Forty is a special age. It’s the quintessential age of mid-life. It’s older than ‘young’, but younger than ‘old’. It’s an age where one has typically finished jumping all the hoops that society and education and starting a family require, and where one now looks forward to thinking about the major accomplishments of life, and the legacy that one wishes to leave.
The Quran mentions forty as the age of reaching full maturity: “Until, when (man) reaches his maturity (ashudd), and reaches forty years of age, he says, ‘O My Lord! Allow me to thank the blessings that you have bestowed on me, and on my parents, and that I perform good deeds that are pleasing to you, and make my children righteous as well. Truly, I repent unto You, and are of those who submit totally to you” [Ahqāf; 15].
No wonder, then, that our Prophet Muhammad actually began receiving inspiration and preaching his message at the age of forty. For forty years, he was merely being prepared for the real purpose of his mission: the call to Allah.
This is the year that I reach that important milestone of life. I do not know what the future holds for me, although of course I have my visions and plans. But it seems fitting for me to pause and reflect upon the last four decades of my life, and ponder over its ups and downs.
I remember vividly many of my thoughts and emotions when I was twenty. It was exactly twenty years ago that I graduated from the University of Houston, and left for the Islamic University of Madinah, beginning a new phase of my life. I began thinking, “If I could, somehow, give my younger self some advice; if I could address the young man of twenty, now that I am forty, and hope that he would listen to my advice, what would I tell him?”
These are the top ten things that came to mind. I hope those of you who are still in their twenties (and perhaps some of you who are older!) will benefit from it.
1) Don’t be so certain about your opinions and views.
Arrogance and cockiness define teenage years, and a young man (or woman) at twenty really is just a teenager, plus one. Views about how to live, about interpretations of religion, about how you would do things differently than everyone else in the world – those views typically stem from a naïve and inexperienced view of the world. You will realize that over-enthusiasm and strongly held opinions are the quintessential signs of being young. Don’t judge others who disagree with your views too harshly: you just might find yourself holding those same views a few years or decades down the line!
2) The most important source of practical knowledge is life itself.
Continuing from the last point, realize that the single greatest source of wisdom is learnt by living life itself. No matter how many lectures you attend, or books you read, or how deeply you contemplate or think, nothing substitutes the wisdom gained from simply experiencing the world around you. In order to be a good spouse, you need to learn to navigate the ups and down of a marriage. In order to be a good parent, you need to have your own children and learn to take care of them throughout their stages of childhood. In order to be a good human, you need to experience the good and bad of humanity.
‘Facts’ from books are great, but they must be shaped and seasoned and tested on the playground of life. Appreciate that you might not be in the best shape to judge everything, especially since you might not have experienced those things before. Through experience, and trial and error, one’s methods for dealing with all types of problems are refined.
A corollary of this piece of advice (and if I had more than ten in this list, this would be number eleven) is: Respect and benefit from those older than you. Perhaps you know more than an elder about a certain matter (or, to phrase it more precisely: perhaps you think you know more than them about a certain matter), but no matter how knowledgeable you are about quantum mechanics, or investigating sahih hadiths, or understanding the latest psychological theories from your textbooks, you simply cannot match the wisdom of your grandmother when it comes to navigating the intricacies of human interactions and raw emotions.
3) Friends come and go; family stays.
Many young men and women act as if their friends are more important than their family. They will show more concern about hurting their friend’s feeling than their family’s. Much of the conflict at that age, in fact, comes from the frictions of interacting with and arbitrating between family and friends. Yet, as anyone older than you can tell you, your friends are not a permanent fixture of your life. They will come and go into and out of your room of life, and every few days or months or years, you will look around that room and realize that an entirely different set of friends are standing where once another batch stood. But, lurking in the background, never actually disappearing (until death!) are your family members. These are the permanent fixtures in your room of life, not your set of friends.
True, problems with parents, siblings, uncles and aunts, cousins and so forth are extremely painful, and all families have their internal disputes and major problems. It is absolutely normal to have intra-family fights (particularly, for some bizarre reason, during and concerning marriages!). And it is normal, although not Islamic, to go for long periods with minimal or no contact with close family members. Yet, in the end, blood is thicker than anything else, and you will always be connected with family. Time heals all wounds, and even the worse of family arguments are healed (thankfully, family tragedies or celebrations act as catalysts in that regard). So never overlook your family for the sake of friends.
Having said that, and on a more cheerful note, in all likelihood the best set of friends you’ll ever have are your college friends. College friends will always have a special status in your life, maybe because you were all young and lonely and single and naïve and at the prime of your youths, thrown together due to circumstances beyond your control, facing the ups and downs of a new environment away from home. Or maybe that special bond is the result of some type of unstudied scientific byproduct of the hundreds of times you all had to eat takeout pizza late at night and share cheap Chinese food together. Whatever the reasons – banal or mystical – no set of friends will have the status of college friends. But once again: even they will go out of your lives, some never to be seen again, others once every few decades, and a small handful with whom you’ll remain in touch with forever.
One final comment about families: make sure you soak in as many memories as you can from your family elders, because you never know how long they will be with you. One of my greatest regrets in this department is that I didn’t get to know my grandmother as well as I could have. I never met two of my grandparents; a third died when I was only ten. It was only my paternal grandmother (who lived with us until she passed away, when I was twenty-two) that I got to know somewhat. But as a teenager, I would always be irritated when she began reminiscing of the ‘old days’. I would internally cringe every time she began a story that I had already heard a hundred times, yet I would still have to pretend as if each time were new to me. I never cared to ask her for more stories, or more details. ‘When will she stop!?’ I would internally ask myself as I fretted to get back to my TV show or college homework. It was only after I matured, and she and everyone of her generation passed on, that I truly realized my loss. How I wish now that I could have learnt more about her, and her childhood. She talked to us of British soldiers in her village, of her parents and in-laws (my great-grandparents), of the ways of purdah in rural India, of distant relatives long gone from this world, of incidents that took place almost a century ago, and of the interesting customs of the time. Now that she has been gone for two decades, I vividly remember much of what she said, but I wish for so much more. How I wish I had quizzed her for more details, more incidents, more stories. Now that I reflect upon her stories, there are so many unanswered questions: questions that I never bothered to ask because at the time, I really didn’t care to know, but now, have no answers to because I didn’t care to ask them.
