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Shedding Light on the Moonsighting, Isha / Fajr times, and Long Fasts

Shaykh Abdullah Hasan and Shaykh Naveed Idrees discuss the many issues that crop up pre-Ramadan, seeking harmony amid confusion.

Sh. Abdullah Hasan

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The aim of this discussion paper is to place the annual debate on moonsighting and fasting in its jurisprudential context, namely, that it is an area where the application of the sacred texts are open to different but valid interpretations ( ijtihadat). The sincere efforts of scholars on all sides to arrive at what they believe is the strongest opinion must be acknowledged and respected. This discussion paper does not seek to promote any particular viewpoint, but merely to illustrate the breadth of acceptable opinion.

It is also important to recognise that difference of opinion in these matters relates to the furu’ (derivative law) and not the core definitively established aspects of Religion. As individuals and groups, we should not allow differences of opinion on peripheral matters to undermine the cohesion of our families and communities. When strongly held views in Fiqh lead to dissension, discord and division, then we should give greater weighting to community cohesion and seek to avoid the negative impact on the lives of the Muslim community. There are definitively established texts that regard unity and community cohesion as wajib (an obligation). In addition, the principle of muwafaqa ahl-al-bilad (conforming with the local community) should be followed, irrespective of one’s belief in the correctness or otherwise of the dominant ijtihad in one’s locality.

Preliminaries[1]

  1. Islamic Law and the Natural World

It is part of the sacred beauty of Islam – the religion of natural disposition (din al-fitra) – that throughout our lives, our daily worship interpenetrates the rhythms of nature: the rising and setting of the sun, the waxing and waning of the moon, the turning of the seasons, and the elemental forces of fire, air, earth and water. The external world is a manifestation of the attributes of the Creator; everything within it a sign of Allah perceived by the senses (ayatullah al-manzur).

We are not merely urged to turn our gazes to the created world as an act of sacred contemplation; but rather are compelled to do so, in order to consecrate acts of worship to the Lord who transcends that same creation. The times of obligatory prayer can only be known through observation of sunlight and shadow; the obligatory and optional fasts through the phases of the moon. The length of those fasts are determined by the order of the seasons; purification for prayer is attained through water or earth.

Considering this, it is clear that far from there being animosity between ‘fiqh’ and ‘fact,’ they are mutually dependent. Science is nothing but the systematization of the same kind of observations as determine the times of prayer and fasting, and their extrapolation on the basis of sound, verifiable principles. Therefore the opinions of experts in fields such as astronomy have always been taken into consideration when issuing fatwa. An example might be the expert medical opinion which has always played a central role in applying various dispensations regarding purification, prayer, fasting and hajj.  Given this fact of our scripture and our history, the idea that both legal and scientific experts can and should work collaboratively to determine the onset of true dawn is both right and proper. At the same time, one should be cognisant of where priority lies when the opinions of these experts appear mutually contradictory.

  1. The Imperative to Follow Qualified Scholarship

Allah describes the Quran as ‘a comprehensive explanation of all things (tibyan li-kulli shay).’ However, a central pillar of its revealed guidance has been the commanding of recourse to those eminently qualified to guide others as to the true interpretation – or interpretations – of the Divine scripture. First without equal among these guides is, of course, our beloved Master Muhammad (endless peace and blessing upon him and his family); the imperative to obey him is one of the most oft-repeated commands found in the Quran. Thereafter, believers are commanded to follow those steeped in understanding of the Quran and Prophetic Sunnah – known variously as: ‘possessors of living hearts (ulu al-albab),’ ‘those deeply rooted in knowledge (al-mustanbitin fi al-ilm)’, and ‘the people of the Remembrance (ahl al-dhikr).’

The central Quranic verse on this subject is, ‘if you know not, ask the people of the Remembrance.’[2] Its clear implication is that, when matters are unclear or uncertain, the primary responsibility of the Muslim is to have the critical self-honesty to acknowledge his or her own lack of understanding. Thereafter, it behoves one to have the humility to consult those who do have true expertise in the field of religion, whom the Holy Prophet (s) termed ‘inheritors of Prophetic knowledge[3] – the scholars of Sunni Islam. These are the authorised representatives of the four orthodox schools of law – the Hanafi, Maliki, Shafii and Hanbali madhabs.

These four knowledge traditions, though they concur on most major articles of law, will often differ in its various derivative aspects, providing different answers to the same question. This is sometimes a matter of consternation for the lay Muslim – for how can the truth be multiple? And if the truth is indeed one, how can one determine which school has grasped it? The doctrine of Sunni Islam clarifies that, although the truth is indeed one, attaining unto that truth is not always obligatory.

To explain further: if the lay Muslim has obeyed Allah by asking the people of knowledge about an obscure or difficult matter, then he or she has fulfilled God’s right over them. Similarly, if those scholars have obeyed Allah by exercising all their learning and expertise to sincerely comprehend Allah’s command, they have fulfilled God’s right over them. In both cases, they will be rewarded and brought near to Allah, even if their conclusions are wrong. This is clear from the hadith, ‘if the verifying scholar is correct, he (or she) receives two rewards; if incorrect, they receive one.’[4]

On the contrary, if a lay Muslim seeks to bypass the Prophetic inheritors and determine the truth for himself – despite having none of the pre-requisite knowledge, qualities or skills – they will have disobeyed Allah and deserve His censure – even if they stumble across the right answer! This is similarly based on the hadith, ‘whoever interprets the Quran on based on [unqualified] opinion should prepare to take their seat in Hell.’[5]

It is clear, then, that the responsibility of the individual Muslim begins and ends with seeking qualified scholars to advise them on the derivative rulings of sacred law, such as the issue of when precisely the fast begins and fajr can be prayed. Thereafter, it is the responsibility of the ulamah to exert all their efforts to determine the answer to this question with as much precision as possible.

It should, of course, be noted that the terms ‘lay Muslim’ and ‘scholar’ are not absolute divisions; a learned 21st century Muslim, university-educated in physics and astronomy, is not the same as an illiterate peasant farmer in a 15th Century Turkish village. In legal terms, there is a difference between an educated non-specialist (‘aami thaqafi) and an ignorant non-specialist (‘aami jahil). The difference between them, however, lies in the nature of the questions they might ask, rather than their ability to answer them in correspondence with the sophisticated legal principles of the religion.

  1. Respecting Valid Differences of Opinion

The preceding indicates that one sometimes finds a range of opinions on a particular matter of law. There would not merely be a difference of opinion between schools, but sometimes within schools as well. Classically, these discussions would be conducted in closed classes, private debates or by correspondence between the scholars concerned. Crucially, the debates were between people who – by and large – understood the ethics of debate and disagreement. Their longstanding and sometimes fiercely contested arguments would nonetheless be characterised by civility and mutual respect.

The nature of the modern world – especially the near-total eradication of private space – has entailed these debates spilling over into the ever-expanding public domain. Increasingly, they have been witnessed by the Muslim laity who do not understand the ethics of disagreement, and erroneously assume that differences of opinion must entail antagonism. Imam Ghazali stated that, ‘debating over religion is disliked for scholars and forbidden for the laity.’[6]

A fundamental principle of our religion is that, on matters genuinely differed-upon, there can be no mutual condemnation (la inkar fi masa’il mukhtalaf fihi).[7] This has been elucidated by many scholars from the earliest generations up until present day, and accounts for the harmonious co-existence of different schools of law who worship, trade and conduct their family lives in different ways. The fact that a Hanafi might pray Dhuhr when a Shafii is praying Asr brings about no acrimony or dissension.

