While righteous anger when the Prophet ﷺ is mocked or insulted is integral to faith, we Muslims need to invest greater efforts into adhering to the actual obligations and duties instated by faith – be it in our acts or worship; our ethics and behaviour; our relationships; or our social contracts and transactions. The Prophet ﷺ said: ‘All my followers will enter Paradise except those who refuse.’ On being asked who refuses, he said: ‘Those who obey me will enter Paradise, while those who disobey me have infact refused.’ [Al-Bukhari, no.7280]
While debating whether one should have the right to gratuitous offence or not, or the limits to freedom of speech (for it does indeed have limits and restrictions), this is as good a time as any to take stock of our own commitment to the life and teachings of the Prophet ﷺ and how much we exemplify it or not in our daily lives and conduct: So let those who contravene his command beware lest an affliction befall them or a painful punishment smite them. [24:63] In contrast: Whoever obeys God and His Messenger, they are with those whom God has blessed, of the prophet and the truthful [highest] saints, and the martyrs, and the righteous. What fine company they are! [4:69]
While pointing out the inconsistencies, double standards or blatant Islamophobia in and among the Je suis Charlie voices (both in France as well as elsewhere), we need the voices of our scholars to give us clearer guidance on how and why we cannot take the law into our own hands in the democracies in which we live and consider home, even when Islam’s sacred symbols have become open game: You will surely hear much that is offensive from those who were given scripture before you, and from idolaters. But if you persevere patiently and fear God, such are weighty factors in all affairs. [3:186]
While we call into question the commitment to freedom of speech of many heads of state who marched so sanctimoniously against the disgraceful Paris killings, it is time we questioned how committed we are to the revealed truths of our din – individually and collectively – and how deep our convictions in them really run: Lose not heart, nor grieve. For you shall prevail, if you are truly believers. [3:139] That we prevail not, but are prevailed over, says something very troubling about our collective commitment to religion and revealed truths.
While we still feel the reverberations of the Paris murders and sense more than a little hypocrisy in how the French Republic selectively enacts its freedom of expression, it’s important to also hold ourselves to account and weed out hypocrisy from our actions and persona: ‘The signs of a hypocrite are three, even if he prays and fasts and claims that he is a Muslim: when he speaks, he lies; when he makes a promise, he reneges on it; and when he is entrusted, he betrays his trust.’ [Al-Bukhari, no.33; Muslim, no.107] A far more serious form of hypocrisy is highlighted in the following verse: And when it is said to them: ‘Come to that which God has sent down and to the Messenger,’ you see the hypocrites turn away from you in aversion. [4:61]
While mainstream Muslims denounce such crimes, dismissing them as acts of fringe extremist with troubled pasts, political grievances and little religious learning, we also admit that such acts of lawlessness are now a growing concern within and outside the House of Islam. And yet, as angry and enraged young souls trample over traditional Islamic teachings and ignore established leaders and scholarship, we Muslims need to each play our part in quelling this rising tide of religious anarchy that was foretold to us in this next hadith: ‘God does not take away knowledge by wresting it from the hearts of men; rather He takes knowledge away by taking away the scholars. So when no scholar remains, people take the ignorant as leaders who, when asked, give fatwas without knowledge: they are misguided and misguiding.’ [Bukhari, no.100; Muslim, no.2673]
While freedom of expression currently forbids insulting race and ethnicity, it has no such qualm when it comes to pouring scorn upon beliefs and ideologies – religious or otherwise. Free speech is deemed to be the core value of democracy: a precondition to progress and the guarantor of liberty. The only constraints on it are things like libel, slander, hate speech, obscenity, incitement to violence, and severe and specific threats to public safety. All else is taken to be fair game. And yet Charlie Hebdo didn’t occur in a vacuum. The cartoons come at a time when scorn, bigotry, discrimination, physical violence, mosque burnings as well as a growing host of legal handicaps are day-to-day realities for European Muslims. In what way do such cartoons not serve to further the xenophobic contempt for a community already ill-protected, maligned and under significant social siege?
While much of the West has shown its outrage for the attack on the cherished value of free speech, Muslims will do well to recall that denigrating the Prophet ﷺ – whom they cherish more than any other, for they believe him to be a prophet of God and the epitome of piety, purity and goodness – is a capital offence under classical Islamic law. In a Muslim land where such law is sovereign and applicable, and after investigation, trial and the due process of law, it is the state’s prerogative to carry out the sentence of blasphemy: a crime punishable by death. Just how outraged the Western world may feel about this should be neither here nor there. As for vigilante killing in non-Muslim polities, where neither Islamic law nor its jurisdiction applies, we should recognise it for what it is: criminality and murder. It neither has the validation of classical Islamic law, nor the endorsement of any established, living scholarly authority.
While many see in the Charlie Hebdo tragedy the symbols of the moral superiority of Western values and civilisation, others may ask: How can there be civilisation without civility? And how can there be civility when gratuitous offence is allowed for nothing more than its own sake? Of course, Muslims should understand that those outside of their faith are free, and should be free, to criticise Islam; question its teachings; and challenge its beliefs, laws and ethics; and even reject it out of hand, if they so choose. If some Muslims feel slightly queasy about that, they simply need to get thicker skins: There is no compulsion in religion, is what the Qur’an says. [2:256] What most Muslims, I suspect, are trying to say is this: If for nothing more than community cohesion and peaceful coexistence, let’s avoid senseless provocation and gratuitous offence merely for its own sake. Let’s learn to be a tad more civil.
One of the main themes that runs through hadiths about the End Days is how good will be considered as being bad; and visa versa, how trustworthiness and honesty shall disappear, how the worthless will be raised to positions of rank and respect, and how there will be an increase in disobedience and widespread violation of rights (kathrat al-‘uquq wa ida‘at al-huquq). Rights that firmly belong to some shall be denied them, and instead be given to others. This inversion of rights and reality, perhaps more than anything else, is what characterises the fated end times. And it is this topsy-turviness of the times, and the ensuing spiritual and social turmoil, that I wish to discuss in the second and final part of this blog. After quoting a volley of hadiths that describe the state of affairs that heralds the end days and final Hour, Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali said: ‘All this is part of the inversion of realities during the end days and the topsy-turviness of affairs.’1
In what is to follow, one point must be kept firmly in our minds: Even though many negative things will eventually come to pass, we are each called upon to swim against the tide and work against the inevitable decay. In the words of the venerable Shaykh, ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani, it is a case of us each having to ‘fight against destiny’.
