Connect with us


The Study Quran: A Review

Mobeen Vaid



The Study Quran: A Review[1]


The Study Quran (SQ), a project of HarperCollins, can perhaps best be understood as an analog to its forerunner, the HarperCollins Study Bible. Originally published in 1993, the SB is an ecumenical project. Though various denominational actors and figures are cited, the SB bears no preference for one over another. Aside from its denominational accommodations, the SB is significant as an academic project – entry level courses in academic institutions teaching the Bible or Christianity routinely mandate the SB as required reading. As a result of its widespread use in academia, the SB has sold quite well, having exceeded 150,000 copies since initial publication. Therefore, although the SB may not hold much currency within devotional congregations, it retains a majority market share in academic environments.

Like the SB, the SQ is also an ecumenical work. The authors, a team of Islamic studies scholars led by Seyyed Hossein Nasr include Caner K. DagliMaria Massi DakakeJoseph E.B. Lumbard, and Mohammed Rustomaccount for both Shiite and Sunni perspectives when offering exegetical commentary and translating verses (see, for example, SQ commentary on Q 33.33), and have maintained translations of creed that can mutually support the various theological orientations that predominate in mainline Islamic thought (Atharī, Ash‘arī, Māturidī, and Mu‘tazilī). In addition to its ecumenicism, the SQ will likely become a bona fide standard for Islamic Studies courses in academic institutions throughout the world. Unlike the SB, the SQ enters an arena in which alternatives are sparse. Instructors have long struggled to provide accessible translations of the Quran, let alone commentaries that provide meaningful insight corresponding to seemingly ambiguous and otherwise difficult passages found in the Quran.

Quran Translations[2]: The Current Landscape

The challenge to provide accessible translations of the Quran has not been unique to academic environments. Originally published in 1934, Abdullah Yusuf Ali’s The Holy Qur’an: Translation and Commentary became a de facto standard in English-speaking communities well into the 90s. Though useful as an early translation, Yusuf Ali’s work was fraught with problems. The language of Yusuf Ali’s translation mimicked Victorian prose, employing terms that were not comprehensible to the majority of congregants. In addition to the linguistic shortcomings, the footnotes contained serious errors, particularly in earlier versions (later revisions eliminated much, though not all, of the truly egregious content). Finding alternatives, of course, was not easy back then. The most available alternative was perhaps Pickthall’s The Meaning of the Glorious Koran. Unfortunately, Pickthall, like Yusuf Ali, suffered from what Khaleel Mohammed described as “archaic prose and lack of annotation” (see Muhammad, 2005).

Over the past decade better translations have emerged, though few have gained serious resonance within the Muslim Community. Though not a particularly recent translation, Muhammad Asad’s The Message of the Qur’an has experienced broader adoption as of late, especially within the context of outreach. Despite its readable prose and accessible language, Asad’s translation contains explicit Mu‘tazilite bias resulting in gross interpolations and allegory in place of evident meanings. Take for example Q 13.27, which reads, “Now those who are bent on denying the truth [of the Prophet’s message] say, “Why has no miraculous sign ever been bestowed upon him from on high by his Sustainer?” Say: “Behold, God lets go astray him who wills [to go astray], just as He guides unto Himself all who turn unto Him”.” Notice here a few features of Asad’s translation – al-ladhīna kafarū is translated as “those who are bent on denying the truth,” instead of the more conventional “those who disbelieve.” This is not a mere terminological difference, but a theological distinction which I expect specialists in the field of theology to identify immediately. Perhaps even more meaningful is how yuḍillu man yashā’ has been translated – “God lets go astray him who wills [to go astray]” (emphasis mine) – an interpretation keeping with Asad’s Mu‘tazilite predilections. Elsewhere, Asad translates fa-zāda-humu l-lāhu maraḍā in Q 2.10 as, “so God lets their disease increase” (emphasis mine). These are not isolated incidents – miracles, any issue related to qadr, how ‘adl manifests and related items are frequently situated within a Mu‘tazilite worldview, rendering it problematic for the majority of Sunni congregations.

Another recent yet problematic translation of the Quran is Muhammad Taqi-ud-Din Al-Hilali and Muhammad Muhsin Khan’s The Noble Quran. Subsidized by the government of Saudi Arabia, copies of The Noble Quran can be commonly found in mosques both domestically and overseas. Unfortunately, the Hilali-Khan translation suffers from egregious errors and interpolations, advancing a particular orientation of Islam directly within the translation itself. Wherein prior translators largely constrained their efforts to translating the texts and footnoting their biases, like Asad, Hilali-Khan elected to interpose those biases directly into the translated words, making the distinction between God’s words and their own quite difficult. That many instances of interpolation repudiate Christianity and Judaism has not gone unnoticed, with Robert Crane referring to it as “perhaps the most extremist translation ever made.”

Two less problematic recent translation attempts include M.A.S. Abdel-Haleem’s The Qur’an, A New Translation, and Aminah Assami’s Saheeh International The Qur’an: English Meanings (accessible at Both provide cogent, readable prose, and have largely refrained from incorporating denominational biases within the actual translation itself, though of course neither is perfect and there remains significant room for improvement. Some have alleged the Saheeh International translation as being little more than a recension of the Hilali-Khan translation sans doctrinaire. This allegation is not altogether untrue – translations such as, “And Our angels are nearer to him than you, but you do not see,” (emphasis mine) to verse Q 56.85 are indeed problematic. In the verse, the pronoun naḥnu (we) is translated as “Our angels”, in direct contrast with the literal meaning of the term. Though certain premodern commentators have interpreted naḥnu as referring to the angels, a direct translation would not render that meaning on its own. Due to this and other instances of interpolation, those with sensitivities to denominational impositions will likely prefer Abdel-Haleem’s translation.

All of this, of course, is to say nothing about the category of exegesis which is far less developed than translation. Few exegetical works have been translated to English, and those that have are often summarized with their own, often copious shortcomings. In this regard, the dearth of available vehicles through which inquiring minds can learn about the Quran and its meanings is palpable. For this reason, the SQ is not merely a contribution likely to take hold within secular academia, but lay believers as well, and the early reception to the SQ has certainly reflected that vacuum.

Features and Overview of the SQ

The SQ approaches 2,000 pages in full. It is, according to the authors, the product of a decade of work, and the academic rigor is apparent after even a cursory reading. The exegetical commentary of the SQ references forty-one commentaries in total, with medieval commentaries constituting the predominant points of reference. Of the commentators cited, Ibn ‘Āshūr and Ṭabāṭabā’ī are the most recent (both authors having died in the 20th century).

The book has many strengths. For one, the SQ incorporates prophetic traditions (ḥadīth) into the commentary, something that I suspect will not please structural reformists who anchor their efforts in a Quran-only epistemology. In addition, the SQ is not a work colored by the ideologies and agendas of secular liberalism (in its many forms). It makes no apologies for verses that appear inegalitarian, malevolent, or otherwise discordant with the metaphysical commitments of contemporary liberal society. Instead, the SQ contextualizes, elucidates the tradition, and offers an understanding of those verses within terms that the Muslim community (or at least some portion of it) has understood them for over a thousand years. This, I suspect as well, will not gratify reformists who view the majority of premodern jurists and theologians as having been prejudiced by patriarchy, exclusivism, and militarism.

For example, the commentary of Q 4.11, a somewhat controversial verse given its prescription for inequitable distribution of inheritance between men and women, explicates traditional inheritance law and does not reinterpret or historicize the apportioning of inheritance. The SQ explains that the inequitable apportioning of inheritance can be attributed to the males provider-responsibility within a household, a reasoning cited from the exegetical work of Ibn Kathīr. The commentary does not belabor the point, nor engage in apologetics. The explanation of Q. 4.11 alone makes reference to the exegetical works of Ṭabarī, Qurṭubī, Ibn Kathīr, Wāḥidī, Zamakhsharī and Ṭabrisī who is cited for the purpose of incorporating Shiite interpretations of the verse.

A similar approach can be seen in the explanation of Q 4.34, the infamous verse of nushūz. Again, the authors cite premodern jurists, expound upon the occasion of revelation (sabab nuzūl), and provide stipulations that premodern jurists would articulate when commenting on the very controversial locution ḍarb, or striking. Of note is that the authors do not adopt an alternative explanation or translation of ḍarb, electing instead for a hermeneutic of fideism to the tradition.

Adam, the genealogical father of man, the first of creation, and a prophet of God is created ex nihilo, miraculously from dust, and not reenvisioned in light of Darwinian macroevolution (see commentary on Q 2.30-37, 3.59, and others). The ḥūr ‘īn, or wide-eyed maidens of the Garden, are appropriately presented as otherworldly figures in the commentary of Q 56.22. Having been imparted to the general public via a medium of radicalism/extremism, the SQ authors do a good job of reconfiguring the discourse around the topic of the ḥūr from one that is predominantly sensual/erotic to one that is part of a realm that God described as that which “no eye has seen and no ear has heard and what has not occurred to the heart of any human being.”

The exegetical commentary of Q 13.11 explains the axiom, “Truly God alters not what is in a people until they alter what is in themselves,” as an imperative to individually reform. Premodern exegetes took this verse as an indication of how God’s blessings in this life, such as health and wealth, are contingent on ones obedience to God, which stands as a far cry from the more common revolutionary connotations with which it is deployed today.

The story of Lot is as well consistent with the premodern narrative concerning the sins of Sodom. Commentary on Q 29.28-29 explains that although “some maintain that Lot reproaches them [i.e. his people] for forcible rather than consensual sexual relations,” the “emphasis here and in 7:81; 26:165-166; and 27:54 is upon approaching men with desire and lust, whether consensual or not.” The consensual/forcible framing is a common one among those arguing for an interpretation of Islam that admits LGBT sexual relations as religiously lawful. Central to the argument of LGBT in Islam advocates is a Quran-only reading, concluding that the people of Sodom were in fact guilty of pederasty, rape, or in certain instances, highway robbery, and that their sexual orientation was made issue by later scholars prejudiced by heteronormative sensibilities. As the SQ authors rightly conclude, a Quranic reading of Sodom provides no such indications.

In many instances, the SQ provides lucid, powerful commentary on verses related to the hereafter, repentance, virtue, and self-discipline. There are few texts that so seamlessly integrate spirituality (tazkiya and taṣawwuf), eschatology, intricacies of juristic disagreement, and creed in one place. Take, for example, commentary on the Chapter of Joseph (Sūrah Yūsuf), which brings together biblical references alongside exhortations deriding envy, advocating persistence and patience, the palliative power of prayer, and familial solidarity. The SQ authors take no creative license in this exercise, but rather draw from the copious medieval and modern commentaries relevant insights that animate the content of the chapter in ways that other books simply don’t. Whether one is able to appreciate the painstaking research that must have gone into producing this work or not, a non-Muslim accessing the SQ as an entry-point for learning about Islam may in fact maintain their prior prejudices, but cannot conclude that Islam as a religion, and the Quran in particular, is a simplistic, irrational, malevolent, or univocal tradition from its content. This, if nothing else, merits considerable praise.

Points of Caution

All of the aforementioned said, there are reasons to be cautious. The SQ is an academic and educational work, and as such includes commentaries from sources that may not be considered orthodox depending on ones denominational orientation. This includes elaborating views on creed that do not comport with either the Atharī, Ash‘arī, or Māturidī Sunni mainstream. Some of the Sufi commentaries can come off as uncomfortably esoteric. Khārijite positions are occasionally expounded upon, and not for the purpose of refutation. Some will also find the inclusion of an essay by Ahmed el-Tayyib, the current Grand Imam of Azhar and Mubarak/Sissi loyalist who supported the overthrow of Mohamed Morsi, discomfiting, though it should be noted that the essay predates the 2011 Egyptian uprising.

The SQ’s commentary is commensurate with the conventions of secular academia. How that manifests is not always clear to common Muslims, but there are significant implications to the way in which language is employed. For example, when one refers to the self-referential nature of the Quran, or the way in which ‘the Quran teaches us’ something, the Quran is treated as an object, with its own voice. This taxonomy is deployed by academics to avoid making an ontological claim. By contrast, for believers, the Quran doesn’t say anything, God does. When we attend sermons, imams tell us what God says – it is God who proscribes, permits, ordains, praises, and condemns. Although such language is appropriate and necessary for those who do not affirm the divine ontology of the Quran (a not altogether insignificant constituent of the SQ) or work within contexts which do not permit overt confessional faith commitments, one should be careful not to internalize that language within confessional contexts and communities. As Muslims we believe in God and His Words, a statement that is not readily accepted in popular culture.

Early critics have challenged legal rulings attributed to various madhāhib elucidated in the SQ as either not the dominant view within the school or misattributions. Though the SQ catalogs ḥadīth citations and exegetical commentaries, no such citations are provided for legal positions. Referencing source works for legal attributions would help to abate these criticisms, and one should consult a schooled teacher or imam for definitive positions within a particular legal school.

The SQ is a reference work, one that Muslims working in academic contexts will have to engage with. Students and lay congregation members pursuing ṭalab al-‘ilm should take consult with a reliable teacher as to whether it is advisable to study, and if so, how. Put plainly, Muslim readers should not expect the SQ to inform their beliefs about orthodox Islam.

Departing from Consensus

The Case of rajm

There are, of course, more serious concerns. Verses explicating ḥadd punishments, such as Q 5.38, are not avoided or explained away. Instead, communitarian benefits are articulated, destabilizing effects of wrongs examined, and premodern exegetes referenced. The more difficult case of zinā in Q 24.2 is a notable departure from this general heuristic, with the SQ authors opting to entertain a rather murky hermeneutic and call into question the juristic consensus related to the issue of rajm. In this regard, the authors initially mention the four principle prophetic traditions concerning rajm, but later purport “inconsistencies” and “incongruities” between them based on details within the disparate reports. In addition, the authors attend to the question of naskh, both with regard to the abrogated āyah of rajm as well as the question of the sunna abrogating the Quran and whether or not non-mutawātir reports are sufficient for overturning clear, unambiguous Quranic prescriptions.

There are a number of issues with this hermeneutic that I will try to synthesize here. Firstly, and most simply, is that rajm for zinā has been part of the juristic consensus since the inception of Islam (the Muhammadan variety). There is little debate that it was carried out by the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), the Companions, and Forebears thereafter. It continued to be enforced for centuries after the early generations, with no scholar seriously arguing it as having been misapplied prior to the 20th century. One would, in effect, have to accept that thousands of scholars spanning centuries simply got it wrong on the topic of rajm for zinā, or somehow acted in bad faith. Second, is that the prophetic traditions concerning rajm are not negligible. The principle reports cited in the SQ span dozens of traditions in Bukhārī and Muslim alone, with narrations pronounced by way of thirteen independent Companions of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) across the two canonical texts. ‘Alī, ‘Umar, Abū Hurayrah, Jābir, Zayd ibn Khālid, Ibn ‘Abbās, Ibn Mas‘ūd, Ibn Abī ‘Awfa, ‘Ubāda, Buraydah, Jābir ibn Samura, ‘Imrān ibn Ḥusayn, and Abū Sa‘īd al-Khuḍrī all provide rajm accounts, may God be pleased with them. In other words, the single most authoritative works in the field of prophetic narrations contain a multitude of independent reports about the Prophet (pbuh) having carried out rajm and the Companions fervently defending its place within Islamic jurisprudence. Ibn Qudāma (Mughnī), al-Bayhaqī (al-Kubrā), Ibn Ḥazm (Marātib al-Ijmā‘), Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr (Istidhkār), Ibn al-Mundhir (al-Awsaṭ) and Māwardī (al-Ḥāwī) cite a consensus on the issue of rajm, with the lone exception of Ibn Qudāma who states that he “is unaware of any discordant [views on rajm] other than the Khārijites” (see Mughnī 3/209). To simply dichotomize the issue as one of aḥād reports and dispense with it is not enough.

Third, the “incongruities” referred to are forced upon the various traditions. For example, in comparing the opportunities to recant afforded to the male adulterer with the Jewish couple to whom the Prophet (pbuh) extended no such opportunity, the Prophet (pbuh) may have felt reluctant to offer leniency out of fealty to the already extant rabbinic authority. As is mentioned in the tradition concerning the Jewish couple, the Prophet (pbuh) requested a copy of the Torah and adjudicated based on the content of their tradition, not his. The Jewish couple tradition mentions the couple as approaching the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) for the explicit purpose of escaping the retribution for zinā as explicated in the Torah. Al-Zamakhsharī, al-Ṭabrisī, al-Ṭabarī, Ibn Kathīr and al-Rāzī all either explicitly make mention of the Jewish couple tradition or invoke the ḥukm of rajm as one of the reasons for the revelation of Q 5.42-43 (this is made note of in the commentary of Q 24.2 in the SQ as well), the latter of which states “And how is it that they come to thee for judgment, when they have the Torah, wherein is God’s Judgment?” The “misquotations in the Torah” mentioned in the SQ may in fact belong to a recension of the Torah extant during the prophetic period. As for the employer’s wife tradition, then it makes no mention of the specifics carried out by the delegation sent to obtain a confession. It is quite possible that in inducing the confession, the delegation afforded the employer’s wife ample opportunity to deny the allegation and she simply chose to confess like the pregnant adulteress. Banishment, combining stoning and lashing, and related considerations may be viewed as discretionary – perhaps based on the nature of the infidelity, the prophetic traditions support additional punishments above and beyond the explicit ḥadd. For example, the tradition of the employer’s wife begins with the father whose son who had committed adultery with his employer’s wife. The father attempts to offer compensation for his son’s crime of adultery, and the Prophet’s ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) inclusion of banishment may have been added as a future deterrent against attempted bribery. There are other possibilities, many of which are examined and detailed in works authored by premodern legists. In conventional jurisprudence, scholars would exhaust legal instruments of reconciliation prior to classifying prophetic traditions as conceptually irreconcilable (muḍṭarib). No such effort was exhausted in this scenario.

