Posted in Islam & Interfaith Subjects, Personal & Opinion, Social Issues & Politics

Further Thoughts on Capital Punishment

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I know that you are probably all wondering, when are you going to stop with the death penalty? Not yet! I also wanted to reflect for myself on Dr. Ramadan’s article but also on mine that I posted back in October. I wrote in a largely secular p.o.v. and Tariq Ramadan wrote with a largely religious p.o.v. and this is where the two will mix. And yes, once again I will tell you how wrong the modern death penalty is. 🙂

On that account: We ordained for the Children of Israel that if any one slew a person – unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land-it would be as if he slew the whole Mankind: and if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole Mankind. Then although there came to them Our messengers with clear signs, yet, even after that, many of them continued to commit excesses in the land. (Quran 5:32)

The first thing I will keep stressing again and again is that corporal and capital punishment was allowed since the Torah (Old Testament) but only under specific circumstances which were actually very hard to achieve. These penalties were primarily prescribed as a deterrent and the general agreement is that authority figures were cautioned against resorting to these severe punishments. As Tariq writes, these punishments were almost never applicable and the socio-political context plays a big part in that too. I’ve made it abundantly clear that the modern context cries out to get rid of these practices. Unfortunately, very few actually acknowledge this.

In theory, these punishments may be correct, but when we talk about actual application it becomes another story. In practice the application of such punishments can only be carried out by humans whose justice system is nearly perfect and let’s face it, the modern justice systems are further than ever from that ideal. Ideally, there would be some radical reform in justice systems but realistically we all know that such won’t be happening.

Help your brother whether he is an oppressor or an oppressed person. A companion asked: ‘Messenger of God (it is true) I will help him if he is an oppressed person, but please tell me how I am to help him if he happens be to an oppressor.’ The Holy Prophet (pbuh) answered: check him from doing injustice. Because preventing him from committing aggression is a help to him.” Reported by Anas Bin Malik [Bukhari 237]

So how are we going to get rid of the oppression? By getting rid of the means of oppression! That is, the death penalty.

outjahar

Take for instance the Jewish stance on the death penalty. Their theoretical application of it is far more severe than it ever was in Islam, yet they’ve gotten rid of the practice altogether because not only was it used only as a very last resort, the modern practice is nothing like it was back then. I then ask myself why Islam can’t do the same because the same does apply to us! Take what Rabbi Yosef Edelstein said about it:

So, at least theoretically, the Torah can be said to be pro-capital punishment. It is not morally wrong, in absolute terms, to put a murderer to death… However, things look rather different when we turn our attention to the practical realization of this seemingly harsh legislation. You may be aware that it was exceedingly difficult, in practice, to carry out the death penalty in Jewish society… I think it’s clear that with regard to Jewish jurisprudence, the capital punishment outlined by the Written and Oral Torah, and as carried out by the greatest Sages from among our people (who were paragons of humility and humanity and not just scholarship, needless to say), did not remotely resemble the death penalty in modern America (or Texas). In theory, capital punishment is kosher; it’s morally right, in the Torah’s eyes. But we have seen that there was great concern—expressed both in the legislation of the Torah, and in the sentiments of some of our great Sages — regarding its practical implementation. It was carried out in ancient Israel, but only with great difficulty. Once in seventy years; not 135 in five and a half.

Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan also says much of the same thing Tariq Ramadan did in his article:

In practice, however, these punishments were almost never invoked, and existed mainly as a deterrent and to indicate the seriousness of the sins for which they were prescribed. The rules of evidence and other safeguards that the Torah provides to protect the accused made it all but impossible to actually invoke these penalties… the system of judicial punishments could become brutal and barbaric unless administered in an atmosphere of the highest morality and piety. When these standards declined among the Jewish people, the Sanhedrin… voluntarily abolished this system of penalties.

I’ve often heard people say that if Martin Luther King Jr. had been Muslim, his name would’ve been Tariq Ramadan. For me Islamic law is a set of principles, not strict fixed laws. And the laws that are indeed fixed were given to the Arabian people of the 7th century. The principles, like justice, are eternal but the way we go about them are subject to society and circumstance. Centuries ago execution might’ve been something appropriate (although very solemnly carried out) but in the light on what life is like now I’d much rather go with no more hurting people. That sentiment includes all people. Kenneth Bonacci said in best in his articles that were published in the Boston Globe.

deathjahar

I don’t believe that there is a place for the death penalty in modern society under any circumstances. I believe I’ve made that clear already. The only time where it’s permissible to take a life for the sake of justice is in self-defense or to stop further harm. For example, if a guy enters a school and opens fire, I would agree that the police have the right to shoot and kill him so he doesn’t kill more students. But in the context of prisons, there is no longer a need to execute prisoners. May God help us in this world that needs peace more than ever.

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Posted in Islam & Interfaith Subjects, Social Issues & Politics

Reactions to Capital Punishment

Here I’ve compiled some of my favorite comments in Dr. Tariq Ramadan’s article and decided that I ought to comment a little bit on them since I too oppose capital punishment as I’ve made very clear in the past. I have left them in 99% their original form. I’ve had to edit a few spelling and formatting errors here and there but you can still view the original and more in his article.

I strongly hope that Muslim governments, intellectuals and scholars of Islam would listen attentively and pay undivided attention to what Dr. Tariq Ramadan has to say in his ‘A Call for an International Moratorium on Corporal Punishment, Stoning and the Death Penalty in the Islamic World.’

There have been a lot of abuses, especially to the poor and less fortunate people by these governments that claim to adhere to the Islamic law while in reality, they don’t. A Somali woman who now lives in Canada lost her late husband and the father of her children in Saudi Arabia in a brutal and unjust manner.

He was accused of having involved in a bank rubbery. Without having legal counsel, he was sentenced to a public beheading. The bank manager of the financial institution that was robbed was severely tortured until he became completely paralyzed.

As Dr. Ramadan rightly put it, “the application of the repressive interpretations, measures and punishment does not make a society more faithful to the Islamic teachings. “Is it more the capacity to promote social justice and the protection the integrity of every individual, woman or man, rich or poor, that determines a truly authentic fidelity.”

—Abubakar

While I’ve only previously written about the modern death penalty in the West, I think that Tariq Ramadan is spot on with his point.

Professor Ramadan, thank you for your courage and positive action in the name of our shared faith.

—Sevda Clark

It’s also a well-known fact that I do not interpret Sharia law literally, I believe it is a principle of justice and it’s insane for me to think that our society today could be run the same way it was some 1500 years ago.

Globe and Mail : Letters to the Editor March 31st, page A14, March 31st.

Inspiring Call

Tariq Ramadan`s inspiring call for a moratorium on corporal punishment and the death penalty in the Muslim world proves that, in naming him one of the most important thinkers of the 21st century, Time magazine sold him short (Stop in the Name of Humanity-March 30). He is, in the deepest sense of the word, a leader.

I am not a Muslim, and Mr. Ramadan`s ideas do not make me want to join the fold. His wisdom, courage and heart had an effect more important and more rare. They made me proud to be human.

In the face of all we do wrong, it is those like Tariq Ramadan and Romeo Dallaire who convince me that our survival on the planet is not only possible, but worthwhile.

—Anonymous

I think that on that note, it’s important to understand that Dr. Ramadan never asked to stop justice or punishment altogether, he simply asked us to look at it honestly in its proper context, both historical and modern.

Globe and Mail
Letter to the Editor
March 30, 2005

Tariq Ramadan`s thoughtful, humane call for a moratorium on corporal punishment and the death penalty is a breath of fresh air for the Muslim Community. His scholarly perspective on the issue allows us the opportunity to express dissenting views which maintaining our respect for our religion.

—L. Jamal (Toronto)

This was never about changing or abolishing Sharia, it’s about interpreting it in a modern context to bring about modern solutions for the modern problems of modern society. Whether you like it or not, this is the society we live in and we need solutions that fit our problems. It’s not by imposing ancient laws that we’ll reform contemporary society.

In the last scene of the film Dead Man Walking, Matthew Poncelet (played by Sean Penn), is about to be executed with a lethal injection. Sister Helen Prejean, his spiritual adviser (played by Susanne Sarandon), quietly watches the last moments of his life.

She delicately raises her hand against the glass-enclosed partition and comforts him with a sense of dignity and humanity. There is a moment of resignation as the criminal walks towards his execution. The film touches on universal themes of revenge and redemption, crime and punishment, and fear and salvation.

