The Humble "I"

Knowing, Doing, Becoming

Archive for the category “qur’an, tafsir, tadabbur”

Quranic Meditations: On Justice, Equality & Feminism

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

5_8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Muslim, no.4493.

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

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

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

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

6. Muslim, no.2577.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

19. ibid., 289.

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

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

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

23. ibid., 28:146.

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

Quranic Meditations: Preparations for Pilgrimage & Piety

5474572170_0b950a3b02_bThe Qur’an says of itself: [This is] a Book that We have sent down to you, full of blessings, that they may meditate upon its signs, and that those possessed of understanding may take heed. [38:29] The Quranic insistence on tadabbur (to ‘meditate’, ‘reflect’, ‘ponder’ upon the Qur’an) is one of the three essential states our hearts should be in for them to be enriched, illuminated and guided by Allah’s words. The venerable scholar and pietist, Imam al-Nawawi wrote: ‘It is essential for the reciter [of the Qur’an] to be in [a state of] humility, contemplation and submissiveness. Such is the sought-after goal. For by it will breasts expand and hearts be illumined. The proofs of this are too numerous or well-known to recount. A group of the salaf would spend the entire night, or the best part of it, listening to one of them recite just one single verse while the rest meditated upon it.’1

What follows is hopefully the first of a series of brief meditations upon various verses and passages of the Holy Qur’an. Given that close to three million pilgrims are now beginning to converge upon Makkah, to enact the rites of the hajj in a sea of loving submission, the first verse to merit meditation shall be the one that offers instruction on the ethical and spiritual state of the pilgrim:

2_197

The Pilgrimage is [in] the appointed months. Whosoever undertakes the duty of Pilgrimage during them, then there is no lewdness, wickedness or disputation while on the Pilgrimage. And whatever good you do, Allah knows it. And make provisions; but the best provision is piety. Therefore be mindful of Me, O people of understanding. [2:197]

Asking Allah for aid and tawfiq, these meditations are:

1 – This is the second of eight consecutive verses concerning the Pilgrimage or hajj: its rules (ahkam), rites (manasik) and decorum (adab). It tells us that the Pilgrimage takes place in the appointed months – which could just as equally be translated as: ‘the well-known months’. Yet the Qur’an nowhere identifies the names of these months. Why? Because they were so widely known and established among the Arabs; and had been ever since the Prophet Abraham’s time. These appointed months are: Shawwal, Dhu’l-Qa‘dah, and the first ten days of Dhu’l-Hijjah (or the whole of it, according to another valid scholarly opinion).2

2 – That we only know the names of the appointed months through an unbroken chain of practice reaching all the way back to the Abrahamic age, as well as unbroken chains of hadiths via the Prophet ﷺ confirming that he continued giving these months legal sanction, must give us pause for thought. It should caution against the “Qur’an only” interpretation of Islam, or any approach which rejects unbroken chains of practice, or sound hadiths and scholarly insights that clarify the meanings or intent of individual Quranic verses. Without a chain of practice or prophetic report, we can’t know when hajj season actually is.

3 – What follows is that those unhinged from the chain (sanad) tradition – in terms of initiation,  authorization and transmission – yet insist on joining the scholarly debate on renewal or revival, are wittingly or unwittingly enemies to the Islamic story. ‘This knowledge will be carried by the trustworthy ones of every generation: they will expel from it the distortions of the extremists, the fabrications of the liars, and the [flawed] interpretations of the ignorant,’ is what the Prophet ﷺ said.3 Only the sanad can sort out the wheat from the chaff, the qualified from the cowboy.

4 – Once the intention is made and the ihram, the pilgrim’s garb, donned, one enters into a state of inviolability and the duty of Pilgrimage begins in earnest. For putting on the pilgrim’s dress is like ridding oneself, for a while, of whatever links the pilgrims to their usual material life: with its attendant desires, pretensions and distractions. This allows the heart to be in a state where it may be occupied solely with Allah.

5 – Being in a state of ihram, it then says: there is no lewdness, wickedness or disputation while on the Pilgrimage. This is a call to refrain from any behaviour, whether in word or deed, that conflicts with the spirit of wholehearted devotion or obedience to Allah. Scholars explain that lewdness refers to the act of sexual intercourse, and even talk of sexual intimacy, while in the state of ihram. What is meant by wickedness is any sin or act of disobedience. Disputation is any quarrel, row or wrangling which gets the blood boiling, stirs enmity and schism, or breeds hostility and ill will.4 Now that the pilgrim is a “guest of God”, as it were, it behoves him or her to behave with the utmost adab, decency and mindfulness towards God. For it would be the height of impertinence to behave indecently when invited to the House of a generous Host.

6 – Notice the eloquence of the Qur’an in the matter. For it doesn’t just forbid these three acts: lewdness, wickedness or disputation. Instead it wholeheartedly negates them. The Qur’an could have spoken in prohibitive terms; it could have said: ‘there is to be no lewdness …’ Instead, it utilises a complete negation: there is no lewdness … It is as if the Qur’an is saying that to commit any of these indecencies is unimaginable for the one who has donned the pilgrim’s garb and is in the state of Pilgrimage – which is a more forceful way of stating the point; one that appeals to our innate sense of honour and godliness. Such things blind or busy the heart from God, and offend His majesty and holiness; which run contrary to the aim and intent of hajj.

7 – After its prohibitive mood, the verse goes on to encourage the doing of good – any good – linking it to being mindful and vigilant of Allah’s all-encompassing knowledge of things: And whatever good you do, Allah knows it. With Allah’s reassurance that He is always aware of the good we do, the pilgrim increases in doing and spreading good. Along with fulfilling the obligatory rites of hajj, with as much outward conformity to the shari‘ah and inward sincerity, humility and loving submission as can be mustered; the pilgrim seeks to draw closer to Allah by performing optional acts of worship. One cannot and should not neglect goodness and service to fellow pilgrims too.

8 – Pilgrimage requires a certain amount of detachment from the created order so as to nurture attachment to the Creator. It involves detachment from home, homeland and familiar comforts, as well as from everyday preoccupations and distractions. This, however, doesn’t imply tark al-asbab – forsaking lawful means. It is for this reason the verse says: And make provisions. Ibn ‘Abbas narrates: ‘The People of Yemen were in the habit of going to the Pilgrimage without taking any provisions with them. They used to claim: “We are the ones who trust in Allah.” But once in Makkah, they used to beg from people. So Allah, glorious and majestic is He, revealed: And make provisions; but the best provision is piety.5 Thus there are two kinds of provisions that a pilgrim must prepare: physical provisions for the journey to Allah’s House in Makkah, and spiritual provisions for the journey to Allah’s Presence in the Hereafter.

9 – The verse concludes with proclaiming the essence of things: Therefore be mindful of Me, O people of understanding. The Arabic word for being ‘mindful’ is taqwa; which can also mean: being ‘aware’, ‘obedient’, ‘pious’, ‘guarding against sin’. Taqwa, in other words, is to be mindful of Allah’s demands, and to be aware of Allah’s presence; trying to mould one’s life around such mindfulness and awareness. On returning home from the Pilgrimage, after days of physical rigour and spiritual uplift, pilgrims are radically transformed. The overwhelming sense of contrition and repentance they bring back, and their deepened sense of taqwa, become visible in their lives.

