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.

Christmas: Religious Exclusivity versus Cultural Inclusivity

Written by Shaykh Mustafa Umar

Religious holidays such as Christmas [meaning ‘Christ’s Mass’] present a challenge for Muslims living in Christian-majority societies. Should they assimilate by ‘celebrating’ these holidays or distance themselves from them? It is not only Muslims who face this question but also Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Agnostics and all other non-Christians. In fact, even some Christians face a similar challenge because they consider Christmas to be an unbiblical practice with pagan roots. Such a position led Christians to ban Christmas celebrations in England in 1647, in Scotland in 1640, and in Boston in 1659.

The first challenge for Muslims is that Christmas is a religious holiday rooted in Christianity because it claims to celebrate the birth of Jesus, who is considered to be God. Since there is a clear religious connotation to Christmas why would another group of people not adhering to those religious beliefs have any desire to participate in it? One of the reasons for wanting to celebrate such a religious holiday might be the pressure to conform to the dominant culture one lives in. Another reason might be the desire to participate in ‘having fun’ while ignoring the truth value of such a religious event. This is why many people who have no care whether Jesus was born on this day or not still celebrate it.

The second challenge for Muslims revolves around how to socially interact with people that are celebrating Christmas by greeting each other, giving gifts, and having dinner parties.

Celebrating Christmas

Christmas and its associated practices have their roots in both Christianity and Roman paganism. This celebration is not founded on merely a cultural practice of Christians or pagans but is deeply grounded in the religion of these people. Since Christmas is a religious celebration, now mainly associated with Christianity, it is incumbent on Muslims to avoid celebrating the day in any way, shape, or form. That means that a Muslim should not be buying a Christmas tree, putting a wreath on their door, decorating their house with Christmas lights, or even purposely wearing red or green colors.

The reasoning behind this prohibition is due to the fact that Islam mandates Muslims to differentiate themselves from other religions and religious symbols. The wisdom behind promoting a unique religious identity is to prevent people from mistakenly confusing another religious belief or practice with Islam.

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 a clear religious symbol of Christianity and was not proper for a Muslim to be associated with.

Nonetheless, when it comes to celebrations like Christmas which have evolved over time, absorbing different cultural elements, there are aspects of Christmas which are not religious in nature. Sometimes it is difficult to differentiate between a religious element of a celebration and a non-religious, cultural one. Every Muslim must try their utmost best to find out which elements are religious in nature and avoid them, but there is no harm in participating in the cultural ones not connected to religion.

Christmas Greetings and Gift Giving

Another challenge Muslims face is how to respond when a person says “merry Christmas” to them. The term was coined and popularized by Charles Dickens in his novel ‘A Christmas Carol’. The issue of responding revolves around what the intended and applied meaning of the phrase actually entails. In Islam, words are not judged by their literal meanings but rather by both the intention of the speaker and the meaning that will be understood by the listener. For example, when a person says “I’ll be back in a second”, if the literal meaning of the words was taken into consideration then the person would be lying. However, this is not the intention of people who use this phrase nor is it understood by listeners to be taken literally.

Likewise, the words “merry Christmas” can potentially mean two things. First, it could mean that Christmas is a happy day, and this could imply a confirmation of Christianity and the beliefs associated with it. The second meaning could be that the speaker is telling the listener that he hopes he will have a nice Christmas celebration and enjoy the day. When a Muslim speaks and intends the second phrase, he is practicing religious pluralism with Christians. Therefore, if both the intention of the speaker and the general understanding of the listener is clear, there would be nothing wrong with using such a phrase.[1]

Nonetheless, in many societies that celebrate Christmas there are also several people who do not celebrate and may take offense to wishing them a merry Christmas, therefore it is advisable, for true religious pluralism, to use more universal wording such as “season’s greetings” or “happy holidays”, since this is a universal greeting not connected with any faith.

Ultimately, the best response depends on the person you are speaking to and the situation you are in. The sending of greeting cards or presents falls into the same category. You may want to use the greeting or gift as an opportunity to clarify your beliefs by saying something like: “Thank you. As a Muslim, I don’t celebrate Christmas, but merry Christmas to you.”

A Fine Line Between Celebration and Courtesy

Often times there can be a lot of pressure upon Muslims to participate in a Christmas celebration either from the company they work for or their friends and family. This puts people into a difficult situation of trying to avoid partaking in a religious festival that they do not believe in or want to associate themselves with. How to act in these circumstances depends upon the harm that would accrue from their actions. If not participating would result in serious harm, then it would be permissible to participate to the extent that it would most probably avert that harm.

For example, Michael has accepted Islam but his entire family practices Christianity. Every year, they have a family reunion on Christmas Day with a feast. Michael’s entire family will be upset with him if he does not attend and will likely have a negative perception of Islam for his inability to attend. In this case, Michael should attend the gathering with the clear intention to show love and kindness to his family, since there are no other opportunities in the year for that, and because having a family dinner is not an explicitly religious function. However, he should make it clear that he is attending for the family and not to celebrate Christmas. Furthermore, he should avoid partaking in any activities that clearly contradict Islamic beliefs such as praying to Jesus.

Conclusion

Navigating through the Christmas season as a Muslim is quite complicated when living as a minority in a Christian-majority land. The situation becomes even more challenging as Christmas becomes more and more commercialized every year, making it seem that there are no religious undertones to the different celebrations and customs associated with it. Part of the problem lies in poor education about the history and significance of many rituals associated with Christmas. In the end, Muslims must build upon what they already know for sure. Virtually no Muslim would condone wearing a cross, due to the symbolism and connection it has with Christian beliefs. The same should apply to other religious symbols, whether their significance is blurred through the marketing propaganda of greedy corporations or not.

[1] Shaykhs Ibn Taymiyyah and Ibn al-Qayyim held that it is not permissible to congratulate non-Muslims on their religious holidays because that would entail a confirmation of their beliefs. Shaykh Ibn Uthaymin held the same view. However, Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi and Shaykh Mustafa Zarqa allowed it as long as the intention was to show kindness to people without supporting their beliefs.

Am I Allowed to Wipe Over My Socks?

Written by Shaykh Mustafa Umar

Question: Sometimes it can be difficult to wash my feet when I am performing wuḍū’, especially in the winter or when I’m in a public restroom. Am I allowed to wipe over my socks instead? Can I wipe over my shoes?

Summarized Answer

It is permissible to wipe over your socks, in all circumstances, whether or not it is inconvenient, only if the following conditions are met: you must have worn the socks while you were in a state of wuḍū’, the socks must be thick enough that water does not seep through to your foot as you are wiping, each sock must cover the entire foot including the ankles [some tears or holes are overlooked], this concession must not be utilized for more than twenty-four hours and you must wipe over the upper surface of the socks using your hand once.

Background of the Issue

It is a mercy from Allah that he allowed us an exemption from having to take off our socks every time we perform wuḍū’. It is even more of a mercy that this is allowed to do so even when there is no hardship involved. However, this exception comes with conditions and prerequisites. We have observed many Muslims making major mistakes when it comes to understanding the concession regarding wiping over socks.

Some of the most common mistakes are to wipe the bottom of the sock instead of the upper surface, to wet the hands and just tap the socks with a few fingers, to wipe over socks or shoes which do not cover the ankle, to wipe over shoes and then remove them for prayer and to wear the socks without having performed wuḍū’ prior to that.

These are all major mistakes and render a person’s prayer invalid because the Prophet clearly stated, “Prayer is not valid for the one who did not perform wuḍū’.”[1] Wiping over the socks is a substitute for washing one’s feet and must be done correctly, otherwise it would amount to not washing one’s feet properly during wuḍū’. This is why it is very important for every Muslim who wants to avail of this concession to learn the conditions associated with wiping over socks, the same way that they learn to perform wuḍū’ in a proper fashion.

Detailed Answer

Al-Mughīrah was with the Prophet during a journey and tried to help him perform wuḍū’ by taking his leather socks off, but he responded, “Leave them on. I wore them after purifying.” Then he wiped over them.[2] This is just one authentic narration about how the Prophet taught his Companions about the exception to the rule. There are so many authentic reports on this subject that Imām Abu Ḥanīfah [d. 150/772] said: “Whoever rejects wiping over leather socks, it is feared that he has disbelieved because the narrations concerning it almost reach the level of massive transmission [tawātur].”[3]

The prophetic teaching of wiping over socks during wuḍū’, rather than taking them off and washing the feet, was specifically performed on leather socks, known as khuff. However, several Companions of the Prophet such as ʿAlī, Ibn Masʿūd, Ibn ʿUmar, Anas, ʿAmmār ibn Yāsir, Bilāl, al-Barā’, Abū Umāmah and Sahl ibn Saʿd did not restrict this concession only to leather socks but applied it to anything analogous to them as well.[4] This includes socks made from wool or cotton, dress socks which are neither thin nor transparent and even applies to shoes since they serve a similar purpose.

However, most scholars excluded socks which are very thin and semi-transparent, because they are not properly analogous to the types of socks that the Prophet wore. The reasoning they gave is that their function is different, so socks which are permissible to wipe over should be thick enough to be able to walk around in, on average terrain. Furthermore, scholars have explained that the socks [or shoes] must cover the entire foot, up to and including the ankle, because that is the region of the feet which needs to be washed when performing wuḍū’ normally. Therefore, below-the-ankle socks would not fulfill the conditions for wiping. Also, it is clear from the report of al-Mughīrah, and many other reports, that one of the conditions of being allowed to wipe over socks is to wear them after having performed wuḍū’ already. So if someone wakes up from sleep, or just used the toilet, without having their socks on, they cannot put on socks and wipe over them until they have first performed a complete wuḍū’ with washing their feet. Moreover, the Prophet specified that the time limit for wiping over socks is twenty-four hours for a resident and seventy-two hours for someone traveling. That means that if a person exceeds the aforementioned time period, they must take off their socks, perform wuḍū’ again [and wash their feet], then wear their socks again to start another time period.

[1] Abū Dāwūd #101, 1:25.

[2] Al-Bukhārī #206, 1:52.

[3] Al-Mawṣilī, al-Ikhtiyār li Taʿlīl al-Mukhtār, 1:23

[4] An-Nawawī, al-Majmūʿ Sharḥ al-Muhadhdhab, 1:499.