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How To Build People Up, Not Destroy Them While Teaching Faith

Dawah strategy for these troubling times based on the superiority of asserting Allah’s perfection (saying: Alḥamdulillāh) to glorifying Him above imperfection (saying: SubḥānAllāh)

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In the name of Allah, the Most Merciful, the Grantor of Mercy. All praise be to Allah, Lord of the worlds.

A Golden Principle

When the Prophet ﷺ entered Mecca victorious, after 20 years of abuse and rejection by the Meccans, he recited the following blessed verses as he removed the idols from around the Ka‘ba, “And say truth has arrived, and falsehood has perished. Indeed, falsehood is bound to perish.” {17: 81} And from that moment onward, people flocked from every direction to embrace Islam in waves. Of course, a person may wonder: if falsehood is “bound” to perish, then why did it remain for so long? It is because truth had not yet arrived, at least not in equal force. Once the truth of Islam became manifest, allotting it an equal playing field with falsehood, there was no contest. Badiuzzamān Nursi (d. 1960), the great Turkish reformer and author of Rasāil-i-Nur (a 5,000 page commentary on the Quran), predicated his awe-inspiring contributions towards restoring Islam in modern Turkey on this golden principle; Muslims are more in need of building what is absent than demolishing what is present.

This is the Quranic formula for returning the ummah to health; focus on developing the good, more than destroying the evil. Similarly, when Allah listed for us which specific elements make this ummah so great, He said, “You are the best community ever raised for humanity – you promote good, forbid evil, and believe in Allah.” {3: 110} It should beg our consideration how the Quranic sequence always places promoting good before combating evil, perhaps hinting again that just as they must work in tandem, one should be a greater priority than the other. Our call to Allah – to be Quranic – must primarily cultivate good in people and society, and secondarily demolish the evils that plague them. If these proportions are not observed in our efforts, we will continue to struggle at transforming people’s hearts and minds the way the Quran once did, and the fruits of our labor will continue not resembling those of our Prophet (ﷺ). If this ratio is observed, perhaps we will soon realize – with many people, at least – that the presence of evil was merely a symptom of their problem, while the absence of good was its root cause.

Online and in-person, we often find ourselves hurriedly responding to falsehood in uncalculated ways, squandering true opportunities for incremental positive change by the lure of a presumed quick-fix. Too often do we overlook the prophetic “haste is from Shayṭān” rule, lock ourselves into a cycle of reactionary rhetoric, and allow our protective passion for Islam skew our strategy. In management, experts commonly stress the importance of avoiding the ‘firefighting’ approach, where you are always consumed by the emergency at hand. It is a horrible approach, not only because it stunts progress, but more importantly because its endless nature renders it unsustainable and will eventually fail. Similarly, they say in sports that the best defense is a good offense because a boxer blocking in the corner will inevitably find a punch landing past his defenses. Likewise, the maxim in medicine has always been that prevention is better than any cure, because even effective treatment may leave behind irreparable damage.

The Awe of God

Our Prophet ﷺ brought the world a Quran that invested the bulk of its narrative in establishing God’s oneness, not in delegitimizing polytheism (though it certainly does). This Quran also nurtured in its reader’s spirit the magnificence of God, far more than it illustrated the futility of idol-worship, all because deepening your understanding of who Allah is will always outperform identifying who Allah is not, and because the second will naturally happen once the first has been secured. Similarly, Muslim theologians would traditionally highlight how consistently the Quran tends to assert the perfection of God in detail while negating imperfection from God in brevity, for obvious wisdom. Among this wisdom is that lingering on qualities wrongly attributed to God, even for the purpose of refuting them, can actually confer a degree of validity to them – for only if they were imaginable would they need to be disproven at such lengths. If while lauding a king or emperor, you began saying amidst your flattery, “Your highness, you are not a lowlife, nor a heathen, nor an idiot, nor a sewage worker, nor sexually impotent, nor are you repulsively ugly…” you may find yourself dismissed from the royal court for an extended tour of the dungeons below. ‘Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) once flogged a poet for slander because he would say in his poetry, “And my two parents are not fornicators”. Though his words may seem to be defending his parents’ honor, volunteering them prematurely insinuates the possibility of this being imaginable about his parents, and hence required addressing. This would be identical to a child out-of-nowhere swearing he did not eat the chocolate in the cupboard, before anyone ever accused him, drawing by that great suspicion around himself.

Returning to the discussion on God, the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ informed us that the “best of duā’” is asserting Allah’s perfection (saying: Alḥamdulillāh), deeming it superior to glorifying Him above imperfection (saying: SubḥānAllāh). I personally cannot help contrasting that model with the divinity polemics so prevalent in Muslim forums today, where too much of the discussion is a lifeless, doctrinal, checklist approach geared more towards offering sectarian membership than spiritual vigor.