Having documented several of the signs of the Hour (ashrat al-sa‘ah) in Part I of this blog piece, let us now turn to those hadiths that specifically talk about things being turned on their head; how reality will be inverted and the world made topsy-turvy:
1. The first hadith to qualify for this genre has got to be: ‘When the affair is given to other than its rightful people, then await the Final Hour (idha wussida’l-amr ila ghayri ahlihi fantazari’l-sa‘ah).2 Al-Munawi explains that when matters such as the caliphate, governance, teaching religion or the issuing of fatwas are in the hands of those who are undeserving, unsuited and unqualified for such Herculean tasks, then this signals the coming of the Hour. Why? Because such an inversion of affairs can only happen when Islam becomes weak and neglected, ignorance has conquered minds and hearts, sacred knowledge has markedly diminished in society, egos and desires rule the roost, and the people of knowledge and wisdom are unable to establish the truth or support it.3 When religious and spiritual anarchy prevail at such levels in society, where in the land of the blind the one eyed man is comfortably king and the minds of the masses comfortably numb, how can such a state of affairs not foreshadow the approaching of the Hour? Regrettably, this rot continues to fester and secrete itself into the collective Muslim psyche and social fabric; and Allah’s aid is sought.
The remedy against this malaise is to not be pretentious, sincerely remember our own levels and conduct ourselves in a way that befits a believer. The crux of this all is that we avoid meddling in matters that do not concern us, or for which we are unqualified or inexperienced – especially when it comes to matters related to sacred knowledge. For unless one has been sufficiently nurtured at the hands of wise, qualified, seasoned and compassionate teachers, and has their permission and blessing to enter into such matters, we are likely to find that we will bring about far more corruption than good, as well as be a terrible nuisance to knowledge and its people. Imam Ibn Hazm wrote: ‘There is nothing more harmful to knowledge and its people than those who enter into it, yet are not from it. They are ignorant, but think they are knowledgeable; they cause corruption while they think they are rectifying matters.’4 The prophetic caution has been issued, it’s now up to each of us to take heed.
2. The Prophet, peace be upon him, once foretold: ‘Indeed from the signs of the Hour is that the virtuous shall be demeaned and the wicked elevated.’5 It is difficult to see how virtuous people could be devalued, unless you first demote and demean morality and virtue itself. And yet this is precisely what has happened. For ours is an age (and it has been so for quite some time now) where the old certainties, and the morality that flowed from them, have been dealt a crushing blow. Although long in the making, the liberal revolution of the 1960s was the beginning of the end of England as a Christian country in terms of Christian ethics being reflected in law and Christian morals being the glue that bound society. Against the backdrop of the swinging sixties, the country witnessed a series of liberalising laws that would usher in the start of a Post-Christian milieu: suicide ceased to be a crime in 1961; and in 1967, abortion was legalised, as was homosexuality. Hereinafter there would be a parting of the ways for law and morality: the law would now intervene only to prevent individuals from harming each other. As for morality, it could no longer be thought of as the code for society. Instead, it would be relegated to an individual choice, and people would be free to indulge in whatever experiments in living they desired. Rights would soon replace responsibilities, desires would eventually trump duties and, by the 1990s, society would begin to significantly fray at the seams. There is no other choice for believers, driven as they must be by the healing lights of tawhid or Abrahamic monotheism, than to seek society’s redemption and moral restoration.
How much morality should be translated into law, and how much is to be left to the individual conscience, is a question which all civilised societies must grapple with. In Islam’s Sacred Law, ‘sins which involve injustice to others and injury to them, be it in the religious or worldly sense, are more severely punished in this world than those not entailing harm to others; despite the fact that the punishment for the latter may be greater in the Hereafter.’6 This is why, despite disobedience to parents being more morally wrong than, for instance, fornication, the shari‘ah has no fixed penalty for the former, but it does for the latter. Again, arrogance is a far greater sin than consuming alcohol; and yet there is no prescribed worldly punishment for the first, but there is for the second. ‘The reason is clear: such punishments are there to safeguard religious and worldly interests from the wrongdoing of wrongdoers, whereas the punishment of those who wrong only themselves is left to their Lord.’7
As the assault on traditional morality and virtue continues to intensify from, among other quarters, the media, movies and trash TV; and as more and more of the world is exposed to the mediocrity and moral bankruptcy of the monoculture and is gradually ‘normalised’ into it; we Muslims should be clear that ours is a religion of meritocracy. That is to say, in Islam people are valued, respected and held in high esteem according to their piety, virtue and merits. People of corrupt morals, or who lack basic adab and decency, or who wallow in self-inflicted ignorance of even the basic teachings of the faith – they may be looked upon with the eye of pity, tolerance and charity; but never with honour, distinction and approbation.
Those who have even a slight insight into the gravity of the Quranic message, or who recognise that the Sunnah came to elevate humankind and restore us to our Adamic dignity will, in all likelihood, find today’s crass (and oftentimes, vulgar and irreverent) celebrity culture more than a trifle troublesome. Surely ones ease with, or acceptance of, it simply reflects how much souls have become desensitised to virtue or how much hearts have cozied up to vice; doesn’t it?
