Is the 15th of Shaʿbān Special?

The eight month of the Islamic lunar calendar is the month of Shaʿbān. The 15th night of this month is considered by some Muslims to be special and is given the name laylat al-barā’ah [the night of salvation].[1] However, there is no consensus on whether this night is special or not.

One group of Muslim scholars hold that there is nothing special about this night and that it is no different than any other day in the same month. Another group of scholars is convinced that the middle of Shaʿbān should be singled out for extra prayers and acts of worship at night. However, this group who acknowledged the 15th of Shaʿbān as having special merit also warned people to avoid the many sinful innovations done on this day which became popular among the masses in certain regions throughout history.

Evidence for the Significance of the 15th of Shaʿbān

The Prophet Muhammad was reported to have made the following statements:

إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ يَنْزِلُ لَيْلَةَ النِّصْفِ مِنْ شَعْبَانَ إِلَى السَّمَاءِ الدُّنْيَا، فَيَغْفِرُ لِأَكْثَرَ مِنْ عَدَدِ شَعْرِ غَنَمِ كَلْبٍ

“Allah, exalted is He, descends to the nearest heaven in the middle night of Shaʿbān and forgives more [sins] than the number of hairs on a flock of sheep from the tribe of Kalb [who were known to be shepherds].”[2]

إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَيَطَّلِعُ فِي لَيْلَةِ النِّصْفِ مِنْ شَعْبَانَ فَيَغْفِرُ لِجَمِيعِ خَلْقِهِ إِلَّا لِمُشْرِكٍ أَوْ مُشَاحِنٍ

“God looks at His creation during the middle night of Shaʿbān and forgives all of them, except an idolater or one who has hatred.”[3]

إِذَا كَانَتْ لَيْلَةُ النِّصْفِ مِنْ شَعْبَانَ، فَقُومُوا لَيْلَهَا وَصُومُوا نَهَارَهَا، فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ يَنْزِلُ فِيهَا لِغُرُوبِ الشَّمْسِ إِلَى سَمَاءِ الدُّنْيَا، فَيَقُولُ: أَلَا مِنْ مُسْتَغْفِرٍ لِي فَأَغْفِرَ لَهُ أَلَا مُسْتَرْزِقٌ فَأَرْزُقَهُ أَلَا مُبْتَلًى فَأُعَافِيَهُ أَلَا كَذَا أَلَا كَذَا، حَتَّى يَطْلُعَ الْفَجْرُ

“When it is the middle night of Shaʿbān, pray the night and fast the [following] day, because Allah descends therein, with the setting of the sun, to the nearest heaven, and says ‘Is there anyone who will repent so that I may forgive them, is there anyone who will ask for sustenance so that I may provide them, is there anyone being tested so that I might relieve them?’ This continues until dawn.”[4]

Authenticity of the Reports

These three reports, along with others that have not been mentioned, were all individually graded to be weak by scholars of Ḥadīth.[5] The first report was graded weak by most, if not all, scholars. The second report was deemed acceptable to some scholars who did not consider the defects in the narration to be severe. The third report was graded by most, if not all, scholars to either be weak, very weak, or classified as a known fabrication.

Are the Reports Very Weak or Slightly Weak?

There are two methods of dealing with ḥadīths whose chains of narrators are not strong. The first method is to reject the reports as unauthentic. Imam Abu Bakr ibn al-ʿArabī [d. 543 AH] said: “There is no reliable ḥadīth about the middle night of Shaʿbān being virtuous…so don’t pay any attention to it.”[6] Other prominent scholars of Ḥadīth agreed with this view, such as Imam Ibn al-Jawzī [d. 597 AH] and Imam Zayn ad-Dīn al-ʿIrāqī [d. 806 AH]. They argued that it doesn’t matter how many weak reports exist on the subject, as long as the weakness of each of them is significant, they should be ignored.

