Why You Need an Islamic-Will

 مَا حَقُّ امْرِئٍ مُسْلِمٍ لَهُ شَىْءٌ يُرِيدُ أَنْ يُوصِيَ فِيهِ يَبِيتُ لَيْلَتَيْنِ إِلاَّ وَوَصِيَّتُهُ مَكْتُوبَةٌ عِنْدَهُ

The Prophet said: “It is the duty of a Muslim who has anything to be given as a bequest not to leave it for two nights without having his will written down for it.” (Sahih Muslim #1627a)

What is a Will?

A will is a legal document that specifies what happens to your possessions when you die. It can also include who takes care of your children and how you should be buried. If you die without a will (called ‘intestate’), state laws may determine what happens to your wealth, children, and body. Moreover, your heirs may waste a lot of time and money trying to handle these things without a will.

Do I Need a Will?

Wills are not only for rich people. The average person does not consider making a will until they are almost fifty years old. But A Muslim should make a will immediately to ensure that Allah’s rules apply. Remember that both husband and wife need separate wills.

What is an Islamic-Will?

The main difference between a regular will and an Islamic one is that you must follow the rules that Islam has prescribed. You don’t get to pick how much each family member gets from your money. The shares have been decided by Allah. You only get to pick which non-heirs receive some of your money (known as a bequest, or wasiyyah).

How Do I Make a Will?

There are three ways to make an Islamic-will:

  1. You can write your own will to save time and money.
  2. You can use an online template to ensure your will complies with your state requirements. These requirements change from year to year.
  3. If you have quite a lot of money (over $100,000), you should use an attorney to create a ‘trust’ to ensure less family conflict, avoid probate fees, and minimize gift and estate taxes. This may be costly but is worth the time and money. It may even be cheaper to create a ‘trust’ than to pay probate fees even if you are not that wealthy. You should support Muslim businesses by considering a Muslim attorney who knows Islamic inheritance law such as this one or this one.

Steps to Make a Will

Whichever method you choose, consider the following steps:

Step 1: Identify what assets you own. This includes bank accounts, valuables in a safe or safe deposit box, stocks, and other investments. Also identify any debts you owe.

  • Remember that pensions and other investments designated as “transfer on death” cannot be included in your will since they have a specific beneficiary who will receive the proceeds. Unless you can override this, it will not transfer to your heirs the way you want it to.
  • Remember that a probate court may override part of your will if it violates community property laws in your state.

Step 2: Decide if you want to bequest money to non-heirs. Specify a percentage or amount to each person. It cannot exceed 33% of all you own because the Prophet forbade giving more than that, since it would deprive your heirs from their rightful amount.

  • For example, you can give 5% to your local mosque, 10% to California Islamic University, and 7% to your cousin who was always nice to you.

Step 3: Specify which close relatives are alive and how much each will get, according to Islamic Law. Remember, you do not get to pick how much each family member gets. This was decided by Allah.

  • For example, if you have both parents and two children alive, your father gets 1/6th, mother gets 1/6th, son gets 4/9th, and daughter gets 2/9th. You can calculate the shares for your specific case by using this site or this app.
  • You can specify if you want a specific person to get a particular asset. For example, you can say that your daughter will receive your jewelry as part of her share and your son will receive your car and cash as part of his share. This will help them so they do not have to be partners in ownership or sell those assets.

Step 4: Consider adding clauses so you do not need to update your will when a beneficiary dies or is added.

  • You might add in your will: “If any of the listed beneficiaries die or another child which might inherit is born, the distribution be recalculated according to the rules of mainstream Islamic Law as calculated by scholars at California Islamic University.”

Step 5: Designate a guardian for your minor children so they are raised with an Islamic lifestyle and values.

Step 6: Include directions how and where you want to be buried.

Step 7: Appoint an executor, or two. This person ensures your will is followed and your assets are distributed properly. Often a spouse, adult child, or close friend serves this purpose. If your assets are complex, you should choose someone who has a background in business or law. A probate court usually supervises the executor to ensure they do their job correctly.

Step 8: Sign your will in the presence of two adult witnesses. In some states a will must be notarized.

Step 9: Store the will safely where it can be found by your heirs or executor. Let them know where to find it and leave them a reminder somewhere. Do not lock it where they will not have access to it without a court order, such as a safe deposit box. Provide a copy to your executor if you trust them.

Sample Will

Below is a sample will which you may use and modify for your own purposes (change the parts in bold with your personal information and calculations):

 

Will of John Doe

Part 1. Personal Information

I, John Doe, a resident of the State of California, declare that this is my will.

Part 2. Revocation of Previous Wills

I revoke all wills and codicils that I have previously made.

Part 3. Marital Status

I am married to Jane Doe.

Part 4. Children

I have the following children now living:

Johnny Doe                                        DOB: 4/10/2013

Jamie Doe                                           DOB: 6/19/2014

Part 5. Disposition of Property

A beneficiary must survive me for at least one minute to receive property under this will. As used in this will, the phrase “survive me” means to be alive or in existence as an organization one minute after my death.

My entire estate is everything I own at my death that is subject to this will.

I leave my entire estate to Jane Doe, Johnny Doe, and Jamie Doe in the following shares: Jane Doe shall receive a 1/8th share; Johnny Doe shall receive a 7/12th share; Jamie Doe shall receive a 7/24th share.

The estate division is according to the rules established by mainstream Islamic Law. If there is a change in circumstances through marriage, divorce, death, or childbirth, the shares and heirs will be decided by consulting the scholars at California Islamic University.

All personal and real property that I leave in this will shall pass subject to any encumbrances or liens placed on the property as security for the repayment of a loan or debt.

Part 6. Executor

I choose not to name an executor.

Part 7. Payment of Debts

Except for liens and encumbrances placed on property as security for the repayment of a loan or debt, I direct that all debts and expenses owed by my estate be paid in the manner provided for by the laws of the state of California.

Part 8. Payment of Taxes

I direct that all estate taxes assessed against property in my estate or against my beneficiaries be paid using the following asset: cash.

Part 9. Severability

If a court invalidates any provision of this will, that shall not affect other provisions that can be given effect without the invalid provision.

 

Signature

I, _________________________, the testator, sign my name to this document, this ____________ day of ______________, ________, at _______________________________________ (city or county, and state).

I declare that I sign and execute this document as my last will, that I sign it willingly and that I execute it as my free and voluntary act. I declare that I am of the age of majority or otherwise legally empowered to make a will, and under no constraint or undue influence.

Signature:

Witnesses

We, the witnesses, sign our names to this document, and declare that the testator willingly signed and executed this document as the testator’s last will.

In the presence of the testator, and in the presence of each other, we sign this will as witnesses to the testator’s signing.

To the best of our knowledge, the testator is of the age of majority or otherwise legally empowered to make a will, is of sound mind and is under no constraint or undue influence.

We declare under penalty of perjury that the foregoing is true and correct, this ____________ day of ______________, ________, at _______________________________________ (city or county, and state).

First Witness

Sign your name: _____________________  Print your name:

Address:

Phone: _______________   Email: ______________

Second Witness

Sign your name: _____________________  Print your name:

Address:

Phone: _______________   Email: ______________

 

References

https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/marriage-property-ownership-who-owns-what-29841.html

https://www.wikihow.com/Write-a-Will

https://www.wikihow.com/Write-Your-Own-Last-Will-and-Testament

https://www.wikihow.com/Create-a-Will

https://www.investopedia.com/articles/pf/08/what-is-a-will.asp

https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/california-probate-an-overview.html

https://www.legalzoom.com/articles/10-tips-to-avoid-probate

Learn the Meaning of What You Say and Do in Prayer

By Shaykh Mustafa Umar

Muslims pray five times a day. In Arabic. It is important to know the meaning behind each action and statement in the prayer so that it goes beyond being a formulaic ritual and becomes a way to really connect with God. The more you learn to focus and understand the prayer, the easier it will be to get closer to God and restrain yourself from Islamically-immoral behavior. The prayer will then be able to function as an infinite source of strength in all aspects of your life and eventually become something you enjoy rather than merely fulfill.

