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The Quranic and hadith evidence for prohibiting touching non-mahrams

Assalamualaikum I came across a hadith on Facebook which says that touching any non- mahram woman is harām. I wanted to ask if that Hadith is authentic, and if it is so, then to what extent does this rule apply in our life. I mean I have female relatives who are quite elder to me( 9 years and more) . Is it allowed to shake hands with them or hug them if in my heart I consider them to be like my mothers and sisters?

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

Touching people of the opposite sex whom you can potentially marry (i.e. non-mahrams) is not permitted in Islam unless there is a good reason, as in a doctor touching a person of the opposite sex during a procedure. There is also an exception for shaking hands with a person of the opposite sex in order not to humiliate them by refusing the handshake. When it comes to shaking the hands of the relatives you mentioned or hugging them, it is best to avoid it, but it is not a great issue if you accept these gestures in order to avoid upsetting them, until you find an opportunity to tell them that you wish to avoid these things in the future for religious reasons. As for elders who are at an age where they would no longer consider marriage (perhaps 60 or more), then these rules can be relaxed. But if they are 30 or 40 years old, then the rules would continue to apply even if you are much younger than them.

The most explicit hadith we have on the issue of touching the opposite sex is the following:

لأن يطعن في رأس أحدكم بمخيط من حديد خير له من أن يمس امرأة لا تحل له

It is better for one of you to pierce his head with an iron needle than to touch a woman for whom she is not halal.

Al-Tabarani

This hadith comes to us through Shaddad b. Saeed who is considered trustworthy but unreliable by many scholars, therefore this hadith is not guaranteed to be authentic and is therefore not relevant to this discussion.

The next hadith is one where the Prophet PBUH explicitly states that he does not shake women’s hands:

Muhammad bin Munkadir said that he heard Umaimah bint Ruqaiqah say:
“I came to the Prophet (ﷺ) with some other women, to offer our pledge to him. He said to us: ‘(I accept your pledge) with regard to what you are able to do. But I do not shake hands with women.’”

Sunan Ibn Majah Vol. 4, Book 24, Hadith 2874 and others.

Below is the chain diagram for this hadith:

This hadith receives an authenticity score of 38.69% according to our probabilistic hadith verification method. This score is rather high, since sahih hadiths start at 30%, meaning that this hadith is very high-quality.

The next hadith on touching non-mahrams is the following:

Aisha the wife of the Prophet, said, "Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) used to examine the believing women who migrated to him in accordance with this Verse: 'O Prophet! When believing women come to you to take the oath of allegiance to you… Verily! Allah is Oft-Forgiving Most Merciful.' (60.12) `Aisha said, "And if any of the believing women accepted the condition (assigned in the above-mentioned Verse), Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) would say to her. "I have accepted your pledge of allegiance." "He would only say that, for, by Allah, his hand never touched, any lady during that pledge of allegiance. He did not receive their pledge except by saying, "I have accepted your pledge of allegiance for that."

Sahih al-Bukhari Book 65, Hadith 4891; Sahih Muslim 1866 a; other collections

Below is a chain diagram of the hadith:

This hadith receives an authenticity score of 27.57%, making it close to the authentic mark of 30%.

The above appears to be all of the explicit evidence we have on the touching of non-mahrams.

Evidence from lowering the gaze

The Quran commands us to “lower our gaze”. The context of the two verses that command this make it clear that it refers to gazing at the opposite sex idly and/or lustfully.

Tell the believing men to restrain their looks, and to guard their privates. That is purer for them. God is cognizant of what they do.

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 coverings over their breasts, 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. (The Quran, verses 24:30-31)

There are also hadiths that mention the same concept, as in the following:

Jarir said I asked the Apostle of Allaah(ﷺ) about an accidental glance (at a woman). He (ﷺ) said “Turn your gaze away.”

Sunan Abi Dawud 2148

Below is the chain diagram for this hadith:

This hadith receives an authenticity score of 12.14%, which is not very high. But it is easier to accept such hadiths as authentic due to their uncontroversial contents.

Naturally, if we are commanded to avoid gazing at the opposite sex idly or lustfully, then the same would apply to touching.

Evidence from the hijab

Another highly relevant area of evidence is that which applies to the rules on parts of the body that have to be covered. Naturally, if we are forbidden from looking at a certain part of a person’s body, we would also be forbidden from touching it. For the evidence on the rulings on which parts of the body should be covered see:

Conclusion

From the evidence presented above, it is clear that touching the opposite sex idly or lustfully is not permitted in Islam. The Prophet PBUH avoided shaking women’s hands despite this being a harmless form of greeting, which shows us that the highest Islamic ideal is to always work to minimize contact with the opposite sex. However, the evidence does not prohibit necessary touching, as in a doctor touching a person of the opposite sex during a medical procedure.

The exception on shaking hands

Scholars such as Yusuf al-Qaradawi permit shaking the hands of the opposite sex when meeting non-Muslims in order to prevent humiliating them by refusing the handshake, since in such cases avoiding humiliating the person takes priority over the no-touching rule. Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi mentions that while the Prophet PBUH never shook the hands of women, Umar [ra] did that, and Abu Bakr [ra] shook an old woman’s hands.

References:

Women may travel without a mahram for three days and nights: A study of the hadiths

There are numerous authentic hadiths that mention restrictions on women traveling without a mahram (a relative like a husband or father). I was recently asked about the exact nature of the restriction, so I decided to do a thorough hadith study using the probabilistic hadith verification method. For those who want the conclusion immediately: the opinion I prefer is that women should be permitted to travel without a mahram if the journey is under three days and nights (72 hours). Also note that some scholars, such as al-Baji, believe that this restriction only applies to young women, not elders.

But we go into the study, below is a listing of the opinions of some of the great scholars of the past on this issue:

  • Ibn Taymiyyah and his students: If the road is safe, a woman is permitted to perform Hajj alone without a mahram. She is also permitted to engage in any other kind of travel as long as her safety is ensured.
  • Imam Ahmad b. Hanbal: A woman is permitted to perform Hajj without a mahram if she is with a group of women.
  • Ibn Sireen: If she is with other Muslims, then there is no issue with her performing Hajj without a Mahram.
  • Imam Malik: She can perform Hajj with a group of women without a mahram.
  • Imam al-Shafii: She can perform Hajj without a mahram as long as she is accompanied by a trustworthy free female woman.

It is narrated in Sahih al-Bukhari that Umar b. al-Khattab permitted the wives of the Prophet PBUH to perform the Hajj without a mahram while being accompanied by Uthman b. Affan and Abd al-Rahman b. Abu Bakr. (Reference for the above scholarly opinions and hadiths: Fatwa from IslamOnline – Arabic PDF)

Note that if there is a restriction on women’s travel, it only applies to traveling. As discussed in this answer, a woman is allowed to go to another city or country to attend university without a mahram going with her if she is able to safely reside there (for example among fellow Muslim women) if there are no great hazards to her religion.

Below is a diagram of the result of my study, which includes all the hadiths I found with their chains:

Below is a listing of the relevant contents of the hadiths, arranged from the most reliable to the least reliable, along with the Companions they came from and the hadiths’ probability of authenticity. Note that all of these hadiths are considered sahih or authentic by hadith scholars despite their divergent contents:

  • Abu Hurayra 36%: No woman should travel more than the distance of a day’s and night’s journey without a mahram. (Muwatta)
  • Abu Saeed al-Khudri 13.82%: No woman should travel “more than three nights” without a mahram. (Bukhari, Muslim, Bayhaqi, Musnad Ahmad)
  • Ibn Abbas 12.96%: Women can only go on hajj if they have a mahram with them. (Bukhari and Musannaf Abu Bakr b. Abi Shayba)
  • Abu Hurayra 9.35%: No woman should travel more than a day without a mahram. (Musnad Ahmad, Sahih Ibn Khuzayma, al-Mustadrak)
  • Abu Saeed al-Khudri 6.48%: No woman should travel without a mahram. (Musnad Ahmad)
  • Abu Hurayra 3.88%: No woman should travel more than the distance of a three-day journey without a mahram. (Musnad Ahmad)
  • Abdullah b. Amr b. al-Aas 3.20%: No woman should travel more than the distance of a journey of three [days and nights] without a mahram. (Musannaf Abd al-Razzaq, al-Mujam al-Awsat)
  • Abu Saeed al-Khudri 2.80%: No woman should travel for more than three days without a mahram. It mentions Ayesha saying “Not all woman have mahrams.” (Sahih Ibn Hibban)
  • Ibn Umar 0.6%: No woman should travel for more than three [days and nights] without a mahram. (Sahih Ibn Hibban)

We can use probability theory to combine these authenticity scores as follows.

1−((1−0.36)×(1−0.1382)×(1−0.1296)×(1−0.935)×(1−0.0648)×(1−0.0388)×(1−0.032)×(1−0.028)×(1−0.006)) = 0.973765972

(0.36+0.1382+0.1296+0.935+0.0648+0.0388+0.032+0.028+0.006)÷9 = 0.192488889

(0.973765972+0.192488889)÷2 = 0.5831

The meaning is that there is a 58.31% probability of authenticity for the principle that there is some sort of restriction on women traveling without mahrams, but we don’t know yet what the restriction is. This is a very high probability because sahih starts at 30%. Anything above 60% is sahih al-sahih, meaning it is many times more authentic than the average sahih hadith you run into, and this score almost reaches that.

