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Quranic Meditations: On Justice, Equality & Feminism

Justice.001In this tafakkur or ‘meditation’ upon the Qur’an, we explore the Islamic teachings on justice – what it means, its place in our religion, how it permeates the entire shari‘ah, and the dire consequences to nations and societies when justice is ignored or thrown to the wind. In fact, as we’ll see, the current state of the Muslim world owes much to a lack of justice. For as far as worldly affairs go, Allah’s help is with societies wherein justice prevails, even if it is a non-Muslim one, more than it is with societies wherein justice is lax, even if they be Muslim ones. The meditation will also contrast notions of justice with that of equality, and touch upon the view of ‘Islamic Feminism’. Below, then, is the verse around which the meditations will revolve:

5_8

O you who believe! Be upright for Allah, witnesses to equity. And let not hatred of a people cause you to be unjust; be just, that is closer to piety. And be mindful of Allah; surely Allah is aware of what you do. [5:8]

Meditations upon the above verse about justice (adl), fairness (insaf) and equity (qist) include:

1 – This verse comes a few verses after Allah commanded the Muslims: Let not hatred of a people that barred you from the Sacred Mosque cause you to commit aggression. [5:2] Here, believers are told to restrain themselves and not to retaliate, even against those who had barred them from visiting the Ka‘bah in Makkah; especially during the year known as the Year of al-Hudaybiyyah. This, undeniably, is a high standard of restraint and tolerance that Revelation elevated them to. But the verse we are meditating upon demands an even higher standard. For the first verse [5:2] required reigning in feelings of revenge and retaliation; the second [5:8] requires maintaining justice towards one and all, even when there is enmity or animosity. The first verse demands passive self-restraint; the second, a proactive establishment of justice towards even those who are hostile and belligerent to believers. Such is Islam’s bidding to justice.

2 – The Quranic insistence on justice can be found in many verses, like the following: Allah commands you to render back things held in trust to their rightful owners, and if you judge between people, that you judge justly. [4:58] In the next verse we are warned not to swerve from the demands of justice, whether for family, financial, social or personal gain or desire: O you who believe! Be upright for justice, witnesses to Allah, even though it be against yourselves, or parents, or relatives; and weather it be against rich or poor. [4:135] And: Then, if it returns, make peace between them fairly, and act justly. Surely Allah loves those who act justly. [49:9] Such is its virtue, that those who stand up for justice or act justly are admitted into al-maqam al-mahbubiyyah – “the Station of Being Beloved to Allah” and, in the Hereafter, ‘will be with Allah, seated on thrones of light at the right hand of the All-Merciful.’1

3 – Before moving on, let us pause for a minute in order to consider what we mean by the word ‘justice’. The Arabic term for justice, ‘adl, pretty much conveys the sense of what it does in English. ‘Adl can mean: justice, fairness, rectitude, equivalence, equity, or balance.2 Another way of understanding justice is to contrast it with its opposite: injustice. Arabs say: bi didiha tatabayyan al-ashya’ – ‘By their opposite are things best clarified.’ The Arabic word for injustice is: zulm, which Arab lexicalists define as: wad‘ al-shay’ fi ghayri mawdi‘ihi – ‘Putting something in other than its proper place.’3 Thus justice is to put a thing in its proper place. Which is to say, justice is to give each thing its due – at its due time, its due place, and in its due measure. Preliminaries over, let’s ponder the verse in a bit more detail:

4 – Addressing people of faith (iman), the verse states: O you who believe! Be upright for Allah, witnesses to equity. Which is almost identical to another verse: O you who believe! Be upright for justice, witnesses to Allah. [4:135] The only difference between the two is a slight shift in word order. In 4:135, the word qist (justice, equity) is placed towards the beginning of the verse; in 5:8, it is placed towards the end. The subtle distinction was explained by some scholars as follows: There are two causes why someone will swerve from the dictates of justice and equity and fall into injustice and oppression. The first is a bias towards one’s self, one’s family, or one’s friends. The other is enmity towards someone. Verse 4:135 addresses the former; 5:8 tackles the latter. Thus, after the order to be just, 4:135 specifies: even though it be against yourselves, or parents, or relatives; and weather it be against rich or poor. While 5:8 insists: And let not hatred of a people cause you to be unjust; be just. The gist of 4:135 is that one never sides with one’s self, family, relatives of friends if it means being unjust. In other words, if they oppose justice, side with justice and oppose them. The gist of 5:8 is that one must never allow animosity or ill will against people to be a cause for behaving unjustly or violating their rights. In 4:135, Be upright for justice comes first so no one is led to think that by siding with self-interests, family or relatives, over justice, one is maintaining family ties and hence is being obedient to Allah: they certainly are not! In contrast, 5:8 begins with Be upright for Allah so that feelings of revenge and retaliation are guided and regulated by Allah’s command, so that no injustice is perpetrated; not even against an enemy.4

5 – Some of the ramifications of the above Quranic call for justice may be seen in the following hadiths: Al-Numan b. Bashir reported how he once gave a gift to just one of his children, but the wife said she would not accept this unless the Prophet ﷺ was a witness to it. So he went to the Prophet ﷺ to request him to witness it. The Prophet ﷺ asked him: ‘Have you given gifts to all your children?’ He replied that he hadn’t. So the Prophet ﷺ said: ‘Fear Allah, and be just between your children.’ He ﷺ then said: ‘I do not bear witness to injustice.’5 So parents displaying outward favouritism to one child over another is considered an injustice (zulm) and is thus detested in Islam, due to the psychological harms, resentment or ill feelings it often breeds. The Prophet ﷺ said that Allah ﷻ said: ‘O My servants, I have forbidden injustice for Myself and have made if forbidden amongst you, so do no injustice to one another.’6 Also the hadith: ‘Beware the supplication of the oppressed one, even if he is an unbeliever; for there is no veil between it and Allah.’7

6 – Justice, as the saying goes, must be blind. There can’t be any favouritism, tribalism or partisanship, except to the truth. Justice, as we have seen, must be sided with; be it to friend or foe. And just as the Qur’an forbids injustice towards hostile non-Muslims, then more so the case with Muslim brethren who may be open sinners or innovators. Ibn Taymiyyah has written: ‘The leading scholars of [ahl] al-sunnah wa’l-jama‘ah, and the people of knowledge and faith, have in them knowledge, justice and compassion. They know the truth that accords with the prophetic guidance and that is free of any innovation. They act justly toward those who depart from it [orthodoxy], even if they have been wronged; just as Allah, exalted is He, says: O you who believe! Be upright for Allah, witnesses to equity. And let not hatred of a people cause you to be unjust; be just, that is closer to piety. And be mindful of Allah; surely Allah is aware of what you do. They show mercy to others; desiring for them goodness, guidance and knowledge. They do not intend harm for them at the outset. But if they do have to bring them to book, it is only to clarify their error, ignorance or wrong doing. Their intent in this is to clarify truth, show mercy to others, enjoin good and forbid evil, so that religion is purely for Allah and the Divine Word is made supreme.’8 So our da‘wah must be corrective – in other words, our teaching and outreach must entail clarifying and defending revealed truths from doubts, distortions, fabrications and baseless interpretations. This must only be undertaken with righteous intentions; seasoned knowledge; justice, balance and proportionality; courage, compassion and mercy; and seeking the good of people. Anything else will entail ignorance, injustice and the following of false desires.