4) Habits developed now typically stay with you.
I have had the great fortune (or misfortune!) of studying twenty-two years continuously as a student at various universities (two undergraduate degrees and four graduate). What I found remarkable was that the habits I developed while studying for my very first degree pretty much stayed with me throughout my two decades of study (with, of course, modifications and developments). And the same went for my routines and other life-habits: how I dealt with early marital spats dictated my future navigation; how I reared my first child influenced my later habits with my other children, and so forth. True, I picked up some habits along the way (I never drank caffeine early on in my life; now, I am addicted to one freshly-brewed quality tea every morning, and one freshly-ground espresso drink every afternoon), and dropped others (I used to love sleeping on the floor, and felt it gave me a better sleep – obviously that is a habit that only single people can practice!), but by and large, my ‘routine’ and lifestyle has remained the same.
Hence, be extra vigilant of your habits at this age, and realize that the hard work and good habits that you incorporate earlier in your life will help you throughout the rest of your life. It is easier to develop good habits at a younger age than to drop bad ones later on in life.
5) Take advantage of your health and energy while you can!
Wisdom and maturity might increase as you age from twenty to forty, but alas, strength and power does not! Looking back at those years, I can’t believe how much energy I had. I could get by on small quantities of food (or even skip meals without any adverse effect); didn’t require much sleep; had no trouble falling asleep; and could rough out the worst of conditions. I took my health completely for granted.
How much energy I had! Looking at people older than me, and seeing their aches and pains and arthritis and diseases, it never occurred to me that each and every one of those elders was at one point in their lives as young and vibrant as I was. I could never imagine myself with those problems.
Yet, as the years turn into decades, slowly but inevitably time begins to catch up, and you no longer can be as vigorous, as vivacious, as energetic, as you once were. Knee joints begin to hurt, back pains become more common, sleep becomes an issue, you can no longer skip meals so easily ….and the list goes on, and continues to grow, year by year.
Indeed, it was none other than our Prophet who reminded us to take advantage of our youth before we become old.
6) You’ve all heard of the adage ‘time flies’. Life will teach you how true that really is.
I have such vivid memories of those years, and yet they seem so far away. At times, when I recall memories from those years, I am startled to realize that fifteen or twenty or twenty five years have passed since then. How could two decades have gone by so quickly? Where did that time all go?!
And I know that as I grow older, I will also look back at these very years that I am currently living in in the same way.
Do not procrastinate what needs to be done today until tomorrow. You want to fill up your time with matters that will benefit you religiously, and worldly. Accomplish much, aim high, get things done, and you will live a full and wonderful life. Waste time, and you will end up watching the years fly you by as you stand bankrupt of any lasting good. The choice is yours.
7) Life will get tougher, not easier.
We tend to exaggerate our problems at a younger age, thinking that no one has it worse than us. Looking back, I am now amused at what I considered to be ‘huge’ problems (the first time my first car broke down, I quite literally felt as if my life had come to a halt!). For those of us who live in stable family environments, away from war zones, with adequate financial stability (meaning: we will not starve to death no matter what happens), it is a very safe bet to say that the most painful problems of our lives are yet to come.
I say this not to make our young men and women depressed, but to make them put things into perspective. One of the most painful moments of most people’s lives comes when they see their children extremely sick or in some type of threat. At that moment, nothing that has ever happened to you as a twenty-year old could ever have been a serious problem. So, when you are tense about that exam or having missed a paper assignment or going through a tough patch with someone whom you love, take a deep breath, and realize that life is not all that bad!
8) The single most important decision of your entire life will probably be made in this decade: the choice of a spouse.
I cannot imagine a decision that will have more impact on the entire rest of your life than choosing the partner whom you intend to spend the rest of your life with! Your careers may easily change, and the field that you initially studied for typically becomes a launching pad into an entirely different trajectory. However, ‘changing’ spouses is not something that anyone willingly undergoes, and choosing a life-partner will have an immediate and a long-term effect on you. It will influence your character, shape your religion, bring you untold happiness and sadness and joys and pains, affect the genes of your progeny, and dictate the nature of the rest of your life (and even afterlife).
As a person who was going into Islamic studies, I knew that I needed to find a life partner who would be willing to sacrifice much for me. I am very fortunate to have been blessed with a wife who has always supported me in my efforts, and I am extremely grateful to Allah that I have ‘my Khadija’! But I can honestly say that many, many of my friends who wanted to become students of knowledge or otherwise benefit their communities, were forced to abandon their plans because of spousal issues. And the same goes for other choices that you will have to make: spouses must sacrifice for each other, and who sacrifices what for whom will decide the both of your fates.
So, be picky, and look at the most important criterion: character. Beauty truly is skin deep, and what really counts is good manners and religion. When you are all alone with your spouse, with absolutely no one to help or support you, nothing will bring about a better relationship than the both of you fearing Allah for the consequences of your actions.
9) Your obnoxious behavior will come back to haunt you, while your love and kindness will always benefit you.
Sadly, people (especially family) don’t forget. Yes, they might forgive, but they don’t forget. If you hurt someone, or do something stupid or rude, it will always be remembered, and occasionally brought up. One harsh incident might cost you an entire relationship,
As Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” One incident in which you humiliated a friend, or were caustic to a family member, will always affect your future with that person. And an incident where you showed your mercy, or kindness, can win over someone as a true ally for as long as you live.
So be wise, don’t act rashly, and err on the side of mercy.