This is why Islam puts great weight on al-amr bi’l-ma‘ruf wa’l-nahi ‘ani’l-munkar – the duty of “commanding good and forbiding wrong.” Allah, exalted is He, declares in the Qur’an: The believers, men and women, are allies one to another; they enjoin what is good and forbid what is evil. [9:71] If we are to continue to recognise and honour people of virtue and piety, so as to be inspired by their conduct and be guided by their example, then we must collectively ensure that the lines between halal and haram, virtue and vice, and morality and immorality, are not blurred or made fuzzy. For if knowledge of what constitutes virtue and vice is lost to us; if Islamic morality is made subjective to the tastes and fashions of the times, and is no longer a rock firmly planted, we shall have brought about our rack and ruin in both worlds. Immense pressure is now being brought to bear upon Muslims to do precisely this. Ibn Mas‘ud, one of Islam’s earliest converts and one of its most illustrious scholars, once heard a person say: ‘Whoever doesn’t enjoin the good or forbid evil has perished.’ To which Ibn Mas‘ud responded: ‘Rather, one whose heart doesn’t recognises good from evil perishes.’8 These words become even more meaningful if we recall the following hadith: ‘Whoever of you sees an evil, let him change it with his hand; if he is unable to do so, then with his tongue; if he is unable to do so, then with his heart – and that is the weakest of faith.’9 If the heart no longer recognise evil, let alone detests it or seeks to change it, then what type of faith is there? For in all of this, it is faith that is at stake.
3. ‘Allah does not take away knowledge by wresting it from the hearts of men; rather He takes knowledge away by taking away the scholars. So when no scholar remains, people take the ignorant as leaders who, when asked, give fatwas without knowledge: they are misguided and misguiding.’10 This hadith tells us about the public’s inability to reign in their haste and impulsiveness so as to patiently seek out qualified scholars from whom fatwas, religious rulings and guidance about the faith should be sought. Ask the people of knowledge if you do not know, is what the Qur’an says [16:43]. Things, however, have begun to be turned on their heads. Instead of the masses asking those who are qualified to give fatwas and have been schooled and authorised in fiqh, they have begun to ask any Tom, Dick or Harry, or the so-called “knowledgeable brother,” or even the now proverbial Shaykh Google! The upshot: they make the unworthy look worthy, treat the unqualified as qualified, and view the unschooled as schooled; with the ummah continuing to suffers at the hands of these imposter-muftis, cowboys da‘is and charlatan wannabe shaykhs.
In another hadith warning us against this same danger, we read: ‘From the signs of the Hour is that knowledge will be taken from the young ones.’11 These young [junior] ones (asaghir, sing. saghir) refers to either: the innovators (ahl al-bid‘ah); as Imam Ibn al-Mubarak declared, or to those who give fatwas and religious rulings without sound qualification and expertise; as per Abu ‘Ubayd and others.12 In either case, it is just as Ibn Mas‘ud, may Allah be pleased with him, cautioned: ‘People will not cease to be upon good as long as they take knowledge from their senior ones. If they take it from their junior and wicked ones, they are sure to perish.’13
What each of us must ensure is that, when it comes to seeking religious rulings and guidance, we must turn to those men or women known in society for their learning, knowledge, piety and qualification. Anything less than this will not do. The obligation on the general public is to not be slack, but rather to try their best and ask only those who they think are qualified; just as they would do in other important or crucial areas of their lives.
Similarly, mosques must ensure they do not give the pulpit to some young, half baked, hot-headed khatib. Muslim TV channels and websites which host Q&A sessions must only allow qualified people to answer the publics’ questions. And the public should, if they are unsure, ask the organisers of such shows and websites if those who are acting as muftis are qualified for the task. Let’s be clear. This is not about whether someone has memorised the Qur’an. or is a student of the sacred Islamic sciences (talib al-‘ilm), or is qualified in hadith, tafsir, tajwid or tarikh. It’s about whether they are qualified in actual fiqh and fatwa. If not; or if one is in doubt, switch channels.
4. Again from Ibn Ma‘sud: ‘You are in a time in which its scholars (‘ulema) are many and its speakers (khutaba) are few. But after you will come a time in which its scholars are few and its speakers many.’14 Again, the end times bring with it a deterioration in standards and an inversion in roles and ranks. Now since the idea of “being qualified” or “proper qualification” has been insisted upon a number of times already, let’s look at the learning and levels of the qualified scholar and muftis in more detail:
The genre of literature known as Adab al-Mufti wa’l-Mustafti – “Conduct of Muftis and of Seeking Fatwas” – lists the needed credentials in terms of being ‘alim bi ahkam al-shar‘iyyah, “learned in the rulings of the Sacred Law.”15 This requires muftis to possess thorough knowledge of: (i) The five-hundred or so legal verses in the Qur’an. (ii) The hadiths related to legal issues, along with knowing how to evaluate their authenticity and epistemological value; or to at least rely on the experts in this field. (iii) Those cases which have become subject to scholarly consensus (ijmå‘) so as not to contradict it. (iv) Theories of abrogation, so as not to rule on the basis of an abrogated verse or hadith. (v) Arabic language and its nuances, in order to understand literal and metaphorical useage; general and particular discourse; idioms; and also equivocal and unequivocal speech. (iv) The procedural methods of analogical deduction (qiyas) and inferential reasoning (istinbat).
The legal literature also states that the term mufti is synonymous with mujtahid – one capable of ijtihad: of extracting or infering rulings directly from the foundational texts (i.e. the Qur’an and Sunnah). A mufti who has gained complete mastery in the above-listed qualifications is called an absolute mujtahid (mujtahid mutlaq). A mufti who has gained expertise, but not complete mastery, in these ijtihad credentials is a mujtahid bound by the legal framework of a law-school (mujtahid fi’l-madhhab). In both cases, these two mujtahids work with the foundational texts: the first does so unrestrictedly and directly; the second, according to the methodological principles of his law-school or madhhab.
Below these two are muftis who are “non-mujtahids.” They too are of varying ranks. There is the mufti who, although not capable of ijtihad, is highly versed in his school’s modes of legal reasoning and analogy; has committed to memory its rulings; and is able to defend, refine and resolve ambiguous cases – tilting the scales in favour of one of two or more opinions on the matter. He can even infer rulings for new cases based on established precedents of the school. Then there are muftis who are trained jurists, but their skills are limited to distinguishing between the authoritative (mu‘tamad) and less authoritative positions of their school, as well as memorising its issues (masa’il), or positive law.
