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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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The Spirituality Of Gratitude

Shaykh Tarik Ata

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Gratitude

The Quran tells the reader of the importance of gratitude in two ways. First, worship, which is the essence of the relationship between man and the Creator, is conditional to gratitude “and be grateful to Allah if it is [indeed] Him that you worship” (2:172). The verse suggests that in order for an individual to truly worship Allah then they must express gratitude to Allah and that an ungrateful individual cannot be a worshiper of Allah. The second verse states the following “And be grateful to Me and do not deny Me” (2:152). The Arabic word used, translated here as ‘deny,’ is kufr which linguistically means to cover up. The word was adopted by the Quran to refer to someone who rejects Allah after learning of Him. Both the linguistic and Quranic definitions are possibly meant in this verse and both arrive at the same conclusion. That is, the absence of gratitude is an indicator of one’s rejection of Allah; the question is how and why?

What Does Shukr Mean?

Understanding a Quranic concept begins with understanding the word chosen by the Quran. The word shukr is used throughout the Quran and is commonly translated as gratitude. From a purely linguistic definition, shukr is “the effect food has on the body of an animal” (Ibn Qayyim v. 2 p. 200). What is meant here is that when an animal eats food it becomes heavier which has a clear and visible effect on the animal. Therefore, shukr is the manifestation of a blessing or blessings on the entirety of a person. From here, spiritualists understood the goal of shukr and added an extra element to the definition and that is the acknowledgment that those blessings are from Allah. Thus, the definition of shukr as an Islamic spiritual concept is “the manifestation of Allah’s blessings verbally through praise and acknowledgment; emotionally on the heart through witnessing the blessings and loving Allah; and physically through submission and servitude” (Ibid).

Based on this definition, the goal of shukr can be broken into five categories. First, gratitude that brings about the submission of the individual to his benefactor. In order for an act to be worthy of gratitude, the beneficiary must conclude that the benefactor’s action was done for the sake of the beneficiary – thus making the benefactor benevolent. In other words, the benefactor is not benefiting in the least (Emmons et al 2004 p. 62). When the individual recognizes his benefactor, Allah, as being completely independent of the individual and perfect in of himself, one concludes that the actions of the benefactor are purely in the best interest of the beneficiary resulting in the building of trust in Allah. The Quran utilizes this point multiple times explicitly stating that Allah has nothing to gain from the creations servitude nor does he lose anything from because of their disobedience (Q 2:255, 4:133, 35:15, 47:38). Through shukr, a person’s spirituality increases by recognizing Allah’s perfection and their own imperfection thus building the feeling of need for Allah and trust in him (Emmons et al 2002 p. 463).

Gratitude in Knowing That Allah Loves Us

The second category is love for the benefactor. Similar to the previous category, by identifying the motive of the benefactor one can better appreciate their favors. “Gratitude is fundamentally a moral affect with empathy at its foundation: In order to acknowledge the cost of the gift, the recipient must identity with the psychological state of the one who has provided it” (Emmons 2002 p. 461).[1] That is, by recognizing Allah’s perfection one concludes that his blessings are entirely in the best interest of the beneficiary despite not bringing any return to Him. Thus, the Quran utilizes this concept repeatedly and to list a few, the Quran reminds the human reader that he created the human species directly with his two hands (38:75), he created them in the best physical and mental form (95:4), gave him nobility (17:70), commanded the angels to prostrate to him out of reverence (38:72-3), made him unique by giving him knowledge and language (2:31), exiled Satan who refused to revere him (7:13), allowed him into Paradise (7:19), forgave his mistake (2:37), designated angels to protect each individual (13:11) and supplicate Allah to forgive the believers (40:7-9), created an entire world that caters to his needs (2:29), among plenty of other blessings which express Allah’s love, care, and compassion of the human.

