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The Hanbalis & Merry Christmas: To Greet or Not To Greet?

red-flowers-next-to-candles-1Q. Is it true that Imam Ahmad b. Hanbal and classical Hanbali scholars allowed Muslims to offer Christmas greeting to Christians? Based on this, a few fatwas today now allow us to wish our Christian friends, family or colleagues a Merry Christmas. Is this correct?

A. I’ll address the issue of whether Hanbali jurists allowed offering Christmas greetings to Christians (and by extension, congratulating other non-Muslims on their religious festivals) in these following points:

Firstly: Whatever the religious response, it mustn’t undermine the importance of fostering good relationships with non-Muslims, nor the desire to nurture a collective culture of tolerance, conviviality and courtesy: God doesn’t forbid you in terms of those who neither wage war against you on account of your religion, nor drive you from your homes, from being kind to them and treating them justly. God loves the just. God only forbids you from befriending those who fight against you on account of your religion, or drive you from your homes, or aid others in your expulsion. Whoever befriends them, those are the unjust. [Q.60:8-9]

Secondly: We must thank our scholars for their concern to facilitate ease for us, as per our Prophet’s repeated orders ﷺ: bashshiru wa la tunaffiru wa yassiru wa la tu‘assiru – ‘Give glad tidings, do not repel people; make things easy, do not make things difficult.’1 To offer the Muslim masses a more doable, easier fiqh ruling, provided it is a valid one according to the canons of Islamic law, is a sure sign of wise, sagacious scholarship. Imam Sufyan al-Thawri asserted: ‘In our view, knowledge entails issuing a legal concession (rukhsah). As for being strict, anyone can do that.’2 Another more contemporary way of looking at it is expressed in this Muradian Contention: ‘Preaching: this is an age for rukhas, not for ‘aza’im, and for conservatism, not for liberalism.’3

Thirdly: Of course, this method of tabshir and taysir – of facilitating good news and ease must be rooted in solid shari‘ah legal principles. It cannot be a case of bypassing or blurring well-established fiqh rulings. Nor can it be a case of the means justifying the ends. So while: inna’l-dina yusr – ‘Indeed this religion is [one of] ease,’4 we must ensure that the principle of ease does not become one of adulteration. Given the highly complex time we live in, there is bound to be well-intentioned errors from some of the scholars, for which other jurists and theologians must offer them sincere corrective advice. The balance comes to us in this saying of sayyiduna ‘Ali: ‘The scholar is not the one to cause people to despair of God’s mercy, nor to give them licence to sin.’5

Fourthly: As for the actual issue, then over the past decade or so, certain fatwas have been issued allowing Muslims to offer and exchange Christmas greetings with non-Muslims. Some are general in nature, arguing for the permissibility of giving Christmas greeting based on the fact that the Prophet ﷺ exchanged gifts with non-Muslims and encouraged good behaviour towards them. Others add that a Muslim wishing someone a Merry Christmas is done as a matter of custom and cultural goodwill, with no religious overtones intended. It entails no approval (rida) nor acceptance (iqrar) of the correctness of Christianity, for that would undoubtedly be clear disbelief (kufr): They have disbelieved who say: ‘God is Christ, son of Mary.’ [Q.5:72] And: They have disbelieved who say: ‘God is one of three [in a trinity].’ [Q.5:73] Some of these fatwas do make it clear that partaking in actual Christmas celebrations, or getting into the festive mood by having decorations or a Christmas tree, is forbidden.6 Such fatwas that allow Christmas greetings, it should be stressed, have not been without their juristic criticisms, legal deconstructions and fierce scholarly objections.

Fifthly: While such fatwas insist that their scope is limited to giving Christmas greetings, and in no way permit joining in actual celebrations, they also insist that the entire matter of whether to greet, or not to greet, revolves around its legal causation (‘illah): iqrar and rida – in this case, of accepting or approving the validity of the core Christian claim about Jesus’ [alledged] divinity. We are led to believe that classical Muslim jurists, right up until the 9-11 era, when they prohibited offering religious greetings to non-Muslims on their religious holy days and holidays, they did so because these Muslims were doing so out of rida or iqrar, approving the correctness of Christianity, or agreeing to some of its misbeliefs! They say: ‘The All-Merciful has begotten a son!’ You have uttered a monstrous lie at which the skies are ready to burst, the earth to split asunder, and the mountains to fall down in ruins, that they ascribe unto the All-Merciful a son! [Q.19:88-91] Of course, they insist, this is not the intent with which a Muslim offers Christmas greetings today.

Sixthly: A well-known legal maxim says: al-hukm yuduru ma‘a ‘illatihi wujudan wa ‘adaman – ‘The ruling revolves around the presence or absence of its legal causation.’ In other words, if the factor which gives rise to the ruling no longer exists, the ruling no longer stands. A simpler version states: intifa’ al-hukm li intifa’ ‘illatihi– ‘The ruling ends with the absence of its legal causation.’ When applied to the issue of giving Christmas greetings, it has been argued – and for the most part, rightly so – that when Muslims today wish their co-workers or non-Muslim friends or family a Merry Christmas, there is no rida and no iqrar inherent in their greeting; which is something that even a Christian recipient of such a greeting is clear about too. Therefore, it now becomes permissible. The issue thus seems to be done and dusted. But the question which requires asking is: Is rida or iqrar the actual ‘illah to which classical juristic attitudes on the matter were tied?

Seventhly: Let’s begin to tie the issue of ‘illah to whether or not Imam Ahmad b. Hanbal and the classical Hanbali school permitted Christmas greetings? The acclaimed legal theorist (usuli), Shaykh Bin Bayyah, said as part of his reply to the issue of greeting non-Muslims on their celebrations: ‘So there is nothing to prevent an individual Muslim, or an Islamic centre, to congratulate them on this occasion; verbally, or by a card, that doesn’t contain any religious emblem or expression that conflicts with any principle of Islam, such as a cross … Such customary words of congratulations on such occasions don’t entail a consent (iqrar) to their religion, nor any approval (rida) of it. Instead they are words of courtesy that people are [culturally] familiar with.’7

Eighthly: Having said that the basis for its lawfulness is the absence of rida and iqrar, he went on to say: ‘But let’s not forget to mention here that some of the jurists, like Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah and his student, the very learned Ibn al-Qayyim, were staunch in the matter of [Muslims] participating in the festivals of the idolators and the People of the Book. And we are with them in opposing [Muslims] partaking in the religious festivals of the idolators or the People of the Book – just as we observe some heedless Muslims doing in their celebrating Christmas as they celebrate the two Eids; or even more! This is not permitted. We have our celebrations; and they, theirs. But we see no problem in congratulating the people on their religious festivals.’8

Ninthly: The Shaykh brings the Hanbali school into the mix when he states in a postscript to his fatwa: ‘It may be appropriate to add here that greeting non-Muslims is differed upon by the scholars. In the school of Imam Ahmad, there are three reports: prevention, detestability and permissibility. This last stance is the one preferred by Shaykh Taqi al-Din Ibn Taymiyyah; for in it there lies a benefit. And this is what we prefer too.’9 Although not explicitly stated, this suggests that Imam Ahmad allows – in one report from him – congratulating non-Muslims on their religious festivities; and that Ibn Taymiyyah, and other jurists in the school, agree with this. And though some contemporary scholars and shaykhs have uncritically accepted this erroneous claim, propagating it as well, it’s far from being the actual case.

Tenthly: That Imam Ahmad and the Hanbalis differ about congratulating non-Muslims is only in the context of non-religious occasions, such as marriage; the birth of a child; moving into a new house; recovering from illness; etc. As for congratulating them on their religious festivals, they categorically state it is forbidden (haram). Let’s cite from some authoritative Hanbali fiqh manuals on the matter, starting with Ibn Muflih’s al-Mubdi‘ which states the different views: ‘On the legality to greet them, offer condolences to them, or visit them, there are two reports … [First:] it is forbidden … Second: permissibility … Third: allowance for an overriding benefit, like hoping for him to accept Islam; which was chosen by Shaykh Taqi al-Din [Ibn Taymiyyah].’10 So while Imam Ahmad had two views on the matter, the school itself has three.

But when shahadatu a‘yadihim, ‘partaking in their religious festivals,’ is listed, either by itself or in conjunction with what was mentioned above of visiting, sending condolences, and other non-religious activities, it is alway stipulated as forbidden. Mar‘i b. Yusuf’s Ghayat al-Muntaha typifies the point: wa haruma tahni’atuhum wa ta‘ziyatuhum wa ‘iyadatuhum wa shahadatu a‘yadihim – ‘And it is prohibited to greet them, give condolences to them, visit them, or partake in their religious celebrations.’11 Thus whilst worldly interactions are differed upon in the law school (madhhab), the issue of religious celebrations are not.

