Pharoah’s Yes-Men

“[Pharaoh] said to the eminent ones around him, ‘This is indeed a learned magician.” 26:34
Ibn `Ashur (d. 1973CE) comments in his exegesis:

In this verse, these [words] are the statement of Pharoah to the eminent ones, but in the verse of al-A`raf (7:109) [we have]: “The eminent ones among the people of Pharoah said…” They can be pieced together by [saying] that Pharoah said it to those around him, and they repeated it in his [very] words, so as to completely agree with him, such that they did not suffice with [merely] saying, ‘Yes,’ but rather they repeated Pharoah’s words so that their words could be perfectly matching his.

قالَ لِلْمَلَإِ حَوْلَهُۥٓ إِنَّ هَـٰذَا لَسَـٰحِرٌ عَلِيمٌ
26:34قال ابن عاشور: وفي هَذِهِ الآيَةِ أنَّ هَذا قَوْلُ فِرْعَوْنَ لِلْمَلَأِ، وفي آيَةِ الأعْرافِ (﴿قالَ المَلَأُ مِن قَوْمِ فِرْعَوْنَ﴾ [الأعراف: ١٠٩]) والجَمْعُ بَيْنَهُما أنَّ فِرْعَوْنَ قالَهُ لِمَن حَوْلَهُ فَأعادُوهُ بِلَفْظِهِ لِلْمُوافَقَةِ التّامَّةِ بِحَيْثُ لَمْ يَكْتَفُوا بِقَوْلِ: نَعَمْ، بَلْ أعادُوا كَلامَ فِرْعَوْنَ لِيَكَونَ قَوْلُهم عَلى تَمامِ قَوْلِهِ.

Musalsal Hadiths

Musalsal Hadiths

هَتَفَ العِلمُ بالعمَلِ فَإنْ أجابَهُ وإلّا ارْتَحَلَ (رواه السيوطي في جياد المسلسلات بإسناد فيه رجال مجهولون)

‘Knowledge calls out to action. If it responds to it [then it stays], but otherwise it departs.” [ʿAli ibn Abi Talib, d. 661CE]

This is the last narration in Suyuti’s (d. 1505CE) compilation Jiyad al-Musalsalat. The musalsalat genre in hadith comprises narrations whose isnads (chains of narration) contain a pattern repeated at multiple generations in the chain, e.g. each narrator having the same name, or performing the same action while narrating the hadith.

The most common musalsal hadith is the ‘Hadith of Firstness,’ “The merciful ones will be treated mercifully by the Source of Mercy (God). Be merciful to those upon the earth, [that] [God] who is in (i.e. above) Heaven be merciful to you.” Since the time of Sufyan ibn ʿ Uyayna (d. 815CE / 198H), it has been a tradition that the “hadith of Firstness” be the first hadith that a student hears from his hadith teacher.

The above quote from ʿAli has 9 successive narrators each saying, “My father told me that ….” Most of these hadiths have weak chains of narration. The above quote from Ali contains a number of narrators about whom we do not know much (i.e. we don’t know how reliable they were). The most reliable (sahih) musalsal hadith is that it which each narrator recites Surat al-Saff after narrating the hadith.

Suyuti compiled 85 musalsal narrations in his book al-Musalsalat al-Kubra, and then selected 25 of the best of these for the compilation Jiyad al-Musalsalat. Note that ‘the best 25 of the 85’ does not necessarily mean that they are all reliable (sahih); some are, but others are merely stronger than the rest.

These musalsal hadiths continue to be transmitted to this day with the patterns replicated, and are a type of collector’s item for students of hadith. i.e. these hadiths are fun!

Suyuti probably chose to end the book with this quote from ʿAli in order to remind us that the main objective of acquiring Islamic knowledge is to act on it; to become a better person, to contribute positively to the world, and to grow in love for God. i.e. You can have fun (including dabbling in musalsal hadiths), but at the end of the end of the day, make sure you have done something you can be proud of when you face God.

PICTURE CREDIT: Hans Braxmeier, from https://pixabay.com/photos/chain-jewellery-gem-valuable-2119612/#

Hamdun al-Qassar, Effective words (Quote)

Hamdun al-Qassar (d. 884 CE / 271 H) was asked, “Why are the words of the [pious] people of the past more effective than our words?”
He replied, “Because they spoke for the dignity of Islam, the salvation of souls, and the approval of the Merciful [God], whereas we speak for our own fame, acquiring worldly things, and the approval of people.”

قيل لحمدون القصار: ما بال كلام السَّلف أنفع مِن كلامنا؟ قال: لأنهم تكلموا لعِزّ الإسلام ونجاة النفوس ورِضا الرحمان، ونحن نتكلم لعِزّ النفس وطلب الدنيا وقبول الخَلْق
(ابن الجوزي، صفة الصفوة، ط. دار الحديث، 2/313)

Support Islamic Comics

Support Islamic Comics

Wholesole, clean humor. Something we want and need for our children, especially, to enjoy. Please enjoy, and do your part to support.

I have been following IslamicComics.org, featuring the Ahmad Family, for a a number of years. They are funny, and humor is within Islamic theological guidelines; nothing blasphemous. This is as expected, for the author is a practicing Muslim serious about religion. Even for the drawings, he is following a more conservative view by not drawing eyes on the faces. I am generally wary about recommending or ‘liking’ anything, unless I know both the author and product well. Both of these conditions are satisfied with IslamicComics. Below is a sample (but please continue reading after the comic):

Ahmad-Family-Interviews-RGB-scaled

Therefore, I recommend these comics, especially to those with children. The comics are free, but if you pay to subscribe, then you can download activity pages, greeting cards and e-books. So, I encourage you to subscribe. Remember that Muslim artists like this spend considerable time on producing Islamic humor alternatives, and they must still feed their families.

  • To subscribe for 12 months, visit this page.
  • If you would like to donate to support the artist, you can do so here.

“While cultivating sophisticated knowledge of the Arabic tongue, we-like other nonArab Muslim cultures before us-must embrace our indigenous tongue, the English language, and make it the primary vehicle of our culture. We must continue to develop humor and various literary and musical forms but also cultivate film-especially historical fiction-theater, and art, including interior decorating and fashion design. ”

Dr. Umar Faruq `Abd-Allah, Islam and the Cultural Imparative

 

Skyscraper Sunsets

Skyscraper Sunsets

SkyscraperSunsets

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!

 

 

Book_of_Wonders_folio_36a_cropped

 

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]

 

800px-PHAROS2013-3000x2250

 

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]

TabaqatHanafiyyahIbn 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]

PHAROS_Scale_Comparison

 

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.

IslamicFinderSettingsThe 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.

800px-QaitbeyCitadel

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.

 

 

799px-San_Stefano_Grand_Plaza,_Alexandria,_Egypt

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.Khansa_AthafidDahr.png

PICTURE CREDITS:

The Knowledge-Voyagers

The Knowledge-Voyagers

Cosmetic_icon_Itinerant_ScholarPeople have long traveled for diverse reasons, and there were various types of voyagers in the medieval Muslim world, including ardent pilgrims, wandering dervishes, and enterprising merchants. But, starting in the 8th century CE (2nd century Hijri), another large contingent joined the ranks of the itinerants: many Muslims began traveling extensively in pursuit of sacred knowledge, especially (but not limited to) to hear and write down ḥadīths (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad) from those who were transmitting them. This spontaneously gave rise to a remarkable, informal, decentralized,

unregulated, diverse global information network. We get some idea of the extent to which this voyaging reached by observing that ˁAlī ibn al-Ḥasan ibn ˁAsākir (d. 571/1176, a major hadith-voyager and chronicler) compiled a book called “The Forty City [Narrations]” (Arbaˁūn Buldāniyyah), which contained forty ḥadīths heard from forty different teachers in forty different cities, tracing back to forty different Companions of the Prophet Muhammad, and dealing with forty different topics. In his prelude to the book, he describes the hadith-voyagers:

So, [the adīth-folk] intently pursued gathering [adīths] in all moments and circumstances, flying to [different] lands like eagles and falcons, consequently living lives of poverty and destitution in [willing] exile from home, and tolerating – on this quest – coarse food and clothing.”

It became unusual for someone laying claim to knowledge to not have traveled to seek knowledge from distant teachers. A couple of prominent exceptions are Imām Mālik ibn Anas (d. 179/796, the eponym of the Mālik school of law) and Abū Bakr ibn Mujāhid (d. 324/936, the famous canonizer of the Seven Quranic Readings, whose scholarly travel was restricted to his hajj travel to Makka).

Imam al-Shafi`i (d. 204H) wrote some lines of poetry encouraging people to travel. Three centuries later, Qadi Tartushi (d. 520H, a Maliki jurist and judge) wrote a rejoinder, discouraging people from travel, on the basis that times had changed. You can read both pieces of poetry, with their translations, here.

So, what about today? Two quick points:

1. Start Local

Scholars of the past would not travel for knowledge until they had exhausted the knowledge available to them locally. Most large metropolitan areas in the US (and probably many other countries) have individuals within them who are qualified to teach you the basics of one or more Islamic disciplines, and perhaps even things beyond that. It is rather a waste of money to travel overseas simply to learn the ABCs of a discipline that you could learn at minimal cost and without travel. If you delay your educational voyage until after you have mastered the basics, your overseas studies can also be more productive (such as by studying advanced texts that you couldn’t study locally). Of course, if you have additional legitimate motives for travelling overseas at an early stage, such as to spend some time living in a city where you hear the call to prayer (adhan) fives times a day, or to sightsee, or visit relatives, then that is a separate matter, and you are free to make your decision after due thought and diligence.

2. What about technology? Can’t I be a virtual globetrotter, attending online classes in multiple countries, and save the costs of traveling? Yes, you can do that, and might get the same information content, but you won’t get the intangibles and other elements that constitute the full experience: The tiring exertions and other difficulties of travel that will make you truly value what you got out of the trip…. The invaluable face-to-face dimension of student-teacher interactions through you which you can experientially learn things about behavior, manners and ethos in a way that you won’t find in a book…. and if you are traveling to a different country, the broadening of horizons that comes from living in a different culture and seeing the challenges and joys of its people. For an advanced seeker of sacred knowledge, travel is almost essential.

And of course, if you want to be a knowledge-voyager, then as with any deed by which you intend devotion, check your intentions.

IMAGE CREDIT: Itinerant Scholar, taken from https://dota2.gamepedia.com/Itinerant_Scholar, that website’s content provided under the terms of CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

Lady Zaynab’s Karbala Lament

After the tragedy of Karbala (in the year 61H / 680 CE), in which the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson Husayn was slaughtered along with many of his family members, the following lines of poetry were recited by Zaynab bint `Ali (Husayn’s sister) (according to another version it was Zaynab bint `Aqil, Husayn’s first cousin):

Tell me what you would say if the Prophet of God were to ask: 
What, O what have you done, O ye readers of God's Final Book? 
To the folk of my household, my dear kith and kin, after me? 
See now half of them captives and half drenched in blood lying slain. 
Is this what I deserve? Nay, aforetime I warned you, quite clear, 
Lest you later betray me, mistreating my own flesh and blood.

ماذا تقولون إن قال النبي لكم * ماذا فعلتم وأنتم آخر الأمم
بعترتي وبأهلي بعد مفتقدي * منهم أسارى ومنهم ضرجوا بدم
ما كان هذا جزائي إذ نصحت لكم * أن تخلفوني بسوء في ذوي رحمي

Abul-Aswad al-Du'ali, a close companion of `Ali ibn Abi Talib, 
responded upon hearing these words,
"We will say (to God): Our Lord, we have wronged ourselves, 
and if You do not forgive us and have mercy upon us, 
we will surely be among the losers. [Quran, 7:23]"
رَبَّنَا ظَلَمْنَآ أَنفُسَنَا وَإِن لَّمْ تَغْفِرْ لَنَا وَتَرْحَمْنَا لَنَكُونَنَّ مِنَ ٱلْخَـٰسِرِينَ

Sources: Tarikh Dimashq, Ansab al-Ashraf, Muruj al-Dhahab  with slight variations in the wording of the lines of poetry

Destigmatizing Mental Illness

Destigmatizing Mental Illness

brain-3446307_960_720Mental 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.

FOOTNOTE:

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/