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On Secret Marriages | Dr Shaykh Mohammad Akram Nadwi

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Some brothers and sisters have asked me to comment on a practice that is increasingly reported of travelling Muslim scholars and teachers of Islam in the West, and those who travel to the West as teachers and preachers. This is the practice of contracting secret marriages in the places these scholars visit or pass through.

The first thing to be said is that people generally do not make a secret of actions and relations except when they have some sense that these actions and relations, if known, would be disapproved of. Those who take the responsibility of public teaching of Islam must know that they are seen as representatives of the religion and looked up to as role models. Not only the words they preach but also their actions and lifestyle influence the decisions and actions of others; before God they are liable for that influence and for its consequences in the lives of others. Preachers, teachers, and other public figures in the community, have a responsibility to ensure that their conduct adheres to the ideal of those who fear even to displease God, let alone wilfully disobey His commands or those of His Messenger, upon him be peace.
Every Muslim knows that good deeds repel evil ones. God has said so in His Book: “Verily, the good deeds remove the evil deeds”. (Surah Hud 114) The effort of preparing for prayers and doing the prayers through the day helps to sustain God-wariness, to prevent failures and shortcomings from becoming established habits with consequences hard to undo. We strive after good thoughts, words and deeds in order to disable and annul temptation, so that we acquire, so far as God wills, something to negate/counter the harms and wrongs that we accumulate to our account over a lifetime.

But how many of us are mindful that the converse is also true: that evil deeds can negate, undo or outweigh good ones? The following is reported by `Abd al-Razzaq in his Musannaf:
Ma`mar and Sufyan al-Thawri narrated to us from Abu Ishaq, who narrated from his wife saying that she called among a company of women on `A’ishah [ra]. A woman said to her: O umm al-mu’minin, I had a slave-girl, whom I sold to Zayd ibn Arqam for 800 with deferred payment of the price. Then I bought her from him for 600 and I paid those 600 on the spot and I wrote him 800 as debt. `A’ishah said: By God!How evil is what you bought! How evil is what you bought! Tell Zayd ibn Arqam that he has invalidated his jihad with the Messenger of God, peace be upon him, except if he repents. (Abd al-Razzaq, al-Musannaf, 8/185)
Note here the strength and presence of mind of `A’ishah [ra]. In her indignation against this legal trick to do what God’s law fiercely condemns and pronounces as illegal (namely, loans on interest), she does not exaggerate or lose her balance of judgment. She does not hesitate to say of Zayd that, by taking part in this transaction, he has annulled his effort of jihad. But she also remembers to say, ‘except if he repents’. Some wrongs (like riba) are indeed so heavy in their nature and their personal and social consequences that that they may annul one’s good deeds. Yet, until death is known to be imminent, the door of repentance is not closed to any sinner, and God has said that He loves to forgive.

Secret marriage is one of several kinds of violation by men of the rights and dignity of women. I have been informed that it is increasingly common for Muslim preachers in Europe and America and for those visiting the West to marry women in secret and for a short period, after which they, presumably, end the marriage, before going on to contract another marriage of the same sort somewhere else. This is a violation of the laws and good purposes of marriage, and a vicious exploitation of women whose circumstances oblige them to enter into such contracts. The wrong is analogous to riba, which is a violation of the laws and good purposes of lending money, and severely injurious to those whose circumstances force them to borrow in this illegal way.

Marriage in Islam

Marriage in Islam is presented as a good deed, a noble thing to do, when it is done in the manner and for the purposes described as ma`ruf – i.e., according to the known, established norms of kindness and public, legal form. It is explicit in Surat al-Nisa’ that even when a Muslim contracts a marriage with a slave, he must inform her family and get their consent, and he must pay her the mahr. What is explicitly forbidden is taking lovers in secret, debauchery, and fornication, i.e., sexual relations without responsibility for the other person and for the consequences of the act. Secret, temporary marriages are (just like the legal tricks to enable riba) a legal cover for what is illegal and known to be so.

Marriage is both a personal and social fact for the contracting parties. It is not merely one and not the other. It is an integral part of what makes marriage a good deed that it should be done with the intention of building a legal, social, physical space in which children are to be welcomed and raised. It is an integral part of what makes marriage a good deed that it connects families not hitherto connected, or it extends and consolidates existing connections. In this way, marriage widens the network of family relations, so that there is multiplicity of siblings and cousins, uncles and aunts and nephews and nieces, among whom responsibility for each other’s well-being (physical, economic and spiritual) is shared, usually unevenly, as means and talents and situations are diverse. The social relationships facilitate and diversify, and thereby strengthen and support, the burdens of personal relationship of the husband and wife. It goes without saying that when a man contracts a marriage he commits himself, in principle, to provide for his wife for her lifetime – it is not lawful for a Sunni Muslim to contract a marriage knowing in advance that this commitment is temporary. Let us suppose that a Sunni Muslim owns an oil-well and he is able to pay out, all at once, as much money as any woman could expect to have in a whole lifetime: for this Sunni Muslim it is still unlawful to contract a marriage knowing that it is temporary, however much he pays out, and unlawful also, obviously, for the woman. Of this man it may be that his great wealth makes him the greater sinner, since he could use it not to indulge himself but to assist others to get married.