10 – The conclusion of this verse is addressed to: people of understanding. The word used for understanding is albab, which is the plural of lubb. In Arabic, lubb refers to the ‘core’, ‘essence’ or ‘best part’ of a thing. The human intellect is described as lubb as it is the best part of a person – especially if it is led by the light of divine guidance, and not by the ego, desires, or baser self-interests. The ulu’l-albab, in terms of Pilgrimage, refers to those who understand that hajj is more than fulfilment of rituals. At its heart is the cultivating of taqwa and loving submission to Allah. They may even see that the entire Pilgrimage is a series of rites that are infused with profound metaphysical and symbolic meaning. The ihram, for instance, symbolises the burial shroud, detachment from the world, and remembrance of death. The tawaf, or circuits around the Ka‘bah, is symbolic of one’s heart and life revolving around the holiness of Allah. The sa‘y, the running between the two hills of Safa and Marwa, suggests that life moves between the two aspects of Divine Compassion and Divine Rigour. The wuquf, the standing at the plain of ‘Arafah, brings to mind the day on which Allah will resurrect us all and the time to repent shall be irrevocably past. Stoning the jamarat, the pillars symbolising Satan, signifies repelling the devil and his whisperings and taking him as an avowed enemy. As for the udhiyah, slaughtering a sacrificial lamb, this recalls how our entire life should be given over to Allah in service and sacrifice for Him.

1. Al-Adhkar (Jeddah: Dar al-Minhaj, 2008), 197.

2. See: Ibn Juzayy, al-Tashil li ‘Ulum al-Tanzil (Beirut: al-Maktabah al-‘Asriyyah, 2003), 1:183; Ibn al-Jawzi, Zad al-Masir (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 2002), 116-17.

3. Al-Bayhaqi, Sunan, 10:209. The hadith is a candidate for being hasan because of its collective chains of transmission. Cf. al-Albani, Takhrij Mishkat al-Masabih (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1979), no.248; ‘Ali al-Halabi (ed.), Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah, Miftah Dar al-Sa‘adah (Saudi Arabia: Dar Ibn ‘Affan, 1996), 1:500.

4. As per Ibn Kathir, Tafsir Qur’an al-‘Azim (Alexandria: Dar al-‘Aqidah, 2008), 1:374-7. As for the detailed rulings related to the ihram and other rites of Pilgrimage, one can find them codified in basic fiqh texts and hajj booklets. Whenever unclear or in doubt about any issue, one refers to qualified scholars on the matter.

5. Al-Bukhari, no.1523.

Time Waits for None: Reflections on Surat al-‘Asr

ClassicClockFace-long goodbyeIn one of the shortest chapters or surahs of the Qur’an, we read: By Time! Verily man is in [a state of] loss; except those who believe and perform righteous deeds, and enjoin one another to [follow] the truth, and enjoin one another to patience. [103:1-3] This chapter, or surah, is known as Surat al-‘Asr.

I hope to keep my reflections fairly brief, and also hope to look at the surah from three perspectives. The first of these perspectives will be exegetical – that is, to look at what our classical commentators (mufassirun) have said concerning it, so as to get a general sweep of its meaning and message from those qualified in textual interpretation. The second will be theological; so as to flesh out any important points of belief or doctrine embedded in the surah. Lastly there’s the homiletical perspective, the one that focuses on the spiritual and moral counsels of the surah and the lessons it wishes to impart to us about how best to live the religious life.

Exegetical Perspective: Classical interpreters of the Qur’an (tracing their views back to the early religious authorities; the salaf) differ over the meaning of the opening oath: wa’l-‘asr. Some say ‘asr refers to the period from the declining of the sun until sunset; others, that it refers to the actual ‘Asr prayer; yet others say that there is no reason to limit it to a specific period of time, or act in time. Instead, ‘asr should be taken to refer to time (dahr) in general – this being the opinion of Ibn ‘Abbas.1 In this reading, Allah swears an oath by Time, this enigmatic creation of His which we all know something about, but about which no one knows its true nature or exact significance. An appeal is made to time, for it is in its never-resting grasp that our destinies unfold, the events of our lives are played out, and where we encounter Allah’s signs in the world and are asked to contemplate their meanings.

The next verse hits us like a thunderbolt: Verily man is in [a state of] loss. This no holds barred declaration, although it uses the word man (al-insan) in it singular form, refers to mankind generically (a case of wahid bi ma‘na al-jami‘ – “employing the singular to mean the collective.”).2 A few commentators, however, suggest that the man referred to here as being in loss is one of the chief disbelievers of Makkah: Abu Jahl, Walid b. al-Mughirah, or Ubayy b. Khalf.3 Most deemed it best to keep the term generic, given that there is nothing textually explicit to particularise it. So Allah swears By Time that all mankind are in loss.

The Qur’an, in voicing this loss, could have simply said: al-insanu fi khusr – ‘Mankind is in [a state of] loss.’ But instead it added the particle of emphasis, inna, as well as the world la: two separate words of emphasis and forcibleness. Its literal translation could then read: Verily man is truly in [a state of] loss – the double emphasis being there so as to drive home, in no uncertain terms, the gravity of the matter.

As to what such loss is, al-Suyuti glosses it as: fi tijaratihi – “in his [life] transactions.”4 That is, time is man’s capital which he can invest wisely and piously, or else squander. But Man misuses his capital, and fritters it away, by turning his back on Allah and the Afterlife and plunging himself head on into worldly distractions. The Qur’an depicts life as a being like a commerce or business transaction (tijarah) in the following verse: O believers! Shall I show you a commerce that will save you from a painful torment? That you believe in Allah and His Messenger, and strive for the cause of Allah with your wealth and your lives. That is better for you, if you but knew. [61:11] If life’s metaphor is a series of business transactions, man, by attending solely to his material gains, shall lose. For when he comes to tally up his account at day’s end, it will not show a profit; but only a spiritual loss – not so those possessed of the following four qualities:

Except those who believe with true and sincere conviction in Allah’s Divinity (ilahiyyah) and Oneness (wahdaniyyah), and in what was revealed to His Final Prophet, peace be upon him; and perform righteous deeds, those conforming to the Sacred Law (shari‘ah) and sincerely done seeking His good pleasure and acceptance; be they obligatory acts (fara’id) or recommended ones (mustahabbat); or be they rights related to Allah (huquq Allah) or those connected with others (huquq al-‘ibad). Some exegetists point out that these two qualities relate to an individual’s piety and perfection.5

The other two of the four qualities that exempt one from loss: and enjoin one another to [follow] the truth in terms of Allah’s tawhid and all other revealed realities, as well as any other firmly established matter, the truth of which cannot be denied; and enjoin one another to patience, in terms of Allah’s worship and obedience and, given that the majority of the commentators hold that this surah was revealed in Makkah, patience in terms of the insults, abuse and harms Muslim minorities will have to endure from hostile, offensive or unsympathetic non-Muslims.6 If the first two qualities speak of bettering the individual, these last two bespeak of the duty to help better others.7 So this surah insists we partake in the necessary salvation of our own soul, as well as the much needed healing of society’s soul.

