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The Prophet’s dua (Allah bless him and give him peace) for when the new moon is seen:
Allahumma ahhilhu `alayna bi’l yumni wa’l imani wa’s salamati wa’l islam. Rabbi wa rabbuka’l Llah
(O Allah, bring it to us with felicity, faith, safety, and submission. [Addressing the new moon:] My Lord & Your Lord is Allah.”
[Related by Tirmidhi, from Talha (Allah be pleased with him); sound]
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,” 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 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.
Classical works of Islamic law provide details on how the new moon is to be established.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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. 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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
 “The Fire is surrounded by lusts; and the Garden is surrounded by disliked matters;” al-Bukhari, hadith no. 6487.
 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.
 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.
 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.
 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.
 Al-Marghinani, al-Hidayah, ed. Talal Yusuf, 4 vols. (Beirut: Dar Ihya’ al-Turath al-‘Arabi, 2000), vol. 1, p. 82.
 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.
 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.
 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.”
 Al-Mawsu‘ah al-fiqhiyyah al-kuwaytiyyah, c.v. “Ru’yat al-hilal,” vol. 22, pp. 36-8.
 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.
The convert experience in Islam is one that is tough for many. Muslim communities throughout the world get excited when someone enters into their doors saying they want to accept Islam. There are hugs and laughter and a large uproar – and then everything stops and the convert has to figure out how to move forward on their own. Trying to navigate through the diversity of legal and theological opinion in Islam can be tough enough, but doing so on your own is that much tougher; as is navigating through the cultural diversity that exists in the Muslim community on your own; questioning yourself and wondering what parts of your identity you need to abandon to fit in on your own. I could keep going – but essentially the point is we don’t do a good job in taking care of our converts
A young man mentioned to me that his family had been completely fine with his conversion, but no Muslims really included him in anything. He expected that the local mosque would welcome him in and invite him to things, but he found that if he didn’t make a point of going on his own, no one really asked him to come. No one checked in on him, asked him how he was doing, or if he ever needed anything. During past Ramadans, his mother would call him daily to wake him up for suhoor, which he proceeded to eat on his own and then waited til sunset to break his fast alone as well. He doesn’t seem to think this Ramadan will be any different.
Try to think of who might be observing the month of Ramadan alone this year, not by choice but because there isn’t any other option for them. Make a point to include them in a way that makes sense for them. That might be inviting them to a large gathering or making the time to be with them in a smaller, more intimate atmosphere. Where others have forgotten, let’s make sure we’re remembering to do our part continuously and to the best of our abilities.
The Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, said about menstruation, “Verily this is a matter Allah has written upon the girls of Prophet Adam [peace be upon him].” (Bukhari)
Those who claim that menstruation is like a punishment because one cannot perform acts of worship are severely mistaken. On the contrary, there are many forms of worship that a woman can do while menstruating aside from what is legally prohibited.
Allah says in the Quran, “He who obeys Allah and His messenger, and fears Allah, and keeps duty [unto Him]: such indeed are the victorious.” (Sura al Nur 52)
Allah Most High has commanded menstruating women and women in a state of lochia (post-natal bleeding) to refrain from the ritual prayer and ritual fasting.
Thus, if a menstruating woman fulfills this command with the intention to submit to Allah’s order, she is actually worshiping Allah the entire time that she refrains from the ritual prayer and ritual fasting.
It has been said, “Her praying while pure is worship (ibada) and her refraining from prayer while menstruating is worship. All of it is worship.”
Therefore, there’s nothing dreadful or awful about menstruation or lochia (post-natal bleeding), rather it is a person’s attitude towards it that matters.
I wanted to talk about another aspect of Ramadan that sometimes we forget. Often people think of Ramdana as my month. It‘s between me and Allah. Then they sort of annihilate the idea of doing goodness to others. It’s about me and my time with Allah. About how much time I can put in with the Qur’an. And then when we talk about service some people get a little bit bitter.
Especially the sisters. They’re like, well, why do I have to be the one to do this? why do I have to be the one to cook the iftar? I’d like to spend all day reading Qur’an. It’s sort of losing sight of what Ramadan is really about. And what the the scholars today talked and emphasized a lot is the love of Allah Most High. And rectifying the self. Turning to Allah and asking for His forgiveness.
But these two concepts do not contradict each other. Rather they run in parallel. Because it’s when we turn help each other, help fellow believers, and it’s all done out of love for Allah, that we manifest that love. That we love to have His creation turned to Him. And if there is anything we can do to help other people turn towards Allah we should run to that opportunity. Whether that be to people in our own family, whether it be our children, whether it be members of our community. We should be avid to do what we can to help other people.
