Why Can’t We Unite? A Brief Overview of Moon-Sighting Wars (And How To Avoid Them)

“Local!” “Global!” “Sighting!” “Calculations” “Saudi!” “Pakistan!” Shaykh Sohail Hanif makes sense of the annual moon-sighting debates.

The blessed month of Ramadan is almost upon us. It is a month of contemplation, fasting, prayer and tranquility. But just as the tranquility of Paradise is “surrounded by disliked matters,”[1] Ramadan can only be arrived at after crossing the uncomfortable terrain of moonsighting debates. In this run up to the sacred month, otherwise ordinary words can acquire great rhetorical force: “Local!” “Global!” “Sighting!” “Calculations” “Saudi!” “Pakistan!” Each word is backed up by arguments, documents and video clips. But must these exchanges be inevitable, and is there a way out of this impasse? I believe there is if we read our classical heritage with some care.

It’s All Backed By Classical Scholarship

It is true that since the earliest times, scholars of Islamic law have disagreed over the correct method of declaring the beginning of the blessed month. There is a classical precedent for local sighting, global sighting, and even astronomical calculations. Thus, the disagreements that beset us at the beginning of the blessed month do have a basis in classical scholarship. However, there is something that we are missing as we churn out these classical positions: the missing point is process.

Process, Process, Process

Classical works of Islamic law provide details on how the new moon is to be established.

  • We are told by some classical jurists that if the sky is clear, a large number of people are required to have seen the moon. This is because the sighting of only a few people on a clear night is inherently suspicious since most onlookers did not see it.[2]
  • If the sky is overcast, then some jurists stipulated two witnesses for a valid sighting,[3] treating it as akin to establishing a fact in court, whilst others accepted a single witness,[4] treating it as a religious report.

In either case, they required that the individuals be morally upright. The question here is, who is it that will determine whether a group sighting is large enough on a clear night? Who is it that will decide whether a witness is upright or not? Who will determine the number of witnesses required on an overcast night? Each of these points has its own conditions that need to be verified by one who is both suitably trained and is vested with the authority to do so. This is the Muslim judge who has been placed in a position to declare the beginning of the month. Thus, the entry of Ramadan is established through a judicial process.

Waiting For Official Judgement

The commencement of Ramadan is not a private matter for individuals to declare. Individuals are only to raise their possible sightings to the appropriate authority who will then consider whether to accept or reject the sighting, and will consider which conditions to consider to declare the beginning of the month. This is why books of Islamic law discuss the case where an individual is sure that he/she saw the new moon, but was unable to convince the judge of this; should such a person fast? The commonly stated answer is that such a person does fast. However, this only applies to the person in question; everyone else is to await the official judgement on the matter.[5]
This is why, in Muslim countries, one rarely finds households divided over when they start fasting or celebrate Eid. In these countries, there is typically a governmentally appointed council that is vested with the authority to declare the beginning of the month. The man on the street need only turn on the radio or the television to know if the appointed council has declared the beginning of Ramadan. This is the process that works of sacred law attest to. The reason for this is clear. The communal purpose of Ramadan and Eid cannot be realised if a society is divided over when it starts and finishes the month. This process prevents that from happening.

What About Muslims Living As Minorities?

So what should people do in a minority context such as Britain? The answer is clear; the community must strive to appoint a representative council to declare the entry of the blessed month, which the community must then follow. This is not a new idea; there are many chapters of the law that attest to this. The Friday prayer is one example. Classical works of law imply that towns should, ideally, have only one Friday prayer service, so that the entire town comes together for a single congregation every week. This led to the question of who was to appoint the one imam to deliver the sermon and lead the town in prayer. If left to the people, each group and sect would vie endlessly to have its own group represented.
The answer, at least according to scholars of the Hanafi legal school, was that only the ruler, or the one appointed by the ruler, could choose the imam of this congregation.[6] The public had no authority to start their own Friday prayer. They could only choose to pray behind the appointed imam, or stay at home. In the minority context, scholars of the Hanafi school stated that where there is no Muslim ruler to make such a decision, the community itself must come together and appoint the imam.[7] In this case, no one individual can choose to lead the Friday prayer, only the one appointed by the community. This is effectively what happens in Mosques all over Britain. Mosques represent communities; members from the community run these mosques as representatives of the community, and they determine who leads the Friday prayer.
Shariah courts in Britain attempt to apply the same logic. Where there is no Muslim ruler to appoint judges to annul marriages in which women are abused, the Muslim community can come together to appoint a body to represent them in performing such a function. There is precedent to all of this in the works of Islamic law. The matter of Ramadan must be treated likewise.

Avoiding Sectarianism

Now, one might hear a voice stubbornly declare, “Okay, I’ll follow this appointed body as long as they follow local sightings!” Unfortunately, this is not how the process works. If the authority is vested in a judge, or a body acting as the judge, the prerogative is theirs to decide which method to use. The insistence of only observing the “correct” Ramadan is akin to insisting that only the “correct” Muslim enters one’s mosque; it is a thought process that is sectarian in nature and destructive in consequence. Unless the appointed judicial body totally violates and steps outside of what is considered acceptable opinion, it has to be followed. So where do we find this pool of acceptable opinion?
The world of Sunni Islam, the Muslim majority, ultimately settled on limiting the pool of acceptable opinion to the four established schools of law: the Hanafi, Shafi‘i, Maliki and Hanbali. This is not to say that great scholarship cannot exist outside of these schools. However, when it came to process, it was impossible to run a society with its need for clearly identifiable rules and procedures, if there was no clear way to limit and define acceptable legal opinion.[8] And as these four schools had matured to such a degree that it became increasingly hard to be recognised as one trained in law outside of the domain of these four schools, with their clearly defined hierarchy of rules, and great tradition of legal literature to draw upon, it made sense to only accept them as representing the law of God in the society of man. This Sunni paradigm ran Muslim societies for centuries, and it is of great use to us. It relieves us of having to force our own correct answer onto others. It is enough for an answer to be acceptable, after which we must strive for the right process in order to establish the will of God on earth.

Every Method Has A Basis In Sacred Law

If we look at the large corpus of legal works authored under the aegis of these four schools of law, we will find that every method currently followed, in Britain or elsewhere, has a basis in sacred law.

  • Relying on astronomical calculations, for example, is an opinion that a number of reputable scholars across legal schools have championed, with the strongest voices belonging to the Shafi‘i school.[9]
  • Global sighting, meaning following a sighting from a faraway land, has been upheld as the strongest opinion of the Hanafi and Hanbali schools, and, according to some, the Maliki school.[10]
  • Local sighting, meaning each locality following its own sightings, has been seen as the strongest opinion of the Shafi‘i school, and, according to some, the Maliki school.[11]