Given this surah’s comprehensive message and mandate, it is no wonder that Imam al-Shafi‘i said about it: law tadabbur al-nas hadhihi’l-surah la was‘athum – ‘If people were to ponder over just this surah, it would suffice them.’8

Moreover, the surah’s invitation to faith; action; spreading and standing up for truth; and being patient and steadfast in this, became a motto of sorts among the Prophet’s Companions. One report states: ‘Whenever two of the Prophet’s Companions would meet, they’d not part company until one had recited to the other: By Time! Verily man is in [a state of] loss. Then they would give salams to each other [and part].’9

Theological Perspective: ‘Time and tide wait for no man,’ said Chaucer. Shakespeare wrote in one of his Sonnets about how ‘Time’s fell hand’ eventually brings to ruin even the hugest of buildings and boastful of monuments. We speak about taking time out, wasting time, loosing track of time, time whizzing past, time being of the essence, or of experiencing time; and so on. We all have an idea about time. But ask someone to explain what time actually is … well that’s another matter.

We experience time as a long string of moments that flows from the past, through the present and into the future. Or wanting to be on a more secure footing, time is simply the measure of the duration for processes or events to occur, and the interval between them (measured in seconds, or any other suitable units). By the time Newton gave us the laws of gravity and motion, time was understood to be something absolute, true, universal and flowed at a constant rate, independent of all else. For a while, his laws and notion of time formed the basis for our whole understanding of the universe. But by the beginning of the 20th century, and because Newton’s laws couldn’t account for the peculiar nature and motion of light, a new and deeper understanding of light and time was needed. Enter Albert Einstein.

Essentially, what Einstein showed in his Theory of Relativity was that objects travelling at high speeds experience time slower than objects at rest. This is called time dilation; and it has been conclusively proven experimentally. In particle accelerators, certain subatomic particles have a longer lifespan when travelling at speeds close to the speed of light than they do when they’re travelling much slower or are at rest; atomic clocks in planes run slower than their counterparts down on the ground; and GPS satellites have to be constantly recalibrated for time dilation. Time, according to the insights of Einstein, isn’t constant or uniform; instead it depends on where you are and how you move relative to others.

Now when Allah swears By Time, He doesn’t expect for us to have a scientist’s take on time, or that of a philosopher’s. Rather, the oath is taken to impress on us to see time unfold through the eyes of faith. In other words, to infer from the events of our lives; and from life’s lessons; and from the world in which this all takes place, Allah’s power, knowledge, beauty and wisdom. Our lives, and our world, point to something beyond themselves; to the divine glory and greatness: that you may know He has power over all things and that He encompasses everything in knowledge. [65:12]

In a rather intriguing hadith, the Prophet, peace be upon him, was once occasioned to say: la tasubbu’l-dahr fa inna’Llaha huwa’l-dahr – ‘Do not curse time, for indeed Allah is time.’10 According to al-Munawi, some Arabs had a habit of cursing time whenever something disagreeable occurred or would unexpectedly go wrong. To put and end to such reviling is what occasioned the above warning.11 For to revile time; to implore blessings or barakah be removed from it, would be tantamount to shooting oneself in the foot … repeatedly!

Imam al-Nawawi filled in further detail for us in his commentary to the hadith which says that Allah is time. He wrote: ‘The scholars say that this is a metaphor. The reason being is that it was the custom of the Arabs to revile time whenever some misfortune occurred; such as death, senility, or loss of wealth, etc. They would say: ‘woe to time!’ or other phrases that cursed or inveighed against time. So the Prophet, peace be upon him, said: ‘Do not curse time, for indeed Allah is time.’ Meaning, do not revile He who makes these things happen. For your inveighing against time is actually cursing Allah, since He it is that brings about these misfortunes and sends them down. As for time, it is only a period of duration (zaman) that cannot do anything in or of itself. Rather, it is just one of so many things created by Allah, exalted is He.’12

Muslim theologians are at pains to remind us that whatever else time may or may not be, it is something created by Allah and has no intrinsic power of existence: time only exists and endures (thubut, baqa) by Allah’s will and power. Likewise, time can neither heal nor harm (in the literal sense of the term); that quality is solely Allah’s. Time, this unembodied reality, ‘flows’ only because of Allah’s act of perpetual creativity. Time, in other words, is the unfolding of moment after moment after moment. (Interestingly, such a theology of time has resonance with certain ideas and models of time currently being discussed in quantum physics.)

Homiletical Perspective: This surah is a summons to the worshippers to not fall into heedlessness (ghaflah), squander their time and thus jeopardise their salvation (najat). For the seekers, it is an invitation to sanctity (wilayah) by being continuous in Allah’s remembrance (dhikr), internalising works of faith, practising beautiful patience (sabr) and cultivating comportment (adab) with time. As for the people of Allah (ahlu’Llah), what it means for them is between them and Allah. For theirs are hearts that behold the contemplative vision of Allah (mushahadah) in this earthly life, whilst anticipating the Beatific Vision of Him (ru’yatu’Llah) in the eternal life to come.

Our all too fragile relationship with time comes to the fore in these following lines of poetry: ‘Your life is but a few countable breaths; whenever you exhale, part of your life diminishes (hayatuka anfasun tu‘addu fa kullama / mada nafasun minha intaqasta bihi juz’an).’

One of the early sages said that he truly understood the message of Surat al-‘Asr when he saw a person selling ice in the market, saying to passers-by in a raised voice: ‘Have mercy on those whose wealth is melting away. Have mercy on those whose capital is vanishing.’ It dawned on the sage that this ice-seller must be incredibly careful about his capital (ice), or else it will literally melt away; and he’ll be at loss. Similarly, man’s time on earth is rapidly melting away with each priceless breath; with every passing second. If he spends his time doing futile, forbidden or faithless things, then this is man’s true loss. Man’s life, therefore, must never be bereft of faith, acts of obedience to Allah, sincerely helping others and tending to peoples’ welfare, and persevering in these things throughout his life. Only then will he have spent his time in a productive manner pleasing to his Lord.13

In terms of making us vigilant with whatever time we have allocated to us in our lives, the Prophet, upon whom be peace, said: ‘Everyone starts his day and is a vendor of his own soul, either freeing it or bringing about its ruin.’14

Indeed, what we do with our time here on earth is, when all is said and done, what it’s about; as per the next hadith: ‘The feet of the son of Adam will not move on the Day of Resurrection till he is questioned about five things: about his life and what he did in it; about his youth and how he passed it; about his wealth, from where he acquired it and on what he spent it; and about his knowledge, did he act on it.’15

Another hadith states that a person once asked the Prophet, peace be upon him, who the best people were, to which he replied: ‘Those who live long and whose deeds are good.’ He was then asked who the worst people were, so he said: ‘Those who live long but whose deeds are bad.’16 The longevity of life that science and modern medicine accords us seems, unquestionably, a goodly thing. But as with so many of modernity’s offerings, the believer examines such things with the eye of faith. What would be the use of an increase in life expectancy if the additional years don’t lead to an increasing awareness of Allah’s presence? Of what worth would longevity of years be if it deflects us from our purpose of creation and our ultimate return? There is nothing inherently wrong about wanting to live a long life, provided it promotes piety and not diminish it; provided the extra time leads us to the gates of Paradise and not encourage us to stray from it. Such must be the considerations with the days of our time.

