1- declaring the oneness of God, and that only God is to be worshipped (tahlil)
2- declaring God’s greatness (takbir)
3- praising God (tahmid )
Sunset and sunrise times vary with altitude. This has consequences for the timing of prayers and breaking of the fast on skyscrapers and mountains,as well as in planes (How much? We’ll see shortly.) But this is not as new a phenomenon as one might think, and even people on the ground might need to make some adjustments regarding sunset time. Read on if you are interested!
About 1,100 years ago, the Hanafi jurist Ibn Abi Musa was asked by the people of Alexandria (Egypt) about the time of iftar (breaking the fast), given that someone atop the Lighthouse of Alexandria would be able to see the sun for a significant length of time after it had clearly set (disappeared) for people on the ground. He replied that those on the ground can break their fast when they see the sun as having set, but those atop the lighthouse are not allowed to break the fast as long as they can still see the sun. [Badai` al-Sanai`, DKI, 2/576]
The lighthouse (منارة) of Alexandria (a.k.a Pharos) was built in the 3rd century BC, commissioned by Ptolemy I (although various legends attribute it to Alexander the Great and others). It was over 100m high, probably built from limestone, and was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. According to a legend reported by historian Yaqut al-Hamawi (d. 1229CE / 626H), there was a hot spring inside that could heal leprosy and other diseases. [Yaqut al-Hamawi, Mu`jam al-Buldan]
Ibn Abi Musa (d. ca. 946CE/334H) was the chief justice of Baghdad, and a man respected for his piety and ascetic lifestyle. He wrote several books on fiqh, including commentaries on some of the works of al-Shaybani, an abridgment of the work his contemporary al-Karkhi, and a work on usul al-fiqh. His full name is Abu `Abdillah Muhammad ibn `Isa). He was found dead, apparently killed by burglars, around the year 334H. [al-Jawahir al-Mudi’ah fi Tabaqat al-Hanafiyyah, 3/295-6 and 4/63]
Yaqut al-Hamawi (historian, belletrist and grammarian, d. 1229CE / 626H) gave the lighthouse’s height as 230 cubits (i.e. 105m), but by his time, the top 20m or so had already collapsed due to an earthquake in 956CE / 345H. So, at the time of Ibn Abi Musa’s fatwa, the lighthouse was likely to have measured around 120m tall, which is approximately the height of a 25 – 30 floor modern building. This is taller than the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception,in Washington DC (100m), and comparable to the Willis Building (125m, UK’s 36th tallest).
Variations in Sunset Times
So, how much difference does it make for prayer and fasting times Experts today tell us (see here and here) that sunset time gets later by approximately one minute for every 1,500m. That means the sunset delay from the top of the Pharos of Alexandria (150m), and indeed even from the top of today’s Burj Khalifah (828m), would be less than a minute. Some contemporary fatwas advise people atop the Burj to add 2-3 minutes (to the time used by people at ground level), probably to include a safety margin.
Uncertainties at Ground Level Too!
It is worth noting that exact sunset time can vary not only due to altitude, but also due to atmospheric conditions and other factors (see here and here for further details). Many Hanafi jurists therefore advise those who are using calculated sunset times to wait an additional 3 minutes before breaking the fast or performing the Maghrib prayer. Those living at high latitudes (beyond 60 degrees north of the Equator) would be well-advised to allow for a greater error-margin.
The popular IslamicFinder.org website for prayer-time calculation allows you to adjust the settings specify how many minutes to add to the calculated sunset time to produce the listed Maghrib time. But if you do this, make sure you don’t end up praying `Asr too late as a result! While `Asr time ends at sunset, and in light of the uncertainties and variations, it would be advisable to finish `Asr at least 3 minutes before the calculated sunset time, just as it is advised to pray Maghrib only 3 minutes after the calculated time. Of course, if you were inescapably delayed (or even if you were a bit negligent), such that less than three minutes remain before sunset time, you should go ahead and pray immediately; the prayer might still be on time.
A couple of final comments before we close.
One: What happened to the lighthouse? The remnants of the Pharos Lighthouse were removed, and a fort built on its platform in 1480CE / 885H by Mamluk Sultan Qaitbay.
The tallest building in Alexandria today is the San Stefano Grand Plaza measuring in at 135m high; approximately the same height as the original lighthouse!
May these and other current monuments of human achievement be preserved, and serve as sources of benefit to humankind. And may terrorists, and others who seek wanton destruction, be foiled.
Eventually, all material things of this world pass away in the natural course of time. As the famous poetess Khansa’ (d. 645CE/24H) wrote:
All men shall with Fate's hearthstones be assailed, And lofty homes too one day shall come down.