The following is taken from chapter eight of my book, “How to Pray: A Step-by-Step Guide to Prayer in Islam”:

Before You Pray

You perform wudū’ as a symbolic gesture of spiritually cleansing yourself before you stand in front of God.

You clean your clothes, body, and place of prayer which represents the bare minimum etiquette that a Muslim should display before meeting God.

You cover your body to display your humility and modesty in front of God. Even though He created you and is aware of everything, you show the same respect that you would to God as you would show when meeting anyone else.

You pray during certain times of the day to keep a program of discipline for yourself. Your ego would distract you away from remembering God and tell you: “don’t worry, pray later.” However, with a strict, yet flexible, schedule you learn to make time for God always.

You face Makkah because it contains the Ka’bah, the first building dedicated to the worship of the one true God. This building was made by Prophet Ibrāhīm [Abraham] and his son Ismā’īl [Ishmael]. By facing it, you remind yourself, and everyone else, that you are among the true followers of Abraham.

Standing

Before you begin the prayer, you stand with full attention before God. Your head is slightly lowered out of respect.

Raising Hands

You remove all other thoughts, worries, and images from your mind. When you raise your hands near your head, you imagine that all other thoughts in your mind are being thrown behind you. Now your prayer has really begun.

Allāhu Akbar means that God is the greatest. Literally, it means ‘God is greater’. He is greater and more important than anything else in your life. Remembering Him throughout prayer is greater and more beneficial than anything else you could be doing at the moment, and this is a reminder to yourself of that fact.

Standing for Recitation

Keeping your hands folded in front of anyone is a sign of respect and humility in front of that person. God is most deserving that you humble yourself in front of Him.

You say “I seek protection with God from the cursed Satan” before beginning the recitation of the Qur’ān. It purifies your ego and reminds you that you need God’s help so that you aren’t distracted during your prayer. It also is a sign of humility since you admit you don’t have full control over your own thoughts, so you ask God to help you avoid the whispers of Satan, both in your prayer and in your life.

You say “In the name of God, the Most Kind and Merciful” to purify your intention and make your recitation of the Qur’an purely for the sake of God, so that you can receive His kindness and mercy.

You recite the Fātiḥah, the first and most comprehensive chapter of the Qur’an. It begins by praising God, who is the Lord and Master of everything in existence. Despite that, He is kind and merciful. He will be in control on the Day of Judgment when all people will be held accountable as to how they lived their lives. Then you begin speaking directly to God, declaring that you would never worship anyone but Him and that you are in need of His help. Next, comes the most important part: the invocation. You ask God to guide you along the correct path that leads to Paradise, the way that he led you to Islam. Finding the right path is not enough, you must make sure to stay on the path and you must move forward, rather than backward, so you ask God for help. The path is further defined: that you want to follow the way of life that righteous people followed, not the way of life followed by people who deliberately rejected the truth or were misled along a wrong path.

You say “āmīn” which literally means “answer”. You ask God to answer your prayer since you just asked Him to guide you on the straight path. It is an additional request and an emphasis that you really need God’s guidance. It is also a source of optimism since you know that God answers prayers when they are done with sincerity.

You recite some verses of the Qur’an to reflect on the meaning and practice your memorization. One of the shortest, yet deepest chapters of the Qur’an is al-Ikhlās. In it, Prophet Muhammad was instructed by God to declare that God is one and eternal. He neither has children or parents. Nothing in this world can compare to God in any way because He is transcendent above all His creation.

Bowing

You humble your body before God by lowering it in a bowing position. This reminds you of your place in front of Him.

You say “Glory be to my Lord, the great” manifesting your humility in front of God. The words are perfectly in line with the posture of bowing and you say ‘my Lord’ to make it more intimate and respectful. God may be the Lord of everyone but at this time you are only concerned with your relationship to Him.

Intermediate Standing

You stand up to take a break from bowing.

You say “God has heard the one who praised Him.” You remind yourself that your prayer is not in vain and that God hears the prayer of everyone who sincerely praises Him.

You say “Our Lord, you are deserving of praise” Thereafter, you praise Him one more time to express your certainty about what you just said and prepare for the most important part of the prayer.

Prostration

This position is the most humbling experience where you put your face, which represents your honor, on the floor in front of God. It reminds you that God’s guidance must remain above man’s own inclinations and desires.

You say “Glory be to my Lord, the highest” manifesting your humility once again. However, this time, you contrast your lowly, humble position with the lofty, highness of God.

Intermediate Sitting

You sit up to take a break from prostrating.

Prostration #2

You prostrate once again, revealing the importance of this humble position in front of God.

Final Sitting

After completing all the units of prayer, you sit in a comfortable and relaxing position after having stood for a while.

You say “Greetings, prayers, and all pure things ultimately belong to God. May the peace of God be with you, Prophet, as well as God’s mercy and blessings. May the peace of God be with us and with all of God’s righteous servants.” All of the respectful greetings and praise that people give to idols, kings, and rulers actually belong to God, because He is deserving of them. The same is the case with all forms of prayer as well as any other pure action, since God is pure and only accepts that which is pure. You send peace on the Prophet because he is your guide chosen by God. You then send peace on yourself and on all other righteous people, praying that you become one of the righteous whom God is pleased with.

You say “I declare that no one deserves to be worshipped except God and I declare that Muhammad is His servant and messenger.” This declaration identifies you as a Muslim and you reaffirm it during every prayer. You reaffirm that nothing else in life is worth obeying except for God and that the only way to worship and obey Him properly is through the Messenger of God. You raise your right index finger while saying this to signify that God is one.

You say “God, bless Muhammad and his family, just as you have blessed Ibrāhīm and his family. You are the praiseworthy and glorious. God, favor Muhammad and his family, just as you have favored Ibrāhīm and his family. You are the praiseworthy and glorious.” The messages of Prophet Muhammad and Ibrāhīm are directly linked, which is why you face the Ka’bah. You ask God to bless and give success to the last and final Prophet the same way that Ibrāhīm and his descendants were blessed.

Finish the Prayer

You say “May the peace and mercy of God be with you.” It is befitting to close the prayer with a call for peace and mercy because that is what Islam tries to accomplish. It brings peace in the life of the Muslim as well as in the society, so you turn your head in both directions while saying it so that it is directed towards everyone around you, even if no one is there.

Conclusion

The bare minimum purpose of prayer is to take you away from your daily activities, for a few moments, to remember God. If you can accomplish at least this, the prayer will have some benefit. However, the ultimate goal should be to worship God with such concentration that it is as if you are standing directly in front of Him. Even though you cannot see God, He can see you. This may take a lifetime to achieve, but it is a goal that every Muslim should have in their life.

The Value of Arabic Transliteration

By Shaykh Mustafa Umar

Any serious scholar in Islamic Studies must know Arabic. It is the language of the Qur’an, the Prophet’s teachings, and most of the scholarly literature on Islam throughout history. The average Muslim also needs to know some Arabic. Muslims greet each other with “as-salāmu ʿalaykum” and say common phrases like “alḥamdulillāh”. When anyone reads an article or book about Islam, it can usually contain some Arabic words that are left untranslated. At minimum, it might contain Arabic names of people or places. This is where transliteration becomes important.

Transliteration is when you transfer a word from the alphabet of one language to another. It helps people pronounce words and names in foreign languages properly. So rather than writing out the entire Arabic word, each Arabic letter is substituted for one (or two) English letters. For example, the word for prayer is written as salah while the word for peace is written as salam. Anyone familiar with basic Islamic vocabulary would know that the s in salah and the s in salam represent two entirely different letters in Arabic. Therefore, it is better to use Unicode characters to clarify this for the reader. So ṣalah is written as an s with a dot beneath it to clarify that it is the letter ṣād instead of the letter sīn. It is also common to use a lowercase s for sīn and an uppercase S for ṣād.

Arabic No Transliteration Unicode Double/Capital Letters
صلاة salah ṣalāh Salaah
سلام salam salām salaam
سلم salam salam salam
صلاح salah ṣalāḥ SalaaH

Another example where clarification is needed is with the word salam just mentioned. To clarify that there is a long vowel, it can be written as salām, which means peace. This differentiates it from the Arabic word salam which means ‘advance payment’. It is also common to use two of the same letters to indicate a long vowel, making the word salaam.

