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What Fasting Demands From Us | Mufti Taqi Uthmani

The following is an English translation of “Rozah Humsay Kia Muṭālbah Karta Hai” by Shaykh al-Islam Mufti Muhammad Taqī ‘Uthmāni, which was published by Idārat-ul-Ma‘ārif Karachi in 2012 CE/1433 AH.

Umer Ansari

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By Shaykh Al-Islam Mufti Taqi Uthmani

[After Praise and Salutations]

I seek refuge in Allah from the accursed Satan.

With the name of Allah, the All-Merciful, the Very-Merciful.

Allah says:

” The month of Ramaḍān is the one in which the Qur’ān was revealed as guidance for mankind and as clear signs that show the right way and distinguish between right and wrong. So those of you who witness the month must fast in it…” (Surah al-Baqarah, 2:185)

The blessed month of Ramaḍān is about to begin in a few days. Who among the Muslims does not know the greatness and blessedness of this month! The extent of His Mercy that descends upon His servants is unfathomable.

Allah Almighty has made it a month of worship. In this month, there are those actions that every Muslim knows and fulfills. For example, Muslims observe the fast in this month and they also know that the tarāwīḥ prayers are from the Sunnah. All praises are due to Allah that He gives Muslims the tawfīq to fast and He grants them the honor of attending the tarāwīḥ prayers. However, right now I want to shed light upon another aspect of this blessed month.

Ramaḍān is commonly viewed as only a month of fasting and tarāwīḥ, and that there is no other significance to it. Without a doubt, the fasting and the tarāwīḥ prayers are two major acts of worship in this month. However, the reality is that the blessed month of Ramaḍān demands more from us!

Allah says:

“I did not create the Jinns and the human beings except for the purpose that they should worship Me.” (Surah al-Dhāriyāt, 56)

Were Angels Not Enough To Worship God?

Some people raise an objection that if the sole purpose behind the creation of human beings is to worship Allah, then why was there a need for creating humans in the first place, as the angels were fulfilling this role quite stupendously. When Allah said to the angels, “I am going to create a deputy on earth!” They asked: “Will You create there one who will spread disorder on the earth and cause bloodshed, while we proclaim Your purity, along with Your praise, and sanctify Your name?” (Surah al-Baqarah, 2:30). Just as the angels questioned Allah regarding the humans, similarly, these people raise this objection.

The worship of Allah by the angels is of a different category than the worship of Him by humans. This is because their worship of Allah is without free-will. It is impossible for them to not worship Allah even if they do not want to. Allah has taken away from them the ability to commit a sin, feel hunger or thirst, and they have no sexual desires. So much so that they do not have the temptation to sin. Therefore, Allah has placed no reward for their worship, because if they cannot sin, then their worship without the temptation to sin is not a special feat (on their part). Thus, they receive no reward for it.

Take, for example, a blind man who has never seen the colors of this world, who never watched a movie in his life, nor did he ever glance upon a non-mahram woman. What has he done to prevent himself from these sins? Nothing, because he does not have the ability to commit these sins.

On the other hand, there is a man who has eyesight. In spite of his heart’s desire to gaze upon the non-mahram woman, he curbs his carnal desires and seeks refuge in Allah and lowers his gaze. Even though both these men are abstaining from these sins, there is a great difference between the two – the former is unable to commit those sins, whereas the latter has the ability, yet he prevents himself from committing them.

Therefore, if the angels do not eat the entire day, it is not something significant because they do not feel hunger nor do they possess the desire for food. Human beings, on the other hand, possess these desires, so much so even the noble Prophets of Allah were in need of food. Therefore, the disbelievers criticized the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) saying, “What sort of messenger is this, who eats food and walks in the markets?” (Al-Furqan, 7) It’s clear from this verse that the Prophets of Allah had the need for food as well. Since there is a desire for food and an individual curbs their desire and abstains from it because of the command of Allah, then this act is something special.

Human beings, in spite of having the desire for food, drink, and sexual relations, curb their desires when they remember Allah. Therefore, He placed special value to this abstinence from sins by granting a reward for it. Although they want to fulfill their carnal desires, due to the fear of Allah, they lower their gaze and prevent their eyes from glancing upon that which is prohibited; they prevent their ears from listening to the sinful sounds and indecent conversations; they leash their tongue from uttering words that are inappropriate; they prevent their feet from walking towards the places of sin. Human beings have been created for these acts of worship (i.e. abstaining oneself from sins out of Allah’s fear and obedience), whereas, the angels are incapable of it.

