Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Refuting ISIS: A Rebuttal of Its Religious and Ideological Foundations: A Review

Review: Refuting ISIS: A Rebuttal of Its Religious and Ideological Foundations, by Shaykh Muhammad al-Yaqoubi, (Sacred Knowledge press, 2015), £6.95.

Reviewed by Mansur Ali

This is an easy to read book written in clear English prose. Shaykh Muhammad Yaqoubi’s methodology is to present a scholarly robust and yet simple rebuttal of the ISIS methodology without resorting to academic pedantry. Unlike similar books on the abstract subject of terrorism, this book is written by keeping in mind those people whose encounter with ISIS is not a distant news report but their bitter ground reality. The book is to appeal to five types of audiences: (1) the vulnerable Muslim youth who sees in the ISIS propaganda a religiously sanctioned outlet for his machismo; (2) The ISIS neophyte who is in dire need of weaning out of his terrible liminality by demonstrating that the ISIS ‘gangster’ methodology has no place in Islam; (3) the average Muslim who is perplexed by some of the theological and legal challenges brought about as a result of the emergence of ISIS; (4) fighters of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), to pacify their conscience that not only is it Islamically legitimate to fight ISIS but it’s a religious obligation for those in the region to do so; finally (5) to silence the annoyingly clanging crescendo of Western politicians and critics that Muslim scholars are not speaking out against ISIS.  One only needs to enter the search criterion ‘Muslim scholars condemn ISIS’ in to Google search to see how far from the truth their contention is.  

The crux of the book, which really is a fatwa is simple: ISIS is a modern mutation of the terrorist group which emerged in the formative period of Islam known as the Khawarij. There are differences of opinion regarding the Islam of the Khawarij, however the author opts for the opinion that they are not Muslims ( ch. 2, 5); therefore deems it impermissible to pledge allegiance to ISIS’ self-appointed pseudo-caliph al-Baghdadi (ch. 8). The fatwa, then, is not dissimilar to the fatwa issued by Shaykh Tahirul Qadri previously on extremism and suicide bombing.1 The implications of the fatwa is far reaching for the FSA. Not only are they allowed to fight ISIS without the niggling fear of raising arms against fellow Muslims, but if they die in the process they will be graced with the lofty rank of martyrdom (ch. 6, 7). A logical corollary of this is that in order to bring back peace in the region, it is permissible to accept the helpful hand extended by non-Muslim governments against ISIS (ch. 9). This is argued by resorting to well-established Prophetic precedence like the pact of the virtuous (hilf al-fudul) as well as more contemporary fatawa like that of Shaykh Bin Baz, the highest Saudi religious authority in his time. The author further adds two helpful chapters, which although not directly related to the issue at hand, are beneficial nevertheless: chapter 10, legal rulings regarding Muslims in Western countries and chapter 11, legal rulings regarding non-Muslims in Muslim countries.

One may argue that the author is pandering to the sensibilities of Western governments in his critique of ISIS. This is far from the truth. Where the book on the one hand is a refutation of ISIS, on the other hand, it is a plea to the international community to look into the causes of violent extremism and to address those conditions which function as fertile grounds for the grooming of terrorists. Unlike the British government’s official narrative of the cause of violent extremism (the conveyor belt theory), the author is nuanced in his examination of these causes. Sustained academic research has revealed that radical extremism leading to terrorism is a construct which culminates in a vicious regress of action and reaction from government and terrorists (Kundnani 2015). Shaykh Yaqoubi’s razor sharp analysis of these causes of terrorism confirms this body of academic literature. In his conclusion, the author identifies four conditions which function as fodder for violent extremism. These conditions should not be construed as a justification of terrorism, but an explanation of why it happens. The first is that the Iraqi government must recognise that alongside the Shia community, Sunnis also reside in Iraq. They must be given their rights in order to flourish as good citizens. Secondly, Bashar Assad must cede authority and stop bloodshed with immediate effect and let the Syrian people decide how they should be ruled. Third, the oppression of Muslim minorities must stop, such as in the case of Muslims in Myanmar. And finally The West must be more responsible and sensible and must not use its powers to disrespect the values and cultures of those who are less militarily and technologically superior to them. They must not hurt deeply-held beliefs of others just because they can. A cursory glance at these four causes reveal that all of them are related to genuine political grievances. These grievances are garbed in the rhetoric of religion which not only gives terrorists the permission to negotiate in the only language they know: violence, but it gives them the blessings from heaven. The author argues that addressing these conditions will go a long way in pruning the growth of violent extremism.

For this reviewer, the original contribution and the most interesting part of the book is its first chapter: ‘In the words of ISIS’. In this chapter, the author is quoting, evaluating and critiquing quotations taken directly from ISIS literature. The media bias against Muslims has created a deep suspicion amongst Muslims regarding anything which the media reports about Islam. This has led many Muslims to take a non-committed position regarding the atrocities of ISIS as they are reported in the media. Shaykh Yaqoubi’s critical interrogation of ISIS literature, his political activism and intimate knowledge of the conditions in the Levant coupled with his deep understanding of the Islamic scholarly tradition should leave no doubts in the minds of Muslims that the way of ISIS is not the way of Islam.   
Further reading:

Abu Aaliyah Surkheel Sharif (2015), Khawarij Ideology, ISIS Savagery, in The Humble ‘I’,

Arun Kundnani (2015), A Decade Lost: Rethinking Radicalization and Extremism (London: Claystone)

Muhammad Afifi al-Akiti (2005), Defending the Transgressed: Mudafi' al-Mazlum: Fatwa Against the Targeting of Civilians, in

Sherman Jackson, Al-Gama’ah Al-Islamiyah (2015), Initiative to Stop the Violence: Sadat’s Assassins and the Renunciation of Political Violence, (New Haven and London: Yale University Press).

