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 IslamQA.info 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.

The Origins of Today’s Mainstream Islam: How Imam al-Ghazali Balanced the Dry Textualism of the Arabs and the Extravagant Rationalist Spiritualism of the Persians

Frontispiece of a manuscript of Imam al-Ghazali’s Alchemy of Happiness

Within Sunni Islam, there is a small minority of Muslims whose Islam seems to be largely about strict, mechanical adherence to religion that is seems devoid of purpose or spirituality. These Muslims in general represent the influence of the atharī or naqlī (textualist) approach to Islam, common among the scholars of hadith. According to them, Islam is the reenactment of history, rather than the application of a spiritual program. This approach was popularized and defended by Imam Aḥmad ibn Ḥanbal (d. 855 CE) and a line of scholars after him who were nearly all Arabs. This is an interesting fact because every other area of Islamic intellectual history has been dominated by Persians. When studying Islamic intellectual history, we can actually trace out two lines of activity, one Arab, one Persian. The Arabs focused on the transmission of texts and conforming to them, the Persians focused on organizing and systematizing knowledge and deriving general principles from them. This led to two different approaches to Islam that defined the history of Islam and the way we practice Islam today.

It is common for most people, especially Westerners, to treat classical Islamic scholars as if they were all Arabs. The fact that their names often have al- and ibn in them gives the illusion of their being Arab. The reality is that a major part of Islamic scholarship was done by Persians. The six major hadith collections of Sunni Islam were all created by Persians: al-Bukhārī (d. 870 CE), Muslim (d. 875 CE), Abū Dawūd (d. 889 CE), Ibn Māja (d. 887 CE), al-Tirmidhī (d. 892 CE) and al-Nasāʾī (d. 915 CE) are all Iranians. The seventh major collection, the Muwaṭṭaʾ, was created by Imam Mālik (d. 795 CE), who was either half-Persian or half-Greek. Other major collections by Persians include the Muṣannaf of ʿAbd al-Razzāq al-Ṣanʿānī (d. 826 CE), the Ṣahīh of Ibn Ḥibbān (d. 965 CE) and the Mustadrak of al-Ḥākim al-Nishāpūrī (d. 1014 CE).

The Shāfiʿī school of Islamic law was almost entirely dominated by Persians despite having an Arab as its “patron saint” (Imam al-Shāfiʿī), and the same is true of the Ḥanafī school, founded by the Persian Imam Abū Ḥanīfa. As for the Mālikī school, it was founded by the already-mentioned half-Persian or half-Greek Imam Mālik and was to be dominated by the highly mixed Arabs of Northern Africa and Spain. Great Spanish scholars like Ibn Rushd (Averroes) may have been largely European genetically despite having an Arab lineage, similar to the way the “Arab” Abbasid Empire was ruled for an entire century by a succession of emperors who were 97% Greek and Persian despite having Arab lineage (due to each emperor being born to a Greek or Persian woman, for more on this see this blog post).

In this highly culturally and genetically diverse scene, we have the atharī school that is almost entirely dominated by Arabs, and that has a very specific approach to Islam. These scholars are Imām Aḥmad ibn Ḥanbal, Ibn al-Jawzī (d. 1200 CE), al-Nawawī (d. 1277 CE), Ibn Taymīya (d. 1328 CE), Ibn Kathīr (d. 1373 CE), Ibn Rajab (d. 1393 CE), al-Shawkanī (d. 1834 CE), Ibn Bāz (d. 1999 CE) and Ibn ʿUthaymīn (d. 2001 CE). The most important scholar in this group is Aḥmad ibn Ḥanbal, founder of the Ḥanbali school.

For these scholars, Islam is largely about following hadith narrations as strictly as possible without bothering to organize them into a system. To them spirituality means submission to God through strictly following hadith narrations. The ideal Muslim acts as if he is programmed by hadith. It would be wrong to call them unspiritual, because people like Ibn al-Jawzī and Ibn al-Qayyim have written some of the most spiritually uplifting books in Islamic history. But to them strictness and a lack of intellectual curiosity when it comes to religious matters are virtues. A good Muslim, in their view, should accept the whole of the authentic hadith literature on faith, not engage in questioning things, leave it to the scholars to argue about the issues within the literature, and follow each hadith they see as strictly as possible.

