Shahada Online

Answer by Shaykh Abdurragmaan Khan

Question: I converted to Islam online. Do I need to proclaim my shahada again with an Imam in a mosque?

Answer: Wa Alaykum al-Salam

Shukran for writing to us.

The testimony of faith recited by yourself through an online facility is valid and we welcome you the Religion Islam. You are now our brother/sister and as such we are obliged to support and assist each other.

While it is not incumbent upon you to “retake” the shahadah with an Imam in your locality, it is undoubtedly desired. It is necessary for you to attach yourself to a Muslim community and visiting and introducing yourself to one of the leaders of that community will prove to be beneficial. I would also like to advise you to take up one of the introductory courses on offer here at SeekersGuidance.

May Allah bless you and accept from us all, Amin.

[Shaykh] Abdurragmaan Khan

Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Shaykh Abdurragmaan Khan received ijazah ’ammah from various luminaries, including but not restricted to: Habib Umar ibn Hafiz—a personality who affected him greatly and who has changed his relationship with Allah, Maulana Yusuf Karaan—the former Mufti of Cape Town; Habib ‘Ali al-Mashhur—the current Mufti of Tarim; Habib ‘Umar al-Jaylani—the Shafi‘i Mufti of Makkah; Sayyid Ahmad bin Abi Bakr al-Hibshi; Habib Kadhim as-Saqqaf; Shaykh Mahmud Sa’id Mamduh; Maulana Abdul Hafiz al-Makki; Shaykh Ala ad-Din al-Afghani; Maulana Fazlur Rahman al-Azami and Shaykh Yahya al-Gawthani amongst others.

Reconnecting with Our Scholars Upon the Plain of Taqwa – Dr Fareeha Khan

* Courtesy of The Sila Initiative

وَإِذَآ أَنْعَمْنَا عَلَى الإِنسَانِ أَعْرَضَ وَنَأَى بِجَانِبِهِ

وَإِذَا مَسَّهُ الشَّرُّ كَانَ يَؤُوسًا

“When We bestow Our favors unto man he turns away and becomes remote.
But when evil befalls he gives himself up to despair.” [17:8]

Among the many thousands of spiritual disciples of Ashraf ‘Ali Thanawi (d. 1943), a large number of them were women, but he would only speak to them from behind a screen. That was in colonial India. In post-Ottoman Turkey, the Naqshbandi sheikh Hajji Baba (d. 1991) also took measures to be formal and conservative with his many women murids. He believed that without doing so, “even a sheikh could be expelled from the Divine Presence.”1 More contemporary to us, the Shadhili sheikh Nuh Keller will not meet with women in his zawiya in Jordan unless they don the face-veil (niqab) and other people are present nearby in the same setting. Sheikh Husain Abdul Sattar of Chicago for many years refused to take female disciples at all, and now does so but with the permission of her mahram2.

These kinds of measures are seen as commendable by certain Muslims of a traditional mindset. But for a number of Muslims in America, setting up such restrictions between male scholars of religion and female students of knowledge is seen as an act of placing barriers between women and their chance at religious advancement. In order to understand why some American Muslims would see the examples mentioned above in a negative light, I will first discuss some intellectual developments that affect the practice of Islam in America today. I will then argue that these developments constitute a shift away from the centrally important concept of taqwa, or Godfearingness. The final portion, and primary goal, of this essay, is to highlight this intellectual shift away from taqwa toward a liberal Islam as a means of explaining the current spiritual crisis facing the American Muslim community regarding its religious scholars.

The Effect of Liberalism3 on American Islam

Definitions of liberalism are debated, but it is generally acknowledged that some time in the 17th century there began to develop in Europe a system of thought that placed the individual at the center of human existence. The God-centered morality of Christianity and the Greek value of self-realization were replaced by an individualism that emphasized rights rather than duties and placed a central emphasis on freedom. As time progressed, freedom or the autonomy of the individual became the central goal of liberal society. And as liberalism developed and spread across the Western world, it became the dominant paradigm (in a sense, the basic ‘aqida) of industrialized Western society, such that the “supreme end of every individual” no longer was salvation, pleasing God, or self-improvement.4 Instead, it became freedom itself. The highest aim of human beings was now “to assert themselves in the world as the individuals they are.”5 Due to its pervasive influence, a critical study of liberalism would require a volumes-long assessment of modern civilization and its forms of thinking. For the purposes of this essay, three disparate seeming aspects of liberalism and its offshoots (e.g. feminism) will be outlined here. The reason for outlining these three in particular should be clear inshaAllah by the end of the essay.

i. Liberalism’s Belief in Progress

One of the unique aspects of the liberal tradition is that it upholds a meliorist view of man and society. That is, it affirms “the corrigibility and improvability of all social institutions and political arrangements.”6 The belief in progress and reform are an intrinsic part of the liberal worldview and inform therefore how the modern individual looks upon existing institutions, including that of religion (religion is viewed by secular liberals as a social institution, not as divinely revealed truth). What this means is that for the modern person, even long-established beliefs and practices are open to debate, since all such things are possible to improve.

ii. Woman as Victim

Another core tenet of the liberal tradition is that it affirms egalitarianism, in that “it confers on all men the same moral status and denies the relevance to legal or political order of differences in moral worth among human beings.”7 The early thinkers of classical liberalism had elite, propertied men in mind when calling for the equality of all. As Western political thought developed, more parties began calling for their own inclusion within this “all,” eventually leading to a movement for women’s rights to be established according to a liberal framework. However, because of the fact that liberalism emphasizes an intrinsic right to freedom, and because there continue to exist social institutions (like marriage and family) that are predicated on duties to others that must be fulfilled regardless of one’s conflicting inclinations, the feminist movement is caught in a predicament of forever positioning women as victims. To take the feminist call for freedom to its logical end, the entire structure of not just family but also men and women’s civic and social roles would have to be “radically altered” to achieve fully equal rights among adult members of a society. This is in fact the goal of many liberal and feminist thinkers today—a complete re-envisioning and restructuring of gender roles.8 As long as institutions like religion and marriage remain on earth, which honor and maintain the traditional roles of men and women, this goal cannot be fully achieved, and so the view of woman-as-victim remains.

iii. Islam vs. islams

As the liberal concept of equality gained ground in the intellectual, social and political realms of Western society, the concept of authority and authoritative figures suffered a major blow. With this, so did the idea of a unified, singularly authoritative religious tradition, with an agreed-upon set of values, practices and beliefs, since some authority would be needed to decide what in fact was agreed upon. Within the academic study of Islam, the idea began to circulate of the existence of multiple, coequal “islams”—all legitimate and equally compelling subjects of study.9 Any institutional or methodological claim to a true, capital-I “Islam” was seen as contrary to egalitarianism, and therefore circumspect. The Sunni conception of scholarly consensus (ijma‘), the authoritativeness of the four legal schools, or the exclusive validity of the Sunni schools of theology, began to be labeled by some Western academic scholars as constituting “Arab Islam.” The assumption of course is that there was something inherently unfair in the idea of a single, authoritative form of Islam. What formerly was considered to be authentic Islam was now ascribed to a single group (“Arabs”) among many, and every other individual Muslim’s interpretation of how to practice Islam was now seen as deserving of its rightful place in the liberal academic study of Islam.

American Islam and Its Scholars

As more and more Muslims in the post-colonial era began moving to Western nations, they naturally began to adapt to and be influenced by the liberal societies they now called home. They loved Allah and His Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) but could not help but accept and internalize some of the liberal perspectives around them. Liberalism’s belief in progress, and its exasperation at the continued status of women as victims, were things colonized Muslims had already had to struggle with, since their colonizers had used these ideas to badger Muslim self-confidence during colonial rule (Did they believe in Islamic reform or not? Did they want advancement for women or not?). These questions followed Muslims to their new Western abodes, but to some degree they were not initially as painful to face as they had been during colonial days. Even in the 1950s, 60s, 70s and beyond, it was easy to find fellow Westerners who answered these questions with confidence in non-liberal ways, particularly in America where Christianity still had a strong presence. The fact that these Muslims now had some status as Westerners also helped, as the newly naturalized Muslim American could say, “Since I am now a citizen of your nation, do I not have the right to freedom of religion, to determine the answers to these questions as I please?” American converts to Islam had an even greater advantage in this regard and could confidently proffer non-liberal, Islamically-grounded answers to the questions in a way their immigrant coreligionists could not.

