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

Shaykh Sohail Hanif makes sense of the annual moon-sighting debates.

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

It’s All Backed By Classical Scholarship

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

Process, Process, Process

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

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

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

Waiting For Official Judgement

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

What About Muslims Living As Minorities?

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

Avoiding Sectarianism

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

Every Method Has A Basis In Sacred Law

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

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

In truth, if a person looks through the corpus of legal works, he/she will see that the methods that were deemed acceptable were vast. As long as the judicial council vested with the authority to declare Ramadan follows any of these, then it must be followed. It is that simple.
So what to make of the long articles defending local sighting as the correct way to declare Ramadan, or global sighting, or other methods? These should all be seen as academic papers. These would be presented to such a judicial body to advise of the best method to follow. Otherwise, they are of little practical consequence because an individual cannot declare their own month.
The issue of moonsighting illustrates the wider purpose of the central devotional acts of Islam that make up its five pillars. Each of these upholds not only the faith of individuals, but the very community of faith to which these individuals belong. The detailed rules of the ritual prayer, fasting and zakat provide much guidance and clarity onhow a community of faith is to be formed, strengthened and spiritually nourished. If the community finds itself in discord and disarray, its members can only blame themselves for not having established these pillars as they were instructed.

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

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

Doubts on the Validity of Prayer

Ustadh Salman Younas dispels misgivings on performing certain acts in prayer.

I’m one who frequently questions the validity of the prayer and genuinely questions whether I have committed a mistake. This has recently been magnified by my reading of that delaying a necessary act by the length of three tasbih is itself a wajib. Now I constantly question whether or not I have left too long a gap.

I used to take long pauses to reflect on prayer and now no longer do. This has been particularly problematic because I often make mistakes and/or stutter in my prayer and thereafter repeat the line, whether it be a takbirat or a verse, but now I am unsure if this would mean I am leaving this wajib.

Specifically: When performing Isha today in my third or fourth rak‘a when saying “Rabbana laka al-hamd,” I believe that I trailed off, failing to say the end. So I repeated “Rabbana laka al-hamd.” I then immediately went into sujood but then I questioned whether this would be classed as delaying the necessary act. Do I repeat the prayer?

A second question: I led my younger brother in prayer for maghrib, but I didn’t know then that the imam does not say “Rabbana laka al-hamd,” so I said it. Must this prayer be repeated?

You are suffering from waswasa, or baseless migivings. You must ignore these baseless misgivings otherwise you will find yourself in a situation where they will likely increase and make your life even more difficult.

You should ignore the three tasbih ruling. Even though scholars deemed it as wajib, leaving a wajib does not invalidate the prayer. There is no reason for you to focus on this minor wajib act to the point of constantly questioning whether you have contravened the ruling.

Further, this ruling of delaying a necessary act applies to completely finishing one act and then moving on to another. If you are still reciting, or correcting your recitation, etc., this is not counted as a “delay.”

Here, it should be pointed out that you are also suffering from baseless misgivings when it comes to recitation. Why the constant need to correct yourself? The rulings of recitation in the Hanafi school are extremely relaxed. “Trailing off” does not require repetition of the word, nor does it invalidate your prayer. The imam saying “Rabbana laka al-hamd” is also harmless. Stuttering does not require repetition either. Neither do common errors in tajwid. You should stop repeating your recitation for such mistakes.

It is extremely difficult to invalidate the prayer in the Hanafi school. My advice to you is pray a normal prayer and stop thinking too much and hyper-analyzing your prayer.


Checked and approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani.

Where Should the Follower Stand When He Is Alone With the Imam in Prayer?

Answered by Shaykh Umer Mian

Question: Assalam’aleykum,

Where should the follower stand when he is alone with the Imam in prayer?

Answer:Wa alaikum as-salam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu

Short answer:

If there is only one male follower behind an imam, he should stand to the right of the imam with his heel alongside (i.e. parallel to) the heel of the imam. This is not only permissible, but it is the correct way to stand according to the relied upon position in the Hanafi madhab. Those Hanafi scholars who wrote otherwise (i.e. that the follower in such a situation should stand slightly behind the imam) were probably doing so out of precaution.

Detailed Answer:

“Muhadhiyan” in Arabic means “alongside of, parallel to.” It is stated in al-Durr al-Mukhtar:

(ويقف الواحد)
ولو صبيا، أما الواحدة فتتأخر (محاذيا) أي مساويا (ليمين إمامه) على المذهب، ولا عبرة بالرأس بل بالقدم (الدر المختار، كتاب الصلاة، باب الإمامة)

“A single male (follower in the prayer), even if a child, should stand alongside the right side of his imam, according to the relied upon position of the madhab. No consideration is given to the head (i.e. in determining what’s deemed “alongside”), but rather consideration is given to the foot. As for a single female (follower in the prayer), she should stand (completely) behind her imam.” (al-Durr al-Mukhtar, Kitab al-Salah, Bab al-Imamah).

