THERE ARE A PLETHORA of verses in the Holy Qur’an and prophetic hadiths that speak about how the consequences of sins impact upon the well being of the social order. Their ill effect upon individuals is no less debilitating. One hadith tells us that:
‘No two people love each other for the sake of Allah, or for the sake of Islam, then fall out with each other, except due to a sin one of them commits.’1
Al-Munawi wrote while elaborating on the above hadith: ‘The punishment of seperation happens due to the sin. This is why Musa al-Kazim said: “If you see your friend change towards you, know that this is due to a sin that has been committed. So repent to Allah from every sin, and the love [between you] shall be rectified.” Al-Muzni said: “If you find from your brothers some alienation, repent to Allah, for you have committed a sin. If you find increase in affection from them, this is as a result of some act of obedience; so thank Allah, exalted is He.”’2
The hadith speaks of one sin which one of them commits. What about if it’s a case of both friends sinning or committing multiple sins? Can relationships stand up to the divine consequences of unrepented sins? Will sins not harm the divine blessings which keep hearts intimate or close in the first place?
So whether it be in our marriages, or our family life, or any other meaningful relationship we have with others, if there’s a rift or breakdown in friendship, we might want to consider our relationship with Allah first. It might be a case of being careful to guard against sins and not rebel against Allah’s commands. Which is to say, the solution might not be running to a counsellor to resolve marital problems or a strained relationship at the first hurdle. Instead, it could simply be the case of genuinely repenting to Allah, mending our ways, and of getting with the divine program God created us for. One of Islam’s early pietists said: ‘If I sin against Allah, I see [the effect of] it in the behaviour of my wife or riding beast toward me.’3
Now that’s a radically different way of looking at the world, and of keeping our relationships in it.
Wa’Llahu wali al-tawfiq.
1. Al-Bukhari, al-Adab al-Mufrad, no.401. The hadith is hasan. See: al-Munawi, Fayd al-Qadir (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 2001), no.7879.
2. Fayd al-Qadir, 5:236.
3. Cited in Abu Nu‘aym, Hilyat al-Awliya (Egypt: Dar al-Rayyan, 1406H), 8:109.
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.
The husband, wife, mother-in-law interplay is often a very sensitive three-way dynamic. It’s the Bermuda Triangle of marital or family relationships. When it works well, it brings joy and warmth into the family; when it does not, it often makes life a living hell! Usually it’s the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law dynamic which is the most fraught of all in-law relationships, far more so than men and their mothers-in-law, inspite of jokes often being made about the latter. Studies show, six out of ten married women find their relationship with their mothers-in-law strained or tension-filled. The relationship between two women is, usually speaking, more intimate and emotional than men’s. They focus on whether or not they feel a connection to their in-law. There’s also more than a little competitiveness that comes into play. And while one might think such competition is for the husband or son’s love, that’s not quite the case. Research reveals that the competition is more about the influence these two women have over him. Given that there are now signs that such a delicate relationship is coming under even further pressure, due to generational conflicts over the changing roles of women in a family, here are a few received wisdoms, from both Revelation and the lived experiences of people, to help navigate this often awkward three-way relationship:
1 – The intelligent husband never withholds one person’s right so as to give it to another. Rather, he gives each person the rights they are entitled to. This is especially the case vis-a-via his wife and his mother/her mother-in-law. We learn in the Holy Qur’an: O people! Give just measure and weight, nor diminish anything that is due to people. [Q.11:85] So love, honour and dutiful service to our mothers is one thing, but sheepish subservience to them is another thing altogether!
2 – The intelligent wife is one who acts with patience and wisdom, especially concerning her mother-in-law. She patiently bears any ill treatment she may receive at her-mother-in-law’s hands (or tongue). She acts wisely in that she repels bad treatment with good: by pardoning her, continuing to speak politely to her, and seeking to win her over with gifts and acts of kindness. This will also please the husband, as well as keep his heart. Allah says: Good and evil are not equal. Repel [evil] with what is better; then he between whom and you there was enmity shall become as a dear friend. But none is granted it save he who is steadfast; and none is granted it except he who is immensely fortunate. [Q.41:34-5]
3 – The righteous husband must know that the wife is under no obligation to live with her in-laws, unless she so chooses (or circumstances necessitate). Nor is it obligated that she serve or take care of them: although her innate goodness, and shari‘ah recommendation, will inspire her to do so. And when she does, both husband and in-laws must show their appreciation for it. By doing so, she would have gained God’s approval, as well as theirs. To not thank those who do us good, or to take their goodness for granted, shows lack of character and ingratitude to God! Our Prophet ﷺ taught: ‘He does not thank Allah who does not thank people.’1 For in-laws not to appreciate their daughter-in-law’s acts of help, service and kindness to them or her help around the house, is extremely poor character; it is ingratitude – God save us!
4 – The righteous wife will not demand living separately when financial means simply do not permit so. This should be made clear before the marriage takes place. If after marriage the couple fall upon financially difficult times, and find themselves living at the home of the husband’s parents, let the wife not keep insisting on her right to her own place during such hard times. Instead, let her be patient in this less than ideal predicament, as well as be supportive of her husband. Her piety in this matter may well be key: And whoever fears Allah, He shall appoint a way out for them, and shall provide for them from whence they did not expect. [Q.65:2-3] Allah, exalted is He, says about debts and debtors: And if the debtor is in straitened circumstances, then grant him a postponement until a [time of] ease. But if you remit the debt as charity, it would be better for you, if you did but know. [Q.2:280] Now if such is the Lord’s pleasure in the case of a creditor giving respite to a debtor, then what about a wife granting respite to her husband for the “debt” he owes her in terms of having their own place?
5 – The just husband, if ever he discovered his mother is being unjust or offensive to her own daughter-in-law (and such isn’t a one-off incident), will advise that she stops such behaviour. For a mother-in-law could then be on the verge of becoming a monster-in-law! The Qur’an says: Those who offend believing men and believing women undeservedly, bear the guilt of slander and a manifest sin. [Q.33:58] Advice can be either offered directly, or by wisely involving another family member. What cannot be countenanced is for a husband to continue letting a wife suffer hurt or ill-treatment without doing his best to put a stop to it. When Allah states: Men are maintainers and protectors of women, [Q.4:34] husbands aren’t just legally obliged to be financial maintainers, but to be physical and emotional protectors as well. How can a husband be his wife’s protector if he allows his mother to, for example, poison his heart against his wife; or allow family and relatives to bad mouth her, causing her emotional or psychological hurt. Astaghfiru’Llah! The famous sage and saint, Fudayl b. ‘Iyyad once remarked: ‘By Allah! It is not lawful for you to hurt a dog or a pig without just cause, so how can you harm another Muslim?’2
6 – The just wife realises that her husband’s attempt to advise such a mother is unlikely to be easy or straightforward, though he is expected to do his best. For in doing so, he can’t raise his voice at her, or rebuke her in a way a senior may do to a junior. The Qur’an says: Your Lord has decreed that you worship none save Him and show kindness to your parents. If either or both of them reach old age with you, do not [even] say ‘fie!’ to them, nor rebuke them, but speak to them kindly. [Q.17:23] Given the constraints around how parents might be ‘corrected’ by their own children, the just wife acknowledges her husband’s attempts may not yield the fruits she hopes for. What should she then do? Well the godly course of action comes to us in the following hadiths. Once a lady suffering from epilepsy came to the Prophet ﷺ and said to him that she suffers from epilepsy and that during her fits, her clothes loosen and her body becomes exposed. She asked the Prophet ﷺ to pray to Allah that she may be cured from her epilepsy. The Prophet ﷺ replied: ‘If you wish, patiently-endure and yours shall be Paradise. Or if you wish, I can pray to Allah to cure you?’ She said: ‘I will patiently endure.’ And then added: ‘But pray to Allah that my body doesn’t get exposed.’ So the Prophet ﷺ prayed for her.3 Of course, the lady’s patience was a choice, reaching for the deeper degrees of faith and the higher degrees of godliness. But patiently enduring (sabr), even if not by choice, but due to circumstance, is still a lofty level of faith and deeply pleasing to our Lord.
7 – As for the loving and loveable mother-in-law, she is a piece of paradise in this world. This is the type of lady whose hope and prayer is for her son and his wife – her daughter-in-law – to have a happy, loving and blessed marital life; her attitudes and actions being a testimony to her righteous hopes and intentions. This is a woman who tries to live by the prophetic principle: la darar wa la dirar – ‘There is no harm, nor reciprocating harm.’4 It’s a mother-in-law who, although there may be the occasional lapse of beautiful behaviour and kind conduct from her, exemplifies what a decent, godly and kind Muslim mother-in-law should be. That is to say, good mothers[-in-law] want their sons and daughters-in-law to have good marriages. So she doesn’t meddle in their affairs, nor dictate how they ought to live their lives, nor put the daughter-in-law under constant scrutiny or into an anxious, defensive mess; and nor believe that she is the ultimate authority on parenting.
8 – As for the difficult, meddling or judgemental mother-in-law, that’s a different kettle of fish. If she’s not creating some drama to seek attention or assert her authority, then she’s being pushy, judgemental, spiteful or demeaning towards her daughter-in-law. If not, she is sowing seeds of fitnah between her and her husband, excluding her from family affairs and gatherings, or poisoning the son’s heart against her – all with intent. Such conduct may arise from her struggling with loss of influence over her son; or thinking she’s lost his affection; or not feeling needed by him any more. Or it could be from ego-driven motives; from a nasty, jealous, controlling nature she may have. It could be more vindictive in that, for no just reason, she hates her daughter-in-law. Whatever drives this toxic behaviour, is simply unacceptable. The Prophet ﷺ said: ‘Shall I not tell you what sets the best of you apart from the worst of you? The best of you are those from whom goodness is expected and people are safe from their harm. The worst of you are those from whom goodness is not expected and people aren’t safe from their harm.’5 If such a women doesn’t fear God and amend her ways, she is likely to find herself on the wrong side of Allah’s pleasure on the Day of Judgement, and on the right side of divine punishment.
9 – Then there’s the selfish or spiteful daughter-in-law who is constantly trying to create schisms between her husband and his mother – and yes, this can and does occur. Like the mean mother-in-law depicted above, she too must fear God and reign in her ugly attitude and conduct. This is the daughter-in-law who – despite her in-laws accepting she neither has to obey them, cook and clean for them, or seek their permission to visit her parents; and that she has the right to live separately, without their interference – is still the cause of intentional friction and fitnah. Be it from paranoid suspicion, unjustified insecurity, an obsessive or neurotic jealousy, or a cruel and cunning nature, this is someone who divides mother from son, withholds grandchildren, sabotages family get-togethers, emotionally manipulates and controls her husband, and rains down misery on others; especially her mother-in-law. Perhaps divorce is the solution, especially if there are no children in the equation. Or it might be a case of the husband and his family making this their personal jihad by patiently persevering and heaping as much kindness upon her as possible, in the hope of softening her heart or making her feel awkward and remorseful.
10 – And let’s not forget the sulking, ill-tempered or controlling son-in-law. Although the Qur’an states: House them in your own homes, according to your means. And do not harass them, so as to make life intolerable for them [Q.65:6], there are men who are in the habit of harassing their wives and making life insufferable for them. One way in which a husband can make like difficult for his wife is by not trying to foster a cordial relationship with his in-laws, but rather is frosty towards, or disrespectful about, them. Such a son-in-law puts down his in-laws in front of the wife, doesn’t give them their dues as elders, stops the wife from visiting her parents – often over petty matter, and is usually sulky or moody when it comes to his in-laws. Husbands should be cautioned against acting like mini tyrants with family, as well as reminded about the prophetic hadiths like: ‘The believers with the most perfect faith are those who have the best characters, and who are kindest and gentlest to family and relatives.’6
In conclusion. So what can those in such trying in-law relationships do? Well they can use this as an opportunity for growth: in terms of their own piety and connection to God, and in terms of reigning in their egos and being more patient when dealing with others. The truth is, that whenever we have a continual conflict with someone, or if someone “pushes your buttons,” it’s a good indication that there is inner work to be done. The Qur’an says: Repel [evil] with that which is better; then you will see that the one between you and whom there was enmity shall become as a dear friend. [Q.41:34] There’s also these words of our Prophet ﷺ: ‘The one who keeps ties of relations is not the one who [merely] reciprocates. Rather, it is the one who keeps ties even if others cut-off from him.’7
We must heed this hadith too, which acts as a baseline for how we Muslims ought to treat others: ‘A Muslim is one from whom others are safe from his tongue and his hands.’8 To flesh this baseline out a little more, consider these words of Yahya b. Mu‘adh al-Razi, one of Islam’s early pietists: ‘Let your dealing with another believer be of three types: If you cannot benefit him, do not harm him. If you cannot gladden him, do not sadden him. If you cannot speak well of him, do not speak ill of him.’9 The root of this all, in respect of how best to deal with in-laws (or anyone else, for that matter) is given to us in these words of the venerable saint, Shaykh ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani: kun ma‘a’l-khalq bila nafs – ‘Be with people without [your] ego [interfering].’10
As for specific practical guidance on how to deal with in-law tensions; on the best way to alleviate buried resentment or unhappiness with an in-law, we might consider acting on the following – particularly between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law:
Each person knowing what rights (huquq) Allah has given to people is key in all this, as is knowing that Allah has forbidden that we mistreat people, be cruel or nasty, let alone be unjust to them by not observing their rights. Rather, each in-law should keep to the limits Allah has ordained in terms of how they treat one another: Transgress not the limits, Allah loves not those who transgress the limits. [Q.5:87] The Qur’an also stresses: And do not deny people the things that are their due. [Q.11:85]
Helping the mother-in-law to realise what rights her daughter-in-law has, or visa-versa, should be done through discussion and kind persuasion, without putting the one in the wrong on the spot or humiliating them – which is only likely to make a delicate situation harder to resolve. Without coming across as preaching or lecturing, the one in the wrong should be gently reminded about the standards of fairness and beauty the Prophet ﷺ has taught us to live by: ‘None of you [truly] believes till he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.’11 And since none of us would like our rights denied us or trampled over, nor be humiliatingly corrected or harshly advised when we are in the wrong, then likewise we must not behave like that towards others. It’s as simple as that.
It’s very likely that the conflicting parties will have to have an honest, well-intended chat to sincerely try to understand each others expectations and outlooks on marriage and life; and to bridge the generational divide, especially when it comes to raising and educating the [grand]children. The best conflict resolutions are usually those that entail attempting to see things through the eyes of the ‘other’, where there is some give and take, and where we accept that some human failings can’t be so readily changed. And this is where …
We need to be forgiving and be ready to overlook peoples’ faults for the sake of Allah, and sometimes also for sake of keeping the peace and one’s own sanity. Our Prophet ﷺ said: ‘None forgive, save that Allah increases them in honour.’12 In another hadith: ‘No one is wronged and bears it with patience, except that Allah will increase them in honour.’13
Something else to seriously consider is: not to blame everything on the mother-in-law (or daughter-in-law). For it could well be the consequences of our own sins and disobedience to Allah (such as missing prayers or not paying zakat, not having a halal income, making false insurance or benefit claims, watching haram images on TV or the internet), and not their bad behaviour, that are more at play in causing the conflicts or tensions: Whatever good befalls you is from Allah, and whatever calamity befalls you is from yourself. [Q.4:79] Elsewhere we read in the Holy Qur’an: Whatever calamity befalls you, is for what your own hands have earned, and He pardons much. [Q.42:30]
Then there’s always the reality that some people just don’t gel. So let’s try not to compare our relationship with our in-laws to anyone else’s, or naively think it’ill be picture perfect. It could well be that we need to consider keeping expectations with the in-laws realistic and reasonable.
Lastly, earnest du‘a and working on our relationship with God, along with a little wisdom; good adab; more compassionate thinking; patience; forgiveness; behaving with fairness; utilising the art of compromise; and reigning in the ego’s tendency of oneupmanship, are powerful tools in countering and resolving conflict or tension between in-laws.
We ask Allah for His kindness.
1. Al-Tabarani, al-Mu‘jam al-Kabir, no.519. It was declared as sahih in al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 1995), no.416.
4. Ibn Majah, no.2340. The hadith, with its collective chains of transmission, qualifies for being no less than hasan, if not sahih. Cf. al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 1995), no.250.
5. Al-Tirmidhi, no.2263, where he stated: ‘This hadith is hasan sahih.’
6. Al-Tirmidhi, no.2612, where he graded the hadith sahih.
7. Al-Bukhari, no.5777.
8. Ahmad, Musnad, no.7086; al-Nasa’i, no.4995. Shu‘ayb al-Arna’ut graded the chain to be sahih in Musnad Imam Ahmad b. Hanbal (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1996), 2:224.
9. Cited in Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali, Jami‘ al-‘Ulum wa’l-Hikam (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1998), 2:283.
10. Cited in Ibn al-Qayyim, Madarij al-Salikin (Cairo: Dar al-Hadith, 2005), 2:266.
11. Al-Bukhari, no.13; Muslim, no.45.
12. Muslim, no.2588.
13. Al-Tirmidhi, no.2325, where he states: This hadith is hasan sahih.
IN SPEAKING OF JUSTICE, many well-intended Muslims are unconsciously secularised. For their discourse about justice (Ar. ‘adl, qist) is so often scarred by failing to grasp its Quranic essence: ‘To put a thing in its rightful place.’1 Which is to say, justice is to give things their proper due – at the due time, the due place, and in due measure.
This requires possessing knowledge about the value and measure of things, as Islam assigns to them, so as to give them their due. ‘Hence,’ Ibn al-Qayyim wrote, ‘knowledge and justice are the root of every good, while injustice and ignorance are the root of every evil.’2
The Quranic insistence on justice can be found in many verses, like: God commands you to render back things held in trust to their rightful owners, and if you judge between people, that you judge justly. [Q.4:58] And also: O you who believe! Be upright for justice, witnesses to God, even if it be against yourselves, or parents, or relatives; and wether it be against rich or poor. [Q.4:135]
But talking more from a marketable take on Islam than a textual, well-studied one, they mistakenly equate justice (‘adl) with equality (musawa). This though isn’t really Islam’s story. No doubt, 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 isn’t just reductionist, the concepts are also not very meaningful. While some verses of the Qur’an do have an egalitarian temper to them, many others insist on difference, distinction and divine disparity.
While speaking about the disbelievers who harm and transgress against their own souls due to their disbelief, the Qur’an asks: Is he who is a believer like he who transgresses? They are not equal. [Q.32:18]
We also read: Not equal are the people of the Fire and the people of the Garden. It is the people of the Garden that are the [true] winners. [Q.59:20]
Then there are verses which speak to gender roles, functions and natures: And the male is not like the female. [Q.3:36]
Or as Islam legally requires men to financially maintain family and households, while women do not have any such duty, there’s this verse: God thus commands you concerning [the division of inheritance for] your children: to the male a share equal to that of two females. [Q.4:11]
All this is to say that the Qur’an speaks of justice, not the nebulous social construct of equality. It’s when we veer away from using the vocabulary of the Qur’an, using instead ill-informed substitutes, that distortions or deviations creep in to corrupt the Quranic message. Of all the modern voices guilty of conflating justice with equality, feminism takes first prize.
To conclude: highlighting the core nature of the shari‘ah, Imam Ibn al-Qayyim says that justice is its essential feature. He wrote: ‘Indeed, [God] transcendent is He, has clarified in the paths He legislates that its purpose is: to establish justice among His servants and equity between people. Thus any path by which justice and equity are drawn out is part of the religion, and can never be in opposition to it.’3
Elsewhere he says: ‘The shari‘ah is based on and built on wisdom and [achieving] public welfare, in this life and in the next. It is justice in its entirety, mercy in its entirety, welfare in its entirety, and wisdom in its entirety. Any issue which departs from justice to injustice, or mercy to its opposite, or public welfare to corruption, or wisdom to folly can’t be part of the shari‘ah, even if it is claimed to be so due to some interpretation.’4
1. Al-Raghib, Mufradat Alfaz al-Qur’an (Beirut: Dar al-Qalam, 2002), 537.
2. Madarij al-Salikin (Riyadh: Dar Taybah, 2008), 4:556.
3. Al-Turuq al-Hukmiyyah (Makkah: Dar ‘Alam al-Fawa’id, 2007), 31.
4. I‘lam al-Muwaqqi‘in (Riyadh: Dar Ibn al-Jawzi, 2002), 4:337.
Q. I’m not the academic type, but I keep getting told how important gaining knowledge is in Islam. Some of my friends go to many of these religious weekend courses in their quest for knowledge, but that’s just not me. I have a husband and children who I’m devoted to, hold down a good job, and feel I stick to the basics of Islam in terms of my daily prayers; avoiding the haram, and trying to be good to others. So am I doing something Islamically wrong by not going to these courses, or by me just trying to be a good Muslim in context of my family and job? I’m quite desperate for guidance on the matter, because it does get to me sometimes.
A. All praise be to Allah. May His blessings and peace be upon our prophet, Muhammad; and upon his family, Companions and followers.
May Allah bless you, sister. You needn’t feel frustrated; nor does anyone have the right to make you feel you aren’t being a good enough Muslim. And while a small core amount of knowledge has been obligated on each Muslim to know and learn, as I’m sure you’re well aware, the ways of tahabbub ila’Llah bi ma yarda– “becoming beloved to Allah by doing what pleases him” are many. This path isn’t just limited to being a scholar or student of Islamic knowledge; as praiseworthy and as virtuous as they are. In fact, after one knows the basic beliefs of Islam, and is aware of one’s personal religious obligations (in terms of acts of worship, life’s daily halal and haram; duties owed to others; and core virtues like honesty, humility, patience; being just; and honouring contracts, pledges and promises), one then does whatever is best to live a good and godly life.
At the heart of such a life should be a desire to deepen our connection to Allah, through contemplating over His awe-inspiring creation and His constant favours and blessings to us. In doing so, our hearts will begin to fill with heightened gratitude and loving praise of Him. With this as the centre-piece of our lives – and it’s something which doesn’t require academic knowledge, formal study, or having to attend any Islamic courses – one seeks happiness and contentment through family, friends, sound health, job satisfaction, and enjoying (in moderation) the countless blessings the Good Lord has showered this earth with. This is all Allah asks from the great multitude of humanity: that in the ordinariness of our everyday life, we awaken to the extraordinariness of our existence and to the many graces bestowed upon us by Allah, and thus offer Him heartfelt thanks.
The hadith collections record that some of the Prophet’s Companions noticed one young man energetically racing to work, upon which they remarked: If only he had been racing so energetically whilst in the Path of Allah. Upon which, the Prophet ﷺ said: ‘Do not say that,’ and then went on to say:
‘If he leaves [home] striving for his young child, he is in the path of Allah. If he leaves [home] striving for his two elderly parents, he is in the path of Allah. If he leaves [home] striving to be self-sufficient, then he is in the path of Allah. If he leaves [home] striving to be boastful or to show-off, he is in the path of Satan.’1
Thus, see how Allah elevates what are considered mundane, worldly acts, conferring on them honour by including them in the distinguished category of fi sabili’Llah, ‘in the Path of Allah’; provided one does such things intending to please Allah and meet with divine approval.2
So beyond the need for highly specialised scholars in the various sacred sciences, most of us should – after the basics – only acquire of sacred knowledge those things which will increase our heart’s yearning for Allah; move it to be more desirous of the Afterlife; spur us on to doing more acts of worship and godliness; or help shield the soul from egotism, insincerity and the dunya’s deceptions. Instead, however, people rush to the “hot” topics. Or they learn in order to argue, help their ego stand out, or some other vile and wretched worldly motive. Such people, all too often, end up causing schisms and confusion among Allah’s servants, spreading fitnah and faulty fatwas; indeed, they are barely able to grow and shepherd their own souls, let alone the souls of others. If godliness is not the goal, souls will always run wild!
If people who can’t put in the commitment or time needed to become a seasoned student of sacred knowledge (let alone a mature, intellectual, qualified scholar); or who just don’t have the academic acumen or an inclination to pursue this path – if only they left it alone and realised there are other blessed paths to draw closer to Allah, then perhaps they’d be personally better-off in their relationship with their Lord; and the ummah wouldn’t have to suffer those who are unfit for purpose entering into sacred knowledge.
If it’s God we seek, many paths are open to becoming beloved to Him. One great way is in the hadith above: be a good, godly Muslim who knows at least the basic Islamic beliefs, practices, ethics and spiritual virtues; doesn’t tread on the toes of deeper knowledge and its scholars; strives to earn a halal living, be a loving and caring spouse, lovingly raise kids in the reverent thanks and worship of Allah, serve society in small but regular ways, and be an example of beauty – more in deeds than in words.
We ask Allah for tawfiq.
1. Al-Tabarani, Mu‘jam al-Saghir, no.940; Bayhaqi, Sunan al-Kubra, no.15520. The hadith was declared as sahih in al-Albani, Sahih al-Jami‘ al-Saghir (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1986), no.1428.
2. I’d like to thank an old friend of mine, Saleem Chagtai, for bringing the above hadith to my notice via his Facebook page.