Fifteen or Eighteen Degrees – Calculating Prayer and Fasting Times in Islam

Overview

Many Muslims throughout the world utilize websites and mobile apps to determine their prayer and fasting times. Hidden in the settings of these programs is an option to choose the ‘calculation method’ for the angle of Fajr and ʿIshā’. The app ‘pray watch’ for iOS is a good example showing eight different methods:

Calculation Method Fajr Angle ʿIshā’ Angle
Muslim World League 18° 17°
Islamic Society of North America [ISNA] 15° 15°
Egyptian General Authority of Survey 19.5° 17.5°
Union of Islamic Orgs of France [UOIF] 12° 12°
University of Islamic Sciences, Karachi 18° 18°
Shia Ithna-Ashari, Leva Inst., Qum 16° 14°
Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura 20° 18°

Most users of these applications, and even scholars, may be unaware what these numbers represent and which method to select. In fact, often people may never even notice the option to change the calculation method and just use the default preset for each program/app.

Some users might choose the country they live in, falsely assuming these calculations were meant for their specific region. So someone living in France may choose UOIF and another person living in America may choose ISNA. Yet another group of users might falsely assume that different calculation methods represent most scholars living in a specific country. So someone who trusts Egyptian scholars to be more accurate in their research on Islam may choose the Egyptian General Authority of Survey, even if they live in America, and another fellow American might choose the University of Islamic Sciences, Karachi if they think the scholars of Pakistan are more diligent and reliable. Both assumptions are completely unfounded.

The impact of these differences on the timing of the prayers can be very significant. At 20° for Fajr in Anaheim, California the time enters at 4:01 AM while using 12° results in 4:49 AM. That is a difference of almost an hour. In a region even further away from the equator like Vancouver, Canada the difference can reach almost two hours. It is important to understand how these angles came to be used and to what extent they accurately predict the correct timings of prayer.

Importance

Both prayer and fasting are pillars of Islam and therefore care must be taken to ensure they are performed properly. Knowing the correct time to start both these acts of worship is essential. If someone prayed before the entrance for the time of Fajr their prayer is considered invalid. Likewise, if someone kept eating after the entrance of Fajr time their fast is invalid. Therefore, utilizing these calculations presents a serious dilemma for those who take prayer and fasting seriously.

Part of the problem lies in the false assumption many people have, several scholars included, that using a fixed degree calculation in a particular region will yield an accurate prayer time. This presumption is built on the idea that technology has advanced so much today that we are able to precisely determine the timings of all prayers based on the angle of the sun above or below the horizon. Such a notion, however, is severely mistaken and based on an ignorance of how prayer times are actually determined in the first place.

How Prayer Times are Defined

The start time for the five daily prayers are summarized in the following chart:

Prayer Start Time
Fajr Dawn: when a line of light first appears and begins to spread across the horizon
Ẓuhr After midday: when the sun has crossed its highest point and has begun to decline
ʿAsr When the shadow of an object, minus its shadow at noon, equals the object itself [or twice the object according to Imam Abū Ḥanīfah]
Maghrib Sunset: when the disc of the sun has gone below the horizon
ʿIshā’ When the reddish glow has disappeared from the sky after sunset [or whitish glow according to Imam Abū Ḥanīfah]

During the time of the Prophet Muhammad people would observe the shadow of the sun or the amount of light in the sky to determine the prayer timings. As can be seen from the chart above, the timings for Ẓuhr, ʿAsr, and Maghrib are dependent on the position of the sun. This is more scientifically deterministic and can be calculated more accurately than dawn or dusk.[1] However, the timings for Fajr and ʿIshā’ are not directly dependent on the position of the sun but rather on the amount of light in the sky. That amount of light is not scientifically predictable for each location on Earth since it varies by season, altitude, location, geographical barriers, and other factors.

Definitions of Twilight and Solar Altitude

People are naturally interested in the amount of light that exists in the sky before and after sunset. This light is known as twilight and is produced by the reflection and scattering of sunlight towards the horizon of an observer on Earth. Determining the amount of twilight helps people decide when to turn on or turn off their street lights, and has many other uses. Scientists have categorized the amount of twilight that should exist into three distinct phases. Civil twilight [6 degrees] is the stage where the horizon is clearly visible at sea level and there is enough luminance to enable outdoor civil activity without the need for street lights. Nautical twilight [12 degrees] is when the horizon at sea level is no longer visible and altitudes cannot be determined by referring to the horizon. Astronomical twilight [18 degrees] indicates the change from night to day, and vice versa.

When calculating Fajr and ʿIshā’ prayer times, people use various degrees of the angle of the sun to approximate those times. Some have tried to align with the scientific definitions of various stages of twilight. However, all these calculations are misleading for determining prayer times because they do not align with the Islamic definitions of when Fajr prayer comes in, which is: when a line of light first appears and begins to spread across the horizon. Therefore, we should clearly differentiate between ‘Islamic dawn’ and ‘astronomical twilight’.

Factors that Affect Observation of Prayer Times

Observations of twilight at various locations on earth have made it clear that it is incorrect to assume a fixed degree calculation for the start of Fajr and ʿIshā’ prayers. The reported solar depression angle usually can fall anywhere between 12° to 18° [or even between 9° to 20°]. However, there are many factors that affect the timings of dawn and evening twilight:

  • Season: Several observation reports in the same region have indicated that degrees of the sun below the horizon for Fajr and ʿIshā’ varies throughout the year.
  • Latitude: Several observation reports indicate that the further away from the equator a location is, the more variance there will be.
  • Altitude: Regions throughout the earth have different altitudes, and this affects the observation for twilight. Most calculations assume zero feet above sea level, resulting in inaccuracies. Even the time for sunset, which is much more deterministic than twilight, can be different in the same city depending on whether a person is on a hill or in a valley.[2] If that is the case for sunset, then the variation at twilight would likely be even greater.
  • Obstructions: Many people live in areas where hills or mountains block a clear view of the horizon. This results in significantly different timings for those who cannot get a clear view of the horizon without traveling a great distance. Whether or not this should be taken into consideration is a matter or disagreement among Muslims scholars.
  • Light Pollution[3]/Clouds: The true light from the sun during dawn will be seen above the light pollution or clouds at a later time, thus giving a lower degree calculation for Fajr. Whether or not this should be taken into consideration is a matter or disagreement among Muslims scholars.
  • Observer: It has been noted that inexperienced observers generally tend to see the light on the horizon later since their eyes are not used to it and it is often not clear to them what to expect and what to look for. This will naturally skew the observations that are reported.

The following is a brief list of different documented observations for Fajr in various parts of the world to confirm the previous point:

  • A group of scholars from the UK in 1983 documented various observations throughout the country as falling between 12° to 16°.[4]
  • In 1985, a group of scholars in Chicago concluded that their observations for dawn fell between 13° to 15°.[5]
  • Various observations in the USA and Canada indicated Islamic twilight between 12° to 15°.[6]
  • In 2004, observations for the entire year in Riyadh, led by Shaykh Abdul-Aziz Fauzan, indicated that dawn fell at 15°.[7]
  • In 1988, Hizbul Ulama in the UK compiled a report after performing daily observations for an entire year. Their observations fluctuated throughout the year between 12° to 18°.[8]
  • com collected data from different observers in the USA and Canada over decades which indicated a range of 14.8 to 17.5° for Fajr and 11.2 to 17.6° for ʿIshā’.