Now before lowering the curtain on my reflections, let me say a few words about our adab (comportment, propriety) with time. Our life at the present moment in time lies between two other time periods: past and future. Whatever wrongs we committed in the past can be rectified by remorse and sincere tawbah. This doesn’t require physical exertion; rather it’s simply an action of the heart. This is the adab with time that has passed in other than Allah’s obedience. In respect to the future, it can be made sound by resolving not to commit sins. This too isn’t a physical action, it is a firm intention in the heart. Thus the past can be rectified by repentance: the future, by a determined resolve to abstain from disobedience.

As for the present, the time between two times, Ibn al-Qayyim explains that the adab here is to realise that we are always going to be in one of three states: we will either be in a state of receiving divine blessings, or be afflicted with trials and misfortunes, or be in a state of sinfulness. Ibn al-Qayyim writes that the adab with these states is to be ‘among those who, when blessed, give thanks; when tried, display patience; and when sinful, seek forgiveness. For these three conditions are a token of a person’s happiness and the sign of his success in this world and the next. No person is without them, but is always shifting from one state to the other.’17

Let’s leave the last word about time, and the adab we should be cultivating with time, to Imam al-Ghazali:

‘You should not waste your time, doing at any moment whatever chances to present itself when it presents itself. Instead, you should take stock of yourself and structure your acts of devotion during each day or night, assigning to each period of time some specific function that is kept to and is not left for something else in that time. In this way the barakah of your time will become evident. But if you leave yourself to drift, aimlessly wandering as cattle do, not knowing what to occupy yourself with at each moment, you will squander most of your time. Your time is your life; your life is your capital through which you transact [with God] and through which you reach endless bliss in the proximity of God. Every breath you take is a priceless jewel that cannot be replaced. Once it passes, it can never be retrieved.’18

With this, these reflections on Surat al-‘Asr come to a conclusion. Wa akhiru’l-da‘wana ani’l-hamduli’Llahi’l-rabbi’l-‘alamin.

1. Cf. al-Qurtubi, al-Jami‘ li Ahkam al-Qur’an (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1996), 20:122; al-Suyuti, Tafsir al-Jalalayn (Saudi Arabia: Dar al-Salam, 2002), 612.

2. As stated in al-Sam‘ani, Tafsir al-Qur’an (Riyadh: Dar al-Watn, 1997), 6:278.

3. ibid., 6:278.

4. Tafsir al-Jalalayn, 612.

5. Cf. al-Sa‘di, Taysir al-Karim al-Rahman fi Tafsir Kalam al-Mannan (Saudi Arabia: Dar Ibn al-Jawzi, 2011), 1102.

6. Consult: Ibn Juzayy, al-Tashil li ‘Ulum al-Tanzil (Beirut: al-Maktabah al-‘Asriyyah, 2003), 4:417; al-Nasafi, Madarik al-Tanzil wa Haqa’iq al-Ta’wil (Beirut: Dar al-Kalim al-Tayyib, 1998), 3:277; Muhammad Na‘im, Tafsir Kamalayn Sharh Urdu Tafsir al-Jalalayn (Pakistan: Dar al-Isha‘at, 2008), 6:778.

7. Al-Sa‘di, Taysir al-Karim al-Rahman, 1102.

8. Cited in Ibn Kathir, Tafsir Qur’an al-‘Azim (Beirut: Dar al-Ma‘rifah, 1987), 4:585.

9. Al-Tabarani, Mu‘jam al-Awsat, no.5256. Its chain was judged to be sahih by al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 1996), no.6348.

10. Muslim, no.2246.

11. Consult: al-Munawi, Fayd al-Qadir Sharh al-Jami‘ al-Saghir (Beirut: Dar al-Ma‘rifah, n.d.), 6:399; no. 9785.

12. Sharh Sahih Muslim (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1995), 15:3-4. Also see: Ibn Kathir, Tafsir Qur’an al-‘Azim, 4:163, in explanation of the verse: And they say: ‘It is only this worldly life of ours. We die and live and nothing but time destroys us.’ [45:24]

13. See: Tafsir Kamalayn, 6:776-77.

14. Muslim, no.223.

15. Al-Tirmidhi, no.2416. The hadith was declared sahih due to corroborating chains in al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1985), no.946.

16. Al-Tirmidhi, no.2330, where he declared: ‘This hadith is hasan sahih.’

17. Al-Wabil al-Sayyib (Beirut & Damascus: Maktabah Dar al-Bayan, 2006), 25.

18. Bidayat al-Hidayah (Beirut: Dar al-Minhaj, 2004), 120.

By this Book We Rise or Fall

photo_matic_zorman_gaza_3070_copy_largeRecently, it seems that a number of pious people and a few eminent Muslim spiritual leaders have had premonitions and dreams about the quickening of the Hour and the imminent appearance of the Dajjal. Every generation has its warners proclaiming the End of Days being nigh and the doors of Dajjal, the Antichrist, being flung open. So in that respect, ours is no different.

Where our age does differ from others that have passed is that we live in times where all (or almost all) the signs spoken of in the hadiths that foretell the appearance of the Dajjal have now come to pass. The advice from these spiritual authorities, therefore, is to increase in seeking Allah’s forgiveness (istighfar), and to read the first and last ten verses of surat al-kahf (the 18th chapter of the Qur’an), daily or frequently. One hadith says about the Dajjal: ‘Whoever among you encounters him, let him read the opening verses of surat al-kahf against him.’1 Another hadith asserts: ‘Whoever memorises the ten verses from the beginning of surat al-kahf [in a narration: from the end], it will be a protection against the Dajjal.’2

The first six of the ten opening verses of surat al-kahf have as their theme the Qur’an: Praise be to Allah who has sent down the Book to His servant and has not placed in it any crookedness. [But has made it] straight, to give warning of severe punishment from Him, and to proclaim to the believers who do good works that theirs will be an excellent reward, wherein they will remain forever. [18:1-3] Thus this Book from the Majestic Presence is plain and clear in instruction; is glad tidings and a warning; a reminder for the hearts of the faithful; and an intimate comfort to the souls of seekers and knowers alike. In its own words: This Qur’an does guide to that which is most upright. [17:9] And: We have sent down upon you the Book, as a clarification of all things. [16:89]

