The Need for Contextualisation of Islamic Tradition

“To contextualise rulings”, means to take the foundations of something and make it applicable to the times in a meaningful way, or to grant dispensations in areas recognised by the Shariah.

Much of what we see happening today in the “scholarly tradition” under the pretext of “contextualisation” (and reform) is a desperate attempt to convince the society that the modern standards of life are suitable for our religion; by making permissible what is known to be forbidden, in search of some desirable ease. It is rather unwarranted and unqualified reasoning by those who wish to change the rules and regulations of matters that are well established in our religion only to show the world that we have transcended the draconian scholarship of the past. If it is not to please anyone, then the aim is to show that we are qualified, somehow, to excercise our juristic reasoning in order to come up with rulings that are in conformity with the modern standards of life in the West.

Sadly, such people are mistaken by the common folk to be scholars of Islam, since they “give fatwa”. But because they are assumed to be scholars by the common folk, their Ijtihadi-opinions are respected. When in reality, they are simply Naqilin (transmitters) entrusted with the task of transmitting and ruling by the Mu’tamad (relied-upon position) of the madhhab. They are not Mujtahid (one who is able to exercise independent juristic reasoning) even of the lesser degree. Rather they distort and help in destroying a true representation of the religion (unintentionally, of course).

Sh. Al-Mishri Ahmad Ibn al-Hawi said:

…The well known (opinion) with us is the nonexistence of any mujtahid from approximately the time of Ibn ‘Arafah [d. 1401 CE] or Imam Suyuti [d. 1445 CE].

Sidi ‘Abdullah b. Ibrahim in Maraqi as-Su’ud says:

‘(As for) The Ijtihad in the lands of Islamic West

The phoenix flew away with it to the sky’

Here is an interesting observation made by Daniel Haqiqatjou, he says:

Beware the Muslim reformers coming out of Islamic studies university departments.

Often these are very confused individuals, but they speak confidently about the moral imperative to “reform Islam.”

What makes them dangerous is that they quote from the classical texts to make it seem to the average Muslim like their reform is either informed by the tradition or is necessary in light of the manifest “barbarism” of the tradition. But their citations virtually always are either selective, partial, distorted, or all of the above. Sometimes maybe they just don’t know better. Other times it’s clearly deliberate.

One of the things Western academia teaches you is how to be creative with the source material and how to “craft your own reading.” This approach to “scholarship” stems from the postmodernistic notion — a notion that is rife in all the liberal arts — that text has no inherent meaning and it is only different readers that project their opinions and commitments onto the text. This means, in their minds, that no reading is inherently superior to another. Hence, all readings are worth seriously exploring, which is what the university facilitates.

As you can imagine, this makes it very easy for these Muslims to justify a selective, contorted interpretation of the texts as scholarly and sound because “Well, everyone’s reading is in some way selective, so why is my reading any less plausible?” etc. Suffices to say that all this incentivizes far-fetched interpretations that are presented to Muslim laypeople as accurate and faithful conveyances of the tradition.

To be clear, I am only referring to “reformers” here.

Although the above is not restricted to the “reformers” only, it applies to all those who approach traditional texts the same way.

Some rulings in Islam are easy to practice while others are difficult. So, let’s be thankful for that which Allah has made easy for us and ask Him for forgiveness and strength for that which is difficult. No need to claim that one needs to transcend the barriers of Taqlid (imitation) and centuries of scholarship in order to “reform” the Deen so it fits our times and social constructs; it’s like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole—it just can not happen. We can contextualise a text in light of another authorative text, but so long as a precedent exists in our legal texts, we are bound by it. We can find the easiest and appropriate of the two Mu’tamad opinions and practice that. But no need to turn the Deen into a potpourri of Rukhas (dispensations)—“Deen of ease”.

May Allah protect the ‘Ulama al-Haqq and protect us from the Ulama as-Su’.

Establishing the Beginning & End of the Month of Ramadan

Establishing the Beginning & End of the Month of Ramadan— Maliki madhhab

Imam Malik has reported on the authority of ‘Abdullah b. ‘Umar that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said:

“The month is 29 days (at least), so do not fast it until you sight (taraw) the crescent, and do not put an end to it until you sight it. If the sky above you is cloudy, you should compute for it a full 30 days.”