In Radd al-Muhtar, Ibn Abideen explains the above statement by adding:

a) Since consideration is given only to the placement of the feet (and not the head), there is no harm in the follower’s head being farther out than the imam’s head while in sajdah (of course, as long as their feet are parallel).

b) Being “alongside” the foot of the imam, means that that follower’s heel should be alongside the heel of the imam. If this is done, then there’s no harm in the follower’s toes extending out a little farther than the imam’s toes (for example, if the follower has large feet).

( قَوْلُهُ بَلْ بِالْقَدَمِ )
فَلَوْ حَاذَاهُ بِالْقَدَمِ وَوَقَعَ سُجُودُهُ مُقَدَّمًا عَلَيْهِ لِكَوْنِ الْمُقْتَدِي أَطْوَلَ مِنْ إمَامِهِ لَا يَضُرُّ ؛ وَمَعْنَى الْمُحَاذَاةِ بِالْقَدَمِ الْمُحَاذَاةُ بِعَقِبِهِ ، فَلَا يَضُرُّ تَقَدُّمُ أَصَابِعِ الْمُقْتَدِي عَلَى الْإِمَامِ حَيْثُ حَاذَاهُ بِالْعَقِبِ مَا لَمْ يَفْحُشْ التَّفَاوُتُ بَيْنَ الْقَدَمَيْنِ ، حَتَّى لَوْ فَحُشَ بِحَيْثُ تَقَدَّمَ أَكْثَرُ قَدَمِ الْمُقْتَدِي لِعِظَمِ قَدَمِهِ لَا يَصِحُّ كَمَا أَشَارَ إلَيْهِ بِقَوْلِهِ مَا لَمْ يَتَقَدَّمْ إلَخْ . (رد المحتار، كتاب الصلاة، باب الإمامة)

Finally, note that some texts of Hanafi fiqh seem to indicate that a single follower should stand to the right of the imam, with feet slightly behind the imam. Perhaps the most prominent text to state this is Nur al-Idah and it’s commentary Maraqi al-Falah, which state the following:

( وشروط صحة الاقتداء أربعة عشر شيئا )
( وتقدم الأمام بعقبه عن )
عقب ( المأموم ) (مراقي الفلاح، كتاب الصلاة، باب الإمامة)

“The conditions for correctly following an imam in prayer are about 14 things…Among them is the imam’s heel being ahead of the follower’s heel” (Maraqi al-Falah, Kitab al-Salah, Bab al-Imamah).

However, in his super-commentary on Maraqi al-Falah, al-Tahtawi comments on this line, stating:

قوله ( حتى لو تقدم أصابعه ) … واعلم أن ما أفاده المصنف من إشتراط التقدم خلاف المذهب لأنه لو حاذاه صح الإقتداء

“The author’s indicating that the imam must be ahead of the follower contradicts the relied upon position of the madhab. If the follower stands alongside his imam, his following (of his imam) is correct.”

Some have speculated that those Hanafi scholars (such as Imam al-Shurunbilali, author of Nur al-Idah and Maraqi al-Falah, quoted above) who required the follower to stand slightly behind the imam did so in order to prevent errors in people’s prayers. That is, if the awamm (laymen) are instructed to stand exactly parallel to the imam, their laxity in carrying out the rulings of the Sacred Law may lead to them getting slightly ahead of the imam, which would invalidate their prayers. In order to avoid this, some Hanafi scholars may have deemed it preferable to instruct the awamm to stand slightly behind the imam. See ‘Ila al-Sunan, Kitab al-Salah, Bab Mawqif al-Imam wal Ma’munin (Idaratul Qur’an print, vol. 4, pp. 246-247).



Photo: Lokantha

Why Do We Need Scholars When There’s Quran And Sunnah?

Quran and Sunnah?

Why do we need scholars? Why can’t we directly go to the Quran and Sunnah?  Shaykh Walead Mosaad talks about the central role of scholars in transmitting, contextualizing and teaching Islam. He gives a relevant example of the role scholars had in the preservation of the Quran.

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Resources for seekers:

Cover photo by Van Karsten.

What Is the Minimum Age for Leading the Congregational Prayer?

Answered by Ustadh Tabraze Azam

Question: Assalam alaikum,

What is the minimum age for leading the congregational prayer?

Answer: Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh,

I pray that you are in the best of health and faith, insha’Allah.

The minimum age requirement for the imam is that he be an adult (i.e. has reached puberty) because children are not morally responsible (mukallaf), thus their prayers are considered to be non-binding and voluntary (nawafil), and you cannot pray the obligatory prayer behind somebody who is praying a voluntary prayer.

Similarly you cannot pray a [binding] voluntary prayer behind somebody whose prayer is non-binding, namely, that of a child.

[Shurunbulali, Maraqi al-Falah, with Tahtawi’s Gloss (hashiya)]

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And Allah alone gives success.

في حاشية الطحطاوي على مراقي الفلاح: (قوله : والبلوغ) فلا يصح إقتداء بالغ بصبي مطلقا سواء كان في فرض لأن صلاة الصبي ولو نوى الفرض نفل أو في نفل لأن نفله لا يلزمه أي ونفل المقتدي لازم مضمون عليه فيلزم بناء القوي على الضعيف اهـ.

Tabraze Azam

Checked & Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Must I Repeat Prayers Behind an Imam With a Short Beard or Bare Head?

