Tag Archives: Islam

In Defense of Music in Islam – Part 3

Having briefly elaborated on the concept of Music (in the previous posts) which by now should have the reader put in perspective what is typically referred to as Music. Many criticisms of Music then seem worthless of pursuing because obviously the critics don’t even know what they are criticizing. The aspiring critical mind then filters criticisms and only pays attention to those that seem to know what they are saying. The trap is that using big and alien words to form captivating accounts on Music places a shroud of authority on the speaker; nothing captures the aspiring critical mind than the satisfaction of being privy to an untangled conspiracy theory. Given the need for experts of Music (Scholars of the Context) in ethical and legal pronouncements, these interesting critics could be offered misplaced authority. I shall share a criticism of Music I came across which at first appears to come from an informed perspective, although flawed. Then we can look briefly at what it means to attribute certain evils to Music.


On The Evil of Music

The article is titled The Evils of Music by Maulana I. Suleiman. Read it here if you like. His argument is that Music is an instrument of indoctrination (through behaviorism) deliberately used towards evil ends e.g. those of Satanists. Therein lies the issue that Music is not the problem but those that are using it, but he doesn’t see it that way. He makes references to the Qur’an mentioning a verse we had earlier shown (in Part 1) to be non-definitive enough to derive legal conclusions. He further quotes a hadith (which seems like a Qudsi) where Satan is associated with (as a consumer of) alcohol, music, public baths, market place etc. The hadith seems to present Satan more as reprehensible than to derive a legal prohibition. After all the reprehensible quality of these acts is not denied by any Muslim.

Suleiman further mentions three technological instruments and one social instruments used by the Music industry… to spread evil. The first technological instrument is backtracking. This is where it begins to sound like an unsubstantiated conspiracy theory. I remember the first time I was introduced to backtracking in that famous audio/video documentary on Freemasons which nearly all Muslims have listened to. It was claimed, and even demonstrated that certain Madonna songs, and Bone Thugs & Harmony, and Micheal Jackson songs were satanist indoctrination tools. The songs are played backward and it sounds all incomprehensible but then we believed the documentary for God knows why; premature critical thinking perhaps. We were gullible to believe since we certainly didn’t have any evidence to back the conspiratorial claim. The assertion here by Suleiman is that the left part of the brain (subconscious) has the power to make sense of disorganized information that the main brain/cognition cannot make sense of. Simply put: We know you don’t understand this sound but this is actually what it is saying to you (e.g. “Satan is king”), and the only evidence we have is this incomprehensible sound… and that’s it. Yet they tell you what it says word for word, even though you obviously can’t hear that; and that is what they call and we accept as evidence?!

Subliminal messages fall under the same category as backtracking here, but I think subliminal messages may hold more water evidence wise. Therefore the author believes that by sneaking in evil messages in Music, people consume music and are indoctrinated by Satanist agenda thereby to take over the world. All this assumes a lot we will not get into e.g. that the Music industry has a Satanist agenda, that humans are that easily programmable, that the subconscious knows how to play a music track in reverse! etc. For what it is worth, all these conspiracy theory on Music and Satanist indoctrination is an issue for certain Christian groups especially in the US which Muslims seem to inherit (not unlike the creationist-evolutionist debate).

By backtracking songs I would think they mean songs that have hidden messages when played backwards. The first song widely known for this is stairway to heaven. When played backwards it has satanic messages. An unfortunate example is the Barack Obama “Yes We Can” song. When played backwards it says thank u satan. Another famous offender is Jay-Z whose “Murda Marcyville” clearly says Murder Jesus. (see link above)

According to the author, the second technology is Blackmasking which is really is like backtracking in effect but uses musical notes to hide message. What he says about backmasking is rather uncomprehensible “Another way around Satan: will be written as notes and then everything would be written the other way around and then youll have a new message”. It may be that the author is mixing up what is regarded as backtracking and blackmasking. The concerned reader may wish to clarify this at the website; hopefully it’d make sense.

The last technological instrument of Satanist agenda according to the author are accessories like speaker systems and disco lights. The charge is that these technologies enhances the effect of Satanic indoctrination from Music. To this last one I would ask: what does one make of audio systems (that familiar echo) and elaborate lighting embedded in Mosque architectures to enhance worship. Do we praise Islam for their effectiveness, why then blame Music for their use in night clubs, even if we take the charge to be true.

The author also mentions social instrument which is simply something we have always known, which is of the misguided role model. This of course is not a creation motivated by Music industry, it is simply the effect of Role Models just as we consciously look towards emulating people that come closest to our ideals. Of all the technological and social instruments mentioned, it is not difficult to see how it relates to Music, but also how it is not limited to Music because several other issues are intertwined. Music is simply used as a scape goat here. The big question in the end is whether all these are the evils of Music, or the evils of a particular culture of Music? Keep in mind that the conspiracy theories mentioned are not substantiated by evidence by the author… just appealing to people’s biases, ignorance and a misplaced authority on the topic of Music.

On Evidence

The misunderstanding that abounds the topic of Music is perennial. It makes one wonder whether art is ever supposed to be defined and subjected to the coarse manhandling of common sense, instead of simply being expressed and allowed to express. I had already mentioned in previous post (Part 2) that common sense and everyday morality is sufficient to place many activities in their proper place on the moral continuum. That does not however give one the intellectual insight or epistemilogical credibility to pronounce legal rulings on such matters. These matters include many of the activities that are associated with the popular Music industry e.g. immoral music videos etc. Apart from legal deductions, another area of fallacious deduction is statistical inference and causation, which may even be the main reason why people easily support legal prohibition of Music in Islam because it seems to make sense. The fallacy goes thus: The youth these days are very immoral, look at how immoral the music videos they watch, therefore the youth these days are immoral BECAUSE of the immoral music videos they watch and listen to.

If there’s one thing we know from behavioral psychology, it is that humans are not good at statistical deductions (see Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman). In this age of big data we need powerful computing power to run statistical computations efficiently, but that alone doesn’t guarantee its accuracy. Welcome to the world of probability, the real world where Black is never black but a very improbable white! This is the science of data. Even within data science, determining causation is one of the most difficult tasks one could embark on.

Hence the maxim of statistics “correlation does not imply causation“. What this means is that simply because the cock crows every time the sunrises doesn’t mean the cock causes the sun to rise. It would be absurd to believe that with minimum common sense. Neither could one conclude that the sunrise causes the cock to crow, even though this conclusion is very tempting. The layman could believe the second conclusion as a useful rule of thumb because it doesn’t seem as absurd as the first conclusion, and also it might appear to hold true many times; i.e. cocks might always crow at sunrise but there won’t always be sunrise when cocks crow. To the academic Scholar of Context, the two conclusions are both unreasonable and therefore equivalently un-credible for scholarly pursuits. In the absence of further studies, the scholar of context would rather believe that a cock’s crow and sunrise are correlated, not one caused by another, which means there might be a third element that causes the cock to crow at the same time as the the sun rises. So the real cause may be God! See how scholars might be more insightful compared to the layman simply because they were critical, statistical, men of thinking :). Let us not get carried away, we are taking about Music here.

To say that Music culture is the cause of the immorality today is un-scholarly without going through a proper method of proof. If the layman holds that as true, it certainly does not befit one in authority as a scholar of text or scholar of context to use these conclusions as the basis of their legal conclusion. Unless their legal conclusion is not up to the standard of Ijtihad and merely a cautious rule of thumb; if that is the case, as there’s nothing wrong with that, then call it that but don’t wrap it in strong legal language that project on it authority. Personally I think blaming Music, as we hear a lot these days, is just one way to deepen the problem we find ourselves facing because we are obscuring the problem even more by pointing the finger in the wrong direction. Many parents are quick to jump on this bandwagon because it is much easier for them to point the finger at some distant music artist and company than to accept they have not done well in raising a child with a critical moral compass to tread the world; in a pathetic attempt, some parents simply ban Music rather than step up to the challenge. But like all the ego driven, and blame-transferring, motivations that drive much of our religious debates, we carelessly use these rhetoric to assert our moral superiority. God save us from the machinations of the Ego.

