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.

Halloween and Conformity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful.

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

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

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

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

Summarized Answer

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

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

 

Appendix

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Their reasoning is:

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

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

Their reasoning is:

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

[1] Qur’an 62:9.

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

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

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

[5] Al-Nasā`ī 3:194 #1592.

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

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

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

[9] Ḥāshiyah al-Dassūqī 1:391.

[10] Nawawi, al-Majmūʿ.

[11] Ibn Qudāmah, al-Mughnī 2:265.

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

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

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

[15] Majmūʿ Fatāwā Ibn Taymiyyah 24:211.

The Month of Dhul Hijjah – What a Muslim Should Do

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

History

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

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

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

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

Fundamentals of Zakah

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

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

Investments are like Trade Goods

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

Tax Shelters, Zakah Shelters, and Intention

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

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

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

Should Access Restricted Accounts be Zakatable

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

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

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

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

30 Frequently Asked Questions About Ramaḍān

1. What is the purpose of fasting

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

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

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

3. When should my children start fasting?

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

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

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

5. Should pregnant women fast?

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

6. Should breastfeeding women fast?

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

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

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

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

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

9. Can I still fast when traveling?

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

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

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

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

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

12. Does vomiting break my fast?

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

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

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

14. Does a medical injection break the fast?

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

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

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

16. Can I use mouthwash?

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

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

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

18. Can I give blood while fasting?

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

19. Can I use an asthma inhaler?

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

20. Can I wear perfume when fasting?

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

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

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

22. How soon must I make up missed fasts?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

26. Can I go to the dentist while fasting?

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

27. Can I go swimming while fasting?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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