Yasir Qadhi, Daniel Haqiqatjou (2015),  What Is “Islamic”? A Muslim Response to ISIS and The Atlantic, in

1.      1. For my review of Shaykh Tahirul Qadri’s fatwa see:

Monday, September 16, 2013


Assalamualiakum here is a link to my latest book, 'Understanding Muslim Chaplaincy'
There is a discount for orders made through the publishers website

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Islam without extremes: a case for Muslim liberty review

Muslim World Book Review, volume 33, issue 3, spring 2013, pp. 44-47

Book Review:

Islam Without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty

Mustafa Akyol

New York, W. W. Norton and Company, Inc., 2011

P.p. 352. ISBN 978-039070866

Reviewed by Dr Mansur Ali

Cardiff University

Since the emergence of Islam on the modern political scene starting; from the Islamic revolution of Iran through the Rushdie affair to September 11 and beyond, a plethora of apologetic literature, both popular and academic, were produced to balance the existing bias with regards to public perception of Islam. Akyol’s Islam Without Extreme: A Muslim Case for Liberty attempts to go beyond apology. It is an attempt by the author to show to the world that where Islam has become synonymous with extremism, at least an interpretation of Islam can conform to ideas of Western liberal democracy.

The book is divided into three sections. Starting with autobiographical anecdotes, the author sets the contours of the book. As an eight year old, the author frequented his grandfather’s place to learn Arabic and the fundamentals of his religion. One day in his grandfather’s library he stumbled upon a prayer book which had three quotes written on the back. The two from the Qur’an deeply touched him whereas the one from the hadith (about beating children when they don’t pray) horrified and troubled him. He could not fathom his grandfather talking rudely to him let alone beat him. Not satisfied with his grandfather’s explanation, the author, 30 years later, after extensive study of Islam comes to realise that this oppressive mind-set has permeated the core of Muslim scholarship and society. He asks, ‘is this what really Islam enjoins?’

After thorough research, he comes to the conclusion that Islam is not to be blamed for this oppressive mind-set. Under two further sub-headings: ‘understanding just how brutal Islam is,’ and ‘understanding how brutal non-Islam can be’, he comes to the conclusion that authoritarianism is not associated with Islam a priori. Rather authoritarianism is a symptom of an illiberal mind-set due to deep seated political cultures and social structures in that part of the world. This is also the case with non-Muslim countries such as Russia and China. In other words could authoritarian Muslims be authoritarians who just happened to be Muslims? Through personal experience, the author is convinced that the only way that Muslims will flourish is through embracing liberty in all its manifestations. The rest of the book is an attempt to prove why this is not impossible.

In part 1, Akyol explains how Islam started off as an apolitical movement and how throughout the life of the Prophet a spirit of pluralism dominated the teachings of the Prophet. He then goes onto to discuss how Muslims, post- the Prophet, developed an illiberal reductionist understanding of the religion. The culprit to be blamed for this is Mr Hanbal (sic) ‘the radical cleric’ and a ‘petty landlord’ the chief of the literalists (ahl al-Hadith). A literalist reading of the Qur’an coupled with excessive reliance on hadith texts, which was like a ‘telephone game’, created a culture that heavily imposed limitations on the intellect. In contrast, the Murji’ites (postponers) in particular Abu Hanifa (?) were true pluralists as they postponed judgements about people to God. Their offshoot the Qadrites and the Mu’tazilites (the rationalists), through their arguments for the freedom of will and ontological truth and justice sowed the first seed towards an Islamic liberalism. However with the literalist gaining the upper hand Islamdom was reduced to a ‘Hadith wasteland’.

The defenders of reason stood no chance against their opponents. How could they when even the forces of nature were against them? Akyol believes that the war of ideas between the rationalists and their opponents is only the tip of the iceberg. The real cause of difference lies in the ‘desert beneath the iceberg’ and even as deep down as the environment. To put it simply, hadith scholars where of Arab Bedouin stock, fatalistic, tribal, ‘dislike changes as per Arab culture’ , ‘communal in nature’, ‘anti-luxurious’ had a penchant for the concrete and an aversion for the abstract iqta’ loving landlords who lacked dynamism and were followed by the less-educated classes. In contrast, the rationalists where non-Arabs from the merchant class who were well-educated, cosmopolitan intellectuals with an exposure to various traditions, philosophies and people. The arid land of the Middle East with its flat topography is also, at rock bottom, a perpetrator in fashioning this illiberal mind-set.

This analysis leads the author to ask that if the lack of economic dynamism was a cause for the stagnation of Islam, can Islamic liberalism be revived through a rebirth of economic dynamism in the Islamic lands? To answer this question the author turns his attention, in part two of the book, to the case of modern Turkey.

For the author, Turkey is a synthesis of Islam, democracy and capitalism with its free market economy. The reason for this is that the seat of the Ottoman power was in a geo-strategic position as it was on the fringe of the Muslim world bordering Christendom. Since Turkey didn’t have the same experience of being colonized like the Arab countries it was able to learn from the West the value of freedom and liberty. He blames colonization for the disintegration of ijtihad and individualism and the rise of jihad and communitarianism in the Muslim world. The author believes that Turkey is the new way forward towards a middle-class culture which revitalises Islamic values with the modern context. However, this will not come without any hindrance. And in the next section the author posits some ‘signposts on the liberal road.’

Section three is an exposition of three key areas which the author had identified as hindrance towards a theology of liberty: They are freedom from the State, freedom to sin and freedom from Islam. Through an analysis of textual and historical sources, he arrives at the conclusion that for an individual to prosper in spiritual growth, no outside forces can interfere with his relation to God. Hence the Islamic State is not a requirement, a person should not be coerced into leaving sins which is not synonymous to crime and a person should be given the liberty of renouncing Islam without the fear of execution.