I think it is safer to say that the thriving of immorality we find ourselves is correlated to the immoral Music culture we adopt. That is to say it is more probable that another thing (e.g. our servility to our egos) is probably the reason why we are both immoral and celebrate immoral Music culture. This other thing (ego) that may be the cause, is what we need to work on in order to rid ourselves of the immorality we ostentatiously denounce. If bad parenting is the cause, then we need to be better parents in conditioning children. In Usul ul Fiqh (especially the Maliki flavour), there is a technique/source which is Sadd ad Dara’i (which refers to using law to block the means an evil end). Is immoral music culture really the means towards immorality? Be aware that “means” here has more resemblance to statistical causality than to statistical correlation. Whatever the answer is, this is where we need Scholars of Context to inform us. Then it might inform us of the legal standing of Music, at least those who recognize Sadd ad Dara’i as a source of law.

Moving Forward

Does all this mean that we the defenders of music condone the state of Music culture we have today? To this question we must first correct the question so that “culture” becomes the plural “cultures”, or else what has been said in previous posts would be pointless. It should be obvious that we (the defenders of Music) similarly have issues with the dominant culture of Music especially popular music. In fact, this is one of my motivation to write this piece, as a vindication of the defenders of Music, because it seems the prohibiters of Music and the defenders (my type) share similar issues against dominant Music cultures, only to find the prohibiters bundling us together with the zombies of Music culture. The defenders are not looking for the prohibiters to acknowledge them as allies because that would eventually end up in another disaster. My second motivation is that I am drawn towards being a promoter of Music because I appreciate the potential it holds. I don’t mean potential as in capabilities of Da’wah (if Da’wah to you means converting people to Islam), but towards a more meaningful existence where we are able to express and to be open to expressions. A more soulful existence! The more soulful, the more Fitrah. In that case there is nothing particularly special about Music, the goal is towards artistic expression in general. Only that I can speak with more experience from Music background and HipHop in particular. How do I intend to do this? That is discussion for another day.

As a final note, just in case some of us have started thinking about “Islamic” Music, I would caution us as we venture into that direction because “Islamic” has become a word with baggage that could mislead. It seems Islamic music is simply one that has references to Islamic words, regardless of the content and its spirit. For instance a song about how being a particular type of Muslims means salvation and hell otherwise may be erroneously considered Islamic because it has the terms and symbols, but such arrogant and careless statements are not in the spirit on Islam. I agree with Tariq Ramadan on this; this is his view. Anything ethically sound is Islamic! “Islamic” here is a philosophical, not cultural or historical. I leave you with some words from Tariq Ramadan:

For Muslim women and men around the world, his (The Prophet) story embodies a powerful lesson. We hear of “Islamic chants” (anacheeds) that are supposedly “Islamic” because they express religious themes, or because they employ no instruments, or because they are based on traditional or Qur’anic texts. In this light, only such chants are permissible (halal) in Islam, the only form of creativity recognized. There are indeed scholars who hold such a position, but it is far from unanimous. In To Be a European Muslim (written in 1996) I dealt with these views and took a clear position on music in Islam. Not only is it permitted, but Muslim women and men must also reconcile themselves with art, with creativity, and with the imagination in all its dimensions. Guided by their ethical bearings, they must not allow themselves to be enchained by the adjective “Islamic” that ends up isolating them, suffocating them, and depriving them of their creative energy in the universe of art, of music, painting, sculpture and literature. Muslims are constantly justifying themselves ; they feel obliged to describe everything as “Islamic” to satisfy and to conform to the norm. But our ethical concerns must not force upon us an obsession with the norms of “licit” and “illicit” (halal and haram).



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In Defense of Music in Islam – Part 2

In “Part 1” of this post, we touched on the requirement of Usul ul Fiqh (Islam’s jurisprudence) necessary to prohibit any act; based on the legal maxim that everything is permissible until proven otherwise. We saw two arguments on the legal position of Music in Islam. I even advised that there are better ways to one’s time and energy than engaging in these debates; especially because there are hardly new dimensions brought into the argument but are simply regurgitation of arguments by scholars from history leading to a historically rooted stalemate. Obviously, Music is a big social issue especially today, so are we going to continue in this vicious cycle of repetitive polemics? When shall we break free? Are we even engaging with the issue of Music properly?

Religious Authority: Sayyad Muhammad Hussein Fadallah
Website URL: http://www.hawza.net
Question: What is the Ayatollah’s fatwa on the status of classical music?
Answer: I am not that knowledgeable in the field of music. However, it is usually said that classical music has an intellectual nature and stimulates thinking. If this is correct, it is easy to say that such music is permissible.

Above is a Fatwa on Music which I saved for this post; save the best for last. I prefer this Fatwa even over those that explicitly permit Music. The main reason for my preference is the Mufti’s humility about Music. Now here is someone who acknowledges his knowledge gap on the said issue, then only give his Fatwa on certain conditions. Of course I would like to hope the other Muftis research the topic before they issue Fatwas however, their research doesn’t seem to start from the most fundamental question of all: what is Music? Instead they go deep into the deliberations of past scholars who equally, and perhaps more understandably, didn’t ask that fundamental question. The reason is that past scholars were more aware of their culture, in some cases even active producers not simply consumers of their cultures. When asked about Music, both the questioner and the questioned probably agree on what they referred to as Music. The meaning of Music would have been a precisely understood vocabulary within their shared but well demarcated culture. However living in the cultural salad we do at present, it is difficult to ask any serious listener of Music about Music without throwing back the question: What genre of Music?


That is to say the genres a society would be familiar with in the past were much fewer compared to today. Therefore all the past Fatwas (both prohibiting and permitting) on Music must have had a particular type of Music in mind even when not explicitly mentioned. If they assumed to answer for the whole of Music, then those scholars were probably too ambitious because it would have been much less likely that they would even be aware of the variety of world Music back then compared to today. Similarly when today people refer to Music with regards to prohibition in Islam, and they don’t ask that fundamental question, but have an understanding between the questioner and the questioned of what Music means, then they are both probably not qualified to talk about Music in general. That is to say they probably both believe that Music refers to that particular Music that falls within popular culture (especially MTV, BET, Channel O etc) and they use that to generalize to other Music forms. That is indeed unfair to Music. The average zombie consumer of Music (fans of MTV, BET, Channel O etc) and the Mufti declaring/regurgitating its prohibition, while both deluded that they grasp that universal expression called Music, have one thing in common which is that they are not qualified to make authoritative/legal remarks on Music as a whole. The least they could do to have some intellectual credibility is to begin by qualifying what they mean by Music; making it more specific.

“The creation, performance, significance, and even the definition of music vary according to culture and social context.” – Wikipedia

The truth is that Music is, and cannot be, removed from a cultural framework. Music has never existed as an absolute, free from cultural significance (or in a form of platonic world of forms). You might find within the same culture that Music serves different purposes e.g. mothers singing lullabies to their children, while folk history is preserved in songs, while the religious sing and dance to songs of praises, while the hedonists combine it with intoxicants and sex, while the warriors sing as they march towards battle; all this may be with or without instruments. A common example of this in the past is during the Prophet’s time, it was clear that Music in Makkah and Madinah were different at least in social significance. The Prophet was reported to have allowed the people of madinah to enjoy their Music during celebrations because the Madinan women were lovers of Music, and he didn’t see it contradict the Shari’ah. True, some forms of the Music may be more dominant within a community and might hijack the meaning of Music for that community. The point is that as one moves between communities, the variety, definition and significance of Music changes such that what is applicable to “Music” in one community may not be applicable to another. That said, it means it is a fallacy to take legal judgement about Music in one community (even the Prophet’s Madinah), then impose it on Music in another community with different parameters for what Music is; not in a religion/deen that claims universality in application of its laws.

Some would argue: if all these aspects of Music that change between cultures are identified as Music in some way, then there has to be something that all Music share which makes them Music! If that is so then, were we to get a legal ruling on those things common to all Music then that ruling would apply to all the Music forms I have been trying to defend. I agree, that seems reasonable. With that logic in mind, some have taken a reductionist approach, not only to identify musical instruments as that common thing in Music, but even to reduce Music to simply being nothing more than a mechanical orchestration of sounds. It is not difficult to see the fault of the reductionist approach when one lets go of their biases, because certainly not all Music requires Musical instruments. Moreover it is established that tools in the Prophet’s time (including forms of expressions) like swords and poetry are neither good or bad in themselves but in how they are put to use. However the faulty reductionist understanding of Music has lead to misinformed legal prohibitions on Music on the one hand, but also the creation of an “Islamic” music genre of the Nasheed. This is the genre that is basically a cappella like the barbershop style or hiphop’s beatboxing (no certain instruments) BUT sounds could be made with the voice or percussion. There are a couple of Nasheeds I quite enjoy, at least one is almost safe in expecting positive content which is perhaps one of it’s strong qualities.

Nasheeds are well intentioned (which is very admirable) but it is also based on a faulty understanding that is almost contradictory: reductionist understanding of Music but transcendental in its appreciation of Music. Merely listening to some Nasheed songs, one forgets there is a restriction on the type of instruments allowed because it sounds no different from other instruments to the untrained ears. Moreover, with advancement in Digital Signal Processing, what it means to uniquely identify certain instruments becomes too technical and eventually superficial when one realizes that at the hands of a sound engineer there may be no distinction between outputs from a voice and input from instruments. What about the aficionado beatboxers who can mimic many instruments with their voices; their voices (instruments) or the sounds of their voices, which gets prohibited?!

Music is an expression for all, so universal. But intellectual and legal discussions about Music is not a field for all. The subtleties of Music like the art it is could lead to absurd conclusions, if not properly understood and digested from all the dimensions it occupies, even if very well intentioned; playing safe is a choice at the expense of artistic experience not an obligation. So who is qualified to discuss Music especially with the aim of reaching ethical and legal decisions today?

Who is the Qualified Authority On Music Ethics
Anyone with basic idea of what they regard as immoral can identify what they consider immoral in any Music e.g. most ethical people agree that most of the music videos on MTV and BET are immoral. That would be fine, so long as one does not see their ability to makes these moral deductions as giving them the authority to pronounce legal rulings on the subject of Music. Experts in this field would be required to make any legal pronouncement, until then we the lay people should stick to judging it based on our ethical standards while acknowledging our limitation in the field.

Owing to the complexity of many areas of ethical and legal investigation today, from economy to medicine to education to art, a sustainable and informed legal position require both scholars of the Text and scholars of the Context. Scholars of the text are the Muftis that keep us grounded in Scripture wherein we find the essence of Islam that keeps us faithful. Scholars of the context keep us in touch with reality as it is, its historical trail and future trajectory. How does Music fall into these complex categories? “Music is an art form the medium is sound!”. Music has evolved, like many things/practices over time. Music has evolved vertically in terms of the complexity of its content; e.g. the complexity of sounds, the interaction between melody and poetry, rhymes, the sophistication of genres etc. Music also evolved horizontally, especially due to globalization as it interacts with other Musical expressions from different cultural backgrounds; e.g. the creation of new genres that fall between existing genres, newly acquired relevance to Music in different cultures… etc.

For ethical deliberations the most qualified “scholar of context” may not be a musician, it would be the Ethnomusicologist, the Music Psychologist and others in that field. I find the Wikipedia definitions for these disciplines more succinct than I could put it.

“Ethnomusicology is an academic field encompassing various approaches to the study of music (broadly defined) that emphasize its cultural, social, material, cognitive, biological, and other dimensions or contexts instead of or in addition to its isolated sound component or any particular repertoire.” – Wikipedia

“Music psychology, or the psychology of music, may be regarded as a branch of both psychology and musicology. It aims to explain and understand musical behavior and experience, including the processes through which music is perceived, created, responded to, and incorporated into everyday life.” – Wikipedia

“To many people in many cultures, music is an important part of their way of life.” For as long as customs (‘Urf) is a source of Shariah, then summary and uninformed legal pronouncement on the topic beyond one’s expertise should be avoided. We that defend Music without proper qualification, only do it based on the argument in the “Part 1” of this post: that it is adequate to disregard a legal ruling if shown to be made from an uninformed position. This would be tantamount to having someone who has casually observed Muslims praying Friday prayers on the streets and thereby blocking road access to others conclude that Muslim prayer is illegal because it obstructs roads; they might even claim to be authoritative in Muslim prayers because they can demonstrate what they observed of the movements without knowing the supplications and meanings involved. (Sorry for the bad analogy but I hope you understand the point)

Indeed we need Scholars of the Text and Scholars of the Context to come together before arriving at legal rulings on complex topics, including Music of today. Having argued the need for Scholars of the Context, next part of this post, we shall conclude by looking at some that appear to be Scholars of the Context we so desperately need but might not stand any serious critical evaluation. We shall conclude with some exploration of the process of how we get from receiving information to reaching conclusions that may not be very reasonable, even though we believe so. Stay tuned 🙂


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In Defense of Music in Islam – Part 1

Having alternatives in anything is a good thing, especially if their overarching aim is the same. This is true for food, as much as for religious activities. If we take the Shariah as a comprehensive system that has a coherent aim then having alternatives that are consistent with the aims of the Shariah is a good thing. It is a blessing! Imam Malik is attributed to the saying that legal differences of opinion is a mercy. This is where Muslims owe a great deal to the magnificent science of Usul ul Fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence) which is a source of a jurisprudence that is not monolithic but dynamic and accommodating. These methods were first canonized by Imam al Shaf’i (150 — 204 AH), then made ever better and more relevant by the accumulated effort of many other scholars. Improvement continued up to, and beyond Imam Al Shatibi (died 790 H) whose seminal contribution was the identification of the indispensable relationship between jurisprudence and the higher objectives (aims) of the Shariah; The Maqasid al Shari’ah. These are what majority have agreed to be the aims of the Sharia over time, from Imam Malik (93 AH – 179 AH) to ibn Taymiyya  (661 AH – 728 AH) and other notable scholars who made their contributions in the identification.


There are different legal opinions on the permissibility of Music in Islam. Some have argued it is prohibited whereas others argue it is permissible. This is common for many social issues. In other words, there may be several legal conclusions which are equally valid as long as the objectives of the Shariah are not violated. The case of music could be seen as such; one group is convinced that music is prohibited while another group is convinced that music is not prohibited. There are multitude of scholars in Islam’s history on both sides. It really begs the question why on earth people are still debating these issues only to reiterate the arguments of those past scholars. Boring and monotonous! This view of two possible legal positions with regard to Music is the stand I would like to take for two reasons: it is simple enough; and it avoids contributing to the noisy Internet on Islamic legal matters with half baked thoughts, inadequate scholarship (which is not a substitute for readership), and most importantly the lack of critical thinking.

However the issue of Music is more complex than that. While one may choose to see it as two possible options others, especially those convinced of its prohibition, see it as a case of making the prohibited permissible. To be fair, if one has to engage people of such view, then one should have a charitable understanding of their position; like any honest reasoned/intellectual engagement should. My experience has shown that it is not considered charitable enough to acknowledge that their view is valid (live and let live); after all this is all about how your view (non-prohibiter) is not valid. Even though you, like them, are simply reiterating the arguments/reasoning of past scholars. So, one is inclined to stay quiet. But then these critics of music seem to be the only voice singing the legal prohibition of music, while criticizing music for the same social ills that we the non-prohibiters of music do. It doesn’t help that many Muslims who listen to music anyway rarely have a legal backing to support their disregard for the preached prohibition. The effect is that by our silence, it is implied that we (non-prohibiters) support these social ills and that is just not fair! One must then say to the singers of prohibition: If you insist, then let us talk.

Once, while “supporting” Music in too little a time during a discussion, a friend (who is for the prohibition) said that he is amazed and interested in how I shall argue in support of Music. Well here is the first misunderstanding that leads to uncritical judgement on Music. That he thinks I am the one saddled with the burden of proof for permissibility of Music. “Supporting” Music has too levels in this case: defending the unfair cases against music, and promoting Music. All critical intellectuals should defend Music from the unfair bashing it gets, while artists who see the potential of music should promote it. These posts are going to focus primarily on the first type of support; defending.

Another way to understand the last paragraph from the framework of Usul ul Fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence) is to understand that permissibility is not the opposite of prohibition, as appealing as that duality feels. Actually prohibition is an exception to permissibility! It is a legal maxim in Usul that everything is permissible until shown otherwise; kind of like “innocent until proven guilty”. Therefore the burden of proof is always on the “plaintiff” who throws the charge of prohibition. The implication of this is that to defend Music, one need not show it’s benefits or texts that promote it, it is sufficient to show the inconsistencies, paradoxes and inadequacies in the method that arrives at showing that Music is indeed prohibited. Through the legal jargon that “scholars” quote in Arabic, there is actually supposed to be a coherent method and a clear aim! Unfortunately many are intimidated by the jargon and worse than some of us in critical thinking, so they end up with a glorified Taqlid (blind followership).

With that in mind I shall take a brief commentary tour on positions that are for and against Music, starting with the latter. Like I said, these arguments (especially prohibiting Music), if one is familiar with, are quite dreary and repetitive so taking a single sample from both sides suffices to make the point I intend. On the side of the prohibiters, we have Sheikh Abu Usamah At-Thahabi. On the side of the defenders (not really a promoter) is Imam John (Yahya) Ederer. Before that, here are some Fatwas by religious authorities having varying views to grease the reader’s mind on the variety available (from Islamopediaonline).

Religious Authority: Ibrahim Ahmed Salqini
Websites and Institutions: Aleppo Darul Ifata
The majority of the scholars are of view that listening to music is prohibited. However, there are views from later scholars that so long as it does not provoke human desires there would be no objection. The safe opinion is the view of the majority, as there is much evidence from Hadith warning: There shall be among my Ummah people who would render adultery, silk , alcohol, and musical instruments lawful.

Religious Authority: Yusuf al-Qaradawi
Website URL: http://www.islamonline.net
Conclusion on Permissibility of Musical Instruments:
In the light of the above, it is clear that the religious texts that stand as a basis for those who maintain that singing is haram are either ambiguous or inauthentic. None of the hadiths attributed to Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) is valid as evidence on the judgment of prohibition. Moreover, all these hadiths are declared “weak” by the followers of Ibn Hazm, Malik, Ibn Hanbal, and Ash-Shafi`i.

Religious Authority: Ali al-Sistanti
Website URL: http://www.sistani.org/
Fatwa Question or Essay Title: Is it permissible to use drums and percussion instruments in weddings?
If the music is suitable for entertainment and pleasure, it is not allowed.


This is based on Sheikh Abu Usamah At-Thahabi’s talk on youtube titled “Music : Halal or Haraam?“. It must be acknowledged that his talk was quite comprehensive and among the best I have come accross of those prohibiting Music. He is awareness of different views and cautious not to commit too much to the interpretation of the Qur’an knowing the ambiguity of the oft quoted Qur’an verses. He admits that of the five verses used to argue for prohibition of music in the Qur’an, none of them is definitive (Qat’i) i.e. they are verses that could be interpreted otherwise so not suitable for strong legal rulings. Personally I like ta’weel (personal/esoteric insights into the Qur’an) but I am amazed at how some of those verses are used to imply music; certainly not with a legal implication!

He then mentions that the bulk of the definitive proofs are in the hadiths. He is also of the opinion that a single hadith, among the ones he mentioned, suffices as proof for the prohibition of Music. The gist of the hadiths follow soon but the important thing to note is that some actually contain the word Music. This is one reason why arguments for prohibition are appealing. However Usul ul Fiqh (Islam’s Jurisprudence), as long as we are to follow it’s principles, does not simply allow for one to quote a hadith (or even more) with it’s literal meaning then declear that a legal position. Even if one were to arrive at that conclusion, then methods of Usul ul Fiqh must have been undertaken/considered. I don’t allege this is what Abu Usama did, even it is possible, my point is why the arguments seem appealing. This was a major concern for early jurists. Imam Abu Hanifa said that simply relying on hadiths (as well as unguided reason) would undermine the legal body of Islam, after witnessing how a scholar of hadith dabbled with many hadiths (literal translations) in trying to pass a fatwa… unsuccessfully. Hence the methodical Usul ul Fiqh.

What is supposed to “legally” mean music have been italized in the following verses (Yusuf Ali Translation). Feel free to do more charitable reading by looking up their surrounding verses and even alternative translations:

But there are, among men those who purchase idle tales, without knowledge (or meaning), to mislead (men) from the Path of Allah and throw ridicule (on the Path): for such there will be a humiliating Penalty. (Q31:6)
Wasting your time in vanities? (Q53:61)
Their prayer at the House (of Allah) is nothing but whistling and clapping of hands: (its only answer can be) “Taste ye the penalty because ye blasphemed.” (Q8:35)
Those who witness no falsehood and, if they pass by futility, they pass by it with honourable (avoidance); (Q25:72)

As to the hadiths mentioned by Abu Usama, I shall quote the stronger hadiths used as I understood it from his talk. I didn’t get the reference. I shall quote as I understood from the words of Abu Usama (you can refer to the video to confirm).
The first is hadith narrated by Ibn Abbas “*God has probited alcohol (intoxicant), gambling, and Kooba; and anthing anything that gets you drunk is an intoxicant*”. When students asked Ibn Abbas what Kooba means, he replies it means a drum (Tabl). In a variation of the same hadith, flutes are included.

The second hadith is concerning the permissibility of mourning/weeping with the exception (prohibition) of two types sounds: One for celebration (lahwun wa la’ibun) and the other for calamity (Museebah)… Actually “lahwun wa la’ibun” is more appriately translated as “amusement, diversion and play” NOT celebration; this is based on translation of the same phrase in the Qur’an (Q57:20) which you can confirm. Is it difficult to see the cultural undertone in Abu Usama’s arguments?! His argument here is that Music is the sound for celebration (lahwun wa la’ibun), and we know celebrations are not all the same in every culture.

Abu Usama did much better than many in arguing for the prohibition of Music. One could even say he was a “charitable” Salafi. If some of his flaws are not apparent, then wait for the argument in defence of Music which shall highlight some of them. One other interesting thing is that it is the characteristic of some “charitable” Salafis to consider a position (usually of a renown scholar) that doesn’t make sense to them as a “mistake”. As condescending and presumptuous as this is, it is pacific compared to the more aggressive strand of Salafis that cast Takfeer spells on people they disagree with. However, this condensation and Takfeer spell are not different as intellectual responses. Makes one wonder how difficult it is to agree to disagree on non-fundamental issues!

Now to defenders of Music; Imam John (Yahya) Eberer’s article Regarding the Permissibility of Music. His was a response to a question:

Some scholars and many zealous laymen claim that there is a consensus among jurists as to the prohibition of listening to any music with musical instruments. Some Imams say the opinion that allows it is a strange (شاذ) opinion, which is rejected as baseless by all prominent scholars and schools of thought. If this is true, how can so many Imams and scholars allow this new phenomenon of Islamic music using instruments?

Eberer’s response is that the claim is fallacious because there are many scholars who hold the permissibility of Music with the one common condition that the Music be morally upright. Here is a list of the scholars he mentions that fall in this category, and references to their works:

  • Abdullah bin Ja’far bin Abi Talib (al-Aqd al-Fareed 6/12)
  • Sh. Abu Hamed al-Ghazali (vol. 6 pg. 1150 al-Ihyaa’)
  • Imam al-Shawkani (Ibtal da’wa al-Ijmaa ala mutlaq al-Sama’)
  • Imam ibn Hazm (Al-Muhallah)
  • Imam Abdul-Ghani al-Nablusi (Idaahat al-Dalalaat fee sama’ al-alaat)
  • Sultan al-Ulema al-Iz ibn Abdul-Salam (Rislat al-Sama’)
  • Al-Qadi Ibn Qutaiba al-Daynoor (al-Rukhsah fi al-Sama’)
  • Imam Ibn Tahir al-Qaysirany (pg. 31 al-Sama’)
  • Imam al-Thahabi (al-Rukhsah fil-Ghinaa wa al-Turb)
  • Abu Talib al-Makky (Qoot al-Quloob)
  • al-Qady Ibn Al-Araby al-Makky (Ahkam al-Quran vol. 3 pg. 1494)
  • Sh. Yusuf al-Majishoon the prominent Muhaddith (#3399 ibn al-Khuthayma)
  • Ibn Daqeeq al-Eid (Iqtinas al-Sawanih)
  • Sh. Jad Ali jad al-Haqq (fatawah #3280)
  • Sh. Mahmood Al-Shaltoot (pg. 375 fatawaah)
  • Yusuf al-Qaradawi (The Prohibited and Permitted in Islam)

Eberer goes further to show the weaknesses in some popular arguments put forth for prohibition of Music. Eberer is indeed a defender. Following are parts of scripture used as argument to prohibit Music, which Eberer criticizes the interpretations read to them.

“There are some people who buy distracting/entertaining speech without knowledge in order to mislead people from the path of God…” (Qur’an 31:6)

To this he acknowledges that many scholars interprete this to be talking about jahiliyya (pre-Islam Arab) songs. Even though the hadith used to back this claim is considered weak.

“(God is saying to Satan) Incite whoever you can among them with your voice…” (Qur’an 17:64)

Eberer basically sees this as farfetched to interprete the verse above as meaning music. Not to go as far as saying it is legally binding.

“There will be a group of people from my nation who will deem silk, alcohol and musical instruments as permissible…” (hadith)

It turns out this hadith has many issues in the credibility of its narrators from different chains. It is also worth asking if the mention of Musical instruments here implies legal prohibition, even if one were to accept the hadith. It is comical to note that whereas Sheikh Abu Usamah At-Tahabi considers this hadith as valid (as we saw earlier), an earlier Imam At-Tahabi, was among those that faulted the hadith. The same last names 🙂

“There will be disgrace and defamation in this nation when they will drink alcohol and listen to music (literally female singers while beating on instruments).” (al-Suyooti al-Sagheer 7720)

Of all the arguments to be put forward against Music, Imam Eberer considers this to be the best candidate. But to this he says “Even a layman can see that the linguistic connotation does not in any way show a prohibition for listening to music, but rather a prohibition of the party scene.” Eberer goes on to provide “proofs” for permissibility of morrally upright Music but we shall not explore that for now. Let Imam Eberer simply be a Music defender here. For further detail and clarity on the arguments from the two sides, please visit the actual arguments on the links provided above.

Having the two positions of the arguments, and perhaps referring to the original material since I am simply paraphrasing them here and leaving out some bits, everyone should be able to take a stand on either camp and be comfortable… as long as they feel comfortable without the guilt of committing a prohibited act. If you chose to take permissibility of Music, I commend you and my advice is to be critical of the Music culture while you are at it i.e. stuff that come with the music but are not really the music themselves. Also watch out for this space (blog), we might have more to do in the future.

This is the part where I say that I am with the camp that agree on the permissibility of Music (in case you haven’t picked up the hint), especially if I want to let go this exhausting issue of Music in Islam. However I shall not. Not yet. While I agree with Imam Eberer, I think there’s more to this issue which I shall discuss on the next post InShaAllah.



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A Thought Experiment on Polygamy

Imagine five people tied to a train track and a train fast approaching such that there is no time to reach the people and free them. On a separate train track to the side of those five people, there is one person similarly tied. In front of you is a button which if pressed, would divert the moving train from the path of five people to the path of the one person. Death is inevitable, time is running out! Would you press the button?

Alternatively imagine a similar situation however this time, there is no button and no track with one tied person. Instead the one person is standing beside you, far from the five about to die. But the train has to pass you to reach those helpless five. The person beside you is fat enough that if they were to happen to be hit by the train from your position, the train would slow down to a stop and not hit the five people ahead. Of course the fat person would die as a result. All it takes if for you to push the fat person. Would you?

This is a rendition of a classic thought experiment in (western) philosophy under morality. People vary in their answers, even though there are just about two options, because their reasons for selecting the same answer may be vary considerably. Thought Experiment is a tool of Philosophy which science cannot afford; even though psychology borrows often.

Some days ago, while discussing the issue of polygamy among Muslims, I came up with a thought experiment which I thought I should share. I had my motif for designing that experiment. I would like to present the experiment as simple as possible, however the issue of polygamy in Islam has deep ideological and cultural sentiments attached to it. Therefore I shall try to create a fair ground (objectivity) in the experiment by providing neutralizing information to the simple experiment. Here is the experiment, simply:

A Muslim man who is married to a woman meets another woman and is overcome by passion for this new woman. This passion can be anything; sexual, intellectual or spiritual. He would do anything to get married to her. It turns out she is available for him to marry, and even inclined to marry him as well. He is certain his life (spiritual and otherwise) would be greatly enhanced if with this woman. Should he marry this woman? Keep in mind one thing: that Shari’ah allows for men to marry up to four wives at a time.

Now the second question

A Muslim woman who is married to a man meets another man and is overcome by passion for this new man. The same passion applies in this situations and she would do anything to marry this man. It also turns out that the man is inclined to marry her were she not bounded by marriage. She is certain her life (spiritual and otherwise) would be greatly enhanced if with this man. Should the woman marry this man?

The following are what to keep in mind (The neutralizing information):

  • The Shari’ah does not allow for a woman to have more than one husband at a time.
  • The Shari’ah allows for a woman to initiate a divorce, and effect it with the approval of the court or the husband.
  • Men and Women are considered equal in Islam because they are essentially souls that will be judged not based on the bodies they were given but based on how they related with the bodies they were given(e.g. how did they respond to their passions; which love falls under)
  • For this experiment, disregard the societal unfairness weighed on women where men can effect a divorce even by slip-of-the-tongue, whereas women would have to go through societal hurdles, juristic restrictions decided by males, and even stigma before succeeding in their plead for divorce. Disregard this in our fair world of thought-experiment.
  • The verses in the Qur’an (Q2:229, Q4:128) that talk about a woman’s right to divorce can be interpreted to empower women much more than it is often presented, while remaining faithful to the spirit of the Qur’an (actually I think it would be more faithful)
  • It is on record that The Prophet (acting as the Islamic Court/Judge) granted the request of a woman who wanted divorce from her husband, not because he lacked in character or his religious duties but because she feared she would continue to “behave in an un-Islamic manner” if she remains with him (Bukhari 63:197). I’d like to think that covers all situations where dislike of the husband festers the mind of the woman to an extent that she wishes evil on him for nothing wrong he has done.
  • A woman who has been married to a man for some time should be able to bring up so many cases to buttress her point of making her “behave in an un-Islamic manner”. Just as we cannot ascertain the sincerity of the man who says he is adding a wife because she is well behaved; not simply out of passion.

It is interesting to note that what men give as reasons for having another wife varies depending on their community and what is considered as acceptable. Some proudly boast that they marry more wives because they like more women and find pleasure in that; that is because their community accepts such statements. Others however would give other reasons. The point is that reasons given are likely no more than justifications, culturally variable, rather than the sincere reason that prompted them to marry extra. Similarly a woman only needs to justify herself properly in the court of the thought-experiment.

I reiterate the situation of the woman:

A Muslim woman who is married to a man meets another man and is overcome by passion for this new man. This passion can be anything; sexual, intellectual or spiritual. She would do anything to get married to him. It also turns out that the man is inclined to marry her were she not bounded by marriage. She is certain her life (spiritual and otherwise) would be greatly enhanced if with this man. Should the woman marry this man even if it means orchestrating her divorce with the current husband?

Whatever your answer, how is that different from your answer for the situation of the man. Remember, in this world of thought-experiment, women and men are essentially equal in Islam because they are essentially souls that will be judged not based on the bodies they were given but based on how they related with the bodies they were given. Should the woman seek divorce in order to marry the other man?

If you haven’t guessed by now, my motif for this thought experiment is that I think simply wanting a different/variety of spouses is not a good enough reason for men to marry more than one wives. Reason here is referring to the sincere reason that may be only known to the person and God, not what the person claims.



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A Case for Activism – From The Quran

A country man went to the Grand Mosque in Mecca with a burning prayer he needed to be answered. He wanted wealth, lots of it; he is Nigerian after all. Like the desert-dwelling Bedouins at the time of the Prophet (SAW), he lacked etiquettes of being in holy sites. He repeats loudly “Oh God! All I ask for is Money! Money!! Money!!!”. Imagine sitting and attempting to meditate beside this fellow.

It happens that there was another Nigerian in that situation (beside the country man); unable to get some quiet so many miles from the rawkus of his business. The rich Nigerian turns to the poor Nigerian and says “Hushhhhh! here you go”, handing over a ten thousand dollars “please leave now so we can have some peace with God”. The poor man’s prayer was granted. God works in mysterious ways.

This is an urban legend in North Nigeria (best told in Hausa); its authenticity is dubious or perhaps there is just some embellishment. It is told for the joke in it. But I have come to see a new and deeper meaning in it.

Purpose of Worship (in Islam)

Why do Muslims worship God? Why should Muslims worship God? Many Muslims don’t ponder this question. This was evident in a recent discussion that led me to writing this. Perhaps it is because most Muslims are born into the religion (certainly this is no excuse). Another reason could be that most Muslims mistakenly think the answer is found in a popular Quran verse which says:

“I have only created jinns and men that they may serve me” – Q51:56

But this verse (51:56) does not answer our question but answers another question “What is the purpose of creation?” (of course this verse implies that every action, excluding prohibitions, could be an act of worship).

The best reason I‘ve heard (apart from those who I think misunderstand the above verse) is that Muslims should worship simply for want of rewards and fear of punishment. This view is popular among extremists (within Muslims and the Islamophobes).

 “O God! If I worship You for fear of Hell, burn me in Hell,
and if I worship You in hope of Paradise, exclude me from Paradise.
But if I worship You for Your Own sake,
grudge me not Your everlasting Beauty.” – Rabi’ah Al Adawiyya

Such reward-punishment understandings explains the mental barrier among many Muslims from appreciating the famous prayer of the exemplary woman Rabi’ah Al Adawiyya (Quoted above). Rabia’h is making the point that God should be worshiped for his own sake, for being all the *99 names* He is, for gratitude (of having access to his 99 aspects). This is the best answer I have come across.

The first chapter of the Quran (Surah Al Fatiha), nicknamed The Essence of the Quran, supports the point that worship should be gratitude. The first verse starts with “Thanks/Praise be to God”. It is logical that the first verse instructs to worship. The first verse of the Quran compendium instructs Muslims to Glorify/Show-gratitude to God; this is the instruction to Worship. Thus Worship = Showing Gratitude.

Gratitude = Action

“And thank Allah for the hands He blessed you with, by extending them to acts of goodness” – Uthman Bin Fodiyo (Minhaj Al Abidin)

The question now is “How do we show gratitude?”

“Gratitude is the prime of moral value of the Quran and the foundation of its ethics and morality” – Ziauddeen Sardar

The answer is that we show gratitude by action. Ziaudeen Sardar puts it very when he said “Both gratitude and ingratitude manifest itself by working to improve the lives of others and enhancing the environment we inhabit”.

So when we carry out acts that are normally classified as worship (prayers, zakat etc) we do that to show gratitude. An interesting point is that all these acts of worship have a situation when it is permissible not to carry them out; subject to a deficiency (This I shall indulge in another post insha Allah).


“The end of prophesy is a sanction against our intrinsic inclination to look perpetually for a messiah so we can place all our burdens and responsibilities on his shoulders. It suggests, in particular, that it our own responsibility to stand up to tyranny and oppression” – Ziauddeen Sardar

Activism is strongly associated with rebellion. It is so because the activism that gets our attention is when it is outwardly carried out on political/military spheres. But in essence this is no different from limiting the definition of Jihad to military occupations. Activism is primarily internal but depending on the circumstance, it may spill in to the political/military sphere. In fact Activism IS Jihad. This means that a leader could be an activist too, in its fundamental form. Leadership and activism are not antithetical.

But you might say that the Quran instructs believers to “Pay heed unto God, pay heed unto the Apostle and to those from among you who have been entrusted with authority” (Q4:59, Muhammad Asad). Fazlur Rahman elaborates that the leaders referred to here are those that have been duly elected or appointed authority. Certainly, fraudulently elected leaders are not worth paying “heed unto”. This verse does not give even the right leaders complete autonomy as it continues by saying that the leaders should be judged according to the Quran principles (also evident in the Prophet’s life). If people rebel against “honest” leaders then there will be “corruption on earth”.

So what is the criterion on which rebellion is sanctioned in the Quran? (note that rebellion here means Activism that has culminated in political/military sphere)

That criterion is what the Quran calls Fasad fil ‘ard (Corruption on the earth). Fazlur Rahman elucidates on this as “any state of affairs that leads to lawlessness – political, moral or social – when national or international affairs are out of control”

But you might ask how do we decide whether a leadership is really supporting “corruption on the earth”, especially given media tools that can be used as negative propaganda? This calls for transparency (which the Quran also instructs on). Uthman Bin Fodiyo says its permissible for a leader to make public some of their good deeds for the education and guidance of the followership (in Minhaj Al ‘abidin). Bear in mind that this permission comes from a work which generally condemns public piety even those that “let their acts of piety be known so that others would imitate them”. Uthman Bin Fodiyo is emphasizing transparency.

Back to The Urban Legend

Now back to the urban legend we started this post with. You can see the rich Nigerian being an activist in helping grant the prayers of the country-man. It is the rich Nigerian’s expression of gratitude.

A popular hadith (tradition on the Prophet) reports that the Prophet said the supplication of the oppressed will not be rejected [Ibn Majah 1:557]. So next time you hear the poor expressing their frustration/oppression (in prayers or curses), make/re-affirm your resolve to change their situation. We should all hope to express gratitude to God by aiding in granting their supplication.

And if all this is not persuasion enough to be an Activist that shows gratitude to God, here’s a Quran verse 4:75:

“And why should ye not fight in the cause of Allah and of those who, being weak, are ill-treated (and oppressed)?  Men, women and children, whose cry is “Our Lord! Rescue us from this town, whose people are oppressors; and raise for us from Thee one who will protect and raise for us from thee one who will help” – Q4:75 Abdallah Yusuf Ali”

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Woman Leadership in Islam: A Nigerian Perspective

I was at a conference organized by NMDC (Nigerian Muslim and Democracy Conference) on 14th April 2012. The theme was “The Political Future of Muslims in Democratic Nigeria”. This post is about one of the sessions titled “Muslim Women and Political Participation in Nigeria”.

A paper was presented and discussion followed. The attitude to Muslim Women Leadership in Islam is an interesting one, especially given the socio-cultural realities we find ourselves in recent history. Some Muslims see no difference in woman-leadership compared to man-leadership while others have basis to oppose woman-leadership. The latter group would rather not vote when all candidates are women. However, many Muslims fall somewhere between these two views.

To capture the situation, I will use four characters that were actually present. They were not the only participants but their contributions directed the discussion. The names are fictional (The choice of names is to clearly show sex of characters). First the discussion is presented summarized to capture the important elements at the cost of the statement’s precision. Secondly, I respond to the issues raised while accommodating for the attitude of Muslim-majority towards certain points of views.

Terms (for the sake of this post):
Sahih: Authentic, Reliable, Sound
Sunnah: The sayings, practices and traditions of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW)
Hadith: Report of the sayings, practices and traditions of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW)
Sahih Bukhari: The most venerated collection of Sahih Hadiths. Bukhari is the name of the collector
Companion: A Muslim companion of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW)

Discussion Scene

Asiya: (while presenting her paper… ) There is consensus among Muslim scholars that women can participate in politics. There is no Sahih Hadith that is opposed to women leadership.

Bala: I will like to look at a statement Asiya made which is that “there is no sahih Hadith that is opposed to women leadership”. Now we need to be very careful when we pass judgment on a Hadith. There is, in fact, a sahih Hadith in sahih Bukhari which says “A nation that has entrusted its affairs to a woman can never be successful.” The criticism on the Hadith is that the person who narrated it from the Prophet, called Abu Bakrah, was punished by Umar (A caliph at one time) for lying; and thus this Hadith will not be considered as sahih even though it is in a sahih collection. The implication of this is also that any Hadith reported by this Abu Bakrah must not be accepted, that would be unfortunate. Remember that all companions of the Prophet are considered reliable narrators of Hadith. Given the broadness of Hadith Sciences, one passing a judgment on Hadith authenticity must acquire the authority before doing so. We are talking about dismissing a Hadith for god’s sake! Hadith is only second to the Quran.

Carla: A good point by Bala. This criticism that Bala talks about was put out by the Moroccan feminist Fatima Mernissi. It turns out she is the only one (perhaps the first) to put this criticism in her book. Now this criticism is very popular but it all goes back to her book. Knowing the types of views Fatima Mernissi espouses, this criticism cannot stand; her views are deviant from Islam.

Carla (continues): The second line of defense used by supporters of women leadership is referring to the story of Bilqees (queen of sheba) from the Quran. The story tells us of Bilqees being a ruler. But that was before (and at the time) she met Suleiman (Solomon). But she wasn’t ruling after their marriage, hence after her conversion to the religion of Suleiman (Islam). What does that tell us about a Muslim-woman in leadership.  Finally, I agree with Bala’s point. I believe it is apt that we get scholars to look into this matter and issue a fatwa. They are better qualified to take such decisions.

David: Well, the reality of sidelining women from politics is that the society is neglecting half of its constituents. Even Abu A’la Mawdudi supported a woman political candidate in Pakistan. And it is not because he does not know the Hadith (which opposes woman leadership). He made a simple reasoning: decided to support her (over the male opponent) because she was going to support the values of Islam more. They simply decided on this criterion and they found the solution in a woman politician.

Carla pointed out that the woman that Abu A’la Mawdudi supported turned out to be failure of a leader. Carla’s point may be that if woman leadership is to be judge on precedent, the modern woman leadership has turned out a failure.  Perhaps Carla has ignored the vast library of male-leadership failure which history has been very generous; assuming that was Carla’s intent. Consensus was amicably reached which was that scholars need to sit and deliberate this matter further.

Approach to Response

First it is only fair to point out that the characters were responding to each other and therefore didn’t have much time to consider their statements before putting them forward. This may also leave them with the tendency of generalization, as can be traced in the conversation. Unlike me, I took everything in, came back, rested then started typing. Also, it may be that I have not understood their points properly but I try to capture what I understood as best as possible. Since I’m using fictional names, no offence may be directed at any of the real characters.

I will refrain from quoting Asma Barlas and Amina Wadud as much as possible because of the general attitude (of audience that were present) towards them may be apprehensive. This is deduced from the attitude towards Fatima Mernissi; who is probably bundled in the same category as the other two. I can’t say much about Fatima Mernissi but I know Asma’ Barlas writes and argues well, and has dealt with this issue extensively (and well I might add). In fact Asma’ Barlas repeatedly tries to clarifies her position as distinct from the “feminist Muslim”. She must have thought herself as a “Muslim feminist” instead. I think Amina Waduud has valid arguments as well, but I reserve my comment on her action when she led Friday prayers (including men). I will refrain from referring to these female scholars that induce apprehension.

Response to Bala

Bala rightly cautioned on the need for sincere work/research before evaluating a Hadith as weak or not. Due to the differences among scholarly opinions on the strength of a Hadith, there is basis for coming to different conclusions on any Hadith by different people. It should be recalled that even when Bukhari completed his collection he passed it to prominent scholars of the time to verify (including Ahmad ibn Hanbal) who identified four Hadiths as weak, but Bukhari maintained them because he was convinced they were not. Bukhari is also said to have recognized his human ability to err in his introductory note. Another fact is from the works of Hadith scholars that have come after Bukhari: about 80 out of 430 narrators found in Bukhari collection have been questioned or labeled weak transmitters; secondly, about 89 Hadiths have been identified to have some defect. This is not to bring down the esteem of Bukhari collection (especially relative to others) but acknowledge plurality of opinion concerning even the most esteemed collection. Thus I think careful research is a prerequisite but we are entitled to our decisions afterwards. (source of facts: Mohammad Hashim Kamali; Hadith Studies )

Bala made a point that (all) the companions of the prophet are considered reliable narrators. This unquestioned elevation of companions of the prophet is a foundation for Muslims of ahl-al-sunnah/ahl-al-salaf persuasion, and thus Bala’s argument may easily stand for a person of such credo. But due to the emphasis the Hadith science places on reliability (righteousness, memory retention etc) of narrators, it could be disastrous to take a whole generation and credulously permit their contributions. The methodology of Hadith science already gives many privileges to the companions. The first is that on the list of ranking reliable narrators, companions are ranked the highest; but they have to be reliable in practice. The second is in the categorization of Hadith Marfuu’ and Mawquf.

Marfu’ is a Hadith that is not explicitly attributed to the prophet but since it is related by a companion, who would have only learnt it from the prophet, then the Hadith is elevated to having been a Sunnah of the prophet. Mawquf is a Hadith with its chain of narration being suspended at the level of a (reliable) companion but not attributed to the prophet; Mawquf remains unattributed to the prophet usually because of the weight of the subject matter. This latter categorization shows that even in a companion-friendly Hadith science, the companions are not infallible.

Response to Carla on Fatima Mernissi

Carla took two positions: that the criticism by Fatima Mernissi should not hold; and that the oft-quoted reference to Bilqees (queen of sheba) in the Quran does not support woman-leadership but restricts it if anything. We will deal with the issue of Fatima Mernissi first then the issue of Bilqees.

Fatima Mernissi, the Morrocan Islamic feminist, had this to say about the Hadith opposing women leadership in four points:

  1. The narrator of the Hadith was Abu Bakrah, who was once flogged by ‘Umar ibn al Khattab for giving false testimony (thereby invalidating him as a reliable narrator according to the principles of Imam Malik).
  2. The words of the Hadith were supposed to have been said by the Prophet (saw) in regard to a change of power in Persia (an enemy nation about to be ruled by a woman).
  3. However, the Hadith was not pronounced by Abu Bakrah until some 25 years later, after ‘Aisha had been defeated at the Battle of the Camel (which she fought against Ali, a man).
  4. Mernissi argues that Abu Bakrah appears to have opportunistically fabricated the Hadith to increase his standing with Ali, who he had failed to support before the battle.

The points made by Mernissi (except point 4 which is clearly an opinion) can be verified by recourse to original research. Therefore whatever her standing (to orthodoxy) she and her verifiable-claims should be differentiated to arrive at the truth. Al Ghazzali made this point clear when he differentiates a potty from the content of the potty; people may judge clean water in a potty as filthy, even if it is brand new. But according to Imam Malik, it stands that if point 1 can be proven, then the Hadith (and all Abu Bakrah’s narrations) should be discarded. If point 2 is proven, it will contextualize the Hadith as referring to a specific historical event. If point 3 is proven, it will weaken the Hadith. There are two ways to go about proving these: recourse to Fatima Mernissi’s original source using her book reference OR recourse to biographies of Hadith transmitters (‘ilm tarikh wal ruwat) which is a rich subject on its own.

Another interesting perspective is that the Hadith is a Fard Hadith (narrated by only one companion). Therefore all references to this Hadith goes back to one person; Abu Bakrah. Coincidentally Carla’s criticism of Mernissi is that Mernissi is the only one who claims that Abu Bakrah was punished for lying (and the othe three criticisms). We could say Mernissi’s criticism is a Fard criticism. But should this matter? Yes. Firstly, if Abu Bakrah is to be proven unreliable, then that Hadith cannot be taken as sahih. Secondly, in contrast to scholars of Hadith, the scholars of Islamic jurisprudence place emphasis on the number of separate chains of transmission (human transmitters) a Hadith goes through. They have made the distinction of Mutawatir Hadith and Ahad Hadith. The Hadith in question falls under Ahad Hadith, which makes it less reliable for drawing rulings. When we say women should not lead, we are deriving a ruling and thus an issue of jurisprudence.

It should also be noted that Bukhari and Mernissi could both be right yet, the Hadith may be faulty. Bukhari’s focus was on the chain of transmitters; whether they were reliable. Bukhari could have approved of Abu Bakrah for a number of reasons: high esteem of the companions, lack of knowledge on Abu Bakrah’s alleged faults, indifference to Abu Bakrah’s faults if insufficiently proved, not a follower of the principles of Imam Malik. Whereas Fatima Mernissi did not criticize the chain of transmitters, but she criticized the source (first transmitter). If the source is faulty, then the transmitters reliably transmitted a faulty Hadith.

Response to Carla on Bilqees

Secondly, Carla mentioned the case of Bilqees as unfit example for Muslim women because Bilqees was not a Muslim while she was a queen. That argument may hold. But in the context of this argument, it is not Bilqees’ example that matters as much but her capability/achievements. The Hadith by Abu Bakrah posits that a state/nation under a woman’s rule cannot prosper. But going back to the Quran (quote below)  we can see the graphical illustration of a prosperous nation under a woman. In fact everything mentioned about the nation seems very impressive except that they worshiped the sun; in other words their religion. Since Bilqees has proved capable, the Qur’an draws our attention to her faith. Perhaps capability should come before faith when Muslims are choosing a leader.

                The Quran gives account of the quoting the reporter telling the King Suleiman (Solomon) about the land (sheba) he had visited “I found (there) a woman ruling over them and provided with every requisite; and she has a magnificent throne. I found her and her people worshipping the sun besides Allah. Satan has made their deeds seem pleasing to their eyes, and has kept them away from the Path so – so they receive no guidance -” (Quran 27:23-24 Yusuf Ali Translation)

To further highlight Bilqees’ capability, Quran (27:29-35) shows her as a wise queen who consults her chiefs before making a decision. Consultation (shura) is a much cherished attribute of leadership the Quran (and Hadiths) encourage. Thus, we have the Quran showing us exemplary leadership qualities/capabilities… in a woman.

On a related note, I am yet to find any exegesis of these verses (and what follows) that Suleiman indeed married Bilqees OR that she was not ruling her kingdom after her acceptance of Islam. A probable source of these additions may be from Jewish and Biblical sources (Isra’iliyaat), which Muslims are cautioned against. I have been advised to check exegesis of Ibn katheer and Al Qurtubi because they are known to recourse to Hadiths and reason instead. I will check and then add to the comments section at end of this post. But why are these details of marriage or continued-ruling important? Carla pointed the answer in saying that Bilqees lost her ruling power after marriage to Suleiman. If they never got married, then it must have been simply a game of thrones. In Quran 27:36-37, Suleiman expressed that he was not interested in the throne but rather their submission (to the rule of God instead of religion of Sun worship). Perhaps Bilqees continued ruling her kingdom anyway.

Continuing on the controversial Hadith… Some may argue that in the Hadith, the prophet’s statement is for the future (from the time of the prophet). In that case, the Hadith may be classified with other Hadiths describing end of days… most of which do not stand to be used for legal rulings. This category of Hadiths is criticized by Hadith scholars as the Hadiths of story-tellers (because of its spectacles) or at other times under al-targheeb-wal-tarheeb (encouragement and discouragement). However the latter category is mostly for Hadiths on morals and warnings. Thus, a Hadith on future prophesy doesn’t not qualify to be used for legal rulings.

Response to David on Mawdudi

As for Mawdudi’s decision to support a woman politician, it seems on a reasonable criterion. Someone at the conference (where all this happened) concurred with Mawdudi also by telling me that Mawdudi chose the lesser of two evils. I don’t believe there was any evil, at least discernible to us, there were just two candidates who were yet to prove themselves. Oh one is controversial because “history” doesn’t record a lot of “her” type of stories.


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Biki Dialogue

Biki means Ceremony in Hausa.  When unqualified, it refers to wedding ceremonies. This has been a tradition that has puzzled me and I have accepted that it is just one of those irrational exhibitions humans are never short of; especially when it is so devoid of esoteric significance but rather tainted with a copy-cat practice.

 How It is Typically Done

Wedding Ceremonies (among Norther Nigerian Tribes) last an average of four days. Most Northern Nigerians are Muslims so I will focus on that. I am not aware of Muslims going to the court for legal marriage but if they do, it is not an event during the ceremony. The main event that effects matrimony is usually on second to the last day and it is just another event.

The events are a mix of ceremonies/events with cultural origin and others are as borrowed as bridal showers. If not for restriction by religion, many would by now be having bachelor’s nights (As in Hollywood productions). The following is a typical list of events for a wedding ceremony: Lunch, Walima, Dinner, Indian Night, Arabian Night, Mothers Night. Depending on the locality the couples are from, there is a menu of standard (albeit cliché) cultural events to pick from.

Wedding ceremonies can be quite varied in the name of events but disappointingly look and feel the same. On the spectrum of wedding ceremonies, two stand out at the extremes: The Extravagant Orthodox and the “Bid’ah conscious”.

Two Known Extremes

The Extravagant-Orthodox wedding can last between four days and a week; this is more popular despite the gap in economic-capabilities of its practioners. Venue for the events cost hundred-thousands (Naira) or Millions to rent. The food is expensive even if not posh. The souvenirs (goody-bags) may include microwaves, water kettles, toasters (which are not cheap in Nigeria) etc. The couple’s wardrobe and jewelry (for the wedding) costs Millions as well. Gifts given to the couple may include houses, cars, and millions of cash. The dowry is worth millions.

On the other end are the Bid’ah-Conscious. They are “Pious” Muslims who despise innovation. Innovation is basically anything that cannot be shown to have been sanctioned by the Prophet Muhammad (SAW). In the context of Northern-Nigeiran weddings, the oath (Niqah) is said in front of witnesses and dowry is presented; not as in a church but via representatives. This usually takes place either at a mosque or the house of the bride’s grandparents. A Walima then follows and that is it! A Walima is a get together in an “islamic” way i.e. no music and probably sex segregation.

Of course the Extravagant-Orthodox subsumes all the events in the Bid’ah-Conscious but not limited to that and probably not in the same manner.

Dialogue on the different Positions

There are three characters in this episode: Kunne is an observer trying to form an opinion on wedding ceremonies. Malam is a Bid’ah conscious guy and DanDuniya is an extravagant orthodox guy. Kunne does not participate in the conversation but only thinks while listening. You, the reader, are Kunne.

Kunne (Thinks): I shall soon be getting married. I am not fussy on the details of the event(s), I just hope I can afford to pay for it.

Malam: Weddings these days… Muslims are lost. They don’t adhere to what the prophet has taught us; that one should not be extravagant and wasteful. They wear the most expensive clothes for show off, print the most expensive wedding invitation cards they can afford, hire the most expensive venues, give the most expensive souvenirs and gifts… all for fame. So that they will be praised across town and be envied by others. Show off like that is a sin, not to talk of the vain waste involved. How they pay so much to burden themselves with sin.

DanDuniya: It is not really extravagance when you can afford it. As for being wasteful, I know I am not wasteful. May be others are. A wedding should be made worthy of remembrance, let everyone come or hear about it. Of course I don’t mean “everyone” because it is strictly on invitation. Even the Prophet ,that you keep quoting, says the more the merrier and the more blessed the wedding.

Malam: What about the trouble you people go through to make your wedding grande?

DanDuniya: You wont even understand. Both families of the couple expect much from you. You have to meet their demands and be sure to impress them if not they could make life miserable for you. They will say of you: there goes the miser (or pauper). In any case, a seminal event like a wedding is worth doing in the best way.

Malam: Did you know that all of this troubles you go through (to get sins) was not practiced by the prophet?

DanDuniya: I know but what we are doing is culture. In fact we do all that the prophet sanctioned. We just do more and that is for our culture.

Malam: Aha! Culture… and therein lies your demise. You have admitted it. You are bringing INNOVATIONS inside the pure religion. And you know that any innovation is forbidden as it is a path to hell fire.

DanDuniya: Well that is your opinion. Even though you seem to know more about the Prophet’s sayings, other pious people I know do like I do and so they must know something you don’t which permits our manner of wedding ceremonies.

Malam: But you don’t know, yet you follow. God save you

DanDuniya: On the other hand, people like you have no appreciation for culture so you wont understand.

Malam: what culture is there better than Islam? I don’t need any other culture apart from the “right path”.

DanDuniya: Like I said, you wont understand. For us there is culture and there is religion. We do both.

Malam: If that is what you call culture then its a shameful culture. Look at the “sexually suggestive” fashion people (but of course he means only the females) wear at those events. Even parents. And the parents endorse it. Glory be to God! It is so shameful yet you are unconscious of it. No I think it is clear, you only deny it. But beware of judgment-day.

DanDuniya: So what?! These are the clothes we were everyday. Who gave you the right to judge us. Do you think if our dressings are inappropriate our own parents will let us wear them?! We cover where needs to be covered and we eve wrap veils.

Malam: A transparent veil you mean. It is mandatory on muslim women to wear the full hijab. Anything less is commitment to hell fire

DanDuniya: Your dream of having every woman – and I repeat only women – to be covered in hijab will not be realized so find a different preoccupation.

Malam: Since you brought it up, let us talk about parents. The epitome of decadence is when parents not only help organize these events but they are the main dancers in some. Don’t even get me started with the content of the songs; very despicable indeed.

DanDuniya: Do you see the parents dancing everywhere they go? No they only do that in these events. This is the only time they get to feel young again with their peers. Plus most of the mothers only dance in women-only events. As for the contents of the songs well… (giggles) that is something else. It is important that the mothers do all this in seclusion.

Malam: God save you from this innovation to religion. I can see you are clearly lost but you deny it. Rid yourself of satan.

DanDuniya: Look at you acting all pious when we have heard stories of what people like you do behind closed doors; at least I am not a hypocrite.


Disclaimer: Although I think the character Malam is a typical example of his archetype, DanDuniya is not so much. DanDuniya seems to care a little about his actions and cares enough to distinguish between religion and culture. However in reality most DanDuniya(s) EITHER agree with Malam’s view and decide to look the other way OR they don’t have an opinion of themselves but can’t be bothered to contemplate on their actions as long as everybody does it. Personally, I am critical of both positions.

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