I recalled this scene on a gloomy Friday afternoon, July 16th 1999, while in Saudi Arabia. It was our family’s last stop before completing our Umra or minor pilgrimage. Our taxi driver, taking us to the mosque for the Friday prayer, stopped in front of a public square and insisted that we didn’t want to miss this action.

What we saw next would affect me for the rest of my life. A barefoot, cuffed, manacled and blindfolded woman was being led from a van to the middle of the square. Uniformed officials nudged her to kneel down. Her name and crime were read out aloud: Aisha Sa’adah Qasim. Drug smuggling. She was Nigerian, as I later learnt from the Amnesty International website. Dead woman walking.

There was a surreal moment of frozen silence. The sword gleamed against the bright blue sky. With one mighty swing, the executioner severed Aisha’s head and sent it flying two or three feet away. Blood sprayed from the severed arteries and veins, swooping into the air like a fountain. The crowd started to clap. The dead woman walking was no more.

I had a flashback to Sister Helen Prejean and her hand slowly giving comfort to Matthew Poncelet. Unfortunately, poor Aisha had none of that humanity, dignity or comfort during her last moments. Garbage bags were brought to put her head in. Garbage bags! This was what her life had been worth. So hard to see, harder to forget.

What I had witnessed was an example of the hudud punishments (the Islamic penal code) or, more precisely, the Saudi government’s application of this code. A day has not gone by that I do not think of Aisha. At that moment, I made a personal commitment to understand why Aisha had been killed and to ensure that her death was not in vain.

My answer came on March 30th, 2005 when the Islamic activist scholar, Professor Tariq Ramadan, issued ‘An International Call for a Moratorium on corporal punishment, stoning and the death penalty in the Islamic World.’ In it he called for an “immediate moratorium” in Muslim-majority countries on the application of these hudud punishments prescribed in Shari’a law.

His reasoning for this bold action was that “a moratorium would impose and allow a basic debate to unfold in serenity, without using it as an excuse to manipulate Islam. All injustices made legal in the name of Islam must stop immediately.” The reaction from the Muslim world, though predictable, was disconcerting. Many Muslims viewed the Call as, once again, that of another Muslim scholar switching sides and becoming a ‘Westerner in Muslim dress.’ Emotional reactions or complete silence ensued.

Organizations, supposedly advocating for the rights of Muslims, had nothing to say on Professor Ramadan’s Call. Some decried the fact that it would create an opportunity for the “enemies of Islam” to attack again. Or that it would pit Muslims against one another. Others stated that it was not a priority.

If people had even bothered to read the Call, they would have at least understood this much – it is calling for a moratorium while an internal dialogue takes place and it has nothing to do with the pacifying the west, it is not denying the texts dealing with hudud punishments, it is not against the Islamic teachings and the Shari’ a but in the integrity of their name.

The only Islamic leader who seriously engaged in a scholarly dialogue was the Mufti of Egypt, Sheikh Ali Gomaa. Other scholars issued emotional, non-scholarly responses or were dismissive of Professor Ramadan. These types of reactions undermine the process of reform and dialogue so greatly needed in the Muslim world. As we mark the one-year anniversary of the Call being put out, the issue of hudud punishments is still one area that urgently requires the collective Muslim attention.

In a total betrayal of the Islamic message of justice, many Muslim majority countries, in the name of hudud (which is but a small part of Shari’ a), are implementing repressive policies and injustices (from corporal punishments to death penalties) in the name of Islam. And who are the first victims of this application: women, the poor and political opponents.

How can we tolerate such injustices in the name of Islam if we are saying that the Shari’a is about social justice? Isn’t it our responsibility to speak out and represent the voices of the voiceless who live under these repressive policies?

Islamic scholars and socially engaged Muslims must recognize that, far from pitting people against each other, an internal debate and an intra-community dialogue is urgent and necessary. Silence is just not going to suffice anymore. If Muslim religious leaders are not going to stand up and defend the integrity of the Shari’a then it is going to have to come from the grassroots. On that day, when we are before our Creator and asked what we did about our poor brothers and sisters who were punished and killed in the name of Islam, what are we going to say?

Being faithful to the notion of Shari’a today means to speak out when it is implemented wrongly or used as a means of instrumentalizing Islam. With Aisha’s image haunting me, I signed the on-line petition initiated by Muslim Presence Canada entitled “In the name of Islamic Justice” supporting Professor Ramadan’s Call but was shocked to see in the list of top 10 petitions, vying for number two spot was a petition created by a Muslim group. And what were they fighting for? To internationally recognize the Halal trademark that guarantees a product complies with the Islamic Sacred Law (the Shari’a). They already had 24, 8554 signatories. I hope we, Muslims, realize that a human life is just as kosher.

—Shelina Merani

I also agree that once upon a time corporal and capital punishment served a legitimate purpose (mainly a deterrent since the conditions under which it can be legitimately applied are very strict) but all the facts prove that in modern society it now does more harm than good. It’s time that people take their heads out of the sand and stop saying that “it’s scripture” because so is slavery, yet no person with a head on their shoulders wants to go back to such a practice.

Full support! No imposition of hudud – especially in certain countries particularly known for imposing it unjustly – until there is a proper moratorium on a way forward. How is it just and Islamic for a raped woman to be stoned to death while her rapist walks free? It is better to let go a guilty person to be judged by Allah than to punish an innocent person by unjust application of law.

—Anonymous

I myself do not believe that stoning is a true Islamic punishment and in fact it goes against the Quran! That should be thrown out the window completely, the abolition and Islam are also perfectly compatible!

A declaration on the death penalty drafted on Italy’s initiative by the European Union and signed by 85 UN Members Countries, was introduced at the UN General Assembly yesterday evening. The positive import of this European initiative lies not only in the number of countries that signed the declaration, which is a highly valuable political and civil instrument, but above all in having submitting to the attention of the General Assembly the issues of the abolition of the death penalty and of the introduction of a moratorium on executions.

Undersecretary for Foreign Affairs Gianni Vernetti underscored that the Italian government’s efforts, in keeping with the intentions expressed by our Parliament, was a determining factor in the introduction of the declaration and in garnering so many signatures, well beyond the number of co-sponsors for the resolution on the death penalty introduced by the European Union during the regular session of the former UN Human Rights Commission. Thanks to our efforts and the support of our European partners, the foundation has now been laid for future initiatives in the next UN General Assembly. The European Union’s involvement has substantially increased the possibility that the initiative will be successful, which would have been much less foreseeable if the project were to have been presented by an individual member alone.
As Undersecretary Vernetti pointed out, « Italy, has always played a leading role in the international campaign for the abolition of the death penalty. This initial positive result will allow us to launch an even more significant campaign on national and European level, hopefully making it possible to create the conditions under which the next General Assembly is able approve a resolution on a universal moratorium on the death penalty ».

—Declaration on the death penalty drafted by the EU on Italy’s initiative introduced at the UN General Assembly

Whether scholars (or the world at large as a matter of fact) like it or not, all the facts go against the “benefits” of capital punishment and state that it does nothing but promote more violence. No matter which way you put it, you can’t argue with that.

When are we Muslim going to realize that we cannot rule our lives by norms fifteenth centuries old? When are we going to stop pretending that we had everything that’s good – human rights, women’s rights, democracy (shura) – before the West? When are we going to put Islam where it belongs, in each person’s individual conscience, instead of trying to impose it on other people?

—Mira

Capital punishment isn’t just a Muslim problem or a Western problem, it’s a social problem. As “The Dude” writes below, if your religion is a tool for oppressing people, no matter which form it takes, that is definitely wrong and disturbing. Above all Islam seeks justice, and in the context of our current society, the death penalty definitely doesn’t qualify as justice.

How can anyone discuss whether things like stoning, corporal punishment and death penalty are wrong? I don’t mind the fact that people are religious but when their faith makes them, even for a second, believe such inhumane doings could be the right way, I get a strong urge to become an atheist right now. I live in a largely Christian, albeit secular, country and my best mate is a Muslim, but that doesn’t mean he respects human rights less than I do. Religion is fine, if it can help you through life, but when it makes people infringe human rights I find it disturbing.

—The Dude

While brother Tariq primarily calls for moratorium, he also strongly hints at complete abolition and I agree with him. Nobody will be destroying Islamic law if we only apply it differently, but more than anything, justly, like it’s supposed to be.