Finally comes the mufti who is a poorly trained jurist and is unable to distinguish left from right. What he does have going for him, though, is a competency to transmit the authoritative rulings of the school on any or most given issues, with reliable accuracy. His level is ifta’ bi’l-hifz – “issuing fatwa by having carefully and diligently memorised the school’s legal rulings.” In the absence of other types of muftis, lay people and other non-muftis are obliged to ask such trained transmitters of law and legal rulings.16
Before soldiering on, a few remarks are in order. Firstly, barring the last type of mufti, all the others engage in highly complex modes of legal reasoning and juristic activity. Secondly, in our age, when we say that so-and-so is a mufti, we don’t mean that he is a mujtahid, but rather that he gives fatwas based on the books and rulings of his law school, or upon the ijtihad of a mujtahid he is following in the issue. That is, muftis of today do not infer legal rulings themselves from the root sources. Thirdly, although in Islam’s earlier period muftis were invariably mujtahids, the term was widened at some later point to include non-mujtahid jurists too, out of a pressing need (hajah).17 And finally, in terms of the levels of muftiship today, most muftis fall into the last category; some in the two levels above; fewer in the mujtahid level (either mujtahid in specific areas of the law, like marriage, divorce, inheritance, or finance; or the rarer mujtahid fi’l-madhhab). As for the absolute mujtahid, from what my scholars and teachers have taught me, they have been absent from the ummah for a very long time now.
Even with just a casual grasp of the above levels, the distinction between the qualified scholar or mufti, and between the religious activist or da’i will be clear. The former are qualified; the latter more often than not lack legal qualifications and fiqh schooling. Fatwa and religious instruction is sought from the former, not the latter. In fact, the latter are themselves in need of the former. As for the vague, new-fangled category of the “knowledgeable brother,” it would be best if we stopped using such a meaningless classification. For one’s knowledge either qualifies her or him to give religious rulings and fatwas, or it doesn’t. For one is either followed in knowledge, or else one follows and imitates; and in both there is goodness. One hadith says: ‘Whoever gives a fatwa without due knowledge, shall bear the sin of those he gave it to.’18
5. Our final hadith depicting the topsy-turviness of the End Days is this one: ‘There shall come upon people years of deceit in which the liar will be believed, the truthful one disbelieved, the treacherous will be trusted, the trustworthy deemed treacherous; and the Ruwaybidah will speak out.’ They asked: Who are the Ruwaybidah? To which the Prophet, peace be upon him, replied: ‘The lowly, contemptible one who will speak out about public affairs.’19 This particular inversion of affairs usually plays itself out in matters related to society and politics.
Scholarly commentaries do not specify exactly who the Ruwaybidah are, but do point out their traits. Lexically, being the diminutive or tasghir of the word rabidah (“lowly”, “good for nothing”, “worthless”), the Ruwaybidah are lower than worthless: they are utterly worthless. These are people who are incapable of rising up to distinction, lack integrity and, above all, possess little more than a glimmer of religious knowledge.20 In spite of this, they feel to speak out about socio-political affairs beyond their grasp and experience. They feel to offer fatwas and act as social commentators, based upon their whims and ignorance. They presume to be sincere advisors to the ummah, while being infantile in their understanding and wet behind the ears! And those who speak from ignorance will, ultimately, do more harm than good.
In one verse of the Qur’an which speaks of society and politics, we learn this pivotal rule of conduct: 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 among them who are able to investigate and think out the matter would then know [what to do with] it. [4:83]
Imam al-Sa‘di shed more light on the verse, saying: ‘This is a counsel from Allah, to His servants, about their unsuitable conduct. And that it is imperative for them, when there comes to them news about crucial affairs of public benefit – like those related to the security and welfare of the believers, or to breaches of security and calamities afflicting them – that they must first verify such things and not be hasty in spreading such news. Instead, they should refer such matters to the Messenger, or to those in authority among them: those possessed of sound judgement, learning, intelligence, sincere advice, calmness and composure; those who understand such issues and have knowledge of the associated benefits and harms.’21 It wasn’t too long ago, in the not so distant past, that we the ummah deferred to knowledge, wisdom and dispassionate worldly discernment. The Ruwaybidah, however, are contagious; like rabies, they have infected a significant part of the ummah. And social media continues to be a perfect platform for their madness to spread. A calm, yet courageous commitment to taqwa, and a return to knowledge and its people, is the only inoculation we have against the Ruwaybidah rabies; and Allah’s help is sought.
As the Final Hour closes in, the world is indeed getting more and more topsy-turvy. Currently, the ummah is in a state of weakness, chaos and confusion. Externally, our way of life is threatened by liberalism’s bulldozer, which seeks to flatten all voices of dissent; particularly the Ishmaelite one. Internally, we are weak, woefully divided, and plagued by extremism and religious anarchy. And yet believers despair not. For out of this weakness, confusion and chaos the Mahdi shall come!
4. Ibn Hazm al-Zahiri, al-Akhlaq wa’l-Siyar fi Mudawat al-Nufus (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1985), 24.
5. Al-Hakim, Mustadrak, 4:554. Its narrators are all those of the Sahih, as stated by al-Haythami, Majma‘ al-Zawa’id (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 2001), 7:326.
6. Ibn Taymiyyah, Majmu‘ Fatawa (Riyadh: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 1991), 28:181.
7. ibid., 28:182.
8. Al-Tabarani, Mu‘jam al-Kabir, no.8564. Its chain is sahih, as Shu‘ayb al-Arna’ut said in his crititical edition of Ibn Rajab, Jami‘ al-‘Ulum wa’l-Hikam (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1998), 2:245.
9. Muslim, no.49.
10. Al-Bukhari, no.100; Muslim, no.2673.
11. Ibn al-Mubarak, al-Zuhd (Riyadh: Dar al-Mi‘raj, 1995), no.52. Its chain is excellent (jayyid), according al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1985), 2:316; no.695.
12. See: Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr, Jami‘ Bayan al-‘Ilm wa Fadlihi (Riyadh: Dar Ibn al-Jawzi, 1995), 612-17; nos.1052-60.
13. ibid., no.1057.
14. Al-Tabarani, Mu‘jam al-Kabir, no.8066; Abu Khaythamah, al-‘Ilm, 109. Its chain was graded as sahih in Ibn Hajr al-‘Asqalani, Fath al-Bari (Egypt: al-Matba‘ah al-Salafiyyah, n.d.), 10:510.