What distinguishes a marriage as such, what ennobles it above any form of improper association of man and woman, is that it is proclaimed to be a responsible union: marriage proclaims the couple’s right to privacy and intimacy with each other, and the purposes of that right. The neighbourhood and community must know the legal status of the couple’s being together, so that they can celebrate their relation and support it. Secret marriages, in addition to violating the rights of women, also violate the right of the community to be spared the innuendoes and slanders that are so corruptive of social order, harmony and trust. Such marriages do the same long-term damage to what is nowadays called ‘personal and social capital’, as American-style fast foods (and other ‘instant’ conveniences, not least social media ‘friendships’), do to long-term physical and mental health, and to the long-term sustainability of how food is produced and distributed.

The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), peace be upon him, said: ‘Proclaim the marriage’ (Sunan al-Nasa’i, 3369; Musnad Ahmad, 15697; Sunan Sa`id ibn Mansur, 635).

This a clear injunction that marriages must be proclaimed, made public, not held in secret. That is the practice of the Prophet himself, of all his Companions, and of the prominent scholars of the early generations. None of them ever indulged in secret marriages and they never, explicitly or tacitly, approved any such marriages. We read in al-Mughni, k. al-Nikah that among those who expressed explicit disapproval of secret marriages are: `Umar ibn al-Khattab, `Urwah ibn al-Zubayr, `Ubaydullah ibn `Abdillah ibn `Utbah, `Amir al-Sha`bi. Abu Bakr `Abd al-`Aziz says: ‘Such a marriage is void’. There too we find that the majority of the jurists say that the proclamation of marriage is recommended, i.e., they do not make it a legal condition for the validity of a marriage, assuming that it has been legally witnessed. Some say that proclamation is mandatory.

This is the opinion of al-Zuhri: ‘If someone marries secretly, brings two witnesses but commands them to keep it secret, it would be obligatory to separate the husband and wife’. Similarly, it is reported that Imam Malik’s opinion is that non-proclamation of marriage invalidates the marriage (al-Mughni, k. al-nikah).

Even those scholars who do not make proclamation a legal condition for the validity of a marriage do not express approval for keeping it secret. Ibn Taymiyyah, as forceful and forthright as ever, likens secret marriages to prostitution (Majmu` al-fatawa, 32/102).

In sum:

Sunni fiqh condemns secret and temporary marriages (secret or public) because they are so injurious to the rights and dignity of women, and because they diminish the good that comes from marriage, namely family life and family relations with all that they provide of testing and training for mind, heart and temperament, and for all the consolations of sharing feelings and experiences across generations. Contracting secret/temporary marriages reduces marriage to sexual relations in an ugly sort of rental arrangement, that is profoundly demeaning, especially to women. Accordingly, I strongly advise women to be careful before they consent to marry anyone. I strongly advise them to inform, consult with and find support from, family, friends and community before they make any commitments so that the matter is known, and so that their rights are observed and respected. It is better (for women and men) to endure the hardships of being single than to enter into contracts that insult the laws and norms, and seek to subvert the purposes, of marriage as commanded by God and His Messenger, upon him be peace.

As for those who present themselves in public as teachers and preachers of Islam and yet have entered into such contracts, what can I say? It is obligatory for them that they refresh their intentions in due fear of God and that they remember that the door to repentance,  to reform, and to making amends, is not closed.

God’s Messenger has affirmed in many places that God loves to forgive His creatures if they turn to Him. He makes the way to forgiveness easy for whoever repents sincerely. No believer’s sins, however great or numerous, can be greater than His mercy.

Shaykh Mohammad Akram Nadwi is an Islamic scholar from the Indian city of Jaunpur and a graduate of the world renowned Nadwatul Ulama (India) where he studied and taught Shariah. Shaykh Akram is a Muhaddith of the highest calibre who has specialised in Ilm ul Rijal (the study of the narrators of Hadith). He has Ijaza (licenses) from over 600 scholars. Shaykh Akram Nadwi has a doctorate in Arabic Language and has authored and translated over 25 titles on Language, Jurisprudence, Qur’an and Hadith. In May 2010, he completed a monumental 457-volume work on the lives of female scholars of Hadith in Islamic History. Also now available in English is Madrasah Life (2007) the translation (from Urdu) of his personal memoir of a student’s day at Nadwat al-Ulama. Shaykh Akram is the recipient of the Allama Iqbal prize for contribution to Islamic thought. As a leading scholar steeped in traditional Islamic learning and in modern academia, Shaykh Akram is a former research fellow at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, Oxford. He is the Dean and the Academic Director of the Cambridge Islamic College.

18 Comments

18 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Zeba Khan

    October 6, 2017 at 3:54 PM

    JazakAllahukheiran. Very important community reminder.

    • Avatar

      Abduallah

      November 8, 2017 at 10:49 AM

      Actually, you should not thank the person who wrote this article. Its obvious the person understands very little from Islam. In fact, Im surprised this article was published at all. As long as secret marriages are done islamically, then they should never be discouraged. Why discourage the halal? Ignorance, thats why.