Story of Prophet Yūsuf:

The story of Prophet Yūsuf 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) and that which he was tested with by Zulaykha is known to Muslims. The Noble Qur’ān states that Zulaykha offered herself to Prophet Yūsuf and invited him towards sin, and during that moment both of their hearts thought of the sin.

And when Yūsuf reached maturity, We gave him judgment and knowledge. And thus We reward the doers of good. (22) And she, in whose house he was, sought to seduce him. She closed the doors and said, “Come, you.” He said, “[I seek] the refuge of Allah. Indeed, he is my master, who has made good my residence. Indeed, wrongdoers will not succeed.” (23)

And she certainly determined [to seduce] him, and he would have inclined to her had he not seen the proof of his Lord. And thus [it was] that We should avert from him evil and immorality. Indeed, he was of Our chosen servants. (24)

(Surah Yūsuf, 12: 22-24)

Some among the laity think that to mention something like this about Prophet Yūsuf (may Allah grant him peace) is disrespectful towards him and find it objectionable. However, the Noble Qur’ān wants to explain (by mentioning this) that in spite of his heart thinking of the sin, Prophet Yūsuf chose to flee from her invitation out of his fear for Allah and reminding himself of His Grandeur, and by doing so he submitted himself to the command of Allah.

On the contrary, if there is no desire in the heart towards the sin, no ability to commit it, and there is no urge to fulfill desires, then refusing the invitation of thousands of Zulaykhas is of no significance! It is, however, important when there is the temptation, the heart desires it, and the environment encourages it, and then in submission to the command of Allah one says, “مَعَاذَ الله” “I seek refuge of Allah” (Surah Yūsuf, 12:24). This is the worship that Allah has created mankind.

Our Lives Have Been Traded:

Since the purpose behind the creation of humanity is to worship Allah, it should have been that we worshipped Him day and night without having permission to do anything else.

Allah says:
“Indeed, Allah has purchased from the believers their lives and their properties [in exchange] for that they will have Paradise.” (Surah al-Tawbah, 9:111)

Since our lives have already been traded as the verse explains, we have no claim of ownership on our life, rather it is a sold product. Had Allah commanded us to worship Him day and night, prostrate to Him long hours, and had he prohibited us from busying ourselves with any other activity besides His worship, it would have been a just command, because we have been created for the sole purpose of worshipping Him.

However, my life be sacrificed for Allah, He bought our lives and wealth, and He gave a full price of it in exchange of Jannah, and then He returned the lives and wealth to us. Moreover, He allowed us to eat, drink, and earn a livelihood. With that, He just commanded us to establish the five daily prayers (along with a few other obligations) and He commanded us to abstain from a few things. Besides these obligations and a (few) prohibitions, we were given liberty to live as we please. All of this is from His Mercy and His Grant.

Come Towards Your Purpose In This Month:

Allah knew that by allowing human beings to engage in earning livelihood their hearts would slowly be covered with heedlessness. Therefore, from time to time, Allah placed opportunities for His servants to remember Him and turn back to Him.

For eleven months, we work, trade, do labor, farmlands and grow crops, enjoy our family and friends, eat and drink, and as a result, we begin to become heedless. So Allah placed this month of Ramaḍān to remind people of their purpose of life, the purpose for which they have been created and sent to earth. So that they could engage in worship and reconnect with Him, and seek forgiveness for the sins that have accumulated in the past eleven months. So that they can uncover the curtains of heedlessness that have enveloped their hearts, and cleanse their hearts of darkness so that they can reach the potential (for which they were created).

What Does “Ramaḍān” Mean?

The correct pronunciation of Ramaḍān is with a fatḥah (zabar) on the letter meem (م), i.e. رَمَضَان (Ramaḍān). To pronounce it with sukūn on the letter meem, i.e. رَمْضَان (Ramdan) is incorrect. As for its meaning, much has been stated, however, linguistically it means scorchedness, extreme heat that burns. The very first time this month was being named, it was during a scorching summer, therefore, they called it “Ramaḍān”.

