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What Does Allah Care About? | Sh Ahsan Hanif

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In verse 77, the final verse of the 25th chapter of the Qur’an; Sūrah al-Furqān, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) says,

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“Say, ‘What would my Lord care for you if not for your supplication?’ For you [disbelievers] have denied, so your denial is going to be adherent.”

It is as if Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is stating in this verse that He does not care about certain attributes and measures, to which we, perhaps, in our worldly state pay great attention. Allah’s subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) scales are different to our scales. Yet there is no answer to this question. The verse is the end of the Sūrah, and as such, it seems that a topic that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) just began is left without answer.

However, due to the importance of this question and the whole topic of what Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) considers to be important, so that we too in turn, may pay greater attention to it, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) dedicates the whole next Sūrah to answering this question. Sūrah al-Shu‘arā’, the 26th chapter shows us what Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) does and does not care about, in the most beautiful and eloquent of ways. The Sūrah mentions the stories of a number of past nations and the different attributes each nation was known for, and whether those achievements were sufficient in gaining them salvation. In between each story, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) repeats two verses showing how we should heed the lessons in this Sūrah,

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“Indeed in that is a sign, but most of them were not to be believers. And indeed, your Lord – He is the Exalted in Might, the Merciful.”

Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) begins with the story of Mūsā 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) and Pharaoh. Pharaoh, the tyrannical and oppressive ruler who is bent on attaining and maintaining his power, to the extent he would claim divinity for himself. Pharaoh, who said to Mūsā, as Allah relates in the Qur’an,

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“If you take a god other than me, I will surely place you among those imprisoned.” (26:29)

Pharaoh, who with that power would subjugate a whole nation of people and place them in bondage and slavery. Pharaoh, who mad with his power would issue a decree to kill every male born child of Bani Isra’il.

Yet did his power, influence and armies help before Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) when he rejected His worship? Rather, his power would be the source of his destruction. While chasing Mūsā and his people, Pharaoh would see the sea split before him, but would think that it has split for him rather than Mūsā, so he rushed into it along with his armies until he was drowned. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) does not care about powerful leaders and kings when that power is not based on piety and God-consciousness.

“Indeed in that is a sign, but most of them were not to be believers. And indeed, your Lord – He is the Exalted in Might, the Merciful.”

Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) then mentions the story of the Prophet Ibrāhīm 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) and his call to his father and his people. The relationship of Āzar to Ibrāhīm, and the bond between a father and son would not be enough to save Ibrāhīm’s father when he rejected Allah. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) does not pay heed to one’s parents, spouses, children, relatives, tribes or castes when judging them.

“Indeed in that is a sign, but most of them were not to be believers. And indeed, your Lord – He is the Exalted in Might, the Merciful.”

We then have the story of the Prophet Nūḥ 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him). Nūḥ’s people were known for their nobility and highborn lineage. They would look down arrogantly upon those who were of lower birth. Thus, when Nūḥ’s followers were from the poor and general folk, they would remark,

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“Should we believe you while you are followed by the lowest [class of people]?” (26:111)

Yet this lineage and nobility would not benefit them before Allah when they rejected Nūḥ and Allah’s worship. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) did not care about this.

“Indeed in that is a sign, but most of them were not to be believers. And indeed, your Lord – He is the Exalted in Might, the Merciful.”

Next we have the story of Hūd and the people of ‘Ād. ‘Ād who were known for the military strength and might, who would conquer lands and build fortresses, as Allah mentions,

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“Do you construct on every elevation a sign, amusing yourselves. And take for yourselves and fortresses that you might abide eternally?

And when you strike, you strike as tyrants.” (26:128-130)

However, when they rejected Allah’s worship and their Prophet, Hūd, none of this would profit them. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) did not care for their strength and military skill.

“Indeed in that is a sign, but most of them were not to be believers. And indeed, your Lord – He is the Exalted in Might, the Merciful.”

The Prophet Ṣāliḥ was sent to his nation of Thamūd. Thamūd who were famed for their technological and engineering skill as Allah says,

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“And you carve out of the mountains, homes, with skill.” (26:149)

Those houses which we can still witness today in places like Petra, where huge abodes were skillfully carved within mountains thousands of years ago. Yet when they rejected Allah’s worship and their Prophet, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) did not care for their skill and technique.

“Indeed in that is a sign, but most of them were not to be believers. And indeed, your Lord – He is the Exalted in Might, the Merciful.”

Allah then mentions the nation of Lūţ. Lūţ was a foreigner who had traveled and settled in this land. The people he was calling to Allah were the indigenous inhabitants. This is why they respond to the message of Lūţ by saying,

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“If you do not desist, O Lūţ, you will surely be of those evicted.” (26:167)

However, when they would reject Allah’s worship and the Prophet Lūţ, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) would not pay heed to their indigenous status, for Allah does not care for such things.