Eleventhly: As for the legal causation, or ‘illah, that gives rise to the ruling and underpins it, for Hanbalis it is not iqrar or rida. Instead, it is ta‘zim – to ‘laud’, ‘venerate’, ‘honour’, ‘esteem’, or ‘respect’ the occasion or festival; even if one doesn’t agree with the religious basis, and is not confused about the falseness of the Christian creed. Al-Bahuti stated: ‘It is prohibited to initiate [greetings of] salams to them … It is forbidden to congratulate them, offer condolences to them, visit them, or partake in their religious celebrations … However it is not forbidden for us to trade with them during it; i.e. their religious festivals, since it entails no respect (ta‘zim) of it.’12 Al-Futuhi stipulated the same about the forbiddance of taking part in such dini festivals, and the allowance of trading with them on such occasions, adding: ‘Because this doesn’t involve any ta‘zim of them.’13

Lastly, Putting things into context, Ibn al-Qayyim wrote: ‘Section: Regarding congratulating them for marriage, a newborn, return of someone long absent, recovery from an illness, and the like, then the narrations from Imam Ahmad about this differ. He allowed it at one time, but forbade it another time. Speech about this is like that concerning visiting them or offering them condolences; there is no distinction between these two … But as for congratulating them on those specific times and occasions that are symbols of their disbelief, then this is forbidden by agreement (ittifaq); like congratulating them on their religious festivals or their fasts, saying: “Festive greetings to you,” or “Congratulations on this festival,” or the like. This, even if the one saying it were free from any disbelief, it is still from what is prohibited.’14 Which is to say, even if one did not intend iqrar or rida, or even ta‘zim; but instead congratulated them on the occasion, not for the occasion, it is forbidden, though not disbelief. And Allah knows best.

Conclusion: In reply to the question with which we began: Did Imam Ahmad and the Hanbali madhhab permit Muslims to congratulate others during the Christmas festive season? the answer is, it seems, a definite no! And those who have said otherwise have erred in the matter. For the Hanbalis, the prohibition on the issue isn’t because doing so entails an acknowledgement or approval of Christianity’s correctness. But because it involves a form of respect forbidden by the shari‘ah. We may be respectful of Christians (and other non-Muslims) in that we are civil, affable, tolerant, and just towards them. But we cannot, as Muslims, respect any expression, act or symbol of disbelief (kufr): But God has endeared faith to you and has beautified it in your hearts; and has made abhorrent to you disbelief, immorality and disobedience. [Q.49:7]

If the legal causation (‘illah) in the other law schools, or in the view of other classical jurists, is also ta‘zim – as it is in the Hanbali school – then it simply will not be possible to offer Christmas greetings; and the matter will be, as Ibn al-Qayyim noted, a point of juristic agreement; a scholarly consensus (ijma‘) of sorts – and thus binding on one and all!

If, however, other madhhabs or jurists hold that the prohibition is tied just to iqrar or rida, then there might be a leeway in offering Christmas greetings. For whenever there is no scholarly consensus (ijma‘) nor juristic agreement on a matter, then the opinion or verdict of any scholar follows this unspoken rule: kalami mu‘lim laysa bi mulzim: ‘My words are instructional, not dictatorial (lit. not binding).’ In other words, a legitimate difference cannot be imposed upon others, or be made into a benchmark issue to determine who is dodgy or not; let alone for cancel culture to be invoked.

Such an investigation into the other madhhabs – on this point – is beyond the scope of this article, and beyond the ability of this author. It’s not just a case of consulting some comparative law manual (fiqh al-muqarin). For such manuals are – as the Shafi‘i faqih and academic, Shaykh al-Afifi once told me – okay on the broad strokes, but often err on the nuances and finer points, or miss them out altogether. No, in order to ascertain what the madhhabs say on such subtle points of law, one must consult highly seasoned jurists of those schools. So I will leave such an inquiry to others, if it hasn’t already been undertaken.

Wa’Llahu a‘lam wa bihi al-tawfiq.

1. Muslim, no.1732.

2. Cited in Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr, Jami‘ Bayan al-‘Ilm wa Fadlihi (Saudi Arabia: Dar Ibn al-Jawzi, 1994), no.1467.

3. Abdal Hakim Murad, Contentions 9/73. Rukhas, the plural of rukhsah, while ‘aza’im is plural of ‘azimah – a “strict” religious ruling: a ruling in its original form, without any attendant reason or circumstance that could soften or ease its original force.

4. Al-Bukhari, no.39.

5. As is recorded by al-Qurtubi, Kitab al-Tadhkirah (Riyadh: Maktabah Dar al-Minhaj, 1425H), 800.

6. Consult: Egypt’s Dar al-Ifta’ fatwa on the issue, which can be read here; and the European Council for Fatwa and Research fatwa (Resolution 3/6), which may be read here.

7. Bin Bayyah, Sina‘at al-Fatwa (Beirut: Dar al-Minhaj, 2007), 341.

8. ibid., 341-42.

9. ibid., 342.

10. Al-Mubdi‘ Sharh al-Muqni‘ (Riyadh: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 2003), 3:325. Also cf. al-Mardawi’s encyclopaedic al-Insaf fi Ma‘rifat al-Rajihi min al-Khilaf (n.p. 1956), 4:234, where he stated that the second report from Imam Ahmad is that it is not forbidden, but disliked.

11. Mar‘i b. Yusuf al-Karami, Ghayat al-Muntaha Jam‘ al-Iqna‘ wa’l-Muntaha (Kuwait: Mu’assasah Ghuras, 2007), 1:489.

12. Al-Bahuti, Sharh Muntaha al-Iradat (Beirut: ‘Alam al-Kutub, 1993), 1:664.

13. Al-Futuhi, Ma‘una Ula al-Nuha Sharh al-Muntaha (Makkah: Maktabah al-Asadi, 2008), 4:458.

14. Ahkam Ahl al-Dhimmah (Dammam: Ramadi li’l-Nashr, 1997), 1:441.

Muslim Fitnah-Makers & their Fascist Fiqh!

This is a piece discussing how Muslims can be divided into three categories in terms of religious knowledge, and how the middle category is where much of the ummah’s woes and fitnahs spring from. And as counter-intuitive as it may sound, this middle problematic category are those that are commonly referred to as the more committed in learning ‘practicing Muslims’! Finally, while the title may be somewhat on the dramatic side, it is my hope that the piece itself will be read with careful thought and measured consideration.

In the biography of ‘Ali b. Qasim, Imam al-Shawkani (d.1255H/1839CE) wrote the following: ‘From the beautiful words I heard from him were:

“People are of three categories: The highest category are the major scholars (al-‘ulema al-kibar) who are well-acquainted with truth and falsehood; and when they differ their differing does not become a cause for fitnah, because of their knowledge of what each other has [of proofs].

“The lowest category are the general public (‘ammah) upon the fitrah, who do not flee from the truth. They are followers of those they emulate: if those they emulate are correct, they are likewise; if they err, then they do too.

“The middle category is the source of evil and the root cause of fitnahs arising in the religion: They are those who are not seasoned in knowledge, such that they rise to the level of the first category, nor have they forsaken it to thus be of the lowest category. They are those who, when they see one of those from the highest level say something which they are not acquainted with and which contradicts their belief in which they fell short, they fire arrows of accusation at him and hurl at him all sorts of insults. They [also] corrupt the fitrah of the lowest category [the masses] from [no longer] accepting the [scholarly] truth, through disguising falsehood. By this, they establish religious fitnahs on a firm footing.”

‘This is the meaning of his words which I heard from him; and he has spoken the truth. For whoever ponders over them will find it to be so.’1

There are a number of benefits which may be taken away from the above; they include the following:

1 In matters of furu‘, the branches or details of shari‘ah law where there is no juristic agreement or consensus (ijma‘), the scholars uphold the rule: ikhtilafu ummati rahmah – ‘Differences in my community is a mercy.’2 Such a rule has lent itself to mutual respect between scholars and an appreciation for the basis of legitimate scholarly differing (ikhtilaf) – even when a scholar passionately holds his view to be the correct one.