But following the events of September 11, 2001, Muslims felt great pressure to present themselves as “more American than apple pie,” and the propagation of a liberal face of Islam suddenly became a matter of urgency. Virtually overnight, the freedom of Muslims to just be themselves turned into a second-class kind of freedom. Yes, you could practice your religion, but only as far as you can demonstrate how your religion matches up with the liberal ideals of America. Otherwise, you were not “moderate” enough to be trusted.

So began a liberalization of traditional Islam in America, with the tacit support of a beleaguered Muslim American public. Fatwas unconditionally permitting things like usurious loans, the keeping of dogs as household pets, and the marking of the Islamic calendar via astronomical calculation began to circulate.10,11 It was now more important in the eyes of some American Muslim thinkers to eat organic than to eat halal. Many times, these “fatwas” were issued by academic scholars of Islam or by committees comprised of such scholars as well as scientists, thus furthering the liberalization process by not recognizing the need for qualified religious scholars (‘ulama) trained in the high skill of fatwa derivation. Numerous, sometimes complex, arguments derived from classical Islamic legal discourse were presented as justification, despite the fact that never in Islamic history had these rulings been applied in such ways by scholars of any of the four Sunni legal schools.

The place where the liberalization of Islam became most palpable, however, was in the arena of the participation of women in the American Muslim public sphere, and in particular in circles of religious learning and Muslim activism. Women’s access to classes and teachers was emphasized like never before, but with the stated intent of “empowerment,” not toward inculcating submission and humility before God. The presence of female scholars and spokesmen became a priority as a means of redressing an assumed normalcy of discrimination, rather than teaching due to qualification. A certain reticence toward commenting on proper decorum and dress developed—to the point that women without hijab were sometimes appointed emcees of national religious meetings—as a statement endorsing the full inclusion of women. A blatant call for the development of an “American Islam” was put out, with encouragement especially of new cultural forms that honored a newly emerging American Muslim identity. In “third spaces” that were not quite social and not quite religious, women and men began interacting freely to enjoy spiritually uplifting song and performance. In some cases, it was the women who would perform, or play musical instruments, with prominent male scholars and preachers of the American Muslim community present to show their endorsement.

The Place of Taqwa

The prominent vocabulary of this liberalization phase has consisted of words like identity, culture, tradition, lineage. Knowledge has been emphasized as well, but as a means of preserving the four concepts just mentioned. Rarely in American Muslim circles is knowledge emphasized as a means of fully and properly submitting to Allah. Rarely, if ever, is it emphasized as a means of developing taqwa, a core teaching of the Qur’an:

“Have taqwa of Allah and He will teach you.” (2:282)

“You who believe, if you have taqwa of Allah, Allah will make a Discrimination12 for you.” (8:29)

“Had the people of the cities believed and had taqwa, We would have opened up baraka on them from the heaven and the earth.” (7:96)

“Whoever has taqwa of Allah, He will make a way out for him, and provide him from where he does not reckon.” (65: 2-3)

“Whoever relies on Allah, He is enough for him. The command of Allah reaches the mark.” (65:3)

“Whoever has taqwa of Allah, Allah will make his affair easy for him. That is the command of Allah which He has sent down to you.” (65: 4-5)13

There are more verses and Prophetic traditions like this, highlighting the importance of taqwa in the life of a Muslim. Taqwa can be defined as “Godfearingness” or “awe and dread for Allah’s might and power, and fear of overstepping His limits.”14 It is in the actualization of the Muslim’s submission to God at the level of the conscience, such that he can come to a place where he finally realizes his true purpose on earth: to demonstrate his slavehood (‘ubudiyya) to Allah.

“I have not created jinn or men except to worship me (ya‘budun).” [ 51:56]

This purpose is as common to the Muslim who lives in Egypt or Pakistan as the one who lives in America; the earth belongs in totality to the One who created it. The submission (islam) required of the Muslim is manifest at all levels—through his body when he prays or fasts; through his intellect when he believes in the Truth revealed to Muhammad (Allah bless him and grant him peace); and through his method of acquiring knowledge of what God commands, by seeking it at the feet of those who submitted to the pious scholars who came before. The fruit of all of this submission is that the submitted human being’s consciousness becomes in tune with the command of Allah in a way that he can no longer even consider doing what is displeasing to Him.

Allah the Almighty has said: Whosoever shows enmity to a friend of Mine, I shall be at war with him. My servant does not draw near to Me with anything more loved by Me than the religious duties I have imposed upon him, and my servant continues to draw near to Me with supererogatory works so that I shall love him. When I love him I am his hearing with which he hears, his seeing with which he sees, his hand with which he strikes, and his foot with which he walks. Were he to ask [something] of Me, I would surely give it to him; and were he to ask Me for refuge, I would surely grant him it. (Bukhari)15

How exactly can we know what the religious duties mentioned in this hadith are, what the command of Allah is in any given matter, so that we can thereby aim for this high rank of friendship with Allah? That is the real purpose of seeking knowledge in Islam. And when that is the real purpose, then selecting carefully who one takes one’s deen from—knowing who is qualified to speak on the authority of God, both in terms of training and in terms of personal piety—becomes critical.16 With this purpose, even the desire to be in the company of scholars begins to revolve around one’s need to develop taqwa.

Visiting the lords of taqwa. Go to them—it heals and it is
the key of the doors of guidance and good.17

But when seeking knowledge becomes about “representation”—who can best present an amicable face of an American Muslim identity—then the criteria of religious qualification, training, and, above all, taqwa, start to fade away into the artificially bright light of liberal public relations.

The Current Problem

Liberal American Islam is apparently here to stay. American Muslims are proud of the progress they have made beyond the Old World methods of practicing Islam. The compromised nature of women’s status is no longer a question. It is a fact, needing not even to be spoken, and to help overcome the historical victimization of women, access to religious learning (and all other aspects of public life) has been increased and promoted with obvious results. No longer do we feel the need to justify a different way of practicing Islam from those who came before. We are American, after all, and have the right to assert our American Islam in the world as the unique community that we are.

The above is the view of prominent liberalizing factions among the Muslims in America. But Allah Most High has now sent us a challenging test: how will you deal with situations where those you consider to be scholars of religion fail to have taqwa? Will your solution continue to lie within a liberal paradigm, or will you turn back to Allah? The Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) told us, “The believer is the mirror of his fellow believer.” A mirror is now being held up to the lack of taqwa inherent in “American Islam”: what will we as a community of believers in this country reflect back?

I do not confess to have the answer. I am not a religious scholar, a member of the ‘ulama. I am, rather, an academic scholar of Islam, trained to analyze Islam through the lens of history and the liberal critical tradition that forms the foundation of the modern Western academy. But as someone who has tried to save her soul from the liberalizing tendencies of the Academy by keeping the company of religious scholars, and by seeking knowledge and advice from them, I offer below a few reflections and recommendations that I hope will prove useful to the Muslims in America who are struggling through the current test Allah has put before us.

I was fortunate in that I grew up in a conservative, traditionally minded community within America. My exposure to religious scholars came at a young age through Qur’an classes and Sunday school lessons on the basics of fiqhtajweed and seerah. The real exposure to seeking knowledge however came in 1998 when I was able to attend an Islamic study program in Fez, Morocco, in which we Western Muslim students were taught by both local Moroccan scholars as well as scholars who themselves resided in the West. It was a life-changing experience for which I will forever be grateful, as it helped me appreciate Islam, Islamic scholarship, and Muslim saints and scholars in a way I never had before. As a female student, had I not been given access to this opportunity, I don’t know if I ever would have embarked so confidently and with such enthusiasm on the journey to study Islam.

When I began graduate study of Islam in America, I was cognizant of the fact that studying Islam in the university was not the same as studying Islam at the feet of scholars. My professors at the University of Chicago and the University of Michigan were not the same as the pious, dignified, sunnah-following ‘ulama of the Qarawiyyin in Fez. My professors knew a lot about theory and history and legal methodology, but they were not even Muslim,18 let alone able to say anything of worth about what I as a Muslim should believe or how I should practice. So to get answers on questions regarding women in Islam—the focus of much of my research—I made it a point to seek out religious scholars both at home and abroad in the Muslim world. And to my surprise, some of the most well-known and conservative or traditional male scholars offered me the same access that had been granted to me by that Western-Muslim organized program in Fez.

