to marry him.
Now note, there are legitimate cases where people have a past when they have made mistakes. This happens to the best of us, and the door for tawbah (repentance) is open. In those cases, there are organizations that match-make for Muslims with STDs. People should act in a responsible manner and not damage the lives of other humans beings.
Lifestyle: It is your job to check if the two parties have agreed on life essentials such as religious beliefs, where to live, how to school kids, etc?
In-laws: Have you at least met the family of the suitor and spent some time with them to make sure there’s nothing alarming?
Engagement: Contrary to popular understanding, there is such a thing as engagement in Islam. It’s an announcement of a future commitment to marriage. Nothing changes between the fiancees, but nobody is allowed to propose anymore. The purpose of engagement is to give time for both parties to get ready. For example, the groom may want to save up some money, or the girl may be finishing up college. Also, it’s easy to put on a face during the get-to-know process, but it’s hard to fake it over an eight or nine-month period. I remember a story where a young woman was engaged, and four months into the engagement they discovered the young man was still getting to know other women. He basically reserved the girl and then went to check for better options. Needless to say, he was dumped on the spot. Engagements are commonly a few months. I think more than a year is too much.
Legal/Civil: The marriage should be legal/civil in the country where you will settle. If you accept a Shariah marriage but not a civil one, know that you’re asking for legal complications, especially if a child enters the picture. (Ed. Note- we realize that some countries do not allow legal registration of more than one marriage- if that is a consideration please look at all options to protect your ward. There are ways to get insurance that can be set up.)
Mahr: Get 50% of the dowry upfront (or some decent amount) and whatever is scheduled to be paid later should be written and signed. I’ve seen too many cases where a really nice dowry is “promised” but never produced.
The dowry should be commensurate to current standards depending on the man’s job. For example in our area in America 5, 7, or 10k is a common range.
In sum, there are very few things in life that are as bad as misery in marriage. The wali’s job is to eliminate the bad things that could have been avoided. If that means he has to be demanding and hated for a few months, it’s worth the cost.
It’s preventative medicine.
Shaykh Hamza Yusuf And The Question of Rebellion In The Islamic Tradition
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.
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
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 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.