2 This rule was so part and parcel of Sunni orthodoxy that we see someone like Ibn Qudamah al-Maqdisi, the chief Hanbali jurist-theologian of the early seventh century, include it as part of the staple Athari creed: ‘Differing in the furu‘ is a mercy. Those differing are rewarded for their scholarly ijtihad. Their differing is a comprehensive mercy: their agreement a decisive proof.’3 Imam al-Nawawi wrote: ‘Realise, to know the madhhab of the salaf with its proof is a most essential need. For their differing in furu‘ issues is a mercy.’4

3 – As for the view of the late Salafi scholar Shaykh al-Albani, where he tried to show the futile nature of this rule then, in the light of our past Imams and theologians, I’ve discussed how his view is out of sync with the classical Sunni position, in my book, Fussing Over the Fifteenth of Sha‘ban & the Golden Rule of Differing. Hence rather than rehearse the arguments here, and before someone regurgitates the gist of his objections in the comments section, I recommend that one refer to the book.5

4 – That the ummah would be afflicted with its share of barefaced pretenders to Islam’s scholarly heritage is something our Prophet ﷺ cautioned us about. One hadith says: ‘Allah does not take away knowledge by wresting it from the hearts of men; but He takes away knowledge by taking away the scholars. So when no scholar remains, people take the ignorant as leaders who when asked give fatwas without knowledge: they are misguided and misguiding.’6 These people are usually not from the lowest category of the general public, but – as al-Shawkani mentions – from the ‘middle category’ of the practicing Muslim cohort; those who have some passion to learn, practice and proselytise a little more than is usual for non-scholars.

5 – Ibn Mas‘ud said: ‘You are in a time in which its scholars (‘ulema) are many and its speakers (khutaba) are few. But after you will come a time in which its scholars are few and its speakers many.’7 This ‘speaker’ syndrome has, in our time, mushroomed into a rite of passage for any ignoramus, with the flimsiest knowledge and no grounding in the sacred Islamic sciences, to speak on behalf of Allah and to engage in shameless self-promotion. Such people deserve to be labelled as liars, as Imam Ibn Taymiyyah stated: ‘Whosoever speaks about the religion without knowledge is a liar, even if he did not intend to lie!’8

6 – Left to their own natures, the general public always understood that there is a huge difference between them and scholars who, not too long ago would have had to spend, on average, seven to ten years just to get on the first rung of the ladder of serious scholarship. That is, a lay Muslim knew that he or she must follow qualified scholars in religious matters – taqlid being the technical religious term for such following, and muqallid for the follower.

7 – Over the past three decades, a vile bid‘ah has infected practicing Muslims, who are otherwise well-intended. And that is the idea that even they, without any juristic training; qualification; or expertise, can weigh-up shari‘ah proofs in the highly complex minutae of Islamic law and determine the ‘strongest’ view! And all because they believe they know a proof-text (dalil) or two on the issue. Ibn Taymiyyah put such falsehood to bed when he said: ‘As for a person who only knows one scholar’s view and his proof, but not the other scholar’s or his proof, is from the generality of the muqallids. He isn’t from the scholars capable of evaluating or weighing-up [proofs].’9

8 – The middle category of religious practitioners, as al-Shawkani points out, not only corrupt their own fitrah, but have been instrumental in corrupting the nature of the third category – a growing number of whom are also persuaded that they too can dive into detailed fiqh/furu‘ matters and play the part of self-made muftis. And whilst any Muslim may join the scholarly conversation, they can only lawfully do so with sound learning that is isnad-approved. Otherwise, it’s as Ibn al-Mubarak said: al-isnad ‘indi min al-din, law la’l-isnad laqala man sha’a ma sha’a – ‘The chain [of transmission], in my view, is a [required] part of the religion. If it were not for the chain, anyone could claim whatever they wanted to claim.’10

9 – That the lay folk aren’t obliged to know the proofs behind a fatwa or ruling they read or are given, shouldn’t prevent them from increasing in their overall knowledge of the Qur’an and the Hadith corpus. Islam encourages all Muslims to increase in their share of Islamic knowledge. Let lay people apply their God-given intellects to grow in knowledge of those verses and hadiths that relate to foundational beliefs; ethics and good character; virtues and vices of the heart and its spiritual growth; and rights and responsibilities. Books like Imam al-Nawawi’s Riyadh al-Salihin are priceless in this respect. It’s just in the domain of detailed Islamic law, in fiqh, where the proofs are often complex and subtle to fathom without formal legal training, that taqlid is legislated and qualified scholarship must be followed.

10 – Rather than acquaint themselves with the basic meanings of the Qur’an, or with hadiths that expound on the broad aspects of Islam mentioned above, the middle category feign knowledge; overstep their mark; criticise what they don’t understand; and eagerly plunge into pointless argumentation and issues of contention, none of which arouse in the soul a yearning for Allah or a desire to increase in acts of devotion. Malik b. Dinar said: ‘Whoever learns knowledge so as to act by it, his knowledge humbles him. Whoever seeks it for other than that, only increases in pride by it.’11 And Abu Qilabah advised: ‘If God gives to you knowledge, give to Him worship; and do not let your concern be to merely narrate to the people.’12

11 – Corrupt intentions or the soul’s arrogance aside, the chief reason why this middle category is a harbinger of fitnah is their lack of upholding the ikhtilafu ummati rahmah rule. For them, differing in the furu‘ is no longer a mercy, but a menace! Be it driven by compound ignorance (jahl murakkab – being ignorant of one’s ignorance), personal jealousy or sectarian prejudice, the hallmark of such people is ta‘alum – ‘feigning knowledge’ and, what could be described as fascist fiqh!

12 – Let me try to explain this last trait. Fascist fiqh is where furu‘ differences rooted in ijtihad are made into larger than life issues which are then used as a benchmark to judge who is deviant; whose Islam is not ‘sahih’ enough; or who must be boycotted, snubbed or shunned. That is why such bigotry, intolerance and authoritarianism in matters of legitimate scholarly differences is nothing short of a facist mentality in fiqh/furu‘. Hence, fascist fiqh. Ibn Taymiyyah tells us: ‘When it comes to issues of ijtihad, whoever takes the position of one of the scholar, cannot be rebuked or boycotted; while whoever adopts the other view cannot be censured either.’13

13 – Ibn Taymiyyah says: ‘In such ijtihadi matters, one cannot forbid someone with the hand, nor impose upon others the view he follows. He may, however, discuss it with knowledge-based proofs. Then whosoever sees one of the two views to be correct may follow it, while whoever follows the other view cannot be criticised. And the likes of such issues are many.’14 Such ijtihadi issues can be in matters of fiqh, or in hadith authenticities and the reliability of specific narrators, or even whether the conditions have been fulfilled for a person to be warned about or boycotted. For as long as there is no scholarly agreement or consensus on the matter, one scholar’s ijthad cannot be enforced or imposed on others. To do so is sheer misguidance and the essence of fascist fiqh.

14 – Regrettably, there is quite a lengthy catalogue of issues where this middle category has made mountains out of molehills, thereby riding roughshod over Sunni orthodoxy and causing schisms and divisions within this already fragile ummah. So whether it’s from using tasbih beads to tawassul bi’l-nabi, or from whether to mark out the night of mid-Sha‘ban with extra worship or celebrate the Prophet’s mawlid/milad ﷺ, then all such things are areas of valid scholarly ijtihad and are from the issues of fiqh and furu‘, not usul nor ‘aqidah. This will be evident, and as clear as day, just by looking into even what Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah had to say about these issues.15

15 – Given all the above, it won’t come as a surprise that making issues which are not agreed upon (mujma‘ ‘alayhi), but are instead valid differing (mukhtalif fihi), into benchmark issues or mini inquisitions one imposes on others, has always been deemed by the ‘ulema to be the stock-in-trade of the innovators. Typifying Islamic orthodoxy on the matter at hand, let’s here from Imam Ibn Taymiyyah one last time: ‘It isn’t [lawful] for anyone to set-up for the ummah an individual, calling to his way or basing one’s loyalty or enmity around him, except if it be the Prophet ﷺ. Nor must an opinion be set-up for them, around which loyalty and enmity is formed except if it be the Speech of Allah, or His Prophet, or what the ummah has agreed upon. Rather, this is from the practice of the people of innovations (ahl al-bida‘); those who affiliate themselves to a specific individual or opinion, basing their loyalty and enmity around such an opinion or affiliation.’16

Let me conclude with the following. In his scathing rebuke of those with half-baked knowledge and pseudo-scholarship, Ibn Hazm al-Andalusi wrote – and how yesterday resembles today:

‘Some people who are overcome with ignorance, whose intellects are weak, and whose nature is corrupt think they are from the learned, when they are not. There is no greater harm to knowledge or to the learned than from the likes of such people. For they took a meagre part of some of the sciences, while missing a much larger portion than what they had grasped. Moreover, their seeking knowledge was not a search for knowledge of Allah, exalted is He, nor was their aim to escape the darkness of ignorance. Instead, it was to be one-up on people through showing-off and self-importance, or to attract attention by being cantankerous and stirring-up controversy, or shamelessly boast about being from the scholars when in reality they are not.’17

Of course, none of the above will likely have any effect on those in whose vapid hearts the poison of attention-seeking and shamelessness has been secreted. For as the Prophet ﷺ warned: idha lam tastahih f’sna‘ ma sh’it – ‘If you feel no shame, then do as you wish.’18 We ask Allah for safety from fitnah, and from the evils of our own selves.