At this point a few observations are in order. First and foremost, this book is trying to do more than the pages would allow and therefore a lot of the discussions are superficial and not nuanced. For example any discussion on environmental determinism in understanding the mind-set of hadith scholars has to explain the fact that six out of six of the authors of the canonical hadith collections were not Arabs but Central Asians. The author gives the impression that the al-Maturidi was sympathetic towards the Mu’taziltes whereas al-Maturidi wrote no less than five refutations on the Mu’tazilites. There is also an issue of the sources that the author uses. One wonders why the author confines himself to the studies carried out by Schacht, Crone, Lewis on hadith and not consult the works of scholars such as Motzki, Jonathan Brown, Lucas to get the other side of the story. The author argues that the roots of individualism and liberalism are found in the Qur’an. One can argue that this is merely reading into the Qur’an what the author holds to be of value. This is not new, Ameer Ali found in the Qur’an the whole moral code of Victorian England and Muhammad Qutb read the Qur’an through socialist lens. In the last section the author states that alcohol should not be banned and in a country where alcohol is banned it cannot be proven if people are observant of the law. Whilst in theory this is true, how pragmatic is it? Why criminalise drugs or prostitution if it is consensual and there is no exploitation involved?

In conclusion it can be said that if this is an apology for Islam the author has done a good job. On the other hand if this is a serious attempt to reform Islam and is meant for practicing Muslims, the author needs to carry out original research and not weave a narrative out of secondary sources especially the works of anti-Muslims like Bernard Lewis and Bat Ye’or and the tabloid press. One has good examples of this in high quality research carried out by Muslim scholars such as Sherman Jackson.

Mukhtasar al-Quduri review

Muslim World Book Review, volume 33, issue 3, Spring 2013, pp. 78-79

Book Review:

The Mukhtasar al-Quduri: A Manual of Islamic Law According to the Hanafi School

Translated from the Arabic with Introduction and notes by Tahir Mahmood Kiani,

(Taha Publishers LTD. 2010). Pages 761. ISBN 9781897940709

Reviewed by Dr Mansur Ali

Cardiff University

This is the translation of small opuscule, al-Mukhtasar, written by the head of the Baghdadi Hanafi guild Abu ‘l-Husayn al-Quduri (d. 428/1037); and is one of the first works of the Mukhtasar genre only to be preceded by al-Tahawi (d. 321/933). Books in the Mukhtasar genre were used to quickly train lawyers in the sacred law as well as for memorization for reference purposes. The Mukhatsar of al-Quduri gained much popularity in the Hanafi School of thought due to the position its author held in the guild as well as the superior arrangement of its contents, which hitherto was missing from legal text books. It was incorporated into the Darse Nizami syllabus taught in the religious seminaries of the Asian sub-continent as well as their affiliate seminaries in the Western world as an elementary text of Islamic sacred law.

With the steady growth of Islam in the public sphere coupled with the demands for accessibility of classical Islamic literature, translation of classical texts has found a niche in the book market. The translation under review is another example of the steady growth of translations of elementary pedagogical texts.

The translation, mostly, is clear and precise, and is honest to the Arabic. It boasts many benefits to its merit. First of all the inter-linear Arabic text with the English translation makes it easy for novices to compare and contrast the two languages. Where classical Arabic rarely employs punctuations, the translator breaks down large passages into bullet points without compromising the Arabic. He also uses sub-headings to group themes together which are missing in the Arabic. This then adds another layer of contribution to al-Quduri’s already superior arrangement. The translator uses square parenthesis to bring out the ellipses in the, otherwise somewhat obscure, Arabic text. Excessive use of footnotes has been used to clarify and elaborate issues. These take on many forms, from explaining literary conventions (ft. 8) to simple clarification (ft. 118) to making the book relevant for the modern context such as his discussion on Zakat on silver (ft. 169), medicine (ft. 216) and money in the modern context (ft. 295).

The translation has an exhaustive content page without which it would have been difficult to manoeuvre around the 761 pages. It also has endorsements from the author’s teachers as well as from Shaykh Muhammad al-Ninowi, who in very eloquent Arabic situates the author and the book in the wider context of the development of Islamic Sacred law. The translator also has a small section on jurisprudence (usul al-fiqh) as well as his methodology in translating this text. Finally, he has appended an exhaustive glossary and a useful table on the Zakat of livestock which can be quite mind-numbing to read in the Arabic.

This is a very good and useful translation; however for this reviewer the translation follows the Arabic grammar too closely which at times makes the English archaic. A more idiomatic translation would have read better although the translator acknowledges these limitations in the introduction. This translation is recommended to all those who are thinking of studying Islamic law and is a welcome addendum to the library of translated pedagogical texts.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Review: Fatwa on Terrorism and Suicide Bombings

With kind permission from Muslim World Book Review, Spring 32, (3), pp. 18-20.

Tahir-ul-Qadri, Fatwa on Terrorism and Suicide Bombings, (London: Minhaj-ul-Quran International, 2010), pp. 512, £ 19.95

Review by Dr M Mansur Ali

Cambridge Muslim College

This is the translation of an Urdu fatwa (Dahshat gardi awr fitnae khawarij) written by the author primarily to condemn terrorist activities taking place in the Asian sub-continent. In the original Urdu fatwa the author has a disclaimer saying that the writing of this fatwa is not politically motivated but a sincere attempt to rescue Islam from being hijacked by a discourse on terror. His intention is to show the beauty of Islam and that terrorism is not a part of this beauty. It is an exhaustive piece of work and reads like a classical Islamic law manual: first looking at linguistic analysis of key words, seconded by scriptural evidence from the Quran and Hadith and finally followed by the opinions of the legal experts. The English translation first discussed at a ‘historical launch’ press conference in London in March 2010 which was later published as a 512 page monograph in December 2010, had attracted much media attention. The introduction has also been translated into a myriad of languages including Arabic, French, German and Norwegian. It is also accompanied by a website, a Facebook and Twitter page. The English translation of the fatwa is preceded by a forward and an introduction by two eminent scholars in their subject area.