There was a difference, however, in how that access was granted in comparison to some of the scholars I met in America, and therefore a subtle difference in what was ultimately conveyed. When I met to discuss my work with Mufti Taqi Usmani in Karachi, he made sure when we were done to introduce me to his wife as he and my husband went off to pray in the masjid. In Damascus, the Hanafi scholar Sheikh Hassan al-Hindi gave me a lot of time, may Allah preserve him. Like Mufti Taqi, he too had me meet his wife and family, and took numerous other precautions to assure the appropriateness of our meetings, despite the fact that he is blind. The great Syrian hadith scholar Dr. Nuruddin ‘Itr introduced me to his top female student, presumably as a means for me to benefit not just from the single meeting with him but from potential long-term contact with women scholars of the deen. In Abu Dhabi, the Yemeni scholar Habib ‘Ali al-Jifri made sure to have an excellent, academically-informed translator present during our meeting, in case I would have any trouble conveying my own ideas or grasping his. He too made sure to connect me with a female member of his family—his sister, a woman of religious accomplishment—which I interpret to be an act of propriety as well as a mode of encouragement to me as a female student in my pursuit of sacred knowledge.

Such precautions and markers of propriety served to grant me access, while making clear that the intellectual exchange was purely for the sake of Allah, upon the grounds of taqwa, not for the appeasement of some liberal ideal of equal opportunity. On the other hand, though meeting with Muslim scholars in America was generally within the bounds of propriety (alhamdulillah), there were times when I faced awkward circumstances. On one occasion, I was given an appointment to meet with a scholar at the institution where he teaches. I waited for my appointment as he finished a class with two men, but then they left, and I ended up in a meeting with this scholar alone on a large premises with no one else around. The same thing happened at another institution, with a well-known religious scholar of a different educational lineage. I showed up to the meeting assuming the bustle of students and classes, or at least the presence of staff. But I again found myself alone with a male scholar, and though technically someone could have easily walked in,19 as a woman and as a student of knowledge who knows better, both these meetings made me highly uncomfortable. On another occasion, I was given permission to meet a renowned scholar at his residence. Having learned my lesson from previous experiences, I took a companion with me. Had I not done so, I found that for a good part of that meeting too I would have been alone with him.

Aside from what happened at these meetings, other cues have been given to me by American Muslim scholars regarding the need to relax the traditional boundaries between men and women. As a young woman at an Islamic study program, I wore the face-veil for a couple of days, imitating what I saw to be the good practice of one of the British students there. But one of the main teachers of the program discouraged me from wearing it, citing no valid religious justification for his discouragement. On another occasion, a well-known Muslim scholar deliberately initiated a handshake with a random non-Muslim woman passing out pamphlets on the street. Since the woman was barely paying attention to our presence, the only reason I could discern for why he had done that was to demonstrate to me (the only other person around) that this is what the face of American Islam should look like.

I relay these stories with some shame and quite a bit of hesitation, because though I do not ascribe any sinister motive to any of the people mentioned, and in fact respect all of them for the good work they have done and continue to do, I do believe there was something wrong done at each of these occasions. Having gone through these experiences myself, I can relate to the claim that women in such situations cannot be judged harshly, because the power differential in place (he being a respected scholar, I being a mere student) compromises the woman’s ability to speak out.

But by using this as a reason to demonize male scholars and deem women as perpetual victims who cannot be held accountable is taking a page out of the liberal, feminist rule book. Instead, we must remind ourselves that, despite the social structures in place that try each of the genders in different ways, we will all have to answer to Allah for our own contribution to any given life situation. I know that the women scholars with whom I have studied and spent time, whether from the Levant, Pakistan or elsewhere, have taqwa so engrained into their practice of Islam that they would have left the former situations as soon as they saw something to be off. They would have left, or not have allowed themselves to be caught in such a situation in the first place. And in the latter types of situations, they would have spoken out. When I told one of my teachers about the handshaking incident, she looked at me incredulously and exclaimed, “Why didn’t you say something?”

I could have said something. In both types of incidents, I could have taken a stand. I could have said, “I’m sorry but I didn’t realize there would be no one else here. Can we reschedule this meeting?” I could have said, “I have to say, that was wrong to shake that woman’s hand, and it made me uncomfortable seeing it.” It is my own weakness of resolve and taqwa that I did not do these things. Both actions would have been difficult for me to do, but not nearly impossible. To call out the handshaking incident would have been especially hard though, because the liberal concept of “live and let live” does not match up well with the Islamic obligation of enjoining the good and forbidding the wrong. It would also have been hard because within American Muslim circles, so much rhetoric had already gone into questioning the laws of Islam on this matter that even an observant Muslim woman like me who knows it is wrong to touch unrelated men would be confused as to whether it would be right for me to say anything at all.

Though I am a human being accountable before Allah, and I was as obliged to do the right thing as the men mentioned in the incidents above, as a Muslim woman it would have been much easier for me to stand up for the truth had there already existed a robust culture of taqwa within Muslim communities in America. Wasn’t it this same culture of taqwa that allowed the knowledgeable woman to question the noble Companion ‘Umar (may Allah be pleased with them) when she saw he was advocating something not in line with the teachings of the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace)?20 Why do we read feminism and individual rights into such situations, when we know that the Companions, both men and women, have their high rank because of their single-eyed focus on gaining the pleasure of Allah, even to the detriment of their own selves?

Having such a culture of taqwa engrained into the practice of Islam in America would help the male scholars do right just as it would help women. There are, in fact, many ‘ulama in America who do take measures of taqwa when teaching and interacting with their female students. As a graduate student, when I was going through a text of Islamic legal rulings (fiqh) with a local scholar, we would always meet in the masjid right in the center of the men’s prayer hall after Maghrib salah, sometimes with my husband present. A friend of mine relates how careful her teacher was when training her in the science of Qur’anic recitation (tajwid). Not only did he teach from behind a curtain, he also avoided communicating with his female students on the phone (preferring written communication outside of class) in order to prevent the growth of familiarity and casualness in the student-teacher relationship. What is unfortunate, however, is that these measures do not match up with the current religious atmosphere in America. The ‘ulama are labeled as unaccommodating or extremist if they ask for such protective measures to be taken. We have to realize though that if such taqwa-centered practices are normalized, and are instituted from a place of wanting to please Allah, then everyone in the community will feel more confident to act according to the laws of God and to stand up for these laws when they are being violated.

The point is, our community and interpersonal affairs must be handled through taqwa, not through the lens of liberal thought that supposedly empowers the ever-victimized woman to live according to a more progressive paradigm. What does a liberal American Islam have to say about the former above-mentioned incidents of seclusion, except “it’s all fine as long as women are being empowered, everyone’s consenting, and nothing bad happens”? Why not pay more attention to the Lord of men and women, who laid down the rules of taqwa to help ward away evil before it comes?

“Do not even approach zina (sexual unlawfulness), for it is an indecent thing and an evil way.”
(Quran 17:32)

The possibility of zina is always present and is the reason why the scholars of the Muslim world whom I met took the precautions they did. No human being, in the East or West, is safe from the devising of Satan or the inclinations of his lower self (nafs). But in a place like America, we do not have the unwritten rules of a Shariah-infused culture to help guide our everyday interactions, as is the case still in many Muslims lands. The fact that we do not have cultural understandings and social structures that encourage taqwa should make us as American Muslims eager to be more cautious, not less. The unfortunate reality however is that the sense of superiority and self-sufficiency that is unique to America results in an exceptionalism that is useful for the liberalization project. Through it, Muslim Americans are emboldened to rewrite the rules of decorum in even “Islamic” and “traditional” spaces in a manner unprecedented.

Now that some breaches of conduct have happened, instead of deriving solutions to the problem from the Shariah, some Muslims are continuing to apply the same liberal standard of ethics that got us to the ugly place where we now stand. There is a call to action, particularly on social media, with every man and woman speaking his individual mind. But taqwa there is almost non-existent, with little regard for the Divine commands related to backbiting, slander, rules of evidence, etc.

As for more formal action, meetings are being organized, conferences held, and policies drawn up, that aim to prevent sexual violations between male scholars and their female students and co-workers. But the language being employed indicates not a concern to make tawba from the community’s collective turning away from the Rule of God, nor even reminders to individual believers that we must all one day face Allah. The language of these more formal initiatives is deeply liberal, assuming: that hierarchical relationships are intrinsically problematic; a tendency in men to abuse power; the victim status of women regardless of their actions and intentions; and a program of reform that further promotes a fractured, distrustful, and ultimately incoherent view of Islamic social and communal relationships.