In truth, if a person looks through the corpus of legal works, he/she will see that the methods that were deemed acceptable were vast. As long as the judicial council vested with the authority to declare Ramadan follows any of these, then it must be followed. It is that simple.
So what to make of the long articles defending local sighting as the correct way to declare Ramadan, or global sighting, or other methods? These should all be seen as academic papers. These would be presented to such a judicial body to advise of the best method to follow. Otherwise, they are of little practical consequence because an individual cannot declare their own month.
The issue of moonsighting illustrates the wider purpose of the central devotional acts of Islam that make up its five pillars. Each of these upholds not only the faith of individuals, but the very community of faith to which these individuals belong. The detailed rules of the ritual prayer, fasting and zakat provide much guidance and clarity onhow a community of faith is to be formed, strengthened and spiritually nourished. If the community finds itself in discord and disarray, its members can only blame themselves for not having established these pillars as they were instructed.
References
Note: Most references below are to the Kuwaiti Fiqh Encylopaedia (al-Mawsu‘ah al-fiqhiyyah al-kuwaytiyyah) which is perhaps the best and most accessible comparative fiqh reference compiled in the modern era, contributed to by leading scholars across the Muslim world. Each entry in the encyclopaedia provides references to the primary legal sources from which it draws.
[1] “The Fire is surrounded by lusts; and the Garden is surrounded by disliked matters;” al-Bukhari, hadith no. 6487.
[2] This is the insight of the Hanafi legal school: al-Mawsu‘ah al-fiqhiyyah al-kuwaytiyyah, c.v. “Khabar,” vol. 19, p. 16. Some Maliki texts also indicate this: al-Mawsu‘ah al-fiqhiyyah al-kuwaytiyyah, c.v. “Ru’yat al-hilal,” vol. 22, p. 25.
[3] This is the strongest position of the Maliki school: al-Mawsu‘ah al-fiqhiyyah al-kuwaytiyyah, c.v. “Khabar,” vol. 19, p. 17; and c.v. “Ru’yat al-hilal,” vol. 22, p. 25.
[4] This is the strongest position of the Shafi’i and Hanbali schools, who stipulate this whether the sky is overcast or clear, and of the Hanafi school, who only stipulate this if the sky is overcast: al-Mawsu‘ah al-fiqhiyyah al-kuwaytiyyah, c.v. “Khabar,” vol. 19 pp. 16-17; and c.v. “Ru’yat al-hilal,” vol. 22, pp. 25-7.
[5] This is the opinion of all four schools of law, who differ only on whether such a person must expiate for consciously violating the fast, or not. Some notable scholars of the early Muslim community, however, held that such a person is not obliged to fast at all. There is greater disagreement concerning someone who sees the new moon for the month of Shawwal (the day of ‘Id al-Fitr) if the judge does not accept their testimony. Many scholars held that such a person does not fast; although, Malik and Ahmad b. Hanbal (founders of the Maliki and Hanbali legal schools) held that such a person must ignore their own sighting and fast. See al-Mawsu‘ah al-fiqhiyyah al-kuwaytiyyah, c.v. “Ihlal,” vol. 7, pp. 150-1.
[6] Al-Marghinani, al-Hidayah, ed. Talal Yusuf, 4 vols. (Beirut: Dar Ihya’ al-Turath al-‘Arabi, 2000), vol. 1, p. 82.
[7] Al-Laknawi, ‘Umdat al-ri‘ayah ‘ala Sharh al-Wiqayah, ed. Salah Abu al-Hajj, 7 vols. (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 2009), vol. 1, pp. 321-3; Ibn ‘Abidin, Radd al-muhtar ‘ala al-Durr al-mukhtar, (Cairo: 1885), vol. 1, pp. 540-1.
[8] A good exploration of the social need for fixed rules as the reason for the dominance of the schools of law is Mohammad Fadel, “The Social Logic of Taqlīd and the Rise of the Mukhtaṣar,” Islamic Law and Society, 3, (1996): pp. 193-233.
[9] Scholars upholding this can be traced all the way back to the first Islamic century. The textual basis for this opinion is the hadith narrated by al-Bukhari, “When you see it [the new moon of Ramadan] then fast; and when you see it [the new moon of Shawwal], then break the fast. If it is hidden from you (ghumma ‘alaykum) [i.e. if the sky is overcast] then estimate it (fa-qdiru lahu);” (al-Bukhari, hadith no. 1900). The last verb, fa-qdiru, can be validly understood to mean calculation. Of the scholars who held this, are Abu al-‘Abbas b. Surayj (d. 306/918), one of the leading founders of the classical Shafi‘i school, the Shafi‘i scholar and renowned mystic Abu al-Qasim al-Qushayri (d. 465/1072), the leading Shafi‘i judge Taqi al-Din al-Subki (d. 756/1355), the Shafi‘i legal theorist al-Zarkashi (d. 794/1392), the renowned Maliki legal theorist al-Qarafi (d. 684/1285), and some Hanafi scholars. The late Shafi‘i commentator al-Qalyubi (d. 1069/1659) held that all sighting-claims must be rejected if calculations show that a sighting was impossible, stating, “This is manifestly obvious. In such a case, a person may not fast. Opposing this is obstinacy and stubbornness.” See al-Mawsu‘ah al-fiqhiyyah al-kuwaytiyyah, c.v. “Ru’yat al-hilal,” vol. 22, pp. 31-4. The leading scholar of the late Shāfi‘ī school Muhammad al-Ramli (d. 1004/1596) held that the expert astronomer was obliged to follow his own calculation as was the non-astronomer who believed him; this position has been used by some contemporary Shafi’i scholars to state that in the modern world, with its precise calculations, the strongest opinion of the Shafi’i school should be that everyone must follow calculations; see ‘Umar b. al-Habib al-Husayni, Fath al-‘ali fi jam‘ al-khilaf bayna Ibn Hajar wa-Ibn al-Ramli, ed. Shifa’ Hitu (Jeddah: Dar al-Minhaj, 2010), pp. 819-22. See also the fatwa of the Hanafi scholar Dr Salah Abu al-Hajj (http://www.anwarcenter.com/fatwa/معنى-حديث-لا-تصوموا-حتى-تروا-الهلال-ول) last accessed 9/5/2016) which states, after arguing against relying on calculations, “However, the position of [following] calculations is the position of a considerable group of jurists, so it is a respected disagreement in Islamic law, whereby, if a state were to adopt it, it is not rejected, because the judgement of a judge removes disagreement, and the adoption of a state is [as] the judgement of a judge.”
[10] Al-Mawsu‘ah al-fiqhiyyah al-kuwaytiyyah, c.v. “Ru’yat al-hilal,” vol. 22, pp. 36-8.
[11] Al-Mawsu‘ah al-fiqhiyyah al-kuwaytiyyah, c.v. “Ru’yat al-hilal,” vol. 22, p. 37. The authors of the Mawsu‘ah state that local sighting is only the strongest opinion of the Shafi‘i school. However, many key Maliki texts also attest to the superiority of local sighting; see for example al-Dasuqi, Hashiyat al-Dasuqi ‘ala al-Sharh al-kabir, 4 vols. (Beirut: Dar al-Fikr, n.d), vol. 1, p. 510.

Photo by Bernd Thaller. Republished with much gratitude to our friends at Islamicate.

The Pedagogical Power of the Mawlid, Pt II

In this second part of a two-part article, Ustadh Salman Younas discusses the mawlid and its role in strengthening identity and belonging, and as a source of knowledge acquisition and consolidation.

Discussions on the mawlid and its permissibility often occur in a context where the focus is primarily directed towards determining the strict legal merits of this practice. Commonly, the questions asked in this legal context relate to understanding the notion of sunna, defining innovation (bidʿa), identifying the textual sources supporting or repudiating this practice, and forwarding the opinions of classical jurists. It is seldom the case that people attempt to analyze the mawlid beyond strictly and narrowly defined legal considerations and recognize it as a rather complex social and cultural phenomenon.

This is despite the fact that non-legal considerations are often essential to the issuance of a sound legal judgment. Though debates surrounding the mawlid are often presented in rather simple terms today, several classical scholars sought to view this practice in a broader light when trying to determine its legal status and merits. One of the considerations they took into account was the pedagogical and cohesive power of the mawlid, and the concerns they expressed prove to be quite relevant to Muslims today.

