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The Missing Muslims: Living With Disability

Zeba Khan

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Everyone knows that Islam’s first Muezzin was black, Bilal Ibn Rabah, Radi’Allahu ta’ala ‘anhu. But did you know that the second was blind? I’m going to tell you more about that in a moment, but first, we’re gonna do a little tafseer.

The Prophet frowned and turned away

Surah Abasa

Because there came to him the blind man (interrupting).

how do you know that he wouldn’t have benefited?

Or that he wouldn’t be reminded and would then benefit from the reminder?  

 

And the one who thinks he doesn’t need any of this,

you address him instead

It’s not on you, whether or not he chooses to benefit from this message.

You know this story already, right? This is the beginning of Surah Abasa, Once upon a time, the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was trying to talk to the leaders of the Quraysh, and a blind companion of his interrupted him.

The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) frowned and turned away from the blind man, returning his attention to the Quraishi leaders. Allah gently admonished the Prophet for his mistake, and then went on in the Surah to remind mankind of our humble beginnings, our careless existence, and our inevitable end.

The blind companion is relegated to a footnote in our teaching of the Qur’an, and few people know his name.

His name was Abdullah Ibn Umm Maktoum raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him).

Abdullah was the first cousin of the Prophet’s wife Khadijah raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her), and he had been blind from birth.

He was among the earliest acceptors of the message and outlived the Prophet ﷺ. From his life we know that Awareness, Inclusion, and Accommodation of people with disabilities and special needs is not a modern addition to Islam. It is built into the Sunnah and Seerah itself.

You see Surah Abasa is nothing less than a divine message of Disability Awareness.

The one who came to you running-

Who feared Allah in his heart-

Him- you neglected him.

Kalla- No. This is a reminder.

So let whoever wishes to be reminded of it.

The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) frowned and turned away, and even though Abdullah Ibn Umm Maktoum raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) never saw that frown, Allah did. And through Surah Abasa, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) sent him a message.

From there on out, the Prophet made it a point to smile whenever he saw Abdullah Ibn Umm Maktoum, regardless of whether Abdullah would ever see that smile. He specifically sought Abdullah out and asked if there was anything he needed. Years later he still addressed Abdullah with words of humility “Welcome unto him on whose account my Sustainer has rebuked me.”

Allah rebuked the Messenger for neglecting a Muslim with a disability, and it was preserved in the Qur’an to be a perpetual reminder for anyone in danger of making the same mistake. Whoever comes to seeking knowledge of the deen is entitled to it. Everyone deserves the chance to develop a relationship with Allah. There is no excuse for sidelining anyone who comes seeking Islam.

Abdullah ibn Umm Maktoum may be a footnote now, but at no point was he on the sidelines of our history. When Muslims began travelling outside of Makkah to spread the message of Islam, two men reached the city of Yathrib first. One of them was Abdullah Ibn Umm Maktoum raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him).

When Yathrib became Madinatul-Munawaara, and the Messenger established the first Muslim community, two men were appointed to give the call to prayer. One was black and one was blind.

One was Bilal raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) and one of them was Abdullah Ibn Umm Maktoum raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him). May Allah be pleased with them both.

When the Messenger of Allah travelled from Madina to the peaceful conquest of Makkah, he left one man in charge of the community. In this critical time of his absence, that man was Abdullah Ibn Umm Maktoum raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him).

How many of our masajid have anyone with a disability giving the adhaan or leading the salah? How many of our masajid have ANYONE with a disability on the board, and our Prophet left a man with a disability in charge of Madinah itself.

As an Ummah we pride ourselves on how many languages the Qur’an has been translated in to, how many of our masajid keep a copy in Braille?

We give lectures in every language- except sign language.

We post on our masajid doors- Allahumma Aftahlee abwaabe rahmatik. Oh Allah, open for us the doors of your mercy, but we hold the same doors shut when it comes to Muslims with disabilities.