7 – Expounding on the essence and inherent nature of Islam’s Sacred law or shari‘ah, Imam Ibn al-Qayyim reveals that justice is its essential feature. He explains: ‘Indeed, [Allah] transcendent is He, has clarified in the paths He has legislated that its purpose is: to establish justice between His servants and equity between people. So any path by which justice and equity are drawn out is part of the religion, and can never be in opposition to it.’9 Elsewhere he writes: ‘The shari‘ah is based and built upon wisdom and [achieving] public welfare, in both this life and the next. It is justice in its entirety, mercy in its entirety, welfare in its entirety, and wisdom in its entirety. Any issue that departs from justice to injustice, mercy to its opposite, public welfare to corruption, or wisdom to folly cannot be part of the shari‘ah, even if it is claimed to be so due to some interpretation.’10

8 – In speaking of justice, many well-intended Muslims are unconsciously secualrised. Their discourse is often scarred by failing to grasp its Quranic essence – to put a thing in its rightful place; to give things their due. This requires knowledge about the value and measure of things, as Islam assigns to them, so as to give them their due. ‘Hence,’ Ibn al-Qayyim says, ‘knowledge and justice are the root of every good, while injustice and ignorance are the root of every evil.’11 But talking more from a marketable take on Islam than a textually-versed or well-studied one, they mistakenly equate justice (‘adl) with equality (musawa). This, though, isn’t quite Islam’s story. For sure, there are areas of overlap between the two. But the Qur’an is couched in the language of justice, not equality. To describe Islam as ‘egalitarian’, or to claim it advocates ‘equality’, is not just highly reductionist, the concepts are also not very meaningful. For while some verses of the Qur’an have an egalitarian temper to them,12 others verses insist on difference, distinction and divine disparity. In speaking of the disbelievers who have transgressed against their own souls due to their disbelief, the Qur’an asks this rhetorical question: Is he who is a believer like he who transgresses? They are not equal. [32:18] And: Not equal are the people of the Fire and the people of the Garden. It is the people of the Garden that are the winners. [59:20] Emphasising quality rather than quantity and that excess does not equal worth, the Qur’an states: Say: ‘Evil things and good things are not equal, even though the abundance of the evil may please you.’ [5:100] And: Say: ‘Are they equal, those who know and those who do not?’ [39:9] Then there are verses to do with gender roles, functions and natures: And the male is not like the female, is what the Qur’an says [3:36] And: Men are protectors of women because of what Allah has given the one more than the other, and because of what they expend of their wealth. So virtuous women are devoutly obedient, guarding in [their husband’s] absence what Allah has guarded. [4:34] And lastly, because men are legally obligated in Islam to spend of their wealth to maintain family and household, while women have no such financial burden, there is this verse: Allah thus commands you concerning [the division of inheritance for] your children: to the male, a portion equal to that of two females. [4:11] All this is just to say that the Qur’an speaks of justice and equity, not the nebulous social construct of equality.

9 – Of all the modern voices calling for equality, few are as muscular or more strident than feminism. Despite a mixed bag of views and approaches within today’s feminist movement, it does coalesce around certain core tenets and assumptions. All forms of feminism agree women have to be liberated from the tyranny of organised patriarchy that still shapes the world today, causing men and women to often live very different realities. They see patriarchy as being wholly unjust and indefensible, being nothing more than a social construct rather than an inescapable fact of nature. Feminists of all persuasions are, therefore, committed to dismantling patriarchy so as to construct an equal gender society. Beyond these shared beliefs, there are disparate feminist voices about how patriarchy has arisen and how it must be tackled and torn down. Secular feminists reject God, Revelation, and Religion in the narrative of feminism. They view religion and religious scripture as root sources of chauvinist ideas; baleful relics of an oppressive past that have no relevance to the debate about gender equality in modern society. Those who, in more recent times, come under the rubric of Islamic feminists are people who believe in the truth claims of Islam; believing that the Qur’an, when it is rightly understood, supports feminist claims about gender equality and abolishing patriarchy. They are convinced that the ‘ulema, starting from the time of the Prophet’s Companions (sahabah), throughout all the ages of Islam, have strayed from a correct understanding of God’s will for women, as espoused in the Qur’an. The strategy these feminists use to prop up their claims is the reinterpretation of the Qur’an, in order to bring it in line with their privileged, and arguably hubristic, insights regarding gender functions and equality.

10 – That violence, abuse and bigotry against women happen in every society globally, including Muslim ones, is tragic as it is shameful and abysmal. Feminists of all stripes have been at the helm of bringing gender inequities (both real and perceived) to the fore, and key in oiling the wheels of social change too. Islamic feminists, for their part, have set out to retrieve what they feel to be the original egalitarian message of Islam, one unencumbered by patriarchy and hierarchy. Their courageous efforts must surely be welcomed when they focus their energies on asserting the inarguable rights given to women within the established rulings of Islam, but that may have become obscure due to people’s ignorance, men’s egos, or cultural norms. Again, they must be thanked when they stress that marriage (nikah) in Islam is a contract between two consenting parties, neither can be forced, with both sides entitled to stipulate certain conditions (whether about polygamy; custody of children in the event of divorce; moving away from the parents’ city or country; or whatever other lawful condition that can secure their welfare) which, after mutual agreement, become binding on the two sides.13 The Prophet ﷺ said: ‘The conditions most deserving to be fulfilled are those by which the private parts become lawful to you.’14 Indeed, only the weak or the wretched will fail to appreciate respectful reminders about men having a Quranic commitment to treat their wives warmly and amiably: And give women their dowries graciously [4:4]; And live with them in kindness [4:19]; Lodge them in your own homes, according to your means. Do not harass them so as to make life intolerable for them [65:6]; and also: Either retain them in kindness or release them in kindness [2:231]. In fact, after their response to Allah and His Prophet ﷺ, our Prophet made how men treat their wives to be the true measure of manliness, status and excellence. He ﷺ said: khayrukum khayrukum li ahlihi – ‘The best of you are those who treat their wives the best.’15 And of course, we must accept the shari‘ah reality, whether pointed out by Islamic feminists or other than them, that a woman is not duty bound at all to remain in a violent or abusive marriage – despite entrenched cultural pressures that may insist otherwise. If their motives are truly for seeking Allah’s pleasure and acceptance, the work of Islamic feminists to help women acquire their existing rights in Islam must be seen as nothing short of deeds of valour, service and jihad in the path of Allah.

11 – Giving a robust nod to the above, some questions still need asking. How Islamic, for instance, is Islamic feminism? And how valid are feminist reinterpretations of the Qur’an? And does the Qur’an really endorse feminism’s dual core beliefs: doing away with patriarchy and dethroning hierarchy to create an egalitarian social order, so that women may be put on equal footing with men – socially, politically and economically? Here I wish only to draw attention to a few incongruities between loyalty to feminist principles and certain passages of the holy Qur’an.16 For example, how can one claim every form of patriarchy to be wrong, given that the Qur’an is pretty specific when it says in the context of marriage and family life that: Men are protectors of women [4:34] and that: Men have a degree over them [2:228]? Of course, such verses aren’t saying that every man is intellectually, morally and spiritually superior to every woman. But they are sanctioning patriarchy, at least in the marital and family context. Our Prophet ﷺ said: ‘Indeed, each of you is a shepherd, and each of you is responsible for their flock. The ruler is a shepherd over the people, and is responsible for his subjects. A man is a shepherd over his family, and is responsible for them. A woman is a shepherd over the husband’s home and children, and is responsible for them.’17 Surely this hadith is not just speaking about patriarchy, but to a sense of hierarchy too? Hierarchy makes more than a guest appearance in the Qur’anic command: O you who believe! Obey Allah and obey the Messenger, and those charged with authority among you. [4:59] We see hierarchy again in the verse which tells us who does and does not have the right to speak about matters of wider public welfare: If any matter comes to them concerning security or fear, they spread it around. But if they had only referred it to the Messenger or to those charged with authority, those amongst them who are able to investigate and reason out the matter would then know [what to do with] it. [4:83] At some point – be it the hierarchy present in a head of state’s authority over the subjects or citizens; or a wife’s obedience to her husband and her yielding to some level of patriarchy; or the non-egalitarian, unequal right of parents to receive kind and dutiful treatment from their children – feminists will encounter an epistemic impasse. Do they honour the clear-cut injunctions of the Qur’an, or do they remain glued to the key feminist principles and say ‘No’ to the holy Text? Do they acquiesce to some degree of Quranic patriarchy and hierarchy, or put the feminist quest to abolish these two ‘evils’ ahead of Revelation? Professor Jonathan A.C. Brown deftly notes: ‘The move to assuming that scripture contains the truth but need only be understood properly to saying ‘no’ to scripture because it says something unacceptable or impossible is a blow that shatters the vessel of scriptural reverence. It means that some extra-scriptural source of truth has been openly acknowledged as more powerful and compelling than the words of God in scripture.’18 So how ‘Islamic’ is Islamic feminism? Any creed, philosophy, ideology, value-system or ism – including Islamic feminism – that is given final authority to decide what is or isn’t good or bad, relegating Islam’s Revelation to a secondary place, forfeits any claim to be considered ‘Islamic’. For loyalty to feminism’s core doctrines and loyalty to Islam’s revealed truths are at odds with each other. Loyalty to one will undeniably necessitate disloyalty and disbelief in the other. This much is clear.