We can now combine the probabilities of only those hadiths whose contents the say the same things:

  • Abu Hurayra 36%: No woman should travel the distance of a day’s journey without a mahram.
  • Abu Seed al-Khudri and Ibn Umar: 16.97%: No woman should travel for more than the duration of three days and nights without a mahram.
  • Abu Hurayra 9.35%: No woman should travel for more than the duration of a day (and night?) without a mahram.
  • Abu Hurayra and Abdullah b. Amr 7.02%: No woman should travel more than the distance of a three days’ and nights’ journey without a mahram.
  • Abu Saeed al-Khudri 6.48%: No woman should travel at all without a mahram.

We can ignore Abu Saeed al-Khudri’s 6.48% hadith that says no woman should travel without a mahram because it is contradicted by his own more authentic hadith (13.82%, over twice as authentic) that says a woman shouldn’t travel longer than three nights without a mahram.

Besides hadiths, we also have athars, or sayings of the Companions and Successors, on this issue. Below is a listing of the ones I found:

  • Al-Hasan al-Basri 36%: No woman should travel for more than three [days and nights] without a mahram. (Musannaf Abd al-Razzaq)
  • Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri 36%: Ayesha was told about Abu Saeed al-Khudri’s hadith that says women should only travel with mahrams, and she said “Not all women can find a mahram.” (Musannaf Ibn Abi Shayba)
  • Ikrima the freedman of Ibn Abbas 21.6%: A woman should not travel for more than three [days and nights] without a mahram. (Musannaf Ibn Abi Shayba)
  • Ibn Umar 18%: No woman should travel for more than three [days and nights] without a mahram. (Musannaf Abd al-Razzaq)

It seems to me that we have two choices now:

  • To rely on one Companion, Abu Hurayra, for his 36% authenticity hadith, which says that no woman should travel the distance of a day’s journey without a mahram.
  • To rely on the three hadiths of Abu Seed al-Khudri and Ibn Umar, with a combined authenticity score of 16.97%, and the non-hadith sayings of al-Hasan al-Basri, Ibn Umar and Ikrima, with a combined authenticity of 42.02%, which say that no woman should travel more than the duration of three days and nights without a mahram.

To me personally the second option is far more attractive, due to it relying on two Companions and two highly respected successors (al-Hasan al-Basri and Ikrima, the most respected freedman of Ibn Abbas), and due to it making life easier. Since everything we are dealing with here is authentic, we might as well choose the easier authentic option that comes from many respected individuals.

Conclusion

It appears that if there are any doubts about a woman’s safety during travel, then she shouldn’t travel alone for more than three days without a mahram. But if her safety is ensured, for example by being accompanied by trustworthy individuals, then she is permitted to travel without a mahram without any time restriction.

Weak hadith: “women who are dressed yet naked”, “heads like camel humps”

Below is a hadith found in Sahih Muslim, Ahmad, al-Tabarani and elsewhere:

Abu Huraira reported Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) having said this:

Two are the types of the denizens of Hell whom I did not see: people having flogs like the tails of the ox with them and they would be beating people, and the women who would be dressed but appear to be naked, who would be inclined (to evil) and make their husbands incline towards it. Their heads would be like the humps of the bukht camel inclined to one side. They will not enter Paradise and they would not smell its odor whereas its odor would be smelt from such and such distance.

Sahih Muslim 2128

A person familiar with the study of hadith will immediately sense this hadith to be fabricated; it has the grotesqueness and vagueness that is often found in fabricated hadiths and never found in the highest quality hadiths. And a study of the hadith’s chains of transmitters supports such an impression. Below is a diagram of the hadith’s chains of narrators:

Using probabilistic hadith verification, this hadith receives an authenticity score of 6.72%, which puts it in the inauthentic/weak (ḍaʿīf) category despite being in Sahih Muslim. The main reason is that the hadith comes through the transmitter Suhayl b. Dhakwan, who is a non-hujja, meaning nothing he says can be trusted unless it is backed up by other evidence. But the only authentic evidence we have actually contradicts this hadith, because we have the following in Imam Malik’s hadith collection al-Muwaṭṭaʾ:

Yahya related to me from Malik from Muslim ibn Abi Maryam from Abu Salih that Abu Hurayra said, "Women who are naked even though they are wearing clothes, go astray and make others go astray, and they will not enter the Garden and they will not find its scent, and its scent is experienced from as far as the distance traveled in five hundred years."

Book 48, Hadith 7

Notice that the above hadith is not attributed to the Prophet PBUH, but to Abu Hurayra himself. This hadith is authentic due to having an authenticity score above 30% (36%).

As far as we can tell, this was a statement made by Abu Hurayra that was modified and falsely attributed to the Prophet PBUH. Note that it does not mention flogs or camel humps.

What is Irony? A Unifying Psychological Definition

It is a testament to the sophistication of Western languages that they have a word for irony. None of the Middle Eastern languages I know (Hawrami, Kurdish, Farsi, Arabic) have a word for it. Farsi has wārūneh gūyī (literally “saying the opposite of what is meant”), but this refers to sarcasm and unintended ironical statements.

Below are all examples of irony:

Her heart was as soft as a brick.

She spent years working hard to be a novelist until she gained worldwide renown for winning a poetry prize.

The fire station caught fire.

A serial killer became the victim of a serial killer.

"Let's meet for coffee tomorrow," he said, while the audience knew he would be dead by the evening. [tragic irony]

"My wife is dragging me to this play. Someone please kill me," Abraham Lincoln tweeted.

Someone drank from the Fountain of Youth and died, not knowing that the water had to be boiled first. [from Terry Pratchett's Eric]

What is the thing about all of these that makes them ironical?

Looking up irony on Wikipedia, I saw this:

Henry Watson Fowler, in The King's English, says, "any definition of irony—though hundreds might be given, and very few of them would be accepted—must include this, that the surface meaning and the underlying meaning of what is said are not the same." Also, Eric Partridge, in Usage and Abusage, writes that "Irony consists in stating the contrary of what is meant."

I wasn’t satisfied by any of the definitions of irony given in the Wikipedia article. Meditating on the question, I realized that the problem with defining irony is that linguists expect to find the meaning of irony within the structure of the ironical sentence, image or scene. But I realized that irony is actually a psychological phenomenon:

Irony is anything that attempts to pull your leg by making you expect a certain meaning, giving you a sense of smug self-satisfaction when you recognize the snare and you see the wider meaning.

Irony pulls you in, giving you pleasure when you mentally “pull out”. Thus “as soft as a brick” is ironic because “as soft as” sets you up to expect a proper simile. Once you realize the comparison is with a brick, you mentally pull out of the set up and realize what is going on. This gives you a nice “sense of pride and accomplishment”, as the Electronic Arts spokesperson said.

The fire station being on fire is ironical because the mundane interpretation is that it is just a building on fire. But once you mentally pull out and recognize the wider context, you see the incongruity between a building meant for fighting fire actually being on fire.

Anything ironical has therefore a mundane or naive interpretation (a serial killer is dead) and a wise or wary interpretation (a serial killer is dead by his own category of crime). It is the mental leap from the naive to the wise interpretation that gives us the pleasure of irony.

Tragic irony, as in someone likable in a novel saying “See you tomorrow!” while the author has told us the person is going to die before the day’s end, is the same kind of setup. The difference is that due to feeling sorry for the character, we stop ourselves from feeling the usual smug self-satisfaction at our mental leap. But if we wanted to be unkind, then it would give us exactly the same kind of pleasure as any other kind of irony, as in laughing at Abraham Lincoln’s imaginary tweet asking to be killed.

To give a more technical definition:

Irony is anything that sets you up for a naive interpretation, giving you pleasure when you mentally leap to the wise interpretation.

The stoning of adulterers in Islam: No strong hadith shows it happened after Surat al-Nur

There are numerous hadiths that tell us the Prophet Muhammad PBUH stoned a number of married adulterers. The most important hadith might be one where the Jews of Medina bring a cause of married adultery before the Prophet PBUH. The Prophet PBUH wants to deal with the adulterers according to Jewish law (probably because no Quranic verse had been revealed regarding the issue). The Jews try to ward off the punishment by saying there is nothing in the Torah about stoning adulterers. But Abdullah b. Salam, a Jewish scholar who converted to Islam, forces them to tell the truth:

Malik related to me from Nafi that Abdullah ibn Umar said, "The Jews came to the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, and mentioned to him that a man and woman from among them had committed adultery. The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, asked them, 'What do you find in the Torah about stoning?' They said, 'We make their wrong action known and flog them.' Abdullah ibn Salam said, 'You have lied! It has stoning for it, so bring the Torah.' They spread it out and one of them placed his hand over the ayat of stoning. Then he read what was before it and what was after it. Abdullah ibn Salam told him to lift his hand. He lifted his hand and there was the ayat of stoning. They said, 'He has spoken the truth, Muhammad. The ayat of stoning is in it.' So the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, gave the order and they were stoned.

Muwatta Book 41, Hadith 1. Also in al-Bukhari, Muslim and others.

The fact that the Prophet PBUH ordered the stoning of some adulterers is uncontroversial. But the most important thing we need to know is whether he ever ordered stoning after Surat al-Nur was revealed, the chapter of the Quran where the issue of adultery is dealt with in some detail. The Quran does not mention stoning of adulterers anywhere, and if we only had the Quran to follow, it would have been clear that adulterers are only to be punished with flogging rather than stoning.

The great 20th century scholar of Islamic law Muhammad Abu Zahra found stoning so repulsive that he considered it impossible that Prophet Muhammad PBUH, sent as a “mercy to mankind”, would instate such a barbaric punishment in his law. (See my essay about his view).