A Call Toward Reorientation

How fortunate we would be as a community if we called each other to “enjoin the good and forbid the evil” according to a comprehensive plan to abide by the command of Allah, one that calls for a reassessment of: the changes that have come about in American Muslim religious spaces; the changing dynamic of family and marriage among American Muslims; the particular pressures that high-profile scholars and their families face; the unique religious challenges to proper decorum posed by the now widespread use of social media; and the need to increase access to the religious education of all members of the American Muslim community while still upholding the dictates of the Sacred Law.

Centering the discourse on taqwa rather than on the liberally defined rights of “socially disempowered” individuals does not mean that women will be excluded from circles of learning. The Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) himself set aside a day just for women at their request, “admonishing them and enjoining them” (Bukhari). The Prophet’s wife ‘Aisha (Allah be pleased with her) is cited as having personally taught the 2,210 hadith she related from him (Allah bless him and grant him peace) to 17 women and 156 men, “with a throng besides those”21 that hadith scholars were unable to list. The teaching of women must continue. As a community, however, we should purify our intention to make such opportunities open to women out of a desire to help them succeed on their path to Allah, not out of conscious or subconscious imitation of the liberal model of representation and empowerment.

Similarly, we should for sure hold those in positions of power and influence to greater accountability, as can be seen in the examples of the Messenger of God (Allah bless him and grant him peace) and his blessed Companions, who only placed those most fearful of Allah in positions of influence. What I argue is that our impetus for holding influential men accountable should be the same desire to please Allah and preserve the deen that the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) and his Companions had. We should not be holding them accountable due to the inherent distrust of men that results from liberalism, which only encourages individualism and fails to connect human beings to each other in any kind of wholesome manner.

Along with robust discussion on how taqwa can be increased and compliance to the Shariah improved on a community-wide level, the men who are religious scholars and teaching in our communities should call themselves to account and check their own intentions before Allah.22 Even though his contemporaries taught women, the Shafi‘i scholar ‘Abd al Wakil al-Durubi (d. 1993) refused to do so, saying, “Were she Rabi‘a al-‘Adawiyya, and I Hasan al-Basri, I wouldn’t teach her the ABC’s.”23 As a community, we should respect such positions, and laud the types of measures taken by the scholars mentioned at the very start of this essay, instead of lambasting them for being unfair and accusing them of being unconcerned for the advancement of women, even as we construct opportunities for learning that are in line with what is pleasing to Allah.

Our goal as a community when trying to return to a condition of taqwa, particularly in our religious institutions and gatherings, must be to do so with the wisdom and balance of what the Shariah calls for. We can only do this with confidence as Muslims in America, however, when we believe in the truth and efficacy of the sacred laws of God. A good friend of mine demonstrated this confidence at her workplace, where she is part of the administration of a public school. It was the height of the Me Too movement (the same time as when our own Muslim American fitna began). She approached the male principal of the school and stated, “Michael24, you need to not meet with teachers in private behind closed doors anymore, unless the room has windows.” She went on to explain to both the principal and other staff that this was for the protection of both him and the female teachers of the school. Michael readily agreed, and so did the rest of the administration. When done with wisdom and confidence, even non-Muslims can appreciate the social benefit that results from putting the Shariah in place.

When I advocate a return to a taqwa-centered approach to Islamic practice in America, I am not endorsing any particular practice or regimen. “Al-taqwa ha-huna,” “Godfearingness lies right here,” said the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace), pointing to his chest three times, indicating that real consciousness of God lies in one’s heart, at the core of one’s being. Wearing the face-veil, for instance, may be appropriate and called for in Muslim lands, but numerous ‘ulama of high standing have discouraged the practice in America because they see the possibility of greater harm being done than good. This is a Shariah-based calculation though, not something based on whim or liberal calls to freedom of expression, and so such an ijtihad25 within the practice of American Muslims may very well come from a place of taqwa.

At the same time, we must remember how fortunate we are as Muslims, as a people of God whose religion has been divinely preserved till the end of time, that the main teachings of our religion are clear and agreed upon, with no room or need for legal deliberation (ijtihad). This broad consensus on the teachings of Islam had struck me even as a young woman: the piety and practice I saw among the religious scholars of Fez was the same as what I experienced when I later married into a religious family from Pakistan. If the practices that mark pious comportment in the Muslim world seem foreign to some of us, this is only because we have allowed American exceptionalism to color the way we view our own practice of Islam.  It is up to us to reject such an exceptionalist view of Islam in America. As American Muslims, we have access to the same beliefs and practices that have always beautified the lived practice of Islam, and many Godfearing families here in America continue to abide by the rules of decorum that a state of taqwa entails.

Finally, if we as American Muslims are to take any lesson from liberalism, let it be the emphasis on you as an individual in its ultimate sense. Those who believe know that each of us will stand alone as individuals before Allah on the Last Day, and so carry themselves accordingly. The Shadhili Sheikh al-Kurdi (d. 1972) had told his disciples in Jordan, “If you see me step outside the masjid with my right foot first,26 cease to follow me.” His example is used by Sheikh Nuh Keller to convey the same idea to his own disciples: do not succumb to following a “sheikh” if you find that he does not follow the Shariah and the sunnah of the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace). These words indicate not just the humility before Allah of these men, but the fact that the onus is on us as individuals. It is up to us, once we profess belief in Him, to obey the command of Allah, whether we are women or men. On the private level, each one of us is responsible to uphold the laws of God as best as we are able.

As for the public sphere, what measures are required to bring the American Muslim community back to a taqwa-based equilibrium with respect to Islamic practice is not for me or any one person to decide. It will take consultation and honest discussion between the religious scholars and the men and women of our community, as has already begun to some extent. What I wish to emphasize, however, is that this discussion must include the ‘ulama in their roles as teachers who guide us on how to truly submit to Allah, and not simply use them as tokens of legitimization of the liberalization process.  If we wish to take a God-centered approach to the problem, we cannot take the liberal stance of excluding and deeming suspicious the scholars who hold fast to the authoritative positions and perspectives of Islam. It had been the responsibility of the ‘ulama to guide the community toward taqwa in open and in secret. When they failed to do this, and the community went along with the liberalization of Islamic practice in America, Allah removed His protective cover from over this community, and the sins of a few became the spiritual crisis of many. It is now up to the Muslim Americans who have been active or complaisant supporters of this liberalization to make tawba,27 whether they are scholars or lay women and men, for we all bear responsibility before Allah in this regard. Turning back to Him with sincerity will, inshaAllah, be the key to us gaining His Help, as well as our ultimate salvation.

That is His right over us, to turn back to Allah and to adopt taqwa at both the private and the public level. As the Messenger of God (Allah bless him and grant him peace) told us, it is also the only real means of success and protection for the Muslims of America:

Be mindful of Allah, and Allah will protect you. Be mindful of Allah, and you will find him in front of you. If you ask, ask Allah. If you seek help, seek help of Allah. Know that if the Nation were to gather together to benefit you with anything, it would benefit you only with something that Allah had already prescribed for you, and that if they gather together to harm you with anything, they would harm you only with something Allah had already prescribed for you. The pens have been lifted and the pages have dried.28


As quoted in Keller, Nuh Ha Mim, Sea Without Shore: A Manual of the Sufi Path. Amman: Sunna Books, 2011, p. 102.

i.e. close male relative

To critique liberalism is not the same as taking a politically right-wing stance, as some in America who are unfamiliar with the broader history of classical liberalism may assume. This paper is essentially arguing for an Islamic counter-perspective.

Gray, John, Liberalism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1995, p. 9-11.

ibid., p. 11.

ibid., p. xii.


Okin, Susan Moller, Women in Western Political Thought. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979, p. 278-281.

By the time the eminent anthropologist Talal Asad critically engages with the concept of “islams” in his 1987 paper, “The Idea of an Anthropology of Islam,” it had already been around at least for some decades, if not from the turn of the century in the works of Orientalists like Snouck Hurgronje (d. 1936). Reprinted: Asad, Talal, “The Idea of an Anthropology of Islam,” Qui Parle, vol. 17, no. 2 (2009), p. 1-30.