From a struggling, mediocre student of sacred knowledge,
Surkheel Abu Aaliyah

1. Al-Shawkani, al-Badr al-Tali‘ (Cairo: Dar al-Kitab al-Islami, n.d.), 1:473.

2. The rule or principle is related as an actual hadith. However, al-Subki said: ‘it is not known to the hadith scholars and I cannot find a chain for it; whether sound, weak or [even] fabricated.’ As cited in al-Munawi, Fayd al-Qadir (Cairo: Dar al-Hadith, 2010), no.288; 1:352.

3. Lum‘at al-I‘tiqad (Kuwait: Dar al-Salafiyyah, 1986), 35; no.94.

4. Al-Majmu‘ Sharh al-Muhadhdhab (Jeddah: Maktabah al-Irshad, n.d.), 1:19.

5. Fussing Over the Fifteenth of Sha‘ban & the Golden Rule of Differing (London: Jawziyyah Press, 2014), 46-53.

6. Al-Bukhari, no.34; Muslim, no.2673.

7. Al-Tabarani, Mu‘jam al-Kabir, no.8066, and its chain is sahih. See: Ibn Hajr al-‘Asqalani, Fath al-Bari (Egypt: al-Matba‘ah al-Salafiyyah, n.d.), 10:510.

8. Majmu‘ Fatawa (Riyadh: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 1991), 10:449.

9. ibid., 35:233.

10. Sahih Muslim, Muqaddimah (Beirut: Dar al-Tasil, 2014), no.28; 1:316.

11. Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi, Iqtida al-‘Ilm al-‘Aml (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1977), no.31.

12. ibid., no.38.

13. Majmu‘ Fatawa, 28:15.

14. ibid., 30:80.

15. On Ibn Taymiyyah’s opinion concerning tasbih beads (subhah), see: Majmu‘ al-Fatawa, 22:506; on tawassul with the Prophet ﷺ, see: Majmu‘ Fatawa, 1:40, where he cites Imam Ahmad doing so, thus validating it as a legitimate fiqh view; concerning earmarking the fifteenth of Sha‘ban for optional ‘ibadah, cf. 23:131-32; on the mawlid, see: Iqtida’ al-Sirat al-Mustaqim (Riyadh: Maktabah Ishbiliya, 1998), 2:123, where he holds people will be rewarded for their love in doing so, but not for the actual act, again showing he considered it as an issue of legitimate ijtihad and differing.

16. Majmu‘ Fatawa, 20:164.

17. ‘Maratib al-‘Ulum’ in Rasa’il Ibn Hazm al-Andalusi (Beirut: al-Mu’assasah al-‘Arabiyyah, 1983), 4:86.

18. Al-Bukhari, no.6120.

Ibn Taymiyyah’s Golden Rule On Bid‘ah

Religiously, bid‘ah has been defined by the scholars with slightly varying expressions, all of which revolve around the idea expressed by Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali: الْمُرَاد بِالْبِدْعَةُ: مَا أُحْدِثَ مِمّا لَا أَصْلَ لَهُ فِي ِالشَّرِيْعَةِ يَدُلُّ عَلَيْه – ‘What is meant by bid‘ah is: That which is newly-introduced, having no basis in the Sacred Law to substantiate it.’1 Although the definitions of bid‘ah given by the classical scholars vary in terms of how they articulate it (something I hope to discuss in a future post), they don’t differ in terms of its essential meaning: that which has no basis in the shari‘ah neither in the Qur’an, the Sunnah, scholarly consensus (ijma‘), or analogy (qiyas).

In a similar vein to the above, Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah wrote: ْوَاَمَّا الْبِدْعَةُ الشَّرْعِيَّةُ فَمَا لَم يَدُلُّ عَلَيْهِ دَلِيْل شرعي – ‘As for bid‘ah in the religious sense, it is whatever is not proven by a shari‘ah proof.’2

Now Ibn Taymiyyah’s view on bid‘ah, or [reprehensible] religious innovation is rooted, not just in an act not having a basis in the shari‘ah, but also in it not having a precedent in the practice or ‘aml of the salaf. So he says about performing optional prayers during the 15th night of Sha‘ban (not to be confused with the innovated prayer of Sha‘ban, called salat al-alfiyyah – “the Prayer of One-Thousand Quls”):

‘Hadiths and salaf-reports about the virtues of the middle night [of Sha‘ban] have been related. It is also reported about a group of the salaf that they would pray during the night. Thus the prayer of someone praying individually during the night has a precedent with some of the salaf, and therefore stands as a proof for it. So it cannot be objected to.’3

The same principle applies to using dhikr beads (subhah). Historically, al-Shawkani said: ‘It is not related from any of the salaf, or the khalaf, that they forbade the permissibility of dhikr beads. Rather, many of them would use it to count upon and did not view it as being disliked (makruh).’4 Given the basis for it in the ‘aml of some of the salaf, Ibn Taymiyyah unsurprisingly said: ‘As for counting on a string of beads or something similar, there were some who held it as disliked and others who did not. If the intention in doing so is sound, then it is something good and not disliked.’5

Then there’s reciting the Qur’an with the intention of transferring, or gifting, its reward to the deceased (isal al-thawab). The very mention of it will often incense some people and make them extremely uppity. Yet Ibn al-Qayyim tells us this historical reality: ‘Scholars have differed about bodily acts of worship like fasting, prayer, reciting the Qur’an and dhikr. The opinion of Ahmad and the majority of the salaf is that their benefits do indeed reach the deceased.6 Again, we read from Ibn Taymiyyah: ‘As for the reward of bodily acts of worship reaching [the deceased], like recitation [of the Qur’an], prayer or fasting, then the view of Ahmad, Abu Hanifah, and a group of the companions of Malik and al-Shafi‘i is that it [the reward] does reach them. The opinion of most of the companions of Malik and al-Shafi‘i was that it doesn’t reach them; and Allah knows best.’7 In other words, given the legitimate difference among the salaf, the act cannot be objected to.

It’s along these very same lines why he doesn’t allow celebrating the yearly mawlid/milad of the Prophet ﷺ, since it lacks a practical precedence from the salaf. Thus he wrote:

‘Such is also the case with the practice which some people have newly-introduced, either because of imitation of the Christians in their observance of Christmas, or out of love and reverence for the Prophet ﷺ – and Allah will reward them for their love and effort, not for their bid‘ah – which is the annual celebration of the Prophet’s birthday ﷺ: even with the difference of opinion over his actual date of birth. The salaf never did such a thing, even though there was a positive benefit in doing so and there was nothing to prevent them from actualising it. If this practice had been good, either entirely or preponderantly, then the salaf would have preceded us to it; may Allah be pleased with them. What with their greater love and reverence for the Prophet ﷺ and their greater zeal for doing good.’8

Imam Ibn Taymiyyah lays down this golden principle to help determine wether something newly-invented constitutes a blameworthy innovation or not; and it can be formulated as such: Any act of worship not done in the lifetime of the Prophet ﷺ nor in the age of the salaf, the [Pious] Predecessors, is an innovation; a bid‘ah – on condition that the need for that actual act was present in those times and there was nothing preventing them from carrying out the act. Here is what he wrote:

‘The rule here, and Allah knows best, can be formulated thus: People do not originate [i.e. innovate] a thing unless they consider it beneficial. If they believed it to be harmful they would not originate it, for neither reason nor faith call upon to do so. Whatever appears to Muslims as beneficial must be investigated as to the need that necessitates it. If the need warranting it arose after the Prophet ﷺ and was left open by him without any omission on his part, then it is permissible to originate what the need warrent’s. The same is the case if the need for originating it was present during the lifetime of the Prophet ﷺ but which he abandoned in view of an impediment which now, after his death, has been lifted.

‘As for what is originated without a need warranting it, or what does warrent it are human transgressions, then the innovation is not permissible. Also, any matter which may have been of necessary benefit in the lifetime of Allah’s Messenger ﷺ but which was not acted upon by him, is simply not a benefit.’9

Examples of religious acts that were originated after the Prophet’s time, because the need to do so only arose after his death ﷺ include: compiling the Qur’an into a single codex; codifying the laws of Islam for fear something might get lost from them; classification of hadiths to distinguish between sound and spurious reports; and studying the disciplines of Arabic that are necessary to understand the Qur’an and Sunnah, such as grammar and morphology.

An example of an act, the need for which was present in the Prophet’s time ﷺ but which he left because of some impediment, is the praying of tarawih in congregation. He left off doing so for fear it would be made compulsory on his ummah. After his death, however, that concern was no longer there.

An example of an act, the apparent need for which was present in the prophetic era, yet neither the Prophet ﷺ nor any of the early Muslims initiated it, is the case of the adhan for the two ‘Eid prayers. That they never initiated such a practice, even though there seemed to be a positive benefit in doing so, means that such is not part of the religion, and so to initiate the act will constitute a bid‘ah. Such is also the case with the mawlid, the yearly celebration of our Prophet’s birthday ﷺ; as per this Taymiyyan principle. 

