Category: History&Society

A Degree Over Women? Gender Equity and Quran 2:228

(ii) “A degree over women”

And due to the wives is similar to what is expected of them, according to what is reasonable, and men have a degree over them.” (Qur’an, 2:228)

The “degree” that men have over women, unspecified in the Qur’anic text, has given rise to a range of different suggested interpretations, some of which clearly hold little weight (such as the view that it refers to the beard!). The eminent traditionist-exegete Tabari (d. 310 H), after quoting all the transmitted opinions, concluded that the strongest view is that men are being instructed to unconditionally fulfill their duties and responsibilities in full, while being forgiving of women if they fall short in their duties; i.e. it is a degree of responsibility, rather than privilege. Tabari and others have narrated this view, with isnad, from Ibn `Abbas, an eminent exegete from among the companions of the Prophet.

According to traditional Muslim understandings of gender roles (I will not address Muslim feminist interpretations), men also are expected to lead the family unit (every social unit needs one person in charge, in order to function efficiently), but this leadership neither implies a superiority (remember when Abu Bakr was appointed Caliph, he said, “I have been appointed to lead you, but I am not the best among you”), nor is it supposed to be a means for overbearingness or tyranny. Rather, the relationship between husband and wife is to be based on love, compassion and cooperation, and includes consultation.

“And of His signs is that He created for you from yourselves mates that you may find tranquillity in them; and He placed between you affection and mercy.” (Qur’an, 30:21)

“And the believers, men and women, are protecting friends one of another” (Qur’an, 9:71)

“….and whose affair is [determined by] consultation among themselves” (Qur’an, 42:38)

The alleged hadith, “Consult with [women] and then do the opposite of what they advise,” has no authentic chain of narration back to the Prophet (as pointed out, for example, by Sakhawi in al-Maqasid al-Hasana), and is likely a sheer fabrication. Among the more striking narrations showing that the Prophet (s) valued the opinions of women is the famous incident at Hudaybiyah, in which he acted on advice from his wife Umm Salamah on a matter of great religious and public significance.

Gender Equity and Quran 4:34

A previous post showed the basic spiritual equality of men and women, as derived from the Quran. We now need to look more closely at three verses that are sometimes misunderstood to conclude an automatic superiority for men:

(i) “Men are in charge of [taking care of] women by [right of] what Allah has given one over the other and what they spend [for maintenance] from their wealth. ” (Qur’an, 4:34)

(ii) “And due to the wives is similar to what is expected of them, according to what is reasonable. But the men have a degree over them.” (Qur’an, 2:228)

(iii) “And the male is not like the female.” (Qur’an, 3:36)

(i) Men are qawwamun over women”

“Men are in charge of [taking care of] women by [right of] what Allah has given one over the other and what they spend [for maintenance] from their wealth. ” (Qur’an, 4:34)

Firstly, the Qur’an has told us clearly that the criterion for superiority before Allah is taqwa, not gender:

“Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you.” (Qur’an, 49:13)

Indeed, no Muslim man would dare claim that, merely by being male, he is better than Lady Khadijah, Lady Fatimah, or the Virgin Mary!

Remember also that two verses before this (4:32), we were reminded that men and women have each been blessed in different ways by Allah. What the verse 4:34 is telling us, therefore, is that men have the responsibility of taking care of women, because (generally) their constitution and nature are such that they are more capable or working and providing physical protection and defense.

Secondly, note that the wording is not فضلهم عليهن (which would clearly mean: graced/blessed men over  women) but rather: بِمَا فَضَّلَ ٱللَّهُ بَعْضَهُمْ عَلَىٰ بَعْضٍ literally: “has graced some of them over others.”  Shaykh al-Sha`rawi, the famous 20th-century Egyptian (male) scholar of tafsir, pointed out that although men may be graced/blessed in one aspect, they are less endowed in other respects, and that the two genders have complementary roles in which each utilizes their respective strengths to support the other. The 3rd-century theologian and polymath `Uthman al-Jahiz has pointed out several aspects in which women can be considered superior to men, including various positive traits of character (remember the Prophet (s) was described as more modest than a virgin in her chamber), and the fact that there has been a woman (the Virgin Mary) for whom Allah created a child without male involvement, but there has never ben a man for whom Allah made a child without female involvement. Contemporary female Syrian scholar Hanan Lahham expressed succinctly the logical conclusion to make from 4:34, tying together the concepts that were already known to earlier exegetes (mufassireen), even if they didn’t express it so explicitly. She writes that, “Allah granted to each gender characteristics that help them to perform their roles; the intended meaning is not a superiority of one gender over the other.”