May we, in these remaining days of Ramadan and thereafter, reflect on reality, and what we are building in the spiritual realm.
Burj Khalifah: By Donaldytong – commons:File:Burj Khalifa.jpg, originally from the author as noted below. Deleted from Commons by admin King of Hearts 5 November 2012., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37469604
Airbus: By Laurent ERRERA from L’Union, France – Airbus A320-200 Airbus Industries (AIB) “House colors” F-WWBA – MSN 001, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29541313
Deglet Noor Dates: By M. Dhifallah – M. Dhifallah, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5008481
Pharos depiction in a medieval Arabic text: From a 15th-century Arabic collectaneous manuscript known as Kitab al-bulhan. – Altered version of http://bodley30.bodley.ox.ac.uk:8180/luna/servlet/detail/ODLodl~23~23~96907~137112:Wonders–the-lighthouse-of-Alexandr, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40875410
Pharos scale comparison: By Emad Victor SHENOUDA, Attribution, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29222659
(Qaitbay) Citadel By ASaber91 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=63990734
San Stefano Plaza: By Sowr – https://www.flickr.com/photos/87153764@N08/7976239604/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35704265
Image of Khansa poetry snippet: screenshot from https://www.aldiwan.net/poem21132.html
Sunset (apparently in Alexandria, Egypt): AhmadAms, https://pixabay.com/photos/sunset-sea-alexandria-egypt-water-2363323/
Mental illness is a frightening reality that has been falsely stigmatized in many of our communities. People ignore it, or are ashamed of it; they blame themselves for lack of faith; they blame demons and black magic; they avoid seeking medical treatment for it.
I have encountered many cases of mental illness in interactions with people in my personal life, as well as in my role as a chaplain. I have discussed these matters at some length with psychiatrists, and have attended various workshops about mental illness. I am also familiar with, and endeavor to remain faithful to the Islamic theological and legal tradition. So, with this background, let me make two quick points:
1. Being a good, practicing Muslim does not make you immune to mental illness
Your iman (faith) in God can help you in coping with mental illness, but it does not make you immune to it, just as faith does not make you immune to influenza, heart disease, cancer or broken bones. Mental illness is also a type of illness; after all the brain is part of the body. Hanafi jurist Ibn al-Humam (d. 861H) classified insanity as an involuntary contingency (عارض سماوي), and the same applies to many other forms of mental illness. So, if you are suffering from mental illness, you do not have to assume it is because of weak faith or lack of spirituality. Do not be afraid or ashamed to reach out for social and medical help. As a Muslim, you are not committing any religious violation by taking medication. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said,
تداوَوْا عبادَ اللهِ فإنَّ اللهَ لَمْ يضَعْ داءً إلَّا وضَع له دواءً (رواه ابن حبان)
“Seek medical treatment, O servants of God,
for God has not made any disease without making a cure for it.”
2. But what about jinns and magic?
Insanity (جنون) was defined by pre-modern Muslim jurists as a disorder of the mind that prevents the person’s utterances and actions from being rational. It can be an ongoing condition, or have intermittent episodes. Most Sunni theologians do believe in the reality of demonic (jinn) possession and black magic. But this does not mean they are the cause of all mental illness. It is noteworthy that Hanafi jurist Amir Badshah (d. 972H), while discussing the “contingencies of capacity,” points out that there are two types of insanity: one caused by an imbalance in the brain, and which can be treated (with medication), and another type that is caused by demons, and against which spiritual remedies (such as Quranic recitation) can be of assistance1. I would go further to say that even if one is certain of the involvement of jinns or black magic, one can and should still pursue medical treatment for the symptoms, in addition to spiritual remedies such as Quranic ruqya.
May Allah protect us, and grant us strength to face the various tests in our lives.
1 (وَأما الْجُنُون) وَهُوَ اختلال الْعقل بِحَيْثُ يمْنَع جَرَيَان الْأَفْعَال والأقوال على نهجه إِلَّا نَادرا إِمَّا لنُقْصَان جبل عَلَيْهِ دماغه، فَلَا يصلح لقبُول مَا أعدّ لَهُ كعين الأكمه، ولسان الْأَخْرَس: وَهَذَا لَا يرجي زَوَاله، وَإِمَّا لخُرُوج مزاج الدِّمَاغ من الِاعْتِدَال بِسَبَب خلط أَو رُطُوبَة أَو يوسة متناهية، وَهَذَا يعالج، وَإِمَّا باستيلاء الشَّيْطَان وإلقاء الخيالات الْفَاسِدَة إِلَيْهِ. وَقد ينجع فِيهِ الْأَدْوِيَة الإلهية [أمير بادشاه, “تيسير التحرير” دار الكتب العلمية, 2/259]
PICTURE CREDIT: QuinceMedia, https://pixabay.com/en/brain-chain-health-idea-human-3446307/
The Chapter on Fasting from a central legal manual of the Hanafi school, the Mukhtasar of al-Quduri (d. 428H), annotated with clarifications and additional details from other normative Hanafi texts. Click the link below for the PDF:
(c) 2018, Suheil Laher. Permission granted for personal, non-commercial use. May not be copied, sold, or posted on the internet without explicit permission.
DISCLAIMER: Information is presented for informational purposes. The translator neither guarantees that this
information is totally free from errors, nor that it is always suitable for acting upon or putting into
practice. Religious decisions should be taken with due care and thought, after reading and
investigating, but also after consulting with reliable people of knowledge – who are aware of one’s
particular circumstances – and then pondering and exercising one’s conscience.
As discussed in another post, eclipses are a reminder of God’s power, and of cosmic events at the end of the world, and are therefore a good time for spiritual reflection and prayer. This post summarizes recommended acts during the eclipse, and comments briefly on the spiritual dimensions of eclipse-viewing.
1) The Eclipse Prayer (Salat al-Kusuf)
إِنَّ الشَّمْسَ وَالْقَمَرَ لاَ يَنْكَسِفَانِ لِمَوْتِ أَحَدٍ مِنَ النَّاسِ، وَلَكِنَّهُمَا آيَتَانِ مِنْ آيَاتِ اللَّهِ، فَإِذَا رَأَيْتُمُوهُمَا فَقُومُوا فَصَلُّوا
“The sun and moon do not eclipse for anyone’s death, but [in fact] they are two of the signs of God, so when you see them, then stand and pray.” [Bukhari]
Muslim scholars differed about some of the details of how to perform the eclipse prayer, and this is not the place to discuss that. You can consult a scholars whose knowledge and piety you trust, and follow their instructions on how to perform the salat al-kusuf. This video describes one of the methods.
2) Remembrance of God (Dhikr)
فَإِذَا رَأَيْتُمْ شَيْئًا مِنْ ذَلِكَ فَافْزَعُوا إِلَى ذِكْرِهِ وَدُعَائِهِ وَاسْتِغْفَارِهِ
“…so, when you see anything of that, then hasten to remembrance (dhikr) of God, supplication (du`a) to God, and seeking God’s forgiveness (istighfar).” [Bukhari]
فاذكروا الله وكبروه وسبحوه وهللوه
“so remember God, and declare God’s greatness, transcendence and oneness” [Sunan Sa`id ibn Mansur]
فَإِذَا رَأَيْتُمْ ذَلِكَ فَادْعُوا اللَّهَ وَكَبِّرُوا، وَصَلُّوا وَتَصَدَّقُوا
“….so when you see that, then supplicate to God, declare God’s greatness, and give charity.” [Bukhari]
لَقَدْ أَمَرَ النَّبِىُّ – صلى الله عليه وسلم – بِالْعَتَاقَةِ فِى كُسُوفِ الشَّمْسِ.
Asma’, the daughter of Abu Bakr, said: “God’s Messenger commanded the freeing of slaves at the solar eclipse.” [Bukhari]
It is permissible to view the eclipse, provided you take sufficient precautions to avoid damaging your eyes. You should consult medical and astronomical experts for details of how to view the eclipse safely. If you take approriate medical precautions, then there is no religious prohibition on observing the eclipse, and in fact it is recommended if done with the correct attitude and intention.
“Say: Observe what is in the heavens and earth.” (Quran, 10:101)
“Do they not look into the realm of the heavens and the earth and everything that Allah has created and [think] that perhaps their appointed time has come near? ” (Quran, 7:185)
A couple more points should be noted regarding eclipse-viewing:
1) According to most Muslim scholars, the specific eclipse prayer (salat al-kusuf) is not an obligation, and according to this view one would not be sinful if one did not perform the prayer and instead spent the time observing the eclipse or engaged in other mundane activities. However, most Muslim scholars also agree that the eclipse prayer is strongly recommended, with some holding it to be obligatory. Therefore, it would not be encouraged to neglect this prayer entirely. The optimal eclipse prayer extends through the entire duration of the eclipse, but if one is unable to do that due physical difficulty, or time constraints, or simply because one would like to spend some time observing the eclipse, then one could perform a shorter eclipse prayer. Given that the eclipse duration will be close to three hours, you can very easily perform an eclipse prayer that is decently long (30 minutes or an hour, for example) and time this in such a way that you can still observe some of the eclipse. Small children, who will probably not have the attention span or endurance for a 2-3 hour prayer, should still be given the experience of partaking in a shorter eclipse prayer, and the rest of the eclipse duration can be filled in with eclipse-viewing, dhikr, dua, discussion about the mechanics and spiritual dimensions of the eclipse, and perhaps some craft activities.
