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This Article Could be Zakat-Eligible

Who Accounts For This Pillar of Islam

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Co-written by Shaykh Osman Umarji

As writers on MuslimMatters, it came as a surprise when the website we write on marked itself zakat-eligible on its fundraiser for operations in Ramadan. This website has previously highlighted the misuse and abuse of zakat for vague and dodgy reasons, including instances of outright fraud by nonprofit corporations.  We have lamented the seemingly inexorable march from zakat being for living human beings in need to financial play-doh for nonprofit corporate boards.

Estimated global zakat is somewhere between $200 billion to $1 trillion.  Eliminating global poverty is estimated at $187 billion– not just for Muslims, but everyone.  There continue to be strong interests in favor of more putty-like zakat to benefit the interests of the organizations that are not focused on reducing poverty. Thus, in many ways, a sizeable chunk of zakat benefits the affluent rather than the needy. Zakat, rather than being a credit to the Muslim community, starts to look more like an indictment of it.

No, it’s not ikhtilaf

The recent article on this website, Dr. Usama Al-Azmi seemed somewhat oblivious to the cavalier way the nonprofit corporate sector in the United States treats Zakat.  The article did not do justice to legitimate concerns about zakat distribution by dismissing the issue as one of “ikhtilaf,” or a reasonable difference of opinion, as it ignored the broader concern about forces working hard to make zakat a “wild west” act of worship where just about anything goes.

It’s essential to identify the crux of the problem. Zakat has eight categories of permissible beneficiaries in the Quran. 1 Two are various levels of poor, distribution overhead; then there are those whose hearts are to be inclined,  free captives, relieve indebtedness, the wayfarer, and the cause of Allah (fisabilillah). The category of fisabilillah, historically,  the majority of scholars have interpreted as the cost of jihad (like actual fighting). However, in recent times, Muslim nonprofit corporations, with support of learned Muslim leaders, have adopted an increasingly aggressive and vague posture that allows nearly any beneficial cause to get zakat.

The concerns about the abuse of zakat, and the self-serving desire by corporations to turn fisabilillah into a wastebasket Zakat category that could be “incredibly broad” has to do with far more than a difference of opinion (ikhtilaf ) about the eligibility of Dawah organizations. Let’s assume dawah and educational organizations are eligible to administer Zakat funds.  We need to know what that means in practice. What we have is a fundamental question the fisabilillah-can-mean-virtually-anything faction never manages to answer: are there any limits to zakat usage at all?

Show Your Work

We fully understand that in our religious practice, there is a set of rules.  In Islamic Inheritance for example, for example, we cannot cavalierly change the definition of what a “daughter” is to mean any girl you want to treat like a daughter. There is an established set of rules relating to acts of worship. For the third pillar of Islam, zakat, there seem to be no limits to the absurd-sounding questions we can ask that now seem plausible.

Unfortunately, we have too many folks who invoke “ikhtilaf” to justify adopting almost any opinion and not enough people who are willing to explain their positions. We need a better understanding of zakat and draw the lines on when nonprofit corporations are going too far.

You can be conservative and stand for zakat as an act of worship that contributes to social justice. You can have a more expansive interpretation friendly to the nonprofit corporate sector’s needs to include the revenue source. Wherever you stand, if you don’t provide evidence and develop detailed uniform and accepted principles and rules that protect those people zakat was meant to help, you are inviting abuse and at the very least, opening the door towards inequitable results. 2

Can you feed the needy lentils and rice for $100 a meal, with margins of $99 a meal going to pay salaries to provide these meals and fundraise for them?  Why or why not?

Can a Dawah organization purchase an $80 million jet for its CEO, who can use it to travel the world to do “dawah,” including places like Davos or various ski resorts?  What rules exist that would prevent something like this? As far as we know, nothing at all.

Bubble Charity

In the United States, demographic sorting is a common issue that affects all charitable giving, not just giving by Muslims. The most affluent live in neighborhoods with other people who are generally as prosperous as they are. Certain places seem almost perversely designed to allow wealthy residents to be oblivious to the challenges of the poor.  There are undeniable reasons why what counts as “charity” for the wealthy means giving money to the Opera, the Met Gala, and Stanford University.