The verse (4:34) also intimates that some women have certain superiorities over some men, and vice-versa. Thus, some women might be physically stronger, or more capable breadwinners, than some men. None of this is ruled out by the verse, nor by the labelling of men as maintainers, because as `Allamah Ibn `Ashur (a high-ranking 20th century Tunisian scholar) has commented in his tafsir, what the verse is describing is not a universal but a customary norm. (We may note, in passing that patriarchically organized societies have dominated human history for several millenia.) Even among pre-modern mufassirin, the possibility had been raised that this verse conveys that there are some women who are better than many men. In fact, the famous medieval linguist and mufassir, Abu Hayyan al-Andalusi, mentioned the possibility (suggested by the verse) that the term “men” (الرجال) in the verse (4:34) refers not to gender (for otherwise the term “males” (الذكور) could have been used) but only to those males who are deserving of being called “men” by virtue of their strength, wisdom and resoluteness. A lot of women would not be able to fully respect a man who does not live up to his expected role. Thus, many of the fuqaha allow a wife to annul the marriage if the husband is not able to provide financial support to his wife. (Of course, she has the option of remaining with him and being patient, and also the option of spending her own money on the household, and can expect reward from Allah for doing so, but she is not obliged to do either of these).

 

-Suheil Laher

Spiritual Equality of Men and Women

Umm Salamah asked the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), “Why is it that men are mentioned in the Qur’an, but we women are not mentioned?” In response, Allah sent down a verse1.

“Indeed, the Muslim men and Muslim women, the believing men and believing women, the obedient men and obedient women, the truthful men and truthful women, the patient men and patient women, the humble men and humble women, the charitable men and charitable women, the fasting men and fasting women, the men who guard their private parts and the women who do so, and the men who remember Allah often and the women who do so – for them Allah has prepared forgiveness and a great reward.” (Qur’an, 33:35)

This is one of several Qur’anic verses that establishes the essential spiritual equality of men and women. Other verses tell us that believers – men and women – will receive light on the Day of Judgment, will enter Paradise, will not be wronged in the least, will be rewarded according to the best of their actions, and will be given provision without account. (See: Qur’an, 3:195, 4:124, 16:97. 40:40, 57:12).

Hence, Muslim scholars often mention a general principle:

النساء شقائق الرجال

Women are the counterparts of men.”2

This means that every right and obligation that applies to men applies equally to women, unless there is clear evidence to the contrary. Remember that, given the societal setup and norms of 7th-century Arabia, the Prophet (s) was, naturally, spending more time with men than with women, and so the wording of his statements would nomally be addressed in the male gender. Hence, when we find hadiths about marying for beauty, or desiring to have children, or remaining faithful to one’s spouse, even though many of these hadiths are addressed to men, we are entitled to deduce a similar, reciprocal ruling for women.

Notwithstanding the essential spiritual equality of men and women, there are areas in which they are not identical, and some of these (like childbearing) are physiological and (in a sense) inevitable.

“And do not wish for that by which Allah has made some of you exceed others. For men is a share of what they have earned, and for women is a share of what they have earned. And ask Allah of his bounty. Indeed Allah is ever, of all things, Knowing.” (Qur’an, 4:32)

These differences do not mean men are superior, nor that women are superior. According to a report from Qatadah and al-Suddi (tafsir scholars of the Tabi`in, the above verse was revealed in response to some men who thought that they were entitled to double reward due to their gender, and some women who thought the punishment for their sins would be half that of men’s. 

Allah has made each gender unique and special in its own way, and we are expected to realize and accept this. 

To be continued — Part 2 examines three Quranic verses that are sometimes cited in support of an inherent male superiority, and shows how the verses do not support that conclusion.

— Suheil Laher

FOOTNOTES

1Ibn Kathir judged its chain of transmission as good (hasan) in Tuhfat al-Talib, as did Ibn Hajar in Muwafaqat al-Khabar. Tabari mentions several similar narrations in his exegesis (tafsir).