12 – ‘Certainly a scriptural tradition still has its uses even for those who have moved on to believe that truth comes from secular sources. It can be drawn on and quoted to move an audience or bolster ideas rooted elsewhere. But sooner or later, it will clash with secular truths and become a burden. In such cases scriptural tradition can be reread and picked from selectively to reconcile it with the recognized sources of truth. But it must be substantially reconfigured, as the Qur’an Only movement has done with Islam’s scriptures, or else at some point one must say ‘no’ to the text.’19 Islamic feminism (and we must now utilise the adjective ‘Islamic’ with great reservation), like other variants in feminism, is coloured more by secular philosophies and more awash with modern epistemologies than it is one rooted in Islam’s Revelation. The idea that one can simply reread the Qur’an, twisting the texts so as to sync them with certain secular dogmas of our age, is closer to the Nietzschean claim that there are no truths [facts]; just interpretations, than it is the Quranic starting point: It is He Who has sent down to you the Qur’an. Some of its verses are clear-cut; they are the Mother of the Book; whilst others are open to interpretation. [3:7]. Again, feminist talk about the dynamics of domination related to gender is more in line with Foucault’s notion of a power nexus that constructs and sustains social control over women’s bodies and minds, than it is the Quranic view that expects both sexes to rise above their petty egos; submit to the divine demands sincerely and wholeheartedly; honouring and celebrating the virtues, rights, relative merits and intrinsic inclinations of one another. Having explained the pro-feminist claims and arguments, Scruton wrapped-up his entry on ‘feminism’ with this note: ‘Anti-feminist arguments usually rely on the thought that it is no accident that the relations between men and women are as they are, and that there’s a ‘natural’ order in which both sexes are fulfilled by mutual dependence. They may add that the appearance of male dominance is only an appearance, and perhaps it is part of the bourgeois nature of feminism so easily to mistake appearance for essence.’20 Now this is a secular blasphemy worth giving some thought to!

13 – The Qur’an says: So set your face to the upright religion, the primordial nature which God has instilled in man. [30:30] Islam’s insistence on the fitrah; this innate, primordial nature that defines and sculpts our authentic belongingness to the natural order, lies at the root of much of Islam’s gender ethics. Talk of gender equality is too simplistic a take on things. Islam’s language isn’t about equality; it’s about complementarity. Men and women are neither equal nor unequal: rather they complement each other. So on the one hand we have the Qur’an celebrating gender differences: And the male is not like the female [3:36], while on the other, the Prophet ﷺ spoke of ethical similarities: ‘Indeed, women are the twin halves of men.’21 Alien calls for equality, therefore, are less helpful than indigenous calls for justice, respect and opportunity. Equality, where it does actually count in terms of justice, is equality in becoming recipients of Allah’s salvation, forgiveness, mercy and grace. This, above all else, is what ultimately counts and what Islam ultimately offers both men and women – equality of opportunity and agency in terms of salvation: And their Lord answered [their prayers, saying that]: ‘Never will I suffer to be lost the work of any of you, whether male or female, the one of you is as the other.’ [3:195]

14 – Cruel and unjust treatment of women continues to be a problem the world over, including Muslim societies and communities. Despite the Qur’an insisting otherwise, mens’ egos can all too often turn a deaf ear to the divine commands in this regard. If we Muslim men wish to fare well in the Divine Court, we’d do well to scrub ourselves clean from the stench of male chauvinism and learn the virtue of chivalry (futuwwah). If we Muslims wish to draw down Allah’s favours on our societies or states and climb out of this pitiful state that is currently ‘the Muslim world’, we must put working for social justice at the heart of our concerns: Be just, that is closer to piety. And be mindful of Allah; surely Allah is aware of what you do. But it’s not just about fairer treatment of women. It’s about justice and fairness for the other voiceless and vulnerable members of society too. In fact, scholars like Imam Ibn Taymiyyah hold that it is the absence of justice that is the main reason for Allah’s help and support to be withdrawn from any Muslim polity, thereby causing it to descend into tyranny, weakness, or rack and ruin. Ibn Taymiyyah puts it thus: ‘The affairs of people in this world are kept in order with justice and a certain measure of sin, more than with infringing peoples’ rights even when no other sin is involved. This is why it has been said that Allah upholds the just state even if it is disbelieving, but does not uphold the unjust one even if it is Muslim. It is also said that the world can endure with justice and disbelief, but cannot endure with injustice and Islam.’22

15 – Our final meditation follows on from the above. Ibn Taymiyyah presses on with the theme of justice and social stability when he writes: ‘The reason for all this is that justice is the universal order of things. So when worldly administration is established upon justice, it works; even if the person in charge has no share in the Hereafter. But if it is not based on justice, it doesn’t work; even if the one in charge is a believer who will be rewarded in the Hereafter.’23 Of course, corruption and injustices perpetrated by a government or ruling elite will certainly have its negative impact upon the social order. But it’s when injustice becomes endemic; when not only the regime, but public servants or the general public play fast and loose with the shari‘ah and with matters of justice, that things really fall apart. When corruption becomes normalised in society; when bribery becomes firmly rooted among public servants; when parents internalise oppressive control mechanisms in the way they raise their children; when patriarchy of husbands crosses a line from being benign and compassionate to being unjust and tyrannical; and when boys are taught to objectify women or to be chauvinistic rather than to respect them and learn to be the gentleman that the Sunnah demands, then it matters little how corrupt or not the actual government is. For by then, the victims of corruption learn to live with it, the perpetrators continue out of habit or because they can, and everyone rationalises their guilt away by blaming the system, saying: “Well everyone does it!” If we add to this list of injustices the crimes of neglecting salat or zakat; lying, cheating and slandering; and sexual misconduct and immoral behaviour, then to blame only the regime for the country’s failings and miseries is nothing short of delusional and a grand lie! Consider wisely and dispassionately the following words of Ibn Abi’l-‘Izz when speaking about tyrannical rulers that are Muslim:

‘As for maintaining obedience to them [those in authority], even if they are tyrannical, then that is because the harms that would result from rebelling against them would be many times worse than that which results from their tyranny. Instead, by patiently bearing their injustices lies an expiation for our sins and an increase in rewards [from Allah]. For Allah only inflicted them upon us on account of our corrupt actions – and rewards are proportional to their deeds. Thus it is upon us to diligently strive to seek forgiveness, repent, and rectify our deeds. Allah, exalted is He, said: Whatever calamity befalls you, is for what your own hands have earned, and He pardons much. [42:30] And the Exalted said: When a disaster befell you after you had yourself inflicted [losses] twice as heavy, you exclaimed: ‘How did this happen?’ Say: ‘It is from yourselves.’ [3:165] And the Exalted said: Whatever good befalls you is from Allah, and whatever calamity befalls you is from yourself. [4:79] Also: Thus We let some of the unjust have power over others because of their misdeeds. [6:129] So if those governed desire to rid themselves of the injustices of an unjust ruler, they too must abstain from injustice and doing wrong.’24

1. Muslim, no.4493.

2. Cf. Lane, Arabic-English Lexicon (Cambridge: Islamic Texts Society, 2003), 2:1972-75.

3. Al-Raghib al-Asbahani, Mufradat Alfaz al-Qur’an (Beirut: Dar al-Qalam, 2002), 537; under the entry, z-l-m.

4. See: Mufti Muhammad Shafi‘, Ma‘arif al-Qur’an (Karachi: Idarat al-Ma‘arif, 2008), 3:68-9, including as part of his commentary the treatment of Abu Hayyan al-Andalusi, Tafsir al-Bahr al-Muhit (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1993), 3:454-55.