To clarify the matter, I decided to collect all hadiths that mention stoning happening after the Islamic law on the issue was revealed in Surat al-Nur. As it happens, the strongest hadith we have actually tells us that a Companion was unsure whether stoning ever took place after Surat al-Nur was revealed.

Hadith 1

Narrated Ash-Shaibani:

I asked Abdullah bin Abi Aufa about the Rajam (stoning somebody to death for committing illegal sexual intercourse). He replied, "The Prophet (ﷺ) carried out the penalty of Rajam," I asked, "Was that before or after the revelation of Surat-an-Nur?" He replied, "I do not know."

Sahih al-Bukhari 6840, also in Muslim and Mustakhraj Abi Uwana.

Below is a diagram of the chains of this hadith:

This hadith receives an authenticity score of 30.2%, which makes it authentic according to probabilistic hadith verification (which has much more stringent criteria compared to the criteria used by al-Bukhari and other scholars, see my essay about it).

Hadith 2

The following hadith is the strongest hadith we have that states that stoning was carried out after the revelation of Surat al-Nur. In it Umar b. al-Khattab (may God be pleased with him) defends stoning.

Narrated Ibn `Abbas:

Umar said, "I am afraid that after a long time has passed, people may say, "We do not find the Verses of the Rajam (stoning to death) in the Holy Book," and consequently they may go astray by leaving an obligation that Allah has revealed. Lo! I confirm that the penalty of Rajam be inflicted on him who commits illegal sexual intercourse, if he is already married and the crime is proved by witnesses or pregnancy or confession." Sufyan added, "I have memorized this narration in this way."Umar added, "Surely Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) carried out the penalty of Rajam, and so did we after him."

Sahih al-Bukhari 6829, also in Muslim, Ibn Maja, al-Humaydi, Abu Uwana, Musnad Ahmad, Ibn Hibban, Musannaf of Abd al-Razzaq and al-Nasa'i.

Below is the hadith’s chain diagram:

This hadith receives an authenticity score of 27.79%, below the 30% needed for judging it authentic.

Hadith 3

The following is the second and last hadith we have that states stoning was carried out after Surat al-Nur:

Narrated Ash-Sha`bi:

From Ali when the latter stoned a lady to death on a Friday. Ali said, "I have stoned her according to the tradition of Allah's Messenger (ﷺ)."

Sahih al-Bukhari 6812

Below is the hadith’s chain diagram:

This hadith’s fatal weakness is that al-Shaʿbī, according to the hadith scholars al-Ḥākim, Ibn al-Jawzī and Ibn Ḥazm, never heard anything from Ali, therefore there is at least one hidden transmitter before al-Shaʿbī. This makes the hadith receive an authenticity score of 11.08%, making it rather weak, since unknown transmitters are given half the authenticity score of known transmitters in the probabilistic method. But even if we assume the unknown transmitter is entirely trustworthy, the hadith’s score only increases to 22.16%, still below the needed 30%.

Putting Islamic law’s fate in the hands of two men

All of the chains of Hadith 2 above come to us through a single transmitter, Ubaydullah b. Abdullah (it has an alternative chain that is so weak as to be unworthy of consideration). As for Hadith 3, it too comes to us through a single, unknown transmitter.

What this means is that in order to decide whether Islamic law requires the stoning of married adulterers or not, we have to place our entire trust in two men, one of whom is unknown. The law of the Quran (which does not include stoning) has to be ignored because two men tell us, through relatively low-quality hadiths, that stoning took place after Surat al-Nur.

I believe we should require evidence that receives an authenticity score of at least 60% before we can consider anything controversial to be proven beyond doubt. Putting the fate of Islamic law in the hands of two men, and ignoring the Quran for their sake, seems extremely irresponsible to me.

Another piece of evidence in favor of stoning adulterers is Maliki law, which is not entirely derived from hadith, but also from the practice of the people of Medina at the time of Imam Malik (ʿamal ahl al-madīna, or ʿamal for short, which Shaykh Umar Faruq Adullah translates as “Medinan praxis”). But this can be explained as follows: Perhaps after Surat al-Nur was revealed, there were no more cases of adultery brought before the Prophet PBUH. And after he died, since people only remembered the cases where he had stoned adulterers, people assumed this was the right thing to do in such cases. The issue never received much analysis because of the extreme rarity of adultery cases. Islam requires four witnesses to the act, which makes it almost practically impossible to prove a case of adultery. People only remembered the fact that the Prophet PBUH stoned some adulterers, without worrying about whether these cases took place before or after Surat al-Nur. And since there were no cases of adultery judged according to Surat al-Nur in the present or the past, and since all cases of adultery before had been judged according to Jewish law, it was Jewish law that was accepted as the tradition of the Prophet PBUH.

Since stoning is a matter of life and death, and since the Quran’s various verses on the punishment of adulterers contradicts it (slave-women get “half” the punishment of free women in the Quran. How can stoning to death be halved?), I believe we are well-justified in considering stoning an unproven punishment, and well-justified in only carrying out the Quranic punishment.

It may be prudent to add that I believe Islamic law should only be applied when people freely choose to live under it. The question of forcing Sharia law on people should never arise among civilized Muslims.

Bosnian Genocide in 1995: Still in our memories

It was on Thursday night that I was checking my Twitter account and I found a beautiful and at the same time heart breaking post: some supplications for those who died in the Bosnian genocide, back in the nineties.

I was a little child when this happened, I was not even a Muslim by then.
I embraced Islam in February 2001, when I was 16 years old, and I felt so proud of my religion. I was a hijabi from the very first day. It was not easy. My parents were totally against Islam.

That same year the 9-11 attacks took place, and everything seemed to be worse: my parents forbade me from attending the mosque as a desperate measure to take me outside my new faith.

At home, with my books and PC as my only company, I investigated terrorism and its roots. Somehow I read about the genocide in Bosnia. We didn’t study it at school, we didn’t hear it on the news. It didn’t receive the media coverage that it really needed. Not in my country at least. I remember I cried when I read the story, facts, and some memories shared by victims.

Now, 24 years later, I decided to write this article to help us remember what happened then, and overall, to keep those victims alive in our prayers.

It was in the spring of 1992 that Bosnia and Herzegovina declared its independence from Yugoslavia. Of a population of 4 million at that time, 44% were Bosnian Muslims (Bosniaks). The Bosnian Serbs wanted to forge an independent state. Their plans included ethnic cleansing by removing the Bosniaks from the area.

In 1994 the U. N. disarmed three eastern Bosnian towns: Srebrenica, Žepa and Goražde, so that they would be “safe heavens” protected by international peacekeepers.

On July 11th 1995, Serbian forces overthrew the Dutch peacekeepers. In four days 8,000 Bosnian Muslims (men and boys) were hunted, killed and buried in hidden mass graves. Later examination of the bodies showed that they were mutilated and their extremities tied before their execution.
At the same time, 20,000 women and children were forced to leave their homes to Serbian controlled areas and camps where sexual violence was used. Some of the abused were as young as 12.

24 years later, many Bosniaks are still searching for the remains of their loved ones. Some others were able to bury their relatives, some only pieces of them. This year, 33 newly identified victims were able to be put to rest. Over 1000 are still missing.

I believe that it is important for us to understand these painful events of our past, to prevent them from happening again. And although we Muslims may be scattered throughout the world, and we may think that there is little or nothing to be done, we have a very powerful weapon with us: duas (prayers). Yes, I do believe in the power of supplications. That’s why I wrote this article. Because I want every Muslim to remember those who died. They deserve our prayers, even if it is a silent prayer. They deserve to be honored with our hearts in our supplications. Their families and victims deserve our duas to be with them, to find some peace.

The istikhara prayer is not a well-established part of Islam

A famous hadith of the Prophet PBUH teaches us about the istikhāra prayer, which is a prayer performed to request for God’s guidance in an important matter that a person is uncertain about. What is surprising is that this hadith comes to us from a rather low-quality chain of transmitters:

Narrated Jabir bin `Abdullah:

Jabir (May Allah be pleased with him) reported:
Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) used to teach us the Istikharah (seeking guidance from Allah) in all matters as he would teach us a Surah of the Qur'an. He used to say: "When one of you contemplates entering upon an enterprise, let him perform two Rak'ah of optional prayer other than Fard prayers and then supplicate: "Allahumma inni astakhiruka bi 'ilmika, wa astaqdiruka bi qudratika, wa as-'aluka min fadlikal-'azim. Fainnaka taqdiru wa la aqdiru, wa ta'lamu wa la a'lamu, wa Anta 'allamul- ghuyub. Allahumma in kunta ta'lamu anna hadhal-'amra (and name what you want to do) khairun li fi dini wa ma'ashi wa 'aqibati amri, (or he said) 'ajili amri ajilihi, faqdurhu li wa yassirhu li, thumma barik li fihi. Wa in kunta ta'lamu anna hadhal 'amra (and name what you want to do) sharrun li fi dini wa ma'ashi wa 'aqibati amri, (or he said) wa 'ajili amri wa ajilihi, fasrifhu 'anni, wasrifni 'anhu, waqdur liyal- khaira haithu kana, thumma ardini bihi." (O Allah, I consult You through Your Knowledge, and I seek strength through Your Power, and ask of Your Great Bounty; for You are Capable whereas I am not and, You know and I do not, and You are the Knower of hidden things. O Allah, if You know that this matter (and name it) is good for me in respect of my Deen, my livelihood and the consequences of my affairs, (or he said), the sooner or the later of my affairs then ordain it for me, make it easy for me, and bless it for me. But if You know this matter (and name it) to be bad for my Deen, my livelihood or the consequences of my affairs, (or he said) the sooner or the later of my affairs then turn it away from me, and turn me away from it, and grant me power to do good whatever it may be, and cause me to be contented with it). And let the supplicant specify the object."