Fourth, the issue of naskh al-tilāwah, although important, is not the central legal issue in determining the applicability of rajm. Even in the absence of the abrogated verse, the multitude of prophetic traditions, practice and statements of the Companions, and juristic consensus forms a sufficient corpus to evidentiarily support rajm. Though the more contentious topic of naskh is an important one and certainly a salient consideration for this verse, the prophetic practice is definitive in its application of rajm. Fifth, the aḥādīth of rajm do not abrogate the verses stipulating jaldah, but rather delimit them to unmarried individuals. Finally, although the SQ mentions rajm as “a more grievous punishment than all others mentioned in the Quran,” that distinction almost certainly belongs to the punishment for ḥirābah in Q 5.33.

This is merely an expounding of the premodern consensus, but says nothing as to how Muslim communities should wrestle with these traditions today. Some modern jurists have called for a moratorium on the ḥudūd altogether, and others have specifically called for a revisitation of the specific ḥadd related to zinā due to unfortunate abuses, honor killings, and other misapplications that have resulted in the deaths of many innocent lives. This is not a trivial matter, and I hope the above defense of rajm’s place in the tradition does not come off insensitive or tone-deaf to those problems. Nonetheless, any earnest effort to address current abuses will have to take the tradition and its evidences into account, something the SQ fell short of demonstrating.

Soteriological Pluralism[3] in the SQ

An even more problematic concern is with the SQ’s pluralistic commitments. Upon release, critical reception of the SQ fixated almost exclusively upon the pluralist advances of the SQ, responding most pointedly to an essay in the SQ authored by Joseph Lumbard entitled The Quranic View of Sacred History and Other Religions. After reading social media vituperation over the inclusion of pluralist soteriological commitments, my initial suspicion was that such a reading was overstating the pluralist overtones, preoccupied with an essay in the back of the book and perhaps curious interpretations of verses Q 3.84-85. Though this was somewhat true, critics were not altogether wrong in begrudging the multiple areas in which pluralistic interpretations are forced into passages that do not ostensibly support them and have never been maintained as such within the tradition. What follows will again be an attempt to synthesize the primary arguments averred by the SQ authors within the exegetical commentary itself while also paying heed to a few arguments in the Lumbard essay. The primary arguments in the SQ concerning this topic are as follows:

  • Q 5.73 rebuts Monophysite Christology and not Chalcedonian Christology. Non-Chalcedonian Christological orientations are presented on multiple occasions as the focus of the Quran.
  • Q 2.79 and elsewhere are not speaking about the Kitābī Also, the sacred texts of the Kitābī traditions have not been excessively altered.
  • Q 2.62 is the primary verse, serving as a rule for the salvific efficacy of other traditions. More critical verses addressing other traditions should be subsumed beneath Q 2.62.
  • Q 3.84-85 and elsewhere speak to a general, universal “islam,” or submission, and not to the specific “Islam” characterized by Muhammad’s (pbuh) prophethood.

With respect to the Trinity, the SQ maintains in multiple places that orthodox Chalcedonian Christology is not the subject of God’s reprimand in the Quran, but rather exaggerated forms of the Trinity are, namely, Monophysite Christology (‘exaggerated’ being an argument extended from Q 4.171 which reproaches the ahl al-kitāb for exaggerating (taghlū) in their religion). Although the SQ does in fact state that the tradition largely considers a unicity of God with three hypostases as incommensurable with the theology of Islam, a grievous error, and a major sin, in other places it delimits criticism to non-Chalcedonian Christology and largely creates a distinction between a Trinity with three hypostases and shirk, alleging the former to not necessarily constitute the latter.

In the commentary of Q 4.171 and Q 5.73 it is stated that “the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity as three “persons,” or hypostases, “within” the One God is not explicitly referenced, and the criticism seems directed at those who assert the existence of three distinct “gods,” an idea that Christians themselves reject.” Later, the commentary states that “Islamic Law never considered Christians to be “idolaters” (mushrikūn) and accepted Christians’ own assertion of monotheistic belief.” In certain instances, the SQ portrays Chalcedonian Christology as a minority, or at the least, largely misunderstood/unknown during the formative period of Islam.

Although medieval Eastern Christianity was more complex than the current post-Niceno-Constantinopolitan theology which dominates today, Chalcedonian Christianity was not altogether uncommon and there is little reason to assume the early Muslim community to be somehow unaware of its presence and beliefs. The essential criticisms of the Quran include attributing divinity to Christ, a child to God, and belief in a Trinity. There is no scholar in Islamic history, which I am aware of, that provided a concession for one Christological orientation over another, and exposure to Melkite Churches and its concomitant beliefs existed from the earliest days of Islam.

The earliest Christian apologetic text in Arabic to address Islam was a manuscript entitled On the Triune Nature of God (Fī tathlīth Allāh al-Wāḥid) by an unknown author (loosely dated to the early/mid-8th century). In it, the author goes to great pains to emphasize that Christian theological commitments are not of three separate “gods”, but of a single God with multiple states. One can assume that this means that in the formative period, Chalcedonian Christology was not being treated any differently than other forms of Christology, and the earliest Muslims regarded it as constituting the very Trinity which the Quran rebukes. Another early Christian writing which is largely a polemic against Islam is John of Damascus’ (656-749) Fount of Knowledge. A Chalcedonian Christian, John characterizes Muslim belief as follows:

“He says that there is one God, creator of all things, who has neither been begotten nor has begotten. He says that the Christ is the Word of God and His Spirit, but a creature and a servant, and that He was begotten, without seed, of Mary the sister of Moses and Aaron. For, he says, the Word and God and the Spirit entered into Mary and she brought forth Jesus, who was a prophet and servant of God. And he says that the Jews wanted to crucify Him in violation of the law, and that they seized His shadow and crucified this. But the Christ Himself was not crucified, he says, nor did He die, for God out of His love for Him took Him to Himself into heaven. And he says this, that when the Christ had ascended into heaven God asked Him: ‘O Jesus, didst thou say: “I am the Son of God and God”?’ And Jesus, he says, answered: ‘Be merciful to me, Lord. Thou knowest that I did not say this and that I did not scorn to be thy servant. But sinful men have written that I made this statement, and they have lied about me and have fallen into error.’ And God answered and said to Him: ‘I know that thou didst not say this word.”

Of note above is John’s characterizing of Islam’s conception of God against the Trinity (note that elsewhere in Fount John argues time and again for Jesus being consubstantial with God, in contrast to his Muslim interlocutors). John’s location in the first century of Islam is critical, as his understanding is largely being informed by information imparted by the Companions unto early converts. In this regard, John describes Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) as advocating for “one God, creator of all things, who has neither been begotten nor has begotten.” This same dynamic can be observed in the treatises (mayāmir) of Theodore Abū Qurrah (750-823) which have been translated by John Lamoreaux in his work entitled Theodore Abū Qurrah. Theodore Abū Qurrah is instructive as his treatises often simultaneously respond to both Islam and Monophysite Christology, directing vituperative criticism toward both.

Therefore, one has to conclude that if God were addressing only certain Christological orientations and not others, or that it only explicitly called out three separate “gods” but not “states” or hypostases, then that nuance was either missed by the early Muslim community, or the early Muslim community succumbed to religious chauvinism and simply disregarded its otherwise ecumenical nature. The distinction between the legal categories of ahl al-kitāb of mishrikūn does not mean that one cannot simultaneously be another. Indeed, anything that derogates from the unicity of God constitutes a type of shirk, let alone a belief in a godhead with three concurrent states, one of which is believed to be the son of God.

In the commentary of Q 2.62, attention is paid to the case of one who hears about Islam, but encounters obstacles that prevent Islam from taking hold. The SQ cites al-Ghazzālī’s work Fayṣal al-tafriqah which speaks of the ‘unreached’, an excuse that was admittedly more plausible in premodern societies. Theologians have long incorporated such individuals into the category of ‘excused’ from immediately being subject to chastisement, in keeping with Q 17.15 “We do not punish until We have sent a messenger.” How the notion of ‘unreached’ translates to those whose only exposure to Islam is via the medium of hostility and antagonism, only God Knows.

Though one may argue that soteriological pluralism is ancillary to the overall project of the SQ or somehow constitutive of a fraction of the two-thousand page oeuvre, the reality is that pluralist references are almost impossible to miss. Many verses that repudiate Christian or Jewish doctrine are reinterpreted or historicized. Salvific efficacy is extended to all religions and paths, so long as they are somehow subsumed under the general postulate “islam”, instead of the particularized Muhammadan “Islam” (capital “I”). In this regard, belief in the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) is optional and inessential for entry to Paradise. Moreover, belief in the Quran itself, compliance with its injunctions, and conformity with the strictures inherent to Islamic law are all non-compulsory for individuals living in a post-Muhammadan world. In theory, one could conceivably renounce the particularized Muhammadan Islam altogether in favor of a more broadly understood “islam” and still find themselves entitled to God’s salvation.

Such an understanding of soteriology is almost impossible to support within a full reading of the Quran, and certainly impossible after taking into account the less accommodating ḥadīth tradition which contains unambiguous reports such as, “By the One in Whose hand is the soul of Muhammad, there is no one among this nation, Jew or Christian, who hears of me and dies without believing in that with which I have been sent, but he will be one of the people of the Fire.” Verses repudiating the Kitābī traditions are not scant – they compose a major constituent of the Quran, including extensive passages in Baqarah, Āl-‘Imrān, al-Nisā’, and Mā’idah. They include critiques of Kitābī theology, ecclesiastic authorities, alterations of sacred texts, and implores the ahl al-kitāb to submit to the message of the Quran and the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). Attempts to proffer an inclusivist soteriology requires, as has been shown, a reliance on the Quran-alone absent the prophetic tradition, a subordination of the majority of verses addressing the Kitābī traditions beneath Q 2.62, dismissal of the scholarly tradition, and unsubstantiated historicizing. Such a conclusion can fairly be described as a departure from consensus and unfaithful to the tradition.


The current landscape of Quran exegesis in English to date has not had much to offer non-Muslims and Muslims born in western lands seeking to learn about the Quran. As a result, inquiring minds have been relegated to unreliable, often simplistic, web sites responding to “hot button” issues within a very particular theological/denominational persuasion. Consequently, the intellectual legacy of Islam has largely gone unappreciated outside of specialist circles. For many lay Muslims, scholastic discordance has been perceived as an exceptional circumstance, disagreement portrayed as regrettably derogating from an unrealistic ideal of unity, and theological polarizations the norm. Lost in the myriad challenges associated with inaccessible literature about the Quran has been the increasingly perverse portrayal of Islam and the Quran in the minds of the general public.

The presence in recent years of more intelligible Quran translations has surely helped, but accompanying commentaries remain nonexistent. Within this context, the SQ is a monumental contribution to the field of Quran studies, offering perhaps the first proper exegetical work on the Quran in the English language. Anchored in a traditionalist narrative accumulated over a thousand years, the SQ has coalesced the views of luminaries and theologians from disparate theological orientations and denominations. Although it is not the “final word on a whole tradition”, as Caner Dagli remarked in response to early critics, it certainly provides appreciable insight into a sophisticated, multi-dimensional tradition which has come to formulate how Islam is conceptualized today.

The SQ has regrettable instances in which it has departed from consensus, namely, with respect to rajm and soteriological pluralism. In both cases, traditional theological methodologies have been jettisoned in favor of extenuating considerations and questionable heuristics that contradict normative orthodox religious teachings. Despite these legitimate and important concerns, I think we would all agree that policy makers, non-Muslims interested in Islam, Muslims distant from their faith, and universities making use of the SQ is preferable to the overwhelming majority of content related to the Quran today. In that vein, we are certainly in its authors debt. May God remunerate their efforts abundantly, and guide them and us to what pleases Him. Ameen.

And God Knows Best.

[1] I gratefully acknowledge the feedback from the SQ authors in support of this piece. Their insights and feedback has animated this review in important ways. Though some of the critiques in this article are not favorable in reviewing certain topics in the SQ, I have found the authors themselves to be nothing other than genuine, open to dialogue, and very interested in furthering conversations that have been generated since the SQ’s release.

[2] Translations, by definition, are subject to the shortcomings inherent in attempting to convey meanings from one language to another. The case of the Quran presents more complications than most – ‘clean’ equivalents are not always available for certain terms, let alone the stylistic, rhetorical, and linguistic features native to Quranic passages. Ultimately, this requires interstitial commentary and interpretive decisions, many of which are non-trivial. The term “translation”’ can, therefore, be somewhat misleading. A more candid nomenclature would be ‘an interpretation of the Quran’s meaning.’ See Some Linguistic Difficulties in Translating the Holy Quran from Arabic into English (Brakhw, 2012) for a more detailed treatment of the topic.

[3] Though much of the social media fervor has employed the term perennialism, pluralism is, in fact, a more accurate term to denote the extending of salvific efficacy to diverse faith traditions. Though particular perennialist orientations may accord a pluralist soteriology, one does not necessitate the other.


Eschatology -a branch of theology concerned with the final events in the history of the world or of humankind

Esoteric- relating to or being a small group with specialized knowledge or interests

Salvific- having the intent or power to save or redeem

Soteriology- the branch of theology dealing with the nature and means of salvation

Perennialism-is a term referring to a number of 20th century writers who rejected modernity and argued for a return to the perennial truths as preserved in the traditions of the world religions.  Though perennialists often view each of the world’s religious traditions as sharing a single, universal truth on which foundation all religious knowledge and doctrine has grown, they do not immediately accord salvation to all faiths, nor do they necessarily consider all faiths valid.

Pluralism- pertains to diversity of religious belief systems co-existing in society.  In this paper, it was used specifically to refer to the worldview that one’s religion is not the sole and exclusive source of truth.



Mobeen Vaid is an activist in his local community, regularly delivering khutbahs and volunteering with Muslim non-profits. He is a student of traditional islamic sciences, and is a contributing writer for MuslimMatters.



  1. Avatar


    December 14, 2015 at 5:43 PM

    How is it possible to ignore the ijmaa’ of the community on something so fundamental as the salvific exclusivity of Muhammadan Islam is beyond me. It may sound exaggerated to say, but I find it more problematic than the AQ or IS interpretations. Beyond just mimicking the methodology of leaving the community for an offshoot interpretation, it poses a serious problems for those who use this book as a vehicle to understand islamic theology and would consider coming to it.

    • Avatar

      Mustafa Mahmud

      December 14, 2015 at 9:18 PM

      I will cut the pc nonsense and try to say something honest that won’t get filtered.

      It’s a consensus of the fuqaha of the Ummah that this belief is not just some deviance but absolute blasphemy.

      That we have imams willing to overlook that and recommend it anyways without explaining quite clearly, that this false view of salvation actually is something that expels someone from the fold of Islam. It’s not just false, it’s absolutely blasphemous. It EXPELS someone from the religion.

      Scholars held someone who did not belief salah obligatory or thought sodomy to be halal as a nonbeliever.

      In this day and age we have people failing to accept Islam as obligatory and considering kufr halal!!!

      This is irja’ to the utmost extreme just like Daesh has taken takfir to the utmost extreme. In fact it’s absolute blasphemy.

      And yes, calling someone who said the Shahadah a kaffir is a formal process done only by a Qadi in an Islamic State.
      We can argue for these peoples(Perrenialists and their ilk) case in this life but who will argue for them before Allah?
      That we are cautious with takfir is not some safeguard for them on yawm al Qiyaamah. It’s possible many heretics in this life are spared the sentence in this life only to have it in the next.

      يَوْمَ تَبْيَضُّ وُجُوهٌ وَتَسْوَدُّ وُجُوهٌ ۚ فَأَمَّا الَّذِينَ اسْوَدَّتْ وُجُوهُهُمْ أَكَفَرْتُم بَعْدَ إِيمَانِكُمْ فَذُوقُوا الْعَذَابَ بِمَا كُنتُمْ تَكْفُرُونَ

      • Avatar

        Caner Dagli

        December 18, 2015 at 8:55 AM

        This is precisely the kind of irresponsible talk that is lamentable. You are committing takfir, which itself is forbidden to someone like yo because you have not read the book and moreover you are clearly an ignoramus. Your rant is filled with so many category errors it’s hard to know where to begin. Kufr is neither halal or haram. I’d really love to see the category of “qadi in an Islamic State” in any literature before the 20th century. You most certainly have no idea what he doctrine of irja is or how it relates to us. Amazingly, there are even more mistakes in what you wrote. If we are wrong, we are wrong in the right way, and if you are right, it is most certainly in the wrong way. You clearly have never even learned the most basic adab. It’s no sin to be ignorant, but it is to bandy ideas you heard about from some pamphlets and presume to pronounce takfir on people who have devoted their lives to what you claim to defend. Shame on you.

      • Avatar


        December 18, 2015 at 5:58 PM

        Salam Alaikum Dr Dagli,
        Mahmud’s behavior and adab are well-known to readers of Muslim Matters. Leave him in peace with the words of Surah Furqan. And jazakallah khair for you and the other editors’ efforts on the SQ.

      • Avatar


        December 18, 2015 at 9:52 PM


        May Allah guide me and all of you. [Ameen]

      • Avatar


        December 24, 2015 at 1:20 AM

        I pray God is More Merciful in His Judgement, then you were in yours.

