The Humble "I"

Knowing, Doing, Becoming

Footprints on the Sands of Time 3

footprints_in_the_sand-800x600Mixing a little politics with spirituality, and marriage with social activism; and adding a few other meditations and musings about Muslims and the challenges of modernity in the mix, this is the third set of Footprints on the Sands of Time. The first two may be read here and here:

On spiritual intelligence: The intelligent one understands what needs understanding and just goes away and practices what he has learnt: rethinking his life, reforming his conduct and rearranging his priorities.

On selfless service to others: The bigger picture in feeding the poor is for believers to develop a deeper social conscience in regards to the the vulnerable and the needy. For whenever true faith illumines the heart, the individual’s view of people and society is transformed, urging him to the benevolent service of his fellow man: And they feed, for the love of God, the indigent, the orphan and the captive, saying: ‘We feed you for the sake of God. No reward do we desire of you, nor thanks.’ [Qur’an 76:8-9]

Suffering is the price we pay for the privilege of life: Loss and suffering are no more inseparable from life than are shadows from the light of day. As we learn to live with the latter, so must we come to terms with the former: We have indeed created man in toil and hardship. [Qur’an 90:4]

On government’s true vocation: The greater goal of government should not be just to rule or exact obedience. But it should be to free the people from fear, so they may live in peace and security and pursue the path of piety.

On keeping the “i” in its right place in marriage: Beware egos in marriage: for marital becomes martial when the “i” is pushed forward.

On the seeker’s provisions: From the greatest provisions of the seeker is: to keep the company of the ahlu’Llah – the People of God. So let the seeker sit at their feet, drink in their wisdom and breathe in the aroma of their adab.

On loving the Family of the Prophet ﷺ: An essential aspect of loving the Prophet ﷺ is to love his Family. The Prophet ﷺ said: udhakkirukumu’Llaha fi ahli bayti – ‘I urge you to treat my Family well.’ [Muslim, no.2408] Moreover, Zayd ibn Thabit was once praying the funeral prayer for his mother, after which he brought his mule closer in order to mount it. Seeing this, Ibn ‘Abbas came and took hold of the stirrup for Zayd. Zayd said: ‘Let it be, O nephew of Allah’s Messenger.’ Ibn ‘Abbas said: ‘This is how we were taught to treat the scholars.’ Upon which Zayd took hold of Ibn ‘Abbas’ hand and kissed it, and said: ‘And this is how we were taught to treat the Prophet’s Family.’ [Al-Tabarani, Mu‘jam al-Kabir, no.4746]

On failing to see divine grace because of self-pity: If our minds stay entrenched in the disappointments and let-downs of the past, we will fail to see God’s goodness to us in the present.

On true scholarship: ‘The half-baked faqih asks: What did he say? The seasoned faqih asks: What did he intend?’ – Ibn al-Qayyim

On politics & false priorities: In Islam, politics (siyasah) is seen as a means to further the religious narrative. Whilst in much of today’s Islamism (‘political’ Islam), religion has become the means to further a political narrative. It is here that siyasah becomes najasah – that politics becomes impure.

Deepening Abrahamic monotheism: ‘I think it must have been easy enough in earlier ages in the Christian world, and is still easy in those parts of the Muslim world which remain traditional, to hold to a simple faith without much intellectual content. I do not believe this is any longer possible in the modern world, for the spirit of our times asks questions, questions for the most part hostile to faith, which demands answers, and those answers can only come from informed and thoughtful faith, from study and meditation.’ – Gai Eaton

On the monoculture’s deceptive magic: Consumerism can only thrive in a culture of discontent. The monoculture must deliver doses of misery before offering illusions of happiness.

On downplaying spiritual education: The more unschooled we are in ihsan, the more ugliness we are likely to bring into the world.

On the role of the scholars in regime change and redressing public grievance: In the teachings of mainstream, Sunni Islam (as per the prophetic hadiths), we do not expect our scholars to support armed rebellion against legitimate Muslim governments, even when such regimes be despotic or tyrannical. But nor do we expect our scholars to be sheepish servants of taghut regimes, aligning with them in gunning down protestors and shedding the blood of the masses. Instead, what we hope from our scholars is that they be mediating voices of reason: recognising the injustices inflicted upon the masses and advising them when they stray from religion or sound reason, while at the same time restraining the regime’s use of violence and urging it to redress the public’s greviances as best as it can. We may even painfully tolerate silence from our scholars, in which they neither support one camp nor the other. But scholars championing the massacre of unarmed civilians beggars belief.

What we ask of our scholars is that they be courageous, without compromising their wisdom. What we also ask is that they be sincere mediators, without pandering to the public or to the palace.

On freedom from dunya’s matrix: Knowledge (‘ilm) frees one from confusion. Worldly detachment (zuhd) frees one from anxiety. And a sobering meditation (tafakkur) upon death and the hereafter helps put life into perspective.

On the fuel driving today’s religious extremism: To deny the role of foreign policy in nurturing violent extremism is as naive, blind or coloured by self interest as denying the role of a twisted fiqh-cum-theology in fostering it. Until both these gremlins are acknowledged, addressed and tackled, we fail public security and give kudos to a false political narrative.

On seeing the works of the Lord: Everything that surrounds us in our everyday life, even the smallest of things, can serve to remind us of God, and therefore deserve to be treated with respect: And in the earth are signs, for those who have certainty. And in yourselves. Will you not see? [Qur’an 51:20-21]

On the Children of Israel and Zionists: Faithful Jewish hearts may seek, as they live out the Law of Moses, their spiritual solace in [Mount] Zion. But the Zionist project, not withstanding the right of the Jewish people to never again be subjected to a ‘final solution’, has shown itself to be unashamedly racist and oppressive. Anti-semitic we cannot be; anti-Zionist we may well have to be.

On the struggle against the Four Deadly Foes: Imams of suluk, or spiritual wayfaring, speak of two areas of mujahadah (spiritual struggle) Firstly, the outward mujahadah. This is the struggle against the Four Deadly Foes – the ego (nafs), the devil (shaytan), worldliness (dunya), and false desires (hawa) – as they seek to hinder us from fulfilling the obligatory (fard) and then the recommended (mustahabb) acts, and eliminate the forbidden (haram) and then the disliked (makruh) acts, from our lives.

As for the inward mujahadah, it is training our heart – through gratitude (shukr), love (mahabbah) and remembrance (dhikr) – such that it becomes attached to its Lord and learns to be present with Him. Essential to all this is the idea of restraint – of reigning in our egos and desires.

On telling apart the faqih from the wannabe: The faqih asks, not how the Qur’an can be adapted to our lives in the world of today, but how our lives today can be adapted to the Qur’an. This is true fiqh. All else is fiqh-tion.

On never losing sight of the goal: Whilst it suffices a believer to learn the duties that faith instates, and whilst it is encouraged that they learn even more, we each need to remember our Lord’s question to us: ma ‘amilta fima ‘alamta – “What did you do with what you learnt?”

Beards, Hijabs & Body Language: Gender Relations

Male and female sex signs on wooden backgroundWhat does Islam say about gender relations? How are the sexes meant to interact in a healthy manner with each other? How can we instate the wisdoms of the shari‘ah and the guidelines of Islam in our everyday lives in this regard? This is what this brief post intends to explore. I’ll begin by fleshing out some of the core shari‘ah principles first, after which we’ll move on to discuss some practical (and hopefully, contextual) codes for gender conduct:

1. Lowering the Gaze: A good place to get the ball rolling would be with the following passages from the Qur’an: Tell believing men to lower their gaze and guard their modesty. That will be purer for them. For Allah is aware of what they do. And tell believing women t0 lower their gaze, and to guard their modesty, and that they not display their ornaments beyond what [ordinarily] appears of them, and that they draw their [head] coverings over their chests. [24:30-31] Given the place and times we live in; given also how the idea of traditional morality seems something antiquated and distant to many of us moderns; in fact, given how a growing number of traditional morals are at cross purposes with current liberal dogma and ideas, it’s quite easy for us Muslims to become complacent, absent minded or too immoderate on this issue. Yet the idea of averting one’s gaze, or of lowering it, is there in the Qur’an; and as such, we believers are required to honour and remember it.

Writing about the above verse, the medieval historian, hadith master and exegete, Ibn Kathir, said: ‘This is a command from Allah, exalted is He, to His believing servants to lower their gaze from looking at things prohibited to them. Instead, they should only look at what is lawful to them, not what is forbidden. But if it happens that one’s gaze accidentally falls upon something illicit, he should immediately avert his gaze.’1 Jarir b. ‘Abd Allah al-Bajali narrates: ‘I asked Allah’s Messenger ﷺ about the unintentional glance, so he instructed me to avert my gaze.’2 Also, the Prophet ﷺ once said to ‘Ali: ‘Do not, O ‘Ali, follow up one look with another. For while you aren’t to blame for the first, you have no right to the second.’3 There’s also these words of the Prophet ﷺ: ‘Beware of sitting in the streets.’ They said: O Messenger of Allah, we’ve no choice but to sit in the streets so as to converse with each other. So the Prophet ﷺ said: ‘If you must, then give the street its rights.’ They inquired: ‘What is its right, O Messenger of Allah? He ﷺ instructed: ‘Lower your gaze, do no harm, return the greetings of salam, enjoin good and forbid wrong.’4 Thus lowering the gaze (ghadd al-basr), and averting it from whatever is indecent, immoral or illicit, is key in such matters. For the eyes are the inroads to the heart. And we all know how the heart can be corrupted, distressed and poisoned by images that enter it by way of the unlowered gaze.