  2. Avatar

    Aafira

    October 6, 2017 at 4:06 PM

    This problem isn’t exclusive to scholars amd speakers, regular Muslims are engaging in secret marriages too. The first reason is the taboo surrounding plural wives. I am in support of this
    practice but many men have tarnished it by making secret families or treating the second wife as a mistress. The second reason is men coming to study in the west and then abandoning their wives when they graduate and go back home. This practise is disgusting and revert women tend to be the main targets.

  3. Avatar

    Anon

    October 6, 2017 at 5:52 PM

    Is one who knows of someone indulging in a “high profile” secret marriage have to inform anyone? My friend’s husband has secretly married someone – and I don’t know whether I should advise her of this as she has been effectively abandoned by him!

  4. Avatar

    Umm Ismael

    October 6, 2017 at 6:31 PM

    Very good paper, but need to be more balanced.

    In some situations, secret mariage is not a sin.

    If, for example, a Muslim man need a second wife, and the first one is oppose to it, as well as the community and the country he lives in, he can contact a mariage in another country and keep it secret. This is not against the law (since he doesn’t practice polygamy in the country who forbid it) and this is not against islam.

    Please, do not start to accuse every Muslim who contacted a secret mariage to be sinful. This is sometimes the only way they have to protect their Chastity.

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      Concerned

      October 6, 2017 at 11:21 PM

      I find this concerning. 2 of the 4 commentors believe a second marriage in presumably the United States or another Western country is ok. As Muslims we contracted as citizens or immigrants to follow the laws of the land. The law of the land is one cannot have more than one spouse. So one cannot justify a second marriage in the West whether in open or in secret. Allah knows best and help the sisters in these situations and guide the men that are putting women through this.

      • Avatar

        Aliya

        October 17, 2017 at 2:58 AM

        It may be illegal to have more than one marriage contract in many western countries but western legal marriage contracts do not equate to Nikah. One can have multiple Nikahs in those nations.

        ‘Till death do us part’ is a Christian concept and no where in Islam is this promoted. Islam accepts you to keep your wife/wives for life or to divorce if you so wish. The Hadith about the dislike of divorce is not only weak it goes against the practice if he prophet and the Sahaba. I agree premeditated marriage with divorce planned is wrong.

        If western society is Unaccepting of a second marriage, including Muslim communities, then if consenting adults wish to marry in secret (including to avoid sin), then what is the problem? Muslim women in the west come from a culture where more than one wife is not the norm but they must remember that a man having more than one partner is the norm!

        Is the sheikh saying it is categorically haraam? Not mentioned in his post!

        Why preachers give negative comments but won’t say haraam?

        • Avatar

          Aimen

          November 8, 2017 at 10:54 AM

          The reason they discourage it but never have the courage to say its haram is because they cant. Its perfectly halal. Allah loves the halal. The very fact that scholars like these are allowed to speak is a testimony to how out of touch and ignorant they are of the deen. We need the truth, not silly opinions that will mislead the masses.

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      Simba

      October 7, 2017 at 12:47 PM

      Extremely disturbing to read that some muslims justify shadiness and deceit.
      Please share with us proof (from reliable sources) allowing a man to lie about something that is supposed to be noble and that has such a strong impact on everyone.

      Hiding a marriage involves lying, concealing a spouse and all offsprings.
      How can we justify being a coward and liar when a muslim is supposed to be rightous , honest and not selfish.
      Having a right to do something does not involve using wrong means or deceiving others.

    • Avatar

      Sarah

      November 8, 2017 at 10:51 AM

      Agreed, This is an obvious response to the NAK situation. I dont see why people still feel the need to comment on what he did. Scholars need to realize people enter into secret marriages to avoid zina. People like the author here do a disservice to the ummah by discouraging the halal and pushing people towards the haram.

  5. Avatar

    Siddique Katiya

    October 7, 2017 at 10:35 AM

    Although this article is informative but confusing for most, – the secret and temporary marriages are two different issues these issues must be discussed separately.

    Hot topic among Sunni Islam today is temporary (misyar) marriage are similar arrangments
    this article hardly talk about these arrangements

  6. Avatar

    Raffia Arshad

    October 12, 2017 at 5:04 PM

    I am somewhat surprised that the article has elicited more negative comments from female readers than male. I was expecting to see a number of comments from men who are in desperate support of this sort of arrangement. Instead, a number of women are making excuses for the men (themselves?) and justifying secret marriages. I am not sure why it is confusing that lying, hiding and being deceitful to those closest to you for your own sexual pleasure is wrong. The reality is, men are in need of education and women are in need of empowerment. No such thing as a secret marriage. It’s an affair.

  7. Avatar

    Muhammad

    October 15, 2017 at 10:22 AM

    “Hiding a marriage involves lying, concealing a spouse and all offsprings.
    How can we justify being a coward and liar when a muslim is supposed to be rightous , honest and not selfish.
    Having a right to do something does not involve using wrong means or deceiving others.”

    I agree 100%. Secret marriage is never permissible.