Answered by Ustadh Salman Younas

Question: I have been advised that a prayer must be repeated if it is performed behind someone who does not have a fist length beard or his head covered and wears short sleeved clothing. Is it correct?

Should I pray alone when on more than one occasion I have noticed that the Imam has left the toilet seat up, causing me to doubt his purity?

Answer: Assalamu `alaykum

The most appropriate position to adopt for the laity is that one does not have to repeat such prayers.

The reasoning that is forwarding for repeating prayers where the Imam performs such actions is:

(a) the mentioned acts are prohibitively disliked (makruh tahriman).
(b) any prayer in which a prohibitively disliked act occurs is necessary to repeat.
(c) the Imam committing any of the mentioned acts is committing a prohibitively disliked action.
(d) therefore, anyone praying behind him must repeat his prayer.

Are These Acts Prohibitively Disliked?

The first question that needs to be tackled is whether these acts are in fact prohibitively disliked. The answer to this is that some of them are not prohibitively disliked and there is differences of opinion on others.

1. Praying Bare-Headed

In the case of praying bare-headed, the statements of a number of Hanafi scholars indicate that the dislikedness is slight or contrary to what is best, not one that is prohibitive in nature, which would entail that repeating such a prayer is not necessary. Further, this dislikedness is not unconditional but when the act is performed for a specific reason.

Imam al-Kasani states that covering the head with a turban is “better” (afdal) than praying bare-headed because it indicates esteem for the prayer. Similarly, according to Imam al-Shurunbali the dislikedness relates back to a lack of respect indicated by such an action, which in the current context generally suggests that the opposite ruling of covering the head is of recommendation. [al-Kasani, Bada’i al-Sana’i (1:301); al-Shurunbulali, Imdad al-Fattah (365)]

The majority of Hanafi scholars specified the dislikedness of praying bare-headed when it was done out of laziness (takasul). They understood this as referring to an individual knowing the value of praying with his head-covered but simply choosing to ignore it, an act that was viewed as showing a lack of respect for the prayer.

While there were some scholars who deemed praying bare-headed as unconditionally disliked, this does not seem to be the dominant position of the school. Rather, if one prayed bare-headed out of a sense of humility, a number of scholars stated that it would be recommended to not cover, while others stated it would still better to wear a head-cover. [Ibn Maza, Muhit al-Burhani (2:139); Sadr al-Shahid, Sharh al-Wiqaya (1:141-42); al-Shurunbulali, Imdad al-Fattah (365)]

In light of the above, one would not have to repeat a prayer wherein the Imam was bare-headed since: (i) it is not a prohibitively disliked action, and (ii) there is little way for one to know of the Imam’s intention i.e. is he doing it out of humility or otherwise.

In connection to the latter point, it should be noted that there are other views from scholars of the four schools that treat the issue as a less serious offense. The opinions range from permissibility of praying without a head-covering to slight dislikedness. Some scholars, for example, stated that head-covering is a customary action that becomes recommended if deemed an act of adornment by a particular society. Otherwise, it would not be specifically recommended. [al-Shatibi, al-Muwafaqat (2:489)]

2. Praying in a Short-Sleeved Shirt

There is nothing wrong with praying in a short-sleeved shirt. It would only be deemed slightly disliked to do so if it is customary considered “lowly clothing”. Even if this were the case, one would not have to repeat a prayer where the Imam wears such clothing as it is not a prohibitively disliked action. [Sadr al-Shahid, Sharh al-Wiqaya (1:142)]

3. The Beard

The issue concerning the beard is perhaps more controversial. Leading scholars of the Hanafi school considered a fistful beard to be necessary (wajib) although a number of scholars over the past century have considered an actual fistful to be a confirmed sunna based on what they view as being rightly entailed by the principles of the school and the statements of earlier jurists. This is the position adopted by a number of my own teachers.

Opinion is also divided among other schools. The Shafi`i school, for example, considers the beard a sunna and its trimming below a fistful to be an act that is disliked but not sinful. [al-Haytami, Tuhfa al-Muhtaj (9:376)] A number of scholars in the Maliki school do not stipulate a particular length for the beard but prohibit trimming in a manner that leads to disfigurement and/or define length by the customary practice of people. [al-Nafrawi, al-Fawakih al-Dawani (2:307)]

This indicates that there is leeway on this issue particularly as it relates to obliging people – especially lay people – in repeating their prayers behind individuals who may be following valid positions from other schools of thought.

The Principle of Repeating Prayers With Disliked Actions

As mentioned earlier, the principle that it is necessary to repeat a prayer with a disliked action applies to actions that are prohibitively disliked, not slightly disliked. However, what is often neglected in this discussion is that there are differences on this principle and what it entails even within the Hanafi school.

When it comes to a prayer performed with a prohibitively disliked action, the opinions we can find in the Hanafi school are:

(i) it is necessary to repeat with

some saying it is necessary within the time of the prayer,

some saying it is necessary within the time of the prayer and also after it exits, and

some saying it is necessary within the time of the prayer and recommended after it exits.

(ii) It is only recommended to repeat such a prayer.