“Indeed in that is a sign, but most of them were not to be believers. And indeed, your Lord – He is the Exalted in Might, the Merciful.”

Finally, Allah relays to us the story of the Prophet Shu‘ayb and his nation of Madyan. The people of Madyan who were known for their economic might and prosperity, and would seek wealth by hook or by crook. Allah says,

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“Give full measure and do not be of those who cause loss. And weigh with an even balance.” (26:181-182)

Yet this wealth and affluence would not save them when they rejected Allah’s worship and their Prophet.

“Indeed in that is a sign, but most of them were not to be believers. And indeed, your Lord – He is the Exalted in Might, the Merciful.”

Thus, if Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) does not care about the power possessed by Pharaoh, the close relationship of Āzar to Ibrāhīm, the nobility of the people of Nūḥ, the military strength of ‘Ād, the technological skill of Thamūd, the indigenous state of the nation of Lūţ or the economic might of Madyan, what does Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) care for and more importantly, what grants people Allah’s divine care?

Allah concludes Sūrah al-Shu‘arā’ with the answer to this.

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“And indeed, the Qur’an is the revelation of the Lord of the worlds. The Trustworthy Spirit has brought it down. Upon your heart, [O Muhammad].” (26:192-194)

Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) loves and cares for those who worship Him, follow His Messenger and revelation and live their life in servitude to Him. Thus, the above-mentioned attributes by themselves are not considered important by Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), it is when they are coupled with faith and righteous action that a person or nation attains Allah’s subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) divine care and love.

Shaykh Ahsan Hanif, PhD, was born and raised in Birmingham, UK. He memorised the Qur’an at a young age and at the age of 17 received a scholarship to study at the Islamic University of Madinah, Saudi Arabia. As well as attaining an ijazah in the Qur’an and a diploma in Arabic, Shaykh Ahsan graduated from the Faculty of Shari’ah Studies in 2006. Upon his return to the UK he attained his PhD from the University of Birmingham.He is currently an imam at Green Lane Masjid, Birmingham as well as the head of the Qur’an & Hadith Studies Department for AlMaghrib Institute. He has spoken at Islamic conferences in various countries, published translations of Arabic works and is a presenter of IslamQA for Islam Channel.

12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Hedieh

    July 1, 2016 at 6:29 PM

    Love ur web ❤
    Thanks

    • Avatar

      J. Paul Ogden

      July 18, 2016 at 12:39 AM

      God is merciful, first of all, because He loves us – all of us. He does not love all that we do. Secondly and simultaneously, He cares for us in our efforts to learn how to Love Him which includes prayer, worship, faith, obedience, etc. We will fail often, but not ultimately until and unless He, the final judge, reconciles our actions and intentions within the bounds of all that He was constantly teaching us during our mortal sojurn here. If we endure to the end and live to be His faithful subjects – the jewels of His creation – His mercy can be our reward.

      He obviously has had a plan for us which involves this time while we are here together. Surah 77 v 25, 26. We cannot judge here and now who is exempt or who is to be imprisoned, cut off from His influence or abandoned in disdain. That is exclusively His right as supreme judge. George MacDonald commented on our disobedience concisely: “The instant a soul moves counter to the will of its prime mover, the universe is its prison.

  2. Avatar

    Badr

    July 3, 2016 at 9:52 AM

    Jazzaka Allah khairan Sheikh, very significant article.

  3. Avatar

    Zain Zubair

    July 4, 2016 at 5:25 AM

    JazakAllah!! Amazing Article
    “Our Lord!
    We have wronged our own souls:
    If You forgive us not and bestow not upon us Your Mercy, we shall certainly be lost ”
    Al Qur’an 7:23

  4. Avatar

    saki

    July 7, 2016 at 2:49 AM

    nice blog too informative. looking and reading your points its so impressive. doing more blog like this. i really appreciated doing like this.

  5. Avatar

    Umm Jehan

    July 8, 2016 at 2:29 AM

    What Allah likes most is that we obey Him and turn to Him at all times. Read Blossoms an inspiring online monthly magazine about how people turned to Allah and He resolved the most impossible problems.

  6. Avatar

    Lucifer

    July 8, 2016 at 1:31 PM

    Excuse me, friends, I’m not a Muslim,but I’ve been engaged in a spirited discussion with a member of another site who has challenged me to ask you all for your views on matters of rationality versus faith.

    He argues that certain rights are endowed by a creator, but neglects to specify what they are and why they don’t seem to apply evenly, or consistently.

    He argues:
    “A system that declares human rights are “endowed by their Creator” establishes that said rights are not bequeathed by the generosity of a government and therefore cannot be legitimately taken away by that government. It is up to the governed to ensure they are upheld.”

    He defines “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” (as per the Declaration of Independence) as those rights endowed by a creator.

    What I would like to know is:
    1)What mere mortal could dare deign to attempt to define the creator’s will and intent?

    2)Why would an omnipotent creator leave it in the hands of his creations to ensure that his given rights are protected?

    3)If these rights are indeed endowed by a creator and must be upheld at all costs, then what is the punishment for our failure? And as we have failed, numerously and continuously; If these things are so important to him why doesn’t he just take over?

    4) If he is in control, why does he ever allow his will to be broken?

    5) If the rights in the Declaration are an absolute account of rights endowed, then why has the creator not ensured that: A) No man go hungry, or thirsty, or without shelter, or good care?(Life); B) That no man be a slave?(Liberty); C) That everyone is allowed a say in their self-determination? (Pursuit of happiness)

    I understand that these may be an unsettling set of queries. Understand that I do not pose them to be incendiary. I would simply like your thoughts and opinions on the matter.

    • Avatar

      Maruf Sajjad

      July 12, 2016 at 10:45 AM

      Hello Lucifer, I will try to put my opinions regarding the questions you have asked. Know that these questions are nothing new, rather our prophet (peace be upon him) was also quizzed about some of these questions by his companions and throughout the history of Islam, many people asked these questions and there are a great deal of scholarly works done for answering these topics.
      Although you have asked 5 questions, they belong to the same category of the attributes of a God. This is a fundamental aspect of our faith to know about the names and attributes of Allah.
      The answer to your first question is, no, no mortal being defined the Creator’s wills and intent, rather it is the Creator who sent His defined rules and intents to us mortals. This was made very clear in the very beginning of our Quran, in Sura 2 verse 2-4 –
      ‘(2) This is the Book about which there is no doubt, a guidance for those conscious of Allah,(3) Who believe in the unseen, establish prayer, and spend out of what We have provided for them,(4) And who believe in what has been revealed to you, [O Muhammad], and what was revealed before you, and of the Hereafter they are certain [in faith]. ‘
      Now note that it explicitly declares that this book will guide those, who takes it for granted that there is a God, and He send revelations to His creations. This book will not argue with you whether there is a God or not, rather it is for those who accept that there is a divinity. SO if you agree with me upto this point, we can move to the next questions.
      Question 2,4 and 5 are basically asks the same question. Allah explicitly said it many times in the Quran that He could have made us in a way that there is no disobedience,there is no problems in the world, there is no hunger etc. etc. (refer to sura 5 verse 48 for example which says
      ‘… He would have made you one nation [united in religion], but [He intended] to test you in what He has given you; so race to [all that is] good. To Allah is your return all together, and He will [then] inform you concerning that over which you used to differ.’
      And He answered it saying that how He will create and maintain his creation is His business,not us. We cannot impose our conditions on how should God create or not. It completely depends on Him. If you know, the angels meet the criteria of those you have asked. The angels never disbelieve, the have no hunger,poverty etc etc, they are not given the power to disobey Allah’s command. They are above these. Allah created the type you have mentioned. So there is actually no point in arguing on this.
      Now question 3. It is a great question. As a matter of fact Allah knows that we will fail numerously and continuously, so He gave us the assurance of His forgiveness provided that we gave our efforts. Allah said us that He is ‘Al Gaffar’ and ‘Al Gafur’, two names to describe His forgiveness. Why is that? Interestingly, The difference between Al-Ghaffar and Al-Ghafur has been explained by various means. Traditionally, Al-Ghaffar is translated as “The Forgiving”. This type of forgiveness is a continuous and repetitive action. No matter how many times a person may sin, God can continually forgive him/her for his/her sins. Al-Ghafur, on the other hand, is understood as forgiving a sin no matter how large the sin may be.
      So, it the sincere effort that counts, the result is on the hand of Allah.
      I hope you got your answers. Thanks :)

  7. Avatar

    asdf

    July 8, 2016 at 6:10 PM

    Hello Lucifer, welcome to this site. I am very confused as to the nature of your inquiry and of why you are asking it on a Muslim website, as your queries seem to be from the American Declaration of Independence, not an Islamic source. It seems like you are trying to ask a question about free will in Islamic theology, of which, opinions are very divided.
    Please clarify.
    Thanks.

  8. Avatar

    AvidRetainer

    July 13, 2016 at 10:36 PM

    Great article. I memorized and learned the meaning of Surah Shu’ara but I never really understood the connection between these two surahs. JazakumuAllahKhairan for this fascinating article. May Allah guide you to put up more articles about the order of the Quran.

  9. Avatar

    Abdul Sammad

    July 26, 2016 at 7:48 PM

    thanks
    very fine artical. Its very helpfull.