Ahmad Mayyara says:

The beginning of Ramadan is ascertained by establishing one of two things, either
1) the sighting of the crescent, or
2) completion of the 30-days of the month of Sha’ban.

Regional sighting vs Global sighting:

Ahmad ad-Dardir, the noble jurist, mutakallim and Sufi from Egypt, wrote as follows in his super-commentary on Khalil’s Mukhtasar, Ash-Sharh al-Kabir:

“Fasting is generally binding on all the other countries, whether near or distant. No consideration is paid in that connection to whether the distance is such that a prayer can be shortened or whether the rising points of the moon (=start times of lunar days) are the same or differ. Fasting is incumbent on all those to whom a sighting has been transmitted.”

The one who sees the crescent vs the news of it reaching those who didn’t see it themselves:

Regional Sightings are established in two ways:

  1. The one who sees the crescent himself is obligated to fast.
  2. The one to whom the news of the sighting reaches, it is established by either,
    a) the testimony of two upright, male-witnesses, or
    b) news of the sighting reaches him through various independent sources eliminating the possibility of it being a concoction.

In the absence of a Qadhi/Imam or a Jama’ah that can establish these things, one can establish Ramadan by either:

  1. hearing of a sighting from a trustworthy person, or
  2. sighting the crescent oneself.

Global sightings are established in four ways:

  1. News of the sighting is brought from a person who himself heard it from a trustworthy person.
  2. By testimony of someone who heard the news of the sighting from another trustworthy person.
  3. By someone who heard the news of the sighting from the testimony of another.
  4. By means of testimony of someone based on the testimony of another person.

In all four cases, the judgement is the same: if the testimony, which is transmitted, is confirmed as being credible by the person in authority, like the Khalif or a local person in authority, then fasting is obligatory upon all those whom the news reaches and is not classed in the category of testimony. What’s important is that certainty be obtained and uncertainty removed.

Also radio, television, etc. are acceptable means for establishing a sighting from another region. [Ashal al-Masalik]

Following astronomical calculations:

Ibn Nafi’ narrates that Imam Malik said:

If an Imam does not fast according to the sighting of the crescent and does not break his fast according to the sighting of the crescent but instead relies on astronomical calculations then he is not to be followed or obeyed (in that regard).

Ahmad ad-Dardir said:

“The start of Ramadan is established either by completing the thirty-days of the month of Sha’ban or by the sighting of the crescent, not by astronomical calculations according to the mashhur because the legislator—Allah, Subhanahu wa Ta’ala—made the ruling dependent (only) on the sighting of the crescent or the completion of thirty-days for Sha’ban.”

Ahmad Zarruq said:

“It is apparent from his (ibn Abi Zayd) words that no attention should be given to those who follow astronomical calculations, and this is the truth.”

By Abdul Samad Ali

Al-Mazari: Giving verdicts contrary to the established positions of one’s school

Al-Mazari [d. 536 AH] was asked:

Is it possible to take the position of Sa`id bin ‘l-Musayyab in an irrevocably divorced woman by considering her legalised by mere contract? And is this issue from the issues of the fundamentals of the religion (Usul), or from the subsidiary issues (Furu’) in which every mujtahid is correct? And if I do this and did follow Sa`id bin ‘l-Musayyab, then [would it be] with sin or not?

He responded:

I already have a detailed answer I gave for this specific issue, when a question from Tunis (may Allah protect it) came. A man who studied Usul under me some time back got married to a woman, divorced her thrice, then had her returned as a legal wife after another man had contracted with her in marriage without penetration. So a question came to me from the judge and scholars of [Tunis]. Upon this, I condemned him so much that they thought I had permitted them to punish him. I mentioned that if this door is opened, a lot of religious irregularities, negative consequences in following [those] rulings, and preferring scholars of the past over competent contemporary scholars (on top of the difference that has occurred between the scholars of Usul regarding the following of a deceased scholar in the presence of a competent [living] scholar).