The remaining three categories revolve around the individual acting upon their gratitude by acknowledging them, praising Allah for them and using them in a manner acceptable to Allah. In order for gratitude to play a role in spirituality the blessings one enjoys must be utilized in a manner that connects them with Allah. Initially, one must acknowledge that all blessings are from him thus establishing a connection between the self and Allah. This is then elevated to where the individual views these blessings as more than inanimate objects but entities that serve a purpose. By doing this one begins to see and appreciate the wisdoms behind these created entities enlightening the individual to the Creators abilities and qualities. Finally, after recognizing the general and specific wisdoms behind each creation, one feels a greater sense of purpose, responsibility, and loyalty. That is, engaging the previous five categories establishes love for the benefactor (Ibn Qayyim v. 2 p. 203). Observing the care and compassion of the benefactor for his creation establishes the feeling of loyalty towards the one who has cared for us as well as responsibility since He created everything with purpose.

Blessings Even in Hardship

One may interject by referring to the many individuals and societies that are plagued with hardships and do not have blessings to appreciate. No doubt this is a reality and the Quran address this indirectly. Upon analysis, one finds that the blessings which the Quran references and encourages the reader to appreciate are not wealth or health; rather, it is the sun, the moon, trees, and the natural world in general. Perhaps the reason for this is what shukr seeks to drive us towards. There are two things all these objects have in common (1) they are gifts given by Allah to all humans and all individuals enjoy them and (2) humans are dependent upon them. Everyone has access to the sun, no one can take it away, and we are critically dependent upon it. When the Quran draws our attention to these blessings, the reader should begin to appreciate the natural world at a different level and Surah an Nahl does precisely that. This chapter was likely revealed during the time of hijrah (immigration); a time when the companions lost everything – their homes, wealth, and tribes. The chapter works to counsel them by teaching them that the true blessings a person enjoys is all around them and no matter how much was taken from them, no one can take away the greater blessings of Allah.

In sum, these verses bring light to the crucial role shukr plays in faith. It serves as a means to better know Allah which can be achieved through a series of phases. First, the individual must search for the blessings which then leads to a shift in perspective from focusing on the wants to focusing on what is available. This leads to greater appreciation and recognition of the positives in one’s life allowing the person more optimism. Second, the person must link those blessings to the benefactor – Allah – which reveals many elements of who He is and His concern for His creation. Once this is internalized in the person’s hearts, its benefits begin to manifest itself on the person’s heart, mind, and body; it manifests itself in the form of love for Allah and submission to him. Shukr ultimately reveals the extent of Allah’s love and concern for the individual which therein strengthens the trust and love of the individual for Allah and ultimately their submission to Him.

Allah knows best.

Emmons, Robert A., and Charles M. Shelton. “Gratitude and the science of positive psychology.” Handbook of positive psychology 18 (2002): 459-471.

Emmons, Robert A., and Michael E. McCullough, eds. The psychology of gratitude. Oxford University Press, 2004.

Jawziyyah, Ibn Qayyim. madārij al-sālikīn bayn manāzil iyyāka naʿbud wa iyyāka nastaʿīn مدارج السالكين بين منازل إياك نعبد وإياك نستعين [The Levels of Spirituality between the Dynamics of “It is You Alone we Worship and it is You Alone we Seek Help From]. Cario: Hadith Publications, 2005.

[1] Islamically speaking, it is not befitting to claim that Allah has a psyche or that he can be analyzed psychologically.

Download a longer version of this article here: The Sprituality of Gratitude

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Lessons From Surah Maryam: 1

Shaykh Furhan Zubairi

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Alhamdulillah, it’s a great blessing of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) that He has given us both the opportunity and ability to come here tonight to study and explore the meanings of His words in Surah Maryam. I’m truly grateful for this opportunity. May Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) accept this effort from all of us and place it on our scale of good deeds.

Alhamdulillah, in our last series we were able to complete the tafsir of Surah Al-Kahf. InshAllah, in this next series, we’ll be exploring the meanings, lessons, and reminders of Surah Maryam. Tafsīr is an extremely noble and virtuous discipline. The reason why it’s so noble and virtuous is that it’s the study of the divine speech of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). As mentioned in a hadith the superiority of the speech of Allah over all other speech is like the superiority of Allah over all of His creation. There’s nothing more beneficial and virtuous than studying the Quran. And by doing so we’ll be counted amongst the best of people. As the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “the best amongst you are those who learn the Quran and teach it.”