(iii) It is recommended to repeat the prayer if a disliked action occurred in a select integral of the prayer and necessary if it occurs in every integral.

Of these three opinions, all have basis in the school and were held/chosen by leading jurists.The opinion that it is necessary (i) may be the strongest of these opinions as argued by Ibn Abidin and others. [Ibn Abidin, Radd al-Muhtar (1:486); Shaykhizada, Majma al-Anhur (1:390)]

With this said, the application of this opinion i.e. repetition is necessary, is not always clear in the Hanafi school. This would likely require an independent research paper to detail but, for example, prayer in congregation is considered necessary yet the statements of certain jurists suggest that it is not necessary to repeat a prayer that is performed individually. Similar is the case with reciting surahs in the Qur’an out of order, which is necessary but requires no prostration of forgetfulness. On the other hand, certain jurists said that if one prays with clothing that has animate figures, he or she should repeat his prayer.

Consequently, according to some scholars, these rulings may demonstrate different understandings of the principle “any prayer with a prohibitively disliked action requires repetition.” The disliked action here may be in reference to:

(a) one connected to actions that are part of the the essence of prayer or its integrals (praying in congregation or with a short beard are not),
(b) one generally connected to the prayer whether from its essence/integrals or not.

Each of these is indicated by the jurists in their application of the principle in question. [Ibn Abidin, Radd al-Muhtar (1:307)]

Considerations of Context & Conclusion

The preceding paragraphs demonstrate two things. Firstly, the actions mentioned in the question as requiring repetition of the prayer do not require it as they are not prohibitively disliked. This is especially the case for prayers behind an Imam who is bare-headed or wearing a short-sleeved shirt, since their rulings are fairly clear in the Hanafi school.

Secondly, even if we assume that these acts are prohibitively disliked, an argument that could be reasonably made about an individual without a fistful beard, there is significant difference on the principle itself and the types of acts it applies to. According to at least two of the three opinions mentioned (ii, iii), repetition of such a prayer would not be necessary, while even according to some versions of opinion (i), repetition would not be necessary if the prohibitively disliked action related to other than the essence/integrals of the prayer itself. The beard, head cover, and short-sleeved shirt are all elements external to the actual prayer.

Perhaps most importantly, the question that should be asked is whether the laity should be given the opinion expressed in the question, and the most appropriate answer in my view seems to be no. The reasons for this are many and include:

(a) The diversity of our communities where an Imam may be following a school or a valid opinion different to that of his followers. Indeed, leading scholars, such as those of Dar al-Ulum, Karachi, have given verdicts (fatawa) stating that even when it relates to the validity/invalidity of a prayer, what counts is the opinion of the Imam’s school, not the follower, which a fortiori applies to aspects of dislikedness too.

(b) Individuals do not choose the Imams of their mosques and such an opinion has the adverse effect of dissuading them from praying in congregation. The laity should be encouraged to be part of their mosque and to pray with their fellow Muslims.

(c) Many people from among the laity are already struggling with their religion, such as praying in congregation to begin with, making up missed prayers, praying their sunan, and so forth, and this unnecessarily adds to their burden in a manner causing difficulty (haraj).

(d) Such opinions have been noted to cause divisiveness in the community due to their misapplication.

Given these considerations, among many others, and the fact that the principle itself is differed upon from a number of perspectives, the laity should not be given the opinion that such prayers be repeated.

If a particular individual out of his own caution and desire does decide to repeat such prayers, he or she may do so. Here, caution and wisdom must be exercised by such an individual so as not to become a cause of division in the community, nor someone who begins to harbor ill opinions of others who may not share his or her view on certain matters.

Indeed, the common practice of labeling people, especially Imams, as “evil-doers” (fussaq) for following valid opinions other than one’s own, such as on the beard, is unacceptable and stems from ignorance of traditional attitudes towards differences of opinion. Rather, we recognize the diversity of our tradition and community, as well as the needs/struggles of people around us in order to advise them in a manner that allows for their spiritual growth as individuals and members of a single ummah.

(Note: This answer provides a brief summary of the views on repeating prayers with disliked actions. It does not aim to be completely comprehensive in detailing the views and reasoning of classical jurists relating to this principle, which requires engaging with texts of legal theory, and suffices with an exposition minimally required to answer the question at hand.)

And Allah alone knows best,

Checked & Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Is the Prayer of the Follower Invalid by Standing Along With His Imam for an Extra Cycle of Prayer?

Answered by Ustadh Tabraze Azam

Question: Assalam ‘aleykum.

If the Imam stood up after the last sitting for an extra cycle and the follower stood up with him then, is the prayer of the follower invalid? What about a latecomer?

Answer: Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullah,

I pray that this message finds you well, insha’Allah.

If the imam stands for an extra cycle (rak`at) of the prayer, the follower should remain seated and remind the imam to sit down by making some form of remembrance (dhikr), such as “SubhanAllah.”

Then, there are two cases:

(1) If he sat for the final sitting, then stood for the extra cycle and prostrated, the follower would simply exit the prayer on his own by saying the salams.

(2) If he did not sit for the final sitting, but stood for the extra cycle and prostrated, then the prayer of all would be nullified, and they would need to repeat it.