In the forward, Professor John Esposito places the fatwa in its historical context by showing that it is but one from a line of condemnations by Muslim scholars against terrorism and indiscriminate killing. He quotes authorities such as Timothy Winter, Yusuf al-Qaradawi and Abdul Aziz Al-Sheikh the grand mufti of Saudi Arabia. He makes reference to two important initiatives by Muslim scholars worldwide in their collective condemnation of terrorism: the Amman Message (2004-5) and ‘A Common Word Between Us and You’ (2007). Dr Tahir-ul-Qadri’s fatwa is an important continuation of the Muslim voice against terrorism. The author of the introduction, Dr Joel Hayward, a scholar of war and strategy, expresses his frustration that hitherto condemnations of terrorism have not done anything to convince non-Muslims of the peaceful nature of Islam, neither have they stopped Muslims from being radicalized. He says that in March 2010 he breathed a huge sigh of relief.

The fatwa is solidly grounded in the Islamic sources. Its meticulous attention to details covering every single avenue makes it read almost like an encyclopaedia on the ethics of war and justice. It discusses the lexical and etymological meanings of Islam, Iman and Ihsan, the unlawfulness of indiscriminately killing people, Muslim or otherwise. He writes about the unlawfulness of terrorism in all forms, the rules related to the protection of ones religion, life, honour and wealth and the prohibition of rebelling against the government amongst many other things. The fatwa also includes the opinions of Salafi and Deobandi scholars in their condemnation of terrorism.

However, there are two unique features of the fatwa which distinguishes it from other fatwas written on the subject. First of all the author claims that it is ‘an absolute condemnation of terrorism, without any excuses, without any pretext, without any exceptions, without creating any ways of justification, this condemnation is in its totality, in its comprehensiveness, in its absoluteness, [...] a total condemnation of every act of terrorism in every form and every manifestation.’ And the second unique feature which is the main thrust of the fatwa and which the author calls his unique contribution, is his declaration that terrorists are ‘outside the ambit of Islam’ in other words they are kafirs who are not ‘heroes of Islam but the heroes of hell.’

The author comes to this conclusion through three different types of reasoning. First of all through a linguistic analysis of the words ‘Islam’ and ‘Iman’ he concludes that a terrorist acts contrary to what Islam and Iman are and therefore he cannot be from them even though outwardly he is pious and devout (p. 35). The second evidence for declaring terrorists as kafirs is based on Abu Mansur al-Maturidi’s reading of the verse ‘whoever kills a person, except as a punishment for murder or disorder in the land, it is as if he killed all of humanity (Quran 5:32). Al-Maturidi’s reading of the verse is based on the understanding that a person who deems it permissible to kill another person (istihlal al-qatl) without recourse to a court of law, in essence is denying the validity of the Quranic verse and as a result of this he is a kafir. This is different from the person who kills out of anger without believing it to be permissible.

The above two reasonings are only preambles to the author’s main reasoning in declaring terrorists as kafirs. His main ammunition against them is that they are the same old evil kharijites with a new name. He dedicates over 145 pages in trying to prove this (chapter 17: today’s terrorists are kharijites, p.385). By identifying similar khariji traits in the modern day terrorists, he declares them to be a modern manifestation of kharijis and then falls back on to higher authorities who have declared kharijites to be out of the fold of Islam (he also honestly documents the opinions of those scholars who did not hold this view). He sincerely believes that the Prophet’s prophecies regarding the description of the kharijites also fit into today’s terrorists. However, in doing so he makes some gross generalizations such as the Prophet saying they will be young, they will have bushy beards, they will wear their trousers way above their ankles and that they will come from the east. He even tries to make acoustic links between the Haruriya (another name for the kharijites) and modern day Hizb al-Tahrir, and al-Qa’diya (one of the names for the kharijites) and al-Qaeda saying that the only difference in the latter is the addition of the letter alif.

Although most readers will agree with the bulk of the fatwa, some may find the author’s main thrust of the fatwa (i.e. declaring the terrorists to be non-Muslims) problematic and difficult to accept from a theological and sociological point of view. First of all one may ask what constitutes istihalal. Modern day terrorists are not deliberately rejecting a ma’lum min al-din bi al-darura (that which is necessarily known from the religion), but they are sincerely upholding an interpretation (yuqatiluna ala al-ta’wil) which mainstream Islam rejects. They are guilty of violating ijma’ and not kufr. Therefore, one may say that the author is too absolute in assuming that rejecting a consensual interpretation constitutes kufr. Similarly the author’s position goes against the Amman message which professor Esposito writes about in the forward. Scholars who signed the Amman message, of which the author is also a signatory, agreed that it is not permissible for anyone to declare a person who believes in Allah and the Prophet as an apostate. Ironically, it categorically mentions that the Ibadis are Muslims, the Ibadis being an offshoot of the historical kharijites.