To them, turning Islam into a meaningful system feels almost sacrilegious, because such an effort would make hadith subservient to the system, which is unacceptable in their view. Each hadith should be considered independently authoritative without reference to any system. And that is why their Islam feels unspiritual and obsessed with appearances and rules rather than connecting with God. Since each hadith is independently authoritative, since there is no system, their Islam ends up being made up of thousands of detached pieces that do not necessarily make intuitive sense and that may even appear to contradict one another and even contradict Quranic principles. It is quite natural for a Ḥanbali to be extremely kind to a neighbor (because some hadith narrations recommend that) while being extremely cruel to their own families because another set of hadith narrations seem to recommend being cruel toward those who fail to live up to certain standards of behavior. The lack of system turns their Islam into a religion that often has no common sense; religion is made up of thousands of separate compartments that seem to randomly lead to the most unexpected kindness here and the most unexpected cruelty there.

In this form of Islam, the Quran is often overshadowed by the much larger hadith literature. The mechanical adherence to hadith and overshadowing of the Quran’s teachings often leads textualist Muslims to follow an Islam that appears to lack a heart and soul. There is no room for intellectual maneuvering or prioritizing Quranic principles over narrations. Textualism has no guiding “brain” because the ideal it seeks is to follow authentic narrations as mechanistically as possible while taking the self and the brain out of the equation. Man is nothing but a vehicle for the implementation of hadith.

The anti-intellectual textualist approach to Islam led to a strong reaction from the Persians of the Abbasid Empire. The Persians could simply not accept a form of Islam that lacked a “common sense” driving it and giving it meaning. Their reaction took two main forms, Muʿtazīlī Islam and Sufism. Despite their greatly differences, both of these forms of Islam can be thought of as expressions of the Persian desire for systematization. Persians could not accept a religion made up of separate and unrelated compartments. The Persians were also the main drivers behind the development of the sciences of hadith, fiqh, ūṣūl (legal theory) and kalām (philosophical theology), all of which represent the same Persian obsession with building systems rather than being content with the mere raw materials of religion (the hadith texts). Intellectual curiosity and a desire to see the “big picture” of religion was second nature to the Persians, while it almost felt heretical to the Arab textualists.

The Muʿtazīlīs considered the textualist scholars ignorant and narrow-minded and were not ashamed to use the most insulting words against them. The Muʿtazīlīs were often philosophers and scientists and were far more intellectually sophisticated than the textualists. Their problem, however, was that they were so enamored of their own cleverness that some of them thought they could use their own thinking to override the teachings of the Quran and hadith. This does not describe every Muʿtazīlī scholar, but they often were rather liberal and lax in their adherence to Islam and were almost invariably less pious than the textualists in their outward behavior. This lower Muʿtazīlī piety was all the proof the Arab textualists needed for the heretical nature of the Persians and the correctness of their own beliefs. The Muʿtazīlīs were involved in the Miḥna (the Inquisition) of the half-Persian Abbasid caliph al-Maʾmūn, who reigned from 813 to 833 CE. Like so many Oriental reformers of the past few centuries, he absurdly tried to force what he thought was open-mindedness on others by forcing the Muʿtazīlī approach to Islam on the rest of the scholars. Imam Aḥmad ibn Ḥanbal was persecuted by this Inquisition, which turned him into a hero and martyr for the textualist Islamic scholars. To this day he remains their “patron saint”, the defender of authentic Islam against the encroachments of the heretical Persian Muʿtazīlīs enamored of pagan philosophy.

That Muʿtazīlī abuse of authority caused a hardening of the Arab opposition to their views, so that the Arabs created their own traditionalist Islam (Ahl al-Hadīth or the Cult of Hadith) that entirely ignored Muʿtazīlī Muslims as heretics that should be considered outside of Islam. Persians were treated with extreme suspicion unless they proved their credentials by strict adherence to the manners and doctrines of Ahl al-Hadīth. The textualist Ḥanbalī scholar Ibn al-Jawzī (d. 1200) was so suspicious of Persians that in his famous book of advice to his son, he tells him not to read books of tafsīr (Quranic exegesis) written by Persians.