[Shurunbulali, Maraqi al-Falah, with Tahtawi’s Gloss]

And consider taking the following free class at SeekersHub: Absolute Essentials of Islam: Basic Hanafi Jurisprudence (STEP)

Please see also: The Rulings Related To A Latecomer & A Note On The Durr al-Mukhtar

And Allah alone knows best.


Tabraze Azam

Checked & Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Is It Valid to Pray Behind an Imam Who Is Holding a Microphone in His Hand?

Answered by Ustadh Tabraze Azam

Question: As salam alaykum,

My Imam raises the microphone to his mouth when he says takbirs, recites surah and says salam. Also he keeps holding his microphone when he moves into prostration. Is it valid to pray behind him?

Also some imams no doubt wipe over their socks. To what extent must one go to to ensure that a person is praying behind an Imam who understands the basic fiqh of wudu and prayer?

Answer: Wa alaikum assalam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh,

I pray that this message finds you well, insha’Allah.

(1) Yes, you can pray behind an imam who holds the microphone in his hand during the prayer as this is not invalidating. However, it would be considered disliked as he is leaving a sunna— by not placing both hands in their respective places during the prayer— without need. [Shurunbulali, Maraqi al-Falah]

(2) The basis is that the actions of another are valid and sound, and that you are not required to investigate. If you see somebody wiping over their socks, you can assume that (a) they are simply repeating their ablution (wudu) for the reward of doing so, or (b) the socks that they are wearing meet the conditions of valid footgear. If you have a choice of congregation, the way of caution is clear.

Please also see: Is It Permitted to Wipe Over Thick Socks?

And Allah alone knows best.


Tabraze Azam

Checked & Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Can I Take the Position of an Imam in a School?

Answered by Ustadh Tabraze Azam

Question: Assalam alaikum.

Can I take the position of an Imam in a school? What hadiths pertain to going for leadership?

Answer: Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh,

I pray that you are in the best of health and faith, insha’Allah.

Yes, you can. The obligation of earning a livelihood takes precedence over avoiding positions of leadership. However, with the proviso that you are actually fit for the role.

Otherwise, the general course of action is to avoid such positions when reasonably possible, and when you are not the only suitable candidate, or when others won’t sufficiently fulfil the particular role– attested to by other than yourself, and preferably a righteous scholar.

Abu Dharr said, “I said, ‘Messenger of Allah, why do you not appoint me?’ He clapped me on the shoulder with his hand and then said, ‘Abu Dharr, you are weak. It is a trust, and on the Day of Rising it will be disgrace and regret except for the man who takes it as it should be taken and fulfils what is demanded of him in respect of it.'” [Muslim]

Please also see: Seeking a Community Leadership Position and Showing Off

And Allah alone knows best.


Tabraze Azam

Checked & Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Advice for Students of Knowledge Overseas: A Meeting with Dr. Ingrid Mattson – By Ustadh Abdullah Misra

Advice for Students of Knowledge Overseas: A Meeting with Dr. Ingrid Mattson

Most Western religious students studying overseas intend to return home to help their communities.  However, after years of immersion in a foreign culture, students may find themselves out of touch with the Muslim community and the broader society.  These students must know the issues of the day, what is expected of their role, and the condition of their community in order to be effective teachers. Dr. Ingrid Mattson tell us what realities students can expect to face, and how to prepare for them….

Last week, SG team members Faraz Khan, Salman Younas, and Abdullah Misra had the opportunity to sit with Dr. Ingrid Mattson while she was attending a conference on Islam and the Environment in Amman, Jordan.

The questions that the group sought her advice on included: what can students of the Islamic sciences who are overseas expect to encounter upon returning to the West?  What should they know, and what can they do to prepare themselves for a life of teaching and service in the North American Muslim community?

Over the next two and a half hours, Dr. Mattson offered profound advice, with relevant examples and penetrating wisdom.  Below are snippets and summaries of her advice:

Understand the Difference Between a Scholar and an Imam

A scholar and an imam are two different things.  A scholar is primarily knowledge-based, and they spend most of their time in research, writing or teaching.  An imam is a pastor, the shepherd of a flock.  An imam’s job and responsibilities must be understood: he protects his congregation, guards against negative influences and discord, nurtures the attendees, and more.

The two roles often get confused for one another, though in the past the difference was very clear.  In recent times, scholars have assumed the role of imams.  A student of knowledge should clearly understand the difference between the two and decide which one they want to become.

An imam needs knowledge of the religion, but not to the level of a specialist.  He should know who to turn to when a matter passes his level of expertise, whether in religious law, psychology or family counseling.

Communication is Key

An imam must know how to communicate with his audience- to remind them and inspire them effectively.  The community’s souls are in his hands.  They trust him.  They put their families in his care.  He must know their lives and what they face.  He must show that he cares for them.  He cannot have a sense of entitlement because of his position.

The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said to give good news.   The imam cannot constantly be giving people bad news.  Many imams cannot see the negative effect this has on people.

Certain people can master both Islamic scholarship AND effective communication.  Dr. Mattson cited Dr. Mustafa Ceric, Grand Mufti of Bosnia, as an example.  Those who are able to do so should master both skills because people will respond positively to what they say and teach.