      • Avatar


        February 3, 2016 at 2:50 PM

        All the fuqaha are agreed on this.

        Al-Qaadi ‘Ayyaad said: hence we regard as a kaafir everyone who follows a religion other than the religion of the Muslims, or who agrees with them, or who has doubts, or who says that their way is correct, even if he appears to be a Muslim and believes in Islam and that every other way is false, he is a kaafir

        (Al-Shifaa’ bi Ta’reef Huqooq al-Mustafaa, 2/1071)

    • Avatar

      Iffat Idrees

      December 14, 2015 at 10:03 PM

      Has anyone ever read or reviewed “The Majestic Qur’an by Translation Committee Abdal Hakim Murad, Mostafa al-Badawi and Uthman Hutchinson”. Any opinions that would be beneficial. I know it is out of print but if it is a good translation maybe muslims in North America should try to get it reprinted and distributed.
      I have a copy and personally I like the translation.

    • Mobeen Vaid

      Mobeen Vaid

      December 15, 2015 at 9:08 PM

      I dont know if I would go as far as to say that it is more problematic than AQ or IS. That said, I dont disagree that salvific pluralism is indeed a major intellectual challenge that we will continue to engage in the coming years. The very idea of a single faith having a ‘monopoly’ on the truth or simply concluding other faiths are wrong is, within modern discourse, viewed as intolerant, judgmental, and at times, cast as extreme.

      • Avatar

        Rich Deen

        December 29, 2015 at 5:55 AM

        Nice review, and worth a good reread. I found the explanation of Q 122:3 in TSQ quite limiting.

        Looking at the recent book ‘Between Heaven and Hell: Islam, Salvation, and the Fate of Others,’ the issue seems nuanced.

  2. Avatar


    December 14, 2015 at 10:21 PM

    If a perennialist translated the Bible or Torah, Jews and Christians would be in uproar. But we Muslims are OK with this crazy group translating the Holy Qur’an? Subhana Allah.

    We might as well let Scientologists translate the Qur’an now!


    • Avatar


      December 14, 2015 at 11:46 PM

      How do you figure that the authors are perennialists? Not all or even most of them are…but you read that somewhere and ignorance is contagious.

      Former translations of the Quran have been done by Christians, Bahoras, Shias, Qadiyanis …and people just read them because they have no idea. Then comes a group that dedicates a decade to a translation with commentary and we show how ignorant of a community we are because we jump on bandwagons without even reading the work.

      This is to say nothing of the fact that if people were to read what is actually to be found in the original tafsirs (in Arabic and Persian) of all the orthodox authors they can think of….their jaws would drop to the ground at what they saw.

      Question for you: how much of the SQ have you actually read?

      I can’t wrap my mind around why so many people are caught up in commenting/reviewing such a MASSIVE work without having read a solid portion of it?!

      • Avatar


        December 14, 2015 at 11:55 PM

        Past Muslim mufasiroon would never support Perrenialism as it is kufr. Perhaps if some of these ignorant laymen viewed the stunning agreement past generations had on the cursed fate of disbelievers their jaws would drop…..

        TSQ very clearly promotes perrenialism. Ignorance spreads and so does denial.

        [EDIT: Please stop the takfir]

        Please do some thinking before hastily judging the scholars who rightfully condemned this deviated(to say the least) book. Islamic aqeeda is a lot more rigid and unflexible then people would like to believe. Intellectual depth is not the equivalent of flexibility. Allah only admits one group of people into Paradise-Muslims. And the definition of a Muslim was clearly known to the Sahaba and generations since.

    • Avatar


      December 15, 2015 at 7:02 AM

      This isn’t a “crazy group.” Before passing out ignorant comments, spend a few seconds flipping the pages to see the contributers. Among them is Muhammad Mustafa Azmi – a conservative deobandi scholar. Not all of the contributors are perennialists. And not all of the contributors would necessarily agree with each other. Putting this problematic issue aside, overall this is a good scholarly contribution.

    • Mobeen Vaid

      Mobeen Vaid

      December 15, 2015 at 9:11 PM

      Salam DI,

      I actually think you would be surprised. I havent read much of it, but would venture to guess the SB is largely pluralist in how it views salvation. Salvific pluralism has already entered Jewish and Christian communities long ago.

      • Avatar


        December 16, 2015 at 12:16 PM

        Wa aleikum salaam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu,

        I don’t think people are aware Seyyed Hosein Nasr is a student of Fritjof Schuon. [REDACTED]. Furthermore, Sufi groups have allowed perennialists to infiltrate their circles and they twist sayings of Rumi and Ibn Arabi to accord to a ‘everybody goes to heaven’ approach. They are like refugees from Ahlul Sunnah and take refuge in the soft-heartedness and gullibility of sufi mureeds. The reality is they are anathema to sufism and they hijack it for their own academic gains. Perennialist writings are hollow wordplay (“qatwil”) with a quasi-sufi veneer. It just bewitches people into thinking they have come across some great wisdom because of the big words, sentimentalism, borrowing Hindu and Christian concepts, italicized Arabic, but it always always always has zero substance on closer inspection. They pretend to be great sufis and co-opt sufi tradition, teach morality without action, are extremely arrogant and mix truth with 99 falsehoods. They are intoxicated by their own words and its really a type of poetry. You can tell it has little meaning when you compare it to the true meanings of Qur’an and Hadith. They prefer their strange ideas to the Haqq. What makes perennialism unique is they are a solely Western hizb with no roots in Muslim world, no takfir of them has been done nor has anybody ever debated them, even though all ulema recognize their heresy. Perennialist writings were stepping stones to Islam for many people, much like NOI, but also serve as a halfway house backwards into Christianity and misguided cults. But since perennialism has outlived its usefulness and because its infected tasawwuf circles and writings, we need to uproot perennialism.

        I am aware of Imam Ghazali’s view in Faysal at-Tafriqa and it only applies to followers of Isa at his time, Musa at his time and the excuse for Ahlul Fatrah. THAT’S IT. We can dig through as much sunni literature as we want and try and make the Qur’an say what our universities and government want, but when it comes to soteriology, the most it all rises too is a “MAYBE” they are saved and on that we have no authority – only God has authority. No definite points. Dhann, doubt, speculation. And Islam is a system of law that does not accept such doubts as legal principles. We are misleading and become like shaytan who will say on the day of judgement to those he misguided, “I have no authority”.

        There is a Hadith Qudsi to the effect, “I put this group in Hell and I have no care. I put this group in Heaven and I have no care.” (paraphrased). We forget Allah is our Lord – not our misplaced idealism. I want to also mention the verse which puts a closed door on our speculating “Ahum yaqsimuna rahmata rabbik – Do THEY distribute the mercy of your Lord?” (Qur’an, 43:32). We need to believe in this ayah and stop thinking we have any sway in the decision, WHOEVER we are. What Allah and His Rasul (salallahu alayhi wasalam) have said is where it stops.

        When it comes to salvation, I find it amazing how easily everybody’s lips loosen up. The same people concerned about non-Muslims going to hell are never ever concerned about wrongful imprisonment or mass incarceration in the dunya. They simply like to tout a more ‘enlightened view’ (read: bastardized view) of Islam and think they are an educated elite. When it comes to the Qur’an mentioning Allah’s Throne, Hand, Face, we are taught to say, “We believe in it without asking how (bila kayf)’. But when it comes to His mercy we start to ask HOW? Why? Because we think we know and understand Mercy? We think we know better than Allah’s mercy? That’s the problem. Why do Muslims never say about Allah’s Mercy – “We believe in it without asking how that Mercy will manifest.” Hellfire and heaven – “We believe in it without asking how.” We forget there is a purpose to Hellfire and Heaven is to purify us through remembrance of the Akhira.

        Lastly, we are very quick to forget Surah al-A’raf – the People of the Heights – Muslims whose good deeds and bad deeds will be equal and they will be reside on a wall between Heaven and Hell. They haven’t done anything more to deserve Allah’s Mercy than to deserve Allah’s Wrath and they haven’t done anything to deserve Allah’s Wrath more than they have done anything to deserve Allah’s Mercy. Allah decides – no one else. This is the teaching. If Allah mentioned this group – and the classical mufassir say People of al-A’raf enter Heaven LAST – and we know this group admonishes idolators before they enter Heaven – then where does that put all this soteriological speculation about other religions entering heaven?

        I think this is also worth reading by Imam Dr. Shadee ElMasry on Safina Society website

        (Dunno if my comment went through)


      • Avatar


        December 24, 2015 at 1:32 AM

        [GROW UP]

        I certainly pray God is More Merciful in His Judgement, then you are with yours. [AMEEN]

  3. Avatar


    December 14, 2015 at 11:20 PM

    @Mobeen Vaid

    Thank you for this great review! I do have one question.

    In the beginning of the review you mentioned the weaknesses of the literal Arabic translations in other translations (interpretations) of the Quran.
    However you didn’t explain this crucial point with regards to The Study Quran in this review. If you mentioned it, I couldn’t find it.

    Your review on the commentary in The Study Quran is very useful.
    And many Muslims will definitely be discouraged from reading the book based on the non-Traditional position on Salvation in the Afterlife.

    *However *

    If the translation of the Quran is really much better than other alternatives,
    and if the layout makes a clear distinction between the literal translation of the ayat and the commentary of the scholars
    which includes specifically showing the distinction between Sunni and Shia commentary,
    this might convince and encourage Muslim who disagree with some of the commentary to read it
    and recommend it to others.
    (Hopefully to help Muslims from different denominations connect on the many issues they do have in common, while making clear the issues on which they respectfully differ).

    * Is this the case for The Study Quran? *

    • Mobeen Vaid

      Mobeen Vaid

      December 15, 2015 at 9:26 PM

      Salam Horizonwalker,

      I have to concede that I am not a translation expert. I like Abdel-Haleem, and I like what I’ve read of the SQ’s translation. I think some will find difficult its Old English prose, but I didnt find anything particularly problematic based on what what I read. God Knows Best.

  4. Avatar


    December 15, 2015 at 1:41 AM

    Why don’t English speaking scholars form a commitee and produce an authentic English interpretation of Qur’an

    • Avatar


      December 15, 2015 at 8:42 AM

      Because this idealized group of scholars doesn’t exist. Every scholar has their own views and inclinations and their will never be agreement. And even if a few did somehow get together, had the scholarly abilities and time to put into such an effort, some in our community would disagree with their views (ashari vs maturidi vs mutazili vs shia etc. Or their madhab) and therefore react similar to what has happened with the SQ.

      My guess is that here the editors chose not to be partisan, but now even that is being criticized. They’ve openly stated the opinions they have provided and yet there is a small group bent on proving there is a hidden perennialist/pluralistic view peppered throughout that they are denying. And what is meant by these terms is also clear as mud in the current discourse.

      • Avatar


        February 3, 2016 at 2:53 PM

        Not even close. Even Salafis think that Asharis/Maturidis, Sufis, Barelvis and Shias are within the fold of Islam with exceptions to an individual.

        On the other hand. Perrenialism is outright blasphemy. To try and conflate kufr with bidah is absurd and yet that is what you are doing. The strong reaction on all corners is in fact , damped and no where near as severe as it should be.

        I’m glad Muslims are waking up to the falsehood being propagated and insha Allah the believers will all see these falsehoods and falsifiers for what they are.

    • Avatar

      Ruhul Kuddus

      November 18, 2017 at 2:20 AM

      ——because some Muslim scholars will most certainly find deadly imperfection in it and rule it absolutely useless. You have seen examples here. In this forum, I feel like I am enjoying Napoleon Dynamite, a group dominated by hysterically short-tempered, overly intelligent, and profoundly self-satisfied actors—-. That their knowledge on the matter is so complete, they refute with complete refutation and then body slam the try-out without a sliver of remorse—-. I came to investigate something but returned somewhat confused.

  5. Avatar


    December 15, 2015 at 2:16 AM

    Assalamu Alaikum,
    Really Liked the Review but I found “The Quran by Oxford Publication ” much easier to Understand .Review here:

  6. Avatar

    yusuf kiswit

    December 15, 2015 at 1:23 PM

    We owe tremendous gratitude to the SQ editors for this incredible piece of scholarship. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. The [REDACTED] have no idea what you all went through to produce this illustrious opus. It is a blessed work, and it is clearly blessed by Allah. When the Qur’an itself was first printed, there were narrow minded retrogrades who objected. May we all learn to appreciate each other, and respect our differences like adults.

    • Mobeen Vaid

      Mobeen Vaid

      December 19, 2015 at 12:00 PM

      Please refrain from calling human beings kilab. Alhamdulillah, this is a conversation among brothers and sisters. Keep that in mind.

      • Avatar


        February 3, 2016 at 2:55 PM

        This is a conversation between people who are propagated kufr, speaking with bad adab and then screaming “bad adab” whenever their lies are ripped to shreds.

        That’s everything in a nutshell. Alhamdulilah Muslims are waking up. Allah misguides and guides whoever He wills.

  7. Avatar

    Luqman Bakr Mustafa

    December 15, 2015 at 5:04 PM

    First of all it is of paramount importance for you guys to have an idea about the three major lines or currents of thoughts namely Fundamentalists who are variably,in different circumstances,called Salafists,Reformists who intend to revisit the whole tradition under the influence of the massive political,socio-cultural and economic changes wrought by Modern philosophy and science,this is to say reformation is seeking to modernize religion,Traditionalists who are variably called Perennialists who hold that there is one single absolute truth which lies relatively at the heart of all religions.That is to say,there is a “Primordial Tradion” which has subsisted an will subsist. This is kind of belief in the esoteric unicity of Truth based on the nuanced distinction between Form and Substance implying that different religions are different manifestations in the relative realm of the Absolute. In other word,religions are various forms of Substantial Truth.Religions are different languages to express one truth,pure and simple.

  8. Avatar

    Caner Dagli

    December 15, 2015 at 6:09 PM

    I wanted to share Prof. Mohammed Fadel’s comments on this review

    A long and generally positive review of #StudyQuran. On the criticisms regarding the punishment of stoning for adultery, and the issue of salvation of non-Muslims, I think the criticisms are fair to the extent that the text fails to present the historically dominant views. I will have to read these provisions in the future to reach a judgment. But, revisionism on such questions should not be viewed as strictly verboten. Shaykh Muhammad Abu Zahra, for example, came to the conclusion that the punishment of stoning was a vestige of Mosaic law that should not have survived into Islamic law. Likewise, Mustafa al-Zarqa expressed the view that the punishment of stoning should be viewed as a ta’zir (a discretionary punishment) and not a punishment prescribed by revealed law. Neither Abu Zahra nor al-Zarqa can be dismissed as panderers to liberal sentiments. As for salvific pluralism, this article of mine,, discusses how far 20th century Muslim theologians have moved from medieval jurists in stipulating formal embrace of Islam as a condition for salvation. True, they do this largely from the perspective of a capacious understanding of excuse, but when combined with pre-modern theological discussions of the requirement of sincerity on the part of all, it is not too far a leap to believe that non-Muslims who have not embraced Islam during their lifetimes out of good faith mistake or the like, will nevertheless be rewarded by God for the good they do in this life and are eligible for divine grace in the next. In short, I would suggest that the ironclad consensus that the reviewer alleges the editors of The Study Quran have violated on these two points is not as ironclad as the reviewers suggests, at least beginning in the 20th century, with dissenters not being limited to “liberals,” but also well-trained, and influential and prominent theologians and jurists from al-Azhar who have earned a deserved reputation for scholarly integrity, even if one may disagree with some of their positions.

    • Mobeen Vaid

      Mobeen Vaid

      December 15, 2015 at 9:01 PM

      Jazak Allah khayr Dr. Dagli for sharing Dr. Fadel’s comments. Dr. Fadel is someone I have an immense amount of respect for and am humbled that he read the review. Nonetheless, I do want to respond briefly to his comments concerning the review: With respect to the first point, it is precisely the initial statement that is being taken to task in the review – the ‘historically dominant position’ was an agreed upon position among the four madhahib, the Ja’fari madhab (I’m admittedly not an expert here so will concede if wrong), the ahl al-hadith, and every major scholar to date prior to the 20th century. My reading of Q 24.2 in the SQ certainly did not reflect that reality. Had the SQ made mention of modern revisionist approaches as a handmaiden to the historically dominant view, then the critique would not have been included in the review.

      As for the second point, the statement “it is not too far a leap to believe that non-Muslims who have not embraced Islam during their lifetimes out of good faith mistake or the like, will nevertheless be rewarded by God for the good they do in this life and are eligible for divine grace in the next,” is not a claim that I have engaged within this review. The primary points raised in the section concerning pluralism were: i) the SQ’s treatment of Dyophysite Christology as commensurate with tawhid and not constituting shirk ii) the SQ’s mentioning that the kitabi traditions have not been altered or subject to excessive distortions iii) the SQ’s situating of Q 2.62 as the rule beneath which all other verses reproaching the ahl al-kitab are subsumed, and iv) the distinction between the general ‘islam’ and proper Muhammadan ‘Islam’.

      To be very candid, I do not believe there is any conceptualization of a Trinity in which God serves as a partner alongside a son and holy ghost as part of a godhead to accord with tawhid. I find the Quranic claims concerning tahrif/textual corruption something that should come naturally with even a casual study of Biblical preservation. Incongruities between source texts (OT Masoretic Texts vs Septuagint), input and modifications by early scribes, recurring recensions, and related issues are widely recognized and acknowledged. Ehrman’s ‘The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture’ is a good text that deals with the influence of Christological debates on the text of the Bible.