This does not entail a free-for-all in the domain of legal opinion; it has been further expounded by our scholarly tradition that genuine difference of opinion (alikhtilaf) is based on opinions that are derived through sound methodology from authenticated narrations. As the ulamah state, ‘if you transmit a position, let it be an authenticated one; if you make a claim, prove your point.’[8] It thus excludes aberrant, unfounded opinions or roundly rejected interpretations from the ambit of this toleration.

Overview of the specific issues that are a source of difference of opinion

There are 3 key issues that are matter of difference of opinion amongst scholars and different groups:

  1. Determining the start and end of Ramadan
  2. Determining the start and end time of Isha and start time of Fajr/Suhur in periods of persistent twilight during the summer months
  3. How to deal with the issue of long fasts during the summer period?

A Summary of the Context of these Issues

  • Scripture provides broad indicators to establish prayer and fasting times linked to the Sun and moon that are generally reliable in hot climates where the skies are clear and day & night are of moderate length
  • These indicators are not defined in a scientific manner e.g. based on precise minutes or degrees, but rely upon general observations that any ordinary person could make as part of their daily life
  • Over the last 100 years sizable communities of Muslims have established themselves in the Northern Hemisphere above 48.5 degrees latitude
  • The climate in the these regions makes it difficult to observe the Sun and Moon consistently. There are days when there is persistent twilight which means Isha and Fajr/Suhur times are difficult to establish, and there are extreme variations in the length of night and day, especially in Summer and Winter periods
  • The growth in the use of artificial lighting, industrialisation of society, and progress in the means of communication over the last 150 years has meant that work and leisure patterns were no longer linked to sunrise and sunset; instead, clocks became the means of telling the time and regulating daily life. In practice, the shari’ah indicators no longer directly play an active part in daily life.
  • Although there are texts in the Qur’an and Sunnah on these matters (see below), their application in Northern Regions above 48.5* latitude is not clear-cut and requires scholarly interpretation. This is the source of difference of opinion on these matters.
  • Scholars have attempted to convert astronomical signs which were meant to be broad into scientific and precise formulas, relying on scientific definitions, e.g. 18* as definition of disappearance of twilight and start of night/true dawn
  • Scholars continue to debate the strength and weaknesses of each opinion and whether they accurately reflect the shari’ah indicators. All opinions are supported by strong direct or indirect proofs and evidences, and are backed by references to the works of eminent scholars

An Overview of the Different Positions

Issue 1: Moonsighting

A variety of methods have been suggested in classical and modern scholarship to determine the beginning of the new month, especially Ramadan, Shawwal and Dhul Hijja. They are all based on some interpretation of what the hadith ‘fast when you see it and cease the fast when you see it’ actually means – who are ‘you’ and what does ‘seeing’ mean?

 

Position Notes Issues
Local sighting Only sighting by a local populace validates the new month, else 30 days are completed. The classical strong position of the Shafii and Maliki schools. ‘You’ means ‘the local community’ What does ‘local’ mean in the context of the modern ease of communication over vast distances, and why? On what legal basis should one restrict ‘local’ to a city, country or region?
Global sighting A valid sighting anywhere in the world is applicable to everywhere in the world. The classical strong position of the Hanafi school and some Malikis. ‘You’ means ‘the Muslims in general’ Practically, this would entail that a sighting of the moon in California at 6pm would be retrospectively valid for Muslims in Indonesia, for whom it would be 2pm the next day, so this is impractical despite the ease of communication
‘Horizonal’ sighting A valid sighting anywhere to the east, north or south is applicable for everyone to the west. A strong variant of the Shafii position and the Hanafi school Avoids the logistical difficulties of the first two options, but introduces an arbitrary restriction for which there is no textual basis. Effectively assumes the possibility of sighting the moon to the west if it has been actually sighted in the east.
Calculation If it is determined (by agreed criteria) that it is possible to sight the crescent, that possibility is deemed an actual sighting.   A strong position in the Shafii school, and held by others as well. ‘See’ means ‘potentially see’ – based on the variant hadith of Bukhari: ‘if it is obscured, then calculate’ Potential sighting criteria need to be agreed. Deviates from the literal sense of the central hadith and rejected by a number of schools. However, enables future planning of calendars and so determination of important dates in advance.[9]
Following Saudi Arabia Effectively the proposal that the Saudi decision should be binding on all Muslims. Possible to adopt as any country may choose to follow the ruling of Qadi outside its jurisdiction. ‘See’ means only the Saudis. Not a classical position despite being possible in the Middle East. Significant concerns about the validity of sightings done there, given the calculation basis of the rest of the year’s calendar (Umm al-Qura). Major Saudi scholars reject the position.

Issue 2 – Determining Suhur and Isha time during persistent twilight

Both the fajr prayer and the fast commence at al-subh al-sadiq (true dawn) by consensus, which Allah describes as being when ‘the white thread (of the sky) has become clearly distinct to you from the black thread (of the horizon) at the time of fajr’. Any fajr prayer performed before this, or fast commenced after, is definitively invalid. What precisely constitutes al-subh al-sadiq, however, is not definitive, because dawn is not a binary event: the intensity and spread of light on the horizon changes incrementally over time, making the precise determination of phenomenon open to interpretation. Equally, isha time commences by consensus at the disappearance of twilight (ghuyub al-shafaq), but there is similarly a difference of opinion about what this constitutes and how to determine it. There are thus a variety of opinions on what precise observable phenomena constitute these two critical periods.

Far northern latitudes, however, additionally experience persistent twilight, where the sun does not sink sufficiently low beneath the horizon during summer, and twilight can persist through the night until morning. This entails that the normal signs indicating the onset of isha, fajr, and the fast are absent. Classical jurists have discussed this intermittently over 800 years, focussing almost entirely on isha rather than fajr, and reaching no consensus on how to deal with this issue. In modern times, a number of suggestions have thus been propounded, given how many people are now affected by this issue. A summary of these options, most of which revolve around determining a time (taqdir) for isha and fajr, follows:

Position Notes Issues
Perform isha after midnight Assumes that there was a very brief isha time that has been missed, so it is performed effectively in fajr time Fajr therefore begins just after midnight, leading to a very long fast (up to 21-22 hours).   There also clearly is no isha time that has been missed
Taqdir according to the nearest place/time where isha enters The classical Shafii position, adopted by Malikis, Hanbalis and some Hanafis Entails a very brief isha period between 0100-0130 if adopted strictly, as well as a very long fast.
Taqdir by fixing a duration A modern solution (including Umm al-Qura) of creating an isha by adding 90 mins to sunset and subtracting 90 mins from sunrise Creates a reasonable isha and fajr time, but has no basis in observation, astronomy or Islamic law. Also entails a jump between a very early fajr/late isha to the 90 min taqdir
Taqdir by an average of the normal durations The so-called ‘1/7th of the night position’ – formed by looking at the average ration of maghrib : isha through the year A variant of the original Shafii position that avoids the hardship of the nearest place/time position but also has some basis in the observations through the year and scholarly precedent
Combine maghrib and Isha This is the position of the Islamic Fiqh Council, European Council for Fatwa & Research. This of course should not be done in perpetuity. A means of avoiding hardship, but why should it not be applied also to a very late but validly entering isha? If it should, when does it become hard? Also does not answer the question of when fajr begins
Isha is not obligatory A position debated in the classical Hanafi school, because its signs do not enter Rejected by the virtual consensus of modern scholarship, as would entail no performance of isha for months.

