Answers to questions received on my islamic-art-and-quotes tumblr blog.

Islam and abortion

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The issue of abortion is highly controversial in Islam. Shaykh Hamza Yusuf in his essay “When Does a Human Fetus Become Human?”1, says that Imam al-Ghazali considered abortion prohibited but said that the severity of the crime increased with the fetus’s development. Hamza Yusuf considers the Mālikī school’s view to be the soundest, which is that an embryo is becomes a proper human at conception, rather than at any later date. Is someone assaults a pregnant woman and causes her to miscarry, then the Mālikī view is that this should be treated as manslaughter (unintentional killing of a human) by the law.

The Egyptian scholar Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, representing the more common mainstream view (which Hamza Yusuf says is mistaken), says that there is something of a consensus among scholars that abortion is forbidden once the fetus is considered to have a soul, but that the disagreement is on when this happens.2 Once the fetus has a soul, killing it is forbidden unless the mother’s life is in danger and an abortion is needed to save her life.

His view is that in the case of rape, it is permissible to abort the fetus within the first forty days or the first four months, the first forty days being preferable.

He says that if a fetus is aborted without due cause after the first 120 days, then the kafāra for it (what needs to be done to attain God’s forgiveness) is similar to that for manslaughter, which is to free a slave or fast for 60 days uninterrupted. The diya (blood money) must also be paid to the fetus’s legal inheritors, but this excludes those responsible for the abortion (so if it was the mother’s decision, she must pay the diya to the fetus’s inheritors but she herself cannot receive anything from it despite being an inheritor). However, if the abortion was done without due cause within the first 120 days, then only one tenth of the diya is to be paid.

It appears to me that piety requires Muslims to avoid abortion at any period of the pregnancy (as Hamza Yusuf) says. Therefore that should be a pious Muslim’s policy; to consider a fetus a human regardless of its age, because we do not have sufficient evidence to decide one way or another whether it really is a human or not, therefore we should err on the side of caution out of the fear that we might unknowingly kill what God considers to be a proper human.

However, due to the inconclusive nature of the evidence, we cannot condemn Muslims who get abortions within the first 120 days of pregnancy. There is sufficient scholarly support for their action, therefore if they truly believe that their action is sanctioned by Islam, then God will treat them according to that. But if they feel in their hearts that what they are doing is wrong, but out of their extreme desire for it they still go on with it, then that is problematic and they risk God’s displeasure.

Muslims may write fantasy and romance novels (except for erotic ones)

Salam, I am an English literature major and I really want to write fictional novels one day. With any novels you would hope to speak about an important message, with fiction these ideas are offered like a reflection of reality and in a way that it will connect to a reader. Is it wrong to want to write in a fantasy genre? I also want to write romance within these stories. Is this wrong?

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

A novel is just a developed form of telling a fictional story. There is nothing in Islam to forbid telling fictional stories, for entertainment for example, even if they contain no moral teachings. So there is no reason to justify them through arguing that they are educational or beneficial. Arabs continued composing poetry after Islam and no one argued that they should stop. Poetry might be justified on the grounds that it helps with the learning and retention of language. But we can make the same argument for good novels.

Besides that, a good novel, that is, one written from the heart by its author, gives us an honest picture of another human’s view of the world. That is extremely valuable, because it helps us see the world in new ways and helps us develop empathy for humans who differ from us.

There is no issue with fantasy or romance novels. Arab culture is full of romance stories that mainstream scholars have no problem with. The exception is erotic novels (as I explain here). Jane Austen’s novels are good examples of romance novels that do not contain anything obscene.

I once saw a fatwa on the Saudi-funded Wahhabi site that said the Harry Potter books are forbidden to read for Muslims because they depict magic (see my article on the problem with this site’s views). Their view is rather narrow-minded because people can tell the difference between fantasy and reality. The Wahhabi worldview is that cultural products (novels, poetry, architecture) have no worth, culture has to be wiped out and replaced by their ideology, hence their destruction of almost all of Arabia’s historical architecture. Thankfully that is not mainstream Islam’s view. Our view is that what humans value should be respected, so if a person really likes a poem or novel even though it has no strictly religious worth, then that is their business. Islam respects their humanity and does not try to stamp it out.