And Allah knows best.

1. Jami‘ al-Ulum al-Hikam (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1998), 2:127.

2. Iqtida’ al-Sirat al-Mustaqim (Riyadh: Maktabah Ishbiliya, 1998), 2:95.

3. Majmu‘ Fatawa (Riyadh: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 1991), 23:132.

4. Nayl al-Awtar (Cairo: Dar al-Hadith, 2000), 2:673.

5. Majmu‘ Fatawa, 22:506; where he then goes on to rebuke those who use them to make a show of their piety and act ostentatiously.

6. Kitab al-Ruh (Riyadh: Dar Ibn Taymiyyah, 1992), 159.

7. Majmu‘ Fatawa, 24:324.

8. Iqtida’ al-Sirat al-Mustaqim, 2:123.

9. ibid., 2:100-101.

Women & Mosques: Misogyny to Misrepresentation

Q. Is there any religious justification which forbids women from going to the mosque to attend congregational prayers? Or is this “forbiddance” just an Asian cultural thing that’s been grafted on to the religion? And is it also true the hadith that says the best place for women to pray is in their homes isn’t a general order, but was specific to a given situation and to a particular woman?

A. Alhamdulillah, wa’l-salatu wa’l-salamu ‘ala rasulillah. The issue is such that, on the one hand, women are being turned away from some mosques at prayer times, sometimes having to pray in carparks or other unbefitting places. And if they are grudgingly allowed into such mosques, they can often be met with very unwelcoming glances. On the other hand, there are growing accusations of misogyny being hurled against (almost invariably male) mosque committees, and even against scholars, as they believe they are following orthodox formulations of Islamic law on not letting women attend mosques. Given how the issue is now a battle ground of sorts; and given that some now allege certain classical juristic consensus on the issue are plainly wrong; and given also how ill-informed many men and women are about the evidences on the matter – often for every proof-text they may know, they are ignorant of at least five others – let me break it down for analysis into the following points:

1. Let’s [re]acquaint ourselves with some of the hadiths on the topic. One hadith says: ‘Do not prevent the female servants of God from the mosques of God.’1 In another hadith, we read: ‘When your women folk seek permission to go to the mosque, don’t prevent them.’2 The next hadith cautions believing women thus: ‘If any of you attends the mosque, do not touch perfume.’3 These, and other like-minded directives from our Prophet ﷺ, ostensibly demonstrate the shari‘ah permissibility of women attending congregational prayers in the mosque.

2. The above apparently being the case, it’s still only part of the story. Other hadiths tell us: ‘Do not prevent your wives from the mosques, but their houses are better for them.’4 And: ‘The prayer of a woman in her house is better than her prayer in her courtyard; and her prayer in her chamber (fi makhda‘iha) is better than her prayer in her house.’5 So the majoritarian view, taking both sets of hadiths into consideration, is that while it is lawful for women to attend mosques for congregational prayer, their prayer at home is better. As for the view of at least one contemporary shaykh, who claims the hadith about a woman’s prayer at home being better was said in a specific context for a particular woman and was not intended to apply to all women, that is addressed in point number thirteen.

3. At this point, we should also bring into play those hadiths that speak about women’s attendance being more particular to the night and pre-dawn prayer – times where, under the cover of dark, women can be better concealed from the male gaze and the male gaze will be better obscured from possible feminine allure. One such hadith says: ‘Prevent not your women from coming out to the mosques at night.’6 Another stipulates: ‘Permit your women to go to the mosques at night.’7 Based upon this, many early jurists understood the hadiths allowing women to attend mosques to be an unqualified (mutlaq) statement, which is qualified (muqayyad) by the “night” hadiths. In other words, women may attend mosques, but only for the fajr and isha’ prayers when it is dark; for the darkness will help conceal them. Hence Imam al-Bukhari’s chapter heading in his Sahih: ‘Chapter: Women going to mosques at night and at dusk.’8

4. As for the shades of grey in the madhhab rulings, they run like so: Maliki jurists hold that young women attending prayer in the mosque is khilaf al-awla – “contrary to what is preferred.” The Shafi‘i school particularises this allowance to elderly women, whereas the Hanbalis deem it offensive (makruh) for attractive women to attend congregational prayer in the mosque (putting aside the obvious question of who decides what woman is pretty or likely to entice some men to take more than a restrained, mindful glance).9 The cue for these legal restrictions is taken from the fact that the Prophet ﷺ forbade women who perfume themselves from going to the mosque. Similarly, argue the jurists, any lady who is likely to disturb the Islamic character of the public space by displaying her charms in a manner forbidden by Islam’s teachings can be stopped or discouraged from attending the mosque. Some hadiths actually state that a woman’s prayer in her houses is better, except for the ‘ajuz or “elderly.”10 Another insists: ‘Prohibit your women from wearing attractive clothes or perfume when attending the mosque.’11 As for the Hanafis, their stance shall be dealt with below.

5. There is a social context and behavioural factors behind the above legal nuances, that give rise to a certain reluctance to allow just any or every female to attend congregational prayers in mosques. The main two that often appear in our fiqh commentaries are: [i] the fear of temptation (fitnah) between the two sexes (hence an allowance for the elderly, but not those that are younger or who are in the prime of their femininity); and [ii] the reality, as unfortunate and deplorable as it is, of male harassment.12 A traditional Muslim public space, while allowing women to go out for their needs and their trade, was undoubtedly the preserve of men. And while the latter could linger or loiter without their honour or ‘ird necessarily being impinged, the former could not; would not; and usually did not.

6. Now for the slightly tricky fiqhi bit. Having meticulously scrutinised the entire gamut of proof-texts that bear upon this subject, Muslim jurists were able to identify the ‘illah, the “legal cause” or ratio legis, that allows women to go to the mosque. Most jurists held that the issue revolves around the ‘illah or legal causation of safety from fitnah (‘adm khawf al-fitnah/al-amn min al-fitnah). And although a few jurists held the ‘illah was the honour and prestige of praying behind the Prophet ﷺ, most jurists concurred with safety from fitnah as being that actual ‘illah. What they meant by fitnah in this context was women and men casually intermingling or socialising with one another, and women dressing or adorning themselves in ways that is likely to be tempting or enticing to men, and women being safe from general harm and male predatory harassment.

This being so, the ruling of allowing women to attends prayer in mosques must be judged in the light of a well-established juristic maxim: al-hukm yuduru ma‘a ‘illatihi wujudan wa ‘adaman – ‘The ruling revolves around the presence or absence of its legal causation.’ In other words, if the factor which gives rise to the ruling no longer exists, then the ruling no longer stands. Or to use a simplified version of this juristic maxim: intifa’ al-hukm li intifa’ ‘illatihi – ‘The ruling ends with the absence of its legal causation.’ When applied to the issue at hand, if safety from fitnah is absent – in that casual mixing will not be avoided, or women dress in alluring ways that don’t accord to shari‘ah teachings, or they are likely to be harmed or harassed – then the ruling, in general, of the allowance for such women no longer stands.

7. A more straightforward way of looking at the issue is in terms of the conditions (shurut) revelation insists must be fulfilled if women are to be permitted to go out in public. Again, analysing the evidences, scholars inferred the following conditions: [i] Wearing a shari‘ah-complient hijab (one which includes a khimar or “head covering” and an outer garment; a jilbab): And that they draw their head coverings over their chests. [Q.24:31] Also: O Prophet! Tell your wives and daughters and the believing women to draw their outer garments around them. [Q.33:59] [ii] Not to reveal their beauty, except for the face and hands, provided there is no fear of temptation (or, as per the second view, not even the face or hands, due to the presumption it will cause a fitnah): And not to display their adornments, except for what is apparent. [Q.24:31] [iii] Not to wear perfume, nor alluring attire or make-up: And flaunt not your charms in the manner of the past Times of Ignorance. [Q.33:33] [iv] That the interaction with the opposite gender is respectable, kept to a courteous on-a-need-to-do-so basis, and wisely guarded: Be not soft of speech, lest he in whose heart is a disease aspires to you, but speak honourably. [Q.33:32] [v] Not to dress, speak or act in a manner that unduly solicits mens’ attention or incites their passions: And let them not strike their feet together so as to reveal their hidden adornments. [Q.24:31] Of course, when these rules of public decorum are not observed by women, then strictly speaking the textual proofs simply do not grant them permission to go out to the mosque.