Mahatma Gandhi has rightly said: « An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind »

Naushad Somji

Islam itself isn’t what needs to be reformed, it’s our views and interpretations of it that need to be modernized. A good place to start is with how we apply justice.

Salaam, I support your call for a moratorium. I believe the solution to this problem is the revival of mu’tazilism, an early Islamic form of rationalism which placed reason above revelation, and tended towards highly figurative interpretations of the Qur’an. There is no reason why Quranic verses such as « cut the hand of the thief » couldn’t be interpreted to mean, for example « disable the hand » (e.g. by imprisonment). The Mu’tazili school is still alive and well within the Zaidi math-hab of Islam (a moderate math-hab representing the middle ground between sunnism and shi-ites). Both the Zaidi math-hab and Mu’tazili school need to be revived and publicized. I have started a blog about Zaidism for this purpose at blogspot. I wish you well with the moratorium, May Allah bless your efforts.

—Zaida

I also agree with Mareli, in fact the Old Testament has probably the most instances of the death penalty by far yet Jews oppose the modern practice of it. Why? Because they are outdated and unfit for modern society. Why can’t the Muslim world do the same?

I hope this moratorium is adopted and that it leads to a permanent ban on such punishments. Just because the punishments are « traditional » does not make them necessary. They tend to brutalize the punishers and the onlookers, so the harm is not only done to the punished.

—Mareli

Lastly though, the death penalty is far from being nothing but a problem in the Muslim world. As I’ve written about at length, the practice in the United States is just as corrupt and unfair. No justice system is perfect, but abolition is a good place to start in upholding human rights but also administering justice.

 

Posted in Islam & Interfaith Subjects, Social Issues & Politics

Tariq Ramadan on Capital Punishment

Anyone who knows me knows that a scholar that I highly admire is Tariq Ramadan. Last month I wrote at length about the modern practice of capital punishment but I feel like I still have more to say and I want to share an article that he wrote over ten years ago about it before I continue to write more about it in a few more posts.

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Muslim majority societies and Muslims around the world are constantly confronted with the fundamental question of how to implement the penalties prescribed in the Islamic penal code.

Evoking the notion of sharî’a, or more precisely hudûd, the terms of the debate are defined by central questions emerging from thought provoking discussions taking place between ulamâ’ (scholars) and/or Muslim masses: How to be faithful to the message of Islam in the contemporary era? How can a society truly define itself as “Islamic” beyond what is required in the daily practices of individual private life? But a critical and fruitful debate has not yet materialized.

Several currents of thought exist in the Islamic world today and disagreements are numerous, deep and recurring. Among these, a small minority demands the immediate and strict application of hudûd, assessing this as an essential prerequisite to truly defining a “Muslim majority society” as “Islamic”. Others, while accepting the fact that the hudûd are indeed found in the textual references (the Qur’an and the Sunna), consider the application of hudûd to be conditional upon the state of the society which must be just and, for some, has to be “ideal” before these injunctions could be applied. Thus, the priority is the promotion of social justice, fighting against poverty and illiteracy etc. Finally, there are others, also a minority, who consider the texts relating to hudûd as obsolete and argue that these references have no place in contemporary Muslim societies.

One can see the opinions on this subject are so divergent and entrenched that it becomes difficult to discern what the respective arguments are. At the very moment we are writing these lines- while serious debate is virtually non-existent, while positions remain vague and even nebulous, and consensus among Muslims is lacking- women and men are being subjected to the application of these penalties.

For Muslims, Islam is a message of equality and justice. It is our faithfulness to the message of Islam that leads us to recognize that it impossible to remain silent in the face of unjust applications of our religious references. The debate must liberate itself and refuse to be satisfied by general, timid and convoluted responses. These silences and intellectual contortions are unworthy of the clarity and just message of Islam.

In the name of the scriptural sources, the Islamic teachings, and the contemporary Muslim conscience, statements must be made and decisions need to be taken.

What does the majority of the ulamâ’ say?

All the ulamâ’ (scholars) of the Muslim world, of yesterday and of today and in all the currents of thought, recognize the existence of scriptural sources that refer to corporal punishment (Qur’an and Sunna), stoning of adulterous men and women (Sunna) and the penal code (Qur’an and Sunna). The divergences between the ulamâ’ and the various trends of thought (literalist, reformist, rationalist, etc.) are primarily rooted in the interpretation of a certain number of these texts, the conditions of application of the Islamic penal code, as well as its degree of relevance to the contemporary era (nature of the committed infractions, testimonials, social and political contexts, etc.).

The majority of the ulamâ’, historically and today, are of the opinion that these penalties are on the whole Islamic but that the conditions under which they should be implemented are nearly impossible to reestablish. These penalties, therefore, are “almost never applicable”. The hudûd would, therefore, serve as a “deterrent,” the objective of which would be to stir the conscience of the believer to the gravity of an action warranting such a punishment.

Anyone who reads the books of the ulamâ’, listens to their lectures and sermons, travels inside the Islamic world or interacts with the Muslim communities of the West will inevitably and invariably hear the following pronouncement from religious authorities: “almost never applicable”. Such pronouncements give the majority of ulamâ and Muslim masses a way out of dealing with the fundamental issues and questions without risking appearing to be have betrayed the Islamic scriptural sources. The alternative posture is to avoid the issue of hudûd altogether and/or to remain silent.

What is happening on the ground?

One would have hoped that this pronouncement, “almost never,” would be understood as a assurance that women and men would be protected from repressive and unjust treatment; one would have wished that the stipulated conditions would be seen, by legislators and government who claim Islam, as an imperative to promote equality before the law and justice among humans. Nothing could be further from the reality.

Behind an Islamic discourse that minimizes the reality and rounds off the angles, and within the shadows of this “almost never”, lurks a somber reality where women and men are punished, beaten, stoned and executed in the name of hudûd while Muslim conscience the world over remains untouched.

It is as if one does not know, as though a minor violation is being done to the Islamic teachings. A still more grave injustice is that these penalties are applied almost exclusively to women and the poor, the doubly victimized, never to the wealthy, the powerful, or the oppressors. Furthermore, hundreds of prisoners have no access to anything that could even remotely be called defense counsel. Death sentences are decided and carried out against women, men and even minors (political prisoners, traffickers, delinquents, etc.) without ever given a chance to obtain legal counsel. In resigning ourselves to having a superficial relationship to the scriptural sources, we betray the message of justice of Islam.

The international community has an equally major and obvious responsibility to be involved in addressing the question of hudûd in the Muslim world. Thus far, the denunciations have been selective and calculated for the protection of geostrategic and economic interests. A poor country, in Africa or Asia, trying to apply the hudûd or the sharî’a will face the mobilization of international campaigns as we have seen recently. This is not the case with rich countries, the petromonarchies and those considered “allies”. Towards the latter, denunciations are made reluctantly, or not at all, despite ongoing and acknowledged applications of these penalties typically carried out against the poorest or weakest segments of society. The intensity of the denouncements is inversely proportional to the interests at stake. A further injustice!

The passion of the people, the fear of the ulamâ’

For those who travel within the Islamic world and interact with Muslims, an analysis imposes itself: everywhere, populations are demonstrating an increasing devotion to Islam and its teachings. This reality, although interesting in itself, could be troubling, and even dangerous when the nature of this devotion is so fervent, where there is no real knowledge or comprehension of the texts, where there is so little if any critical distance vis-à-vis the different scholarly interpretations, the necessary contextualization, the nature of the required conditions or, indeed the protection of the rights of the individual and the promotion of justice.

On the question of hudûd, one sometimes sees popular support hoping or exacting a literal and immediate application because the latter would guarantee henceforth the “Islamic” character of a society. In fact, it is not rare to hear Muslim women and men (educated or not, and more often of modest means) calling for a formal and strict application of the penal code (in their mind, the sharî’a) of which they themselves will often be the first victims. When one studies this phenomenon, two types of reasoning generally motivate these claims:

  1. The literal and immediate application of the hudûd legally and socially provides a visible reference to Islam. The legislation, by its harshness, gives the feeling of fidelity to the Qur’anic injunctions that demands rigorous respect of the text. At the popular level, one can infer in the African, Arabic, Asian as well as Western countries, that the very nature of this harshness and intransigence of the application, gives an Islamic dimension to the popular psyche.
  2. The opposition and condemnations by the West supplies, paradoxically, the popular feeling of fidelity to the Islamic teachings; a reasoning that is antithetical, simple and simplistic. The intense opposition of the West is sufficient proof of the authentic Islamic character of the literal application of hudûd. Some will persuade themselves by asserting that the West has long since lost its moral references and became so permissive that the harshness of the Islamic penal code which punishes behaviors judged immoral, is by antithesis, the true and only alternative “to Western decadence”.