Islam and the legalization of recreational drugs

I really love your blog, keep up the amazing work! I have been researching about the dealings of the mafia in various countries, and came to the conclusion (after thorough research) that legalizing all kinds of drugs is the best way to eradicate a big part of the mafias (to remove one of their main sources of income and letting the govt take care of it). I really support legalization (I have nothing to do with drugs myself) but I was wondering, is my support considered haram?

Thank you! Regarding your question, if the data conclusively show that the societal harms of banning drugs are greater than the harms of legalizing them, then Muslims can support legalizing drugs as a way of choosing the lesser evil. Here we are talking about legalizing them when it come to law enforcement, meaning that the police will stop going after people who make, sell or use drugs. The religious position against the use of drugs will remain the same (that it is forbidden), but the society leaves it to people’s own choice to avoid it rather than trying to force it.

In Islam, when we are faced with two evils, we are required to choose the lesser one (see Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi’s 1995 book Fiqh al-Awlawīyāt [The Fiqh of Priorities]), so we have to compare the harms of banning them (which empowers drug gangs and leads to much murder and other serious crimes) with the harms of legalizing them (more people using them). Since I have not studied the matter deeply, I cannot state what is the right choice. I do not think this is something for one person or one expert to decide. If most of those who study the matter come to the conclusion that banning drugs does more harm than legalizing them, then Islamic law supports “legalization”, meaning that law-enforcement will stop involving themselves with the issue.

“Legalization”, however, is not an appropriate term when speaking of Islamic law’s stance, since it suggests that Islamic law will have a positive or neutral view of it, which is not the case. We can instead call it “non-enforcement”. Islamic law bans eating food during the daylight hours of Ramadan, but most Islamic societies do not have a police force that forces people to avoid food. Similarly, an Islamic society can refrain from using the police to fight drugs because the prohibition on drugs creates the extremely lucrative black market that attracts criminals (and many policemen too) and leads to widespread crime and corruption, while if the matter is left alone by the police most people will avoid it on their own.

So like I said, we have to compare the harms of enforcing a drug ban with not enforcing a drug ban and choose the lesser evil.

On not feeling close to God

Salam I pray 5 times a day alhamdulilah but only the fard salah. The problem that I'm having is I feel no real connection which makes me so guilty. I want to be able to feel close to Allah but I fear my imaan is low and there are days when I don't even feel like praying. Is it a sin that I'm feeling this way?

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

If you do not feel close to God, that is a sign that you are not spending enough time in His presence. I strongly recommend praying tahajjud (see here for details) to everyone who wishes to feel closer to God. It is impossible to continue feeling close to God if you do not work for it daily.

Islam does not hold you responsible for how you feel, but for what you do. God does not ask you to do more than you are capable. So it is up to you to decide whether you are neglecting your duties toward Him or whether this is the most you can do.

Best wishes.

Ruling on mistakes during sajda al-sahu

Assalmualaikum, I think I made a mistake in sajda sahw (i'm not sure if I prostated 2 or 3 times) should i regard this as wasawas, is it permissible to do sajda sahw again, or should pray salat again? Do you think you can answer this? Jazakallah khayr

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

According to the Mālikī and Shāfiʿī schools the sajda al-sahū is voluntary rather than obligatory, so whether you forget to do or not, or whether you make an error in it, the prayer is considered valid.

Imam al-Nawawī says that if you make three prostrations by mistake during sajda al-sahū, you do not need to repeat it. The Ḥanbalī scholar Muṣtafā al-Suyuṭī (d. 1827 CE) says that there is no need to do extra prostrations for any mistake made during sajda al-sahū. That is also the opinion of the Ḥanafī scholar al-Kāsānī (d. 1191 CE). Archived link to a fatwa that mentions these opinions.

Fixing mother’s relationship with her sister

Two years ago, I got badly hurt and I didn't get the support from my family which I needed that time and it made be rebellious. So that time knowingly but not intentionally, I created fight between my mother and her sister. I feel so bad about it now. I tried my best to solve the issue after that but nothing helped. I feel so bad and can't forgive myself for that act. But that all happened because I was hurt and it was for the first time ever, I was experiencing depression.