2 These words are also contained in a hadith, narrated by Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi and others, but there is disagreement over one of the narrators, `Abd-Allah ibn `Umar al-`Umari, who was an upright man, but whom some critics judged to have poor memory. Nevertheless, Ibn al-Qattan apparently judged it as a sound hadith. And Allah knows best.

Chivalric Glory and Extremist Ignominy

By Suheil Laher

Chivalry and bravery have long been valued as noble human qualities. I remember a picture book in the library of my Kindergarten 2 class (at St Margaret’s Kindergarten School) about King Arthur’s knights, who are often regarded as emblematic of such ideals in the West. Jihad in Islam includes not only an inner dimension of spiritual struggle, but also an external dimension of helping the weak and striving against injustice. Extremist jihadi groups like ISIS appeal to Muslim youth (and others) on the basis of the latter, but by selective, decontextualized citations from an amalgam of history, medieval law and Islamic sacred texts, they bypass the honorable chivalrous teachings, higher objectives and profound vision of sacred law that are held to by mainstream Muslim scholars.

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 drew widespread international condemnation, including a resolution by the UN General Assembly. In accordance with both the UN Charter[1] and the Islamic understanding of self-defence against aggression, Afghans as well as many non-Afghan Muslims rallied against the Soviet intervention. The liberation effort was widely recognized in the Muslim world as a glorious jihad, and the United States government (among other Western and Eastern non-Muslim nations) was openly and actively providing financial, material, and moral support to the mujahideen. Naturally, many American Muslims also either supported the Afghan jihad or looked upon it favorably.

It was a euphoric time, but it was not to last. After the departure of the Soviets from Afghanistan in 1989, and the toppling of the Soviet-backed president in 1992, things took  a darker turn. Civil war broke out among the mujahideen in Afghanistan, and some of the foreign mujahideen were left grappling with post-war trauma, along with the difficulty of reintegration into civilian life, compounded by their being unwelcome in some of their home countries due to fears that they would harness popular grievances to foment revolution against those Middle Eastern governments.

It was in such circumstances that some of the former mujahideen began to move in a new direction: away from the honorable chivalry of true jihad towards an ignominous extremist ideology. Al-Qaeda, and eventually ISIS were born. Extremists might capitalize on the acclaimedly glorious status of the Afghan jihad, to present themselves as its heirs and perpetuators. But in Islam, actions are validated by sacred texts, not by appeals to charismatic lineage. A religious rhetoric, similar to that which was once used to enthuse Muslims with the noble spirit of just resistance against Soviets, has now been subverted and perverted to call towards extremism and terrorism. The rhetoric is similar, and might appeal to some of the same principles (such as resisting oppression) and sacred texts, but the big difference is that it is now out of touch with the noble chivalry of true jihad that we find in the Qur’an and Sunna.

I advise Muslims (including, but not limited to, Muslim youth) not to be duped by half-baked religious rhetoric. To realize that while injustices exist in the world, and jihad continues until the day of Judgment, nevertheless true jihad must be carried out through legitimate and honorable means. Radical ISIS-style extremism is a crude and dangerous caricature of jihad. Exercise caution in your charitable giving, and don’t be deceived into thinking that you are helping Islam by supporting groups that are actually hurting the cause of Islam and Muslims. Do not capitulate to a cult mentality, where you take religious teaching from a limited set of scholars, who use emotions to make you feel that you would be betraying faith and justice if you listen to those who condemn terrorist acts. If you are not willing to listen to the other side, how can you be so sure you are correct? Did not the Prophet (peace be upon him) warn of people who would recite the Qur’an, and zealously worship and strive, and yet be a liability to Islam because of their lack of deeper understanding? Truth prevails, and Allah has given you a conscience and a mind that allow you to think for yourself. Islam is a profound religion that seeks to actualize lofty and noble objectives in both individual and society. If you refuse to think about and to see the bigger picture, and content yourself with a narrow tunnel-vision of Islam, I think you are short-changing yourself.

أما الخيام فإنها كخيامهم ** وأرى نساء الحي غير نساءها
(A poet describing with anguish how, in desparate search of the nomadic tribe of his fiancee, he discovers tents that look like their tents, only to discover that the people inhabiting them are different people.)

ENDNOTE
[1] “Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations” Chapter VII, Article 51.