 Some may say where are these disabled Muslims? I don’t see any in my community.

First of all, a disabled Muslim is not just a Muslim in a wheelchair. A disabled Muslim may be blind, hearing impaired, intellectually challenged, autistic, or having any number of conditions that make their ability to attend the masjid without accommodations a significant challenge.

Second of all, maybe the reason why no one in a wheelchair comes to your masjid is because they are forced to wait beside the door – rain, shine or snow, Fajr, Asr, or Isha – until someone comes to open it for them.

That is assuming, of course, that there’s even a ramp for them to reach the door. And one on the sister’s side too. Maybe no one in a wheelchair comes to your masjid because they can’t do wudu in your bathroom or fit their chair through the musalla door.

Having said that, there’s more to inclusion that just a ramp and door. If no one with a hearing impairment comes to your masjid, maybe it’s because they understand precisely ZERO of the khutbah unless you interpret it into sign.

Maybe no one with autism comes to masjid because your congregants shamed them for what they didn’t know were autistic behaviours. Maybe they don’t know what autism is. Maybe you never told them.

Maybe, just maybe, the Muslims going through the kinds of trials that you’ve never dealt with – let alone imagined- don’t come to your masjid because you’ve made it impossible for them to do so. Maybe they are cut off from the community because the community has cut them off.

Whether it’s a physical access issue, a social stigma, or that look people give when they think disability is contagious- something significant in your community may be excluding a significant part of your community.

Some may say- Ok, this disability awareness thing is very nice, MashaAllah, but we have more important things going on in the Muslim community right now. Have you turned the news on recently?

I’d like to give you some context for when Surah Abasa was revealed.

Surah Abasa was revealed in Makkah, and as we know, the Makkan period for Muslims was anything but awesome. It was terrible. The Muslims were dealing with torture, humiliation, death, and even assassination attempts on the Messenger himself.

In this dire situation the Prophet Muhammad was given the chance to speak truth to power directly. He had an audience with those responsible for the oppression and therefore, those capable of stopping it.

Getting through to those Quraish Leaders could have meant an end to the unimaginable suffering entirely. Whatever you’re doing in your masjid, it’s not more important than what the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) himself was trying to do at that time. And whatever the Prophet was trying to do at that time, Allah told him there was something important enough to interrupt even that.

We have this idea that awareness, inclusion, and accommodation for the Muslims with special needs is extra credit, and we’ll get to it as a community, once we’ve sorted everything else out.

Accommodation is not Nafl. It is fard. And Abdullah Ibn Umm Maktoum was a proof of this in not just one Surah of the Qur’an, but two.

In Surah Nisa 4:95 Allah revealed a verse stating that those who stayed at home were not equal to those who fought in His cause.

Abdullah Ibn Umm Maktoum, deeply hurt by his inability to do more, came to the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) to tell him Ya Rasulullah, I would fight for Allah if I could.

Allah then sent further revelation, completing the ayah to read:

[Nisa 4:95]

Those who stay at home- except those with a disability – are not equal to those who fight in Allah’s cause. Here Allah himself makes accommodations in the Qur’an specifically for Muslims with disabilities.

Awareness, Inclusion, Accommodation- these are part of our faith. Disability is part of our faith too. Muslim speakers all over the world open their talks with the dua of  Musa, the Prophet with the Speech Impediment.

Rabbish-rah-li sadri, wa yassirli amri

Wah lul uqdatam min lisaani. Yafqaho qawli

My Lord, open for me my heart, and make my task easy, and untie the knot in my tongue so that people will understand me.

Judaism, Christianity, and Islam- all three Abrahamic faiths share the greatest of story of patience of who? Job- Ayyoub 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him), the Prophet bedridden and disabled by chronic illness for seven years.

Our religious traditions are enriched with stories of the blind, the lame, the epileptic. Allah cites examples of people with disability as Prophets themselves – models for patience, faith, and inspiration.