10) No one – and I mean no one – will ever love you, or care for you, or be as concerned for your welfare, as your parents. Cherish them in every way possible for as long as you have the opportunity to do so.
It is one of the saddest aspects of growing up that children, and especially teenagers, treat their parents in a rude manner. We are all familiar with the Quranic and prophetic commandments regarding good treatment of parents. Unfortunately, for many of us, those commandments do not seep into our hearts at a young age (and for a few unlucky ones, never!).
I have said many times in my talks, “You will never understand the love of your parents until you become a parent yourself, and it is only then that you will realize all that they did for you, they did out of love.” Even if you don’t have children of your own, however, try your best to give them the love and kindness that they deserve, and honor them with kindness.
It is true that all of us are at times extremely frustrated with parental expectations, or parental advice and rebukes, but our religion teaches us to control that anger and not express it verbally. ‘Zip it up!’ I advise my own teenager when I see he is about to get irritated with his mother (or me!). ‘Talk to us when you’ve calmed down. It’s okay to feel angry, it’s not okay to show it.’ (Alas, that advice doesn’t always work on him!!).
No one knows how long one’s parents will be around; take advantage of their presence, to earn your place in Paradise, and to have the best memories of serving them for as long as you live as well.
Now that I’ve passed this milestone, I ask Allah that He blesses me and my family to see many more positive milestones in my life and in theirs.
O Allah! Allow me to be thankful to you for all that you have bestowed upon me, and upon my parents! Bless me to continue to do good deeds that are pleasing to you! And make me from your righteous and beloved servants! Ameen.
[Note: for those of you forty and above, what advice would you want to give to our younger readers? And for those of you in your twenties: what advice on this list resonated most for you, and why? Leave a comment with your wisdom below!]
Chronicles of A Muslim Father: It All Began With a Prayer
They say it takes a village to raise a child. Family, friends, neighbors, coaches, and teachers are all part of that community and the pillars of that system are the parents. Mothers specifically have and continue to make monumental contributions to this effort. But what about Muslim fathers?
There are thousands of blog posts and hundreds of books on the fundamentals of raising Muslim children in the current climate written by mothers across a diverse array of the spectrum. They have tackled issues that range from Aqiqa’s to matrimonials and beyond, but when I needed a fresh perspective on raising Muslim children by someone like me, a Muslim father, I could hardly find any readily available resources.
I don’t know if this is a cultural deviancy or just men in general, but we leave all the parenting to the mothers and justify skimming over our responsibilities in the name of “breadwinning”. Whatever the case may be, I am a person who is constantly looking for guidance so that I, as their father and the head of the household, can make the right moves for my kids morally, academically and socially.
Furthermore, I am convinced that there are thousands, if not millions of Muslim fathers, just like me looking for the same thing that are coming up empty handed just like I did.
It’s for this reason, with the help of Allahﷻ that I have endeavored to fill in this much-needed gap and compose this essential series that will be comprised of archives from my own experiences coupled with advice on best practices and pitfalls in raising Muslim children from a father’s perspective.
I hope and pray that my work will be a source of guidance for both mothers and fathers on raising Muslim children, if not at the very least a catalyst for a call-to-action for fathers to assume their respective roles. May Allahﷻ guide all of us to be the best parents for our children and raise our children amongst the righteous to be the coolness of our eyes.
Hajj 2000- I find myself at the time of Tahujjud standing humbled with all my faults in front of the ancient house of Allahﷻ trying to collect myself under the shade of night, to muster up the courage to address my Lord in efforts to ask…
What makes me think my voice would reach Him amongst a legion of believers who have come to this place with their righteous deeds and all I have to offer Him are years ladened with transgressions? How do I ask? Where do I begin…
Standing at six feet, I began to shrink both in stature and in spirit. Tears began to swell up in my eyes as I stood as still as a statue. I truly felt more insignificant than the idea of the word “below” itself. As natural as rain falling from the sky to the ground, in one action I collapsed into prostration, embracing the ground as if it were life itself. There I remained for what seemed like an eternity— sometimes praising Him, other times asking for His forgiveness as my body shook uncontrollably with tears running a constant flow. I had no concept of my surroundings or that the world existed at all. In that moment in the darkness, I just felt it was me, Him and the appeal that I had to make. I knew that I had no right. It was not my place to ask and that I had come with nothing to offer, but there was no place else to go, nobody else to turn to. I maintained my sajdah for what seemed like an eternity. Eventually, I summoned up my courage and brought the sentiments of my heart to my lips:
“Ya Allahﷻ pair me with a righteous wife who will give me righteous children.”
At that moment, my prayers that were for me were for them. My tears flowed for them, whatever ramblings came from my mouth were for the unborn children that I have never met. If you think about it, it seemed foolish, so absurd, but in my bones, it felt so right. I didn’t even have a wife and there I was begging for righteous children. The truth in context was that I wanted something very special from the Treasury of His Majesty and I came to His House to humble myself to get it.
It was on the sound of the Fajr adhan that I finally arose from my prostration. My cheeks and kurta (shirt) wet with tears and all that was left was contemplation. It seemed as if I was transitioning into yet a different train of thought.
I began to take account of who I am, what I wanted and what I needed to do. I didn’t know the first thing about being a husband or father. I didn’t want to repeat the same mistakes I made as a son. I wanted my children to have the best in this world and the next but didn’t have a clue on how to pave that path. I wanted to endeavor to strive to be at least as good as my own father and put my family first. In all honesty, as these thoughts began flooding my head, I felt totally helpless and totally overwhelmed.
I knew that I would have to sacrifice, upgrade my character, prioritize to put the pleasure of Allahﷻ at the forefront of my thoughts and actions. This was a huge shift from how I lived my life for the past couple of decades. My time was mine, my money was mine and I impulsively chased my desires. All that had to change!
Change Brings Change
One thing did, however, make sense to me:
I thought to myself that if I laid down the track based upon my style of thinking, it would certainly be disastrous. I needed to consult with scholars and gather as much information as I could to construct a path in accordance with what Allahﷻ has prescribed to give myself a chance at achieving my dream.