These formalistic and binary reasoning are fundamentally dangerous for they claim and grant an Islamic quality to a legislation, not in what it promotes, protects and applies justice to, but more so because it sanctions harsh and visible punishment to certain behaviors and in stark contrast and opposition to the Western laws, which are perceived as morally permissive and without a reference to religion. One sees today that communities or Muslim people satisfy themselves with this type of legitimacy to back a government or a party that calls for an application of the sharî’a narrowly understood as a literal and immediate application of corporal punishment, stoning and the death penalty.

When this type of popular passion takes hold, it is the first sign of a will to respond to various forms of frustration and humiliation by asserting an identity that perceives itself as Islamic (and anti-Western). Such an identity is not based on the comprehension of the objectives of the Islamic teachings (al maqâsid) or the different interpretations and conditions relating to the application of the hudûd.

Faced with this passion, many ulamâ’ remain prudent for the fear of losing their credibility with the masses. One can observe a psychological pressure exercised by this popular sentiment towards the judicial process of the ulamâ’, which normally should be independent so as to educate the population and propose alternatives. Today, an inverse phenomenon is revealing itself. The majority of the ulamâ’ are afraid to confront these popular and simplistic claims which lack knowledge, are passionate and binary, for fear of losing their status and being defined as having compromised too much, not been strict enough, too westernized or not Islamic enough.

The ulamâ’, who should be the guarantors of a deep reading of the texts, the guardians of fidelity to the objectives of justice and equality and of the critical analysis of conditions and social contexts, find themselves having to accept either a formalistic application (an immediate non-contextualized application), or a binary reasoning (less West is more Islam), or hide behind “almost never applicable” pronouncements which protects them but which does not provide real solutions to the daily injustices experienced by women and the poor.

An impossible status quo: our responsibility

The Islamic world is experiencing a very deep crisis the causes of which are multiple and sometimes contradictory. The political system of the Arab world is becoming more and more entrenched, references to Islam frequently instrumentalized, and public opinion is often muzzled or blindly passionate (to such a point as to accept, indeed even to call for, the most repressive interpretations and least just application of the “Islamic sharî’a” and hudûd).

In terms of the more circumscribed religious question, we can observe a crisis of authority accompanied by an absence of internal debate among the ulamâ’ in the diverse schools of thought and within Muslim societies. It becomes apparent that a variety of opinions, accepted in Islam, are whirling today within a chaotic framework leading to the coexistence of disparate and contradictory Islamic legal opinions each claiming to have more “Islamic character” than the other.

Faced with this legal chaos, the ordinary Muslim public is more appeased by “an appearance of fidelity”, then it is persuaded by opinions based on real knowledge and understanding of the governing Islamic principles and rules (ahkâm).

Let us look at the reality, as it exists. There is a today a quadruple crisis of closed and repressive political systems, religious authorities upholding contradictory juristic positions and unknowledgeable populations swept up in remaining faithful to the teachings of Islam through religious fervor than through true reflection. The crisis cannot legitimize our silence. We are accomplices and guilty when women and men are punished, stoned or executed in the name of a formal application of the scriptural sources.

It leaves the responsibility to the Muslims of the entire world. It is for them to rise to the challenge of remaining faithful to the message of Islam in the contemporary era; it is for them to denounce the failures and the betrayals being carried out by whatever authorities or any Muslim individual. A prophetic tradition reports: “Support your brother, whether he be unjust or victim of an injustice.” One of the Companions asked: “Messenger of God, I understand how to support someone that is a victim of injustice, but how can I support him who is unjust?” The Prophet (peace be upon him) responded: “Prevent him from being unjust, that is you support to him.”

It thus becomes the responsibility of each ‘âlim (scholar), of each conscience, every woman and man, wherever they may be to speak up. Western Muslims either hide behind the argument that they are exempt from the application of the sharî’a or hudûd since they are “in a minority position”. Their avoidance of the questions leaves a heavy and troubling silence. Or they express condemnation from afar without attempting to change the situation and influence the mentalities. These Muslim women and men who live in spaces of political freedom, who have access to education and knowledge, shoulder – in the very name of the Islamic teachings – have a major responsibility to attempt to reform the situation, open a relevant debate, condemn and put a end to injustices perpetrated in their name.

A call, some questions:

Taking into account all these considerations, we launch today a call for an immediate international moratorium on corporal punishment, stoning and the death penalty in all Muslim majority countries. Considering that the opinions of most scholars, regarding the comprehension of the texts and the application of hudûd, are neither explicit nor unanimous (indeed there is not even a clear majority), and bearing in mind that political systems and the state of the majority Muslim societies do not guarantee a just and equal treatment of individuals before the law, it is our moral obligation and religious responsibility to demand for the immediate suspension of the application of the hudûd which is inaccurately accepted as an application of “Islamic sharî’a”.

This call doubles itself with a series of basic questions addressed to the body of Islamic religious authorities of the world, whatever their tradition (sunnî or shî’î), their school of thought (hanâfî, mâlikî, ja’farî, etc.) or their tendencies (literalist, salafî, reformist, etc.) :

  1. What are the texts (and what is their respective degrees of recognized authenticity), that make reference to corporal punishment, stoning and to the death penalty in the corpus of the Islamic scriptural sources circumscribed to what the specialists call the hudûd? Where are the margins of possible interpretations and on which points are there clear divergences (al ikhtilâf) in the history of the Islamic law and in the contemporary era?
  2. What are the conditions (shurût) stipulated for each of the penalties by the sources themselves, the consensus of the scholars (al ijmâ’) or by individual scholars through Islamic law history and jurisprudence (fiqh)? Where are the divergences on the stipulations and what “extenuating circumstances” were sometimes elaborated by religious authorities throughout history or within the different schools of thought?
  3. The socio-political context (al wâqi’) was always considered by the ulamâ’ as one of the conditions needed for the application of hudûd. The importance of this question is such that it demands special treatment (and participation within the debate from intellectuals, notably those who are specialized in the social sciences). In which context today is it possible to apply hudûd? What would be the required conditions in terms of political systems and the application of the general legislation: freedom of expression, equality before the law, public education, eradication of poverty and social exclusion? Which are, in this domain, the areas of divergence between the legal schools and the ulamâ’ and on what are these disagreements based?

Studying these questions are meant to clarify the terms of the debate with regards to the interpretative latitudes offered by the texts, while simultaneously taking into account the determining state of contemporary societies and their evolution. This intra-community reflection requires from the start a double understanding of the texts and contexts, in keeping solemnly with the objectives of the Islamic message. On the whole, this must allow us to respond to the questions of what is applicable (and according to which methods) and what is no longer applicable (considering the required conditions are impossible to reestablish as well as the fact that societal evolution is clearly moving away from the required ideal).

This undertaking requires, from within, rigour, time and establishing spaces of dialogue and debate, nationally and internationally, between the ulamâ’, Muslim intellectuals and inside the Muslim communities since this matter is not only about a relationship to the texts, but equally, to the context. In the interval, there can be no justification for applying penalties that sanction legal approximations and injustices such as is the case today. A moratorium would impose and allow a basic debate to unfold in serenity, without using it as an excuse to manipulate Islam. All injustices made legal in the name of Islam must stop immediately.

Between the letter and objectives: fidelity

Some will understand this call as an instigation to disrespect the scriptural sources of Islam, thinking that to ask for a moratorium goes against the explicit texts of the Qu`ran and Sunna. Precisely the opposite is true: all the legal texts demand to be read in light of the objective intended to justify them (Al-maqâsid). Foremost among these objectives, we find stipulated that the protection of the integrity of the person (an- nafs) and the promotion of justice (al-’adl) are primordial. Therefore, a literal and non-contextualized application of hudûd, with no regard for strict and numerous stipulated conditions, and one which would present itself as being faithful to the teachings of Islam, is in fact a betrayal if according to the context, for it produces an injustice.

The caliph ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab established a moratorium towards thieves when he suspended the application of the punishment during a famine. Despite the Qur’anic text beingvery explicit on this, the state of the society meant it would have been an unjust literal application: they would have castigated poor people whose potential theft would have been for the sole purpose of surviving in a state of absolute poverty. Therefore, in the name of absolute justice demanded by the global message of Islam, ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab decided to suspend the application of a text: keeping with the literalist interpretation would have meant disloyalty and betrayal of the superior value of Islam that is justice. It is in the name of Islam and in the understanding of texts that he suspended the application of one of these injunctions. The moratorium finds here a precedent of the utmost importance.