All of us need to build a stronger relationship with the Quran. The Quran is full of wisdom and guidance in every single verse and word. It’s our responsibility to seek that guidance, understand it, contextualize it and more importantly act upon it. Tafsīr is such a unique science that it brings together all of the other Islamic sciences. While exploring a Surah a person comes across discussions regarding Arabic grammar and morphology, rhetoric, Ahādīth, fiqh, sīrah and all those studies that are known as the Islamic Sciences. One scholar described the Quran as an ocean that has no shore, بحر لا ساحل له. The more we study the Qur’ān the stronger our relationship with it will become. We’ll become more and more attached to it and will be drawn into its beauty and wonder. The deeper a person gets into tafsir and studying the more engaged and interested they become. They also recognize how little they truly know. It develops humility. That’s the nature of true knowledge. The more we learn the more we recognize we don’t know. May Allah ﷻ allow us all to be sincere and committed students of the Qur’ān.

Surah Maryam

Surah Maryam is the 19th surah in the Quran. It is a relatively long Makki surah made up of 98 verses. Some commentators mention that it’s the 44th Surah to be revealed, after Surah Al-Fatir and before Surah Taha. It has been given the name Maryam because Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) mentions the story of Maryam (as) and her family and how she gave birth to Isa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) miraculously at the beginning of the Surah. Just like other Makkan surahs, it deals with the most fundamental aspects of our faith. It talks about the existence and oneness of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), prophethood, and resurrection and recompense.

The Surah is made up of a series of unique stories filled with guidance and lessons that are meant as reminders. One of the main themes of this Surah is mercy… It has been mentioned over 16 times in this Surah. We’ll find the words of grace, compassion and their synonyms frequently mentioned throughout the sūrah, together with Allah’s attributes of beneficence and mercy. We can say that one of the objectives of the Surah is to establish and affirm the attribute of mercy for Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). That’s why all of the stories mentioned also have to do with Allah’s mercy.

Another objective of the Surah is to remind us of our relationship with Allah ﷻ; the concept of Al-‘Ubūdiyyah. These are the two major themes or ideas of this Surah; the concept of Rahmah and the concept of ‘Ubūdiyyah (Mercy and Servitude).

The Surah can be divided into 8 sections:

1) Verses 1-15: The surah starts with the story of Zakariyya (as) and how he was given the gift of a child at a very old age, which was something strange and out of the ordinary.

2) Verses 16-40: mention the story of Maryam and the miraculous birth of Isa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) without a father and how her community responded to her.

3) Verses 41-50: The surah then briefly mentions one part of the story of Ibrahim 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him), specifically the conversation he had with his father regarding the worship of idols. The surah then briefly mentions a series of other Prophets.

4) Verses 51-58: Mention Musa and Haroon 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him), Ismail 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) and Idrees 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) to show that the essence of the message of all Prophets was the same

5) Verses 59-65: compare and contrast the previous generations with the current ones in terms of belief and actions.

6) Verses 66-72: Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) addresses the Mushrikoon rejecting their false claims regarding life after death and judgment.

7) Verses 73-87: continue to address the Mushrikoon and warn them regarding their attitude towards belief in Allah and His messengers. They also mention the great difference between the resurrection of the believer and the resurrection of the non-believer.

8) Verses 88-98: contain a severe warning to those who claim that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) has taken a child. They also express that Allah is pleased with the believers and mentions that one of the objectives of the Quran is to give glad tidings to the believers and to warn the non-believers.

Story

From various narrations, we learn that this surah was revealed near the end of the fourth year of Prophethood. This was an extremely difficult time for Muslims. The Quraysh were frustrated with their inability to stop the message of Islam from spreading so they became ruthless. They resorted to any method of torture that they could think of; beating, starving and harassing. When the persecution became so severe that it was difficult for the Muslims to bear it, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) gave permission to migrate to Abyssinia. “For in it dwells a king in whose presence no one is harmed.” 10 men and 4 women migrated in the 5th year of Prophethood secretly. After a few months, a larger group of 83 men and 18 women migrated as well. This migration added more fuel to the fire. It enraged the people of Quraysh.