This, I concluded, was what was needed to be done in order to ensure a chance of success. I felt resolute to act upon it. At that thought, the Muaddhin began to recite the Iqama and the entire ordeal concluded.
Six months later, I found myself in the living room of Dr. Ahmed Muneeruddin whose lineage goes back directly to AmĪr-ul-Mu’minīn, Umar Al-Farooq (May Allahﷻ be pleased with him). I was witness to one of the most profound events of my lifetime. My father (the late) Dr. Abdus-Salam Syed recited Khutbah Al-Haajah for the company that was present, which included immediate family from both sides. He then turned his attention to his host and began to declare with profound emotion:
“Praise to be Allahﷻ and blessings and peace be upon His final Prophet and Messenger Muhammadﷺ. I enjoin you to fear Allahﷻ. I have come to you to engage your noblest daughter Maria Muneeruddin to my son Jameel Abdul Syed in accordance with the Sunnah of the Prophetﷺ and the pleasure of Allah ﷻ .”
He then went on to conclude with Du’a for happiness, well being, prosperity, that the beginning and end of this affair should be on the straight path and that this union should bare righteous children in the future.
She was going to be the mother of my children
It is noteworthy that I had only known my future wife then for two weeks in total with no more than two physical meetings and a half a dozen phone calls.
She presented very strong qualities, which matched all of the qualifiers outlined by the Prophetﷺ: Beauty, wealth, status and religion. As most prospective couples do, we dialogued back and forth measuring each other up against our ideals, but truthfully my decision to pursue her at the end had little to do with any of her questions to my answers. Rather it was the fact that when I looked into her eyes, I saw the mother of my future children and I knew that no other woman on the face of this earth could hold that status for me. It was a feeling I knew to be true and the final criterion for my decision that I feel my heart was guided by Allahﷻ. The series of events that led to my engagement was idiosyncratic and unplanned. In my experience, when Allahﷻ wants something to happen, it happens rather quickly and arrives unannounced and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.
Our marriage took place on July 1st, 2001 in Ontario, Canada. Shortly thereafter she became pregnant and learned that it was going to be a baby boy. Both of our families were elated. It was the first child of the next generation on both sides. We debated back and forth about the name until we finally reached a unanimous decision: Muhammad Jibril Syed. Maria constantly listened to Surah Al-Baqarah during her pregnancy and prayed for him during this eight-month period. My job was to keep her happy!
On March 13th, 2002, Jibril had arrived at Crittenton Hospital in Rochester, Michigan honoring both Maria and me with the titles of parents. I gingerly picked up the boy and took him to my father who raised the adhan in his right ear and the iqama in his left as per the tradition of The Prophetﷺ. The feeling was indescribable. A feeling of pride, disbelief, elation. Maria felt the same, but she was obviously exhausted. The hospital was flooded with friends and family— it was total chaos. I had to escape, if only for a moment.
I broke away from the excitement and retreated to the hospitals chapel to pray. After prayer, I sat by myself in that room and reflected on how I got to this point. That prayer I made during Tahajjud in front of the Kaabah. It was the beginning of my journey into fatherhood. My heart softened and I began to cry. SubhanAllah, I thought to myself. “Just look at the plan of Allahﷻ. He didn’t turn a deaf ear to the pleas of a sinner that day. He’s given me so much in such a short period of time. I promised myself that I would not be an ungrateful slave. That I would honor the trust that He’s bestowed on me with this child and any other future children by devoting myself to try and raise them in accordance with His pleasure.
As I walked out of the chapel and back to my family, I thought to myself: “I wonder what he’s gonna call me…”
Fall Apart: Be Weak to Find Strength in Allah
Growing up in Jeddah, every evening in Ramadan, we would pile into our car and whiz off to the mosque for Taraweeh prayers to Shoaibi Mosque and spend a few spell-bound hours under the reassuring baritones of Sheikh Abdullah Basfar. His beautiful voice became the anthem of my childhood in many ways but more than his voice, it was the building of tradition and memory that became ingrained in my system. By doing the same thing, day in, day out, year in, year out, my parents gave us a sense of stability and predictability that set the tone for our entire adolescence.
How that rhythm seeped into the very bones of who I am is something I am still discovering well into adulthood.
Last night, standing in my grandmother’s garden in Karachi, I experienced my first Taraweeh Khatam-e-Quran since leaving my parents home in Jeddah so many years ago. It is also, incidentally, my first Ramadan without both my parents, who last year seemingly decided they would much rather be together in Jannah than spend more time in this rubbish world and in quick succession, returned to their Maker, leaving me understandably grieving, awash in memories, struggling to steer my ship.
And so it was, that by the time the imam reached Surah Qadr, I was chokey. By Surah Kawthar, I had tears streaming down my face. And by the time the last three surahs, the comforting Quls, began, I was openly sobbing. Probably more openly than what is considered socially appropriate…but honestly, I was restraining myself. Because what I actually felt like doing was throwing my head back and howling up at the sky. Thankfully, I was flanked by women who knew, who understood, who with tears in their own eyes, let me be with my heaving shoulders and a chest that felt it would crack open under the weight of my emotions.
As the imam had recited surah after surah and the end of the Quran had approached, the ghosts of Ramadan Past had flooded into me and my body had remembered. It had remembered years and years of experiencing that same excitement, that same sense of weight as Sheikh Abdullah Basfar gently and methodically guided us over the course of the month through the Book of all books, that same uplifting, heartbreaking, momentous trepidation of offering something up to Him with the hope that He would bestow something shining in return.
Had this Book been revealed to a mountain, the mountain would have crumbled. You get a tiny glimpse of that weight when you complete a khatam. Here I am, Allah, here I am, in my little hole-y dinghy, with my itty bitty crumbs of ibaadah. Pliss to accept?