However, the scholars explain the reason for naming this month as Ramaḍān is that in this month Allah burns the sins of His servants out of His Mercy and Benevolence. Therefore, remove the curtain of heedlessness from your heart and cleanse it from the darkness of sins. Repent for the sins committed in the past eleven months and seek forgiveness in this month for the mistakes and shortfalls. Come back to Allah and begin a new chapter in your life!

The Noble Qur’ān states:

“O you who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may become righteous.” (Surah al-Baqarah, 2:183)

This means that the fast of Ramaḍān is made obligatory in order for us to develop taqwa and put an end to the life of heedlessness. Just as a machine needs servicing for its parts to function properly, Allah has made this month a means to “overhaul” His servants’ hearts so that they can live with renewed conviction.

Take A Break:

Therefore, this month demands from us that we make time for it. Just the fast and tarāwīḥ prayers would not be enough, rather we must free ourselves from other obligations that have kept us busy in the past eleven months. We should focus upon our life’s purpose and the purpose of our creation.

If for some reason, we are not able to free up this month solely for the worship of Allah, then we must make as much time as possible, however much our circumstances allow us, and we need to utilize it in the worship of Allah. For this, we would need to plan ahead and have a (personal) Ramaḍān program.

How to Welcome Ramaḍān?

There has been a practice of welcoming Ramaḍān that originated from Egypt and Syria and now has spread in many countries. Basically, a couple of days prior to the beginning of Ramaḍān, a community event is hosted to welcome the month. It is hosted with sincerity and noble intentions. However, it is often those very practices that begin with noble intentions that later take the form of reprehensible religious innovation, and in a few places, it has taken such a form already.

The best way to welcome the month of Ramaḍān is to reschedule your daily routine for the coming month to give you the most time for worshipping Allah. Before Ramaḍān begins, think of all those activities that can be reduced in the upcoming month that can free you up for increased worship. If someone is able to free up their entire month then Subḥān-Allah, otherwise, free yourself up as much as you can by abandoning that which can be abandoned or delaying that which can be delayed until after the Eid, so that you can spend as much of your time in the worship of Allah.

This is the best way of welcoming the month of Ramaḍān. If by the Will of Allah, someone is able to reorganize their routine for Ramaḍān then they will be able to avail the most of this month by reaching its true spirit and the abundance of blessings that come with it. Otherwise, the month will pass by and you will not be able to benefit from its true spirit and blessings.

What To Do With The Free Time

When you have made yourself a Ramaḍān routine and freed yourself up with extra time, how would you utilize this time?

The fast of Ramaḍān is obligatory, that much is certain. As for the tarāwīḥ prayers, it’s importance is also known. Whoever has an atom’s weight of imān, and honor and respect for the blessed month of Ramaḍān, they increase their acts of worship in this month. It is because of this reason that we see people who normally do not pray the five daily prayers in the mosque outside of Ramaḍān are also among those who stand in the long tarāwīḥ prayers. All thanks are due to Allah that because of the blessings of this noble month, the believers increase their ṣalāh, dhikr (remembrance) of Allah, and the recitation of the Noble Qur’ān. However, one important aspect that gets neglected, when it should be the top-most priority for this month, is abstaining from sins and trying to make Ramaḍān a sin-free month.

We should make sure that we protect our gaze by not looking at inappropriate things. We should protect our ears and tongues from listening and speaking that which darkens our hearts, and in this blessed month of Ramaḍān we should try to completely abstain from the disobedience of Allah. If you are able to spend this noble month free from sins then you are worthy of being congratulated and you have attained the blessings of this noble month, even if you did not offer a single supererogatory (nafl) prayer, nor did you increase the recitation of the Qur’ān or engaged yourself with the dhikr.

We have spent the past eleven months the way we have; Allah is offering this month to cleanse ourselves from our sins. Commit to yourself that you will not disobey Allah, that you will not lie in this month, nor would you backbite, or have an evil glance. Decide now that you will neither engage with bribery nor would you misuse your ears by listening to that which is prohibited, and that you will not consume riba (interest) for this one month alone!