15. Consult: al-Khatib, al-Faqih wa’l-Mutafaqqih (Riyadh: Dar al-Ifta, 1968), 2:330-31; al-Nawawi, al-Majmu‘ (Beirut: Dar Ihya Turath al-‘Arabi, 1996), 1:72-96; Ibn al-Qayyim, I‘lam al-Muwaqqi‘in (Riyadh: Dar Ibn al-Jawziyyah, 2003), 6:40-208.
16. Culled from: Ibn al-Qayyim, I‘låm al-Muwaqqi‘in, 6:125-28; Ibn al-Salah, Adab al-Mufti wa’l-Mustafti (Beirut: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 1986), 87-102.
17. See: I‘låm al-Muwaqqi‘in, 2:86.
18. Ibn Majah, Sunan, no.54. It was declared sahihby al-Suyuti, as per al-Munawi, Fayd al-Qadir, 6:77.
19. Ibn Majah, no.4036; al-Hakim, Mustadrak, 4:465, who said: ‘Its chain is sahih.‘
20. As per al-Sindi, Sunan Ibn Majah bi Sharh al-Sindi (Beirut: Dar al-Ma‘rifah, 1996), 4:377.
21. Taysir al-Karim al-Rahman (Dammam: Dar Ibn al-Jawzi, 2011), 193-4.
In H.G. Wells’ The Sleeper Awakes, Graham, a troubled insomniac in 1890s England, falls into a sleep-like trance that he does not awake from for over two hundred years. When he finally does come out of his slumber, he awakens to a world with wondrous technological trappings, yet staggering social injustice and growing unrest. Horrified by the stark contradictions and by the mass poverty, tyranny and malcontent in this disturbing technopolis, Graham says in utter anguish and regret: ‘We were making the future, and hardly any of us troubled to think what future we were making. And here it is!’
H.G. Wells wrote a number of books that he described as ‘fantasias of possibilities’, in which he explored the potential dangers of unchecked capitalism and technological advancement and the kind of society this could lead to. The grim dystopias he earlier envisaged would, in his later life, give way to a fragile optimism, a more hopeful future; but one where much evil would yet be in store for mankind.
It seems a fundamental human need to want to have an overarching life narrative. We human beings are tellers of tales who, it seems, cannot be happy unless we can see the world as a story. Wells’ healthy scepticism was well-founded. The great narrative that dominated much of the twentieth century was the myth that secular progress would ultimately liberate the human creature and bring into being global peace and human happiness. Two World Wars (secular wars) that maimed and killed in the hundreds of millions should have given a lie to this myth and disabused society of this falsehood. Instead, it was explained away by the priests of progress as a temporary glitch in the matrix of modernity.
Other secular horrors would follow in the hallowed name of progress and modernity. Yet the promise of a world where its worst evils would be eradicated – war, hunger, poverty and sickness – has still to materialise.
Of the two ‘versions’ of the secular story, communism and capitalism, it is the latter that has eventually triumphed. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, in 1989, some rejoiced in the “End of History”. From here on in, only one variety of governance would be legitimate: Western-style (or rather American-style) capitalist democracies. This, we are assured, is either the best of what there is or the least worst of what is on offer. The mandate for global democracy, though, is oftentimes seen by much of the world as a self-serving pretext for American military and economic interests. If the backlash to it increases and intensifies in its violence, it should come as no huge surprise.
Secularism isn’t quite the Muslim story. To the degree that the Western secular story marginalises God and the quest for spiritual growth, to that extent it is at loggerheads with faith. Islam’s vision of society is not theocratic; it is, however, theocentric. Islam, wrote Shalabi, ‘provides man with a spiritual technology by which he may come to know his Creator, thereby fulfilling the function for which he was made, and it is precisely because this process is of such overriding importance that the function of society must rise above that of the provision of man’s material needs and must seek to provide him with the best possible environment in which to carry out this project of self-discovery and realization. Thus Islam’s concern with politics.’1
How the sharia (shari‘ah) applies in today’s world or how it is to shape public life or the public space in Muslim majority countries is, currently, an open-ended question. At present, there is no one model of how public life in Muslim countries ought to reflect religious values and laws. Indeed, given that the sharia is not a monolithic set of laws, and the extraordinary diversity of the Muslim world, there is unlikely to be a ‘one-hat-fits all-sizes’ model. It is something which Muslim jurists and policy makers need to resolve in their own lands and on their own terms, as they keep in mind that the sharia has something known as thawabit wa’l-mutaghayyirat – laws which are fixed and unchangeable, and those that are open to adaption and alteration.
Although it is true that some Muslims welcome the privatisation of faith and believe that life would be freer, easier and more progressive if religion were kept out of the public space, most still hold to the belief that the collective, socio-political concerns of believers are still best dealt with in the light of God’s guidance. Attempts to interfere with the public expression of Islam in Muslim majority countries, or thwart the right of Muslims to self–determination, is seen by many (not without rhyme or reason) as a war against Islam and the Muslim religious way of life.
As for Muslims living under British secular democracy, their reality is very different. The task for them is about how they can best remain conscientious believers, whilst being responsible citizens in a secular society. Here, four attitudes or strategies may be broadly discerned:
First, there is the bubble model. This is where Muslims accept their secular reality, but do their best to opt-out of engaging with wider society or appeal to secular legislation as far as possible. Instead, they insulate themselves, live out their lives according to their faith as best as can be done, and resort to sharia counsels to settle disputes on family issues, inheritance and some commercial matters. These sharia tribunals are similar to Jewish beth-din courts and operate within the framework of British law that currently permits third-party arbitration. Such isolationism, however, is religiously unwarranted and practically unwise.
The second outlook is one of engagement. As above, there is a firm commitment to putting one’s faith into practice, but emphasis is placed on participating in wider civil society and on forging alliances with others who also seek to defend more traditional values against a liberalism that grows ever more totalising and intolerant. There is increasing awareness that if we are to help guide Europe back to God, we need allies (like traditionally-minded Christians and Jews) who share a similar vision of a more spiritual, just and compassionate society and who have the will to question the liberal orthodoxies of the age. This is not merely about homosexuality, gay marriages, or the undermining of traditional marriage and family; it is deeper than that. Modernity is founded on a set of materialist assumptions about human nature which empties life of dignity, purpose and divinity – for we are, after all, products of ‘mere chance’ – and in its sheer greed and arrogance has pushed the planet to the very edge of ecological destruction. Even when the materialist sees beauty in the world, it is no more than sentimentality. To him, the world is still only fodder for the human animal and grist for his mills.