Back in Jeddah, after the khatam, we would pile back in the car and go for ice cream. Last night in Karachi, after the khatam, the Imam gave a short talk and in it he mentioned how we are encouraged to cry when conversing with Allah. We should beg and plead and insist and argue and tantrum with Him because He loves to be asked again and again. We live in a world of appropriateness, political correctness, carefully curated social media feeds and the necessity of putting our best, most polished face forwards at all times. How freeing then, that when we turn to our Lord, we are specifically instructed to abandon our sense of control. All the facades and the curtains are encouraged to be dropped away and we stand stripped to our souls in front of Him. In other words, He loves it when we fall apart. Which is exactly what I had just done.
Last night, I found myself wondering what exactly had I cried so hard over. Which tears were for Him and the desperate desire for His mercy? Which were for the loveliness of the Quran, the steadying rhythm of it, not just verse to verse but also, cover to cover? Which tears were for the already achey yearning of yet another Ramadan gone past? Which were for my breaking heart that has to soon face my first Eid day and all the days of my life without my beloved Mumma and Baba? Which tears were of gratitude that I get to stand on an odd night of the best time of the year, alongside some of my dearest people, in the courtyard of a house full of childhood memories, under the vast, inky, starry sky and standing there, I get to fall apart, freely, wholly, soul-satisfyingly?
And which tears were of a searingly humbling recognition, that I am so wildly privileged to have this faith of mine – the faith that promises if we navigate the choppy dunya waters right, we will be reunited with our loved ones in a beautiful, eternal place, that if we purposely, and repeatedly crumble under the weight of our belief in Him and His plans, our future is bright?
Today, I’m convinced that it doesn’t matter why I cried. Because here is what I do know:
1. “If Allah knows good in your hearts, He will give you better than what was taken from you…” (8:70)
2. “If Allah intends good for someone, then he afflicts him with trials.” Prophet Muhammad ﷺ
3. “Wondrous is the affair of the believer for there is good for him in every matter and this is not the case with anyone except the believer. If he is happy, then he thanks Allah and thus there is good for him. If he is harmed, then he shows patience and thus there is good for him.” Prophet Muhammad ﷺ
In losing my parents, I have drawn closer to Allah. And though I miss them dizzyingly, I am so thankful that through the childhood they gave me, through the anchoring to the Quran they gifted me with, through their own tears that I witnessed during those long-ago khatams in the Shoaibi Mosque in Jeddah, they left me with the knowledge that if in losing them, I have gained even an atom’s worth more of His pleasure, then that’s a pretty great bargain.
As a parent of three young ones myself, I’ve spent my days teaching my children: be strong, be strong, be strong. Stand tall, stay firm, be sturdy in the face of the distracting, crashing waves of the world. But now I know something just as important to teach them: be weak, be weak, be weak.
Crumble in front of Him, fall apart, break open so that His Light may enter and be the only thing to fill you. It’s not easy but it will be essential for your survival in the face of any loss, grief, trial and despair this world throws your way. It will help you, finger to tongue, always know which way the wind is blowing and which way to steer your ship. Straight in to the sun, always. To Jannah. Because how wondrous are the affairs of us Muslims that when it comes to our sorrows and our hopes, out there on the horizon of Allah’s wise plans, it all shimmers as one – The grief of what is, the memory of what was and brighter than both, the glittering, iridescent promise of what will be.
A Word On Muslim Attitudes Toward Abortion
The Qur’an describes Muslims committed to its mores as “a moderate nation,” and that sense of balance qualifies them to stand as “witnesses over humanity” (Q 2:143). Contemporary Muslims revel in this assertion, especially when it seems that “Islam” proposes a via media solution to a highly polarizing subject as abortion. What currently constitutes “Islam” on a given topic, however, often reflects the personal prerogative apparently offered to the average Muslim by a list of diverse legal perspectives. In other words, the mere fact that multiple legal opinions exist on one or more topics is now taken as license to appropriate any one of them, without any deep ethical reflection on the implications of the opinion, however anomalous it may be.
“Islam is the golden mean between all ethical extremes” is what certain Muslims would assert. So if one extreme bars abortion under all circumstances and the other seeks to allow it throughout the duration of the pregnancy, one would assume that Islam must land somewhere in the middle, both forbidding and allowing abortion in certain circumstances. This moral assumption isn’t far from the truth. However, the mere existence of multiple opinions on a topic does not mean that each opinion has equal validity, nor does it mean that every opinion is valid for one to adopt. Similarly, “Islam” or “Islamic law” cannot be summed up into a simple formula like “majority rules” or “when in doubt about prohibition or allowance, the action is, therefore, merely disliked.”
Legal positivism plagues both religious and secular-minded people. Just as an act does not acquire its moral strength simply because it is legal, morally appropriate opinions are not always codified into law. If it is true that any unjust law is no law at all, where is the injustice and to whom is it being perpetrated against in the debate between pro-lifers and pro-choicers? Is it deemed unjust to prevent a pregnant woman from disposing of an “insignificant lifeless part of her body” that no one other than herself should be able to decide what to do with? Or is one “depriving a helpless growing person” of the opportunity and right to exist after its Creator initiated its journey into the world? Does a law that prevents a woman impregnated by a family member or rapist from an abortion oppress her? Or does such a law protect the life of a vulnerable fetus, who, like other weak members of society, is expected to be protected by the strong? Does it do both or neither? And if one is taking the “life” of this fetus, what proof is there that it is a living creature?
While these are all extremely important questions, this missive is neither intended necessarily to answer them nor to resolve today’s raging political debate. The main goal here is to offer ideas that should be on the minds of Muslims when deciding to join such debates or promoting the idea that their “religion” provides the best solution to social polarization, when by “religion” we mean the opinion of a small minority of scholars in some place and time in Muslim history.