I am sorry to read that. Maybe confessing to them what you did would help things. If you do not think that would help, then what you could do is try to make them both feel more appreciated (by buying them gifts and being extra kind and considerate toward them). If they both start to like you more, that could give you many opportunities for improving things between them.

What you should also do is constantly ask for God’s support and guidance in fixing this problem (and every other problem). You can start praying tahajjud (see here for more information), which would make it more likely for your prayers to be answered inshaAllah.

Why the hijab is still obligatory (and why it is not only a vestige of 7th century Arabia)

Below is a response I wrote to someone who sent me a YouTube video in which the speaker argues that the hijab was necessary in ancient Arabia due to sexual harassment but that it is no longer necessary in the modern world

I will first speak of the problem with her way of thinking, then will cover the topic of hijab. What the  speaker is doing is what I refer to as historical localization, which is the belief that a particular verse of the Quran applied then but does not necessarily apply now, that times have changed. If the Quran was written by the Prophet , then that would make sense. He was only a human and could not foresee all eventualities. But we believe the Quran is from God, it is His unchanged Words, which means that we have to treat it like a book written by an infinitely wise person who could foresee the fact that humanity would continue for the next 100,000 years (or however long). If something was supposed to only apply to one circumstance and not to others, then God would have told us so. What we believe is that the Quran was written by the Creator to be applied for all time. Saying that God was so short-sighted that He gave a universal command in His book that does not apply any longer is a great insult against the Creator of the universe.

So the main question is about the status of the Quran. There are two ways of looking at the Quran:

  • It is by a God who is wise enough to realize that humanity would develop and change greatly over time, so that He only issues universal commands in His Book when they are meant to be applied by all people for all time (such as the commandment that we should not murder people). It does not matter whether you look at the Quran in 630 CE, in the year 2018, or in the year 50,000. God was intelligent and wise enough to give us a Book that could be applied for all time, that would stand the test of time.
  • It is by someone who issues universal commands but does not realize that circumstances will change, so that he issues commands that we can ignore today.

The extreme liberal Muslims who say the Quran’s command to wear the hijab is outdated have the second view of the Quran. They believe God was not intelligent enough to realize that circumstances would change so much that the hijab would become unnecessary. But mainstream Muslims believe that since the Quran is from an infinitely wise Creator, we should treat it as if it was revealed today, whether we ourselves live in 2018 or in the year 50,000. We can use our knowledge of the circumstances of revelation to help us understand the Quran better and to discover its meaning and intent. But once we have the meaning, that meaning applies everywhere always. When the Quran says robbery is prohibited, then it is never a valid argument to say that that command only applied then and not now.

To put it another way, overwhelming evidence is needed to show that there is any command in the Quran that can be ignored, because our default assumption toward the Quran is that it is written in a timeless way that would make it stand the test of time regardless of what year or age of the universe it is.

The extreme liberals say that they themselves can work out whether the Quran is being general or specific using their own reasoning, since to them the Quran is not from an infinitely wise Creator, but from someone who is incapable of seeing beyond the circumstances of 7th century Arabia. Their way of looking at the Quran would make perfect sense if it was written by a human, or if it was thoroughly corrupted by humans. But since we believe in the Quran as coming from our eternal Creator, then we cannot support their way of thinking. We believe God is intelligent enough to only give universal commands when they are meant to be universal. We cannot say that when God tells us to avoid murder or usury that He was stuck in the mindset of 7th century Arabia and could not foresee that we modern humans have great needs for murder and usury.

The type of thinking that tries to defuse the Quran’s meaning, saying this or that no longer applies, without providing overwhelming evidence, really originates from a lack of belief in the Quran. These are often the same people who say the miracles that are mentioned in the Quran are actually referring to metaphors rather than actual events, and that the physical Paradise mentioned in the Quran is actually a metaphor for something spiritual. They find it embarrassing to express belief in miracles in this age of science and rationality. They think that we are now past that, that we have to make a choice between either being modern and rational people or people who really take the Quran as seriously as mainstream Muslims do. This comes from misunderstanding both the nature of science and the nature of religion. As I explain in my essay Al-Ghazali’s Matrix and the Divine Template, a Muslim can be just as much a rationalist as any scientist or atheist while also believing in the Quran absolutely and completely. There is no conflict between the two once we can think “outside the box” of this universe as al-Ghazali did. Al-Ghazali solved the problem of the supposed conflict between science and religion 900 years ago, it is just that some people have yet to catch up to his time.