Shaykh Ashraf ‘Ali Thanwi (d. 1943 CE/1362 AH)[1] once stated:
“Let me tell you something that you probably would not hear from anybody else. In this month, try to appease your nafs (inner-self) by telling it to abstain from sins and then you are free to do as you please. It is hoped from the Mercy of Allah that when this individual spends a sin-free Ramaḍān, Allah will put in their heart the urge to abandon the sins completely.”
Make a commitment to yourself that this is a month of Allah, the month of worship, the month to acquire taqwa. Every individual must self reflect on what kind of sins they are engaged in and then they must commit to themselves that they would abandon these sins in this blessed month.

What Kind of Fast Is This?

Fasting means to abstain from eating, drinking, and fulfilling sexual desires. All of these are by nature permissible in Islam – eating and drinking are permissible and for a man and a woman to fulfill their sexual desires through the institution of marriage is also permissible.

However, while fasting if you abstain from these three things, which are otherwise permissible, but you do not abstain from that which is already prohibited, e.g. lying, backbiting, evil glances, is this fasting? If someone is fasting from these three things, but they are lying or backbiting, or in order to pass the time they are watching indecent movies, would this be called a fast? They have abandoned that which was permissible but they did not abstain from that which is otherwise prohibited. It is, for this reason, the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) said, “Whoever does not give up false speech and acting upon it, Allah has no need of his giving up his food and drink” (Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, 1804).

It is true that from the legal point of view their fast would be valid, and if they were to ask a mufti, they would not be obliged to make up that fast after Ramaḍān. However, even though there is no making up for such a fast, they certainly have washed away the reward and blessings that accompany it. Therefore, such an individual failed to acquire the spirit of the fast.

The Purpose of Fast Is To Kindle The Light of Taqwa:

As mentioned earlier that the Qur’ān says, “O you who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may become righteous” (Surah al-Baqarah, 2:183). This verse mentions the purpose of fasting is to kindle the light of taqwa.

Some scholars have said that the way fasting instills taqwa is by breaking the powerful hold of base human and animal desires. When a fasting person bears hunger, it crushes within them their base desires, which makes acting upon a sin, less attractive to them.

On the other hand, Shaykh Ashraf ‘Ali Thanwi, may Allah elevate his ranks, said that the fast, not only curbs base desires, rather it is in of itself a noble means of acquiring taqwa.

What is the Meaning of Taqwa?

Taqwa means to abstain from sinning while being conscious of the greatness of Allah. In other words, to constantly remind myself that I am a slave of Allah and He is watching me, and I will have to answer in front of Him; with this in mind, when a person abandons a sin, it is called taqwa.

As Allah says:

“But as for he who feared the position of his Lord and prevented the soul from [unlawful] inclination, then indeed, Paradise will be [his] refuge.” (Surah al-Nāzi‘āt, 79:40-41)

Hence, taqwa is when an individual out of the fear of standing in front of Allah, stops themselves from fulfilling their base and carnal desires.

My Lord Is Watching Me

Fasting is the best training for acquiring taqwa, even for a flagrant sinner, for when they fast their condition changes. In a hot summer day, when such a fasting person is alone in their room and they have their personal fridge with cold water, in spite of their desire to drink that cold water they don’t! If they do so there is no other person around to reproach them and they could very easily go out for ifṭār in the evening with friends, and no one else would know. However, they do not do it because their fasting was for Allah and they know that He is Watching.

Therefore, the Messenger of Allah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said:
“Indeed your Lord said: ‘Every good deed is rewarded with ten of the same up to seven hundred times over. Fasting is for Me, and I shall reward for it.’ (Jāmi‘ al-Tirmidhi, 764).
For all of the other actions, Allah will reward tenfold or seventy fold or hundred, even up to seven hundred times for charity. However, fasting is the only action that Allah has said that He will reward it because this is an action that is done solely for His sake. This awareness is taqwa, and fasting is one of the means and the manifestation of it.

Furthermore, as you are getting trained to acquire taqwa by abstaining from drinking that cold water then why do you not take it a step further? Why do you not abstain from the unlawful when you go out to work? Just as you fear Allah for drinking that cold water while fasting, why do you not fear Allah while dealing unlawfully in your business or at work? Why do you not prevent your eyes from the evil glances and your ears from the unlawful sounds and your tongue from the unlawful speech? Your Ramaḍān training course will only be complete if you abstain from all the unlawful things.