Islamic law is very sophisticated; the legislative process is not facile, nor is it a place where any Muslim is entitled to pragmatically select the opinions that he/she finds attractive and accommodating. It demands knowledge of particular aims, the ability to properly realize those aims in the lives of people, and understanding the epistemic and metaphysical foundations that ensure that judgments conform to coherent rationale. In other words, the laws of Islam and the opinions of jurists cannot be divorced from their philosophical and evidentiary underpinnings. Otherwise, the thread holding the moral tapestry of Islam together falls apart completely at its seams.
Is Abortion Lawful in Islam?
Many past and present have written about the Islamic view of abortion. The ancient scholars prohibited it at all stages of the pregnancy and made practically no exception. Some would later allow for it only if the mother’s life was in danger. That notwithstanding, six popular legal opinions exist regarding abortion:
- Unlawful (haram), in all stages of the pregnancy.
- Permitted (ja’iz), during the first 40 days but unlawful (haram) afterwards.
- Disliked (makruh), before the passage of 40 days but unlawful (haram) afterwards.
- Permitted (ja’iz), if it is from illicit intercourse (zina).
- Permitted (ja’iz) without conditions, before 120 days.
- Permitted only for a legitimate excuse.
The late mufti of Fez, Morocco, Shaykh Muhammad Al-Ta’wil (d. 2015) said,
The first opinion forbidding that during the [first] 40 [days] and beyond, regardless of whether or not it is due to an excuse, even if from illicit intercourse, is the view of the supermajority [of jurists].
The Qur’an is a Book of Ethical Teaching
The reasons for the cavalier attitude among contemporary Muslims about abortion are multiple. The most significant reason may be that at times Islam is seen as a synonym for shariah. The truth, however, is that the shariah is only part of Islam. Islam covers law (fiqh), creed (aqidah), and ethics (akhlaq). Even though the Qur’an consists of laws, it is not a book of law. It is a book of ethical teachings. Merely 10%–12% of the Qur’an relates to legal injunctions. It is not characteristic of the Qur’an to enjoin upon Muslims to command what is “compulsory” or “recommended” and to forbid what is “unlawful” and “disliked.” What is common though is for it to command us to do what is “ma’ruf” and to avoid what is “munkar.”
“Ma’ruf” and “munkar” can be translated respectively as “what is socially commendable” and “what is socially condemnatory.” This is in spite of the fact that social acceptability and unacceptability are often subjective. This does not mean that the Qur’an is morally relativistic. It is quite the contrary. What this means, however, is that the Qur’an’s aim is not merely to teach Muslims what one can and cannot do. It means, rather, that the Qur’an has a greater concern with what Muslims “should” and “should not” do. For this very reason, the companions of the Prophet seldom differentiated between his encouragement and discouragement of acts by the juristic values of disliked, unlawful, recommended, and compulsory. Rather, if the Prophet encouraged something beneficial, they complied. And, if he discouraged from something potentially harmful, they refrained.
The Qur’an permits many actions. However, to permit an act is not equivalent to encouraging it. It permits polygyny (Q 4:3), the enslavement of non-Muslim war captives (Q 8:70), and marrying the sister of one’s ex-wife (Q 4:23). Similarly, some Muslim jurists validate marriage agreements wherein the man secretly intends to divorce the woman after a certain period of time known only to him. This is the case, even though the average Muslim man is monogamous; practically no Muslim today believes it is moral to enslave a person; the vast majority of Muslims find the marriage of one’s sister-in-law upon the death of one’s wife to be taboo; and they chide men who marry with a temporary intention of marriage. If the mere existence of permission or legal opinion permitting a socially condemnable act is a legitimate reason to adopt it, why would Muslims be uneasy about these cases but inclined to take a different stance when it comes to abortion?
The proper Islamic position on any given issue of public or private concern should not only consider what the law or jurists have to say about the topic. Rather, one should also consider how theology and ethics connect with those laws or opinions. That is to say, one should ask, “What wisdom does God seek to realize from this injunction or opinion?” assuming that such a wisdom can be identified. Secondly, one need ask,
“Who and how many will be helped or harmed if this action is undertaken?”
The Qur’an is the primary source of Islam’s ethics. And, one often observes a major difference between its morality and the morality validated by certain jurists, often lacking a clear connection to Qur’anic and prophetic precepts. That notwithstanding, a juristic opinion can sometimes masquerade as one that is authentically Islamic, especially when it aims to appease or assuage a social or political concern. Consequently, one finds some contemporary scholars championing opinions simply because they exist, like that of mainstream Shafi’is who traditionally argued that the reason for jihad was to rid the world of unIslamic doctrines (kufr); or certain contemporaries who validated taking of the lives of innocent women, children, and other non-combatants in suicide bombings; those who endorsed the execution of Jews for converting to Christianity and vice versa; or others who classified slaves as animals rather than human beings? For, surely, there are Muslim jurists who validate each one of these opinions, despite their evidentiary weakness. Hence, simply because there is an opinion allowing for abortions does not necessarily mean that it is something Islam allows, even in cases of rape and incest.
When Does Life Begin?
Medieval Muslim scholars, naturally, lacked the scientific tools that we have today to determine whether or not the fetus growing in its mother’s womb was actually a viable creation and a living creature from conception. Other than when the fetus first showed signs of movement in its mother’s belly, scholars took their cues from the Qur’an and prophetic tradition on when the fetus possessed a soul or if it did so at all. For this reason, very few scholars have offered clear answers to the question of when human life begins, while they agreed that upon 120 days, the child is definitely a living person.
According to the Andalusian scholar of Seville, Ibn al-‘Arabi (d. 1148),
The child has three states: 1) one state prior to coming into [material] existence …, 2) a state after the womb takes hold of the sperm …, and 3) a state after its formation and before the soul is breathed into it …, and when the soul is breathed into it, it is the taking of a life. 