Another problem arising from declaring the terrorists to be non-Muslims is that one may see it as an attempt to shy away from the fact that terrorism is a problem within the Muslim community. A more head-on theological rebuttal to terrorist misreading of the Islamic sources would have been more efficient. And finally one may say that by declaring terrorists as non-Muslims the author is falling into the very same mentality that the kharijites were notorious for. Saying this, the author’s line of argument may help potential terrorists think twice before allowing themselves to be radicalised. We hope this maybe the case.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

‘They Are Your Garments And You Are Theirs'

‘They Are Your Garments And You Are Theirs:

Marital Relation and the Metaphor of the Garment

Reflections on surat –al-Baqara 2:187

هن لباس لكم وأنتم لباس لهن

By Maulana Dr M Mansur Ali

Your clothes conceal much of your beauty, yet they hide not the unbeautiful.
And though you seek in garments the freedom of privacy you may find in them a harness and a chain. (Khalil Gibran, The Prophet)

Marriage is the oldest traditions known to mankind. It is a continuation of that holy communion that took place between our first parents Adam and Hawwa (May Allah’s peace be on both of them) in the garden of al-Firdaws. Adam (as) enjoyed the bounties of his Lord in paradise. He knew no needs. However, as time passed by he yearned for human company. For love and warmth, for someone to share his thoughts with, to be intimate with, someone who can understand the beatings of his heart and deepest of his thoughts. Allah created his wife Hawwa (as) for him and thus filled the void in his heart. Together they roamed around in paradise, eating from its many delicacies when and whatever they wished. However, due to a momentary lapse of judgement caused by the whispering of the devil, together, they violated the only one restriction that Allah has commanded them to refrain from. As a result of this trespass divine Grace left them and they became acutely aware of their nakedness.  It is then that both Adam and Hawwa felt a second need, the need to cover themselves up.  They ran to the trees of paradise and started covering their innocence with its leaves. ‘Where can you run away from me Adam?’ said his Lord to him. ‘I’m not running to get away from you my Lord’, he replied ‘I’m running to hide from you out of shame and modesty’. (al-Tabari, Al-Araf: 7:22). The need for company and the need for clothes were two of the first needs that Adam (as) experienced in paradise, it then comes as no surprise that Allah refers to the relationship between a husband and wife using the metaphor of clothes and garments.

‘They (your wives) are your garments and you are theirs’ says Allah in the Qur’an. The metaphor of the garment is a very powerful one as it brings home the message. It creates in the mind a crystal clear picture of the relationship needed for a happy and healthy marriage. Clothes are a basic necessity for humans. They are used for warmth as well as beauty. 

Clothes have many qualities and functions. One of its qualities is that it keeps us warm. The sign of a healthy marriage is when the husband and wife feel warmth in each other’s company. Their very presence brings tranquillity to the hearts of their spouse, and the whole world feels like a cold empty void without the other.  

Our clothes are physically the closest object to our bodies. They trespass beyond the boundaries of what is socially accepted as ones comfort space. The husband and wife should be close to each other like the closeness of the garment to the naked body.  They should be able to share the most intimate of thoughts with each other without the fear of being judged by the other. They should be open and transparent with each other and should be able to communicate their feelings, frustrations, desires physical, spiritual and emotional with honesty and without embarrassment. 

Clothes are also a form of protection. They protect from harsh weather conditions as well as conceal physical imperfections such as a scar on our body. Here the analogy is three-fold: first and foremost the husband and wife should physically protect each other not only from outside threat but also from themselves. It defies all laws of human compassion and dignity that a man beats up his wife and then comes onto her like a beast for no other purpose than his gratification. He further adds insult to injury in the process by saying ‘I love you’.

Furthermore, it is the duty of the spouse to make sure that people are not bad mouthing their spouse, at least not in their presence and if they do then they should put them straight. That marriage is in a sorry state when one of the spouses is the centre of ridicule in the presence of the other and he/she does nothing about it. Even worse is when the spouse starts divulging intimate details and imperfections to others. It is in line with Prophetic practice that the spouse should conceal each other’s imperfections. Like the way our clothes conceal our physical imperfections, similarly we should conceal the imperfections of our spouse.

Similarly, our clothes function as a barrier from toxins and other harmful bacteria from coming on to our body.  Marriage is about faith and trust, it is a commitment made in the presence of God and in the presence of the community. A couple should not let any third party come between them and pollute their holy communion. Indeed it is one of the devil’s greatest triumphs to cause a split between the spouse by casting doubts on their fidelity and honour.

Obviously being human one will have ups and downs in their marriage. There is nothing un-human about this. ‘Marriage is a bed of roses’ says sister Ruqayyah Waris Maqsood, ‘but a bed of roses with many thorns.’ However, it is a test of character as to how one rises up from these problems. Once in a while our clothes get dirty. We wash our clothes in order to clean them. We may also add fabric conditioners for extra softness. Conflict resolution is an art one needs to master. One needs to have an understanding for the other’s point of view, listen to them attentively and try to understand their grievance. It won’t do anyone harm if a dollop of love conditioner was added in the process. People wash their own clothes in their homes. Similarly the first call of duty should be to resolve any problems amongst themselves without resorting to any third party. A common problem amongst some women is that they get their families involved in every little argument that they have with their husbands. This at times will only make the situation worse rather than better. It is only when the stain is really stubborn or the blanket is too big that one needs to take it to the laundry. When all avenues of conflict resolution have been exhausted only then should one resort to close ones and elders for help. And if the argument is about who is to do the next laundry, just remember the fabric conditioner.

Remember our clothes are ours, they are made to fit us, even if someone else wears exactly the same clothes it’s still not our clothes. Couples should take great care that they don’t drag their parents in to their arguments. Husbands should not search for their mother in their wives and wives should not search for their father in their husbands. ‘My mother used to do everything for me’ or ‘my father used to treat me like a princess’ are common sledgehammers used against each other.  If you really want to make a comparison with your parents [???], then it is better to make a horizontal comparison rather than a vertical one. How does your father treat your mother or vice versa? Accurate results will only yield when the comparison is being made between two husbands or two wives and not a father and a husband or a mother and a wife.