Know Yourself and Your Goals

A student has to know who they are.  What are you cut-out to do?  Do not follow what are others pressuring you to do.  Some people feel pressured to become academics, or scholars, or imams, and don’t feel cut out for the role; rather, they feel suited to take on another one of those roles.  A student should choose the path that best suits them.

The role of the academic, the Islamic scholar, the imam and the Muslim chaplain are always being lumped together or confused, whereas the roles are ideally supposed to be distinct and separate.

An example is that in the past, the Umayyad Mosque of Damascus employed over 200 separate positions.  This included the imam for prayer, the preacher, the Friday khateeb, the teachers who taught in traditional study circles, the dhikr-leaders, and other roles that were all distinct, each one specializing in their field according to their strengths and training.

The Place of the Scholar in our Society

So where is the place for scholars in our society?  Since very few institutions exist that support scholars, they have to be prepared to carve out their own niches if they wish to stay in their field.

A professor of Islamic studies in a university is not an Islamic scholar. Many people have studied the Islamic sciences to become scholars, and then gone into academia due to their lack of knowing how to function as Islamic scholars and how to provide for their families. However, the demands of academia ensured that they were too busy to ever return to their original intention.  This is not to detract from the concept of learned Muslims going into academia; however, one should know what it entails and the reality of the commitment it requires from the get-go.

Currently, there is a limited “market” for pure scholars of Islam in North America- those whose sole occupation is with knowledge and teaching-because there aren’t enough institutions that support them.  Scholars have to start their own projects and nurture them slowly if they wish to remain in their fields.  This takes patience and sacrifice. Dr. Mattson commended SeekersGuidance as an example of a successful project in Islamic scholarship.

Tapping the True Potential of Scholars

The current trend is that a scholar-cum-imam leads a congregation all week in prayer, and then on weekends, he teaches basic classes to the community.  Their scholarly training is used only to a limited degree in this case.

However, the one-man-school model may not be fulfilling the broader needs that communities have today.  There reaches a saturation point, in certain areas, of weekend school options for adults [while other areas have only lay-preachers to guide them].

The caliber of some of these scholars is too high to be teaching introductory courses in Islamic subjects over and over again; teachers should be trained specially for that purpose.  The scholars’ time needs to be freed-up so they can use their studies to tackle the larger issues that require their expertise.

Till this day, why hasn’t our community started a Muslim teacher’s college?  Why can’t we as a community even design a Sunday School curriculum on how to teach basic Islamic studies that we can all agree on?  Islamic learning institutions need not be large to have an impact- our standards right now are so low, a few well-trained teachers would be enough to make a difference in each community.

On Chaplaincy

Why did Dr. Mattson choose to develop a chaplaincy program and not an imam program?  Because a good imam is in need of a good masjid board-of-directors in order to properly function, and so training good imams doesn’t necessarily mean communities will progress, until the way that the boards work with imams changes also.

Chaplains, on the other hand, are respected as professionals and do not have these same administrative obstacles.  They are sorely needed in our times.  They are good examples of how to benefit others and work with religion professionally in society.  It is hoped that their professionalism will be a good example for imams and masjid boards alike.

The Challenges of Being an Imam

In general, religious leaders have great challenges in the West.  Many people have the attitude of not according any authority to their religious leaders, so the imam finds great hindrances in leading the community.  People are generally harder to satisfy in our times.  A religious leader has to grapple with the reality of trying to lead fiercely independent-minded people, each with their own opinions, and balance his authority with wisdom while preserving his values and maintaining control of the situation.

Imams are often at the mercy of masjid boards who do not give them job security, or proper benefits, and do not show them respect as professionals.  On the other extreme is when a religious leader has a personality cult around him that allows him to have complete control.  Dr. Mattson was pointing towards the balance, which is rooted in mutual respect.

A Scholar Should Not Encourage a Sense of Entitlement or Superiority

Muslims don’t know their own history.  We don’t know about how our societies began, developed and changed.  We may know, at most, about very early Islamic history which shows Muslims in control of vast lands, and living according to Islamic laws, values and rule.  This lack of perspective has led to Muslims arriving in Western society and immediately becoming critical of everything they see.

Whenever something does not conform to their long-held values, they criticize it and try to correct others.  They feel a sense of entitlement in a land in which they are a relatively new and small community.  They do not look at their own faults as a community let alone try to fix their problems, but go on pointing out the faults they see in a society that has not yet heard the message.

Dr. Mattson has indicating that this is a mentality that students will come across, which will make communities resistant to change and self-criticism at times, and a religious leader should not encourage this attitude.

Love and Respect: Two Sides of the Same Coin

Muslims love each other.  When two Muslims meet, you can see the genuine love that they have for the other person, even if the two Muslims are complete strangers.  However, Muslims don’t have [enough] respect for one another.

Other religious groups may not show love for one another the way Muslims do, but they do respect one another.  For example, in a church, you will never hear someone interrupt a sermon to argue with the preacher, but this happens in masjids to the Friday khatibs.  This shows a complete lack of respect for one another.

