Archive for September, 2006

Muslim For A Month

Very Interesting.  A Social Studies Teacher, Rebecca Watts decides to become a Muslim for a Month to better understand Islam and her students.  She has received alot of support from the Muslim community and I think it is a wonder.  You can read Her blog below.



Read Full Post »

By Hamza Yusuf


Abstract:This paper will examine the issue of Muslims physically sighting the crescent moon as the basis for beginning the months that constitute their lunar calendar. The argument posed here is especially relevant in the United States and Canada where the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and its allied Fiqh Council of North America are attempting to establish a norm of using calculations as the basis for determining the beginning of the lunar calendar, and the timing of associated devotional acts such as the Fast of Ramadan and the Hajj.This paper advances several arguments and rebuts others in an effort to prove that the only acceptable basis for determining the lunar month is the actual sighting of the dawning crescent. At the root of the problem is a failure to recognize that the crescent moon’s appearance is a legal cause (sabab) determined by God in the Qur’an and through His Prophet’s words. That being the case, no scholar in the history of Islam has ever permitted calculation in lieu of sighting until the modern era. Moreover, predicting the new moon’s visibility with absolute certainty is impossible, even by modern scientific calculations, as opposed to the degree of certainty that has been attained in predicting the astronomical new moon, which is invisible to the naked-eye. Furthermore, the ability to predict the new moon’s probable appearance has not increased greatly from premodern times. For these reasons, and others discussed in this paper, actual sighting poses difficulties in terms of the scheduling requisites created by a modern industrial or postindustrial society.I argue that the actual naked-eye sighting is the standard demarcator for establishing the entrance of the Islamic lunar month based on the fact that the Qur’anic verse, They ask you about the crescent moons; say they are a means to measure your specific times and are also for the commencement of the Hajj (2:189), can only be interpreted literally. This conclusion ensues because the verse is decisive in its evidentiary nature and unequivocal in meaning. As far as the fast of Ramadan, it is only validly begun on the basis of affirming the entrance of the month by sighting the crescent moon. I will present the textual and linguistic evidence to substantiate this position. In the eventuality of an obscure horizon on the twenty-ninth day of the month, the overwhelming majority of scholars argue that the month should be completed by fasting a thirtieth day. There are a few divergent opinions from this ruling. However, they do not establish the basis for standardizing a lunar calendar based on calculations, as I will show.I will also establish that observational astronomy has advanced little during the last 2000 years. Premodern people had extensive knowledge of the calculations needed to make advanced calendars, predict eclipses, and ascertain with certainty the births of new moons based upon separation after the point of lunisolar conjunction. The Arabs in the pre-Islamic period, during the prophetic epoch, and thereafter made both lunar and solar calendars. The Arabs were using a sometimes calculated and intercalated lunar calendar in the pre-Islamic period, until its abolition by the Prophet, peace and blessings of God be upon him, who replaced it with a calendar based on actual sighting. Hence, I argue that, far from being an advancement, moving to a calculated lunar calendar is a reversion to pre-Islamic (jahili) custom. Similarly, I will show how the Jews also used a lunar calendar based on actual sighting until political developments forced its abandonment.

In addition to advancing proofs showing that none of our scholars advocated standardizing the determination of the beginning of the lunar months based on calculations, I will show how the opinion of Ibn Daqiq al-‘Id has been misrepresented by the advocates of such calculations. This section of the paper will also present the brilliant explanation of Imam al-Qarafi for the divergent methodologies in establishing prayer times by calculations and the beginning of the lunar months by actual naked-eye sighting. In this section of the paper, I will advance the methodological proofs that demonstrate the flaws in Ahmad Shakir’s argument, which posits that the end of widespread illiteracy and innumeracy in the Muslim community lead to ending a reliance on actual crescent sighting to establish the entrance of the lunar months. I conclude my argument by presenting the opinion of the four Sunni schools and the Ja’fari Shia school that the norm for establishing the beginning of the lunar month is the actual naked-eye sighting.

I have endeavored in this paper to adhere to the highest standards of Islamic scholarly discourse. Although my conclusion on the issue under discussion differs from that of the scholars whose works and opinions have informed ISNA’s decision, I retain my respect for them and their accomplishments. I also recognize their sincere efforts in facilitating acts of worship for the Muslims, which is a noble endeavor. We should understand that a lack of uniformity in our opinions around this issue should not affect our overall unity. At the end of this paper, I present a series of policy prescriptions that should help us to move forward constructively.

-Hamza Yusuf

Read Full Post »

We cannot afford to maintain these ancient prejudices against Islam
The Pope’s remarks were dangerous, and will convince many more Muslims that the west is incurably Islamophobic

Karen Armstrong
Monday September 18, 2006


In the 12th century, Peter the Venerable, Abbot of Cluny, initiated a dialogue with the Islamic world. “I approach you not with arms, but with words,” he wrote to the Muslims whom he imagined reading his book, “not with force, but with reason, not with hatred, but with love.” Yet his treatise was entitled Summary of the Whole Heresy of the Diabolical Sect of the Saracens and segued repeatedly into spluttering intransigence. Words failed Peter when he contemplated the “bestial cruelty” of Islam, which, he claimed, had established itself by the sword. Was Muhammad a true prophet? “I shall be worse than a donkey if I agree,” he expostulated, “worse than cattle if I assent!”
Peter was writing at the time of the Crusades. Even when Christians were trying to be fair, their entrenched loathing of Islam made it impossible for them to approach it objectively. For Peter, Islam was so self-evidently evil that it did not seem to occur to him that the Muslims he approached with such “love” might be offended by his remarks. This medieval cast of mind is still alive and well.

Last week, Pope Benedict XVI quoted, without qualification and with apparent approval, the words of the 14th-century Byzantine emperor Manuel II: “Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.” The Vatican seemed bemused by the Muslim outrage occasioned by the Pope’s words, claiming that the Holy Father had simply intended “to cultivate an attitude of respect and dialogue toward the other religions and cultures, and obviously also towards Islam”.

But the Pope’s good intentions seem far from obvious. Hatred of Islam is so ubiquitous and so deeply rooted in western culture that it brings together people who are usually at daggers drawn. Neither the Danish cartoonists, who published the offensive caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad last February, nor the Christian fundamentalists who have called him a paedophile and a terrorist, would ordinarily make common cause with the Pope; yet on the subject of Islam they are in full agreement.

Our Islamophobia dates back to the time of the Crusades, and is entwined with our chronic anti-semitism. Some of the first Crusaders began their journey to the Holy Land by massacring the Jewish communities along the Rhine valley; the Crusaders ended their campaign in 1099 by slaughtering some 30,000 Muslims and Jews in Jerusalem. It is always difficult to forgive people we know we have wronged. Thenceforth Jews and Muslims became the shadow-self of Christendom, the mirror image of everything that we hoped we were not – or feared that we were.

The fearful fantasies created by Europeans at this time endured for centuries and reveal a buried anxiety about Christian identity and behaviour. When the popes called for a Crusade to the Holy Land, Christians often persecuted the local Jewish communities: why march 3,000 miles to Palestine to liberate the tomb of Christ, and leave unscathed the people who had – or so the Crusaders mistakenly assumed – actually killed Jesus. Jews were believed to kill little children and mix their blood with the leavened bread of Passover: this “blood libel” regularly inspired pogroms in Europe, and the image of the Jew as the child slayer laid bare an almost Oedipal terror of the parent faith.

Jesus had told his followers to love their enemies, not to exterminate them. It was when the Christians of Europe were fighting brutal holy wars against Muslims in the Middle East that Islam first became known in the west as the religion of the sword. At this time, when the popes were trying to impose celibacy on the reluctant clergy, Muhammad was portrayed by the scholar monks of Europe as a lecher, and Islam condemned – with ill-concealed envy – as a faith that encouraged Muslims to indulge their basest sexual instincts. At a time when European social order was deeply hierarchical, despite the egalitarian message of the gospel, Islam was condemned for giving too much respect to women and other menials.

In a state of unhealthy denial, Christians were projecting subterranean disquiet about their activities on to the victims of the Crusades, creating fantastic enemies in their own image and likeness. This habit has persisted. The Muslims who have objected so vociferously to the Pope’s denigration of Islam have accused him of “hypocrisy”, pointing out that the Catholic church is ill-placed to condemn violent jihad when it has itself been guilty of unholy violence in crusades, persecutions and inquisitions and, under Pope Pius XII, tacitly condoned the Nazi Holocaust.

Pope Benedict delivered his controversial speech in Germany the day after the fifth anniversary of September 11. It is difficult to believe that his reference to an inherently violent strain in Islam was entirely accidental. He has, most unfortunately, withdrawn from the interfaith initiatives inaugurated by his predecessor, John Paul II, at a time when they are more desperately needed than ever. Coming on the heels of the Danish cartoon crisis, his remarks were extremely dangerous. They will convince more Muslims that the west is incurably Islamophobic and engaged in a new crusade.

We simply cannot afford this type of bigotry. The trouble is that too many people in the western world unconsciously share this prejudice, convinced that Islam and the Qur’an are addicted to violence. The 9/11 terrorists, who in fact violated essential Islamic principles, have confirmed this deep-rooted western perception and are seen as typical Muslims instead of the deviants they really were.

With disturbing regularity, this medieval conviction surfaces every time there is trouble in the Middle East. Yet until the 20th century, Islam was a far more tolerant and peaceful faith than Christianity. The Qur’an strictly forbids any coercion in religion and regards all rightly guided religion as coming from God; and despite the western belief to the contrary, Muslims did not impose their faith by the sword.

The early conquests in Persia and Byzantium after the Prophet’s death were inspired by political rather than religious aspirations. Until the middle of the eighth century, Jews and Christians in the Muslim empire were actively discouraged from conversion to Islam, as, according to Qur’anic teaching, they had received authentic revelations of their own. The extremism and intolerance that have surfaced in the Muslim world in our own day are a response to intractable political problems – oil, Palestine, the occupation of Muslim lands, the prevelance of authoritarian regimes in the Middle East, and the west’s perceived “double standards” – and not to an ingrained religious imperative.

But the old myth of Islam as a chronically violent faith persists, and surfaces at the most inappropriate moments. As one of the received ideas of the west, it seems well-nigh impossible to eradicate. Indeed, we may even be strengthening it by falling back into our old habits of projection. As we see the violence – in Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon – for which we bear a measure of responsibility, there is a temptation, perhaps, to blame it all on “Islam”. But if we are feeding our prejudice in this way, we do so at our peril.

· Karen Armstrong is the author of Islam: A Short History


Read Full Post »

Imam Nawawi was an Ashari

Imam Nawawi was an Ashari

Abu Ja`far al-Hanbali said, “Imaam an-Nawawi RH, who was an Ash`ari, learned ahaadith and creed from the nephew of Imaam Muwaffaq ud-Din RH. They had different methodologies, but the foundations were the same and there is no record of anyone rebuking the other.”

A Brother Replied: “Indeed, but Nawawi’s Ash’arism, whatever may be true of it, isn’t the same of Ibn ‘Asakir who was rebuked by an Hanbali, and who rebuked Hanabilah by naming them Hashwiyyah! Al-Nawawi was primarily an scholar on Fiqh and Hadith, and in these he excelled. There’s therefore no reason that they encountered eachother on I’tiqad, thus no reason that they rebuked one another.. (but if you will, and others, I present scholars who rebuked one another and were earlier than these? Or is Imam al-Nawawi your sole argument?)”

Abu Ja`far al-Hanbali replied, “The Ash`ari methodology of Imaam an-Nawawi RH was to negate direction from Allah, interpreting the Attributes in certain instances to mean Power, Favour and other things (Sharh Sahih Muslim. V. 5, pp. 24-26; ), that Allah has no bodily or corporeal form (V. 17, pp. 177-178), that Allah did not have literal hands (V. 17, pp. 127-133) and that Allah does not literally come down from the sky. As far as has been researched, this is the same creedal foundation of Imaams Ibn `Asaakir, as well as Imaams Ibn Hajar, Ibn Daqiq al-`Eid, Jalaal ud-Din as-Suyuti and others. Please remember that most of the later scholars mentioned were either Azharites or had connections to their scholars. Your point that Imaam an-Nawawi RH was not a specialist in creed solicits a few points,

a. It should be remembered that Imaam an-Nawawi RH was touted as Shaikh ul-Islam in his time, a title that has a heavy meaning in the Shari`a. When someone is given this title, it signifies that they have mastered all the 18 sciences of Shari`a and have emerged unscathed. As we know of no one extent in his time that challenged his status, we have to assume its’ continuity as well as its’ acceptance. Thus, he would have had to have been a master of all 18, one of them being creed (Please keep in mind that these same titles were applied to Imaams an-Nawawi, Ibn Daqiq al-`Eid and other high ranking Ash`aris, so the same argument would apply).

b. When he was studying creed from Imaam Shams ud-Din al-Hanbali, indeed creed does enter into it, as the text they studied was Sahih Muslim. As they studied the whole text together, the passages on the attributes would have come up and been discussed. And when being taught by a haafiz as well as a muhaddith, they give the hadith, but also elucidate the meaning.

If there was any wrong in the notes that Shaikh ul-Islam wrote or the scholars used, the Hanbali Imaam would have made sure to correct it. Add to this the other hadith teachers he had who also looked over his notes and graded his understanding before conferring ijaaza. But there was no dispute as the Ash`ari methodology in creed is accepted without problem.

c. The Umawi environment was an Ash`ari one and this would have been evident from the curriculum.

d. The Orthodox, then and now, do not allow people to begin memorisation as well as Asbaab ul-Wurud and other hadith classes until the student has memorised the Qur’an as well as a book or books of creed. Again, being a mostly Ash`ari institution (if not all) the issue of the Attributes would have come up and already been memorised and used.

e. Imaam an-Nawawi was not killed as an apostate for contravening the consensus that the Ash`aris are deviant, nor was he persecuted as a deviant for doing the same.

f. Imaam an-Nawawi’s RH case was not the only one. Imaam Abu Ishaaq ash-Shaatibi RH expressed his Ash`ari creed in front of Imaam `Abdur-Rahmaan al-Battah (the Hanbali) in Spain and wasn’t executed as a kaafir or persecuted as a deviant for violating consensus on the astrayness of the Ash`aris.

Imaam Ibn Hajar RH expressed his Ash`ari creed in front of Imaam Muhammad as-Sa`di (the Hanbali) in Egypt at al-Azhar and was not killed as a kaafir or persecuted as a deviant for his expressing Ash`ari foundations in front of a Hanbali.

But how could he when the whole institution was an Ash`ari one? Shaikh ul-Islam Mansur al-Bahuti, the great Egyptian Azhar Hanbali, did not unsheathe his sword, storm into the al-Azhar staff and lay hands upon every Ash`ari that was violating the consensus on that they were deviant and/or kuffar from the centuries before, nor did he persecute any of his Hanbali-Ash`ari students. One of the more recent Shaikh ul-Azhars, Imaam `Abdul-Latif as-Subki, the great Hanbali Azharite, did not kill all in the faculty and dormitories who were studying the Ash`ari creed as they had violated the consensus of centuries before and stubbornly clung to the Ash`ari creed in the most prestigious university in the Muslim world.

g. Imaam `Abdur-Rahmaan al-Battah RH did not execute the Maalikis in Morocco at the al-Qarawain University for stubbornly and blatantly contravening consensus by teaching Ash`ari creed in the classrooms as well as from textbooks.”

Read Full Post »

University Islam & The Destruction of Islamic Learning
 by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
Bismillahir Rahmanu Rahim,

I don’t have the intellectual energy to debate with Harvard students, and probably could not hold my own if I did, but:

The point of traditional education is not the ijaza system. Our critique of modern university-level “Islamic studies” is not that they take place at universities. Rather, the point of traditional education is its methodology, which centers on the student-teacher relationship and close contact between the two, and makes the student an “inheritor” of a scholarly methodology and way. Its basis is transmission, continuity, and reverence. Following the footsteps of one’s teachers is virtue. Change for its own sake is blameworthy. One starts with small texts in the key Islamic subjects, which must be mastered (and often memorized). Then, one builds on these, step-by-step, with progressively larger and more sophisticated texts. The goal is mastery of the knowledge, and to become an inheritor of the understanding, wisdom, and way of one’s teachers and predecessors. The point of the knowledge is inherently practical: one’s own practice, and serving the real-life needs of the community.

University-style “Islamic studies” is based on the modern academic system. Right from the beginning, one studies big fat books, in a “comparative” style where every imam, sheikh and mulla’s opinion seems to be considered, as if they carry the same weight. The system of teaching is lectures and examination. The student’s goal is passing the exam, and getting to the next year of study. There is no imperative to master anything. It is like university studies. I graduated with a specialist in Economics, but am now unable to remember the simplest of economic concepts. After forgetting what I crammed for exams, I have little knowledge of economics, and certainly no mastery. University-style Islamic studies is no different.

With this, the student does not identify with his professors. He does not see himself as having the sacred role of being an inheritor to their knowledge, understanding, and way. He does not imbue their taqwa and character. He does not interact closely with them, to intimately understand how they thing and respond to issues that come up. Instead of being a link in a strong chain, he is a mere individual. He is cut off from his tradition. He is a modern man.

At higher levels of study, the point at Shariah Colleges is “academic research”, where the point is to say something new: what you say is only of worth if it is new and different. Continuity is stale and pointless. Change is the way. This may be fine for Western knowledge, where there are no absolute sources of knowledge, but it does not work for Islam, for obvious reasons.

In Fowler’s, the following entry is of interest:


 “The serious uses of this word (first recorded in the late 16c.) remain firm, but a little more than a century ago (first noted 1886) it developed a depreciatory range of meanings as well, ‘unpractical, merely theoretical, having no practical applications’ , e.g. All the discussion, Sirs, is-academic. The war has begun already-H. G. Wells, 1929; The strike vote…was dismissed as ‘largely academic’ by Merseyside Health Authority-Times, 1990.” (The New Fowler’s Modern English Usage, © Oxford University Press 1968)

Similarly, I would dismiss the knowledge of your typical Shariah college student as ‘largely academic.’ Having spent time in Damascus and Amman with dozens of such students, I can safely say that someone with similar intelligence but even very limited traditional study (e.g. 2 years) has more knowledge than a graduate student. Yes, the latter may have more Islamic information, but he usually cannot benefit himself or others with it…

Of course, there are exceptions. There are Shariah college students whose brilliance or study with traditional scholars on the side makes them exemplars. But this is the exception, and exceptions are ultimately of no consequence.

Imam Muhammad Zahid al-Kawthari, in the early part of the 20th Century, warned against the dangers of non-madhhabism, writing a seminal article titled, Non-madhhabism is the bridge to non-religion. In a similar way, we can safely say that University Islam is the Way to Destroy Islamic Learning.

To close, Sidi Nazim Baksh wrote an excellent article on traditional learning:

Faraz Rabbani
Amman, Jordan

Read Full Post »