8. Before elaborating the Hanafi position, here are a few hadiths regarding the prophetic concern for safeguarding decency and respectability in the public sphere. The hadith of al-Fadl b. ‘Abbas is interesting in this regard. His brother, ‘Abd Allah b. ‘Abbas relates: ‘Al-Fadl b. ‘Abbas rode behind the Prophet ﷺ upon the back of his she-camel, on the Day of Sacrifice (yawm al-nahr); and al-Fadl was a handsome man. The Prophet ﷺ stopped to give people fatwas. Meanwhile, an attractive lady from the Khath‘am tribe came seeking a ruling from Allah’s Messenger ﷺ. Al-Fadl began staring at her, being enamoured of her beauty. The Prophet glanced behind while al-Fadl was still gazing at her. The Prophet ﷺ then extended his hand backward and turned al-Fadl’s cheek, so he would stop staring at her …’13 In another version, when he was asked why he turned the cheek of his cousin, he replied: ra’aytu shabban wa shabbatan falam aman al-shaytan ‘alayhima – ‘I saw a young man and woman who were not safe from [the influence of] Satan upon them.’14 Here we see that the Prophet ﷺ did not make a fuss or a hoo-ha about the situation: he gently did what needed to be done and politely said what needed to be said. It is also interesting to note how the Prophet ﷺ seemed to put the onus on al-Fadl averting his gaze, rather than sending the young lady away.

There are other hadiths which we moderns would do well not to ignore, and to figure out godly and intelligent ways to weave them into our public spaces and gender interactions. They include this saying of the Prophet ﷺ: ‘The woman is ‘awrah, when she leaves [her house] Satan beautifies her.’15 Ibn Khuzaymah and Ibn Hibban also recorded it in their respective Sahihs, but with this addition: ‘and the closest she is to the Face of her Lord is when she is in the depth of her home.’16 These, along with a volley of other narrations, lent themselves to the juristic inference that the overall idea for women was one of satr or “concealment”. Also there’s this next hadith, the implications of which don’t need much spelling out: ‘I have not left a fitnah after me as harmful to men, than women.’17 The cure for much of this temptation and over-sexualisation of society lies in the Quranic wisdom of ghadd al-basr – “lowering the gaze”. Jarir reported: I asked Allah’s Messenger ﷺ about the accidental glance, so he ordered me to avert my gaze.18 All-in-all, the believing man’s sense of public decency is in notions of respectability, lowering the gaze, and a mindful glance: Tell believing men to lower their gaze and guard their private parts; that is purer for them. [Q.24:30] As for a believing woman, it is rooted in principles like: And stay in your homes and flaunt not your charms in the manner of the past Times of Ignorance. [Q.33:33] They can, of course, go out for their needs or necessities (be they worldly, spiritual, social or psychological), but in a manner approved of by Allah and consistent with the rulings and aims of His Sacred Law. There is also no doubt that the ummah stands in dire need of womens’ active input and participation in terms of Islamic scholarship and teaching, and in Muslim social affairs; in general. How they square such circles, or overcome religiously unwarranted obstacles, is one of the most pressing challenges facing us Muslims. That said, this must be kept at the forefront of our minds lest we forget: Even the devil tempts to virtue, if it leads to a greater vice.

9. This brings us nicely on to the minority juristic view on the matter of women attending mosques; that of the Hanafi madhhab. Hanafis base their ruling on what the lady ‘A’ishah said: ‘If Allah’s Messenger ﷺ had seen what the women have introduced, he would have prevented them from the mosques, as the women of the Israelites were prevented.’19 For Hanafis, this pretty much tilts the balance against women attending prayer in mosques. In typical Hanafi legal reasoning, al-‘Ayni stated: ‘If ‘A’ishah, may Allah be pleased with her, had seen what the women of these times have introduced, of all sorts of innovations and evils, her rebuke would have been even stronger.’20 So due to the changing [worsening] of the times (taghayyur al-zaman), Hanafis consider it to be makruh tahrimi – “prohibitively detested” – for women to attend mosques for prayers.21

10. To be clear, this is not a case of Hanafis opposing clear-cut hadiths, or mischievously ‘superseding the texts’. Rather, it’s a case of them identifying the conditions (shurut) and legal causation (‘illah) for the lawfulness of women attending mosques for prayers, or for other religious activities; then asking: Are these conditions being fulfilled? Or is the legal causation (safety from fitnah) still present? And have times changed such that the ruling may need tweaking or reevaluating? The answer to the first question is a “No! Conditions aren’t usually fulfilled” The second is also a “No!”. And the third is a “Yes” – the ruling of them going to mosques now changes from an allowance to a practical forbiddance. This, then, has been the legal reasoning of the Hanafi school since its outset.

11. It won’t come as a surprise when I say that the majority of scholars have a response, or rebuttal, to the Hanafi view. Ibn Hajr al-‘Asqalāni wrote: ‘Some held ‘A’ishah’s prevention of women attending mosques as being absolute; but this is questionable. Since it doesn’t entail any change in the ruling, as she made it conditional on a non-existent condition; she said: “If he had seen … he would have prevented.” But he didn’t see, and nor did he prevent … Furthermore, these innovations were introduced by some women, not by all of them.’22 Ibn Qudamah stated: ‘The Sunnah of Allah’s Messenger ﷺ is more deserving to be followed; the statement of ‘A’ishah is confined only to those women who introduced the innovations.’23 Another persuasive reason why ‘A’ishah, may Allah be pleased with her, did not intend to alter or abrogate the default ruling of it being lawful for women to attend the mosque is that Imam Malik, and the other renowned jurists of Madinah before him, never understood her statement as a blanket, absolute prohibition. The point here is that the Madinan school was built on – amongst others – the juristic fatwas and legacy of the lady ‘A’ishah.

12. Fiqh isn’t the parroting or fossilising of classical juristic rulings formulated in Mamluk or Ottoman times … end of! It must be a living, vibrant enterprise culminating in practical and liveable law and guidance for our age. So as should be expected, some contemporary Hanafi scholars themselves are eager to revisit the issue, given that times have worsened even more. They, like jurists from other schools too, point out that the issue of taghayyur al-zaman can work both ways.24 On the one hand, they say, there’s the ever-diminishing reality of “safety from fitnah” at play between the genders (or within the genders too!). On the other hand, these Hanafi scholars argue, it appears that – on balance – there is a greater harm in not permitting women to go to the mosque in these times, for a variety of reasons. Thus they should not be prevented, provided they observe the basic decorum in terms of their attire and how they conduct themselves. One such reason is that in the prophetic era and long after, women’s primary role would be in and around the house, they wouldn’t really venture out except for necessities or a pressing need. This is unlike the complexities of the modern age, in which it’s the given norm for both men and women to be out and about in public for a whole host of reasons such as work, shopping, visiting others, or education. The reality is that they too need dedicated spaces to pray: mosques being open to them is part of such accessibility. Another reason is for women to be able to access scholarly talks and classes which often take place in mosques. To suppose that the internet or that YouTube can be an adequate substitute for gaining such knowledge is to be poorly informed about the adab required when seeking sacred knowledge, as well as the barakah or the psychology of being in the company of other [female] seekers. Female converts having a religious or social focal point is another vital reason why mosques need to be accessible to women. And then there’s the reality that mosques offer a far better sacred space where people can experience spiritual tranquility and connection than does a modern home in which some forms of haram or disapproved distractions from God have invariably taken root. Such are the arguments some Hanafi jurists use to insist that the classical madhhab view should be reviewed in favour of women’s attendance at mosques.

As to the very real issue of temptation, then if we’re to be perfectly honest, people have so many other avenues to indulge in such fitnah than while at their local mosque. Given the nature of social media, relatively-speaking, mosques are probably the least or last place today to be in that type of fitnah zone. Nevertheless, occasional healthy reminders about gender conduct, for both men and for women, wouldn’t go amiss. Or perhaps Allah will cause the environment of the mosque itself to be a gentle reminder of how a believer’s character must lend itself to modesty and respectability? For what better example could their be for wayward or weak souls than to see godliness and pious restraint in collective practice? Mosques might even be one of the rare times when some women put on some sense of hijab whatsoever. Of course, the larger the mosque complex, in that the more social, cultural and educational activities it holds under its roof for young people and the wider community, the more mindful everyone needs to be in terms of gender decorum.