Just as the medicine is necessary to cure a disease, so is the abstinence from that which causes it or adds to it! Allah has made fasting obligatory in this month in order for us to acquire taqwa, but that cannot be without the abstinence from sins. If you turn on the air-condition of your room, but you don’t close up your windows, it will not cool your room. Similarly, if you leave the windows of sins open, your fast will not be able to give you it’s desired benefit.

Real Objective Is To Obey

As mentioned earlier, fasting curbs the base desires within a person, however, this is a (secondary) wisdom behind it. The real objective of fasting is to obey the command of Allah and His Messenger. Whenever they command us to eat, eating at that moment is the dīn, and whenever they command us to stop eating, then at that moment the dīn is to stop. The entire dīn revolves around obeying Allah and His Messenger.

You fasted the entire day and when the command came to open it at the sunset (ifṭār), it is recommended for you to haste in opening the fast and it is disliked to delay without a valid reason. The real objective of fasting is to obey Allah’s command and not to follow one’s desires. In regular circumstances, greed is a reprehensible characteristic. However, when He commands us to be greedy then acting upon it has it’s unique pleasure. A poet says:

چوں طمع خواہد زمن سلطان دیں

خاک بر فرق قناعت بعد ازیں

When the King commands to be greedy,

Dirt be upon being content.

When the Rabb of the worlds is commanding us to be greedy in ifṭār (by hurrying) then there is no pleasure in delaying it. On the other hand, if someone eats a morsel a minute prior to the sunset then they have broken their fast and now they will be sinful along with a penalty (kaffārah) of fasting sixty consecutive days. The issue here is not of eating a morsel or a minute prior to the sunset, rather it is the disobedience of Allah. The command of Allah was to open the fast after the sunset, which they disobeyed, therefore, they are now obligated to pay the penalty in the form of sixty consecutive fasts.

Likewise, for suhūr (the pre-dawn meal), it is recommended to delay closer to the dawn. Some people have dinner around 10 pm or 12 am and then they go to sleep until Fajr. This is contrary to the Sunnah. The practice of the Companions was to delay the suhūr and eat until it’s last minute because this is the time in which eating is not only permissible but rather it is commanded by Allah. Therefore, as long as the time remained, they would consume their pre-dawn meal because this is in conformity and obedience to Allah’s command.

This dīn is all about the obedience and this is what a believer is getting trained for in Ramaḍān. Shaykh Thanwi used to say: “Allah is saying to the believer to eat, whereas, the believer does not eat, then this is neither obedience nor servitude. Listen! There is nothing in having suhūr and there is nothing in leaving it, instead, there is everything in His obedience! Therefore, when He commands you to eat, so eat! Do not act otherwise.”

Seek Purity in Livelihood

Another important point that I want to shed light upon is the importance of consuming halāl at least in this month. You want to avoid a situation where you open your fast from the wealth that is polluted by riba or you have your suhūr from the wealth earned through bribery. What kind of fast would it be in which the suhūr and ifṭār are from harām wealth? Therefore, prevent yourself from harām earning and seek help from Allah! Speak to Him and say, “O Allah! I want to consume halāl, save me from the harām.”

Some people have halāl livelihood, however, because of their carelessness, some harām gets mixed with their earnings. For such individuals it is very easy to avoid harām, they just need to be extra careful in this month in how they do things at work. On the other hand, there are those whose primary mode of earning is from a harām source, for example, they might be dealing with interest. Regarding such individuals, Dr. ‘Abdul Ḥayy al-‘Ārifī (d. 1986 CE/1406 AH)[2] suggested that they should take a month leave from their work and only utilize the funds from halāl source for this month; if possible try to find another halāl work during this time. If this is not possible, then take a (non-interest bearing) loan for this month’s expenses and have a firm conviction that they will only consume and feed their family from a halāl source.

Ramaḍān is the month in which Satan gets chained and locked away. Therefore, it becomes much easier to abstain from sins. In spite of the increased worship in this blessed month, try to abandon the sins.