Issue 3 – Dealing with a Very Long Fast

The length of the fast varies much more widely in northern latitudes than in any of the classical Muslim lands, with the significant exception of the lands of Bulghar, which are now in Kazakhstan. In summer, the fasts can reach to 18-21 hours, depending on how far north one is and what position to determine fajr one adopts. As such, very little attention is paid to the length of the fast in summer months in northern latitudes in classical works, likely because a textually-specified dispensation for hardship already exists. The default is that the fast remains obligatory no matter how long it is, though the time of al-subh al-sadiq can be determined by taqdir. Should keeping the fast prove too onerous, it should be broken and made up on easier days. This has been the default practice of the Bulghars for hundreds of years, as well as the Muslim populations of the west for the last 40 years or so.

However, a number of renowned Egyptian scholars in the 19th-20th centuries proposed that fast durations should be artificially set in far northern countries in the same way that prayer times were determined there by taqdir. It was proposed that the length be set by either the length of that day’s fast in Makka or another mid-latitude country. Their rationale was three-fold: an extension of the taqdir of prayer times in the absence of their signs (in this case the onset of dawn), the relieving of excessive and harmful difficulty from people in having to keep such long fasts, and retaining the sanctity of Ramadan – as it would be inconceivable to simply not fast during a summer Ramadan. Scripture relating to the timings of the fast needed to be understood in the context of the geographical realities of mid-latitude countries, and to not exempt those outside this range would be to misunderstand the underlying purpose of sacred law related to the fast.

The position has been critiqued from a number of perspectives: the explicit delineation of fasting times by scripture, the fact that – though the onset of the fast can be estimated by taqdir – sunset does in fact occur and should be adhered to, the existence of a scripturally-mandated dispensation for difficult fasts, and the crucial factor that there is neither medical or experiential evidence that fasting 18-21 hours daily is significantly harmful to health or functioning in most cases. Given this, the position of these late Azhari scholars should be considered anomalous (shadh) and in contradiction to that of the overwhelming majority of both classical and modern scholars, and therefore not followed. If people are genuinely struggling and fasting causes harm then the legal dispensation is present in the shari’ah to break the fast. Individuals should consult reliable and authoritative scholars in their locality.

General Counsel to the Muslims

We would strongly counsel the lay Muslim to remember and act upon the following principles in their daily practice:

  1. It is a communal obligation (fard kifaya) to accurately determine the prayer times and the start and end times of the fast, as well as the commencement of Islamic months. If some members of the community have fulfilled the responsibility, it is lifted from the remainder.[10]
  2. Furthermore, such determinations are a matter of public order (min al-umur al-intizamiyya) – that is, they are not meant to be carried out by just anyone. Rather, in the traditional Muslim world, fulfilling this particular duty would be the role of a government department or authorized working group. For those living as minorities in non-Muslim lands, the responsibility devolves onto the community as a whole, who in turn appoint figures of authority, such as the ulamah and educated mosque committees, to fulfil the task on their behalf. In either case, it is imperative to act in consultation with those qualified for the task (ashab al-ahliyya) – in this case, legal and scientific experts.
  3. By the grace of Allah, this fard kifaya has already been performed by a number of scholars over the decades in the UK. Their differing results are likely a function of the sighting difficulties and differing legal positions noted earlier on.
  4. Most importantly, it should be noted that senior, qualified scholars have given fatwa on the differing positions. In accordance with the well-known legal principle, in the absence of a judge (qadi) to rule decisively or a clear preponderance of opinion in a school, the lay Muslim may follow any of the positions agreed by their scholars without fear of their prayers or fasts being invalid. By doing so, they have fulfilled their personal responsibility to Allah.
  5. At the same time, we urge those given responsibility by the community to come together, clearly review the evidence – scriptural, legal, astronomical and observational – and agree upon a way forward for all their communities that brings unity (muwafaqa) despite any ethnic, legal or minor doctrinal differences that may exist in our diverse community.
  6. Finally, it is imperative that we avoid sowing doubt in people’s minds about the validity of their fasts and prayers. This is a matter of genuine scholarly debate and ongoing discussion – there is much work that still needs to be done. We would therefore urge everybody to remember that there should be no condemnation about matters genuinely differed upon in the religion.[11]

May Allah provision our minds with clear understanding, our bodies with willing and joyful submission, and our hearts with a unity that comes from love and mutual respect, despite our differences.

‘Oh Allah, let us see the truth as true and follow it, and let us see falsehood as false, and avoid it.’

Appendix 1: Central Source Texts for Moonsighting, Prayer Times and Fasting

As a starting point, ijtihad (independent juristic reasoning) is only permissible in the absence of a clear and unequivocal text (Nass) whose authenticity is established (qat’i al-dalalah, qat’i- al wurud). In the context of these issues, the sacred texts establish clear positions in general terms, but are open to multiple interpretations when applied in different contexts. For ease, only basic referencing will be used – for further discussion, please refer to specialist works on the topics.

Texts relevant to Key Issue 1 (determining the start and end of Ramadan – moonsighting)

“They ask you concerning the crescent moons, say they are measurements of time for people and for the pilgrimage” (2:189).

Abu Huraira narrated: The Prophet (s) said, “Start fasting on seeing the crescent (of Ramadan), and give up fasting on seeing the crescent (of Shawwal), and if the sky is overcast, complete thirty days of Sha’ban.”

(Sahih Bukhari, book 30, hadith 19).

Do not fast until you see the crescent-moon, and do not break the fast until you have seen the crescent moon, but if conditions are overcast for you then calculate it (f’aqdiruhu).”

[Bukhari, Muslim, Muwatta]

What is definitively established from the above texts (qat’i al dalala) is that the start and end of Ramadan should be established based on the sighting of the moon.   These texts, however, are not definitive on the issue of what should be done if visibility is impaired, or whether some form of local sighting (ikhtilaf al matal’i) is sufficient, or can a sighting anywhere (ittihad al-matal’i) in the world be relied upon, or whether calculations can be relied on if atmospheric conditions do not permit sighting of the moon.   There are multiple interpretations within the parameters of these texts that are possible, and this has been an area of discussion and debate amongst scholars both past and present. Similarly, scholars have differed over the nature of seeing e.g actual physical sighting, scientific data only as ru’ya can mean to know, or actual physical sighting with use of scientific data to support or negate (Ithbat wa Nafiy). Completing 30 days in regions such as the UK over a number of months will lead to some months eventually being 25 or 26 days, and the lunar year would become more than 355 days!

