Connect with us

#Islam

Reflections on the Day of ‘Ashuraa | Sh. Waleed Basyouni

Sh. Waleed Basyouni

Published

on

Today is ‘Ashuraa’, a day we fast in commemoration of our beloved Prophet Musa’s safe escape from Fir’awn and his tyranny. I would like to share a few thoughts on this blessed occasion.

No story is repeated in the Qur’an as often as the story of Musa (as). His story has been referenced 136 times! Out of all nations, Allah chose to tell us the most about the Children of Israel, especially in the Makkan Suwar. Their tales fill Surat Al-Baqarah, Aali-‘Imraan, Al-An’aam, Al-A’raaf, Al-Israa’, Yunus, Hud, and many others. This is mainly because these stories are full of lessons for us to learn from, and the trials of Bani Isra’il and our own trials bear a very similar resemblance. For this reason, we must carefully study what Allah has told us about them, so that we may benefit from their experiences through Allah’s guidance. At this time, I would like to share some of the stories and lessons that we should reflect on as we fast this blessed day of ‘Ashuraa on which Allah saved Musa and his people from Fir’awn and his army.

1. We must first realize that this day marks a monumental event, one that changed the course of history. It is a day when good triumphed over evil, when the oppressed rose above their oppressors. Generations after generations knew of this day and celebrated it. Even the Pre-Islamic Arabs used to venerate this day and some would fast it.

2. Our commemoration of this event is significant in that it shows us that the bonds of faith, truth, and justice, are stronger than any other bonds, be they tribal, racial, national, or other. The Prophet (s) told us that we have more of a right to celebrate Musa than even the Jews did, even though our race, language, culture, and time are all different.

3. This event gives us hope and reminds us that all oppression, even extreme tyranny like Fir’awn’s will inevitably be destroyed. “Indeed, Pharaoh exalted himself in the land and made its people into factions, oppressing a sector among them, slaughtering their [newborn] sons and keeping their females alive. Indeed, he was of the corrupters.” (Al-Qasas 4)

4. It reminds us that victory will eventually be for the believers, the patient, and the oppressed regardless of how powerful the oppressor is or how long the oppression lasts. “And We wanted to confer favor upon those who were oppressed in the land and make them leaders and make them inheritors, and establish them in the land and show Pharaoh and [his minister] Haman and their soldiers through them that which they had feared.” (Al-Qasas 5-6) “Said Moses to his people, ‘Seek help through Allah and be patient. Indeed, the earth belongs to Allah. He causes to inherit it whom He wills of His servants. And the [best] outcome is for the righteous.’” (Al-A’raaf 128)

5. It illustrates how Allah is the best of planners, for “[the decree of] Allah came upon them from where they had not expected.” (Al-Hashr:2) Pharaoh commanded that all the Israelites newborns be killed in order to protect his kingdom. Yet, it was this very command that caused Musa to be cast into a river and end up in Pharaoh’s home where he could learn the ins and outs of Pharaoh’s life! “’Cast him into the chest and cast it into the river, and the river will throw it onto the bank; there will take him an enemy to Me and an enemy to him.’ And I bestowed upon you love from Me that you would be brought up under My eye.” (TaHa: 39)

Allah caused the love of the infant Musa to enter the heart of Pharaoh’s own wife, who raised him and was the first to believe in his message. The beams of faith thus emanated first from within Pharaoh’s own home. “And the wife of Pharaoh said, “[He will be] a comfort of the eye for me and for you. Do not kill him; perhaps he may benefit us, or we may adopt him as a son.” And they perceived not.” (Al-Qasas:9) “And Allah presents an example of those who believed: the wife of Pharaoh, when she said, ‘My Lord, build for me near You a house in Paradise and save me from Pharaoh and his deeds and save me from the wrongdoing people.’” (Al-Tahrim: 11)
Pharaoh sought support from the magicians, yet they were the first to publicly believe in Musa in front of all of Egypt! “So the magicians fell down in prostration. They said, ‘We have believed in the Lord of Aaron and Moses.’ [Pharaoh] said, ‘You believed him before I gave you permission. Indeed, he is your leader who has taught you magic. So I will surely cut off your hands and your feet on opposite sides, and I will crucify you on the trunks of palm trees, and you will surely know which of us is more severe in [giving] punishment and more enduring.’ They said, ‘Never will we prefer you over what has come to us of clear proofs and [over] He who created us. So decree whatever you are to decree. You can only decree for this worldly life. Indeed, we have believed in our Lord that He may forgive us our sins and what you compelled us [to do] of magic. And Allah is better and more enduring.’ Indeed, whoever comes to his Lord as a criminal – indeed, for him is Hell; he will neither die therein nor live. But whoever comes to Him as a believer having done righteous deeds – for those will be the highest degrees [in position].” (TaHa: 70-75)