Conclusion

The third important note I would like to make before I conclude is to avoid anger in this blessed month. This month is of patience and forbearance, therefore, avoid anger so that you can abstain from the sins that follow it.

The Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) said:
“If one of you is abused by an ignorant person while fasting, then let him say: ‘Indeed I am fasting.’” (Jāmi‘ al-Tirmidhi, 764)

As for worship in this month, it is known to all the believers that the fasting and tarāwīḥ prayers are the most important acts of worship. Additionally, the recitation of the Qur’ān is also an important form of worship, because in this month Angel Jibreel would review the entire Qur’ān with the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace). Therefore, increase the recitation of the Qur’ān as much as you can.

In addition to it, moist your tongue with the constant remembrance of Allah while you walk, drive, run your daily errands. Recite the following:

سُبحَانَ اللهِ و الحَمدُ للهِ و لا إلهَ إلا اللهُ و اللهُ أكبر

“Subḥānallāhi wal-Ḥamdolilāhi wa Lā ilāha illallāhu wa Allahu Akbar.” 

“All the praises are due to Allah, and all the thanks are due to Allah, and there is no god except Allah, and Allah is Greater.”

Also, increase the salutations upon Prophet Muhammad (may Allah bless him and grant him peace), increase seeking your forgiveness and the number of supererogatory prayers. During the suhūr time, you have an ample opportunity to offer the taḥajjud prayers, therefore, wake a little earlier and offer a few taḥajjud prayers. Try to have focus in your salāt; the men should join the congregational prayers in the mosque, and above all avoid the sins.

May Allah give us the tawfīq to act upon what we have learned today, and may Allah make this Ramaḍān a month full of blessings, and allow us to fully benefit from it. Amīn.

Muhammad Taqī ‘Uthmānī, Karachi.

[1] Hakīm al-Ummah Shaykh Ashraf ‘Ali Thanwi was a twentieth-century erudite scholar from the Indian subcontinent. He was a Hanafi jurist, a scholar of hadith, an expert in Islamic philosophy, and a Sufi shaykh. His collection of Urdu fatwas “Imdādul Fatāwa” are a reference work for every South Asian Dār al-Iftā‘ that issues religious legal opinions according to the Hanafi school. He studied under luminaries of the likes of Mawlana Muhammad Qāsim Nānotwi, Mawlana Rashīd Aḥmed Gangohi, Shaykh al-Hind Mawlana Maḥmūd al-Ḥasan, and threaded the spiritual path under Shaykh Ḥāji Imdādullah Muhājir Makki. Among his prominent students were Shaykh Ẓafar Aḥmad ʿUthmānī and Grand Mufti Muhammad Shafī‘ ‘Uthmānī.

[2] Dr. ‘Abdul Ḥayy al-‘Ārifī was one of the most prominent successors of Shaykh Ashraf ‘Ali Thanawi in the path of tasawwuf. He was the spiritual guide of Shaykh Mufti Taqi ‘Uthmāni until he departed this world in 1986 CE. His body was laid to rest in the Dār al-‘Ulūm Karachi’s graveyard.

“إنَّ اللهَ اشْتَرَى مِنَ المُؤْمِنِيْنَ أَنْفُسَهُمْ وَ أمْوَالَهُمْ بِأَنَّ لَهُمُ الْجَنَّةَ.

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Adnan

    May 5, 2019 at 12:45 PM

    Assalamu alaikum,
    Would you happen to have the original urdu version? JazakAllah

  2. Avatar

    Sister Evie in New Zealand

    May 6, 2019 at 3:26 PM

    Assalamu’alaykum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh,
    Please forgive me if I’m wrong to ask for a correction. The paragraph to mention the Story of Prophet Yusuf Alaihi Salam seeking refuge of Allah, as I quoted herewith “and then in submission to the command of Allah one says, “مَعَاذَ الله” “I seek refuge of Allah” (Surah Yūsuf, 12:24).” is actually mentioned in Surah Yusuf 12:23, instead of in Surah Yusuf 12:24. Jazakumullahu khayran.
    Allahu musta’an. Wassalamu’alaykum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh.

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#Life

So You Are The Wali, Now What?

Dr Shadee Elmasry

Published

on

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

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

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

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

Here are some questions and demands a wali should make:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s preventative medicine.

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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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