Reflection and necessary reform within Muslim majority societies will not occur but from within. It is for Muslims to take up their responsibilities and set in motion a debate that opensan intra-community dialogue, while refusing the continued legalizedinjusticesin the name of Islam, i.e. in their name. An endogenous dynamic is imperative

This does not mean that the questions put forward by non-Muslim intellectuals or citizens should be dismissed. On the contrary, all parties must learn to decentre themselves and move towards listening to the other, to the other’s points of reference, logic and their aspiration. For Muslims, all queries, from their co-religionists or women and men who do share their religious conviction, are welcome. It is for us to make use of these questions as a spark of dynamism to our thoughts. This is how we can remain faithful to the justice demanded by Islam while taking into account also the demands of the contemporary era.

Conclusion

This call for an immediate moratorium on corporal punishment, stoning and the death penalty is demanding on many fronts. We are defining it as a call to consciousness of each individual so that she/he realizes that Islam is being used to degrade and subjugate women and men in certain Muslim majority societies in the midst of collusive silence and chaotic judicial opinions on the ground. This realization implies:

  • A mobilization of ordinary Muslims throughout the world to call on their governments to place an immediate moratorium on the application of hudûd and for the opening of a vast intra-community debate (critical, reasonable and reasoned) between the ulamâ, the intellectuals, the leaders and the general population.
  • Taking the ulamâ to account so that they at last dare to report the injustices and instrumentalization of Islam in the field of hudûd and, in the name of fidelity to the Islamic texts, to put out a call for an immediate moratorium emulating the example of ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab.
  • Promoting education of Muslim populations so that they go beyond the mirage of the formalism and appearances. The application of the repressive interpretations, measures and punishment does not make a society more faithful to the Islamic teachings. It is more the capacity to promote social justice and the protection the integrity of every individual, woman or man, rich or poor, that determines a truly authentic fidelity. The priority, according to the norms of Islam, is given to the protection of rights not to administering punishments which are meant to be implemented under strict and conditioned exceptions.
  • This movement for reform from within, by the Muslims and in the name of the message and reference texts of Islam, should never neglect listening to the surrounding world as well as to the inquiries that Islam raises in non-Muslim minds. Not to concede to responses from “the other”, from “the West”, but, in order to remain, in its mirror, more constructively faithful to oneself.

We urge all of those that take heed to this call to join us and make their voices heard for the immediate suspension of the application of hudûd in the Muslim world so that a real debate establishes itself on the question. We say that in the name of Islam, of its texts and of the message of justice, we can no longer accept that women and men undergo punishment and death while we remain utterly silent, as accomplices, through a process which is ultimately cowardly.

It is urgent that Muslim throughout the world refuse the formalist legitimization of the teachings of their religion and reconcile themselves with the deep message that invites towards spirituality, demands education, justice and the respect of pluralism. Societies will never reform themselves by repressive measures and punishment but more so by the engagement of each to establish civil society and the respect of popular will as well as a just legislation guaranteeing the equality of women and men, poor and rich before the law. It is urgent to set in motion a democratization movement that moves populations from the obsession of what the law is sanctioning to the claim of what it should protect: their conscience, their integrity, their liberty and their rights.

Posted in Reblogged Posts

Ibn ‘Ashur’s Discussion of the Hadith Cursing Women Who Wear Wigs, Tattoos, Etc.

Interesting article! I’m a Shia so tattoos are not prohibited but it’s still nice to see a fresh view on this debate!

UNITY

Bismillah.  Many people think that tattoos are absolutely prohibited (haram) in Islam due to a particular hadith. The following discussion from Ibn ‘Ashur shows that this is not the case.

Ibn ‘Ashur’s Discussion of the Hadith Cursing Women Who Wear Wigs, Tattoos, Etc.

 

Translation: Usama Hasan, 25/07/2016

 

(1) al-Tahrir wa al-Tanwir

وليس من تغيير خلق الله التصرّف في المخلوقات بما أذن الله فيه ولا ما يدخل في معنى الحسن؛ فإنّ الختان من تغيير خلق الله ولكنّه لفوائد صحيّة، وكذلك حَلق الشعر لفائدة دفع بعض الأضرار، وتقليمُ الأظفار لفائدة تيسير العمل بالأيدي، وكذلك ثقب الآذان للنساء لوضع الأقراط والتزيّن، وأمّا ما ورد في السنّة من لعن الواصلات والمتنمّصات والمتفلّجات للحسن فممّا أشكل تأويله. وأحسب تأويله أنّ الغرض منه النهي عن سمات كانت تعدّ من سمات العواهر في ذلك العهد، أو من سمات المشركات، وإلاّ فلو فرضنا هذه مَنهيّاً عنها لَما بلغ النهي إلى حدّ لَعن فاعلات ذلك. وملاك الأمر أن…

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Posted in Reblogged Posts

WHAT HAPPENS TO A MARRIAGE IF ONE OF THE COUPLE CONVERTS TO ISLAM?

Thank you for this great and thoughtful article 🙂 I always thought it was insane for people to get divorced simply because one person became a Muslim since Islam places such a high importance on family.

UNITY

Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim

WHAT HAPPENS TO A MARRIAGE IF ONE OF THE COUPLE CONVERTS TO ISLAM?

 Traditional Islamic jurisprudence says that Muslims should only marry each other.  The only exception to this is that Muslim men are allowed to marry women who are Ahl al-Kitab (People of Scripture), usually limited to Jews and Christians.  Traditionally, Muslim women were not allowed to marry non-Muslim men.  But what happens to a non-Muslim couple who are married, and later one or both of them convert to Islam?  Here are some fatwas on the issue, that slightly differ from each other:

A. Fatwa of The European Council for Fatwa & Research, including Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, Sheikh ‘Abdullah bin Bayyah, Sheikh ‘Abdullah al-Judai, Sheikh Suhaib Hasan and others (from Sheikh ‘Abdullah bin Bayyah, Sina’at al-Fatwa, pp. 356-7)

  1. If both of the couple become Muslim, and they are not close relatives by blood or…

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Posted in Islam & Interfaith Subjects, Personal & Opinion

Mingling Freely

As I wrote in my previous post, there’s nothing wrong with free mixing as long as intentions are kept pure. Verses of the Hadith that aren’t supported by the Quran are invalid. As much as the Hadith is great, it’s subordinate to the Quran. The Quran is God’s word, the Hadith is the tradition of the Prophet. After all, if you want to get married you have to talk to the opposite sex at some point right? Are you really going to marry somebody you don’t know or barely know? I find it disgusting when I browse Twitter and see these fatwas saying that a man can’t even talk to his fiance unless it’s absolutely necessary. If you ask me, it’s absolutely necessary to thoroughly get to know somebody before you decide you want to spend the rest of your life with them! Now let me tell you a little story…

About a year and a half ago in early 2015 I met a nice Muslim young man and I wanted to see if there was any possibility that he could be in my future so I got to know him over the period of just under a year and let me tell you that I went running for the hills at the end of the line! Not marriage material! Far from it! Had I jumped into a relationship before getting to thoroughly know that guy it would’ve been a real train wreck! Any person with a head on their shoulders is not going to blindly enter a relationship, especially if there is no love there to begin with. In Islam God wants you to marry a person that you love and not just get married for the sake of getting married and being miserable. If you need examples of unhappy and disastrous marriages tune into the Dr. Phil show one of these days!

I really appreciate initiatives like Inclusive Mosque and the like. The mosques in the holy cities aren’t segregated since that wasn’t a thing in the Prophet’s time! While I do think that the men should be in the front row and the women in the back as per the tradition, there’s no reason to have them in different rooms completely. When the Prophet ordered a second door to be built it was so the main one wouldn’t be clogged, not to make the women pray in a separate room. As far as we know only a second door was built, not a second room. And apart from the row separation in the mosque, there’s nothing to indicate that there should be separation anywhere outside.