The second method is to elevate the overall status of the ḥadīth to be authentic because the numerous reports strengthen each other, as long as they are not very weak. Shaykh Nāṣiruddīn al-Albānī [d. 1999 CE] explained it this way: “In summary, the ḥadīth, when all the chains of transmission are considered, is authentic without a doubt [ṣaḥīḥ bi lā rayb]. Its authenticity is established with even fewer than the amount of these reports, as long as it is free from major weakness, as is the case of this ḥadīth…as for what has been reported from the righteous and exacting scholars that there is no authentic ḥadīth concerning the virtue of the middle of Shaʿbān, it should not be relied upon. Anyone who claimed such a thing said that due to their hastiness and not putting in enough effort to trace all the chains of narrations as I have presented.”[7] Shaykh ʿAbdur Raḥmān al-Mubārakpūrī [d. 1925 CE] stated something similar: “Collectively, these hadiths constitute a proof against those who allege that nothing is confirmed with respect to the merits of the middle night of Sha’bān.”[8]

Scholars following this approach held that there is merit to the middle night of Shaʿbān. Shaykh Ibn Taymiyyah [d. 728 AH] said: “If someone specifically prays during the middle night of Shaʿbān, whether alone or in a small private group like some of the early Muslims [salaf] used to do, then that is good.”[9] Imām Ibn aṣ-Ṣalāḥ ash-Shahrāzūrī [d. 643 AH] remarked: “The middle night of Shaʿbān has merit. It is recommended to spend the night in acts of worship, but individually, not as a group [of people].”[10]

What Not to Do on the 15th of Shaʿbān

The scholars who accepted that this night has special virtue encouraged people to pray during the night and perform other virtuous acts. However, they cautioned people to not engage in practices which have no sound basis in Islam.

Three points were emphasized by these scholars:

  1. People should not gather together in mosques to pray on this night. It should be done privately at home.
  2. There is no sound basis for the ‘one-thousand prayer’ where surah al-ikhlāṣ is recited a thousand times. This prayer was invented by some people later on and is based on fabricated reports.
  3. There is no sound basis to specifically fast on the 15th day of Shaʿbān. The ḥadīth concerning that is very weak and is not strengthened by the other narrations.

Shaykh Ibn Taymiyyah warned: “The middle night of Shaʿbān has virtue…however, gathering together to observe it in the mosques or offering the ‘one-thousand prayer’ is a sinful innovation.”[11] Mulla ʿAli al-Qārī [d. 1014 AH] comments on the ‘one-thousand prayer’: “It is bizarre to find people who have inhaled the fragrance of knowing the Sunnah [i.e. people of knowledge] being taken in by such nonsense and praying it. This prayer was introduced into Islam after the fourth century and originated from Jerusalem.”[12] Shaykh al-Mubārakpūri also cautioned: “I have not found any acceptable ḥadīth concerning fasting on the 15th of Shaʿbān. As for the ḥadīth in Ibn Mājah…it is very weak…and another ḥadīth mentioned by Ibn al-Jawzī…was said to be fabricated.”[13]

Conclusion

There is clearly a difference of opinion among recognized Muslim scholars whether to believe that the 15th night of Shaʿbān has any special virtue or not. While it may be tempting to take the position that this night should be observed ‘just-in-case’ its virtue is established, I incline towards the view of Imams Ibn ul-ʿArabī, Ibn ul-Jawzī, and al-ʿIrāqī that these reports should be rejected. The reason is because accepting them would raise an even more difficult question: why didn’t the Companions of the Prophet unanimously act upon these reports and ensure that they are reliably passed onto the next generation of Muslims? One may argue that accepting the reports and praying on this night is the safest way to go, but I would argue the opposite: that accepting these reports results in an epistemological problem of explaining why something so significant was not acted upon or preserved properly by the Muslim community.
Nonetheless, respectable scholars have held the opinion that the night has virtue, so the average Muslim should follow the scholar(s) whom they trust to be the most qualified on this issue to decide whether or not to observe this night or not.

Shaykh Mustafa Umar

[1] The 15th night is between the 14th and 15th day, since the new day technically begins after sunset in the Islamic calendar.

