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

Overview

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

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

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

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

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

Importance

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

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

How Prayer Times are Defined

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

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

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

Definitions of Twilight and Solar Altitude

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

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

Factors that Affect Observation of Prayer Times

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

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

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

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

Choosing an Approximate Calculation for Facilitation

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

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

Conclusion

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

Acknowledgments

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

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

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

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

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

10th of Muḥarram: The Day of ʿĀshūrā’?

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

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

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

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

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

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

[1] Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 3:43, #2006

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

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

[4] Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 4:798 #1134a

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

Fasting Beyond Ramaḍān: Shawwāl and Other Months

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

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

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

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

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

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

[1] Muslim #1164

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

Short Answer

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

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

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

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

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

Detailed References

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

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

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

Sources Consulted

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[1] Ṣaḥīḥ Al-Bukhārī

What is Zakātul Fiṭr [or Fiṭrah]?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[1] See al-Bukhārī #1509

[2] See Ibn Mājah #1827

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

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

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

Can Iʿtikāf [Masjid Retreat] be Performed at Home

Summary

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

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

Textual Evidence

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

Classical Scholars

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

Short Answer

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

Detailed Answer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Shaykh] Mustafa Umar and [Shaykh] Umer Khan

Anaheim, CA – April 2, 2020

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

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

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

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

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.