Facilitating of Ease in Religious Duties

Facilitating of Ease in Religious Duties

In the Name of Allah, The Most Merciful, The Especially Merciful

بابُ التَيسير

Given the array of commitments people have, one of the key roles of religion is to make life easy for them. Allah, the exalted, is most merciful and gentle towards His creation. Hence, His religion does not place undue burden on anyone. Allah, the exalted, says:

Allah desires for you ease; He desires not hardship for you.

This follows that the Prophet upon whom the revelation was revealed would follow this way. Allah, the exalted, says:

It was by the mercy of Allah that you were lenient with them (O Muḥammad), for if you had been stern and fierce of heart they would have dispersed from around you.”

And the Messenger of Allah  ﷺ said to Abū Mūsa al-Aṣh’arī and Mu’ādh bin Jabal (May Allah be pleased with both of them), when he sent them to Yemen:

يَسِّرَا وَلاَ تُعَسِّرَا، وَبَشِّرَا وَلاَ تُنَفِّرَا، وَتَطَاوَعَا لاَ تَخْتَلِفَا

Be easy (with the people) and don’t make things difficult, bring good news and don’t estrange (them), accede and don’t oppose.”

And the Messenger of Allah  ﷺ also said:

فَإِنَّمَا بُعِثْتُمْ مُيَسِّرِينَ، وَلَمْ تُبْعَثُوا مُعَسِّرِينَ

you have been sent to make things easy (for the people) and not to make things difficult.

It is clear that great emphasis is placed in Islam on facilitating ease. Something that is all the more pertinent given our demanding lifestyles. The facilitation of ease in religion can achieved in a number of ways:

1. One ought not to make something which is difficult for people a pillar (rukn) or condition (ṣharṭ). For example, the reverence for prayer requires that one should purify their mouth before coming to the mosque, therefore making it compulsory to use the miswāk before the prayer. However, the Messenger of Allah  ﷺ said:

لَوْلاَ أَنْ أَشُقَّ عَلَى أُمَّتِي لأَمَرْتُهُمْ بِالسِّوَاكِ عِنْدَ كُلِّ صَلاَةٍ

Were it not that I would have been hard on my community, I would have ordered them to clean their teeth with a siwāk before every prayer.”

2. One should make those things which are a part of worship into such conventions which people can take pride in. For example, when the Messenger of Allah ﷺ came to Medina and was informed that playing games in those two days was a pre-Islamic practice, he said:

إِنَّ اللَّهَ قَدْ أَبْدَلَكُمْ بِهِمَا خَيْرًا مِنْهُمَا يَوْمَ الأَضْحَى وَيَوْمَ الْفِطْرِ

Allah has substituted for them something better than them, the day of sacrifice and the day of the breaking of the fast.”

In a similar way, a smaller Eid was made once a week that took into consideration human needs. We all need to take rest and take refresh.  Islam recognised this desire and set the Friday congregational prayer. Hence, the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said:

لِيَعْلَمَ الْيَهُودُ وَالنَّصَارَى أَنْ فِي دِينِنَا فُسْحَةً

So the Jews will know that in our religion there is room for pleasure

3. To make those acts of worship into customary practices which people desire due to their physical nature. So that both nature and reason will combine to motivate them. That is why keeping the mosque clean and fragrant and washing and scenting oneself on Friday was made a customary practice.  In a similar way, to recite the Qur’ān in a melodious way was recommended, as the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said:

مَنْ لَمْ يَتَغَنَّ بِالْقُرْآنِ فلَيْسَ مِنَّا

Whoever does not recite the Qur’ān in a melodious voice is not from us.”

The same applies for having a beautiful voice for the call to prayer. Humans love beauty, Islam continued with this tradition of maintaining beauty in our actions and the environment.