Sahih al-Bukhari 1166

This hadith is the strongest existing hadith that mentions istikhāra. There are a few other hadiths but they are either weak or so low-quality as not to be worth considering. Below is a diagram of most existing chains of transmitters for this hadith:

I used probabilistic hadith criticism to judge the strength of this chain, and the result is that this hadith gets a score of 21.3% probability of authenticity, which is below the 30% needed for a hadith to be judged ṣaḥīḥ (authentic).

The instincts of hadith scholars are seldom wrong, and this hadith raised red flags among them due to coming to us through a single transmitter (ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. Abī al-Mawālī), who is the person in the above diagram from whom all the chains branch out. Al-Tirmidhī and al-Dāraquṭnī considered the hadith gharīb (strange/unusual), while Imam Aḥmad considered it munkar (unusual and basically not worth taking too seriously).

Based on these facts, we can determine that the istikhāra prayer is not a strongly-supported part of Islam, as I have always suspected.

Now, there is no issue with praying to God for guidance. But doing it in this ritualistic way, as if it is some sort of magic spell designed to bring out assured results, has never felt very “Islamic” to me and goes against my Quran-taught instincts. Ideally we should pray for guidance constantly, and any practicing Muslim will pray for guidance at least 17 times a day during the ṣalāh as they recite Surat al-Fātiḥa (“Guide us to the Straight Path” is in verse 6). But performing the istikhāra seems to be an unnecessary and possibly fabricated addition to Islam.

However, since the hadith has a score of 21.3%, it is still a ḥasan (possibly authentic) rather than a ḍaʿīf (weak/unsound) hadith. So there is no justification for criticizing people who perform this prayer.

Was the salah originally 50 prayers?

A famous part of the Prophet’s Night Journey PBUH is the story of God making 50 daily prayers obligatory on Muslims. Below is an excerpt from a hadith from Sahih al-Bukhari that mentions this:

Among the things which Allah revealed to him then, was: "Fifty prayers were enjoined on his followers in a day and a night." Then the Prophet (ﷺ) descended till he met Moses, and then Moses stopped him and asked, "O Muhammad ! What did your Lord en join upon you?" The Prophet (ﷺ) replied," He enjoined upon me to perform fifty prayers in a day and a night." Moses said, "Your followers cannot do that; Go back so that your Lord may reduce it for you and for them."

Sahih al-Bukhari 7517

There are many strange aspects to this story: The idea that God prescribed 50 daily prayers, the idea that Prophet Muhammad PBUH did not complain, the idea that Prophet Moses had to speak up on behalf of the Muslims and lecture Prophet Muhammad on the number of daily prayers humans can handle, and the idea of the Prophet PBUH going back and forth between God and Moses to adjust the number of the prayers.

I decided to do a study of all existing chains of all hadiths that mention this “50 daily prayers” theme in order to find out just how strong their chains are. Below is a diagram of the result:

I used probabilistic hadith verification to calculate the strength of the chains. This method uses probability theory to bring out the hidden weaknesses in chains of transmitters. The result was as I expected: the hadiths all have very low-quality chains of transmitters. None of them reach the 30% probability of authenticity that is necessary for judging a hadith ṣaḥīḥ (“authentic”) using this method. In fact none of them even reach 20%:

  • First hadith: 4%
  • Second hadith: 17.9%
  • Third hadith: 11.64%
  • Fourth hadith: 18.14%

The first hadith is so low-quality that it is actually undeserving of being in Sahih al-Bukhari (where it is found).

We can take a final step to combine all of these hadiths’ probabilities together. The result is 27.95% probability of authenticity. (See the linked essay for the details of how these calculations are done).

The verdict is that the supporting hadiths for the story are not strong enough for us to consider it proven that it happened. Therefore skeptical Muslims who find the story strange have the right to be skeptical about it, but I recommend that we keep open minds about it since there is still sufficient support for it that we cannot say with certainty that it is fabricated. (I understand that folks who like to see things in simple black and white terms will find this discussion rather useless, but the science of hadith is all about probabilities, not certainties, and it is important to remember this fact.)

Are the Prophet’s parents in the Hellfire?

I went on Islamq&a, and it lists a hadith where the gist of it was that the Prophet (ﷺ)'s parents will be in the hellfire, is it true?

That hadith is a matter of controversy among scholars. Among scholars who refused to take that hadith literally and believed that the Prophet’s parents PBUH are not in the Hellfire are Abu Ḥanīfa, al-Rāzī, Ibn al-ʿArabi al-Mālikī, al-Qurṭubī, Ibn al-Jawzī, al-Alūsī, Ibn Ḥajar al-Haytamī, Malā ʿAlī al-Qārī and Ibn Ḥajar al-ʿAsqalāni.

The Egyptian Fatwa Authority issued a fatwa saying that believing the Prophet’s parents to be in Paradise is the stronger opinion. Hadith critics also considered this hadith to be shādhdh (strange and unusual) and therefore refused to take it seriously.

I conducted a study of all of the existing chains of the hadith, which is shown below:

According to the mathematical hadith verification method (see my essay here), this hadith has an authenticity score of 20.5%, which is below the 30% needed for considering it ṣaḥīḥ (authentic). Any hadith that falls below 30% is not strong enough to be used as proof, especially in matters of controversy.

Therefore the verdict is that the view that the Prophet’s parents PBUH are in the Hellfire is not a strongly-supported view and should not be believed in, especially since it goes against important principles of Islamic theology (that those who do not receive revelation are not held accountable), and since many important scholars rejected the view.

References

An algorithmic cheat sheet for Arabic diptotes (mamnūʿ min al-ṣarf)

In order to make sense of the immense complexity of Arabic diptotes I decided to turn all of the rules into an algorithm written in the PHP language. Diptotes (mamnūʿ min al-ṣarf) are Arabic words that do not acquire tanwīn like normal words do and have fatḥa instead of kasra in the jarr position, as in marartu bi-Aḥmada , which would normally be marartu bi-Aḥmadin if it was not a diptote).

Turning the diptote rules into an algorithm means that a grammatical discussion that normally takes about 10 pages of a grammar book is turned into a very small “function” that can be reviewed at a glance.

function is_diptote($word) {
    if(is_not_muḍāf ($word) && does_not_have_definite_al($word)) { // masājid is normally diptotate, but in masājidi l-muslimīn it is NOT diptote due to iḍāfa, likewise afḍal is normally diptote, but in marirtu bi-l-afḍal it is not due to having definite article "al"
        if(sounds_like_mafāʿil($word) || sounds_like_mafāʿīl($word)) { // masājid, ṣaḥāʾif, maṣabīḥ
            return true; // "return true" means it is a diptote
        }
        if(sounds_like_a_verb($word) && (is_proper_noun($word) || is_ṣifa($word))) { // Āhmad, Yashkur, aḥmar, ākhḍar
            return true;
        }
        if(is_maʿdūl($word)) { // maʿdūl = a word that "deviates" from its normal form, as in ʿUmar, a deviation from ʿĀmir
            if(is_proper_noun($word)) { // ʿUmar, Zuḥal, Zufar
                return true;
            }
            if(is_ṣifa($word)) { // ukhar, mathnā, thulātha, rubāʿa, khumāsa, sudāsa, subāʿa, tusāʿa, ʿushāra
                return true;
            }
        }
        if(is_feminine($word)) {
            if(is_feminine_only_in_the_way_it_sounds($word) && is_proper_noun($word)) { // Ṭalḥa, Ḥamza, Qatāda, Muʿāwiya, Khalīfa
                return true;
            }
            if(is_feminine_in_sound_and_meaning($word) && is_proper_noun($word)) { // Faṭima, ʿAʾisha, Khadīja, Munīra, Luʾluʾa, Mājida
                return true;
            }
            if(is_feminine_in_meaning_alone($word) && is_proper_noun($word)) { // Zaynab, Suʿād, Hind
                return true;
            }
            if(has_alif_taʾnīth_mamdūda($word) || has_alif_taʾnīth_maqṣūra($word)) { // ḥamrāʾ, khaḍrāʾ, ṣafrāʾ, sawdāʾ, asmāʾ, ʿuzzā, salmā, salwā, hayā, laylā, ḥublā
                return true;
            }
        }
        if(has_tarkīb_mazjī($word) && is_proper_noun($word)) { // Baʿlabak, Maʿdīkarb, Ḥaḍramawt
            return true;
        }
        if(has_added_alif_and_nūn_at_the_end($word) && (is_proper_noun($word) || is_ṣifa($word)) { // Salmān, Sulaymān, sakrān, ʿaṭshān, ghaḍbān, rayyān
            return true;
        }
        if(is_non_arabic($word) && is_proper_noun($word)) { // Jibrīl, Mīkāl, Isrāʾīl, Ibrāhīm, Ismāʿīl, Isḥāq
            return true;
        }
    }
    return false; // if above conditions are not met, it is not a diptote
}

Hijabis, Niqabis, and Religious Liberties in the Secular State

When I was fourteen, my new geometry teacher paused while taking attendance on the first day of class to inform me that she didn’t allow hats in the classroom. “We’ll have to do something about that,” she added, referring to my headscarf.