Muslims need to have both qualities as a community in order to thrive: love and respect.  Religious leaders must raise communities with this awareness.

The Most Important Qualities in an Imam

When a community chooses an imam, it should do so on the same criteria that a woman should choose a husband: character is given first priority, and then deen (outward religious practice).   Character comes first since a person’s personality usually stays consistent and directly affects the community, whereas religiosity can increase or decrease, and is mostly a personal matter.

The Need for Muslim “Youth Ministers”

Our communities need imams, chaplains and “youth ministers”.  The three are distinct in their roles.  It is said that every 12 years, a new generation is formed.  Religious leaders must be responsive and understand the times they live in and the people in their communities.

Different people may be suited to different roles and appeal to different crowds; thus, youth should be trained by scholars and imams to reach out to youth in the masjids and community centers.

The Importance of Apologetics and Ethics

Religious leaders must combine various fields of knowledge: the Islamic sciences are essential, but the study of apologetics is also very important today.  One must know about the burning issues of our time, the current paradigms and controversies, and how a Muslim can intelligently respond to criticisms of the faith and opposing ideologies such as atheism.

Also, theology is not ‘aqeedah – theology develops in response to the burning issues of the age. Initially, the Muslims didn’t deal with certain aspects of theology only because those issues would be raised in later times- such as when the Khawarij came, the question of the day became, “who is a Muslim?”.  Later came the question of whether the Qur’an was Allah’s Eternal Speech or His creation [as the Mutazilites erroneously claimed].

Similarly today, we can no longer brush off feminist critiques of patriarchal religions.  We must recognize that feminist critiques happened in our own religious history- such as when a woman asked the Prophet (peace be upon him) why Allah Most High only addressed men in the Qur’an; Allah Most High revealed a verse which then addressed both men and women.

Ethics is the field of knowledge that is perhaps most relevant to our time and context.  Our context today isn’t demanding as much from our understanding of the details of Islamic criminal law, for example, or other points of Islamic law.  Rather, an understanding of ethics is very important right now, and students should be versed in its discussions [from the perspectives of varying traditions].

Make Your Message Relevant and Be Realistic

A religious leader needs to understand what is important to people.  People in our communities often feel split between religion and work, and the result is that they are often drawn away from religion.  Remember that one’s career defines a person much more now than it did in the past- on average people spend 60 hours a week at work.  Make your message relevant to those people, understanding the role of careers in their lives and the challenges it poses.

We must accept that people will not get everything 100% right in their religious lives.  The people will never fully perform everything expected of them- so don’t ask them to do the impossible.   A religious leader must keep this in mind and focus on what they can do, by emphasizing ethics: good behavior (not cheating, not lying, etc) and respect.  This is the area where they are most likely to see positive changes in people, rather than forcing people to choose between the Sacred Law or their careers.

Be realistic in what you expect from people; look at them with an eye of mercy and generosity.  Alhumdulillah, they are Muslims after all and that is more important than anything else.  The Prophet (peace be upon him) said there will come a time when Muslims will only have 10% of the religion’s teachings left, but it will be enough to enter them into Paradise.   They should not be made to feel pessimistic about their shortcomings, but rather encouraged by the mercy in that statement.

One has to realize people are not inherently “bad”.  The bad lifestyle choices they make have powerful negative influences driving them.  Knowing this, people cannot simply be told to change and fix themselves.  An imam must be compassionate, [gradual] and wise in this regard.

Instilling a Sense of Collective Responsibility

An imam must also understand the reality of collective responsibility.  The Qur’an speaks about it when referring to previous nations, so it is an Islamic concept.  For example, when a child is abused, they grow up and affect others negatively in turn.  This could have been prevented had mechanisms been set up to protect children in our community.  Where were we when that child was small and needed us?  Thus, an imam must have a sense of communal obligation and communicate this to his congregation.

An imam should also be versed in the arts of ministry.  This is primarily preaching and guiding, but also counseling (for family, depression, addiction, marriage, violence, children, etc.)  They cannot be an expert is every field, but they should know enough to know when there’s a problem and make a referral to an expert.

Interfaith Relations: A Modern Imperative

Interfaith relations are a must in our times.  Muslims are only 2% of American society; in Canada, perhaps 5%.  That is a reality we have to face.  We must understand other religions in order to be good neighbors.   Many times, Muslims say false things about other faiths- those are lies, and technically it could be called bearing false witness when Muslims are supposed to be truthful.

Also, Muslims cannot be the primary messengers of Islam in the West- our numbers are too low [to be able to effectively combat stereotypes and wrong impressions by ourselves].  Most people in the US still don’t even personally know a Muslim.  Thus, we need advocates and allies who will speak to others about us.  Other religious groups have more credibility in Western society than we do and they are willing to work together with us.

After 9/11, because of good relations with ISNA, a Christian umbrella group representing 40 million Protestants in the US officially passed a policy for its church members that Christians should not hate Muslims for what had happened.  They themselves then printed a book clarifying misconceptions on Islam and distributed copies to their members, so that they could empathize with Muslims as another faith group who believed in God.  This is the fruit of good interfaith relations.