That being said, it needs to be balanced of course, because you can’t just spend all of your Ramadan running around serving other people with neglect to oneself. One needs that personal time where you’re turning to Allah. Reading the Qur’an with reflection and understanding. Spending time reading other beneficial material or listening to beneficial lectures. Benefiting the self.
But there are a lot of things, there is a lot of extra time in the day, in which one can do things for other people. And as our teachers say, it’s almost as if there’s a sale during Ramadan, because now actions that you do are multiplied. Good actions that you do, even reading the Qur’an – all the good things that you can think of doing are multiplied. So it is best to take advantage of this time .
And doing what you can to help other people is also part of making the most of one’s time. It is not that one spends a little time in intensive worship and then closes the book and goes to relax, and just sort of vegetate for part of the day. Or one decides to go to sleep for another part of the day. One strives to make the most of every moment. As we should on every other day of the year.
We should make the most of all parts of our day on a daily basis. Even when we get up from this gathering we should be striving to make the most of our lives as believers. To make all of our moments count for us and not against us.
There are three primary benefits of service. One is that it erases your past sins. When you do things for other people these things get erased. So there is nothing better you can ask for. We’ve all made mistakes in the past and would do anything to not face Allah with those on our record. And by His mercy He can forgive a lot of those things when you’re serving other people with that intention.
Another benefit of doing service at this time is that you get the dua of fasting people. When you’re doing things to benefit them you’re earning their dua. And Allah knows whose dua is accepted. When you’re doing it for a number of people, that includes even small children, know that when we do things for other people they make a dua for you.
And perhaps that single dua from one single person, child or adult, known or stranger, is the reason for your success. It might not be all of these customs that you’ve done in the past or all of these other things. It might be the dua of one elder in the community that you helped in a real time of need. Allah has this knowledge. It is with Allah Most High.
It’s a hidden secret in our service to other people that we don’t know where where our ultimate success will lie. And with what action and with what person. That leaves us continuously striving to do our best at every moment.
And finally the third aspect of service is that the deeds are multiplied during Ramadan. So one might be doing things for other people at other times of the year but in Ramadan these deeds are actually multiplied. They weigh heavier on your record. So strive in this regard and in sha Allah the reward for your service will be multiplied.
شَهْرُ رَمَضَانَ الَّذِي أُنزِلَ فِيهِ الْقُرْآنُ هُدًى لِّلنَّاسِ وَبَيِّنَاتٍ مِّنَ الْهُدَىٰ وَالْفُرْقَانِ ۚ
The month of Ramadan is the month in which the Quran was revealed as a guidance for humanity, as a clear proof of that guidance, and as a criterion for distinguishing between right and wrong. (Q, 2: 185).
In as much as celebrating the Prophet’s birthday can be read as a celebration of the greatness of the Prophet (saw) in his aspect of the perfect man (al-Insan al-Kamil); and in as much as Yaum Ashura (the 10th of Muharram) can be read as a celebration of the saving of the Prophet Musa (Allah’s peace be upon him) from the tyrannical pharaonic oppressors; similarly Ramadan can be read as a celebration of the revelation of the Quran during this month. It stands as living proof of the divinity of Allah, as living proof of the authenticity of the prophethood of Muhammad, and as living proof of the supremacy of revelation over all else.
But the Quran is also a Huda (a guidance). And as Huda – as true guidance – it teaches us how to live our lives as complete human beings. It teaches us how to live our lives with respect, dignity, honour, and love. It further teaches us that Allah is a divinity that embraces the concerns of all humanity.
It is also important to remember that the guidance and concerns of Allah are not limited to mere theoretical or idealistic utterances. The guidance of Allah plunges us into the mainstream of our earthly existence. One of the ways in which Allah has done this is by making the fast obligatory upon all of us.
Not only are we required to sympathize with the poor and the hungry, but we are thrown into the very experience of hunger.
Not only are we required to reflect upon our condition in a society with its mores, customs, habits, rules, and general routine – which looms far greater than the sum of its individuals – but it forces us to reflect upon the very nature of that society. It is so easy to become a cog in the political, economic, social, and industrial machine. In short, to become a spiritually forgetful being in the material and mechanical processes of ordinary life.
Fasting forces us to break this forgetfulness and forces us to anchor the consciousness of truth and spirituality in every domain of our existence i.e. to act upon the truth of Islam and to live by its spirituality.
Fasting, by depriving us of the daily luxuries and niceties of our mundane existence asserts the supremacy of our essential condition as beings endowed with a soul (ruh) over our condition as material and temporal beings. Fasting, therefore, at once draws us into the bosom of Allah (swt) and allows us to reflect upon the high moral, social, and spiritual values that Islam sets for us. In other words, fasting focuses our attention on the broader meaning of Taqwa (a heightened consciousness of Allah) as expressed in the following verse:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا كُتِبَ عَلَيْكُمُ الصِّيَامُ كَمَا كُتِبَ عَلَى الَّذِينَ مِن قَبْلِكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَتَّقُونَ
O you who believe, fasting has been prescribed upon you as it has been prescribed upon those before you so that you may learn Taqwa. (Q, 2: 183).