Onto the topic of the hijab, the Quran commands women to use their khimārs to cover their chests:

And tell the believing women to restrain their looks, and to guard their privates, and not display their beauty except what is apparent thereof, and to draw their khimārs over their chests, and not expose their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands' fathers, their sons, their husbands' sons, their brothers, their brothers' sons, their sisters' sons, their women, what their right hands possess, their male attendants who have no sexual desires, or children who are not yet aware of the nakedness of women. And they should not strike their feet to draw attention to their hidden beauty. And repent to God, all of you believers, so that you may succeed.1

In the above verse, it is assumed that Muslim women will be wearing khimār, otherwise the command to use their khimārs to cover their chests would not make sense. The issue therefore hinges on the definition of khimār. The khimār is described as a “head-covering” in the respected dictionaries of the Arabic language (Lisān al-ʿArab, The Mughrib, al-Qāmūs al-Muḥīṭ, Tāj al-ʿArūs, al-Miṣbāḥ). It is what in English is called the hijab, a head-covering that is wrapped in a way that also covers the neck and chest.

The verse mentioned above is not in a context that deals with sexual harassment, therefore it was not revealed solely to solve the problem of sexual harassment as some say. The verse before it commands that we lower the gaze. And before that it talks about the rules regarding how to enter someone’s home in the proper way. And the verses after it talk about some rules regarding marriage. We have no hint anywhere in the passage that this verse is talking about a special circumstance. We have no choice but to consider it a general command meant to be followed for all time. A person who thinks it is not so, as I said, is saying that God is so unwise that He made general commands that would stop making sense eventually.

For those wondering, the Quran is not our only evidence for the hijab being obligatory. In Sahih al-Bukhari and Muslim it is mentioned that Umar kept asking the Prophet to tell his wives to cover their hair when going out, then the verse was revealed that made the hijab obligatory (al-Bukhari 147, Muslim 2170). Additionally, Imam Mālik says that it is not permissible in Islam for a woman to uncover her hair and chest to strangers, but that strangers can look at her face. Imam Mālik’s teachings were derived from what is known as ʿamal ahl al-madīna (“Medinan praxis”). This refers to the way the descendants of the Companions of the Prophet practiced Islam. These are Islamic customs that were passed down from generation to generation without necessarily being recorded in books of hadith (such as the way to say the call to prayer). Imam Mālik was taught by the Successors, who were taught by the Prophet’s Companions . One of his teachers was Nāfiʿ, a servant of the Companion Ibn ʿUmar. When Mālik says something, he is telling us the common view of the people of Medina. When he says a woman should wear the hijab, he is telling us that the people of Medina and its scholars, who were descended from thousands of the Prophet’s Companions, had the opinion that women should wear the hijab as a religious duty. So besides the Quran and a few narrations, we also have Medinan praxis supporting the hijab: the thousands of the descendants of the Companions who lived in Medina in Mālik’s time all believed that the hijab was an Islamic duty.

If, like the extreme liberals, we were to say that verse 24:31 only applied to 7th century Arabia or medieval Arabia, we would be giving ourselves the right to nullify any verse of the Quran we want. The Quran forbids usury, but a person today could say that the verses only applied to 7th century Arabia and in this more enlightened times we have modern finance which cannot function without interest. The Quran forbids homosexuality, forced marriages, murder, stealing, and insulting one’s parents, but using historical localization,  anyone can make a case for any of these things no longer applying in our modern, enlightened age.

We mainstream Muslims reject their way of treating the Quran not out of ignorance, but out of appreciation for the status of the Quran. Either the Quran is what it says it is (an unchanged and divinely protected book from an all-wise Creator), or it is false and should not be believed in. There is no middle ground here, as the majority of Muslims realize. Any error or mistake in the Quran proves either that God made an error, or that God could not protect His Book, both of which would prove that He is not all-powerful and all-knowing.