2. Principles of Ease & Blocking the Means: Islam came to lighten many a burden that earlier believing peoples were obligated with, or that they had unduly imposed upon themselves. About this, the Qur’an states: Allah desires ease for you; He does not desire hardship for you. [2:185] And it informs: Those who follow the Messenger, the unlettered Prophet, whom they find described in the Torah and Gospel – he will enjoin on them good and forbid them evil, he will make lawful for them all good things and prohibit for them what is foul, and he will release them of their burdens and yokes that were on them. Those that believe in him, honour him, support him and follow the light that has been sent down with him; they are the successful. [7:157]

With that established, as Islam came to lighten many duties, it also came to intensify a few of them too. The logic for this lightening and intensifying is to help us navigate the times of confusion, spiritual pollution, unrestrained whims and predilections and ego-driven rationalisations which typify the End of Days in which we now live. One of those principles that has been intensified is the prohibition of drinking alcohol and consuming intoxicants. Another is gender interactions. In the setting of the latter, the Qur’an doesn’t just forbid zina – fornication, adultery and other illegal sexual liaisons, it forcefully declares: Come not near illegal sexual relationships, for it is an obscenity and an evil way. [17:32] Al-Qurtubi noted that: la taqrabu – “come not near” zina – is a far more emphatic and all-inclusive way of asserting the prohibition, than simply saying: ‘do not commit zina.‘ For this verse doesn’t just forbid zina, it makes unlawful all the means and avenues which lead one closer to it too.5 This, and other such sacred texts, is where the important shari‘ah principle of sadd al-dhari‘ah – “blocking the means” to a corrupting or harmful end – originates from.6

3. Virtue of Modesty: When it comes to gender interactions, the Qur’an, Sunnah and Islam’s scholarly community insist upon appropriate behaviour and dignified conduct between the sexes. In other words, gender relations must be built upon the virtues of modesty, dignity and respectability. Indeed, Islam very much sees itself as the religion about haya’ – modesty, shyness and a sense of reserve. The Prophet ﷺ stated: “Every religion has a distinctive quality, and the distinctive quality of Islam is haya’.”7 We are reminded in the next hadith that: ‘Modesty is a branch of faith (al-haya’ shu‘batun min al-iman).’8 There are also these words from the Prophet ﷺ: ‘Never is haya’ present in a matter except that it beautifies it.’9

Just to be clear. Although haya’ translates itself into English as modesty, or shyness, or of being unassuming in the estimation of one’s abilities; in Islam, it does not translate into being sheepish, timid or socially anxious and insecure. Instead, haya’ is: ‘a quality which induces one to shun whatever is reprehensible (khuluqun yab‘athu ‘ala ijtinabi’l-qabih).’10 Or as Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali remarks: ‘What restrains acting in a shameful or deplorable manner is [the quality of] haya’. Hence one who has no haya’ will abandon themselves to every indecent and loathsome behaviour.’11 To this end, the Prophet ﷺ said: ‘From the words still in currency from earlier prophets are: If you have no haya’, then do as you wish.’12

Ibn Rajab goes on to write that the sense of modesty and shame are of two kinds. The first is an innate character trait that one is naturally disposed towards. The second is a modesty that is acquired through the fear of God, and through the voice of religious conscience which the teachings of faith nurture. He explains: ‘Realise that haya’ is of two types: Firstly, that which is an innate character trait which is not acquired. This is one of the noblest of qualities that Allah bestows on someone and fashions him upon. For this reason, he ﷺ said: “Modesty produces nothing except good”13 for it restrains him from committing foul deeds and displaying depraved morals, and spurs him onto honourable and virtuous character … Secondly, that which is acquired via knowledge of Allah, knowledge of His greatness and nearness to His servants; His awareness and complete familiarity of them; and [His knowledge] of the deceptions of the eyes and what breasts conceal. This is one of the most exalted qualities of faith (iman); indeed, it is one of the loftiest degrees of spiritual excellence (ihsan).’14

Hence in the interaction between the sexes, a sense of modesty; haya’, is key. If innate modest is in short supply, modesty born of faith must prevail. Fear of God will make people think twice before acting indecently or immodestly. Allah is All-Knowing, All-Seeing. To believe in Allah is to believe that we, and whatever we do, are known. Allah sees, therefore we are seen.

4. Notions of Respectability: Islam’s insistence upon haya’ underpins Muslim gender interactions, defining their contours. The shari‘ah reflects this in its judgements and ethics and the Prophet ﷺ was once depicted like so: kana nabiyyu ﷺ ashadda haya’an min al-‘adhra’i fi khidriha – “He was shyer than a young maiden in her chamber.”15 In the absence of a deeply-rooted modesty, there can be little claim to be truly following the Sunnah.

Realising that modesty is no longer an asset in our money-driven, selfi-taking society, as it still is in Islam’s take of things. Even so, in Islam, haya’ is allied to another virtue we moderns also have difficulty appreciating: haybah – “dignity” and “respectability”. In Islam, these two qualities (modesty and respectability) are deeply intertwined, such that when one departs, so does the other. In their absence lies little more than divine displeasure, spiritual entropy, and a telling lack of moral restraint. As a result, socially damaging impulses and behaviours begin to run amok.

It is often claimed that in Victorian or Edwardian England, respectability essentially meant maintaining a reputable facade while encouraging all sorts of hypocrisies. How much or how little can one generalise in such a matter is up for debate. Yet at its core, the widely cherished notion that there was a respectable way to conduct oneself; that there was a decent and honourable way of being a true “gentleman” (as opposed to a hypocritical one) – well that’s a very Islamic idea. A gentleman was someone who was restrained, courteous, considerate, well mannered, had public dignity, and was aware of boundaries; particularly when in mixed company.

The Islamic concept of futuwwah, “spiritual chivalry,” is where we find the ideals of the true Muslim gentleman best expressed. Futuwwah embodies the virtues of dignity and respectability (haybah), refined and noble conduct (adab), and preferring others to oneself (ithar), along with courage (shaja‘ah), magnanimity (sakha’ah) and striving to destroy the idols of one’s ego (mujahadat al-nafs).

Society no longer speaks of a true gentleman. That’s of a bygone era – of Edwardian England; an Englishness long dead and buried. As a nation we need to review where this has led us: if it’s been, on balance, for our betterment? Furthermore, as Muslims themselves start to relax these principles, can we see in where it has led others, where we too might be heading?

5. Beards, Hijabs & Body Language: As many social scientists and commentators have shown, it was during the 1960s (the cliched “swinging sixties”) that a seismic cultural shift took place here in Britain in terms of public perceptions of morality, and of what it meant to be a good person; indeed, in our collective self-understanding as a nation. For it was then that notions of modesty, respectability and decency (which were key elements animating the well-rooted Christian ethos of Britain) began to dramatically alter. As a result, Britain’s Christianity, once at the heart of setting national standards and infusing public culture, began to unravel. And we moved from being a nation that stressed respectability to one which stressed the individual’s right to be respected.16

Now as far as religious observance goes, the injuries that ensue when the principles of modesty and respectability are lost to society will influence believers too. One hadith says: ‘Modesty and faith are two close companions, when one of them is removed, the other follows.’17

Here, it’s not the run of the mill Muslim issues, like hijab or niqab, that we’re talking about. Nor about how one dresses, as such. It runs deeper than that. It’s about much more than just the externals. It’s about how one behaves; how one carries themselves; how one disposes their soul towards the opposite gender.

It is possible for a woman not to be in hijab, and yet still have a strong sense of haya’ and haybah. It’s also perfectly possible for a young woman to be draped from head to toe in black and yet lack such modesty. Whether in coffee shops, shopping malls or on university campuses, you can clearly observe this. One can see many young hijabis in, say, London’s shopping malls, or burqa-clad girls in Jeddah’s burger shacks, with the ostensible trappings of outward modesty; but their body language suggests something else. Despite the exterior semblances of haya’ and haybah, they’re sending out signals to the contrary. Of course, the answer isn’t to give up the Quranic insistence of hijab: and that they draw their head coverings over their chests. [24:31]. Instead, hijabs should show and modesty should flow.

This is applicable to men too. It’s quite possible for a Muslim man to not have a beard, yet still retain a healthy sense of modesty and dignity in his dealings with the opposite gender. It’s possible too for a young Muslim man to support a beard, and yet his gaze is lustful and not lowered; or his clothes tight and revealing; or his body language and behaviour unbecoming and flirtatious. This bundle of contradictions, too, is growing more prevalent. Again, the response isn’t to oppose the Prophet’s guidance ﷺ: ‘Grow your beard and trim your moustache.’18 Or: ‘But my Lord has ordered me to grow the beard and trim the moustache.’19 Instead, let beards grow, and let dignified dress and modest behaviour flow.

Islam does not want such schizophrenia in the human personality. What it does want is for gazes to be lowered, for piety to be internalised, and for modesty and dignity to become our watchwords – for both men and for women.

6. Codes for Gender Interactions: Thus far we’ve addressed the main principles upon which interaction between the sexes must be based. We’ve seen the Quranic demand about lowering the gaze, and heard a number of counsels from the Prophet ﷺ about the virtues of modesty, shyness and dignity.