The only real way affluent Muslims know they supposed to care about poor people is that maybe they have a Shaikh giving khutbas talking about the need to do so and their obligation of zakat once a year or so. That is now becoming a thing of the past. Now it is just care about fisabilillah- it means whatever your tender heart wants it to mean.

As zakat becomes less about the poor, appeals will be for other projects with a higher amount of visibility to the affluent.  Nonprofits now collect Zakat for galas with celebrities. Not fundraising at the gala dinner mind you, but merely serving dinner and entertaining rich people. Educational institutions and Masajid that have dawah activities (besides, everything a Masjid does is fisabilillah) can be quite expensive. Getting talent to run and teach in these institutions is also costly. Since many of the people running these institutions are public figures and charismatic speakers with easy access and credibility with the affluent. It is far easier for them to get Zakat funds for their projects.

People who benefit from these projects because they send their children to these institutions or attend lectures themselves will naturally feel an affinity for these institutions that they won’t have with the poor. Zakat will stay in their bubble.  Fisabilillah.

Dawa is the new Jihad

Jihad, as in war carried out by a Khalifah and paid for with zakat funds, is an expensive enterprise. But no society is in a permanent state of warfare, so they can work towards eliminating poverty during peacetime. Muslim communities have done this in the past.  Dawah is qualitatively different from jihad as it is permanent. There was never a period in Islamic history when there was no need to do dawah. Many times in history, nobody was fighting jihad. There was no period of Islamic history when there were there was never a need for money to educate people. Of course, earlier Muslims used zakat in education in limited, defined circumstances. It is not clear why limitations no longer apply.

Indeed dawah is a broad category.  For example, many people regard the Turkish costume drama “Diriliş: Ertuğrul” as dawah.  Fans of the show can’t stop talking about the positive effects it has had on their lives and their iman. What prevents zakat from funding future expensive television costume dramas? Nothing, as far as we can see.

No Standards or Accountability

Unfortunately, in the United States, there are no uniform, specific standards governing zakat. Anything goes now when previously in Islamic history, there were appropriate standards. Nonprofit corporations themselves decide if they are zakat-eligible or not. In some instances, they provide objectively comical explanations, which supporters within the corporation’s bubble pretty much always swallow whole. Corporations don’t have to segregate Zakat-eligible funds from general funds. When they do, they can make up their own rules for how and when they spend zakat. No rules make zakat indistinguishable from any other funding source since they can change their standards year after year depending on their funding needs (if they have rules at all) and nobody would be the wiser. It is exceedingly rare for these corporations to issue detailed reports on how they use zakat.

The Shift to Meaninglessness

Organizations with platforms (like the one that runs this website) are going to be eager to get on the zakat gravy train. There is no cost to slapping a “zakat-eligible” label on yourself, either financial or social. It seems like everyone does it now. Some Zakat collectors are conscientious and care about helping the poor, though they are starting to look a little old-fashioned. For them, it may make sense to certify Zakat administrators like halal butchers.

Zakat used to be about helping discrete categories of human beings that can benefit from it.  It can now mean anything you want it to mean. In the end, though, without real standards, it may mean nothing at all.

Footnotes:

  1. The sunnah also highlights the essence of zakah as tending to the needs of the poor. For example, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) commanded Muadh bin Jabal, when sending him to Yemen, to teach the people that Allah has obligated charity upon them to be taken from their rich and given to their poor (Sahih Muslim).
  2. In Islamic legal theory (usool al-fiqh), sadd al-dhariya is a principle that refers to blocking the means to evil before it can materialize. It is invoked when a seemingly permissible action may lead to unethical behavior. This principle is often employed in financial matters.