Another Persian reaction to Arab textualism was Sufism. Almost every major classical Sufi master is a Persian. Similar to the Muʿtazīlīs, the Persian Sufis tried to turn Islam into a holistic system that made sense, but unlike them, they went the mystical route rather than the philosophical and rationalist route. Some Sufis accepted the importance of following Islamic law while others thought that they were needless of the law if they became sufficiently enlightened. The Persian Sufi Bayazid Bastami (d. 848 or 849) was controversial due to his almost heretical gnostic views. The Persian Sufi Manṣūr al-Ḥallāj (d. 922 CE) was famously executed for heresy. Rumi, a Persian Sufi, defended the wine-drinking of his Persian Sufi master Shams-e-Tabrīzī by saying that Tabrīzī lived in a different plane of existence that made it unnecessary for him to abide by the Islamic prohibition on wine.

The Persian Muʿtazīlīs and Sufis tried to turn Islam into a system that made sense, while the Arab textualists saw no need for systems and were happy to follow their compartmentalized Islam made of separate and unrelated narrations.

Among these currents came the Persian scholar Imam al-Ghazali (d. 1111 CE). Despite his contributions to the fields of Islamic knowledge and his high status as a scholar of Islamic law, he became dissatisfied with his way of life and had a crisis, which ended in his rediscovering Sufism. He went on to create a new…system of Islam that united respect for the Quran and tradition with a deeply meaningful spirituality and a respect for logic, stated in his most important work Iḥyāʾ ʿUlūm al-Dīn (Revival of the Religious Sciences).

Today we live in a post-Ghazali world. His influence was so great and his teachings were so deeply integrated into mainstream Islam that we (mainstream Sunni Muslims) are all his students one way or another, even if we have never read a work by him. He helped show that Muslims do not have to make a choice between either being strict textualists, open-minded philosophers or spiritual Sufis. We can become a new type of Muslim who respects Islamic law, loves hadith, appreciates philosophy (but places it below revelation), and seeks to have a deeply spiritual connection with God.

Al-Ghazali was not necessarily the first Muslim to integrate these qualities, but he was the first scholar to turn them into a system that could be defended and passed on to future generations. He defended the idea of the “integrated Muslim” who does not have to take sides with any of the camps of his time, but who takes what is good from all of them while avoiding their extremist tendencies. You can respect and follow hadith without losing sight of their purpose and their relation to the rest of Islam, and importantly, without ignoring the Quran’s ethics and morality. You can appreciate science and philosophy without having to say that God is chained by philosophy like the Muʿtazīlīs thought. And you can be a deeply spiritual person without having to belong to any Sufi group and without following the esoteric teachings of certain groups who thought they could ignore Islamic law due to being “enlightened”.

Between the Forest and the Trees

In English we have the idiom “missing the forest for the trees,” which can be used to illustrate the difference between the Arab and the Persian approaches. The textualist Islam of the Arab scholars and their modern admirers focuses on each tree individually and is not very interested in the forest, they may even consider it almost heretical to bother too much about the forest. This makes their approach to Islam feel shallow, concerned with technicalities and appearances, and lacking in substance to outsiders. The Persian approaches of Muʿtazīlī rationalism and philosophical Sufism focus largely on the forest, and think it is only the uneducated masses who should concern themselves with the trees. To them Islam is about the overarching principles and deeper meanings, rather than about appearances and technicalities. Islam is turned into a philosophical system of metaphors and esoteric teachings that claim to offer the path of enlightenment.

Imam al-Ghazali’s realization was that we do not have to make a choice between focusing on the forest or the trees. We should follow the rules and prohibitions of Islamic law in our daily lives without losing sight of the purpose behind them and without losing sight of the purpose of religion itself, which is to know God and to worship Him in the best way possible. In the textualist approach, the focus on strict, compartmentalized adherence to hadith makes God fade to the background. In the extreme rationalist or spiritualist approach, the focus on God leads to lawlessness and corruption because Islamic duties are ignored. Al-Ghazali taught that we need to find a balance between the two approaches; we can seek God, but we should never consider ourselves smarter than Him or consider His laws beneath us. We should follow hadith, but we should relate them to the rest of Islam and find out how they make sense within the big picture rather than treating the hadith literature as made up of isolated compartments.