Non-Muslim Minorities and Religious Tolerance

The arrival of Islamic rule marked an end to the persecution to which non-Zoroastrian minorities had been subjected in pre-Islamic Persia.[1] It is sadly strange then, that fourteen centuries later, Islam is now being invoked and interpreted in an attempt to exterminate such populations, and moreover to do so in grisly and inhumane ways that are themselves incongruous with Islam’s central values of kindness and compassion.

I was incredulous when I first read recent reports of members of the non-Muslim Yazidi minority in Iraq being killed and enslaved in the name of Islam. The reported actions troubled my conscience, and furthermore, for historical and theological reasons, did not sit right with my understanding of Islam. Yet, I was aware of statements in medieval books of Islamic law that might be produced as partial justification of the actions, and so I felt the need to articulate a coherent response to questions such as the following: As a Muslim, am I required to agree with such killing and enslavement? If they are correct, then how can it be that these religious minorities have survived fourteen centuries in the heart of the Islamic lands without yet having been exterminated?

The majority opinion among Muslim jurists, and the dominant operative view across Muslim history has been that of tolerance to all non-Muslim religious communities.  After explaining this to be the case, I will show how this view is also in line with a general Qur’anic principle backed by common sense.

Muslim scholars, across sects and the various legal schools, are in agreement that Jews and Christians, being People of Scripture, can live as subjects of the Islamic state, and are not forced to convert to Islam (although they are welcome and encouraged to do so). They are subject to a tax called the jizyah, which was paid, as British Orientalist Thomas Arnold Walker explains, “by those whose religion precluded them from serving in the army, in return for the protection secured for them by the armies of the Musulmans.”[2] Muslim scholars are further agreed that Zoroastrians can similarly live as subjects of the Islamic state, even though they are not decisively People of Scripture, because the Prophet Muhammad himself afforded them such treatment. Jurists of the Maliki school (which dominates North and West Africa), and the Zaydi Shi`ite school, along with Imam al-Awza`i (whose school was widely followed in the Levant and across North Africa before being displaced by the Malikis and Shafi`is), generalized from this to conclude that the same courtesy is extended to people of all religions. The Hanafi school (geographically and historically the school with the widest following among the public and the most implemented by rulers) concluded similarly, making an exception only for idolators of Arabia which is actually a moot point given that idolatry did not survive there following the large-scale conversions to Islam during the Prophet Muhammad’s lifetime. When the Muslims ruled Mogul India, the (idolatrous) Hindus remained tolerated under Hanafi legal doctrine.[3]

Reframing the preceding breakdown of views, we realize that the earliest schools of Islamic law and the most widely followed (Hanafi, Maliki and Awza`i), allow and tolerate non-Muslim minorities of any religion within the Islamic lands (i.e. the “Islamic state”). Given the status of these schools and their adoption by Muslim governments across the centuries (until the Muslim world was largely secularized in early modernity), this view has also been the operative view across the overwhelming bulk of Muslim history. The dissenting view (of the (later) Shafi`is and Hanbalis, along with the Imamis), for practical purposes, persisted as little more than hypothetical juristic cogitations, and perhaps as reminders of the more stark era of war in the Hebrew Bible, where for example we read that the city of Jericho (including even the women, children and beasts) was put to the sword apparently for idolatry.[4] That tolerance of all religious groups was the norm in Muslim history is reflected in the fact that the Mandaeans, Yazidis and others have survived and maintained a presence in Islamic lands to this day.

It is worthwhile to note that the dominant Islamic view, of tolerance towards other religious communities, is also backed by general Qur’anic principle, and by common sense. The Qur’anic principle is that, “There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of the] religion” (Qur’an, 2:256), and common sense confirms that a forced conversion is unlikely to be genuine. How can it be reasonable to suddenly expect Yazidis, who have been raised in their own religion all their lives, to suddenly give it up at the point of a sword or rifle? Thomas Jefferson wrote, “that if there be but one right [religion], and ours that one, we should wish to see the 999 wandering sects gathered into the fold of truth. But against such a majority we cannot effect this by force. Reason and persuasion are the only practicable instruments. To make way for these, free enquiry must be indulged.”[5] The Qur’an foreshadows these wise words of Jefferson’s:

“Then, [O Muhammad], would you compel the people in order that they become believers? And it is not for a soul to believe except by permission of Allah , and He will place defilement upon those who will not use reason.” (Qur’an, 10:99-100)

“[U]pon you is only the [duty of] notification, and upon Us is the account.” (Qur’an, 13:40)

“Invite to the way of your Lord with wisdom and good instruction, and argue with them in a way that is best. Indeed, your Lord is most knowing of who has strayed from His way, and He is most knowing of who is [rightly] guided.” [Qur’an, 16:125]

Further Considerations

So far, we have established that the majority and operative position across history has been tolerance of all non-Muslim religious communities. This is sufficient to refute the notion that the killing and enslavement of non-Muslims represents the majority of Muslims, and to dispel the idea that those actions are a clear and immutable Islamic teaching. But what if a Muslim claims that he wants to follow a minority position on religious tolerance, and to revive the practices of enslavement and concubinage? In what follows, I explain how such actions are actually inconsistent with several broader Islamic principles:

(i) The Qur’anic principle (backed by common-sense) of non-coercion in faith, already mentioned earlier (above).

(ii) The importance of priorities. Even if someone truly believes it justified to target the non-Muslim minorities, they should ask themselves: If these minorities were not exterminated by the Prophet, nor by the Rightly-Guided Caliphs, then how can a Muslim group today consider it their prerogative and priority to undertake such a genocide?

(iii) Categorical imperative: If we as Muslims are to exterminate or expel indigenous non-Muslims who have been living in a country for centuries, how are we better than the Zionists who attempt to do the same to indigenous Palestinians?

(iv) The use of inhumane techniques (such as attempting to inflict forced starvation on people because of their religion) contradict the Prophet Muhammad’s code of ethics in war and peace. When Thumama ibn Athal, a South Arabian chief, imposed a wheat embargo on the idolatrous Makkans to punish them for their mistreatment of the Muslims, Prophet Muhammad asked him to lift the embargo to prevent the starvation of the Makkan idolators and especially of their women and children.[6]

(v) The Prophetic paradigm calls for wisdom, which includes recognition of people’s sensibilities and thinking. The Prophet Muhammad once remarked to his wife that he would have liked to demolish the Ka`bah[7], and then to rebuild it according to the original pattern on which Prophet Abraham had built it. However, he refrained from this, citing as a reason the fact that people had only recently come out the state of idolatrous ignorance (and would therefore misconstrue his action as sacrilegous).[8] The fourth Caliph, the Prophet’s son-in-law `Ali, drawing attention to the importance of sensitivity in engaging people, said, “Speak to people with what they can relate to. Would you like for God and His Messenger to be considered liars?”[9] The renowned 19th century Hanafi Muslim jurist Ibn `Abidin wrote, in his didactic poem Rasm al-Mufti, “Customary norms are to be given consideration in the Sacred Law, and hence the legal determination may hinge upon it.” Actions such as forced conversions and enslavement surely have a bigger impact on the public than mere words, and taking a human life is clearly more drastic than demolishing a brick-structure. Even if (hypothetically) someone’s conscience is genuinely not troubled in the least by such actions as enslavement, they should ponder deeply the consequences of their actions on the image and perception of Islam among non-Muslims, and remind themselves that Islam’s mission is to be a source of blessing to all.

“We have not sent you [Muhammad], except as a blessing to all creatures.” [Qur’an, 21:107]


[1] “The followers of all those varied forms of faith could breathe again under a rule that granted them religious freedom and exemption from military service, on payment of a light tribute.” Thomas Arnold Walker, The Preaching of Islam: a history of the Propagation of the Muslim Faith, (Westminster: Archibald Constable & Co., 1896), 177.

[2] Walker, The Preaching of Islam, 55-57.

[3] See, for example, the following medieval references of Islamic law: Ibn `Abidin, Radd al-Muhtar; al-Qurtubi, Al-Jami` li-Ahkam al-Qur’an; Ahmad ibn Yahya al-Murtada, al-Azhar fi FIqh al-A’immahal-Athar.

[4] See: Joshua, 6:21.

[5] Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, ed. William Peden (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 1982) 160.

[6] See: Ibn Hisham, Al-Sirah al-Nabawiyyah.

[7] The building, in Makkah, that Muslims believe was the first house of pure monotheistic worship on earth, built by Prophet Abraham.