Some Muslims labour under the misconception that the shari‘ah requires us Muslims in Britain to replicate the obsessively strict gender segregation and interactions found in certain Muslim majority countries today. Yet there’s no proof for such an absurdity. The truth of the matter is that we are not duty bound to replicate, nor even to uphold as the ideal, any specific Muslim collective reality anywhere in the world today. What we are required to do is to look at the rulings and wisdoms of the Sunnah, and of the first community of believers, and take our cue from there. As for classical fiqh decrees in this regard, we should be guided by their insights and judgements, but not bound by all of their particulars. The words of sayyiduna ‘Ali, may Allah be pleased with him, are worth quoting at this point: ‘The faqih is one who doesn’t cause people to despair of Allah’s mercy, but nor does he give them licence to sin.’20

Given the principles spelled out above, let’s draw on a few more shari‘ah insights and prophetic wisdoms that shape interaction between the sexes:

Lowering the gaze (ghadd al-basr) was previously mentioned: Tell the believing men to lower their gaze. [24:30]. Scholars of tafsir have explained that not every kind of gaze is illicit. Instead, what this verse obligates is: ‘averting the gaze from what is unlawful.’21 Thus the objectifying look, the lustful gaze, or looking accompanied by attraction are unquestionably prohibited. So too is looking at a person’s ‘awrah, or “nakedness.” The following hadith puts us on notice with this caution: ‘Every person has their share of adultery, and the adultery of the eye is looking.’22 The Prophet’s words ﷺ to ‘Ali have preceded: ‘Do not follow up one look with another. For while you aren’t to blame for the first, you have no right to the second.’23 Such protocols don’t just apply to actual person to person looking, but looking on social media too. It can get a bit tricky when the Islamic norm of averting one’s glance during gender interactions meets Western expectations of eye to eye contact. In such cases, one simply does their best and finds ways to take the edge off any awkwardness or perceived rudeness. If eye contact more than is Islamically normal needs to be made, one does so keeping shari‘ah boundaries firmly in sight.

Making interactions purposeful and professional is vital. In Islam, the idea of ikhtilat, of unrelated men and women “mixing,” isn’t completely prohibited. Where it must or does occur, it ought to be for a licit (ja’iz) and well-intended purpose. Meetings related to work or connected with ISOC activities are good examples. Comportment between men and women is expected to be professional, courteous and dignified. ‘Actions are but by intentions,’24 said the Prophet ﷺ. Outwardly interactions may be purposeful, but things could be different on the inside. If meetings become means to seek gender attention or affection, or to indulge one’s infatuation, then the intention is unsound and the action simply wrong. Interactions on social media, if we’re honest, tend to be far less purposeful and often very improper, with levels of informality and frivolity far harder to justify in Islam.

Keeping gender interactions public is also compulsory in the shari‘ah. The Prophet ﷺ said: ‘Never is a man alone with a woman, except that Satan is the third of them.’25 In light of this, one not only keeps meetings and engagements between men and women purposeful, but also in a public place too. In the event of that not being possible, then a third person must be present. Seclusion (khalwah), whether anything untoward will happen or not, is a sin and must be given a wide berth. As for when contact between the genders via phone, texts or other social media is needed and justifiable, one keeps such interactions as purposeful, public, transparent and respectable as is possible. The shari‘ah guided caution dictates that texting is better than voice calls, and voice calls better than video ones. One should also be mindful of extending conversations just to remain in the presence of another person.

Being decent in speech. As the more enchanting of the genders are asked not to act in a way that invites the male gaze or attention: And let them not drum their feet so as to reveal their hidden ornaments [24:31], they’re addressed with these words too: If you fear Allah, be not soft of speech, lest he in whose heart is a disease be moved to desire you; but speak honourably. [33:32] Speaking honourably (qulna qawlun ma‘rufan) was explained as: ‘words that are befitting, decent and respectable’ and ‘that aren’t tender; meaning, a woman shouldn’t speak to a man she isn’t married to, as she would [tenderly] speak to her husband.’26 One needn’t be curt, abrupt or monosyllabic when speaking to the opposite gender; only purposeful, professional, straightforward and respectable.

Our final gender protocol won’t come as any surprise: no touching. The Prophet ﷺ warned: ‘For one of you to be jabbed in the head with an iron needle is better for him than he should touch a woman who is unlawful to him.’27 In another hadith, we find the Prophet ﷺ saying: ‘I do not shake hands with women.’28 Such prohibitions about touching or shaking hands are instated for our own spiritual and social well-being, so we’d do well to heed and honour them. As to how one is to decline an extended hand from the opposite gender, let it be done politely, creatively and in a way which doesn’t nurture aversion or undue awkwardness. If caught off guard or compromised, then one immediately repents of the sin, learns from the mistake and resolves not to repeat the act again.

This, then, is a quick tour of what Islam has to say about gender interactions between the sexes. The entire edifice is built upon notions of modesty, restraint and dignified conduct. In an age in which the ethics of modesty and lowering the gaze are seen as offbeat, or even repressive, we Muslims need to be more vigilant and more spiritually rooted. One of the unique accomplishments of the Prophet ﷺ is that he taught men and women to lower their gazes from each other, so as to help them lift their gazes towards God.

1. Ibn Kathir, Tafsir Qur’an al-‘Azim (Beirut: Dar al-Ma‘rifah, 1987), 3:292.

2. Muslim, no.2159.

3. Abu Dawud, no.2149; al-Tirmidhi, no.2777, where he stated that the hadith is hasan gharib.

4. Al-Bukhari, no.6229; Muslim, no.2121.

5. See: al-Jami‘ li Ahkam al-Qur’an (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1996), 10:165.

6. Cf. Kamali, Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence (Cambridge: The Islamic Texts Society, 2006), 397-409.

7. Ibn Majah, Sunan, no.4181. The hadith was graded sahih, due to its multiple paths of transmission. See: al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1985), no.940.

8. Al-Bukhari, no.9; Muslim, no.35.

9. Al-Bukhari, al-Adab al-Mufrad, no.601. It was graded sahih, al-Albani, Sahih al-Adab al-Mufrad (Saudi Arabia: Dar al-Siddiq, 1994), no.469.

10. Ibn Hajr al-‘Asqalani, Fath al-Bari (Egypt: Dar al-‘Alamiyyah, 2013), 1:80.

11. Jami‘ al-‘Ulum wa’l-Hikam (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1998), 1:498.

12. Al-Bukhari, no.3483.

13. Al-Bukhari, no.6117.

14. Jami‘ al-‘Ulum wa’l-Hikam, 1:501-2.

15. Al-Bukhari, no.3562; Muslim, no.2320.

16. See: Jonathan Sacks, The Persistence of Faith (London: Continuum, 2005); Callum G. Brown, Death of Christian Britain (Oxon: Routledge, 2009).

17. Al-Bukhari, al-Adab al-Mufrad, no.1313; al-Hakim, Mustadrak, 1:22, who stated: ‘It is sahih as per the conditions of the two shaykhs.’

18. Al-Bukhari, no.5892; Muslim, no.259.

19. Tabari, Tarikh, 2:655; Ibn Sa‘d, Tabaqat, 1:2:147; Abu Nu‘aym, Dala’il al-Nubuwwah, no.241; Ibn Abi Shaybah, Musannaf, 14:336. The hadith, with its collective chains, was graded hasan by al-Albani in his verification to al-Ghazali, Fiqh al-Sirah (Cairo: Dar al-Kutub al-Hadithah, 1976), 389.

20. Cited in al-Qurtubi, al-Tadhkirah bi Ahwal al-Mawta wa Umur al-Akhirah (Riyadh: Dar al-Minhaj, 2006), 800.

21. Ibn Juzayy, al-Tashil li ‘Ulum al-Tanzil (Beirut: Maktabah al-‘Asriyyah, 2003), 3:120. Also cf. Ibn al-Jawzi, Zad al-Masir (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 2002), 994.

22. Abu Dawud, no.2153, and it is sahih. See: al-Albani, Sahih al-Jami‘ al-Saghir (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1986), no.5161.

23. Al-Tirmidhi, no.2777, who said the hadith is hasan gharib.

24. Al-Bukhari, no.1; Muslim, no.1907.

25. Al-Tirmidhi, no.2165, where he stated: ‘This hadith is hasan sahih gharib.

26. Ibn Kathir, Tafsir Qur’an al-‘Azim, 3:491.

27. Al-Tabarani, Mu‘jam al-Kabir, 20:210. Al-Albani graded it sahih in Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Riyadh: Dar al-Ma‘arif, 1995), no.226.

28. Ibn Majah, no.2874; al-Tirmidhi, no.1597, who said: ‘This hadith is hasan sahih.’

Anger, Ordeals & Grief

02102012_optimism-pano_13959That God never changes the condition of a people unless they change what is in themselves [13:28] enjoins on us, not just some external reform fixated on a few manifestations of outward piety and morality, but instead an inward transformation – a realignment of the soul – which reflects genuine piety and purity of the heart. Regrettably, some see in this a call to quietism, while in reality it is a position of empowerment. For as we work on our inner world, keeping a keen eye upon the obligations and responsibilities we have in the outer world, we will begin to see the promise of Allah come to fruition in the human saga: If the people of the cities had but believed and shown piety, We would surely have opened for them blessings from the heaven and from the earth. [7:96]

To think that we should put all or most of our eggs in the basket of political activism, letting spiritual activism play second fiddle, isn’t just religiously naive; it continues to invite humiliation upon this blessed, yet fragile ummah too. Here, I’ll let the following hadith have the final say in the matter: ‘When you deal in ‘inah, hold on to the tails of cows, content yourself with farming and abandon striving [in Allah’s path], Allah will cover you all with humiliation and will not lift it from you, until you return to your religion.’1

Anger is so often the thing that demolishes the bonds of love and affection between husband and wife, or between people in general. A man once said to the Prophet ﷺ: ‘Counsel me.’ So he ﷺ advised: ‘Do not become angry.’ The man repeated his request several times, and each time  he ﷺ said: ‘Do not become angry.’2

Our learned ones have explained the words, “Do not become angry” to mean: Do not do those things which will arouse one’s anger or unleash one’s temper; and if one is already angry, do not do or say anything in a state of anger.