5. Al-Bukhari, no.2587; Muslim, no.1623.

6. Muslim, no.2577.

7. Ahmad, Musnad, no.12510. It was judged to be hasan by al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1985), no.767.

8. Al-Istighathah fi’l-Radd ‘ala’l-Bakri (Riyadh: Maktabah Dar al-Minhaj, 2005), 251.

9. Al-Turuq al-Hukmiyyah (Makkah: Dar ‘Alam al-Fawa’id, 2007), 31.

10. I‘lam al-Muwaqqi‘in (Riyadh: Dar Ibn al-Jawzi, 2002), 4:337.

11. Madarij al-Salikin (Riyadh: Dar Taybah, 2008), 4:556.

12. See: Qur’an 4:1 on the origin of humankind from a single soul; 3:195, 16:97, 33:35 on the spiritual and moral equality of both sexes; 4:32 on men not having a right to take the money women earn; and 17:70 on each human being’s intrinsic dignity, regardless of creed or colour.

13. Cf. Ibn Qudamah, al-Mughni (Saudi Arabia: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 1997), 9:483-89.

14. Al-Bukhari, no.2721; Muslim, no.1418.

15. At-Tirmidhi, no.3895, where he stated: ‘This hadith is hasan.

16. Shaykh Abdullah bin Hamid Ali has briefly toured Islamic feminism’s methods of reinterpretation in his article: Feminism & Recalibrating Faith According to an Islamic Epistemic. I’ve drawn a few pointers from his article in the discussion which follows. A more loquacious and metaphysical exploration of the subject is given in Abdal Hakim Murad, Islam, Irigaray, and the Retrieval of Gender.

17. Al-Bukhari. no.6719; Muslim, no.1829.

18. Brown, Misquoting Muhammad (London: Oneworld Publications, 2014), 288.

19. ibid., 289.

20. R. Scruton, Dictionary of Political Thought (Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), 248.

21. Al-Tirmidhi, no.113. Al-Albani graded is sahih in Sahih al-Jami‘ al-Saghir (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1986), no.1983.

22. Majmu‘ Fatawa (Riyadh: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 1991), 28:146.

23. ibid., 28:146.

24. Sharh al-‘Aqidah al-Tahawiyyah (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1984), 381.

Footprints on the Sands of Time 4

sand-desert-alone-people-sand-dunes-footprint-1920x1200-wallpaper_www.wallmay.net_14Ours is an age of unparalleled spiritual pollution and deeply instilled ignorance about the human purpose. It’s an age in which religious practitioners of all faiths are feeling more and more claustrophobic, as society accords them less and less breathing space and loses interest in their concerns. The pressures now brought to bear on Religion to keep chipping away at the Sacred to concede ever more to the profane, are immense. This series of reflections and musings are offered as part of an ongoing conversation about how we Muslims can best engage these turbulent times, in a way that allows us to cultivate an Islam that is true to its time-honoured tradition, relevant to its current context, and of benefit to the deepest needs of humanity. (Earlier meditations in this series of “Footprints” may be read here, here and here).

On appealing to hardened hearts: The councels of Revelation and the warnings of the wise are often, in and of themselves, insufficient for those whose hearts are encrusted in sins and worldliness. Allah then makes them taste the turmoils of worldliness and the anguish of sins, that they may become disillusioned by them. Avoiding them then becomes easier.

On the ego’s infamies: From the vulgarities of the ego (nafs) is that whenever a person loves attention or prominence, he actively seeks out the faults of others.

On being lulled into a sense of comfort, then carelessness, then kufr: The whole point of the monoculture is to make us as comfortable – and thus as forgetful – as possible; to live as cattle concerned only about the patch of grass under our noses. Abrahamic monotheism, however, teaches us that it’s not that this present life is worthless, but that there is something beyond worth infinitely more. It asks us to stop looking down on our small chewing patch and lift our eyes towards the far horizons.

On being driven mad through turbo consumption: “Insan with the e-culture becomes insane.” – Abdal Hakim Murad

On how to select a spouse and have a blessed marriage: Religiousness, piety and good character must be the touchstone for spouse selection. Much good can come from a God-fearing heart, and a pious disposition is essential for attracting divine grace and blessings from heaven. But being on good terms with God does not always translate itself into good behaviour with others. Hence the prophetic advice to select someone whose “religion and character pleases you.” [Al-Tirmidhi, no.1088]

On the essence of Islam: Taqwa can be rendered into English as piety, mindfulness of God, guarding against evil and fearing God. Its essence lies in being profoundly aware of God and moulding one’s life in the light of this awareness. In other words, taqwa is God-consciousness.

On the prophetic way of engaging the monoculture: In engaging the monoculture, let us have a heart of ‘izzah, the eye of rahmah and the hand of khidmah.

On the question of Muslims ditching science and being Creationists: Muslims are, by definition, “creationists” – in the sense that they believe in a Creator-God; not in the sense that they are tied to a belief that the earth is a mere five thousand or so years old. Since there is nothing definitive in Islam’s Revelation about the age of the earth, it’s age is thus a question for emperical data and science to answer.

On the voice and valour of the Abrahamic Call: Where the Makkan Quraysh failed to see the disconnect between them and the true Abrahamic legacy; and failed to heed the discontent and suffering of the many at the hands of the elite few, the Prophet ﷺ saw it, understood it and gave voice to it.

On jihad in Islam: In classical Islam, warfare is regulated by an all-important shari‘ah dictum that states about jihad: wujubuhu wujubu’l-wasa’il la al-maqasid – ‘Its necessity is the necessity of means, not of ends.’ Indeed, Islam’s overall take on war is best seen in the following proclamation of our Prophet Muhammad ﷺ: ‘Do not wish to meet your enemy, but ask Allah for safety. But if you do meet them, be firm and know that Paradise lies beneath the shades of swords.’ [Al-Bukhari, no.3024; Muslim, no.172] That is to say, pursue the path of peace and reconciliation; if such a path be denied by belligerence or hostile intent, then be prepared to act differently.

Let’s not forget this martial jihad has rules and codes of conduct too. Among them is that the leader carefully evaluate the potential benefits and harms of armed struggle; ensure civilians and non-combatants are not killed or wilfully attacked; abide by the other sanctities upheld in Islam; and keep in mind receptivity to the call (da‘wah) to Islam.

On working towards realities, not just claims: Scholars say: al-‘ibrah bi’l-haqa’iq wa’l-ma‘ani la bi’l-alfaz wa’l-mabani – “What counts are realities and meanings, not merely wordings or labels.” Consider the following limerick:

There once was a sufi with beads,
Who was terribly impressed with his deeds,
The salafi, he scorned
“You’ve no purity” he warned,
With his self he was O so well-pleased.