Ahmed Shaikh is a Southern California Attorney. He writes about inheritance, nonprofits and other legal issues affecting Muslims in the United States. His Islamic Inheritance website is www.islamicinheritance.com

20 Comments

20 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Spirituality

    June 10, 2019 at 2:27 PM

    As Salamu Alaikum,

    Jazak Allahu Khayran for this very necessary article.

    Do you have any organizations that you recommend for zakat payment? What about Islamic Relief USA, Helping Hands for Relief and Development, Zakat Foundation of America?

    Many of these organizations have a mission of working with the poor, and also, allow one to designate their payment as ‘Zakat.’

    • Avatar

      Osman Umarji

      June 11, 2019 at 12:55 PM

      My advice is to seek to out an organization that gives 100% of zakat proceeds to the poor in your locality or greater region. Ask a respected scholar for specific recommendations in your area.

      • Avatar

        Spirituality

        June 11, 2019 at 2:20 PM

        Jazak Allahu Khayran for your response!

        Unfortunately, as you mention, ‘respected scholars’ do not seem to be trustworthy regarding this issue…

        If anyone knows of any respected institutions in the Baltimore/Washington area that gives 100% of the zakat proceeds to the poor, please let me know!

        • Avatar

          Ahmed Shaikh

          June 11, 2019 at 6:38 PM

          You are right. Even terms like “Scholars” in the US Muslim community are questionable and up for grabs. There is no uniform criteria for what is “respected” (and by whom). So it comes down to who you respect and why. Like Zakat organizations, there is no accrediting body for Shuyukh, Imams and such, no disciplinary process, no codes of conduct and no minimum level of qualifications. I point this out only because often we use scholars as a crutch, we go by endorsements of charismatics to substitute for our own judgment. It would be great if there were accredited Zakat distributors who followed uniform, strict audited standards.

          Some local communities have brothers and sisters that work hard though to distribute Zakat to the poor and needy. Shuyukh will not audit them, that is not what they do. Any endorsements they get are usually in the “he is a good brother” genre. I have seen Shuyukh endorse organizations, products, and services they know next to nothing about. You should do your own due diligence. You can of course also distribute Zakat yourself to the poor and needy that may be among your own family or friends, or of people that you know and trust to do this. You can also look to an organization with a master strategy on accomplishing something big with their Zakat distributions. There are large Muslim organizations that take their role as Zakat distributors seriously and want to do it with ehsan (though they do it using their own standards and not uniform standards, which don’t exist). You should make sure where you donate meets the criteria for the kind of impact you want. It would be too easy for me to say “donate to charity X.” I won’t do that. For your research, I would suggest looking at the following:

          1) Does the charity publish Zakat distribution policies?
          2) Does it claim everything it does is Zakat eligible? If so, stay away (though feel free to read and comment on their website (I’m looking at you, MuslimMatters).
          3) Does the charity have a policy on segregating Zakat funds?
          4) Does the charity have a policy of not using Zakat funds for overhead? This is not a deal killer, it may be part of having a sustainable operation and Allah expressly permits it in the Quran. But if there is an endowment that pays for overhead or if it is a small, well-run volunteer operation, bonus points.
          5) Are there independently-audited financial reports? If they do, read it or have it read by a trusted friend who likes reading these things.
          6) Read the organization’s 990, is something out of whack? Note Masajid almost never have 990s since they are not required to file them, but they should make their financials available if you are going to donate to them.
          7) Does the charity use Zakat funds only to benefit the poor and needy (that may include services)? Yes, there are other legitimate criteria, but so long as people are starving or have no access to water that won’t make them sick, c’mon.

          • Avatar

            Tariq al-Timimi

            June 12, 2019 at 6:41 AM

            Totally agree with you. It’s refreshing to see these issues being addressed frankly, and, with respect to your point about about “scholars” (whatever that means today–as you mention) endorsing causes and charities that they have no idea about, this displays a lack of ethical practice on their part: that endorsement is, in fact, a shahada – one that they will most certainly be asked about. It devalues the entire exercise.

          • Avatar

            Spirituality

            June 12, 2019 at 1:05 PM

            Jazak Allahu Khayran for your very comprehensive response and guidance. It will help my process of searching for an organization to give my zakat to, Insha Allah!