Through historical localization, you can start with any prejudices you have, throw out the verses that get in your way by saying they no longer apply, and turn Islam into anything you want. We will be perfectly happy to abandon anything in Islam if it is conclusively proven that it wasn’t meant to be applied for all time. But in the absence of such evidence, the proper assumption upon which all of Islam is built is that the Quran is universal through time and space, the way that God is universal through time and space. If the meaning of anything in the Quran could “expire” as extreme liberals think it could, that would mean the book is not timeless.

The majority of Muslims who have read the Quran, including converts, have come to the mainstream conclusion that the Quran is universal through time and space. This is not a conclusion coming out of ignorance, it is a conclusion reached from taking the book as seriously as it asks to be taken and analyzing and critiquing everything it says. This is a conclusion reached by people with deepest knowledge of historical criticism and other Western scholarly theories, so it is entirely false to claim that anyone with the right amount of knowledge would reach the extreme liberal conclusion.

The extreme liberals have the right to interpret the Quran the way they want, but it is dishonest and deceitful if they suggest that anyone with a great deal of modern knowledge would come to their conclusion that things like the hijab can be abandoned. We have extremely well-educated scholars of Islam who are familiar both with classical Islam and with Western knowledge, people like Hamza Yusuf, Umar Faruq Abd-Allah and Jonathan Brown, all of whom believe in the obligatoriness of the hijab.

It is perfectly fine to examine the question of whether the hijab was only meant for the Prophet’s time or whether it is universal. There is always the possibility that something that applied in the 7th century would not apply now. But in order to properly carry out this examination, we need to agree on standards of evidence; which piece of evidence weighs more or less than another piece? The mainstream Islamic standard of evidence is that since the Quran is timeless and unchanged, when it declares a universal commandment without any hint of restrictions, then that commandment is meant to be timeless and universal. If we have a very good sociological theory about how the hijab could have applied then without applying now, that theory has to compete with our standard for judging Quranic evidence. And the Quran comes out ahead, due to having far greater weight. So we do not say that the sociological theory is nonsensical or foolish, just that it requires overwhelming evidence, sufficient evidence to overrule the Quran and the known sunna of the Prophet . And since there is no such evidence, we cannot in good conscience follow the sociological theory. So if an extreme liberal wishes to prove that their theory is correct, then they need to prove to us that the Quran is not universal through time and space. This is really the main question, the issue of the hijab is only a subsidiary of this question. The extreme liberal attitude is that God couldn’t possibly be wise and powerful enough to give us a scripture that is universal through time and space, while we believe that He is.

The things in Islam permitted and prohibited when menstruating

It is permitted for a menstruating woman to do everything she normally does except for:

  • Performing acts of worship that require ṭahāra (ritual purity): the formal prayer (ṣalāh), fasting, circumambulating the Kaʿba and performing iʿtikāf (staying overnight at the mosque for worship).
  • Sexual intercourse
  • Touching books of Quran (but she can read Quran as mentioned below).

Permitted acts of worship include supplication (duʿāʾ), remembrance (dhikr) and reading or listening to Quran. A menstruating woman is permitted to read Quran according to most modern scholars and the Mālikī school, while in the past there was disagreement on whether she is allowed to do so or not. However there is an issue with whether touching a book of Quran is permitted for her or not, and the Mālikī opinion is that she can touch it provided that there is something between her skin and the book (for example if she wears gloves). She can also use an electronic device (like a smartphone) to read the Quran. The UAE-based mufti Ahmed al Haddad mentions the Mālikī opinions mentioned above and the permissibility of using electronic devices to read Quran while menstruating (archived link to his fatwa). Archived link to a fatwa on IslamOnline (a website by the respected Egyptian scholar Yusuf al-Qaradawi) that mentions the permissibility of reading the Quran while menstruating (provided the Quran is not touched directly). The Saudi mufti Khaled Al Mosleh expresses the same opinions (archived link to his fatwa).