On shared morals as social glue: For all our urbanised airs and graces, in the absence of laws obeyed and a strong sense of a shared moral code, community and society will undoubtedly begin to fray at the seams.

On visiting the ahlu’Llah – the “people of Allah”: One sits in their presence to listen, observe, learn, practice service (khidmah) and gain self-knowledge; not pursue worldly ambitions, promote one’s ego, or encounter “exciting” spiritual experiences.

 

On the monoculture’s manufacturing of consent: How many cherished convictions of the masses in today’s “advanced” democracies are actually well-informed, fact-based certainties? And how many of them are mental and emotional habits, conditioned by a climate of media soundbites, entertainment education and the passing trends of the time?

On the different kinds of drunkenness: It was once said to the distinguished sufi and venerable Imam of Ahl al-Sunnah, Sahl al-Tustari, that intoxications are of four kinds. So he asked: “Tell me what they are.” The man replied: “The intoxication of drink, the intoxication of youth, the intoxication of wealth and the intoxication of authority.” Sahl replied: “There are two more kinds: the intoxication of the scholar who loves this world, and the intoxication of the worshipper who loves to be noticed.”

Revolutions are just a tweet or a T-shirt away: Revolutions are messy and bloody. And although you cannot make omelettes without breaking eggs, Islam insists that there can be other things on the breakfast menu besides eggs. Revolutions are not events, they are processes – often, long, drawn-out ones – whose sought-after outcomes are seldom guaranteed. In fact, given our globalised world; wealthy and powerful outside interests, as well as regional geo-politics, are far more likely to shape final outcomes than are the well-conceived intentions of the masses. Mainstream Sunni Islam has long been suspicious about revolutions; and with plenty of reason to be so.

On seeking a murshid; a “guide” to God: The murshid instructs, advises, trains, arouses sleepy souls, revives decaying hearts and, above all, leads by example.

On a believer’s love of martyrdom: In one hadith, we hear the Prophet ﷺ declare the following: ‘By Him in whose hand is my life. I would love to be killed in Allah’s way, then be brought back to life; then be killed and be brought back to life; then be killed and be brought back to life; and then be killed.’ [Muslim, no.1910] Indeed the Prophet relished martyrdom, not because of the love of blood and gore; neither for the glory of war itself; nor for the clanging of steel or the thrill of the fight. He loved it because of what it manifested of the highest act of service and ultimate sacrifice for God. To surrender to God one’s life, for a cause God loves and honours, is the greatest possible expression of loving God. It’s no wonder, then, that the Prophet ﷺ said: ‘Whosoever dies without partaking in a military expedition, or even desiring to do so, dies upon a branch of hypocrisy.’ [Al-Bukhari, no.6830] Believers, though, whilst they long to meet a martyr’s death, strive to live a saintly life. For how can one sincerely desire to die for God, if one doesn’t truly try to live for God?

On where to find one’s heart: “Seek your heart in three places: where the Qur’an is recited; in the gatherings of dhikr; and in times of seclusion. If you do not find it in these places, then ask God to bless you with a heart. For you have no heart!” – Ibn al-Qayyim

On the changing tides of our times: The first chords of the monoculture’s swan song began a few centuries back. We are perhaps now on the final encore.

On luminous souls: Be kind, be courageous; seek the good in everything, harm none, show courtesy to all living creatures; be enchanted with creation, take responsibility; and be learned in the ways of God and godliness – or at least sincerely try.

Law & Morality: Swinging Sixties to Artificial Intelligence

robots_8Ever since Kubric’s 1968 sci-fi epic 2001: A Space Odyssey, or the 1983 film War Games, or the desperate attempts to stop Skynet going live in the Terminator franchise, we’ve grown more and more accustomed to machines having the commanding edge when it comes to making logical decisions about space flight or warfare. But for the past few years, scientists in the United States, upping the anti in this steadily evolving field, are working on teaching artificial intelligence how to make moral and ethical decisions too. That is immensely mind-blowing as it is scary.

But what does it mean to make ethical decisions or reason morally? Moral reasoning can be thought of as the ability to learn, reason with, and act on the laws and societal norms on which humans tend to agree. What these programers and scientists hope to do is to get machines; artificial intelligence, to emulate these abilities. Not everyone is keen to create machines to match or surpass human abilities. Stephen Hawking, for instance, warns that doing so could spell the end of humanity. He fears that at some point of complexity, artificial intelligence would take off on its own, redesigning itself at an ever-inreasing rate. In contrast, humans, who are constrained by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete and would swiftly be superseded.

While we may be a long way from teaching robots to process Kant’s moral imperative, or to feel compassion, let’s turn to a moral issue closer to home; the question of law & morality and the changing tides of time:

The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ told us about the following: ‘From the signs of the Hour is that the virtuous shall be demeaned and the wicked elevated.’1

The above prophecy alerts us to a highly disturbing phenomenon. It is difficult to see how virtuous people could be devalued, unless you first demote and demean morality and virtue itself. And yet this is precisely what has happened. For ours is an age (and it has been so for quite some time now) where the old certainties, and the morality that flowed from them, have been dealt a crushing blow. Although long in the making, the liberal revolution of the 1960s was the beginning of the end of England as a Christian country in terms of Christian ethics being reflected in law and Christian morals being the glue that bound society. Against the backdrop of the swinging sixties, the country witnessed a series of liberalising laws that would usher in the start of a Post-Christian milieu: suicide ceased to be a crime in 1961; and in 1967, abortion was legalised, as was homosexuality.

Hereinafter, within Britain, there would be a parting of the ways for law and morality: the law would now intervene only to prevent individuals from harming each other. As for morality, it could no longer be thought of as the code for society. Instead, it would be relegated to an individual choice, and people would be free to indulge in whatever experiments in living they desired. Rights would soon replace responsibilities, desires would eventually trump duties and, by the 1990s, society would begin to significantly fray at the seams. There is no other choice for believers, driven as they must be by the healing lights of tawhid or Abrahamic monotheism, than to seek society’s redemption and moral restoration.

How much morality should be translated into law, and how much is to be left to the individual conscience, is a question which all civilised societies must grapple with. In Islam’s Sacred Law, ‘sins which involve injustice to others and injury to them, be it in the religious or worldly sense, are more severely punished in this world than those not entailing harm to others; despite the fact that the punishment for the latter may be greater in the Hereafter.’2 This is why, despite disobedience to parents being more morally wrong than, for instance, fornication, the shari‘ah has no fixed penalty for the former, but it does for the latter. Again, arrogance is a far greater sin than consuming alcohol; and yet there is no prescribed worldly punishment for the first, but there is for the second. ‘The reason is clear: such punishments are there to safeguard religious and worldly interests from the wrongdoing of wrongdoers, whereas the punishment of those who wrong only themselves is left to their Lord.’3

As the assault on traditional morality and virtue continues to intensify from, among other quarters, the media, movies and trash TV; and as more and more of the world is exposed to the mediocrity and moral bankruptcy of the monoculture and is gradually ‘normalised’ into it; we Muslims should be clear that ours is a religion of meritocracy. That is to say, in Islam people are valued, respected and held in high esteem according to their piety, virtue and merits. People of corrupt morals, or who lack basic adab and decency, or who wallow in self-inflicted ignorance of even the basic teachings of the faith – they may be looked upon with the eye of pity, tolerance and charity; but never with honour, distinction or approbation.

Those who have even a slight insight into the gravity of the Quranic message, or who recognise that the Sunnah came to elevate humankind and restore us to our Adamic dignity will, in all likelihood, find today’s crass (and oftentimes, vulgar and irreverent) celebrity culture more than a trifle troublesome. Surely ones ease with, or acceptance of, it simply reflects how much souls have become desensitised to virtue or how much hearts have cozied up to vice; doesn’t it?