10 Despite the difference of opinion regarding the ritual impurity (najasa) of dogs, Maliki scholars hold it to be either disliked or impermissible to keep a dog at home without reasonable need.

11 In the late Shafi‘i school, al-Ramli (d. 1004/1596) held that a person with knowledge of astronomy could follow calculations instead of sighting the moon, and those who trust him can do so as well, but it is not on the basis of his opinion, nor on the conditions specified by the Shafi`i school, that the calculation position had been adopted in North America. In fact, Dr. Zulfiqar Ali Shah, executive director of the Fiqh Council of North America, states explicitly in a 2018 article that the calculations position on moonsighting was adopted in North America with the intent of carving out a new legal position and methodology that would “make Islam germane” to modern realities, showing no awareness or need of the Shafi‘i position in his defense of the calculations position. This confirms my assertion that the North American position was adopted from a stance of liberalization that honors progressive innovation and the interpretive right of American Islam (as per the specific aspects of liberalism that I outline at the start of my essay), and not according to the legal methodology of the Sunni Islamic tradition: “The Muslims in the West are living different realities than their brethrens in the Muslim majority contexts. Their hermeneutical instincts are expected to be at variance with their fellow Muslims in the Muslim world because of the circumstantial disparity. The Muslim jurists of the West also have leverage over their counterparts in the Muslim world. They can dare to think out of the box and withstand the popular pressure. I am confident that they will rise above the tide of criticism, stand their grounds and continue their principled stand. The employment of astronomical calculations is a new phenomenon and a new debate. Gradually it will become a norm like the calculated prayer schedules with more education, awareness and passage of time.” Zulfiqar Ali Shah, An Analysis of Moon Sighting Arguments, June 22, 2018, Last accessed: December 11, 2019.  See also: See: Hamza Yusuf, “Caesarean Moon Births,” 2006; Sohail Hanif, “Why Can’t We Unite? A Brief Overview of Moon-Sighting Wars (And How to Avoid Them),” Last accessed: December 5, 2019; and Waleed S. Ahmed, “Crescent Chronicles: A Brief History of Moonsighting in America,” Last accessed: December 11, 2019.

12 Discrimination through which you can discern Right from Wrong.

13 The translations of these Quranic verses have been taken from ad-Darqawi, Mawlay al-Arabi, The Darqawi Way: The Letters of Shaykh Mawlay al-‘Arabi ad-Darqawi, trans. Aisha Bewley. Cambridge: Diwan Press, 1979, p. 139 and 311.

14 Keller, Sea Without Shore, 417.

15 al-Nawawi, Yahya b. Sharaf al-Din, An-Nawawi’s Forty Hadith, trans. Ezzeddin Ibrahim and Denys Johnson-Davies. Beirut: The Holy Koran Publishing House, 1976, p. 118.

16 The relationship between worship, taqwa and seeking sacred knowledge is beautifully summed up in a letter by the Naqshbandi sheikh Khwaja Nasir al-Din ‘Ubaydullah Ahrar (d. 1490 CE) to his disciple Mawlana Muhammad Qadi: “The true essence of worship is humble veneration, supplication, and contrition. These qualities arise in the heart through the contemplation of God’s glorious majesty. The achievement of such bliss depends on love. Love becomes manifest through obedience to the Prophet and Master of all ages. We therefore need to know how to obey. Thus it becomes necessary to pay attention to those scholars who are the heirs  to true religious knowledge. As for those who abuse their learning, making it a means to worldly gain or an instrument of fame and fortune, they must be avoided. One should not mix with dervishes who indulge in music and dancing and who do not hesitate to buy and sell all kinds of things. One’s ears must be deaf to heretical doctrines. One must study to acquire true wisdom, in conformity with the practice of the Prophet. May you be blessed with peace.” From Safi, Mawlana ‘Ali b. Husain, Rashahat-i ‘Ayn al-Hayat, as cited in, Shushud, Hasan Lutfi, Masters of Wisdom of Central Asia. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 2014, p. 119.

17 Poetic verse of Sheikh Ibrahim al-Taza, as quoted in ad-Darqawi, The Darqawi Way, p. 118

18 Save one! May Allah bless him with the khayr.

19 Islamic sacred law prohibits khalwa or unlawful seclusion between an unrelated man and woman. Technically in the Shariah, a situation where two people are meeting in a public place, where others are expected to easily walk in and out, does not constitute khalwa.

20 See the commentary for Qur’an verse 4:20, for example in al-Qurtubi, Muhammad b. Ahmad, al-Jami` li ahkam al-Qur’an. Cairo: Dar al-Shu`b, n.d. vol. 3, p. 1669.

21 Quoted from Imam Shams al-Din al-Dhahabi’s Siyar A‘lam al-Nubala in Keller, Sea Without Shore, p. 101.

22 Sheikh ‘Abdullah ibn Ahmad al-Zubaydi asked Imam al-Haddad about the following hadith: “There is a valley in Hell against which Hell itself cries out seventy times a day for protection; it has been prepared by God the Exalted for those scholars of this community who are hypocrites.” Imam al-Haddad responded by saying that the ‘ulama being referred to here were either a) actual hypocrites with no faith in their hearts or b) people of faith who became “so overcome by their love for social eminence and high status that they ostentatiously display their devotion and knowledge to achieve them.” al-Haddad, Imam, The Sublime Treasures: Answers to Sufi Questions, trans. Mostafa al-Badawi, Louisville: Fons Vitae, 2008, p. 38.

23 Keller, Sea Without Shore, p. 101.

24 Name has been changed.

25 i.e., a legal position based on reasoning and contemporary circumstance

26 The practice of the Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and grant him peace) was to enter the mosque with his right foot and to exit with his left. It is not required for Muslims to do the same, but it is highly commendable to imitate the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) in all of his states and actions to the best of one’s ability.

27 i.e., turn to Allah in sincere repentance

28 Hadith related in al-Tirmidhi. Translation adapted from al-Nawawi’s Forty Hadith, trans. Ezzeddin Ibrahim and Denys Johnson-Davies.


About Dr. Fareeha Khan

Born and raised in Chicago, Fareeha holds an M.A. from the University of Chicago in Middle Eastern Studies and a Ph.D. in Islamic Studies from the University of Michigan. Fareeha studied under Dr. Sherman Abdul Hakim Jackson at Michigan, and her main academic research interests include Islamic law, women, and application and interpretation of the Islamic tradition in the modern period. She is an affiliated scholar at Willamette University (where she has also served as assistant professor), and is an Advisory Editor for the Oxford Encyclopedia of Islamic Law. Fareeha has been blessed to be able to study with Islamic religious scholars as well. Some of her teachers include: Sheikh Nuh Keller, Umm Sahl, Sheikh Faraz Rabbani, and Sheikh Ashraf Muneeb. She lives with her husband Ibrahim Mansoor in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where she continues to write and study privately and online. She also serves on the Sila Executive Board.

The Sila Initiative was founded to address the concerns of Muslim women in regards to their relationships with their families, society, and Islam. The Initiative is grounded in the work of contemporary ‘ulama, who are the inheritors of a rich tradition of Islamic scholarship. Through emphasizing the need for knowing and loving Allah, we hope our research and educational efforts will bring much needed balance to contemporary discussions on women and men in Islam and encourage Muslims to strengthen their relationship with Allah Most High.


Hard Questions for the New Year – Imam Zaid Shakir

* Courtesy of New Islamic Directions

As we North American Muslims enter a new year it might be beneficial for us to ask ourselves some serious questions. A bit of soul searching has never harmed anyone.

The type of questions I have in mind involve a set of challenges to some of the prevailing trends which currently occupy our minds and in many ways imprison our hearts. They are not meant to be offensive or hurtful, rather to stimulate a little reflection.

First of all, what does it say about our religion if for over 1400 years Muslims did not have clarity on a series of fundamental issues which are totally disconnected from the rapidly evolving technology that defines our modern or postmodern condition? For example if we are not sure if our prayers are valid if we are flying in an airplane that confusion should be understandable as there were no planes during the time of the Prophet (blessings and peace upon him).

However, did we as an Ummah have to wait for over 1400 years to be informed as to how to dress? Did rulings on issues like the incumbency of Hijab for women, the Sunnah of head covering for Muslims men (one would be hard pressed to find a picture of a practicing Muslim man from the 19th Century without some sort of head cover), modest attire for men and women, and related issues have to wait until our time to be properly adjudicated?
Fatwa searching, for liberation or from weakness?