4. What people find burdensome should be relieved as well as that which is detested by their nature. That is why the leading of prayers by a slave, bedouin, or someone with an unknown lineage was detested because this would be found to be repugnant to people. The Messenger of Allah ﷺ forbade it and said:

ثَلاَثَةٌ لاَ تُجَاوِزُ صَلاَتُهُمْ آذَانَهُمُ الْعَبْدُ الآبِقُ حَتَّى يَرْجِعَ وَامْرَأَةٌ بَاتَتْ وَزَوْجُهَا عَلَيْهَا سَاخِطٌ وَإِمَامُ قَوْمٍ وَهُمْ لَهُ كَارِهُونَ

There are three whose ṣalāh would not rise up beyond their ears: The runaway slave until he returns, a woman who spends a night while her husband is angry with her, and a people’s Imām whom they dislike.”

5. Things should be retained which suit the nature of people and the removal of it would cause them discomfort. For example, the Sultan is most deserving to be the imām, or the owner of the house. And in the case of the one who marries a new wife he should spend seven nights with her, or three if she was previously married and then he should divide time equally among them.

6. A practice should be made of imparting knowledge among people, giving sermons, and ordering good and forbidding evil so that their hearts become filled with it and are willing to follow the divine law without any discomfort. That is why we find Ibn Mas’ūd (may Allah be pleased with him) saying that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ would:

كَانَ النَّبِيُّ صلى الله عليه وسلم يَتَخَوَّلُنَا بِالْمَوْعِظَةِ فِي الأَيَّامِ، كَرَاهَةَ السَّآمَةِ عَلَيْنَا

take care of us in preaching by selecting a suitable time, so that we might not get bored” (He abstained from pestering us with sermons and knowledge all the time).

Wisdom dictates that an appropriate time and place should be chosen for imparting knowledge and furnishing good counsel.

7. Though he did not need to, the Messenger of Allah ﷺ would act upon religious dispensations (ruḳhsa) so that people could follow his way; piety and leadership does not always require one to follow the heights of servitude. Show people ease. For example, when the Messenger of Allah ﷺ went out to Mecca in Ramadhān in the year of Victory, he and the people fasted till they came to a place called Kura’ al-Ghamīm and the people also fasted. He then called for a cup of water which he raised till the people saw it, and then he drank from it.

8. The fountain of blessings lies with Allah, the exalted. It was for this reason that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ would pray for his Ummah to become refined and perfected. Those in position of leadership and authority should constantly prayer for their flock.

9. Through the blessings of pious people, spiritual tranquility descends (sakīnah) by which people accept and act upon the divine laws. This is why the companions (may Allah be pleased with all of them) would become absolutely motionless in the presence of the Messenger of Allah ﷺ. Sitting with the true friends of Allah, the exalted, creates a desire to serve Him.

10. Ease in religion is facilitated by deterring the one who seeks to acquire something unjustly by being deprived of it. This is done to protect civil society from trials and tribulations. As in the case of a murderer who does not in inherit or the one who forces a divorce will find it not legally valid.

11. Something that is difficult should be legislated gradually so that it becomes easier for it to be accepted. It is for this reason, ‘Ā’iṣha (may Allah be pleased with her) said:

إِنَّمَا نَزَلَ أَوَّلَ مَا نَزَلَ مِنْهُ سُورَةٌ مِنَ الْمُفَصَّلِ فِيهَا ذِكْرُ الْجَنَّةِ وَالنَّارِ حَتَّى إِذَا ثَابَ النَّاسُ إِلَى الإِسْلاَمِ نَزَلَ الْحَلاَلُ وَالْحَرَامُ، وَلَوْ نَزَلَ أَوَّلَ شَىْءٍ لاَ تَشْرَبُوا الْخَمْرَ. لَقَالُوا لاَ نَدَعُ الْخَمْرَ أَبَدًا

The first thing that was revealed thereof was a chapter from al-Mufaṣṣal in which Paradise and Hell were mentioned. Once the people had rallied to Islam the permitted and forbidden were revealed. If the first thing to be revealed had been, ‘Do not drink wine,’ and if ‘Do not fornicate,’ has been revealed, they would have said, ‘We will never give up fornication.’

When advising and assisting people, consideration should be taken of their personal circumstances. Wisdom dictates that compassion and empathy be applied at all times.