      Finally, I am unaware of any scholar that viewed belief in the Prophet (pbuh) or the Quran as optional to ones salvation. The notion of ‘excused’ individuals accepts as a foundational premise the idea that those ‘excused’ individuals got it wrong on the question of theology. The effort of those scholars was to wrestle with how individuals who got that theological question wrong may, in fact, be saved within the workings of what the tradition had to offer. This is why, even in its most restrictive form, scholars refrained from casting definitive salvific claims on individuals. The standard position was one of suspending judgment (tawaqquf) with respect to individuals, while maintaining Islam as the only salvifically efficacious faith as a general matter.

      God Knows Best.

      • Avatar

        Caner Dagli

        December 15, 2015 at 9:51 PM

        It is very difficult to offer a comments in great detail without writing an entire article but I would like to register a few thoughts. I don’t agree with casting the objections to rajm as “modern revisionist”; I find deeply distressing the idea that the Prophet is considered “optional” by us, which I will allow as being merely a poor choice of words with an unintended potential to mislead and raise unfortunate implications; and the view of the traditional school on the Trinity is not wholly accepting and neither is the SQ (read Schuon’s Logic and Transcendence for example, or my Muslim Response to Christian prayer). Again, these are just points to register, which is not meant to take away from the considerable, careful, and fair minded work you have done here. No doubt we will be writing about such matters at length in the future insha Allah– at least I intend to.

        • Mobeen Vaid

          Mobeen Vaid

          December 15, 2015 at 10:17 PM

          Asalamualaykum Dr. Dagli,
          The use of “modern revisionist” was in keeping with Dr. Fadel’s own characterizing of Abu Zahra and al-Zarqa’s proposed interpretations as “revisionism”. Given that al-Zarqa died in 1999 and Abu Zahra died in 1974, I think it is fair to classify them both as relatively modern authorities. I would be curious to hear more about your thoughts concerning the role of the Prophet (pbuh) within the conceptualization of salvation registered in the SQ. My own reading of the SQ was that “islam” as a general manner was required, and that the specific Muhammadan Islam was not a necessary requirement for entry to Paradise. In that vein, the belief in the Prophet (pbuh) may be considered as good, essential for embodying the characteristics of the best of mankind, etc. but not altogether necessary for salvation. I am not stating this to somehow impugn on the character of any of the authors (or their personal devotion to following the sunnah), but rather to articulate the content of the SQ and its logical conclusions.

          Inshallah I am looking forward to any literature yourself or other SQ authors produce on the topic of the Trinity/Salvation and will certainly take up your suggestion and read your Muslim Response to Christian prayer. Best,


      • Avatar


        December 16, 2015 at 12:26 PM

        Mobeen, Thank you for pointing out all this.

        I hope you are aware Professor Mohammed Fadel endorsed the publication of SQ so his comments are not neutral.


        • Mobeen Vaid

          Mobeen Vaid

          December 16, 2015 at 3:31 PM

          Salam DI,

          I disagree. My own experiences have been that Dr. Fadel and many others who have endorsed the SQ are not, by virtue of endorsement, supporting every last view or opinion in the SQ. They are merely acknowledging the many benefits of the text which I have tried to outline in the review. Jazak Allah khayr

    • Avatar

      Mamdouh Mahmoud

      February 6, 2016 at 2:31 PM

      Dr. Dagli, I am surprised you mention sh. Abu Zahra! Do you know of his stand on translating the Quran?
      Also, I am sure you are aware of the reaction of all his contemporaries regarding his Fatwa concerning Rajm. Sh. Qaradawi , who witnessed the shaikh’s announcement, recorded the incident and the scholars response .They all counted it as wrong Ijtihad and شذوذ on the Shaikh’s part, may Allah have mercy on him, from the consensus, old and contemporary.
      Sh. Zarqa agreed with Abu Zahra with some technical difference defining الاحصان.
      Sh. Abu zahrah is a respected jurist and usuli but made few wrong ijtihadat according to the rules of usool applied by qualified scholars as I am sure you are aware. He didn’t have a single credible daleel of the abrogation. In the usool: لابد ان يكون النسخ بدليل متراخ عن الدليل الاول ثابتا كثبوته. Also the mutawatir cannot be abrogated with any other than mutawatir. That is why the Shaikh didn’t announce it -as he said- for twenty years. Had he known his opinion carries weight, he wouldn’t hide it and as you know what hiding benefetial credible knowledge means. The new school of revising fiqh started only in the last century or two. Same two centuries you refrained from accommodating in your commentaries to a great extent!
      I feel that there is a constant endeavor to entertain any opinion regardless of its weight and strength to endorse the editorial board’s view on certain issues. Hope I am wrong but I see it clearly manifested throughout the SQ commentary.

    • Avatar

      Naveed Mughal

      February 13, 2016 at 11:03 PM

      Please supply references when you mention that jurists from Al Azar have stated that salvation has paths other than belief in Allah, His Prophet and The Quran

  9. Avatar


    December 16, 2015 at 5:40 PM

    It is my belief that this review is very fair and thorough, though convoluted with Christological minutiae. I also found the reviewer’s sections on Departure from Consensus sequestering interpretive authority, and the Points of Caution unnecessarily worrisome.

    It is true that the authors are researchers and not seminarians. Therefore, their choice verbiage “the Quran says” reflects the vigilance with which they approach a necessarily interpretable text to avoid the presumption of speaking for God. This is a technique to distance the interpreter from potential doctrinarian assertions, and I believe it is a mistake to review it as a “secular” academic approach (a rather meaningless designation).
    It is indeed aptly entitled The Study Quran appropriate for students of the Quran, be they matriculated or unaffiliated. It is not however an Apologist Quran for imitative adherence to institutionalized convention. I believe such commentaries are very important and beneficial, and already quite numerous and the SQ is attempting to fill the void of intellectually engaging translations. “Normative Orthodoxy” as the reviewer describes, is a social-construct that is both negotiated necessarily and established circumstantially through power, not truth or hermeneutical “correctness”. Invoking the absence of intellectual precedence from the tradition to criticize some of the SQ claims is itself antithetical to Sunni scholasticism and scholarly dialectics. “Consensus” is itself not a proof, nor does it even relevant to the field of Tafsir.

    What the authors intended, per their introductory statements, is to raise the level of Quranic literacy, an impossible feat for all communities, including Arabophones inept at interpreting Divine Speech revealed in 7th century Arabic. Not without its faults, I welcome this opportunity for students of the Qur’an to once again engage in a discourse with previous communities. However, I would caution the readers of this review to not deceive themselves into thinking that 1) that discourse has been unremitting and uninterrupted since before the 18th century collapse of Islamic intellectual institutions, and 2) a conservative and dogmatic interpretation of the Qur’an will contribute to Quranic literacy of the Muslim reader.

    • Mobeen Vaid

      Mobeen Vaid

      December 16, 2015 at 7:39 PM

      Asalamualaykum Elijah,

      The Christological minutiae may seem abstruse, but for a confessional traditionalist the notion that a conceptualization of God which includes a son can accord with the tawhid is, to put it mildly, non-canonical and an important consideration. Those placed in a position of responsibility to advise about the SQ will likely find its distinctions between Chalcedonian Christology and Monophysite Christology difficult to interpret, and the intent of the review was to not only expose them to that distinction, but to assert the orthodox conception of God’s unicity within that context.

      As for the remainder of your comment, I believe we are speaking to two different audiences and will not find consensus. This review has been published on MuslimMatters, an overtly confessional Sunni website, and the review reflects my sensibilities as an admittedly confessional Muslim who is, thankfully, unencumbered by potential doctrinarian assertions.

      With regards to your comments concerning orthodoxy, etc. – and I say this with the utmost respect – statements such as, ““Normative Orthodoxy” as the reviewer describes, is a social-construct that is both negotiated necessarily and established circumstantially through power, not truth or hermeneutical “correctness””, cannot come from someone who is embedded within the pedagogy of traditional Islamic studies. One who has had the fortune of sitting at the feet of scholars, learning from their ‘ilm and adab, cannot conclude that the normative tradition, matters of ijma’, and beliefs known of the religion by necessity, are simply established circumstantially through “power”. I don’t even know how to respond to the claim that “consensus is itself not a proof”, and the compartmentalizing of my treatment of consensus to tafsir is a complete misreading of the critique – one aspect of the critique pertained to ‘aqidah, and the other to fiqh, both fields in which consensus is not only a proof, but the *ultimate* truth in asserting epistemically conclusive rulings. That they appear in a work of tafsir is irrelevant to their designations as juridical and theological concerns.

      That said, I don’t disagree concerning the value of the SQ and hope that my review was not read solely through the lens of its critiques as I did my best to highlight its many strengths. I hold the authors of the SQ in very high regard and my own interactions with them has only increased my regard for them. Jazak Allah khayr for your comment,

      • Avatar


        December 17, 2015 at 1:17 AM

        Alaykum salaam Mobeen. Wherever you decide to begin, you will inevitably discover that not only is consensus of scholarly opinions a dogma of circularity, but that it holds no value today as an epistemic proof: it begins and ends with the community of Medina, per the formulators of Ijma’ as a source of law, as you are aware. Though many prestigious scholars arrogated the role of consensus as a privilege reserved for the scholarly elite, Imam Shaf’i’s explicit rejection of a scholarly class ruling over the majority as unprincipled is in fact the more traditional opinion in accordance with the prophetic guidance of the Messenger of God. A more analytical and less triumphalist view of consensus today: it is now a relic of invaluable, if not mythologized past, as is the intellectual authority of an obsolete class of ecclesiastics. Inshallah we can meet for a meaningful conversation engendering our mutual respect.


  10. Avatar

    Mohamed Abdallah

    December 17, 2015 at 1:52 PM

    Assalamu ‘alaikum Elijah,

    I think you are confusing two things here: there’s “consensus” (of the juridic kind you’re talking about), and then there’s Consensus on the macro scale (which is a horse of a different color). The question about the place of juristic consensus in deriving laws centers(ed) precisely around issues like whether the relevant consensus was just of the scholars or the whole community, how to ascertain a scholarly consensus (i.e., do you need explicit agreement from every living known scholar or just absence of objection over a long period of time), etc. Scholars did and do differ over these issues, and it is true that often a “consensus” (ijma’) is claimed on an issue, but that this is only meant in a looser, approximative sense.

    This type of consensus — i.e., on specialized issues among the specialists of a particular field of knowledge (like fiqh or ‘aqida) — is entirely different from those fundamental issues of belief (‘aqida) and/or practice (fiqh) that are so universally attested to by the entire umma — both scholars and non-scholars — in all times and places without exception as to constitute “ma’lum min al-din bi-l-darura,” i.e., that which is “known OF NECESSITY to constitute a part of the religion.” Every Muslim, for example, has always attested — on the ‘aqida side — that there is only one God, that Muhammad (saas) was a true messenger, that no further messengers will be sent after him, that there will be resurrection after death, etc. Similarly, on the fiqh side, every Muslim has always known and attested that there are five obligatory daily prayers in Islam, that fasting in the month of Ramadan is compulsory, that wine, gambling, zina, and eating pork (among other things) are prohibited, etc.

    These are all textbook examples of ma’lum min al-din bi-l-darura, and if there is anything which we can say we know about the deen with absolute certainty (and yes, I mean that as an epistemological claim to yaqin), it is these things. Denying any of them has usually been considered sufficient to nullify one’s very Islam (though mitigating circumstances may apply, such as widespread ignorance of the religion or the complex articulation of heretical positions which raise honest doubts in some people’s minds about what are otherwise completely clear darura issues). When Imam al-Shafi’i questioned the narrower, strictly scholarly consensus that you mentioned as epistemically unable to yield certainty (yaqin), it was only to contrast it with this other category of things that are so obvious and well attested to simply be KNOWN (by everyone) to be a part of the religion. Al-Shafi’i never rejected this category or the absolutely binding and epistemically certain nature of those beliefs and practices which it includes. Quite to the contrary: this was the “test case,” so to speak, against which he was comparing the status of the more narrowly defined consensus of the scholars.

    From an epistemological point of view, capital-“C” Consensus of the “ma’lum min al-din bi-l-darura” sort is, in a sense, the gold standard. Note that no one doubts the obligatory nature of five daily prayers, while these are nowhere mentioned explicitly in the Qur’an. Their obligatoriness is not the product of (“mere”) scholarly consensus because it was never derived through a process of scholarly deduction (or ijtihad). The kind of consensus Shafi’i had in mind was when an issue was the result of ijtihad and all scholars did ijtihad and came to the same conclusion. Issues of “ma’lum min al-din bi-l-darura” are not inferential to begin with; they are “pre-ijtihad,” so to speak. They are the very raw material of the deen, the data points, the facts (please excuse my use of materialistic metaphors and terminology here; I mean no disrespect). And it is not possible that the umma all together be in fundamental error on a basic point of ‘aqida or fiqh that falls under “ma’lum min al-din bi-l-darura.” Not only is there the hadith that “Never will my umma agree upon an error,” but it simply makes no theological (or epistemological) sense to hold that Allah would have sent a message through a messenger and that EVERY SINGLE PERSON that the messenger taught and to whom he transmitted the message, as well as all generations after them (both of scholars and non-scholars), “miraculously” concurred on an exactly identical, but MISTAKEN, view of a given issue, especially one as foundational as what is being discussed here. And there is no dogmatism in that, but just plain common sense.

    No known or recognized figure in Islamic history (prior to Rene Guenon in the 20th century and his subsequent followers) has ever held that previous dispensations, even assuming they had not been corrupted, continue to be concurrently valid with God’s final dispensation to mankind after the coming of His final messenger, or that a person, having come to know about this final messenger and been fairly apprised of the message he brought and the proofs that authenticate it, may continue following a religion other than this final dispensation (i.e., Islam, or “historical Islam,” if you insist) and still be saved. As Mobeen pointed out above, the fairly wide view of “excused” persons (due to the message not reaching them or reaching them only in a distorted form) does not mean that their religions remain valid, nor does it authorize Muslims to go around identifying which forms of previous dispensations are “orthodox” (and therefore continue to be salvific) or not.

    Unfortunately, certain Sufi figures, like Ibn ‘Arabi and Rumi, have been represented as holding this view in their own day, but it is not difficult to find refutations of those allegations by scholars who themselves follow in their direct line (such as Sh. Nuh Ha Mim Keller’s article on Universalism in Islam, which exists in a slightly expanded version as Ch. 18 of his book, Sea Without Shore). I think it is telling that the SQ makes numerous claims of “many scholars” or “many exegetes” having stressed this or that point which, in the context of the commentary, makes it look like they held, or may have been sympathetic to, views similar to the authors of the SQ, but then this is never sourced (as far as I have been able to tell). The point is often repeated that “many scholars” recognized that “islam” (or submission in the broad sense) has not been confined throughout history to just the community of Muhammad (saas), but can refer to others who were not part of this community. This is true, but made to seem as if it saying something that it is not. In fact, not just “many,” but ALL scholars and all Muslims recognize that “islam” has always existed amongst humans, that all past prophets and their righteous followers were all “muslim” in this sense, etc. But NONE of them, by sharp contrast, ever held that there continues to exist, CONCURRENT WITH the message of the Prophet Muhammad (saas), a more general sense of “submission” that falls outside the bounds of God’s final dispensation to ALL of mankind and that continues to be valid alongside that very mission (again, to those who come to know about it accurately, etc.).

    By the way, I love the Study Quran in general and think it is an amazing piece of work overall. Extremely well done in all respects — with the exception of this Perennialist overlay made to look like it’s part and parcel of the Islamic tradition. Where it’s clear that the editors are speaking in their own voice and making their own argument, that’s fair enough: the rest of us can then decide how plausible we think such a reading is (both of the Qur’an itself and of the continuous tradition in which it has been received and passed down and from which it cannot be stripped away from). But when it’s made to look like “many scholars” or “many exegetes” from the past have also held these views, that’s where I have a real problem, because that is simply not honest. And a simple reader — Muslim or non-Muslim — wouldn’t necessarily be able to pick up on that either, since it is done quite seemlessly. Wallahu a’lam.

  11. Avatar

    Caner Dagli

    December 17, 2015 at 3:32 PM

    I appreciate very much the level of engagement and seriousness around this review, and around the topic of other religions in particular. As I noted to Mobeen, I hope to say something more detailed about such matters related to the reviews and the topic of other religions in the future, hopefully at some length and detail. However, I would like to make a few general points, speaking for myself and not in the name of the team. These points relate to the broader discussion, not singling out Mobeen’s review here at all and some of this is not relevant to what he wrote:

    1. There is, in this discussion of other religions as it relates to the Study Quran, a profusion of terminology that is simply far to vague to allow us (the authors) to respond with any kind of clarity . The words “validity,” “salvation,” “saved,” and other terms are often so bound up with *Christian* theology that it becomes impossible to map them properly onto the debates in the Islamic intellectual tradition. What is “salvation”? What is “validity”? These mean many things, and I am unaware of any term in the Islamic tradition that corresponds to “salvation” and I am aware of several that have overlap with “validity”. In fact, the intricacies go far deeper than that, and even involved terms like “theological”. Definitions are not trivial here. It is crucially important to define the questions and maintain a level of precision. Such definitional preliminaries will be part of future discussion, insha Allah.