Choosing an Approximate Calculation for Facilitation

Since the angle of the sun below the horizon is not constant for determining ‘Islamic dawn’, there are several options that Muslim legal scholars have considered:

  1. Recommend that every region utilize local observations to determine the prayer times and report it to the rest of the community. This would be extremely difficult for people living in cities where there are several obstructions and light pollution since it would need to be done several times throughout the year and would still vary drastically depending on the location of observation. This method would also be near-impossible for certain people who are unable to observe the horizon in their circumstances.
  2. Use the definition of Astronomical Dawn for Fajr prayer calculation.[9] However, this would be incorrect since the start of Fajr does not equate to the criteria of Astronomical Dawn.
  3. Go with the highest or lowest timing to be on the ‘safe’ side. However, this results in a conflict for the start of fasting. By taking the highest degrees for the start of Fajr prayer, to be on the ‘safe’ side, the start of fasting becomes on the ‘dangerous’ side, and vice versa.
  4. Create two separate times for the start of Fajr and the start of fasting. For example, using 18 degrees for the start of fasting and 12 degrees for the start of Fajr prayer. This method is problematic for two reasons. One, the time for the beginning of fasting and Fajr prayer is the same. Two, these two times could vary by as much as one or two hours in some regions, resulting in confusion and difficulty for people.
  5. Choose an approximate time for each region, or for all regions, knowing that it is not entirely precise, and inform people to adjust based on their own casual local observations.[10] A good approximation would be 15° because it is the middle point between twelve and eighteen, which is usually the range of dawn for most places on Earth.[11] While someone is using the 15° calculation for both Fajr and ʿIshā’, they may look outside and if they notice that dawn or dusk is different from the computed calculation they should appropriately adjust for that. Such an adjustment is expected to be rare because most people living in cities cannot easily view dawn from the locations they would normally pray at. When in doubt follow your trusted local scholar or institution for the adjustments they have made. This is the opinion that I follow and advocate for.

Conclusion

Since most people live in cities today, there are many factors which prevent them from correctly observing dawn to determine the start of Fajr prayer. It is still quite easy to ‘primitively’ observe the other four prayer times without any computer programs, but Fajr seems to be the exception since it is often difficult to get a clear view of the horizon. There are several incorrect assumptions people have about Fajr and ʿIshā’ prayer times, the most important of which are: that Astronomical Twilight is equivalent to the start of Fajr, that fixed degrees are static in one particular region, that fixed degrees apply across all different regions, that calculation methods were developed for the specific regions which issued the ruling, and that the prayer times can be precisely known just through generic calculations. None of this is true. The solution to this dilemma will either be to insist on accurately calculating the time for each location on Earth or to adopt an approximate calculation due to the fluctuating nature of dawn and evening twilight. I advocate for the second approach due to the severe difficulty created by the first in our day and age.

Acknowledgments

After thanking Allah, I would like to thank Dr. Muhammad Aslam Khan for his painstaking effort in compiling an unpublished research paper entitled “Problems and Prospects of Muslim Prayer Times Calculation”. This served as my primary resource for framing the issue. I am also grateful to Dr. Khalid Shaukat of moonsighting.com for his valuable discussions with me on the subject, to Dr. Ahmad Salama of Jet Propulsion Laboratories who patiently put up with my numerous interrogations and for suggesting the default fifteen degree approximate calculation, to Dr. Yasir Qadhi for insisting that I add several footnotes addressing common contentions against the fifteen degree calculation, and to Shaykh Muneeb Baig who organized several trips into the California desert and established an unparalleled sighting methodology with multiple observers, DSLR cameras, topography maps, and more.

 

[1] Even a more precise calculation like the timing of sunset may be off due to refraction and other factors. “Although noon at any place on the Earth can be predicted with an accuracy of 0.1 second, sunrise and

sunset have an uncertainty of minutes because of unpredictable refraction of rays of light near horizon…The observed sunrise is advanced and the observed sunset is delayed due to the refraction of light…all the computer programs assume a nominal horizontal refraction of 0.567° for estimating.” See Akbar Ali Saifee, How accurate are the computed timings for sunrise and sunset?, www.icoproject.org/pdf/saifee_2106.pdf

[2] Even sunrise and sunset, which are more scientifically predictable, are affected by elevation. The greatest sunrise and sunset elevation effect on Earth is Mount Everest, located at 27.988056 N latitude and 86.925278 E longitude, and has an elevation of 29, 029 feet (8,848 Meters). Sunrise has been calculated to be up to 15 minutes and 31 seconds earlier on Mount Everest than on sea level. The range of the seasonal effect has been calculated to be from 15 minutes and 31 seconds on June 22nd, to a ‘low’ of 13 minutes 41 seconds earlier on March 18th. See www.kosherjava.com/2010/03/07/faq-how-much-earlier-is-sunrise-on-mount-everest-due-to-elevation, last accessed 8-16-2020.

[3] Light pollution is the presence of obtrusive artificial light in the night environment and washes out starlight in the night sky as well as interferes with the observation of twilight.

[4] See moonsighting.com/faq_pt.html section 2.2, last accessed 9-18-2020.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Yaqub Miftahi, Fajar and Isha Times & Twilight (Hizbul Ulama, UK), see www.hizbululama.org.uk/files/fazar_&_isha_times.pdf

[9] This position has even been attributed to premodern Muslim astronomers as argued by Ilyas: “Indeed, 18 degree depression was a commonly used value for fajr and isha in the medieval period, when it must have been based on careful observations.” See Mohammad Ilyas, Astronomy of Islamic Times for the Twenty-first Century (Mansell, 1989), p. 56. However, this is a weak assumption as explained by David King: “I am not aware of any legal text in which it is suggested that one should consult an astronomer on the prayer times or use any of the astronomical tables or instruments that were available for this purpose. It would be naïve to suppose that there was any reason why a legal scholar should have consulted an astronomer.” See David King, In Synchrony With the Heavens (Brill, 2013), p. 468

[10] A ‘casual’ observation refers to a person looking outside from a location which they are used to being at whereas a ‘formal’ observation is a concerted effort to travel to an ideal location to sight ‘Islamic twilight’.

[11] It may be argued that no premodern astronomers identified ‘Islamic twilight’ at 15 degrees or lower as argued by Ilyas: “[David] King [in his book ‘In Synchrony With the Heavens’] has confirmed…no record has been found of the use of a value as small as 15 degrees.” See Mohammad Ilyas, Astronomy of Islamic Times for the Twenty-first Century (Mansell, 1989), p. 56. The first objection to this is that Abu Rahyan Al-Biruni [d. 1048 CE], Jaghmini [d. 1344 CE], and Al-Barjandi [d. 1528 CE] have recorded 15 degrees for ‘Islamic twilight’. The second, and more important, response is that the calculations of premodern astronomers were probably different than those used by contemporary astronomers as opined by Yusuf: “Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, they may not have been directly measuring solar depression at all, but rather stellar elevation and (at most) inferring solar depression from it…this is not how twilight angles are determined in modern times. A classical astronomical text citing 18 degrees for true dawn is likely referring to the angle of elevation of a particular star above the opposite horizon from the Sun. A modern discussion is referring to actual solar depression as determined by a different set of calculations. It may be that these are exact parallels, but this needs to be clearly determined, especially given the fact that the relationship between the Sun and the other celestial bodies is not fixed.” See Asim Yusuf, Shedding Light on the Dawn (Nur al-Habib Productions, 2017), p. 199.