12. The Messenger of Allah ﷺ did not perform any action that may cause peoples hearts to become disunited or entertain doubts such that he even left out some recommended (mustaḥab) things. We have his saying to ‘Ā’iṣha (may Allah be pleased with her):

لَوْلاَ حِدْثَانُ قَوْمِكِ بِالْكُفْرِ لَنَقَضْتُ الْبَيْتَ حَتَّى أَزِيدَ فِيهِ مِنَ الْحِجْرِ فَإِنَّ قَوْمَكِ قَصَّرُوا فِي الْبِنَاءِ

If your people had not been new converts to Islam, I would have demolished the House and would have added (in it area) from the ḥijr for your people have reduced the area from its foundations.”

 One should avoid anything that may lead to doubts entering peoples hearts or leading to disunity. Unity is of paramount importance.

13. To facilitate ease the Messenger of Allah ﷺ did not describe the finer details of acts of worship precisely. He informed us of pious actions such as the ablution, bath, prayer, alms-giving, fasting and so forth along with their pillars (arkān), conditions (ṣhurūṭ) and proper behaviours (ādāb) but did not go into the finer details. He allowed them to reason and to understand from these words (regarding worship) and what they were accustomed to. For example, the Messenger of Allah ﷺ stated that prayer is not valid without reciting the fātiḥah but he did not go into the pronunciation of its letters. He explained that facing the Qibla is a condition of prayer but did not delve into how we can work out the direction of prayer. He explained the minimum amount for the alms-giving (zakāh) it to be two hundred dirhams but did not explain its weight. He continued explaining things to them in ways that can be comprehended and they were familiar with. Thus, he replied when he was asked about the first crescent moon of Ramaḍhạn, he said:

فَإِنْ غُمَّ عَلَيْكُمْ فَاقْدِرُوا ثَلاَثِينَ

Then if it is obscured from you, completed the number (of days) of thirty (of Sha’bān)

The reason for not describing the finer details of acts of worship can be understood by the following:

  • Explaining would require another explanation and this would continue ad infinitum.
  • It would become the source of undue difficulty.
  • The divine law was imposed so as to apply to everyone; too much detail would become difficult on everyone.
  • Giving too much detail comes at the cost of losing the spiritual aspects of these acts.

14. To speak to people according to the measure of their intelligence which was placed at the basis of their nature so that understanding the religion is easy. This was before people became interested in theosophy (ḥikma) theology and foundations of jurisprudence. This explains that when Allah, the exalted, said, ‘the Merciful sits upon the throne’ the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said to the black woman, ‘Where is Allah?’ and she pointed to the sky; then he said, ‘she is a believer.’ This is because this is how they understood things. Similar to this is the case of facing the Qibla, prayer times and so forth. The Messenger of Allah ﷺ did not require people to memorise formulae of astronomy or geometry and he indicated by saying, ‘that the Qibla is everywhere between the East and West.’ And only Allah knows best.

For a PDF copy with references see below:


Qaradawi and speaking the language of the age

Qaradawi and speaking the language of the age

Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi has long argued for the ‘ulama and religious leaders to combine Islamic and modern forms of knowledge, in order to ‘speak the language of the age.’ In 1963, he put to Muhammad ibn Ibrahim Al al-Shaykh, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia that:

لا يعيش الطالب معزولاً عن عصره، وحتـى إذا قدر له أن يشتغل بالدعوة أو بالفتوى كان عالماً بوقاع من يدعوهم ويخاطبهم بلسانهم، لبين لهم، وعالماً بوقاع من يفتيهم، وتعلم سماحتكم أن المحقق ابن القيم قال: الفقيه الحق هو من يزاوج بين الواجب والواقع… ولا يسعنا إلا أن نعيش عصرنا

“the student should not live disassociated from his age. If he is destined to preach or issues fatwas, he should be knowledgable about the world of those whom he preaches and he should be able to speak to them in their language… As Ibn al-Qayyim [1350] has said, ‘a true jurist is one who joins the “obligatory” to the “actual”… we cannot but live in our own age…”

(For the full text in Arabic see Qaradawi, Ibn al-Qarya, 2:503 and see also Muhammad Qasim Zaman, Modern Islamic thought in a Radical age: Religious Authority and Internal criticism, pg. 150-151)

Ḥadīth Criticism from the Time of the Companions

Ḥadīth Criticism from the Time of the Companions

To which era did Ibn Ḥajar belong?