Sitting at my desk in the back, I gaped like she’d slapped me, while she easily moved onto the next student. “Did you hear her?” I asked my seatmates indignantly, but I guess they chose not to hear me either, because none of them reacted, and class went on that day like math was all that mattered. The teacher ultimately decided to make me write an essay about why I wear the hijab to prove my commitment. Apparently dressing like a nun every day at my public high school wasn’t commitment enough.

I’ve been wearing the hijab since age eleven, a personal decision that took me a lot of pleading my parents to get permission to make at such a young age, and since age eleven, I have been exposed to the overwhelming extent of misunderstanding folks in the West have about the hijab. For the past fourteen years, I’ve had friends express their disapproval of the way I dress, men yell at me on the streets of Boston at night, and somehow worst of all, fellow Muslims completely miss the point of the hijab as they speak out or strive against it in a misguided attempt to assimilate into the West.

Still, my experiences as a hijabi in America have been largely positive, alhamdulillah; for every unpleasant confrontation, I’ve been blessed with so many supportive friends, strangers, and fellow sisters and brothers in Islam. I have also been afforded that great Islamic privilege that is the purpose of the hijab: control over my body and image, the reclaiming of my worth from the objectifying gaze of entitled men, that essential empowerment that modesty offers women. And as grateful as I am for my hijab, I am grateful I live in a place where people are open-minded enough to accept my uncommon attire, where I can talk about it and be met with respect and even enthusiasm. As problematic as the American government’s treatment of Muslims has been, there could be more hostile places for a Muslim to call home.

Places like Quebec.

As the daughter of Iraqi immigrants and as a Muslim woman who has grown up in America during the War on Terror, I believe pressuring minorities to assimilate is a form of cultural oppression, and in light of Quebec’s recent ruling to ban various public servants from wearing “religious symbols,” I feel compelled to attempt yet again, as has been my life’s work, to fight for the beautiful philosophy that is the hijab.

*

Let’s examine the ruling in question, the so-called “religious symbols” ban that clearly targets hijabis, of whom there are many in Quebec. Bill 21 was passed on June 17 in an effort to “respect the secularity of the state,” and it applies to a variety of government employees from teachers to police officers. The separation of church and state is meant to prevent the government from enforcing religious laws within a population of diverse beliefs; ironically, preventing citizens employed by the state from practicing their own faith achieves essentially the opposite, as it is literally the forceful imposition of legislators’ beliefs on their citizens. Of course, secularism is in itself a belief, and any stance, when imposed on individuals, becomes an authoritarian one. Since the bill impacts the ability of individuals to practice their religion, it would seem that the interpretation of a secular state according to the government of Quebec is not merely a state that is not associated with any religion, but rather a state whose employees are not associated with any religion. This refusal to distinguish between the state and the people who work for it is at the heart of the controversy. It’s the source of the human rights violation.

Beyond the flawed premise of the bill, it’s also important to push back against its categorization of the hijab as a religious symbol on par with a cross. I sometimes like to wear a pendant around my neck that has an Arabic inscription of God’s name. This piece of religious jewelry could be considered the Muslim version of wearing a Christian cross; the hijab, however, is not. For legislators to place the hijab into the same category as a cross necklace is unacceptably ignorant or else dismissive of the hijab, which Islam requires every woman to wear.

Though I think even banning a cross necklace is too restrictive on an individual’s personal freedoms, I would remove my pendant, a mere accessory, with no issue if I really had to, but my hijab? I’d sooner die. Since the hijab is part of a Muslim woman’s modesty, asking her to take it off is not unlike asking a woman to disrobe; in fact, it is exactly that. While the hijab is indeed a visible indicator of a woman’s Islam, classifying it as a religious symbol is as reductive as referring to a five-star meal as edible. The hijab is the essence of many Muslim women’s approach to life, and to not allow them to wear one at work is to put them out of a job.

But horrifyingly enough, we have yet to discuss an even more loathsome aspect of Bill 21: the denial of public services for people wearing face coverings. Under this increasingly appalling new ruling, Muslim women wearing the niqab are no longer entitled to receive health care or use public transportation. The inability to regard women as worthy of such basic human rights unless they can be seen has a disturbing implication: they are only worth as much as their appearance. Admittedly, a covered face makes a person harder to identify, and the government justifies the niqab ban for security purposes, but I’ve witnessed niqabis at the airport lifting up their face covering for officers with no problem. The manner and extent to which they are singled out in this bill is an evident display of French Canadian officials’ distaste for the cloth. No doubt many supporters of the bill, owing to their ignorance of a widely misunderstood topic, consider the niqab to be an affront to feminism. But legislation enforcing a dress code upon a woman’s life is about as anti-feminist as a law can get, and it’s a delusional man who believes that threatening to withhold a woman’s rights and quarantining from society any woman who doesn’t dress to his approval could ever be framed as feminist.

The part of the bill about niqabis is additionally disturbing because it extends the application of its extremist secular policies from public servants to civilians, so the already paper thin argument that the bill is simply enacting the separation of church and state falls apart altogether, as civilians by no stretch of the imagination represent the state. The concept of the separation of church and state exists not to make practicing one’s faith illegal or impossible, but to prevent faith from getting involved in legislation, which citizens are compelled to follow. Well, the legislators of Quebec clearly have a belief system of their own, one they have no qualms about threading through their laws to suppress the civilians with whom they disagree. If the ban of “religious symbols” wasn’t obvious enough, the face covering rule speaks louder than diplomatic wording ever could: Bill 21 is nothing short of a big “screw you” from the Canadian government to its Muslim citizens.

*

We shouldn’t have to explain ourselves or justify what we wear to get “permission” for doing so, yet here we are. It’s a familiar disappointment, but to Muslims reading these words and to minorities in general and those who stand with us, I say: don’t mind the hateful. Aim for the ignorant, and let peaceful, informative outreach be your weapon. Recently, I found the letter I’d written over ten years ago for my geometry teacher, simply titled “My Reasons”:

“[Teacher], I don’t wear my head covering to be cool or rebellious. I don’t wear it because somebody ordered me to. I don’t wear it to be different or to stand out. I wear my veil because God asks this of me…

I would like to be valued for more than just my beauty. I’ve found that [when I cover up], the part of me that people remember and enjoy is my talkativeness (sometimes that bothers them, though), my sense of humor, my intelligence, my kindness, and other positive assets I possess…

Please understand that I don’t mean to be rude when I say that I will take my veil off for no one. And my intentions are pure. It’s not like I wear it because it’s the latest fashion. I used to have nightmares of showing up at school naked… But soon after the start of sixth grade I began to have nightmares of being at school without my veil. Those silly bad dreams actually mean a lot to me now, since they are a sign that wearing a hijab has become a part of me.”

After I turned in my essay, my teacher didn’t give me any more trouble. I realize the government of Quebec is a steeper mountain to summit. My sisters, I ask Allah to grant you the strength to overcome the bullies who wield temporary authority over you. May you never have to compromise, or choose between your faith and your livelihood. But if you do, then above all else, I pray you never feel compelled to remove your hijab, that you wear it proudly, and that more of you put it on as a result of this ruling, just as the Christchurch shooter whose goal was to spread hate lead so many to convert to Islam. I write these words lovingly, from a Muslim woman to the West, the only world I’ve known as home: stop telling us how to dress. Don’t waste your breath.

Misquoting Muhammad: The Challenge and Choices of Interpreting the Prophet’s Legacy (Book Review)

Jonathan A. C. Brown is a well-known American scholar of Islamic Studies, who is currently an associate professor at Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service.

He has written several books, related to Islam: Slavery in Islam, Hadith: Muhammad’s Legacy in the Medieval and Modern World, Muhammad: A Very Short Introduction, The Canonization of al-Bukhari and Muslim, and Misquoting Muhammad: The Challenge and Choices of Interpreting the Prophet’s Legacy (Oneworld Publications, 2014), which is the subject of the present article.

The book tries to explain in a simple way the rich intellectual legacy of Islam. Although he focuses more in the Sunni tradition, as being an Islamic majority that possesses a wide variety of sources and explanations for those interested to study it, he was still able to mention the view from other groups like Shias and Sufis.

Brown recounts history: from traditional scholars scattered throughout the Muslims shortly after the demise of the Prophet Muhammad PBUH, to recent events, like the coup d’etat that took place in Egypt in 2011.
He also focuses on the main controversial aspects of Islam by discussing how they originated and providing enough material to ponder their doubted or criticized validity:

  • Martyrdom
  • Women as rulers of states
  • The sources of knowledge on which laws are based
  • Hadiths, their importance for interpreting the Quran and their chains of narrators
  • The origin of the madhabs or schools of thought
  • Reason as a source of knowledge
  • The Quran as a revelation from God compared with other monotheistic scriptures
  • The relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims, including the often cited and controversial verse of the Quran that supposedly allows the killing of unbelievers
  • Jihad
  • Marriage with small girls
  • The conflict between Sunni and Shiite Islam
  • Honor killings
  • The death penalty for apostasy
  • Fabrications by people and the manipulation of scripture to attain personal goals that are in no way related to the true objective of the religion.

The author explores these controversies from many points of view without leaving a school of thought aside, and even includes a Western perspective in each of them.