In fact, in Islam, controlling one’s temper and restraining the soul’s anger is deemed to be a sign of intelligence, as well as a mark of piety. The Qur’an depicts the believer as those who: when they are angry, forgive. [42:37] And as: those who control their anger and are forgiving towards people. [3:134]

Not allowing our tempers to flare, or our anger to be aroused – or at least not giving vent to our anger – must be something we must work on, if we wish to traverse the path of piety and intelligence; and if we wish our relationships to flower and deepen. Learning to control one’s anger is one of the great hallmarks of the Sunnah and one of Islam’s cardinal spiritual virtues.

Anger often erupts when our pride is dented or our egos offended. Learning humility and humbleness is key to controlling anger. Likewise, forbearance and being forgiving are also keys. We learn in one hadith that: ‘Knowledge is gained by [actively] seeking it, and forbearance is gained by [actively] imposing it upon oneself.’3 As we learn to swallow pride and adorn ourselves with the virtues of forbearance and forgiveness, the oftentimes thin veneer of anger begins to dissipate.

The Sunnah also teaches us that when anger begins to swell, change our posture. So if one is standing, sit down; if sitting, lie down. Seeking refuge in Allah from shaytan is also recommended.

As for righteous anger and indignation, which is born of faith and is rooted in divine love, that is another matter altogether. And how rare it truly is!

Ibn Mas‘ud (one of Islam’s earliest converts and leading scholars) said of the Prophet, when he had sustained an injury during the battle of Uhud: ‘I can see myself looking at Allah’s Messenger ﷺ, as he spoke about one of the prophets of old who, when his people had beaten him, was wiping the blood from his face whilst praying: O Allah! Forgive my people, for they know not.’4

As Muslims seek to mould and live out their lives in the light of revealed truths – in a continent that has become largely religiously illiterate, on top of being plagued with acute economic downturn and growing social unrest – they will be looked upon more and more as being counter culture; odd; out of sync with society; an annoyance, even; or a fifth column, perhaps! Are the insults or the demonisation of Islam and Muslims likely to stop any time soon? Most Muslims, I suspect, will intuit not!

Sometimes, though, as with the above, the inbreak of truth can lead to the outbreak of violence. Of course, even believers can or should take recourse to the law-enforcing agencies in order to procure justice or to fend-off harm. But where the law is unable, or simply fails them, faith instructs us to be patient and steadfast, and to cleanse our hearts of rage, revenge or undue anger. The higher virtue would be to repel evil with what is better [41:34] and pray, not for the ruin of the aggressors, but for their guidance and salvation. O Allah! Forgive our people, for they know not.

Many are the emotions that assail the heart, but grief, without doubt, is the hardest of all. The pain felt at the loss of a loved one awakens grief, yet seldom is much gained by yielding too far to grief’s cruelty. Yes, tears must flow. Pain must be endured. Souls must sorrow and be scarred. That you grieve not, none have the right to insist. Weep, then, but wail not; and let not sorrow’s suffering tarry too long. For your loved one would not have you sorrow more than is fitting.

What would he say to you, he whose loss you lament? That he welcomes the love you thus show to him; but that he doesn’t want your grief to be prolonged. He’d ask that you gently put your sorrows to slumber and remember him in the splendour of his days. And that although time will assuage the pangs of grief, he’d want that we move on from such grief by choice.

Remember and recollect: recall the most cherished things about the one who is loved but is lost; of how he enriched our lives and the lives of others too. For this honours our departed loved ones, and consoles us and keeps them with us in our hearts.

If death taketh away, life doth giveth. If so young a life is taken and an older one still remains; but when did death ever promise that it’d take us in order of age?! Now is a time to reflect, not just that all things are mortal, but also that their mortality follows no fixed law.

If tragedy darkens our days, how can we deny that the sun still shines. If destiny deals an unexpected blow, how can we give up on life. If we have buried one of our loved ones, other of our cherished ones still live on. So now is the time to cherish our living loved ones even more: celebrating our love of them and spending time with them. For we cannot love only when we’ve lost.

And while we honour those who have passed on with loving remembrance, we know that such remembrance is not without its bitterness. Yet still, let’s put our sorrows to slow slumber and remember him in the glory of his days.5

And We test you with evil and with good as a trial, states the Qur’an [21:35]. According to Islam, life is not seen as being a random act of chance with no purpose and meaning. Instead, life is a theatre of signs and tests for the life to come. Trials, tests, ordeals and adversity are the inevitable price that we each must pay for the privilege of being born into the human drama. Providence allots to each of us opportunities, circumstances, talents and abilities so as to engage life’s tests and ordeals. Revelation also tells us that what counts, isn’t so much the form or nature of the actual tests, but how we respond to them. Sometimes we are tried with the obvious: hardships, misfortunes, calamities. At other times, with the less obvious: wealth, wellbeing, or material abundance. Both, nonetheless, are seen by the believer as tests.

As for the obvious, Allah says in the Qur’an: We shall indeed test you with something of fear and hunger, loss of property and of lives and crops; but give glad tidings to those who are patient. [2:155] If the one being tried in this way is a person whose faith is generally upright, in terms of observing the religious injunctions and avoiding the prohibitions, then such trials are a sign of Allah honouring them and seeking to raise them in rank. The Prophet ﷺ said: ‘When Allah loves a person, He tries them.’6 He ﷺ also told us: ‘No Muslim is afflicted with hardship, pain, anxiety, grief or injury; even to the extent of being pricked by a thorn, without Allah causing it to be an atonement for his sins.’7 This is the case provided they show patience, continue to observe the religious duties, and their conviction in Allah’s essential goodness does not waver.

Those who are not upright, especially those who make little or no attempt at being so, then such trials are the upshot of sins and rebellion against God: Whatever good befalls you is from Allah, whatever ill afflicts you is from yourselves. [4:79] Such ordeals, then, are either a mark of divine wrath and punishment, or a caution from Allah to repent and amend our ways.

As for the less obvious tests, we read in the Qur’an: If they had but followed the path of rectitude, We would have given them abundant water, so as to try them. [72:16-17] Again, if a person is upright, then the ease, blessings or opulence Allah gifts to them is also a trial, to see if they are thankful; and to see if they enjoy such blessings in a lawful way, utilise them in the worship of Allah, as well as in the service of others. When blessed with Allah’s bounties and blessings, the believer acknowledges: ‘This is the favour of my Lord, that He may try me whether I will be thankful or ungrateful. He who gives thanks, he only gives thanks for [the good of] his own soul, and he who is ungrateful [is so only to his own soul’s hurt], for my Lord is Rich, Generous.’ [27:40] Now those who show gratitude, or shukr, Allah says: ‘If you are thankful, I will increase you. But if you are ungrateful, My torment is indeed severe.’ [14:7]

As for those who aren’t upright, nor attempt to walk the path of rectitude; those who neglect religious observance and who languish in the domains of disobedience, when they are surrounded by ease or blessings, it is nothing but istidraj – Allah seizing them little by little; His punishment coming upon them gradually without them realising it. The Qur’an says: We shall seize them by degrees from whence they know not. And I shall grant them respite; for [assuredly] My devising is firm. [69:44-5] Echoing these words, the Prophet ﷺ warned: ‘If you see Allah granting a servant something of the world that he desires, despite him being deep in sins, then [know] it is istidraj.’8 Indeed what trial could be worse than when blessings are, in reality, nothing but curses?

Allahumma nas’aluka an taj‘alana mimman idha
u‘tiya shakara, wa idha’btuliya sabara,
wa idha adhnaba
istaghfara.
Amin.

1. Abu Dawud, Sunan, no.3462. Ibn Taymiyyah deemed its chains to be good (jayyid) in Majmu‘ Fatawa (Riyadh: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 1991), 29:30. ‘Inah is a particular business transaction that seeks to circumvent the shari‘ah, in order to loan money on interest (riba). More generally, it may point to any ruse or legal stratagem (hiyla) which seeks to skirt around the shari‘ah rulings, so as to make the haram halal. See: Ibn ‘Uthaymin, Sharh al-Mumti‘ (Saudi Arabia: Dar Ibn al-Jawzi, 2004), 8:210-11.

2. Al-Bukhari, no.5765.

3. Al-Khatib, Tarikh, 9:127. It chain was graded as hasan in al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 1995), no.342.

4. Al-Bukhari, no.3477; Muslim, no.1752.

5. Adapted and reworked from A.C. Grayling, The Good Book (London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2011), 93-5.

6. Al-Bukhari, no.5645.

7. Al-Bukhari, no.5641.

8. Al-Tabarani, Mu‘jam al-Awsat, no.9426. Its chain is hasan, as per al-‘Iraqi, al-Mughni ani’l-Haml al-Asfar (Riyadh: Maktabah Tabariyyah, 1995), no.3772.