Al-Ghazzali (d. 1111) said,
Coitus interruptus (‘azl) is not like abortion and infanticide (wa’d) because it [abortion] is a crime against an actualized existence (mawjud hasil). And, it has stages, the first being the stage of the sperm entering into the womb, then mixing with the woman’s fluid, and then preparing for the acceptance of life. To disturb that is a crime. Then, if it becomes a clot (‘alaqah) or a lump (mudghah), the crime is more severe. Then, if the soul is breathed into it and the physical form is established, the crime increases in gravity. 
These are some of the most explicit statements from Medieval Muslim scholars; they deemed that life begins at inception. The Qur’an states, “Does man think that he will be left for naught (sudan)? Was he not a sperm-drop ejected from sexual fluid?” (75:36-37). In other words, the “sperm-drop” phase is the start of human existence, and existence is the basis for human dignity, as with other living creatures. The human being was a “sperm-drop.” If that is so, this strongly suggests that meddling with this fluid, even before the fetus begins to grow and develop limbs and organs, would be to violate the sanctity of a protected creature. The Qur’an further says, “Did We not create you from a despicable fluid? And then, We placed you in a firm resting place, until a defined scope” (Q 77:20-22). The use of the second person plural pronoun (you) in these verses strongly suggests that the start of human life begins at inception. This is not to mention the multiple verses forbidding one from killing one’s children due to poverty, fear of poverty, or out of shame or folly.
The Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad similarly offers sufficient indication that even though the fetus is not fully formed, it is still an actualized existence and living creature. The Prophet reportedly said, “The miscarried fetus will remain humbly lying with its face down at the gates of heaven saying, ‘I will only enter when my parents do.’” Similarly, it is reported that when the second caliph ‘Umar b. al-Khattab ordered that an adulteress discovered to be pregnant be stoned to death, the companion, Mu’adh b. Jabal, said to him, “Even if you have a right to punish her, you do not have a right to punish what is in her belly.” The Prophet and his followers after him never executed a pregnant woman guilty of a capital crime until she gave birth and someone had taken on the care of the child. In addition, they imposed a hefty fine on those who were directly responsible for a woman’s miscarriage. All of this indicates that the fetus is to be respected from the time the male’s sperm reaches the ovum of the woman.
Imam Al-Razi’s Ethical Reflection on the Qur’anic Verse, 6:140
God says in the Qur’an, “Ruined are those who murder their children foolishly without knowledge and forbid what God has provided them with while inventing falsehoods against God. They have strayed and are not guided aright” (6:140).
About this verse, Imam Fakr al-Din al-Razi (d. 1210) comments,
Many issues relate to the verse: the first issue is that God mentioned, in the preceding verse, their murder of their children while depriving themselves of the sustenance that God provided them with. Then, God brings these two matters together in this verse while clarifying to them all that is a logical consequence of this judgment, such as ruin, folly, lack of knowledge, the deprivation of what God has provided them, false statements against God, straying, and the privation of guidance. So these are seven characteristics, each of which is an independent cause for censure. The first is ruin (khusran), and that is because a child is an immense blessing from God upon a person, so when one strives to terminate its existence, he/she suffers great ruin and especially deserves great censure in life and a severe punishment in the hereafter due to terminating its existence. Censure in life is warranted because people say one has murdered one’s child out of fear of it eating one’s food. And there is no censure in life greater than such. Punishment in the hereafter is warranted because the closeness resulting from childbirth is one of the greatest sources of love. Then, upon achieving it, one sets out to deliver the greatest of harms to it [the child], thereby committing one of the gravest sins. As a consequence, one of the greatest punishments is warranted. The second is folly (safahah), which is an expression of condemnable frivolousness. That is because the murder of the child is only committed in light of the fear of poverty. And, even though poverty is itself a harm, murder is a much graver harm. Additionally, this murder is actualized, while the poverty [feared] is merely potential (mawhum). So enforcing the maximum harm in anticipation of a potential minimal harm is, without doubt, folly. The third regards God’s saying, “without knowledge.” The intent is that this folly was only born of the absence of knowledge. And there is no doubt that ignorance is one of the most objectionable and despicable of things. The fourth regards depriving one’s self of what God has made lawful. It is also one of the worst kinds of stupidity, because one denies one’s self those benefits and good things, becoming entitled by reason of that deprivation of the severest torment and chastisement. The fifth is blaspheming God. And it is known that boldness against God and blaspheming Him is one of the cardinal sins. The sixth is straying from prudence (rushd) with relation to the interests of the faith (din) and the benefits found in the world. The seventh is that they are not guided aright. The benefit of it is that a person might stray from the truth but may return to proper guidance. So God clarifies that they have strayed without ever obtaining proper direction. So it is established that God has censured those described as having murdered children and denied what God has made lawful for them, with these seven characteristics necessitating the worse types of censure. And that is the ultimate hyperbole.
The Ethical Contentions of a Moroccan Mufti
We have already quoted Shaykh Muhammad Al-Ta’wil of Morocco. Like the medieval scholars, he maintained a very conservative opinion on abortion, allowing it only if the mother’s life was at risk. The following is a list of his nine ethical contentions against abortion and those scholarly opinions allowing it. The bulk of what follows is a literal translation of his views. Regarding why abortion is immoral, he says:
- Firstly, it is a transgression against a vulnerable creature who has committed neither sin nor crime, a denial of it from its right to existence and life that God has given it and Islam has guaranteed as well as the taking of a life in some situations.
- Secondly, it is a clear challenge to God’s will and a demonstratively defiant act meant to stubbornly contend with God’s action, creative will, and judgment. And that manifests itself in the murder of what God has created, the voiding of its existence, and a commission of what He deems unlawful.
- Thirdly, it a decisively demonstrative proof of hard-heartedness, the absence of mercy, and the loss of motherly and fatherly affection or rather the loss of humanity from the hearts of those who daringly undertake the act of abortion with dead hearts and wicked dark souls.
