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Islamic Studies and India: Is This the Right Place for You? | The Motherland – VI

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Prelude | Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI

The “The Motherland” series will go over the benefits and challenges of studying Islam overseas in India, institutions of learning there in, and Nihal Khan’s journey of studying at Nadwatul ‘Ulama in the 2014-2015 academic calendar year. The subsequent articles in this series will detail his experiences and reflections from his travels and studies in India.

. . .

Conclusion: Is India the Right Place for You?

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Students present at a seminar at Darul Uloom Deoband.

Traveling India as an American is awesome. Regardless of your background, I think everyone should see India to understand how a seventh of the world’s population lives, learns, and teaches. Especially if you are of Indian origin, you should be connected to your roots to give you a better perception of yourself and where you are going.

As for students seeking to study the traditional Islamic sciences, studying Islam in India requires much sacrifice and is no walk in the park.

With so many potential countries and institutions to study Islam from, the question arises if India is the right place for you. Personally, I view this is to be a very loaded question which has many nuances to be unpacked, so for now the few points below will suffice for this discussion.

The Necessity of Clear-Cut, Quantifiable, Practical, and Functional Intentions

If I could add more adverbs above, I would. Regardless of location, so many students end up enrolling at an Islamic university without a solid individual understanding of why they want to study Islam overseas. You need to ask yourself: what are you looking for? Why are you looking for it? Can you get it in the west? If not, then why not? What will you gain from traveling overseas? Are you ready to sacrifice regular comforts such as hot water, clean food, an air conditioner in a heat, a heater in the cold, etc? What do you plan to practically do with whatever you gain from traveling overseas? (Don’t use the old “Allah will provide” card, because part of relying upon Allah is making preparations yourself). This is a partial list obviously. A serious seeker must learn to ask the right questions before looking for right answers.

 

Efficacy and Precision in Hadith Studies, Fiqh, and Arabic Literature

If you are looking for a place that is rigorous in the study, memorization, understanding, and dissection of hadith literature, fiqh studies, and Arabic literature, then India is the right place to study. Though learning Urdu beforehand, having a previous background in Islamic studies and stipulating the first point above may prove to be very high barriers of entry. An individual seeking to expand their knowledge in this science will find the larger institutions in northern India to be a delightful experience—specifically Darul ‘Uloom Deoband (for fiqh), Mazahir al-’Uloom (for hadith), and Nadwatul ‘Ulama (for Arabic). You can navigate around the Urdu if your Arabic is up to par, but the other two points I mentioned are non-negotiables for obvious reasons.

05 - Delhi, Gujarat, and Mumbai (44)

Minaret of a masjid in Gujarat


The Need to Know Where you Came From

Though Gov. Piyush “Bobby” Jindal thinks having a connection to your heritage in any way at all by hyphenating your ethnicity makes you less of an American, the truth is that if you are not a Native American, you came from some country over the Atlantic or Pacific Ocean.

Ethnic groups take pride in where they came from within the United States. Be it Gambia, Senegal, Nigeria, England, Ireland, France, Japan, Palestine, Jordan, Yemen, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Bosnia, Albania, Turkey, etc. If your parents immigrated from another country, then make it a goal to visit their ancestral places to learn about your ancestors that lived and prospered in those areas for over a thousand years. Not to mention that emigration out of a certain culture was not common at a grandiose level up until a few hundreds years ago. So returning back to revisit those places may connect you to a history and culture which you may be an undiscovered part of your identity.

. . .

This completes the summary of my first year in India. I look forward to sharing more of my experiences, travels, and reflections with you.

If you would like to follow me throughout my journeys in India, feel free to “Like” my Facebook page and follow me on Twitter.

Nihal Ahmad Khan is currently a student of Islamic Law and Theology at Nadwatul 'Ulama in Lucknow, India. He was born and raised in New Jersey and holds a bachelor's degree in Psychology and a minor in Business from Montclair State University and a diploma in Arabic from Bayyinah Institute's Dream Program. He began memorizing the Qur’an at Darul Uloom New York and finished at the age of seventeen at the Saut al-Furqan Academy in Teaneck, New Jersey. He went on to lead taraweeh every year since then. Along with his education, Nihal has worked in various capacities in the Muslim community as an assistant Imam, youth director, and a Muslim Chaplain at correctional facilities and social service organizations. Nihal is also an MA candidate in Islamic Studies from the Hartford Seminary in Connecticut.

6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Waleed

    December 2, 2015 at 1:02 PM

    Salam Nihal bhai
    I believe you are in your final year of Aaliya. You planning on doing dawrah in mazahir?

  2. Avatar

    Naz

    December 3, 2015 at 12:42 AM

    Assalamalaikum brother,

    You mentioned in your article about keeping in touch with your roots and knowing where you came from.

    But in light of the current situation of muslims in India, do you think its safe?

    What I mean to say is while you studied there, do you feel there is great oppression upon muslims?

    How do madrasahs operate in these conditions of harsh oppression much less regular practicing muslims?

    What is the climate for muslims there? Do they have to renounce their faith to live normally? Is it like that only in rural areas or large metropolitan areas as well

  3. Avatar

    Abubakar sadiq usman

    December 3, 2015 at 12:51 PM

    Muslim can seek anywhere they whish

  4. Avatar

    Abubakar sadiq usman

    December 3, 2015 at 1:19 PM

    Muslim can seek knowlage anywhere they whish

  5. Avatar

    Umm hadi

    December 12, 2015 at 7:43 AM

    Asalam a laikum wrwb,
    Mabrook on your pursuit for knowledge. Barak Allahu Feek.