Many people boil down marital disputes to clash of personalities. However, unless the clash is severe, why should we see it as something detestable? Don’t we have differences and tensions in all phases of life? Shouldn’t we be celebrating our differences and respecting the other person’s likes and dislikes. Difference (ikhtilaf) in Islam is never seen as a bad thing, it is a part of the divine design of the cosmos to which we belong. What is abhorred is dispute (khilaf), antipathy and animosity. What is the joy of living in a monolithic world where everyone looks and thinks the same? Where is the challenge in this? A little bit of chilli and pepper brings out the kick in the curry and only enhances its flavour. The fabric in a cloth is made up by weaving strands of yarn vertically and horizontally. Although the fibres go in different direction they interlock at the intersection. Without the horizontal-vertical weaving the fabric will not exist. Their differences make the fabric. Without any differences there won’t be any spark in the marriage. Like the fabric our differences should be viewed as complimentary and not contradictory. As the Persian poet says: har gulera digar rang wa bu ast (every flower has a different colour and fragrance).  

From time to time clothes need repairing. It’s the little stitches that keep the clothes intact. Presenting one’s spouse with a big present at valentine whilst being neglectful towards her the whole year round will not mend the already big hole in the clothes. It’s the everyday little appreciations, coy remarks and playful gestures that will keep the stitches of the marriage intact.            

Despite being so close to us, we still need to take off our clothes and hang them in the closet at night. Similarly, despite being intimately close, we should give our spouse their own space lest they feel suffocated by our love. ‘Loving to death’ may not cause one to die, but it can result in a very unhappy spouse who needs time to herself. We need to understand that although we are bonded together as a couple, however we are individuals. And the sooner we understand this human condition the happier we will be in our marriage. As Gibran says:  And Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone, even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music … stand together yet not too near together: For the pillars of the temple stand apart.

There now remains one piece of analogy which will throw the whole metaphor of the garment in jeopardy. What should one do when it is time to change their old clothes? If this is your case then it is high time that you buy your wife a new SAREE.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Literary Aspects of the Qur’an: Al-Baydawi’s interpretation of Alif Lam Mim Using the Rules of Tajweed

By Maulana Dr M Mansur Ali

The Qur’an, that inimitable symphony, the very sounds of which move men to tears and ecstasy, invigorated the barren hearts of camel shepherds and transformed them in to guiding stars for humanity. That eternal and unimpeachable writ, which laid the foundation of a civilization that carried the knowledge of late antiquity in its bosoms and brought Europe out of its darkest hours. It had occupied the minds of philosophers, theologians, jurists and politicians of yesteryears. It had informed poetry, grammar, arts, aesthetics and belles-lettre. Umar II’s politics, Al-Rumi’s gazals, Al-Razi’s logic, Al-Ghazali’s ethics, al-Hariri’s prose, al-Attar’s poetry and Ibn Al-Arabi’s metaphysics all find their origins in this heavenly mandate. It had inspired the Sufi’s chanting of the souls, the music of the dervish’s reed, the literalism of the Salafi and the speculation of the rationalist. And yet its ultimate reality lies with Allah blessed be He in Whose hands is Dominion; and He over all things hath Power.

Muslims believe that the Qur’an is a literary miracle. An entire body of literature called ‘ijaz al-Qur’an had been developed to understand this miraculous aspect of the Qur’an. It uses eloquent Arabic language of the highest standard as well as a plethora of literary devices, the hallmark of any magnum opus. At times it employs short and fast paced verses resembling the beatings of the heart, whilst other times slow, meticulous and clear instructive verses are used to lay down points of law. Clear, unambiguous words, similes, alliterations, onomatopoeias, hyperboles, rhetorical questions, imageries, allegories, metaphors, aphorisms, euphemisms and ironies are its common features.

Whilst some verses of the Qur’an are clear in their meanings, others are somewhat ambiguous and veiled. Allah in his infinite wisdom had decided to keep some of the knowledge of his words concealed from public consumption, and it is only those who have been touched by divine aurora have been made privy to some of its mysteries. Some of these unclear verses constitute a set of cryptic letters found in the beginning of some chapters of the Qur’an, the meaning of which only Allah knows. These are known as al-huruf al-muqatta’at the disjointed letters, or al-huruf al-fawatih the opening letters such as Alif Lam Mim, Ya Sin, Ta Sin, Kaf Ha Ya ‘Ayn Sad. This did not stop scholars from exercising their God given intellect in trying to decipher these letters. For example where the majority of the scholars remained reticent to interpret the three letters Alif Lam Mim found in the opening section of sura al-Baqara the second chapter of the Qur’an, other scholars ventured to understand them. Some have interpreted them to mean Allah, Jibril and the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), others opined that the Arabs were already familiar with these types of letters in their poetry, hence they were not a cause of confusion and contention for the immediate Arab audience of the Qur’an. A third group of scholars maintained that by employing simple letters of the Arabic alphabet, the contrast was being made between the literary works of the Arabs and the divine writ. That these were the very same letters employed to write both sets of writings, but how different are the outputs when the one is authored by the transcendent God and the other by mortal beings.

One scholar who attempted to appropriate some meaning to these letters was Qadi Abdullah b. Umar al-Shirazi al-Baydawi (d. 684/1286) a seventh/thirteenth century Shafi exegete of the Qur’an. Al-Baydawi’s interpretation is interesting as he makes an attempt to understand them using the rules of Arabic elocution (tajweed). The alif (in this instance a hamza) is a glottal letter (al-harf al-halqi) that emanates from the lowest point of the larynx closest to the lungs (aqsa al-halq). The letter lam is an alveolar letter (al-harf al-dhalqiyya) which articulates when the tip of the tongue makes contact with the roots of the upper incisors and the letter mim is an endo-labial letter (al-harf al-shafatayn) where the sound is forced through the lips by closing and opening of the inner lips.