Abdullah Ibn Umm Maktoum was a true inspiration. Even though he was blind and excused- By God Himself- from participating in battle, he advocated for more.

“Place me between two rows ,” he said, “and give me the standard. I will carry it for you and protect it, for I am blind and cannot run away.”

And so Abdullah Ibn Umm Maktoum became a flag-bearer- literally- for the Muslim Ummah. He participated in every campaign that he could. He died as martyr in the Battle of Qadisiyah, and fell without losing hold of the standard he carried.

It would be nice if we could say the same. Muslims in the West- we consider ourselves to be a marginalized community, yet here we are marginalizing members our own community.

Our hearts ache when we hear of people with disabilities being neglected and abused by those responsible for their care. And yet – we the Muslim community- responsible for the care and the accommodation of all our members- we are neglecting our most vulnerable members.

If it sounds like I’m taking this personally, it’s because I am actually am. I was born into disability awareness the same day as my son. As expected when expecting, I made dua for him every single prayer, every single day. Ya Allah, please grant me a man of Jannah.

Ya Allah, He gave me a child with autism.

I prayed more.

I prayed so hard, so long, and so desperately to find out what was wrong with my son, and when I had an idea what it was- I prayed for it to not be wrong with him anymore.

I blamed myself. It wasn’t hard, society blamed me too. It must’ve been me picking him up when he cried. It must’ve been me not picking him up when he cried. It must’ve been that I spoiled him. It must’ve been that I ignored him.

It must’ve been that I fed him this or didn’t feed him that. It must’ve have been the evil eye- and this is a good one- it must have been that I didn’t pray enough.

No matter what people thought must’ve caused autism, I must’ve caused it, and I lived with debilitating grief and guilt in between therapy and prayers but…

But- Alhamdulillah, Allah saved me from breaking. Even when I knew other mothers who did.

I knew one mother who left. She disappeared, leaving her disabled four-year-old with his father. The father messaged me, looking for help. She had messaged him after leaving, “He’s your son. You deal with it.”

I knew one mother who shattered- losing her faith entirely. She did not believe in God anymore, she said, but she still prayed to him. She prayed that she and her son would both die in a car accident at the same time.

In Texas, the community knew a mother who had two children with autism- Zain and Faryal, but you probably never heard of her until she turned herself in for killing them both.

I’m not going to imply that their deaths could have been prevented with a really inclusive Sunday School program. Allah knows how long we get to spend on this earth and the circumstances we leave it in. I will say this though: Shaytan preys on us especially in times of fear and solitude. In the absence of a supportive community, what protection do Muslims with disabilities have from him?

When I learned that my son had autism, I was told he may never speak. Forty percent of children with autism never really do. When he finally did speak, his first word was OKAY! And to both him and us, it meant everything.

Juice was Okay. Toys were Okay. The car was Okay. We had beautiful conversations – conversations that I waited years to have – that were comprised of only one word, Okay.

I had for the first time, some hope that my son would one day learn his own name and maybe even functional speech. It was heartbreakingly beautiful, but it was because of OKAY that we were first kicked out of a masjid.

It had been an Isha Salah, the imam said AllahuAkbar and my son answered Okay.

The Imam said Fatihah and my son answered Okay.

AllahuAkbar?

Okay!

Sami’Allahu Liman Hamida?

Okay!

Rabbana Wa lakal Hamd

OKAY

No sooner did the imam say the salam did someone begin pounding – literally with two fists and outright fury-  on the wall of the ladies section. Someone was yelling. Someone was angry.

(My son answered, Okay!)

I ran back to the car with my children and cried. My husband stood in the parking lot and attempted to defuse the situation with the imam and the angry guy.

I was unmosqued for nearly six years.

Between the fear of being humiliated again and the fear of my son wandering out of the masjid during prayers, I missed hundreds of jummahs, dozens of Eids, and the immeasurable amount sisterhood and support I so desperately needed.