    Islam is first and foremost about honesty. Having a secret marriage is even worse when someone is hiding it from their first marriage.

    Allah tells us in the Qur’an that marriage is a very serious, solemn, sacred contract. I forget the arabic word but the word connotes that it is above and beyond a normal contract.

    If it is a sin to lie in a normal contract, how much more in the marriage contract with the first wife? And it would entail not just one lie but it would entail lies every day.

    If there are any Muslims who hold these views, I ask them to reflect on the bedrock fundamentals of Islam and one of that is honesty. The reason why Muhammad ibn Abdullah became Prophet Muhammad was much to do with his honesty…he was Sadiq Al Ameen.

    As for protecting chastity, Allah tells us in Surah Noor in verse 33 “And let those who do not find the means to marry abstain, until God enriches them from His bounty.”

    So Allah is telling those who do not have money and not any wife to be patient.

    Thus, if someone who has no wife has to be patient, how can anyone in their right mind and right heart try to give excuses for a man to secretly marry a second wife and hide it from his first wife?

    If any wants to engage in secrecy to have sex with another woman in the form of a second wife, then that person has greed for sex. And that greed is so deep in his heart, that he is willing to lie to others including to his first wife who should be his confidant, not someone he can lie to do day after day, night after night.

    Muslims should be example to non-Muslims.

    Seeing any Muslim try to give excuses is so disappointing.

    May Allah guide us all.

    None of are perfect and may all seek repentance and guidance…Allah is the most forgiving….but let us not encourage anyone into this deceitful, greed for sex, practice that is destroying family after family after family.

    • Avatar

      Umnabila

      November 8, 2017 at 10:56 AM

      With due respect brother, where is your evidence from the quran and sunnah that its haram?

      I think, like the author, you are speaking through a very limited scope and understanding of Islam. It is haram to say something is haram, when it is not.

      My advice to you is to stay quiet, learn more and repent for your words. Misguiding the ummah will never benefit you.

      Take care.

    • Avatar

      Usman

      November 22, 2017 at 7:18 AM

      Muhammad, thank you for your clear, rational, and moral argument against secret marriages. Out of all the comments on this article, I found yours the best. As you said, dishonesty is always wrong and these secret marriage arrangements involve lying.

      As a man, I admit that my nafs would love to have 100s of women at my beckon call. It is unfortunately my nature and of other men, proven time and time again through history. All powerful and rich men covet more women. Some do it through mistresses and others through nefarious methods. Secret marriage arrangements would be construed as the latter.

      But, I know that my wife would not approve of me having a 2nd wife, so I have to respect her wishes. The other halal alternative is to divorce her and find wives who would approve of polygamous relationships (and yes, there are plenty of women out there that would if you are upfront and honest with them regarding your intentions).

      Another commenter made an excellent point about living under the laws of our respective countries. When we take citizenship in a certain country, we are entering into a contract. As Muslims, we should always honor contracts and follow the laws of the land. The only reason not to follow a law is if it prevents one from freely worshiping Allah. Aside from that, there is no reason why we cannot respect authority in a civilized society.

  8. Avatar

    A sister

    October 17, 2017 at 5:58 PM

    This article has a surely good intention which I totally support, but it’s still very unbalanced and telling just half of the story. You should not use such high tones like “Sunni fiqh does this and that”, when it obviously does not. In the maliki madhhab it is not a problem to contract a marriage with the intention to divorce it some time later as long this is not articulated in the marriage contract or process of marriage. It’s a nice intention to safeguard the honour of Muslim sisters but it make you unreliable and biased at best if you just cherry pick the best arguments for your POV, but not speak about the proof against it, no, you also label it as “non-sunni”. This is nowhere different than the selective cherry picking of the people who justify whatever floats their boat.

  9. Avatar

    Muhammad

    October 18, 2017 at 2:45 AM

    A reader identifying as “a sister” wrote that “In the maliki madhhab it is not a problem to contract a marriage with the intention to divorce it some time later as long this is not articulated in the marriage contract or process of marriage. ”

    Sounds shocking and I don’t know if this is true, but if it is, then that part of the Maliki fiqh has to be changed as it is in direct contradiction with the Qur’an and the most fundamental principle of Islam to be honest, especially to those closest to us such as to a spouse.

    Also, this issue of divorce brought up (by the reader before me) might be related somehow but is still different from the issue of secret marriages.

    Again, secret marriages is profoundly dishonest and profoundly treacherous and thus it is profoundly un-Islamic and indeed anti-Islamic.

  10. Avatar

    Md Nayeem

    October 20, 2017 at 1:19 PM

    Thank You Brother!! I was unaware (could be as an Asian) that Muslim/ Islam preachers could be claim in this mess or even conducting this!!, whatever in Europe or America. I believe that those certain person might be in some destruction and would be rare in number….