One of the challenges any student of knowledge faces is trying to remember when scholars were around. So when it comes to somone like Ibn Ḥajar Al-Asqalāni, one can, by recalling his work, Al-Durar Al-Kāmina Fī A’yāni Al-Miati Al-Thāmina, (the hidden gem of notables in to 8th century) quickly come to know when he was around. The same can apply to his student, Ṣhamṣ al-Dīn Muḥammad ibn ‘Abd al-Raḥmān al-Sakhāwī, from his text, Al-Ḍaw’ al-lāmi’ li ahli al-Qarni al-Tāsi (the splendid light of notables in the 9th century). Finally, one can for example, by recalling An-nūr Al-Sāfir an Akhbār Al-Qurn Al-Āa’shir (the manifest light regarding reports of the 10th century) know when its author, Abdul Qādir bin Abdullāh al-Aydarūs was around. This was just a handy tip. Anyway, lets move on to what we really want to discuss.

When did ḥadīth criticism begin?

Before attempting to provide an answer to this question, one ought to ask more generally: does the law come first or society? Or do they both come together? In other words, does society come into operation followed by the law which them aims to regulate behaviour, or, are laws expounded with society then expected to conform to it? There are three theories propounded in response to this question.

The first states that the law or regulation of society comes later; much in the same way it is argued that the corpus of Ḥanafi law emerged out of society; or the way rules for Arabic grammar emerged after the spread of Islam to non-Muslim lands. The second theory states opposite; that the law comes first. For example, the scholars of ḥadīth cite the verse of the Qur’ān: “O you who believe! If an iniquitous person comes to you with tidings, then be discerning…”[1] The argument goes that the only way to know if someone is iniquitous or honest is to verify their character. Furthermore, the entire Qur’ān is actively engaged in grounding its readers in observing the character of people. Therefore, the character of a person is paramount. Here we see the law providing guidance as to how society should behave; law structures society.

The final theory is that they [both law and society] emerged together. This can be gleaned from the wife of the Prophet, may the peace and blessings of God be upon him, Ḳhadijāh, may God be pleased with her, who, when informed of the first revelation, sent for her cousin Waraqāh bin Nawfal. This incident shows that she had already made a ‘judgement’ based on a number of considerations (e.g. believing in his integrity and honesty). The same can be understood from Abu Bakr, may God be pleased with, and his belief in the night journey of the Prophet, may the peace and blessings of God be upon him.[2] For them, the truth of the Prophets message was a foregone conclusion. In both of these examples, we can see that society and law emerged together.

If we develop the third theory, we see that the companions were actively engaged in ḥadīth criticism. For example, Ibn Mas’ūd, may God be pleased with him, was known to be stringent in narrating ḥadīth. This theory, then, helps to explain why despite that fact that there were so many companions, the collection of actual ḥadīth is much smaller; there was a ‘filter’ in process. More accurately, they were engaging in the science of verification (tathabut). It was Umar, may God be pleased with him, who institutionalised this process in order to gain certainty over ḥadīth.[3] The narration of Umar verifying the ḥadīth of knocking on a door three times is a well-known example of this.[4] To summarise, transmission and criticism went hand in hand right from the early days of Islam. This, however, was counterbalanced by ‘incentives’ to narrate ḥadīth. So for example, we find the Prophet, may the peace and blessings of God be upon him, reported as saying, ‘Convey from me, even if it is one verse.’[5]

Moving on, when we look at narrator (rāwī) we look for two things: uprightness or integrity (adālah); and, memory (ḍhabt). As for the former, it is the belief of the Sunnīs that none of the Companions deliberately lied about the Prophet, may the peace and blessings of God be upon him. However, this does not discount that they may have been wanting when it comes to memory. Some examples will serve to illustrate this point.