The comparison and contrast between the Quran and the Bible gives a hint to the reader of the manipulations involved with this issue; religion is subjected to the interests of those in power, who can change, add, or hide things if needed to make “legal” their actions. The Ottoman empire is an example of this, where certain rules pretended to legalize things explicitly forbidden in Islam like drinking alcohol, and even promiscuous behavior. In Christianity, this has been evidenced as well, when the Roman Catholic Church removed books from the Old Testament, and the surprising fact that the concept of the Trinity was not mentioned in the original versions of the Books of the Bible.

The most controversial section is in chapter 4, “Sex with little girls: interpreting scripture amid changing norms,” that deals with one of the most difficult topic in Islam to deal with, even for Muslim scholars: the marriage of the Prophet Muhammad SAWS when he was 50 years old to Aisha, who was said to be approximately 10 years old. The author, to explain this issue, mentions that economic difficulties inflict this type of marriage, taking into account, at the same time, that it is not widely accepted in Muslim countries. Sometimes this type of marriages can also be found around the world without having the same harsh media coverage that has existed regarding the Muslim case. Countries like India, the United Kingdom, and even in the USA, “in some US states, such as Georgia, the legal age of consent for woman was as low as ten well into the twentieth century.”

It should be noted that respected scholars have challenged the traditionally accepted age of Aisha based on a re-analysis of the sources, as detailed in our essay: A Hadith Scholar Presents New Evidence that Aisha was Near 18 the Day of Her Marriage to the Prophet Muhammad.

Brown mentions the dilemma experienced by scholars regarding these controversial issues. He asserts that the case of this controversial marriage, which may have been acceptable according to the norms of 1400 years ago, should not be judged according to the views and beliefs of the 19th and 20th centuries.

But the objective of the author is by no means to increase the controversy: rather he seems to try to reconcile the misinformation that we have in the West towards Islam, thus he uses comparisons in order to help the reader understand the background of these issues, the misunderstandings to which it has been victim (in some cases due to our own scholars) and the complexity of language that can bring wrong translations of the original texts in Arabic.

The book, after analyzing all these aspects in the light of the Quran, the Sunna, the opinions of scholars and other views, ends by talking about the issue of lying for noble causes, especially as it related to the use of unauthentic narrations by preachers who believe that the noble teachings present in this narrations outweigh the fact that may have been entirely fabricated. Brown discusses the ethical issues surrounding changing sayings or statements in order to accommodate them to a specific reality or to avoid aversion from people that lack the knowledge needed to understand it. Brown states,

A population that believes stories merely because they are useful or warm the heart places expedience toward an end above a commitment to demonstrable truth as a common reference meaningful to all individuals regardless of their religious beliefs. A community that accepts Noble Lying wholeheartedly is likely to drift into gullibility, uncritical of what it is told and vulnerable to manipulation.

Misquoting Muhammad is a good resource for understanding the historical background of issues that can be subjected to misunderstandings and tergiversations. Without telling the reader what to think, it provides them with the necessary tools to see the two sides of the issue and then leaves the conclusion to the reader.

Brown strives to make the concepts clear: the comparison of both worlds; Eastern and Western, enables wider understanding. As such, this book is a good present to those who try to understand the essence of Islam and the potential misunderstandings that surround it.

Intellectuals and Society by Thomas Sowell

This book is a withering criticism of the class of society that Thomas Sowell calls the “intellectuals” (journalists and columnists, public intellectuals, writers, sociologists).

Sowell’s thesis is that intellectuals try to persuade the public to support policies that may do greater harm than good while enjoying complete immunity from the bad consequences of their recommendations. For example in the 1920’s and 1930’s intellectuals widely called for disarmament, making it very difficult for British politicians to order the military to arm itself in response to Nazi Germany’s growing military power. The intellectuals in charge of Britain’s media had created an atmosphere where politicians would have risked their jobs if they had done what they know to be right, since the public had been indoctrinated by the intellectuals to fight rearmament. In this way the intellectuals were responsible for making Britain almost lose World War II to Germany, and yet no intellectual faced any consequences for recommending such a self-defeating policy.

Thomas Sowell is an economist and in this role considers the intellectuals pests in issues of economic policy. They recommend vast changes in economic policy without having the competence to understand the consequences, and without suffering any repercussions when their policy recommendations do great harm to major sections of society.

Intellectuals throughout the 20th century have called for gun control laws, thinking that this would make society safer. They ignore the fact that Switzerland, where gun ownership is extremely high, suffers far less crime than the United States. And when intellectuals in Britain managed to pass strong control laws, this actually lead to a vast increase in crime. Intellectuals also strongly supported weaker punishments of criminals in Britain, which according to Sowell is partly responsible for Britain’s crime crisis. And when conservatives in the United States managed to create strong anti-crime policies in the 1990’s, which lead to a sharp decline in crime, the intellectuals only expressed bewilderment at this “unexplainable” phenomenon when to Sowell the explanation is extremely obvious: keeping more criminals in prison means fewer criminals out there committing crime.

This book should be required reading for all Muslim intellectuals living in the West. It is a great help in creating a critical attitude toward nice-sounding popular doctrines promoted by Western intellectuals.

Sowell belongs to the neoconservative Hoover Institution. He shares the anti-Muslim bias of neoconservatives; almost all mentions of Muslims in his books are negative (while having worked extremely hard to defend the image and rights of Jews while always ignoring the possibility that Jewish behavior may have had something to do with anti-Semitism). In this book he does not disappoint:

The intelligentsia in some European nations have gone further—being apologetic to Muslims at home and abroad, and having acquiesced in the setting up of de facto Muslim enclaves with their own rules and standards within Europe, as well as overlooking their violations of the national laws in the European countries in which Muslim immigrants have settled.

The Hoover Institution is active in promoting the image of Muslims as the West’s new Jews as the Jews were seen in the past: separate, alien, unpatriotic, living in enclaves, and having large numbers of anti-Western radicals among them.

However, Sowell’s anti-Muslim bias should be no obstacle to Muslims to benefit from his expertise and his very important work in promoting a more rational intellectual atmosphere and in defending Western civilization from, ironically, largely Jewish attempts to undermine its pride and patriotism. Jews are heavily over-represented among the intellectuals he criticizes in this book; he comes back again and again to the Jewish Supreme Court justice Louis Brandeis, who spent his career working to weaken the US Constitution in order to make room for his own elitist agenda. Brandeis was followed in prominence by the Jewish legal scholar Ronald Dworkin, who continued the project of justifying twisting the Constitution and the law in order to make judges and legal scholars the elite who decide what the law should be for the masses. Sowell also reserves much criticism for heavily-Jewish (and extremely elitist) media outlets like The New York Times. He also often criticizes fields of academia heavily influenced by Jewish activists, such as sociology, which was permanently biased against the West in the aftermath of the works of Freud, Franz Boas and the key members of the Frankfurt School, all of whom were Jewish with strong Jewish identities and obvious anti-Western agendas.

Arabic Grammar in Context by Mohammad T. Alhawary

Arabic Grammar in Context (2016) by professor Mohammad T. Alhawary is an enjoyable and beneficial resource for learners of Arabic. It features excerpts from actual Arabic books and articles and uses them to illustrate grammatical points.

The book is not for complete beginners and should be used either after studying a basic grammar book or alongside one.

As is typical for books published by academic publishers, it is somewhat overpriced at over $40 on Amazon.

An Islamic Examination of Homosexuality as an Identity

Our society trains us to think in a certain way (“If you disagree with me, then you’re hateful!”) and imposes limiters on our minds as we quote back popular talking points (“Love is love!”) without always examining them first or showing a willingness to consider different arguments. So I’m writing today, not as some moral authority, because I’m likely guilty of the same biases, but simply in an effort to share another argument, one that examines the queer identity on an interpersonal rather than societal level, in hopes that the following ideas might help people entrenched in Western culture think about the Islamic stance on homosexuality.

Throughout human history up until rather recently, homosexuality was considered an act, not an identity. Its recent reframing is a social construct based in Western society. That doesn’t make the identity “not real,” but it does make it not as rigidly inherent as people often talk about it being, which has certain philosophical implications (but that’s for another essay). There are even proponents of queer theory who argue that since sexuality is a spectrum on which people can fluidly shift, sexuality as an identity label therefore might not be the most useful way to conceptualize the subject.

Turning specifically to the Islamic conceptualization, it’s no surprise that homosexuality is inharmonious with Islam; Islam is a way of life in which one strives to achieve a balance between the spiritual and the physical. To define one’s very identity by one’s sexual attractions tips that balance sharply to the physical. Though such identities have become normalized in Western culture, think about the implications of believing that the most crucial, defining bit of information you have to share about yourself is what you’re into, what “gets you off.” Why does anyone other than one’s partner (let alone all of society) need to know such an intimate detail about a person anyway? Defining oneself based on one’s most animal-like moments is reductive to one’s capacity as a human. For this reason, even “straight” as an identity label is not Islamically sanctioned; we are all just humans.

A life so heavily focused on worldly pleasures is a life that seeks to hold value only in this super temporary world. One might argue back, “It’s not about pleasures, but love.” But the homosexual identity starts from a place of ruling out the possibility of all physical relationships other than same-sex ones, before ties are even established with a specific person. Setting the parameters for love based on lust invalidates such counterarguments.

One final thought, having said all this: it is the act that is not allowed in Islam, not the people who are seen as inherently different and therefore rejected. In fact, they are not inherently different at all, and that’s the point. But so long as they continue to identify as such, it’s also important to note that Islam teaches Muslims to always treat others with respect, even if their way of life differs greatly from the Islamic one. In one Quranic passage describing the tale of Prophet Lot, whose people were engaging in homosexual acts, he notably said to them not “I hate you,” but “I hate what you do.” Though this subject is complex and understandably touchy, I hope folks have found these ideas not offensive, but helpful. We are all trying our best to come to the truth and live in the best way. Jazakum Allah khair.