[8] Narrated by Bukhari and Muslim.

[9] Narrated by Bukhari.

On Celebrating Mawlid/Milad

By Suheil  Laher

Prophet Muhammad (Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him) was a wonderful and exemplary human being who was concerned for the spiritual welfare of humankind, and endured great hardship to convey and explain God’s final message. Every Muslim loves him, and indeed love for him necessarily follows from belief in God. I have personally seen signs of deep love for him among various flavors of Muslim, across sectarian and ideological spectra: Sunni, Shi`i, Sufi, Salafi and others, and this is one of numerous central teachings that unite us as Muslims. I feel it is important to keep this in mind, at this time of year in which controversies emerge — sometimes even rage — over whether (and if so how) to celebrate the birthday of the Prophet (peace and blessings upon him).  If we consider the situation carefully, I am confident we can greatly reduce, hopefully even eliminate, stereotyping and condemning other Muslims with whom we happen to disagree on this matter.

If you don’t celebrate, then realize that those celebrating the occasion are moved by love for the beloved Prophet, even if you disagree with some of the specifics of how they are celebrating. You might believe they are wrong or mistaken in those details, but you cannot cast aspersions on their sincerity. Give them the benefit of the doubt as far as possible if you see or hear something objectionable from them[1]. If you do celebrate, then avoid the temptation to think that those not celebrating are lacking in love for the beloved Prophet[2]. Whatever your view, realize that the Muslim holding the opposing view on Mawlid might be better than you (overall and in the final analysis), and perhaps even love the Prophet more. In our world, we need more dialogue, tolerance and unity between Muslims, and we positively want to avoid entrenching ourselves into narrow, exclusive moulds. We may note that when Hindus in India were objecting to Shi`ite Muharram processions (which are often considered a heretical practice by Sunnis), a prominent Sunni (Hanafi Deboandi) scholar, Moulana Asraf Ali Thanwi, told Sunni Muslims in India to support the Shi`ites right to perform them.[3]

 

There is no disagreement that the Prophet’s birthday was not celebrated as a festival until approximately 600 years after him[4], and therefore no Muslim would be so bold to claim that it is a religiously mandated festival on par with the Two Eids (al-Fitr and al-Adha). Yes, many scholars across history have found such celebration to be acceptable, within certain boundaries, but there is further difference of opinion on what precisely those boundaries are. Those who endorse the celebration resort to general texts and concepts that show the legitimacy of feeling joy for the coming of the Prophet, and the permissibility of giving lectures about his life and reciting poetry praising him[5]. e.g.

  • “And remind them of the days of God.” [Qur’an, 14:5]
  • “Say: In the bounty of God and His mercy, in that let them then rejoice.” [Qur’an, 10:58]
  • Various hadiths on the virtues of conveying from the Prophet, and incidents in which some of the Companions recited poetry praising the Prophet.
  • Some might add as a partial justification: the importance of finding opportunities for keeping Muslims (and especially the children) in touch with their religion while living as a minority in a non-Muslim country.

Those who object to celebrating the Mawlid do not deny these general concepts (and they certainly do not deny the necessity of loving the Prophet (peace and blessings upon him and his Household)). Rather, their objections are based on one or more of the following points:

i) The festival was not observed by the first generations of Muslims, and since it has a religious component, there is the danger of it being (or becoming) a heretical practice (bid`ah). While there is no objection, in principle, to lectures or poetry about the Prophet, nevertheless fixing a particular time of year for such acts, and/or a rigid format, are problematic, and over time may lead to people thinking that it is integral to Islam, or that there is special virtue in doing it on that day and/or in that specific way.[6] (This is aside from the uncertainty about the precise day on which the Prophet (Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him) was born[7].)

ii) Indeed, in some parts of the  Muslim world, some people effectively see the Mawlid as a required devotional act, such that those who choose not to attend are considered to be deficient in their Islam. Conversely, some ignorant  folk come to believe that by attending the Mawlid to show love for the Prophet, they are automatically good Muslims even if they neglect their daily prayers and other religious obligations.

iii) Information inaccuracy: it is not uncommon to find speakers at a Mawlid quoting narrations/hadith that are extremely weak in their transmission or even fabricated. Similarly, some people exaggerate in praising the Prophet, in ways that he himself may have disapproved of, and which in some cases can even be tantamount to (or at least close to) polytheism (shirk). The shaykh of some of our shuyukh, the Morocan Shadhili master `Abdullah al-Ghumari (Allah’s mercy be upon him) compiled a small booklet warning against some of these widely-quoted yet unreliable hadiths.[8]

iv) Sometimes, there are other objectionable aspects to Mawlid gatherings, such as unrestrained mixing between genders, or neglect of prayer-times during the celebration.