As for the night journey (al-Mi’rāj) of the Prophet, may the peace and blessings of God be upon him, Ibn Abbās was of the opinion that the Prophet, saw God. Ā’iṣhah, may God be pleased with her, however, for example, was of a different opinion.[6] Ibn Umar from his father, may God be pleased with them both, mentions that the Prophet may the peace and blessings of God be upon him said, ‘The deceased is tormented in his grave because of the lamentations (wailing) over him.’[7] However, again we find, Ā’iṣhah, may God be pleased with her, performed ijtihād on her part, because she thought that they contradicted the words of God, ‘and no bearer of burdens shall bear the burden of another.’[8] For our purposes, she says, ‘…by God you are not narrating this ḥadīth from two liars [Ibn Umar and Umar] who have disbelieved, but sometimes you mishear.’[9]

Abū Hūrairah, may God be pleased with him, was of the opinion that one needed to perform ablution (wuḍhū) from that which has been touched by the fire. Ibn Abbās, may God be pleased with him, used analogical reasoning (qiyās) and asked him what would one do with water that had been heated since this would lead to an absurdity.[10] The point is, despite there being any number of explanations for the the statements made by the Companions, they were always actively engaged in critiquing one another, though their integrity was never in question.

And only God knows best.

[1] Qur’ān 49:7

[2] They said to Abū Bakr, ‘Look at what your companion is saying. He says he went to Jerusalem and came back in one night.’ Abū Bakr, told them, ‘If he said that, then he is truthful. I believe him concerning the news of the heavens–that an angel descends to him from the heavens. How could I not believe he went to Jerusalem and came back in a short period of time–when these are on earth?’ At that, the Companion, Abū Bakr, was called “al-Ṣiddīq”—because of how strongly he believed all what the Prophet, may the peace and blessings of God be upon him, said.

[3] In fact, Umar was doing this during the Prophet, Prophet, may the Peace and Blessings of God be Upon Him, time when for example, he went to him to verify if he had indeed divorced his wives (See Bukhārī). A second example is that of Ḍhimām bin Ṭha’labah: It was narrated from ṢharĪk bin Abdullāh bin Abū Namir that he heard Anas bin Mālik say: ‘While we were sitting in the mosque, a man entered riding a camel; he made it kneel in the mosque, then he hobbled it and said to them: ‘Which of you is Muḥammad?’ The Prophet, may the peace and blessings of God be upon him, was reclining among them, so they said: ‘This fair- skinned man who is reclining.’ The man said to him: ‘O son of Abdul Muṭalib!’ The Prophet, may the peace and blessings of God be upon him, said: ‘I am listening to you.’ The man said: O Muḥammad! I am asking you and will be stern in asking, so do not bear any ill-feelings towards me.’ He said: ‘Ask whatever you think.’ The man said: ‘I adjure you by your Lord and the Lord of those who came before you, has God sent you to all of mankind?’ The Prophet, may the peace and blessings of God be upon him, said: ‘By God, yes.; He said: ‘I adjure you by God, has God commanded you to pray the five prayers each day and night?’ The Prophet, may the peace and blessings of God be upon him, said: ‘By God, yes.’ He said: ‘I adjure you by God, has God commanded you to fast this month of each year?’ The Prophet, may the peace and blessings of God be upon him, said : ‘By God, yes.’ He said: ‘I adjure you by God, has God commanded you to take this charity from our rich and distribute it among our poor?’ The M Prophet, may the peace and blessings of God be upon him, said: ‘By God, yes.’ The man said: ‘I believe in what you have brought, and I am the envoy of my people who are behind me. I am Ḍhimām bin Ṭha’labah, the brother of Banū Sā’d bin Bakr (see Muslim).