        • Avatar

          Ramy

          June 23, 2019 at 7:58 AM

          In response to the question about a local organization in the Bal-DMV area that gives strictly to the poor: see the Islamic American Zakat Foundation (IAZF) headed by Dr Imad ad-Dean Ahmad.
          https://www.iazf.org/

          IAZF sticks to the 8 categories of zakat, and can diligently provide it’s records if asked.

      • Avatar

        Imran

        June 17, 2019 at 3:03 PM

        Just an issue I’ve been grappling with re the “locality” clause. I am conflicted between giving zakat that will literally save the lives of poor Muslims in Africa or Yemen or Myanmar via digging wells, food staples, medical aid, etc. on the one hand, and say, cancelling some student debt for a local student in Laguna Beach, CA who has decided to obtain their Masters or PhD in Gender Studies or Psychology at USC for $75,000 a year on the other.
        In considering local preference, is there or shouldn’t there be some antecendent presumption that absolute living standards for those in “poverty” be roughly equal?

        • Avatar

          Osman Umarji

          June 17, 2019 at 11:28 PM

          There are numerous considerations regarding local vs global zakat giving that will inshaAllah be the subject of a future article. However, I will say that student loan debt, especially for graduate school, absolutely does not qualify for zakat. The category of people in debt is not a free for all who take loans for non-essential things like higher education, mortgages, cars, etc.

          In short, give your zakat to a local organization you trust. If you really want to give globally, give some of your zakat to a global cause through an organization that gives 100% of the proceeds to the needy.

          • Avatar

            Imran

            June 18, 2019 at 11:46 AM

            JazakAllah khair Sh. Osman, looking forward to the article. It is timely because literally last week at Jumah the khateeb advocated cancelling college student debt with Zakat instead of sending it abroad. It would be interesting to address what “local” means in our modern technology-driven times versus in the Prophet’s (saws) time.

  2. Avatar

    Abdallah Jadallah

    June 10, 2019 at 9:56 PM

    Great article!! This has been on my mind for a long time.

  3. Avatar

    Tariq al-Timimi

    June 11, 2019 at 5:46 AM

    I never comment, but here I must: thank you for this piece, that tackles several of the frustrations I have recently had with this very hazy, loose take on zakah.

    The only thing I would highlight though is that, in terms of da’wah and jihad, many jurists (eminent Hanafi ones in particular) recognised their relationships as congruent: that is to say, jihad is da’wah by other means (to take a leaf out of Von Clausewitz), and vice versa.

    • Avatar

      Ahmed Shaikh

      June 11, 2019 at 5:54 PM

      Jazakallahu Khair. What do you think about using Zakat funds to pay for a TV series about the Sahabah? Say it is intended for dawa?

      • Avatar

        Tariq al-Timimi

        June 12, 2019 at 11:04 AM

        Thank you for your question and engagement. The question is difficult to answer, and before I do, I’d like to provide some pointers:

        – zakah is a ‘ibada and a pillar; it has vertical-horizontal dimensions (that is to say it is a haqq towards Allah, and towards the people – all people that is, including non-Muslims); it is reasonable for the most part (viz. we can understand its aims and purposes); and Allah has set out fairly explicitly the categories whom are eligible (which is contra the Qur’anic norm – an important point here in fact, but it’s one too long to go into here at length).

        The question then becomes: what exactly is the purpose of this TV series about the Sahabah? And – crucially – under which of the eight categories may it be subsumed? They’ll argue that it falls under fi sabil illah (small letters to distinguish it from Fi Sabil Illah – a little more on that in a moment).