The Rights of Our Hearts

9867-heart-with-wings-1920x1080-digital-art-wallpaperWriting about the marvels of the human heart (‘aja’ib al-qalb), al-Ghazali states: ‘The honour and excellence of man, by which he outstrips all other creatures, is his ability for knowing God, transcendent is He. It is man’s beauty, perfection and glory in this world, and his provision and store in the world to come. He is prepared for [receiving] such knowledge only via his heart, and not by means of any other of his bodily organs. For it is the heart that knows God, works for God, strives towards God, draws near to God and reveals that which is in the presence of God. In contrast, all the other organs are merely followers, servants and instruments that the heart uses and employs … For it is the heart that is accepted by God when it is free from all except Him; it is veiled from God when it is totally absorbed in other than Him … The heart is that which, if a man knows it, he knows himself, and if he knows himself, he knows his Lord. But it is that which, if he knows it not, he knows not himself, and if he knows not himself, he knows not his Lord … So knowledge of the heart and of the true nature of its traits is the root of religion and the foundation of the path of the seekers.’1

Given the above, it is no wonder that the Qur’an says about man’s responsibility to his heart: The day when wealth and sons will benefit not, save he who brings to God a sound heart. [26:88-9] The status and preeminence of the heart (qalb) is also borne out by the following five considerations:

1. The heart is where intentions reside: The Prophet ﷺ stated: ‘Indeed, actions are by intentions and each person will have that which they intended.’2 Scholars stipulate: al-niyyah mahalluha al-qalb – ‘Intentions reside in the heart.’ Thus, if the intention of the heart is sound, the act will meet with divine acceptance. If, however, it is corrupt or insincere, the act will be rejected by Allah. The eminent scholar and pietist of early Islam, ‘Abd Allah b. al-Mubarak, once remarked: ‘How many a small act is elevated by an intention, and how many a great act is diminished by an intention.’3

2. It is where the Divine Gaze is focussed: God looks at our hearts to see if they have sound intentions and sincerity to Him, and He also looks at our deeds, to see if they conform to the Sunnah of His Prophet ﷺ. A celebrated hadith declares: ‘Indeed, God doesn’t look at your forms or your appearances, but He looks at your hearts and your actions.’4

3. It is where the Qur’an, the Divine Word, is understood: One Quranic verse states: Will they not meditate on the Qur’an, or are there locks upon their hearts? [47:24] Sins and exposing the heart to trials and temptations may seriously diminish the heart’s clarity or understanding. Sufyan al-Thawri said: ‘I was granted understanding of the Qur’an. But when I accepted a gift [from the sultan], it was removed from me.’5

4. It is where piety (taqwa) is located: The Prophet ﷺ said: ‘Piety is here, piety is here, piety is here’ – pointing to his chest three times.6 The Prophet ﷺ was once quizzed: Who among people are the best? He replied: ‘Those with a clean heart and a truthful tongue.’ They inquired: We understand what a truthful tongue is, but what is a clean heart? To which he ﷺ said: ‘It is one that is pious and pure, in which there is neither sin, nor rancour, nor jealousy.’7

5. It is God’s vessel on earth: In one hadith, the Prophet ﷺ declared: ‘Indeed God has vessels from the people of the earth, and the vessels of your Lord are the hearts of His righteous servants: the most beloved of them to Him are those which are the gentlest and softest.’8 So what we fill these vessels with – faith or disbelief; piety or profanity; submission or transgression; God’s invocation or worldly distractions – is indeed our choice and we alone shall bear the consequence.

A person’s spiritual life seldom unfolds in an orderly fashion, instead it has its ups and its downs. For the spiritual life is subject to the many sensitivities of the heart which, in turn, is subjected to many diverse influences, both negative and positive. The heart, by its nature, is constantly flipped one way, then another, by these influences. In fact, Imam al-Ghazali wrote: The Prophet ﷺ struck three smilies for the heart: ‘The heart is like a sparrow, turning about every hour.”9 He ﷺ also said: “The heart’s example in its constant change is like a pot when it boils.”10 And he ﷺ stated: “The heart is like a feather in an open land, which the wind keeps flipping one way then the other.”1112 Such is how the states, moods and sensitivities of the heart change from one moment to the next.

This is why Revelation urges that we each tend to our hearts above all else, and accord them the inalienable rights they were created to have. From the most critical of these rights are:

1. Adorning the heart with faith: A person possesses nothing of greater worth than his heart. And the heart cannot contain anything more cherished by it or more necessary to it than faith (iman); sound beliefs; and internalising the reality and requirements of la ilaha illa’Llah. For hearts were created to worship and adore Allah, and to be filled with faith. The Prophet ﷺ would say in one of his du‘as: ‘O Allah! Endear faith to us and beautify it in our hearts, and make unbelief, immorality and disobedience odious to us, and make us of the rightly guided (Allahumma habbib ilayna’l-iman wa zayyinhu fi qulubina wa karrih ilayna’l-kufra wa’l-fusuqa wa’l-‘isyan waj’alna min al-rashidin).’13

2. Illuminating it with the Qur’an: O people! There has come to you an exhortation from your Lord, and a healing for what is in the breasts, and a guidance and a mercy for those who believe. [10:57] So the Qur’an declares itself to be a counsel to heal hearts and cure them of doubts, darknesses and anxieties. Its message consoles, reassures and revives hearts mired in desperation, desires and disbelief.

3. Bringing to it tranquility: One hadith informs: ‘Detachment from the world (zuhd) brings relief to the heart and the body, while desire for [worldly] increase brings worry and anxiety.’14 Despite scientific studies revealing, and continued human experience proving, that an increase in material things, above subsistence living, doesn’t increase our overall happiness, we moderns are obsessed with worldly acquisitions. Whether it be living way beyond our means, racking up huge personal debts, pinning our whole sense of self-esteem on wearing the right brand names, anxious about whether or n0t we’re keeping up with the latest trends – all this has pushed us moderns to the mental brink.15 Despite the tech and material comforts that now embrace us, ours is a society ridden with depression, angst and discontent; desperately seeking fulfilment in what can never truly fulfil us: materialism/consumerism. In contrast, the Qur’an offers us this simple truth: Indeed in the remembrance of God do hearts find tranquility. [13:28] In one hadith we are reminded of this timeless insight: ‘Richness lies not in possessing many things, but it lies in contentment of the soul.’16 Simple living, then, lived out in the remembrance of God, is the key to tranquility. Such is the heart’s right.

4. Nurturing in it tenderness and humility: The Prophet would exhort others to bring into their lives those deeds that would have a profound effect on softening hearts and removing hardness from them. One such example is the saying of the Prophet ﷺ: ‘I used to forbid you from visiting graves, but now visit them. For doing so softens the heart, brings tears to the eye and reminds one of the Afterlife.’17 As we saw earlier, tender hearts filled with faith are the hearts most beloved to Allah: ‘Indeed God has vessels from the people of the earth, and the vessels of your Lord are the hearts of His righteous servants: the most beloved of them to Him are those which are the gentlest and softest.’18

5. Guarding it from the poison of sins: Endeavouring to keep our hearts free from sins is the heart’s right over us. For sins stain the heart and poison it. The Qur’an says: By no means! That which they have done has veiled their hearts. [83:14] This veil (rayn) has been explained as: atharu’l-ma‘asi ‘ala’l-qulub – the traces of sins upon the hearts. The following hadith sheds further light on this matter: ‘Temptations will be presented to the heart, just as a reed mat is interwoven strip by strip. Any heart that soaks it in will have a black stain upon it. Any heart that rejects it will have a white mark on it. Thus hearts will be of two types: one white, like a smooth stone, that will not be harmed by temptations as long as heavens and earth endure. The other, black and corroded, like a jug with cracks, neither recognising good nor rejecting wrong; rather being overrun by its desires.’19

6. Keeping it free from diseases: The day when wealth and sons will benefit not, save he who brings to God a sound heart. [26:88-9] Keeping the heart sound entails guarding it against two types of sickness or diseases: the disease of doubts (amrad al-shubuhat) and that of desires (amrad al-shahawat). About the first: That He may make what Satan has caste a trial for those in whose heart is a sickness. [22:53] The second type: Be not soft of speech, lest he in whose heart is a disease aspire to you. [33:32]

7. Praying constantly for the heart’s guidance: This is another essential right (haqq) of our hearts upon us, to pray for its guidance, rectitude and wellbeing, and that it not swerve from faith. This right must never be thought little of, trivialised, or neglected. The Prophet ﷺ would often supplicate: ‘O Turner of Hearts, turn our hearts to your obedience.’20

O Lord, cause not our hearts to swerve after You have
guided us, and bestow upon us mercy from
Your Presence. Assuredly you
are the Bestower.
[3:8]

1. Al-Ghazali, Ihya ‘Ulum al-Din (Jeddah: Dar al-Minhaj, 2011), 5:9-11.

2. Al-Bukhari, no.1; Muslim, no.1907.

3. Cited in Ibn Rajab, Jami‘ al-‘Ulum wa’l-Hikam (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1998), 1:71.

4. Muslim, no.2564.

5. See: Ibn Jama‘ah, Tadhkirat al-Sami‘ wa’l-Mutakallim (Hyderabad: Da’irat al-Ma‘arif al-‘Uthmaniyyah, 1933), 19.

6. Muslim, no.2564.

7. Ibn Majah, no.4462. It was graded sahih by al-Albani, al-Targhib wa’l-Tarhib (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 2006), no.2889.

8. Al-Tabarani, Musnad al-Shamiyyin, no.840; it is hasan. Consult: al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 1988), no.1691.

9. Al-Bayhaqi, Shu‘ab al-Iman, no.740; al-Hakim, al-Mustadrak, 4:329 where he stated: ‘It is sahih according to the conditions of Muslim.’

10. Al-Tabarani, Mu‘jam al-Kabir, 20:252, but with the following wording: ‘The heart of the son of Adam stirs far more intensely than a pot that has reached boiling point.’ It is sahih, as per al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah, no.1772.

11. Al-Bayhaqi, Shu‘ab al-Iman, nos.736-38; al-Baghawi, Sharh al-Sunnah, no.88. One of its chains is graded hasan in al-‘Iraqi, al-Mughni ani’l-Haml al-Asfar (Riyadh: Maktabah Tabariyyah, 1995), no.2676.