Umm Salamah [rahna]narrated, “When we stopped to reside in the land of Abyssinia we lived alongside the best of neighbors An-Najashi. We practiced our religion safely, worshipped Allah without harm and didn’t hear anything we disliked. When news of our situation reached the Quraysh they started to plot against us…” They decided to send two delegates to persuade An-Najashi to send the Companions back by offering him and his ministers’ gifts. The plan was to go to each minister with gifts and turn them against the Muslims. So they went to each minister with gifts and said, “Verily, foolish youth from amongst us have come to the country of your king; they have abandoned the religion of their people and have not embraced your religion. Rather they have come with a new religion that neither of us knows. The noblemen of their people, from their fathers and uncles, have sent us to the king asking that he send them back. So when we speak to the king regarding their situation advise him to surrender them to us and to not speak to them…” The minister agreed.

Then they went to the king, offered him gifts and said the same thing… The ministers tried to convince him as well. An-Najashi became angry with them and said, “No, by Allah, I will not surrender them to these two and I don’t fear the plotting of a people who have become my neighbors, have settled down in my country, and have chosen me (to grant them refuge) over every other person. I will not do so until I summon them and speak to them. If they are as these two say I will give them up, but if they aren’t then I will protect them from these two and continue to be a good neighbor to them as long as they are good neighbors to me.”

al-Najāshī then summoned the Prophet’s ﷺ Companions. When his messenger informed the Prophet’s Companions that they were to appear before the king, they gathered together to discuss what they should do. One of them asked, “What will you say to the name (al-Najāshī) when you go to him?” They all agreed on what they would say to him, “By Allah, we will say what our Prophet ﷺ taught us and commanded us with, regardless of the consequences.” Meanwhile, al-Najāshī called for his priests, who gathered around him with their scrolls spread out before them. When the Muslims arrived al-Najāshī began by asking them, “What is this religion for which you have parted from your people? You have not entered into the fold of my religion, nor the religion of any person from these nations.”

Umm Salamah [rahna] narrated, “The Person among us who would speak to him was Jaʿfar ibn abī Ṭālib [rahnu] who then said, “O king, we were an ignorant people: we worshipped idols, we would eat from the flesh of dead animals, we would perform lewd acts, we would cut off family ties, and we would be bad neighbors; the strong among us would eat from the weak. We remained upon that state until Allah sent us a Messenger, whose lineage, truthfulness, trustworthiness, and chastity we already knew. He invited us to Allah – to believe in His oneness and to worship Him; to abandon all that we and our fathers worshipped besides Allah, in terms of stones and idols. He ﷺ commanded us to speak truthfully, to fulfill the trust, to join ties of family relations, to be good to our neighbors, and to refrain from forbidden deeds and from shedding blood. And he ﷺ forbade us from lewd acts, from uttering falsehood, from wrongfully eating the wealth of an orphan, from falsely accusing chaste women of wrongdoing. And he ﷺ ordered us to worship Allah alone and to not associate any partners with him in worship; and he ﷺ commanded us to pray, to give zakāh, and to fast.” He enumerated for al-Najāshī the teachings of Islam. He said, “And we believe him and have faith in him. We follow him in what he came with. And so we worship Allah alone, without associating any partners with Him in worship. We deem forbidden that which he has made forbidden for us, and we deem lawful that which he made permissible for us. Our people then transgressed against us and tortured us. The tried to force us to abandon our religion and to return from the worship of Allah to the worship of idols; they tried to make us deem lawful those abominable acts that we used to deem lawful. Then, when they subjugated us, wronged us, and treated us in an oppressive manner, standing between us and our religion, we came to your country, and we chose you over all other people. We desired to live alongside you, and we hoped that, with you, we would not be wronged, O king.” al-Najāshī said to Jaʿfar [rahnu], “Do you have any of that which he came with from Allah?” Jaʿfar [rahnu] said, “Yes”. “Then recite to me,” said al-Najāshī. Jaʿfar [rahnu] recited for him the beginning of Surah Maryam. By Allah, al-Najāshī began to cry, until his beard became wet with tears. And when his priests heard what Jaʿfar [rahnu] was reciting to them, they cried until their scrolls became wet. al-Najāshī then said, “By Allah, this and what Mūsa (as) came with come out of the same lantern. Then by Allah, I will never surrender them to you, and henceforward they will not be plotted against and tortured.”