Arabic: An Essential Grammar by Faruk Abu-Chacra

Arabic: An Essential Grammar by Faruk Abu-Chacra (2018) is a fair guide for beginners to Arabic grammar, although it is extremely overpriced ($48 USD on Amazon right now) for the value that it offers.

Learners wishing to master Arabic grammar should content themselves with the fact that they should read at least half a dozen Arabic grammar books before they can gain a reasonable handle on the highly intricate and confusing system that is Arabic grammar. This book would be a reasonable choice among others.

The book suffers from many errors in its Arabic orthography. It also suffers from the fact that lines that contain Arabic mixed with English have a much wider line-spacing compared to lines that contain only English, giving the text a very uneven look. Below is an example taken from the book preview on Google Books:

Another issue is that the section hints on the right (the text in the gray box shown above) seem to be entirely misplaced and have no relationship with the actual text.

The book, like many other grammar books, also suffers from using an unsatisfactory transliteration system. I wish all English books dealing with Arabic would start using the Brill system.

Additionally, on page 265 an Arabic phrase is erroneously said to be in the Quran:

The phrase la-ʿaḍīm actually never occurs in the Quran.

Science in the Islamic world grew at the fastest rate in 2018

The Scimago Journal & Country Rank numbers for 2018 are in and they show tremendous growth among some of the the 11 top scientific publishers among the Muslim-majority countries. The increase in the number of scientific papers published in 2018 was 44,616, which is almost twice the highest growth recorded over the past 22 years.

Iran continues to be the top scientific publisher in the Islamic world, followed by Turkey and Indonesia. The numbers do not include the scientific output of India’s 200 million Muslims.

The greatest growth came from Indonesia, which went from 18683 papers in 2017 to 31708 papers in 2018 (an increase of 13025 papers). The second highest growth came from Egypt (+5016 papers), and the third highest from Iraq (+4087).

The Islamic world is now publishing more science than either Germany, France or the United Kingdom. If the rate of growth over the past 10 years is maintained, the Islamic world will surpass the United States by 2036 assuming there is no significant growth among these Western countries (which is a reasonable assumption).

Of course, the quality of the papers published by Muslim countries is not as high as those published in more advanced countries, but that too should be expected to improve over time.

Source for the data: The Scimago Journal & Country Rank

Shah Waliullah on the Art of Being Knowledgeable

The religion of Islam, perhaps more than any other religion, is characterized by its emphasis on scholarship (daneshmandī دانش مندی  in Farsi/Urdu), on the acquiring of knowledge (ʿilm) and wisdom (ḥikma), and on the sharing of knowledge through education (Rosenthal, 2007).

The responsibility of the education (taʿlīm) of mankind is taken up by Allah [swt] Himself. Allah [swt] says, “Al-raḥmān—He taught the Quran—He created man—He taught him speech.” (The Quran, verses 55:1-4). To educate mankind with the true knowledge and to guide them to the straight path, Allah [swt] has sent messengers (anbiyāʾ), pious men (awliyāʾ), scholars (ʿulamāʾ), researchers (mujtahidīn), and teachers (muʿallimīn) to mankind, to which Allah [swt] refers as an immense bounty from Him. Allah [swt] says, “… and He has taught you what you did not know—and the bounty of Allah upon you is immense.” (The Quran, verse 4:113).

In this article, we will leverage insights from the profound Islamic scholar of India, Qutubuddin Ahmad bin Abdur Rahim, popularly known as Shah Waliullah Dehlawi on the scholastic arts of learning and education (Fann-e Danishmandī فن دانش مندی).

Shah Waliullah was born in the 18th century, and he is believed, largely due to his erudite scholarship and service in safeguarding the Islamic faith, to be the Mujaddid (Renewer) and Mujtahid (Researcher-Jurist) of his century. Shah Waliullah produced more than 50 books on various subjects, including the Quran, Hadith, fiqh (jurisprudence), taawwuf (mysticism) and Asrār-e Dīn (“Secrets of the Faith”). Among his many services are the translation of the Holy Quran in Persian, the language of the populace. The magnum opus of Shah Waliullah, Hujjat Allāh al-bāligha (The conclusive argument from God), is an encyclopedic work that deals with intellectual investigations into the underlying wisdom behind the injunctions of religion and covers diverse topics, including ethics, politics, and human development. Due to the profundity of his contributions and his substantial intellectual stature, Shah Waliullah has been referred to as the Ghazālī and Ibn Taymiyya of his generation.

The Art of Scholarship (Fann-e Daneshmandī)

In this post, we will review the insights shared by Shah Waliullah in his book Risāla-ye daneshmandī (رسالہ دانش مندی, The epistle of scholarship), which provides insights into a rigorous methodology for education and learning. Risāla-ye daneshmandī is a valuable tract for everyone involved in the field of learning, education, and knowledge, and provides precious guidelines on how to learn and teach and acquire wisdom and knowledge. This book was authored by Shah Waliullah in Persian and was transcribed into Arabic and completed with a commentary by his illustrious son Shah Rafiuddin in the book Takmīl Al-azhān (تكميل الاذهان, The perfecting of minds).

To understand the meaning of the title Risāla-ye daneshmandī, let’s tolerate an etymological digression. The word daneshtan in Persian means “knowing”, while the word mand when used with daneshman means “one with knowledge”. The author, while explaining the word daneshmandī describes that it refers to ketāb dānī. This roughly translates into “mastery of books“, with the word ketāb referring to books and the word dān referring to being a holder or container.

According to the author, there are three levels of daneshmandī or mastery of knowledge:

1) Muṭālaʿa of books: one has read the book and has understood the meaning through realization (taḥqīq);

2) Tadrīs of books: one becomes a teacher and communicates the reality of the books further to students;

3) Tashrīḥ of books: one writes a commentary and excels in manifesting the reality of the book.

The author goes on to describe the benefits of acquiring daneshmandī. The first being that the student learns the art of reading a book (muṭālaʿa) and in most conditions the student’s understanding will approach the real intent of the author. The second being that the student will be able to learn the general skills that are necessary for mastering books. Since students are not taught this science, they are often averse to reading subtle books—whose meaning appears disintegrated (muntashir) to them at first glance.

The author stresses that Fann-e Daneshmandī (The Art of Scholarship) is general and applies to the rational (maʿqulāt) as well as traditional or textually transmitted (manqulāt) sciences and to demonstrative (burhānī) sciences as well as abstract (khiṭābī) sciences.

The Five Types of Knowledge Comprised by Fann-e Daneshmandī

According to Shah Waliullah and Shah Rafiuddin, the art of education and learning comprises five types of knowledge: (1) ʿIlm-e munāẓara (dialectics); (2) ʿIlm-e taʿlīm wa tadrīs (education and teaching); (3) ʿIlm-e talammuz (pupilship); (4) ʿIlm-e taṣnīf (writing/compiling); and (5) ʿIlm-e muṭālaʿa (reading).

1- Knowledge of The Principles of Debate/Dialectics (ʿIlm-e uṣūl-e munāẓara): When a person wants to benefit a non-believer through his knowledge, this is known in Fann-e Daneshmandī as ʿIlm-e munāẓara. This is relevant when we wish to educate a person who questions the basis of our thoughts and beliefs. Using ‘ʿIlm-e munāẓara one can perform the attainment of knowledge (istifāda) as well as the dissemination of knowledge (ifāda). This knowledge helps in debates, generally used in ʿIlm-e kalām (dialectical theology), or for bringing someone who does not have sound beliefs and ideologies to the straight path by the aid of Allah [swt].

2) Knowledge of The Principles of Education and Teaching (Ilm-e uūl-e taʿlīm wa tadrīs): When knowledge is given to someone who is obedient and willing to learn, then this is known as tadrīs (or education). To quench the thirst of the students, the prerequisite is that the teacher must intend to give benefit to the student with sincerity and Godliness (li-llāhiyat) and must remove all the things that impede the student’s learning.

3) Knowledge of The Principles of Pupilship (‘ʿIlm-e uṣūl-e talammuz): When the intention is to benefit a student who also wants to learn, then this knowledge is imparted orally face to face. With this art, the student can quench their scholarly thirst by acquiring knowledge from their teachers but with the condition that they should intend to acquire knowledge and be ready to remove all hurdles that may impede in this (otherwise the mind due to its various preoccupations will not be able to fully acquire or discharge the benefit).

4) Knowledge of The Principles of Writing (ʿIlm-e uṣūl-e taṣnīf): When someone wants to benefit the common folk, then this may be done through writing (taḥrīr) and compiling (tanīf) books.  A student who has acquired basic knowledge but wants to expand the breadth of his knowledge and to communicate his thoughts to others should learn a lively way of writing that is able to arouse interest in the reader. (In recent terminology, this may be called the principles of journalism [ṣiḥāfa]).

5) Knowledge of The Principles of Reading and Research (ʿIlm-e uṣūl-e muṭālaʿa wa-taḥqīq): When someone wants to benefit from his/her knowledge and benefit from others’ experiences, this is known as ʿIlm-e muṭālaʿa (reading).  If a person, after acquiring knowledge, wants further knowledge or wants to specialize in an area, then ʿIlm-e uṣūl-e muṭālaʿa wa-taḥqīq of Fann-e Daneshmandī are relevant.  This skill can help in the continuous improvement of one’s knowledge. This knowledge has a right on every scholar and the one who does not satisfy this right is deficient and is likely to even lose the acquired knowledge. Every scholar thus should develop a habit of reading and research.