Imām Al-Ḍhahabi mentions in Tazkiratul Hufāz, ‘he [Umar] was the first one to establish [a precedent of] verification in narration.’ Elsewhere, it was said by Muāwiyah, may God be pleased with him, on the pulpit, ‘O people, be careful over the narrations of the Prophet, may the peace and blessings of God be upon him, except for the narrations mentioned during the time of Umar, may God be pleased with him, for he used to interrogate people with the fear of God…’ (See Tārīkh Madīnah Dimiṣhq)

[4] Once Abū Mūsā went to Umar’s house and knocked three times. When he did not reply, Abū Mūsā turned to leave. Umar came out and asked, ‘Where are you going?’ Abū Mūsā replied that the Prophet, may the peace and blessings of God be upon him, had told him to leave after three knocks. Umar told him to find another companion to witness what he was saying or Umar would beat him. Abū Mūsā went to the masjid and found a group of Ṣaḥābāh. He told them what happened, and they said, SubḥānAllāh, Umar doesn’t know this ḥadīth! They sent the youngest amongst them – Abū Sa’īd al-Khūdrī – to tell Umar. (see Bukhāri)

[5] Bukhārī.

[6] It was narrated that Ā’iṣhah, may God be pleased with her said, ‘Whoever told you that Muḥammad, may the peace and blessings of God be upon him, saw his Lord was lying. He said that no vision can grasp him’ (Bukhāri). However, It was narrated that Ibn Abbās said, the ‘(Prophet’s) heart belied not what he saw, and indeed he saw Him at a second descent.’ [Qur’ān 53:11-12] (This means that) he saw Him twice with his heart’ (Muslim).  See Ibn Kathīr for all the different opinions on this.

[7] Bukhāri and Muslim.

[8] Qur’ān 6:164

[9] al-Nasa’i.

[10] It was narrated from Abū Hūrairah that the Prophet, may the peace and blessings of God be upon him, said, ‘perform ablution after (eating) that which has been changed by fire.’ Ibn Abbās said: ‘should I do ablution after (touching) hot water?” Abū Hūrairah said: ‘O son of my brother, when I narrate a ḥadīth of the Messenger of God, may the peace and blessings of God be upon him, to you, then do not try to make examples for it.’ (Ibn Mājah)

On my recent visit to Russia

On my recent visit to Russia

Recently I had been invited as part of a UK delegation to visit Russia with Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad from the Cambridge Muslim College. Here is what Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad wrote about the experience:

On 23 September 2016 a delegation of CMC scholars attended Juma Prayers at the newly-rebuilt Moscow Cathedral Mosque. The experience was a fascinating one. Muslims in the UK all too often forget these brethren who inhabit the opposite end of Europe. We live on a small island, and our numbers are small. Russian Muslims, by contrast, live in the world’s largest country, and they number at least twenty-five million. So to visit the Moscow Islamic University and to meet their wonderful trainee imams, and then to pray in the vast new Cathedral Mosque, was to embark on a real voyage of discovery.

The Russian capital is home to an estimated two million Muslims, and this is their largest mosque. For this reason the old and inadequate nineteenth-century building which stood on the site has been rebuilt and enlarged, a project which was completed two years ago. The capacity of the new building is officially five thousand, but it was clear that many more were going to attend Juma today.

The new structure, located near Moscow’s Olympic stadium, is cleverly designed to reflect the historic Islamic influence on Russian architecture. Russian church domes and campaniles copied Tatar mosque design for centuries, since Islam was the major civilisational influence here in medieval times. The mosque therefore finds it easy to be Islamic and European at the same time, pleasingly abolishing a familiar tension. Here, as one walks through the rain towards the vast structure, one reflects on a European national culture which has always internalised Muslimness, albeit with many difficult episodes. Most Muslims here are not immigrants, and are not considered foreign: Islam came to Russia long before Christianity arrived. Countless millions of Russians today claim mixed Muslim and Christian ancestry. Everyone seems to have a Muslim neighbour. Old and young alike speak the national language. Here, Islam announces that it is entirely at home, and has always been so. Most of these worshippers claim no roots abroad.