When taken in their proper context, verses from the Hadith in no way prohibit a woman from going to mosque and praying in the same hall as the men. Friday prayers at the mosque are mandatory for men but optional for women but that in no way prohibits the ladies from going. While it may be encouraged for women to pray at home because at the time there was a fear of sexual harassment and immorality, it’s most certainly not a prohibition:

I know that you women love to pray with me, but praying in your inner rooms is better for you than praying in your house, and praying in your house is better for you that praying in your courtyard, and praying in your courtyard is better for you than praying in your local mosque, and praying in your local mosque is better for you than praying in my mosque. [Dawood]

I’m part of a sect of Muslims who hold Meccan style prayers in a mixed environment and that works perfectly for us, but on most days I prefer to stay in my own house because I’m an introvert and that is simply my personal preference. On the other hand, I love attending lectures about social justice. So all in all, all I have to stay is keep your heart pure and go out there and meet people and expose yourself to culture and society. After all, God made us into many nations so that we may come to know each other.

O mankind! Indeed, We created you from a male and a female and We made you nations and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, (the) most noble of you near Allah (is the) most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah (is) All-Knower, All-Aware. (Quran 49:13)

I ought to note that I’ve also never personally met a Muslim so believes that free mixing is prohibited. All of those I’ve met treated me no differently because I was a woman and I’ve only very seldom came across online profiles where a person would write that they would not answer messages from the opposite sex. I don’t think that immorality is an “opposite sex issue” like so many want to make it out to be. With the rise of homosexuality (or at least the rise of those coming out of the closet) are we going to ban men from being around other men in fear that they will excite the gay man among them? Really guys? C’mon! Islam is not immune to homosexuality with a growing number of movements allowing it. I have my own opinions about homosexuality but you will never find me putting down or discriminating a person because of their sexual orientation whatsoever.

Moral sickness or other corruptions of the heart like lust and uncontrolled sexual desires have very little to do with the opposite (or same) sex and have everything to do with you.

Posted in Islam & Interfaith Subjects, Personal & Opinion, Social Issues & Politics

Free Mixing

Here’s another controversial issue for y’all: the free mixing of men and women in Islam. If you ask me about my position on this issue, I am neutral to it. I do not believe that men and women should be prohibited from having contact with each other based on the verse below but I will further elaborate on what I mean in this piece on an issue that has much of the Muslim world divided, but that’s nothing new.

The believing men and believing women are allies of one another. They enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and establish prayer and give zakah and obey Allah and His Messenger. Those – Allah will have mercy upon them. Indeed, Allah is Exalted in Might and Wise. (Quran 9:71)

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We all know that in many so-called “Muslim” nations gender segregation is practiced and many scholars also issue fatwas (Islamic rulings) indicating that men and women cannot interact with each other and they can be found all over the internet, but I respectfully have to disagree with the practice. I believe that there are instances where mixing is perfectly allowed, and others that are prohibited, which is why I hold the position of neutral on the issue.

Historically, no segregation was practiced in Islam. As long as long as the conversation is proper and doesn’t include what is prohibited (talking dirty, etc.), I don’t believe that there is a need for men being separate from women. Many who advocate for the prohibition of free mixing view a women as a source of temptation for men but they completely ignore a person’s intentions. If men and women interact without intentions of doing something un-Islamic there should be no problem, but if it is done with lust or corruption in their hearts, that would definitely be prohibited.

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Friendship is never prohibited anywhere in the Quran or Hadith, in fact friendship is encouraged and an essential part of the Muslim life. Nowhere in there does it prohibit men and women from being friends with each other. The sources of Islam do not dwell on physical segregation or on women’s issues in particular. Rather, Islamic teachings manage human affairs and address issues common to both male and female. One can argue that on the whole, Islam encourages an interactive relationship between men and women in all areas of society, but like all other matters, Islam sets out certain boundaries. In other words mixing in the broad sense is permissible, except where it is forbidden. That is, where interactions between men and women would become sexual in nature and the like.

This article isn’t about whether or not the hijab is mandatory, I’ve already written about that, but for those who believe that there should be some sort of barrier between males and females, the veil is a wearable barrier hence allowing them to interact more freely. Islam emphasizes modesty, not segregation. Both men and women should be modest with each other at all times, regardless of the reason why they are interacting. Some people feel shy, intimidated or self-conscious around the opposite sex and it’s fine if they wish to be with people of the same sex instead, but that in no way makes free mixing unlawful as long as nothing unlawful is done. There are some interesting fatwas on this website and varying viewpoints but I don’t necessarily agree with all of them based on my own understanding of Islam.

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Islamic law says nothing about mixing unlike the numerous laws on things such as divorce, trading and war. Mixing of the sexes does not have official laws or concepts.

—Sheikh al-Ghamdi

Interestingly enough, a Saudi Cleric named Sheikh Ahmed al-Ghamdi supported the free mixing of males and females, namely in the context of the King Abdullah University for Science and Technology. Saudi Arabia is a country where you can be arrested for speaking freely to the opposite sex so when somebody issues a ruling that states the exact opposite, it’s something big! It wasn’t without controversy, but if Saudi Arabia, the harshest and most legalistic and strict nation out there can do it, I don’t see how other Muslim nations can’t follow. Many still quote the Hadith where Muhammad didn’t engage in certain interactions with women, but most of them ignore the historical, social and cultural makeup of such events and how they are relevant to our society today, especially here in North America since Muslims are the minority and free mixing is completely without restriction.

So now that free mixing between men and women has been deemed fundamentally allowed, the question then becomes what are the appropriate guidelines for interactions with the opposite sex? That depends on who you ask really. Some will create elaborate lists on on what is right and wrong which aren’t always in accordance with scripture, so what does the Quran really say on the matter?

Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty: that will make for greater purity for them: And God is well acquainted with all that they do. (Quran 24:30)

Both men and women ought not to look lustfully at each other. This does not completely prohibit them from looking at each other since looking at the other person is essential at some part of the interaction but it should not be done immodestly. As long as your intentions are not corrupt, I don’t believe that looking at another person is prohibited. The hijab debate is one that won’t end in the near future but I should note that in this post I am speaking of modesty in general, not what is an appropriate or inappropriate garment to wear. How you dress is ultimately between you and God, but here is what the Quran had to say:

And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers, their husband’s fathers, their sons, their husbands’ sons, their brothers or their brothers’ sons, or their sisters’ sons, or their women, or the slaves whom their right hands possess, or male servants free of physical needs, or small children who have no sense of the shame of sex; and that they should not strike their feet in order to draw attention to their hidden ornaments. And O ye Believers! turn ye all together towards God, that ye may attain Bliss. (Quran 24:31)

Also there is the Arabic term ‘yadribna bi-arjolihinna’ which has been used to signify walking or stomping of the feet in a way that reveals one’s concealed beauty or hidden charms. A similar idiomatic Arabic phrase ‘daraba bi-yadayhi mishyathi’ translates to ‘he swung his arms in walking’ and alludes to a similar gait which is deliberately provocative. Having read this verse one can extrapolate further for themselves what the verse means and where it should be applied.

O Prophet! Tell thy wives and thy daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks close round them (when they go abroad / out etc). That will be better, so that they may be recognized (Ya Rafna) and not annoyed. God is ever Forgiving, Merciful. (Quran 33:59)

Again the drive for modest attire to cover one’s body has been emphasized in the use of outer garments. There is no justification expressed or implied that this be restricted to an Arab attire, but anything which attempts to conceal ones charm, be it chest, body or legs as a suitable outer covering. However the reason given is clear that women may not be annoyed but recognized and known (Ya Rafna – he knew it, had cognition of it, to discern, became acquainted with it). This term also rebuts any arguments for facial coverage where the female cannot be recognized.

Such elderly women as are past the prospect of marriage,- there is no blame on them if they lay aside their (outer) garments, provided they make not a wanton display of their beauty: but it is best for them to be modest: and God is One Who sees and knows all things. (Quran 24:60)

Here we note an exception for older women. However the focus is still to remain modest and not to reveal any adornments unnecessarily. To refrain is much better. By virtue of this exception, the requirement for younger women to wear outer garments is re-emphasised. It’s generally accepted that girls before puberty aren’t required to cover up and neither are women passed menopause, that is, the prospect of marriage.

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O Consorts of the Prophet! Ye are not like any of the (other) women: if ye do fear (God), be not too complacent of speech, lest one in whose heart is a disease should be moved with desire: but speak ye a speech (that is) just. (Quran 32:33)

This verse informs the Prophet’s wives not to be ‘soft in speech’ (Arabic: Takhda’na bil-qawli) unless someone whose heart is diseased should be moved by it. Instead they are told to utter customary, suitable speech. This means that they should use their normal voices. Again there is much wisdom here for both men and women as the consequence of the action has been given. This consequence (inadvertent charm offensive) as a result of softness in speech is potentially applicable to anyone regardless of gender and much wisdom can be inferred and guidance extracted. However, this directive has been specifically cited to the Prophet’s wives so you may judge for yourselves as to what you should do with this verse and how it applies to the rest of us.