[2] Sunan at-Tirmidhī #739, 3:107; Sunan Ibn Mājah #1389, 1:443.

[3] Sunan Ibn Mājah #1390, 1:443.

[4] Sunan Ibn Mājah #1388, 1:443.

[5] For a detailed discussion of all the other narrations see Tuḥfah al-Aḥwadhī 3:364-366 and Silsilah al-Aḥādīth aṣ-Ṣaḥīḥah 3:137-138.

[6] Aḥkām al-Qur’ān 4:117.

[7] Silsilah al-Aḥādīth aṣ-Ṣaḥīḥah 3:138.

[8] Tuḥfah al-Aḥwadhī, 3:367.

[9] al-Fatāwā al-Kubrā 2:262

[10] Reference needed.

[11] al-Fatāwā al-Kubrā 2:262

[12] al-Asrār al-Marfūʿah fī al-Akhbār al-Mawḍūʿah 439-440.

[13] Tuḥfah al-Aḥwadhī, 3:367.

Why Does God Allow Bad Things to Happen?

Importance of the Question

Since you live in the 21st century, it is very probable that you have at least come across, if not been influenced by, what is known as “the problem of evil”. You might have heard it at school or work after someone was murdered: “How could God allow this to happen?!” You see it in articles and blog posts after the bombardment of an entire village: “What kind of God would allow these things to happen?!” You will even find it in intellectual circles and philosophy books: “If there really were a perfectly good, all-knowing, all-powerful God, then there would be no evil and suffering in the world.”

This so-called problem is one of the most common arguments that skeptics use to deny the existence of God. They assume that they have found an Achilles heel in the religions that believe in God. The common picture we have in our minds is of the skeptic atheist calmly presenting a logical, intellectual, and scientific argument while the religiously-inclined defendant becomes emotionally charged and tries to beat around the bush. However, the strength of this argument does not, in any way, have to do with logic or rationale but rather is emotionally charged to the core and attempts to hijack any sensitive event it can find.

Nor is it a new question. In fact, we find the angels asking something similar even before man was created:

“When your Lord told the angels, ‘I am putting a deputy on earth,’ they said, ‘How can you put someone there who will cause damage and bloodshed, when we celebrate Your praise and proclaim Your holiness?’ but he said, ‘I know what you know not.’” Qur’ān 2:30

In other words, God was asked, “Why would you allow this human, who will do bad things, to exist? Why not create someone who won’t do anything bad, like us?” The answer was, “I understand the wisdom in what I am doing, and you don’t.”

Exploding the Myth

That, in a nutshell, is the answer to the so-called problem. There is no logical contradiction between God being Infinitely Good, Infinitely Powerful, and allowing bad things to happen. The idea that the evil and suffering in the world present an unanswerable challenge to believers is finally being admitted by more open-minded researchers. Stump and Murray make the following confession in their book, Philosophy of Religion: The Big Questions:

“The logical problem of evil has been severely criticized in recent years and is regarded in the contemporary literature on the subject as largely discredited. In brief, the problem with this argument is that it assumes something false. Specifically, it assumes that a good being would prevent every evil it can under any circumstances…Thus, at best, the logical problem of evil shows us that if God exists, the only evil that exists is evil for which there is some good reason.”

The rhetorical questions now change to inquisitive questions. Rather than blurting out, “How could God do that?! What kind of God does these things?!” the question now is “Why is the world this way and what wisdom lies in that?”

Life is a Test

The secret to understanding the issue is so simple that it often eludes us. Life is a test. Man has been given a limited free will to do good or bad. Look at the following statement of the Prophet:

“The life of a believer is truly amazing. Everything that happens to him is good. This is only true for a believer and none else. If something pleasant happens to him, he is thankful and that is good for him. If something bad afflicts him, he is patient and that is also good for him.” (Muslim)

Affliction is part of the test of life. If God were to interfere and prevent every bad thing from happening to each individual, it would be like taking the test away from a student.