That being so, Abdal Hakim Murad’s Contention [13/6] is possibly the only sane faith-based response to such a materialist Monoculture: ‘It is better to engage fully with the Monoculture from a position of dislike than to engage partly with it from a position of admiration.’
And while the secular Monoculture does not stop Muslims from theologically seeing non-Muslims as inferior, in terms of religious truths and recipients of God’s specific grace, it does require that they be seen as equals in terms of citizenship and political rights. Such a political courtesy is what believers ought to exemplify.
Moreover, secularism in its current liberal image is not too concerned with our creed or ‘aqidah, as it is the social conservatism of most Muslims. That is, Brussels couldn’t care less whether the divine attributes are open to ta‘wil or figurative interpretation, or what types of tawassul are sanctioned by Scripture. However, they are concerned about whether or not Muslims believe in feminism and sexual liberalisation, or accept the legitimacy of gay marriages and the homosexual agenda. So let us not be confused from whence the storm is coming.
While the unfailing light of Revelation tells us that the act of homosexuality is sinful and immoral, “Will you commit foulness such as no creature ever did before you? For you come with lust to men instead of women; you are indeed a transgressing people” [7:80-1], we needn’t voice our opposition to it in hostile rage or violence; but rather peacefully, calmly, without calling for persecution. Mercy is better than malice; understanding better than recrimination.
As for the inquisition or Islamophobia being dolled out by the liberal stalwarts against those who oppose certain sexual practices, let us respond with restraint, dignity and tolerance. And nor should their intimidation and bullying cause us to cower, or fail to state the correct ruling on the matter.
The third strategy is the Islamisation one, devotees of which feel obliged to overturn the secular order so that it accords with sharia laws. Here, it is not merely one or two liberal or secular deviations that are of concern; instead it is the entire secular edifice. Although peddled by right-wing Islamophobes and growing sections of the media as being the true agenda of most Islamic groups, it is a fringe view usually held by those driven by large helpings of religious zealotry, but little religious fiqh.
Not to be misconstrued, this in no way refers to the proselytising strategy which gives priority to the moral, spiritual and unitarian beliefs of Islam, and which uses the art of reason and persuasion, invitation and exhortation, to achieve its ends. Inviting to God and improving society in terms of social justice and moral and spiritual integrity, lies at the heart of a believer’s concern. Instead, what is meant by ‘Islamisation’ is that bent of mind which insists religion must be wedded to and bedded by politics, and is obsessed with forcing Islamic penal laws upon society at the expense of inviting it to Abrahamic monotheism (tawhid), the pillars of Muslim practice, and the moral legacy of Islam.
Hostility and confrontation characterise such extremists; violence is also not ruled out in this strategy. Angry young men holding placards denouncing the West, calling for beheadings, spouting intolerance of others, and basking in gratuitous offence of non-Muslims have become iconic of such mindsets.
No doubt, our personal moral values can and often do influence our political choices and actions. But religion’s attempt to force its standards onto wider society is likely to be met with vigorous resistance. For it is in the nature of human beings that whenever something is thrust down their throats, there is a reflex tendency to vomit it up again. Call to the path of your Lord with wisdom and kindly exhortation, and reason with them in the most courteous manner [16:125] cannot be ignored or overlooked here.
In fact, what is the wisdom behind raging for the Islamisation of Britain while anti-Muslim sentiment across Britain and Europe is rising to alarming levels? If anything, classical jurists, like al-Mawardi and al-Nawawi, stipulate that Muslims may reside as a minority in non-Muslim lands (provided they can practice and maintain the basic duties and prescriptions of their faith) without the need to seek for the dominance of Islamic law.2
This is also the view of Ibn Taymiyyah who – when speaking of the Muslim migrants to Abyssinia and its king, the Negus who, having secretly converted to Islam was not able to openly declare his faith – concedes: ‘The Negus was unable to implement the laws of the Qur’an since his people would never have allowed him to do so … Yet the Negus and those like him found their way to Paradise (al-najashi wa amthaluhu sa‘ada fi’l-jannah), even though they were unable to observe the rules of Islam or could only abide by such rules as could be implemented in their given circumstances.’3
Again, what is the logic in being obsessed with wanting the full force of Islamic law on a Britain that has all but eliminated prejudice against foreigners, gays and blacks, but where Islamophobia – prejudice against Islam – remains the last socially accepted form of bigotry. Strategies that eclipse the invitation to belief in God and faith in His beauty and oneness, by unnecessary demands for Islamic law, aren’t only at odds with religion and reason, they are damaging and dangerous too.
The fourth strategy argues for a robust defence of secularism and liberal values. This is championed by an allegedly benign Islamic liberalism which, more often than not, shows itself to be as intolerant and narrow as the very extremists it so despises. It is a liberalism that aims to curtail anything distinctly Islamic to exit the home or mosque and enter the public space. Such an outlook is regarded, and quite understandably so, with deep suspicion by most Muslims, who see in this religious reductionism nothing but a pandering to the tastes of the times. It is seen more as a case of following hawa; whims, than following huda; right guidance! Their “reinterpretations” of religion are as reckless as they are repugnant. Such anxious-to-please, brow beaten Muslims are now popping up everywhere: yet ‘they are no use to their communities, or, ultimately, to their hosts, for they cannot function as healers, but only as a chorus of frightened eulogists.’4
The above depiction isn’t the whole story, it is a mere outline. There are, for instance, large numbers of Muslims who have no strategy; no agenda. For they have either not given the issue much thought, or else it is about taking each day as it comes, trying to keep their heads above water in terms of carrying out the daily demands of their faith. What many of them do intuit, however, is that hostility towards Islam is likely to grow and intensify as secular (liberal) dogmas attempt to impose themselves on society and further suffocate the insights of faith.