O ye who believe! Enter not the Prophet’s houses,- until leave is given you,- for a meal, (and then) not (so early as) to wait for its preparation: but when ye are invited, enter; and when ye have taken your meal, disperse, without seeking familiar talk. Such (behaviour) annoys the Prophet: he is ashamed to dismiss you, but God is not ashamed (to tell you) the truth. And when ye ask (his ladies) for anything ye want, ask them from before a screen: that makes for greater purity for your hearts and for theirs. Nor is it right for you that ye should annoy God’s Messenger, or that ye should marry his widows after him at any time. Truly such a thing is in God’s sight an enormity. (Quran 33:53)

Once again this citation is specifically geared to the Prophet’s household and his wives (who are not like other women 33.32). However again, there is much wisdom that can be extracted with regards how we should conduct ourselves but it is still left to interpretation on how it applies to the rest of us.

  • Do not enter houses unnecessarily and wait till you are invited
  • Do not linger on in discussions if the host has commitments or may feel shy to ask you to leave. Make a judgment call with regards the circumstances of your host.
  • The veiling in this context is a specific reference to the Prophet’s wives which is confirmed by their status as the ‘Mothers of Believers ‘ (33.6); and as is the case in this verse, they cannot  be taken in wedlock after the demise of the Prophet.

From the verses cited above, it is clear that the mixing of men and women is not forbidden as many erroneously claim, but must be managed properly in the spirit of the Quranic directives. The boundaries, guidance and directives have been outlined by the Quran and personal judgment is key given any particular situation. This is why I take the neutral position on the issue, because there are both permissible and prohibited interactions and they are largely based on your intentions.

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Not only can women be seriously restricted by gender segregation, Ed Husain is right that it does not curb sexual desires like so many scholars would like us to believe. Many studies have been published that show that the mixing of men and women in the workplace and other environments is much more beneficial to society. On a personal note, my experiences in a mixed environment have been much more positive than those in a segregated environment but I will leave my personal thoughts for a different post. The aim here was only to show that it is perfectly allowed for men and women to interact with each other and be friends as long as their intentions are pure.

Posted in Islam & Interfaith Subjects

Saying Sorry

To many the concept of forgiveness seems to be all warm and fuzzy, but in reality forgiving is something very difficult yet very rewarding. When you are wronged you have every right to feel angry and hurt let there be no doubt about that, but we can’t let those feelings ruin us. What is also equally hard is admitting you did wrong and apologizing for it. In this article I’m going to look at the ins and outs of asking God for forgiveness, asking others for forgiveness and also forgiving others as a part of my series of articles on this topic.

There are a very few of human kinds, which are generous and kind hearted enough to say and accept sorry readily. That’s why Islam emphasizes on both of them. God adores people who repent willingly and who are forgiving towards others. Often people are reluctant to apologize out of ego or hesitation, even though they know their mistake. And even worse case is when one is not even ready to accept his/her mistake. Such wrong attitudes are reason of sour relationships. We can’t have healthy relationships if we don’t learn how to handle mishaps and humbly ask for forgiveness. Islam greatly stresses upon essence of apology.

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First, let’s look at what you need to do in order to apologize properly to a person you have wronged since simply saying the word “sorry” often just doesn’t cut it. In order to do it right, start with the following as a foundation:

  1. Acknowledge and accept your fault or mistake
  2. Apologize and repent for it
  3. Make restitution for the loss (as much as you can)

All of the three parts are compulsory, and your apology is incomplete if you miss any one of it.  Mostly people miss the third part. They do say sorry, and do accept mistake but forget to fix the trouble they created. Sometimes it may be very difficult, even impossible to fix things (for example, a murderer cannot resurrect a person they killed) but in our every day life there are definitely things you can do to lessen or undo the impact of what you have done. If you destroyed your best friend’s iPod, buy him or her another one. If you’re at a loss for what to do, ask the person how you can help them right the wrong! Most people will be overjoyed to see you wanting to make things right and will gladly allow you to do so. On the other hand if the person wants nothing to do with you after your mistake, you must also respect that choice because many people who want forgiveness do not want reconciliation. That is their choice to make.

Often it happens we get hurt, or someone displeases us. And our habitual attitude towards such conditions is harboring hatred and anger against that particular person. This has too many negative spiritual, moral and health effects. Following the Sunnah of prophet Muhammad our approach should be positive. We must develop habit of forgiving gladly and voluntarily. Especially if some is asking for forgiveness and is sorry about his/her act. One must never refuse to accept apology. Keeping in mind that forgiveness is one of the greatest attributes of our magnificent creator, He want to see reflection of this attribute in his man too. So we must forgive, even if the other person is not sorry. It not only pleases God but releases us from unnecessary mental stress.

Those who control their anger and are forgiving towards people; Allah loves the good. (Quran 3:134)

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Asking God for forgiveness is a similar process, but here’s the difference. We must forgive others even if they are unrepentant, but we must repent for God to forgive us. However, receiving atonement from God is quite simple and God is very eager to forgive you for both the big things and the little things. Here’s how it’s done:

  1. Stop the sin and acknowledge that is was wrong
  2. Sincerely regret the wrong you’ve done
  3. Return to God for forgiveness
  4. Make a strong intention to never go back to that sin again

If the sin involved infringing on the rights of other people there is also a 5th step; then one must return the infringed rights back to the individual to whom they belong as much as realistically possible.

And seek forgiveness of Allah. Indeed Allah is Forgiving and Merciful. (Quran 73:20)

We must never think that God will not forgive us. Repent with sincerity and remember that God loves His servants and God will accept your repentance. If you are sincere in your seeking atonement you don’t have to be afraid of God. His mercy is greater than His wrath. God loves you and wants good things for you. Don’t doubt for a moment that God will be happy to forgive you! On the other hand, the wrongdoers who are unrepentant should be very afraid!

And whoever does a wrong or wrongs himself but then seeks forgiveness will find Allah Forgiving and Merciful. (Quran 4:110)

No matter what sins you have committed, there is always a way to repent and start afresh with God. What an awesome Creator that we Muslims serve! I should also note that just because God will erase your sin, there will probably still be worldly consequences for your actions. For example, if you steal from the supermarket, you will rightfully face a fine or be imprisoned. But don’t despair! You have the opportunity to start over as long as you’re breathing!

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Posted in Islam & Interfaith Subjects

Forgiveness in Islam

In light of Islam being portrayed as a religion of violence and terrorism, I wanted to highlight the vast multitude of beautiful verses on forgiveness in both the Quran and the Hadith and how forgiveness is a central aspect of the Muslim faith, in much of the same way as it is in Judaism and Christianity. Even among Muslims the difference between retaliation and forgiveness is often unfortunately ignored. More than anything Islam desires peace, love and reconciliation. May these verses speak to your heart and make you understand that forgiveness is not only desirable, but beneficial to the one who chooses to do it freely.

Let them pardon and overlook. Would you not love for Allah to forgive you? Allah is Forgiving and Merciful. (Quran 24:22)

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Show forgiveness, enjoin what is good, and turn away from the ignorant. (Quran 7:199)

Did you know? Modern medical research shows that forgiveness is beneficial to your emotional, physiological, physical, spiritual and social well being!

Verily, the Hour is coming, so forgive them with gracious forgiveness. (Quran 15:85)

Forgiveness is 100% halal no matter what the circumstances!

The believers are those who spend in charity during ease and hardship and who restrain their anger and pardon the people, for Allah loves the doers of good. (Quran 3:134)

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The angels glorify and praise their Lord and seek forgiveness for those on the earth. Verily, Allah is the Forgiving, the Merciful. (Quran 42:5)

Forgiveness isn’t just for this life, it is also an important part to get to the good side of the other side if you know what I mean. One action of forgiveness benefits your soul in two places! Why wouldn’t you forgive?

Whoever is patient and forgives, verily, that is among the matters of steadfast determination. (Quran 42:43)

Of course it’s easier said than done but you’re the one who will be reaping the benefits in both this life and the next!