Saying that the bad that exists in the world is necessary does not mean that it is justified or praiseworthy. Believers are always commanded to enjoin the good and forbid the evil, which is another test in itself.

Wisdom is Behind the Scenes

Skeptics tend to focus on the negative aspects of things and claim that evil and suffering are ugly facts of life while believers try to see the bigger picture and find an explanation for the existence of such things. It is like someone who observes two people fighting and judges that both of them are in the wrong without thinking that one of them may be defending himself or standing up for justice. Evil is, to an extent, relative. A juicy hamburger may be a good thing for someone who’s hungry, but it’s definitely a bad thing for the cow that was slaughtered.

God said: “Fighting is ordained for you, though you dislike it. You may dislike something although it is good for you, or like something although it is bad for you: God knows and you do not.” Qur’ān 2:216

Being able to see the big picture often affects how we perceive what is good and bad. Someone with little foresight may claim that the injection of a vaccine into a patient, which contains traces of disease, is a bad thing while the injection of heroin, which leads to euphoria, is a good thing. Not being able to understand that the vaccine will help develop immunity to that disease or that taking heroin will develop into a drug addiction is due to a lack of medical knowledge and experience.

The following principle is demonstrated in the Qur’ān with the meeting between Moses and a man who was given direct knowledge from God about the unseen. Moses wanted to follow him and learn from him, but the man warned him, “You will not be able to bear with me patiently. How could you be patient in matters beyond your knowledge?” But Moses convinced him to let him tag along. Here is the rest of the story:

“They travelled on. Later, when they got into a boat, and the man made a hole in it, Moses said, ‘How could you make a hole in it? Do you want to drown its passengers? What a strange thing to do!’…Then, when they met a young boy and the man killed him, Moses said, ‘How could you kill an innocent person? He has not killed anyone! What a terrible thing to do!’…Then, when they came to a town and asked the inhabitants for food but were refused hospitality, they saw a wall there that was on the point of falling down and the man repaired it. Moses said, ‘But if you wished you could have taken payment for doing that.’ He said, ‘This is where you and I part company. I will tell you the meaning of the things you could not bear with patiently: the boat belonged to some needy people who made their living from the sea and I damaged it because I knew that coming after them was a king who was seizing every [serviceable] boat by force. The young boy had parents who were people of faith, and so, fearing he would trouble them through wickedness and disbelief, we wished that their Lord should give them another child-purer and more compassionate-in his place. The wall belonged to two young orphans in the town and there was buried treasure beneath it belonging to them. Their father had been a righteous man, so your Lord intended them to reach maturity and then dig up their treasure as a mercy from your Lord. I did not do [these things] of my own accord: these are the explanations for those things you could not bear with patience.’”  Qur’ān 18:71-82

It was the lack of knowledge and foresight that led Moses to object to what the man did. Likewise, we find ourselves, as limited humans, in similar situations. However, we do have enough insight to see some of the wisdoms behind the general occurrences of bad things.

Some Good Reasons Why Evil Exists

  1. Suffering and affliction often help return us to the obedience of God.

God said:

“We sent messengers before you [Prophet] to many communities and afflicted their people with suffering and hardships, so that they might learn humility. If only they had learned humility when suffering came from Us! But no, their hearts became hard…” Qur’ān 6:42-43

There is a lesson in the conversion of the famous rock star, Cat Stevens, now known as Yusuf Islam. He related the story himself:

“After a year of financial success and high living, I became very ill. I contracted T.B. (tuberculosis) and had to be hospitalized. It was then that I started to think; what is going to happen to me? Am I just a body? Is my goal in life merely to satisfy this body? I realized this calamity was a blessing given to me by God and a chance to open my eyes, to learn ‘Why I am here, why I am in bed.’ I started looking for some of the answers.”

2. It differentiates between the good and bad people.

God said:

“Do people think they will be left alone after saying, ‘We believe’ without being put to the test? We tested those who went before them: God will certainly mark out which ones are truthful and which are lying.” Qur’ān 29:2-3

Upon analysis, we realize that the Prophets, who are the highest in rank in the sight of God, faced the most difficult tests of all people. Clearly, merit must be earned.