Our journey back to the Muslim community is too long a story for this article, but I do want to share this update. The kid who once got us kicked out of the masjid is now a regular fixture at our local masjid. He even got to call the adhan once, and remembering our relationship with other masajid before this one, it was a moment of indescribable sweetness.

The gratitude that I have for the members of our masjid is something that I’ve never fully expressed, but I often make dua for them and pray that Allah befriend them the way they have befriended my children. That Allah show Gentleness to them for the gentleness they have shown my children. That Allah love them, and increase the love they have in their hearts for my families and other families like them.

Our Messenger ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was sent as a Mercy to all of mankind. In following his example we too can be a mercy. Our communities can be so much more. We can do so much more.

Someone in your community has a disability and they don’t come to the masjid anymore. Whether they can’t get in, whether it’s impossible to stay in, or whether they’ve been told they’re not welcome in- they stay at home, day after day, kuhtbah after khubah, Eid after Eid, growing more isolated, more inward, and more likely to fall than if they had been surrounded by helping hands instead.

Someone in your community is afraid, because living with chronic illness is scary and uncertain. They really need someone to talk to, except they don’t know how, or who, or when. Because your masjid doesn’t have a support group for those Muslims who need support most.

If you’re looking around and thinking well, I don’t know any of these people then thank you for proving my point. Someone in your community is close to breaking and you don’t even know who they are.

Muslims with disabilities exist. That they don’t seem to exist in your community is the problem. Now, let’s talk solutions.

Start by finding one person– one single person – in your community with a disability. Ask them what you can do for them. Ask your imam to meet with them. Ask your imam to talk to the community about their disability in a Khutbah, and make sure your masjid actually has the facilities they need to attend and understand that khutbah too.

Go and visit them. And don’t do it because you pity them, do it because you need them. Do it because Allah expects you to, and if you don’t help them, then what answer will you give Allah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) when he says on the Day of Judgment, “Oh My Servant, I was ill and you didn’t attend to me.”

And you’ll be like Ya Allah, how could you be ill? How could I attend to you?

And Allah will answer back, You knew my Servant was ill, and you didn’t attend to them. If you had, you would have found Me with them.

You want to be with Allah in the next life? Go seek Him out in this one. Seek out the disabled in your community the same way the Companions of the Prophet did, competing with each other to travel farther and work harder in the service of those who needed help.

You want Allah to love you? Then love those that He loves. Allah tests those that He loves. Find those most tested by Him, and maybe – just maybe- if one day they don’t find you in Jannah, they’ll ask about you there.

Zeba Khan is the Director of Development for MuslimMatters.org, as well as a writer, speaker, and disability awareness advocate. In addition to having a child with autism, she herself lives with Ehlers-Danlos Sydrome, Dysautonomia, Mast-Cell Activation Disorder, and a random assortment of acronyms that collectively translate to chronic illness and progressive disability.

10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Anissa

    March 30, 2018 at 2:56 PM

    Amazing article – yes it’s time for the Muslim community to take a lead – autism affects nearly 1 in 70 people and of course there are other disabilities like Down syndrome etc. ALL our masjids and centres should have day cares for kids with special needs so that families can be part of the community. Further it is the RESPONSIBILITY of all Muslims to take especial care of these families – help them out as they are so busy !!!! I think our Islamic centres also need to think about adults with disabilities – eg building Muslim care centres for such adults – parents are always scared what will happen to their kids when they pass on – what a noble task if the Muslim community makes a plan!

  2. Avatar

    Anissa

    March 30, 2018 at 3:23 PM

    Sister Zeba – how do you manage your other kids and teach them about their brother and how to look after him ?