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#Society

Ya Qawmi: Strengthen Civic Roots In Society To Be A Force For Good

Dr. Muhammad Abdul Bari

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For believers the traditions and teachings of the Prophets (blessings on them), particularly Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), are paramount. Each Prophet of God belonged to a community which is termed as their Qawm in the Qur’an. Prophet Lut (Lot) was born in Iraq, but settled in Trans-Jordan and then became part of the people, Qawm of Lut, in his new-found home. All the Prophets addressed those around them as ‘Ya Qawmi’ (O, my people) while inviting them to the religion of submission, Islam. Those who accepted the Prophets’ message became part of their Ummah. So, individuals from any ethnicity or community could become part of the Ummah – such as the Ummah of Prophet Muhammad.

Believers thus have dual obligations: a) towards their own Qawm (country), and b) towards their Ummah (religious companions). As God’s grateful servants, Muslims should strive to give their best to both their Qawm and Ummah with their ability, time and skillset. It is imperative for practising and active Muslims to carry out Islah (improvement of character, etc) of people in their Ummah and be a witness of Islam to non-Muslims in their Qawm and beyond. This in effect is their service to humanity and to please their Creator. With this basic understanding of the concept, every Muslim should prioritise his or her activities and try their utmost to serve human beings with honesty, integrity and competence. Finding excuses or adopting escapism can bring harm in this world and a penalty in the Hereafter.

Like many other parts of the world, Britain is going through a phase lacking in ethical and competent leadership. People are confused, frustrated and worried; some are angry. Nativist (White) nationalism in many western countries, with a dislike or even hatred of minority immigrant people (particularly Muslims and Jews), is on the rise. This is exacerbated through lowering religious literacy, widespread mistrust and an increase in hateful rhetoric being spread on social media. As people’s patience and tolerance levels continue to erode, this can bring unknown adverse consequences.

The positive side is that civil society groups with a sense of justice are still robust in most developed countries. While there seem to be many Muslims who love to remain in the comfort zone of their bubbles, a growing number of Muslims, particularly the youth, are also effectively contributing towards the common good of all.

As social divisions are widening, a battle for common sense and sanity continues. The choice of Muslims (particularly those that are socially active), as to whether they would proactively engage in grass-roots civic works or social justice issues along with others, has never been more acute. Genuine steps should be taken to understand the dynamics of mainstream society and improve their social engagement skills.

From history, we learn that during better times, Muslims proactively endeavoured to be a force for good wherever they went. Their urge for interaction with their neighbours and exemplary personal characters sowed the seeds of bridge building between people of all backgrounds. No material barrier could divert their urge for service to their Qawm and their Ummah. This must be replicated and amplified.

Although Muslims are some way away from these ideals, focusing on two key areas can and should strengthen their activities in the towns and cities they have chosen as their home. This is vital to promote a tolerant society and establish civic roots. Indifference and frustration are not a solution.

Muslim individuals and families

  1. Muslims must develop a reading and thinking habit in order to prioritise their tasks in life, including the focus of their activism. They should, according to their ability and available opportunities, endeavour to contribute to the Qawm and Ummah. This should start in their neighbourhoods and workplaces. There are many sayings of the Prophet Muhammad on one’s obligations to their neighbour; one that stands out – Gabriel kept advising me to be good to my neighbour so much that I thought he would ask that he (neighbour) should inherit me) – Sahih Al-Bukhari.
  2. They must invest in their new generation and build a future leadership based on ethics and professionalism to confidently interact and engage with the mainstream society, whilst holding firm to Islamic roots and core practices.
  3. Their Islah and dawah should be professionalised, effective and amplified; their outreach should be beyond their tribal/ethnic/sectarian boundaries.
  4. They should jettison any doubts, avoid escapism and focus where and how they can contribute. If they think they can best serve the Ummah’s cause abroad, they should do this by all means. But if they focus on contributing to Britain:
    • They must develop their mindset and learn how to work with the mainstream society to normalise the Muslim presence in an often hostile environment.
    • They should work with indigenous/European Muslims or those who have already gained valuable experience here.
    • They should be better equipped with knowledge and skills, especially in political and media literacy, to address the mainstream media where needed.

Muslim bodies and institutions

  • Muslim bodies and institutions such as mosques have unique responsibilities to bring communities together, provide a positive environment for young Muslims to flourish and help the community to link, liaise and interact with the wider society.
  • By trying to replicate the Prophet’s mosque in Madinah, they should try to make mosques real hubs of social and spiritual life and not just beautiful buildings. They should invest more in young people, particularly those with professional backgrounds. They should not forget what happened to many places where the Muslim presence was thought to be deep-rooted such as Spain.
  • It is appreciated that the first generation Muslims had to establish organisations with people of their own ethnic/geographical backgrounds. While there may still be a need for this for some sections of the community, in a post-7/7 Britain Muslim institutions must open up for others qualitatively and their workers should be able to work with all. History tells that living in your own comfort zone will lead to isolation.
  • Muslim bodies, in their current situation, must have a practical 5-10 year plan, This will bring new blood and change organisational dynamics. Younger, talented, dedicated and confident leadership with deep-rooted Islamic ideals is now desperately needed.
  • Muslim bodies must also have a 5-10 year plan to encourage young Muslims within their spheres to choose careers that can take the community to the next level. Our community needs nationally recognised leaders from practising Muslims in areas such as university academia, policy making, politics, print and electronic journalism, etc.