The Arabic of the phrase in the above verse “so that you may learn Taqwa” reads as “l’allakum tattaqun”. The term “taqwa” – in its narrower meaning – has been variously translated as fear, piety, self-restraint, and guarding against evil. However, to do justice to its meaning, and to better understand the link between the Quran as Huda (true guidance) and Taqwa as one of the most desired virtues, a more comprehensive understanding of the term is required. That understanding is dependent on our understanding of the nature of man and woman.
The Islamic perspective is that we, as people, are composed of both body and soul or matter and spirit. We are also considered to be both the vicegerents of Allah on earth and His bondsmen. As vicegerents we are commanded to perfect our earthly existence whether it be in our private, domestic, social, economic or political lives. As bondsmen of Allah we are ordered to perfect our spiritual existence. Taqwa circumscribes both these conditions. In other words, and as alluded to earlier, it means to observe our duty towards Allah in all our social and communal relations (towards Muslims and non-Muslims alike); and in our spiritual relations towards Allah Himself. This is a difficult task, and one of the means that Allah has given us to attain this level is Ramadan. But, and typical of Quranic “pragmatism”, there are no false promises. In the Arabic the emphasis is quite clearly on the phrase “l’allakum” (“so that you may” or “perhaps”). The means to Taqwa, through the great institution of fasting, have been placed at our disposal. It is up to us to use, misuse, or even ignore the means. This condition is encapsulated in the following Prophetic saying:
“For those who do not refrain from lying or acting on such lies, Allah has no need of their abandoning their food and drink” (Bukhari).
Taqwa can further be realized through three opportunities provided for us by the fast:
1. The disciplining of the will (tarbiyat ul-Iradah)
2. The purification of the self (tazkiyat un-Nafs)
3. The purification of the soul (tasfiyat ur-Ruh)
The potential of fasting as such, and Ramadan in particular, in making available these opportunities cannot be denied.
With regard to the disciplining of the will the Prophet Muhammad (Peace and salutations upon him) said:
“For everything there is a purification and the purification of the body is to fast; and fasting is half of endurance.” (Ibn Majah).
All acts of endurance are naturally a function of the strength (or otherwise) of the will. If the will is strong, endurance is strong; if weak, then endurance is weak. One of the primary aims of Sabr – as an act of will – is to bring the will of the human being in harmony with the Will of Allah. This is essential if we wish to be acknowledged as true ‘ibad (servants) of Allah.
As for purification of the self (nafs) – here understood as the egotistic self – the following Prophetic saying is a clear reference to the fact that fasting is intended as a conduit for such purification:
“If anyone of you fasts then do not speak obscenely nor act obscenely. If anyone picks a fight with him or insults him then let him say ‘I am one who fasts, I am one who fasts.’” (Bukhari and Muslim).
Here the outer manifestations of the nafs viz. that of obscene speech (rafath) and obscene behaviour (jahal), are addressed with a view to bringing under control, and hence purifying, the inner self.
The purification of the soul, on the other hand, is contingent on the extent to which it is absolved from all sin. The Prophetic saying: “Those who fast with absolute faith and absolute contentment will have all their previous sins absolved” (Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawud, Tirmdhi, Nisai), may be read as a definite promise to the effect that the absolution of one’s sins is guaranteed if the two ostensibly simple conditions of fasting with total faith and total contentment are met.
These three processes are intrinsic to the cultivation of genuine Taqwa, and few religious acts provide a greater opportunity for its cultivation than Ramadan.
Allah says at the conclusion of the verse initially quoted:
وَلِتُكْمِلُوا الْعِدَّةَ وَلِتُكَبِّرُوا اللَّهَ عَلَىٰ مَا هَدَاكُمْ وَلَعَلَّكُمْ تَشْكُرُونَ
That He wants you to complete the prescribed period (of fasting) so that you are able to magnify the greatness of Allah for His having guided you, and so that – perchance – you may be thankful. (Q, 2: 185).