    Initially, I happened to read your series vi, which for my own reasons persuaded me to read the other 5. But unfortunately I didn’t get the answer to it.
    I was eager to know about your core subjects, the teachers, the hold over the subject once one passes out and more of your experiences within the institute as a student. How many years is the course, how many levels are for each of em? Hope you add them to form another series. May Allah keep your passion for gaining knowledge forever.
    As Allama Iqbaal said, “Ya Rab! Dil-e-Muslim Ko Woh Zinda Tamana De
    Jo Qalb Ko Garma De, Jo Rooh Ko Tarpa De”

    And Yes, Br Nihal
    “tundi-e-baad e mukhalif say na ghabra aey uqaab….
    ya tau chalti hai tujhay oncha uranay k leya”

    WaSalaam,

    Taqabbal Allahu minna wa minkum.

  6. Avatar

    MH

    April 18, 2016 at 4:24 PM

    Assalamu’Alaykum wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuh!

    Am I the first to comment in 2016? Has this post been abandoned? Anyway, I must say that you got me hooked onto this series, Nihal bhai. I’ve had my own experiences with India and can relate to a lot of what you have written so far. Truly it is a different type of experience for those of us born and bred in the west – perhaps more so for you since you’re American. I hope that didn’t come out as discriminatory (sincere apologies if it did). I am African btw :)

    There are just two issues I’d like to tackle. One is just my own point of digression which anyone is free to follow or forsake. The other is a question.

    1. What experiences have you had with Tabligh Jamaat? Some of your pictures are from Delhi so I’m wondering if you were fortunate enough to visit Nizamuddeen Markaz. Are the students and teachers in Nadwa attached to the effort? Have you decided to do a khurooj once you are done with your studies?

    2. My point of digression may come out as a bit of a rant – I apologise in advance. I would like to tackle your point on ‘connecting with your roots’. I have no problems if someone wishes to pursue this point in their life. However, I cannot brush away the pain that personally stings me everytime this topic is brought up. Like you and many others, my parents also immigrated to my current country of residence. I am happy here and obviously I bear no ill will to any of my relatives from my parents’ country of origin. My problem lies with the fact that throughout my childhood (even now) I have been denied my right to be different. I don’t mind speaking a language. I do mind the fact that you have to shove it down my throat as my “mother tongue”. My dreams are in English, isn’t that enough to show that English is my mother language? Plus, why am I shoved away when I try to speak the native language of my current country (not English)? I have been constantly pushed into “loving my motherland” – a place which is still foreign to me. Love should be voluntary, right? Since when is love forced? Most people from my “motherland” find it repulsive that I am patriotic towards my current country. These are often the same people who are critical of me growing a beard, donning a thobe and frequenting masaajid. Of course, it is completely unwise to paint everyone with the same brush. However, it is extremely difficult and painful for me to simply disregard all that has happened to me. It’s gotten to the point where saying that I hate my “motherland” and “mother language” is no longer taboo or something that strikes me as sinful. For reasons of decency I try not to vocalise this too much.

    It is worth noting that I have visited my parents’ home many times in my life – perhaps too many times for comfort. Perhaps you guys in the West don’t visit that often, if at all (once again apologies for the sweeping statement). Had I been in that situation, I cannot deny that the prospect of visiting a place to which you have never been to yet share a connection with sounds utterly magical.

    P.S. Cool fact – my Dad’s family is originally from a different part of the subcontinent. They no longer have any ties to that place seeing that my Dad, the youngest of his siblings, grew up in my Mum’s country.

    P.P.S. My Chacha migrated to YET ANOTHER part of the subcontinent very early in his life and has been there since. He has adjusted well. Like me he is also not the greatest when it comes to my Dad’s language.

    Keeping both these points in mind it irks me that no one wields the mentality which is used to attack me against any of my Dad’s family or my Chacha (not that I want them to, I just find it bothersome that only I am being targeted when the same has been done by others before me). Sometimes I wonder if my young age is what others are exploiting. Personally I have decided to tank it all and focus my efforts on becoming a better Muslim, serving Allah and his deen first, followed by my (current) country.

    In any event, reading your articles leads me carelessly assume that you do a better job at handling Desi problems than myself. I am more than open to discussion on my views – perhaps you could even advise me as a brother. :)

    Maaf for my neo-bakwaas
    WaSalaam

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So You Are The Wali, Now What?

Dr Shadee Elmasry

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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.

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

Dr Usaama al-Azami

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Sepoy rebellion, Shaykh Hamza

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

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

Opposing all government vs opposing a government

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

A complex tradition

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

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

What does the tradition actually say?

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

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

Al-Ghazzali on confronting tyrants

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

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

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

Modern discontinuities and their high stakes

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

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

Shaykh Hamza on the nature of government

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

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

Where do we go from here?

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

And Allah knows best.

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Can Women Attend The Burial Of The Deceased?

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

Dr Usaama al-Azami

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Quran at graveyard, woman attend burial

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

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

Key positions and evidence

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

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

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

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

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

Interpreting the evidence

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

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

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

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

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

The fiqh of modernity

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

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

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

And God knows best.

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