        This would bring us back full-circle to asking: what is the ambit (the ‘bandwidth’) of this category. Here there are three positions essentially:

        [1] the historical, classical meaning, that itrefers to qital (definitely the stronger case, IMO – for numerous reasons that would take too long to go into);

        [2] a minority modern take, the linguistic meaning: anything done for Allah’s sake), but this is sorely lacking for many reasons – again going into it would warrant a lengthy essay, but I will raise two important points here:

        i) even those who adopt this expansive definition, they will limit its scope (anyone reading their works on this will pick up on it immediately): they explicitly state that the purpose of fi sabil illah is to establish God’s rule on earth or that which upkeeps the existence of the religion and the masses (which is what Rashid Rida says, although it went without mention!), or to ‘revive an Islamic life in all spheres’. I’ll leave it to your mind to determine how this can be seen as violating all sorts of terrorism legislation in the West (something that, alarmingly, many charities and ‘scholars’ seem oblivious too when discussing this issue).

        ii) That even if one were to accept that fi sabil illah can be used for anything that is in the wide interests of the people, we have to seriously contend with what a widespread interest here is (maslaha ‘amma) – and, furthermore, and I always recall here something al-‘Uthaymin said regarding this: that even if one were convinced that it may be used for all purposes that serve the din, I would still refuse to give a fatwa in accordance with this (because of the huge possibilities for abuse – something you alluded to in your piece and comments).

        [3] Finally we have the centrist position (which takes some slight semantical gymnastics, but we don’t need to get into that), which is to say that it IS indeed for jihad – but jihad is not qital. Here they argue that since jihad is a means, and not an end in itself, we need to ask: for what purpose was jihad legislated (they will say: to defend the din, to spread the din, and to protect life and wealth). On that basis they say that whatever fulfils those functions may be subsumed fsa. (They have other arguments too, by no means at all is this comprehensive).There are many holes in this case, however, not least is the question of indeterminacy: who is to say that this fulfils or doesn’t fulfil the purpose of fsa? Again, I raise the point I did above about the implication here with issues to do with counter-terrorism legislation. If your intention (explicit or inferred) is that it is fi sabil illah – and you accept, as they often unwittingly do, that fsa = jihad in it’s broadest remit – then you are, essentially fundraising for terrorism (even if all you’ve done is collect money for a school or orphans).

        If we go back to our point earlier however regarding zakah: if it is ma’qul al-ma’na (reasonable), then what if someone were to argue that taxes paid to our governments are tantamount to zakah (and fulfil the purposes of zakah, not all of which have to be ‘activated’ at all times)? The concern I have here really is that this very important point seems to go totally unaddressed, even though, it was entertained and discussed in the classical sources and in more recent times.

        They will say: no, it is a ‘ibada and therefore requires a specific intention. We say, let’s accept this (there is a different take as to the type of intention required, one that is more consistent with the aforementioned point): fine, give that money with the intention of zakah (in fact, my understanding is that some mechanisms of this sort are already in place in some countries) – again this opinion is there in the sources.

        They will say: but zakah is for a particular categories and purposes! We say: but you’ve already widened those to encompass pretty much anything!

        Going back to your question then, what we require – casting aside all the points of concern I raise above (and I have many others too) – are a set of constraints and limitations (if we go with fsa centrist position). Since we have no authority to tell us (or do we? Fiqh Councils? The law of the land?): this is valid and this is an invalid cause, we are left, for our own purposes with having to devise a set of parameters enshrined in the texts. Some of these may be:

        1) (The question of alternatives):

        Do we have other good, successful series on the sahabah? Yes.

        2) (The question of needs):

        Is there a need for another one? IMO: No.

        3) (The question of proportionality):

        Is this an issue that is core/central and must be addressed? IMO: No. Even if one has disparaging opinions regarding the companions, there are still more fundamental concerns and issues to deal with. Besides, one really must ask themselves to what extent raising issues about the disputes among the companions, the battles and whatever else could serve the da’wah and religion in the current climate.

        4) (The question of public interest)

        Is this an issue effecting the masses of people, or even the masses of Muslims? Is it a harmful phenomenon for humankind? IMO: No, not at all. Most people aren’t occupied with these issues at all, I’d argue.

        Therefore in order to determine (without an authority) whether something falls within the rubric of fsa: is it needed? ii) proportionate. iii) public interest. iv) alternatives.

        Perhaps a final point worth noting/repeating: most of the fatawa and opinions permitting zakah for the purposes of the expansive fsa, appear to invariably mention the existence of legitimate authorities/a recognised collective of Muslims (a jama’ah, most often one engaged in FSA proper). There’s a huge elephant in the room, therefore, and one that I never see raised, as to what extent these charities are entitled to collect and administer zakah in the first place. In fact, upon surveying an anthology of such opinions regarding expansive fsa, one would quickly come to realise that they generally mention them in the context of ‘widespread public interests of the Muslims’ or in the context of a fatwa given to a government – in other words, not charities, and not for all these spurious causes, with all due respect to the intentions of those behind them.

        Anyway, these are really little more than a few of the issues that have been on my mind lately, and I am very tempted to raise a bundle of others, but this is way too long as it is. Bottom line my respected brother Ahmed is: if I were asked, my answer would be a firm no, but they’re welcome to other sources of revenue (again with a string of conditions attached). Wallahu a’lam.

  4. Avatar

    DI

    June 11, 2019 at 10:55 AM

    THANK YOU!

    Yet another example of Frankenstein Islam of the West that is totally out of touch with Islam of the ummah. Our community is better at creating thieves and greed than it is genuine concern for the fuqara. Islam is becoming much like affluent Christianity and affluent Judaism in the West.

    Our ulema are to blame too for creating the ‘its okay to be rich’ attitude and encouraging a prosperity gospel Islam. Endless fundraising without accountability has become a sect in itself.

    di.

  5. Avatar

    Ahmad

    June 12, 2019 at 12:27 PM

    Mashallah excellent article. There is an organisation in the UK which campaigns for local distribution and as of last year has started to donate funds to community and leadership development type funds.
    From the looks of it a lot charities do not adequately differentiate between zakat and sadaqah, and those that do sometimes take lax opinions.
    This is in particular to fee sabeel illah and paying people from zakat money.

    I have no problem with a charity saying ‘ to administrate your donation of £x we will place a charge of y%’ and that y% to be spent as sadaqah.

    For those in the uk i contacted UWT and was satisfied with their criteria of transferring wealth to the poor (please can brothers/sisters verify this statement is accurate at the time of donating)

    • Avatar

      Spirituality

      June 12, 2019 at 1:03 PM

      “I have no problem with a charity saying ‘ to administrate your donation of £x we will place a charge of y%’ and that y% to be spent as sadaqah.”

      As Salamu Alaikum, I completely agree. This seems to be a win-win situation…

  6. Avatar

    Imran

    June 17, 2019 at 2:49 PM

    Shukran for an essential article. Agree with you 100%.

  7. Avatar

    muslims life

    July 12, 2019 at 5:43 AM

    My advice is to seek to out an organization that gives 100% of zakat proceeds to the poor in your locality or greater region. Ask a respected scholar for specific recommendations in your area.

  8. Avatar

    Donate Your Zakat

    July 23, 2019 at 6:41 AM

    Mashallah amazing article. There is an association in the UK which battles for nearby conveyance and starting a year ago has begun to give assets to network and initiative improvement type reserves.

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#Life

So You Are The Wali, Now What?

Dr Shadee Elmasry

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

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

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

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

Here are some questions and demands a wali should make:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s preventative medicine.

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#Islam

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

Dr Usaama al-Azami

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Sepoy rebellion, Shaykh Hamza

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

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

Opposing all government vs opposing a government

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

A complex tradition

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

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

What does the tradition actually say?

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

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

Al-Ghazzali on confronting tyrants

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

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

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

Modern discontinuities and their high stakes

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

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

Shaykh Hamza on the nature of government

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

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

Where do we go from here?

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

And Allah knows best.

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Can Women Attend The Burial Of The Deceased?

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

Dr Usaama al-Azami

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Quran at graveyard, woman attend burial

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

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

Key positions and evidence

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

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

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

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

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

Interpreting the evidence

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

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

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

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

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

The fiqh of modernity

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

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

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

And God knows best.

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