Near the mosque the crowd becomes busier. Pedlars sell flat loaves of bread, horsemeat sausages, and juice from Siberian aronia berries. Next to the Islamic University there is a gift shop and a Tatar restaurant with eminently charming staff. But we are undistracted, and enter the courtyard, and then the excellently planned and spotless taharet area. Outside is the wet and cold of Russia, and so there is ample space for overcoats and heavy shoes. Ready to pray, we file up the magnificent central stairway, and enter the main worship space.

The walls around us are decorated with thuluth calligraphy by the Turkish master Hüseyin Kutlu. These take the form of great roundels, displaying texts carefully chosen by Kutlu himself for their appropriateness to each part of the sacred space. The mihrab, also Turkish in inspiration, is built in a light grey marble. It is truly enormous. And high above our heads, at the centre of the dome, we see a remarkable Russian-style joggled pattern, picked out in dark blue, turquoise and gold; another reminder of the Islamic influence on Russian architecture.

This ‘cathedral mosque’, as the local Muslims call it, is the official mosque of the Grand Mufti of the Russian Federation, Shaykh Ravil Gainutdinov, and hence is essentially Hanafi in its practices. Still, when the imam appears, taking step after step up a gigantic marble minbar, pausing on each step in the traditional way, the bulk of the khutba is in Tatar and Russian.

The mosque has nine imams, but today’s preacher is Shaykh Damir Dzhan. He wears the large white turban of ulema from the Volga region: traditionally the imams here are from the city of Nizhny Novgorod, a centre of Muslim scholarship some three hundred miles east of here. His subject is the tawaf, and for almost an hour he holds the congregation’s attention. These are educated people, and the khutba must be deep and reflective. He compares the tawaf to the natural geometries of the world, the anticlockwise motions of the solar system, the patterns of the cosmos. A complex and interesting argument unfolds.

The congregation is young: I see hardly anyone over the age of forty. Most have arrived early: the mosque was full even before the adhan. They are respectful and pay close attention to the sermon. A few are taking photographs, and in front of me a teenager in a high felt hat is on his feet, taking a video with his phone. There are policemen here and there. But the atmosphere overall is holy and restrained.

The khutba is over, and Imam Damir makes his long journey down the steps. He leads us in Surat al-A’la and Surat al-Ghashiya. After the prayer there is tasbih and dhikr, and then a visiting imam recites from the Qur’an, his glorious voice soaring up into the heights of the dome. He begins and ends with maqam Saba: his treatment purely classical in style, with nothing of the local about it; but thanks to the universality of beauty the cantillation fits in a dignified way into this space and into our hearts.

Afterwards there are hugs, tea, and conversations with this little-known European people. Everyone seems to be a keen Putin supporter, and I learn that the Russian president is more popular among Muslims here than among any other group of the Russian population. There is certainly much to think about.

Truly, a different age has dawned in the formerly grey and misanthropic Soviet metropolis, which saw so many ulema tortured and deported in the aftermath of Lenin’s brutal revolution. And there is so much love for God here! After communism spread its cold fog over these people for seventy years, hope and faith and optimism are back in amazing strength. Although the legacy of forced secularity has left many people with little religious knowledge, only six percent of Russians today call themselves atheists. This mosque, the soaring words of the Qur’an within it, and these rivers of young people who now flow out into the streets, recharged and reassured, show the truth of God’s word: ‘And God refuses anything other than the completion of His light, though the unbelievers disdain it.’

Initiative to Stop the Violence: Sadat’s Assassins and the Renunciation of Political Violence

Initiative to Stop the Violence: Sadat’s Assassins and the Renunciation of Political Violence

Mubādarat Waqf al-‘Unf al-Gamā’ah al-Islāmīyah

In The Name of God, The Most Merciful, The Especially Merciful

This book is an important read as it emerges from within one of the largest and most militant Islamic organisations in the Middle East, Egypt’s al-Gamā’ah al-Islāmīyah. The movement is believed to have played a role in a number of acts of terrorism, including the assassination of President Anwar Sadat and the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Yet, it has received very little attention. Besides being a reflexive manifesto, it challenges and enriches prevailing notions about the role of Islamists in fighting the scourge of extremist politics, blind anti-Westernism, and, alas, wayward jihad.

The movement went on to renounce violence, along with its former ideology in 1997 and opted to look deep into the rich intellectual Islamic tradition; to emerge with a more deeper understanding of what the aim and application of jihad actually is.  As Dr Jackson states, ‘the Gamā’ah drew on a conspicuously traditional set of arguments – indeed, to a large extent, an emphatically traditional universe of meanings, tropes, and articulations…’ clearly showing that the sharī’ah, when viewed through the prism of tradition, is the ‘most effective means of promoting peaceful conflict resolution with or among Muslims.’ This essential manifesto is available in English thanks to Dr Sherman A. Jackson.  Lucidly written and presented in a manner that can be read by wider audiences. A must read for anyone interested in debates surrounding contemporary Islam.

Islamic Education as ‘Drawing-Out’

Islamic Education as ‘Drawing-Out’

Islamic Education as ‘Drawing-Out’ – Summary of a talk delivered by Sheikh Abdal Hakim Murad

I have just finished watching a video by Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad (AHM) titled ‘Rethinking Islamic Education.’ (youtube link below). In line with his characteristic  erudition, breath and depth of knowledge, he discusses the question of whether Islam ought to be seen by educational theorists as a religion of reason or of inspiration. This is an important question, since it has significant implications for pedagogy and curriculum design in the modern context. Recent Muslim discourse as seeing Islam as a religion based on reason can be seen as a reaction to the European belief in the ‘Oriental unreason.’ Of course, this view has not gone unchallenged. The fundamentalists who trace their ancestry back to Ibn Taymiyyah rejected systematic dialectics and were particularly skeptical about the formal claims of reason in religion. Both camps nevertheless root themselves in scripture. So who is normative? A way to answering this question is to look back at history. In the madrassa curricula, before modern apologetics, we do find a favouring of reason; based on the sciences of nazr, formal theology and legal theory with all of them being sustained by a logical armature. Kalam, in later expressions, was inductive and rationalistic. However, this is not the entire story; one needs to scrutinise the Qur’an itself. AHM goes on to argue that for Muslims, the Qur’an is experienced not as a set of integrated cumulative arguments, but as a ‘dithyramb’ that transforms the soul. The power of scripture lies in its aurality. Its language and imagery are anagogic; ‘it educates through the divine presence actualised in God’s uncreated speech.’ Therefore, Qur’anic cantillation comes across as a purely non-rational mode of education, of ‘drawing-out.’ This passage is striking:

“The ascent to the One, therefore, is not through logic-chopping powers of our ‘dingy clay’ but through acquiring a true and loving ear that can properly hear this music. True learning is, as Suhrawardi put it, an escape from the city of reason to the wilderness where God can be found. This is education not by the accumulation of premises and proofs, but through the deepening of our ontological consciousness.”

Having said so much, though the madrassa curriculum appears dialectical rather than inspirational, AHM states that the Qur’an finds its root in two mutual yet controversial disciplines: kalam and Sufism. Hence, we find that there existed a symbiosis and synthesis between the two; a dual epistemology which was eroded in the modern period and eventually, shattered. Herein lies the consequence:

“Deprived of access to a serious theological education, but having no access to the Sufi illuminations, which was its traditional counterpoint, Muslims pupils and students increasingly incline either to secular lifestyles, or to non mystical readings of Ibn Taymiyyah.”

In order to revive the collapse of this binary arrangement, AHM argues (as does Fazlur Rehman in his book ‘Islam’) one needs to recall that in early Islam such a dichotomy did not exist. For them at least, all knowledge was one. AHM provides the essence of Islamic education:

“…We are required to exist in a harmonious balance that incorporates body, intellect, and soul into a single human subject, an omnium, al-insan al kamil. Only such a being, dialectically regulated by kalam, and emotionally disciplined by Sufism, is capable of true reason, of aql, and thus of being ‘drawn-out.’”

And only God knows best.


Link for the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bI8y3Q_FpD4