12. Ihya ‘Ulum al-Din, 5:161.

13. Al-Nasa’i, Sunan al-Kubra, no.10370, and it is sahih. See: al-Albani, Sahih al-Adab al-Mufrad (Saudi Arabia: Dar al-Saiddiq, 1994), no.538. This du‘a echoes the Qur’an when it says: But Allah has endeared faith to you, beautifying it in your hearts, making unbelief, immorality and disobedience odious to you. Such are they who are rightly guided. [49:7]

14. Al-‘Uqayli, al-Du‘afa, no459; al-Tabarani, al-Awsat, no.6256. Examining its various routes of transmission and supporting chains, al-Albani declared the hadith as weak (da‘if). Instead he considered it to be the statement of one of the people of knowledge of the past. Consult: Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Da‘ifah (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 1988), no.1291. The hadith does, nonetheless, state a general spiritual truth about the human situation.

15. See: Layard, Happiness: Lessons from a New Science (England: Penguin Books, 2004), p.4.

16. Al-Bukhari, no.446; Muslim, no.1051.

17. Abu Ya‘la, Musnad, no.3705. The hadith is sahih, as per al-Albani, Sahih al-Jami‘ al-Saghir (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1986), no.4584.

18. See footnote no.8 above.

19. Muslim, no.144.

20. Muslim, no.2654.

Zakat: Helping the Needy at Home & Abroad

file-186#4814a48170cc5fead838096208a6f890Thoughts that first cross the mind when it is suggested that zakat should be given at home in the UK, as well as abroad, is: foolish; nonsensical; totally irresponsible; utter ignorance; unIslamic, even! After all, who in Britain is truly poor or needy compared to, say, the millions of people in Malawi, Liberia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and other parts of the poverty-stricken or war-torn world?

So let me try to present the case for it, both from a textual, fiqhi perspective and from the perspective of our current reality in the UK. After that, I’ll leave it to the readers to decide whether the case has any merit or not, and whether or not the idea actual is absurd and irresponsible. Let me build the case, starting with the following:

I

In describing the essential traits of the God-conscious; the muttaqun, the Qur’an tells us that they are those who believe in the unseen, establish prayer, and spend out of what We have given them. [2:3] Expounding on this verse, Ibn Kathir wrote: ‘God frequently pairs together prayer and spending in charity. Prayer is a right of God and an act of devotion to Him. This [right] involves singling Him out for worship, praising Him, extolling His glory, earnestly invoking Him, petitioning Him and depending on Him. Spending, by contrast, is part of benevolence towards creation through extending to them a helping hand.’1

This pairing is so intrinsic to our faith that religious observance, in its entirety, can be said to revolve around huququ’Llah, “rights of God,” and huquq al-’ibad, “rights of the creation.” Ibn Rajab, however, makes a timely observation in this respect, which we would do well to pay heed to. He says: ‘Many in whom attentiveness in fulfilling the rights of God predominate, and who are devoted to God’s love, fear and obedience, either totally neglect the rights of creation, or fall short with respect to them.’2

II

The “spending (infaq) out of what God has given” in the above verse comprises two forms of giving. One is sadaqah – voluntary spending; the other, zakat – the spending of which is mandatory. The term sadaqah (usually translated as “alms” or as “charity”) covers, not just the giving of money to the deserving poor, but also the giving of one’s self, talents, learning, or simply one’s time. The act is seen as meritorious in and of itself, purely on altruistic grounds. Yet the spiritual significance of sadaqah can’t be overlooked too. Giving regular sadaqah attracts madad – the flow of divine assistance, as well as helps repel misfortune.

Zakat, a word which signifies growth, blessings and also purification,3 is that type of spending which the Qur’an deems mandatory on all Muslims who possess surplus financial means at their disposal. The payment of zakat is, therefore, a way by which a Muslim’s wealth may be made pure and sacred – so long as, of course, one seeks the divine pleasure through it: He who gives his wealth to purify himself, not in return for any favour done unto him, seeking only the Face of his Lord, Most High. He shall be well-pleased. [92:18-21]

III

It is not just one’s wealth that is purified through the act of paying the zakat, but also one’s self. For the nafs; the ego, is purified from the blemish of greed and selfishness when giving freely of one’s wealth: And whoever is saved from his own avarice will surely succeed. [59:9]

With its spiritual significance confirmed, one must not overlook zakat’s all important social function. Islam’s vision of society is rooted in the idea of compassion, service and responsibility; and no where is this better seen than in the giving and dispensing of zakat. For zakat is to be utilised, first and foremost, for the poor and the needy, so as to alleviate the problem of poverty. In other words, the “haves”of the society are to help lift the burden of the “have nots” in the spirit of service and brotherhood. In summing-up the spiritual and social virtues of zakat, Shah Wali Allah wrote: ‘Know that there are two purposes behind zakat: a purpose linked to disciplining the soul; this due to the presence of avarice in it … And a purpose associated with the city, for it will certainly include those who are poor and needy.’4

IV

Zakat is, strictures the Qur’an, only for the poor and the needy, and those who collect it, and for those whose hearts are to be reconciled, and for the ransom of captives, and the debtors, and in the path of God, and the wayfarers. This is an obligation from God, and God is All-Knowing, All-Wise. [9:60]

Juristic details aside, the main forms of wealth on which zakat is levied includes gold and silver, livestock, agricultural produce, minerals, stocks and shares, currency and other liquid assets. A percentage of this wealth (two and a half percent in the case of gold, silver, stocks and share, and all wealth held in monetary form) is to be disbursed to the eight sectors, or categories, mentioned in the above verse.5

In a foundational hadith on the subject we read that the Prophet ﷺ, when sending Mu‘adh to Yemen, instructed him: ‘O Mu‘adh, you are going to a people who are of the People of the Book, so first invite them to bear witness that none deserves to be worshiped except God, and that Muhammad is the Messenger of God. If they accept this, then inform them that God enjoins on them five prayers in a day and a night. If they accept this, then inform them that God obligates charity [i.e. zakat] upon them; to be taken from their rich and given to their poor.’6

V

Based on the words: “to be taken from their rich and given to their poor,” jurists from the four Sunni schools of law, or madhhabs, say that zakat, as a rule of thumb, is to be distributed locally where possible.

The Hanbali school stipulates: ‘It is preferred to disburse all of the zakat to the poor of his locality. It is not permissible to transfer it to [a location] where prayer is to be shortened [if one traveled to it]; though if one does so it suffices – unless there are no poor persons in the land, in which case he is to distribute it in the land closest to him.’7

The Shafi’i madhhab lays down: ‘If the [eight] categories are found in the place where zakat is collected, it is prohibitted and invalid to transfer the zakat elsewhere – save if it is being distributed by the head of state, in which case he may transfer it to another place.’8

The Malikis hold that transfering zakat is impermissible, except if there is a pressing need to do so.9

The Hanafi school is more conciliatory on the subject, stipulating, ‘It is disapproved to transfer zakat of one land to another; unless he transfers it to his poor relatives, or to a people needier than his own.’10

In short: what this tells us is that the poor and needy of a city have greater claim over local zakat than the poor or needy elsewhere – accepting that scholars permit sending it abroad for pressing reasons.

VI

“There are no poor Muslims in Britain,” is a common response to the suggestion that zakat could be disbursed here, within the country. But is this true? No poor Muslims? Even if it were, what of the other categories of zakat recipients? Are they absent from Britain too?

The reality is markedly different from the popular Muslim perception. For there are a growing number of poor and needy Muslim households in the UK who would qualify for zakat. It is true that their need is likely to not be as acute as those in certain other poverty-ravished places in the world. Nevertheless, their relative poverty, in terms of not having enough money for certain basic necessities – like food, heating, medicines, or paying rent – would entitle them to zakat. Of course, if government benefits meet such needs, well that is different. But if they did not, and sometimes they don’t, then scholars have ruled that they would indeed qualify for zakat. Those who could enter into the category of the poor (fuqara) and the needy (masakin) are: struggling single parent families, asylum seekers, refugees, and anyone else whose net assets (after one excludes assets for basic essentials like a house, car, furniture, etc; and after deducting basic living expenses and debts owed) are less than the nisab value.11 This could also include prisoners; and even more so, families of prisoners, who often have very little or no financial support.

Then there are the mu’allafat al-qulub – “those whose hearts need reconciling.” These recipients can include: recent converts to Islam who are alienated from their families, or whose faith needs strengthening; or recently released prisoners struggling to make ends meet and about whom it is feared will reoffend.

There is also the category of the gharimun: “those burdened with debts” contracted in good faith, which they subsequently cannot repay. Of course, we’re not talking about those who’ve racked up debts due to conspicuous consumption, spending and living beyond their means, or through gambling and other haram indulgences. Instead, we are talking about people who, for instance, and through no fault or irresponsibility of their own, have fallen into rents arrears and are on the verge of eviction. Or, where a family whose bread winner has been made redundant, and find themselves in arrears with domestic utility bills, to the extent where the gas or electricity supply is going to be cut-off.

As for the category of fi sabili’Llah – “for the path of God” – here in Britain this would include financial assistance to students fully occupied in formally studying the sacred shari‘ah sciences. Classically, of course, the fiqh manuals depict this category as being primarily voluntary fighters (mujahidun), not paid by the state treasury, who require financial support so as to partake in a bonafide state-sanctioned war against a hostile and belligerent enemy.