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#Current Affairs

Seyran Ates, A Sixty-Eighter In Islamic Camouflage

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seyran ates

By Dr Mohammad Usman Rana

In their orientalist enthusiasm to reform Islam, in the sense of reconciling Islam with the always changing ideas and goals of liberal values, Western European liberals and neo-atheists are searching high and low for persons who may serve as Muslim alibies for their project. For many years Ayaan Hirsi Ali was given this role but now the relay baton has been handed over to the German-Turkish activist Seyran Ates.

Does not believe in religion

Ates is of current interest in Norway because her book by the Norwegian title Islam trenger en seksuell revolusjon (Islam needs a sexual revolution, originally published in German in 2011)* was just released in Norwegian translation. Ates is well-known primarily because Western media have hailed her as a freedom fighter among Muslims since she opened a so-called liberal mosque in Berlin in 2017 and titled herself a female imam.

Obviously, Ates is part and parcel of an essential debate about the future of Muslims in Europe as it is a fact that a lot of traditional mosques in Western Europe have a big job to do in order to become more relevant to young Muslims, that is, more inclusive and adapted to a European context. Not least the issue of women’s rights is rightfully important to many people in the Muslim world, whether they are liberals or conservatives. In the midst of all the praise, Ates receives in Western media one essential question is however forgotten: What Islamic credibility does Ates have? In line with postmodern nihilism where concepts, ideas, and identities are emptied of meaning and content, the fact is ignored that Ates in her book points out that she believes in God but not in religions. She has no Islamic theological education and explains that she has recently started taking courses in Islamic studies and Arabic in order to be more credible among Muslims.

This is not only the case with Ates. It is a general weakness of so-called progressive and liberal Islam (reformers) that the movement lacks a foundation of religious and theological structure; it is rather founded on personalities with a political mission.

More journalists than worshippers

In her book about Islam needing a sexual revolution, Ates applauds European Christians’ dissociation from the church after 1968. Paradoxically, she later opened a mosque for Muslims. Further, she praises secularly thinking individuals as the most honourable people.

This is why the question should be raised whether the mosque, the imam title, and other religious references are just an Islamic camouflage for what can be understood as a political secularisation, assimilation and liberalisation project by Ates and her supporters. Due to the missing religious credibility and seriousness of this commitment, it should come as no surprise that it has little appeal to European and German Muslims.

When the New York Times visited the mosque, its journalists reported that there were more journalists than worshippers present. She has, on the other hand, a strong appeal among extreme right-wing anti-Muslim thinkers and movements in Europe. It is noteworthy that Ates received a solidarity claim from the extreme anti-Islam German AfD party, and has been praised by the infamous anti-Muslim blog of “Human Rights Service” in Norway.

The positive development aspect is missing

Why should German and European Muslims listen to an activist who attacks the fundamental principles of Islam and in her book paints a stereotypical image of the world’s Muslims?

There is no denying that Ates addresses a number of important challenges for Muslim women. Still, her arguments become oversimplified when she confuses female-hostile habits in the East with Islam and completely forgets the positive development today’s Muslim women in Europe experience where they, as opposed to their mothers’ generation, receive a university education, have a career, and choose whom they want to marry.

Seyran Ates’ project is not about a necessary contextualisation of Islam’s holy texts in a European reality, maintaining the characterisations of the region. The project is rather about a total change of Islam. In her book, Ates justifies such a change by creating strawmen with sweeping generalisations about Muslims. She, for instance, writes that ‘it is a fact that Muslim men have a considerable problem with our free world’, and that ‘Islamic politicians do not distinguish between religion and politics’ – without mentioning the widespread authoritarian secular tradition in Muslim countries in modern times such as in Turkey and Baathism in Syria and Iraq.

Less sexual restraint

Ates’ main argument in Islam needs a sexual revolution is that Muslim men and women are sexually oppressed because sexuality is defined as a blessing and source of love only within – and not outside of – the frames of marriage. The rule of intimate relationships being reserved for marriage meets with unison agreement from Muslims from different schools of thought; Ates, however, absurdly calls it an expression of “fundamentalist” Islam. In this view, Seyran Ates disagrees with the well-known American feminist Naomi Wolf who, after having travelled in Muslim countries, believes that this marital channelling of intimacy, in fact, strengthens sexuality and family ties at the same time.

The German-Turkish author wants less sexual restraint, more promiscuity and a liberal attitude to nakedness, in line with the ideals of the sixty-eighters. Seyran Ates praises the sixty-eighters’ revolution as an ideal for Muslims. Although the #metoo campaign, which can be said to have brought to light the negative consequences of the sexual revolution, was released after Ates’ book was published, it makes her attitudes to this revolution seem somewhat doubtful. The heritage of the sixty-eighters is not only freedom and equality but also the breaking up of the family as well as selfishness and decadence. It is also ironical that someone like Ates, who claims religious credibility, calls attention to Alfred Kinsey, the atheist sexologist who believed in open relationships, as a model for Muslims.