With that said, let me offer the following six points to meditate upon in terms of just how significant the Qur’an ought to be in our lives as believers:

Firstly, we should realise that the honour, status, preeminence, rank and excellence of the Muslim ummah is inextricably tied with the Qur’an. The Prophet, upon whom be peace, said: ‘Indeed Allah raises a people by this Book, and by it He disgraces others.’3 At the individual level we read in another hadith: ‘The best of you are those who learn the Qur’an and teach it to others.’4

Secondly, Allah, exalted is He, states: O mankind! There has come to you an exhortation from your Lord, and a healing for what is in the breasts, and a guidance and a mercy to the believers. [10:57] Many people talk of Islam’s solution to this problem, or the Qur’an’s solution to that problem – as if one could just punch in a bunch of numbers on some computer and, hey presto, the problem is solved! The Qur’an offers itself, not so much as a solution, but as a healing. And healing, by its very nature, involves time, patience, commitment and consistency; it is a process. Indeed, there is no illness that can afflict our hearts, nor any sorrow, grief, bitterness or agitation, which cannot be mended by the healing capacity of the Qur’an. So let us pour the word of Allah over our spiritual wounds and leave it to work its miracle.

Thirdly, what are the major themes of the Qur’an that help bring about this healing in the human condition? The major themes include: (i) God and His divine unity. While the Qur’an goes out on a limb to tell us that God is utterly dissimilar to His creation, it also says that He is closer to man than his jugular vein. The God of the Qur’an did not create the heavens and the earth in six days/periods and then rest on the seventh; instead He continuously creates and recreates, at each and every instant. Though God cannot be seen, we can sense His effects and can come to know Him through His acts and His attributes as described in the Qur’an. In fact, hearts were created to adore the One true God. Its other main themes are: (ii) The prophetic narratives; that is, of how God’s prophets and their message of monotheism and submission have been received by various communities, and how their warnings about idolatry and immorality were responded to. (iii) Man and his relationship with his Creator, his purpose of being, his duties on earth; as well as helping him to make sense of the existential dilemmas of life, death, suffering and loss. (iv) The Afterlife; the continuation of human existence after death where man will be confronted with all he has done upon earth, be it good or bad, and the requital of his deeds in either heaven or hell. (v) Cosmic phenomena verses; they discuss the natural world and various cosmic phenomena, offering them as proof for a benevolent, omnipotent, omniscient God. The Qur’an sees the whole of the cosmos as a tapestry of signs, each one pointing to God. (vi) The legislative verses; these provide spiritual, ethical, social and juridical precepts and directives which serve to guide and regulate man’s private and public life. It is from these legislative verses that practical Islamic law, morality and spirituality are derived.5

Fourthly, the unfortunate reality today is that many of us Muslims ignore the Qur’an and cast it behind our backs: seldom reading it, referring to it for guidance, or seeking to be transformed by its teachings. Instead, we open our souls to ideas and ideologies that run counter to the Qur’an, and fill our hearts with music, entertainment or other trivia that distracts us from recollecting Allah and the Afterlife. If anything, our lives resemble what is being spoken of in the verse: And the Messenger will say: ‘O my Lord! My people have abandoned this Qur’an!’ [25:30] Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah explains that: ‘Forsaking the Qur’an is of various types: (i) Refusing to listen to it, believe in it, or to pay any heed to it. (ii) Not acting on it or abiding by what it declares to be lawful and unlawful, even if one reads it and believes in it. (iii) To forsake judging by it and being judged by it, be it in the fundamentals of the faith or its branches; and to believe that its does not beget sure knowledge. (iv) Neglecting to ponder over it or comprehend it; not seeking to uncover what the Speaker intended by it. (v) To leave seeking a cure or healing through it for the various diseases of the heart, but rather to seek healing for such illnesses from other than it.’6

Fifthly, to desert the Qur’an and to persist in acting against it, even if one believes it to be Allah’s word, warrants some level of inclusion under the following divine warning: ‘But whosoever turns away from My remembrance, surely will have a life of narrowness and on the Day of Resurrection We will raise him up blind.’ [20:124] And in this neglect, one resembles those unbelievers about whom the Qur’an informs that they said: ‘We hear and we disobey.’ [4:46] And all this will not bode well for a believer, neither in this life nor the life to come.

Sixthly, the Prophet, peace be upon him, said: ‘He who recites the Qur’an and is adept at doing so will be with the devout, noble, recording angels. He who reads the Qur’an and struggles, it being difficult for him, shall receive two rewards.’7 So let us each take to reciting the Qur’an and to adorning our character and conduct with it. Let us drink from its sweet spring to quench our thirst, be illumined by it and be made joyous due to it: Has not the time come for the hearts of those who believe to submit humbly to Allah’s remembrance and to what was revealed of the truth? [57:16]

Allahumma’j‘ali’l-qur’ana rabi‘a qulubina wa nura sudurina
wa jila’a ahzanina wa dhahaba humumina wa
ghumumina ya rabba’l-‘alamin
ya arhama’l-rahimin
Amin.

1. Muslim, no.2137.

2. Muslim, no.809.

3. Muslim, no.816.

4. Al-Bukhari, no.5027.

5. Adapted from Turner, Islam: the Basics (Oxon: Routledge, 2006), 54-62.

6. Al-Fawa’id (Makkah: Dar ‘Alam al-Fawa’id, 2008), 118.

7. Al-Bukhari, no.4937; Muslim, no.798.

The Qur’an & the Soul’s Alchemy

828px-Folio_Quran_Met_57.141The Prophet, peace be upon him, remarked, ‘The best of you is the one who learns the Qur’an and teaches it to others.’1 For Muslims, not withstanding the sheer beauty of its composition and its cadences, the Qur’an is a repository of revealed teachings, a roadmap for the journey through life, and a fountain of timeless truths to meditate upon; deepening endlessly one’s sense of the divine glory. Moreover, the Qur’an is of God: His Word, Wisdom and Divine Will. God says: We send down in the Qur’an that which is a healing and a mercy for the believers. [17:82] O mankind! There has come to you a counsel from your Lord, and a healing for what is in the breasts. [10:57]

Its name is indeed telling, for the word Qur’an, in Arabic, literally means a ‘recital’ or ‘that which is recited’. To this end the Qur’an is possibly the most read or recited book in the world. It is certainly the world’s most memorised book, and is probably the one that exerts the most influence over its readers. It is a book that has caused countless people throughout history to accept its message upon reading it, or hearing its recital. It has moved hearts to tears, healed spiritual wounds, incapacitated opponents, and astounded academics and artisans alike. The essence of its message is that there is only one God: Allah, who created and sustains the material universe and the world of human experience, and that only He is to be deified and worshiped.