In summary, it is your decision to celebrate or not celebrate, depending on how comfortable your conscience is with the matter. If you do celebrate, avoid the pitfalls mentioned earlier. And whether or not you celebrate:

1)                 Make sure your regular daily conduct and behavior reflect your love for the Prophet (Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him).

2)                 Exercise wisdom in your dealings with those who disagree with you about the Mawlid. If you believe they are wrong/mistaken, then there are etiquettes for dealing with disagreements. Dialogue, based on acknowledgement of the other’s sincerity and meritorious deeds, along with a sincere desire for their (and your own) improvement will go much further than labelling, condemnation and polar isolationism.

Before closing this article, I must make some comments on a personal note[9]. I will say that I do have reservations about Mawlid gatherings that include the pitfalls mentioned earlier, and if I know for a fact that some of the more serious infractions will be present, I would decline participation. However, if (as I was recently called upon to do so), I am invited to give a lecture about some aspect of the Prophet (peace and blessings upon him and his Household), then I don’t find myself obliged to decline, nor to interrogate the attendees and organizers on their beliefs about it, but I go in clear about my own intentions. We read that Imam Malik once entered the mosque after `Asr and directly sat down, for he believed the Tahiyyat al-Masjid prayer to be impermissible during this time.  But when a boy innocently told him to stand up perform the prayer, he obliged, later explaining, “I feared being one of those who ‘when they are told to bow, they do not  bow.’”[10] It is an honor for me to speak about the Prophet, and if my words can be of some benefit, then I am happy. However, my speaking at such a gathering should not be taken as an acceptance or endorsement of everything said and done there by others. I might very well disagree with some things, but even if the disagreement is not within what I would consider legitimate scholarly disagreement, I will try to give them the benefit of the doubt, with the hope that they are rewarded for their good intentions, and that – at some point – they come to realize where they had been going wrong. It is not always a priority (and sometimes more damaging than beneficial) to speak out against something one sees as wrong. Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal disapproved of decorating pages of the Qur’an, but when he was asked about a man who had spent a lot of money adorning a Qur’an with pure gold, he did not call for condemnation, but rather made a remark indicating that there are worse uses to which the gold could have been put.[11]

I am acutely aware that we do have bigger and more pressing problems in our communities than discussing the Mawlid, but it is precisely because of this fact that I feel it is important for us to be able to properly contextualize the Mawlid and take it in stride as we (hopefully) continue in more lofty pursuits.

May Allah bless Muhammad and his Household and grant them peace.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: Image of moon from http://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/image/planetary/moon/clem_full_moon_strtrk.jpg, accessed 1/21/14, 10:46pm.


FOOTNOTES

[1] The Hanbali polymath, Shaykhul-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah insightfully observed that among those who are censuring heretical practices (bid`ah), we find many individuals who are themselves actually negligent in observing the sunnah, so much so that they might actually be in a worse spiritual condition than those who are performing those disputed acts of devotion that include some heretical aspect. Thus, even though Ibn Taymiyyah was opposed to celebration of the Mawlid, and considered it a bid`ah, he writes that there is great (spiritual) reward in it for some people, because of their good intention and veneration for the Prophet. [Iqtida’ al-Sirat al-Mustaqim (Dar al-Fikr, s.d.) p. 297] Return to main text

[2] I remember one of my teachers, a devoted Sufi and Hanafi, remarking how one statement he came across in Shaykh Muhammad ibn `Abdil-Wahhab’s Kitab al-Tawhid convinced him that the man had deep love for the Prophet. This is one of several personal anecdotes I could share from my teachers to illustrate respect across sectarian boundaries. Return to main text