13. One last matter before I conclude. It’s been claimed that the view that it is better for women to pray at home is actually an erroneous one. This claim asserts that it’s equally preferable for women to pray in a mosque, as it is for men. The reason for this error, it is alleged, lies in a faulty understanding concerning the hadith about Umm Humayd. Umm Humayd, wife of Abu Humayd al-Sa‘di narrated: She came to Allah’s Messenger ﷺ and said: ‘O Messenger of Allah ﷺ, I love to pray with you.’ He replied: ‘I know that you love to pray with me. However, praying in your house is better for you than praying in your courtyard; and praying in your courtyard is better for you than praying in the mosque of your people; and praying in the mosque of your people is better for you than praying in my mosque.’ So she ordered a prayer-place be built for her in the darkest part of her home, and she always prayed there till she met Allah.25 They say that this hadith has a context that can be found in a few other versions of the same incident. The claim is that other hadiths show that the reason the Prophet ﷺ said what he said to Umm Humayd is that, according to at least one contemporary author, the Prophet ﷺ ‘intended to resolve a martial disagreement’ between her and her husband, ‘which was about the long distance she had to walk five times a day to pray behind him in the mosque.’26

The reply to this somewhat bizarre juristic claim comes from a few angles: Firstly, it is true that Abu Humayd, the husband, objected to his wife going to the Prophet’s mosque (in all likelihood, due to how far it was from their home); the wording of two supporting reports substantiate this. In one, it states Umm Humayd as lamenting: ‘O Messenger of Allah! Our husbands prevent us praying with you, but we love to pray with you …’27 And in another: ‘O Messenger of Allah, we love to pray with you, but our husbands object.’28 However, to infer from this that there was a marital dispute which required reconciliation – and so the Prophet ﷺ alledgedly inverted the default ruling of it being recommended for women to pray congregational prayers in the mosque, as it is for men, and instead made it particular to Umm Humayd for it to be better to pray at home – is reading into the hadiths something that just is not there. This view simply doesn’t hold up to textual or legal scrutiny. Or, if we were to fall into line with our “post-truth era” of “alternative facts”, it could even be said that such a view is fake-fiqh! 

Secondly, even if we were to concede that such was the case just for Umm Humayd, what about the previous authentic hadiths quoted in Point.2; the hadith of the Prophet’s wife, Umm Salamah: ‘A woman’s prayer in her house is better than her prayer in her courtyard, and her prayer in her closet is better than in her house.’29 And the hadith of Ibn ‘Umar: ‘Do not prevent your wives from the mosques, but their houses are better for them.’30 Are we to infer from these two different hadiths that they too were said in the context of some marital spat? Obviously not! Rather, the ruling about the preferability of women praying in their homes is applicable to women, in general; and mosques, in general. In another hadith, again related by Umm Salamah, we read: ‘The best places of prayer for women are the inner parts of their homes.’31

Thirdly, the above is something that is borne out by at least one salaf-report, or athar: The sahabi-scholar Ibn Mas‘ud stated: ‘A woman does not pray a prayer more beloved to Allah than one prayed in her home, save if it be the Sacred Mosque or the Prophet’s mosque.’32

Fourthly, Although it is true that Ibn Hazm considered the hadiths about the afdaliyyah, or preferability, of women praying at home to all be weak and inauthentic, his view simply goes against the established proofs. A number of hadith scholars have affirmed that some of the hadiths mentioning this preferability are authentic. Such hadith scholars include: Ibn Khuzaymah, al-Hakim, Ibn Daqiq al-‘Id, al-Nawawi, al-Dhahabi, Ibn Kathir, Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali, Ibn Hajr al-‘Asqalani and al-Shawkani; more contemporary scholars include: Ahmad Shakir, al-Albani and Shu‘ayb al-Arna’ut. Between such hadith experts, they have directly and indirectly rebutted the seemingly hasty judgements of Ibn Hazm on certain narrators in these hadiths, demonstrating how many of these hadiths are actually sahih or hasan. As for those who have used Ibn Hazm’s erroneous claim to oppose the agreement of the four madhhabs (especially in our age), they have, in all likelihood, uncritically and blindly followed him in this blunder of his.

To conclude: Based upon the textual proofs, there are four issues that the classical jurists generally agreed to in terms of women and mosques: [i] Women’s attendance at mosques and their participation in congregational prayers isn’t forbidden in and of itself, nor is it obligatory or even recommended. [ii] Their attendance is permitted, but only with certain qualification and restrictions. [iii] A woman’s prayer at home is better than her prayer in a mosque with men. [iv] Fear of temptation (fitnah) and the moral deterioration of society has a bearing on whether women should attend mosques.

However, one simply cannot or must not ignore the fact that times have changed. Today, there are many female converts who have no Islamic environment to take refuge or solace in, other than mosques. The home environment of most Muslim woman (with their usual modern distractions and prevalent harams) make it nigh on impossible to grow in sacred knowledge and iman: local mosques are probably the best bet for such woman to now and again have the chance to be in some godly atmosphere and sacred space. Then there’s the practicality of the modern work-shop life, and the need for woman to have other than a cramped changing room or some similar inconvenient spot to offer the obligatory prayer, if there is a local mosque nearby. For these reasons and others, the following should be considered by the mosque-funding and mosque-attending communities:

Where they can, mosques should have a good, designated space to accommodate women. Women should also be encouraged to participate in study circles, classes or talks held in the mosque, and that are given by qualified scholars. And whilst it seems that some men need to learn basic adab in terms of how not to give women attending the mosque cold or unwelcoming looks, some women need to learn the adab of seeking sacred knowledge by not chatting among themselves while others are trying to listen to the actual talk! Without doubt, being able to see the person delivering the talk would greatly help women be more focused and attentive.

When seeking women’s rights that are related to the mosque, advice must be given to the committee in good faith. Rights should be sought with the desire to venerate Allah’s laws and uphold the ways of the Lord, in contrast to cherrypicking what religious obligation to accept and thereby play fast and loose with the shari‘ah. Of course, women being part of mosques committees (not for the sake of some quota, or to tick the gender equality boxes; but from a conviction that they will add value, piety and professionalism to the currently dull, dim and lowbrow all-male mosque committees that have for too long tribally ruled the roost) is to be welcomed and encouraged. Perhaps then we may see more Islamically enlightened activities, or some fairness and inclusiveness from most of our local mosques. I suspect that most Muslims in 21st century Britain, especially those born and raised here, are not interested in mosques that offer belongingness primarily on the basis of a pride of Panjabis, a brethren of Bengalis, or a gang of Gujratis.

Now I offer the following with some tentative reservation. But it seems that many of those who seek to empower Muslim women are selling Muslim women short! For while much has been made about whether woman can lead men in congregational prayer or not, little energy has gone into helping women become actual scholars or muftis. The simple truth is that leading prayer is of little merit in Islam compared to the honour and distinguished rank of being a scholar. Again, whilst much has been made about a woman’s conditional rights to go to the mosque, little emphasis has been put on creating a sacred space in the home for a woman to pray, learn, or quietly remember her Lord.

And finally, while it is commendable that Muslim women are actively and wisely seeking out their religiously given rights – not waiting upon Muslim men to help them secure such rights, which in all likelihood would be an insufferably slow process – they must also call women’s attention to the actual conditions required to make it Islamically lawful for them to go to the mosque (as per points nos.6 & 7, above). Contrary to some people’s thinking, the shari‘ah allowance isn’t carte blanche. If, in the spirit of sincere sisterhood, Muslim women aren’t the ones to advise or instruct one another what Islamically is godliness and the good in such matters, then men are left to step into this vacuum. For while in a secular worldview it may not be right for a man to advise a woman what she should be wearing (unless, of course, its telling her not to wear a face veil, or increasingly even a headscarf: for secular hypocrisy is accepted where it concerns Islam), in the Islamic worldview men can remind women of dress codes and sartorial obligations that Revelation instates; and visa-versa: The believer, men and women, are allies to each other; they enjoin what is good and forbid what is evil, they establish the prayer and pay the zakat, and obey Allah and His Messenger. On these, Allah will have mercy. Allah is August, Wise. [Q.9:71]

We ask Allah to guide and protect us; and where we’re wrong, to correct us.

1. Al-Bukhari, no.4152; Muslim, no.442.

2. Muslim, no.442.

3. Muslim, no.443.

4. Abu Dawud, Sunan, no.567. The hadith, with its supporting chains, was declared sahih by al-Munawi, Fayd al-Qadir (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 2001), 6:544, no.9869; al-Albani, Irwa’ al-Ghalil (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1979), 2:293-94, no.515; al-Nawawi, al-Majmu‘ Sharh al-Muhadhdhab (Jeddah: Maktabah al-Irshad, n.d.), 4:92.

5. Abu Dawud, no.570, from Ibn Mas‘ud; Hakim, Mustadrak, no.852, from Umm Salamah. In Sahih Ibn Khuzaymah (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1980), 3:94; no.1688, al-Albani stated that its chain is hasan.

6. Muslim, no.138.

7. Al-Bukhari, no.899.

8. Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Adhan, chapter no.162.

9. See: al-Zuhayli, Fiqh al-Islami wa Adillatuhu (Damascus: Dar al-Fikr, 1984), 2:153-155.

10. As in al-Bayhaqi, al-Sunan al-Kabir, no.5430; Ibn Abi Shaybah, Musannaf, no.7696; al-Tabarani, Mu‘jam al-Kabir, no.9471.