This is why Islam puts great weight on al-amr bi’l-ma‘ruf wa’l-nahi ‘ani’l-munkar – the duty of “commanding good and forbiding wrong.” Allah, exalted is He, declares in the Qur’an: The believers, men and women, are allies one to another; they enjoin what is good and forbid what is evil. [9:71] If we are to continue to recognise and honour people of virtue and piety, so as to be inspired by their conduct and be guided by their example, then we must collectively ensure that the lines between halal and haram, virtue and vice, and morality and immorality, are not blurred or made fuzzy. For if knowledge of what constitutes virtue and vice is lost to us; if Islamic morality is made subjective to the tastes and fashions of the times, and is no longer a rock firmly planted, we shall have brought about our rack and ruin in both worlds. Immense pressure is now being brought to bear upon Muslims to do precisely this. Ibn Mas‘ud, one of Islam’s earliest converts and one of its most illustrious scholars, once heard a person say: ‘Whoever doesn’t enjoin the good or forbid evil has perished.’ To which Ibn Mas‘ud responded: ‘Rather, one whose heart doesn’t recognises good from evil has perished.’4

These words become even more significant or consequential if we recall the following hadith: ‘Whoever of you sees an evil, let him change it with his hand; if he is unable to do so, then with his tongue; if he is unable to do so, then with his heart – and that is the weakest of faith.’5 If the heart no longer recognise evil, let alone detests it or seeks to change it, then what type of faith is there? For let us not forget, in all this it is faith that is at stake.

As highly complex algorithms are currently being formulated, written and tested so as to give machines the gift of moral reasoning; if successful, it’s hoped that this robotic morality won’t be as open to abuse as it was in I, Robot.

Here’s hoping.

1. Al-Hakim, Mustadrak, 4:554. Its narrators are all those of the Sahih, as stated by al-Haythami, Majma‘ al-Zawa’id (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 2001), 7:326.

2. Ibn Taymiyyah, Majmu‘ Fatawa (Riyadh: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 1991), 28:181.

3. ibid., 28:182.

4. Al-Tabarani, Mu‘jam al-Kabir, no.8564. Its chain is sahih, as Shu‘ayb al-Arna’ut said in his crititical edition of Ibn Rajab, Jami‘ al-‘Ulum wa’l-Hikam (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1998), 2:245.

5. Muslim, no.49.

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.’

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 actual idea 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.

The Best of Muslims & the Worst of Muslims.

the_beauty_of_life_by_ifrostyice-d2zb4fpIf, as it is said, ‘conduct is the best proof of character,’ then it befits each of us 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.

Footprints on the Sands of Time 2

6a00e554e88723883301a511ad66d6970c‘Modernity is simply our context,’ wrote Dr Sherman Jackson, ‘We must never allow it to become our excuse.’ As various global forces currently conspire against the call to Abrahamic monotheism, here are a few more Footprints exploring the nature of Islam, Muslims and modernity (the first set of Footprints can be read here):

On humility: The mark of those who have truly internalised the Sunnah’s beauty is: if praised, they take it embarrassingly or with a pinch of salt, for they see themselves as being unworthy; if censured, they make no defence.

On learning to see with the heart’s eye: If we deepen in our acknowledging the divine acts, the af’al al-rabb, we shall be led more and more to a sense of loving gratitude for He who manifests all blessings.

On the yardstick to assess change: Faith instructs us to measure progress and change, not in terms of material advancement, nor even in terms of the presence or absence of political freedom, but rather in terms of an increasing awareness of God’s presence, worship of Him, and fulfilling the prescriptions instated by faith. If change through political activism facilitates the former, but does harm to the latter, how can believers truly rejoice?

On the station of being loved: One of the surest ways of becoming beloved to Allah is through an unrelenting love of the Prophet ﷺ and manifesting such love through invoking abundant and constant salutations (salawat) upon him: Allahumma salli ‘ala sayyidina muhammadin wa alihi wa sahbihi wa sallim.

Beware trigger-happy texting: Received wisdom informs us that: Not everything that is good should be said, and not everything that is said should be spread. Today, such caution has been thrown to the wind, to be replaced by impulsive and ill-considered trigger-happy texting and tweeting.

On the hijab and Islam’s shieldmaidens: Since hijab signifies the higher statement of gendered humanity, the woman in hijab finds herself on the frontline in a war against the monoculture. So, as traditional modesty is made to buckle under the pressures of modernity, the woman in hijab stands out either as a witness to revealed difference, or to her own charms. She stands out either as a witness to her life lived for God, or to identity politics or egotistical fashion statements. And while inappropriateness for a lady in hijab isn’t always clear; and while she strives to guard and nurture her sense of modesty against modernity’s intrusions of immodesty, she remains the great global sign of dissent. In such a battle she must be supported, counselled and defended; but never dictated to. For a woman in hijab is a shieldmaiden of Islam.

On taking to the carpet of silence: It is in a state of solitude that the heart’s gaze can best be diverted away from creation and be focused solely on the Creator.

On spirituality & shopping malls: While it is beyond doubt that markets (in our time, shopping malls) and trade have played a pivotal role in Muslim life and society; and that in many traditional Muslim cities, markets were located around the main jami‘ah or Congregational mosque; there are, nevertheless, a few hadiths that speak of their unsavoury nature. One hadith says: ‘The most beloved of places to God, on earth, are the mosques, while the most deplorable are the markets.’ [Muslim, no.671]

Of course, markets being despised has nothing to do with trade or commerce, per se. It does have to do with the fraud and deception common in such places, as well as the greed, avarice, bickering and yelling found therein. There, false oaths are frequently sworn, and honest remembrance of God usually conspicuous by its absence. But more than that, the market is where even a renunciant’s heart can easily be entangled in the tentacles of dunya, and be ensnared by its false glitz and glitter. Enter it for needs, we must; enter it for wants, we may. But enter it bewitched or besotted, we must not!

Islam’s invitation to humankind: The Call of Islam is, without doubt, a call to prayer, charity, building character, remembrance of God and spiritual struggle. It is also a call to ease, for it takes into account public interest and peoples’ frailties, weaknesses and vulnerabilities. The Qur’an states: God wishes to lighten the burden for you, for man was created weak. [4:28]

On a believer’s compassion and easy-going nature: Shut not the door of Allah in the faces of Allah’s servants; but: ‘Make things easy for the people and do not make things difficult. Give them glad tidings, do not drive them away.’ [Al-Bukhari, no.69; Muslim, no.1734]

When the principle of ease becomes one of adulteration: The desire to bring religion to people and make it easy for them is, surely, a noble one; and revelation commends it. But this is hardly a case where the means justify the ends. Diluting the truth for the sake of meeting misguidance halfway is self-defeating; isn’t it? If people have drifted away from the centre to the fringes of heedlessness, then charity requires that they be shown the way back. To imagine that one can take the centre out to them, while they stay exactly where they are, is sheer folly.

On harnessing harmony in marriage: Only when egos are hung up on coat pegs, and the Revealed Law (shari’ah) honoured and observed, can husband and wife find sacred peace (sakinah): And from His signs is that He created for you wives from yourselves that you might find peace in them. [30:21]

On one rule for us, another for others: Why do we always find an excuse for our own wrong behaviour, but never an excuse for others? Why do we always look at ourselves through rose-tinted glasses, yet look at others through a magnifying glass?

On an inquisition against traditional morality: While the unfailing light of Revelation tells us that the act of homosexuality is sinful and immoral, “Will you commit foulness such as no creature ever did before you? For you come with lust to men instead of women; you are indeed a transgressing people” [7:80-1], we needn’t voice our opposition to it in hostile rage or violence; but rather peacefully, calmly, without calling for persecution. Mercy is better than malice; understanding better than recrimination.

As for the inquisition or Islamophobia being dolled out by the liberal stalwarts against those who oppose certain sexual practices, let us respond with restraint, dignity and tolerance. And nor should their intimidation and bullying cause us to cower, or fail to state the correct ruling on the matter.

On the inner serenity that comes by recalling that all is unfolding as per His plan: The believer is to withstand the tragedies and outrages of time, not with indifference, nor apathy, but with self-restraint, dignified response and righteous indignation that does not burst at the seams or explode into uncontrolled rage.

When putting on an act is not hypocritical: Some feel that the attempt to put on good character so as to present one’s best face to people is disingenuous; hypocritical even. That may be so if the intention is merely to impress people or to win brownie points in da‘wah. But if one does so from a love of dignified behaviour and good character; or out of a desire to shield others from one’s misdeeds and shortcomings; or from the hope of being more worthy of Allah, despite our inadequacies, then this is deemed as something virtuous. Indeed, cultivating good character and dignity of behaviour have always been highly regarded in Islam.

On the three classes of scholars: Religious scholars, long ago, have been divided into three types: [i] government scholars (‘ulema al-dawlah), [ii] populist scholars (‘ulema al-‘ammah) and [iii] righteous religious scholars (‘ulema al-millah).

Government scholars needn’t be salaried employees of the state. Rather, the label will apply to any scholar whose intended aim is to be royalist and to defend official state policies – regardless of truth, justice and the shari‘ah. Their goal is not God, as much as it is to placate the palace. These sell-outs are different from those state appointed scholars whose lives are a testimony to their God-fearingness and piety, but whose perceptions and outlook, when it comes to fatwas on larger political matters, could be skewered by false government briefings, misinformation and palace propaganda. While the personal integrity of such scholars is unquestionable; their political fatwas are less so.

Populist scholars are at the other end of the spectrum. They are scholars whose chief purpose is to be popular among the masses. Their fatwas are always anti-government, merely for the sake of gaining acceptance among the masses. Again, God, justice, and truth isn’t their main goal, as much as it is keeping the hysteria of the masses happy, courting the crowds, and pandering to the public’s praises. These people, as with the above, have also betrayed their scholarly credentials.

As for those righteous religious scholars, their intent is God’s good pleasure. They issue fatwas out of piety, in light of the shari‘ah and with trying to conceptualise the actual situation. Their fatwas are based on knowledge, justice and on scrupulousness. God’s pleasure is their aim: whether the fatwa agrees with the monarchy or the masses, the president or the public. These are the true inheritors of the Prophets.

On steering emotions and actions with sound knowledge: Firmness without learning leads to extremism. Frankness without learning leads to insolence. Boldness without learning leads to disputation.

On the Monoculture’s failure to offer fulfilment: Muslims are called to witness that each day of our life brings a host of difficulties, discomforts and disappointments: We have indeed created man in toil and hardship [90:4]; Believers must bear witness too that while the monoculture teaches us to drown out these struggles and troubles with drink, drugs and distractions; monotheism insists that our happiness is greatest when we face such trials patiently, stoically and responsibly: Those who endure with patience will be rewarded without measure. [39:10] ‘We shall indeed test you with something of fear and hunger, loss of property and lives and crops; but give glad tidings to those who show patience.’ [2:155] Adversity, then, is the non-negotiable fee that each of us must pay for the privilege of being born.

On living for the long run: Be not honoured in this world, but disgraced in the next; remembered on earth, but forgotten in Heaven; loved today, but ignored tomorrow.

On the importance of keeping spiritual company: Keeping company with those who can instruct us in our shariah duties and, more importantly, whose presence can help reform our inward state, is a crucial teaching of our religion – and one that is all too often forgotten, neglected or overlooked. O you who believe! Fear God, and be with the truthful ones, says the Qur’an [9:119].

On the heart’s solace: In the midst of this burdened world we make our supplications, knowing that when all else fails us, He is ever with us; listening and ready to respond: And your Lord has said: ‘Call on Me, and I will answer you.’ [Qur’an 40:60]

Think Before You Text, Tweet or Speak!

twitter_keyboard-d1e079745afd757a6b2597e5e169973ae837a5cb-s6-c30‘A still tongue makes a wise head’, says one proverb. And in other one: ‘The wounds of a sword may heal one day; the wounds of the tongue, they never may.’ And then there is this note of caution: ‘Speak when you’re angry and you will make the best speech you’ll ever regret.’

While it is certainly true that great good can come from the tongue, it is also true that it can stir up immense enmity and strife. The tongue, despite it being a small organ of the body, has an influence wholly disproportionate to its size. How many conflicts, divisions, divorces and distresses have been triggered by angry words and unbridled tongues! Regretably, the tongue as a source of evil is something our communicative and social-networking culture seldom considers. In contrast to the modern urge to endlessly yap, yell and yodel (or rather I should say, text, tweet and tag), our ancients recognised that when a carpet of silence is laid, wisdom begins to settle.

As part of his celebrated and encyclopedic anthology of transmitted prayers from the Prophet, peace be upon him, al-Adhkar, Imam al-Nawawi (d.676H/1277CE) devotes a separate chapter on the obligation to guard the tongue and the merits of silence. The following is a translation of the opening segments of that discussion:

‘Know that it is required of every legally responsible person (mukallaf) that they guard their tongue from all types of speech, save that which contains an overriding benefit. Whenever speaking or keeping silent are equal in their benefits, then the Sunnah is to refrain from speaking. For speech which begins as permissible can quickly degenerate into what is forbidden or disliked. In fact, this occurs a lot, or is more often the habit; and there is no substitute for safety.

It is related in the Sahihs of al-Bukhari [no.2018] and Muslim [no.47]; on the authority of Abu Hurayrah, may God be pleased with him; who relates that the Prophet, peace be upon him, declared: ‘Whoever believes in God and the Last Day, let him speak well or keep quiet.’

I say: The soundness of this hadith is agreed upon and contains an explicit stipulation that one must not speak unless one’s words are good and that the benefit in doing so is clear and preponderant. Whenever there is uncertainty about the benefit being preponderant or not, one remains silent. Imam al-Shafi’i, may God have mercy upon him, has said: “When one intends to speak, let him think before he does so. If there is an overriding benefit, let him speak; if in doubt, let him desist from speaking until the benefit is clear.”‘1

Of course, nowadays, it’s not just our speech that we need to be concerned about. We need to guard what we text or tweet about too; for that too is part of our speech. The above words of Imam al-Nawawi, and the numerous hadiths that caution against the sins of the tongue, equally apply to our texts and tweets on social media. If talk can rapidly degenerate into what is haram, our texting or tweeting can do so too. Indeed, received wisdom informs us that: Not everything that is good should be said, and not everything that is said should be spread. After all, as the saying goes, ‘The fool’s mind dances on the tip of his tongue’ – I suppose we could add, ‘… and his twitter thumbs and fingers!’ Today, such wisdom has been largely thrown to the wind, to be replaced by hasty, trigger-happy texting and tweeting (the upshot of which can be damaging and damning, in both this world and the life to come). Let’s not let our tongues, or our activities on social media, become the nail in the coffin of our spirituality. As the Prophet, peace be upon him, once said whilst pointing to his tongue: ‘Restrain this. Is there anything that topples people on their faces into Hellfire other than the harvests of their tongues?’2

1. Al-Nawawi, al-Adhkar (Jeddah: Dar al-Minhaj, 2008), 535.

2. Al-Tirmidhi, no.2616, who said: the hadith is hasan sahih.

*This blog first appeared on The Humble I on 16th August, 2012, with the title: ‘Think Before You Speak.’ Here it has been revised, updated and reposted.

Footprints on the Sands of Time

578130_339016602866746_654870614_nHere is a collection of musings, reminders and recollections I penned over the course of the last two years. Most can be found on my Facebook page (here), where they were first written. They cover a variety of themes and areas, with no particular structure or arrangement. As for the title of the post, I culled it from a line in a poem written by the American poet and educator, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (d.1882) – widely held to be the best-loved American poet of his age – called A Psalm of Life:

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time.

On true worship: It has been said that the worship of the eye is weeping, the worship of the ear is listening, the worship of the tongue is voicing thanks and praise, the worship of the hand is giving, the worship of the body is striving, the worship of the heart is love, fear and hope, and the worship of the spirit is surrender and satisfaction in God.

On true knowledge: Beneficial knowledge is that which increases us in knowledge of God; acquaints us with the divine commands and prohibitions; leads us to detaching ourselves from the world and becoming desirous of the Hereafter; and brings home to us the flaws and defects in our own actions.

The pains of separation: Every joy has its cost in the loss that must inevitably follow, for nothing survives its hour. Such is the affliction common to man. So, as one hadith says, ‘Live as long as you want, but you will die; love whoever you want, but you will taste [the pain of] separation; and do whatever you want, for you will be recompensed accordingly.’ [Al-Quda‘i, Musnad, no.746]

On our addiction to the lower, material world: “Crack-consumerism” is the substance abuse that we as a nation now collectively partake in.

On a successful marriage: If religion is internalised and becomes a matter of the heart (and not just externally observed), then we become possessed of those qualities which are going to make a successful marriage and will transform someone into a loving and delightful spouse. For marriage requires spiritual virtues like patience, contentment, preferring others over oneself, and forbearance. Such virtues are likely to be far more natural, and hence be present in times of hardships rather than at times of ease or convenience, if one has made some progress in the path of inward purification. Thus one looks for a spouse with some depth of spiritual character.

Seeking beauty in balance: Be well-mannered without ceremony, easy-going without negligence, valiant without conceit, serious-minded without pretension and cheerful without fuss.

On a believer’s core convictions: There are, according to Islam, six “articles of faith” which make-up the core convictions of the faith, and which every believer is required to affirm and maintain belief in: God; angels; revealed books; prophets; afterlife; and divine decree.

When theologians began the enterprise of systemising beliefs and doctrine, these six articles, or “pillars of belief”, were divided into three broad areas: tawhid (affirming the oneness of God), nabuwwah (prophethood) and ma‘ad (belief in resurrection and the afterlife).

Tawhid concerns itself with the nature of God and divinity, and how creation relates to God.

Nabuwwah, or prophethood, explains who the prophets were, their function, and the significance of the divinely-revealed messages they were given.

Ma‘ad, which literally means “return”, deals with the End of Days and what awaits each human being after death.

On the Monoculture’s manufacturing of mass anxiety: Because today’s Monoculture offers Man everything save the essential, it leaves him feeling distracted, bored, empty and lost. Man, amidst all the extraordinary achievements of science and technology, still fails to find the happiness and contentment he so desperately seeks. Those who are gifted with some degree of reflectiveness are growing more and more conscious that human fulfilment will not be found on the material plane alone; that man’s angst and ennui cannot be healed by anything worldly. The Spirit must be nourished and be made to recall and reconnect with the Source of all life and goodness: God. Only then can meaninglessness and despair be driven away. The Qur’an informs us: Indeed, in the remembrance of God do hearts find tranquillity. [Qur’an 13:28]

On true intelligence: The first sign of intelligence is to affirm the Oneness (tawhid) of God. The next sign of intelligence is to fulfil its demands. The next is to be lenient with people in those matters which are not clear-cut sins.

Let lovers invoke: The true lover never forgets to invoke salawat, or blessings of peace (or praise) upon the Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. Among the many fruits of invoking abundant salawat on him is that it nurtures a loving and a longing for him, and is a connection via which lordly assistance flows profoundly and profusely to the invoker: Allahumma salli ‘ala sayyidina muhammadin wa alihi wa sahbihi wa sallim.

Aim well then entrust the outcomes to God: We are each responsible for controlling our efforts, but not their outcomes. Upon us is to aim well and intend to get as close as possible to the mark. But once the arrow has left the bow, the matter is no longer in our hands.

On living a dignified life: True nobility is to live wisely with oneself, to live patiently with others, and to live in the love of God.

On choosing friends: Not everyone understands the importance of choosing friends wisely. Many people tend to get involved with whosoever is in their space, and quite often those choices can become a huge source of difficulties for them. Many people could significantly improve the quality of their life just by changing who they spend time with. One hadith teaches us: ‘A person follows the way of life of his friend, so be careful who you choose as a friend.’ [Abu Dawud, no.4833]

On degrees and distinctions: Men and women are equal in Islam in terms of all their works of faith to God: Whoever does good works, be they male or female, and is a believer, such will enter the Garden. [Qur’an 4:124] But men have a degree above women because they are bread-winners and spend on women: And women have rights like those of men, in kindness; and men are a degree above them. [Qur’an: 2:228] And: Men are maintainers and protectors of women, because of what [strength] God has given the one more than the other. [Qur’an 4:34]

Husbands and wives are equal in Islam in respect to their spiritual paths to God. But mothers have degrees above fathers because of the burdens of labour they bear: And We have commended man to [be dutiful to] his parents; his mother bore him in weakness upon weakness, and his weaning was in two years. Give thanks to Me and to your parents. To Me is the journey’s end. [Qur’an 31:14] And: O Messenger of God, of all people, who deserves my kindest treatment? He replied: ‘Your mother.’ Who next? ‘Your mother.’ Who next? ‘Your mother’ Who next? ‘Your father.’ [Al-Bukhari, no.5971]

On not misreading the signs: The beauty of the night sky, or of the starry heavens, are important signs to the origins and ultimate fulfilment of our soul’s deepest yearning. But if we mistake the signs for what they actually point to – if we mistake the signpost for what is signposted – we shall end up attaching our hopes and longings to lesser things which cannot quench our thirst for meaning.

On Monotheism’s demand for courage and critical thought: Monotheism, no doubt, urges compassion, but it demands courage too. It isn’t for the faint-hearted. For as its vision of the world inspires us to partake in the healing of society’s many wounds, it insists that we be critical iconoclasts too: questioning society’s conventional wisdoms, challenging the secular orthodoxies of the age, speaking truth to power, calling into question whether universal human rights are universal, and interrogating liberalism to find out if it is just an elaborate veneer for a new type of totalitarianism which is unable to accept any true or meaningful diversity and unwilling to accommodate any significant voices of dissent.

On distorting the prophetic guidance: If the Sunnah does not heal us or help us come to terms with life’s ordeals; if it doesn’t bathe us in sakinah, tranquility; if it makes us cold, harsh, hostile, intolerant and vengeful, then we are undoubtedly reading it with the wrong dictionary.

On training the inner eye to see the cup half-full: The affliction that turns you to God is better than the blessing that distracts you from Him. The enemy that brings you to God is better than the friend who cuts you off from Him.

On discarding lopsided methodologies: ‘Aqidah by itself will tie your heart in knots. Fiqh by itself will veil you from understanding. Tasawwuf by itself will pull the wool over your eyes. Combining all three … that is the only sound Islam.

On praying not to be too clingy: Pray not for a life of ease or comfort. Pray instead to be a stronger person: stronger in conviction, perseverance and worldly detachment: O you who believe! What is it with you that when you are asked to go forth in the cause of God you cling heavily to the earth? Do you prefer the life of this world to the Hereafter? But little is the comfort of this life as compared with the Hereafter. [Qur’an 9:38]

On being enveloped in God’s special love: The affair is not just that we love, but that we be loved: ‘My servant does not draw closer to Me with anything more loved by Me than the obligatory duties I have enjoined on him; and My servant continues to draw closer to Me through the optional deeds until I love him.’ [Al-Bukhari, no.6502]

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