The Modern Crisis of Identity and Belonging

The modern world has ushered in several monumental shifts. One does not have to look very hard to see that religion has increasingly found itself against the ropes where it is inflicted with repeated blows from the defining ideologies and myths of our times – secularism, liberalism, humanism, progressivism, nationalism, capitalism, consumerism, equality, freedom, evolution, science, etc. These have left their mark on virtually every level – from the way political institutions are defined to peoples’ basic social and cultural expressions.

This has had a profoundly negative effect on the believer, the way he identifies himself and understands his faith, and his ability to navigate life meaningfully according to the dictates of religion. In place of an overarching unity comes an incoherent multiplicity. The community (umma) is replaced with the nation-state. Humans are no longer the custodians of the world but exploiters of it. Rituals have been set aside for endless amusement and mindless play. Truth is drowned in a sea of irrelevance, and a culture rooted in the divine has been mutated into trivial culture. There is one word that describes this state of man: heedlessness, or ghafla. Shaykh Hamza Yusuf succinctly describes heedlessness in his commentary on Matharat al-Qulub (p.73):

The ultimate trauma of heedlessness, then, is not seeing things the way they truly are. It is choosing a way of living that allows divine signs to pass one up without notice. The Prophet supplicated that God the Exalted show him things in their reality, distinguished and clear: ‘Show me the truth as truth and give me the ability to follow it; and show me falsehood as falsehood and give me the ability to avoid it.’

Divine signs pass by man at every moment of his existence for as Aldous Huxley remarked, humans have “an infinite appetite for distractions.” (Brave New World) Though distractions are many, it is entertainment and pleasurable indulgences that are arguably at the top of the list. Certainly, the tools of distractions have multiplied in the modern era. Television is an obvious example. The internet is another. There is also the so-called “festival boom” identified with the 20th century that arose as a result of economic and social advancements: Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, Valentine’s Day, and Easter are but a few of the more popular ones. They often reflect the values of society and instill them in the hearts of people. Independence Day, for example, fosters patriotic fervor, national identity, and national unity, and it does so effectively because it is a communal event that elicits happiness and rejoicing. It is no surprise that society as a whole is drawn to these events and often take on-board the values and messages they convey. And such events and celebrations are now everywhere, recurring month after month, year after year.

While several of these cultural festivities seem fairly harmless, the questions a believer should ask himself are: What are these actions rooting me in? How are they meaningfully connecting me to God? Where are they turning my gaze towards? These are what define the Muslim. Indeed, the salient feature of the believer – as individual and community – is possessing a worldview rooted in God, cognizant of Him, guided by His instruction and wisdom. The worldly and mundane are not always perilous, but they often take one down a road of heedlessness and ignorance. The positive identity, purpose, and sense of belonging characterizing the individual as a member of a godly community of believers is lost, buried under increasing layers of distraction and confusion. It is only ameliorated through knowledge, which tethers one to God and His Prophet (blessings upon him).

The Mawlid and Knowledge Acquisition

Just as knowledge has the power to generate emotion, emotion also motivates one in the acquisition of knowledge and plays an important role in its consolidation. Classical scholars recognized this in the context of the mawlid and the appeal of “foreign” festivals. Abu al-ʿAbbas al-ʿAzafi authored a text entitled al-Durr al-Munazzam fi Mawlid al-Nabi in which he directs his concern towards the interest ordinary Muslims display for Christian festivals on the occasion of the birth of Jesus and Yahya, peace be upon them. On these days, Muslims partake in lavish meals with their Christian neighbors, exchange gifts, markets are shuttered, and even Qur’an schools grant pupils a holiday. Consequently, Muslims become firm devotees of these festivals and express a keenness to inform themselves of the histories that surround them.

According to al-Azafi, the love and attachment Muslims exhibit for these festivals is rooted in childhood and, as expressed by Marion Katz, “rests on the pedagogical power of pleasurable indulgences.” There is a power in festivals and joyous events that is not always present in simple religious instruction. Indeed, al-Azafi describes how he visited various schools to teach children about the prophetic sunna and the concept of innovation. He quickly realized, however, that his approach and method was insufficient in establishing these points of knowledge in their hearts and minds. An alternative to Christian festivals had to be created, one rooted in Islamic traditions that produce happiness and rejoicing in a manner people find memorable and inspiring: “Festivals are an occasion of delight, joys, permissible play and licit amusement… and the things [people] rejoice in are established in their minds like engraving in stone.” (al-Durr al-Munazzam)

The mawlid in the eyes of a scholar like al-Azafi served a more fundamental purpose. It was a powerful pedagogical tool that sowed a pious love for the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, in the hearts of people, an interest in his life and teachings, and a deep connection to his person. It provided an opportunity for the community to come together not just as participants in a mundane festival, but a festival rooted in faith that centered around spiritual self-cultivation and spreading love of the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, through both discursive means, such as reading of the sira and poems, and material delights. Indeed, these two means complimented each other with permissible pleasures creating a space and paving the way for knowledge acquisition. As the great jurist and imam of the Zaytuna Mosque, Muhammad ibn Qasim al-Rassa’ (d. 894/1489), advised while approving the mawlid:

Everyone who feels longing and love [for the Prophet] ought to manifest delight and gladness (al-surur wa-al-bishara) on that night and the following morning and treat his children and wife to whatever he can afford in order to receive its blessings. He should entertain them and teach them that he did so simply out of love for that night, delight in it, and concern for its merit. He should explain to them that it is the noblest of nights in the eyes of God, because on it the Messenger of God was born, and mention to them the description of the Messenger of God, his beauty and comeliness, his perfection, virtues and moral qualities, his speech and eloquence, his generosity and magnanimity, his character and clemency, his forgiveness and tolerance, his miracles and signs, everything that endears him to their hearts and exalts him. He should also teach them poems praising and extolling him. I and every other person who loves the Prophet consider this to be judicious and well-considered (min husn al-ra’y wa al-nazar), because teaching something [to a person] in his youth is like carving in stone – especially since youths are enamored of wonders, and [the Prophet’s] miracles are among the most wondrous things. (Tadhkirat al-Muhibbin, trans. M. Katz)

Al-Rassa’ continued by stating that the positive atmosphere surrounding this event should be extended beyond the domestic sphere. School children should be asked to dress in fine clothing, their classes should be decorated, and gifts presented to their teachers. All people should partake in the benefits of the mawlid. Charity should be given, and people instructed in the life of the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him.

In a time where Muslim children and adults find themselves enticed by a never-ending barrage of mindless entertainment and idle-amusement, the mawlid serves as a spiritual and religiously-rooted alternative. By appealing to the very same emotions and proclivities humans possess towards pleasurable indulgences and rejoicing, the practice of the mawlid has for centuries directing the Muslim collectivity towards something more transcendent, pure, and eternal. Its role in creating a community confident in its identity, united in its outlook, and grounded in love for its Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, should not be underappreciated, nor go unrecognized.

While the mawlid is not a panacea to the problems Muslims face, which are many, it has the potential to serve a valuable purpose in our society today when correctly practiced. Just as the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, replaced the festivals of Jahiliya with those of Islam, and just as the religion in general recognized the value of joyful celebration in creating a godly community of believers, the mawlid functions to replace the prevalent idle-distractions and amusements of our time with something more conducive to peoples’ faith and practice.


Calling to Allah (Da’wah): Ustadh Amjad Tarsin

Ustadh Amjad Tarsin recounts an encounter he had with a Jehovah’s Witness representative, who was an example to those calling to Allah.

Conveying the Message

Ustadh Amjad was at home before Jum’ah prayer and there was a knock on the door. He opened the door and saw two people who are older, maybe in their late fifties or early sixties. One of them was on crutches, and handed him a Jehovah’s Witness brochure, and they had a brief, pleasant conversation. Shortly thereafter, the man picked up his crutches and walked off to the next house.