The alchemical effect of the Qur’an, the deep transformative impact it has upon the human soul, is such that even its most ardent of opponents have been profoundly affected by it. One such example is of ‘Utbah bin Rabi‘ah who, on hearing the Prophet recite the Qur’an, was compelled by its sheer and utter sublimity to confess: ‘I have heard an utterance the like of which I have never heard. By God! It is neither poetry, sorcery nor soothsaying. O men of Quraysh, listen to me and do as I bid. Do not come between this man and what he is about, but leave him be. For by God, the words I have heard from him will soon cause a great stir.’2

This sublimity was felt too by Goethe (the nineteenth century German poet, novelist, statesman and scholar) who wrote in his West-Oestlicher Divan how, after inspiring initial astonishment and fear, the Qur’an ‘soon attracts, astounds, and, in the end, enforces our reverence. Its style, in accordance with its content and its aim, is stern, grand, terrible, ever and anon truly sublime. Thus, this book will go on exercising, through the ages, a most potent influence.’3

Thus it is a case of pouring the Qur’an’s healing over our spiritual wounds, and allow it to work its miracle: Is there any, then, to take heed? [54:17]

1. Al-Bukhari, no.5027.

2. Ibn Hisham, Sirah, 1:185, its chain is sound (hasan). Cf. Muhammad al-Ghazali, Fiqh al-Sirah, ed. al-Albani (Cairo: Dar al-Kutub al-Hadithah, 1976), 113.

3. Cited in Shalabi, Islam: Religion of Life (USA: Starlatch Press, 2001), 25-6.

How the Qur’an Justifies Itself

a (7)In a previous posting about Islam’s rational monotheism (which may be read here), we saw how the Qur’an utilises a rationalist discourse to substantiate some of its main theological doctrines. As for how the Qur’an vindicates itself, and rationalises its claim of truly being the Word of God, it deploys the following line of argument:

Firstly, it states that the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, was an unlettered Prophet [7:157]; that is, he was unable to read or write, and most certainly uneducated in the modern sense of the word: And you did not used to recite any book before this, and nor did you write it with your right hand. For then the seekers of falsehood would have had misgivings. [29:48] Also: Say: ‘Had God so willed I would not have recited it to you, neither would He have made you aware of it. I have lived among you a lifetime before this [came to me]. Will you not use your reason.’ [10:16]

Secondly, it asserts its miraculous nature – described by Muslim scholars as its i‘jaz or “inimitability.” The Qur’an, as Muslims believe, has no equal: as hard as someone may try, they will never be able to match it in terms of its sheer eloquence, beauty, cadence, wisdom and internal consistency. Speaking about its literary style, Turner said about the Qur’an: ‘Indeed, the Koran is written in a language wholly divergent in syntax and structure from any other, including the ‘secular’ Arabic literature of pre-Islamic times. Many experts in Arabic literature will attest, it is distinguished by excellences of sound and eloquence, rhetoric and metaphor, assonance and alliteration, of onomatopoeia and rhyme, of ellipsis and parallelism. So sublime were they that certain Arab poets of the day would fall in prostration at the inimitable eloquence of the Muhammadan message, while the first recipients of the Divine message were moved to deem it miraculous.’1

It is not just in form that it is miraculous, but in content too: Will they not reflect upon the Qur’an. If it had been from other than God they would have surely found therein many contradictions. [4:82] Thus, to those who are prepared to consider it carefully (free of ideological or political agendas which blinker the heart’s receptivity from the outset), the Qur’an reflects a perfect consistency, spiritual beauty and a complete absence of error and inaccuracy which suffice as proof for its Divine origin. In fact, its wisdoms, prophecies, lack of scientific errors, historical narratives, self-assertions and unique literary style – in that it does not fit any of the known rhythmic metres (bihar) of pre-Islamic Arabic poetry (shi‘r), nor the rules of rhymed prose (saj’), nor straightforward speech (mursal) – make it impossible for the Qur’an to be the actual product of human authorship.

Thirdly, the Qur’an challenges its skeptics and deniers to produce something similar to it: Or do they say: ‘He has invented it?’ No, they have no faith. Let them produce a speech like it, if what they say be true! [52:33-34] The above verse is one of the so-called tahaddi or “challenge” verses which sets out to prove the divine nature of the Qur’an. Another verse seems to have lightened the challenge: Or do they say: ‘He has forged it?’ Say: ‘Then bring ten forged chapters like it, and call [to you aid] whomsoever you can, other than God, if what you say be true.’ [11:13] The final passages on the matter eases the challenge still more: And if you are in doubt concerning that which We have sent down upon Our servant [Muhammad], then produce a chapter the like thereof, and call your witnesses other than God, if you are truthful. But if you cannot, and you will never be able to, then guard yourself against a fire whose fuel is men and stones, prepared for the disbelievers. [2:23-24] Now the reasoning here is clinical. If it truly was written by a man, another man should be able to author something similar; even if it be just a chapter (the shortest chapter, or surah, of the Qur’an consisting of just three verses). Yet this challenge remains unmet until today – a sure proof of its miraculous origin. Rationally speaking, then, once doubt is dispelled, one ought to take steps to follow the Quranic message and accept its truths and teachings, and thus guard against the Hellfire.

Ibn Kathir makes the following point: ‘Many scholars have said that God sent each prophet with a miracle that was appropriate for the people of their time. Thus, in the time of Moses, peace be upon him, sorcery was prized and sorcerers highly regarded. So God sent him with a miracle to bedazzle the eye and confound every sorcerer. When they became certain the miracle was from [God] the August, the Compeller, they surrendered to Islam and became righteous. As for Jesus, peace be upon him, he was sent in an age of physicians and those who studied the natural sciences. So he came to them with miracles that were beyond the doing of anyone, save one who is aided by He who revealed the Law. For how could a physician be able to give life to clay, or cure the blind and heal the lepper, or raise to life he who was in his grave awaiting Judgement Day? Similarly, God sent Muhammad, peace be upon him, in a time of eloquence of speech and accomplished poets. So he came to them with a Book from God which, if all men and jinn gathered together to produce the like of it, or the like of ten chapters of it, or the like of a single chapter of it, they wouldn’t be able to do so; even if they were to help one another. For it is none other than the Word of God, which no human speech can replicate.’2

The examples in the earlier blog, and this blog piece, serve to show the rationality of the Qur’an, and that it is one which is grounded in self-evident matters and everyday experience; accessible to all who care to reflect or pay heed. Nowhere does the Qur’an require blind acceptance of its fundamental theological principles. Rather, it urges, it cajoles; demands even, that people use their God-given sense of reason and ponder over its assertions and truths. And while the final step is, ultimately, a leap of faith, the actual run up to it is a matter that engages not just heart and soul, but the faculty of mind and reason too. Says the Qur’an: And they will say: ‘Had we but listened or used our intelligence, we would not now be among the people of the Blazing Fire.’ [67:10]

1. Colin Turner, Islam: the Basics (Great Britain: Routledge, 2006) , 52.

2. Tafsir Qur’an al-‘Azim (Beirut: Dar al-Ma‘rifah, 1987), 1:373.

Reading Qur’an for the Deceased

islamQuestion: Is it permitted to donate the reward of one’s recitation of the Qur’an to a deceased person, and will they benefit by such recitation? Or is this an innovation (bidah) that opposes orthodox Islam, as claimed by certain people?