Qadi al-Baydawi says that the vocal apparatus and the places of articulation (makharij al-huruf) are the same organs used by the respiratory system. The letters of alif lam mim cover the entire gamut of the respiratory system from the lower trachea to the outer lips. Since they constitute the words of Allah, al-Baydawi says that what can be learnt from them is that each and every breath that we take and every word that we utter should be in accordance with Allah’s will and pleasure.

These are human attempts to understand that which transcends our feeble minds as absolute truth only remains with The Absolute Truth (al-Haqq). After exercising their intellectual faculty, one is required to humble his knowledge in front of the Omniscience and all Muslims are required to concede in humility the emphatic statement Wallahu A’lam, and Allah knows best.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Abu Hanifa: His Life, Legal Method and Legacy by Shaykh Akram Nadwi

Reproduced here with kind permission from Muslim World Book Review (MWBR)

Review: Abu Hanifa: His Life, Legal Method and Legacy
Mohammad Akram Nadwi, (Markfield: Kube Publishing Ltd., 2010)

Reviewed by: Dr M Mansur Ali
Cardiff University

Muslim World Book Review (MWBR) vol. 31, no. 4, Summer 2011, pp. 29-31.

This very short, albeit highly erudite work of hagiography has been written by a scholar who has engaged with Abu Hanifa and his legacy for a very long time. By using only the most authentic reports found in the classical Islamic prosopographical collections, original Arabic and Urdu sources and core Hanafi legal texts, the author endeavours to understand ‘why’ and ‘how’ Abu Hanifa came to inherit the appellation ‘Al-Imam al-A’zam’ (the greatest one worthy to be followed), an epithet which is worthy of him today as it was in his days.

The book is written in the typical format of a classical Islamic biography work. He discusses, Abu Hanifa’s life, his life style, his erudition and probity, his piety and propriety, his scholarship, his teachers and his students. He talks about him as a jurist, a lawyer, a theologian and a Hadith scholar. The impact of Abu Hanifa’s fiqh and its status in the modern age is discussed in details. All of these discussions take place within the framework of the overall development of Islamic law in general. The quality of the book is further enhanced by the use of diagrams and an annotated reading list. At this juncture, given the plethora of sources found on Abu Hanifa’s life in English in the form of monographs, articles, introductory sections to translated classical texts, translations of Arabic and Urdu books, audio and visual recordings and the internet, the question that looms on this reviewer’s mind is ‘what is the need for yet another biography of Abu Hanifa?’

The reviewer believes that it is what the author wants to do with the biography of Abu Hanifa that justifies the writing of this book. The author deems it pertinent to write this book because of three reasons. Firstly, he takes issues with the many voices from within and outwith Islam shouting for an Islamic reformation. He argues that Islam’s contribution to the modern world especially in trade and commerce has been advanced by people like Abu Hanifa and his ilk. It’s only through understanding and emulating the lives of these pious savants that some of the ethical and moral principles that have been lost can be restored. Secondly, information readily available through high-speed medium is not ‘ilm but short lived, bereft of any substance and missing the personal touch of a wise master. Through this book, the author wants to remind us that true ‘ilm can only be sought through slow and painstaking study where the knowledge is passed from heart to heart.

For this reviewer, the most unique contribution of this book is the author’s third reason for writing the book. The author draws a distinction between Abu Hanifa and later Hanafi scholars. That Abu Hanifa is someone who understood the context as well as the text, that he made a distinction between the spirit of the law and its word and that his understanding of the law is not partial but holistic. He urges Muslim scholars to recover both their intellectual ability as well as their moral authority to understand the Qur,an and Sunna in its entirety and not just in parts. The scholars will find a precedent for this in Abu Hanifa, who paradoxically, was neither a Hanafi nor a professional Hanafi Mufti. This is a streak that one can implicitly see throughout the work (pp. 115-120). The author very subtly tries to rescue Abu Hanifa from Hanafi scholars who are engaged in ‘self-contained discourse’, where the fiqh is presented ‘with reference to itself rather than its sources’, a partial and anachronistic understanding of fiqh that is severed from reality.

Equally unique is the author’s discussion on the development of the sciences of Hadith. One of the major drawbacks, that this reviewer has noticed, in some traditional Islamic circles is that people tend to treat the works of the scholars in a way as if they were all written in the same era; working with the same hermeneutical devices and employing terminologies that are ossified in time. This kind of attitude towards the sources leads to misunderstanding and unfounded criticism as the author has shown. Abu Hanifa cannot be blamed for following a hadith deemed to be weak by later standards if those standards were not available in his day and age. If the Hanafi School is founded upon those standards used by Abu Hanifa, then it is not fair to judge the actions of its followers through later developments. This is a very important subject as it will put a lot of minds at ease as to why seemingly Abu Hanifa does not follow sound Hadith.

A few personal observations. One does not get an inkling of the author’s opinion regarding the authorship of Al-Fiqh Al-Akbar. Abu Zahra opines that some of the topics discussed in the work seem to have developed after Abu Hanifa. It would have been interesting to see how the author reacts to this assertion. The author very brilliantly sheds light on Abu Hanifa as a Hadith scholar. However, this discussion would have been further enhanced if the author addressed the common cliché that Abu Hanifa knew only 17 Hadiths. An assumption that stems from a comment made by Ibn Khaldun in his Prolegomena (although Ibn Khaldun does indicate it to be a weak claim by using the passive perfective verb ‘qeela’). A section on the Hadith works of the school would have nicely complimented the legacy of Abu Hanifa. Finally, ‘Radd al-Mukhtar’ should read ‘Radd al-Muhtar’ (p. 111).