Transliteration schemes are also important for research in Islamic Studies. Not all are the same. For example, while searching through Brill’s Encyclopedia of Islam, you might search for the word jannah, or Paradise. You look for it under the letter j and will not find it. That is because their transliteration scheme considers the letter jīm as ‘dj’ and not ‘j’. So you must search for ‘djanna’ instead (see here). Likewise, if you are searching for a word in the online Arabic Almanac at ejtaal.net you would have to know that they use capital letters. So when searching for ṣalāḥ you must type a capital S and capital H to get to your entry. To get to the letter ʿayn you would need to type either e or E or 3, which is an uncommon transliteration for this letter. Even when researching through a knowledge base like scholar.gooogle.com, you will get completely different results depending on whether you type salah, salaah, or ṣalāḥ.

Transliteration helps Muslims and non-Muslims, even sometimes people who are fluent in Arabic, to pronounce Arabic words more properly. It is neither a universal or perfect system, and is not even necessary, but it is helpful to maintain accuracy and uniformity in the way Arabic words are generally pronounced. So, while not every tweet, article, or book needs to use a formal transliteration scheme, it is often nice to have, especially in more academic works.

The Dark History of the Most Widely Used Arabic-English Dictionary

By Shaykh Mustafa Umar

“A Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic” is one of the best and most widely used Arabic-English dictionaries in the world. Islamic Studies scholars who need a translation from Arabic to English often rely on it as their primary source for checking words. It is the first dictionary listed in the online Arabic Almanac hosted on ejtaal.net. Although Lane’s Lexicon is richer, the Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic is more usable and up to date.

The dictionary was primarily authored by Hans Wehr. It was published in German in 1952 (titled Arabisches Wörterbuch) and continues to be reprinted. Many people refer to it as “The Hans-Wehr Dictionary”. Most people don’t know, and probably don’t care, about the author of a highly technical work like a dictionary or a math workbook. That is because there is little room for a writer to insert their own ideas into such a text. The same is the case with this Arabic dictionary: there was no opportunity for Hans to insert his own personal bias into the dictionary. Nonetheless, it is interesting to know the author’s history and how the book came about.

A Nazi Project

Hans Wehr was born in 1909 in Germany. For his career he became an Arabist, focusing on Arabic language and culture. He joined the Nazi party in 1940 and wrote an essay convincing his government to ally with “the Arabs” against England and France by supporting his dictionary project. The Nazi government liked the idea and funded the dictionary. It would then be used to translate Adolf Hitler’s autobiography ‘Mein Kampf’ into proper Arabic using just the right words that resonate with Arabs.

Hitler died in 1945 and the Nazis surrendered a week later. Hans Wehr appeared before a denazification commission in 1947 and there is an entire file on him with the excuses he presented for himself. He was classified as a “Mitlaufer” (follower) and was ordered to pay 36.40 deutschmarks for “atonement” and legal costs for his trial. Hans was eventually freed, and his dictionary was finally published in 1952, seven years after the downfall of the Nazis. An English version of the dictionary was later published and was edited by J. Milton Cowan. Hans Wehr became professor at the University of Münster from 1957–1974 and died in 1981.

An Unacknowledged Jewish Contributor

Hedwig Klein was a Jewish woman born in Germany and was a naturalized German citizen. She eventually joined the University of Hamburg to study Islamic Studies, Semitic Studies, and English Philology. She was admired by her teachers who gave her the Arabic nickname shakkākah (a female skeptic) since she would ask so many questions.

She completed her PhD dissertation in 1937 preparing a critical edition of an Arabic manuscript on early Islamic history. Her PhD supervisor Rudolf Strothmann later called her dissertation “a worthy contribution to Islamic Studies” and it received the distinction of summa cum laude (with highest honors). However, a decree issued by the Minister for Education and National Culture on April 15, 1937 stated that Jews could no longer be allowed to attend doctoral examinations. She appealed the decision and managed to convince the heads of the university to grant her an exemption. On the list of graduates being considered it was written: “Hedwig Klein. Jew, admitted as an exception.”

Her thesis was scheduled to be printed in 1938. The PhD certificate was already printed but then a “senior government advisor” convinced the university to not issue the degree anymore. On the cover of her doctoral exam it was written: “No doctoral certificate issued: Jew.”

She began writing letters pleading for help. Her friend Carl Rathjens was an economic geographer and managed to get Klein a job as professor of Arabic in Bombay. She left Hamburg on August 19, 1939 heading towards British India. A few days later, the Germans invaded Poland, and the second World War began. The ship was ordered to return to Hamburg immediately.

Klein was stuck. Her former professor tried to help her by reaching out to Hans Wehr. She got the job to analyze modern Arabic literature for his dictionary project. She wrote down the meanings of Arabic words on slips of paper and mailed them to the editor’s office. She was paid 10 pfennigs for every entry and was praised for her “excellent quality”. Despite the great work, her former professor was told by someone working on the project on August 8, 1941: “Though of course it will be completely impossible for her to be credited as a contributor later.” Klein was saved from deportation for a few months because, as a project manager wrote, “unfortunately the number of Aryan contributors is not sufficient.”

But six months later, the university could not keep her any longer. On July 11, 1942, Klein was forced to leave Hamburg to the Auschwitz concentration camp. She did not survive. After the war, her friend Carl Rathjens managed to get 56 copies of her doctoral thesis printed. Despite being dead, on August 15, 1947, Hedwig Klein is officially declared a “Doctor of Philosophy”. On April 22, 2010, a brass plate inscribed with her name, along with other murdered Jewish academics, is placed outside the main buildings of the University of Hamburg.

Ethics of Using the Dictionary

Arguments have been made that a dictionary produced by Nazi Germany should be boycotted for various reasons. First, it was funded and produced for a Nazi agenda. Second, contributors like Dr. Klein are not properly credited. Third, Hans Wehr did join the Nazi party and therefore his name does not deserve to be referenced respectfully.

Do these reasons, and others, warrant a boycott? I do not think so, for the following reasons. First, boycotts are supposed to be functional and not just symbolic. Does boycotting the dictionary actually hurt the Nazi cause in any way, shape, or form now? No. Second, there is no Nazi ideology in the book at all. Third, the book was published seven years after the downfall of the Nazi party. It never accomplished its objective of a Mein Kampf translation or even got published in time. This means that non-Nazis saw great value in completing and publishing the work. Fourth, Hans was acquitted after paying a fine and was allowed to live as a free person. Perhaps he really changed his ways and regretted having joined the Nazi party. A court did not deem him a threat to society, so why should we continue to tarnish his name for what he might have done in the past? Lastly, Wehr did thank “Miss Dr Klein” in the foreward to the first edition in 1952, even though he failed to mention what happened to her. The 6th edition, published in 2020, rectified this mistake and added information about her death in the Auschwitz camp.

There are many authors and books we may personally dislike but which are still useful for humanity in general. It is important to know the background of a book and its author, so we understand its historical context. It is not, however, necessary to boycott a useful book purely for symbolic reasons.

References

https://en.qantara.de/content/hedwig-klein-and-mein-kampf-the-unknown-arabist

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hedwig_Klein

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hans_Wehr

https://ejtaal.net/aa

 

Do We Need Halal or Ethical Investing?

Ethical investing is on the rise in America. Terms like impact investing, socially responsible investing (SRI), and environmental, social, and governance (ESG) screens are common terms in the finance industry. Today, ethical investing makes up over $1 out of every $4 under professional management in the USA. This amounts to over $12 trillion in assets under management yearly, according to a 2018 survey by the U.S. Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment. They also reported a 38% increase from just two years prior.

Muslims have generally focused on Halal investing, also known as Shariah-compliant investing. For a Muslim, Halal is not an option but an obligation. With the rise in ethical investing, the similarities and differences between the two need to be understood. Both models forbid investments in pornography, gambling, and alcohol. The Halal models forbid investing in banks, but the Ethical models do not. The Ethical models forbid investing in companies that cause massive pollution, but the Halal models do not.