[3] See, e.g. `Allamah Zafar al-`Uthmani, I`la al-Sunan. Return to main text

[4] The Ayyubid governor Muzaffar al-Din Kawkabri (d. 630 H / 1232 C.E.) is typically credited as the first to institute the festival. [See, e.g. Dhahabi, Siyar A`lam al-Nubala’] Return to main text

[5] See, for example, `Allamah Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti’s Husn al-Maqsid fi `Amal al-Mawlid. Return to main text

[6] Our shaykh, and shaykh of some of our shaykhs, Muhammad Hasan Dado al-Shinqiti, who identifies as Salafi, observes (in a clip available on youtube) that there is no objection to feeling happy when one recollects that the Prophet was born during this month. He criticizes both those who go beyond acceptable limits in celebrating, and those who go to the other extreme of trying to behave as if there is nothing joyful in the fact. It is not a festival (`Eid), but is nevertheless one of a number of happy occasions. Return to main text

[7] It is popularly held, in the Sunni world (and among the Zaydi Shi`ah), that he was born on 12th Rabi` al-Awwal, but this is one view among several. The Shafi`I Sunni scholar Ibn Kathir considered 2nd Rabi al-Awwal as the strongest view, and listed the other possibilities as: 8th, 10th, 12th, Rabi` al-Awwal, and a fringe view (of al-Zubayr ibn Bakkar) that it was in the month of Ramadan. Another prominent view (again, among both Sunnis and Zaydis) is 9th Rabi` al-Awwal. The Imami Shi`ah typically prefer 17th Rabi` al-Awwal. [See: Hafiz Ibn Kathir, al-Fusul fi Sirat al-Rasul; Dr. Murtada al-Mahatwary al-Hasany, Al-Sirah al-Nabawiyyah; Shaykh Safiyy al-Mubarakpuri, The Sealed Nectar] Return to main text

[8] Its title is Irshad al-Talib al-Najib ila ma fil-Mawlid al-Nabawiyy min al-Akadhib. Return to main text

[9] I generally avoid speaking about myself and my personal views, but make an exception here because some people are apparently confused by my recent participation in a particular gathering. Return to main text

[10] See: Qurtubi, Al-Jami` li-Ahkam al-Qur’an, under the verse 77:48. Return to main text

[11] Ibn Taymiyyah, ibid. Return to main text

Lost in Translation: Friendships with Non-Muslims

A closer analysis of Qur’an, 5:51

By Suheil Laher

Are Muslims allowed have non-Muslim friends? If not, then what should be our stance towards others?! Anyone who thinks that Muslims must take all non-Muslims as enemies is ignorant of the Qur’an and the life and teachings of Prophet Muhammad, and ignorant of the centuries of friendly co-existence between Muslims and others across history, not mention that such a person is blind to the decency and goodness to be found and appreciated in many other human beings. The Prophet’s own example clearly illustrates that the attitude of the Muslim toward the non-Muslim is not one of bigotry or unconditional animosity. For example, “when Makkah was in the grip of famine, [the Prophet Muhammad] personally went out to help his enemies. When non-Muslim prisoners of war were presented before him, he treated them with such tenderness [as] many cannot even claim to have done in respect to their children. A delegation from Banu Thaqif who had not yet embraced Islam upto that time came to visit him. They were given the honor of staying in the Mosque of the Prophet. Umar [the second Caliph] gave allowances to needy dhimmis (non-Muslim subjects) [rather than obliging them to pay the jizyah tax.” [see: Muhammad Shafi`’s (erstwhile Grand-Mufti of Pakistan) Ma`ariful-Qur’an, 2/57-58.]

Nor can it be that Muslims are supposed to just pretend to be nice to others while hating and cursing them among themselves in private, for the Prophet has denounced duplicity:

You will find the worst person to be the two-faced one, who comes to [one people] with one face, and to [another people] with another face.” [Bukhari]

In the Qur’an, the common origin (and hence essential oneness) of the human race is stressed:

O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted.” [Qur’an, 49:13]

And basic values and decency are not to be reserved only for fellow Muslims:

God does not prohibit you from being kind and just to those who have not fought you on account of religion, nor expelled you from your homes. Allah loves those who are just.” Q[60:8]

We may note that the word used in the verse for ‘kindness’ (al-birr) is the same word used in some hadiths for loving, kind treatment of one’s parents.

Continue reading “Lost in Translation: Friendships with Non-Muslims”