3 Affliction is necessary to experience its opposite feelings of joy and achievement.

God said:

“With hardship comes ease. Indeed, with hardship comes ease.” Qur’an 94:5-6

The appreciation of ease and comfort could only exist and be appreciated if the feelings of hardship also existed and were known or experienced. In Chinese Philosophy, the concept of yin and yang is employed to explain this phenomenon. Each part is necessary to understand the unity of the whole. They are in equilibrium: if one disappears, the other must disappear as well, leaving emptiness.

Conclusion

It should be patently clear that the inability to see the wisdom behind something should not be a cause of criticizing that thing. Of course, the final analysis concerning all of this is: God knows best.

Christmas: Religious Exclusivity versus Cultural Inclusivity

Written by Shaykh Mustafa Umar

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

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

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

Celebrating Christmas

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

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

When the Christian ʿAdī ibn Ḥātim accepted Islam, he went to go visit the Prophet Muhammad with a golden cross around his neck. The Messenger of Allah pointed to his necklace and told him, “ʿAdī, throw this idol away.” It is important to reflect on this statement. ʿAdī had already accepted Islam, which meant that he had already abandoned the idea that Jesus is divine. For him, the cross around his neck was only a symbol now. Maybe he liked the way it looked or had become accustomed to wearing it as a fashion piece. Prior to accepting Islam, that cross symbolized belief in Jesus being God and having died for the sins of all people. The moment ʿAdī accepted Islam, the cross that he was wearing immediately ceased to have this meaning, which is why he continued to wear it. Nevertheless, the Prophet made it clear to ʿAdī that this cross was a clear religious symbol of Christianity and was not proper for a Muslim to be associated with.

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

Christmas Greetings and Gift Giving

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

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

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

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

A Fine Line Between Celebration and Courtesy

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

Am I Allowed to Wipe Over My Socks?

Written by Shaykh Mustafa Umar

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

Summarized Answer

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

Background of the Issue

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

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

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

Detailed Answer

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

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

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

[1] Abū Dāwūd #101, 1:25.

[2] Al-Bukhārī #206, 1:52.

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

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

Terrorism Has No Religion

Written by Shaykh Mustafa Umar

A False Perception

There is a growing perception, particularly in the ‘West’, that Islam and Muslims are somehow associated with terrorism. This perception is not an accident. It is the result of a well-planned, massive propaganda campaign that has been in motion for over a decade now. Very few people would actually believe that all Muslims are terrorists or likely-terrorists, given the fact that there are over 1.6 billion of them spread throughout the world. However, a more digestible perception, despite being evidently false, has managed to affect several people: the notion that most terrorists in the world are Muslim and are following the religion of Islam.

Is there any truth to this perception? Are Muslims, by virtue of their faith, somehow more prone to committing terrorism or sympathizing with those who do? Let’s look at some hard facts to see that perception is not always reality.

What is Terrorism?

Most people do not understand terrorism. They do not know how to process the phenomenon of terror, nor do they know much about terrorism statistics. There is no class in middle or high school that teaches the average person these things. So let’s start with the definition of terrorism.

There is no single, universally accepted, definition of terrorism. Generally, terrorism refers to the use of violence [or threat of violence] to achieve a political or ideological objective. However, since its foundation in 1945, the United Nations has been unable to adopt one definition of terrorism. In 1988, researchers Alex Schmid and Albert Jongman counted 109 different definitions of terrorism. Why can’t everyone agree on one definition?

It has to do with hypocrisy. When people who are in positions of power would like to identify other parties as terrorists, a problem arises because they themselves are guilty of the same thing. It is part and parcel of the politics of powerful nations. It would be hypocritical to call someone a terrorist when you are using violence for political ends as well. Using such a definition would cause the most powerful nations like the US, UK, France, China, and Russia to be declared as terrorist states. Therefore, there is a ‘need’ for the powers that be to exclude themselves from having the definition applied to them.

A more usable definition is the one mentioned in the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations which defines terrorism as “the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives” (28 C.F.R. Section 0.85).[1] This definition accomplishes the aforementioned objective well because it contains the word ‘unlawful’, which basically means: not approved of by the power-structure. This doctrinal definition of terrorism is the one commonly used in the media and in intellectual discourse. As Professor Noam Chomsky puts it: “It is basically the same definition but with one qualification: it only applies for what ‘they’ do to us, not what ‘we’ do to ‘them’.”

Statistics on Terrorism in the United States

Let us assume we accept the doctrinal definition of terrorism and look at some facts. According to the FBI database there have been 318 terrorist incidents in the United States from 1980-2005. Most of these are not minor incidents. They include 209 bombings and 43 arsons. If most Americans were asked what years contained the highest number of incidents, it is probable that they would guess those years after 2001, when the ‘War on Terror’ was declared. However, when looking at the statistics, as shown in the chart below, it is interesting to note that the highest number of terrorist incidents in any given year were in 1981, 1982, and 1983.

Another interesting fact to note is that, again according to the FBI, the tiny island of Puerto Rico had the most terrorist incidents out of all the regions in the United States. Most Americans would not have guessed that.

In the same report by the FBI they note the history of terrorism in the United States: “During the period from 1908 to 1982, the FBI dealt with two broad categories of domestic terrorism: right- and left-wing extremist groups. In the period between World War I and World War II, the domestic threat primarily came from right-wing groups, like the Ku Klux Klan… Beginning in the 1950s, the most serious domestic terrorist threat shifted to leftist-oriented extremist groups that generally professed a revolutionary socialist doctrine…” Note that there is neither any mention of Islam or Muslims, nor is there any mention of religion in particular.

In 2010, a RAND Corporation [funded by the U.S. government] report titled “Would-be Warriors” revealed some very interesting facts about terrorism and terrorist groups:

  1. Not a single U.S. civilian has been killed by Muslim extremists since Sept 11, 2001
  2. Only 3 out of 83 acts of terrorism between 9/11/2011 and 2009 were done by Muslim extremists. Most were by animal rights and environmental activists.
  3. There was more terrorism in the 1970’s than the 21st There were over 60 terrorist incidents per year on US soil, most of them being bombings. That’s 15-20 times more terrorism than the period following 2001.

U.S. Terrorist Organizations

If the average American were asked to name five major terrorist organizations in the United States, how many could they name? Most people probably couldn’t name more than one or two. The following is a list of only some of them, coupled with some information about the organization:

Animal Liberation Front: Known for sabotaging animal testing facilities. The FBI said that ALF is the “leading domestic terrorist threat”.

Alpha 66 and Omega 7: Cuban exiles opposed to anyone who takes a moderate approach to Fidel Castro. Responsible for many bombings.

Army of God: Anti-abortion and anti-gay. Known for bombing at least two abortion clinics, a lesbian nightclub, and the Summer Olympics in 1996. They believe that Anglo-Saxons are the only true children of God.

Aryan Nations: A white nationalist, neo-Nazi, Christian Identity group. The RAND Corporation described it as the “first truly nationwide terrorist network”.

Black Liberation Army: Carried out a series of bombings, robberies, and prison breaks.

The Covenant, the Sword, and the Arm of the Lord: Another Christian Identity organization.

Earth Liberation Front: Eco-terrorist group. The FBI in March 2001 said that it is the number one domestic terrorist threat.

Jewish Defense League: Founded by Rabbi Meir Kahane. Executed at least 15 terrorist attacks in the U.S. [more than al-Qaeda] and responsible for at least 60 bombings.

Ku Klux Klan: A white supremacist, anti-Communist, anti-Semitic, and anti-Catholic group.

Militia Movement: An anti-government movement. One common tactic is to explode pipe bombs at government facilities. They have about 20,000-60,000 people in the U.S.

Phineas Priesthood: Another Christian Identity movement against interracial intercourse, homosexuality, abortion, and multiculturalism.