VII

In the above, I’ve tried to spotlight people who could very well be entitled to receive zakat in Britain, but who often get ignored, or go unnoticed and unserved. As for the more higher profile categories: orphans; widows; the starving, hungry and homeless; Muslims incarcerated in prisons such as Guantanamo, with no sure evidence against them and no access to justice or the due process of the law; and the countless victims of natural disasters across the globe – we must indeed continue to reach out to them with our zakat (and our sadaqah and du‘as). Subhana’Llah! Their plight often beggars belief and the sheer scales of the tragedies are so grotesque; and living for the poor is the undeniable Sunnah, often forgotten by us Muslims today.

Having a social conscience with respect to Britain’s needy and vulnerable Muslims is in no way to ignore the poverty, starvation and persecution which afflicts millions of Muslims in other parts of the globe. British Muslims will have to learn to discharge their duties to both, in light of the priorities set by Islam’s Sacred Law. It’s even been argued that, if we were to get our own house in a little more order, it would help us to better help others in the long run. Whatever the case, we need to think the issue of how best to deploy our zakat; of how best to help restore dignity to the needy and the impoverished.

This, then, is the case for not neglecting to give zakat to the growing number of poor and needy Muslims in Britain today.

And Allah knows best.

1. Ibn Kathir, Tafsir Qur’an al-‘Adhim (Beirut: Dar al-Ma‘rifah, 1987), 1:45.

2. Jami‘ al-‘Ulum wa’l-Hikam (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1998), 1:454.

3. As per al-Raghib al-Asbahani, Mufradat Alfaz al-Qur’an (Damascus: Dar al-Qalam, 2002), 380-81.

4. Hujjatu’Llah al-Balighah (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 2001), 2:69-70.

5. The fiqh details that make a person liable for paying zakat, and to whom and how such monies should be disbursed, are issues for which the lay people must consult a qualified scholar.

6. Al-Bukhari, Sahih, no.1496.

7. Al-Hajjawi, Zad al-Mustaqni‘ (Riyadh: Madar al-Watn li’l-Nashr, 2004), 78.

8. Ibn Naqib, ‘Umdat al-Salik (Qatar:Nafaqah al-Sh’un al-Diniyyah, 1982), 111.

9. Cited in al-Bassam, Tawdih al-Ahkam min Bulugh al-Maram (Makkah: Maktabah al-Nahdah al-Hadithah, 1994), 3:27.

10. Al-Zayla‘i, Nasab al-Rayah (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 2002), 2:423.

11. Nisab: This is the minimum amount of wealth upon which zakat becomes payable. If one only has gold assets, the nisab is 87.48 grams of gold. If the assets are a mixture of gold and silver, the nisab for silver is utilised, which is 612.36 grams. In monetary terms, one converts these nisab levels to the current market prices for gold or silver. Thus, at today’s price (8/2/2015), the market value for gold, per gram, was £26.02; and for silver, £0.35. So whoever has £2,276.23 or more of net gold assets, will have to pay zakat, or £214.32 of mixed net assets must pay zakat. Those possessing less than the nisab are not liable for zakat and are usually considered poor or needy. One, however, consults a qualified scholars if unsure about how to calculate zakat.

Finding Happiness & Inner Peace

668-63908_a_tranquil_place_2This short video reminds us of what is essential when we seek the good life: a life of inner contentment, happiness and peace of mind. The reminder bases itself upon the words of the Qur’an: Whoever does good, be they male or female, and has faith, We shall cause them to live a goodly life. [16:97]

Given the angst and anxieties that plague us moderns, and the huge discontent which engulfs the lives of so many people today, Finding Happiness & Inner Peace is a simple, timely reminder about what really counts in life.

The link to the video is here: http://youtu.be/W5b3FnnCKjA

Divorcing the Wife at the Behest of Parents

divorce-cake (3)[2]Q. Is there any religious requirement in Islam for a husband to divorce his wife merely because his parents are displeased with the marriage, or continue to disapprove of it? Didn’t the Prophet ﷺ endorse the decision of ‘Umar who ordered his son to divorce his wife? Is the son being disobedient if he refuses to do so?

A. The incident in question refers to the case of Ibn ‘Umar who relates: I was married to a woman that I loved, but my father disliked her. So he ordered me to divorce her, but I refused. I then mentioned this to the Prophet ﷺ who said to me: ‘O ‘Abd Allah b. ‘Umar! Divorce your wife.’1

The leading Hanbali jurist of his age, Ibn Muflih, writes in his al-Adab al-Shar‘iyyah: ‘If his father demands that he divorce his wife, he isn’t required to do so. This was stated by most of the senior students [of Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal]. Al-Sanadi states: A man said to Abu ‘Abd Allah [i.e. Imam Ahmad]: My father orders me to divorce my wife. He responded: “Do not divorce her.” The man said: But didn’t ‘Umar order his son ‘Abd Allah to divorce his wife? So he replied: “Only if your father is like ‘Umar, may God be pleased with him.”’2

Shaykh Shu‘ayb al-Arna’ut explains in a footnote to this point: ‘Meaning, he shouldn’t divorce her on account of his father ordering it; unless the father is like ‘Umar, in the sense of doing what is true and just, and not merely following his personal whims in the matter.’3

Ibn Taymiyyah stated something similar about a mother ordering her son to divorce his wife: ‘It is not required to obey her. Though one [continues to] remain dutiful and kind to her. Divorcing one’s wife is not part of kindness due to mothers.’4

So if the parents’ decision in this delicate issue springs from profound piety and depth of religious insight, and not from from their whims or egos, then one considers their judgement and looks to obeying them; if not, then not.

Here, it is appropriate to mention the honour, kindness and service that Islam expects children to show to parents. The Qur’an states: Your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him, and that you show kindness to your two parents. If either or both of them attain old age [show no sign of impatience, and] do not even say “fie!” to them nor rebuke them, but speak to them kindly. [17:23]

Allah also said: Be grateful to Me and your two parents. [31:14] And: We have enjoined on mankind kindness to parents; but if they try to force you to ascribe to Me that of which you have no knowledge, then obey them not. [29:8]

The hadith compendiums record that the Prophet ﷺ was asked: What deed is best? He said: ‘Prayer at its earliest time, and then kindness to parents.’5 ‘A parent,’ declared the Prophet ﷺ, ‘is the best of the gates of Paradise; so if you wish, protect the gate or lose it.’6 Then there is the hadith: ‘The pleasure of your Lord lies in pleasing parents, and the anger of your Lord lies in displeasing parents.’7

Yet despite the tremendous status Islam accord parents, a son is under no obligation to fulfil the demands of his parents to divorce his wife, if there is no valid reason for doing so. Moreover, the above texts in no way sanction the tyranny that some parents inflict on their sons and daughters: physical abuse, forced marriages, indifference to religious education and upbringing, forceful imposition of ‘back home’ cultural values and, in a few hideously haram cases, honour killings! Such issues must be challenged, stood-up to and be rooted out of our communities.

In summary: If parents ask the son to annul his marriage because of some reason held to be valid in the Sacred Law (shari‘ah) – like shielding him from an overriding worldly harm; or to safeguard his moral, spiritual and religious wellbeing – one considers the parents wishes and defers to their judgement. To use the hadith unrestrictedly would be highly tragic and, given the moral degeneration of people today (parents includes), it would be highly reckless too. If parents have no legitimate grounds for their dislike, then no such obedience is due. If one is in any doubt about the matter, one consults a well-seasoned scholar of the Sacred Law.

Lastly, we must remember that when a man takes a women in marriage, this nikah, or marriage, is described in Allah’s Book [4:21] as a mithaq ghalizah – “solemn covenant.” Such a solemn marital bond must be honoured and nurtured and its rights fulfilled: it isn’t a trivial thing that should be subjected to the egotistical whims of selfish parents. Let men be loving, affectionate, relaxed, easy-natured and honourable companions to their wives – soul mates, even; reverently upholding the sanctity of marital ties. After all: They are a garment for you and you are a garment for them. [2:187] And after all, the Prophet ﷺ did tell us: ‘The best of you are those who are best to their wives.’8 Thus, in Islam, being a good husband is an essential part of being a man. So be a man!

1. Al-Tirmidhi, Sunan, no.1200, where he said: ‘This hadith is hasan sahih.’

2. Ibn Muflih, al-Adab al-Shar‘iyyah (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1996), 1:475.

3. ibid, 1:475.

4. Cited in al-Adab al-Shar‘iyyah, 1:475.

5. Al-Bukhari, Sahih, no.527.

6. Al-Tirmidhi, no.1961, who said: ‘This hadith is sahih.’

7. Al-Tirmidhi, no.1962, and it is authentic (sahih). Cf. al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Beirut: Maktab al-Islami, 1985), no.516.

8. Al-Tirmidhi, no.1162, who said: ‘The hadith is hasan sahih.’

O Ummah! Be Good, Be Better, Be the Best

worldcuptrophyIf, as it is said, ‘conduct is the best proof of character,’ then it behooves every Muslim to adorn their conduct with sincerity, honesty, integrity and piety. In other words, we should each aspire to be people of beauty: inwardly and outwardly; in both character and conduct. Collectively, the ummah may be excused, in some part, for its lack of political and economic progress. It may even be forgiven for its lack of contribution to modern scientific and technological advancements. But there can be no excuse for us Muslims to have anything but noble character and honourable conduct. As part of his discussion concerning the duties attached to the Islamic month of Rabi‘ al-Awwal, Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali has a section wherein he offered this rejoinder to this fragile, yet blessed Muslim ummah:

‘My brothers! Whosoever is from this ummah, is from the best of all nations in Allah’s sight. For Allah, exalted is He, stated: You are the best nation that has been raised up for mankind. [3:110] The Prophet ﷺ said: “You are equivalent to seventy nations; you are the best and most honoured of them with Allah.”1

Now, as this Messenger, the unlettered Prophet ﷺ, is the best of creation and the noblest of them in Allah’s esteem, his ummah is thus the best of nations and the noblest. It is not fitting, therefore, to be from the best of nations and be ascribed to following the best of creation (particularly those who live in [Damascus] the best of places for the Muslims, toward the End of Days), except that he adorn himself with good traits and shun evil ones. Odious it is to be content with being from the worst of people, whilst being ascribed to the best of nations and being a follower of the best of prophets.

