The Male is Not Like the Female : Gender Equity and Quran 3:36

(iii) “The male is not like the female”

The Quran recounts to us the story of the pious woman who, while pregnant, vowed to dedicate the coming child to the service of God. She had been expecting a son (who could serve in the Temple at Jerusalem), but went on to deliver a daughter. It is at this time that she (or God, according to a different reading) remarks, “The male is not like the female.” The statement is not clear-cut in indicating overall preference for either one of the genders.

Language-wise, there are three possibilities, and each of these views is a position held among Muslim scholars:

  1. to indicate preference for the male, i.e. the male is not like the female, he has the advantage of being able to serve in the temple (under Jewish ritual law) without the monthly menstrual interruption [Mawardi, and many other scholars of exegesis]
  2. to indicate preference for the female, i.e. the male I wanted is not like the female God gave me; God’s choice is necessarily better [Zamakhshari, Abu Hayyan; two prominent exegetes, both of whom are heavyweights in the Arabic language]
  3. to not imply any preference either way (simply that they are different), like red is not like green, nor is green like red. [Ibn Hazm]

Even if one takes the first or second interpretation, it is still contextual, and cannot be a proof-text for overall superiority of one gender, because:

From this post, along with the preceding three (1 2 3), it is clear that the Quran does not teach intrinsic superiority of either of the two genders. Certainly, an ordinary believing man cannot claim superiority over the prophetesses and spiritual heavyweights like Mary and Fatimah. Rather, the criterion is piety: “Indeed, the most noble of you before God is the most pious.” And believing men and women are expected to support, protect and help one another – not to deride nor to oppress one another (despite what too often happens in some Muslim societies).

— Suheil Laher

A Degree Over Women? Gender Equity and Quran 2:228

(ii) “A degree over women”

And due to the wives is similar to what is expected of them, according to what is reasonable, and men have a degree over them.” (Qur’an, 2:228)

The “degree” that men have over women, unspecified in the Qur’anic text, has given rise to a range of different suggested interpretations, some of which clearly hold little weight (such as the view that it refers to the beard!). The eminent traditionist-exegete Tabari (d. 310 H), after quoting all the transmitted opinions, concluded that the strongest view is that men are being instructed to unconditionally fulfill their duties and responsibilities in full, while being forgiving of women if they fall short in their duties; i.e. it is a degree of responsibility, rather than privilege. Tabari and others have narrated this view, with isnad, from Ibn `Abbas, an eminent exegete from among the companions of the Prophet.

According to traditional Muslim understandings of gender roles (I will not address Muslim feminist interpretations), men also are expected to lead the family unit (every social unit needs one person in charge, in order to function efficiently), but this leadership neither implies a superiority (remember when Abu Bakr was appointed Caliph, he said, “I have been appointed to lead you, but I am not the best among you”), nor is it supposed to be a means for overbearingness or tyranny. Rather, the relationship between husband and wife is to be based on love, compassion and cooperation, and includes consultation.

“And of His signs is that He created for you from yourselves mates that you may find tranquillity in them; and He placed between you affection and mercy.” (Qur’an, 30:21)

“And the believers, men and women, are protecting friends one of another” (Qur’an, 9:71)

“….and whose affair is [determined by] consultation among themselves” (Qur’an, 42:38)

The alleged hadith, “Consult with [women] and then do the opposite of what they advise,” has no authentic chain of narration back to the Prophet (as pointed out, for example, by Sakhawi in al-Maqasid al-Hasana), and is likely a sheer fabrication. Among the more striking narrations showing that the Prophet (s) valued the opinions of women is the famous incident at Hudaybiyah, in which he acted on advice from his wife Umm Salamah on a matter of great religious and public significance.

Gender Equity and Quran 4:34

A previous post showed the basic spiritual equality of men and women, as derived from the Quran. We now need to look more closely at three verses that are sometimes misunderstood to conclude an automatic superiority for men:

(i) “Men are in charge of [taking care of] women by [right of] what Allah has given one over the other and what they spend [for maintenance] from their wealth. ” (Qur’an, 4:34)

(ii) “And due to the wives is similar to what is expected of them, according to what is reasonable. But the men have a degree over them.” (Qur’an, 2:228)

(iii) “And the male is not like the female.” (Qur’an, 3:36)

(i) Men are qawwamun over women”

“Men are in charge of [taking care of] women by [right of] what Allah has given one over the other and what they spend [for maintenance] from their wealth. ” (Qur’an, 4:34)

Firstly, the Qur’an has told us clearly that the criterion for superiority before Allah is taqwa, not gender:

“Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you.” (Qur’an, 49:13)

Indeed, no Muslim man would dare claim that, merely by being male, he is better than Lady Khadijah, Lady Fatimah, or the Virgin Mary!

Remember also that two verses before this (4:32), we were reminded that men and women have each been blessed in different ways by Allah. What the verse 4:34 is telling us, therefore, is that men have the responsibility of taking care of women, because (generally) their constitution and nature are such that they are more capable or working and providing physical protection and defense.

Secondly, note that the wording is not فضلهم عليهن (which would clearly mean: graced/blessed men over  women) but rather: بِمَا فَضَّلَ ٱللَّهُ بَعْضَهُمْ عَلَىٰ بَعْضٍ literally: “has graced some of them over others.”  Shaykh al-Sha`rawi, the famous 20th-century Egyptian (male) scholar of tafsir, pointed out that although men may be graced/blessed in one aspect, they are less endowed in other respects, and that the two genders have complementary roles in which each utilizes their respective strengths to support the other. The 3rd-century theologian and polymath `Uthman al-Jahiz has pointed out several aspects in which women can be considered superior to men, including various positive traits of character (remember the Prophet (s) was described as more modest than a virgin in her chamber), and the fact that there has been a woman (the Virgin Mary) for whom Allah created a child without male involvement, but there has never ben a man for whom Allah made a child without female involvement. Contemporary female Syrian scholar Hanan Lahham expressed succinctly the logical conclusion to make from 4:34, tying together the concepts that were already known to earlier exegetes (mufassireen), even if they didn’t express it so explicitly. She writes that, “Allah granted to each gender characteristics that help them to perform their roles; the intended meaning is not a superiority of one gender over the other.”

The verse (4:34) also intimates that some women have certain superiorities over some men, and vice-versa. Thus, some women might be physically stronger, or more capable breadwinners, than some men. None of this is ruled out by the verse, nor by the labelling of men as maintainers, because as `Allamah Ibn `Ashur (a high-ranking 20th century Tunisian scholar) has commented in his tafsir, what the verse is describing is not a universal but a customary norm. (We may note, in passing that patriarchically organized societies have dominated human history for several millenia.) Even among pre-modern mufassirin, the possibility had been raised that this verse conveys that there are some women who are better than many men. In fact, the famous medieval linguist and mufassir, Abu Hayyan al-Andalusi, mentioned the possibility (suggested by the verse) that the term “men” (الرجال) in the verse (4:34) refers not to gender (for otherwise the term “males” (الذكور) could have been used) but only to those males who are deserving of being called “men” by virtue of their strength, wisdom and resoluteness. A lot of women would not be able to fully respect a man who does not live up to his expected role. Thus, many of the fuqaha allow a wife to annul the marriage if the husband is not able to provide financial support to his wife. (Of course, she has the option of remaining with him and being patient, and also the option of spending her own money on the household, and can expect reward from Allah for doing so, but she is not obliged to do either of these).


-Suheil Laher

This World is the Root of All Blessings

Earth observations

Image courtesy of NASA;

By Suheil Laher

Do you love the life of this world? Is a Muslim allowed to love it? The answer is YES. It is well-known that Muslims are not supposed to renounce the world; monasticism is not an ideal (as a hadith explicitly mentions), and in the Qur’an we are taught to pray for “good in the world and good in the Hereafter” [Qur’an, 2:201]. Yet, we find some passages of the Qur’an, and some hadiths, that are very critical of al-hayat al-dunya (often translated as “the life of this world”; I return below to a more expressive translation). Nevertheless, there is no contradiction or paradox here. In reality, the life of this world is not what is evil; the confusion comes from not taking account of lexicological and theological context . A complete condemnation of and renouncement of this world is not the correct Muslim attitude, and is dangerous and harmful to human existence.

Let’s look at one of the verses that paints al-hayat al-dunya negatively:

Know that the life of this world’ is but amusement and diversion and adornment and boasting to one another and competition in increase of wealth and children – like the example of a rain whose [resulting] plant growth pleases the tillers; then it dries and you see it turned yellow; then it becomes [scattered] debris. And in the Hereafter is severe punishment and forgiveness from Allah and approval. And what is the worldly life except the enjoyment of delusion.” [Qur’an, 57:20]

Fakhruddin al-Razi (d. 606/1209) began his exegesis of this verse with a comment that might seem audacious, for he seems to be claiming the opposite of what the verse tells us:

“Know that the life of this world is wisdom and rectitude, and a blessing; in fact, the root of all blessings.” [Razi, Al-Tafsir al-Kabir]

Razi was not a closet heretic; rather, he is reminding readers that the life of this world has different dimensions, and that the verse is discussing only one of these aspects. So it is true, as he goes on to discuss, that this life can be:

la`ib: play, like children engage in, tiring themselves without any benefit (i.e. without any goal or achievement),

lahw: a diversion, such as adults may engage in but which results in regret,

zinah: an adornment, which can only be necessary to beautify ugliness

At the same time, God has created this world for us [Qur’an, 2:29], not without purpose [Qur’an, 23:115], and so it is not meaningless or in vain. Razi then contextualizes the verse’s dispraise by quoting Ibn `Abbas (d. 68/687), the famous exegete from the Prophet’s companions:

“The meaning [of the verse] is that the disbeliever is busy all his life seeking the adornment of this world without working for the Hereafter.”

Hanbali theologian Hafiz Ibn Rajab (d. 795/1392) further clarifies the scope of the condemnation conveyed by this verse and similar texts. He observes that the condemnation:

– is not of the place of this world, for God has made it an abode and a cradle for human civilization [Qur’an, 20:53, etc.]

– nor of the natural phenomena in this world (such as mountains, seas, rivers, vegetation and animal life), for God has created them as blessings, and as great signs, which through reasoning and reflection yield profound insights regarding the Oneness of God

– nor of the time of this world, for God has made the alternation of night and day a reminder for those who ponder and are grateful. [Qur’an, 25:62]

Hence, he concludes that the condemnation of al-hayat al-dunya (“the life of this world”) is a condemnation of the evil deeds committed therein by human beings; deeds which lack benefit and/or cause harm. [Ibn Rajab, Jami` al-`Ulum wal-Hikam]

This world is deceptive (e.g. Qur’an, 35:5), Ibn Rajab continues, in the sense that its pleasures do not endure; youth yields to old age, the healthy become sick, the wealthy may be reduced to poverty, the mighty might be abased. A person may spend the greater part of his life saving money and making plans for the future, only to die leaving it all behind. Similarly Ibn al-Qayyim (d. 751/1350) mentions how “this world” is like an elusive shadow, a mirage or a dream. In a (much earlier) saying from Ibn `Abbas, the pursuit of the superficial things of this world is likened to the pursuit of an ugly hag who has adorned herself in pretty clothes.

It is in this context of ephemerality (especially in comparison with the unending state of existence after death, the world Hereafter), and as a reminder not to neglect the deeper realities and more meaningful dimensions of existence, that we must understand the Qur’anic condemnation of al-hayat al-dunya (I return below to a more accurate translation than ‘the life of this world’.) It is not a renouncement, a trivialization, or a blanket condemnation of everything of this life.

This has always been the understanding of leading scholars. Thus, while it is true that Caliph Ali would say, “O world! Go and deceive someone else!” nevertheless it is also reported that he scolded a man for cursing the world: Don’t curse this world, for the world contains the mosques devoted to God’s worship; the world is the place God honored by sending down revealed guidance, and it contains angels who are engaged in God’s obedience; the world is a marketplace for the believer (wherein he achieves good and thereby earns the life of eternal happiness). In this light, the ascetic of Rayy, Yahya ibn Mu`adh (d. 258/871) said, “How can I not love a world in which there is apportioned to me sustenance by which I can earn a life in which I obey God and thereby attain the Hereafter.” In fact, in a hadith we are told that even the most pious believers, the persons loved by God, love this life (“He hates death, and [God] hates to displease him.”).

How to translate al-hayat al-dunya?

As I mentioned earlier, a part of the confusion about the role of and attitude to this world comes from translating al-hayat al-dunya simply as “the life of this world”. Let’s look closer at the two Arabic words involved. Al-hayat does mean life, but al-dunya is not, strictly speaking “the world” (which would normally be al-`alam). Dunya is a superlative from the Arabic root d-n-(w/y), which has two meanings: one of nearness and the other of lowness and contemptibility. [See: Ibn al-Manzur’s classical lexicon Lisan al-`Arab] So al-hayat al-dunya is literally “the Nearest Life,” (by comparison with the Hereafter, which is temporally further away), but also potentially “the Lowest Life.” The latter translation is powerful in that it captures the underlying concepts discussed earlier in this article. So, let’s plug this back into our previous translation of [Quran, 57:20]:

“Know that the Lowest Life is play, and diversion, and….”

Thus, there are parts of this world — the more profoundly meaningful ideas, as well as beneficial acts and good deeds done with the correct motivation — that are not part of al-hayat al-dunya. We have already seen this implicitly contained in the statements of scholars quoted above, and to this we can add that the classical exegesis Tafsir al-Jalalayn states that “[good] deeds of obedience to God, and everything that assists in that,” are not part of the dunya but rather of the Hereafter. In English, we have the (similar, although perhaps narrower) term “low life” that carries similar connotations to dunya. A view from mystical Judaism considers this world – with its pain, suffering and death – as the “lowest” possible world that still reflects the attributes of divine goodness and mercy.

Rise Above the Lower Life

The correct attitude to this life is to keep striving to ascend to higher things, spiritually and morally.

“To [God] ascend the good words, and the righteous deeds lift them up.” [Qur’an, 35:10]

The five daily prayers – which according to the hadiths were prescribed upon Muslims on the Night of the Heavenly Ascent (Mi`raj) – are your personal opportunity for a private ascent to communicate with your Creator. In a hadith, we are told that the the Highest Assembly of Angels was arguing about the three expiators of sins (kaffarat) and the three deeds of rank (darajat). In order to ascend upwards, you need to first break free of the shackles of “the lowest life,” and your past sins are those shackles. This lift-off is achieved through the three expiators: performing ablution properly under difficulty, walking by foot to congregational prayer, and waiting for one prayer after the next. But in between we need to strive in the “worldly” domain too, and to continue the ascent there, as two of the three deeds of rank show: spreading peace and feeding others. Spreading peace is not limited to using the Islamic greeting of salam; rather it is merely a start of striving for global peace, and likewise we desire the eradication of poverty and hunger. The third deed of rank, “praying by night while people are asleep,” (a non-obligatory, but praiseworthy deed), is a reminder that the ascent cannot be achieved only by deeds that benefit others, unless the individual develops his/her own spirituality and relationship with the Creator.

So, to recap, this world is not evil, and not to be renounced. The Qur’an portrays the world as a blessing from God, full of tremendously profound and beautiful signs of God’s existence and oneness, and a place with potential for great good. The Prophet has said, “God is beautiful and loves beauty.” [Narrated by Muslim] The condemnation is of the lowest life, a pursuit of the fleeting without concern for deeper values, and without acknowledging God and the eternity that is far greater (indeed, infinitely so, in mathematical terms) than this finite world. This world should be appreciated appropriately, which includes striving upward to make it a better place. An insular lack of concern for this, even in the guise of religiosity, is contradictory to the mission of humankind on this earth; the task of furthering good, and fostering and handing on a constructive, beneficial civilization (see: Qur’an, 67:2, 2:30, 11:61, 7:129).

A key to escaping the lowest life is: not to allow the mundane to become profane.

Non-Muslim Minorities and Religious Tolerance

The arrival of Islamic rule marked an end to the persecution to which non-Zoroastrian minorities had been subjected in pre-Islamic Persia.[1] It is sadly strange then, that fourteen centuries later, Islam is now being invoked and interpreted in an attempt to exterminate such populations, and moreover to do so in grisly and inhumane ways that are themselves incongruous with Islam’s central values of kindness and compassion.

I was incredulous when I first read recent reports of members of the non-Muslim Yazidi minority in Iraq being killed and enslaved in the name of Islam. The reported actions troubled my conscience, and furthermore, for historical and theological reasons, did not sit right with my understanding of Islam. Yet, I was aware of statements in medieval books of Islamic law that might be produced as partial justification of the actions, and so I felt the need to articulate a coherent response to questions such as the following: As a Muslim, am I required to agree with such killing and enslavement? If they are correct, then how can it be that these religious minorities have survived fourteen centuries in the heart of the Islamic lands without yet having been exterminated?

The majority opinion among Muslim jurists, and the dominant operative view across Muslim history has been that of tolerance to all non-Muslim religious communities.  After explaining this to be the case, I will show how this view is also in line with a general Qur’anic principle backed by common sense.

Muslim scholars, across sects and the various legal schools, are in agreement that Jews and Christians, being People of Scripture, can live as subjects of the Islamic state, and are not forced to convert to Islam (although they are welcome and encouraged to do so). They are subject to a tax called the jizyah, which was paid, as British Orientalist Thomas Arnold Walker explains, “by those whose religion precluded them from serving in the army, in return for the protection secured for them by the armies of the Musulmans.”[2] Muslim scholars are further agreed that Zoroastrians can similarly live as subjects of the Islamic state, even though they are not decisively People of Scripture, because the Prophet Muhammad himself afforded them such treatment. Jurists of the Maliki school (which dominates North and West Africa), and the Zaydi Shi`ite school, along with Imam al-Awza`i (whose school was widely followed in the Levant and across North Africa before being displaced by the Malikis and Shafi`is), generalized from this to conclude that the same courtesy is extended to people of all religions. The Hanafi school (geographically and historically the school with the widest following among the public and the most implemented by rulers) concluded similarly, making an exception only for idolators of Arabia which is actually a moot point given that idolatry did not survive there following the large-scale conversions to Islam during the Prophet Muhammad’s lifetime. When the Muslims ruled Mogul India, the (idolatrous) Hindus remained tolerated under Hanafi legal doctrine.[3]

Reframing the preceding breakdown of views, we realize that the earliest schools of Islamic law and the most widely followed (Hanafi, Maliki and Awza`i), allow and tolerate non-Muslim minorities of any religion within the Islamic lands (i.e. the “Islamic state”). Given the status of these schools and their adoption by Muslim governments across the centuries (until the Muslim world was largely secularized in early modernity), this view has also been the operative view across the overwhelming bulk of Muslim history. The dissenting view (of the (later) Shafi`is and Hanbalis, along with the Imamis), for practical purposes, persisted as little more than hypothetical juristic cogitations, and perhaps as reminders of the more stark era of war in the Hebrew Bible, where for example we read that the city of Jericho (including even the women, children and beasts) was put to the sword apparently for idolatry.[4] That tolerance of all religious groups was the norm in Muslim history is reflected in the fact that the Mandaeans, Yazidis and others have survived and maintained a presence in Islamic lands to this day.

It is worthwhile to note that the dominant Islamic view, of tolerance towards other religious communities, is also backed by general Qur’anic principle, and by common sense. The Qur’anic principle is that, “There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of the] religion” (Qur’an, 2:256), and common sense confirms that a forced conversion is unlikely to be genuine. How can it be reasonable to suddenly expect Yazidis, who have been raised in their own religion all their lives, to suddenly give it up at the point of a sword or rifle? Thomas Jefferson wrote, “that if there be but one right [religion], and ours that one, we should wish to see the 999 wandering sects gathered into the fold of truth. But against such a majority we cannot effect this by force. Reason and persuasion are the only practicable instruments. To make way for these, free enquiry must be indulged.”[5] The Qur’an foreshadows these wise words of Jefferson’s:

“Then, [O Muhammad], would you compel the people in order that they become believers? And it is not for a soul to believe except by permission of Allah , and He will place defilement upon those who will not use reason.” (Qur’an, 10:99-100)

“[U]pon you is only the [duty of] notification, and upon Us is the account.” (Qur’an, 13:40)

“Invite to the way of your Lord with wisdom and good instruction, and argue with them in a way that is best. Indeed, your Lord is most knowing of who has strayed from His way, and He is most knowing of who is [rightly] guided.” [Qur’an, 16:125]

Further Considerations

So far, we have established that the majority and operative position across history has been tolerance of all non-Muslim religious communities. This is sufficient to refute the notion that the killing and enslavement of non-Muslims represents the majority of Muslims, and to dispel the idea that those actions are a clear and immutable Islamic teaching. But what if a Muslim claims that he wants to follow a minority position on religious tolerance, and to revive the practices of enslavement and concubinage? In what follows, I explain how such actions are actually inconsistent with several broader Islamic principles:

(i) The Qur’anic principle (backed by common-sense) of non-coercion in faith, already mentioned earlier (above).

(ii) The importance of priorities. Even if someone truly believes it justified to target the non-Muslim minorities, they should ask themselves: If these minorities were not exterminated by the Prophet, nor by the Rightly-Guided Caliphs, then how can a Muslim group today consider it their prerogative and priority to undertake such a genocide?

(iii) Categorical imperative: If we as Muslims are to exterminate or expel indigenous non-Muslims who have been living in a country for centuries, how are we better than the Zionists who attempt to do the same to indigenous Palestinians?

(iv) The use of inhumane techniques (such as attempting to inflict forced starvation on people because of their religion) contradict the Prophet Muhammad’s code of ethics in war and peace. When Thumama ibn Athal, a South Arabian chief, imposed a wheat embargo on the idolatrous Makkans to punish them for their mistreatment of the Muslims, Prophet Muhammad asked him to lift the embargo to prevent the starvation of the Makkan idolators and especially of their women and children.[6]

(v) The Prophetic paradigm calls for wisdom, which includes recognition of people’s sensibilities and thinking. The Prophet Muhammad once remarked to his wife that he would have liked to demolish the Ka`bah[7], and then to rebuild it according to the original pattern on which Prophet Abraham had built it. However, he refrained from this, citing as a reason the fact that people had only recently come out the state of idolatrous ignorance (and would therefore misconstrue his action as sacrilegous).[8] The fourth Caliph, the Prophet’s son-in-law `Ali, drawing attention to the importance of sensitivity in engaging people, said, “Speak to people with what they can relate to. Would you like for God and His Messenger to be considered liars?”[9] The renowned 19th century Hanafi Muslim jurist Ibn `Abidin wrote, in his didactic poem Rasm al-Mufti, “Customary norms are to be given consideration in the Sacred Law, and hence the legal determination may hinge upon it.” Actions such as forced conversions and enslavement surely have a bigger impact on the public than mere words, and taking a human life is clearly more drastic than demolishing a brick-structure. Even if (hypothetically) someone’s conscience is genuinely not troubled in the least by such actions as enslavement, they should ponder deeply the consequences of their actions on the image and perception of Islam among non-Muslims, and remind themselves that Islam’s mission is to be a source of blessing to all.

“We have not sent you [Muhammad], except as a blessing to all creatures.” [Qur’an, 21:107]

[1] “The followers of all those varied forms of faith could breathe again under a rule that granted them religious freedom and exemption from military service, on payment of a light tribute.” Thomas Arnold Walker, The Preaching of Islam: a history of the Propagation of the Muslim Faith, (Westminster: Archibald Constable & Co., 1896), 177.

[2] Walker, The Preaching of Islam, 55-57.

[3] See, for example, the following medieval references of Islamic law: Ibn `Abidin, Radd al-Muhtar; al-Qurtubi, Al-Jami` li-Ahkam al-Qur’an; Ahmad ibn Yahya al-Murtada, al-Azhar fi FIqh al-A’immahal-Athar.

[4] See: Joshua, 6:21.

[5] Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, ed. William Peden (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 1982) 160.

[6] See: Ibn Hisham, Al-Sirah al-Nabawiyyah.

[7] The building, in Makkah, that Muslims believe was the first house of pure monotheistic worship on earth, built by Prophet Abraham.

[8] Narrated by Bukhari and Muslim.

[9] Narrated by Bukhari.

Islamic Prayer Times


By Suheil Laher

“Surely, salah is prescribed upon the believers at fixed times.” [Qur’an, 4:103 ]

The timings of the five daily, obligatory ritual prayers in Islam are determined with reference to natural phenomena easily accessible to everyone; this knowledge is not confined to an elite or exclusive group of people. This connection to the wondrous signs of nature can also help keep the Muslim in tune with the natural world and its changing cycles.

What follows is a summary of the empirical bases for the prayer times, along with some evidence from the sunnah. Hadiths are cited illustratively, not exhaustively. Some prominent scholarly disagreements are also mentioned, without categorically preferring one view over another, but rather to foster awareness and tolerance of such disagreements. I conclude with brief comments on the use of astronomical calculations to find out the prayer times.

There is agreement that fajr begins when the true dawn appears (the true dawn is that which rises laterally and broad, whereas the false one appears vertically and then disappears), and ends when the sun rises.
“The time for fajr salah is [lasts] long as the first horn of the sun has not risen.” [Muslim] Read more

Justice : A Taxonomy

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Justice involves putting everything in its appropriate place, and giving each his/her/its due right.

“God commands you that you restore deposits to their owners, and, when you judge between mankind, that you judge justly. How excellent is the teaching that God gives you! Surely, God is All-Hearing, All-Seeing.” [Qur’an 4:58]

“The just ones will be, before God, on pulpits of light….those who are just in their judgment, their families, and what they are in charge of.’ [Muslim]

For convenience, we can subdivide justice into the following categories:

1.      Justice to God

“I hate ingratitude more in a person; than lying, vainness, babbling, drunkenness, or, any taint of vice whose strong corruption inhabits our frail blood.” [Shakespeare, Twelfth Night] Read more

A Case of Framing

We know that the Prophet, along with many of the early Muslims, emigrated from Makkah to Madinah to escape persecution. The early phases of life in Madinah were difficult, due to the pressure of the large influx of émigrés on the city’s economy (not to mention the military aggression which the Makkan polytheists began against Madinah). Food was sometimes scarce, and typically comprised barley flour and dates. Wheat flour was a rare commodity, only occasionally being brought in, in small quantities, from the Levant. Rifa`ah, one of the Companions, once obtained a quantity of this wheat flour, and stashed it in a room of his house, with some weapons placed over it. A man – outwardly a Muslim, but actually a hypocrite – from the family of Banu Ubayriq (he was named Bashir, or Tu`mah, according to different narrations) came to know of this, and that night stole the flour as well as the weapons. The following day, Rifa`ah discovered that the items were gone, and publicized the unfortunate news. Some people told him that they had seen smoke emanating from the house of Banu Ubayriq the previous night, and that it was likely that they were the culprits and had been cooking their ill-gotten acquisition. When the thief from Banu Ubayriq came to know of these developments, he started rumors that Labid ibn Sahl was actually the thief. Labid, however, was a trustworthy man, and so these rumors did not gain currency, and hence – according to some of the narrations – it appears that the thief then implemented a more devious strategy of framing someone else. He craftily laid a trail of flour from the house of Rifa`ah to the house of a Jew, and also deposited the stolen weapons with the same unsuspecting man, under the pretext of asking him to hold onto them for safekeeping. Upon discovering the trail of flour, people became suspicious of the Jew, and when he was found to have the stolen weapons in his house, their suspicion against him increased, despite his earnest remonstrations that the weapons had been entrusted to him by Ibn Ubayriq. Read more

Pluralism and Tolerance

“Why should there be more than one religion? Are all religions true? Are some truer than others? Can religion aspire to function as a positive force in the world?”[1] Thus does a leading contemporary academic identify some of the major questions posed by human curiosity. The relationship between religions is something that has long drawn the attention of theologians, scholars and historians, and in today’s global context of increased mutual awareness of and interaction between religions, the subject is of still greater practical relevance. Without detracting from this, I will assert that it behooves every individual to ponder upon such questions in the context of their own spiritual quest, and that indeed, that is ultimately the more important dimension of such enquiry.

Humility is an essential attitude in anyone claiming to be religious; so too in the seeker, and even, I proffer, in the skeptic. We must be humble before God (or at least before truth and reality, for one who has not yet acknowledged God), realizing our frailty, our own limitations of knowledge, our shortcomings and the uncertainty of our final state. We must also exhibit humility toward our fellow human beings, and not be so presumptuous as to regard ourselves as absolute judges (let alone assume the roles of judge, jury and executioner) over other individuals. Read more

Jesus' Second Coming

Qur’anic Evidence

Verification of the Descent of Jesus, son of Mary (peace be upon them both)

  1. Evidence From The Qur’an

  1. Affirming Verses
    1. And he [Jesus] shall speak to mankind in the cradle and in middle age, and [he shall be] among the righteous.” Q[3:46]
    2. The wording here is significant:

      • Speaking in middle-age is not usually extraordinary in itself, unlike speaking in the cradle which is a miracle. The fact that the verse makes specific mention of his speaking in middle age (and that it is also mentioned in Q[5:110] as a favor to be recalled on the Day of Judgment) suggests that it carries some significance. Certainly, for someone to disappear from this world, remain for thousands of years in a realm wherein he does not age, and then return to continue his life and subsequently speak in middle age, is something warranting special mention.
      • He was sent to the Children of Israel (Q[3:49]), but this verse says he will speak to mankind, without further specification.
      • The verse says he will speak to them in middle age. Yet, he was only 33 or 34 years old when he was lifted up to the heavens [Reported by Ibn Katheer from Hasan al-Basri, and Sa`id ibn al-Musayyib; Ibn Abi al-Dunya has attributed this directly to the Prophet. The same age is stated by Zayd ibn Aslam, Ibn Zayd and others of the Tabi`in, and was concluded to be the strongest view by the prominent exegetes al-Tabari and Ibn Kathir], and that is not yet middle-aged (kahl).

      These points, then, are an indication of the fact that Jesus has not died, and will return to this earth toward the end of the world, thereby speaking to mankind at large in his old age. The same interpretation has been reported by the exegete Ibn Jarir al-Tabari from Ibn Zayd

    3. And there is not any of the People of the Book except that he must believe in him before his death, on the Day of Resurrection he shall be a witness over them.” Q[4:159]
    4. The following are reasons for taking “his death” to refer to Jesus’ death, rather than the death of each individual of the People of the Book:

      • Context of the verse; the preceding verses are talking about Allah’s foiling of the attempt to kill Jesus (peace be upon him).
      • Taking the first pronoun (‘him’) to refer to Jesus, but the second one (‘his’) to refer to a person of the book implies ‘dispersal of pronouns’ (tashtit al-dama‘ir), which is undesirable in the Arabic language. Taking both pronouns as referring to Jesus (peace be upon him) is, in contrast, the most natural interpretation, as stated by Abu Hayyan, the linguist, in his Tafsir al-Bahr al-Muhit.
      • The verse has been explained in this way by 2 prominent Companions: Ibn `Abbas, the renowned exegete [as narrated by al-Hakim, Ibn Jarir al-Tabari, `Abd ibn Humayd, Ibn Abi Hatim, al-Faryabi and others], and Abu Hurayrah [Bukhari, Muslim, Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah, Ibn Abi Shaybah, Ibn Mardawayh, Ibn Sa`d], as well as by a number of the Tabi`in : Qatadah, Ibn Zayd, Abu Malik, Hasan al-Basri [as narrated by al-Tabari].
      • The validity of this interpretation is confirmed in mutawatir ahadith (discussed further in Section B).
    5. And surely he (Jesus) is a sign of the Hour, so do not doubt concerning it.“Q[43:61]
    • Explained thus in a hadith attributed to the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace), via Ibn `Abbas, as in Sahih ibn Hibban. The same interpretation is given by numerous Sahabah and Tabi`in, including Ibn `Abbas, Abu Malik, Hasan al-Basri, Mujahid, Qatadah, Suddi, Dahhak and Ibn Zayd, as recorded by al-Tabari. This was also regarded as the most natural explanation by the exegete and linguist Abu Hayyan, and was the interpretation selected by virtually every other exegete of renown, such as al-Zamakhshari, al-Razi, al-Baghawi, al-Jalal al-Muhalli, Ibn Katheer, and al-Alusi.
    • Indicated by context of the verse; the preceding verses talk about Jesus (peace be upon him).
    • Anything else gives for an awkward structure or forced interpretation.

II. Dispellation of Confusions

  1. When Allah said, ‘O Jesus! I shall mutawaffika (gather you up / cause you to die), and raise you up to Me, and purify you from those who disbelieve, . . .” Q[3:55]
  2. Bukhari reported that Ibn `Abbas said, “mutawaffika – cause you to die.”

    • Bukhari reported this without an isnad, and it is not sahih. Bukhari’s mu`allaqat (‘hanging’ reports cited without an isnad) were not subjected to his criteria of the highest authenticity. Hafiz Ibn Hajar painstakingly traced the chains of narration of the mu`allaqat in a 5 volume work Taghliq al-Ta`liq. Some of the mu`allaqat are authentic, others are not, and the one in question is not. It is narrated by Ibn Abi Hatim through his isnad: Mu`awiyah [ibn Salih], from `Ali ibn Abi Talhah, from Ibn `Abbas. `Ali ibn Abi Talhah al-Hashimi (d. 143 H) did not meet Ibn `Abbas or any others of the Sahabah, aside from the fact that his reliability is disputed.
    • In fact, “tawaffa” (the verb of “mutawaffika”) is also used in the Qur’an with the meaning of “to cause to sleep,” [Q[6:60] and Q[39:42]). This is the meaning which has been selected by the majority of exegetes, as cited by Hafiz Ibn Kathir [Mukhtasar Tafsir Ibn Kathir, vol I, p. 286]. There may be support for this view also in the Biblical accounts which speak of Jesus (peace be upon him) and the disciples going to the Mount of Olives shortly before the alleged trial and crucifixion, and the disciples being overcome by sleep. [Matt 26, Luke 22] It is conceivable that Jesus, too, was made to sleep, and then raised up in this state, such that someone else was then crucified in his place.
    • Even if the narration attributed to Ibn `Abbas were authentic, the word “wa” (“and”) does not carry connotations of temporal succession. Hence, it is conceivable that the dying referred to is that which will occur after his return.
    • Even if Jeus (peace be upon him) had died, this would not rule out his returning to the earth.

    Have you not seen those who came out of their homes in thousands, fearing death? Allah said to them, ‘Die!’ and then He brought them to life.” Q[2:243]

    Or, like he who passed by a city while it was lying in ruin; he said, ‘How will Allah give life to this after its death?’ Then, Allah caused him to die for a hundred years, and then brought him to life.” Q [2:259]

    And I give life to the dead, by Allah’s leave.” Q[3:49]

  3. We have not given immortality to any mortal before you.” Q[21:34]
  4. This is irrelevant here, for immortality (al-khuld) means to remain in a place forever, never leaving it.

B. Evidence From The Sunnah

Ahadith can be classified into two categories: ahad and mutawatir. Ahad narrations are those which are narrated only by one person, or a couple of people, in one or more generations (since a chain is only as strong as its weakest link), from the time of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him and his Household) until ahadith were systematically compiled into books. If uncorroborated by other evidence, an ahad narration typically does not convey certain knowledge, since there is a possibility that a mistake or lie was introduced by a narrator somewhere in the chain. Admittedly, if the isnad (chain of narration) of the ahad hadith is found to be reliable or authentic (sahih) , then the probability of error becomes small, even negligible.

A mutawatir narration, on the other hand, is one which is narrated by ‘a multitude’ in each generation, i.e. by numerous people in each generation. Multiple chains of transmission corroborate one another, and when they reach a certain threshold (which is the case for a mutawatir hadith), they convey absolute certainty that the contents of the hadith in question indeed trace back reliably to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). This is because it is not conceivable for so many people in each generation all to make a mistake, or all to forget in the same way, or all to collude to lie.

The ahadith about the descent of the Messiah, Jesus, Son of Mary (peace be upon them both) at the end of time are mutawatir. They have been narrated from 27 or 28 of the Sahabah from the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him and his Household). Shaykh `Abdullah al-Ghumari has painstakingly traced the names of these Sahabah, as well as the names of the Tabi`in who narrated the ahadith in question from them, and so on and so on, until the 6th generation after the Prophet, in which the books of hadith were compiled. He notes that ahadith on this subject have been recorded by

[See: Ghumari, `Aqidat Ahl al-Islam fi Nuzul `Isa `alayhis-salam, pp. 7-11]

One need only open any of the common books of hadith, or do a search on any of the searcheable databases, to realize the dissemination of these ahadith. For example, a topic-based search on Sakhr’s “Mawsu`at al-Hadith al-Sharif” CD turns up 61 related ahadith in the 9 books covered. These are narrated from 12 different initial narrators. 15 of these hadith are in Bukhari and/or Muslim.

Among the experts in Islamic sciences, who have specifically referred to these ahadith being mutawatir, are the following:

We may also note that the belief in the Descent of Jesus, son of Mary, at the End of Time has been held since the time of the Sahabah, and moreover included by numerous scholars in their statements, treatises and expositions of Islamic doctrine. Shaykh al-Ghumari [op. cit. pp 16-30, and also in Iqamat al-Burhan `ala Nuzul `Isa fi Akhir al-Zaman, 110-124] once again (may Allah reward him well), has diligently compiled a list of individuals from the generations of the Sahabah and onwards who stated or documented this belief. Among the scholars who documented the belief, and whose treatise has been unanimously approved by Muslim scholars of doctrine (with the exception of a handful of points, this one not being among them) was Imam Abu Ja`far Ahmad ibn Muhammad al-Tahawi (d. 321 H). The belief is shared not only by the common Sunni schools of doctrine (Ash`aris, Maturidis, Hanbalis, Zahiris) but also by the Shi`ites. It is also known that many scholars from the above schools do not include an item as a point of doctrine unless the evidence for it is compelling, i.e. mutawatir.

The ahadith about the emergence of the Charlatan, the False Messiah, are similarly mutawatir. One who peruses Hafiz Ibn Kathir’s “Al-Nihayah,” will be fully convinced of this, for well over fifty pages of the book [pp. 92-149] are full of only a selection (almost 100) of these narrations.

Is the False Messiah mentioned in the Qur’an? Certainly, he is not mentioned directly, and there could be various reasons for this. Perhaps it is because the mention (even though inexplicit) of the return of the True Messiah, who will slay the charlatan, removes the need to mention the Dajjal. Or, perhaps the omission is a subtle allusion to Dajjal’s insignificance before Allah. Or, perhaps he is mentioned indirectly, in Q[40:57], as opined by al-Baghawi. Of course, it is not necessary for every detail of religious teaching to be mentioned in the Qur’an, nor even to be alluded to. The sunnah is the counterpart of the Qur’an, reinforcing, clarifying, expounding, specifying, detailing and supplementing the information in the Qur’an. Religious teaching gleaned from the authentic ahadith is just as authoritative as that from the Qur’an, especially in the case of mutawatir ahadith.

May Allah grant us the courage to learn about and implement the sunnah of our Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him and his Household) in all aspects of our lives.

And in closing, we praise Allah, Sustainer of the Universe.

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