2) While it is certainly permissible to view the eclipse, for the believer, such a viewing is not merely a “fun activity” or light-hearted party (for which there are plenty of other opportunities). Observing the eclipse should ideally be done with a spiritual attitude, bringing to mind God’s greatness, and with feelings of awe and fear.
إِنَّ الشَّمْسَ وَالْقَمَرَ آيَتَانِ مِنْ آيَاتِ اللَّهِ، لاَ يَنْكَسِفَانِ لِمَوْتِ أَحَدٍ، وَلَكِنَّ اللَّهَ تَعَالَى يُخَوِّفُ بِهَا عِبَادَهُ
“The sun and moon are two of God’s signs. They do not eclipse for anyone’s death, but God thereby instils fear in His servants.” [Bukhari]
This fear is not an irrational, superstitious fear, but rather an experience of natural awe, as well as of fear of the events of the Day of Judgment. In fact, the religiously-recommended activities listed could conceivably be considered a type of Qiyama-drill that makes us think of God’s oneness, uniqueness and power; seek forgiveness from God; try to tip your balance of deeds through charity; free slaves, for the human being should be in bondage only to God.
And God knows best.
– Suheil Laher
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Suggested action points for a successful Ramadan.
Human history, one might conclude from the Bible and Quran, is an ongoing struggle against the human tendencies towards evil and polytheism. The late Hebrew Prophet Jeremiah censures his people for (among other transgressions) sacrificing their children to the Ammonite god Molekh. Much earlier, such child sacrifices are already condemned in the Pentateuch, and Leviticus 20:3 describes this ritual as profaning (חַלֵּל) God’s holy name. The Hebrew root for ‘profaning’ H-L-L, has an Arabic cognate, which is found in a Quranic verse (5:2) warning believers not to profane (تحلوا) God’s religious symbols, days, rituals and devotees. A famous Biblical prohibition against taking God’s name in vain (although it uses different wording) has been interpreted in various ways, many of which prohibit associating God’s name with sinful acts (be they lies, idolatrous rituals or anything else sinful). So, God’s name can be profaned by both explicit and implicit association with evil.
A famous hadith says that, “Any matter of importance that is not begun with God’s name is defective,” and observant Muslims are in the habit of reciting God’s name at the beginning of prayer, before eating, and when about to undertake any major action – provided of course the act is something religiously lawful. The hadith’s specification that the teaching applies to matters of importance implies that trivial matters should not be started with God’s name, in order to preserve the sanctity of the Name by not taking it in vain. Clearly, then, the name of God should not be recited before sinful actions, and in fact to do so is considered an act of blasphemy and apostasy by Muslim legal scholars. (They make an exception for someone who says it out of habit, without presence of mind, because he did not consciously intend to associate the name of God with the sin. In Shakespeare’s poem, The Rape of Lucrece, Tarquin stops at Lucrece’s door to pray before entering to rape her, “As if the heavens should countenance his sin.” “But in the midst of his unfruitful prayer,“ Tarquin realizes:
The powers to whom I pray abhor this fact;
How can they then assist me in the act? )
If the Hebrew prophets of yore were to witness our times, they would likely inveigh against the many social and ethical ills of today. And while child sacrifice is (thankfully) no longer prominent, there is a bane of our times that is evocative of its horrific disdain for the sacredness of life. Of course, I am referring to the acts of wanton killing and terrorism that (sadly) appear to be increasingly common. Major sins, like rape and murder, are certainly an act of implicit profanation of God’s name, and if someone (God forbid) explicitly utters God’s name upon it, the profanation becomes even greater.
When Caliph `Ali heard the Kharijites chanting the slogan, “Judgment is only God’s,” he is reported to have said, “It is a statement of truth by which falsehood is intended.” So, if a murderer shouts “Allahu Akbar” / “God is Great” / “Elohim Gadol” over his murder, those who truly understand God’s teachings might well shake their heads, and respond much as Caliph `Ali did. Yes God is indeed greater; greater than to defile His name by your profane sin of murder; greater than to not hold murderers responsible. We will not allow criminals to appropriate our sacred language. God is truly Great.
PARTIAL TRANSLATION by Suheil Laher from
Kitab al-Iqrar in “Mukhtasar al-Quduri“
(a summary-text of Hanafi law).
Rulings presented are as inferred from Qur’an and Sunnah by scholars of the Hanafi school.
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