Allah, blessed and exalted is He, said: Those who believe and do good works, they are the best of created beings. [98:7] Thus the best of people are those who profess faith and act righteously. Allah said: You are the best nation that has been raised up for mankind. You enjoin what is good and forbid what is evil, and you believe in Allah. [3:110]

It was narrated that the Prophet ﷺ said: “The best of people are those who possess understanding of Allah’s religion, maintain ties of kinship, and enjoin good and forbid evil.”2

In another narration: “The best of people are those who have most fear of their Lord, maintain ties of kinship, enjoin good and forbid evil.”3

He also said ﷺ: “People are like mines; the best of them in the pre-Islamic days are the best in Islam, providing they gain understanding of it.”4

And he ﷺ stated: “The best of people is he who lives long and whose deeds are good, while the worst of people is he who lives long but whose deeds are bad.”5

He [also] said: “The best of you are those from whom good is hoped and from whose harm others are safe. The worst of you are those from whom no good is expected, and from whose harm others are not safe.”6

And: “Shall I not inform you of the best of you?” They said: Indeed, do so. He replied: “Those who, when you look at them, remind you of Allah.” He then said: “Shall I not inform you of the worst of you?” They said: Yes! He said: “Those who spread gossip and cause schisms between close friends and spread mischief between the innocent.”7

“The worst person in Allah’s estimation is someone who others avoid for fear of his ill conduct.”8

“From the worst people in Allah’s sight is someone who is two-faced: he comes to one group with one face, and to another with a different face.”9 …

The deeds of the ummah are presented to the Prophet ﷺ in the Intermediate Realm (barzakh),10 Hence a person should feel shy of presenting to his Prophet those deeds he has made forbidden. It is for this reason when he, peace be upon him, addressed the masses during the Farewell Pilgrimage, he said: “I shall precede you to the Pool (hawd) and will have the largest number of followers of any nation. So do not disgrace me.”11 This is an indication that he shall feel shy at the sinful actions of his ummah when they are presented to him.’12

1. Al-Tirmidhi, no.3001.

2. Ahmad, Musnad, no.27434. Its chain is weak (da‘if).

3. Ibn Abi Shaybah, Musannaf, no.25388.

4. Al-Bukhari, no.3382; Muslim, no.2526.

5. Al-Tirmidhi, no.3375.

6. Al-Tirmidhi, no.2263.

7. Ibn Majah, no.4119; al-Bukhari, al-Adab al-Mufrad, no.323.

8. Al-Bukhari, no.6053; Muslim, no.2591.

9. Al-Bukhari, no.6057; Muslim, no.2526.

10. A reference to the hadith: ‘My life is a great good for you, you will relate about me and it will be related to you. And my death is a great good for you, your actions will be presented to me: if I see good I will praise Allah and if I see evil I will seek forgiveness of Him for you.’ Al-Bazzar, Musnad, no.845. Its chain was graded as sound (hasan) by al-‘Iraqi, Tar’ al-Tathrib (Beirut: Dar al-Ihya al-‘Arabi, n.d.), 3:297 – his last book; as opposed to his Takhrij al-Ihya, no.3810, where he questioned the reliability of one of the narrators, ‘Abd al-Majid b. Abi Rawwad, It is on such grounds that led al-Albani to grade the hadith da‘if. See: Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Da‘ifah (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 1992), no.975.

11. Ibn Majah, no.3057.

12. Lata’if wa’l-Ma‘arif (Riyadh: Dar Ibn Khuzaymah, 2007), 220-25.

While We Question Charlie, Let’s Question Ourselves Too!

461127728While righteous anger when the Prophet ﷺ is mocked or insulted is integral to faith, we Muslims need to invest greater efforts into adhering to the actual obligations and duties instated by faith – be it in our acts or worship; our ethics and behaviour; our relationships; or our social contracts and transactions. The Prophet ﷺ said: ‘All my followers will enter Paradise except those who refuse.’ On being asked who refuses, he said: ‘Those who obey me will enter Paradise, while those who disobey me have infact refused.’ [Al-Bukhari, no.7280]

While debating whether one should have the right to gratuitous offence or not, or the limits to freedom of speech (for it does indeed have limits and restrictions), this is as good a time as any to take stock of our own commitment to the life and teachings of the Prophet ﷺ and how much we exemplify it or not in our daily lives and conduct: So let those who contravene his command beware lest an affliction befall them or a painful punishment smite them. [24:63] In contrast: Whoever obeys God and His Messenger, they are with those whom God has blessed, of the prophet and the truthful [highest] saints, and the martyrs, and the righteous. What fine company they are! [4:69]

While pointing out the inconsistencies, double standards or blatant Islamophobia in and among the Je suis Charlie voices (both in France as well as elsewhere), we need the voices of our scholars to give us clearer guidance on how and why we cannot take the law into our own hands in the democracies in which we live and consider home, even when Islam’s sacred symbols have become open game: You will surely hear much that is offensive from those who were given scripture before you, and from idolaters. But if you persevere patiently and fear God, such are weighty factors in all affairs. [3:186]

While we call into question the commitment to freedom of speech of many heads of state who marched so sanctimoniously against the disgraceful Paris killings, it is time we questioned how committed we are to the revealed truths of our din – individually and collectively – and how deep our convictions in them really run: Lose not heart, nor grieve. For you shall prevail, if you are truly believers. [3:139] That we prevail not, but are prevailed over, says something very troubling about our collective commitment to religion and revealed truths.

While we still feel the reverberations of the Paris murders and sense more than a little hypocrisy in how the French Republic selectively enacts its freedom of expression, it’s important to also hold ourselves to account and weed out hypocrisy from our actions and persona: ‘The signs of a hypocrite are three, even if he prays and fasts and claims that he is a Muslim: when he speaks, he lies; when he makes a promise, he reneges on it; and when he is entrusted, he betrays his trust.’ [Al-Bukhari, no.33; Muslim, no.107] A far more serious form of hypocrisy is highlighted in the following verse: And when it is said to them: ‘Come to that which God has sent down and to the Messenger,’ you see the hypocrites turn away from you in aversion. [4:61]

While mainstream Muslims denounce such crimes, dismissing them as acts of fringe extremist with troubled pasts, political grievances and little religious learning, we also admit that such acts of lawlessness are now a growing concern within and outside the House of Islam. And yet, as angry and enraged young souls trample over traditional Islamic teachings and ignore established leaders and scholarship, we Muslims need to each play our part in quelling this rising tide of religious anarchy that was foretold to us in this next hadith: ‘God does not take away knowledge by wresting it from the hearts of men; rather He takes knowledge away by taking away the scholars. So when no scholar remains, people take the ignorant as leaders who, when asked, give fatwas without knowledge: they are misguided and misguiding.’ [Bukhari, no.100; Muslim, no.2673]

While freedom of expression currently forbids insulting race and ethnicity, it has no such qualm when it comes to pouring scorn upon beliefs and ideologies – religious or otherwise. Free speech is deemed to be the core value of democracy: a precondition to progress and the guarantor of liberty. The only constraints on it are things like libel, slander, hate speech, obscenity, incitement to violence, and severe and specific threats to public safety. All else is taken to be fair game. And yet Charlie Hebdo didn’t occur in a vacuum. The cartoons come at a time when scorn, bigotry, discrimination, physical violence, mosque burnings as well as a growing host of legal handicaps are day-to-day realities for European Muslims. In what way do such cartoons not serve to further the xenophobic contempt for a community already ill-protected, maligned and under significant social siege?

While much of the West has shown its outrage for the attack on the cherished value of free speech, Muslims will do well to recall that denigrating the Prophet ﷺ – whom they cherish more than any other, for they believe him to be a prophet of God and the epitome of piety, purity and goodness – is a capital offence under classical Islamic law. In a Muslim land where such law is sovereign and applicable, and after investigation, trial and the due process of law, it is the state’s prerogative to carry out the sentence of blasphemy: a crime punishable by death. Just how outraged the Western world may feel about this should be neither here nor there. As for vigilante killing in non-Muslim polities, where neither Islamic law nor its jurisdiction applies, we should recognise it for what it is: criminality and murder. It neither has the validation of classical Islamic law, nor the endorsement of any established, living scholarly authority.

While many see in the Charlie Hebdo tragedy the symbols of the moral superiority of Western values and civilisation, others may ask: How can there be civilisation without civility? And how can there be civility when gratuitous offence is allowed for nothing more than its own sake? Of course, Muslims should understand that those outside of their faith are free, and should be free, to criticise Islam; question its teachings; and challenge its beliefs, laws and ethics; and even reject it out of hand, if they so choose. If some Muslims feel slightly queasy about that, they simply need to get thicker skins: There is no compulsion in religion, is what the Qur’an says. [2:256] What most Muslims, I suspect, are trying to say is this: If for nothing more than community cohesion and peaceful coexistence, let’s avoid senseless provocation and gratuitous offence merely for its own sake. Let’s learn to be a tad more civil.

W’Llahu wali al-tawfiq.

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