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#Life

So You Are The Wali, Now What?

Dr Shadee Elmasry

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The way most Muslims (as well as conservative Christians and Jews) live, a man asks for a woman’s hand in marriage from the father.

The father is not just a turnstile who has to say yes. He is a “wali” or protector and guardian of his daughter’s rights. So he will be asking some serious questions that would be awkward if the woman had to ask them.

Furthermore, in the Muslim community today esp. in the West, there are many converts that seek out a wali because they have no male relative who is Muslim. In this post, I share some guidelines aimed at the wali in his new role and stories that are useful.

Being a wali is not an honorary role. You’re not just throwing out the first pitch. You’re actually trying to throw curveballs to see whether the proposal checks out or has issues.

Here are some questions and demands a wali should make:

Background check: Call and meet at least four people that were close to the man who has proposed and interview them. There’s no husn al-zann (good opinion) in marriage. As a potential suitor, you are rejected until you prove yourself, much like an application for employment. These days, most people’s background can be found on their social media, so the wali has to spend time scrolling down. Keep scrolling, read the comments, look at the pictures, click on who’s tagged in those pictures. Get a good idea. You are a private investigator *before* the problem happens, not after. 

Check financials:  You need to see the financials to make sure they are not in some ridiculous debt or have bad credit such that they can’t even rent an apartment or cover basic needs. You want some evidence that he can fulfill the obligation of maintenance.

Check the educational background or skill set: This is a given. If it’s solid, then it can outweigh lack of funds at this moment.

Check medical records: If this is a stranger, the wali needs medical records. There was once a wealthy, handsome young man that was suave and a seemingly amazing prospect who proposed for a girl who was comparatively of average looks and from a family of very modest means. The mother and daughter were head over heels, but the dad had enough common sense to know something was up.

“Why would he come knocking on our door?,” he asked.

So the father demanded medical records. The guy never produced them. When the dad pressed him, the man admitted, he had a sexually transmitted disease (STD) and that’s why he couldn’t find anyone else to marry him.

Now note, there are legitimate cases where people have a past when they have made mistakes. This happens to the best of us, and the door for tawbah (repentance) is open. In those cases, there are organizations that match-make for Muslims with STDs. People should act in a responsible manner and not damage the lives of other humans beings.

Lifestyle: It is your job to check if the two parties have agreed on life essentials such as religious beliefs, where to live, how to school kids, etc?

In-laws: Have you at least met the family of the suitor and spent some time with them to make sure there’s nothing alarming?

Engagement: Contrary to popular understanding, there is such a thing as engagement in Islam. It’s an announcement of a future commitment to marriage. Nothing changes between the fiancees, but nobody is allowed to propose anymore. The purpose of engagement is to give time for both parties to get ready. For example, the groom may want to save up some money, or the girl may be finishing up college. Also, it’s easy to put on a face during the get-to-know process, but it’s hard to fake it over an eight or nine-month period. I remember a story where a young woman was engaged, and four months into the engagement they discovered the young man was still getting to know other women. He basically reserved the girl and then went to check for better options. Needless to say, he was dumped on the spot. Engagements are commonly a few months. I think more than a year is too much.

Legal/Civil:  The marriage should be legal/civil in the country where you will settle. If you accept a Shariah marriage but not a civil one, know that you’re asking for legal complications, especially if a child enters the picture. (Ed. Note- we realize that some countries do not allow legal registration of more than one marriage- if that is a consideration please look at all options to protect your ward. There are ways to get insurance that can be set up.)

Mahr: Get 50% of the dowry upfront (or some decent amount) and whatever is scheduled to be paid later should be written and signed. I’ve seen too many cases where a really nice dowry is “promised” but never produced.

The dowry should be commensurate to current standards depending on the man’s job. For example in our area in America 5, 7, or 10k is a common range.

In sum, there are very few things in life that are as bad as misery in marriage. The wali’s job is to eliminate the bad things that could have been avoided. If that means he has to be demanding and hated for a few months, it’s worth the cost.

It’s preventative medicine.

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#Islam

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

Dr Usaama al-Azami

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Sepoy rebellion, Shaykh Hamza

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

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

Opposing all government vs opposing a government

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

A complex tradition

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

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

What does the tradition actually say?

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

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

Al-Ghazzali on confronting tyrants

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

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

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

Modern discontinuities and their high stakes

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

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

Shaykh Hamza on the nature of government

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

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

Where do we go from here?

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

And Allah knows best.

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Can Women Attend The Burial Of The Deceased?

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

Dr Usaama al-Azami

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Quran at graveyard, woman attend burial

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

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

Key positions and evidence

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

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

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

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

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

Interpreting the evidence

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

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

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

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

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

The fiqh of modernity

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

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

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

And God knows best.

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