Today, those influenced by the Arab approach, especially those taught in Saudi Arabia or converts who are under the impression that strictness and anti-intellectualism equal piety, often tell us that their approach to Islam is the only valid one. They consider themselves al-firqa al-nājiya (“the group that attains salvation”), the one single rightly-guided group of Muslims out of 73 (this concept is based on a fabricated narration, as I explain here). And because of that, they often believe themselves to be morally superior to those around them. They consider their approach to Islam the only possibly valid one and could never admit that a person as pious and knowledgeable as themselves could reach a different form of Islam.

But al-Ghazali’s Islam is just such a form of Islam. The argument is not over who is more pious or who loves the Prophet , his Companions and his Successors best. The argument is over methods and priorities. Al-Ghazali said we should follow Islam as an integrated system that focuses on the most important things. Islam’s teachings all come from the same source and have the same logic and intent behind them, therefore our focus should be the achievement of those aims, rather than following each hadith individually and forgetting the fact that they relate to a larger whole.

Al-Ghazali’s system makes it possible to prioritize, something that is largely impossible in the textualist approach. In the textualist anti-system, the important thing is to follow the texts without presuming to try to work out the intent behind them and without presuming to prioritize one thing over another. The textualist approach shows a very strong distrust of the human intellect and believes that only through strict and narrow adherence to authentic texts we can be saved. Al-Ghazali’s approach respects the human intellect without letting it run wild (as the Muʿtazīlīs and some Sufis of his time allowed). He creates a system where there is a well-defined framework (Islamic law, morality and ethics) that rules our daily life, but within this framework, we have great freedom to be who we are and to approach God in the way that works for us. Islam provides the skeleton and each person fleshes it out according to their own understanding and creativity. While in the textualist approach, everything is already fleshed out for you by others. You have no room to be human, no room to prioritize one thing over another. To be a good Muslim, your only option is to say goodbye to your humanity and let the texts possess you.

In Imam al-Ghazali’s Islam, we follow the Quran and the most important hadith narrations and try to embody their teachings. We start from a position of spirituality and use the texts as helpers on the way. The purpose is God, the texts are helpers. In textualist Islam, things work the other way round. The focus is on the texts, the connection with God happens as an afterthought. Both approaches are meant to bring us to God, and both approaches can achieve that goal even though they approach it from different directions. The best followers of Ḥanbalī Islam can be similar to al-Ghazali’s best followers.

But when it comes to the average Muslim belonging to either approach, we see a great divergence. The average follower of al-Ghazali’s Islam (which almost means the average, reasonably well-educated mainstream Muslim, due to the way that al-Ghazali’s teachings have become part of mainstream Islam) is going to be tolerant and spiritual from the get-go, while the average follower of Ḥanbalī Islam is likely to be rather intolerant and unspiritual from the get-go due to their compartmentalized and unsystematic adherence to Islamic texts. That is the case until they learn a great deal and slowly come to the realization that there is a deeper purpose within Islam, and many may never reach this stage, because trying to see purpose and sense within Islam is a distinctively Persian, meaning somewhat heretical, thing to do.

It is likely that there is a sense of racial solidarity in the devotion of many Arabs to the textualist Ḥanbalī approach to Islam. It is a tradition that represents centuries of Arab struggle against the more sophisticated, but often less pious, Persians before al-Ghazali. Today most Arabs are not textualists, rather, most textualists are Arabs. Most Arabs are mainstream Muslims who admire al-Ghazali.

Conclusion

The existence of an Arab versus Persian approach to Islam in classical times is a hypothesis that is strongly suggested by the evidence, but as far as I know it has not been studied by others. Today Egyptian intellectuals are great admirers of Imam al-Ghazali, therefore the division between an Arab and a Persian Islam should not be used to explain modern Arab behavior (except perhaps inside the Ḥanbalī school), it rather refers to two general trends during the development of classical Islam.

Those who today defend textualist Islam continue to hold onto the pre-Ghazali divisions within Islam, thinking that the choice is either between Arab textualist piety or Persian heresy. The Ḥanbalī school represents perhaps only 1% of the world’s Sunni Muslim population. The remaining 99% live in a post-Ghazali world where those divisions are no longer relevant; we can respect hadith, follow the law, be open-minded and intellectually curious, and strive to closeness with God like Sufis—without having to take sides with anyone.