Texts relevant to Key Issue 2 (determining suhur and prayer times during periods of persistent twilight)

‘And eat and drink until the white thread (light) of dawn appears to You distinct from the black thread (darkness of night), Then complete Your Saum (fast) till the nightfall.’ (2:187)

The above text is definitive in establishing the start of the Fast (imsak) where these astronomical signs are observable. However, in regions above 48.5 degrees latitude the phenomenon of persistent twilight means that the distinguishing signs are no longer observable. In these regions, this is an area where ijtihad is permitted, as the text is not clear on what approach should be taken in the absence of these signs. Scholars have resorted to various methods of estimating the start time of suhur (subh Sadiq) by trying to find an equivalence based on solar degrees of depression ranging from 12-18 degrees ( see Appendix). However, it is important to note that there is no direct text that links the astronomical signs with any particular degree. These correspondences are based on the ijithad of scholars. Similarly, there is no (definitive and unequivocal) text that supports the options for taqdir (calculation of a time): nearest day, nearest city, one seventh of the night, Umm al Qura time (1hour 20/30 mins), Half night (nisf-ul-layl). The legal basis of all these is the intellectual efforts of scholars since the 4th Century Hijri.

As for the timings of prayer, many texts establish these times. For example:

‘Establish regular prayers – at the sun’s decline till the darkness of the night, and the morning prayer and reading: for the prayer and reading in the morning are witnessed.’ (15:78)

“The time for the morning prayer lasts as long as the first visible part of the rising sun does not appear and the time of the noon prayer is when the sun declines from the zenith and it is not time for the afternoon prayer and the time for the afternoon prayer is so long as the sun does not become pale and its first visible part does not set, and the time for the evening prayer is that when the sun disappears and (it lasts) till the twilight is no more and the time for the night prayer is up to the midnight.”

(Sahih Muslim)

This and other similar texts are clear that Isha time starts with the disappearance of twilight. The scholars have differed on the meaning of twilight whether it refers to the redness or whiteness after sunset. In addition, these texts are not definitive on the issue of when Isha time starts during periods of persistent twilight. This again is an area where the scholars have exerted their efforts to arrive at a solution.

Texts relevant to key issue 3 (long fasts in summer days)

‘And eat and drink until the white thread (light) of dawn appears to You distinct from the black thread (darkness of night), Then complete Your fast till the nightfall … but if anyone is ill, or on a journey, the prescribed period (Should be made up) during later days. Allah intends every facility for you; He does not want to put to difficulties.’ (2:187)

Allah’s Messenger (s) said, “When night falls from this side and the day vanishes from this side and the sun sets, then the fasting person should break his fast.” (Sahih Bukhari)

The phenomenon of fasts of more than 18 hours is an issue that has arisen in modern times due to the settlement of significant Muslim communities in the Northern Hemisphere. This text is definitive and unequivocal in regions that do not experience persistent twilight. In regions that experience this phenomenon it is impossible to distinguish darkness of night from twilight, therefore 2:189 is not a Nass that can be applied.   The scholars have proposed various solutions to resolve this issue (see appendix 1).

There is a difference of opinion amongst scholars whether the texts that relate to timings of prayer are applicable only where day and night are roughly equal. In regions where there is a significant disparity e.g day length is more than 18 hours, these texts are silent and therefore ijtihad can be relied upon to achieve an outcome that is consistent with the aims of the Shari’ah. This is based on the juristic principle that a hadith scholar, “The [primary] texts pertain to common and normal circumstances and not to what is uncommon.” (Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani, in Fath al-Bari (2/62): and “the general texts are construed in reference to what is prevalent and common and not in reference to what is uncommon and unknown. (Ibn ‘Abdin, Rad al-Muhtar ‘ala al-Dur al-Mukhtar (2/123), and “The [prayer] times, which Jibril (pbuh) taught the Prophet [pbuh], and which the Prophet [pbuh] taught his community, are those which the scholars mentioned in their books, and which refer to normal days.” (Sheikh Ibn Taymiyah, Mukhtasar al-Fatawa al-Misriyyah (1/38). As a result some scholars ( e.g Sh Mustafa Zarqa’) have stated that people living in these regions should fast based on an average day, and have proposed fasting to the length of Makkah or Madinah. العقل والفقه في فهم الحديث النبوي للشيخ الزرقا   ص : 124 طبعة دار

القلم 1996

Ayah 2:185 is a definitive and unequivocal text on creating an exemption from fasting for one who is ill or is travelling. However, it is not clear on the issue of one who is struggling to fast during long summer days. Based on ijtihad some scholars have extended the exemption in 2:185 to include people living in regions that have abnormal length of day, based on analogy (qiyas) with those who are ill, and have advised people to make up (qadaa’) of fasts at another time of the year.

Appendix 2: Key Texts on The principle of Muwafaqa Ahl-al-Bilad (conforming with the local community)

The importance of maintaining community cohesion and not dividing the family or community has been explicitly mentioned in the Quran, and is a core principle of religion.

3:13. the same Religion has He established for you As that which He enjoined on Noah – the which we have sent by inspiration to Thee – and that which we enjoined on Abraham, Moses, and Jesus: Namely, that ye should remain steadfast In religion, and make no divisions therein: to those who worship other things than Allah, hard is the (way) to which Thou callest them.

19:94. He [Hârûn (Aaron)] said: “O son of My mother! seize (me) not by My beard, nor by My head! Verily, I feared lest You should say: ‘You have caused a division among the Children of Israel, and You have not respected My word!’ “

In matters relating to communal religious practice that are not based on qat’i texts and that relate to differences of opinion, it is obligatory to maintain unity within a local community than to insist on following one’s opinion. An example of this is the principle of ‘muwafaqa ahl al-bilad’ (conforming with the local community) which seeks to avoid ill feeling, hatred and division in a local community. There are countless examples of the pious predecessors (salaf) giving up their opinion to maintain community cohesion. In the context of Eid and Ramadan, the principle of Muwafaqa states that one should fast with the local community even if it means that you end up fasting one day extra or one day less. Aisha overruled Masruq when he sought to fast out of caution on the day of Sacrifice stating:

‘Sacrifice is on the day that people make the sacrifice, and the end of the fast is when people end the fast’

This is supported by the following hadith:

The fast is the day when you all fast, and the end of the fast is when you all end the fast, and the Eid of sacrifice is when you make the sacrifice.

(Tirmidhi 697 – hasan gharib), Abu Dawud (2324), Ibn Majah (1660)

Commenting on this Hadith Imam Tirmidhi states: ‘some of the people of knowledge have explained this to mean that one should fast and end the fasting with the community (Jama’a) and the majority of the people.’   Similarly, San‘ani comments: ‘in this is evidence that the conformity of a people on can be taken into account when establishing the Day of Eid, and that it is obligatory (wajib) on a solitary witness who has sighted the moon, to conform with the local community.

The scholars are clear that even if the local community makes an error in their ijtihad on the day of Eid or Ramadan, this will not affect the validity of the fasts and Eid even if it later transpires that a mistake was made. For instance Abu Dawud narrated the aforementioned hadith of the Prophet under the chapter heading: ‘if people make an error in sighting the moon’. Finally, the following hadith also has bearing on this matter:

‘If you see differences, then stick with the vast majority…’

It is important to point out that there can never be Eid on one day all over the globe, due to different time zones. However, what is obligatory is that within one family, neighbourhood or city, there should be one Eid. This is in keeping with the core principle of religion which came to bring people together, it is time to revive the Sunnah of the pious predecessors (salaf) and give up our opinions on matters that are from the ‘Furu’ (peripheral) aspects of religion, in order not to fall into the conundrum of creating fitnah and division amongst the believers.