1. Islam: Religion of Life (USA: Starlatch Press, 2001), 21.
2. As per al-Nawawi, al-Majmu‘ Sharh al-Muhadhdhab (Beirut: Dar al-Fikr, 2000), 21:7.
3. Majmu‘ Fatawa (Riyadh: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 1991), 19:218-19.
4. Murad, Commentary on the Eleventh Contentions (Cambridge: The Quillium Press, 2012), 68; no.39.
Takfir – accusing a fellow Muslim of apostasy; of having left the fold of Islam and being a disbeliever (kafir) – is indeed a grave affair in Islam. It is a fitnah, or “sedition,” whose flames were historically put out by the defeat of the Kharijites (khawarij), only to be set alight again in our times, on a global scale, by a highly-politicised reading of Islam. It is one of the worst fitnahs of our age, continuing to ensnare into its ghastly traps many a well-intended Muslim. But, as one piece of ancient wisdom goes, wa kam min muridin li’l-khayr lan yusibahu – ‘How many people intend good, but never reach it.’1
What follows is an elaboration of the basic rules and guidelines concerning the matter of takfir – of declaring another Muslim a kafir. For the purpose of clarity, the discussion has been divided into ten points or rules:
RULE ONE: Imam al-Shawkani (d.1250H/1834CE) sets the tone about the huge danger of rushing into making takfir, saying: ‘Know that judging a Muslim to have left the fold of Islam and entered into disbelief is something no Muslim who believes in Allah and the Last Day would proceed to do, except with a proof more evident than even the day time sun. It is confirmed in the authentic hadiths, related by a group of Companions, that: “Whoever says to his brother, ‘O disbeliever,’ it returns to one of them.”2 Its like occurs in the Sahih. And in another wording in the Two Sahihs and others: “Whoever accuses someone of disbelief, or of being an enemy of Allah, while he is not like that, it will return back to him.”3 In one of the Sahihs, the wording is: “It returns to one of the two.” So there are in these hadiths, and their like, the severest reprimand and greatest warning against hastening to make takfir.’4
RULE TWO: In terms of “stepping outside” the fold of Islam, the rule in this respect is: la yakhruju’l-‘abd min al-iman illa bi juhudi ma adkhalahu fihi – ‘A person does not step outside of belief, except by rejecting what brought him into it.’5 Classical law manuals will usually contain a chapter on apostasy and what necessitates it. Thus, for instance, Ibn Qudamah’s (d.641H/1267CE) authoratative fiqh manual, al-Kafi, states:
‘Apostasy (riddah) occurs by retracting the two shahadahs, or any one of them; vilifying Allah, Exalted and Holy is He, or His Prophet, upon whom be peace; falsely impugning the honour of the Prophet’s mother; rejecting any part of the Book of Allah; [rejecting] one of His prophets, or one of His books; rejecting a clear-cut agreed upon obligation, like the five [pillars of] worship; making lawful a well-known agreed upon prohibition, like wine, pork, carrion, blood, illicit intercourse or the like.
‘If this happens due to the person’s ignorance, or him being a recent convert to Islam, or his awakening from insanity and the like – he does not become a disbeliever, but is apprised of the law [on these issues] and of its proof. But if he persists, he does become a disbeliever, because the proofs of these clear-cut matters are evident in the Book of Allah and in the Sunnah of His Prophet. The rejection [of these matters] does not stem save from a person who gives the lie to Allah’s Book and to the Sunnah of His Prophet, peace be upon him.’6
RULE THREE: It is vital to understand at this point that denial (juhud), and “giving the lie to” (takdhib), are radically different from the act of just committing a sin (ma‘siyah). To clarify the point: A Muslim who drinks alcohol or eats pork, believing it to be sinful or forbidden – not intending to mock, deny or reject the shari‘ah – is still a Muslim (though a sinful one); who is required to repent and refrain from such sin. If, however, he believes it lawful to consume alcohol or pork, rejecting or shrugging-off the Qur’an’s prohibition, he denies a clear-cut Islamic edict and rejects an explicit divinely-revealed ruling; thus nullifying his faith and leaving the fold of Islam. That is to say, he becomes an apostate (murtadd) – God forbid!
The same goes for one who considers lawful stealing, murder, illicit intercourse – be it hetrosexual or homosexual – or any other prohibition which is clear and agreed upon. The same rule holds in the case of one who rejects or denies an established obligation such as the five daily prayers, the fast of Ramadan, zakat, or ensuring lawful income.
RULE FOUR: A common problem is that some people today, when they read in a book of Islamic law, or theology, phrases like: ‘Whoever does such and such has disbelieved,’ or: ‘Whoever believes such and such is a disbeliever,’ they jump to the conclusion that Muslims they know or have heard of, who hold such views, are kafirs. In their zealotry, or folly, these people have failed to uphold the distinction between a general charge of disbelief (takfir ‘amm), and between the charge of disbelief upon a particular individual (takfir mu‘ayyan). Ibn Taymiyyah (d.728H/1328CE) stated: ‘They have not given proper consideration that making takfir has certain conditions (shurut) and impediments (mawani‘) that must be actualised if it is to be applied to a specific individual. Because a general declaration of takfir doesn’t imply takfir upon a specific individual – unless if the conditions are fulfilled and the impediments lifted.’7
Ibn Taymiyyah reitterates the same principle that: laysa kullu man waqa‘a fi’l-kufr sara kafir – ‘Not everyone who falls into disbelief, becomes a disbeliever [because of it].’ He writes elsewhere: ‘It does not necessary follow that if a statement is disbelief, all those who said it – perhaps out of ignorance or misinterpretation – are disbelievers. Since affirming that a specific Muslim has become a disbeliever is like affirming the textual threat will be applied to him in the Hereafter. And this, as we explained elsewhere, has conditions that need fulfilling and impediments that need removing.’8
Again, from a slightly different angle, he says: ‘The textual threats which occur in the Book and the Sunnah, or words where the Imams make takfir or declare a person to be a reprobate (tafsiq), or the like, doesn’t necessitate it applies to a specific individual: except if the conditions are present and the impediments absent.’9
RULE FIVE: Just what are these conditions and impediments which need actualising, before a particular charge of takfir can be levied against a specific individual?