6. The story teaches us to trust in Allah’s promise and in His infinite Wisdom even when we don’t understand why something is happening. “And We inspired to the mother of Moses, ‘Suckle him; but when you fear for him, cast him into the river and do not fear and do not grieve. Indeed, We will return him to you and will make him [one] of the messengers.’ And the family of Pharaoh picked him up [out of the river] so that he would become to them an enemy and a [cause of] grief. Indeed, Pharaoh and Haman and their soldiers were deliberate sinners.” (Al-Qasas:7-8) “So We restored him to his mother that she might be content and not grieve and that she would know that the promise of Allah is true. But most of the people do not know.” (Al-Qasas: 13)

This confidence in Allah was missing when Bani Isra’il said, “We have been harmed before you came to us and after you have come to us,” but Musa reminded them, “Perhaps your Lord will destroy your enemy and grant you succession in the land and see how you will do.” (Al-A’raf:129) Musa exhibited this trust in Allah in the direst of circumstances, trust that we must all develop. “And when the two companies saw one another, the companions of Moses said, ‘Indeed, we are to be overtaken!’ [Moses] said, ‘No! Indeed, with me is my Lord; He will guide me.’” (Al-Shu’araa: 61-62)

7. Victory sometimes comes at the hands of the believers in Allah, and at other times, Allah destroys the disbelievers directly, such as at the sea with Musa or on the Day of the Trench with the Prophet Muhammad (s). “And Allah will be sufficient for you against them.” (Al-Baqarah:137)” Is not Allah sufficient for His Servant [Prophet Muhammad]?” (Al-Zumar: 36)

8. ‘Ashuraa reminds us that disbelief and arrogance go hand in hand, as arrogance blinds a person from seeing the most obvious of signs. Faith is not a matter of reason; it is a spiritual and emotional state, a matter of the heart. “And they said, ‘No matter what sign you bring us with which to bewitch us, we will not be believers in you.’ So We sent upon them the flood and locusts and lice and frogs and blood as distinct signs, but they were arrogant and were a criminal people.” (Al-A’raf: 132-133) “And We took the Children of Israel across the sea, and Pharaoh and his soldiers pursued them in tyranny and enmity until, when drowning overtook him, he said, ‘I believe that there is no deity except that in whom the Children of Israel believe, and I am of the Muslims.’” (Yunus: 90) And the result was that “We saved Moses and those with him, all together. Then We drowned the others.” (Al-Shu’araa: 65-66)

9. This day reminds us to turn to Allah in humble worship during times of trial and calamity, and to continuously pray for our safety and success. “So they said, “Upon Allah do we rely. Our Lord, make us not [objects of] trial for the wrongdoing people. And save us by Your mercy from the disbelieving people.’” (Yunus: 85-86) “Said Moses to his people, ‘Seek help through Allah and be patient. Indeed, the earth belongs to Allah . He causes to inherit it whom He wills of His servants. And the [best] outcome is for the righteous.’” (Al-A’raf: 128) When praying at their temples became difficult, Allah commanded them to establish their prayers in their homes. “And We inspired to Moses and his brother, ‘Settle your people in Egypt in houses and make your houses [facing the] qiblah and establish prayer and give good tidings to the believers.’” (Yunus: 87)

10. This day teaches us that all times are a test. Victory is honor, but it is also a test. “He said, ‘Perhaps your Lord will destroy your enemy and grant you succession in the land and see how you will do.’” (Al-A’raf: 129)

11. ‘Ashuraa teaches us that humans will be tested even after gaining the upper hand, but that one cannot succeed and triumph without first being tested.

12. We also learn that loyalty to the Truth and what is right is prioritized above any other loyalties. We cannot let our personal bonds get in the way of removing oppression and establishing what is just and right. “[Pharaoh] said, ‘Did we not raise you among us as a child, and you remained among us for years of your life?’” (Al-Shu’araa: 18)

13. Admitting our mistakes and learning from them is crucial, but this should never leave us hostage to our past follies. We must have faith in our ability to grow and change, so we may move forward in life, better for what we have learned through our mistakes. “’And [then] you did your deed which you did, and you were of the ungrateful.’ [Moses] said, ‘I did it, then, while I was of those astray. So I fled from you when I feared you. Then my Lord granted me wisdom and prophethood and appointed me [as one] of the messengers.’” (Al-Shu’araa: 19-21)

14. We should not fall prey to propaganda and false labels and notions promoted by the media. This is a prime tactic for swaying people away from the Truth and perpetrating injustice. “[Pharaoh] said to the eminent ones around him, ‘Indeed, this is a learned magician. He wants to drive you out of your land by his magic, so what do you advise?’” (Al-Shu’araa: 34-35) “[Pharaoh] said, ‘Indeed, your “messenger” who has been sent to you is mad.’” (Al-Shu’araa:27) “And Pharaoh said, ‘Let me kill Moses and let him call upon his Lord. Indeed, I fear that he will change your religion or that he will cause corruption in the land.’” (Ghafir:26)

15. The story behind ‘Ashuraa teaches activists and educators and all those working for positive change to work together and complement one another’s efforts with their personal strengths. “’And appoint for me a minister from my family – Aaron, my brother. Increase through him my strength, and let him share my task.’” (TaHa: 29-32)

16. The Day of ‘Ashuraa also reminds us that regardless of how tyrannical or oppressive a criminal is, calling them to Allah requires wisdom and gentleness. “And speak to him with gentle speech that perhaps he may be reminded or fear [Allah ].” [TaHa: 44) It has been narrated from Ibn ‘Abbas that he said: Were Fir’awn himself to say, “God bless you,” to me, I would have replied, “And to you as well.” (Al-Adab Al-Mufrad)

17. ‘Ashuraa reminds us of how some nations have changed the rites of their religions and turned it into nothing but celebrations and ceremonies. Instead of following religious guidance in their daily lives through servitude to Allah (swt), many of Bani Isra’il and sadly, many Muslims as well, view their religiosity as participating in celebrations and ceremonies marking religious events. Instead of playing and amusing ourselves in celebration, the way we are to commemorate this historic event is by performing an act of worship in gratitude, i.e. fasting.

18. The Day of ‘Ashuraa reminds us to be open to people of other cultures and religions, to benefit from them in areas that do not contradict our own religion, and to dialogue and cooperate with them in our shared interests in the betterment of humanity.
19. The Day of ‘Ashuraa teaches us to establish our uniqueness as a religious identity. The Prophet (s) said, “If I live until the next year, I will surely fast the ninth day (too).”

20. Gratitude and thankfulness are not only expressed through words and emotions, but through faith and action as well. For this reason, we fast as manifestation of our thankfulness for this blessing.

21. We learn the status of fasting as an act of worship from ‘Ashuraa. Noble acts are prescribed in noble times, such as this day.
22. This day reminds us of how believers feel genuine joy for others when oppression is lifted from them. It teaches us to have empathy and care for the oppressed around the world, cheering them on and helping them to become free from the oppressions they face.

These are some reflections that came to mind regarding this great day. I pray that Allah gives victory to all those who are oppressed worldwide, and may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon His final messenger, Muhammad, and his family.

is Vice President of AlMaghrib Institute and Director of Clear Lake Islamic Center (CLIC). He is a frequent guest speaker at Universities, Conventions, Radio Talk Shows, Television, Interfaith meetings, and community centers nationally and internationally. He is also a member of the North American Imam Federation (NAIF), Assembly of Muslim Jurists in America (AMJA)-Fatwa and Research Committee, Director of Texas Dawah Convention, and Advisor to numerous Islamic Societies/Organizations around the US.Shaykh Waleed Basyouni graduated with a Bachelors in Islamic Sciences from Al-Imam Muhammad University, KSA; did his Masters in Islamic Theology, World Religions and Modern Religious Sects from Al-Imam Muhammad University; and acquired a Doctorate in Theology. He is also an instructor at the American Open University in Alexandria, VA, USA, and serves as, the Imam of Clear Lake Islamic Center, Houston, TX, USA. Shaykh Waleed has Ijaazahs in reciting the Holy Quran and in several books of Hadeeth, awarded by various scholars. He studied with great scholars time such as Shaykh Ibn Baz, Abdul-Razzaq Afify and others.

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Pingback: আশুরা – যেদিন সাগর হয়েছিল দ্বিখন্ডিত, কারবালা হয়েছিল রক্তাক্ত (অনুবাদ) | আমার স্পন্দন

  2. Avatar

    Sadia baig

    July 29, 2017 at 12:58 AM

    Indeed this day taught us the lesson of sacrifice & patience !
    may ALLAH give such qualities to all ummat e muslim !

Leave a Reply

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

#Life

So You Are The Wali, Now What?

Dr Shadee Elmasry

Published

on

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.

Continue Reading

#Islam

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

Dr Usaama al-Azami

Published

on

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

#Islam

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

Published

on

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

Trending