The greatness of Ramadan therefore lies in the opportunity it offers for the development of Taqwa – a virtue that allows us to truly participate in that great cosmic celebration in honour of the revelation of the Quran as a Huda to all people, which is, as mentioned earlier, Ramadan itself. It is a virtue furthermore, that allows us to magnify Allah as He ought to be magnified, namely, with complete awareness of our earthly duties and spiritual vocation; and, therefore, to be of those who are truly thankful to Allah. It is a virtue too, which is ultimately celebrated in the Quran itself, for Allah says:
يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ إِنَّا خَلَقْنَاكُم مِّن ذَكَرٍ وَأُنثَىٰ وَجَعَلْنَاكُمْ شُعُوبًا وَقَبَائِلَ لِتَعَارَفُوا ۚ إِنَّ أَكْرَمَكُمْ عِندَ اللَّهِ أَتْقَاكُمْ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَلِيمٌ خَبِيرٌ
O humankind! We have created you from male and female; and fashioned you into peoples and tribes that you may come to know one another. But indeed, the most honoured amongst you (in the sight of Allah) are those who are the most righteous and God-conscious. (taqwa). (Q, 49: 13).
Shaykh Seraj Hasan Hendricks is an internationally recognised leading scholar of normative Sunni Islam, steeped in the rich legacy of the classical heritage, based in Cape Town, South Africa. He is Resident Shaykh of the Zawiyah Institute in Cape Town, and holder of the Maqasid Chair at the International Peace University of South Africa. Shaykh Seraj studied the Islamic sciences for more than a decade in the holy city of Makka, and was appointed as khalīfa of the aforementioned muḥaddith of the Ḥijāz, the distinguished al-Sayyid Muhammad b. ʿAlawī al-Mālikī, master of the Ṭarīqa ʿUlamāʿ Makka – the (sufi) path of the Makkan scholars.
Shaykh Seraj Hendricks was a high school English teacher between 1980 and 1982 in Cape Town before leaving for Saudi Arabia in 1983 to study at the Umm al-Qura University in Makka. Before this, he spent many years studying at the feet of his illustrious uncle, the late Shaykh Mahdi Hendricks – erstwhile Life President of the Muslim Judicial Council and widely regarded as one of the foremost scholars of Islam in southern Africa. Shaykh Seraj was actively engaged in the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa during the 80’s and early 90’s.
Shaykh Seraj spent three years at the Arabic Language Institute in Makka studying Arabic and related subjects before being accepted for the BA (Hons) Islamic Law degree. He specialised in fiqh and uṣūl al-fiqh in the Faculty of Sharīʿa and graduated in 1992. During his studies at Umm al-Qura University, he was also a student of the late Sayyid Muhammad ʿAlawī al-Mālikī in Makka for a period of eight years and from whom he obtained a full ijāza in the religious sciences. He also obtained ijāzāt from both the late Sayyid Ahmad Mashur al-Ḥaddād and Sayyid ʿAbd al-Qādir b. Ahmad al-Saqqaf (d. 1431/2010). These scholars are all known as some of the pre-eminent ‘ulama of the ummah in the 20th century, worldwide.
After his return to Cape Town he received an MA (Cum Laude) for his dissertation: “Taṣawwuf (Sufism) – Its Role and Impact on the Culture of Cape Islam” from the University of South Africa (UNISA). He is currently at the tail-end of completing his PhD at the same institution.
Apart from fiqh and uṣūl al-fiqh, some of Shaykh Seraj’s primary interests are in Sufism, Islamic civilisation studies, interfaith matters, gender studies, socio-political issues and related ideas of pluralism and identity. He has lectured and presented papers in many countries, sharing platforms with his contemporaries.
He has translated works of Imam al-Ghazālī, and summarised parts of the Revival of the Religious Sciences (Iḥyāʾ ʿUlūm al-Dīn), most notably in the Travelling Light series, together with Shaykhs ʿAbd al-Hakīm Murad and Yaḥyā Rhodus.
Some of his previous positions included being the head of the Muslim Judicial Council’s Fatwa Committee (which often led to him being described as the ‘Mufti of Cape Town’), lecturer in fiqh at the Islamic College of Southern Africa (ICOSA), and lecturer in the Study of Islam at the University of Johannesburg (UJ). Currently he is a member of the Stanlib Sharīʿa Board, and chief arbitrator (Ḥakīm) of the Crescent Observer’s Society, and has been listed consecutively in the Muslim 500 from 2009 to 2018. He was also appointed Dean of the Madina Institute in South Africa, a recognised institution of higher learning in South Africa and part of the world Madina Institute seminaries led by Shaykh Dr Muhammad Ninowy. Shaykh Seraj is also a professor at the International Peace University of South Africa, holding the Maqasid Chair for Graduate Studies.
Shaykh Seraj has also been teaching a variety of Islamic-related subjects at the Zāwiyah Mosque in Cape Town, which together with his brother Shaykh Ahmad Hendricks, he is the current resident Shaykh of. Alongside his brother, he is the representative (khalīfa) of the aforementioned muḥaddith of the Ḥijāz, the distinguished al-Sayyid Muhammad b. ʿAlawī al-Mālikī, master of the Ṭarīqa ʿUlamāʿ Makka – the (sufi) path of the Makkan scholars.
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