Answer: Unfortunately, this issue has become a cause of great controversy and fiery disputes between Muslims in recent times. It has now become commonplace to find Muslims boycotting other Muslims over the issue, showing hostility towards them, or to even consider them to be deviants because of it! Yet such intolerance and bigotry is uncalled for by Islam and is unwarranted by the shari‘ah.

A dispassionate look at the issue reveals that classical jurists differed on the question of whether the rewards of one’s Quranic recitation can be “donated” or “gifted” to the deceased or not (known as isal al-thawab or ihda al-thawab). One group of scholars contends that it can be donated and that the deceased do benefit by it; the other says it cannot.

The majority of jurists stipulate that such a donation does reach the deceased and that they do indeed benefit from it. Typifying the majority view, Ibn Qudamah al-Maqdisi stated in his highly acclaimed al-Mughni: ‘Any act of worship a person does, gifting the reward of it to a deceased Muslim, the deceased will benefit from it; God willing. Now, as for supplication, seeking forgiveness and giving charity [for others], or those acts that can be fulfilled on someone else’s behalf, I know of no difference concerning their permissibility.’1

He then cites a few authentic hadiths which categorically establish that certain acts of worship the living do, can reach the deceased and benefit them. These acts are:

1. Supplicating (du‘a) and seeking forgiveness (istighfar): For the Qur’an tells the living believers to pray for their deceased brethren; as in the verse: And those who come after them pray: ‘Our Lord! Forgive us and our brethren who came before us in faith.’ [59:10]

2. Charity (sadaqah): The lady ‘A’ishah relates that S‘ad b. ‘Ubadah said: O Messenger of God! My mother died unexpectedly without leaving a will. If I was to give charity on her behalf, will she reap the rewards? He replied: ‘Yes!’ [Bukhari, no.1388; Muslim, no.1004]

3. Pilgrimage (hajj): The Prophet, peace be upon him, was asked: My mother vowed to undertake pilgrimage, but she passed away before having the chance to do so. Shall I not perform pilgrimage on her behalf? He responded: ‘Yes. If she had a debt, wouldn’t it have to be settled?’ Yes, the man replied. The Prophet said: ‘The debt owed to God is more deserving of being settled.’ [Al-Bukhari, no.6699]

4. Fasting (siyam): The Prophet, peace be upon him, stated: ‘Whoever dies and a fast is due upon him, a reliable family member of his must make it up in his stead.’ [Muslim, no.1147]

5. Freeing Slaves (‘itq): ‘Abd Allah b. ‘Amr once asked the Prophet, peace be upon him, if his deceased father would benefit from the freeing of slaves on his behalf. This was the reply: ‘Had your father been a Muslim and you emancipated slaves on his behalf, gave some charity on his behalf, or performed pilgrimage on his behalf, it would have reached him.’ [Abu Dawud, no.2883]

Whilst it is true that a few jurists, like Imam al-Shafi‘i, limited the deceased benefiting from the acts of the living to those which have been specifically mentioned in the proof-texts, the majority did not. We are given a window into the majority’s legal or fiqh reasoning in what follows:

After citing the aforementioned hadiths, Ibn Qudamah wrote: ‘In these sound hadiths is a proof that the deceased benefits by any act of worship. Now as fasting, pilgrimage and supplicating are also bodily acts of worship, and God has allowed their benefits to reach the deceased, then such is the case with every other act of worship.’2

It is precisely on this premise – that if the proof-texts allow certain acts to be donated, what is there to prevent other acts also being donated? – that Imam Ahmad b. Hanbal said: ‘Any good deed, like charity, prayer, or other than that reaches the deceased; as per the reports about it.’3

Ibn al-Qayyim is even more forthcoming. He first notes: ‘They disagree about bodily acts of worship like fasting, prayer, reciting Qur’an and remembrance of God (dhikr). Imam Ahmad and the majority of the early scholars (salaf) held the opinion that their benefits reach the deceased. This was the stance of some of Abu Hanifah’s colleagues too … The well-known opinion of al-Shafi‘i and Malik is that they do not.’4

Further on in the argument, he insists: ‘Hence by what textual stipulation, analogy or principle from the shari‘ah principles does one [set of actions] reach the deceased, but not the other? These stipulations demonstrate that the reward for a deed reaches the deceased, if the doer intended it. This is pure and sound analogy. The reward of an act is the right of its doer. Now if the doer wishes to gift the reward to his brother Muslim, why would he be prevented from it; in the same way that it is not forbidden to gift his wealth to another person, nor to pay-off that person’s debt after his death.’5

Indeed, why else would Ibn Abi’l-‘Izz say: ‘Ahl al-Sunnah are agreed that the deceased benefit from the deeds of the living in two ways. Firstly, they benefit from those acts they were the cause of during their lifetime. Secondly, from the du‘a of other Muslims, their seeking forgiveness for them, as well as their charity and pilgrimage … There is a disagreement about bodily acts of worship such as fasting, prayer, reciting Qur’an and dhikr. The view of Abu Hanifah, Ahmad, and the majority of the salaf is that the reward of these acts reach the deceased.’6

Some Objections Addressed: Let us begin to lower the curtain on the subject by briefly tackling some common objections to the practice of isal al-thawab:

[1] One objection concerns the following verse: And that man shall have nothing except what he strives for, [53:39] and the hadith: ‘When a person dies, his actions come to an end except in three situations: recurring charity; knowledge which people continue to benefit from after him; and a pious offspring who prays for him.’ [Muslim, no.1631] The objectors insist that these texts prove nothing can benefit a person after he passes away except whatever good he did whilst alive.

The scholarly majority reply by pointing out: (i) There are, as has been shown, certain actions done by the living about which there is a juristic consensus (ijma’) that they do benefit the deceased: i.e. supplication, charity, fasting or pilgrimage. (ii) That reading the Qur’an so as to donate its reward has nothing to do with the acts of the deceased: which are now at an end. Rather, it is a gift from the living to the dead.7

[2] Ibn Abi’l-‘Izz addresses another objection: ‘Now if it is said: “The Prophet, peace be upon him, directed us to fasting, pilgrimage and charity, but not reading the Qur’an.” The reply is: that the Prophet, peace be upon him, didn’t initiate such practices except as a response to peoples’ questions. So on one occasion he was asked about making pilgrimage for the deceased, so he permitted it. On another occasion, he was asked about fasting, so he allowed that too. But he never ruled out other practices for them beside these.’8

[3] The third objection seems to be extremely flimsy, an almost desperate ditch to save the day. It states that if the living can gift the deceased good deeds, then they should be able to pass-off their bad deeds onto them too. And since that is absurd, then so is the notion of the living reciting the Qur’an and gifting it to the deceased. The response to this is fairly simple to see, which is that if gifting the rewards of one’s Qur’an reading is absurd, then one must hold the same about gifting the rewards of one’s prayer, charity or pilgrimage. But this would place one in clear opposition to the authentic hadiths on the subject!