    2. I simply do not accept the general premise that somehow the views we espouse in the Study Quran concerning other religions were unheard of throughout Islamic history and were created whole cloth in the 20th century, as if we are grafting a coconut onto an apple tree. This simply isn’t the case, and people should be very careful about pronouncing the complete and utter absence of ideas resembling those we espouse in the tradition. Unanimous consensus (ijmāʿ) is an idea that we Muslims too readily invoke. Sometimes an insight can be articulated in a new way without representing a fundamentally different view. This has happened all the time in Islamic intellectual history. I’m not here to present the evidence, but to communicate where I am coming from. Some people are reacting as though we are claiming that there are seven daily prayers, Shaban is the month of fasting, and Makkah is in Sri Lanka, aʿudhu bi’Llāh.

    3. I totally reject and resent the idea that we are somehow “selectively” quoting the Quran or “ignored” evidence. In fact part of what convinces me of the interpretation to which I subscribe is that it does the best job of accounting for all of the relevant texts, which no one should imagine present an easy picture with no interpretive challenges.

    4. Finally, the words of Imam al-Nawawi to the effect that anyone who fails to call Christianity and Judaism kufr are guilty of kufr themselves and fall outside of Islam have been quoted recklessly by Muslims, and not only in regard to our book. If I fail to call a Christian a kafir and am therefore kafir, are you also a kafir if you believe Christians are kafirs but fail to call me a kafir for believing they aren’t, and is a third person a kafir if he fails to call you a kafir for denying that my denial of Christians being kafirs makes me a kafir? People should not be so zealous to wield such ideas that have only very limited application and certainly do not apply to our views and the way at which we arrive at them and articulate them.

    5. I have a post on Facebook, also on the Study Quran’s page, about the Diversity of Views in the Study Quran. Joseph also wrote some comments on his Facebook page about the Study Quran, which I invite people to read.

  12. Avatar


    December 18, 2015 at 12:43 AM

    Dr Dagli, hope you’ll forgive my statement, but this religion isn’t simply an intellectual exercise for academics and ‘ulamaa, it is our very heart and spirit when we live, and by we I mean the “lay” for lack of a better term.

    I cannot for the life of me understand how any can arrive where you do and ignore countless scholars and members of the Muslim community across time, space, culture, and even sect. Even if we can accept that others who held your view in different words pre-20th century, what number of thought leaders are you willing to put on that vs the entire community, scholar and lay? Should not the position of the overwhelming majority at least be highlighted as being such? Were they all simply misled?

    Salvation to a regular Joe like myself means one thing – at some point in a person’s afterlife experience, they will enter Jannah because they have earned Allah’s Mercy. A person denied it will remain in Hellfire forever with no hope of leaving. The only valid belief is Islam sent down in the Quran and explained by Prophet Muhammad (saw) and at best, a person who is not Muslim but didn’t have a chance to accept it is a corner case that Allah (swt) and I do not see how this validates those views.

    • Avatar


      February 4, 2016 at 2:07 PM

      You don’t need Caner to forgice you Siraaj. What you said is true. If only everyone would speak the truth.

  13. Avatar

    Mustafa Mahmud

    December 20, 2015 at 1:08 AM

    Here is one of MM’s VERY OWN CONTRIBUTORS in an EXCELLENT essay on the invalid and false(to say the least) beliefs of Perrenialism.

    He doesn’t call anyone kilab or ignoramuses-he is very nice in elucidating on the status of this false(to say the least) belief and how Muslims should deal with it’s adherents.

    I quite like it. Insha Allah I’ll quote Rami Nsouri, Nuh Ha Mim Kellar and Shadee El Masry on this issue, all 3 are shaykhs from different aqeeda backgrounds then the Shuyookh I follow(there is a CONSENSUS on this issue you know-it does exist despite the desperate efforts of some to deny it. An IRONCLAD consensus among guided and deviant groups in the Ummah alike.)

    I’ll go further and see if post anything from a Shia and Barelvi Shaykh as well. But for know, enjoy this WONDERFUL essay on Perrenialism and takfir from MM’s VERY OWN CONTRIBUTOR Abu Aaliyah. In fact, MM why don’t you go ahead and publish this article on MM? It’s one of the best contributions of Abu Aaliyah. Let the Sunni opinion on this issue be heard!!!!!

    I must say, the Shuyookh have been very patient in refuting this batil despite all the slander and abuse they have received. Alhamdulilah may Allah reward and exalt them for it!!!!

  14. Avatar


    December 31, 2015 at 5:02 AM

    Firstly, It doesn’t simply apply to just Muslims however for each one of those individuals who take after any religion.

    It’s a hard truth that Muslims separated from the individuals who knows Arabic doesn’t really know the genuine significance of the Quranic verses. Yet, when there is a contention about religion, a few of us contribute without understanding a reverse discharge sitting tight for us.

    It’s without a doubt in hadeeth that Our Prophet Mohammed PBUH doesn’t energize contentions. Be that as it may, a few of us have the inclination to do as such.

    At that point, there is additionally something which exists in all religions, We keep religion in front of mankind. In each religion, it’s said that on the off chance that you take after that religion, you might wind up in paradise. All in all, what do these voracious individuals do? They simply focus on performing customs to their God and treat kindred individuals like some earth.

    Similarly, there are numerous occasions where we ought to be a genuine Muslim and additionally a genuine person. It ought to additionally be noticed that Allah educates that treating kindred human not make any difference who they are, will be a decent deed and it’s an obligation. In this way, rather than simply robbing up Quran, once needs to peruse the interpretation and get the entire picture with a wide range of information.

    By then, we won’t even contend in light of the fact that we picked up something many refer to as shrewdness!

    We simply impart it to a grin! :)

  15. Avatar

    Ahmed Khan

    January 17, 2016 at 11:01 AM

    Thank you so much for such an impressive article.. please keep sharing such an informative articles.

  16. Avatar


    January 23, 2016 at 3:49 PM

    For a traditional Sunni perspective, please see:
    By Abu Nur al-Mizzi

    • Avatar

      Mustafa Mahmud

      January 30, 2016 at 9:04 PM

      Traditional Sunni perspective… is the ONLY perspective in the past. Mobeen is being extremely generous and lenient to the authors in this review.

  17. Avatar

    Abdul Ghawth

    January 31, 2016 at 6:20 PM

    A good review but pity you had to refer to Sufi tendencies in TSQ as being ‘problematic’ and ‘esoteric’. Surely in the context esoteric means referring to the spiritual interpretations given by Sufi exegetes and not the glossary meaning you gave of the word ‘esoteric’. Given that Sufism has been a central part of Sunni orthodoxy over the past 1000 years of Islam calling it ‘esoteric’ is not fair.
    That leads me to another question: is there a Sufi commentary of the Qur’an available in English translation? I think that is the need of the hour rather than anything else. Also I don’t see why the inclusion of an essay by Ahmed al Tayyib, just because he supported the overthrow of Morsi, is an issue at all? No one would object to that unless he or she had sympathy for the Muslim Brotherhood who are part of the Salafist trend in Islam of the 20th century that is the problem! Also you should have mentioned if TSQ has any Shia commentators too (I hope so to be fair and balanced). Thank you for your review and I hope everyone reads it and makes up their own mind before shouting ‘blasphemy!’ or accusing the authors of kufr.

    • Avatar


      February 3, 2016 at 2:04 PM

      “No one would object to that unless he or she had sympathy for the Muslim Brotherhood who are part of the Salafist trend in Islam of the 20th century that is the problem!”

      Or had a shred of humanity let alone iman…..

  18. Avatar


    February 3, 2016 at 2:10 PM

    I think Shadee el Masry’s post here is very on point.
    [Here’s an example of what I’ve been posting about for the last few days regarding the new Study Quran. When you actually uncover a lie with your own two eyes, it’s infuriating. And al-hamdulillah I don’t roam in academic circles, so I can expose this with little to no backlash al-hamdulillah.

    When it comes to the issue of exclusive theological validity (not to be confused with salvation because we have a doctrine of Ahl al-Fatra—those who never received the message, nor received it properly).

    Here is some commentary from the Study Quran on, “Whomsoever chooses other than islam as a deen, it is not accepted from him” (3:85 Aal Imran).

    The editors are passing it off that traditional exegetes have differed on “islam” here and that it’s not restricted to what the Prophet ﷺ brought. Ibn Kathir’s words “a path other than what God has revealed” is peddled as, “…can include the People of the Book.” And they stop there. What a blatant lie because it took me all of two seconds to look it up and lo and behold, the line right above it describes “those who submitted” as “Those who believe in EVERY Prophet that has been sent down and EVERY book that his been revealed,” which clearly is not the case with the People of the Book who are obviously rejecting the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ.

    I figured wow that was easy, let me look at the line below it. And what do I find? “Islam/submission” is “…as the Prophet ﷺ said ‘Whoever takes an action that is not what we ordained, it is rejected.'” Therefore, what Ibn Kathir meant by “what God revealed” is clearly what the Prophet ﷺ has brought, not all past revelations.

    Really, my opinion of whoever wrote this is that they’re no different than any other sect that cherry picks with immense dishonesty. They should be ashamed at trying to fool those who don’t read Arabic and can’t do what I just did which took me no more than five minutes to uncover.

    Look, be a Perennialist, be a Liberal, be a hadith rejector, be whatever you want. But the moment you you’re dishonest with the evidence, I’ve lost all respect. It’s low.]

    Shadee El Masry

  19. Avatar


    February 3, 2016 at 2:10 PM

    MM has allowed these people to call Muslims dogs and rant about how ignorant we are as we refute their deviations literally every scholar in the past opposed. It’s a bit of an obvious double standard, but then again MM being MM…..

    Considering that we haven’t returned the same although we have every right to,(and MM hasn’t censored their slander towards us as “dogs” or “ignorant”) it would be basic decency of MM to let us fully delineate the only position considered valid by any alim or faqih ever in the past 1400 years.

    • Avatar

      Aly Balagamwala

      February 4, 2016 at 2:46 AM

      Dear Mahmud

      Can you please point out the specific comment calling Muslims dogs as it seems to have been missed by me which is very possible given I am human.

      As for your complaint of not being able to explain your position please note that in the past week I think I have seen several comments from you being posted on MM and being approved. And in fact I think if one were to look at it you are one of the most active commenters being approved.

      We reserve the right to remove or edit any comments as per our comment policy. And if you do not feel like it is fair then we are sorry. However, our policy holds.

      Please stop complaining every time you are censored. JazakAllahu Khairin.

      • Avatar


        February 4, 2016 at 1:46 PM

        Yusuf Kiswit……right here…Mobeen even responded to him….and check out Caner Daglis [REDACTED] rant which I was not able to respond to.

        *This comment was edited by the MM Comments Team in order to comply with our Comments Policy*

        • Avatar

          Aly Balagamwala

          February 8, 2016 at 2:36 AM

          If you see Mobeen actually edited the commented and rebuked him for his language.

          Regarding your being moderated, sometimes it is not what you say but how you say it that is being censored. I can not edit each and every comment of yours to make it civil.

          You were placed on a temp ban for it once and we even had a conversation on this off-forum. You are entitled to your opinions but you must learn to verbalize them better. And you do not know what comments by others are moderated so please do not accuse of double standards. Our policy dictates our actions and if you can not comply then you will continue to get moderated.

          This is the last I am going to discuss on the matter of moderation.

          Thank you for being a regular reader and commenter.


          Comment Team Lead

  20. Pingback: The American Quran Pissing Off the Saudis - The Daily Beast |

  21. Pingback: Themes for (nonviolent) study and play – sleepreading

  22. Avatar

    Abdul Malik Abu Hamza Al Maky

    July 22, 2016 at 11:07 PM

    Greatly impressed by this scholarly account. One of the most learned conversations I have ever read. So, thank you.
    If I may add this:

    Historic Islam as it came to be should not be confounded with Islam as submission, although there is congruence. To wit for those who do a seeming contradiciton within the Noble Book in these 2 ‘ayats :

    “Surely, those who believe (in the Oneness of Allah and His Messenger Muhammad and all that was revealed to him from Allah), and those who are Jews and Christians – whosoever believes in Allah and the Last Day and works righteousness, on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.” They eliminate this troublesome passage by invoking the spurious doctrine of “abrogation,” whereby God supposedly changes His mind and overrules prior passages or decides that they are simply no longer appropriate.

    “Whoever seeks a religion other than Islam, it will never be accepted of him and in the Hereafter he will be among the losers.”

    ONE OF THE MAIN PROBLEM I ENCOUNTER IS TO NOT TRANSLATE ISLAM HERE WITH SUBMISSION. By doing so, the ‘contradiction’ dissolves. But it takes understanding which is beyond mere scholarly research, one has to go the way. Tawheed can only be found by submission. Outward ways may be different. But wherever Tawheed is the central tenet, and the way to it one of submission, which includes regular prayer-contemplation-meditation, and otherwise not, it is part of it.

    I can authoritatïvely state, that TAO(ism) and DHAMMA (the teaching of Gotamo the Buddha), as well as countless references in the Vedic Sciences is exclusively the expounding of TAWHEED, and nothing else. Now, most Muslims are completely unfamiliar to that, and mostly blind and ignorant. But clearly all ways of submission to Tawheed lead to ‘God’.

    • Avatar


      July 27, 2016 at 6:52 PM

      Audhu billah min al ashaytan al rajeem. Submission to the ENTIRE command of Allah, not any part of it one picks and chooses. Every command, every messenger.

  23. Avatar

    Jesse Kidder

    September 12, 2016 at 6:30 PM

    Hello, all.

    Researching mythography, I came upon this debate over the quality of the SQ. As when discussing the the holy books of Jews and Christians, let alone those of other religions, the human invention of the divine has nowhere been considered. Religious have that lacuna to contend with prior to all else.

    Truth is rational and empirical. Otherwise, we imagine, with best consequence hoped for, even as malice threatens disagreement. That we made the divine make us, that we made the divine, is the fundamental premise here, to prove that we did not the issue.

    Humbly and with best wishes,

  24. Avatar


    June 10, 2017 at 10:15 PM

    “How the notion of ‘unreached’ translates to those whose only exposure to Islam is via the medium of hostility and antagonism, only God Knows.” Do I correctly Understand what I you mean? And if yes: are you serious?? Given the facts that happens in the world do you really think someone could became Muslim knowing about Islam only through murders crimes and wahabi ideology?? Really? I am a convert and if it wasn’t for my completely different experience of Islam I would NEVER be Muslim myself as per my previous knowledge of Islam made of terrorism and wahabi lies.

  25. Avatar

    Naeem Patel

    May 10, 2019 at 4:47 PM

    While the pluralist content takes away much from this book, at least they were able to translate basic arabic words correctly. How many of the aforementioned translations in your review translated اضـربـوهـنّ incorrectly as ‘beat them’, rather than the correct literal translation ‘strike them’. Think about the cannotations of one translation vis a vis another. How does one ‘beat’ someone with a miswak? May Allah forgive us for our errors.

Leave a Reply

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


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

Dr Usaama al-Azami



Sepoy rebellion, Shaykh Hamza

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

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

Opposing all government vs opposing a government

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

A complex tradition

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

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

What does the tradition actually say?

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

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

Al-Ghazzali on confronting tyrants

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

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

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

Modern discontinuities and their high stakes

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

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

Shaykh Hamza on the nature of government

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

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

Where do we go from here?

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

And Allah knows best.

Continue Reading


Can Women Attend The Burial Of The Deceased?

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

Dr Usaama al-Azami



Quran at graveyard, woman attend burial

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

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

Key positions and evidence

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

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

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

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

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

Interpreting the evidence

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

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

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

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

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

The fiqh of modernity

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

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

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

And God knows best.

Continue Reading


Reflections on Muslim Approaches to the Abortion Debate: The Problem of Narrow Conceptualization

American Muslims must go beyond simplistic and emotionally-charged approaches to the abortion question.

Shaykh Salman Younas




“Islam is the golden mean between all ethical extremes’ is what certain Muslims would assert… This moral assumption isn’t far from the truth.”

Shaykh Abdullah Hamid Ali in A Word on Muslim Attitudes Toward Abortion

“The golden mean is kind of a summit, and it is a struggle to get there. The ego does not want balance because you have to think and make sacrifices.”

Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad in Paradigms of Leadership (6)

A few months ago, Governor Kay Ivey signed into law House Bill 134, or the Human Life Protection Act, which prohibited all abortion in the state of Alabama except in cases where it was deemed necessary to prevent a serious health risk to the mother. The bill additionally criminalized abortion or any attempt to carry it out in situations deemed non-necessary. A motion to exempt rape and incest victims from this law was defeated in the Alabama state senate, which give the state the (dubious) distinction of possessing one of the most restrictive abortion laws in America. This move by Alabama to place extreme restrictions on abortion followed a spate of similar legislative moves by other states, such as Georgia, Kentucky, and Mississippi.

This escalation in anti-abortion legislation occasioned intense debate within the Muslim community.[1] Muslims who self-identify as progressives chanted the familiar mantra of “my body, my choice” to affirm a notion of personal rights and bodily autonomy in defending a woman’s right to choose. The ideological underpinnings of this view are extremely problematic from a theological perspective, and the practical policies arising from it that sanction even late-term abortions contravene the near-consensus position of classical jurists and is rightly seen as an assault on inviolable human life. For this reason, this essay will not pay any particular attention to this view.

Several people pushed back against this permissive attitude by arguing that abortion is essentially prohibited in Islam in all but the direst of situations, such as when the life of the mother is at genuine risk. This opinion has a sound precedent in the legal tradition and is the mainstream view of some of the legal schools, but it has often been presented in a manner that fails to acknowledge the normative pluralism that exists on the matter in the shariah and rather perniciously presents these alternative opinions as ‘liberal’ or ‘progressive’. Similarly, those who favour the more lenient view found in other legal schools are often seen characterizing the stricter opinion as ‘right-wing’ or reflective of the Christianization of Islamic law. Despite having legal precedent on their side, both groups engaged the abortion question in a manner that was rather superficial and fundamentally problematic.