Appendix 3: Parameters within which the Moonsighting and Ramadan Debate should take place

  1. The issue of which method should be used is a matter that relates to the Furu’ (Peripherals) and not the Usul (Core matters) of the Deen established by definitive /texts/ proofs based on al-Dalil al-Qat’i)
  2. This is a matter that relates to Fiqh and not Aqidah
  3. It is not a matter on which takfir of individuals or groups should be made
  4. The Nusus (text) on many of these issues are open to different interpretations
  5. There is no ijma’ (consensus) amongst the scholars on which method to deploy if visibility is impaired, or there is persistent twilight
  6. All parties are sincerely trying to arrive at what they believe is the strongest shar’i (legal) position
  7. People are free to follow any of the sound and valid ijtihads
  8. It is not wajib to follow any of these ijtihads exclusively
  9. It is legally (in fiqh terms) wrong to claim that the fast/Eid of those who follow a different ijtihad is invalidated.
  10. The matter of creating harmony and avoiding discord amongst the community of Believers is established by definitive texts. This is wajib.
  11. Giving up the ijtihad of the group or scholar you follow to avoid discord and division will not invalidate your fast/Eid
  12. In some cases it may be considered wajib to give up the opinion you feel strongly about, if it will cause division within a family or a town/city
  13. The Qur’an and Sunnah are full of examples of prioritising community cohesions and harmony e.g The prophet pbuh ordered a Mosque to be pulled down, as it was dividing the Muslim community, the Prophet Haroon did not enforce his will on the Children of Israel for fear of splitting the community (faraqta bayna bani israeel, Surah Taha)
  14. Disagreements in this area amongst the Muslims, leads to a negative portrayal of Islam, and is damaging from a Dawah perspective
  15. The Maqasid of Eid as a celebration that brings the entire community together is violated by having Eid on different days within the same family, town or city
  16. There is no precedent in Fiqh that justifies Eid being celebrated on different days within the same family, town, city for people who are resident there (Ahadith refer to companions who were travelling and returning to their city)
  17. Having Eid on different days disrupts the education of children, makes it difficult to organise holiday leave for working people, which means that many people end up booking the wrong day and therefore end up working on Eid day

Appendix 4: further reading

Book: Shedding light on the dawn: on the determination of prayer and fasting times at high latitudes by Sheikh Asim Yusuf

The challenge of how to determine twilight prayer and fasting times at high latitudes is an issue that has vexed successive generations of Muslims since the community first began to dwell in northern lands. This work represents the most comprehensive, meticulous and balanced approach to the subject composed in any language. The author has both demonstrated and collapsed the complexity of the subject by exploring it from the perspective of definitions, science, scripture, and sacred law, as well as providing a literature survey of classical and modern attempts at observation, before presenting the results of his own systematic, scientifically-rigorous set of observations. As well as providing a comprehensive set of recommendations for the issue under discussion, this work sets a standard for works on modern legal issues in general.

This is a necessary read on this subject. The author is a friend and colleague who has tirelessly and meticulously researched the issues of long fasts and prayer times. Some of the discussions above have been taken from the book.

For more information on the book and how to purchase it: http://www.lightonthedawn.com/

Few articles providing overview of some issues discussed:

http://www.understanding-islam.org.uk/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=8054:towards-understanding-the-moonsighting-debate-in-the-u-k&Itemid=102

Arguments for using calculation:

https://musafurber.com/2015/06/06/ramadan-moonfighting-shafi%CA%BFic-calculations/

An Analysis of Moon Sighting Arguments

The argument against using calculation:

http://www.islam21c.com/islamic-law/964-an-insight-into-moon-sighting/

https://almadinainstitute.org/blog/an-islamic-legal-analysis-of-the-astronomical-determination-of-the-beginnin/

Issues of the long fast:

http://www.islamtoday.net/bohooth/artshow-86-136794.htm

http://www.exploring-islam.com/fasting-during-the-long-summer-days-in-some-western-countriesworship.html

http://alrukn.com/long-fasts-fiqh/

Combining Maghreb and Isha:

https://www.e-cfr.org/%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A8%D9%8A%D8%A7%D9%86-%D8%B1%D9%82%D9%85-3-2/

https://www.leedsgrandmosque.com/isha-prayer-in-british-summer

https://www.islam21c.com/fataawa/166-summer-isha-a-fajr-prayer-times/

[1] All from the introduction to ‘Shedding Light on the Dawn’

[2] Al-Nahl 16:43

[3] Jami’ Tirmidhi 2683

[4] Bukhari 7352, Muslim 4487

[5] Jami Tirmidhi

[6] Ihya Ulum al-Din, Kitab al-Ilm

[7] Al-Ashbah wa al-Naza’ir of Suyuti – a very well-known principle among the righteous predecessors (salaf) and their successors (khalaf).

[8] Kubra al-Yaqiniyyat al-Kawniyya 34: in kunta naqilan fa al-sihha, wa in kunta muda’iyyan fa al-dalil.

[9] NB: contrary to popular opinion, crescent visibility curves are not a modern invention, having been known about in the classical Muslim period. There are many examples in medieval astronomical literature that look very similar to modern ones

[10] Ibn Qudama in his al-Mughni [2:30-31], for example, notes that, ‘when one hears the adhan from a reliable source, one should commence prayer, without attempting to work out whether the time has entered oneself, for the Prophet (s) said, ‘the muadhins are entrusted,’ (Abu Dawud) and ‘there are two duties Muslims must perform that hang from the necks of the muadhins: their prayers and their fasts’ (ibn Majah). – dar alam al-kutub

[11] Al-Ashbah wa al-Naza’ir of Suyuti 224 – la yunkar al-mukhtalaf fihi, innama yunkar al-mujma’ alayh: a well-known principle among the righteous predecessors (salaf) and their successors (khalaf).

Sh. Abdullah Hasan graduated with an Imam Diploma, BA and Ijaza Aliyah in Islamic Studies [Theology & Islamic Law, taught completely in Arabic] from a European Islamic seminary. He holds a diploma in Arabic from Zarqa Private University (Jordan), studied at the faculty of fiqh wa usuluhu (Jurisprudence and its principles) at the same university while receiving training in various disciplines privately with some of the leading Scholars of Jordan and the Middle East. He studied Chaplaincy at the Markfield Institute of Higher Education (MIHE). He is a Licensed Islamic Professional Counsellor (LIPC), specialising in youth and marriage therapy. In addition, he is a specialist in Zakat and Islamic philanthropic studies. He served, as an Imam, several Muslim communities in the UK. Sh. Abdullah Hasan has enormous interest and passion in the field of community and people development. He has over 10 years of management, leadership and training experience within the third sector. He is the founder of British Imams and Scholars Contributions & Achievement Awards (BISCA), which is a national platform to celebrate, support & nurture positive leadership within the community. The Founder of British Institutes, Mosques & Association Awards (BIMA), which is national platform celebrating the achievements of mosques and Islamic institutions. He also founded Imams Against Domestic Abuse (IADA), an international coalition of leaders to end domestic abuse, and is a member of the National Council of Imams & Rabbis, UK.,

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What Does Sharia Really Say About Abortion in Islam

Abortion is not a simple option of being pro-life or pro-choice, Islam recognizes the nuance.

Reem Shaikh

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The following article on abortion is based on a research paper titled ‘The Rights of the Fetus in Islam’, at the Department of Sharia at Qatar University. My team and I presented it to multiple members of the faculty. It was approved by the Dean of the Islamic Studies College, an experienced and reputed Islamic authority.

In one swoop, liberal comedian Deven Green posing as her satirical character, Mrs. Betty Brown, “America’s best Christian”, demonized both Sharia law as well as how Islamic law treats abortion. Even in a debate about a law that has no Muslim protagonist in the middle of it, Islam is vilified because apparently, no problem in the world can occur without Islam being dragged into it.

It is important to clarify what Sharia is before discussing abortion. Sharia law is the set of rules and guidelines that Allah establishes as a way of life for Muslims. It is derived from the Qur’an and the Sunnah, which is interpreted and compiled by scholars based on their understandings (fiqh). Sharia takes into account what is in the best interest for individuals and society as a whole, and creates a system of life for Muslims, covering every aspect, such as worship, beliefs, ethics, transactions, etc.

Muslim life is governed by Sharia – a very personal imperative. For a Muslim living in secular lands, that is what Sharia is limited to – prayers, fasting, charity and private transactions such as not dealing with interest, marriage and divorce issues, etc. Criminal statutes are one small part of the larger Sharia but are subject to interpretation, and strictly in the realm of a Muslim country that governs by it.

With respect to abortion, the first question asked is:

“Do women have rights over their bodies or does the government have rights over women’s bodies?”

The answer to this question comes from a different perspective for Muslims. Part of Islamic faith is the belief that our bodies are an amanah from God. The Arabic word amanah literally means fulfilling or upholding trusts. When you add “al” as a prefix, or al-amanah, trust becomes “The Trust”, which has a broader Islamic meaning. It is the moral responsibility of fulfilling one’s obligations due to Allah and fulfilling one’s obligations due to other humans.

The body is one such amanah. Part of that amanah includes the rights that our bodies have over us, such as taking care of ourselves physically, emotionally and mentally – these are part of a Muslim’s duty that is incumbent upon each individual.

While the Georgia and Alabama laws in the United States that make abortion illegal after the 6-week mark of pregnancy are being mockingly referred to as “Sharia Law” abortion, the fact is that the real Sharia allows much more leniency in the matter than these laws do.

First of all, it is important to be unambiguous about one general ruling: It is unanimously agreed by the scholars of Islam that abortion without a valid excuse after the soul has entered the fetus is prohibited entirely. The question then becomes, when exactly does the soul enter the fetus? Is it when there is a heartbeat? Is it related to simple timing? Most scholars rely on the timing factor because connecting a soul to a heartbeat itself is a question of opinion.

Web MD

The timing then is also a matter of ikhtilaf, or scholarly difference of opinion:

One Hundred and Twenty Days:

The majority of the traditional scholars, including the four madhahib, are united upon the view that the soul certainly is within the fetus after 120 days of pregnancy, or after the first trimester.

This view is shaped by  the following hadith narrated by Abdullah bin Masood raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him):

قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: إن أحدكم يجمع خلقه في بطن أمه أربعين يوما ثم يكون في ذلك علقة مثل ذلك ثم يكون في ذلك مضغة مثل ذلك ثم يرسل الملك فينفخ فيه الروح..

“For every one of you, the components of his creation are gathered together in the mother’s womb for a period of forty days. Then he will remain for two more periods of the same length, after which the angel is sent and insufflates the spirit into him.”

Forty Days:

The exception to the above is that some scholars believe that the soul enters the fetus earlier, that is after the formation phase, which is around the 40 days mark of pregnancy.

This view is based on another hadith narrated by Abdullah bin Masood raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him):

قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: إذا مر بالنطفة إثنتان وأربعون ليلة بعث الله إليها ملكاً، فصوره، وخلق سمعها وبصرها وجلدها ولحمها وعظمها…

“If a drop of semen spent in the womb forty-two nights, Allah sends an angel to it who depicts it and creates its ears, eyes, skin, flesh and bones.”

Between the two views, the more widespread and popular opinion is the former, which is that the soul enters the fetus at the 120 days (or 4 months) mark, as the second hadith implies the end of the formation period of the fetus rather than the soul entering it.

Even if one accepts that the soul enters the fetus at a certain timing mark, it does not mean that the soul-less fetus can be aborted at any time or for any reason. Here again, like most matters of Islamic jurisprudence, there is ikhtilaf of scholarly difference of opinion.

No Excuse Required:

The Hanafi madhhab is the most lenient, allowing abortion during the first trimester, even without an excuse.

Some of the later scholars from the Hanafi school consider it makruh or disliked if done without a valid reason, but the majority ruled it as allowed.

Only Under Extreme Risks:

The Malikis are the most strict in this matter; they do not allow abortion even if it is done in the first month of pregnancy unless there is an extreme risk to the mother’s health.

Other Views:

As for the Shafi’i and Hanbali schools of thought, there are multiple opinions within the schools themselves, some allowing abortion, some only allowing it in the presence of a valid excuse.

Valid excuses differ from scholar to scholar, but with a strong and clear reason, permissibility becomes more lenient. Such cases include forced pregnancy (caused by rape), reasons of health and other pressing reasons.

For example, consider a rape victim who becomes pregnant. There is hardly a more compelling reason (other than the health of the mother) where abortion should be permitted. A child born as a result in such circumstances will certainly be a reminder of pain and discomfort to the mother. Every time the woman sees this child, she will be reminded of the trauma of rape that she underwent, a trauma that is generally unmatched for a woman. Leaving aside the mother, the child himself or herself will lead a life of suffering and potentially neglect. He or she may be blamed for being born– certainly unjust but possible with his or her mother’s mindset. The woman may transfer her pain to the child, psychologically or physically because he or she is a reminder of her trauma. One of the principles of Sharia is to ward off the greater of two evils. One can certainly argue that in such a case where both mother and child are at risk of trauma and more injustice, then abortion may indeed be the lesser of the two.

The only case even more pressing than rape would be when a woman’s physical health is at risk due to the pregnancy. Where the risk is clear and sufficiently severe (that is can lead to some permanent serious health damage or even death) if the fetus remained in her uterus, then it is unanimously agreed that abortion is allowed no matter what the stage of pregnancy. This is because of the Islamic principle that necessities allow prohibitions. In this case, the necessity to save the life of the mother allows abortion, which may be otherwise prohibited.

This is the mercy of Sharia, as opposed to the popular culture image about it.

Furthermore, the principle of preventing the greater of two harms applies in this case, as the mother’s life is definite and secure, while the fetus’ is not.

Absolutely Unacceptable Reason for Abortion:

Another area of unanimous agreement is that abortion cannot be undertaken due to fear of poverty. The reason for this is that this mindset collides with having faith and trust in Allah. Allah reminds us in the Quran:

((وَلَا تَقْتُلُوا أَوْلَادَكُمْ خَشْيَةَ إِمْلَاقٍ ۖ نَّحْنُ نَرْزُقُهُمْ وَإِيَّاكُمْ ۚ إِنَّ قَتْلَهُمْ كَانَ خِطْئًا كَبِيرًا))

“And do not kill your children for fear of poverty, We provide for them and for you. Indeed, their killing is ever a great sin.” (Al-Israa, 31)

Ignorance is not an excuse, but it is an acceptable excuse when it comes to mocking Islam in today’s world. Islam is a balanced religion and aims to draw ease for its adherents. Most rulings concerning fiqh are not completely cut out black and white. Rather, Islamic rulings are reasonable and consider all possible factors and circumstances, and in many cases vary from person to person.