- Fourthly, it is the epitome of self-centeredness, selfishness, narcissism, and sacrifice of what is most precious¾one’s own flesh and blood, sons and daughters¾to gratify the self and enjoy life and its attractions far away from the screams of infants, the troubles of children, and the fatigue resulting from them.
- Fifthly, it is a practical expression of one’s bad opinion of God, the lack of trust in His promise to which He decisively bounded Himself to guarantee the sustenance of His creation and servants. It also shows ignorance of His saying, “And, there is not a single creature on earth except that God is responsible for its sustenance, just as He knows its resting place and place from which it departs. Every thing is in a manifest record (Q 11:6); as well as His saying, “And do not kill your children due to poverty. We will provide for you as well as for them” (Q 6:151); in addition to His saying, “And, do not kill your children out of fear of poverty. We will provide for them and for you” (Q 17:31). This is in addition to other verses and prophetic traditions that indicate that all provisions are in God’s control and that no soul will die until it exacts its sustenance in full as the Prophet said.
- Sixthly, it is a bloody war against the Islamic goal, introduced by the Prophet and to which he called and strongly encouraged, of population growth and increase in posterity.
- Seventhly, it undermines the aims of the Islamic moral code that considers the preservation of offspring to be one of the five essentials upon which the sanctified revealed moral code is built.
- Eighthly, it goes against the nature to which God has disposed both animals and human beings to of love of children, childbearing, and the survival of progeny….
- Ninthly, it is the grossest display of bad manners towards God and the epitome of ingratitude towards a blessing and the rejection of it. And that is because both pregnancy and children are among God’s favors upon His servants and among His gifts to the expectant mother and her husband.
These are some important matters of consideration. Every Muslim, woman, and man, will ultimately need to decide what burdens he/she is prepared to meet God with. While abortion is an emotionally charged matter, especially in Western politics, emotions play no role in the right or wrong of legislation. Although our laws currently may not consider a fetus aborted before its survival outside of the womb to be viable, the Muslim who understands that legal positivism does not trump objective or moral truths should be more conscientious and less cavalier in his/her attitude about the taking of life and removing the viability of life.
 Al-Ta’wil, Muhammad b. Muhammad b. Qasim. Shadharat al-Dhahab fi ma jadda fi Qadaya al-Nikah wa al-Talaq wa al-Nasab. Hollad: Sunni Pubs, 2010, p. 148.
 Muhammad b. ‘Abd Al-Baqi Al-Zurqani quotes Ibn ‘Abd Al-Barr as saying,
They unanimously agreed that anyone who marries without mention of a particular condition while having the intention to remain with her for a period that he has in mind is permitted (ja’iz), and it is not a temporary marriage. However, Malik said this is not an attractive thing to do (laysi hadha min al-jamil). Nor is it part the conduct of moral people (la min akhlaq al-nas). Al-‘Awza’i took a solitary view saying that it is a temporary marriage. And, there is no good in it (la khayra fihi). ‘Ayyad stated it.
Al-Zurqani, Muhammad b. ‘Abd Al-Baqi b. Yusuf. Sharh al-Zurqani ‘ala Muwatta’ al-Imam Malik. Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, (no date), 3/201.
 Hafiz Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani said about the prophetic tradition, “Kill whoever changes his lifepath”, “Some Shafi’i jurists clung to it concerning the killing of anyone who changes from one non-Islamic faith to another non-Islamic faith (din kufr)…”
Al-‘Asqalani, Ahmad b. ‘Ali b. Hajar. Fath Al-Bari Sharh Sahih al-Bukhari. Muhammad Fu’ad ‘Abd Al-Baqi Edition. Riyadh: Al-Maktabah Al-Salafiyyah, (no date), 12/272.
 Al-Ra’ini, Muhammad al-Hattab. Qurrah al-‘Ayn bi Sharh Waraqat al-Imam al-Haramayn. Beirut: Mu’assassah al-Kutub al-Thaqafiyyah, 2013, p. 78.
 Al-Wazzani, Abu ‘Isa Sidi al-Mahdi. Al-Nawazil Al-Jadidah Al-Kubra fi ma li Ahl Fas wa ghayrihim min al-Badw wa al-Qura al-Musammah bi Al-Mi’yar Al-Jadid Al-Jami’ Al-Mu’rib ‘an Fatawa al-Muta’akhkhirin min ‘Ulama al-Maghrib. Rabat: Wizarah al-Awqaf wa al-Shu’un al-Islamiyyah, 1997, 3/376.
 Al-Ghazali, Muhammad Abu Hamid. Ihya ‘Ulum al-Din. Beirut: Dar Ibn Hazm, p. 491.
 This is how Qadi Abu Bakr b. al-‘Arabi relates the report as related by Al-Wazzani in his Nawazil 3/376. In the Musnad of Abu Hanifah, however, the Prophet reportedly said, “You will see the miscarried fetus filled with rage.” When it is asked, “Enter Paradise”, it will respond, “Not until my parents come in [too].” Al-Hanafi, Mulla ‘Ali Al-Qari. Sharh Musnad Abi Hanifah. Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1985, p. 252.
 Ibn ‘Asakir, Abu al-Qasim ‘Ali b. al-Hasan. Tarikh Madinah Dimashq wa Dhikr Fadliha wa Tasmiyah man hallaha min al-Amathil aw ijtaza bi Nawahiha min Waridiha wa Ahliha. Beirut: Dar al-Fikr, 1997, p. 342.
 Among the fines due for causing the miscarriage of a fetus are: 1) prison or flogging; 2) the penance for murder (kaffarah), which is the freeing of a slave, fasting two consecutive months which is compulsory for Shafi’is and recommended for Malikis; and 3) the gifting of a slave to the woman who lost her child.
 Al-Razi, Fakr al-Dina. Tafsir al-Fakr al-Razi al-Mushtahir bi Al-Tafsir Al-Kabir wa Mafatih al-Ghayb. Beirut: Dar al-Fikr, 1981, pp. 220-221
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