What even moved us to seek “Fatwas” on such issues? Was it the strength of our quest for liberation or the weaknesses of our faith? Similar questions could be asked about our sexual mores. What are the implications for our religion if for 1400 years we did not know who it was lawful to go to bed with? Did our scholars lack the hermeneutical prowess to understand the texts related to such matters or do we lack the self-restraint for their insights to matter any more?

Are the textual foundations which inform such matters so vague or ambiguous that an alternative feminist reading of them would, by way of example, produce a drastically different set of rulings? Have we forgotten that a woman, Aisha (May Allah be pleased with her), once discouraged women from joining the prayer in the masjid while a man, Abdullah bin Umar (may Allah be pleased with him), vigorously defended that right.

Where has our confidence gone? Reflections along these lines lead to a deeper question. Why is it so critical at this particular historical juncture that the Islam which survived the Crusades, the Mongol invasions, the great Bubonic plague and other existential threats be changed to accommodate a system of thought which is responsible for the most destructive forms of ecological degradation the world has ever seen; the greatest disparities in income distribution yet known to humankind; the means (nuclear weapons) to end all life on this planet; and the deepest crisis of meaning and purpose yet faced by our species? Is it because the less ugly face of modernity is so alluring that it blinds us to these and other unsavory realities or is it because the universality of secular education among Muslims in the West has robbed us of the confident faith of the illiterate old lady who scoffed at Imam Fakhruddin Razi?

The Cause and Effect of Faith

We do not know where all of the social, ecological, cultural, political, economic and scientific experiments which currently define our age will end. Based on developments all around us only a fool would say that the prognosis is good. We do know what Islam has done and is doing for human beings all over the world. It gives Muslims who are witnessing their people brutally murdered and systematically forced from their lands and homes in places like Myanmar the will to live and to forge on. It makes the people of Niger among the most optimistic people on earth despite the fact that they are among the poorest. It renders the Palestinian people among the most hospitable people on earth despite the inhospitality they have faced from those who would remove them from their ancestral home. It gives the people of Aceh the power to view the tsunami which decimated their coastal lands as a test from God, which took their homes, livelihoods and loved ones, but only increased their faith.

I am not an overly idealistic dreamer who would deny the daunting challenges and threats we currently face. However,I am hopeful enough to believe that despite the challenges and threats we face there is much to appreciate in Islam. And so I’m offering this simple prayer for our community: may 2020 find us much more grateful for our religion.

Have I Converted to Islam?

Answered by Shaykh Farid Dingle

Question: Assalamu alaykum

A long time ago I decided to become a Muslim, but I am not actually sure if I recited the Shahhadah or not. I have seriously conflicting memories on whether I did or not. But I came to assume I converted anyway, became a devout Muslim for a brief time, then committed kufr. Then eventually I decided to reconvert. This time, I properly recited the Shahhadah and did Ghusl.

Regardless of whether I did properly convert the first time, did my recitation of the Shahhadah count, even though it was with the intention of reconverting, not converting? Also, I recited the Shahhadah by a whisper. Does it still count? What should I do?

Answer: Assalamu alaykum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh,

Just assume you became Muslim at that earliest time.

The significance of the testimony of faith (the Shahadah) is only your legal status in a Muslim country, that is to say whether or not you can marry a Muslim woman, and whether or not you can inherit from other Muslims.

You become a believer by believing, regardless of making the testimony of faith.

I pray this helps.

[Shaykh] Farid Dingle

Shaykh Farid Dingle grew up in a convert family in Herefordshire, UK. In 2007, he moved to Jordan to pursue traditional studies. Shaykh Farid continues to live in Amman, Jordan with his wife and kids. In addition to continuing his studies he teaches Arabic and several of the Islamic sciences.

Shaykh Farid began his journey in sacred knowledge with intensives in the UK and Jordan (2004) in Shafi’i fiqh and Arabic. After years of studying Arabic grammar, Shafi’i fiqh, hadith, legal methodology (usul al-fiqh) and tafsir, Sh. Farid began specializing in Arabic language and literature. Sh. Farid studied Pre-Islamic poetry, Umayyad, Abbasid, Fatimid, and Andalusian literature. He holds a BA in Arabic Language and Literature and continues exploring the language of the Islamic tradition.

In addition to his interest in the Arabic language Shaykh Farid actively researches matters related to jurisprudence (fiqh) which he studied with Shaykh Hamza Karamali, Shaykh Ahmad Hasanat, and continues with Shaykh Amjad Rasheed.

Dying Upon Love of Allah — the Beautiful Counsel of al-Abbas ibn Abd al-Muttalib to His Son

Imam Bayhaqi relates in his Shu’ab al-Iman that when al-Abbas ibn Abd al-Muttalib—the uncle of the Messenger of Allah (peace & blessings be upon him and his folk)—was on the verge of death, he said to his son:


“O Abd Allah! I counsel you to:

(1) love Allah (Mighty and Majestic),
(2) and to love His obedience;
(3) to have fear of Allah,
(4) and fear of His disobedience.

“If you are this way, then you will not dislike dying when death comes to you

“I counsel you to regarding Allah, my dear child.”

“Then al-Abbas turned towards the Qibla, said, “La ilaha illa’l Llah (‘There is no god but God’),” raised his gaze, and died.”

[Bayhaqi, Shu’ab al-Iman, 2.15]


Translated By Shaykh Faraz Rabbani





Summary Notes of Embracing Excellence: 30 Steps on the Straight Path (01) – Ustadha Shireen Ahmed

DAY 1: On Certainty

Synopsis: Ustadh Amjad starts this class by reviewing who is the author and why this text is important.  He then delves into the topic of what is certainty (yaqīn), and what are the benefits of having strong faith.  He explained that one’s certainty can be strengthened by three actions, and that believers have three degrees of certainty.


“Certainty (yaqīn) is the essential thing, and all other noble ranks, praiseworthy traits of character and good works are its branches and results.” (Imam Haddad)


  • Imam Haddad was a 12th Century (Hijrī) Shafi’ī scholar who had a deep level of knowledge in many Islamic disciplines.
  • Certain books are constantly repeated as they are not just a matter of taking information from each chapter, rather it is a reminder to constantly purify our intentions
  • The strength of Ali’s (may Allah be pleased with him) faith & certainty
  • Yaqīn is a level above the general faith of an average believer
  • The difference between faith and certainty (faith can be shaken but not certainty)
  • In general people start by rectifying their outward, and then from there they start to rectify their character, and then they work to strengthen the Iman in their heart; although all of things are virtuous, the order is backwards.  One should start by strengthening their belief & connection to Allah (Exalted is He), the natural result will be a purification of their heart & character, and righteous deeds.

How One Can Strengthen their Belief & Certainty:

1) Listening attentively to the Qur’an, hadith, & stories of the prophets sent throughout time

    • Reciting the Qur’an strengthens our belief & certainty, while pondering on the meanings within it.  Listen with your heart as well as your ears.
    • The importance of reflecting on the signs around us; the Might and Power of Allah Most High; the stories of the past and what became of the people who did not follow the prophets sent throughout time
    • Example of Prophet Musa being pursued and reflecting on how that may have felt: Prophet Yusuf and the many tribulations he faced, but how he overcomes the trials
      • We learn from this to be people of patience, success at the end will be for the people of belief

2) Learn from the Kingdom of the heavens and the Earth, and the creatures within it

    • Example of Prophet Sulayman asking for a unique blessing from Allah
    • How one learns from documentaries about Allah’s absolute Majesty; reflecting on the galaxy and how it is only the lowest of the heavens; there is no creature on earth except that Allah provides for it; reflect on how all of these creatures glorify Allah (Exalted is He)
    • How detrimental it is for the human condition to not be connected with the natural world

3) To behave according to what one believes, outwardly & inwardly with zeal and determination

    • Act upon what you know, every time it increases you in your certainty in all of your acts of worship; when one distances oneself from acts of obedience one is severely weakened and shaytan can overcome them
    • The importance of using all of one’s energy to seek the pleasure of Allah
    • How the Prophet صلى الله عليه و سلّم would find comfort and rest in the prayer
    • The results of good actions and how that helps us to taste the sweetness of faith

Benefits of proper certainty:

    • Acquiescence in God’s promise
    • Turning to God with pure longing continuously
    • Abandoning what distracts one from Him
    • Spending all one”s energy seeking His pleasure
    • Sets the foundation for having noble rank, praiseworthy character & good works

Branches of Faith Podcast Review – Nurulain Wolhuter

In the series of podcasts on the Branches of Faith, some leading scholars will explain the different branches of faith, as they appear in the works of the Islamic tradition. These branches include (1) branches of belief and certitude, (2) branches of spiritual works, and (3) branches of social excellence.