Describing what happened after the aforementioned discussion between al-Najāshī and Jaʿfar [rahnu], Umm Salamah raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) said, “When both ʿAmr ibn al-ʿĀṣ and ʿAbdullah ibn abī Rabīʿah left the presence of al-Najāshī, ʿAmr [rahnu] said, “By Allah tomorrow I will present to him information about them with which I will pull up by the roots their very lives.” Abdullah ibn Rabīʿah who was more sympathetic of the two towards us said, “Don’t do so, for they have certain rights of family relations, even if they have opposed us.” ʿAmr said, “By Allah, I will inform him that they claim that ʿĪsā ibn Maryam is a slave.”

He went to the king on the following day and said, “O king, verily, they have strong words to say about ʿĪsa (as). Call them here and ask them what they say about him.” al-Najāshī sent for them in order to ask them about ʿĪsa. Nothing similar to this befell us before. The group of Muslims gathered together and said to one another, “What will you say about ʿĪsa when he asks you about him?” They said, “By Allah, we will say about him that which Allah says and that which our Prophet ﷺ came with, regardless of the outcome.” When they entered into his presence, he said to them, “What do you say about ʿĪsa ibn Maryam?” Jaʿfar raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) said, “We say about him that which our Prophet ﷺ came with – that he is the slave of Allah, His messenger, a spirit created by Him, and His word, which he bestowed on Maryam, the virgin, the baṭūl.”

al-Najāshī struck his hand on the ground and took from it a stick. He then said, “ʿĪsa ibn Maryam did not go beyond what you said even the distance of the stick.” When he said this, his ministers spoke out in anger, to which he responded, “What I said is true even if you speak out in anger, by Allah. (Turning to the Muslims, he said) Go, for you are safe in my land. Whoever curses you will be held responsible. And I would not love to have a reward of gold in return for me hurting a single man among you. (Speaking to his ministers he said) Return to these two (men) their gifts, since we have no need for them. For by Allah, Allah did not take from me bribe money when He returned to me my kingdom, so why should I take bribe money. The two left, defeated and humiliated; and returned to them were the things they came with. We then resided alongside al-Najāshī in a very good abode, with a very good neighbor.”

The response was simply amazing in its eloquence. A believer puts the needs of his soul before the needs of his body. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) starts the Surah by saying,

Verse 1: Kaf, Ha, Ya, ‘Ayn, Sad.

Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) starts Surah Maryam with a series of five letters. There are many different saying or explanations regarding these five letters. The most correct opinion is that these are from the broken letters. There are 29 different Surahs in the Quran that start with the broken letters. Only Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) alone knows the meanings of these letters. They are a secret from amongst the secrets of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), meaning that no one knows what they truly mean. Only Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) knows their meanings so they are from amongst the Mutashaabihat, those verses whose meanings are hidden.

However, we do find that some great Companions, as well as their students, sometimes gave meanings to these words. For example, it’s said that it is in acronym and each letter represents one of the names of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). Kaf is for Al-Kafi or Al-Kareem, “haa” is for Al-Hadi, “yaa” is from Hakeem or Raheem, “’ayn” is from Al-‘Aleem or Al-‘Adheem, and “saad” is from Al-Saadiq. Others said that it is one of the names of Allah and it’s actually Al-Ism Al-‘Atham or that it’s a name of the Quran. However, these narrations can’t be used as proof or to assign definitive meanings. They offer possibilities, but no one truly knows what they mean.

Now the question should come to our mind that why would Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) start of a Surah with words that no one understands?

1) To grab the attention of the listeners.

2) To remind us that no matter how much we know there’s always something that we don’t know.

3) These letters are the letters of the Arabic language and the Quran was revealed at a time that was the peak of eloquence of the language and it was their identity. The Quran was revealed challenging them spiritually and intellectually. The Arabs never heard these letters being used in such a majestic way.

4) To prove the inimitable nature of the Quran.

Allah then starts the story of Zakariyya 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him). Zakariyya 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) was one of the Prophets sent to Bani Israel. He was the husband of Maryam’s paternal aunt. He was also one of the caretakers or custodians of Baitul Maqdis.

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