Public pillory

Ates’ book is mainly about freedom, a personal freedom in the name of value liberalism and sixtyeighters. A well-known American intellectual, Patrick Deenen from the University of Notre Dame, however, criticises such a perception of the concept of freedom believing we should ask ourselves if freedom can really be defined as human beings pursuing their instincts more or less uncritically. Deenen maintains that human beings are then in effect unfree and slaves of their instincts, while real freedom is achieved if we manage to free ourselves from being governed by human appetites.

Seyran Ates and her non-Muslim supporters seem to have no understanding at all of such a definition of the concept of freedom. Even more problematic is that they want to make their sixty-eighters’ liberal values absolute, believing Muslims must adhere to them if they wish to belong to modern society. Harvard professor Adrian Vermeule calls this form of liberalism aggressive because it only tolerates itself and no differences of opinion. It maintains its rituals in the form of checkpoints of ‘correct’ opinions in particular about sexuality, gender, and identity. Disagreeing with this can result in reprisals in the form of public pillory or even legal steps.

Obsessed with removing the hijab

When Muslims are met with such absolute-making of liberal values it is like an extension of colonial cultural imperialism when French and British colonial masters wanted to westernise Muslim populations, believing it was the only way of making them civilised. Some of them were obsessed with removing Muslim women’s hijabs, just as Seyran Ates is. The British consul general in Egypt, Lord Cromer, was a representative of this view. He wanted to free Muslim women from the hijab while at home in the UK he was ardently against feminism and women’s suffrage (source: Ahmed, Leila (1992). Women and Gender in Islam. New Haven: Yale University Press).

Worth noting is also that extensive surveys by Gallup Coexist Index among West-European Muslims show that they are far more religious than the majority population. Similar findings in relation to Norwegian Muslims were made by Bushra Ishaq in her book Hvem snakker for oss? (Who speaks for us?) from 2017. Considering these figures, it would be utopian as well as illiberal to expect Muslims to opt for a liberal values morality. On the contrary, it should be expected that religious European Muslims understand their religious practice as belonging to a Western context, that they value equality and that they support the liberal state governed by rule of law that actually allows people to live according to liberal as well as conservative norms of value.

*The original German-language version of the book, Der Islam braucht eine sexuelle Revolution: Eine Streitschrift, was published in 2011

Dr Mohammad Usman Rana is a Norwegian columnist, author and a commentator on Islam

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Chronicles of A Muslim Father: It All Began With a Prayer

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They say it takes a village to raise a child. Family, friends, neighbors, coaches, and teachers are all part of that community and the pillars of that system are the parents. Mothers specifically have and continue to make monumental contributions to this effort. But what about Muslim fathers?

There are thousands of blog posts and hundreds of books on the fundamentals of raising Muslim children in the current climate written by mothers across a diverse array of the spectrum. They have tackled issues that range from Aqiqa’s to matrimonials and beyond, but when I needed a fresh perspective on raising Muslim children by someone like me, a Muslim father, I could hardly find any readily available resources.

I don’t know if this is a cultural deviancy or just men in general, but we leave all the parenting to the mothers and justify skimming over our responsibilities in the name of “breadwinning”. Whatever the case may be, I am a person who is constantly looking for guidance so that I, as their father and the head of the household, can make the right moves for my kids morally, academically and socially.

Furthermore, I am convinced that there are thousands, if not millions of Muslim fathers, just like me looking for the same thing that are coming up empty handed just like I did.

It’s for this reason, with the help of Allah that I have endeavored to fill in this much-needed gap and compose this essential series that will be comprised of archives from my own experiences coupled with advice on best practices and pitfalls in raising Muslim children from a father’s perspective.  

I hope and pray that my work will be a source of guidance for both mothers and fathers on raising Muslim children, if not at the very least a catalyst for a call-to-action for fathers to assume their respective roles. May Allah guide all of us to be the best parents for our children and raise our children amongst the righteous to be the coolness of our eyes. 

Jameel Syed  

Hajj 2000- I find myself at the time of Tahujjud standing humbled with all my faults in front of the ancient house of Allah trying to collect myself under the shade of night, to muster up the courage to address my Lord in efforts to ask…

What makes me think my voice would reach Him amongst a legion of believers who have come to this place with their righteous deeds and all I have to offer Him are years ladened with transgressions? How do I ask? Where do I begin…

Standing at six feet, I began to shrink both in stature and in spirit. Tears began to swell up in my eyes as I stood as still as a statue. I truly felt more insignificant than the idea of the word “below” itself. As natural as rain falling from the sky to the ground, in one action I collapsed into prostration, embracing the ground as if it were life itself. There I remained for what seemed like an eternity— sometimes praising Him, other times asking for His forgiveness as my body shook uncontrollably with tears running a constant flow. I had no concept of my surroundings or that the world existed at all. In that moment in the darkness, I just felt it was me, Him and the appeal that I had to make. I knew that I had no right. It was not my place to ask and that I had come with nothing to offer, but there was no place else to go, nobody else to turn to. I maintained my sajdah for what seemed like an eternity. Eventually, I summoned up my courage and brought the sentiments of my heart to my lips:

“Ya Allah pair me with a righteous wife who will give me righteous children.” 