Is homosexuality more evil than rape in the Quran? Not exactly

I just read your answer on homosexuality and Lot's people and I must say that I am really shocked that consensual homosexual act is worse than rape. I've always thought that rape is a great evil thing. I know a couple of lesbian girls and a gay guy and they are kind people and I interact with them normally (although I don't agree what they do is right and I think its a sin), but I would never in a life time interact with a rapist. It doesn't sink in that rape is less evil than homosexuality

The Quran does not explicitly tell us that homosexual sexual intercourse is “worse” than rape. When Prophet Lot offers his daughters to the rapists in the place of his guests, his attitude appears to be: “If you are going to be raping people, then do not do it in a homosexual way, because that is doubly evil.” He is also concerned with his honor before his guests (he says “do not embarrass me before my guests”). In the Middle East, one principle of hospitality is that one’s guest is placed above one’s family. So Prophet Lot has two reasons for offering his daughters: Raping them would not be doubly evil, unlike raping the men, and it would help him avoid breaking the all-important hospitality rule that requires him to protect his guests and put their interests above his family’s.

So those scenes about the People of Lot do not tell us that rape is worse than homosexuality. What they do tell us is that Lot himself thought that the rape of his male guests would be worse than the rape of the female members of his family. Both acts are rape, and both are evil. But the rape of his family would be what we can call normal evil, while the rape of his male guests would include two extra evils: the fact of it being homosexual rape, and the fact of it being done to his guests, which in his culture should be placed above his family.

In that previous answer (which I have now updated) I was suggesting the Prophet Lot was making a choice between homosexuality and rape in offering his daughters to the rapists, but in reading the verses again I have realized that his attitude is more nuanced than that.

Now, you might be asking why God destroyed Lot’s people for being homosexuals instead of destroying them for being rapists. This is not because homosexuality is worse than rape. It is because homosexuality was their lifestyle, while rape was something they committed on the unlucky visitor who came into their town without a tribe’s protection. This may have been extremely rare, so it was not worth destroying the whole town for, while their homosexual acts were an everyday thing for nearly all of the males in that society. In that ancient tribal society, people would have been extremely careful about what towns they enter, since at the time there was no rule of law and it was only tribal alliances that protected people’s lives inside a city (as was also the case in Arabia during Prophet Muhammad’s time ). So just because God destroyed Lot’s people for homosexuality does not mean that He wouldn’t have destroyed a different society for being rapists. It is just that the historical circumstances of that time (tribal societies) meant that rape was very rare since one couldn’t do it without facing severe repercussions from the raped person’s tribe, so there were no societies where rape was a lifestyle (even if they approved of rape, they couldn’t do it because everyone around them was protected by tribal alliances). So we do not have examples of societies that were destroyed by God for being rapists, not because God thought rape is less bad than homosexuality, but because circumstances made it impossible for a society to engage in daily raping of people.

Meanwhile, historical circumstances did make it possible for societies to engage in daily consensual homosexual intercourse, as was the case with Lot’s people, and so God did respond to that. But we have no examples of God punishing a rape-centered society because there were no such societies to begin with.

Rape and homosexuality are not directly comparable and the Quran does not compare them. Whether one is more evil than the other may completely depend on the circumstances and intentions behind them. So no, the Quran does not ask you to consider rape less evil than homosexuality.

Rape and homosexuality are different categories of crimes and it seems invalid to compare them. Asking whether rape is more evil than homosexual intercourse is probably similar to asking whether rape is more evil than Adam and Eve eating of the forbidden fruit. Rape is a crime of lust and greed against a fellow human, homosexual intercourse is a premeditated crime against God (for those who believe in God and believe He forbids homosexual intercourse yet they engage in it) that may harm no human (similar to eating the forbidden fruit, or eating pork, or defacing a book of Quran, or defacing a mosque). As for those who do not believe in God or who truly believe in their hearts that God does not forbid homosexual relationships, God may be forgiving toward them, since He only holds us responsible for what our intellects and consciences know to be true. God is not unjust, so when someone says “All homosexuals are going to hell!” they are falsely speaking in God’s name. God deals with each human exactly according to that human’s knowledge, beliefs and abilities. A person who believes in God and His Scriptures yet engages in homosexual intercourse out of desire is going to get a very different treatment by God from someone who has never been convinced of the truth of any religion and who finds nothing wrong with homosexuality.

When someone speaks of God as if He is an unjust and petty micro-manager who is completely out of touch with the realities of human existence, this is entirely a reflection of the speaker’s ignorance and immaturity and has nothing to do with God Himself as know Him through the Quran and His Prophet .