The advice I gave was that, as part of the fortified religion, exiting from the school of Malik and his disciples must be prohibited (Nahy) as a safeguard for the means. If [following any scholar of any school from any era] was legalised, [another] man would say, “I can sell a dinar for two, due to what has been reported from Ibn `Abbas”, then another would come and say, “I can marry a woman and take her private part as legal without any representative (Wali) or witnesses, by following Abu Hanifah in the issue of representative and Malik in the issue of witnesses, and I would marry her for just a penny by following al-Shafi`i.” This would be the worst place for harm.

Such activity was usually curbed in previous eras despite the piety of its people and their fear for the sake of their honour and religion. So how about an era in which the situation has become such that its people have fallen far too short of those preceding them, as is evident for the intellectual? This era is more worthy of having such a lax approach to religious affairs curbed. The judges and jurists of [this man’s] place should therefore not even consider the position of [Sa`id bin ‘l-Musayyab]; rather they must enact an annulment against that [marriage] and break [it] up. Their own selves should not allow them to abandon the schools of Malik, al-Shafi`i and Abu Hanifah due to the agreement of all the [Muslim] cities in following them, as this marriage prevents him from [following them]. And how can his own self allow for him to take a female private part as legal today, and have it declared illegal against him by a judge – who may contemplate punishment over that – the very next day?

As for your question regarding whether this issue is from the fundamentals of religion or from its subsidiaries, then according to me, the most correct position is that it is from the subsidiaries, because the reason for difference therein are inconclusive matters, not definitive. This is because the word of marriage in Allah’s statement “… then she would not be legal for him until she marries a husband apart from him” could be the contract as its literal meaning, and intercourse as its metaphorical meaning, or vice versa…

… However, even though this is from the subsidiaries according to me, then [realise] we have already mentioned what would prevent [that] man from [taking] this [alternative interpretation of the verse].

I remember when I was an adolescent by my master in Usul (may Allah have mercy on him). It was the first [night] of Ramadan, and the people had gone to sleep without having intended to fast [the following day]. I said, “We don’t need to make up for this day as is the position of some students of Malik in a solitary narration.” My teacher took me by the ear and told me, “If you want to read knowledge like this, then don’t bother studying at all, because if you start looking for [only] the convenient things on the path, a little heretic will come out of you…”

So you can see how our Imams — who used to fear Allah — used to condemn the one who is lax in his religious affair and exits from one school to another, as this leads to tribulation. And Allah knows the secrets of His servants. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “Leave that which throws you in doubt for that which does not put you in doubt.”

This amount should suffice.

[Fatawa ‘l-Mazari, pg. 151-154, Al-Dār al-Tunisiyyah Tunis, 1st edition, 1414 A.H.]

He further said, indirectly indicating to the lax nature of his contemporaries in passing rulings:

“All praise is for Allah, the only one who is praised, and the only one consulted in every affair. We seek His refuge from becoming those who are overpowered by predilection, and make ignorance their last place and abode. I turn to Allah that he does not make us from those who thinks knowledge is all about claims, and who wants to flood the laymen with his rulings – such a person is far removed. Knowledge is only that which its people testify to, and greatness is only that which is known from those who possess it. The law is not by the one who says ‘Me’, and suffices with being commended and praised.”

[Fatawa ‘l-Mazari, pg. 307, Al-Dār al-Tunisiyyah Tunis, 1st edition, 1414 AH]

Lastly, it should be noted that Al-Mazari’s opinion was directed at those in authority, passing edicts and judgements, not at laymen. He says:

“I would not pass rulings apart from that which is Mashhur. I would not place the people on anything else. Indeed, fear of Allah and safeguarding for the religion has diminished. There are a lot of those who claim knowledge and are bold enough to pass rulings without any insight. If this door was opened for them, so that they could go against the famously established position school, the tear would widen from the patch, and the school’s cover of awe would be breached. This is from the evils from which there is no hiding… “

Praising al-Mazari for his stance, Abi Ishaq al-Shatibi Ibrahim bin Musa al-Gharnati [d. 790 AH], said:

“See how this Imam and scholar, despite his leadership and greatness being agreed upon, did not allow passing rulings apart from the famously established position of the school and its known rulings, and this is a Maslahahand necessity—based viewpoint, that fear of Allah and religiosity has diminished in many of those who have jobs in the spreading of knowledge and passing of edicts. If this door was opened, the foundations of the schools – in fact all schools – would be dismantled whatever becomes necessary for something would become necessary for its likes [as well]…”

[Taken from al-Miʿyār ál-Muʿrib Wa-‘l-Jāmiʿ ál-Mughrib by ál-Wansharīsī (died 914 A.H.), 12/25, Ministry of Awqāf and Islāmic Affairs Morocco, 1st edition, 1401 A.H.; originally sourced in al-Shatibi’s al-Muwafaqat]

By Sayyidi I. Ibrahim


Imams of Fiqh and Sufis Aiding Their Followers in The Afterlife

Imam Abdul Wahhab ash-Sha’rani says:

We have mentioned in Kitab al-Ajwibah on the authority of the Imams of the fuqaha (jurists) and the sufis that all the Imams of the fuqaha and sufis  will intercede for their followers. They (their followers) will witness the presence of each of them at the moment their soul leaves their body, at the point they are questioned by Munkar and Nakir (in the grave), when they are resurrected, when they are gathered, when they are brought to account, when their actions are weighed on the scale, and when they come to the bridge (Sirat). The Imams of the fuqaha and the sufis will not abandon them (their followers) at any stage in the stages of the afterlife.

When our Shaykh, Shaykhul-Islam, Nasir-ud-Din al-Laqqani passed away, one of the righteous people saw him in a dream and this righteous person said to him: “What has Allah done with you?” He replied: ‘When the two angels sat me up in the grave in order to ask me questions, Imam Malik came to them and said, “Does someone like him require his Iman (belief) in Allah and His Messenger ﷺ to be questioned?” Then the two angels moved away from him (Imam Malik) and moved away form me.’

If the scholars of the sufis take care of their followers and mureeds in all of their affairs and difficulties in this world and the afterlife, then how will it be with the Imams of the four schools of thought who are Awtad on the Earth, the pillars of the religion, the trustees of the Lawgiver (who are responsible) for His nation? May Allah be pleased with them all.

So, my brother, gladly follow any Imam from amongst them as you wish—all Praise belongs to Allah.

[Abdul Wahhab ash-Sha’rani, Al-Mizan al-Kubra. Tr. Mohammad Jamili]



Maliki School: The Timbukti Syllabus

The Timbukti syllabus is an old method of teaching; it was the exact method of teaching adopted by scholars in Medina before and after Imam Malik: A student reads before the scholar, just like children read to the teacher, and if he makes a mistake, the teacher corrects him. The teacher interprets and explains the sacred texts to the student. The order that is followed in teaching the series of books of jurisprudence (fiqh)—according to the Maliki school—differs from place to place and from one school to another. However, the most common order is as follows:

  1. Qawāʿid aṣ-Ṣalāh (or Kawaʿidi) is a treatise of about thirty pages by an unknown author. It concerns the principles of prayer and articles of faith.
  2. Mukhtaṣar al-Akhḍarī by Abū Zaid ʿAbdur-Raḥmān al-Akhḍarī, which is an introduction to Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) with emphasis on purification of the heart (taṣawwuf), ritual purity (tahārah) and prayer (ṣalāh).
  3. Al-ʿAshmāwiyyah by ʿAbd al-Bārī al-ʿAshmāwī ar-Rifāʿī, which is an introductory text that covers ritual purity (tahārah), prayer (ṣalāh) and fasting (ṣawm). It is studied alongside:
  4. Manẓūmah al-Qurṭubī fiʾl-ʿIbādāt by Yaḥyā al-Qurṭubī, which is another introductory text covering the five pillars of Islam: creed (ʿaqīdah), prayer (ṣalāh), fasting (ṣawm), alms (zakāh) and pilgrimage (ḥajj) to the holy sanctuary.
  5. Al-Muqaddimah al-ʿIzziyyah by Abul Ḥassan ʿAlī ash-Shādhilī is an intermediate text that concerns the jurisprudence of worship (ʿibādāt), commercial transactions (muʿāmalāt), as well as social ethics. It is studied alongside:
  6. Naẓmu Muqaddimah Ibn Rushd by ʿAbd ar-Raḥmān ar-Rāfiʿī, which is an intermediate text that adds to Manẓūmah al-Qurṭubī. It explains the jurisprudence concerning the five pillars of Islam in detail.
  7. Al-Risālah by Abū Muḥammad ʿAbdullāh ibn Abī Zayd al-Qayrawānī is another intermediate text in the school. The first half is on worship (ʿibādāt), the second concerns aspects of jurisprudence such as marriage (nikāḥ), divorce (ṭalāq), commercial transactions (muʿāmalāt), inheritance (mīrāth), punishments (ḥudūd) and social ethics. This text has the distinction of being continuously taught for over a thousand years—the only fiqh text to have reached us with tawātur (mass-transmission). One unique feature is that the author often uses prophetic traditions (ahādīth) to construct the wording of the text.
  8. Al-Murshid al-Muʿīn by Ibn ‘Āshir, which is an extensive text, categorised into three sciences: Ashʿarī Theology (ʿaqīdah), Maliki Jurisprudence (fiqh) and Spirituality (taṣawwuf) based on the spiritual path of Imam Junaid al-Baghdādī.
  9. Miṣbāh al-Sālik by ʿAbd al-Waṣīf Muḥammad is one of the first advanced books of the Maliki school that is studied before studying later advanced works. This book covers theology, all chapters of jurisprudence (worship, marriage, transactions, commerce, judicial law etc.), and social ethics (akhlāq).
  10. Aqrab al-Masālik by Aḥmad bin Muḥammad bin Aḥmad ad-Dardīr is an advance text that is an abridgement of al-Khalil’s Mukhtaṣar. The author leaves out the differences of opinion, and clarifies some difficult passages from Mukhtaṣar.
  11. Mukhtaṣar Khalīl by Khalīl ibn Isḥāq al-Jundī is the last advance text that is covered by the students of the Maliki school.  It concerns the differences of opinion among major authorities within the school. It has an unrivalled position in the later Maliki school and is the relied upon and mufta bihi text today.


Hausa Women in the Twentieth Century, edited by Catherine M. Coles, Beverly Mack
Maliki Law: The Predominant Muslim Law in Nigeria, by Barr. Abdullahi Ghazali

How To Perform The Solar Eclipse Prayer

When the sun is eclipsed, total or partial, then the Prophet ﷺ is reported to have performed Salātul Kusūf (solar eclipse prayer). The Prophet ﷺ said:

“Verily, the sun and the moon are two of the signs of Allah and they do not eclipse on account of the death or birth of anybody. So whenever you see this, pray and invoke (Allah) until it is over.
[Related by Muslim]

How it is performed according to the Hanafi school:

When the sun is eclipsed, the imam prays two rak’ahs with the people, like the form of the nafl (supererogatory prayer). There is only one bowing in each rak’ah (just as any other prayer). The imam lengthens the recitation in both (of the rak’ahs) and he makes the recitations (inaudible), according to Abu Hanifa….

Afterwards, he makes a supplication until the sun appears again. The imam who performs the jumu’ah prayer with them prays with the people and if the imam is not present, the people pray it individually.

There is no khutbah for the eclipse prayer.

[Source: Mukhtasar al-Quduri]

How it is performed according to the Maliki, Shafi’i and Hanbali school:

It is a sunnah to perform Salatul Kusuf whenever there is a solar eclipse. According to the Hanafis and Hanbalis, it is nafl. The imam goes to the mosque and begins to lead the people in prayer without either an adhan or an iqama. It is recommended that it be performed in congregation, but it can also be performed at home, by oneself. The complete method to pray the solar eclipse prayer is as follows:

  1. Make an intention to pray this sunnah prayer and make the opening takbir.
  2. Recite (inaudibly) the Fatihah and a long surah of the Quran i.e. Surah al-Baqarah or its like.
  3. Say ‘Allahu Akbar’ and go into ruku. Stay in ruku for a considerable period of time.
  4. Say ‘Sami’ Allahu li-man Hamida’ and stand back up.
  5. Recite the Fatiha, again, followed by another long surah of the Quran that is not as long as the previous one i.e. Surah Aali ‘Imran or its like.
  6. Say ‘Allah Akbar’ and go into ruku, less prolonged than the first.
  7. Say ‘Sami’ Allahu li-man Hamida’, followed by ‘Rabbana wa laka l-Hamd’.
  8. Then make two prolonged prostrations (Sajdatain).
  9. Say ‘Allahu Akbar’ and stand back up.
  10. Repeat steps (2) through (8), however, not as prolonged as the first; reciting Surah an-Nisa (or its like) in the third standing and Surah al-Ma’idah (or its like) in the fourth.
  11. Say ‘Allahu Akbar’ and sit back up.
  12. Finally, say the tashahhud and then the salam

According to the Shafi’is and some Hanbalis, the imam then gives a sermon (Khutbah). However, according to the Malikis, there is no khutbah, but there is no harm in the imam taking the opportunity to admonish and remind the people.

[Sources: Risalah Ibn Abi Zayd || Muqaddimat al-Hadramiyyah || al-‘Umda fi ‘l-Fiqh]

Moon-sighting or Saudi-following?

Firstly, giving an *informed opinion* about an issue is not the same as “confusing the people”; it’s cognitive dissonance if anything. When ignorance is widespread, knowledge is what is needed; knowledge of Fardhul ‘Ayn because knowledge comes before action.

Allah says in the Qur’an:

“So whoever from amongst you *witnesses* the month, let him fast.”
[Sūrah al-Baqarah, V. 185]

Ibn Abdul Barr comments on the above Ayah:

He means – and God knows best – whoever among you knows, with a knowledge that is certain, that the month has indeed begun must fast it.” And knowledge that is certain is (based on) either a clear and widespread sound sighting or the completion of thirty days of the previous month.”

Qur’an demands testimony of sighting as the Sabab (causation). Testimony must only be of factual presence, not based on possibilities.

“Sighting of the crescent is demanded by Sharī’ah”

[Hanafī: Hāshiyah Radd al-Mukhtār]
[Mālikī: Risālah ibn Abī Zayd]
[Shāfi’ī: Muhadhdhab of Shirāzī]
[Hanbalī: Mughnī of Ibn Qudāmah]

Imām as-Subkī says:

If a calculation shows that moon doesn’t exist on the horizon yet a Muslim claims to have seen it, then this testimony is to be *rejected*, due to the absence of evidentiary qualities.

As for “sighting”, there are two opinions:
1) Local Sighting: Various horizons at locality (points of rising).
2) Global Sighting: Single horizon globally.

There is no such thing as “Saudi sighting” or “Pakistani Sighting”. The formation and visibility of new crescent will never be at the same location, every month.

Here are some statistics for countries that relied on *calculation* for Ramadhan:

– Saudi Arabia: From 1961-2004, went with the *wrong* day 64% of the time, when the crescent was *not* even present on the horizon; 23% possible and 13% definite.

– Syria: From 1950-2001, went with the *wrong* day 59% of the time, when the crescent was *not* even present on the horizon; 33% possible and 13% definite.

– Morocco: From 1963-2004, went with the *wrong* day 1% of the time, when the crescent was not even present on the horizon; 74% possible and 25% definite. They relied on accurate calculations *with* local (naked-eye) sighting.

Saudi Arabia is *not* the Muslim Vatican, so if you really want to follow the sighting of a particular country, it should be obvious (based on the above) which one you should really be following.

Imām al-Bājī said:

If anyone did rely on calculations (for moonsighting) I opine that he should *not* consider his fasting sound based upon calculation and return to sighting (the crescent) or the completion of thirty-days. If that results in him having to make up any days, he should…