In this introductory session, Shaykh Muhammad Abu Bakr Ba-Dhib introduces the text, “Iqd al-Juman fi Bayan Shu’ab al-Iman” (The Necklace of Pearls in Clarifying the Branches of Faith), and its author, Imam Murtada al-Zabidi (d. 1205 AH). He also provides an historical overview of the narrations regarding these branches, explaining that his objective is to consider the way in which the scholars have accorded specific attention to these narrations since the first century AH, and the way they have gathered and collated them since the fourth century.

The book is an an abridged text dealing with the branches of faith that appear in several prophetic narrations. The author, Imam al-Zabidi, was born in Belgram in India, where he grew up and acquired his foundational Islamic knowledge. He moved to the sacred sanctuaries and thereafter to Zabid in Yemen and to Egypt, where he lived until he passed away. He was a prolific writer, authoring over one hundred books in his lifetime.

Shaykh Muhammad commences his discussion of the prophetic narrations with a narration from Abu Huraira, reported by Bukhari, in which he says the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, said “faith has sixty something branches and modesty is one of the branches of faith”. He also discusses a similar narration reported by Muslim, in which Abu Huraira says the Prophet said “faith has seventy something branches, the best of it is la illaha illa Allah and the least of it is removing something from the pathway, and modesty is one of the branches of faith”. He mentions another narration as well, from Ibn Majah and Ibn Hibban, in which the first two narrations are combined, such that the narration reads that faith has sixty something and seventy something branches. Ibn Hibban says the discrepancy did not arise because there was doubt about what the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, said, but because there was uncertainty about the number, therefore both were transmitted. Shaykh Muhammad also refers to several other narrations, which variously document the number as sixty something, seventy something, seventy-two, seventy-six and seventy-nine.

He discusses the question why the scholars were concerned with enumerating the branches of faith, and gives two answers. Firstly, they enumerate the highest one, which is by the tongue – la illaha illa Allah – and the lowest one, which is by the body – removing something from the path – to emphasise that there are many in-between, such as truthfulness and obedience to parents. Secondly, we are required to know some of the messengers and angels, but not all of them. Likewise, we do not know all the branches of faith, but we are encouraged to engage in the acts of obedience which we know.

Shaykh Muhammad’s introductory session is an insightful precursor to the series, providing the necessary detail for those seekers wishing to deepen their knowledge of the branches of faith.


Click here to listen to Episode 1 of Branches of Faith

Shaykh Jamir Meah on Science and the Qur’an

Shaykh Jamir Meah recently answered a host of questions on seeming contradictions between science and the Qur’an. It is so good it needed to be featured here.

Assalam alaykum wa rahmat Allah wa baraktuh.

I have had a lot of questions about some claimed scientific mistakes in the Qur’an that I haven’t had any answers too (or any good answers to). I would like for you to have patience with me, since I have a lot of questions that have been bothering me.

    1. 1. In the verse, يخرج من بين الصلب والترائب (

Sura al-Tariq 86:7

    1. ) I haven’t seen a good explanation that doesn’t feel forced or تكلف that explains the verse, which is against what is seen.
    1. 2. The hadith of the “tail bone” (عجب الذنب), I want references from credible scientific sources that this bone doesn’t go away and it is where the human is created or any explanation as to how is this hadith can be interpreted.
    1. 3. The verse of وحلائل ابنائكم الذين من اصلابكم (

Sura al-Nisa 4:23

    1. ) and واذ اخذ ربك من بني آدم من ظهورهم ذريتهم. (

Sura al-A‘raf 7:172

    1. ) I want an explanation for how can this reconcile with what is known. How is it that children are from the back?
    1. 4. It is known (and correct me if I am wrong) that circumcision for young ladies is permissible and some say it is good. This leads to a weird contradiction, since the Qur’an and Sunna never asks us to do anything that harms us, but there is a whole movement trying to stop it for young ladies, since it harmful.
    1. 5. I also wanted to ask about cousin marriages, and how is it permissible as scientifically it is may be more harmful?
    1. 6. There is a sahih hadith that says a woman has a role in the gender of the child, which is مَاءُ الرَّجُلِ أَبْيَضُ، وَمَاءُ الْمَرْأَةِ أَصْفَرُ ، فَإِذَا اجْتَمَعَا ، فَعَلَا مَنِيُّ الرَّجُلِ مَنِيَّ الْمَرْأَةِ ، أَذْكَرَا بِإِذْنِ اللهِ ، وَإِذَا عَلَا مَنِيُّ الْمَرْأَةِ مَنِيَّ الرَّجُلِ ، آنَثَا بِإِذْنِ اللهِ . ً(Muslim) What is the correct interpretation for this hadith?
    1. 7. Last thing is the verse, ومن كل شيء خلقنا زوجين. (

Sura al-Dhariya 51:49

    ) What is the correct interpretation for this ayat?

May Allah help you and help me, and may you help me to reach clarity and strong faith.

Thank you.

Wa alaykum assalam wa rahmat Allah wa barakatuh.

Thank you for your questions. I have answered them in order below.

Questions 1-3: Qur’an and Science

I am unable to provide scientific proofs to your questions as I am not a scientist. However, please note the following points in regards this set of questions:

A. There is a lot of literature out there which discuss scientific facts found in the Quran. While it is true that the Quran does indeed contain scientific miracles and will I’m sure continue to shed light on numerous facts about our universe, much of the information written on this subject is unfortunately often poorly researched.

Therefore, Muslims who do not have both a solid understanding of the Qur’an; it’s language and exegesis, alongside a firm understanding of the relevant branches of modern sciences, should avoid too much discussion on these aspects of the Qur’an. The most important matters in the Qur’an that man needs to know and hold onto have been made clear, while other verses are not so clear to the laymen, and should not be delved into by the unqualified, for Allah Most High tells us in regards some verses, “What does Allah mean by such a parable? Through this He leaves many to stray, and guides many.” (Sura al-Baqara 2:26)

B. The Qur’an is not a scientific book, it is the Divine Speech of God, which contains guidance for man to fulfill his earthly needs and attain to eternal salvation, and a warning of what awaits those who transgress. Unless for general interest or scholarly specialization, one should focus on these aspects of the Qur’an and attaching ones’ heart to Allah and his Messenger, as ultimately, this is what matters and the point of the guidance.

C. The Qur’an has an endless depth of meaning. This is one of the Miracles of the Qur’an. Because it is the eternal Speech of God, it indicates to some of the eternal knowledge of God, which is limitless. No one will ever fully encompass its full meanings, but new meanings become apparent over time, and occur to people of varying abilities and insight. However, it’s meanings never change, and its inward meanings do not contradict its outward implications.

D. When the Qur’an mentions facts about the created universe, it is often implicit and indicative to these facts, and not usually explicit or apparent immediately.

E. The universe is still mainly undiscovered territory. What science knows now maybe different tomorrow. It is a tool for discovering facts, not the fact itself, therefore it is subject to change as new facts become undisclosed. It cannot be relied upon as the standard to measure the absolute truth. The first thing we learnt from even our basic science texts at school is that in science, “no theory is accepted as absolute truth.”

F. Despite science and modern medicine making immense advancements in the understanding of human anatomy and physiology, it is by no means complete knowledge. Moreover, in regards the human being as a whole, such as psychologically and spiritually, and how this connects to the physical, modern science’s understanding of these are deeply inadequate and relies on various assumptions and theories. The interconnection between the somatic and non-somatic levels of the human being are only now being explored and new ways in how we view and study the human body are being discovered.

G. In regards the hadith, “There is nothing of the human body that does not decay except one bone; the little bone at the end of the coccyx of which the human body will be recreated on the Day of Resurrection.” (Bukhari) It actually doesn’t matter whether this bone decomposes or not, as the hadith does not explicitly state that the whole bone does not decompose, nor delineate what is meant by “tail bone.”