On the different origins of Kurds, Hawramis and Zaza People

Regarding the Hawramani people – are they not Kurds? How come you write: “Like the Kurds around them, the Hawrami people are largely Sunni Muslims.” ? Do you consider yourself as Hawramani and not as a Hawramani-Kurd?

The cultural and linguistic evidence suggests that Hawramis are descended from the Persians of Gilan. They are most closely related to the Zaza people of Turkey, who are also descended from the people of that area (the lower edge of the Caspian Sea). On the other hand, Kurds are a separate race who inhabited the borderlands between Persia, Turkey and Arabia.

So while Hawramis live among Kurds, they are a different race. Kurds may themselves be anciently descended from the Persians of Fars province then mixed with Turks and Arabs. Hawramis are descended from the people of the Caspian sea area, who might be a mix of Persians, Armenians and other Caucasian races (such as Circassians) who inhabited the Tabarstan area.

Below is a representation of the migration of the original “Kurds” out of Fars province in Iran, perhaps between 600 and 1000 CE. They settled in that oval area and mixed with Arabs and other original inhabitants.

Below is a representation of the origins of the Hawrami and Zaza people. The came out of the Western edge of the Caspian Sea and settled in Hawraman and Dersim as a separate race from the Kurds. I know that most Kurds, Hawramis and Zaza are unaware of these facts so that they think the label “Kurd” applies to them. The origins of the Hawrami and Zaza people were only worked out by scholars in the past 50 years. Vladimir Minorsky spoke of his theory of Hawramis coming out of Gilan, and another scholar whose name I cannot remember worked out the relationship between the Zaza language and the Daylam area of Iran. The extreme similarity between the Zaza and the Hawrami languages, their similarity to the Caspian languages (Gilaki, Mazandarani), and their extreme difference from Kurdish, all made Western scholars realize that they are in reality non-Kurdish languages coming out of the Western Caspian.

I am aware that today in this era of Kurdish nationalism it is rather politically incorrect to suggest that the Hawramis are not Kurds. But that is what the facts suggest.

While many younger Hawramis have been convinced by Kurdish nationalist propaganda that they are really Kurds, the older generation of Hawramis are very clear about not being Kurds. They use “Kurd” literally to mean “non-Hawrami”. My grandmother would be highly insulted if someone called her a Kurd. I have seen a similar attitude among other old Hawrami people. They see the people around them as either Hawramis, Kurds, Arabs or Persians. Kurds are a separate category in their minds.

Another clue for the different origins of Hawramis and Kurds is that while Arab-like features are very common among Kurds (darker skin, thick black hair, short stature), they are rare among Hawramis. Tall stature, very pale skin, soft colored hair and colored eyes are very common among Hawramis while they are less common among Kurds.

For the Zaza people, the word they use for themselves is a clue: Dimli is an alternative pronunciation of Dilmi, which is a localized pronunciation of Daylami, which means “from Daylam” (the area by the Caspian Sea in Iran).

Questioning the Concept of “Kurd”

In his important paper “Prolegomena to the Study of the Kurds” (you can view it here for free), the respected Armenian scholar Garnik Asatrian suggests that the word “Kurd” was not used to refer to a race, but to any of the various differing transhumant (migratory) tribes inhabiting the lands between Persia, Arabia and Anatolia. They were likely originally came out of Fars in Iran, moved northwards and mixed with various other races. They originally spoke a version of Persian that slowly changed over the centuries into what we now call Kurdish.

The nationalistic Kurdish idea that the Kurds were an original race (like Persians or Arabs) of the area is inaccurate historically for the simple reason that Kurds speak an Iranian language, rather than an independent language like Armenians do. Kurdish is similar to Pashto (the language of Afghanistan’s Pashtun people). Both of them originated from Iran and slowly developed in new directions. So while among Kurdish nationalists there is a desire to make Kurds into their own independent race, the reality is that they are just another Iranian group similar to the Luri, Fayli, Bakhtyari, Pashtun and Baluchi people but likely more mixed. All of them were probably originally one Persian race that slowly developed in different directions and mixed with surrounding peoples (similar to the way Norwegians, the Swedish, the Danes, the Dutch and the English were all originally Germans).

Personally I have no nationalistic feelings, so to me the historical reality is more interesting than nationalist ideas. I consider the Kurds my brothers and sisters, and my own family has married into Kurdish families.

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