Abortion is not a simple option of being pro-life or pro-choice. These terms have become political tools rather than sensitive choices for women who ultimately suffer the consequences either way.

Life means a lot more than just having a heartbeat. Islam completely recognizes this. Thus, Islamic rulings pertaing to abortion are detailed and varied.

As a proud Muslim, I want my fellow Muslims to be confident of their religion particularly over sensitive issues such as abortion and women’s rights to choose for themselves keeping the Creator of Life in focus at all times.

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Lesson 11 From Surah Al-Kahf

Tafsir Verses 72-81

Shaykh Furhan Zubairi

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Alhamdulillah last session we were able to explore the meanings and lessons of verses 60-70. InshAllah, we’ll try our best to cover the meanings of verse 71-82. As we learned in the last session, this passage of the Surah deals with a very unique and interesting episode from the life of Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him). It’s the story of his encounter and journey with a man of God known as Khidr or Khadir. We reached the point in the story where Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) finally finds Khidr and asks with the utmost humility and respect to allow him to be his student. This highlights Musa’s 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) sincerity in seeking knowledge, his lack of pride and his willingness to humble himself in front of Khidr despite his own status as a Prophet.

But Khidr initially declined his request telling him, “Truly you will not be able to bear patiently with me. And how can you be patient with that which you have no knowledge?” Khidr recognized that he would do things that Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) would find to be illogical, irrational and even impermissible. Things that on the surface level seem to be horrible and despicable. Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) was sent as a Prophet of Divine Law, while Khidr had been entrusted with some unique knowledge and actions that seemed to be contradictory to that law. So he explained to Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) that he wouldn’t be able to be patient with him and his actions. But Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) was extremely eager to learn. He resolved to be patient and obedient while relying upon the will of Allah ﷻ.

He tells Khidr, “You will find me patient, if Allah wills, and I shall not disobey you in any matter.” Khidr finally gave in and both of them set off on their way. This is where we’ll pick up the story again. Allah ﷻ says,

Verse 71: So they both went on till, when they had embarked upon a ship, he made a hole in it. He said, “Have you made a hole in it to drown its people? Certainly, you have done a grave thing.”

They set out walking together along the shore looking for a ship to ride. As they were walking a ship of sailors passed by them and Khidr asked for a ride. The sailors knew Khidr so they let both him and Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) come on board without any charge. After traveling for a while Khidr got up and pulled out one of the planks from the bottom of the ship using an ax making a hole in it. This placed everyone on the ship in danger of drowning. Obviously, this seemingly absurd and cruel behavior surprised Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him). He was literally in shock. He couldn’t understand why Khidr would do such a thing to someone who helped him out. This went against his moral compass of what’s right and wrong. Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) forgot about the conditions of his teacher and objected. These people gave us a free ride and you’re pulling a plank to drown their ship. You’ve done something bad. “Have you made a hole in it to drown its people? Certainly, you have done a grave thing.” Khidr then reminded him gently with patience.

Verse 72: He said, “Did I not say that you can never bear with me patiently?”

Didn’t I tell you that you wouldn’t be able to be patient with me and my actions? The way he says this shows that he was willing to overlook and tolerate Musa’s (as) impatience. Musa (as) felt a sense of regret and apologized to Khidr telling him that he completely forgot about his deal.

Verse 73: He (Musa) said, “Do not hold me responsible for what I forgot, and do not make my course too difficult for me.”

Basically he apologized. He said please don’t hold me responsible for what I forgot and allow me to continue travelling in your company. While telling the story the Prophet ﷺ says, “the first (question) was out of forgetfulness. While this conversation was taking place a bird came and sat on the side of the boat and took a sip of water from the ocean. Khidr said to Musa, ‘my knowledge and yours combined in comparison to the knowledge of Allah is like the sip of water compared to the ocean.’” Khidr accepting his apology and they continued travelling on their way.

Verse 74: So, they moved ahead until when they met a boy, he killed him (the boy). He (Musa) said, “Did you kill an innocent soul while he did not kill anyone? You have committed a heinous act indeed.”

“So they continued…” They both got off the ship and started walking along the shore until they came across a young boy playing with his friends. Khidr went up to this young boy and killed him by either strangling him to death or striking him on his head. This was too much for Musa (as) to handle. He objected even more vehemently. How can he kill an innocent young boy for no reason whatsoever? To Musa (as) this seemed absolutely absurd, cruel and unjustified. It was too much for him to tolerate patiently despite his promise not to question anything that he saw. So he said, How can you kill a pure innocent child for no reason whatsoever? You have done something unjustified and have committed a heinous act. Once again Khidr reminds him of the condition that he made and the promise that Musa (as) had given.

Verse 75: He said, “Did I not tell you that you can never bear with me patiently?”

Didn’t I warn you that you wouldn’t be able to handle what I would do? Didn’t I tell you that you wouldn’t be able to remain silent when I do certain things? In this reminder, Khidr added the word “laka” to show that this time his reminder is more severe and clearer. The first time someone forgets and makes a mistake it’s overlooked. The second time it’s also overlooked but with a sense of hesitation. Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) again feels a sense of regret for breaking his word and not sticking to the conditions of Khidr. He’s now done this twice so he apologizes by saying,

Verse 76: He said, “If I ask you about something after this, do not keep me in your company. You have had enough excuses from me.”

Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him)(as) again apologizes but this time gives himself one last chance. He said if he questions Khidr one more time then Khidr can choose to part ways with him. Once again Khidr accepts his apology and they set off on their way. After commenting on this part ibn Kathīr narrates a hadīth from the Prophet ﷺ. He writes, “Ibn Jarir narrated from Ibn `Abbas that Ubayy bin Ka`b said: “Whenever the Prophet ﷺ mentioned anyone, he would pray for himself first. One day he said:

  • «رَحْمَةُ اللهِ عَلَيْنَا وَعَلَى مُوسَى لَوْ لَبِثَ مَعَ صَاحِبِهِ لَأَبْصَرَ الْعَجَبَ، وَلَكِنَّهُ قَالَ:
  • ﴿إِن سَأَلْتُكَ عَن شَىْءٍ بَعْدَهَا فَلاَ تُصَاحِبْنِى قَدْ بَلَغْتَ مِن لَّدُنِّى عُذْراً﴾»

May the mercy of Allah be upon us and upon Musa. If he had stayed with his companion he would have seen wonders, but he said, (`If I ask you anything after this, keep me not in your company, you have received an excuse from me.’))” That brings us to the third and last adventure they had together.

Verse 77: Then, they moved on until they came to the people of a town and sought food from them. But they refused to show them any hospitality. Then, they found there a wall that was about to fall down. So he (Khidr) set it right. He (Musa) said, “If you wished, you could have charged a fee for this.”

Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) and Khidr continued traveling until they came upon the people of a town that most commentators identify as the ancient city of Antioch. Being tired and hungry they asked them for some food but they refused to give them any or show them any hospitality whatsoever. As they were leaving the city they came across a wall that was about to fall down. Khidr stopped by it and repaired it. Now, this situation is also bizarre; Khidr is a complete stranger in a town that refused to give them food or host them yet he still stops and fixes their wall for nothing in return. Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) finds the situation full of irony. Why should a stranger exert so much effort in rebuilding a wall in a town where they were denied even a little food and all hospitality? He should have at least demanded some money for his labor and then they could have bought some food to eat.

Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) couldn’t hold himself so he objected, “If you wished, you could have charged a fee for this.” And that was the end of their relationship. Khidr responded,

Verse 78: He said, “This is the parting between me and you. I shall inform you of the meaning of that which you were unable to bear with patiently.”

Meaning, this is the end of our relationship and this is where we’ll part ways. But before we go our separate ways I’ll explain to you the wisdom and hidden meaning behind everything I did. Up till this point in the story, we’ve probably been just as impatient as Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him); we have no clue why Khidr did the things he did. But he then explains everything is detail; why he pulled a plank out of the bottom the ship, why he killed an innocent child and why he rebuilt the wall without taking anything in return.

Verse 79: As for the ship, it belonged to some poor people who worked at sea. I wanted to damage it, for just beyond them was a king who was seizing every ship by force.

Khidr is explained that his act of damaging the ship was, in reality, a means of saving it. It comes in a narration that these poor people were ten brothers, 5 of them were handicapped while the other five worked. The ship was their only source of income. The king was a cruel, tyrannical oppressor who would take ships by force. The damage done to the ship made it undesirable for the king and ultimately saved it for its owners. Had it been seaworthy, it would certainly have been confiscated by the tyrannical king. Perpetrating some small damage to the boat saved it from the greater harm and ruinous injustice which was certain to take place without it. Hence, causing such damage was a good and kindly action. So damaging the ship actually turned out to be a good thing.

Verses 80-81: And as for the young boy, his parents were believers and we feared that he would make them suffer much through rebellion and disbelief. So we desired that their Lord give them in exchange one who is better than him in purity, and nearer to mercy.

Although the young child seemed to be pure and innocent in reality the seeds of disbelief and wickedness were entrenched in his heart. If he had grown up he would have been a source of grief and sorrow for his parents who were believers. Their love for this child would have led them towards evil and wickedness as well. They would suffer because of the rebellion and disbelief. So Allah told Khidr to kill this boy to spare them that grief and to replace him with a child that would be better and more dutiful. Now obviously the parents weren’t aware of this at this time so to them this was a huge loss and tragedy. They weren’t aware of the future difficulties that they were saved from by his death.

Qatādah said, “His parents rejoiced when he was born and grieved for him when he was killed. If he had stayed alive, he would have been the cause of their doom. So let a man be content with the decree of Allah, for the decree of Allah for the believer, if he dislikes it, is better for him than if He were to decree something that he likes for him.” That’s why in connection to these verses ibn Kathīr رحمهم الله quotes the hadīth, “Allah does not decree anything for a believer, save that it is better for him.”

  • «لَا يَقْضِي اللهُ لِلْمُؤْمِنِ مِنْ قَضَاءٍ إِلَّا كَانَ خَيْرًا لَه»

It is mentioned in a narration that the parents were blessed with a pious daughter who gave birth to a Prophet. So the murder of this child actually turned out to be something good in the long run.

Verse 82: And as for the wall, it belonged to two orphan boys in the city, and beneath it was a treasure belonging to them. Their father was righteous, and your Lord desired that they should reach their maturity and extract their treasure, as a mercy from your Lord. And I didn’t do this upon my own command. This is the meaning of that which you couldn’t bear with patiently.

Khidr explained to Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) that the wall that was about to fall that he rebuilt was covering a treasure that belonged to two orphan boys. If the wall had fallen down the treasure would be exposed and the orphan children would’ve been deprived of their wealth. By rebuilding the wall Khidr made it possible for them to access their treasure when they grew up. This was done partially because their father was a righteous and pious man. Khidr then explains to Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) that he didn’t do any of these things based on his own accord or understanding. Rather he did them according to the Divine command, decree, and will of Allah ﷻ. “And I didn’t do this upon my own command.” He concludes by saying, “This is the meaning of that which you couldn’t bear with patiently.” Meaning, this is the explanation of my actions that you didn’t understand and weren’t able to be patient with.

Lessons:

1) One of the most powerful and profound lessons we learn from this entire episode is that oftentimes a tragedy is a blessing in disguise. Everything that happens in this world, whether good or bad, happens according to the Divine will and decree of Allah ﷻ. There’s some deep divine wisdom behind every single thing that happens in this world. When something good happens we recognize it as a blessing. For example, if we get a good job, get a raise at work, purchase a new car or are blessed with the birth of a child. All of recognize this as something positive. On the other hand whenever we face setbacks, difficulties, hardships and tragedies we tend to lose patience.

This incident is teaching us that difficulties, tests, trials, and hardships are oftentimes blessing in disguise. The first thing to understand is that Allah isn’t sending these difficulties our way to break us or destroy us. Rather he’s sending them our way to test our patience and faith, as a source of mercy and a reminder. As a way of nurturing and training us. He’s reminding us to turn back to Him, to hold on to our faith, to be steadfast, patient, strong, and to persevere. When we’re struggling and going through difficult times we shouldn’t assume that somehow Allah is displeased with us. Similarly, when we’re comfortable and enjoying life we shouldn’t assume that Allah is pleased with us. The opposite can be true. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said,

  • « إِذَا أَرَادَ اللَّهُ بِعَبْدِهِ الْخَيْرَ عَجَّلَ لَهُالْعُقُوبَةَ فِى الدُّنْيَا وَإِذَا أَرَادَ اللَّهُ بِعَبْدِهِ الشَّرَّأَمْسَكَ عَنْهُ بِذَنْبِهِ حَتَّى يُوَفَّى بِهِ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ

“If Allah wants good for his servant, He hurries on His punishment in this world, and if He wills ill for a servant, he holds back punishing him for his sin so He can give it to him in full on the Day of Resurrection.”

Everything we face in this world is actually a source of blessing for us. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said:

  • «مَا يُصِيبُ المُسْلِمَ مِنْ نَصَبٍ،وَلاَ وَصَبٍ، وَلاَ هَمِّ، وَلاَ حُزْنٍ، وَلاَ أَذًى، وَلاَ غَمِّ، حَتَّىالشَّوْكَةِ يُشَاكُهَا؛ إِلاَّ كَفَّرَ الله بِهَا مِنْ خَطَايَاهُ»

“No fatigue, illness, anxiety, sorrow, harm or sadness afflicts any Muslim, even to the extent of a thorn pricking him, without Allah wiping out his sins by it.”

Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) tells us that the main tool, the key to deal with the world and all the problems it contains is through patience and turning towards Him. When we’re dealing with our problems we should turn to Allah. We should make dhikr, read Quran, spend time in prayer and reflection and try to be around good company. We should try to focus our attention, our spiritual and emotional energy on our relationship with Allah instead of our problem. By doing so we’ll find peace and comfort. True contentment. Part of patience is recognizing that whatever we’re going through is something that we can handle. Whatever we’re going through will not last forever. That’s why throughout the Quran whenever Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) consoles and comforts the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) He reminds him to be patient and to turn to him. “So be patient over what they say and exalt [Allah] with praise of your Lord.” (20:130) “So be patient. Indeed, the promise of Allah is truth.” (30:60) “So be patient, [O Muhammad], over what they say and exalt [Allah] with praise of your Lord before the rising of the sun and before its setting.” (50:39)

2) Being content with the Divine decree of Allah ﷻ.

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Heart Soothers: Salim Bahanan

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