On Tolerance toward Textualists

There are those who demonize Aḥmad ibn Ḥanbal’s followers and talk about them with contempt while considering themselves open-minded. That attitude does not do anyone any good, it is just a repetition of the Muʿtazīlī attitude of 1000 years ago. As I explain in my essay Consensual Communities, if we are truly open-minded then we will be respectful toward those who disagree with us, whether they are extreme conservatives or extreme liberals. You cannot consider yourself open-minded if you cannot love those who disagree with you. Even if some of them are somewhat intolerant and have an annoying sense of moral superiority, we should forgive them their faults and appreciate the fact that they are doing their best to be pious followers of the Prophet .

The Persians Inside the Cult of Hadith

The study of hadith in classical Islam had its own “cult” that was quite different from the study of fiqh (jurisprudence). Hadith scholars were textualists who invariably allied themselves with Aḥmad ibn Ḥanbal’s theological views, while fiqh scholars were often rationalist and less concerned with conformity than intellectual achievement. As mentioned earlier, almost every major hadith collection of classical Islam was collected by Persian scholars. Since they belonged to the field of hadith, they had to follow its rules or risk being driven out of the field by the textualists. Therefore even if they were not perfectly happy with textualism, they probably had to keep quiet about it.

On Intolerant Textualism

You will meet textualists on the Internet who think that they follow the only true version of Islam, demonize those who disagree with them and think that ideally they should be given the power to force everyone else to follow their views. These people represent the influence of the many well-funded Saudi websites on the Internet that promote the Wahhabi worldview (for more on Wahhabism see this essay). Such people should be ignored the way we ignore annoying vegans who think they are morally superior to everyone around them. In mainstream Islam we believe that people have the right to disagree and to reach their own conclusions. In Wahhabism, disagreement is not allowed; the Wahhabis think they have the right to use force to make others follow their views. Wahhabis are great admirers of Ibn Ḥanbal and Ibn Taymīya, but not every admirer of these two great scholars is a Wahhabi.

Bibliography

Ibn al-Jawzī, Ṣayd al-Khāṭir (Quarry of the Mind) (d. 1200)
Mohammed al-Ghazali, al-Sunnah al-Nabawīya bayn Ahl al-Fiqh wa Ahl al-Ḥadīth (Prophetic Traditions between the People of Fiqh and the People of Hadith) (1989)
Yasin Dutton, The Origins of Islamic Law: The Qur’an, the Muwatta and Madinan Amal (PhD dissertation) (1999)
Murteza Bedir, The Early Development of Hanafi Usul al-Fiqh (PhD dissertation) (1999)
Jonathan A. C. Brown, The Canonization of al-Bukhari and Muslim  (2007)
Umar F. Abd-Allah Wymann-Landgraf, Mālik and Medina: Islamic Legal Reasoning in the Formative Period (2013)
Jonathan A. C. Brown, Misquoting Muhammad (2014)
S. Frederick Starr , Lost Enlightenment: Central Asia’s Golden Age from the Arab Conquest to Tamerlane (2015)

Scholarly Papers

George Makdisi, “Autograph Diary of an Eleventh-Century Historian of Baghdād (Part I)” (1956)
George Makdisi, “Autograph Diary of an Eleventh-Century Historian of Baghdād (Part II)” (1956)
George Makdisi, “Autograph Diary of an Eleventh-Century Historian of Baghdād (Part III)” (1957)
George Makdisi, “Autograph Diary of an Eleventh-Century Historian of Baghdād (Part IV)” (1957)
George Makdisi, “Autograph Diary of an Eleventh-Century Historian of Baghdād V (Concluded).” (1957)
George Makdisi, “Ashʿarī and the Ash’arites in Islamic Religious History I.” (1962)
George Makdisi, “Ash’arī and the Ash’arites in Islamic Religious History II.” (1963)
George Makdisi, “The Significance of the Sunni Schools of Law in Islamic Religious History.” (1979)
George Makdisi, “The Juridical Theology of Shâfi’î: Origins and Significance of Uṣûl Al-Fiqh.” (1984)
George Makdisi, ‘Ṭabaqāt-Biography: Law and Orthodoxy in Classical Islam.’ (1993)
Wael B. Hallaq, “Was Al-Shafii the Master Architect of Islamic Jurisprudence?” (1993)
Christopher Melchert, “George Makdisi and Wael B. Hallaq.” (1997)
Jonathan A.C. Brown, “The Rules of Matn Criticism: There Are No Rules.” (2012)

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 .

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