10th of Muḥarram: The Day of ʿĀshūrā’?

ʿĀshūrā’ is the 10th day in the month of Muḥarram, which is the first month in the Islamic lunar calendar. This year it will be on Saturday Aug 29, 2020. Based on several authentic statements of the Prophet Muhammad, it is strongly recommended you fast on this day.

ʿAbdullah ibn ʿAbbās related that he had never seen the Prophet so keen on fasting any other day, outside of Ramaḍān, than on the day of ʿĀshūrā’.[1] The Messenger of Allah emphasized fasting on this day to such an extent that he once said, “I hope that Allah would forgive the sins of the previous year for the one who fasts on the day of ʿĀshūrā’.”[2]

Near the end of the Prophet’s life, he wanted Muslims to differentiate themselves when he heard that Jews and Christians also commemorated it.[3] So he said: “Next year, God-willing, we will fast on the 9th [as well]”, but he passed away the following year.[4] After a detailed analysis of all the teachings of the Prophet relating to fasting on the day of ʿĀshūrā’, Imām Ibn Ḥajar al-ʿAsqalānī [d. 852 A.H./1449 C.E.] concluded that there are three different ways to fast this day, in order of ascending virtue: [5]

  • Fast only on the 10th day
  • Fast on both the 9th and 10th day [fasting the 10th and 11th is also fine though he didn’t mention that]
  • Fast on the 9th, 10th, and 11th

One of the misconceptions that has occurred in the minds of many Muslims is that the 10th of Muḥarram should be observed as a day of mourning because Ḥusayn ibn ʿAlī, the righteous grandson of the Prophet, was killed on this day. It is true that the day he was killed was indeed sad and a great tragedy. However, many righteous people have been killed on other days, yet none of those dates have been taken as days of mourning.

Ḥusayn’s own father, ʿAlī, was also killed unjustly in the month of Ramadan in the year 40 A.H. but no one has specified that day as a day of mourning to be observed by Muslims. Furthermore, the Messenger of Allah witnessed the slaying of many of his family members who were very dear to him such as his uncle Ḥamza, his adopted son Zayd ibn Ḥārithah, and his cousin Jaʿfar [ʿAlī’s brother], yet he never appointed a day of mourning for them. Therefore, although it may be beneficial to reflect on the martyrdom of Ḥusayn and the historical lessons that can be derived from such an incident, there is no basis for singling out his death as a day of mourning.

[1] Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 3:43, #2006

[2] Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 2:818, #1162; Muslim scholars have explained that this refers to minor sins only.

[3] Another Ḥadith explains: “The Prophet entered Madīnah and observed the Jews fasting on the Day of `Āshūrā’. He asked, ‘What is this?’ They said, ‘This is a righteous day. It is the day that God saved the Children of Israel from their adversary, so Moses fasted.’ The Prophet said, ‘We have more right to Moses than them.’ So he fasted and ordained fasting on that day.” Muslim scholars have often speculated what fast the Jews were observing on the 10th of Muḥarram circa 622CE as recorded in the Ḥadith. Was it Pesach (Passover), Yom Kippur, or a lesser fast like Asher b’Tevet? However, the dates seem to not coincide between Passover and `Āshūrā’ until over a decade after the Hijrah and even then Passover falls on the 18th of Muḥarram, and not the 10th. Shaykh Abul Ḥasan ʿAlī Nadwī clarifies the confusion as follows: “Besides, any attempt to make the Lunar Arabian Calendar correspond to the Solar Jewish Calendar can, at the best, be only hypothetical. The ancient custom of intercalation has also taken a hand in adding to the confusion. It is incorrect to question the authenticity of successive Ḥadīths merely on the basis of an erratic and inconstant calendar. It is also possible that the Jews of Madīnah were different from the other Jewish communities where the fast of ʿĀshūrā’ was concerned and observed it with greater enthusiasm and regularity, and, in this respect, they were similar to the Arabs who, seeing that so many important events had taken place on that day, fasted on it out of reverence. ʿĀishah said, “The Quraysh fasted on the day of ʿĀshūrā’ during the Age of Ignorance and the Prophet also kept it.” [Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim] Further, the fast days among the Jews living in different countries differed from one another. We have seen how in the Jewish Encyclopedia it is indicated that apart from the fixed fast-days many fasts of a local or national character had become established among the Jews from the early days, which varied from place to place. Private fasts were also common among the Jews and one could take it upon oneself to fast on certain days in memory of certain events or at the time of adversity to arouse God’s mercy. In these circumstances, it is quite possible that the fast of ʿĀshūrā’, on the tenth day of the first month of the Arab Calendar, was peculiar to the Jews living in Arabia alone. Perhaps, it is for this reason that the Talmud and the Jewish Calendar are silent on this score. But their judgment is influenced by the ignorance of the habits and practices of the Jews living in various parts of the world, especially in Arabia where they had been settled for generations as a distinct community, possessing their own beliefs and customs and receiving local impressions in the historical course of things.”

[4] Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 4:798 #1134a

[5] Ibn Ḥajar al-ʿAsqalānī, Fatḥ al-Bārī Sharḥ Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, 4:245

Muḥarram & the Islamic New Year

The Islamic calendar is based on the lunar year and has 354 days over 12 months. The first month of the Islamic calendar is Muḥarram and begins today on Aug 20, 2020, which will mark the year 1442 A.H.[1] A day in the Islamic calendar is defined as beginning at sunset.

The first year of the calendar begins when the Prophet Muhammad migrated from Makkah to Madinah, known as the Ḥijrah, in 622 C.E. He, along with his early followers, fled persecution and established a new Muslim society.

Name Arabic Meaning
al-Muḥarram ٱلْمُحَرَّم sacred
Ṣafar صَفَر void
Rabīʿ al-ʾAwwal/Rabīʿ al-ʾŪlā رَبِيع ٱلْأَوَّل /‎ رَبِيع ٱلْأُولَىٰ the first spring
Rabīʿ ath-Thānī/Rabīʿ al-ʾĀkhir رَبِيع ٱلثَّانِي‎ / رَبِيع ٱلْآخِر the second/last spring
Jumādā al-ʾAwwal/Jumadā al-ʾŪlā جُمَادَىٰ ٱلْأَوَّل‎ / جُمَادَىٰ ٱلْأُولَىٰ the first when land dries out
Jumādā ath-Thāniyah/Jumādā al-ʾĀkhirah جُمَادَىٰ ٱلثَّانِيَة‎ / جُمَادَىٰ ٱلْآخِرَة the second/last when land dries out
Rajab رَجَب respect/honor
Shaʿbān شَعْبَان scattered
Ramaḍān رَمَضَان burning heat
Shawwāl شَوَّال raised
Dhū al-Qaʿdah ذُو ٱلْقَعْدَة truce
Dhū al-Ḥijjah ذُو ٱلْحِجَّة pilgrimage

The Islamic calendar was determined in the year 16 A.H. during the reign of the Caliph ʿUmar. He consulted with the senior Companions and they decided that Muslims should have their own calendar and dates, just like other civilizations and religions have.[2] Someone suggested adopting the Persian or Byzantine calendar, the way that Muslims were using their coins at the time, but this idea was rejected. Others suggested dating the calendar from either the birth or death of the Prophet, the start of revelation when he was forty years old, or the migration from Makkah to Madīnah. The latter idea was adopted since it marked the transition from being an oppressed minority to having an independent community.[3]

The Companions and early Muslims did not actually celebrate the new Islamic year by greeting each other with phrases like “Happy New Year” or anything to that effect. Nonetheless, if no one considers it to be a religious practice or something that is recommended, then such greetings are fine. It is important for Muslims to be aware of the Islamic calendar and at least know what year it is, even if they are not referring to it regularly. Such a practice maintains a connection with Islamic History and also reminds them that Muslims have certain distinguishing characteristics, which establishes their unique Muslim identity.

The month of Muḥarram was declared special in the Qur’an: “Indeed, the number of months in the sight of Allah is twelve. This was decided by Allah on the Day when He created the heavens and the earth. Four of them are sacred. That is the right religion, so do not wrong yourselves during them.” [Qur’an – At-Tawbah 9:36] The Prophet Muhammad specified these months: “The year is twelve months, of which four are sacred: three consecutive months of Dhul Qaʿdah (11th), Dhul Ḥijjah (12th), and Muḥarram (1st), while the fourth is Rajab (7th).”[4] These months were originally established from the time of Prophet Ibrāhīm [Abraham] and even maintained by the pagan Arabs before Islam, where they would forbid warfare so that people could travel and conduct business, and perform Pilgrimage to Makkah safely. After the Qur’an was revealed, these months were affirmed to have special status, and even enhanced more.

The Prophet said: “The best days to fast after Ramadan is in the ‘month of Allah’: Muḥarram.”[5] So it is recommended for Muslims to fast more in this month than in regular months, if they want to earn extra reward. The 10th of Muḥarram is extra special and is known as the day of ʿĀshūrā’. It is highly recommended to fast on this day and recommended to fast one day prior or after it as well. There are some narrations that indicate other virtuous acts on the 10th of Muḥarram but those reports are not very authentic. Lastly, some people believe the month of Muḥarram is unlucky so they avoid getting married or traveling at this time, but these are baseless superstitions.

[Shaykh] Mustafa Umar | Anaheim – Aug 20, 2020

[1] This is according to astronomical calculations. Often, the calendar is determined, for religious purposes, by an actual crescent sighting in the evening. A.H. means after Ḥijrah [migration].

[2] It is also reported that this occurred in the year 17 or 18 A.H.

[3] See Al-Bukhārī #3934 and Ibn Kathīr, Al-Bidāyah wa n-Nihāyah 3:251-253.

[4] See Bukhārī #2958. This does not negate the fact that Ramaḍān is still the most sacred month of the year.

[5] See Muslim #1982

What Happens On Eid Al-Aḍḥā Day?

What Happens on Eid al-Aḍḥā Day?

The 10th of Dhul Ḥijjah is known as Eid al-Aḍḥā [the festival of sacrifice] and is a day of celebration for Muslims. In fact, the following three days of the 11th, 12th, and 13th are also an extension of the days of Eid.
This Eid is known as the ‘festival of sacrifice’ because it commemorates the incident where Prophet Ibrāhīm [Abraham] was ordered by God to sacrifice his son, and they both willingly submitted. No human sacrifice actually occurred, because it was only a test of obedience and devotion, and Ibrāhīm was told to sacrifice an animal instead as a symbol of his devotion [See Qur’an 37:100-110 and contrast with the Bible – Genesis 22:1-14]. It was a powerful reminder about the importance of sacrificing the things we love.

Praising Allah During these Days

There is a specific way to praise Allah during these days that is said out loud. The phrase to be said is known as the takbīrāt [glorifications]:
allāhu akbar, allāhu akbar, lā ilāha illallāh, allāhu akbar, allāhu akbar, wa lillāhi l-ḥamd
“God is great, God is great, there is no god besides Allah, God is great, God is great, praise belongs to him”
This formula should be said out loud by each person immediately after each and every one of the five daily prayers. It begins on the 9th of Dhul Ḥijjah [Thursday] after Fajr prayer and continues until the 13th of Dhul Ḥijjah [Monday] after ʿAsr prayer, making it a total of 23 times. The phrase must be said at least once but is recommended to be done more than that. It is common to say it three times. [There is some difference of opinion on this point]

The Eid Prayer

On the morning of Eid al-Aḍḥā on the 10th, it is recommended to:

  • take a bath to be fresh and clean for the day and brush your teeth[1]
  • dress in your best clothes and try to smell nice by using some fragrance[2]
  • not fast on this day. In fact, it is prohibited for Muslims to fast on Eid because it is a day of celebration [which involves eating]

It is recommended for Muslims from different mosques to assemble together in a large area, if possible, and pray together. This Eid prayer is obligatory on adult men, but it is recommended for women and children to attend as well, even women who are not praying due to their period.
When a person leaves his house to attend the prayer, he should praise Allah on the way there by saying the takbīrāt out loud, as mentioned previously.
When arriving at the gathering place there are no extra prayers recommended nor is there a call to prayer [adhān] or commence [iqāmah]. A Muslim should continue praising Allah until the prayer is about to start.
The Eid prayer is identical to the Fajr prayer except that extra takbīrs [saying ‘allāhu akbar’] are added while standing. The Imām [prayer leader] begins the prayer as usual and recites the opening supplication inaudibly with his hands folded, and the people praying behind him do the same. Then he raises his hands like at the beginning of prayer, says ‘allāhu akbar’ and lowers his hands to his sides, and everyone follows suit. This is done a total of seven times in the first unit, so that there is one initial takbīr to start the prayer and seven additional ones after that. After the final takbīr, the hands are folded and the recitation of the Qur’an begins as usual. It is recommended to recite sūrah al-aʿlā in the first unit. When the imām stands for the second unit of prayer, there are five extra takbīrs added while raising the hands as was done in the first unit. Then the prayer continues as normal. It is recommended to recite sūrah al-ghāshiyah in the second unit.[3]When the prayer is finished, the imām will stand and deliver two sermons like on Friday. It is important for people not to start talking or walk away during these lectures.
The timing for the Eid prayer begins fifteen minutes after sunrise and lasts until high noon. The mosque(s) organizing the prayer will set a specific time at which the Muslims will gather within this time frame. If someone misses the prayer, it cannot be made up.
After the prayer and sermons are complete, it is recommended for people to greet each other. There is no specific way of greeting, but many Muslims will shake hands, hug each other, say ‘Happy Eid’ [Eid Mubārak] or ‘May Allah accept from us and you’ [taqabbal allāhu minnā wa minkum].

Animal Sacrifice

It is highly recommended [and mandatory according to some scholars][4] for every able Muslim to slaughter an animal on Eid day. This can be done on the 10th, 11th, or 12th day of Dhul Ḥijjah. The animal to be slaughtered is a sheep or goat, or seven people can share in one camel or cow, since they are much larger animals.
It is recommended to give about one third of the animal in charity, feed friends and family with another third, and keep the final portion for oneself. However, it can be distributed all in charity or even kept all for oneself. For those who find it difficult to physically purchase and slaughter an animal, they may pay someone on their behalf to perform the sacrifice and distribute the meat. Here are some organizations that do this and distribute the meat to the poor and needy in various parts of the world: Islamic ReliefIslamic Relief USAHelping HandLife, or Baitulmaal. Furthermore, since animal sacrifice has different prices for different countries, it is best to pay the amount that it would have cost you to do it in your own country by adding extra money for another animal. For example, if sacrificing a sheep would cost you $200 in the USA but $40 in Bangladesh, you should sacrifice five animals in Bangladesh if you live in the USA and earned your money there.
Sacrificing an animal is not an act of cruelty. Animals have been created by Allah for the benefit of humans. They exist for us to use, but not abuse. There is no doubt that due to greed and consumerism, many animals are being abused nowadays. Islam teaches the balance between benefiting from animals but not abusing or mistreating them.

Happy Eid


[1] See Muwaṭṭa’ #428
[2] See Ibn Khuzaymah #1756
[3] Note that there is another way to perform the Eid prayer with three extra takbīrs in each unit. Consult an expert in Islamic Law for more details.
[4] Kitāb al-Ikhtiyār 5:20
The Journey of Hajj

By: Shaykh Mustafa Umar

What is Ḥajj and ʿUmrah

Ḥajj is a journey to Makkah commemorating the spirit of devotion to Allah performed by Prophet Ibrāhīm [Abraham] and his family. It entails visiting Makkah and some other nearby regions. Ḥajj occurs only once a year from the 8th-12th in the month of Dhul Ḥijjah. It is attended by about four to five million Muslims and is the largest annual gathering of people in the world.
ʿUmrah is a shortened version of Ḥajj which can take place at any time of the year in Makkah and only takes about an hour or two to complete. It is highly recommended to perform it at least once in a lifetime. Those who go for Ḥajj usually perform an ʿUmrah as well during the same journey.

Makkah

Makkah is an ancient city in Western Arabia which was founded by Hājar [Hagar], the wife of Prophet Ibrāhīm. It is a narrow valley about 900 feet above sea level and 50 miles from the Red Sea. Prophet Ibrāhīm was instructed by Allah to leave his wife Ḥājar and son Ismāʿīl [Ishamel] in this barren valley as a test to see whether he and his wife were willing to overlook the principle of causality and put their trust in Allah. They both passed their tests with flying colors, so Allah made the region of Makkah a special place.

Ibrāhīm and his son built the Kaʿbah, which was the first building entirely dedicated to the worship of one God alone.[1] He instituted the Ḥajj Pilgrimage where people have been visiting the once-empty valley for thousands of years.[2] Makkah now has a population of 2 million people [2012] and the word Mecca in English is now used to refer to a place which attracts a lot of people. The city has been mentioned several times in the Qur’an and is known as Umm al-Qurā [the mother of all settlements] because of the prominent position it occupies in Arabia. The region has also been mentioned in the Bible as the wilderness of Parān in Genesis 21:21, although some Christians insist on giving another meaning to that verse.
Makkah’s religious merit lies primarily in the fact that it contains the Kaʿbah, which all Muslims around the world face towards during prayer. However, the city also has immense historical value because the Prophet Muhammad lived there for most of his life and the first thirteen years of the revelation of the Qur’an occurred there.

Virtues of Ḥajj

Eschatological Dimensions

Ḥajj has the potential of being one of the most rewarding acts of worship a Muslim can ever perform. The Prophet said, “Whoever performs Ḥajj [sincerely] for Allah and avoids obscenity and sins will return [from the journey] like the day his mother gave him birth [i.e. with no sins].”[3] It is important to remember that the aforementioned benefits are conditional upon the Ḥajj being fulfilled properly. No one should assume that just by doing the motions of Ḥajj they will automatically receive a get-out-of-hell-free ticket. It is important to keep in mind the warning of the Prophet, “It might be that a person who fasts gains nothing from it except hunger and a person who prays gains nothing from it except fatigue.”[4] If this principle applies to prayer and fasting, the same would potentially apply to Ḥajj.

Social Dimensions

Ḥajj has far reaching social dimensions as well. A Persian intellectual explained it thus: “Everyone encircles the Kaʿbah collectively. The movement is as one unit, one group of people. There is no individual identification, that is, of being a man or woman, nor black or white. It is the transformation of one person into the totality of a ‘people’. Every ‘I’ joins together and becomes a ‘We’, establishing the ‘ummah’ [community] with the aim of approaching Allah.”[5]
The American revolutionary Malcolm X described his experience in these words: “There were tens of thousands of pilgrims, from all over the world. They were of all colors, from blue-eyed blondes to black-skinned Africans. But we were all participating in the same ritual, displaying a spirit of unity and brotherhood that my experiences in America had led me to believe never could exist between the white and the non-white. America needs to understand Islam, because this is the one religion that erases from its society the race problem. You may be shocked by these words coming from me. But on this pilgrimage, what I have seen, and experienced, has forced me to rearrange much of my thought patterns previously held.”[6]

Who Must Perform Ḥajj

Ḥajj is an obligation[7] at least once in a lifetime for Muslims who are able to go. It is one of the five pillars upon which Islam stands and should never be neglected or even delayed. As soon as a person is able, they must immediately go.
Only the following Muslims are exempted from performing Ḥajj:

  • Children: A person is only held responsible for their actions in the sight of Allah after he has attained maturity and the intellect has developed.[8] This occurs during when a child reaches puberty. A boy is considered to be a mature adult when he has his first wet dream [or equivalent]. A girl is considered to be mature when she either has her first wet dream [or equivalent] or begins her menstrual period. If neither of these occur before the age of fifteen[9] they are considered to be mature at that age.
    • Young children who cannot fully understand what they are doing may still be taken on the Ḥajj and their parents will get the reward for allowing them to experience this Islamic phenomenon.
    • Children old enough to understand what they are doing will benefit from performing the Ḥajj. They should try to perform it the best they can, but it will not lift the obligation from them. Therefore, when they reach the age of maturity, they will have to perform it again as soon as they are able.
  • Mentally handicapped: Those people who are afflicted with an illness or defect that impairs their intellect are not considered responsible adults. They are treated like children in that they are not responsible for their actions in this world or the next. However, they may still perform Ḥajj and go through the motions, just like children do.
  • Financially unable: Someone who is unable to afford the expenses of traveling to Makkah and back, paying for the stay there, and having their family taken care of while they are gone, is not required to perform Ḥajj. Nowadays, Ḥajj can be quite costly. A person should try to find the most economical travel package they can and go if they can afford that.
    • It is important to note that a person should not borrow money in order to perform the Ḥajj. Also, paying off [currently due] debts takes priority over going for Ḥajj, since that money actually belongs to someone else. However, having long-term debt like a loan on your house has no impact on your ability to go for Ḥajj since you make monthly payments and it is not expected of you to pay off the loan immediately. Therefore, your entire housing debt is not ‘currently due’, rather, only your monthly payment is, and that can be subtracted from your assets.
  • Physically unable: A person who is physically unable to undertake the journey due to severe discomfort or other reasons is exempted from performing Ḥajj. However, there are many facilitations for disabled people such as wheelchairs and escorts for those who can afford them, which would not lift the obligation from those people.
  • Relative danger of the journey: If there is a highly probable likelihood of danger when traveling to Ḥajj, then a person is exempted. In the past, people faced desert bandits or sea pirates when traveling long distances and sometimes had to go in armed groups to protect themselves.
    • It is a requirement for women to have a male relative [maḥram] such as her brother or uncle accompany her on the Ḥajj to ensure her safety. However, if she is unable to have a male escort and there is probable certainty that her journey will be relatively safe, this requirement is overlooked. Nonetheless, the current government of Saudi Arabia has placed specific visa restrictions concerning women in accordance with their understanding of Islamic Law on this issue so check with your local embassy.

The Standard Ḥajj Schedule

There is much more to learn about Ḥajj which is beyond the scope of this article. To find out more, see the book Hajj & Umrah: A Practical and Spiritual Guide to the Journey. Below is a table describing approximately what happens on each day of Ḥajj.

Day Actions
Before Makkah Assume Iḥrām
Arriving in Makkah Ṭawāf & Saʿy*
8th of Dhul Ḥijjah Stay at Minā
9th of Dhul Ḥijjah Stay at ʿArafah
Sleep in Muzdalifah
10th of Dhul Ḥijjah Stone one Marker at Minā
Offer a sacrifice
Shave head
Exit Iḥrām [partially]
Visitation Ṭawāf*
11th of Dhul Ḥijjah Stone the three Markers at Minā
12th of Dhul Ḥijjah Stone the three Markers at Minā
13th of Dhul Ḥijjah [Optional] Stone the three Markers at Minā*
Before Leaving Makkah Farewell Ṭawāf

If you have not gone on the journey, ask God to facilitate the journey for you.

 [1] See Qur’ān 2:127-128, 3:96-97, 22:27-30

[2] See Qur’ān 22:28
[3] Bukhārī #1521, 2:133. Also see Qur’ān 2:197.
[4] Ibn Mājah #1690, 1:539, graded ḥasan ṣaḥīḥ [authentic] by Shaykh Albānī
[5] Ali Shariati, Hajj: Reflection on Its Rituals, 27.
[6] Malcolm X with the assistance of Alex Haley, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, 371.
[7] See Qur’ān 3:97
[8] The exact time when this happens is only known to Allah. However, we must approximate when this occurs for legal reasons to distinguish between a child and an adult, hence the following criteria specified in Islamic law.
[9] This is calculated in lunar years according to Islamic law.
Fasting Beyond Ramaḍān: Shawwāl and Other Months

Fasting is required in Ramaḍān but there are other fasts outside of that month which are recommended as well.

The month following Ramaḍān is known as Shawwāl and it is highly recommended to fast any six days of that month. They do not have to be consecutive. The Prophet said, “Whoever fasted in Ramaḍān and then followed it up with six days of Shawwāl, it is as if he fasted continuously.”[1] That is because the Prophet taught that good deeds are rewarded at least ten times, so fasting Ramaḍān is like fasting ten months. By fasting six more days, it is like fasting sixty more days, making a total of 12 months, so it is as if the person has fasted the entire year.

The fasts of Shawwāl do not have to be done in order and may be performed on any day of the month. A common question about fasting in Shawwāl is whether a person who has to make up missed fasts can combine the intention of making up a fast and also having it count as one of the six fasts in Shawwāl. This should not be done because the one who has missed fasts from Ramaḍān has not completed the month of fasting, so the purpose of earning the reward for fasting the entire year cannot be multiplied until that is completed separately. Either one can be done first.

It is also highly recommended to fast on the tenth of Muḥarram [known as the day of ʿĀshūrā’] and on the first nine days of Dhul Ḥijjah, with the ninth being more emphasized than the other eight days.

If one would like to fast more regularly throughout the year then it is recommended to fast three days, preferably the 13th, 14th, and 15th of any given month [of the lunar calendar]. These are known as the ‘white days’ because the moon is at its largest size. It is also recommended to fast every Monday or Thursday, or both, because that was the habit of the Prophet.

One may fast on almost any day as an act of worship. However there are some days on which it is disliked to fast and others on which it is prohibited. It is disliked to fast on a Friday or Saturday unless it was done for a specific reason, like if it happened to be the day of ʿĀshūrā’, for example. It is prohibited to fast on the day of Eid al-Fiṭr, Eid al-Aḍḥā, and on the 11th, 12th, and 13th of Dhul Ḥijjah. It is also prohibited to fast every day with the intention to continue throughout your life because that would weaken the body and make you accustomed to fasting, so it would lose its purpose. It is also prohibited to fast for two days straight without breaking the fast in between.

[1] Muslim #1164

How to Perform Eid Prayer When Large Gatherings Are Prohibited by Law?

Short Answer

Every year, some people miss Eid Prayer due to travel, illness, or other reasons. Whether or not they can make up the missed Eid Prayer is something scholars have differed on since the time of the Companions of the Prophet Muhammad. The first view is that Eid Prayer cannot be made up once missed. The second view is that it can, even by a single individual praying alone.

Due to bans on public gatherings in many regions because of the Novel Coronavirus, the issue of ‘missing’ Eid Prayer, and the conditions for its validity, have become a public issue. In summary, there are four views held by respected Muslim scholars on what to do:

  • There will be no Eid Prayer in regions which prohibited large public gatherings. Muslims should celebrate the day of Eid but without the Eid Prayer this year. If you want you can pray two or four units [rakʿahs] in the morning. This can be done collectively or individually, but it will not be considered an Eid Prayer, it is the recommended Ḍuḥā prayer which can be performed on any day of the year.
  • Small groups of people should gather and perform the Eid Prayer, just like the Friday [Jumuʿah] Prayer if there are at least four adult males and one of them knows how to properly perform the prayer and sermon. Otherwise, follow view #1.
  • Eid Prayer should be performed by every individual who misses it, as two units, with the additional takbīrs [saying Allāhu Akbar] as normally done in Eid Prayer. No khutbah is required.
  • The same as #3 but giving a sermon [khutbah] after the prayer is recommended.

All these views are held by qualified and respected scholars. Each individual or family should follow the one that is advocated by the scholar or institution they trust the most. There should be no argumentation or conflict between Muslims who choose to follow one view over another, since the Prophet did not clearly specify the conditions for Friday Prayer or Eid Prayer, so the issue has room for legitimate disagreement.

The Messenger of Allah did say regarding Eid, “Every nation has its day of celebration and this is our day of celebration.”[1] Muslims should observe the day of Eid by taking a bath, wearing their best clothing, applying fragrance, glorifying Allah, connecting with family, and exhibiting happiness throughout the day. Even if we are unable to have large physical gatherings the day can still be celebrated and joyous.

Detailed References

The first view: This view is held by scholars of the Ḥanafī school who said that the Eid Prayer is like Friday Prayer in that it requires a congregation and public access where others can join. If these requirements are not met, there will be no Eid Prayer. See Ash-Shaybānī, Kitāb Al-Aṣl 1:320; Al-Kāsānī, Badāʿi al-ṣanā’iʿ, 1:275; Ibn al-Humām, Fatḥ al-qadīr, 2:29. If Eid prayer is missed, it cannot be made up. The Prophet never performed a Jumuʿah or Eid prayer alone or with just one or two people. Instead, you can pray the Ḍuḥā prayer. See Ibn ʿĀbidīn, Radd Ul-Muḥtār, 2:500-501. Also see Fatāwā Usmānī 1:523 where Shaykh Taqī Usmānī argues that the condition of public access remains in place in private homes, small shops, and the like, even in majority non-Muslims countries.

The second view: This view is held by scholars of the Ḥanafī school who explain that the condition of ‘public access’ does not apply in our circumstances. Therefore, any gathering that can perform a Jumuʿah Prayer should perform the Eid Prayer as well. See Fatāwā Usmānī 1:523 for a detailed discussion of this point. This is the view I plan to follow.

The third and fourth view: This view was held by the Shāfiʿī, Mālikī, and Ḥanbalī schools who considered Eid Prayer more like an extra prayer rather than the Friday Prayer. See An-Nawawī, Rawḍat Uṭ-Ṭālibīn, 1:578; Mawāhib Al-Jalīl li Sharh Mukhtaṣar Al-Khalīl 2:581; Al-Mughnī 3:284.

Sources Consulted

https://daruliftaa.com/salat-prayer/covid-19-ruling-on-jumua-and-eid-prayers-in-non-muslim-countries-due-to-lockdown/

https://daruliftaa.com/salat-prayer/can-eid-salat-be-performed-at-home-due-to-covid-19-lockdown/

https://islamicportal.co.uk/covid-19-eid-salah-during-lockdown/

https://islamicportal.co.uk/does-eid-salah-require-2-or-4-people/

https://seekersguidance.org/answers/hanafi-fiqh/performing-eid-prayers-at-home/

http://fiqhcouncil.org/fatwa-regarding-%e1%b9%a3alat-al-eid-in-light-of-covid-19-lockdown/

https://iokchess.com/eid-in-quarantine/

http://www.bbsi.org.uk/bbsi-guidelines-for-the-eid-prayer/

https://islamqa.info/en/answers/339140/ruling-on-offering-the-eid-prayer-at-home-because-of-the-curfew-due-to-the-coronavirus-epidemic

[1] Ṣaḥīḥ Al-Bukhārī

What is Zakātul Fiṭr [or Fiṭrah]?

After fasting the entire month of Ramaḍān, Muslims have an opportunity to celebrate on the day of Eid. This day is supposed to be enjoyable and fun. People will visit family members, enjoy nice food and wear nice clothes. However, there is a segment of society that would find it difficult to be able to celebrate this day due to their financial circumstances. Their minds would be preoccupied, even on this day of celebration, with having to fulfill their basic needs for the day.

A solution to this difficulty was instituted by the Messenger of Allah when he announced to his Companions that they must give a certain amount of food in charity before people went to pray the Eid prayer in the morning.[1] This charity is called Fiṭrah, Zakātul Fiṭr or Sadaqatul Fiṭr, which means: the charity for breaking the fast, since it is paid when Ramaḍān ends and fasting is over.

The Prophet explained that this charity not only feeds the poor and gives them an opportunity to enjoy the day of Eid, but it also serves as a means of spiritual purification from improper speech and actions that may have been committed in the month of Ramaḍān.[2]

Giving this charity is an obligation [wājib] on every Muslim who possesses more than the monetary equivalent of about 3 ounces of gold [about $5160][3] in possessions, excluding those which are absolutely required for living like clothing, a vehicle, basic furniture, housing, etc.

The amount to be paid was measured in foodstuffs during the time of the Prophet. It was four double handfuls of a staple food like dates, barley or raisins. The monetary value nowadays is equivalent to about US $10-30, depending on which food item is being given.[4] However, it is recommended to pay the value in cash if it would be more helpful to the poor so they can purchase other things they need for the day of Eid.[5] Giving a gift card to a store might actually be more conducive to helping the poor.

The obligation to pay the Fiṭrah begins at dawn on the day of Eid al-Fiṭr [which is the day after Ramaḍān], so whoever possesses the minimum amount of wealth at that time must pay. If someone delays payment, the obligation remains and must still be fulfilled, even though it is considered late.

If someone lives in an area where it is not easy to identify or encounter legitimate poor people, then it is recommended to give the Fiṭrah to a person or organization who can properly distribute it on their behalf. In such circumstances, it is recommended to pay the Fiṭrah early enough [about a week or two in advance] so that the person or organization distributing it can ensure that it reaches deserving people prior to the Eid prayer. It is important to note that Fiṭrah must be given only to those who do not possess the minimum amount of wealth previously mentioned. Fiṭrah cannot be used for any other purpose like building a mosque, hospital, or other charitable activity.

A man is also required to pay a share of Fiṭrah on behalf of each of his minor children, unless they happen to be wealthy enough to pay it from their savings. A man is not responsible to pay it on behalf of his wife or his mature children. However, if a family member does pay it on behalf of another, it is valid, since permission is usually assumed in such cases.

[1] See al-Bukhārī #1509

[2] See Ibn Mājah #1827

[3] Some scholars mention that minimum amount should be 21 ounces of silver [about $400]. Others say it is required for anyone who will have enough food for one day without having to work for it. If someone is able to pay and does not intend to accept Fiṭrah from others, then it is recommended to pay it.

[4] Here is an example of how much that amount of raisins would cost: https://market.sunmaid.com/index.php?dispatch=products.view&product_id=29838

[5] Consult your local Muslim charity organization or mosque for current prices. These organizations usually collect and distribute the fiṭrah.

Can Iʿtikāf [Masjid Retreat] be Performed at Home

Summary

Iʿtikāf is to seclude yourself inside a mosque and focus on worshipping Allah without normal distractions of daily life. It is a commendable act to be performed in any masjid and is especially recommended during the last ten nights of Ramadan since that was the regular established practice of the Prophet Muhammad. In order for Iʿtikāf to be valid, a person must be fasting, avoid intimacy and intercourse, and not leave the masjid without a good reason such as going to the toilet, acquiring food, or helping someone with an emergency. [See Al-Mawṣilī, Kitāb Al-Ikhtiyār 177-178]

Iʿtikāf is normally only valid for men inside a masjid. However, given the fact that most masjids are closed due to the Novel Coronavirus pandemic, it would be encouraged for men to seclude themselves [khalwah] in the designated prayer area of their home for as much time as possible. If they had the intention and the means to perform Iʿtikāf in the masjid, but are unable to due to it being closed, it is hoped that from the mercy of Allah they will get the same reward. Since their seclusion will not be technically considered an Iʿtikāf, the normal rules will not apply.

Textual Evidence

The two instances where Iʿtikāf is mentioned in the Qur’an are both connected with the masjid. Allah says, “…Purify My House for those who walk round it, those who stay there, and those who bow and prostrate themselves in worship.” [Qur’an 2:125] Again, he says, “…Do not lie with them during the nights of your devotional retreat in the mosques: these are the bounds set by God, so do not go near them…” [Qur’an 2:187] Furthermore, all the narration from the Prophet Muhammad referring to Iʿtikāf are all connected to being in a masjid. Likewise, the Companions all held the opinion that it must be done in a masjid.

Classical Scholars

Mainstream Muslim scholars have held the opinion that Iʿtikāf is supposed to be performed inside a masjid. The position of the Ḥanafī school was explained by Imam Al-Mawṣilī, “It must be performed in a masjid where prayers are held…since the person in Iʿtikāf awaits the prayer to pray it in a group [jamāʿah], so the greater the masjid the greater the reward of Iʿtikāf in it.” [Kitāb Al-Ikhtiyār 177] The Mālikī position was explained by Imam Ḥaṭṭāb, “I’tikaf is valid in any masjid…but not in a house according to Imam Malik, neither for men or women.” [Mawāhib Al-Jalīl 3:241] The position of the Shāfiʿī school was explained by Imam Nawawī, “…it is not valid except in the masjid due to verse 2:187 which indicates that it is only permitted in the masjid.” [Al-Majmūʿ Sharḥ Al-Muhadhdhab 8:6] The Hanbalī position was explained by Imam Ibn Qudāmā, “The Iʿtikāf of a man is not valid except in a masjid. We are not aware of any difference of opinion between the scholars on this issue… The fact that Allah Most High specified Iʿtikāf within the masjid is an indication that it should be observed exclusively in the masjid only.” [Al-Mughnī 3:189]

The only difference of opinion that has been reported is about women being allowed to perform it at home only in the designated prayer area of her house. This was the position of Imam Abū Ḥanīfah and one opinion attributed to Imam Shāfiʿī [though scholars like Imam Nawawī consider this to be a weak ascription]. Imam Sarakhsī explains the reasoning as follows, “When a woman performs Iʿtikāf in the designated prayer-area of her home, then that area for her is similar to what a congregational masjid is for a man.” [Kitāb Al-Mabsūṭ 2:132]

Lastly, the only scholar I could find who ever allowed Iʿtikāf in general outside of a masjid is Ibn Lubābah, but his opinion was deemed to be ‘strange’ [shādh] and therefore cannot be considered as a valid historical precedent. [See Bidāyat ul-Mujtahid 2:77]

Conclusion

The majority of Muslim scholars have made it clear that Iʿtikāf can only be performed in a masjid. The Ḥanafī school was one exception where they said that a woman may perform it in her house. While it may be tempting to apply an analogy and say that if women were allowed then men should also be, this idea does not make sense when the rationale behind why women were specifically given this exemption is properly understood. Therefore, although many masjids are closed, Iʿtikāf should remain associated with a masjid, as it was intended. Furthermore, the practice of Iʿtikāf is not a requirement in Islam, so no individual is missing out. If one or two people are able to perform it, such as the Imam or the Muezzin [Caller to Prayer], that will at least ensure the sanctity of the masjid has been upheld. Others may try to focus on worship and come close to the purpose of Iʿtikāf at home, while hoping for the reward from Allah, even though it is not a complete Iʿtikāf.

Is an Interest-Bearing Loan with a Guarantee of Forgiveness Permissible?

Short Answer

If it is almost certain that you will be able to meet all the requirements to have the loan forgiven, then it is permissible to take such a loan. If only part of the loan is guaranteed to be forgiven, then it is allowed as long as you consider the conditions of the loan upfront and are sure that you will not be charged more than the total amount you were loaned. If such a loan forgives the principal but requires you to pay the interest, it is still permissible, since it is not functionally equivalent to an interest-bearing loan.

Detailed Answer

The Unites States government passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act [CARES Act] on March 26, 2020 which allocated $2 trillion to help the country recover from the effects of the novel Coronavirus Disease 2019 [COVID-19]. This act includes loans for major industries and small businesses impacted by the coronavirus. The monetary aid by the government is given in the form of “loans” which are forgiven if certain requirements are met. As an example, here is a summary of one clause which mentions the conditions of loan forgiveness: “Any portion of the Section 7(a) loan used to maintain payroll, provided workers stay employed through to the end of June 2020, will be forgiven in an amount equal to the sum of the following costs incurred and payments made during the eight-week period beginning on the date of the origination of a covered loan: (i) payroll costs; (ii) interest payments on mortgages; (iii) covered rent obligations; and (iv) covered utility payments.”[1]

These loans were actually intended to function like grants or gifts to eligible institutions. The reason they are structured as loans is so that they can be easily and quickly administered through existing financial institutions and already-established processes: FDIC banks, credit unions, etc.[2] For this reason, the interest may still be due on these “loans” even when the principal is forgiven.

An important principle in Islamic Law is captured by the legal maxim: “the consideration in contracts is the functional meaning, not the wording” [al-ʿibrah fī l-uqūd li l-maʿānī lā li l-alfāẓ]. For example, if someone says, “I will give you this gift if you give me that gift”, the contract is viewed as a type of sale transaction. Even though the word ‘gift’ is used, since two items are being exchanged, it is functionally a sale contract and not a gift at all. This same principle is applied to a loan contract that has a guarantee of forgiveness. It is normally unlawful for a Muslim to enter into a contract that stipulates interest on a loan. However, exceptions to the rule can be made when there is an extremely high probability that this interest will not be incurred. The reason for the exception is that such a contract would in reality be functionally equivalent to an interest-free loan.

An example of such an exception is credit cards, which are permissible to use as long as certain conditions are met. The majority of contemporary Muslim scholars have allowed Muslims to sign up for and use credit cards if they can ensure they will pay off their balance before any interest accrues.[3]

As mentioned above, Islam considers how a contract functions practically, and not the words that are used in it. As Professor Mahmoud El-Gamal pointed out, “the term ‘interest’, as used in today’s economic and practical language, extends beyond fixed rates of return on loans in-kind”. Therefore, he drives home the point that “not all interest is the forbidden ribā”. An example of this is a modern car lease, a portion of which may be called “interest”, but it is functionally and practically considered a portion of the lease rental amount and is not a type of forbidden ribā. Another example would be selling an item [using a murābaḥah contract] with a higher deferred price than the immediate cash price and labeling the difference between the two profits “interest” — again, this is not considered forbidden ribā. The term interest is used in conventional finance to describe a portion of the profit in both of these examples. However this type of “interest” is Islamically permissible since it is not additional money on a monetary loan.[4]

A loan, with an almost guaranteed loan forgiveness stipulation, would fall in a similar category. Even if the loan required interest to be paid, but the principal would be forgiven, it would not truly function as an interest-bearing loan.

Therefore, since both the underlying intent and the functional reality of such a loan are not like an interest-bearing loan, it would be permissible to take as long as these conditions are almost certain to be met.

[Shaykh] Mustafa Umar and [Shaykh] Umer Khan

Anaheim, CA – April 2, 2020

[1] https://www.reedsmith.com/en/perspectives/2020/03/cares-act-overview

[2] According to Dr William Kindred Winecoff, Professor at Indiana University Bloomington

[3] http://www.daruliftaa.com/node/6139?txt_QuestionID

[4] Mahmoud El-Gamal, An Economic Explication of the Prohibition of Ribā in Classical Islamic Jurisprudence (Islamic Economic Studies, 2001, vol. 08-2, 29-58)