The Love of Materialism

The Quranic method for rescuing people from the shackles of materialism was by flooding them with reasons to have a superior love for God, His company, and His reward. Consider the profound wisdom in not asking the human being to hate the pleasures of this material world, when Allah created this very human being with a hedonistic (pleasure-seeking) nature, and when he or she has not yet familiarized itself with any other form of fulfillment. Instead, what the Quran does is remind them of God’s perfect nature, His delicate dealings, His countless favors, His unique unparalleled nearness – evoking in people firm resolve to prefer Him and His pleasure over any inferior short-lived thrill. Ibn al-Qayyim raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) says in this regard, “If it proves too difficult for them to abandon sinning, then dedicate yourself to making Allah beloved to them by mentioning His favors, grace, kindness, perfect qualities, and majestic attributes. This is because the hearts were disposed upon loving Him, and so once a heart becomes captivated with loving Him, giving up sins becomes easy for it… The acquainted (with God) calls people to Allah by [devotion] through their material world, making it easy for them to comply. The ascetic, on the other hand, calls them to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) through abandoning their material world, making it hard for them to comply because being weaned off a breast that a person has been nursing from since he first came to his senses is extremely difficult.” [Al-Fawā’id: 1/169]

The Dilemma of Doubts

Solidifying faith in a person’s heart is exponentially more useful than eradicating doubt since the latter will never fully happen. Doubts are many time just blind spots in people’s understanding, and the things that we human beings understand will never surpass the things we do not; “and you not been given of knowledge but little” {17: 85}. It would be a perpetual project to dismantle every last doubt, as our lives are too short and our capacities too limited. This is not a call to blind faith or the illegitimacy of any doubt, but rather a recognition that some doubts can only be untangled by specialists and others may only be knowable to God. Therefore, the pragmatic solution is to verify the points of certainty and be anchored by those convictions as I learn further, so that life does not come to a screeching halt every time a new doubt surfaces in our minds. Our certainty would outweigh our doubt in those cases, and liberate us from the painful anxiety of always needing an immediate answer each time. We must focus on supplying ourselves and others with the concrete reasons for believing in the truth of Islam, as only that will immunize us against being rattled by doubts without end.

Numbness to Immorality

Perhaps many would agree that hardly any vice in our times contends with the hypersexuality that seems inescapable in every last movie, song, and advertisement. How then do we protect our families and communities from eventually finding this shamelessness normalized in their hearts? Certainly, cautioning against every last song and movie will not work, as the endless nature of this bombardment will outlast anyone’s endurance, and even his or her life. The only solution is in immunizing such hearts by cultivating in them the values of modesty, honest shame before God, and fear of His anger, through education and role-modeling. These may indeed be long-term solutions, but they far outperform the manual policing and constant condemnations that continue to fail us. We must trust that only this Quranic approach will deliver the desired results.

To that point, ‘Aisha raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) said,

“The first to be revealed was nothing else than sūras from the mufaṣṣal (shorter chapters), which contain mention of Paradise and Hellfire. Then, once the people became inclined to Islam, the lawful and unlawful were revealed. If the first thing to be revealed was ‘do not drink wine’, they would have said, ‘We will never give up wine’. And if ‘do not fornicate’ was revealed [first], they would have said, ‘We will never give up fornication’”. [Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhāri: 4707]

Da‘wah: An Invitation

In the arena of calling non-Muslims to Islam, many sincere da‘wah veterans often express their regrets about spending much of their strongest years – their youth – in fiery argumentation. Their focus on identifying the inconsistencies of false beliefs dwarfed their effort in showcasing the marvelousness of Islam, and only decades later did they realize the futility of the former and the efficacy of the latter. As one prominent international caller said, “When someone has worthless sand in their palm and you attack it, this convinces them of its worth and increases their protectiveness of it. But when you simply present your diamonds, they usually tuck their sand-filled hand behind their back in shame and quietly loosen their fingers.”

In fact, this is precisely what the Prophet ﷺ would often do; when ‘Utba b. Rabi‘ā came offering the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ fortune, women, leadership, physicians, and anything else necessary to end his call – what was the prophetic response? He ﷺ was not thwarted by this array of personal offenses from his call to God, nor was he tempted to immediately disprove – though the Quran sometimes did – these baseless accusations of greed, lust, and insanity. Instead, he simply and respectfully said, “Have you concluded, O Abu al-Walīd? Then hear me out…” and proceeded to recite the opening verses from Surat Fuṣṣilat. ‘Utba did not just fail at the negotiation but was so moved by the Quran that he leapt at the Prophet ﷺ and placed a hand over his mouth, pleading with him in defeat to not recite any further. Considering the fact that we should all be calling to Allah in one capacity or another, we should critically consider if this Prophetic ratio of sharing-revelation versus crafting-refutation is reflected in our technique.