Symbionese Liberation Army: A far left organization.

United Freedom Front: A Marxist organization responsible for at least 20 bombings and 9 bank robberies.

The Weather Underground: A far left organization responsible for at least 45 bombings between 1970-1977.

Ejercito Popular Boricua [Boricua People’s Army] – Demanding independence of Puerto Rico from U.S. imperialism.

New World Liberation Front – A far-left organization responsible for at least 70 bombings in the Bay Area alone.

Notable U.S. Terrorist Attacks

The following is a very brief list of terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. Many people are unaware of these incidents for one reason or another.

1910: Bombing of the L.A. Times Building by James and John McNamara who wanted to unionize the paper.

1920: Wall Street bombing by followers of Luigi Galleani with 100 pounds of dynamite that killed 38 people and injured 400.

1927: Bath, Michigan bombings by Andrew Kehoe who was angry over taxes. He set off three bombs killing 45 people [including 38 students].

1971: Bombing of the U.S. Capitol Building by the Weather Underground in protest for the U.S. invasion of Laos.

1972: Bombing of the Pentagon by the Weather Underground in retaliation for the U.S. bombing raid in Hanoi.

1975: Bombing of the Department of State Building by the Weather Underground in response to war escalation in Vietnam.

1976: Hijacking of Cubana Flight 455 by CIA-linked Cuban exiles who killed all 73 people on board.

1978-1995: Unabomber Attacks by Ted Kaczynski who sent letterbombs to academics and other influential people.

1995: Oklahoma City Bombing by Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols who killed 168 people.

1996: Centennial Olympic Park Bombing by Eric Robert Rudolph. This was the largest pipe bomb in U.S. history.

2001: Anthrax Attacks by Bruce Edwards Ivins.

2007: Virginia Tech Massacre by Seung-Hui Cho who killed 32 people. He likened himself to Jesus Christ and expressed his hatred of the rich.

2010: Austin IRS Attack by Andrew Joseph Stack who flew an airplane into the IRS building because he was mad at the government.

2011: Tucson Shooting of Gabrielle Giffords where Jared Lee Loughner shot nineteen people.

International Terrorist Organizations

Terrorism, even according to the doctrinal definition, is a universal phenomenon. Here are only some international terrorist organizations that most people have probably never heard of:

Aum Shinrikyo: Japan. A new religious movement responsible for the 1995 Sarin Nerve Gas attacks in the Tokyo subway.

All Tripura Tiger Force: India. The goal is to expel all immigrants of Tripura. 90% of members are Hindu and 10% are Christian.

Babbar Khalsa: India/Canada. A Sikh religious organization that blew up a 747 jet in 1985 killing 329 people [including 280 Canadian citizens].

Communist Party of India (Maoist): Prime Minister Singh said that they are “the single biggest security challenge ever faced by our country”. They have killed over a thousand people.

Provisional Irish Republican Army: Ireland. They have killed over 1800 people.

ETA (Basque Homeland and Freedom): Spain/France. They have killed almost a thousand people.

Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK): Turkey. A Socialist/Nationalist party demanding independence.

New People’s Army: Philippines. A Communist organization.

National Liberation Front of Corsica: France. A separatist organization.

Justice Commandos Against Armenian Genocide: Trying to force Turkey to admit to the past Armenian genocide. Responsible for at least 23 terrorist attacks.

The Two Main Causes of Terrorism

According to Amy Zalman, who is a global terrorism expert, all terrorist acts are motivated by two things:

  1. Social and political injustice: People choose terrorism when they are trying to right what they perceive to be a social or political or historical wrong—when they have been stripped of their land or rights, or denied these.
  2. The belief that violence or its threat will be effective, and usher in change. Another way of saying this is: the belief that violent means justify the ends. Many terrorists in history said sincerely that they chose violence after long deliberation, because they felt they had no choice.