At that moment, my prayers that were for me were for them. My tears flowed for them, whatever ramblings came from my mouth were for the unborn children that I have never met. If you think about it, it seemed foolish, so absurd, but in my bones, it felt so right. I didn’t even have a wife and there I was begging for righteous children. The truth in context was that I wanted something very special from the Treasury of His Majesty and I came to His House to humble myself to get it.

It was on the sound of the Fajr adhan that I finally arose from my prostration. My cheeks and kurta (shirt) wet with tears and all that was left was contemplation. It seemed as if I was transitioning into yet a different train of thought. 

I began to take account of who I am, what I wanted and what I needed to do. I didn’t know the first thing about being a husband or father. I didn’t want to repeat the same mistakes I made as a son. I wanted my children to have the best in this world and the next but didn’t have a clue on how to pave that path. I wanted to endeavor to strive to be at least as good as my own father and put my family first. In all honesty, as these thoughts began flooding my head, I felt totally helpless and totally overwhelmed. 

I knew that I would have to sacrifice, upgrade my character, prioritize to put the pleasure of Allah at the forefront of my thoughts and actions. This was a huge shift from how I lived my life for the past couple of decades. My time was mine, my money was mine and I impulsively chased my desires. All that had to change!

Change Brings Change

One thing did, however, make sense to me:

I thought to myself that if I laid down the track based upon my style of thinking, it would certainly be disastrous. I needed to consult with scholars and gather as much information as I could to construct a path in accordance with what Allah has prescribed to give myself a chance at achieving my dream.

This, I concluded, was what was needed to be done in order to ensure a chance of success. I felt resolute to act upon it. At that thought, the Muaddhin began to recite the Iqama and the entire ordeal concluded.

Six months later, I found myself in the living room of Dr. Ahmed Muneeruddin whose lineage goes back directly to AmĪr-ul-Mu’minīn, Umar Al-Farooq (May Allah be pleased with him). I was witness to one of the most profound events of my lifetime. My father (the late) Dr. Abdus-Salam Syed recited Khutbah Al-Haajah for the company that was present, which included immediate family from both sides. He then turned his attention to his host and began to declare with profound emotion:

“Praise to be Allah and blessings and peace be upon His final Prophet and Messenger Muhammad. I enjoin you to fear Allahﷻ. I have come to you to engage your noblest daughter Maria Muneeruddin to my son Jameel Abdul Syed in accordance with the Sunnah of the Prophet and the pleasure of Allah .” 

He then went on to conclude with Du’a for happiness, well being, prosperity, that the beginning and end of this affair should be on the straight path and that this union should bare righteous children in the future.

She was going to be the mother of my children

It is noteworthy that I had only known my future wife then for two weeks in total with no more than two physical meetings and a half a dozen phone calls.

She presented very strong qualities, which matched all of the qualifiers outlined by the Prophet: Beauty, wealth, status and religion. As most prospective couples do, we dialogued back and forth measuring each other up against our ideals, but truthfully my decision to pursue her at the end had little to do with any of her questions to my answers. Rather it was the fact that when I looked into her eyes, I saw the mother of my future children and I knew that no other woman on the face of this earth could hold that status for me. It was a feeling I knew to be true and the final criterion for my decision that I feel my heart was guided by Allahﷻ. The series of events that led to my engagement was idiosyncratic and unplanned. In my experience, when Allah wants something to happen, it happens rather quickly and arrives unannounced and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. 

Our marriage took place on July 1st, 2001 in Ontario, Canada. Shortly thereafter she became pregnant and learned that it was going to be a baby boy. Both of our families were elated. It was the first child of the next generation on both sides. We debated back and forth about the name until we finally reached a unanimous decision: Muhammad Jibril Syed. Maria constantly listened to Surah Al-Baqarah during her pregnancy and prayed for him during this eight-month period. My job was to keep her happy! 

On March 13th, 2002, Jibril had arrived at Crittenton Hospital in Rochester, Michigan honoring both Maria and me with the titles of parents. I gingerly picked up the boy and took him to my father who raised the adhan in his right ear and the iqama in his left as per the tradition of The Prophet. The feeling was indescribable. A feeling of pride, disbelief, elation. Maria felt the same, but she was obviously exhausted. The hospital was flooded with friends and family— it was total chaos. I had to escape, if only for a moment.

I broke away from the excitement and retreated to the hospitals chapel to pray. After prayer, I sat by myself in that room and reflected on how I got to this point. That prayer I made during Tahajjud in front of the Kaabah. It was the beginning of my journey into fatherhood. My heart softened and I began to cry. SubhanAllah, I thought to myself. “Just look at the plan of Allah. He didn’t turn a deaf ear to the pleas of a sinner that day. He’s given me so much in such a short period of time. I promised myself that I would not be an ungrateful slave. That I would honor the trust that He’s bestowed on me with this child and any other future children by devoting myself to try and raise them in accordance with His pleasure.

As I walked out of the chapel and back to my family, I thought to myself: “I wonder what he’s gonna call me…”

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