“These people are working so hard for something that’s not true,” Ustadh Amjad observed, “and we don’t work that hard for something that is true.”

The Prophet Muhammad, Allah bless him and give him peace, said, “Convey [my teachings] to the people even if it were a single verse.” (Bukhari, Tirmidhi) While going door-to-door may not be the best way to do this, the least we could do is try to push past our discomfort. By forming relationships with our neighbours, coworkers, and friends, we can be in a better place to share what we know about the Prophet and this beautiful religion. If we make an effort to establish a connection, Allah may choose to open the doors of guidance.

The Prophet is reported to have said to Ali ibn Abi Talib, “For Allah to guide one person through you, is better for you than the most precious of merchandise.”

A Dedicated Caller to Allah

One of Ustadh Amjad’s teachers, Syed Umar bin Hamid al-Haddad, would continuously think about people whenever he went, in hospitals, on the streets, in airports. He was once sitting at home, and fervently prayed, “O Allah, guide someone to Islam.” Someone then knocked on his door and accepted Islam.

He was once in an elevator with Ustadh Amjad and a group of businessmen in the United States. He told Ustadh Amjad, “Tell them where I’m from.” When he told them that Syed Umar was visiting from Saudi Arabia, he said, “From Medina, the holy city.” The men were impressed, and hoped he’d have a nice stay. Everywhere this man went, his heart was turned to Allah for guidance of others.


The Pedagogical Power of the Mawlid, Pt I

In this first part of a two-part article, Ustadh Salman Younas discusses the Festivals of Islam, and the mawlid in particular, as a joyous expression of the greatest blessing from Allah.

Discussions on the mawlid and its permissibility often occur in a context where the focus is primarily directed towards determining the strict legal merits of this practice. Commonly, the questions asked in this legal context relate to understanding the notion of sunna, defining innovation (bidʿa), identifying the textual sources supporting or repudiating this practice, and forwarding the opinions of classical jurists. It is seldom the case that people attempt to analyze the mawlid beyond strictly and narrowly defined legal considerations and recognize it as a rather complex social and cultural phenomenon.

This is despite the fact that non-legal considerations are often essential to the issuance of a sound legal judgment. Though debates surrounding the mawlid are often presented in rather simple terms today, several classical scholars sought to view this practice in a broader light when trying to determine its legal status and merits. One of the considerations they took into account was the pedagogical and cohesive power of the mawlid,and the concerns they expressed prove to be quite relevant to Muslims today.

Islam and Communal Identity–Cohesion

Muslims are often left confused when it comes to questions of identity. Islam is presented to many people through the filter of a particular ethno-cultural community. This is then taught as the way faith is meant to be understood and practiced, which some manage without issue and others with varying degrees of schizophrenia. Of course, Islam as a universal faith largely transcends any particular ethnicity or culture, and the Shariʿa has established guidelines demonstrative of its accommodating and flexible nature. Generally, though, Muslims agree that Islam does bring with it a distinct identity in so far as identity is rudimentarily defined as the qualities of a people or group that make them different from others. In its theology and rituals, Islam distinguishes itself from other faith-groups, and those who accept Islam become members of a distinct community of believers who stand apart from others.

This point about community is important to take note of. Islam is not simply a matter of personal or individual identity, but a collective one that finds its greatest expression in the community. The most fundamental practices and pillars of Islam reflect the communal character of the faith. Prayer is at once a personal act of devotion to God demanded of each individual who is deemed morally responsible (mukallaf), but it is also inextricably tied to congregation and the mosque. In this manner, prayer forms a connection between God and the individual, and between the individual and other believers who come together as servants of God. Similarly, zakat is a pillar that quite clearly serves a social function. Wealth is collected from specific members of the community and distributed to others. The fact that several jurists stipulated that zakat be distributed locally further attests to the social dimensions of this pillar.

The various rituals of Islam, therefore, aim to create and uphold a vibrant, healthy, and godly community of believers. Membership within such a community preserves the faith of individuals, provides them with a sense of identity, self-esteem, and belonging, and motivates them to do good: “Assist one another in righteousness and piety, but do not do so in sin and transgression.” (Sura al-Maida 5:2) Indeed, our self-concepts and self-definitions are not simply based on the unique traits and characteristics of our individual self, but also our relational and collective-selves. On account of the aforementioned, communal identity and cohesion were at the core of the Islamic faith so much so that the very pillars of the religion were legislated with a view to achieving and sustaining them.

The Festivals of Islam

This concern to nurture a distinct identity among Muslims and create a healthy and vibrant community of believers also underpinned the legislation of the major festivals of Islam, namely the two ʿId’s. In a tradition related by ‘Aʿisha, the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, said, “Every nation has its day of celebration, and this is our day of celebration.” (Bukhari) The function of these festivals as distinct markers of the Muslim community that set them apart from others is evident in this tradition. Indeed, other traditions mention that the two ʿId’s had come to replace the celebratory days that people used to observe during the days of ignorance:

The Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, arrived in Medina during two days in which people were celebrating (yalʿabun). The Prophet asked, “What are these two days?” They replied, “We would celebrate these two days in the time of ignorance.” The Prophet said, “God has replaced these two days with two that are better: the day of sacrifice (al-adha) and the day of breaking the fast (al-fitr).” (Abu Dawud)

In addition to its role in developing a religious and social identity, fostering communal cohesion, and developing a universal Islamic culture shared among an otherwise diverse array of Muslims, the ʿId festivals were also catering to a deep-rooted and ineradicable element of human nature, namely the need to express joy, pleasure, and to partake in leisurely activity and amusement. The tradition of Abu Dawud cited above did not repudiate peoples’ engagement in celebratory activity or “play” but shows the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, providing alternative forms of celebration that were imbued with a religious character – not just play and amusement as seen in the tradition of ʿA’isha and the Abyssinians or the singing girls, but prayer, charity, maintaining family ties, spreading good-will, and thanking God for His blessings. In this manner, Islam made use of powerful human emotions, namely joy, love, and happiness, to evoke and instill religious sentiment in people and draw them closer to God.

While the Qur’an describes the world and worldly-life pejoratively as one of “idle play and amusement” (Sura al-An‘am 6:32), this applied primarily to people who had been distracted from God in these activities. The festivals of Islam, on the other hand, emanated from the faith, were rooted in it, and cultivated a community of godly individuals. These festivals demonstrated that Islam was a faith that understood and accommodated the needs of people. As the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, said when observing the Abyssinians dancing in his mosque on ʿId day, “This is for the Jews and Christians to know that our religion has vastness in it.” (Musnad Ahmad) From the vastness of Islam was to provide a space for the community to collectively express its joy and thankfulness in a manner that was universal to all cultures: through celebration and festival. Like any other community, this collective expression and coming together in festive moments were integral to the identity, cohesion, and religious-rootedness of its members.

The Mawlid

The themes of identity, social cohesion, recognizing the human condition, and the power of pleasurable indulgences were considerations that scholars took into account on when justifying the practice of the mawlid. At its heart, the mawlid was a collective expression of thankfulness and joy over the coming of the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, the greatest of creation and a mercy to all the worlds. Of course, humans manifest their thankfulness and joy in myriad ways: individually or collectively through a range of outward activities, such as praying, feasting, donning festive clothing, singing poetry, giving gifts, and so forth. The rituals of Islam themselves variously legislate these activities to express love, thanks, joy, and happiness. Indeed, they were an integral part of normative Islamic piety.