Did Jurists Only Permit Abortion in ‘Dire’ Circumstances?

I will begin this essay by offering a corrective to the mistaken notion that classical jurists only permitted abortions in cases of necessity, an assertion that has become very common in current Muslim discourse on abortion in America. One need not look much further than the Ḥanafī school to realize that this claim is incorrect. Though there are opinions within the school that only permit abortion before 120 days with the existence of a valid excuse, the view of several early leading authorities was that abortion was unconditionally permissible (mubāḥ) before this period and/or prior to the physical form and features of a fetus becoming clearly discernible.[2] In his encyclopaedic work al-Muḥīṭ al-Burhānī, Burhān al-Dīn ibn Māza (d. 616/1219) presents two main opinions on abortion in the school:

(i) It is permitted “as long as some physical human features are not clearly discernible because if these features are not discernible, the fetus is not a child (walad)” as per Fatāwā Ahl al-Samarqand. Some scholars asserted that this occurs at 120 days,[3] while others stated that this assertion, though incorrect, indicated that by discernibility jurists intended ensoulment.[4]

(ii) It is disliked because once conception occurs, the natural prognostication is life and so the fetus is granted this ruling at the moment of conception itself. This was the view of ʿAlī ibn Mūsā al-Qummī (d. 305/917-18).[5]

The first opinion of unconditional permissibility was not a solitary one in the school. It was forwarded by many of the foremost Ḥanafī authorities, such as Ḥussām al-Dīn ibn Māza (d. 536/1141),[6] Raḍī al-Dīn al-Sarakhsī (d. 575/1175),[7] Jamāl al-Dīn al-Ghaznawī (d. 593/1196),[8] Zayn al-Dīn al-Rāzī (d. 666/1267),[9] ʿAbd Allāh ibn Maḥmūd al-Mawṣilī (d. 683/1284),[10] Fakhr al-Dīn al-Zaylaʿī (d. 743/1343),[11] Qiwām al-Dīn al-Kākī (749/1348),[12] Jalāl al-Dīn al-Khawārizmī (d. 767/1365),[13] Kamāl ibn al-Humām (d. 861/1457),[14] Muḥyī al-Dīn Jawīzāda (d. 954/1547),[15] Muḥammad ibn ʿAlī al-Ḥaṣkafī (d. 1088/1677),[16] and several others.[17] The reasoning underlying this view was that prior to a specific period (whether defined by days or by fetal development), a fetus is not a ‘child’ or ‘person’.[18] Therefore, no ruling is attached to it at this stage.[19]

Another opinion in the school, and one that has gained wide acceptance amongst contemporary Ḥanafī jurists, argued that abortion prior to 120 days was disliked and sinful unless carried out with a valid excuse. This view was most famously expressed by Fakhr al-Dīn Qāḍīkhān (d. 592/1196) in his Fatāwā and subsequently supported by the likes of Ibn Wahbān (d. 768/1367),[20] Ibn Nujaym (d. 970/1563),[21] and Ibn ʿĀbidīn (d. 1252/1836).[22] These sources, however, do not define or fully flesh out what constitutes an excuse, sufficing mainly with a single example as illustrative of a case where abortion would be permitted, namely when a woman ceases to produce milk on account of pregnancy and her husband is unable to provide an alternative source of sustenance for their child and fears his or her perishing. Cases of rape, incest, adultery, and other possible excuses are not discussed by most of these authors, and it is not clear whether they would have deemed these valid excuses or not.[23]

The Ḥanafī school, therefore, had three main opinions on the issue: unconditionally permissible prior to a specific time period; unconditionally disliked; and conditionally permissible prior to a specific time period. Of the three, the first view seems to have been the dominant one in the school and held by multiple authorities in virtually every century. The view of conditional permissibility was also a strong one and notably adopted by several later jurists. It is also the view that has gained currency among modern Ḥanafī scholars who are generally not seen forwarding the view of unconditional permissibility.

Some Contemporary Views on Abortion

A wide range of opinions is also found in the discourse of contemporary jurists. Shaykh Muṣṭafā Zarqā (d. 1999) presented a gradated scheme where abortion prior to 40 days was permitted without a “severe excuse”, which included “undertaking necessary travel where pregnancy and giving birth would prove a hindrance, such as for education or for work that requires a couple to move.”[24] He also considered financial strain arising from a child as a valid excuse during this limited time period. According to him, the threshold for a valid excuse would become higher as the pregnancy proceeded beyond 40 days.

Muftī Maḥmūd Ḥasan Gangohī (d. 1996), one of the foremost scholars of the Deobandī school, permitted abortions when conception occurred out of wedlock (zinā).[25]

Muftī Salmān Manṣurpūrī states emphatically that the basis is that abortion is impermissible unless there is a valid excuse before 120 days, such as the life of the mother being at risk, serious consequences to her general health, an actual inability to bear pregnancy, clear harm or danger to one’s current children, and adultery, but not fear of economic difficulty nor the decision not to have children.[26]

In Fatāwā Dār al-ʿUlūm Zakariyya, Muftī Raḍā’ al-Ḥaqq states that a fetus diagnosed by medical professionals with an incurable and serious disorder that will prove to be an extreme burden on the child and its family is permitted to abort prior to 120 days as per the Islamic Fiqh Academy in Mecca.[27] Elsewhere, he divides pregnancy into three stages. The first stage is when the general form and facial features of the fetus take shape but prior to the formation of its limbs. At this stage, it is permitted to carry out on abortion with a valid and established excuse, such as the fetus suffering from a “dangerous hereditary disease”, “physical abnormality/deformity”, the life of the mother being at risk, or reasonably-established fear of the mother’s “physical and mental health” being impacted. The second stage is when the limbs of the fetus are clearly formed and discernible, and the third stage is after 120 days. In both these stages, the respected Muftī rules that abortion is not permitted except in cases of necessity, such as saving the life of the mother.[28] The permission to abort the fetus is also extended to cases of rape.[29]

Mawlānā Zubayr Aḥmad Qāsmī (d. 2019), a founding member of the Islamic Fiqh Academy, India, argued that the permission to carry out an abortion before ensoulment (even after discernibility) is not simply restricted to cases of necessity (ḍarūra) but includes cases of need (ḥāja), which broadly includes “any situation that entails bodily or psychological harm for the parents or the child and is a cause for continual distress.”[30] Examples of valid excuses include “danger to the general health, mental health, or life of the mother”, pregnancy resulting from rape or fornication (so long as it is not someone who has engaged in the latter habitually), the strong possibility that the child will be born with serious physical abnormalities or defects as determined by a medical professional, and the genuine inability of the parents to raise and maintain/sustain more than one child without it negatively impacting their current children.[31]

Mawlānā Khālid Sayf Allāh Raḥmānī states, “Essentially, abortion is impermissible in Islam, and there is no time period in which it is acceptable to abort a fetus. However, this impermissibly has degrees. In the first scenario (i.e. post-ensoulment) it is a grievous sin and categorically prohibited; in the second scenario (i.e. pre-ensoulment but post-discernment of limbs) it is lesser than this; in the third scenario (i.e. before features/limbs become discernible) it is relatively less severe than the previous two.” He then goes on to rule that abortion is not permitted for the following reasons: not desiring more children; conception out of wedlock; or being physically or mentally unable to care for a child, since others may be able to do so. Excuses that permit abortion before ensoulment include a doctor concluding with reasonable-surety that the child will suffer from a dangerous hereditary disease, physical abnormalities, and deformities, and the life of the mother is at serious risk.[32]

There are stricter views than some of those mentioned above, especially from non-Ḥanafī scholars. Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, taking the Mālikī school as his basis,[33] has argued that abortion before 40 days is prohibited “with rare exception.”[34] This view of impermissibility is also held by Shaykh Yūsuf al-Qaraḍāwī although he allows for a dispensation to be given to victims of rape.[35]

Shaykh ʿAbd Allāh ibn Bayya also deems abortion at all stages of pregnancy to be sinful to varying degrees except in situations where the life of the mother is at risk.[36]

Shaykh Wahba al-Zuhaylī (d. 2015) ruled that abortion was impermissible from the moment of conception “except in cases of necessity” such as being afflicted with cancer or an incurable disease.[37]

Framing the Problem: Basic Levels of Engaging the Law

The discussion so far makes one point quite evident: there are an array of opinions on the issue of abortion ranging from the extremely restrictive to the more permissive. Though ‘difference of opinion’ (ikhtilāf) has generally been viewed as one of the outstanding and unique features of Islamic legal discourse, it is precisely the range of views that exist in the tradition on abortion that partly plays a role in the problematic approaches to the issue seen amongst certain Muslims. It is not so much the differences themselves that are the issue, but the manner in which particular opinions are selected by individuals who subsequently propagate them to the community as binding doctrine.

To better understand this, one can broadly identify four basic levels of engagement with religious law applicable to Muslim leaders and scholars in the West in the context of the abortion issue,[38] which often overlap with one another: (a) personal, (b) academic, (c) fatwā, public preaching, and irshād, and (d) political.

(a) The Personal

The ‘personal’ level concerns an individual’s own practice where he or she can follow the legal school (or trusted scholar) of their choosing or decide on the rulings that govern their lives when possessing the ability to do so. This level does not directly concern anyone but the individual himself.

(b) The Academic

The ‘academic’ level in the current context refers primarily to a process of study, reflection and deduction, and research to arrive at a personal conclusion regarding some aspect of the law that is undertaken in conversation with a guild of peers and not the general population. Such academic activity is often theoretical, abstract, and conceptual, and even when it addresses more practical concerns, it constitutes a general articulation of an opinion, not an individualized responsa, that others engage with as members of a scholarly class. This scholarly class includes the ʿulamā’ and others whose input is relevant to a particular issue.

(c) Fatwā, Irshād, and Public Preaching

The realm of fatwā is exclusively for a qualified scholar. Here, the scholar enters most directly into the practical implementation of a legal ruling. Fatwā does involve an academic process, and it is often conveyed by a jurist as a universal ruling in accordance with his academic conclusions. However, the practice of fatwā is commonly understood as an answer directed by a qualified jurisconsult (muftī) to an individual (mustaftī) who requires guidance on a particular religious matter. The jurisconsult providing said individual with an answer is now tasked with translating the abstract, theoretical, and academic into a practical solution, which requires taking into account the circumstances of the questioner.[39]

The delicateness of this matter has led some scholars to compare the relationship of a jurisconsult with the questioner to that of a doctor and his patient.[40] Indeed, the answer that a scholar provides a questioner may not be fully in accordance with the theoretical and abstract conclusions the former has reached in an academic setting, it may disregard an opinion that the jurisconsult otherwise deems a valid legal interpretation because its application is not appropriate in the specific case at hand, it may be strict or lenient, in accordance with the legal school of the scholar or a dispensation from another, and it may be inapplicable to anyone but the questioner. Further, a fatwā is non-binding (unlike a judicial court ruling) and does not negate other valid opinions or peoples’ choice to follow them. This is important to note in contexts where a fatwā is issued to communicate a universal rule.

In many cases, the answer that is provided to a person is not presented as a fatwā but merely a form of religious advice or irshād. Though there is presumably a difference between these two concepts, they are sometimes indistinguishable in a Western context. Irshād has a seemingly less formal quality to it, and it can be offered by a non-scholar though the prerequisite of sound knowledge still remains. Like fatwā, the proffering of religious advice and guidance can assume a more public form and have an academic flavour to it. The articles written by non-scholars on the blogosphere, lectures and speeches delivered by speakers, and religious counsel extended to others falls within this general category of irshād. For those in leadership roles, the public nature of their work means that high standards are required even here when it comes to addressing and conveying religious issues of a complex or delicate nature.

(d) The Political

If the issuance of a fatwā and providing religious advice is a delicate matter, the process of forming, advocating for, and/or enacting laws on the political level is far greater in this regard. Such laws are made in the context of human societies and affect large swaths of people who objectively vary in their circumstances – individual, social, religious/ideological, and economic. Unlike a fatwā or irshād, once a law has been settled upon by the state, it becomes binding upon an entire population and any reasonable alternative ceases to hold validity in practice at least until the law is reviewed and amended. Exemptions are only tolerated when affirmed by the law itself. Further, law interacts with and influences society in complex ways. This is true for all forms of law, not just ones that are state-enacted.

A core question in legal philosophy is what the law ought to be or what makes a law good. The ‘good’ is a moral concept and might be described as one that is essentially contested in so far as people differ over its conception and the criteria for its application. Some emphasize the consequences of a rule (consequentialism), while others favour a deontological moral ethic or one that is virtue-centred. Each of these families of theories subsume within them further particular theories that differ with one another. There are also considerations of fairness, equity, distributive justice, enforceability, practicality, and/or efficiency that those evaluating the law might assign significant value to. These notions of morality and the good influence policy-making and legal systems.

How do Muslims approach this issue? Islam is viewed by Muslims as a comprehensive moral and philosophical system where the moral value of an act is determined by the divine will. It is the commands and prohibitions of God that render an action good or evil, and under this divine command theory, revelation is the primary source for moral knowledge.[41] However, this legal notion of moral value is not as straightforward as it sounds since a significant number of legal rulings are probabilistic in nature and differed upon. Consequently, the moral value attached to these rulings lack a decisive character, which engenders a plurality of moral outlooks. This pluralism is an indelible feature of the tradition itself creating a paradox whereby Muslims can affirm that good and evil are known through revelation, while recognizing that differences concerning moral judgments are part of the moral vision of revelation itself.

This raises important questions regarding the political approach a minority Muslim population in the West might take regarding the abortion issue. Should Muslims seek to accommodate a pluralism justified by tradition and avoid commandeering the state to coercively impose laws that negate the right of people to follow an acceptable and mainstream Islamic legal opinion?

Should Muslims simply support restrictions on abortion practices that contravene the consensus position of Islam? Or should Muslims seek to promote an opinion, or some combination of opinions, among those found in the legal schools on the basis of a reasonably defined criteria that assesses the issue holistically from the perspective of the theological, legal, ethical, and the public good?

Indeed, there are many classical opinions whose validity scholars did not accept, others that were prima facie valid but not put into practice, and classical jurists themselves erected systems to keep a check on legal chaos resulting from people being allowed to arbitrarily follow any opinion with a basis in precedent. Yet, Muslim societies always tolerated differences of opinion, and for most of its history, people living in these societies had recourse to various scholars from multiple legal schools. Unlike the centralizing and homogenizing tendencies of the modern nation-state, Islamic law was centrifugal and operated on a grass-roots level to produce self-governing societies. In many periods, this diversity was even found in judicial settings where courts were established for each of the legal schools. This was extended to non-Muslim populations living under Islamic governments as well who were accorded a high degree of autonomy. While this might strike some as a thing of the past, a nostalgic yearning for a bygone era, there are many lessons the community can draw from the attitudes and approaches of past societies.

In a political context, the notion of the ‘public good’ (maṣlaha) is particularly relevant given the scope and consequences of legislative actions, but it is a notoriously complicated one to pin down and, like the ‘good’, might be described as essentially contested. Even the basic question “who will this law or opinion impact, and in what manner” takes one into a complex maze of considerations and perspectives that demand careful attention and thought. It is hard to imagine any informed answer to this question without the input of a variety of experts. While Muslims are not quite in a position to craft legislation, influential religious activists and scholars who advocate for specific legislation and/or discourse on it to the wider community should keep the above points in made for any advocacy that proceeds in the name of religion is one that must be approached with care and seriousness.


Identifying the Problem: Beyond Personal Preferences, Emotions, and Selective Madhhab Picking

With this framework in mind, it is now possible to identify a major problem in current American Muslim discourse on abortion, which is that it does not meaningfully engage any of the levels described above save the personal. The distinction between these various engagement contexts is hardly recognized. Most public discourse on abortion promotes one traditional opinion over another based not on a rigorous standard that is grounded in revelation, theology, legal theory, ethics, the public good, and a keen awareness of human nature, the individual, political, social, and ideological currents and factors, historical trends, and the challenges of the contemporary world, but seemingly on personal opinions based on little more than a reaction to a perceived ideological threat, individual proclivities, or pure taqlīd. The mainstream opinions of the legal school simply act as tools of legitimation for one’s personal view.

The Problem of Imposition

On a personal level, this is not a problem per se, and people have their reasons to select certain views as opposed to others and even vociferously promote them in some limited capacity to friends, colleagues, or family over a session of tea or a short-lived social media feud with random individuals. However, for those in positions of leadership and influence, this cannot be the basis for a fatwā, general communal irshād, or public advocacy impacting millions of people. The imposition of the personal onto these areas in this manner is both ill-advised and potentially harmful. Even the conclusions reached by a scholar on the basis of sound academic research may be put aside in these contexts, i.e. fatwā and political activism/legislation, when the scholar feels that competing considerations and interests demand so. Thus, a scholar may believe in a reading of revelation that is extremely restrictive on abortion but recognizing the probabilistic nature of his interpretation and the variety of individual circumstances, the ethical norms of ease and warding off hardship, profound societal and economic changes, complex and strained community and family structures, the advice of other experts, and the general public good chooses not to advocate for this view as a matter of policy to be implemented as law or provided to a specific individual as a legal edict.