Say to those who believe that they should forgive those who expect not the days of Allah, as it is for Him to recompense people for what they have earned. (Quran 45:14)

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My Lord, forgive my people for they do not know. (Sahih Bukhari 6530)

The perfect examples of forgiveness for Muslims to follow are both Jesus and Muhammad.

Charity does not decrease wealth, no one forgives except that Allah increases his honor, and no one humbles himself for the sake of Allah except that Allah raises his status. (Sahih Muslim 2588)

Non-violence is essential to peace.

The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) was not indecent, he was not obscene, he would not shout in the markets, and he would not respond to an evil deed with an evil deed, but rather he would pardon and overlook. (Sunan At-Tirmidhi 2016)

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Be merciful to others and you will receive mercy. Forgive others and Allah will forgive you. (Musnad Ahamad 7001)

A recurring theme in all Abrahamic religions is that if you want God to be good to you, you must first be good to His creation. In other words, treat others how you want to be treated. How much more beautiful is it when God rewards you for forgiving others!

O Prophet, We have sent you as a witness, a bringer of glad tidings, and to give warning, (33:45) and to guard over the illiterate, for you are My servant and messenger. I have called you a trustworthy man who is neither rude nor loud in the markets, nor does he return evil with evil, but rather he pardons and forgives. (Sahih Bukhari 2018)

Forgiveness, mercy and kindness are superior attributes in all circumstances.

O Uqbah, reconcile whoever cuts you off, give to whoever deprives you, and pardon whoever wrongs you. (Musnad Ahmad 16999)

While the death penalty could not be completely outlawed under the historical and social context of the times Muhammad lived in, it was never preferred over mercy and forgiveness. In fact, forgiveness was always recommended, borderline mandatory.

I never saw a case involving legal retaliation being referred to the Messenger of Allah except that he would recommend pardoning the criminal. (Sunan Abu Dawud 4497)

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Verily, it is better for the leader to make a mistake forgiving the criminal than it is for him to make a mistake punishing the innocent. (Sunan At-Tirmidhi 1424)

The Bible says something very similar.

“O Messenger of Allah, how many times should I pardon my servant?”Seventy times in each day. (Sunan At-Tirmidhi)

Do you still have a valid reason not to forgive?

Whoever does not show mercy will not receive mercy. Whoever does not forgive others will not be forgiven. Whoever does not pardon others will not be pardoned. Whoever does not protect others will not be protected. (Al-Adab Al-Mufrad 366)

May God bless everyone who have read these words and taken them to heart. May God soften our hearts and help us to forgive those who have wronged so that we may also be forgiven in return. My prayer is that all people, regardless of faith or background, could live in the light and not in the darkness with a heart of flesh and not one of stone. More importantly, we must all put these principles into practice in order to ever truly be able to achieve what we want.

Posted in Islam & Interfaith Subjects, Social Issues & Politics

Loving Your Enemies in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

In a world where there is so much hatred between everyone; religious groups, governments, families, and the world in general, I wanted to write something that shows love and compassion for all, including the people we hate the most: our enemies. Throughout the three Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity ans Islam we see many verses spanning three testaments and thousands of years about loving not only each other, but also showing kindness to those who are unkind to us. It is my prayer that the following scripture helps break down barriers and helps to promote inclusion, tolerance and compassion for all human beings.

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The first thing we are called to do when you think of others as our enemies is to pray for them. This is certainly not easy. It requires discipline to allow those who hate us or those towards whom we have hostile feelings to come into the intimate center of our hearts. Yet every time we overcome this impatience with our opponents and are willing to listen to the cry of those who persecute us, we will recognize them as brothers and sisters too. Praying for our enemies is therefore a real event, the event of reconciliation. It is impossible to lift our enemies up in the presence of God and at the same time continue to hate them. Seen in the place of prayer, even the unprincipled dictator and the vicious torturer can no longer appear as the object of fear, hatred and revenge, because when we pray for them, we stand at the center of the great mystery of Divine Compassion.

There is probably no prayer as powerful as the prayer for our enemies. But it is also the most difficult prayer since it is most contrary to our impulses. As you read the following, aim to initiate the process of forgiveness with someone who has hurt you and try to see someone that you hate through the eyes of a compassionate God who has mercy over everything He has created and let God transform you from within.

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Let’s begin with Judaism:

If you come across your enemy’s ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to return it. If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help them with it. (Exodus 23:4-5)

While these verses don’t exactly imply to “love” your enemies, it definitely does say that we should always show kindness to them and that we shouldn’t wrong them.

If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; For you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you. (Proverbs 25:21-22)

More than anything, God calls us to be just with our enemies and being merciful at the same time. God never administers justice without mercy.

As the enemy came down toward him, Elisha prayed to the Lord, “Strike this army with blindness.” So he struck them with blindness, as Elisha had asked. Elisha told them, “This is not the road and this is not the city. Follow me, and I will lead you to the man you are looking for.” And he led them to Samaria. After they entered the city, Elisha said, “Lord, open the eyes of these men so they can see.” Then the Lord opened their eyes and they looked, and there they were, inside Samaria. When the king of Israel saw them, he asked Elisha, “Shall I kill them, my father? Shall I kill them?” “Do not kill them,” he answered. “Would you kill those you have captured with your own sword or bow? Set food and water before them so that they may eat and drink and then go back to their master.” 23 So he prepared a great feast for them, and after they had finished eating and drinking, he sent them away, and they returned to their master. So the bands from Aram stopped raiding Israel’s territory. (2 Kings 6:18-23)

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There is perhaps not a people better known for loving their enemies and praying for them than the Christians:

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48)

Jesus had it spot on when he said that even God is merciful and loving to the bad guys. Throughout scripture God has indeed been compassionate to even those who don’t love Him.

But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. (Luke 6:35)

Even as he was being killed, Jesus had compassion.

When they came to the place called The Skull, there they crucified Him and the criminals, one on the right and the other on the left. But Jesus was saying, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:33-34)

Lastly, this verse is the same as in Judaism.

“But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:20-21)

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Now for Islam:

Not equal are the good deed and the evil deed. Repel with that which is fairer and behold, he between whom and thee there is enmity shall be as if he were a loyal friend. Yet none shall receive it, except the steadfast; none shall receive it, except a man of mighty fortune. (Quran 41:34-35)

While Islam does not believe in the concept of turning the cheek, seeking justice is definitely different than seeking vengeance.

And the recompense of evil is punishment like it, but whoever forgives and amends, he shall have his reward from Allah; surely He does not love the unjust. (Quran 42:40)

Muslims are clearly instructed to not depart from justice no matter how they feel towards the person that wronged them.

O you who believe! Stand out firmly for Allah as witnesses to fair dealings and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just, that is next to piety. Fear Allah, indeed Allah is well-acquainted with all that you do. (Quran 5:8)

While these don’t explicitly command to love enemies, the principle of showing them love is definitely there! God is forgiving and merciful and His followers should be too.

It may be that Allah will grant love (and friendship) between you and those whom you (now) hold as enemies. For Allah has power (over all things); And Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. (Quran 60:7)

Islam follows in the footsteps of Judaism and Christianity in emphasizing that forgiveness and compassion are the superior traits.

Whoever suffers an injury done to him and forgives (the person responsible), Allah will raise his status to a higher degree and remove one of his sins. (Sunan At-Tirmidhî)

The Hadith further follows in Jesus’ teaching of non-violence.

Do not be people without minds of your own, saying that if others treat you well you will treat them well, and that if they do wrong you will do wrong. Instead, accustom yourselves to do good if people do good and not to do wrong if they do evil. (Sunan At-Tirmidhî)

According to a different passage in the Hadith, Prophet Muhammad spoke pretty much the very words of Jesus after he was injured in the battle of Uhud.

O Allah, forgive my people for they know not what they do! (Bukhari)

three-symbolsWhat’s the fastest way of getting rid of an enemy? By turning them into a friend! It’s much easier said than done but prayer definitely helps in this department. Please note that since there are four gospels in the New Testament more or less repeating the same story, I have not repeated the sames verses from all of them. Whether or not loving your enemy is part of the equation for you, it’s clear throughout these three faiths that while there is room for justice, there is no room for hatred, violence or oppression. No matter who we are dealing with, we should always act with kindness, mercy and compassion just as God instructs to do and as the prophets have clearly demonstrated for us. If anybody knows of other verses, please share them in the comments section! I would also be interested in learning about similar passages from world religions since I only know about the Abrahamic faith 🙂

Remember this: You can always choose kindness.

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