Given the plurality of human cultures and expressions, it would seem inevitable that communities would express their love and joy for the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, in different manners – each unique but united by a common, underlying motivation. So long as the individual activities that constituted the mawlid were permitted, many scholars reasoned that there should be no harm in partaking in this practice especially in view of the fact that the primary texts did not stipulate a particular form by which love of the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, and rejoicing in him had to be observed. In this approach, scholars recognized and presented Islam for the universal faith that it was, one that brought under its umbrella an array of peoples who in the diversity of their tongues, tribes, races, languages, etc., expressed the most fundamental human emotions in different ways.

The mawlid when expressed as a celebratory festivity served similar functions as other festivals. It was a unifying occasion that brought believers together as a lively community of piety. It rooted and expressed their identity as believers, followers, and lovers of the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him. It fostered pride in the community and strengthened connections between individuals. It motivated individuals to do good and reconnect with the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, by taking inspiration and assistance from others. It made people reflect on their history and the blessings of God – His greatest blessing, in fact. The benefits of the mawlid are innumerable, and its role in nurturing a community imbued with love of the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, cannot be understated.


Goodness to Parents – A Reader

Goodness to parents is one of the greatest character traits one can have. Here are some of SeekersGuidance’s best resources on the subject.

The Virtues of Parents

The Powerful Dua of a Parent

Supplication of Excellence to Parents – Du`a’ Birr al-Walidayn 

The Noble Intention of Parents

Parents – Your Door to Allah’s Acceptance, by Ustadh Uthman Bally

Highest Virtues, Excellence with Parents

10 – Umm Ayman – The Prophet’s Mother After His Mother

Prayer of a Concerned Father, Surat al-Baqarah (verses 127-128)

How Can I Guide My Parents to the Right Path?

The Close Proximity of Single Mothers to the Prophet ﷺ

Authenticity of Hadith Stating That Paradise Lies Beneath the Feet of Your Mother

 

Related Articles

Serve Your Parents Now Before It’s Too Late, by Ustadh Salman Younas

The passing of Habib ‘Umar’s mother

Reconnecting With Family–Ustadha Raidah Shah Idil 

Can I Pay for the Hajj of My Parents? 

My Father Was Smarter Than I Thought – Faraz Rabbani

“To Mothers” – Moving Poem by Baraka Blue

The Passing of the Father and Grandfather of Ustadh Salman Younas

Navigating Common Problems

Dealing With a Dysfunctional Relationship With Parents 

How Can I Deal With My Difficult Mother in a Respectful Way

I Have Bad Dreams About My Late Father. What Can I Do?

How Should I Deal With a Mentally Ill Mother?

My Mother Is Not Muslim. How Can I Help Her?

My Mother Makes Supplications Against Me. Will Her Duas Be Accepted?

Can I Give My Zakat to My Father?

To What Extent Should I Obey My Mother? 

Should I Listen to My Husband or My Mother?

How Can I Advise My Mother to Come Back to Islam? 

How Can I Deal With My Elderly Mother Who Refuses Assistance

My Mother Does Not Want Me to Read up on Death and Judgement

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Frequently Asked Questions – Social Justice Series

In this series, Shaykh Walead Mosaad speaks about defining social justice in the Islamic paradigm. In this segment, he answers some frequently asked questions about the topic.

Q: Should we partner with groups with whom we have some differences of opinion?

A: The Qur’an tells us to co-operate in good and God-fearingness. Is it not wrong to ally with someone on a just cause, however you should take care. Many times, these issues are political in nature, with a sense of “we do something for you, you do something for us.” If you do go into an alliance with such a group, you should go in with eyes open and be clear on which points you agree and don’t.

Q: How should we act as a Muslim minority?

A: For most of Islamic history, Muslims have been the minority, in places like Egypt, the Arabian Peninsula, Iraq, and more. Places that do have a Muslim majority, such as Somalia, Indonesia, Kenya and Mozambique, became such without a single Muslim army entering them. Being a minority group is nothing new in Islamic history.

Q: How should we navigate unjust laws? 

A: We need to make a distinction between the laws that we can accept, and the laws that we absolutely cannot accept. For example, if a government makes a low forbidding people from praying five times a day, then we need to do something about it. However, if the law relates to things that are not required by Islam, we should follow it, but can oppose it or work towards it.

Q: How should we view the idea of civil disobedience?

A: On one hand, if we agree to live in a society, we should abide by the law. However, there may be situations that arise when we might need to take action, such as when Rosa Parks protested racial segregation. Civil disobedience does not always mean breaking the law, but we should be careful not to harm the people we seek to convince. For example, having a protest that shuts down an airport, will do the most harm to people who need to fly for medical reasons, or to meet important deadlines. We have to consider what we will be doing, and whether it will actually help the outcome.

Q: What should we do if we are called to jury duty?

A: There is nothing impermissible about being a member of the jury, and it is generally a civic duty. However, you could do what many scholars did, which was to avoid being judges. Once, Imam Abu Hanifa and two other scholars were called to be interviewed for the position of Qadi, or judge. The first pretended to be insane, and Abu Hanifa declared that he was unfit for the post, which caused the ruler to dismiss them both. The third was confused as to what to say, and became the Qadi by default.

Q: What advice would you give to parents of children who feel marginalised?

A: We cannot shield our children from the world, and we should teach them that these things are going to happen. We need to give them a good sense of identity. From a young age, we should instil in them a sense of self-worth, and that the dunya will necessarily include tribulations.

Q: Why is speaking about social justice important, while most Muslims lack even basic tawheed (creed)?

A: Questioning peoples tawheed is questioning their Islam, so that is not a fair assessment to make. If a person believes in Allah and His Messenger, part of their tawheed would necessarily be upholding social justice, as well as the rest of the Prophetic teachings.

About the Series

Social justice has been the focus in recent times of Muslim activists and communities. More often than not, the methods and objectives employed in Muslim social justice work has drawn from practices of other communities and traditions not necessarily rooted in Islamic principles. Does the Islamic tradition contain relevant principles that can be drawn upon to inform social justice work?


Mawlid at Zawiya Masjid, Cape Town: 19 November 2018

Dr H. A. Hellyer writes about the coming mawlid at Al Zawiya, Cape Town, on 19 November 2018. If you are in the city then make sure you join in.

In two years, the Azzavia mosque of Cape Town (Masjid al-Zawiya) will reach its centenary. More than one hundred years ago, its founder, Shaykh Muhammad Salih Hendricks, returned from many years of study in Makka, in the final years of the Ottoman polity, and sowed the roots of a community which continues to exist to this day.

When Shaykh Muhammad Salih Hendricks returned to South Africa, he promulgated a program of teaching which was rare not only in the western Cape, but throughout southern Africa and far beyond. He taught fiqh (generally according to the Shafi‘i school of law, but also according to the Hanafi school), including advanced works such as the Mughni of al-Shirbini, one of the most authoritative commentaries of the Minhaj of al-Nawawi. In tafsir, he taught the Jalalayn, and al-Kabir of al-Razi, as well as the Mustasfa of al-Ghazali and the Minhaj of Baydawi in usul. Many other books were taught in the curriculum.

Within the taṣawwuf tradition, Shaykh Muhammad Salih Hendricks was an exponent of the “tariqa ‘ulama makka,” or the “Way of the Makkan Sages,” which is the subject of a book co-written by two of Shaykh Hendricks’ grandsons, and the author. The most visible public expression of Shaykh Muhammad Salih’s communal Sufism was the mawlid al-Nabi celebration – which is maintained to this day, and which will be carried out again on Monday the 19th of November after the night prayer. As Shaykh Seraj Hendricks, one of the two current resident senior shaykhs of the Zawiya Masjid recollects, Shaykh Muhammad Salih would spend up to three months in preparation of this celebration.

There were three components to the celebrations: the men’s mawlid, the women’s mawlid, and the children’s mawlid. These were held, as they still are today, on different days of the week. The mawlid poem that was recited then – as it continues to be recited now – is that of Imam al-Barzanji. Weeks before the actual event, Shaykh Muhammad Salih would teach the poem to his regular students, who would then recite it in a group at the mawlid, and alongside the poem, Shaykh Muhammad Salih would teach a number of commentaries to those same students. The point to this was simple: to ensure the mawlid did not degenerate to mere entertainment, and, on the contrary, was an opportunity to enrich the mind and the soul.

That mawlid is a poetic eulogy of the Prophet Muhammad, alayhi salatu wa salam: based on the book of God, the narrations of the Prophet, and the books of sira. Mawlid al-Barzanji is in two parts: 19 chapters that relate to the history of the Prophet in prose, and then 16 chapters which rhyme. A previous rendition at the Azzavia is here.

This particular mawlid has been translated into various languages, such that it can truly be described as universal in terms of cultural appeal. As one contemporary writer notes on one edition of the mawlid:

“Mawlid Barzanji is in Arabic; it has been translated into Kiswahili by Mzee bin Ali Muhammad from the Comoro Islands of Africa; it is printed in Singapore; its introduction is in the Indonesian language in the Java dialect; it has been transcribed by Mawlana Uthman Abdulkarim Nasserpuri Rahmatullahi ‘alaih of Kenya; it has been applauded in Zikr-e-Habib (Remembrance of the Beloved Prophet) by Ad-Daa’ee al-Kaamil Mawlana Abdul ‘Aleem Siddiqi, Rahmatullahi ‘alaih, who incidentally composed salaams in Urdu; it has been reproduced in countless other kutub (books) including Baqatun ‘Atirah (A Perfumed Bouquet) of Imam as-Sayyid Muhammad ‘Alawi al-Maliki of Makkah, and it is recited from Makkah to Mombasa, from Madina to Singapore, from Arafat to Jakarta and from Mina to Toronto, that is throughout the world by Muslims of all the four Madhhabs and all Tariqas.”

We ask God to bless those who read this mawlid, who hear this mawlid, who recite this mawlid, and to inculcate the love of mercy and service within them – and we are indebted to SeekersHub for spreading this on this day of all days.

From the Zawiya Masjid, Ustadh Dr H. A. Hellyer


Ustadh Dr. H.A. Hellyer
Biography extracted from A Sublime Way: the Sufi Path of the Makkan Sages.

A noted academic and author focusing on politics and religion, Dr H.A. Hellyer was born to an English father and to an Egyptian mother of Sudanese and Moroccan heritage and Ḥasanī and ʿAbbāsī lineage. He was raised between London, Cairo and Abu Dhabi, before receiving degrees in law and international political economy from the University of Sheffield, and a doctorate from the University of Warwick. He began researching Islamic law, theology and spirituality in his teens, keeping the company of and studying under a number of classically trained-scholars in the UK, Egypt, Malaysia, Singapore, South Africa and elsewhere, including the Malaysian polymath, Professor Tan Sri Sayyid M. Naquib al-Attas, and Shaykh Seraj Hendricks and Shaykh Ahmad Hendricks from among the khulafa of Sayyid Muhammad b. Alawi al-Maliki of Makka.

Dr. Hellyer’s career has included positions at and affiliations with the Brookings Institution, Harvard University, the Royal United Services Institute, the American University in Cairo, the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies of the University of Oxford, and the Centre for Advanced Studies on Islam, Science and Civilisation (CASIS). A public intellectual, he is a frequent commentator and columnist in various media in the United States, Europe and the Arab world, and is included in the annual global list of ‘The 500 Most Influential Muslims’ in the world (‘The Muslim 500’). Among his written works are ‘Muslims of Europe: the ‘Other’ Europeans’ (Edinburgh University Press), ‘A Revolution Undone: Egypt’s Road Beyond Revolt’ (Oxford University Press) and “The Islamic Tradition, Muslim Communities and the Human Rights Discourse” (editor)(Atlantic Council). Dr Hellyer works between London, Washington DC, and Cairo, where he continues to research, teach, and study.

 

Adab 06: The Adab of the Mosque Pt II

Ustadh Tabraze Azam reminds is of the honor Allah has bestowed upon the mosque as a place of worship and the importance of right conduct in it.

Allah Most High says:

Light upon light! Allah guides whoever He wills to His light. And Allah sets forth parables for humanity. For Allah has perfect knowledge of all things. That light shines through houses of worship which Allah has ordered to be raised, and where His Name is mentioned. He is glorified there morning and evening. (Sura al Nur 24:35-36)

Proper manners take time to inculcate. But the more sacred the space or setting, the greater the emphasis is in maintaining a high bar. Each time we display something of a higher level of religion, and thank Allah for it, He increases us out of His generosity. Each time we apply ourselves to a deeper level of excellence, it only shows Allah Most High that we truly care and that His religion is certainly something very dear to us.

“And whoever honours the symbols of Allah, it is certainly out of the piety of the heart.” (Sura al Hajj 22:32) A heart stationed between regular gratitude for Allah’s blessings and a look to the eternal life is the kind of heart that is moved to work righteous deeds, even if only seemingly slight.

With this in mind, let us now turn to the remainder of the proper manners (adab) and sunnas relating to mosques, the houses of Allah Most High.

Sanctity: Physical and Spiritual

One matter which must be remembered at all times is that the mosque has a sanctity (hurma). Upholding this entails that we keep it not only physically clean, which is obvious, but spiritually clean too, namely, from distractions and matters which disturb the stillness and serenity therein. Accordingly, young children who don’t understand the concept of what a mosque or prayer is should be left at home. If there is a need for them to be present, they should be kept beside you so that they can be reminded to remain quiet.

Similarly, you should take a moment to ensure that your phone is muted or turned off as you enter the mosque. It is unbecoming to enter into a sacred space of worshipers and then disturb them with, sometimes, unfortunate ringtones. This is much more emphatic when it occurs during the prayer, so you should use slight movements to quiet down the phone if it happens.

If the phone is away from you, you may need to break the prayer lest it cause further annoyance to the other praying persons. Needless to say, the same would apply to an inconsolable child. Infringing upon the rights of others is a serious matter.

Public Lessons, Sermons, and Recitation

Generally, recitation is something which is a private matter. There is, however, benefit in louder recitation which has a more powerful effect on the heart, mind and soul as more limbs take part in the process. If you would like to recite aloud, you should choose an appropriate place to sit, away from those who are praying and others who may be engaged in worship. The basis is that the mosque is for private devotion so you should be careful that your recitation doesn’t unknowingly become something else.

The exception is when there are public events such as the weekly Friday sermon, or the occasional marriage ceremony (nikah) – depending on the time of year! – or the ‘eid sermon. When such sermons begin, it is not permitted to talk or pray until, depending on circumstance, the sermon or prayer ends. Other public lessons or events in appointed times are also exempted from the general rule and you should strive to give the speaker the respect due.

Worldly Activities

Part of maintaining the dignity of this sacred space is ensuring that we don’t violate what is was made for by engaging in worldly affairs in it. Buying and selling in the mosque is something that was interdicted by the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, as the mosque isn’t supposed to be a kind of marketplace, even if you entered to pray. (Abu Dawud) So that book you wanted from Amazon will have to wait some minutes!

In the same way, eating and drinking was generally inappropriate as it is distracting, brings in smells and affects the entire space. But this doesn’t negate the fact that the one who is engaged in a spiritual retreat (mu’takif) is in fact permitted to do these things because he is bound to stay in the mosque. Otherwise, activities other than prayer, remembrance, recitation and other devotion is best done elsewhere.

Obeying the Imam (Wali al Amr)

The basis is to obey those who have authority over one in a particular context. Putting aside the legal nuances, the general idea is that, for example, you should listen well to the host when he directs you, as the guest, to your seat or the food.

Similarly, the imam of the mosque is working within his capacity as the authority figure and he should be obeyed when he orders the rows to be straightened, gaps to be filled or appoints somebody to lead the prayer on his behalf, namely, those matters which are in the greater interests of everybody within the mosque and taking part in the congregational prayer.

All of these matters are within his domain and he has a right to choose as he sees fit. Nevertheless, when he is mistaken, he remains a fellow believer who deserves dignity, respect and sincere counsel (nasiha), so it should be afforded to him with full and proper decorum.

The Call to Prayer (Adhan)

The Messenger of Allah, Allah bless him and give him peace, said, “When it is time for prayer, let one of you give the adhan.” (Bukhari) This is one of the strongest of the sunnas of our religion and a sign and marker of Islam itself. It is a means of reminding us of the pre-eternal call of the Divine and a reminder of the reality of life and the proximity of the Hereafter. So it behooves us to make it a point to become of those who “respond to Allah and His messenger when he calls you to that which gives you life.” (Sura al Anfal 8:24)

The one giving the call to prayer (adhan) should know the prayer times, face the qibla, be in a state of ritual purification, beautify his voice, and elongate the words, yet without exaggerating such that the adhan becomes very long.

The sunna of the one listening is to respond to the adhan by repeating the words after the caller. Then one and all should send blessings on the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) and supplicate for the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) to be granted the Station of Mediation (wasila).

Supplication upon Entering and Exiting

It from the sunna to supplicate when entering and leaving mosques. Imam Nawawi writes in his Book of Remembrances (al-Adhkar) that a person can recite the following supplication, for example, upon entering: “O Allah, open for me the doors of Your mercy’ (allahumma iftah li abwab rahmatik).” And upon leaving, he would say, “O Allah, I ask of You from Your bounty’ (Allahumma inni as’aluka min fadlik).” (Muslim)

We ask Allah Most High to clothe us inwardly and outwardly in beauty so that our hearts and limbs fall into true submission at all times, and so that we genuinely become “masajid” ourselves, or vessels of sincere, humble, perpetual worship.

And Allah alone gives success.


In this series of articles and podcasts, Ustadh Tabraze Azam discusses the meaning of adab and what it means for a Muslim to do things in the right way.


Imam Haddad’s Letter to an Indian Prince – Shaykh Amin Buxton

Imam Abdullah al-Haddad was the renewer of the 12th Islamic century.  A scholar of the Islamic sciences, he was active in calling others to Allah. In this lecture, Shaykh Amin Buxton explores a letter written to a disciple of his who held a high position in an Indian royal court.

Leaders and Scholars

Shaykh Amin begins by taking us into the life of Imam Haddad. From a young age, he was drawn to remembrance of Allah, and would spend hours in prayer. He would have happily been a recluse, working on his relationship with the Divine, but he had a deep concern for the people around him. This led him to be a great figure in Islamic history.

The scholars, including Imam Haddad, had a complicated relationship with the leaders of their times. They were extremely concerned about not being corrupt or being influenced by wealth and power. Because of that, they would try their best to distance themselves from people of power. The tribe that Imam Haddad belonged to, the Ba ‘Alawi tribe, could have easily ruled over their part of Yemen, but they knew the dangers of that. In fact, one of the spiritual leaders of the Ba ‘Alawi, Faqih al-Muqaddam, broke his sword, saying “Our way is not the way of vying for power.”

However, when needed, the scholars would reach out to the leaders to advise them and guide them. This letter is such as example. imam haddad

Imam Haddad’s Letter

Imam Haddad begins the letter by praising Allah for all His blessings, and by sending peace upon the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace. He prays for the prince, whose name is Habash Khan, and praises him for the good things he is doing, encouraging him to continue his projects.

He then advises the prince about two matters:

The first matter is between a person and his Lord. Imam Haddad advises him to stay mindful of Allah, and remember Him with the tongue and the heart. He should also surrender his affairs to Allah, and seek His assistance in everything.

The second matter is between a person and the rest of Creation. Imam Haddad tells the prince to take care of his subjects, by extending both justice and kindness to them. Additionally, he should stop any oppression that may be occurring, while recognising the good actions that they do. He should also be regularly checking up on their well-being, while being patient if they mistreat him.

He finishes by praying that Allah helps the prince in all these affairs.


Resources for Seekers

 

Forgotten Sunnas: Greetings of Peace – Shaykh Jamir Meah

In this final article of the series, Shaykh Jamir Meah discusses one of the simplest yet most important everyday sunnas that is sometimes neglected; greeting each other with salam, the greeting of peace.

Many Muslims, both in the East and West, are not accustomed to saying salam to family and friends, and even more so to strangers. For others, salams are given multiple times throughout the day, however, it is often restricted to people we know, or only when returning greetings.

When we pass a fellow Muslim on the street, or sit next to each other on the train or bus, we are often hesitant to give salam. This could be for many reasons. However, it is important to try to overcome this barrier and be as free and generous with our greetings of peace with one another as possible, and ideally, stretch ourselves to even smile or look pleased to see another Muslim!

The salam is universal to all Muslims, so does not require translation. Everywhere you go it is understood. Spreading the salam among ourselves is not only affirmed in the Qur’an and Sunna, but as we’ll see from the prophetic traditions. It has a positive affect for both the people engaged, and potentially, the entire Muslim community.

The Effect of A Simple Greeting

Moreover, we all know what the effect of a simple smile can have on a person’s day, even from a stranger, smiling being a sunna in its own right. Sometimes, little unexpected gestures of kindness and sincerity are enough to lift the mood of a person’s otherwise negative or depressive moods. It is often the start to positive energy being released. When a person is genuinely greeted with a warm, smiley, and sincere salam, it can impart a real sense of reassurance and belonging.

This is ever more essential today as so many people feel insecure and detached in modern society. How many a group of Muslims youths have we walked by, religions far from their mind, but when a person says salam to them, they all immediately return the salam with unexpected fervor and pride?

How many an old person do we pass by, coming and going to and from the local mosque as if invisible, but when the greeting of salam is given to them, their eyes light up with all the intensity and vibrancy of youth? Likewise, many more people, whose private circumstances we can never know, can be touched and uplifted by an honest and simple greeting of peace from a stranger.

Peace

One of the Names of Allah is As Salam, the One Who gives Peace. God is the source of all peace. This is why we say after prayer (which itself concludes with the greetings of salam to those on ones right and to those on ones left):

Allahumma antas salam wa minkas salam tabarakta ya dhal Jalali wal ikram.

O Allah, You are peace, and peace comes from You. Blessed are You, O Possessor of Glory and Honor.

The universal greeting of peace is fundamentally a supplication to God for that person. If we truly mean God’s peace to be upon that person, and they return the same greeting, and we all do this throughout the day to different people, then we can expect Allah Most High to answer these prayers, showering His mercy, blessing and peace upon each person, and then the Umma at large.