Similarly, partnerships between mosques and synagogues have yielded positive results.  When any negative press is directed unfairly at Muslims by the media, it is those interfaith allies who will call you first to ask if they can offer any help.  Then, they will even give sermons in their places of worship, to the effect that good people need to stand against the voices that seek to demonize all Muslims.  This is why interfaith work has become a modern imperative for Muslims.

Know Your Context Well

The most important thing is to know your context – your society, its ideas, the people and their culture, reality and conditions.

Think Like a Citizen, Not Just as a Scholar

Sometimes, a scholar has to answer as an American, and not as a mufti.  An example that highlights this is when a jail warden asked a scholar if Muslim men needed to keep beards.  The scholar offered the legal ruling, and mentioned the differences on whether it was obligatory or not. Hearing that it was not obligatory according to some views, the jail warden prevented Muslim inmates from keeping beards.

The scholar should have answered in the context of the right to practice one’s religion rather than a technical legal ruling.  The same goes for people asking about the niqab – while there is a difference of opinion and many may say it isn’t obligatory, a scholar’s answer could cause a Muslim to lose their freedom to practice the opinion they believe in.  The scholar must be acutely aware of how his words will be taken and what is best to say in any given context.

Know How to Adjust Your Tone

When you look at the works of a scholar of the past, such as Imam Nawawi (RA), you see the times when he was to-the-point and unwavering (such as in his legal texts) and at other times, you see his softer and warmer side (such as in his texts on dhikr, or his exhortations and supplications).

A scholar must know how to be each one of these, at the appropriate time and situation.  Many scholars are either one or the other in all contexts, and therefore cannot distinguish which approach is appropriate in which context, which is not the way the great scholars of the past were.

The Difference Between Knowledge and Authority

There is a difference between knowledge and authority.  Having one doesn’t mean you are automatically entitled to the other.  The Sahaba disagreed with some of Omar’s (RA) rulings, yet they obeyed him because he was their leader and he was speaking from a perspective of knowledge as well.  There was no vigilante or mutinous attitude amongst the Sahaba; they never abandoned their leadership.

The community needs to learn to follow their leaders and support them on good initiatives, even if they disagree sometimes.  Disagreement in itself is not wrong.  People of knowledge should also cooperate with the leaders of their community in valid differences, even though they are convinced of their own opinions.  Scholars cannot think that their knowledge entitles them to authority over people when the community has already chosen its leaders.

How Do You Promote Respect for the Scholars?

Respect is a two-way street.  Scholars/imams must respect their congregation and take them seriously in order to be respected by them.  They must be professional in their roles.  They must give people attention, and show care and concern.  They should also prepare beforehand for their engagements.  Nothing is worse than hearing a khutba that obviously hasn’t had the preparation time put into it – it shows the khatib doesn’t care about his responsibilities and his congregation.

Integrity is key.  Do what you say and practice what you preach.  How people perceive the imam/scholar is important.  Does an imam do things to make himself seem at a higher status than his congregation?  Does he enjoy benefits that his followers cannot also enjoy?  If he does, people will notice and they will talk about it.  This diminishes his respect in their eyes.  Omar (RA) would not allow his son to enjoy fruit while the Muslims were experiencing a drought, only because the masses couldn’t afford the luxury of fruits at that time.

Does the imam/scholar maintain the etiquette between himself and his female students, or does he take advantage of his position and violate the teacher-student/ counselor-patient relationship?  Things can be technically valid in Sacred Law, such as divorcing one’s wife to marry a younger student from his weekend study circle, but this is not ethical or moral.  What does it tell the congregation?  Unethical behavior diminishes respect for scholars, so they should avoid it at all costs.

Professionalism is the most important factor in earning the respect of the community.  An imam who is on time and upright, fulfills his duties faithfully, shows concern, and works hard will be respected.

The Importance of Returning Home and Serving Where You Are Most Needed

A scholar is usually most effective in his home country.  Some students wish never to return to their societies after studying abroad, despite the fact that their home communities sorely need their help and guidance.

Students of knowledge who do not return to their home countries often cannot benefit the societies in which they studied, because they are outsiders to the culture and do not have enough credibility.  There are a few exceptions to this rule, of course.   Thus, students should return home after their studies to serve their communities because there are many people in need of guidance and inspiration.

Also, many policies which affect the Muslim world originate from the West.  Hence, when a student goes back after studies and works to correct misconceptions about Islam, this in turn educates the society at large, and since public opinion does have an effect on foreign policy, when people see Muslims as good citizens, this could very well have a positive impact on the rest of the Muslim world.

This is only the gist of what we learned from Dr. Mattson.  Her advice was colored with stories and examples that provoked in us a great concern.  We are very grateful that she took the time out to speak with us.  May Allah Most High preserve her and continue to use her for the good of the community.  May all the Western students of knowledge read this and benefit from it, insha Allah.

Abdullah Misra is teaching Meccan Dawn: The Life of the Beloved Prophet Muhammad

Shaykh Abdul-Rahim Reasat is teaching  Introduction to Arabic Grammar: A Thematic Overview of the Ajrumiyya, A Classic Primer

Learn & grow:
“Whomever Allah wishes well for, He grants understanding of religion,” said the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him).