Insights on Taʿlīm and Tadrīs for Teachers from Fann-e Daneshmandī

The book Risāla-ye daneshmandī is rich in insights for educators. The author explains that if a scholar wishes to teach a book to students in a scholarly and rigorous manner, then he must necessary keep in mind the following fifteen matters.

(1) Controlling the difficult (ḍabṭ-e mushkil): The identification of difficult words in the textual excerpt (ʿibāra). This involves clarifications on grammar and orthography.

(2) Explaining the strange (gharīb): The explanation of unknown or infrequently used unfamiliar words and phrases and the clarification of their linguistic and technical meanings.

(3) Opening up the locked (mughlaq) text: The teacher must expound on the “locked” places (mughlaq) in the text. For example, the teacher must resolve the confusion that may arise if the excerpt (ʿibāra) contains a difficult phrasing (tarkīb) or an unfamiliar grammatical tense (ṣīgha).

(4) Giving examples (mithāl) and representations (taṣwīr):  The teacher must clarify the issue under discussion through examples (mithāl) or by presenting various subsumed cases. For example, if the book states an abstract principle, the teacher must make it concrete by providing clarifying examples.

(5) Bringing evidence near (taqrīb al-dalāʾil): The teacher must bring the evidence closer to the student’s mind (taqrīb al-dalāʾil). For example, if the book establishes evidence for a position, the teacher must make explicit any hidden premises (makhfī muqaddamāt) and try to uncover the basic axioms upon which the evidence is based.

(6) Clear definitions (taʿrīfāt): The teacher should explain the qualifications involved in definitions. The definitions chosen should be comprehensive (jāmiʿ) of all subsumed ideas and exclusive (māniʿ) so that they may exclude other distinctive forms. The ideas should be enunciated by comparing and contrasting and by suitable conditional qualifications and extensions where appropriate (sharṭ wa-basṭ).  Furthermore, these definitions should not contain any redundancies to ensure that the matter is not clouded in the students’ minds.

(7) Identification of general principles (qawāʿid kulliya): The teacher should clearly explain the general underlying principles (qawāʿid kulliya) so that students may be able to grasp the limits of the definitions, the categories, and the involved examples. These principles should be comprehensive (jāmiʿ) and exclusive (māniʿ) and should not contain redundancies.

(8) Rationale of restrictions (ḥaṣr): The teacher should explain the rationale of categorizations and explain if it is based on inductive arguments (generalizing from specific instances) or on rational or logical arguments. The scholar should also explain the reason for the sequencing of principles (qawāʿid) and chapters/divisions (fuṣūl) in the book and explain if there is a reason for their advancement (taqdīm) and postponement (taʾkhīr).

(9) Differentiation (tafrīq) of similar (mutashābih) concepts: The teacher should clearly differentiate between similar-looking but distinct things (i.e. he must perform tafrīq). For example, if two opinions are prima facie similar but different in reality, the scholar should illuminate this matter by clearly highlighting the differences so that there is no confusion.

(10) Reconciling (taṭbīq) between differing (mukhtalif) concepts: The teacher should be able to perform reconciliation (taṭbīq) between two matters that are apparently but not in reality contradicting—e.g., these two matters may be particular manifestations of the same underlying principle but in different situations. If there is an apparent conflict between two places in the text written by the author, the teacher should resolve this discordance. 

(11) Removal (izāla) of potential objections (iʿtirāḍāt): The teacher should correct the potential confusions that may likely occur. The teacher should anticipate what problems the students may face and work on mitigating these possible confusions. This point is in fact the completion (takmila) of point (1).

(12) Clarification of references and differences (fī-hi naḍar): The teacher should discuss the relevance and importance of references where a reference is cited. Where the author has stated fī-hi naḍar (noted a dispute in the stated matter), the teacher should explain what the author means. If a passage is the response to an unstated question (suʾāl muqaddar), the author should clarify and highlight this.

(13) Translation (tarjama) into the language of the students: If the student’s language is not the same as that the book is written in, the teacher should translate the text into the language of the students.

(14) Reviewing (tanqīḥ) of different opinions and identification (taʿyīn) of the best opinion: When different instructions are provided/reviewed, the correct interpretation should be identified. That is, if at any place in the book there is a difference of opinion that brings a point in dispute, the teacher should review the various opinions and describe the most correct opinion. This method should also be used when resolving the potential differences of opinion on the correct interpretation of difficult words and phrases.

(15) Making the lecture easy (sahl):  Lastly, the speech of the teacher must be easy to understand and the teacher must clearly and concisely explain the text in a way that is easily understandable for the students. The teacher should use brevity (ījāz and ikhtiṣār) without mixing in superfluous concepts or words for the ease of students’ understanding.

When the teacher follows the 15 instructions articulated, then that teacher will become perfect (kāmil) in lecturing and giving lessons (dars-w tadrīs) and in the explanation and elucidation (sharḥ-w tafsīr) of the book. 

In another place, the author recommends that the teacher should start the process of teaching a book by first summarizing the subject matter with conciseness (ijmāl). Secondly, during explanation, the teacher can explain the intent of the author at various places. Thirdly, the teacher should tell the students that they should keep these matters before themselves during the study of a book. Fourthly, the teacher should compare the reading of the students against his own reading and correct the student where needed so that the student does not repeat the mistake in the future. Fifthly, the teacher should ask the student to write a commentary to explain the book so that the capability of the student may be tested.

Conclusion

The book Risāla-ye daneshmandī offers timeless insights into the art of scholarship and mastering knowledge that is as relevant today as it was almost three centuries ago when it was penned down by one of the Islamic scholarly giants, Shah Waliullah Muhaddith Dehlawi. This is a must read for serious students of the Islamic tradition who are involved in the business of learning, teaching, and research. In particular, the book provides specific guidelines for educators which we have reproduced in this post. For further information, the interested readers can read the book in its entirety (translated in Urdu) at https://tinyurl.com/risala-daneshmandi

References

Rosenthal, Franz. Knowledge Triumphant: The Concept of Knowledge in Medieval Islam. Vol. 2. Leiden: Brill, 2007.

Arabic Historical Thought in the Classical Period by Tarif Khalidi

Get it on Amazon

This 1994 book is one of the most enjoyable Islamic studies books I have read, providing a survey of the development of the Islamic intellectual tradition. It covers the development of Hadith, sira (Prophetic biography), Adab (the Islamic literary arts) and Islamic historical writing.

It is a good book for beginners as all technical terms are gently introduced and explained. One issue the book suffers from is the rudimentary transliteration system it uses, but this is not surprising for a book published in the 1990’s.

Tarif Khalidi, born 24 January 1938, in Jerusalem, is a Palestinian historian who is now a professor at the American University of Beirut.

Restoring the original interpretation of Surat Quraysh (Quran 106)

A review of Uri Rubin “Quraysh and their winter and summer journey: On the interpretation of Sura 106.”1

Surat Quraysh is often translated as follows in English:

  1. For the security of Quraysh.
  2. Their security during winter and summer journeys.
  3. Let them worship the Lord of this House.
  4. Who has fed them against hunger, and has secured them against fear.

This translation (and the Arabic interpretations it is inspired by) have always seemed unsatisfactory to me; the message seems too weak to me for a Meccan sura.

The sura starts in a strange way: li-ilāfi quraysh (“for the security of Quraysh”). The starting li can be interpreted as means “for”, as in the above translation. But many exegetes considered it a lām al-taʿajjub, meaning that it is used to express wonder, or even reservation. Thus the meaning could be “Wonder you at the security of Quraysh!”, or “Woe to the security of Quraysh!”.

The word ilāf also means “habituation”, “preoccupation”, besides “security” and “safety”. Thus the meaning could be “Wonder you at the preoccupation of Quraysh!”. And this is the interpretation proposed by Uri Rubin. Thus the original meaning of the sura may be as follows:

  1. Woe to the preoccupation of Quraysh! / Wonder you at the preoccupation of Quraysh!
  2. Their preoccupation with the winter and summer journeys.
  3. Let them worship the Lord of this House.
  4. Who has fed them against hunger, and has secured them against fear.

To me, now the sura’s message has the expected strength; the sura is an attack on Quraysh’s preoccupation with trade and a call for them to get busy with the task God has chosen for them: to be caretakers of His sanctuary. Of course, we have no guarantee that this is the correct interpretation, but it seems likely.

Rubin argues that the Quranic view is Quraysh is wrongful to be preoccupied with trade. By endowing Quraysh with a ḥaram (sanctuary) to which pilgrims carry provisions from all over Arabia, Quraysh has no need for trade since God has already answered the prayer of Abraham [as] (mentioned elsewhere in the Quran) to provide the sanctuary with food and goods. God is saying that Quraysh should be busy taking care of the sanctuary and its pilgrims rather than leaving it to seek worldly profits.

Since this original interpretation placed Quraysh in a very negative light, later Muslims sought other interpretations that preserved the good image of Quraysh. Thus the sura was interpreted as saying that God was recounting His favor upon Quraysh by enabling them to securely and easily engage in their trade journeys.

Uri Rubin argues that the Sura started out as an admonishment against Quraysh that was later reinterpreted to preserve a good image of the tribe.

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