The greeting of peace is not restricted to this world, for it will be the greeting not only from the angels to those who enter Paradise: “Peace be upon you for what you patiently endured. And excellent is the final home.” (Sura al Ra‘d 13:24) But more importantly, from God Himself: “And ‘Peace!’ will be [their] greeting from the Merciful Lord.” (Sura Ya Sin 36:57)

Spreading the Salam in the Qur’an and Sunna

Allah Most High tells us in many places in the Qur’an about the importance of spreading greetings among ourselves, ‘And when you are greeted with a greeting, meet it with a greeting better than it, or equal to it. Allah takes account of all things.’ (Sura al Nisa 4:86)

Likewise, the are many traditions of the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, which stressed the passing the salam between us, too many to mention in this article. Among the most useful for our purposes are;

Abu Hurairah, Allah be pleased with him, narrated, “You cannot enter Paradise until you are a believer and your belief cannot be complete until you love each other. Should I not guide you to something, which, if you practice it, it will establish bonds of love among you all? Make salam a common practice among yourselves.” (Muslim) Through this simple act, love is implanted in the heart and the sense of unity and brotherhood is given life. Small acts can have tremendous impact on our states.

Abu Umamah, Allah be pleased with him, narrated, The Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him,, commanded us to spread the salam.’ (Ibn Majah)

‘Abdullah ibn ‘Amr bin al ‘As, Allah be pleased with them both, narrated, “A man asked the Messenger of God, blessings and peace be upon him, ‘Which practice of Islam is the best?’ He, blessings and peace be upon him, replied, ‘Give food, and relate the salam to those whom you know and those who you do not know.’”

Methods and Etiquette of Giving Salam

The minimum salam necessary to fulfill the sunna, is to say “Assalamu alaykum” (Peace be upon you). The optimal is to say, “Assalamu alaykum wa rahmat Allah wa barakatuhu” (Peace be upon you and the Mercy of Allah and His blessings).

Note here that one says the plural attached pronoun “kum” at the end of “alaykum” even if the person being greeted is only one or two people.

The person returns the greeting by saying “Wa alaykum assalam wa rahmat Allah wa barakatuhu” (And upon you be peace and the mercy and blessings of Allah).

This full reply is sunna regardless of whether the person was greeted with a simple “Assalam alaykum,” or the optimal “Assalamu alaykum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu.” In the first case, one has fulfilled the words of Allah we mentioned, “meet it with a greeting better than it,” while in the second case one has fulfilled the words of Allah, “or equal to it.”

As mentioned, it is sunna to be genuine, friendly, and cheerful (bashasha) when giving salam and when returning it. One should look the person directly in the face when greeting them.

The salam and its return should be said loud enough so the person it is intended for can hear it. The return should be given straight away, and not delayed.

If a person enters his house, it is sunna to give salam, even if no one is home. The same applies to entering into another’s home, or entering a mosque.

Make It the First and Be the First

One should be eager to offer the greeting first, for the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, said, “The best of the two is the one who begins with the salam.” (Bukhari) Therefore, although it may sometime feel awkward, or we hesitate to say salam to strangers, we should strive to overcome any concerns and be eager to say it first, without fear that the person may not respond. Each person is responsible or rewarded for what is in his capacity.

Likewise, the greeting of peace should be the first thing said before any other talk. This applies to between two people or when addressing a group.

Rulings on Giving and Returning Salam

Giving salam: It is sunna to give the salam. The sunna to give the salam is a communal sunna (sunna kifayah), which means it is disliked not to perform without an excuse. It also means that if there is a group of people, it suffices that one of them offers the salam to fulfill the sunna, although optimal if all say salam.

Returning the salam: In regards returning the salam, it is obligatory. If the salam is said to one person, then it is personally obligatory (fard ‘ayn) for that person to return the salam, while if the salam is said to a group of people, the returning of the salam is communally obligatory. So, if one of them returns it, it suffices for the rest, while if none return the salam, they all incur a sin. The optimal again, is for all to return the salam.

There are times, however, when the salam or returning it is not sunna, but rather, disliked or prohibited. Among them it is disliked to give the salam to a person who is relieving themselves, making love, sleeping, very drowsy, in prayer, saying the adhan or iqama. Likewise, it is disliked to say it to a person who has food in his mouth.

As for returning the salam in these situations, it is disliked to return it whilst relieving oneself or making love, and sunna for the one with food in his mouth, or at least when he has swallowed the food. It is prohibited to return the salam verbally during prayer, but sunna to gesture the return with the hands.

For the mu‘adhdhin, it is permissible (not disliked) to return the salam verbally between the words of the adhan. The muqim, the person who says the iqama, should not return it, but rather gesture or return it afterwards, as the iqama is meant to be swift.

As for saying salam to a person reciting the Qur’an, the sounder opinion is that it is still recommended to give salam and mandatory to return it verbally.

Common Scenarios

One of the reasons why fiqh is so captivating (for some anyway!) is because it enters into the everyday, practical aspects of life. Every human act, from the most significant to the most trivial, falls under a legal ruling. Below are a few common, useful, or just interesting, fiqh rulings related to spreading the greetings of peace:

It is a sunna to send salam to people who are not present via a third person. Among the greatest honor of our Lady Khadija, may Allah be pleased with her and shower her with abundant mercy and favor, was that Allah himself sent His Salam upon her via our master Jibril, may Allah be pleased with him. It is narrated that “Jibril came to the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, and said, ‘O Messenger of Allah! This is Khadija coming to you with a dish of soup (or some food or drink). When she reaches you, greet her on behalf of her Lord and on my behalf.’” (Bukhari)

If a person sends his salam to a person via a third person, such as the third person saying, “So and so sends his salam,” then it is obligatory for the receiver of the message to return the salam verbally. It is also sunna to return the salam to the third person, by saying, “Wa ‘alayka wa ‘alayhi assalam,” (And upon you and him be peace.”)

If one is greeting a deaf person, one should still say the words of the greeting verbally as well as gesture with the hands in a way that the person can understand and is able to return the salam. Likewise, if a deaf person says salam to a person, then one answers by mouth and gesture.

If a person greets a pre-pubescent child, it is not obligatory for the child to return the salam, but it is proper manners and highly recommended for them to do so. If a pre-pubescent child gives salam to an adult, it is obligatory for the adult to return the salam.

If two people greet each other with the salam, and then see each other again very soon after, it is still sunna to greet each other with the salam, and even a third, fifth, sixth time and so on.

It is disliked for a person to say salam to people during the Friday sermon. As for returning his salam, some scholars state that it should not be returned, while others held that it should be returned, but only one person should return it.

Related Issues when Greeting A Person

If a person gives salam to a person who holds religious honor, such as being known for the asceticism, uprightness, knowledge, noble lineage etc., then it is also sunna to kiss their hands, as was the practice of the Sahaba of the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, who kissed his blessed hands and feet.

It is also recommended to kiss the hands or cheeks, or/and hug one’s loved ones, such as parents, siblings, or small children when greeting them, out of love, closeness, and mercy. This also applies to a friend who returns from travel.

As for other than these people or non-travelers, it is disliked to hug or kiss others when greeting them. Rather it is sunna to shake hands (same-gender only) when greeting each other and saying the salam. The Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, is reported to have said, “There are no two servants who love each other for the sake of Allah, who meet each other and shake hands … that they do not depart except that their future and past sins are forgiven.” (Kitab Ibn Sunni)

Practical Challenge

I hope the above information has encouraged us all to eagerly spread the greetings of peace to one another each day. The final practical challenge to this series then, is to try to initiate the greeting of peace with as many people as possible each day, with those whom we know and those whom we don’t know.

It would of course be befitting for me to end this article, and this series, with a very warm (and smiley) farewell greeting of peace to you all,

Assalamu alaykum wa rahmat Allah wa barakatuh.