The author has successfully delivered his promise to understand as to ‘why’ and ‘how’ Abu Hanifa came to deserve the title ‘Al-Imam al-A’zam’; it now remains the duty of the scholars to imbibe Abu Hanifa’s teachings in trying to understand the Qur’an and Sunna holistically in both letter and spirit.

Analysing Muslim Traditions: Studies in Legal, Exegetical and Maghazi Hadith by Harald Motzki – Review by Dr. M. Mansur Ali

With kind permission from Muslim World Book Review

Analysing Muslim Traditions: Studies in Legal, Exegetical and Maghazi Hadith
By Harald Motzki, with Nicolet Boekhoff – Van Der Voort and Sean W. Anthony, (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 2010). Price: £149.15.

Reviewed by Dr M. Mansur Ali,
Cardiff University

Classical orientalist studies of Hadith generally fell under the studies of the origins of Islam. Hence, the primary focus of these studies was to prove the origins and provenance of Hadith. With the absence of any sources contemporary to the Prophet, Western scholars’ attitude towards the corpus of Hadith was sceptical. In other words, for them, in contrast to the Muslim view of Hadith, every hadith was deemed to be a forgery until it can be proven otherwise. Scholars discarded the Muslim approach to Hadith verification as being too formalistic and based only on external criteria (isnad). Hence, they devised their own methodologies for verifying the authenticity and origins of Hadith. Harald Motzki suggested that it will not be prudent to wholly do away with the chain of narrators as a careful study of these chains can tell us a lot about the provenance of a hadith. Rather, the chain of narrators should be studied in tandem with the text of a hadith, which Motzki calls the isnad-cum-matn approach.

The book under review is a collection of articles written by Motzki over the last three decades. The last two articles in the book were written by the other two co-authors. In its preface, Motzki discusses the contents of the book and the processes the articles went through before being available in English. This book has many merits; firstly, all of Motzki’s articles found in this book are being presented in English for the first time. Secondly, all the articles in the collection employ the isnad-cum-matn approach first formulated by Motzki in his study of the Musannaf of ‘Abd al-Razzaq al-San’ani (d. 211/826). In addition to this most of the articles are responses to other scholars who were/are also engaged in the study of the origins of Hadith: chapters 1 and 6, Schacht; chapter 2, Juynboll, chapters 3 and 4, Irene Schnider and chapter 5, Herbert Berg.

Chapter 1 functions as the methodological introduction to the book, while the rest of the chapters are an application of this method. Chapters 5, 6, and 7 take the application of the isnad-cum-matnmethod out of the legal domain to other disciplines such as tafsir and maghazi. They show that theisnad-cum-matn approach can easily be extended to other disciplines and yield similar results unlike Schacht’s method which yielded erroneous results when taken outside the legal traditions, as Cook has shown. The author of chapter 6 has done us kind by providing the Arabic script whilst comparing different versions of a hadith as it is a daunting task to follow slight orthographical changes whilst reading the transliteration. The author of chapter 7 has a wonderful introduction to historiography in general in the introduction to his article.

For this reviewer, the most original and interesting contribution in this book is chapter 2. Over the years, GHA Juynboll has developed, expanded and polished Schacht’s common-link theory to the extent that, for Juynboll it has become the only methodology (usul al-Hadith) worthy of studying Hadith with. Juynboll used this methodology to study the six canonical Hadith collections. It has also been employed by Muslim feminists such as Nevin Reda to prove the authenticity of Hadithrelated to female leading the prayer in a mixed congregation. However elaborate the theory is, in this chapter, Motzki proves that it nevertheless suffers from many methodological and epistemological flaws. This is the most rigorous critique of Juynboll’s common-link theory and a must read for the serious students of Hadith. He shows that in order for the common-link theory to work, every strand of the chain of narrators for a particular hadith text needs to be scrutinised. Without doing this the common-link theory will not yield accurate results. He demonstrates that Juynboll’s over reliance on the chains of narrators found in al-Mizzi’s (d. 742/1341) Tuhfat al-Ashraf (which is only restricted to collecting the chains of narrators found in the six canonical collections and a few other books), is what lead Juynboll to make erroneous conclusions such as denying the historical Nafi’ the client of Ibn ‘Umar (d. 117/735).

Contrary to what some Muslims believe, orientalists are not there to deconstruct and dismantle the foundations Islam. In the absence of any early writings, they try to make an objective and honest attempt to understand what really happened in this early period of Islam. However, it becomes problematic when scholars hold on to their methods religiously even though the fallacy of their approach has been proved. Motzki has obviated all of Juynboll’s arguments and yet, Juynboll makes no attempt to modify his theory as can be seen in his latest work such as The Encyclopaedia of Canonical Collections.

Motzki’s works are highly valued amongst Muslim circles as it comes close to their own scholarship. However, accepting or rejecting Motzki’s thesis will depend on how much reliance one is willing to place on the chain of narrators. At a cost of £149.15 it is not your average coffee table book nor is it an easy read. However, if one can patiently wade through the welter of names and dates, the results are satisfactory. Finally, few orthographical mistakes do not detract from the excellent scholarship displayed in the book. (p.3) ‘Annahu sami’ituhu yaqul’ should read ‘annahu samia’hu yaqul’, (p. 10) ‘first quarter second century’ should read ‘first quarter of the second century’, (p. 23) ‘any of theses types’ should be ‘these types’.

Reference: M. Mansur Ali, Muslim World Book Review (MWBR), Vol. 31, issue 3, spring 2011, pp. 20-21.