The Sunna Imperative for Leniency, The Lack of Depth of the Lenient

It is often forgotten that a peculiar response by some classical jurists to the degenerated state of society was not in toughening up legal prescriptions but relaxing them: “Our time is not one of avoiding the doubtful (shubuhāt), meaning if a person only avoids the impermissible, it is sufficient.”[42] This was an ethical consideration influencing the judgment of the jurist who saw it not as compromising religion nor a dereliction of his duty but part of the guidance of the sunna itself where facilitating the affairs of people was deemed important.[43] As Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad states commenting on the instruction of al-Birgivī (d. 981/1573) not to give the laity the more difficult opinion on an issue validly differed upon:

This, of course, is a Prophetic counsel. The ego doesn’t always like giving people easy options because we assume it is because of our laziness or some kind of liberal Islam. For al-Birgivī it is taqwā to give the ordinary Muslims the easier interpretations… but nowadays, we tend to assume that the narrower you are, the less compromises you make, the more the West will be angry and, therefore, the better the Muslim you must be.[44]

The Prophetic counsel that Shaykh Abdal Hakim refers to is known to many: “Make things easy and do not make them difficult.” This attitude of facilitating matters for people, granting them leniency, and not repulsing them with harshness and difficulty is a part of Islam. As Imām al-Shāṭibī stated, the removal of hardship (rafʿ al-ḥaraj) is a decisively established foundational principle in the shariah.[45] From this foundational principle arises some of the most important legal and ethical principles in the Islamic tradition, such as hardship necessitates ease, there is no harm nor reciprocating harm, harm is lifted, the lesser of two evils, taking into account the consequences of an act, custom as a source of law, and more. In fact, some jurists opined that when the evidence for an issue was contradictory or conflicting, the more lenient opinion was to be given preference due to the generality of revelatory texts affirming ease in the shariah.[46]

But there is a problem. Many of those who promote and relay the lenient Ḥanafī opinion of unconditional permissibility approach it in a manner that lacks substance. On the academic plane, even basic questions regarding this position are not addressed or understood, much less entertained. Take, for example, the difference between the statement of Ḥanafī jurists that abortion is impermissible after the physical features of the fetus become discernible and the statement of others in the school that this impermissibility comes into effect after a 120-day period. Are these the same? Who in the madhhab held these positions? Is there a clear preference for one or the other? How was discernibility understood? What features needed to be discernible? Did discernibility refer to what is normally observable by humans or to what is discernible by modern embryogenesis? How have contemporary jurists addressed this issue? Then there is the matter that one is hard-pressed to find a single contemporary Ḥanafī jurist who favours the view of unconditional permissibility. What does this reveal about this opinion and the possibility of critically evaluating past opinions that fall within the scope of differences of opinion?[47]

These questions largely fall within the parameters of an intra-school discussion and do not even begin to address the broader social and political considerations mentioned earlier.

Here, the sheer fact that there were over six-hundred thousand abortions reported in America in 2015, the latest year for which statistics exist from the CDC, should be alarming to people and cannot be callously dismissed.

Though the overwhelming majority of these occurred well within a 120-day period (≤13 weeks’ gestation, which is measured from the first day of the woman’s last menstruation and not from the day of conception), most of those who obtained these abortions were unmarried women who did so in non-dire circumstances.[48] The culture of sexual freedom out of which the abortion movement emerged and its ideological grounding in notions of bodily autonomy and personal choice cannot be ignored in this discussion.[49] Nor can the devaluing of family and motherhood,[50] the practice of female foeticide, the increasingly materialistic outlook of society, and its mechanistic view of human beings.

Additionally, some Muslims seem largely oblivious to the fact that abortion politics link to many other issues that have little do with abortion itself, such as assisted suicide or end-of-life care. In a famous district court case on assisted suicide, Compassion in Dying vs. Washington, it was Planned Parenthood vs. Casey that was cited as an important precedent to rule that a ban on physician-aided suicide was unconstitutional.[51] Clearly, it is not sufficient to make simplistic appeals to leniency to justify promulgating an opinion that leads to such wider consequences. Abortion, in other words, cannot be treated as a ‘stand-alone’ issue with little or no relation to a broader philosophical outlook that downplays a sanctity of life ethic.[52]

Thou Shalt Make No Exceptions, But Should We?

Many of the issues highlighted in the previous paragraph raise serious theological and ethical concerns for Muslims and should push them to reflect on the type of society they wish to create and sustain in America. Is the abortion movement today in line with the moral vision envisioned for society by God and His Prophet (blessings upon him)? Clearly not. But while the seriousness of this crisis cannot be understated, a core question, at least in the context of this debate, is often missed: if it is misplaced and dangerous to forward the most lenient opinion in this context, in what way does the strictest possible position on abortion where exemptions are not even extended to victims of rape and incest ameliorate the current situation? Or to put it differently, how do these social and ideological problems make the strictest possible opinion on abortion the most appropriate one to adopt for the individual and society?

The answer to this question is not usually satisfactorily provided. Generally, such a view returns to a genuine moral belief one holds regarding a fetus being an inviolable living person. This moral belief may be grounded in a preferred reading of revelation, simple adherence to a specific legal school, a reaction to a perceived ideological battle framed in the language of pro-life vs. pro-choice, personal inclinations, or, as is usually the case, some combination of these factors. But the no-exception view is at least initially a personal view one holds, which is then forwarded as a broad religious and political solution. One may wonder why this is an issue. After all, why shouldn’t a person forward what he or she personally believes to be the Islamic ruling on an issue?

Certainly, this is expected especially when it concerns human life, but as stated earlier, it is problematic when that personal view, which it should be noted in this case lacks a decisive legal/moral character from a religious perspective, moves into the realm of fatwā and public advocacy without taking into account the many considerations required to make an informed decision in these areas. This is in addition to the fact that those who hold this view feel perfectly within their rights to tell others to set aside their personal moral views permitting abortions precisely in view to a broader context.

Here, it is worth sharing the response given by Shaykh Yūsuf al-Qaraḍāwī when he was asked about abortions for Bosnian Muslim women who were raped during war. After mentioning that his basic view is that abortions are impermissible “from the moment of conception” and “this is what we give preference to”, he states:

However, in cases of need, there is no harm in taking one of the two alternative views (i.e. permissibility before 40 or 120 days), and whenever the excuse is more severe, the dispensation will be more established and manifest, and whenever it is before the first 40 days, it is closer to dispensation.

We know that there are jurists who are very strict on this matter and do not permit abortion even a day after conception… but what is most preferable is a middle path between those who are expansive in granting permission and those who are excessively strict in prohibition.[53]

This is, of course, how knowledge and fiqh operate. They do not merely float around in the world of the abstract but address a complex world of real people, which in the context of fatwā, irshād, and politics often requires setting aside individual feelings and personal adherences to particular legal opinions: “Know that this ikhtilāf [between scholars] may be a reason to provide facilitation and ease, which is one of the higher aims of the shariah affirmed by the unequivocal text of the Qur’an and sunna.”[54]

Too often, many of those who vociferously promote the strictest view on abortion address the issue on the level of the abstract and then transfer it to the practical realm with little further thought. Take, for example, the argument that Muslims should oppose the legalization of abortion because a majority of abortions are due to economic anxiety or a feeling of unreadiness, which in turn return to the increasingly materialistic outlook of society and crumbling family structures.

This materialistic outlook and erosion of the family must be remedied. However, no justification is ever furnished as to why a no-exception abortion stance is the best method to address this social problem, and there is almost no focus on the individual. It never crosses the mind of the proponents of this view that it is the very fact that society is materialistic to its core and the family lay in ruins that causes economic anxiety and feelings of unreadiness to be felt much more palpably and intensely by young, unmarried, pregnant women.

Web MD

By largely confining their analysis and presentation of the issue to ‘materialism’, ‘decay of family’, ‘feminism’, etc., proponents of the restrictive view (inadvertently) divert attention away from the lived realities of people. This leads to neglecting the more concrete conditions and circumstances people are subject to, such as poverty, unemployment, drug abuse, poor health, psychological issues, sexual abuse, incarceration, social inequality and stratification, and the varying abilities of people to cope with life pressures and struggles. This focus away from the individual produces an unsympathetic, even antagonistic attitude, where the solution favoured is uncompromising and rigid. The ethical is erroneously conflated with strictness even though it might entail leniency in recognition of individual and social conditions.

To take one example where these broader considerations come into play, take the issue of pregnancy resulting from rape. Though statistics regarding rape are inconsistent because the crime is so underreported, it is safe to say that hundreds of thousands of women are victims of rape every year with tens of thousands of these rapes resulting in pregnancy (approximately five percent).[55] A significantly high number of rape victims are under eighteen with many actually being under the age of twelve.[56] Victims of rape spend many weeks simply recovering from physical injuries and managing mental health symptoms, which can remain with them for years. Beyond the physical and psychological symptoms common after rape, if a rape victim decides to carry her child to term, she is forced to go through a lengthy and exhausting process to prosecute her rapist in a criminal court and contest custody in a family or dependency court.

The political and legislative context makes matters even more difficult. Not every state has legislation in place allowing for parental rights to be terminated for a rapist. Most states that do have such legislation in place require a criminal conviction of rape beyond a reasonable doubt, which is the highest standard of evidence possible, with several also requiring a civil court conviction by clear and convincing evidence that conception resulted from rape.

Some states require the rape to be of the first-degree, which is varyingly defined.[57] Generally, the chances of obtaining a conviction of first-degree rape are slim. Not only do rape crimes go unreported in a majority of cases,[58] there are numerous hurdles in the criminal justice system that disadvantage rape victims at every stage of the process, such as ‘rape myths’ that influence police, investigative officers, jurors, and judges.[59]

In most cases, a rapist will plead guilty to lesser crimes in order to avoid prolonged jail time, which would potentially allow him to gain parental rights in states requiring first or second-degree rape convictions for such rights to be terminated.[60] In view of this, one can state that the suggestion by some Muslims that abortion should not be permitted even in such contexts because a woman can simply put her child up for adoption is seriously misinformed and potentially harmful.[61] Is the correct solution in this context to support the most restrictive view on abortion?

Conclusion: Refining our Conceptualization & The Bigger Picture

American Muslims must go beyond simplistic and emotionally-charged approaches to the abortion question. This issue, like many others, cannot be properly addressed through a narrowly defined law, politics, or clash of ideologies narrative, especially at the level of individual fatwā, communal irshād, or political activism, advocacy, and legislation.

Nor can the wider community be shown direction on this issue, or have a course charted for them, merely on the basis of narrowly-informed personal opinions and proclivities neatly presented in the classical opinions of our choosing. Our approach must address the issue through real fiqh, namely deep understanding, where the question of abortion is tackled with an academic rigor that is cognizant of lived realities and is grounded in the ethics and guidance of revelation.

Today in America, a crisis we face is of an activism not based in, or guided by, real scholarship, and a scholarship that is wanting, uninspiring, and disconnected from those it seeks to guide. The first step scholars must take on this issue is to gain a proper and thorough conceptualization of the issue. No sound and effective conclusion can arise without such a conceptualization. This is true for any issue we find ourselves dealing with.

On the level of addressing the broader community, this is not an issue to be decided by an individual but a collectivity of minds coming together to exchange ideas and opinions. The laity should understand that American Muslims will not reach an agreement on this matter, and nor should we demand that they do. People will continue to forward different opinions and solutions. The progression of time will likely result in a plurality of acceptable views emerging within our context. This should not be met with confusion.

Muslims once lived in an age of ambiguity where opinions were confidently held but differences embraced. Today, we live in an age of anxiety, people with confused identities, threatened by modernity and various ideologies, so much so that “the only form of Islam [we] can regard as legitimate is a totalitarian, monolithic one” as Shaykh Abdal Hakim once remarked. Let us avoid this, allow for different perspectives, but demand higher standards from those who seek to guide us and speak on our behalf especially when the matter veers into a space that impacts people and communities in a very real way.

Finally, and most importantly, Muslims must break out of the mindset that social problems can simply be legislated away or solved through polemical battles waged on the internet against pernicious ideologies. The political and social are intimately intertwined, but it is all too common to see many Muslims neglecting the latter while imagining that the activities they are engaged in to address the political are actually meaningful and impactful. In fact, it is often detached from the real world, a mouthing of clichés and idle moralizing on social media platforms that elicits rage and fails to yield actual solutions on the ground. If television altered the meaning of being informed as Neil Postmann asserted, social media has undoubtedly taken things a step further by altering the meaning of ‘taking action’.

The erosion of family, the decay of morality, the rise of materialistic outlooks, the loss of higher purpose and meaning, and the devaluing of life must be addressed more directly through education, the creation of a real community, the nurturing and training of leaders who embody knowledge and wisdom, and the erection of structures that support peoples’ faith and anchor them in times of crisis. It should not be forgotten that these non-legal institutions play an important role in shaping behaviours and promoting social mores.

Muslims should learn from the many conservative Christian activists who, contrary to popular stereotypes, demonstrate an acute awareness of the struggles and anguish that many women contemplating abortion experience. As the prominent pro-life activist Frederica Mathewes-Green states:

This issue gets presented as if it’s a tug of war between the woman and the baby. We see them as mortal enemies, locked in a fight to the death. But that’s a strange idea, isn’t it? It must be the first time in history when mothers and their own children have been assumed to be at war. We’re supposed to picture the child attacking her, trying to destroy her hopes and plans, and picture the woman grateful for the abortion, since it rescued her from the clutches of her child.

If you were in charge of a nature preserve and you noticed that the pregnant female mammals were trying to miscarry their pregnancies, eating poisonous plants or injuring themselves, what would you do? Would you think of it as a battle between the pregnant female and her unborn and find ways to help those pregnant animals miscarry? No, of course not. You would immediately think, “Something must be really wrong in this environment.” Something is creating intolerable stress, so much so that animals would rather destroy their own offspring than bring them into the world. You would strive to identify and correct whatever factors were causing this stress in the animals.[62]

It is this realization, which arises from a perspective that looks beyond abortion as simply an ideological battle between ‘the feminist’ or ‘the liberal’, that generates a sense of empathy within many conservative Christian activists who are then motivated to assist women in concrete ways.

Take the example of Embrace Grace, a Texas-based non-profit organization, which describes its purpose as “providing emotional, practical and spiritual support for single, young women and their families who find themselves in an unintended pregnancy” and to “empower churches across the nation to be a safe and non-judging place for the girls to run to when they find out they are pregnant, instead of the last place they are welcomed because of shame and guilt.” Christians have set up hundreds of pregnancy care centers across the United States, which, despite issues of concern, provide resources and services to pregnant women. Various churches have set up support groups for single mothers and mothers-to-be, while the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) has set out to confront systemic injustices in society that lead women to seek out abortions, such as poverty.[63]

Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad said reaching the golden mean requires that we think and make sacrifices. It is time for leaders, thinkers, and scholars in our community to begin thinking more deeply and contemplatively about the issue of abortion in its various contexts, and it is time for our community to sacrifice their time, wealth, and energies in providing concrete solutions and remedies that demonstrate a true concern for both the unborn and the women who carry them.

God alone is our sufficiency.

[1] References to Muslims in this article should be primarily understood as referring to people in positions of leadership and influence. In this article, I discuss some of the technical aspects surrounding the legal debate over abortion, but my intent is to simply provide a brief overview of this aspect of the debate in order for a general audience to appreciate some of the complexities of the topic.

[2] Though the term fetus technically refers to the unborn after 8 weeks of gestation, many use it to refer to the unborn throughout the period of pregnancy. I will be using the latter convention for the sake of simplicity.

[3] al-Ḥasan ibn Manṣūr al-Farghānī, Fatāwā Qāḍīkhān, on the margins of Fatāwā Hindiyya (Bulāq: al-Maṭbaʿa al-Amīriyya, 1310 A.H.), 3:410.

[4] Ibn Māza himself framed the ruling in terms of ensoulment. He stated that jurists differed on the permissibility of abortion pre-ensoulment with some permitting it. He then cited the text of Fatāwā Ahl al-Samarqand, which only speaks of discernibility. Qāḍīkhān mentioned how the discernibility of physical features and limbs was “determined” by some as occurring at 120 days. Kamāl ibn al-Humām and others correctly pointed out that observation proves otherwise but proceed to state that the connection made between discernibility and ensoulment shows that scholars intended the latter when expressing the former. Ibn ʿĀbidīn, however, questioned this. I agree for several reasons: firstly, many jurists make no reference to 120 days or ensoulment when presenting this ruling; secondly, discernibility and ensoulment are clearly different stages during the pregnancy, a fact that was known to classical scholars who sometimes applied different terms to these two stages, such as taṣwīr/ṣūra and takhlīq/khalq; and, thirdly, most Ḥanafī rulings premised on determining personhood rely on the discernibility criterion. Given this, there are two possible views in the Ḥanafī school regarding the period before which abortion is permissible: before some of the physical features of the fetus become discernible or prior to ensoulment at 120 days. Additionally, there was discussion in the Ḥanafī school on the features that were to be given consideration when assessing whether a fetus was a ‘person’. These discussions are highly significant in modern debates for if the criterion for personhood is discerning a particular physical form on the basis of observation, this potentially broadens the scope for modern Ḥanafī understandings of the concept of personhood and how/when it is established. I hope to address these issues in a separate paper. See Maḥmūd ibn Aḥmad ibn Māza, al-Muḥīṭ al-Burhānī fī al-fiqh al-Nuʿmānī, ed. Nuʿaym Ashraf Nūr Aḥmad (Karachi: Idārat al-Qur’ān wa’l-ʿUlūm al-Islāmiyya, 2004), 8:83-84; al-Farghānī, Fatāwā Qāḍīkhān, 3:410; Muḥammad Amīn ibn ʿĀbidīn, Radd al-Muḥtār (Būlāq: al-Maṭbaʿa al-Kubrā al-Amīriyya, 1323 A.H.), 1:201.