We must anchor the good more than we destabilize the evil

The Prevailing Paradigms

We must also trust this process when encountering the various secular philosophies of our modern era. Unfortunately, it is rare to find a Muslim focused on persuading people of the merits of a God-centric lifestyle, while many can be found fixated on combating atheistic liberalism head-on. Similarly, too few Muslims are dedicated to crafting compelling illustrations of how Islam best actualizes gender justice and social harmony, while many have endless energy solely for deconstructing secular feminism. Of course, we all see what this inverted strategy produces each time it is employed; more defensiveness and less willingness to embrace God’s guidance. Is this the desired result, or a bull’s eye on the wrong target? If we are truly invested in people’s wellbeing and salvation, we must recognize that it is not enough to critique the dominant narrative; we need to offer a better narrative. Colonialism and its foreign ideas, for instance, only invaded our worldviews after the collective Muslim heart and mind became colonizable. It was only after we deteriorated spiritually and intellectually did the political debacle of our civilization take place and the ideological invasions ensued. Recognizing this allows us to administer the proper remedy; reintroducing the reality of Islam and tirelessly reminding others about it, not attacking their current convictions and assuming they know better and are simply stubborn and defiant, or assuming that they will take a ‘leap of faith’ and resign to a directionless void before a superior alternative worth subscribing to is identified. It is noteworthy here to highlight the sad transitioning of the Muslim (and non-Muslim) world from one sociopolitical dogma to another in the past century, further proving that our vulnerability to endless -isms is more our disease than whichever particular ideology we are currently experimenting with.

Our righteous predecessors would prioritize educating the masses about the Sunnah, as teaching it will leave no room in Muslim practice for the infiltration of bid‘ah. But if we are duped into predominantly fighting each newly emerging bid‘ah, the few times we triumph may be followed with yet another bid‘ah replacing it to fill the void. It is also like telling our children “no” all the time, in that without detailing out for people where the “yes” spheres are, they will continue to expend their energy and curiosity in ways that you must object to, which further frustrates them towards rebellion, and the downward vicious spiral continues.

Final Thoughts

This is the way of Allah, and the way of His Messenger ﷺ, and I pray you develop your narrative around it as well.

Just as our testimony of faith contains negation (no God) and affirmation (but Allah), our narrative must never become one that is exclusively deconstructive or reconstructive. It must be a tandem, but in the proportions argued above – whether at a dinner table, on social media, or a podium. We must anchor the good more than we destabilize the evil. We must be credible and conversant in denouncing falsehood, but even more so in promoting truth. We must continue to be disapproving of darkness, but be even better at lighting candles. So much of our preaching falls short in that, and so much of our Islamic work is stifled by our delusions about its reality; a backbreaking feature of our ummah in the past century.

We must continue to be disapproving of darkness, but be even better at lighting candles.

It may be a simple oversight, but more likely the nature of our tense times and our pride for Islam tainted with egotism, which has produced this imbalance in us. The cure is to dig deep with difficult questions that nobody can answer for us; questions on our sincerity, the depth of our spiritually, and our distance from Prophetic compassion at heart.

May Allah help us stop seeing kindness as an endorsement of wrongdoing, and stop seeing sensitivity to people’s respective paces as compromise of our principles. May He accelerate positive change for this blessed ummah on our hands, and forgive us all for hindering that, especially the writer of these words whose actions that do not always match them, but reminding of the ideal will keep us feeling conflicted and working towards it inshā Allāh.

Graduate of English Literature; Translator for IIPH, AMJA, and Mishkah; Da'wah Director @ Muslims Giving Back; Student @ Mishkah University. More blessed than I know, and more than I deserve.

5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Sara E Huizenga

    April 26, 2019 at 11:38 PM

    This is so beautiful and true and I read this and comment here as a Christian, but more importantly as a believer in God and a part of all of His humanity. Thank you for the hope – may God and His goodness turn more hearts especially right now towards of most current importance the 1.5 million innocent children in Idlib, Syria whose lives are horrifically endangered by a godless global apathy world that focuses on division and betrays our most precious innocent gifts.

  2. Avatar

    Umm Al-Ameen

    May 2, 2019 at 9:33 PM

    Great article. Jazakumllah khayr.

  3. Avatar

    fouzia

    May 4, 2019 at 5:05 PM

    This is Alhumdulillah….May Allah reward the sincere intention..Ameen.

  4. Avatar

    Nunu

    May 5, 2019 at 8:36 AM

    Hamd allah Hamd Allah Hamd Allah
    Sub7an Allah Sub7an Allah Sub7an Allah

  5. Avatar

    Tahmina Haque

    May 7, 2019 at 1:57 AM

    Excellent article MashaAllah! Jazakumullah khair.

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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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