Let’s say Maryam wants to invest in the stock market. She knows she cannot buy bonds, debt securities, or money market instruments since they are interest based, known as riba in Islamic Law. She also knows that she should not be day trading stocks regularly since that can result in excessive speculation and moral hazard, known as gharar in Islamic Law. She has identified a few stocks to buy: one is a tech company, another is in the oil industry, a third is a coffee store chain, and the last is a bank. She then checks the Zoya Finance app on her phone to see if the four stocks are halal or not. The app will apply two screens to give her an answer.

First, a “Business Activity” screen will make sure that the nature of the business is not haram and that it does not sell too much (more than 5%) in haram products, such as pork, alcohol, pornography, gambling, drugs, or weapons. There is some gray area in applying the screens, but the app will easily flag the bank as being haram since they primarily deal in interest-based loans. The coffee shop may sell many products, and one of them may be a marshmallow cake with porcine gelatin as an ingredient. However, it is the only haram product they sell, and it makes up a tiny percentage of their total revenue and profits. Therefore, whatever profit Maryam makes from the stock, she must give that percentage of ‘tainted’ income to the poor to compensate for haram.

Second, the “Financial” screen will check to make sure that the company minimizes haram financial activities. The tech company may sell many products and have plenty of cash in the bank, so it is likely loaning that money out on interest, even though that is not their primary business.

The two main ratios checked by the second screen are:

  1. The debt to market value ratio is less than 30%. Otherwise, the company may be paying too much interest.
  2. Cash and interest-bearing deposits are less than 30% of market cap. Otherwise, the company may be receiving too much interest.

Lastly, the app reminds Maryam that she must purify the tainted income from her investment. It attempts to calculate the percentage of income that came from unlawful sources so she can give that amount to charity, but without any expectation of reward. This is similar to what the average Muslim does when they keep their money in the bank for safekeeping but are unable to prevent their bank from paying them a small percentage of interest income on it. This charity attempts to make income 100% halal and also acts as an ethical protest against those practices.

The halal screen will most likely not flag the oil company if it meets the other conditions. However, ethical screens are likely to object to the oil company, depending on its practices and the amount of environmental damage it causes.

What’s missing from the halal screen is that Islam also cares about the environment, as well as human rights, animal rights, and labor violations. Islam cares about health and safety breaches, and it cares to discourage companies that aid in the destruction of society, whether it be locally in America or in any other land, such as Palestine. The fact that these issues are important in Islam, but they are not represented in the Shariah-compliant screeners is a gap, and one that should be addressed by adding appropriate ethical screening factors to the already-existing halal screening process.

The practical implementation of such screening factors is not so easy. The various ethical screens that exist differ a lot from one another and they have been criticized for either being too strict or too lax. Muslim scholars and intellectuals need to develop their own Islamic-ethical screens that are not influenced by political motivations from the United States, the United Nations, or any other outside entity. Perhaps the division of Islamic actions into required (fard), recommended (mustahabb), allowed (mubah), disliked (makruh), and prohibited (haram) can be used to label Islamic-ethical screens to allow some level of flexibility while developing the framework.

For now, Muslims must remember that neither the current halal screens nor the ethical screens are alone sufficient to make their investment properly Islamic. Muslims need to up their game and expand their understanding of ‘ethical’ beyond the current ‘halal’ screens that exist. In the meantime, it is up to every Muslim to review the investments they get into, using a combination of halal and ethical screeners so that Allah will be pleased with them and bless their wealth.

Shaykh Mustafa Umar

The Origin and Evolution of Saint Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s day is also called the Feast of Saint Valentine. It is celebrated every year on February 14th. Saint Valentine’s Day is not a public holiday in any country, although it is an official feast day in the Anglican Communion and the Lutheran Church.[1]

Origins

Christians who lived in Western Europe commemorated certain ‘holy’ people and initiated a special day for them. The Catholic Church would officially declare a certain person to be a ‘Saint’ if they met specific criteria. In the year 496 C.E. Pope Gelasius I decided that all Christians would honor the priest named Valentine of Rome who died on that day in the year 269 C.E.  He was imprisoned while trying to spread Christianity, and then was killed, so he was declared a martyr and later a saint. Saint Valentine’s day was celebrated as a feast for one thousand years by Christians.[2]

Evolution

Around the 14th century, Saint Valentine’s Day started to turn into a celebration of romance and love. Couples would express their love for each other by sending flowers, sweets, and greeting cards. Someone later wanted to connect the story of Saint Valentine to romance so they made up a story. They said that when Valentine was in prison, he sent a love letter to his jailor’s daughter and signed it “your Valentine”. The fake story became popular and people began ending their love letters with “from your valentine”.[3] The earliest surviving valentine cards are from the 15th century.

Stories like this are propagated as being factual by video producers like the History Channel and further pushed by companies like American Greetings to turn a greater profit. Another story invented later was that Valentine would cut out heart shapes from parchment and give them to persecuted Christians. This little cute lie helped establish the widespread use of hearts on Valentine’s Day.

Sometime later, Cupid joins the story. Cupid is the supposed son of the love goddess Venus and the god of war Mars. A myth is invented that any person who is shot by Cupid’s arrow is filled with uncontrollable desire. Cupid’s powers are similar, though not identical, to Kamadeva, the Hindu god of love. Cupid is shown with wings, supposedly because lovers are flighty and likely to change their minds. He is shown as a child because love is irrational. Cupid’s symbols are the arrow and torch because love wounds and inflames the heart. Although Valentine would have abhorred a false deity being associated with the day of his commemoration, as would Pope Gelasius I, Cupid nonetheless joined the celebration.

Furthermore, the romance and love that was being celebrated was usually not through the institution of marriage. Immoral practices became prevalent like men drawing the names of girls at random to couple with them. This custom was combated by priests, for example by Frances de Sales around 1600 C.E., and should be opposed by anyone who advocates for strong family values.

The Modern Era and Globalization

With the adoption of the printing press, handwritten love letters gave way to mass-produced greeting cards. By 1840, the number of valentine cards sent in the mail in England was over 400,000. In 1849, a writer in Graham’s American Monthly stated that “Saint Valentine’s Day…is becoming, nay it has become, a national holyday.” In 1868, the British chocolate company Cadbury created Fancy Boxes, a decorated box of chocolates, in the shape of a heart for Valentine’s Day. Boxes filled with chocolates quickly became associated with the day.

Today, in the UK, about half the population buys gifts for Valentine’s day, with £1.9 billion spent in 2015 alone. In America, the U.S. Greeting Card Association estimates that approximately 190 million valentines are sent each year.[4] In the United States, a Hallmark holiday is a celebration that exists mainly for commercial purposes. The name comes from Hallmark Cards, a privately owned American company, which profits from manufactured holidays through sales of greeting cards and other items. While the Hallmark corporation maintains it “can’t take credit for creating holidays”, the spread of this culture to other parts of the world often takes place in a similar manner.

Take Japan as a case in point. Valentine’s Day was introduced into the country by Morozoff Ltd in 1953 by promoting the idea that Japanese people should give heart shaped chocolates on that day. Other companies began to compete and promoted the same idea. It was adopted into the culture and now chocolate confectioneries make 70% of their business through Valentine’s Day annually. There was one major problem though: the initial advertising focused on women giving the chocolate to men. Within a few years the tradition caught on and many women felt obliged to give chocolates to their male co-workers. The gift became known as a giri-choko (義理チョコ), which means ‘obligation-chocolate’. The practice has been severely criticized for pressuring women to buy chocolate for their co-workers to avoid offending them. The situation got so bad that even a prominent competitor in 2018, Godiva Chocolatier, also criticized the practice of giving giri-choco with a full-page advertisement, calling for workplaces to ban it entirely. This shows that there may be several harmful side-effects to an apparently innocent holiday.

Concluding Thoughts

It is important for people to understand the origin of things. It is even more important to understand the benefits and harms of different aspects of our culture. Why should someone who doesn’t accept Valentine of Rome as a saint celebrate a day about him, even if the holiday evolved? Why would someone who rejects idolatry celebrate a day where Cupid, who is supposed to be a god, is assumed to play some role? Why allow corporations that primarily care about profits rather than the welfare of people to introduce and define important aspects of our culture? Why promote interesting, yet untrue, stories and pass them off as fact just to sell ‘history documentaries’ or greeting cards? Why uncritically import this culture into a region where it did not exist without considering the harmful side effects?

It is fine to have fun. There could be a local day established to remind people to show love to the ones they love. It could even be a week or a month. But it should not be based on lies and should not promote the destruction of healthy family values.

[Shaykh] Mustafa Umar

[1] The Eastern Orthodox Church also celebrates Saint Valentine’s Day on July 6 in honor of Saint Valentine.

[2] The evidence linking St. Valentine’s Day and the rites of the ancient Roman purification festival of Lupercalia appears to not be very convincing.

[3] In the 1969 revision of the Roman Catholic Calendar of Saints, the feast day of Saint Valentine on February 14 was removed from the General Roman Calendar and relegated to particular (local or even national) calendars for the following reason: “Though the memorial of Saint Valentine is ancient, it is left to particular calendars, since, apart from his name, nothing is known of Saint Valentine except that he was buried on the Via Flaminia on February 14.” Since people love stories, many different ones were later invented about Valentine but contemporary records of who Valentine really was and what really happened were probably destroyed during the Great Persecution in 303 C.E.

[4] When the valentine-exchange cards made in school activities are included the figure goes up to 1 billion since it became part of the culture that students are encouraged to give one to their teachers.

Can I Invest in Bitcoin or Cryptocurrency?

One of the most common economic questions Muslim scholars get asked is whether bitcoin is halal. Although bitcoin was introduced in January 2009, most people had never heard of it until 2017. That year, the price of one bitcoin went from $1,000 in January to $11,000 in December. It clearly caught the attention of both investors and gamblers.

Despite its recent popularity, most people don’t understand what cryptocurrency really is or why it exists. Some are skeptical thinking it is a fad that will go away soon. Others think it is the future currency of the world that will displace all other currencies. Leaving the lovers and haters aside, cryptocurrency must be properly understood before deciding whether it is haram or halal to use.

The idea of a digital currency is not new. Paypal was launched in 1998 and is an extremely popular way to pay for things. However, it requires a third party like Visa, Mastercard, or Western Union to process transactions. Buying Microsoft or Apple points in their online store is a type of digital currency as well, but it is backed by only one company. Cryptocurrency is different because it is decentralized. That means there is no third party. No one entity controls it or can shut it down.

The idea of a decentralized currency has been around for a long time, but it became much more popular after the 2008 financial meltdown. The biggest problem in establishing it was coming up with a solution to the ‘double spending problem’. For example, Paypal is a giant company that keeps financial records in the form of a ledger. When I send you money, they deduct it from my account, credit it to your account, and verify the transaction. If there is no company like Paypal and no national bank, then who will keep a record of the transactions?

This problem was solved by Satoshi Nakamoto (which may be a fake name) in a paper he wrote in 2008. He came up with the idea of a blockchain ledger. Rather than keeping the transaction records with one person or entity, he figured out a way to use encryption to regulate the generation of a digital currency and verify the transfer of funds without the need for any central bank. Without getting into the technical details about how it works, the first bitcoin was created on Jan 3, 2009. As of January 2021 there were 8,257 different cryptocurrencies that work in a similar, but not identical, way.

There are many benefits to cryptocurrency. First, there are reduced transaction fees since the middleman is cut out of the transaction and there is no need for a bank. This has the potential to help poor people transfer money. Approximately $400 billion is transferred annually from migrants to friends and families in other countries. The average transaction cost is a hefty nine percent. By being able to skip companies like Western Union and MoneyGram, much more money can end up in the hands of those who need every penny they can get. Also, the transfer is instant so there is no delay, and no conversion of currency is required. Since there is already a lack of traditional branch banking in poverty stricken areas, and half the world’s population do not have bank accounts, digital currency has the ability to provide much good in the world.

Another major benefit of cryptocurrency is to protect people from government manipulation and mismanagement of currency. The hyperinflation which occurred in Zimbabwe in 2008 is a perfect example. At its peak, the inflation was estimated at 79.6 billion percent month-on-month. At the beginning of a year, Zimbabwe had printed a 10-dollar bill, and within 12 months, it had printed a 100-billion-dollar bill. The currency became worthless. Cryptocurrency would have been an alternative for people to not lose the value of their money when there was no trust in the government currency.

This brings us to the question of whether cryptocurrency is halal or not. There is a general principle in Islamic Law that the default for economic transactions is permissibility. That means everything is halal unless there is some clear evidence that indicates it is haram. Despite that, several scholars such as the Turkish Religious Ministry (Diyanet) in 2017, the Grand Mufti of Egypt in 2018, and Mufi Faraz Adam in 2017 of Amana Finance Consultancy declared it haram. Among their arguments were that it has a high risk of fraud since there is no centralized surveillance for the currency, it can be used to fund terrorism, it makes money laundering easier, and is highly volatile. None of these reasons intrinsically cause it to be forbidden in Islam. One of the stronger arguments is that people primarily use cryptocurrency for speculation and not as a currency. Nonetheless, speculation occurs on many other currencies. According to fundera.com in 2021 about 15,174 businesses worldwide accept bitcoin. This means that even though it is mostly bought for speculation, it is used as a currency.

So, in a nutshell, cryptocurrency such as bitcoin is halal to use as a currency. The last, and perhaps most important, point is whether speculating on a currency is halal or haram. Currency exchange is permissible if the exchanger has a good reason to think the currency will increase in value based on some analysis that does not resemble the psychology of gambling. So, for example, people in Venezuela are using US dollars through the service Zelle in order to avoid the worthless Venezuelan bolivar currency. If they used cryptocurrency instead, it would not resemble the psychology of gambling in any way whatsoever. Another example is a twenty year old American college student who sees that cryptocurrency fluctuates massively and tries to cash in on the upward momentum. He purchases one-tenth of a bitcoin hoping to sell it once the value goes up by 10%. This is clear speculation on currency and is akin to gambling, so it is haram. So whether or not it is halal for an investor to purchase cryptocurrency depends on their intention and some legitimate analysis of why cryptocurrency is a better store of value than their local currency.

Shaykh Mustafa Umar

President – California Islamic University, Executive Member of the Fiqh Council of North America

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 Thursday Aug 19, 2021. 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 that 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

What to Do

The Prophet said: “The best days to fast after Ramadan is in the ‘month of Allah’: Muḥarram.”[1] 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.

How the Islamic Calendar Works

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 is expected to begin on Aug 9th or 10th, 2021, which will mark the year 1443 A.H.[2] 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.[3] 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.[4]

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 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 reminds them that Muslims have certain distinguishing characteristics, which establishes their unique Muslim identity.

Four Sacred Months in the Qur’an

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).”[5] 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.

Shaykh Mustafa Umar | Anaheim | Aug 4, 2021

[1] See Muslim #1982

[2] 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].

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

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

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

What Happens On Eid Al-Aḍḥā Day?

The 10th of Dhul Ḥijjah is known as Eid al-Aḍḥā [the festival of sacrifice]. It is a day of celebration for Muslims. 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 only son, and they both willingly submitted. No human sacrifice actually occurred, because it was only a test of obedience and devotion. 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.

Praise Allah During these Days

There is a specific way to praise Allah during these days. The following phrase, known as the takbīrāt [glorifications], should be said out loud:

اللَّهُ أَكْبَرُ، اللَّهُ أَكْبَرُ، لَا إِلَهَ إِلَّا اللَّهُ، وَاللَّهُ أَكْبَرُ، اللَّهُ أَكْبَرُ، وَلِلَّهِ الْحَمْدُ

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”[1]

This formula should be said out loud by each Muslim right after each of the five daily prayers. This begins on the 9th of Dhul Ḥijjah [Monday] after Fajr prayer and continues until the 13th of Dhul Ḥijjah [Friday] after ʿAsr prayer, making it a total of 23 times.[2] The phrase must be said at least once but it is better if you do it more than that. It is common to say it three times.

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[3]
  • dress in your best clothes and try to smell nice by using some fragrance[4]
  • 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.[5]

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 timeframe. If someone misses the prayer, it should not 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

If you can afford it you must offer an animal sacrifice on Eid day.[6] 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.

You can give part of the animal in charity, feed part of it to friends and family, and keep some for yourself. You can also choose to give it all away or keep it all for yourself. If you find it difficult to physically purchase and slaughter an animal, you may pay someone on your 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: ICNA Relief, Islamic Relief, Islamic Relief USA, Helping Hand, Life, or Baitulmaal.

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 consumption demands, many animals are being abused nowadays. Islam teaches the balance between benefitting from animals but not abusing or mistreating them.

Happy Eid

[1] It is also common to say ‘allāhu akbar’ three times. Both ways are fine, as well as other wordings, since the instruction in the Qur’an in Al-Baqarah 2:185 is general. Also see Ibn Abī Shaybah, Al-Muṣannaf, #5650-5651, #5653-5654; Al-Albānī, Irwā’ Ul-Ghalīl, 3:125; Ibn ʿArabī, Al-Jāmiʿ li Aḥkām Al-Qur’ān, 2:307.

[2] Imām Abū Ḥanīfah said that the takbīrāt are only on the 9th and 10th, so for eight prayers. His students disagreed with him. Some scholars said they should be done from the first of Dhul Ḥijjah, making thirteen days in all.

[3] See Muwaṭṭa’ #428

[4] See Ibn Khuzaymah #1756

[5] 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.

[6] This is the view of the Ḥanafī school. See Kitāb al-Ikhtiyār 5:20. Other scholars considered it highly recommended but not required, and some said one animal per family.

The Journey of Hajj

What is Ḥajj and ʿUmrah

By: Shaykh Mustafa Umar

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 United 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)

Can Zakāh be Paid Early?

Summarized Answer

Yes, it is allowed to pay Zakāh early, especially when there is a good reason to do so such as during a disaster, famine, or disease epidemic when people are in immediate need of help.

The Importance of Zakāh

Zakāh has been mentioned in the Qur’an eighty-two times and has been mentioned alongside the performance of prayer in thirty-two instances, with wording such as “establish prayer and pay Zakāh…” These frequent reminders indicate how important of an obligation Zakāh is, so much so that it is even on par with the regular observance of prayer.

Allah has warned people that those who refuse to give in charity will be punished on the Day of Judgment: “…those who pile up gold and silver and do not spend it in the way of Allah should be given the news of a painful punishment [awaiting them]. A day [will come] when it will be heated in the fire of Hell and their foreheads will be burnt…”[1]

When is Zakāh Due and Can it be Paid Early

Zakāh is due when a person has owned the minimum amount [niṣāb] for an entire lunar year. As of Mar 25, 2020 the spot price per ounce on gold was $1,637.25, which means that the minimum amount for Zakāh this year is $4,911.75. If you had more than the minimum amount of money in cash, liquid investments, and sellable business goods one [lunar] year ago, and still have more than the new minimum amount then you must pay 2.5% of your entire wealth.

Many Muslims have recalculated their Zakāh cycle so that it falls in Ramaḍān, or another date. It is sinful to pay Zakāh late, the same way it is unlawful to not pray on time. However, it is allowed to pay Zakāh early, especially when there is a good reason to do so.[2] When there are people in immediate need due to a disaster, famine, or disease epidemic, it is not only allowed but recommended to pay your Zakāh early so the people who are in need can get help.

Imām Al-Mawṣilī [d. 683 AH] explained why it is permissible to prepay Zakāh for a year or even more than that as follows: The potential to discharge Zakāh begins when a person first possesses the minimum amount [niṣāb], even though it is not technically due until a year later. This is similar to the time of prayer, where the potential to pray begins as soon as the time enters, but actually becomes a requirement right before the time is over. Therefore, as long as a person met the minimum amount requirement, they may pay Zakāh before the due date. [See ʿAbdullāh Al-Mawṣilī, Kitāb Al-Ikhtiyār li Taʿlīl Al-Mukhtār, p. 135, Darul Ma`rifah, 2015]

Lastly, it is important to remember that Zakāh is only the minimum amount that a Muslim must give. Islam teaches Muslims to be generous and give much more charity [ṣadaqah] than just the minimum amount every year.

Misc Resources

To learn more about Zakāh, consider enrolling in: Islamic Law I: Essentials of Islamic Practice

To help kids appreciate the importance and purpose of Zakāh, here is a nice song from Noorart: Zakāh

[Shaykh] Mustafa Umar

Anaheim, CA – Mar 25, 2020

 

[1] Qur’an 9:34-35

[2][2] This is the opinion of the majority of Muslim jurists such as Abū Ḥanīfah, Ash-Shāfiʿī, and Ibn Ḥanbal. See Ibn Taymiyyah, Majmūʿ Al-Fatāwā, 25:85-86.

Can a Prayer or Khutbah [Sermon] Be Done Virtually?

Advancement of technology can bring about new issues that cause us to revisit our understanding of religious rules and guidelines. The ability to transmit voice and video over long distances has led people to ask whether it is permissible or valid to participate in congregational prayer if a person were at a considerable distance from the imam [the prayer leader]. The same question has been asked regarding listening to a khutbah [sermon] through a radio, telephone, or computer broadcast and having it count as if the person was physically there.

History of the Issue

The question regarding praying a faraway distance from the congregation began with the introduction of microphones which could broadcast sound at a far distance. Some Muslims inquired whether they could remain in their homes or at their workplace and follow the imam without having to physically travel to join the lines of people behind him. With the introduction of radio broadcast, people living miles away could tune in to a masjid broadcasting the prayer and potentially follow in prayer while listening to the sound from the radio. This concept developed even further with the advent of video streaming, and it will certainly reach another level with virtual reality, where a person may feel like they are actually a part of a physical congregation. The question is whether this individual’s feeling of being part of the congregation may be considered, in the sight of Allah, as actually being part of that group. Is such a prayer valid, and if so, will it count as a group prayer rather than an individual one, and will it therefore take on the rulings and rewards associated with congregational prayer?

The Ruling

No recognized legal school nor scholar has ever allowed a person at a very far distance from the physical congregation to be considered as being part of that congregation. Scholars of Islamic Law [fuqahā’] have differed whether short distances due to potentially necessary barriers such as a building, a river, or a street would be a valid excuse for keeping a distance between the rows of worshippers. However, none of them has ever permitted or validated anyone to consider themselves as part of a group prayer when at a much further distance with no necessary obstructions. This is a matter of nearly complete consensus among scholars and schools, both past and present.[1]

The Underlying Wisdom

The reason for invalidating such an action is because it contradicts the entire purpose of congregational prayer in the first place. Muslims physically gather in one place for prayer to strengthen emotional connections and interact with each other before and after prayer. This is simply not achievable without being physically present. The same wisdom applies to other physical acts of worship such as the Pilgrimage to Makkah [Ḥajj] which cannot be performed even if a virtual reality headset made a person feel as though they were walking around the Kaʿbah, and even if they were actually physically walking while going through the virtual experience. The lack of physical presence precludes such a virtual Ḥajj from being considered valid in the sight of Allah.

An individual’s desire to feel like they are part of the group is noble. Despite such a feeling, virtual participation does not actually make them part of that group, nor does the group that is praying together feel the same about that person since they are not present. Virtual prayers, according to both common sense and the latest research on the harmful effects of technology on socialization, would cause harm to the idea of community that Islam tries to foster through practices such as group prayer.

Alternative Solutions

There are three major cases where people may want to join a group for prayer or khutbah from a distance, and in all cases, there are permissible alternatives to achieving some connection and ‘feeling’ of being part of the group.

  • Daily Five Times Prayers: Many masjids around the world broadcast their daily prayers via radio to households living in that area. This is a way to bring about a connection to the masjid even when one is not able to go. While a person may not follow the imam of the masjid in prayer through a radio broadcast, they can listen to the adhān [call to prayer] and iqāmah [call to commence] and then perform prayer with their family and neighbors in their house or at work. Even though you are not part of that congregation in the masjid, starting at the same time provides a sense of solidarity with the community.
  • Jumuʿah Prayer: The Friday Prayer, which is obligatory upon adult males and optional for others, consists of two sermons and two units [rakʿas] of prayer. For those performing it, Jumuʿah prayer is a substitute for the Ẓuhr prayer. A person who is not physically present cannot join and must pray four units of Ẓuhr instead. There are two options:
    1. People unable to attend Jumuʿah Prayer for a valid reason can listen to a broadcasted khutbah. It will not count as a khutbah for them, but as a general lecture to benefit from the knowledge and admonition. After the lecture is over, they would pray Ẓuhr, either individually or collectively. Since the broadcasted khutbah will not actually count as a khutbah for them, they cannot pray two units of Jumuʿah prayer, even if they are a large group.
    2. If they are able to gather a few people together, one of them can perform two short khutbahs so they can pray Jumuʿah instead of Ẓuhr prayer. Performing a khutbah is not that difficult and can easily and quickly be learned by someone with a foundational knowledge of Islam. A khutbah does not have to take much effort to prepare and can be as short as a minute. According to the Ḥanafī school of jurisprudence, a minimum of four people (including the imam) is needed for a valid Jumuʿah Prayer.[2] This makes it relatively easy to gather a few nearby Muslims and pray Jumuʿah, since it can be prayed almost anywhere and is not restricted to a masjid. It should be noted that Islam strongly encourages very large gatherings of Jumuʿah prayer, and the type of small gatherings discussed here should only be leveraged in cases of necessity.
  • Tarāwīh Prayer: In the month of Ramaḍān there are recommended night prayers known as Tarāwīḥ, usually consisting of eight or twenty units. Muslims usually gather in the masjid and pray in a group with the imam reciting aloud. In many masjids around the world, imams complete recitation of the entire Qur’an during Tarāwīḥ Prayer over the course of the month. People often have a commendable desire to participate as the reciter usually has a beautiful voice, and listening to and reflecting upon the entire Qur’an can be a beneficial as well as spiritual experience, and an individual praying at home may only have a small portion of the Qur’an memorized. Since a person is not allowed to join a group prayer remotely, they have the option to sit down and follow along with a live broadcast (or even a recording) as the imam recites verses from the Qur’an in prayer. This can be done with or without looking at a copy of the Qur’an. This allows a person to still benefit from listening to a beautiful recitation of the Qur’an and reflect upon its meaning. A person may also perform Tarāwīh Prayer at home by themselves, even if they repeat a small number of verses over and over (due to only having a small portion memorized). This is the best method as it fulfills the tarāwīh prayer along with listening to and reflecting upon the Qur’an (during the prayer).

[Shaykh] Mustafa Umar

Mar 20, 2020 – Anaheim, CA

 

Edited by [Shaykh] Umer Khan

[1] I have come across two exceptions. The first is the book Al-Iqnāʿ bi-Ṣiḥḥati Ṣalāti l-Jumuʿah fī l-Manzil khalfa l-Midhyāʿ and the other is the argument offered by Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl.

[2] This means four people who are obligated to perform Jumuʿah such as adult males.

Islamic Guidance Pertaining to the Spread of Covid-19 [Coronavirus]

In the name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful

On March 11th, 2020 the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a pandemic, affecting an exceptionally high proportion of the population over a wide geographic area. This declaration signaled that the original goal of containment to affected areas has now shifted to slowing down the spread of the disease in order to ease the burden on overstretched healthcare institutions. These healthcare institutions are now the key to reducing mortality among those who become afflicted. Since Covid-19 has a higher transmission rate than influenza, SARS, and MERS, ‘social distancing’ measures are being encouraged to slow the speed of the outbreak. Rather than infect a large number of people in one month, if disease incidence can be spread out over a longer period than hospitalizations are spread out and the chance of survival through proper healthcare is increased. . In the absence of a vaccine to prevent mass transmission and reduce morbidity, and the absence of direct cures, social distancing is the principal tool public health and state officials have at their disposal. Given these latest developments in our understanding of Covid-19 from a medical perspective, a Muslim must keep the following in mind:

  1. Islam teaches that all diseases such as the Coronavirus [Covid-19] are tests from Allah and a natural part of life. Such diseases afflict whomever Allah allows them to afflict and they take the lives of whomever He has decided to bring to an end. Tests are a natural, albeit difficult, part of life and should not be surprising for any Muslim when they occur. Allah says, “We shall certainly test you with fear and hunger, and loss of property, lives, and crops. But [Prophet], give good news to those who are steadfast.” [Qur’an 2:155]
  2. Anyone who is afflicted with the illness, and is patient, will spiritually benefit from that test. The Prophet said, “Whatever trouble, illness, anxiety, grief, hurt or sorrow afflicts any Muslim, even the prick of a thorn, God removes some of his sins by it.” [Bukhārī #5641] Regarding illnesses leading to death, the Prophet was asked about the plague. He responded, “It is a torment with which Allah afflicts those whom He chooses, but He has made it a mercy for the believers. If a servant [of Allah] is afflicted with the plague and patiently remains in his town, realizing that he has only been afflicted with what Allah has determined for him, he will have the reward of a martyr.” [Bukhārī #5734]
  3. Islam requires us to both put our trust in Allah and utilize the means to protect ourselves when possible.
    1. The Qur’an teaches us, as told to the Prophet, “Say: Nothing will afflict us except what Allah has decided for us.” [Qur’an 9:51]
    2. Simultaneously though, we should take precautions by using medicine when ill, or quarantine when threatened with illness.
    3. During the lifetime of the Prophet, some people thought that using medicine may go against the concept of relying on Allah [tawakkul]. Those people asked, “Messenger of Allah, should we use medicine?” The Prophet replied, “Yes, you may use medicine.  Allah has not created any disease without also creating its cure, except one: old age.” [Abū Dāwūd #3855, graded ṣaḥīḥ by scholars] The Prophet clarified that the use of medicine is permissible and even encouraged, and that this does not violate the concept of trust in Allah.
    4. The Messenger of Allah said, “An ill person should not mix with healthy people.” [Muslim #2221b] The Prophet also said, “Avoid a [contagious] disease the way a person flees from a lion.” [Bukhārī #5707] Therefore, taking precautions to avoid the spread of infectious disease is something prescribed in Islam. Anyone testing positive for Covid-19 is not allowed to attend community events since they would be harming other people, and that is prohibited. The same applies for people who have traveled to the most affected areas such as China, Italy, Iran, and South Korea.
      1. Imam Ibn ʿAbdul Barr [d. 1071 CE] wrote: “Anything that would inconvenience one’s fellow worshipers in the mosque such as anyone afflicted with diarrhea… foul odor due to illness…infectious virus, or anything else that would inconvenience the public, it is permitted for people to keep such an individual away, as long as the ailment is present. Once the condition ceases, they may return to the mosque.” [At-Tamhīd]
    5. Caliph ʿUmar went to visit Syria when the plague of ʿAmawās broke out in 18 A.H. He sought consultation from his advisors on whether to return to Madīnah, the capital, or continue on. One of them said, “You left for the sake of Allah so this plague should not stop you.” Others advised the opposite. ʿUmar decided to return to Madīnah. Abū ʿUbaydah rebuked him, “Are you fleeing from the decree of Allah?” He responded, “Yes, I am fleeing from the decree of Allah to the decree of Allah. If you had camels and they entered a land with two sides, one fertile and the other barren, and you grazed them in the fertile area, wouldn’t you be doing that by the decree of Allah? And if you let them graze in the barren area, wouldn’t you be doing that also by the decree of Allah.”[1] ʿUmar’s statement demonstrates an excellent example of how to balance between relying on Allah and taking sufficient precautions.
    6. ʿUmar had also received advice from ʿAbdurraḥmān ibn ʿAwf who told him that the Messenger of Allah said, “If you hear that it (the plague) has broken out in a land, do not go to it; but if it breaks out in a land where you are present, do not go out escaping from it.” [Saḥiḥ Al-Bukhārī #5730, Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim #2219] This advice is perfectly in line with one of the underlying objectives of the Sharīʿah [Islamic Law], which is to preserve life.[2] Imam Al-Āmidī [d. 631/1233] wrote: “The rules [in Islam] have only been prescribed for the benefit of His servants. The fact that they have underlying purposes and wisdom is grounded in both consensus and reason.”
  4. The underlying principle for the proper reaction to an infectious disease such as Covid-19 is the statement of the Messenger of Allah, “Do not cause harm, and don’t get harmed [lā ḍarar wa lā ḍirār].” [Muwaṭṭa’ #1435] This general statement requires some interpretation. Guidelines provided by public health institutions are often general and require some level of interpretation to correctly ascertain the threat to individuals and society. An ethico-legal evaluation must weigh both scripture and scientific research in light of theological imperatives.
    1. Both preservation of the religion [dīn] and preservation of life are amongst the primary objectives of the Sharīʿah [Islamic Law].
    2. Hardship [mashaqqah] is often part and parcel of many acts of worship in Islam, such as fasting on long, hot days. When difficulty reaches a certain threshold, some rules may be relaxed, such as when an injured person is allowed to sit during prayer instead of standing, or when an ill person may skip fasting in Ramadan and make it up later.
    3. However, there is a difference between a concession [rukhṣah], where a rule is eased, and skipping an obligation due to absolute necessity [ḍarūrah]. Something prohibited may become allowed in dire circumstances, such as uttering words against Islam when being tortured, or even eating pork and wine when starving. These exemptions are explicitly mentioned in the Qur’an and come under the general wisdom mentioned in the verse, “Allah intends for you ease and He does not want to make things [unnecessarily] difficult for you.” [Qur’an 2:185]
    4. Islamic guidelines require scholars to accurately [as possible] weigh the benefits/harms in this life and the afterlife before issuing an exemption on any required act.
  5. Precautionary measures should be taken, or may be required, when there is a genuine threat of danger, and not a mere feeling of fear or panic. The threat assessment varies from one region to another and one person to another. A decision to suspend religious activities should be made after consultation with public health experts, and it must be consistent throughout a community to ensure it is neither excessive nor insufficient.
    1. Shaking hands with other Muslims is not a requirement in Islam. In fact, initiating a greeting is considered a recommended act. Only responding to greetings is required. Therefore, shaking hands with ‘high risk’ individuals is discouraged, or even frowned upon. A fist bump or a hand-over-the-heart greeting suffices to convey love, affection, and send peace [salām] on others.
    2. Friday Prayer [jumu`ah] is obligatory on adult males of sound mind who are neither sick nor traveling. In order for the obligation to be lifted from these individuals, there must be credible warnings by public health institutions that there is actual harm in holding these gatherings. Or alternatively, there is a legal ban on holding such gatherings. The distinction between a law and a recommendation is important to recognize, and laws and recommendations vary from region to region. In the absence or legal injunctions or credible warnings, those who are obligated to attend Friday prayer must continue to do so.
      1. Friday prayer does not need to be performed in a mosque. It can be in a park, an office, or elsewhere. A Friday sermon can be only a few minutes long and the minimum number of people required to attend [according to the Ḥanafī school] is four.
    3. While fear or concern does not have to reach the level of certainty, a highly probable fear or concern suffices to make exceptions or modifications to certain prescribed rules. Although the Covid-19 pandemic is being politicized, there is no reason to doubt the near-consensus of healthcare experts on the credible risk posed by the virus to the general public. People are at high risk for getting ill from the disease, and there are classes of individuals (elderly, immunocompromised, those with lung disease, and others) who have higher risk of death from the disease. This is not conjecture but based on international data. The WHO and CDC pronouncements are based on the best evidence we have at this time in light of a very fluid situation. The point is that they are being as careful and sound as possible. For example, the CDC has issued a clarification that there is little evidence to support using face masks to prevent catching the disease, though it minimizes risk to others if one is ill [and should be used if caring for people who have respiratory illness]. This, and other statements, demonstrate that they are unlikely to be accused of causing an unnecessary panic or having other foul motives.
    4. There is historical legal precedent in exempting people from the Friday prayer for reasons which may be considered less severe than Covid-19 concerns. The Ḥanbalī legal scholar Imam Ibn Qudāmah [d. 1223 CE] wrote, “A man may be excused for not praying Friday prayer [jumuʿah]… because of rain that makes the clothes wet, or mud that causes annoyance or stains the clothes. It was narrated that Ibn ʿAbbās said to the caller of prayer on a very rainy day: ‘When you say: I bear witness that there is no god but Allah and I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, do not say ‘come to prayer’ but rather say ‘pray in your houses’. Some people found that strange, so he responded to them: ‘Are you surprised by what I just said? A person better than me did just that [referring to the Prophet].” [Al-Mughnī 1:366] Contemporary scholar Shaykh Ibn ʿUthaymīn explained this exception as follows, “In the past, people used to suffer because of mud, because the marketplaces had dirt floors, and when rain fell it became muddy and slippery, so it was very difficult for people to attend the mosque. If this happens, then he is excused. But nowadays, that does not cause any problem, because the markets are paved and there are no dirt floors.” [Ash-Sharḥ Al-Mumtiʿ 4:317] It may be legitimately argued that concerns about heavy rain, even in the past, are less severe than the current infection concerns in certain areas.
    5. Those who are at significantly higher risk of infection, such as the elderly and immunocompromised, may fall into the category of those who are ‘sick’ and be exempted from prayer, even in areas where the average adult male is not exempted. ‘Risk’ is relative, but there is room to err on the side of caution given the seriousness of the fatality rate of Covid-19 in the ‘high risk’ population.
    6. The five daily communal prayers may be performed alone or in a group. Although it is highly recommended to pray in a group, it is not required. However, given the current recommendations in many areas to prevent large gatherings, the daily prayers are usually much smaller gatherings than Friday prayer and may not be subject to the same cancellation precautions. Nonetheless, given the recommendation of ‘social distancing’ in many affected areas, there may be sufficient justification for reducing the number of group-prayers one engages in.
  6. Muslims must not only care for their own well-being but that of others.
    1. The Prophet said, “Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day should not harm his neighbor.” [Bukhārī #6018] This can be extended to the person who is physically next to you.
    2. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] has explained that Covid-19 has an incubation period of 1-14 days before common symptoms of fever, dry cough, or fatigue show up in infected patients. During this period, they have the ability to spread it to others through exposure to droplets from coughing/sneezing or by touching an affected surface and then touching the mouth, eyes, or nose. The assumed fatality rate of those infected is about 1%, but higher in those with co-morbidities and other diseases as mentioned above. Therefore, even though many people who are infected will not be significantly harmed by the disease, they can seriously harm by spreading it to others who are at higher risk. This fact must be taken into consideration by people who are less-at-risk.
  7. Muslims should benefit from the lessons that such tests teach us. Imam Al-ʿIzz ibn Abdussalam [d. 1262 CE] explained that a calamity has the following benefits:
    1. It leads people to sincerity and causes them to repent for their mistakes. Pain or suffering that brings people closer to Allah is not actually a calamity, but a blessing in the greater scheme of things.
    2. It is an opportunity to help others and gain immense reward.
    3. It is an opportunity to appreciate the blessings that people having been enjoying but neglected due to heedlessness.
    4. It gives people an opportunity to have their sins purified by being patient and responding in the correct way to the calamity.

[Shaykh] Mustafa Umar

Endorsed by The Initiative on Islam and Medicine

 

Partial List of Sources Consulted

https://www.vox.com/2020/1/31/21113178/what-is-coronavirus-symptoms-travel-china-map

https://www.mathabah.org/avoiding-congregational-prayer-during-a-virus-outbreak/

https://www.amjaonline.org/declaration-articles/amja-declaration-on-corona-virus/

BBSI Interim UK Community Guidance for Coronavirus Pandemic, 12-3-2020

Fatwā Hawla Fīrūs Kūrūnā by Shaykh ʿAlī Al-Qurradāghī

[1] Muhammad Al-Khuḍarī Bak, The History of the Four Caliphs, p. 133.

[2] The five underlying objectives of the Sharīʿah are explained by scholars to be the preservation of religion, life, intellect, wealth, and lineage.