[5] Ibn Māza, al-Muḥīṭ al-Burhānī, 8:83-84. It is worth noting that al-Qummī did not say fetus is a life at conception but that it has begun a process that concludes with life.

[6] Ḥussām al-Dīn ʿUmar ibn Māza, al-Fatāwā al-Kubrā (Istanbul: Rāghib Bāshā #619), ff. 96b.

[7] Raḍī al-Dīn al-Sarakhsī, al-Wajīz (Istanbul: Koprulu #684), ff. 116a.

[8] Jamāl al-Dīn Aḥmad ibn Muḥammad, al-Ḥāwī al-Qudsī, ed. Ṣāliḥ al-ʿAlī (Lebanon: Dār al-Nawādir, 2011), 2:326.

[9] Zayn al-Dīn Muḥammad ibn Abī Bakr al-Rāzī, Tuḥfat al-Mulūk, ed. Ṣalāḥ Abū al-Ḥajj (Amman: Dār al-Fārūq, 2006), 290.

[10] ʿAbd Allāh ibn Maḥmūd al-Mawṣilī, al-Ikthiyār, ed. Shuʿayb Arna’ūṭ (Damascus: Dār al-Risāla 2009), 4:153.

[11] ʿUthmān ibn ʿAlī al-Zaylaʿī, Tabyīn al-Ḥaqā’iq Sharḥ Kanz al-Daqā’iq (Multan: Maktaba Imdādiyya, n.d.), 2:166.

[12] Amīr Muḥammad ibn Muḥammad al-Kākī, Miʿrāj al-Dirāya (Istanbul: Koprulu #619), ff. 395b.

[13] Jalāl al-Dīn ibn Shams al-Dīn al-Khawārizmī, al-Kifāya Sharḥ al-Hidāya, on the margins of Fatḥ al-Qadīr (Cairo: Maṭbaʻat al-Maymaniyya, 1901; reprint Dār al-Kutub al-ʿIlmiyya, n.d.), 3:373.

[14] Kamāl ibn al-Humām, Fatḥ al-Qadīr (Cairo: Maṭbaʻat al-Maymaniyya, 1901; reprint Dār al-Kutub al-ʿIlmiyya, n.d.), 3:372-73.

[15] Muḥyī al-Dīn ibn Ilyās Jawīzāda, al-Īthār li-Ḥall al-Mukhtār, ed. Ilyās Qablān (Istanbul: Maktabat al-Irshād, 2016), 4:98.

[16] Muḥammad ibn ʿAlī al-Ḥaṣkafī, al-Durr al-Mukhtār (Lebanon: Dār al-Kutub al-ʿIlmiyya, 2002) 197.

[17] I am usually disinclined to list names of jurists in this manner when relating who held a specific legal opinion. One reason for this is that it creates the mistaken illusion that every one of these jurists came to this conclusion on the basis of their individual ijtihād when it may in fact simply be an exercise in taqlīd. Thus, one finds that most of these authors merely relate verbatim those who preceded them without any additional comments. However, it still indicates that these jurists accepted the ruling in question as the position of the school without qualms.

[18] When does a fetus qualify as a ‘person’ or a ‘human’? What are the necessary and sufficient features for personhood? Does personhood correspond to the beginning of life? If not, when does life begin? How is this connected to ensoulment? When does ensoulment occur? When does a fetus have moral standing? What is the nature of this moral standing over the course of a pregnancy? These are central questions in classical and modern debates on abortion. Sometimes, one finds that ‘person’, ‘human’, ‘life’, and related terms, are not properly defined, which is a problem given that conclusions regarding abortion are often premised on their proper conceptualization. Further, when attempts at proper definition are undertaken, people naturally come to different conclusions. For example, some modern pro-life philosophers argue that ‘persons’ are individuals of a rational nature and a fetus has no capacity for sentience, at least not until mid-gestation. Conception, therefore, cannot mark the beginning of a person. Yet even here, some scholars note that the fetus is a potential person. Therefore, it has some moral value and standing, but others counter with a “person-affecting restriction” that argues that merely potential people possess no moral claims. Some people work under material assumptions regarding the nature of the mind and opine that a moral person must be a ‘self’ and a necessary condition for something to be a self is some form of electrical brain activity. The bioethicist, Baruch Brody (d. 2018), also relied on this criterion of brain waves in his conception of personhood. Jane English presents a range of features or ‘factors’ that she views as being found in typical conceptions of a person: biological, psychological, rationality, social, and legal. There are religious conservative thinkers who define being human on the basis of genetics. John T. Noonan stated, “The positive argument for conception as the decisive moment of humanization is that at conception the new being receives the genetic code. It is this genetic information which determines his characteristics, which is the biological carrier of the possibility of human wisdom, which makes him a self-evolving being. A being with a human genetic code is man.” Many religious conservatives also maintain that there is no moment during pregnancy that can be identified as conferring moral significance on the unborn, i.e. it possesses moral standing before birth and after. Thus, brain waves, sentience, quickening, viability, physical human form, etc., are given no consideration as points at which moral standing is affirmed for the fetus and prior to which it is denied. For important early works on this topic see John T. Noonan, The Morality of Abortion: Legal and Historical Perspectives (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1970); Jane English, “Abortion and the Concept of a Person,” Canadian Journal of Philosophy 5, no. 2 (1975): 233-43; Baruch Brody, Abortion and the Sanctity of Life (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1975); Stephen Buckle, “Arguing From Potential,” Bioethics 2, no. 3 (1988): 226–253; Mary Anne Warren, Moral Status: Obligations to Persons and Other Living Things (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000); Michael Tooley, Abortion and Infanticide (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983); Richard Warner, “Abortion: The Ontological and Moral Status of the Unborn,” Social Theory and Practice 3 (1974). The literature on this is vast.

Classical jurists of Islam were guided fundamentally by revelation in their answers to these questions, but they still had substantial disagreements. Some identified a fetus as a person from the moment of conception, others as potentially so, yet others as a person only when its physical features became discernible, while some seemingly assigned no status to it at any fetal stage prior to ensoulment. When it came to ensoulment, the majority said this occurred at 120 days, while others said 40 days. Some equated ensoulment with personhood, while others distinguished between them. There were other conceptual frames utilized in discussions concerning the fetus as well, such as dhimma and ḥuqūq, being ‘animate’ or ‘inanimate’, a constituent part (juz’) of the mother or a separate self (nafs), and so forth. This occasioned a degree of ambiguity regarding the moral standing of the fetus at various stages of pregnancy. For example, Imām al-Ghazālī prohibited abortion at all stages of pregnancy but stated that the sin of doing so is less severe in earlier stages than later ones. Some jurists deemed it permissible to undergo an abortion due to a minor excuse in the first 40 days, requiring a more serious excuse from that point up until 120 days, and impermissible in all but the direst of situations following ensoulment. The fetus, therefore, seems to have a diminished moral standing at the beginning of the pregnancy and full moral standing post-ensoulment even in the eyes of jurists who affirmed personhood from conception. This is also reflected in rulings concerning financial compensation (ghurra) and expiation (kaffāra) owed by someone who causes a woman to miscarry. Meanwhile, many Ḥanafīs seemed to have assigned no moral status to the fetus before it had a discernible human form. The moral standing of the fetus was also influenced by the manner of conception with some jurists suggesting that a fetus conceived out of wedlock was not similar to a fetus that was conceived through a religiously sanctioned relationship. Besides revelation, observation played an important role in these determinations, as did the specific legal traditions jurists operated within. Today, science and embryology have guided the conclusions of many scholars, which has raised questions regarding the epistemological and interpretive value of the former. There is arguably a need to go beyond limited legal conceptions of personhood and life and engage in deeper theological and philosophical discussions on this matter.

[19] This ruling was consistent with several others in the school regarding whether a miscarried fetus is named, shrouded, and washed, whether a miscarriage concludes the waiting-period of a pregnant woman, and even whether a fetus is resurrected in the next-life. These rulings, among others, returned to whether the miscarried or stillborn fetus was actually considered a child/person, which in turn related to the formation and discernibility of its physical features. I believe this strengthens the view that discernibility of physical features was the main criterion for personhood in the Ḥanafī school. For some of these rulings see Muḥammad ibn al-Ḥasan al-Shaybānī, al-Aṣl, ed. Mehmet Boynūkālin (Beirut: Dār Ibn Ḥazm, 2012), 1:296, 4:415, 481, 5:144. This interconnectedness of legal doctrine, or its organic unity, is expressed in a famous aphorism, “The law is a seamless web.” These discussions are also present in the other three legal schools.

[20] Abū Muḥammad ʿAbd al-Wahhāb ibn Wahbān, ʿIqd al-Qalā’id wa-Qayd al-Sharā’id, ed. ʿAbd al-Jalīl al-ʿAṭā (Damascus: Maktabat al-Fajr, 2000), 195.

[21] Zayn al-Dīn ibn Nujaym, al-Baḥr al-Rā’iq (Cairo: al-Maṭbaʿa al-ʿIlmiyya, 1893; reprint by H.M. Saeed, n.d.), 3:215.

[22] Muḥammad Amīn ibn ʿĀbidīn, Radd al-Muḥtār (Būlāq: al-Maṭbaʿa al-Kubrā al-Amīriyya, 1323 A.H.), 2:388-89.

[23] The Hidāya mentions that a child conceived out of wedlock is still muḥtaram and so cannot be aborted. Imām ʿAbd al-Ḥayy al-Lakhnawī mentions that this only applies to a fetus that has reached the stage of post-discernibility. He then goes onto state that the fatwā position in his time is that it would be permissible pre-discernibility and post-discernibility. See Burhān al-Dīn al-Marghinānī, al-Hidāya Sharḥ Bidāyat al-Mubtadī maʿa Sharḥ al-ʿAllāma ʿAbd al-Ḥayy al-Lakhnawī, ed. Naʿīm Ashraf Nūr Aḥmad (Karachi: Idārat al-Qur’ān wa’l-ʿUlūm al-Islāmiyya, 1417 A.H.), 3:25.

[24] Muṣṭafā Zarqā, Fatāwā (Damascus: Dār al-Qalam, 2010), 285.

[25] Maḥmūd Ḥasan Gangohī, Fatāwā Maḥmūdiyya (Karachi: Idārat al-Fārūq, 2009), 18:321.

[26] Sayyid Muḥammad Salmān Manṣurpūrī, Kitāb al-Nawāzil (Muradabad: al-Markaz al-ʿIlmī lil-Nashr wa’l-Taḥqīq, 2016), 16:248-81.

[27] Muftī Raḍā’ al-Ḥaqq, Fatāwā Dār al-ʿUlūm Zakariyya (Karachi: Zam Zam Publishers, 2015), 6:756.

[28] Ibid., 6:755.

[29] Ibid., 6:763.

[30] Zubayr Aḥmad Qāsmī, “Khāndānī Manṣūbabandī,” in Jadīd Fiqhī Mabāḥith (Karachi: Idārat al-Qur’ān, 2009), 1:332.

[31] Ibid., 1:331-32.

[32] Khālid Sayf Allāh Raḥmānī, Kitāb al-Fatāwā (Karachi: Zam Zam Publishers, 2008), 6:218-226

[33] The relied-upon position in the Mālikī school prohibits abortions almost entirely even if done prior to ensoulment, which Mālikī jurists opine as occurring at 40 days.


[35] Yūsuf al-Qaraḍāwī, Fatāwa al-Muʿaṣara (Cairo: Dār al-Qalam, 2005), 2:541-50.

[36] ʿAbd Allāh ibn Bayya, Ṣināʿ at al-Fatwā wa-Fiqh al-Aqaliyyāt (UAE: Masār lil-Tibāʿa wa’l-Nashr, 2018), 577-78.

[37] Wahba al-Zuhaylī, al-Fiqh al-Islāmī wa-Adillatuhu (Damascus: Dār al-Fikr, 1985), 3:557.

[38] The delineation and explanation I have presented here should not be seen as a comprehensive exposition of the concepts being discussed. Rather, it should be seen as a basic explanatory framework to understand the problem I wish to highlight in the next section. I have intentionally left out many details surrounding fatwā, siyāsa, taqlīd, etc., for the sake of the average reader.

[39] Muḥammad Kamāl al-Dīn al-Rāshidī, al-Miṣbāḥ fī Rasm al-Muftī wa-Manāhij al-Iftā’ (Deoband: Ittiḥād Book Depot, n.d.), 61-62 in the Takmila; Ibn Bayya, Ṣināʿ at al-Fatwā, 28-29, 230.

[40] al-Rāshidī, al-Miṣbāḥ, 28.

[41] ʿ Abd al-Malik ibn Yūsuf al-Juwaynī, Kitāb al-Irshād ilā Qawāṭiʿ al-Adilla fī Uṣūl al-Iʿtiqād, ed. Aḥmad ʿAbd al-Raḥīm (Cairo: Maktabat al-Thaqāfa al-Dīniyya, 2009), 210-11. This is admittedly a simplification of a very complex debate on the role of reason, its meaning and limitations, its relationship to revelation, deontological vs teleological theories of Islamic normative ethics, and more. These were issues of fundamental debate between the great theological schools, namely the Ashʿarīs, Māturīdis, and the Muʿtazila.

[42] Ibrāhīm ibn Ḥusayn Bīrīzāda, ʿUmdat Dhawī al-Baṣā’ir li-Ḥall Muhimmāt al-Ashbāh wa’l-Naẓā’ir, ed. Ilyās Qablān & Ṣafwat Kawsa (Istanbul: Maktabat al-Rushd, 2016), 2:415.

[43] This is also seen in the tradition of rukhas, or dispensations, and ḥiyal, or legal stratagems/loopholes.

[44] From his Paradigms of Leadership (6) lecture series.

[45] Ibrāhīm ibn Mūsā al-Shāṭibī, al-Muwāfaqāt, ed. Mashhūr Ḥasan (Cairo: Dār Ibn ʿ Affān, 1997), 1:520.

[46] For reference to this see Ibn Bayya, Ṣināʿ at al-Fatwā, 273-75.

[47] One might state that these people are simply engaging in a form of taqlid. This is fair, but there is still a level of diligence and rigor expected from anyone who wishes to publicly opine on a matter of such nature.


[49] Take the following statements made by Judith Thomson in her well-known defence of abortion, which continues to be loudly echoed by the pro-choice movement: “My own view is that if a human being has any just, prior claim to anything at all, he has a just, prior claim to his own body” and “No doubt the mother has a right to decide what shall happen in and to her body.” The violinist analogy she forwards, among others, expresses this point quite clearly. See Judith Jarvis Thomson, “A Defense of Abortion,” Philosophy & Public Affairs 1, no. 1 (1971): 48, 54.

[50] The sociologist Kristen Luker noted over three decades ago that pro-life and pro-choice activists were mainly divided due to their differing views on the meaning of sexuality, motherhood, and the role of women. See Kristin Luker, Abortion and the Politics of Motherhood. Berkeley (California: University of California Press, 1984), especially Ch 7.

[51] Compassion in Dying v. Washington, 850 F. Supp. 1454 (WD Wash. 1994). This was unanimously overturned by the Supreme Court in 1997.

[52] The phrase ‘sanctity-of-life’ has featured prominently in theological, political, and biomedical ethical discussions related to abortion and end-of-life questions. Some members of congress, for example, have tried repeatedly to introduce a ‘Sanctity-of-Life Act’ to protect the unborn. However, the origins, meaning, and application of the phrase remain unclear and heavily debated. For a basic overview see the edited volume Sanctity of Life and Human Dignity (Boston: Springer Dordrecht, 1996).

[53] al-Qaraḍāwī, Fatāwa al-Muʿaṣara, 2:609-13.

[54] Ibn Bayya, Ṣināʿ at al-Fatwā, 273.

[55] The Federal House Bill 1257 that passed in 2015 as the Rape Survivor Child Custody Act cites between 25,000 and 32,000 pregnancies from rape annually but this is almost certainly an underestimate.

[56] For details on these and other related statistics see

[57] For detailed information regarding state statutes and provisions on the termination of pregnancy in contexts of children born as a result of sexual assault see

[58] For statistics on this see the Department of Justice Criminal Victimization analysis (revised, 2018) at There are several reasons why women choose not to report such crimes, which include fear of retaliation, shame and guilt, and a belief that police will not be able to help them.

[59] For a brief discussion on existing research around rape myths see Olivia Smith & Tina Skinner, “How Rape Myths Are Used and Challenged in Rape and Sexual Assault Trials,” Social & Legal Studies 26, no. 4 (2017): 442-45.

[60] Rachael Kessler, “Due Process and Legislation Designed to Restrict the Rights of Rapist Fathers,” Northwestern Journal of Law and Social Policy, no. 10, vol 1 (2015): 199-229.

[61] There is a sensitive discussion surrounding the definition of rape in Islamic law specifically as it relates to intimate married partners. I have ignored this issue because it would distract from the main purpose of this article.


[63] There have been initiatives in the Muslim community directed at addressing these pressing issues, such as the work of Dr. Aasim Padela of the University of Chicago and his Initiative on Islam and Medicine, Dr. Rafaqat Rashid and the work of al-Balagh Academy, Dr. Mansur Ali of Cardiff University and his research on bioethics, and several others. This is not to mention the many individuals who have tried to create practical spaces to assist people who may find themselves in difficult life circumstances. While there is much more to do, the efforts of these people should not go unnoticed.

Continue Reading