11. Ibn Majah, no.4001. Although the hadith is weak (da‘if) – as per al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Da‘ifah wa’l-Mawdu‘ah (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 2002), no.4821 – it (and the report above) may be used as supporting evidence for the general principle about the fitnah of temptation.

12. Consult: Ibn al-Humam, Fath al-Qadir (Cairo, Sharikat wa-Matba’at Mustafa al-Babi al-Halabi wa-Awladihi bi-Misr, 1970), 1:365-366.

13. Al-Bukhari, no.6228.

14. Al-Tirmidhi, no.885, who said it is a hasan sahih hadith.

15. Al-Tirmidhi, no.1173, where he said: ‘The hadith is hasan sahih gharib.’

16. Ibn Khuzaymah, no.1685. Al-Albani graded its chain as sahih in his critical edition of Sahih Ibn Khuzaymah, 3:93. In his Irwa’ al-Ghalil, no.273, al-Albani holds that the hadith, with its supporting chains, yields a final grading of sahih. Also see his: Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 1996), no.2688.

17. Al-Bukhari, no.4808; Muslim, no.2740.

18. Muslim, no.2159.

19. Al-Bukhari, no.869; Muslim, no.445, and the wording is his.

20. ‘Umdat al-Qari Sharh Sahih al-Bukhari (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 2001), 6:227.

21. See: al-Zuhayli, Fiqh al-Islami wa Adillatuhu, 2:154.

22. Fath al-Bari bi Sharh Sahih al-Bukhari (Egypt: Dar al-‘Alamiyyah, 2013), 3:110.

23. Al-Mughni (Riyadh: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 2007), 3:265.

24. In Islamic legal theory (usul al-fiqh), the principle of taghayyur al-zaman can have two areas of application. Firstly, in terms of those rulings related to custom or convention (‘urf, ‘adah); when they change, the ruling can change; as per: ‘Rulings change with the change of times’. I’ve discussed this issue here on the blog, in parts V & VI. Secondly, which is the one that applies here, is when times worsen or decline. In some cases, rulings may alter to reflect such worsening of times.

25. Ahmad, Musnad, no.27090; Ibn Hibban, Sahih, no.2217. Ibn Hajr al-‘Asqalani stated: ‘The chain of Ahmad is hasan.’ See: Fath al-Bari, 3:110, under hadith no.869. Shu‘ayb al-Arna’ut concurred with this grading of hasan in his critical edition of the Musnad (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah 1416H), no.27090.

26. Jasser Auda, Reclaiming the Mosque: The Role of Women in Islam’s House of Worship (United Kingdom & United States: Claritas Books, 2017), 48.

27. Ibn Abi Shaybah, Musannaf, no.7702. Its chain contains Ibn Lahiy’ah, whose reliability as a reporter is questioned.

28. Al-Bayhaqi, al-Sunan al-Kubra, no.5437. It contains ‘Abd al-Mu’min b. ‘Abd Allah al-Kinani, whose status as a narrator is unknown (majhul).

29. Al-Hakim, no.852. The hadith is sahih, as per footnote no.5.

30. Abu Dawud, no.570. The hadith is hasan, as per ft.4.

31. Ibn Khuzaymah, Sahih, no.1683; al-Hakim, Mustadrak, no.857. Some scholars consider the hadith weak, due to Darraj, one of the narrators, who is held to be weak. However, the verifying scholars (muhaqqiqun) only consider him to be problematic when he specifically relates from Abu’l-Haytham; by way of Abu Sa‘id – which isn’t the cases here at all. Hence the chain is hasan, as per Shu‘ayb al-Arna’ut in his critical edition of Sunan Abu Dawud (Beirut: Risalah al-‘Alamiyyah, 2009), no.567.

32. Al-Bayhaqi, al-Sunan al-Kubra, no.5430; and its like is also related in Ibn Abi Shaybah, al-Musannaf, no.7696.

On Following Concessions & Relaxed Rulings in Islamic Law

Q. Is it true that part of Islam’s legal culture is the idea that a normative religious ruling (‘azimah) can be temporarily replaced by a concessionary ruling (rukhsah), in order to lift hardship?

A. Yes it’s true, but with conditions and caveats. Let me explain:

The Holy Qur’an says: يُرِيدُ اللَّهُ بِكُمْ الْيُسْرَ وَلاَ يُرِيدُ بِكُمْ الْعُسْرَ – ‘Allah desires ease for you; He does not desire for you hardship.’ [2:185]

One celebrated hadith says: يَسِّروا وَلا تُعَسِّرُوا وَبَشِّروا وَلا تُنَفِّروا – ‘Make things easy for people and do not make things difficult; give them glad tidings, do not drive them away.’1

Thus while the principle of ease (taysir) is rooted in revealed texts, we must ensure it does not turn into one of adulteration; especially in today’s egotistical and desacralised world.

From the earliest days of Islam, a core aspect of a mufti’s remit was not only to inform the unqualified masses of the Islamic ruling on any given issue, so as to help them keep their feet firmly upon the path of piety and worship of God. It was also to extend a lifeline in extenuating circumstances; especially to those weak in faith cast adrift in the stormy seas of sin and disobedience. Sufyan al-Thawri said: ‘In our view, knowledge entails [issuing] legal concessions (rukhsah). As for being strict, anyone can do that.’2

‘Azimah refers to a “strict” religious ruling – a ruling in its original form, without any attendant reason or circumstance that could soften its original force. By contrast, rukhsah is a “concession” in the law; an exception to the rule. It is a concessionary ruling brought about by mitigating circumstances, so as to bring about ease in difficult situations.3

The Prophet ﷺ said: ‎إِنَّ اللهَ يُحِبُّ أَنْ تُؤْتَى رُخَصُهُ كَمَا يُحِبُّ أَنْ تُؤْتَى عَزَائِمُهُ – ‘Allah loves that His concessions are taken, just as He loves His stringent rulings are obeyed.’4

Thus ‘azimahs are norms: rukhsahs are exceptions when there are justifiable needs to warrant them. Moreover, a shari‘ah-legislated rukhsah, or relaxation of the law, is based on strictly following certain obligatory guidelines; which include:5

[i] The opinion that brings about the ease must be a valid fiqh opinion; not an anamolous (shadhdh) one.

[ii] The rukhsah should ward of a genuine hardship, be it to the individual or society.

[iii] Deciding if a rukhsah needs taking must be determined by one known to be juristically qualified as well as known for their religious piety, integrity and adherence to revealed truths.

[iv] Following rukhsahs must not become a habitual practice; a device to skirt around the usually legislated ‘azimah or more ‘stringent’ normative ruling.

[v] Such a rukhsah must never lead to the forbidden type of talfiq (lit. ‘piecing together’), where the picking and choosing; the mixing and matching, of madhhabs contravenes an established ijma‘, or leads to innovating a totally new ruling that is neither confirmed by any madhhab or mujtahid.

Legalistic aspects aside, there is also the spirit of the law to consider when dealing with rukhsahs. For a rukhsah is there to facilitate ease and allow obedience to flourish under exceptionally difficult circumstances. Its goal is to make things easier in order for faith to still thrive; not for piety to spiral downwards or slackness towards sins normalised. An individual must, therefore, balance between their spiritual growth, which arises as a result of battling against one’s ego or desires in order to obey Allah; and between being overwhelmed with hardship due to not taking a shari‘ah-sanctioned concession. As Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad has contended: ‘The truly-taken rukhsa makes you grow a little; the falsely-taken rukhsa makes you shrink rapidly.’6

Let’s conclude with these words of sayyiduna ‘Ali, radia’Llahu ‘anhu: ‎الْفَقِيهُ مَنْ لَمْ يُقَنِّطِ النَّاسَ مِنْ رَحْمَةِ اللهِ وَلَمْ يُرَخِّصْ لَهُمْ فِي مَعَاصِي اللهِ – ‘The faqih is not the one to cause people to despair of Allah’s mercy, nor the one to give them licence to sin.’7

1. Al-Bukhari, no.69; Muslim, no.1734.

2. Cited in Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr, Jami‘ Bayan al-‘Ilm wa Fadlihi (Saudi Arabia: Dar Ibn al-Jawzi, 1994), no.1467.

3. Consult: Kamali, Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence (Cambridge: Islamic Texts Society, 2006), 436-38.

4. Ahmad, Musnad, no.5866. It was graded sahih in al-Albani, Irwa al-Ghalil fi Takhrij Ahadith Manar al-Sabil (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1979), 3:13, no.564.

5. See: al-Bassam, Tawdih al-Ahkam (Riyadh: Dar al-Mayman, 1430H), 2:571-72.

6. Contentions, 14/9 at: http://masud.co.uk/ISLAM/ahm/contentions14.htm

7. Cited in al-Qurtubi, Kitab al-Tadhkirah (Riyadh: Maktabah Dar al-Minhaj, 1425H), 800.

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