    • Avatar

      Maymoona

      April 1, 2018 at 1:14 PM

      Slm my dear Jazakallah for sharing. This is a much needed discussion. May Allah grant aafiyah to you and all those struggling in any way

  3. Avatar

    Mahenoor

    April 3, 2018 at 2:27 PM

    Salam Sister!!! I felt like you are telling my story. I have two boys with ASD. They are blessing from Allah SWT. Through them we are guided to the straight path. Even though some people blamed me for my sons being Autistic …… they say it’s a punishment. Some say Jinn posses them . But Me and my husband think that
    Our boys make us better Muslim and better human everyday .
    We also trying for few years to have a Sunday program in the masajid so that special need kids can have the opportunity to learn about the Deen but we couldn’t do it yet. Our point is if they can learn about Halloween or Christmas at school they will definitely will be able to learn about Eid or Ramadan . There is lack of awareness in the community and also within the family.

    • Avatar

      Maryam

      April 14, 2018 at 2:00 PM

      Salaams sister Mahenoor – to be raising two special boys surely means Allah loves you and your husband – he does not burden a soul more than the soul can bear and tests people based on their Iman! As for the people who said things like you are being punished – then they do not know who Allah is – Allah SWT is Rahman and Rahim and loves us more than our mothers. May Allah bless you and your family abundantly in this dunya and akhirah – sending special love to your boys – they are blessed to have amazing parents like you.

    • Avatar

      Maryam

      April 14, 2018 at 4:14 PM

      Sister – please listen to this khutbah – people who say things like Allah is punishing you do not understand our Deen – Allah loves you and know you can pass his tests with flying colours inshAllah- and when you inshAllah get to Jannah you will rejoice for the opportunity Allah gave you in this dunya https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=DiWUOM6VJm4

  4. Avatar

    Taoheedah

    April 9, 2018 at 6:15 PM

    What a post! May Almighty Allah reward Sis. Zeba for this. I had the good fortune of listening to her talk on disability at TDC 2017 and it was brilliant. I pray all who read this take it to heart and act upon it in our various masajids. She’s so right, we as a community hardly think of the hardships those with disabilities face in our communities. Her tafsir of Surat ul Abasa really makes it hit home. Sadly, I am yet to see any sign language interpreter in any of the khutbahs I have attended so far in North America. This piece should be a wake-up call. I hope we all are able to commit to making our communities more inclusive going forward.

  5. Avatar

    Allen

    April 14, 2018 at 11:55 PM

    Or sufism, not sure why author left Sufism as a form of misguidence ?

  6. Avatar

    Latifa

    April 22, 2018 at 10:11 PM

    Subhannallah. Feels like yesterday I was listening to your talk at TDC 2017 about the missing muslims and how you met a little boy that had ASD while you were pregnant. My little boy under the age of 2 has just been recently diagnosed and all I keep mumbling is Habiyya Allah wa nimal wakeel. I pray Allah strengthens our backs so that we may bear the load he tests us with.

  7. Avatar

    Aeesha

    January 7, 2019 at 1:16 AM

    Ya Allah! Sis! I cried reading this article! You’re far too eloquent. May Allah SWt grant you ease and bless you with more beautiful moments with your son and family. May Allah SWt give you abundant good for writing this article and spreading awareness and may the teachings you sort to spread with this article stay with all those who have read it and prompt them to take action.

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#Life

So You Are The Wali, Now What?

Dr Shadee Elmasry

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

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

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

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

Here are some questions and demands a wali should make:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s preventative medicine.

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#Islam

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

Dr Usaama al-Azami

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Sepoy rebellion, Shaykh Hamza

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

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

Opposing all government vs opposing a government

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

A complex tradition

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

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

What does the tradition actually say?

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

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

Al-Ghazzali on confronting tyrants

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

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

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

Modern discontinuities and their high stakes

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

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

Shaykh Hamza on the nature of government

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

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

Where do we go from here?

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

And Allah knows best.

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Can Women Attend The Burial Of The Deceased?

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

Dr Usaama al-Azami

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Quran at graveyard, woman attend burial

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

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

Key positions and evidence

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

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

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

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

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

Interpreting the evidence

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

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

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

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

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

The fiqh of modernity

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

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

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

And God knows best.

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