Therefore, it is valid to state that what the hadith could be referring to is that even the tiniest part of the tail bone does not decompose, as a part is necessarily a part of the whole, so one may use the whole to describe the part. Thus, even if the smallest part of the tail bone is left intact, perhaps even extending to the molecular or atomic level, then this suffices to make the statement true, as is supported by the hadith, when asked about the tailbone, he, peace and blessings be upon him, replied, “[It is] like a grain of mustard.’ (Ahmad)

Furthermore, there is a difference of opinion on how humans will be resurrected on the Day of Judgement. One opinion is that we will be assembled and resurrected from all our scattered remains. Another opinion holds that when the trumpet blows all our parts and remnants will be utterly annihilated and taken out of existence, except whatever remains of the “tail bone” (even if nanoscopic), and then we will be created again, almost ex-nihilo, similar to how we were created the first time. (Sharh al-Kharida al-Bahiyya)

H. Know that Allah Most High is the Creator of all things, and this includes natural laws and normative relationships of cause and effect. If He so willed, He could turn these laws and relations on their heads or create entirely different laws. Therefore, when Allah Most High informs us that He bought forth the children of Adam from their “backs” it is irrelevant whether this coincides with the ordinary manner that we observe the reproduction system to work or different to it, as Allah Most High has power over all things and may do as He pleases. Secondly, most reliable translators translate the words “min dhuhurim” “from their backs” as “from their loins,” in which case, there is no contradiction between these words and what is normally observed in this life.

Question 4: Female Circumcision

Female circumcision is mentioned in various narrations, such as when the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said to a woman who circumcised females, “Do not go to the extreme in cutting; that is better for the woman.” (Abu Dawud) The Mujtahid Imams differed on its rulings; some holding it obligatory, others recommended, and others still, considered it good etiquette.

I specifically quoted the hadith above, because it contains a warning; “Do not go to extremes” and this is the important point. Proper female circumcision consists of removing a tiny flake or shaving of skin from the hood of the clitoris, nothing more. This is what is described in our fiqh books. Advanced hospitals in the UAE perform this very well.

It does not in any way consist of excess skin or flesh being removed, harm to the woman, mutilation of any kind, or anything else that interferes with or diminishes the functioning of the genital area.

The whole point of correct female circumcision is increased hygiene and sexual pleasure for the woman. This is obviously not achieved by the malpractice we have just mentioned, but rather the opposite occurs.

Unfortunately, in many cultural practices of female circumcision this is what happens, and in this we wholeheartedly agree with those who speak out about such practices, while at the same time, we uphold the correct and Shari‘a-defined female circumcision we have outlined above. This is certainly an area which needs serious addressing and educating.

Question 5: Cousin Marriages

There is nothing wrong with cousins marrying one another, and the possibilities of any defect occurring is not significant unless the cousins in question are from generations of cousin marriages or they have genetic defects themselves. Cousin-marriage is permitted in Islam, Judaism, and has been within Christianity at various periods of time, or still is depending on the Christian denomination.

What has been observed by medical scientists as a significant concern is the repeated marrying of first cousins, generation after generation, due to the increased chances of sharing recessive traits. In these cases, the Shari‘a ruling would also be that it is not recommended to do so.

Question 6: Gender

The gender of the child can depend on many factors, among them the manner of fluid exchange during intercourse, which is what is mentioned in the hadith, “Man’s discharge is thick and white and the discharge of woman is thin and yellow, so the resemblance comes from the one whose water prevails or dominate.” (Muslim)

Imam al-Nawawi mentions that the scholars have explained prevailing or dominant to mean here either the one who emits first, or the one whose discharge is more plentiful and stronger in relation to whose desire was stronger. (Sharh Muslim)

Question 7: Duality in Creation

The verse, “And all things We have created by pairs, that haply ye may reflect,” (Sura al-Dhariya 51:49) means that creation has been created in two types or two kinds, such as the land and sea, night and day, the sun and moon, sweetness and bitterness, earth and sky, light and dark, male and female. Pairs are either opposites or similar.

These pairings point to one Creator, to His Power and Ability and that the one who is able to create them is able to recreate them at will and bring them together again, and that one may reflect that pairs and plurality belong to all things possible (mumkinat) while a necessary being (al-wajib bi dhat), namely God, does not accept plurality or division (Most of these arguments require further logical explanation). (al-Baydawi, al-Qurtubi, al-Wahidi, al-Tafsir al-Kabir)

A Word of Advice

Lastly, I would suggest you focus more on studying the broader aspects of religion, particularly aqida and tafsir. This will help you in your understanding. Unless one is firmly grounded in both their religious knowledge and the secular sciences, entering into discussions or answering other people’s questions on such topics such as science and religion (and many more subjects) can often do harm and turn people away, even if one’s intentions are good.

I pray the above provides sufficient guidance and clarification.

Warmest salams,



All That Remained – Navigating Dementia With Faith

A student observes his grandmother dealing with dementia, and discovers the one thing that remains with her as her memory slowly fades.

Dementia is a heartbreaking illness. It impairs a person’s ability to think, changes their personality, and can cause them to forget their most beloved ones. In times of hardship, when all else is stripped away, true character shines through. Some conditions, like personality changes, are not the person’s fault. But Allah is never far, and He manifests His mercy in amazing ways.

In the early 60s a pious woman, married a simple bus driver in Pakistan. Three weeks later, she relocated to the United Kingdom, where she is now the matriarch of over 30 children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

Now in her eighties and despite her age and her deteriorating health, she remains steadfast in her prayers and fasting, seems to constantly be in a state of Dhikr, and is often reading the Qur’an. She is always present for family events, whether they be weddings, funerals, mawlids or casual get-togethers.

For decades she would cook and serve food to the entire family, always offering to serve others. Her food was not just tasty, but had a lot of love and baraka in it.

But dementia has taken its toll on her life, and she is unable to do many of the things she once enjoyed. She recently asked one of her daughters, my aunt, “How many children do I have?” and on another occasion, “How many children do you have?” In addition, I once overheard my uncle say that it’s difficult to plan trips and outings, because she will forget about it when it’s time to go.

When dementia strips a personality down to the bare bones, it reveals what lies underneath. The night before my brother’s wedding, she came to stay at our house, and Allah showed me her rank. I was reading from Sura al-Baqara, the longest chapter of the Qur’an, while she was lying down alongside me. She seemed to be dozing, oblivious to what I was doing. Suddenly, she shouted out and grabbed me on the arm.

At first, I was confused as to what she was doing until I rechecked the verse and discovered that I had mispronounced one of the letters. I reread the word correctly and she nodded and allowed me to continue. I thought it was a coincidence, or that maybe I had been reading a verse that she knew well. But a few minutes later, she woke up again when I’d made another mistake, and she corrected me again in the same way. She corrected me in the same manner that Shaykh Ibrahim Osi-Efa corrects those who slip up while reciting a mawlid.

She has not memorized the Qur’an, nor is she a scholar of tajwid. Yet somehow, she sensed my mistake and been able to correct me. I always knew that she had a love for the Qur’an. It amazed me how Allah had beautifully preserved her memory for His Book, even as the memories of her own children faded.

My grandmother is now entering into the final chapters of her life. We pray that Allah grants her a good end and a felicitous entry into Paradise, by His Grace.

By Zaid Malik

This piece was written by a SeekersHub student. Looking to inspire? Consider writing for our Compass Blog! We are looking for individuals willing to submit feature pieces for publication. Share your stories with us. Contact [email protected] with your pitch and inspire and motivate hundreds – if not thousands – of others.

Am I a Kafir for Not loving Allah?

Ustadh Farid Dingle advises on feeling no love for Allah and how to rectify this.

I used to love Allah but my iman got weaker and now I feel indifferent to Allah. I don’t love or hate Him. Partly because I used to blame Allah for things. This is a real lack of love, not just waswasa or a dip in iman.

Is it kufr to truly not love Allah? Please answer me immediately.

Belief in Allah means that you know He exists and accept it as a fact. This is called iman. If you do this, you are a believer.

Whether one fears, loves, reveres, or hopes in Him as you really should, is another issue. Worshipping Allah as you really should is called ihsan.

Please see Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali’s Commentary on the Hadith of Gibril for more detail.

It is not disbelief (kufr) to not love Allah, but it is sin and lack of ihsan that one must strive to work on. If you don’t feel like you fear or love Allah, at least act like you do, because the hand teaches the heart.

I pray this helps.


Checked and approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani.