Halloween and Conformity

Introduction
Halloween is around the corner once again. It is the second largest holiday in the US after Christmas. Every year Muslims are compelled to make the difficult decision of whether to participate in the festivities of Halloween occurring around them or to simply ignore what people are doing with the hope that they will not be pressured by either their children or peers to conform. It’s not an easy situation to be in.

The modern ritual of Halloween contains many aspects of innocent fun and entertainment, especially for children: dressing up in costumes, getting candy from neighbors, and getting to carve pumpkins. Intrinsically, there is nothing wrong with any of these acts, which is why some Muslims participate in the rituals.

But there is another aspect of Halloween that revolves around witchcraft and black magic, evil and superstition. It is common to dress as witches, vampires, demons, zombies, and even Satan [or what people assume he looks like]. School classrooms and work offices are adorned with cobwebs and spiders. Some creative residents decorate their lawns with fake coffins and corpses or hang human skeletons from their doors.

Most people don’t stop to question why these things are associated with Halloween. But Muslims are not supposed to be like ‘most people’. Islam encourages them to think and question, reflect and criticize. Why are people doing that? Why do they dress up in costumes like this?
Where did the idea of going ‘trick or treat’ come from? Why are pumpkins mostly neglected throughout the year but become prevalent during Halloween season? Who came up with the game of ‘bobbing for apples’?

The Origins of Halloween
Researching the origins of Halloween reveals a lot of interesting history.[1] Halloween traces its history back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain [pronounced sow-in]. The Celts lived in and around modern day Ireland about 2000 years ago and celebrated their new year on November 1st. On the last day of the year [i.e. October 31st] they believed that dead spirits returned to the world, so their priests would light huge bonfires where people would make sacrifices to their gods.

Later, the Romans conquered the Celtic territory around 43 C.E. They were also pagans and had two festivals: one to commemorate the passing of the dead in late October and the other to honor Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit. These two celebrations were eventually merged with the day of Samhain.

Centuries later, the Catholic Church established a day to honor all the Christian martyrs who had been killed and called it All Martyrs Day [also known as All Hallows Day]. This was originally celebrated in May but was eventually moved to November 1st to displace the pagan day of Samhain that was still celebrated in the region. Later, another day was added called All Souls Day to include all dead people. The night before All Hallows was called All Hallows Eve and the name evolved to become Halloween. The pagan Celtic ritual about dead spirits mixed with the Catholic one about honoring the dead.

In colonial America, observing Halloween was originally very limited because the Protestant Christians wanted nothing to do with pagan rituals. In the second half of the nineteenth century, more immigrants from Europe began to migrate to America, many of them coming from Ireland due to the potato famine of 1846. These white immigrants brought the celebration of Halloween with them and it began to spread throughout the country. By the 20th century, Halloween became a little more sanitized and the religious and superstitious aspects of the day were mostly gone. The symbols of ghosts and witchcraft remained but were not widely believed in due to a change in American attitudes. Nonetheless, many neopagans and Wiccans still believe in and celebrate Samhain. Today, Halloween has become commercialized and rakes in about $6 billion every year in the US alone. A fourth of all candy sold throughout the year is purchased for Halloween celebrations.

It is clear that Halloween is a day that has evolved over time, incorporating many different elements and cultures, mostly pagan, into it. The practice of dressing up in costumes originated from the fear of ghosts roaming the earth on Halloween. The Celts believed that if someone wore a scary mask or costume then the ghosts might not recognize them as humans.

To prevent ghosts from coming inside their homes, they use to leave food outside for roaming spirits to eat. The food also served as a ‘treat’ for the good ghosts from their deceased family members. The Catholic Church tried to displace this practice by encouraging people to give out ‘soul-cakes’ so people would pray for the dead instead. During the All Souls Day celebrations in England, poor people would go from house to house begging for food and families would give them some if they promised to pray for their dead ancestors. Over time, the twin practices of leaving treats for ghosts and begging for soul-cakes merged to become ‘trick-or-treating’. The ‘trick’ was added when people began threatening others that if they do not give some ‘treat’, a ‘trick’ will be played on them through some mischievous act.

The ‘jack-o-lantern’ originated from the practice of carving scary faces into turnips or pumpkins and leaving them outside the house to scare away ghosts. The game of ‘bobbing for apples’ came from the festival of the Roman deity Pomona, whose symbol is the apple. There were many other customs and superstitions associated with Halloween that have died out with the passage of time.

Symbolism and Secularism
Since Halloween has mostly become a secularized festival in the West, some Muslims argue that there is nothing wrong with adopting it. Knowing the history of Halloween and the origins of the symbols that are still associated with the day, we must be more cautious.
When the Christian ʿAdī ibn Ḥātim accepted Islam, he went to go visit the Prophet Muhammad with a golden cross around his neck. The Messenger of

Allah pointed to his necklace and told him, “ʿAdī, throw this idol away.” It is important to reflect on this statement. ʿAdī had already accepted Islam, which meant that he had already abandoned the idea that Jesus is divine. For him, the cross around his neck was only a symbol now. Maybe he liked the way it looked or had become accustomed to wearing it as a fashion piece. Prior to accepting Islam, that cross symbolized belief in Jesus being God and having died for the sins of all people. The moment ʿAdī accepted Islam, the cross that he was wearing immediately ceased to have this meaning, which is why he continued to wear it. Nevertheless, the Prophet made it clear to ʿAdī that this cross was still considered an idol because of what it symbolized, and must be discarded entirely.

Likewise, despite the secularization of many symbols that were once antithetical to Islam and its core message, the advice of the Prophet should continue to resonate with us. Muslims should be proud that they have the insight to trace rituals and customs back to their origins, and ascend beyond the blind conformity of imitating whatever cultural practices and rituals exist in their society. Halloween is a ritual that is yet to be purified of its pagan and satanic symbols and elements. Until this is done, Muslims should be weary.

There is nothing wrong with ordering a pumpkin spiced latte from the local café that only serves this drink around Halloween. Likewise, leaving out some candy to prevent your neighbor’s children from becoming disappointed might be a wise move, depending on where you live, but Muslims should generally avoid observing Halloween as a day of celebration. Instead, they must develop alternatives to where children have fun, get [healthy] treats, get to wear costumes, and carve out fruits. However, these alternatives need to be stripped of their pagan elements. The Muslim community will continue to wait in anticipation for those creative individuals to arrive who can introduce these alternatives. In the meantime, the corporations who profit from Halloween will continue to develop the holiday in whatever direction will gain them the most profit, without any concern for what symbols are promoted or what impact they have on people.

Muslims must remember that it is okay to be different. Halloween has evolved over time and theoretically has the potential to be stripped of its pagan symbols and made into a purely secular holiday. But until it is, we should discard the superstitious pagan symbols and replace them with something better.

[1] See http://www.history.com/topics/halloween/history-of-halloween, last accessed 10-29-15; Also see Nicholas Rogers, Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002).

If someone puts me in their will as a bequest [waṣiyyah], can I make a bequest with that wealth to someone else in case I die first?

In the of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful.

Summary: No, because you do not own that money yet, and if you die first, that wealth would never have belonged to you at all.

It is allowed, and in some cases, recommended, to leave wealth to a specified person, or cause, after your death. This is known as a bequest [waṣiyyah]. You may not leave a bequest to someone who will already inherit according to Islamic guidelines, such as your children or parents, since that would unfairly increase the shares of specific individuals who are inheriting. Also, the bequest must not be more than 1/3rd of your property, so that the inheritors like children and parents are not deprived of your wealth [estate]. For example, Umar may decide to leave 10% of his wealth after his death to his best friend Ali, since he always helped him throughout his life.
Wealth from inheritance only transfers after the death of a person. For example, in the above scenario, if Umar already wrote the bequest for Ali in his will, that wealth will not belong to Ali until Umar actually dies. If Ali dies prior to Umar, the bequest of Umar is void. So if Ali wanted that wealth to go to his own mother, in case he died first, he cannot write a bequest to that effect, since you cannot transact with wealth that does not belong to you. However, Ali may request that Umar write in his will that if Ali dies first then the wealth will go to his mother. It is Umar’s decision whether to honor that request or not.

[Shaykh] Mustafa Umar
California Islamic University
Fullerton, CA – USA – 2018

Do I Have to Pray Jumʿah [the Friday Prayer] if Eid is on Friday?

Summarized Answer

The majority of Muslim scholars said that Friday Prayer is still mandatory for people who have performed Eid Prayer on the same day. They argued that only people living in isolated areas [who are normally exempted from attending the Friday prayer] coming from out of town to attend the Eid prayer are exempted from the Friday Prayer. This is the opinion of Imams Abū Ḥanīfah, Mālik, ash-Shāfiʿī, and several other scholars.

Nonetheless, there are some scholars who have posited that those who prayed the Eid Prayer are exempted from the Friday Prayer when both fall on the same day. Therefore, anyone who skips the prayer should not be blamed since they are following a respectable scholarly opinion. To understand the issue in detail, see the Appendix.

 

Appendix

Muslims scholars have differed over whether or not Friday Prayer remains obligatory on Eid day. This results from different approaches to dealing with the prophetic reports on the issue. There are four main pieces of evidence which broadly result in two opinions about how to understand them.

A: The verse of the Qur’an stipulates that Friday prayer is an obligation: “You who believe: When the Prayer is called for Friday, hasten toward the remembrance of Allah and leave your business. That is better for you, if only you knew.”[1]

B: There is a report that the third khalīfah, Uthmān ibn ʿAffān, gave permission for some people to skip the prayer: “…then I witnessed the ʿĪd with Uthmān ibn ʿAffān, and that was on Friday. He prayed before the sermon [khutbah], then gave a speech and said: ‘People. This is a day where two ʿĪds have fallen on the same day. So whoever from amongst the people of the outskirts[2] of Madinah wants to wait for the Friday Prayer, they may; and whoever wants to return [home], I have given them permission.”[3]

C: There are reports that the Prophet allowed people to skip the ʿĪd prayer.

  • Zayd ibn Arqam reported that the Prophet performed the ʿĪd prayers early in the day but then offered an exemption for Friday prayer and said, “Whoever wants to may pray it.”[4]
  • “Two ʿĪds were on the same day during the time of Ibn al-Zubayr [a Companion]. He delayed people from coming out until the daylight had spread. When he came out and gave a sermon, he made it long. Then he descended and prayed but the people did not pray the Friday Prayer on that day. This was then mentioned to Ibn ʿAbbās who said: ‘He has acted according to the Sunnah [the way of the Prophet].’”[5]
  • Abū Hurayrah reported that the Prophet said, “Two ʿĪds have synchronized together on this day, so whoever prefers, it may suffice for Friday prayer. We will soon gather.”[6]

D: There is a report that the Prophet himself performed the Friday prayer on ʿĪd day: “The Prophet used to read surah al-Aʿlā and al-Ghāshiyah in the two ʿĪd Prayers and the Friday Prayer. When the day of ʿĪd and Friday would come together on the same day he would still read both of them in both prayers.”[7]

The opinion of Abū Ḥanīfah[8], Mālik[9], and ash-Shāfiʿī[10] is that only people living in isolated areas [who are normally exempted from attending the Friday prayer] coming from out of town to attend the ʿĪd prayer are exempted from the Friday Prayer.

Their reasoning is:

  • Verse A cannot be overridden by any report which indicates something different unless it is of the highest authenticity. It must also be reported by several different people because this is not something that would only be heard/observed by one or two people only.
  • There doesn’t seem to be any rational reason why one obligation should be dropped due to another being performed. This is similar to the way people must still pray Ẓuhr after praying ʿĪd.[11]
  • Report B indicates that the leader of the Muslims exempted only a specific group of people [who normally don’t need to pray the Friday prayer because they don’t live in a city] and none of the Companions objected to his decision. This implies they understood that it was in line with the practice of the Prophet.
  • Evidence C may be general in wording but should be understood as being confined to a specific group of people based on the other evidence.
  • Much of evidence C is of doubtful authenticity.
  • Report D indicates that the Prophet himself prayed it and he obviously had other people with him.

The opinion of Aḥmad ibn Hanbal[12], Ibn Taymiyyah[13], and ash-Shawkānī is that whoever performed the Eid prayer is exempted from the Friday prayer[14], but must still pray Ẓuhr.

Their reasoning is:

  • Evidence C is sufficiently authentic to prove that the Prophet made an exception to the rule in order to make life easier for the Muslims.
  • The sermon for Friday prayer is an addition to the prayer of Ẓuhr. Since one set of sermons was already heard, there is no need for another set later in the day.
  • Friday prayer is a type of ʿĪd and there is no need for two of them in one day. When two acts of worship of the same genre combine together, one of them drops, the way wuḍū’ is not needed when taking a bath [ghusl].[15]

[1] Qur’an 62:9.

[2] The word used is “al-ʿawālī” which refers to people living about one or two miles from the mosque in Madinah. See al-Laknawī, ʿAbdul Ḥayy, al-Taʿlīq al-Mumajjad.

[3] Bukhārī 7:103 #5572, Muwaṭṭa’ 2:249 #613.

[4] Abū Dāwūd 1:281 #1070, Al-Nasā`ī 3:194 #1591. Scholars differed over the authenticity of this report.

[5] Al-Nasā`ī 3:194 #1592.

[6] Abū Dā`ūd 1:281 #1073. Scholars differed over the authenticity of this report.

[7] Muslim 2:598 #878, Nasā`ī 3:112 #1424.

[8] Al-Shaybānī, Muḥammad, al-Muwatta’.

[9] Ḥāshiyah al-Dassūqī 1:391.

[10] Nawawi, al-Majmūʿ.

[11] Ibn Qudāmah, al-Mughnī 2:265.

[12] Ibn Qudāmah, al-Kāfī fī Fiqh al-Imām Aḥmad 1:338, Ibn Qudāmah, al-Mughnī 2:265.

[13] Majmū’ Fatāwā Ibn Taymiyyah 24:211-213.

[14] With the exception of the imām, unless no one shows up.

[15] Majmūʿ Fatāwā Ibn Taymiyyah 24:211.

The Month of Dhul Hijjah – What a Muslim Should Do

What is Dhul Hijjah
Dhul Hijjah is the name of the last month in the Islamic lunar calendar. It starts tomorrow on Wednesday August 23, 2017. It literally means: “the time of Hajj”.

Hajj is the fifth pillar of Islam and constitutes the pilgrimage to Makkah, which every Muslim must perform at least once in their lifetime, if they are able to undertake it. That is what makes this month so special: it is the month in which the Pilgrimage takes place.

The First Ten Days
The first ten days are considered to be special in Islam. Allah created time, and made some times to be better than others, where rewards are multiplied. This encourages people to do more good deeds and renew their zeal to worship Allah. It is similar to a farmer who works extra hard to plant crops during certain seasons, because those times of the year will yield better results. The Prophet said regarding Dhul Ḥijjah, “There are no other days in which actions are better than in these ten days.”[1]

Therefore, it is recommended to increase in good deeds. Fast on as many of these days as possible, like the Prophet Muhammad did.[2] Pray in the masjid more often. Read more Qur’an, and reflect on it. Give more charity. Visit people who are sick. Be extra careful not to gossip, use profanity, or insult others.

Technically, the tenth day is the day of Eid, which is a celebration. It is not allowed to fast on this day. So when ‘ten days’ are mentioned, it actually means the first nine days of the month.

Cutting Hair and Nails
Some scholars hold that a person should not cut their nails or hair during these first ten days of Dhul Ḥijjah. That is because of the report that the Prophet Muhammad said: “Whoever sights the crescent for the month of Dhul Ḥijjah and intends to sacrifice an animal should cut neither his hair nor his nails.”[3] Imam Nawawī says that the wisdom behind this could be that a person who is offering a sacrifice wants to resemble a person performing Hajj since it is about sacrifice, so they refrain from cutting the hair and nails to further the resemblance [since pilgrims to Makkah are also not allowed to cut].[4]

However, there is another report about the Prophet by his wife ʿĀ’ishah that: “…the Prophet sent a sacrificial animal to the Kaʿbah [while residing at Madīnah] but did not abstain from anything [that a person performing Ḥajj would abstain from]…”[5] This report led many scholars to say that it is perfectly fine to cut one’s hair and nails during these days. This is the opinion that I lean towards. See Appendix below for a more detailed discussion about why scholars have differed on this issue.

Fast on the 9th Day
The 9th day of this month is called “the day of ʿArafah” because that is the day the pilgrims performing Hajj gather in the plain of ʿArafah, just outside Makkah. This year, it will take place on Thursday, August 31, 2017. It is highly recommended for people who are not performing Hajj to fast on this day. This is a special fast that the Prophet Muhammad said: “Fasting on the day of ʿArafah is an expiation for the preceding year and the following year.”[6] This meant that the fast is so rewarded that it helps to absolve a person of some of the sins they committed in the past and might do in the future.

So, one day before the Eid celebration, make sure to fast.

Summarized Table of What to Do this Month
1st-8th of Dhul Ḥijjah [Aug 23-30] Recommended to fast and do good deeds
9th of Dhul Ḥijjah [Aug 31] Highly recommended to fast
10th of Dhul Ḥijjah [Sep 1] Eid prayer and animal sacrifice
Appendix
Muslims scholars have differed over whether or not there are any restrictions on cutting the nails or hair during the first ten days of Dhul Ḥijjah. This results from different approaches to dealing with the prophetic reports on the issue. There are two main pieces of evidence which result in three different opinions about how to understand them.

A: The prophetic report narrated by Umm Salamah states: “Whoever sights the crescent for the month of Dhul Ḥijjah and intends to sacrifice an animal should cut neither his hair nor his nails.”[7]

B: The prophetic report narrated by ʿĀ’ishah that: “…the Prophet sent a sacrificial animal to the Kaʿbah [while residing at Madīnah] but did not abstain from anything [that a person performing Ḥajj would abstain from]…”[8]

The first opinion is to affirm that both reports are equally authentic. Report A should be taken in its literal sense, but report B should be confined to only those who send a sacrificial animal, not those who sacrifice an animal within their own city.[9] The scholars who took this approach and said cutting nails and hair is forbidden for a person who intends to slaughter are Aḥmad ibn Ḥambal, Ibn Ḥazm, and Ṭaḥāwī [of the Ḥanafī school].[10]

The second opinion is to affirm both reports as equally authentic and that they are addressing the exact same issue, but understand that report A should not be taken literally as a prohibition, but rather as something disliked. The scholars who took this approach are ash-Shāfiʿī and some of Aḥmad ibn Ḥanbal’s students [such as Abū Yaʿlā].[11]

The third opinion is to prefer report B over report A, because it is of a higher standard of authenticity. Report A is also dismissed since it is contrary to analogy [qiyās] because if a person was supposed to refrain from cutting their nails and hair, they should have also been instructed to refrain from certain clothing, perfume, and intimacy, because that is what people who are performing Hajj must also do.[12] The scholars who took this approach and said there is nothing wrong with cutting the hair or nails are Abū Ḥanīfah and his students, Mālik and his students, and Sufyān al-Thawrī.[13]

[1] Al-Bukhārī
[2] “Allah’s messenger used to fast the [first] nine days of Dhul Ḥijjah…” Abū Dāwūd
[3] Muslim 3:1565, Abū Dā’ūd 3:94, Tirmidhī 4:102, Nasā’ī 7:211.
[4] Sharḥ al-Nawawī ʿalā Muslim 13:138-139. Al-Nawawī mentioned another possible reason as well which I prefer not to mention here.
[5] Bukhārī 7:102, Muslim 2:957.
[6] Muslim
[7] Muslim 3:1565, Abū Dā’ūd 3:94, Tirmidhī 4:102, Nasā’ī 7:211.
[8] Bukhārī 7:102, Muslim 2:957.
[9] `Awn al-Maʿbūd wa Ḥāshiyah ibn al-Qayyim ʿalā Sunan Abī Dāwūd 7:346, al-Istidhkār 4:84.
[10] al-Tirmidhī 4:102, Tuḥfah al-Aḥwadhī 5:99-100, Sharḥ Mushkil al-Āthār 14:141-143.
[11] Tuḥfah al-Aḥwadhī 5:99-100, `Awn al-Maʿbūd wa Ḥāshiyah ibn al-Qayyim ʿalā Sunan Abī Dāwūd 7:346.
[12] `Awn al-Maʿbūd wa Ḥāshiyah ibn al-Qayyim ʿalā Sunan Abī Dāwūd 7:347.
[13] Tuḥfah al-Aḥwadhī 5:99-100, al-Istidhkār 4:84.

Zakah on Access Restricted Investments Like 401(k)s and IRAs

History

In 1978 U.S. Congress passed a Revenue Act which included a provision that allowed employees to avoid being taxed on a portion of income that they decide to receive as deferred compensation, rather than direct pay. The provision was Internal Revenue Code Sec. 401(k). Today, 94% of private employers offer 401(k) plans.

A 401(k) plan is a retirement account that you can only access through an employer. You contribute a portion of your salary to the plan, and if you choose to put that contribution in a traditional 401(k), it isn’t taxed until you withdraw the money, allowing your investments to grow over time without being taxed. (Note: You will pay penalties if you take out the money before a set retirement age, as defined by the plan.) And, as an added bonus, many employers will match some of your contributions.

Traditional IRA – contributions are often tax-deductible (often simplified as “money is deposited before tax” or “contributions are made with pre-tax assets”), all transactions and earnings within the IRA have no tax impact, and withdrawals at retirement are taxed as income (except for those portions of the withdrawal corresponding to contributions that were not deducted).It was introduced with the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) and made popular with the Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981.

These are popular investments vehicles due to the tax advantages, but also place access restrictions and penalties on a person’s wealth. These tax shelters are usually created by the government to promote a certain desirable behavior, usually a long term investment for retirement so that people do not rely on the government when they are advanced in age.

Fundamentals of Zakah

Zakah is due on wealth that is liable to increase such as cash and sellable goods. It is exempted from personal items such as clothing, vehicles, etc, regardless of how much it may be. The reason behind this is because it is not liable to increase. For example, Muhammad has a personal research library containing $5000 worth of books and tools that he uses to landscape his backyard that are worth $5000. Even though he could sell these items in case he needed to, he has no intention to sell them and owns them in order to use them, thus they are not liable to increase in value due to the state they are in. Ali, on the other hand, owns a store in which he sells both books and tools. Assuming that he had $5000 worth of books in his store and $5000 worth of tools, he would have to pay Zakah on these items because this wealth is liable to increase. The difference between the two scenarios is that Ali purchased these items with the intention to resell them at a profit. Once he sells them, his product will convert to cash, which is zakatable, and most likely he will use that money to purchase more goods for sale. By buying products and selling at a profit, his wealth increases, whereas Muhammad’s books and tools are not intrinsically liable to increase in this way.

Another scenario which highlights financial decisions by individuals is the case of purchasing a car versus leasing one. Uthman and Zayd both have $20,000 each and want to get new cars. Uthman uses his $20,000 to buy a car but Zayd leases the same type of car for $2,000 per year for five years. When Zakah becomes due Uthman will not have to pay on the value of his car but Zayd will pay on the remaining cash every year from the original $20,000 he had, after his lease payments were made. After two years, Uthman could probably sell his car for $16,000 cash. If he did so, he would have to pay Zakah on that cash, but if he does not, then he does not need to pay Zakah. The reason why Zayd, who had originally had the same amount of money and now has the same type of car, has to pay Zakah and why Uthman does not is because Zayd’s cash is [potentially] productive, meaning he can invest it, whereas Uthman cannot because his wealth is stuck in the car he is using for personal reasons.

Investments are like Trade Goods

Many people will purchase something and hold that asset with the hope it will appreciate over time and they will be able to resell it at a profit. Even though they may not have the intention to sell it immediately, their primary purpose is for eventual resale. For example, Hasan purchases a vintage Ferrari vehicle for $100,000 and intends to keep it in storage for five years. He hopes that its value will double over those five years. Since his intention to purchase it was primarily for eventual resale, he will evaluate the market value of the vehicle every year and pay Zakah on it. This is because he would most likely be able to sell it at that market value on any given year.

Tax Shelters, Zakah Shelters, and Intention

When investing, a wise person considers choosing investments that result in the least amount of taxes possible. Taxes are paid to the government and utilizing tax shelters are generally not viewed as being unethical as long as they are legal. These tax shelters are usually created by the government to promote a certain desirable behavior, usually a long term investment.

Sometimes there is a fine line between a purchase being considered an investment or for personal use. In such a case, the intention of the individual, and cultural context, will determine whether Zakāh is due on something or not. For example, Mustafa buys a rare comic book for $50, even though the cover price of the comic was originally $2.50. He bought it because it is his favorite comic book story and has no intention to sell it, and it is common for people in his community to pay high prices for a good story, therefore Zakāh is not due on it. Eventually, he gifts this comic book to his friend Umar, who is not interested in the book itself but keeps it hoping to sell it one day because its value is increasing. Since Umar had the intention of investment, he must pay Zakāh on it.

Items are deemed to be for ‘personal use’ according to the intention of the owner. If someone purchases items mainly with the intention to escape paying Zakāh, they will be responsible in front of Allah on the Day of Judgment. For example, if Hasan wanted to evade paying Zakāh on the extra cash he owns he might think of buying diamonds and store them under the guise of ‘personal use’. However, in reality, his intention for buying them was to avoid paying Zakāh on his excess cash because he knows he could sell them at any time and convert them back into cash. Since his real intention is to sell them whenever he feels the need, they are considered investments or business assets and he must pay Zakāh on them. Maryam, on the other hand, buys some emeralds and rubies to use as decorations in her room. Since her intention to purchase them was for beautification and not as an investment, she will not pay Zakāh on them.

Should Access Restricted Accounts be Zakatable

Some investments have access restrictions. For example, Ahmad gave Talha $5,000 to invest as a partner in a home. Talha told him that he will not have access to the money he invested for three years, but after that he will get his money back plus the profit made from the sale of that house. Ahmad will have to pay Zakāh on this money, after adjusting for current profit or loss if that can be determined, every year. This is because he voluntarily gave up his ability to access that money with the hope of earning more profit than a liquid investment would yield. If Ahmad does not have enough liquid assets to pay Zakāh on the restricted investment, he may defer the payment until he has the money available and will not incur any sin for that. The reason for that is because the original principle when paying Zakāh is that it is taken from the actual wealth itself, but in this case it is restricted and not available.

Other investments like retirement plans have access restrictions and early withdrawal penalties in exchange for tax benefits. In the United States, a retirement plan such as a 401(k) or IRA (Individual Retirement Account) serve as containers to allow investments to grow on a tax-deferred basis. The caveat is that there are restrictions and penalties for early withdrawal of funds in addition to the fact that taxes will be incurred when the money is eventually withdrawn. These added variables complicate Zakāh calculations and has resulted in different rulings by scholars due to their varied understanding of how these financial instruments function and relate to the system of Zakāh:

  • The first view is that Zakāh is due on the entire market value of the account every year. This is the opinion of Dr Muzammil Siddiqi, Shaykh Abdur Rahman Mangera, and the opinion I lean towards. The reasoning is that the person voluntarily put their money into this account. Since the account is owned by the individual the actual amount of capital in the account is given consideration since the investment grows through that full amount. Future taxes or possible penalties are not given consideration since they are not incurred at present and it is unknown if, when, and how much penalties and taxes will be deducted. Most retirement accounts provide incidental access to the invested wealth in cases of emergencies and for other reasons, which implies full ownership and control. For example, Maryam has $250,000 in a 401(k) in which she owns iShares Gold Trust ETF. This is a fund where investors pool their money together and buy physical gold which is kept in vaults scattered around the planet. Maryam will have to pay 2.5% of the value of this investment every year.
  • The second view is that the early withdrawal penalty may be deducted from the value of the account when calculating Zakāh, in addition to deducting the current tax bracket of the individual, since this would be the true amount of unrestricted wealth the person would have if they were to withdraw the funds and incur all penalties on that day. This deduction may amount to about 20-50% of the market value of the account. This is the opinion of Shaykh Salah As-Sawy. The problem with this view is that it takes an incidental circumstance into consideration. Most people never access their retirement accounts early and therefore never incur any penalties, while their wealth continues to grow based on the full market value of the account, which represents their true net worth. For example, Mustafa has $100,000 in a 401(k) brokerage account. He has another $100,000 invested in Microsoft shares which is not in a 401(k). According to this opinion, he would owe $2500 in Zakah on the Microsoft shares [2.5% of $100,000] but would owe only $1500 on his shares of Apple [assuming the early withdrawal penalty was 10% and his tax bracket was 30%]. If Mustafa paid his Zakah from the extra money he had in his checking account, he would have received a massive Zakah deduction, even though this penalty was never actually incurred. Furthermore, if his shares of Apple increased by 10% the following year, that increase would be on the $100,000 and he would thus have $110,000 in Apple shares. Therefore, it does not seem to make sense to deduct a hypothetical cost which is not actually incurred.
  • The third view is that Zakah is not due on a retirement account. Three arguments have been presented in defense of such a view:
    1. Zakah is only due on wealth that is fully accessible to the owner, so retirement accounts are exempt. This argument does not take into consideration two important facts concerning retirement accounts. First, that the person consciously placed their money into this account knowing that it would contain some access restrictions. This was done for the benefit that would accrue from such an account, either through tax breaks or employer matching. Second, it is incorrect to say that a person with a retirement account does not have access to it. For example, if Yusuf had $250,000 in his 401(k) retirement account and had no other wealth, then lost his job and could not pay rent for his house or cover his other bills, he would not become homeless and poor. He would have access to this account and would be able to withdraw the money and continue to live a comfortable lifestyle, thus classifying him as ‘wealthy’ from a Zakah perspective.
    2. Zakah is only due on wealth that is actively managed by its owner, so retirement accounts are exempt. This argument does not consider the fact that the investor was able to choose what type of investments to initially invest in. This could have been mutual funds, ETFs, bonds, or another investment type. Furthermore, the argument fails to consider that there is a money manager who is actively managing the account of the investor, and this was done by choice. When Muslim scholars exempted Zakah from a person who does not have ‘management access’ to their wealth, their concern was that this wealth would fail to be productive due to lack of decision making. However, this is not the case of retirement accounts. It is analogous to the situation where Amr signs a contract with Zayd for five years that his $100,000 will be managed by Zayd and he will make all financial decisions with regard to that wealth. The wealth is being managed, but by someone more qualified, which is why Amr passed investment decision authority over to Zayd in the first place.
    3. Zakah is not due on wealth that can only be accessed with a penalty. This argument does not seem to have any historical basis that I can locate. The reality is that the investor voluntarily signed up to be subject to penalties due to a tax benefit they would receive for having such an account. An analogous situation would be where Ali puts $10,000 every year into a special security guarded underground vault. The company that owns the vault charges a percentage of the wealth every time the wealth is either inserted or withdrawn due to their physical costs of accessing the underground vault. Ali cannot claim that his cash in the vault should be Zakah exempt merely because he cannot access that wealth without a penalty.

It is also important to keep in mind that when a company matches retirement contributions for an employee, Zakāh is only due once they become ‘vested’, which means that a span of time has passed over them such that their ownership is guaranteed and not revocable. If a person does not have enough liquid assets to pay the Zakāh because they have nothing to sell or give away, it may be deferred without sin. For example, Ali invests $7,000 every year into his retirement account which has now grown to $200,000. He must pay $5,000 in Zakāh [which is 2.5% of the $200,000] but he does not have any liquid assets in his account and is not able to withdraw from his retirement account. He may pay his Zakāh late but should consider investing less money for retirement in the future so that he may pay his Zakāh on time.

30 Frequently Asked Questions About Ramaḍān

1. What is the purpose of fasting

Fasting is an exercise in self-control. Refraining from food, drink and intercourse are difficult because these are among the strongest three desires that humans have. By learning to go without these three human needs for a period of time, Muslims learn self-control so that they can apply this to other aspects of their life. For example, a person who went sixteen hours without water can more easily resist the temptation to drink alcohol or do some other forbidden act. This instills the quality of being conscious of God, which is ultimately the purpose of fasting.

2. What is special about Ramadan? Why fast in this month?

Ramadan is the month in which the Qur’an was first revealed. Allah decided that this month should be singled out as being special in order to commemorate the Qur’an.

3. When should my children start fasting?

The Prophet Muhammad taught that children should begin praying at the age of seven. This means that they should learn what prayer is and try to perform it at least sometimes. Then he clarified that they must pray regularly by the age of ten and should be disciplined for not doing so. That gives them three years to learn and understand what they are doing and get used to it. The same rule applies for fasting. Once children reach the age of seven, they should be taught how to fast and encouraged to do so, at least sometimes. By the age of ten, children should be encouraged by their parents to fast the entire month, or as much as they are able to.

4. How sick do you have to be to skip fasting?

Someone suffering from an illness where fasting will probably either cause harm to their body, increase their illness, or delay their recovery is excused from fasting. The severity of their illness can be determined by consulting a medical professional. People with a minor cough or slight fever should still fast, because that will not usually cause much harm. Remember that fasting, even when healthy, causes some discomfort, so be careful when deciding whether you are too sick to fast or not.

5. Should pregnant women fast?

There are many pregnant women who fast and it neither harms them nor their child. However, this depends on the health and stature of the woman, as well as the season and her lifestyle. Every case is different. It is best to consult a medical professional who is both well versed in pregnancy as well as nutrition to see if there is a real threat to either the mother or child due to fasting. If there is, the pregnant woman should not fast, and make up the days she missed later on.

6. Should breastfeeding women fast?

There are many women who breastfeed their children and continue fasting. It neither harms them nor their milk supply. However, this depends on the health and stature of the woman, as well as the season and her lifestyle. Every case is different. It is best to consult a medical professional who is both well versed in breastfeeding as well as nutrition to see if there is a real threat to either the mother or the production of milk due to fasting. If there is, the nursing mother does not need to fast, but will have to make up the days she missed later on.

7. What if a woman has successive pregnancies and is unable to fast for a few years?

This situation might make a woman miss several Ramadans and have to make up fasting for a few years past. Usually, when a person misses a fast in Ramadan, they should make it up before the next Ramadan comes in. In the case where someone has missed more than one Ramadan, they have more leniency in spreading these makeup fasts over a longer period of time. It is recommend for women to try making up their fasts in the winter time when days are shorter and spreading them out by fasting one or two days a week, if it is difficult for them due to their circumstances.

8. What if someone has a chronic illness or is really old?

People who suffer from a chronic illness or are very old such that fasting will cause them harm do not have to fast. However, since this situation will persist they must feed a poor person, two average meals, for every day of fasting they miss. In that way, they have earned the reward of fasting despite their inability.

9. Can I still fast when traveling?

A person who is traveling is excused from fasting due to the difficulties and inconveniences associated with a journey. However, if there will be little difficulty, then it is better to fast. The fasts that are missed must be made up after returning from the journey.

10. What if two different masjids in my area are starting/ending Ramadan on different days?

There is a difference of opinion among Muslim scholars on how to determine the start/end of Ramadan. It is best to follow the masjid that you trust the most concerning their Islamic knowledge. However, if this will cause a division within your family or will result in other difficult circumstances, it is permissible to take the opinion of the other masjid and follow their timing, even if you feel they are less qualified in Islamic knowledge.

11. Different masjids have different timetables for when fasting beings. Why is that?

The timings for Fajr prayer [which is when fasting begins] are determined by true dawn, which is when a clear thread of light is seen on the horizon. However, given environmental factors such as mountains, light pollution, elevation, etc. people, even in the same city, will not be able to observe dawn at exactly the same time, depending on their point of observation. Therefore scientific calculations are used to approximate the time of dawn. Since these calculations cannot predictably determine the true time of dawn, there will be different opinions on how many degrees the sun needs to be below the horizon before dawn should be considered to have occurred.

12. Does vomiting break my fast?

Vomiting a large amount, intentionally, when it comes out with force and cannot be kept in, does break the fast. This is usually a rare scenario, because that is rarely done intentionally. However, unintentionally vomiting does not break the fast.

13. Is it ok to use eye/ear/nose drops or enemas?

It is permissible to use eye/ear/nose drops because the liquid does not normally reach the stomach or nourish the body.[1] Therefore, it is not analogous to food or drink. However, when using nose drops it is important to not swallow any of the fluid if it goes down and reaches the mouth. Using an enema to empty the bowels or administer medicine into the bloodstream does not break the fast. However, if the enema is used for hydration or nourishment and it reaches the stomach, then it does break the fast.

14. Does a medical injection break the fast?

Normally, a medical injection does not break the fast since it neither nourishes nor does it reach the stomach. However, injecting glucose or some other nourishing substance does break the fast.[2]

15. Can I brush my teeth with toothpaste while fasting?

It is permissible to brush your teeth while fasting, and may even be encouraged to do so. Using toothpaste does not break the fast, as long as you are very careful not to swallow any of it. However, it is better to not use toothpaste, unless necessary, because it does leave a taste in your mouth. It would be ideal to use toothpaste right before starting your fast so that you can start your day with clean teeth.

16. Can I use mouthwash?

It is not recommended to use mouthwash while fasting because it does leave a taste in your mouth. However, if it is necessary to remove bad breath that might affect people you are near, it will not break the fast as long as you are careful not to swallow any [e.g. through gargling].

17. What if I swallow small bits of food accidentally that were stuck in my teeth?

Swallowing food accidentally does not break the fast, even if it is a large amount. Continue fasting as usual.[3]

18. Can I give blood while fasting?

Giving blood while fasting does not affect the fast, although it is disliked if it will weaken the person very much and make their fast more difficult.

19. Can I use an asthma inhaler?

Using an asthma inhaler does not break the fast because it neither nourishes the body nor goes into the stomach.

20. Can I wear perfume when fasting?

It is permissible to wear perfume while fasting since inhaling that fragrance neither nourishes nor reaches the stomach.

21. Can I rinse my mouth with water or take a shower to cool down?

This is allowed and does not affect the fast. There is nothing wrong or disliked about this.

22. How soon must I make up missed fasts?

Whoever misses a fast and needs to make it up may do so at their leisure before the next Ramadan. However, it is recommended to not delay without a reason. Whoever has missed more than one fast may either make up those fasts consecutively or intermittently, but consecutively is better. Whoever has not made it up prior to the following Ramadan still must make it up, but will be deserving of sin without an excuse.

23. If I got hungry and broke my fast in Ramadan, do I just ask Allah for forgiveness?

Whoever intentionally breaks their fast without any excuse by eating, drinking, or having intercourse during the month of Ramaḍān will not only have to make up that fast but will also be subject to a penalty for violating the sanctity of the month of Ramaḍān. This is to emphasize the idea that every eligible Muslim must take fasting in Ramaḍān very seriously.

The penalty is that they must fast for sixty consecutive days. If they are unable to do this, then they must feed sixty poor people for a day with two average meals. It is also allowed to feed one poor person for sixty days or give the monetary equivalent of the food. Anyone who intentionally broke their fast more than once in Ramaḍān will still perform only one penalty.

24. Why do some people pray 8 and others 20 units of taraweeh prayer?

There is a difference of opinion among scholars as to how many units should be prayed for taraweeh prayer. It is best to follow the masjid you are praying in and not object to those who follow the other opinion.

25. What is Sadaqatul Fitr and when should it be paid?

Ṣadaqah al-Fiṭr or Fitrah [lit. the charity of breaking fast] is a charity that is paid at the end of Ramaḍān. It gives the needy an opportunity to enjoy the day of Eid without having to worry about working for their livelihood on that day. Paying the Fiṭrah is an obligation on every Muslim who possesses the minimum amount [niṣāb] in excess of personal items to pay zakāh on the day of Eid. A man is to pay on behalf of himself and his minor children, while a woman must pay for herself. The obligation begins at dawn on the day of Eid al-Fiṭr, so whoever possesses the amount at that time must pay the Fiṭrah. The Fiṭrah must be paid before the Eid prayer begins. However, if one delays payment, the obligation remains and must still be fulfilled. It is recommended to be paid earlier so that it may be properly distributed to those in need. It is allowed to pay it in advance from the first day of Ramaḍān. The amount to be paid has been measured in foodstuffs. It is four double handfuls of dates, barley, raisins, or any other staple food. It is recommended to pay the value in cash if it would be more helpful to the poor so they can purchase other food or clothing. Fiṭrah, like Zakāh, must only be given to the poor and needy who do not possess at least the value of 3oz of gold.

26. Can I go to the dentist while fasting?

It is better to not have a dental procedure while fasting because it is likely that water will be swallowed during the procedure. If some water is swallowed, which could have been avoided, the fast will be broken.

27. Can I go swimming while fasting?

It is permissible to swim while fasting, provided that no water is swallowed.

28. Do I have to renew my intention to fast every night?

Since fasting is an act of worship, one must have the intention to fast in order for it to be valid. For example, if one had the intention of dieting and abstained from food and drink throughout the day, it would not count as a fast. For the month of Ramaḍān, it is sufficient to make a general intention that you plan to fast the entire month. If anything causes that intention to change, such as illness or travel, then the intention to continue fasting in Ramaḍān must be made again before starting.

29. Can I pray witr behind an Imam who normally prays a different way?

It is common for witr prayer to be performed in a congregation during the month of Ramadan. If the Imam who leads that prayer does so in a different manner than you do, it is recommended to follow the way he prays. There is a difference of opinion among scholars as to how the witr prayer should be performed and it is best to give up your own opinion for the opinion of the Imam when praying behind him.

30. Can I hold a copy of the Qur’an or electronic device during taraweeh prayer?

It is disliked to make excessive movements during prayer that are not necessary. Holding a copy of the Qur’an will usually result in unnecessary movements, especially when going into prostration. Furthermore, the ultimate purpose of congregational prayer is to listen to the recitation of the Qur’an, not to read it. If someone has a difficult time concentrating during prayer, there are other methods they can employ to rectify that issue. Using an electronic device for the same purpose is the same, if not worse, because light emitting devices also disturb the people around you who are trying to concentrate in prayer.

How to Determine the Beginning and End of Ramadan

By: Shaykh Mustafa Umar

Precisely determining the beginning and end of Ramaḍān is very important because it indicates when to start and stop fasting. Therefore, it is an obligation on the Muslim community to ensure that this is determined accurately and publicized sufficiently.

How the Islamic Lunar Calendar Works

The Islamic lunar calendar consists of twelve months, with Ramadan being the ninth month. Each month lasts twenty-nine or thirty days.[1] Six months will be twenty-nine days and another six will be thirty days, thus making 354 days per lunar year.

The way this was calculated during the time of the Prophet Muhammad was that people would look at the sky at the beginning of every lunar month. If the new crescent was sighted, it would mean the next month has begun and the previous one has ended. The crescent is the sunlit portion of the moon as seen from Earth and varies according to the changing positions of the Sun, Moon, and Earth. The chart below shows what the moon looks like at the beginning [thin crescent], middle [full moon], and end [thin crescent] of the lunar month.

How Ramaḍān was Determined in the Prophet’s Lifetime

Since each month could only consist of twenty-nine or thirty days, Muslims would go outside on the twenty-ninth day of Shaʿbān [which is the 8th month in the calendar] after sunset to look for the new crescent in the sky. If the new moon crescent was seen by people sometime during the night, it would mean that the month of Shaʿbān was twenty-nine days and now the month of Ramaḍān has entered. However, if it is not visible it means that the month of Shaʿbān consists of thirty days and Ramaḍān will begin the following day.

The end of the month is determined in the same way by establishing that the new moon crescent is visible on the twenty-ninth of Ramadan after sunset. If it is then Ramaḍān will consist of only twenty-nine days and the following day is the month of Shawwāl, which is Eid. However, if it is not visible it means that the month of Ramaḍān consists of thirty days and the month of Shawwāl will begin the following day.

The Prophet instructed his Companions to follow this method when he said: “Start fasting when you see it [i.e. the crescent] and stop fasting [i.e. Ramaḍān is over] when you see it. If the sky is cloudy [and you can’t see the crescent on the 29th] then consider Shaʿbān as thirty days.”[2] It should be clear from this that months in the Islamic calendar were not known in advance whether they would consist of twenty-nine or thirty days.

The Desire for Predetermined Months

As communications in the Muslim community became more complex, there was a need to have predetermined months for scheduling purposes. It would be very inconvenient for people in the same region to be using different calendars. Since the visibility of the crescent was not predictable in advance, another method would have to be used.

One such method was the new moon conjunction, which, in astronomical terms, is when the moon is precisely between the Earth and Sun. During conjunction [which is also known as moon-birth] the moon is not visible from Earth because the sunlit portion of the moon is facing away from the Earth, as seen in the figure below.

New moon conjunction is precisely predictable and can be calculated exactly. The crescent moon only becomes visible from Earth about a day or two after the new moon conjunction because even when the three celestial bodies are not in a straight line, the moon is still too close to the sun’s glare to be seen with the naked eye from Earth. It is important to understand that the moon is ‘born’ about one or two days before it is actually visible, so moon-birth and moon-visibility are two entirely different things.

Another method which was adopted in 1420 AH/1999 CE by the Ummul Qura calendar in Arabia was that if moonset occurs after sunset in Makkah on the 29th day of any month, then the month is over. This calculation is also precisely deterministic and took into consideration a time that is closer to the visibility of the moon than conjunction.[3] The Fiqh Council of North America [FCNA] and the European Council for Fatwa and Research [ECFR] have adopted a similar approach where the presence of the moon above the horizon at sunset anywhere on the globe is the criteria.[4] This is precisely determined when the elongation of the moon is at least eight degrees and it is at least five degrees above the horizon.

Which Calendar Should Determine Ramadan

As can be seen, even predetermined calendars which are calculated according to precise measurements require some specific methodology, such as conjunction, moonset-after-sunset, or some other precise measurements. The differing methodologies will result in different calculated calendars.

The question arose among Muslim scholars: should Ramadan, and other religious days of fasting/celebration such as the 10th of Muharram [ʿĀshūrā’] and the 10th of Dhul Ḥijjah [Eid al-Aḍḥā], be determined through actual crescent sightings or a predetermined calendar?

Several scholars argued that dates which have a religious significance should be determined through actual crescent sightings, the way the Prophet Muhammad did, and the calculated calendar can be used for civil purposes. Other scholars posited that a calculated calendar should be used for both civil and religious dates, the same way that it is used by most urban Muslims throughout the world for their prayer times, without having to actually check the light in the horizon for Fajr or the shadow-length for ʿAsr.

What Variables Result in Differing Opinions on the Issue

In 1939, Egypt announced Eid al-Aḍḥā to be on Monday, Saudi Arabia announced it for Tuesday, and India determined it to be on Wednesday. This is common almost every year. How could there be three different dates?

There are several variables which result in different conclusions about when the lunar month should begin and end. Understanding these differences will help a person understand why the issue is not as simplistic as it seems.

  • Global Sighting vs Local Sighting: If one region in the world sees the crescent but the other does not, should they adopt the same date or a different date? Muslim scholars have disagreed over this issue because it was not directly addressed by the Prophet. In the past, one city like Makkah may sight the crescent but the Muslims in Damascus do not. News about the sighting would take a long time to travel, and the people of Damascus would have already skipped the first day of fasting, assuming that Ramaḍān had not begun yet. Therefore, in the past, some Muslim communities would begin and end Ramaḍān on different days. With the advent of modern communications, it seems that this issue has been resolved because one region can instantaneously send a message to another region about purported sightings. Nonetheless, it remains a variable which influences the date of Ramaḍān.
  • Rejection of Witnesses: If a person reports that they saw the new crescent, but no one else did, should that person’s testimony be accepted? Does there need to be more than one witness? What if the person is known to be dishonest or has a bad memory? What if they claimed to see the moon but it was almost impossible for them to actually see it? To what extent should their report be scrutinized? These questions, and others, concerning the testimony of witnesses results in different conclusions. One group may accept the testimony of a witness and declare the start of Ramadan, while another may reject it.
  • Usage of Technology: Should high powered telescopes or other technology be used to sight the new crescent, even if it cannot be seen with the naked eye? If so, how many of them should be deployed in each region of the world to ensure a proper sighting? Usage of such technology would potentially ensure an earlier start date, but would also be very costly and difficult to implement.
  • Potential Visibility or Actual Sighting: If it is known that the crescent is visible in a particular area, but no one actually goes out to sight it, for whatever reason, should it be taken into consideration? If high-tech internet-enabled telescopes were set up in different parts of the world and Muslims had the ability to stream the video from those devices, would this count as a sighting?
  • Accuracy of Visibility Calculations: Astronomers have developed maps to predict when and where the crescent is likely to be viewable on any given date. However, there is more than one way of determining this: see here, here, and here for some examples. How accurate are these calculations? Should we use these approximations to discredit witnesses who claimed they saw the crescent even though it was difficult or almost impossible to do so?

These are some of the variables encountered when attempting to determine the beginning of a month in the lunar calendar and should help explain why people arrive at different conclusions.

How to Achieve Unity in Ramaḍān

It may sound ideal to try to unite the entire world upon one date, but given the host of variables involved in the process, it is unlikely to happen anytime soon. Since some aspects of determining the new month were left vague by the Prophet, people will naturally differ in trying to interpret what Allah and His Messenger really intended.

Therefore, I believe that trying to achieve local unity is more important, and should be the priority of our efforts. If two neighboring countries were to observe Ramadan on different days, it would be less impactful than two neighboring cities determining the month differently. Likewise, two neighboring cities disagreeing would have less consequences than people in the same city, or the same mosque, or even in the same household beginning and ending Ramadan on different days.

The issue boils down to respect for authority. In the absence of any central authority within a locality, whether it be a city, state, or country, any Muslim is free to adopt whatever criteria they want. Muslims, in any locality, must have leaders who are willing to come together and agree on one criteria to adopt, even if they do not agree it is the ideal or most correct method. This is the first step. The next step would be to ensure that the Muslims respect the decision of those leaders and agree to follow it, even if they are not convinced it is the most accurate method.
Until this occurs, Muslims may find peace in knowing that no calendar in the world is absolute[5], that the Prophet took into consideration foggy evenings when the crescent is not visible, and that God will judge us according to our intentions and efforts.


[1] Technically, the lunar year consists of 354.37 days while the mean time between new moons is 29.53 days.
[2] al-Bukhari #1909
[4] See http://fiqhcouncil.org/node/83, last accessed 5-25-17.
Is the 15th of Shaʿbān Special?

The eight month of the Islamic lunar calendar is the month of Shaʿbān. The 15th night of this month is considered by some Muslims to be special and is given the name laylat al-barā’ah [the night of salvation].[1] However, there is no consensus on whether this night is special or not.

One group of Muslim scholars hold that there is nothing special about this night and that it is no different than any other day in the same month. Another group of scholars is convinced that the middle of Shaʿbān should be singled out for extra prayers and acts of worship at night. However, this group who acknowledged the 15th of Shaʿbān as having special merit also warned people to avoid the many sinful innovations done on this day which became popular among the masses in certain regions throughout history.

Evidence for the Significance of the 15th of Shaʿbān

The Prophet Muhammad was reported to have made the following statements:

إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ يَنْزِلُ لَيْلَةَ النِّصْفِ مِنْ شَعْبَانَ إِلَى السَّمَاءِ الدُّنْيَا، فَيَغْفِرُ لِأَكْثَرَ مِنْ عَدَدِ شَعْرِ غَنَمِ كَلْبٍ

“Allah, exalted is He, descends to the nearest heaven in the middle night of Shaʿbān and forgives more [sins] than the number of hairs on a flock of sheep from the tribe of Kalb [who were known to be shepherds].”[2]

إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَيَطَّلِعُ فِي لَيْلَةِ النِّصْفِ مِنْ شَعْبَانَ فَيَغْفِرُ لِجَمِيعِ خَلْقِهِ إِلَّا لِمُشْرِكٍ أَوْ مُشَاحِنٍ

“God looks at His creation during the middle night of Shaʿbān and forgives all of them, except an idolater or one who has hatred.”[3]

إِذَا كَانَتْ لَيْلَةُ النِّصْفِ مِنْ شَعْبَانَ، فَقُومُوا لَيْلَهَا وَصُومُوا نَهَارَهَا، فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ يَنْزِلُ فِيهَا لِغُرُوبِ الشَّمْسِ إِلَى سَمَاءِ الدُّنْيَا، فَيَقُولُ: أَلَا مِنْ مُسْتَغْفِرٍ لِي فَأَغْفِرَ لَهُ أَلَا مُسْتَرْزِقٌ فَأَرْزُقَهُ أَلَا مُبْتَلًى فَأُعَافِيَهُ أَلَا كَذَا أَلَا كَذَا، حَتَّى يَطْلُعَ الْفَجْرُ

“When it is the middle night of Shaʿbān, pray the night and fast the [following] day, because Allah descends therein, with the setting of the sun, to the nearest heaven, and says ‘Is there anyone who will repent so that I may forgive them, is there anyone who will ask for sustenance so that I may provide them, is there anyone being tested so that I might relieve them?’ This continues until dawn.”[4]

Authenticity of the Reports

These three reports, along with others that have not been mentioned, were all individually graded to be weak by scholars of Ḥadīth.[5] The first report was graded weak by most, if not all, scholars. The second report was deemed acceptable to some scholars who did not consider the defects in the narration to be severe. The third report was graded by most, if not all, scholars to either be weak, very weak, or classified as a known fabrication.

Are the Reports Very Weak or Slightly Weak?

There are two methods of dealing with ḥadīths whose chains of narrators are not strong. The first method is to reject the reports as unauthentic. Imam Abu Bakr ibn al-ʿArabī [d. 543 AH] said: “There is no reliable ḥadīth about the middle night of Shaʿbān being virtuous…so don’t pay any attention to it.”[6] Other prominent scholars of Ḥadīth agreed with this view, such as Imam Ibn al-Jawzī [d. 597 AH] and Imam Zayn ad-Dīn al-ʿIrāqī [d. 806 AH]. They argued that it doesn’t matter how many weak reports exist on the subject, as long as the weakness of each of them is significant, they should be ignored.

The second method is to elevate the overall status of the ḥadīth to be authentic because the numerous reports strengthen each other, as long as they are not very weak. Shaykh Nāṣiruddīn al-Albānī [d. 1999 CE] explained it this way: “In summary, the ḥadīth, when all the chains of transmission are considered, is authentic without a doubt [ṣaḥīḥ bi lā rayb]. Its authenticity is established with even fewer than the amount of these reports, as long as it is free from major weakness, as is the case of this ḥadīth…as for what has been reported from the righteous and exacting scholars that there is no authentic ḥadīth concerning the virtue of the middle of Shaʿbān, it should not be relied upon. Anyone who claimed such a thing said that due to their hastiness and not putting in enough effort to trace all the chains of narrations as I have presented.”[7] Shaykh ʿAbdur Raḥmān al-Mubārakpūrī [d. 1925 CE] stated something similar: “Collectively, these hadiths constitute a proof against those who allege that nothing is confirmed with respect to the merits of the middle night of Sha’bān.”[8]

Scholars following this approach held that there is merit to the middle night of Shaʿbān. Shaykh Ibn Taymiyyah [d. 728 AH] said: “If someone specifically prays during the middle night of Shaʿbān, whether alone or in a small private group like some of the early Muslims [salaf] used to do, then that is good.”[9] Imām Ibn aṣ-Ṣalāḥ ash-Shahrāzūrī [d. 643 AH] remarked: “The middle night of Shaʿbān has merit. It is recommended to spend the night in acts of worship, but individually, not as a group [of people].”[10]

What Not to Do on the 15th of Shaʿbān

The scholars who accepted that this night has special virtue encouraged people to pray during the night and perform other virtuous acts. However, they cautioned people to not engage in practices which have no sound basis in Islam.

Three points were emphasized by these scholars:

  1. People should not gather together in mosques to pray on this night. It should be done privately at home.
  2. There is no sound basis for the ‘one-thousand prayer’ where surah al-ikhlāṣ is recited a thousand times. This prayer was invented by some people later on and is based on fabricated reports.
  3. There is no sound basis to specifically fast on the 15th day of Shaʿbān. The ḥadīth concerning that is very weak and is not strengthened by the other narrations.

Shaykh Ibn Taymiyyah warned: “The middle night of Shaʿbān has virtue…however, gathering together to observe it in the mosques or offering the ‘one-thousand prayer’ is a sinful innovation.”[11] Mulla ʿAli al-Qārī [d. 1014 AH] comments on the ‘one-thousand prayer’: “It is bizarre to find people who have inhaled the fragrance of knowing the Sunnah [i.e. people of knowledge] being taken in by such nonsense and praying it. This prayer was introduced into Islam after the fourth century and originated from Jerusalem.”[12] Shaykh al-Mubārakpūri also cautioned: “I have not found any acceptable ḥadīth concerning fasting on the 15th of Shaʿbān. As for the ḥadīth in Ibn Mājah…it is very weak…and another ḥadīth mentioned by Ibn al-Jawzī…was said to be fabricated.”[13]

Conclusion

There is clearly a difference of opinion among recognized Muslim scholars whether to believe that the 15th night of Shaʿbān has any special virtue or not. While it may be tempting to take the position that this night should be observed ‘just-in-case’ its virtue is established, I incline towards the view of Imams Ibn ul-ʿArabī, Ibn ul-Jawzī, and al-ʿIrāqī that these reports should be rejected. The reason is because accepting them would raise an even more difficult question: why didn’t the Companions of the Prophet unanimously act upon these reports and ensure that they are reliably passed onto the next generation of Muslims? One may argue that accepting the reports and praying on this night is the safest way to go, but I would argue the opposite: that accepting these reports results in an epistemological problem of explaining why something so significant was not acted upon or preserved properly by the Muslim community.
Nonetheless, respectable scholars have held the opinion that the night has virtue, so the average Muslim should follow the scholar(s) whom they trust to be the most qualified on this issue to decide whether or not to observe this night or not.

Shaykh Mustafa Umar

[1] The 15th night is between the 14th and 15th day, since the new day technically begins after sunset in the Islamic calendar.

[2] Sunan at-Tirmidhī #739, 3:107; Sunan Ibn Mājah #1389, 1:443.

[3] Sunan Ibn Mājah #1390, 1:443.

[4] Sunan Ibn Mājah #1388, 1:443.

[5] For a detailed discussion of all the other narrations see Tuḥfah al-Aḥwadhī 3:364-366 and Silsilah al-Aḥādīth aṣ-Ṣaḥīḥah 3:137-138.

[6] Aḥkām al-Qur’ān 4:117.

[7] Silsilah al-Aḥādīth aṣ-Ṣaḥīḥah 3:138.

[8] Tuḥfah al-Aḥwadhī, 3:367.

[9] al-Fatāwā al-Kubrā 2:262

[10] Reference needed.

[11] al-Fatāwā al-Kubrā 2:262

[12] al-Asrār al-Marfūʿah fī al-Akhbār al-Mawḍūʿah 439-440.

[13] Tuḥfah al-Aḥwadhī, 3:367.

Why Does God Allow Bad Things to Happen?

Importance of the Question

Since you live in the 21st century, it is very probable that you have at least come across, if not been influenced by, what is known as “the problem of evil”. You might have heard it at school or work after someone was murdered: “How could God allow this to happen?!” You see it in articles and blog posts after the bombardment of an entire village: “What kind of God would allow these things to happen?!” You will even find it in intellectual circles and philosophy books: “If there really were a perfectly good, all-knowing, all-powerful God, then there would be no evil and suffering in the world.”

This so-called problem is one of the most common arguments that skeptics use to deny the existence of God. They assume that they have found an Achilles heel in the religions that believe in God. The common picture we have in our minds is of the skeptic atheist calmly presenting a logical, intellectual, and scientific argument while the religiously-inclined defendant becomes emotionally charged and tries to beat around the bush. However, the strength of this argument does not, in any way, have to do with logic or rationale but rather is emotionally charged to the core and attempts to hijack any sensitive event it can find.

Nor is it a new question. In fact, we find the angels asking something similar even before man was created:

“When your Lord told the angels, ‘I am putting a deputy on earth,’ they said, ‘How can you put someone there who will cause damage and bloodshed, when we celebrate Your praise and proclaim Your holiness?’ but he said, ‘I know what you know not.’” Qur’ān 2:30

In other words, God was asked, “Why would you allow this human, who will do bad things, to exist? Why not create someone who won’t do anything bad, like us?” The answer was, “I understand the wisdom in what I am doing, and you don’t.”

Exploding the Myth

That, in a nutshell, is the answer to the so-called problem. There is no logical contradiction between God being Infinitely Good, Infinitely Powerful, and allowing bad things to happen. The idea that the evil and suffering in the world present an unanswerable challenge to believers is finally being admitted by more open-minded researchers. Stump and Murray make the following confession in their book, Philosophy of Religion: The Big Questions:

“The logical problem of evil has been severely criticized in recent years and is regarded in the contemporary literature on the subject as largely discredited. In brief, the problem with this argument is that it assumes something false. Specifically, it assumes that a good being would prevent every evil it can under any circumstances…Thus, at best, the logical problem of evil shows us that if God exists, the only evil that exists is evil for which there is some good reason.”

The rhetorical questions now change to inquisitive questions. Rather than blurting out, “How could God do that?! What kind of God does these things?!” the question now is “Why is the world this way and what wisdom lies in that?”

Life is a Test

The secret to understanding the issue is so simple that it often eludes us. Life is a test. Man has been given a limited free will to do good or bad. Look at the following statement of the Prophet:

“The life of a believer is truly amazing. Everything that happens to him is good. This is only true for a believer and none else. If something pleasant happens to him, he is thankful and that is good for him. If something bad afflicts him, he is patient and that is also good for him.” (Muslim)

Affliction is part of the test of life. If God were to interfere and prevent every bad thing from happening to each individual, it would be like taking the test away from a student.

Saying that the bad that exists in the world is necessary does not mean that it is justified or praiseworthy. Believers are always commanded to enjoin the good and forbid the evil, which is another test in itself.

Wisdom is Behind the Scenes

Skeptics tend to focus on the negative aspects of things and claim that evil and suffering are ugly facts of life while believers try to see the bigger picture and find an explanation for the existence of such things. It is like someone who observes two people fighting and judges that both of them are in the wrong without thinking that one of them may be defending himself or standing up for justice. Evil is, to an extent, relative. A juicy hamburger may be a good thing for someone who’s hungry, but it’s definitely a bad thing for the cow that was slaughtered.

God said: “Fighting is ordained for you, though you dislike it. You may dislike something although it is good for you, or like something although it is bad for you: God knows and you do not.” Qur’ān 2:216

Being able to see the big picture often affects how we perceive what is good and bad. Someone with little foresight may claim that the injection of a vaccine into a patient, which contains traces of disease, is a bad thing while the injection of heroin, which leads to euphoria, is a good thing. Not being able to understand that the vaccine will help develop immunity to that disease or that taking heroin will develop into a drug addiction is due to a lack of medical knowledge and experience.

The following principle is demonstrated in the Qur’ān with the meeting between Moses and a man who was given direct knowledge from God about the unseen. Moses wanted to follow him and learn from him, but the man warned him, “You will not be able to bear with me patiently. How could you be patient in matters beyond your knowledge?” But Moses convinced him to let him tag along. Here is the rest of the story:

“They travelled on. Later, when they got into a boat, and the man made a hole in it, Moses said, ‘How could you make a hole in it? Do you want to drown its passengers? What a strange thing to do!’…Then, when they met a young boy and the man killed him, Moses said, ‘How could you kill an innocent person? He has not killed anyone! What a terrible thing to do!’…Then, when they came to a town and asked the inhabitants for food but were refused hospitality, they saw a wall there that was on the point of falling down and the man repaired it. Moses said, ‘But if you wished you could have taken payment for doing that.’ He said, ‘This is where you and I part company. I will tell you the meaning of the things you could not bear with patiently: the boat belonged to some needy people who made their living from the sea and I damaged it because I knew that coming after them was a king who was seizing every [serviceable] boat by force. The young boy had parents who were people of faith, and so, fearing he would trouble them through wickedness and disbelief, we wished that their Lord should give them another child-purer and more compassionate-in his place. The wall belonged to two young orphans in the town and there was buried treasure beneath it belonging to them. Their father had been a righteous man, so your Lord intended them to reach maturity and then dig up their treasure as a mercy from your Lord. I did not do [these things] of my own accord: these are the explanations for those things you could not bear with patience.’”  Qur’ān 18:71-82

It was the lack of knowledge and foresight that led Moses to object to what the man did. Likewise, we find ourselves, as limited humans, in similar situations. However, we do have enough insight to see some of the wisdoms behind the general occurrences of bad things.

Some Good Reasons Why Evil Exists

  1. Suffering and affliction often help return us to the obedience of God.

God said:

“We sent messengers before you [Prophet] to many communities and afflicted their people with suffering and hardships, so that they might learn humility. If only they had learned humility when suffering came from Us! But no, their hearts became hard…” Qur’ān 6:42-43

There is a lesson in the conversion of the famous rock star, Cat Stevens, now known as Yusuf Islam. He related the story himself:

“After a year of financial success and high living, I became very ill. I contracted T.B. (tuberculosis) and had to be hospitalized. It was then that I started to think; what is going to happen to me? Am I just a body? Is my goal in life merely to satisfy this body? I realized this calamity was a blessing given to me by God and a chance to open my eyes, to learn ‘Why I am here, why I am in bed.’ I started looking for some of the answers.”

2. It differentiates between the good and bad people.

God said:

“Do people think they will be left alone after saying, ‘We believe’ without being put to the test? We tested those who went before them: God will certainly mark out which ones are truthful and which are lying.” Qur’ān 29:2-3

Upon analysis, we realize that the Prophets, who are the highest in rank in the sight of God, faced the most difficult tests of all people. Clearly, merit must be earned.

3 Affliction is necessary to experience its opposite feelings of joy and achievement.

God said:

“With hardship comes ease. Indeed, with hardship comes ease.” Qur’an 94:5-6

The appreciation of ease and comfort could only exist and be appreciated if the feelings of hardship also existed and were known or experienced. In Chinese Philosophy, the concept of yin and yang is employed to explain this phenomenon. Each part is necessary to understand the unity of the whole. They are in equilibrium: if one disappears, the other must disappear as well, leaving emptiness.

Conclusion

It should be patently clear that the inability to see the wisdom behind something should not be a cause of criticizing that thing. Of course, the final analysis concerning all of this is: God knows best.