Essentially, there are three condition and impediments: (i) ‘Ilm: the person must have knowledge of the prohibition and not be ignorant (jahl) of it – to be discussed in more detail below. (ii) Qasd: it must be deliberate, intentional; not ghayr qasid, unintended. (iii) Ikhtiyar: the person must have freely chosen to do it, not being under compulsion (jabr): Whoever disbelieves in Allah after he has believed – except he who was forced, while his heart remained secure in faith – but those who open their breast to disbelief, upon them will be anger from Allah, and there awaits them a formidable torment. [16:106]10
RULE SIX: As for knowledge (‘ilm), then careful juristic consideration shows it to be of three categories: Firstly, matters of Islam which everyone knows – whether scholar or layman, young or old. Such matters are technically referred to as al-ma‘lum min al-din bi’l-darurah – “Necessarily known to be part of the religion”. Secondly, issues which not everybody knows. Thirdly, matters differed upon by the scholars.11
RULE SEVEN: Denying anything of the first category of knowledge amounts to clear and manifest disbelief, for there is no excuse not to know these things in the lands of Islam except for someone who is a recent convert, or was raised in the wilderness or in a place where ignorance of the religion was rife and widespread. In this case, such people are treated like those from the second category.
Al-Nawawi (d.676H/1277CE) wrote: ‘Whoever denies something necessarily known to be of the religion of Islam is declared an apostate and disbeliever; unless he is a recent convert, or grew up in the wilderness, or for some similar reason was unable to learn his religion properly. He must be apprised of the truth. But if he continues as before, he is judged to be a non-Muslim. This is the same as with any Muslim who believes it lawful to commit adultery, drink wine, kill, or commit other acts that are necessarily known to be unlawful.’12
Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah said: ‘Many people are born and raised in places and times where much of the prophetic teaching has been extinguished, to the extent that nothing remains of what Allah sent His Prophet with of the Book and the Wisdom. Such people cannot be charged with disbelief. This is why the Imams are agreed that someone who is born and raised in the desert regions, far from the people of learning and faith, or is a recent convert to Islam, and he denies any of the manifest clear-cut rulings, must not be judged a disbeliever until he learns about what the Prophet came with.’13
RULE EIGHT: Denying something of the second category – issues of the faith that not everyone knows – is only disbelief if one persists in denying it after he is made to understand that it is part of what Allah sent His Prophet, peace be upon him, with as religion. Before this he is excused for not knowing, because of it being inaccessible to him, or it is beyond what he is reasonably expected to know. The Qur’an states: We burden not any soul beyond its scope. [6:152] And: Nor do We punish until We have sent a Messenger. [17:15]
Also, Jabir relates: A donkey that had been branded on the face passed by the Prophet, upon whom be peace, and he said: ‘Is there anyone among you who has not heard that I have cursed those who brand or strike an animal’s face?’14 That is, whosoever has not heard it – i.e. does not know it – is not culpable of it, even if he did it.
RULE NINE: As for the third category – matters which scholars differ about – then such issues cannot be used as a yardstick to cast aspersions on someone’s orthodoxy; let alone charge them with disbelief!
This is the case provided it is a legitimate scholarly position – one which stems from a scholar qualified to make ijtihad or “juristic inference”; that the view not contradict a text which is qat‘i al-thubut and qat‘i al-dalalah – that is, “unquestionably established in its authenticity” and “incontestable in its meaning”; that it not oppose an ijma‘ or “juristic consensus”; and that it not be shadhdh; “irregular” or “anomalous” according to the canons of Islamic law.15
RULE TEN: Given the depth and subtleties involved in charging a particular Muslim with disbelief or apostasy; given also the immense enormity of doing so without due precaution or the prerequisite knowledge, such takfir must be left to the qualified and seasoned God-fearing scholars; and none else.
Indeed, no one should be desirous for a fellow Muslim to be expelled from the fold of the religion. The Prophet’s example – after all, it is he who is our exemplar – teaches us the utmost concern a Muslim must have for the guidance and welfare of others. One hadith states: ‘My example and yours may be likened to a man who kindled a fire, and when it had lit up its surroundings, flies and moths started falling into it. And although he tried to prevent them, they got the better of him and flew into it. In a like manner, I am holding you around your waists, pulling you away from the Fire, but you are trying to get free and rush head long into it.’16
Thus, a highly cautious and restrained Ibn Taymiyyah remarks that: ‘I am always – as those who sit with me know from me – from the strictest of people in forbidding that a specific person be accused of disbelief, iniquity (fisq) or sinfulness till the proof has been established to him, such that the one contravening it is, at times, a disbeliever; at times, a reprobate; and at other times, a sinner. And I affirm that Allah excuses this ummah its mistakes, whether it be in matters of beliefs or actions.’17
And Allah knows best.
1. These are the words of the famous Companion ‘Abd Allah b. Mas‘ud, as recorded by al-Darimi, Sunan (Karachi: Qadami Kutub Khanah, n.d.), 1:78-9, no.204.
2. Muslim, Sahih, no.60.
3. ibid., no.61.
4. Al-Sayl al-Jarrar (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1985), 4:578.
5. Cf. The Creed of Imam al-Tahawi (USA: Zaytuna Institute, 2007), §.79
6. Al-Kafi (Riyadh: Dar Hajr, 1997), 5:319-20.
7. Majmu‘ Fatawa (Riyadh: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 1991),12:487-8.
8. Minhaj al-Sunnah (Riyadh: Jami‘ah Muhammad b. Sa‘ud, 1986), 5:240.
9. Majmu‘ Fatawa, 10:372. Also cf. 35:165-6.
10. Consult: al-Bassam, Nayl al-Ma’arib fi Tahdhib Sharh ‘Umdat al-Talib (Riyadh: Dar al-Mayman, 2005), 4:357-60; al-Jibrin, Dawabit Takfir al-Mu‘ayyan (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Rushd, 2005); 10-25. I thank Shaykh Salim al-Amri for gifting me this last treatise.
11. Consult: al-Khatib al-Baghdadi, al-Faqih wa’l-Mutafaqqih (Dammam: Dar Ibn al-Jawzi, 1996), 1:434.
12. Sharh Sahih Muslim (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1995),1:134.