To conclude: Far from being an un-Islamic practice, reciting the Qur’an and donating the reward of it to the deceased is not only valid, it is the view taken by the majority of jurists. It is the view of the Hanafi and Hanbali schools from the start, and became the relied-upon view in the Maliki and Shafi‘i schools some centuries later. Although not mentioned by other jurists and verificationists, Ibn Qudamah actually goes so far as to say that there is a consensus on the point: ‘There is [now] a consensus of the Muslims [about it]. For in every time and place they agreed upon reciting the Qur’an and gifting its reward to their deceased, without any objection.’9

Imam al-Nawawi had this to say: ‘The scholars differed about whether the rewards of the Qur’an reach [the deceased]. The well-known view of al-Shafi‘i and a group is that it does not. Whereas the view of Ahmad b. Hanbal and another group of scholars, and a group of Shafi‘i scholars is that it does. The preferred opinion is for the reciter to say, after he completes his recitation: “O God, donate the reward of this recitation to such-and-such (allahumma awsil thawaba ma qara’tuhu ila fulan)”.’10

The erroneous idea that the practice of reciting the Qur’an and donating the rewards to deceased Muslims is some kind of deviation from Islamic orthodoxy may now be seen for what it truly is: ignorance, an inversion of the truth, and an attempt by some to ride roughshod over normative Sunni Islam. And God knows best.

1. Ibn Qudamah, al-Mughni (Riyadh: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 2007), 3:519.

2. ibid., 3:521.

3. Cited in al-Buhuti, Sharh Muntaha al-Iradat (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 2000), 2:165.

4. Ibn al-Qayyim, Kitab al-Ruh (Cairo: Mu’assasah al-Mukhtar, 2006), 170.

5. ibid., 176-7.

6. Sharh al-‘Aqidah al-Tahawiyyah (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1999), 2:683.

7. Consult: Sharh al-‘Aqidah al-Tahawiyyah, 2:688-89.

8. ibid., 2:692.

9. Al-Mughni, 3:522.

10. Al-Adhkar (Jeddah: Dar al-Minhaj, 2008), 283.

Have You Parted Company With the Qur’an?

The Prophet, peace be upon him, said: ‘The best of you are the ones who learn the Qur’an and teach it to others.’ [Al-Bukhari, no.5027] He also said: ‘Indeed, God elevates a people by this Book and debases others by it.’ [Muslim, no.817]

These hadiths probably go some way in explaining why Muslims – and what is still referred to as Muslim world – are in the plight and predicament they are in. In his work on miscellaneous spiritual benefits, al-Fawa’id, Ibn al-Qayyim (d.751H/1350CE) describes five ways in which the Qur’an may be ignored, neglected and even deserted! Only by being aware of these ways can we offer a candid response to: Have we parted company with the Qur’an? So if not the fear of God, then curiosity alone should make this essential reading.

‘Parting company with the Qur’an is of various types:

Firstly, refusing to listen to it and believe in it or to pay any heed to it.

Secondly, ceasing to act on it and abide by what it declares as lawful or unlawful, even if one reads it and believes in it.

Thirdly, to abandon judging by it and being judged by it, whether in the fundamentals of the faith or in its branches; and to believe that it does not beget certainty or that its textual wordings do not beget sure knowledge.

Fourthly, neglecting to ponder over it or comprehend it; not seeking to uncover what the Speaker intended by it.

Fifthly, to abandon seeking a cure or healing through it in respect to the diseases of the heart and its maladies, but rather to seek healing for such illnesses from other than it.

All of this is included in God’s words: And the Messenger will say: “O my Lord! My people have abandoned this Qur’an!” [25:30] This being the case, even though certain forms of abandonment are more detestable than others.’1

1. Al-Fawa’id (Makkah: Dar ‘Alam al-Fawa’id, 2008), 118.

The Qur’an & Science: Match Made in Heaven?

blue-binary-code-jigsaw-puzzleMuslims are quick to point out that the Qur’an is remarkably free of the scientific inaccuracies found in other religious texts. Many go one step further and point out how astonishingly in tune the Qur’an actually is with modern science. And while it is true that some believers have thrown caution to the wind in their zeal to wed Muslim scripture to the scientific cause, there is cogent reason to believe that signficant passages in the Qur’an are in fact addressing the scientific mind in modern man. Seeking to be as dispassionate as possible, let me illustrate the point with a few such verses:

(1) The Qur’an is silent about the age of the Earth and, for that matter, when life first appeared on it; although it does say: And We made from water every living creature. Will they not believe? [21:30] Is this a reference to the primordial soup in the Earth’s early waters, perhaps? Or to the evidence which suggests that life first emerged onto dry land some four-hundred million years ago, from sea-creatures and other aquatic life forms?

(2) Another intriguing verse declares: We built the heaven with might and it is We who are expanding it. [51:47] This does seem like a highly probable pointer to cosmology’s modern belief that galaxies are flying apart from each other as the universe expands.

(3) The fact that galaxies are flying apart from each other, say cosmologists, there must have been a time when galaxies were closer together; and a time earlier still when all the galaxies and material in the universe was crunched-up together into an incredibly small space. This infinitely-compact universe, for some reason, suddenly expanded, in an event cosmologists call “The Big-Bang”. Interestingly, the Qur’an insists: Do not the disbelievers see that the heavens and the earth were at first joined, then We split them apart. [21:30]

(4) The final example is the vivid Quranic account of how a human embryo forms in its mother’s womb: We created man from a product of clay. Then We placed him as a drop in a safe lodging. Then We fashioned the drop into a clot of blood that clings, then We made the clinging clot into a chewed-like lump, then We turned the lump into bones, then We clothed the bones with flesh, and then produced it as another creation. So blessed be God, the Best of Creators! [23:12-14]

What is significant here, as in the previous three examples, is that at the time of their revelation these Quranic assertions ran completely counter to the science of the day. In fact, science was only able to uncover the truth of these claims within only the last century or so!

One must not be tempted by these verses into thinking that the Qur’an is a text-book on science or a catalogue of scientific facts. These verses are primarily asserting the i‘jaz, the “miraculous” and “inimitable” nature of the Qur’an, thereby demonstrating it truly is the Word of God. Turner, I think, captured the essence of the matter when he wrote:

‘The Koran describes God, the principles of belief and the fate of man in the world to come, but it is no work on theology; it contains accounts of past prophets and faith communities of old, but it is no history book; it contains invocations and words of inspiration; but it is no book of prayer.

Legal issues are discussed in it, but it is no book of law; it tells us how the Creator fashions the cosmos and makes the world turn, but it is no treatise on cosmology; it describes the alternation of day and night, and the development of the foetus in the womb, but it is no compendium of natural science.

It examines the heart and mind of man, and the existential dilemma of being human but longing for the divine, yet it is no work on popular psychology.

It is all of those things and it is none of those things: more than any other book can it truly be said of the enigmatic Koran that it is far more than simply the sum of its com- ponent parts.’1

1. Collin Turner, Islam: the Basics (London & New York: Routledge, 2006), 41.

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: