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OpEd: Why We Must Reconsider Moonsighting

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Ed. Note: We understand that this is a matter of debate in many communities, MM welcomes op-eds of differing points of view. Please use this form.

When the Crescent Committee was founded in 2013, the Muslim community of Toronto was hopeful that this new initiative might resolve the long-standing problem of mosques declaring Eid on different days. This moonsighting organization was to follow global moonsighting as a methodology – if the crescent were to be sighted anywhere in the world, they would declare Eid. Global moonsighting was seen as a potential way of solving the yearly moonsighting debate which local sighting had been unable to solve thus far. It was hoped that this approach would also ensure congruence with Fiqh Council of North America’s (FCNA) lunar calendar which determines the Eid day in advance based on astronomical calculations.

This year, however, all those hopes were put to the test. Early afternoon on June 3rd, the 29th of Ramadan, the Crescent Committee (CC) started receiving reports that the moon was sighted in Saudi Arabia. Given that it was not possible for it to be seen there based on visibility charts, the committee required corroboration from another country in order to declare Eid. As the day progressed, they got reports from Iraq, Nigeria, Brazil, Mali and even from Maryland in the US. All those reports could not be relied upon because either the committee was unable to get in touch with their contacts in those countries or because the reports did not satisfy the criterion they laid out.

As they were sifting through the reports, the CC was shocked to learn that one of its founding members, the Islamic Foundation of Toronto (IFT), had already declared Eid! IFT is one of Toronto’s oldest and biggest mosques and their leadership decided to declare Eid based on the announcement from Mauritania. Mosques following FCNA’s calendar were already celebrating Eid the next day, so IFT thought it best to join with them with hopes of preserving unity.

With one of its own members having declared Eid and mounting pressure from the community given it was past 10 pm, the CC decided to wait to receive the final (hopefully positive) reports from California. This meant having to wait till sunset on the West Coast which would mean midnight on the East Coast. Unfortunately, even from California, there were no confirmed reports. Finally, at midnight, the Committee declared that they would complete 30 days of Ramadan and celebrate Eid on the 5th of June.

Alas, after spending a frustrating day waiting for an announcement till midnight, Toronto Muslims were told that this was going to be another year with two Eids in the city. This year, however, the split was not between proponents of astronomical calculations and moonsighting, but been proponents of the exact same moonsighting methodology!

Solving a 50-year old problem

This year’s debacle in Toronto represents nothing new; Chicago too waited till midnight this year to hear an announcement. There have been numerous failed attempts to unite the moonsighting community. In 1995, the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and the Ministry of Warith Deen Muhammad joined hands to form the ‘Islamic Shura Council of North America’ with hopes of having a unified Eid declaration. Just like the Crescent Committee, this too was eventually disbanded due to dissenting voices. Other examples to unite and better organize moonsighting include the 2007 National Moonsighting Conference in California and the 2009 National Hilal Sighting Conference in New York. These attempts simply haven’t worked because there are far too many independent mosques and far too many moonsighting methodologies – uniting everyone in the absence of a governing authority is nearly impossible.

The story also highlights the three main problems that proponents of moonsighting have struggled to solve for nearly half a century in North America and other parts of the Western world. These can be summarized as follows:

1) Mosques declaring Eid on different days based on differing moonsighting methodologies. This has created notorious divisions within the community and has led to the awkward situation of families, often living in the same city, not being able to celebrate together. It can also lead to endless argumentation within families as to which mosque to follow with regards to this issue.

2) The unpredictability of the Eid date means that Muslims continue to have difficulty taking time off from work and planning family vacations. This problem is particularly challenging for the hourly-waged working-class individuals who work in organizations with little flexibility. The process of having to explain to an employer the complications surrounding Eid declarations can be a source of unnecessary hardship for many. It is not uncommon for many to take off a day which ends up being the ‘wrong day’.

3) Delayed announcements, especially during the summer months, due to process of receiving and verifying reports after sunset. Not knowing whether or not the next day will be a holiday, often until the late evening, has been a continued source of distress for families every year.

It was the desire the solve these very problems that brought together a group of visionary Muslim jurists and astronomers in Herndon, Virginia in 1987. Organized by the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), the Lunar Calendar Conference was one of the first attempts to find an innovative solution to the problems posed by traditional moonsighting. A detailed history of the events leading up to the conference and its aftermath have been documented before. In short, Muslim scholars and mathematicians continued work on the astronomical lunar calendar for nearly two decades after the conference and it was finally adopted by FCNA and ISNA in 2006.

A valid methodology from the Shariah

While opposition to FCNA’s lunar calendar was quite strong when it was first introduced, there has been growing acceptance of astronomical calculations over the past 15 years as a result of continued research and education on this subject.

The use of calculations to determine the dates of Ramadan is something which numerous reputable scholars have allowed throughout Islam’s history [1]. While this has always been the view of a small minority, championed mainly by scholars in the Shafa’i legal school, it is still based on a sound interpretation of religious texts. The difference of opinion on this issue arises from hadith of the Prophet where he stated,  “If [the crescent moon] is obscured from you, then estimate it” (فإن غم عليكم فاقدروا له ). A detailed exposition in support of calculations from a classical perspective was recently presented by Shaykh Salahuddin Barkat.

Shaykh Musa Furber, one of America’s leading Shafa’i jurists, also comments on the towering figures from our tradition who supported calculations: “Since the time of Imām al-Nawawī, there has been an evident trend within the Shāfiʿī school of law for acceptance for the personal use of calculations for fasting. While a small number of earlier Shāfiʿī scholars did accept it, it seems to have been confined to a small minority within the school. It was not until the time of Imam al-Nawawī (may Allah grant him His mercy) that the opinion amongst scholars of the school started to shift towards accepting calculations as valid and even binding — even if limited to the calculator and whoever believed him. Although al-Subkī (may Allah grant him His mercy) is usually accredited with causing this shift, some scholars credit Imam al-Nawawī’s himself with starting this trend. The opinion was accepted by both Shaykh al-Islām Zakariyā al-Anṣārī and Imām al-Ramlī, though not by Imam Ibn Ḥajar (may Allah grant all of them from His mercy). These imams form the basis for reliable opinions in the late Shāfiʿī madhhab.”

Understandably, this opinion was considered weak and ignored through much of Islamic history. Some limited its scope and allowed it only when the moon was obstructed or for use by experts in astronomy. There really is no need for calculations in Muslim lands where there exists a centralized authority to sight the crescent and there are public holidays for the entire populace. However, in secular countries with Muslim minorities, this position must be revisited as it offers a very practical solution to the crises we find ourselves in.

Only one way forward

According to a 2011 survey of over 600 mosques in the US, the adoption rate of FCNA’s calendar stood at 40%. At the writing of this article nearly 8 years later, this number has likely increased to over 50%. The survey indicated that about 40% of the mosques followed local sighting while the remainder followed global sighting. Given the recent shift towards global moonsighting, it is likely that the moonsighting community is evenly split between the two positions at this time.

These statistics represent the only logical way forward to solve this decades-old problem: the most efficient way of achieving unity is by converging behind FCNA’s lunar calendar. This methodology is the only real solution to the crises we currently find ourselves in. Not only does it address all our needs, but this approach has also shown to provide immense ease and facilitation for Muslim communities that have followed it in the past 15 years.

The moonsighting leadership has failed to unite despite a half-century of effort; it is inconceivable at this point that this would ever happen. Even if it did miraculously happen, 50% of the community would still be following FCNA’s calendar and all three of our main problems will remain unaddressed. Additionally, with the current trend of uniting behind the approach of global sighting, ‘moonsighting’ has largely become an administrative exercise. It involves the hilal committee simply waiting for reports from abroad and trying to ascertain their veracity. Only a handful of communities go out looking for the moon and establish the sunnah of moon sighting in a bonafide sense.

In large communities where differing Eid dates is a reoccurring problem, advocating for the adoption of the lunar calendar must come from the grass-roots level. Muslims most affected by this problem should lobby their local mosques to change their positions and unite behind FCNA’s lunar calendar.

While it may seem impossible to get the leadership of mosques to abandon an old position, it has already been done. In 2015, nine major mosques in the Chicago area set aside their differences and put their support behind the lunar calendar. This is an incredible feat and has created ease in the lives of thousands of people. If similar initiatives are taken in other cities split along lines of lunar dogmatism, it is conceivable that the moonsighting issue could be resolved in North America within the next five to ten years.

The Prophet told us to calculate the moon if it is obscured by clouds. Today, the moon is not obscured by physical clouds but it is clouded by poor judgment, distrust, egotism, disunity, and pride. We must resort to calculations to determine the birth of the new moon, not because it is the strongest legal position or a superior approach, but because our status as minorities in a secular land necessitates it.

References:

[1]  From SeekersGuidance: Scholars upholding this can be traced all the way back to the first Islamic century. The textual basis for this opinion is the hadith narrated by al-Bukhari, “When you see it [the new moon of Ramadan] then fast; and when you see it [the new moon of Shawwal], then break the fast. If it is hidden from you (ghumma ‘alaykum) [i.e. if the sky is overcast] then estimate it (fa-qdiru lahu);” (al-Bukhari, hadith no. 1900). The last verb, fa-qdiru, can be validly understood to mean calculation. Of the scholars who held this, are Abu al-‘Abbas b. Surayj (d. 306/918), one of the leading founders of the classical Shafi‘i school, the Shafi‘i scholar and renowned mystic Abu al-Qasim al-Qushayri (d. 465/1072), the leading Shafi‘i judge Taqi al-Din al-Subki (d. 756/1355), the Shafi‘i legal theorist al-Zarkashi (d. 794/1392), the renowned Maliki legal theorist al-Qarafi (d. 684/1285), and some Hanafi scholars. The late Shafi‘i commentator al-Qalyubi (d. 1069/1659) held that all sighting-claims must be rejected if calculations show that a sighting was impossible, stating, “This is manifestly obvious. In such a case, a person may not fast. Opposing this is obstinacy and stubbornness.” See al-Mawsu‘ah al-fiqhiyyah al-kuwaytiyyah, c.v. “Ru’yat al-hilal,” vol. 22, pp. 31-4. The leading scholar of the late Shāfi‘ī school Muhammad al-Ramli (d. 1004/1596) held that the expert astronomer was obliged to follow his own calculation as was the non-astronomer who believed him; this position has been used by some contemporary Shafi’i scholars to state that in the modern world, with its precise calculations, the strongest opinion of the Shafi’i school should be that everyone must follow calculations; see ‘Umar b. al-Habib al-Husayni, Fath al-‘ali fi jam‘ al-khilaf bayna Ibn Hajar wa-Ibn al-Ramli, ed. Shifa’ Hitu (Jeddah: Dar al-Minhaj, 2010), pp. 819-22. See also the fatwa of the Hanafi scholar Dr Salah Abu al-Hajj (http://www.anwarcenter.com/fatwa/معنى-حديث-لا-تصوموا-حتى-تروا-الهلال-ول) last accessed 9/5/2016) which states, after arguing against relying on calculations, “However, the position of [following] calculations is the position of a considerable group of jurists, so it is a respected disagreement in Islamic law, whereby, if a state were to adopt it, it is not rejected, because the judgment of a judge removes disagreement, and the adoption of a state is [as] the judgment of a judge.

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Waleed Ahmed writes on current affairs and politics for MuslimMatters. He focuses on Muslim minorities, human rights and the Middle-Eastern conflict. Based out of Montreal, he's currently pursuing a Ph.D. at McGill University in fundamental physics. Waleed also has a keen interest in studying Arabic and French. He spends his spare time reading, playing basketball and praying for Jon Stewart to run in the next presidential election.

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Avatar

    wings.io

    August 21, 2019 at 4:13 AM

    This is a great thing, I think everyone feels this information is very valuable, thank you

  2. Avatar

    Gibran Mahmud

    August 31, 2019 at 10:42 PM

    I agree but more importantly there needs to be a robust sort of explanation fiqh wise to assuage the natural fears of scrupulous laymen who are naturally wary of it. I had calculations explained to me fiqh wise and that helped.

    • Avatar

      Blyton

      December 15, 2019 at 2:18 PM

      “The Prophet told us to calculate the moon if it is obscured by clouds.”

      He did not. He said complete the month to 30.

      Global moonsighting has shaky ground to stand on, but calculation is totally invalid. The ummah is not going to unit on misguidance, so let each community do their own thing, what’s the big deal.

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#Life

Living During a Pandemic, Plan for Death in Your Lifetime

Plan for death, Islamic will
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Panic over the global public health steamroller COVID-19 has many of us in the Muslim community thinking about the future: specifically a future without you, the reader, in this world, amongst the living.

There are many articles about how you should not touch your face or how to make bootleg hand sanitizer with vodka to avoid death for the time being. This article will do none of those things. Let’s just assume that no matter your big-box shopping habits or travel plans, you are going to die eventually. Panic is a reflection of our sense of mortality and the care we have for our loved ones and communities.

When you die, you leave behind people, possessions, and often real estate and businesses. You have responsibilities to deal with when you are no longer here, to your family, your customers, lenders, employees, and others. Of course, you can’t deal with these responsibilities yourself, since you will be dead. The purpose of this article is to help you sort out how your responsibilities will be carried out.

Inheritance in Islam

Everything in the heavens and the earth and all that it contains belongs to Allah. Everything you have that you cannot take with you has been entrusted to you while you are here. Though this is rarely the topic of khutbahs on Jummah (back when we used to do that kind of thing) Islamic Inheritance is fard on all Muslims who have stuff they won’t take with them. Your property is not your own.

Everything in the heavens and the earth and all that it contains belongs to Allah. Everything you have that you cannot take with you has been entrusted to you while you are here.Click To Tweet

Allah has ordained inheritance in the Quran. That means inheritance is not distributed based on your sense of vanity and what you think is better but based on the command of Allah.  This is different from the way we usually do things in the United States. Doing inheritance right is obeying Allah. It is an essential act of worship most American Muslims seem to ignore, to the extent we are familiar with it at all. Inheritance is a bigger deal than most Muslims seem to realize. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) in the Quran prescribes hellfire for those who disobey Allah’s command. If you go without obeying Allah’s command on inheritance, that is your parting shot, a legacy of injustice and disobedience to Allah.

Doing inheritance right is obeying Allah.Click To Tweet

There are a great many Muslims I have come across over the years who are offended by Islamic Inheritance; just the notion makes them sick. I don’t know what to do for them.

Islamic Inheritance is fundamental to our society and for maintaining peace in our families and communities. It is a bulwark against intra-family oppression and conflicts, protects orphans while uniformly apportioning rights. It is a remarkable system that benefits humanity. You can read this comprehensive guide on Islamic Inheritance if you want further exposure to the subject. Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) is reported to have said: “learn fara’id (Islamic rules of inheritance) and teach it to the people.”

So if you gain anything from your current bout social isolation, learn about Islamic Inheritance.

Wasiyyah

Many people translate “wasiyyah” to “last will.”  This is fundamentally wrong, at least when it comes to the American understanding of what the last will is.  While both are written instructions, the last will and wasiyyah have unique limitations that have no relationship with each other.

You can give up to 1/3 of your estate for beneficial purposes. You could give to charity or those who do not already inherit from you. It is common for beneficiaries of the wasiyyah are poor relatives overseas or grandchildren not entitled to inheritance.  You should read this guide for how the wasiyyah works.

If you go without obeying Allah's command on inheritance, that is your parting shot, a legacy of injustice and disobedience to Allah.Click To Tweet

Guardianship for minor children

For those with minor children, guardianship is often an urgent yet often ignored concern. You should have a solid understanding of what could happen in the event your children become orphans, and there is no living parent. Will they go to child services? Would grandparents fight over them? Might that weird uncle will attempt to get custody and try to convert them to atheism? Do you have family overseas, but they cannot travel to the United States because of a global pandemic?

Of course, you don’t know what will happen. All planning is about creating a rule book for an indeterminate time in the future where you have no idea about the circumstances of the people you will leave behind. You can read an article at MuslimMatters from a few years ago called “how to raise your children when you’re dead.”  I have also prepared a more comprehensive guardianship guide for Muslims.

Guardianship is either addressed through a last will or separate writing in states that allow this. You do not name guardians in a living trust.

Incapacity Planning

This part is not technically planning for death, but it is commonly included in estate planning.  Many people end up living longer lives but are dependent on others. There is a process in every state for the government to take away a person’s liberty, not for a crime they committed, but to protect them from exploitation and financial elder abuse, leading to poverty. Scammers, both online and offline, tend to target people who fit a particular profile.

This legal protective process is called “conservatorship,” and it is costly, and the hearings and documents are public. Part of estate planning is to protect the dignity and privacy of people while their families make decisions.

It is common for people who do their estate planning to have both a living trust and power of attorney. Incapacity provisions in a living trust only cover assets that are registered the living trust. Certain kinds of property, like IRAs, are not owned by a living trust.

Healthcare Directives

States generally have their forms for making healthcare decisions. These are recognized by hospital staff for those times when a patent cannot give them consent to do things. You need to name someone you trust that can make decisions for you.

Healthcare Directives ask questions beyond naming proxies. For example, they will ask about your preference when if you have an incurable illness, in a coma, and doctors are saying you have no reasonable chance of getting out.

These directives may also ask about your organ donor preference. Do you want to be a donor at all? Are you ok donating for organ transplants? Would you mind if medical students dissected your body and posted the pictures on Instagram? Such minutiae won’t necessarily be in these forms, but that’s what they could mean, depending on the permission you give.

Healthcare decisions can be an extraordinarily complex area, with much written about the subject. Your planning documents cannot account for future medical conditions. Whatever you write, other than who has decision-making authority is going to be necessarily vague. Reading these things may leave you wondering about things like what is an “incurable illness”? What is “a reasonable period of time”?

Focus on the concrete, who you trust to make these decisions, rather than potential hypothetical scenarios around your medical care.

These are situations where loved ones face painful choices. You can make it clear who makes decisions; however, no document makes medical treatment issues less difficult for loved ones.

Will or a Trust?

A question for many is, what do you do, living trust or a will? What that question means is should the main provisions of an Estate Plan, which is the overall plan for organizing your affairs, be in a trust or a will, which are both different kinds of documents. When you have a living trust, you almost always have a last will as well. Those who have last will- based plans could have several trusts inside them.

Wills, trusts, powers of attorney and everything else you do in service of organizing your affairs are pieces of paper.  The specific documents you create are ways of fulfilling your goals, they are not the goal by themselves. A trust is a form of a contract with usually no judicial supervision. A last will is similar, but there are instructions for a judicially supervised process called “probate.” The main difference between a will or a trust is a judge’s oversight.

For most everyone with property, we will typically recommend a trust-based estate plan that includes several documents. Like any contract, what a trust says and does can vary widely. To learn more about trusts, especially Islamic Living Trusts, read this article.

A lawyer or no lawyer

Lawyers are expensive. Most people would rather not spend thousands of dollars on something if they could avoid it. Lawyers just produce pieces of paper, right? Why not just do it yourself? Just go to a website that fills out blank spaces in a template and pay far less than a lawyer?

As an Islamic Estate Planning Lawyer myself, I will attempt to avoid saying anything that sounds self-interested. My advice to anyone who asks is that while inheritance is fard in Islam, nothing you do is worth it unless you have peace of mind from doing it. You may be the person that strives to pray, read the Quran, and give in charity and deal with your family with excellence because that is what gives you peace of mind. Do any of these things in a way that makes you uneasy, well, you don’t have peace of mind.

If going to a form filling website or writing a will by hand gives you peace of mind, do that. If getting advice from an experienced attorney gives you peace of mind, then do that.

Merely going to a lawyer, even an especially experienced one, should not give you peace of mind by itself. The lawyer needs your active engagement in the process to make sure you are doing right by everyone. Educate yourself about Islamic Estate Planning to make sure that elements specific to your family and business are the way you want. Estate Planning is one of the most important things you will be doing for your family, and you should attend to it with the seriousness it deserves.

You hire a lawyer because of his or her knowledge of the law, Islamic rules, and experience in developing solutions. You should never hire a lawyer in any situation to act as your substitute brain.

Selecting a lawyer

Estate Planning is a field most lawyers know little about. Many state bars will certify “specialists” in the field.  \However, it is possible for you to find an attorney well-versed in the area but not a board-certified specialist.

Your planning involves contractual, state, and federal law elements. Ideally, you will have a lawyer in your state who is a Muslim and knowledgeable about both estate planning and Islamic rules. Unfortunately, this is not always possible.

Arizona Attorney Yaser Ali and I (California and Texas licensed) wrote a “Practice Guide” for lawyers called “Estate Planning for the Muslim Client” (2019, American Bar Association). The idea behind this project was to give lawyers, regardless of creed or state of residence, an understanding of Islamic Inheritance and how Islamic rules figure into various established estate planning strategies for Muslim clients.

The book also provides templates and examples. We intended the book to be useful for such lawyers to help their Muslim clients plan. Of course, it is common for lawyers also to get help or co-counsel across jurisdictions. The lack of a lawyer with expertise on Islamic Inheritance rules in your local area should not be an excuse.

For people with few assets

The biggest problem with hiring lawyers is that they usually charge for their services. Many Muslims with relatively modest assets might not think it’s worth it.  However, a woman with a few thousand dollars in assets may want to do something, like name guardians for minor children, name an executor and provide instructions on how to divide her modest estate without giving most of it to a lawyer. In such instances, a “do it yourself” approach may make sense, or at least it’s better than doing nothing.

Islamic will templates are freely available all over the internet, with varying levels of usefulness and value. Attorney Yaser Ali has created a template and form filling website where anyone can create a last will and calculate inheritance and a state-specific will for free. If you cannot afford a lawyer, you should take a look at this resource. It does not replace a lawyer, however.

Burial Instructions 

One place the Muslim community excels at is burial. Most everywhere in the United States, there are volunteers and paid staff who quickly and efficiently deal with the entire process of ghusal, janazah prayer, and burial. We can often measure the time between death and burial in hours, not days. Sometimes there are reasons for a delay, however. In this kind of environment, people don’t look around for instruction documents, other than proof of ownership of a burial plot.

My advice on burial instructions, at least in the local area that I live, for most Muslim families is not to worry too much. Your family and friends will know what to do and don’t need your help in the matter. Sometimes, people want to include detailed instructions; things like women should not cry loudly. Don’t overthink these things.

There are solid reasons for detailed burial instructions, though. One that comes up regularly is for Muslims who do not have Muslim families. For such individuals, merely having burial instructions is not enough. Such a person should name a Muslim friend, or perhaps more than one, in health care documents. People from the Muslim community need to know when a Muslim is sick in the hospital and, of course, when he or she has died.

There is far more to preparing for death, but a whole lot of that involves life itself.

For more on that, attend Jummah khutba when they start offering it again, InshaAllah.

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#Islam

Closed Door Friday Khutbah From The Prophet’s Masjid ﷺ | Arabic

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The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Support Our Dawah for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

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Prophetic Guidance on Epidemic Disease: Coronavirus 2020

Empty Kaaba
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In light of the spread of COVID-19, Muslims especially in this time are in need of guidance. The Legacy Institute has released a research paper by Shaykh Hasib Noor in order to expound on Prophetic Guidance on Epidemic Disease: Coronavirus 2020.

The paper highlights what the Islamic theodicy of understanding epidemic disease is, Divine wisdoms as defined by Islamic theology, the jurisprudence (fiqh) related to epidemics and plague, a brief historical timeline of epidemics in Makkah and Madinah, an analytical breakdown of a plague prophesied by the Prophet Muhammad peace be on him that occurred at the time of the companions and how they dealt with it, explaining the notion of Divine Decree in the case of epidemics, examples of notable scholars in dealing with epidemics of their time and their writings, the Prophetic method of handling epidemics: preventative measures, spiritual aspects of overcoming calamities and difficulties, prophetic prayers for epidemics and sickness, and defining our view of how Muslims confront afflictions from the words of Bediuzzaman Said Nursi and Imam Al Ghazali.

The story of Umar raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) is also narrated and explained in detail in the paper: Download Here

‘Abdullah ibn ‘Abbas raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) narrates the events when ‘Umar ibn AlKhattab raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) set out for Sham (Levant: Palestine, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, etc). When he got as far as a place called ‘Sargh’, the commanders of the army, Abu ‘Ubaydah ibn Jarrah and his companions met ‘Umar raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him)and told him that a plague had broken out in Sham. ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Abbas said, ‘Umar said to me, ‘Call the early Muhajirun (the earliest Muslims and those who were the immigrants to Madinah) for me,’ I called them, sought their consultation and informed them that a plague had broken out in Sham. They disagreed. Some of them said, ‘You have set out on a matter and we do not think that you should retreat from it.’ Others said, ‘You have the rest of the people as well as the Companions of the Messenger of Allah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), and we do not think that you should expose them to this plague.’ ‘Umar then said, ‘Leave.’ Then he said, ‘Call the Ansar (the helpers, the citizens of Madinah that gave refuge to all the migrants that came to the city) for me,’ and I called them and he consulted them. 18 Ibn Majah 4042 and Bukhari 3176

Their reaction was as the Muhajirun and disagreed as they had disagreed. He said, ‘Leave.’ Then he said, ‘Call those who are here of the elders of Quraysh who emigrated the year of the Conquest of Makkah.’ So I called them, and none among them disagreed about it. They said, ‘We think that you should return with the people and not expose them to this plague.’

So ‘Umar made an announcement among the people: ‘I am returning in the morning, so return as well.’ Abu ‘Ubaydah ibn Jarrah said, ‘Are you fleeing from the decree of Allah?’ ‘Umar said, ‘If only someone other than you had said that, Abu ‘Ubaydah!’

Yes, ‘we are fleeing from the decree of Allah to the decree of Allah‘. Do you think that if you had camels and they went down into a valley which had two sides, one of which was fertile and the other barren. Is it not that if you grazed them on the fertile side, then that grazing would be by the decree of Allah, and if you grazed them on the barren side, then that grazing would also be by the decree of Allah?’ ‘Abdul Rahman ibn ‘Awf -who had been absent on some errand- then came and said, ‘I have some knowledge regarding this issue. I heard the Messenger of Allah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) say, “When you hear that [a plague] is in a land, do not go to it and if it occurs in a land that you are already in, then do not leave it, fleeing from it.’”

‘Umar praised Allah [due to him making the correct decision] and then left.”21

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