She notes that this explanation of the causes of terrorism may be difficult to swallow. It sounds too simple, or too theoretical. However, her response is that if you look at any group that is widely understood as a terrorist group, you will find these two elements basic to their story.[2]

Image is Everything

The reason why Islam and Muslims are often perceived to hold a virtual monopoly over terrorism has to do with the amount of negative media coverage they get. This propaganda has resulted in American Muslims becoming one of the most persecuted minority groups in America since September 11, 2001.

Equipped with a better understanding of the definition of terrorism, the identity of terrorist groups, statistics on notable incidents in the United States, and motives underlying terrorism, it is hoped one will conclude that terrorism is not restricted to any particular group or religion.

[1] https://www.fbi.gov/stats-services/publications/terrorism-2002-2005, last accessed 1-25-17

[2] http://terrorism.about.com/od/causes/a/causes_terror.htm, last accessed 1-26-17

Can You Be a Muslim Without Believing that Islam is the Truth?

Written by Shaykh Mustafa Umar

There is a new religious trend that has emerged. It is to identify with a particular religion without actually believing in its fundamental principles.

For many, this may seem strange. How can someone be a Jew without believing in God or Moses? How can someone be a Christian without believing in God or Jesus? It would appear to be contradictory.

Bur for some, this is precisely the trend that they have been searching for. They like certain aspects of the religion, but dislike the idea of believing in all of it.

For example, Benjy Cannon wrote an article for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz titled, “You Don’t Need to Believe in God to Believe in Judaism.”[1] In it, he explained that he stopped believing in Judaism but still practices it. He said, “I practice Judaism for myself and my community, not for God.” He further goes on to argue that Judaism was merely a “vehicle…[with the] capacity for bringing comfort and mobilizing the collective.”

In another article published in the Huffington Post titled, “What Does it Mean to be a Christian Atheist”, Christian Chiakulas posits belief in Jesus, but not God.[2] He likes the idea of religion because it “provide[s] an elegant structure to our lives.”

More recently, Reza Aslan, an admirably eloquent defender of Islam and Muslims, wrote a piece for CNN titled, “Why I am a Muslim.”[3] In it, he clarifies that he doesn’t believe Islam is true, in the absolute sense of the word. For him, Islam is no more than a “language” which he “feel(s) most comfortable with in expressing [his] faith…it provides [him] with certain symbols and metaphors for thinking about God that [he finds] useful.” Aslan concludes that, in his opinion, “religion is a fairly recent human invention” and that “faith is mysterious [but] not necessarily…rational”. He goes on to say that it is nice to have a religion but it is “not really necessary” and that although people speak in different religious languages they are “often expressing the same faith.”

These are trendy ideas to some people who have such inclinations. However, there is something very important that is missing. When Islam is viewed in its proper context it implies that a person believes that there is one God who chose Muhammad to be His messenger and revealed the Qur’an to him. The Prophet Muhammad conveyed the message of Islam to people explaining that it is the truth and anything that contradicts it is false. Therefore, if there is a religion that encourages the worship of idols, it is in direct contradiction to everything Islam stands for. It is not merely a different language “expressing the same faith”.

Islam, like most other religions, has a historical context. Believing in Islam is a choice. That is what the Prophet Muhammad taught. He claimed he was a messenger sent by God and that the book he received, the Qur’an, was a direct revelation from God. You either believe the Prophet was telling the truth, or you don’t. You either believe the Qur’an is a revelation from God, or you don’t. People, past and present, have good reasons for accepting Islam and it is usually on very rational grounds.

It is possible for someone to want to interpret things a different way, even put a far-fetched spin on a few verses or teachings of the Prophet, and still be considered a Muslim; but to reject the Qur’an and the Prophet Muhammad and then still lay claim to the words ‘Islam’ and ‘Muslim’ is not only contradictory, it may be the very mystical, irrational faith that people have been criticizing religion for all along.[4]

[1] See http://www.haaretz.com/jewish/the-jewish-thinker/.premium-1.669381, last accessed 2-28-2017.

[2] See http://www.huffingtonpost.com/christian-chiakulas/what-does-it-mean-to-be-a-christian-atheist_b_8866378.html, last accessed 2-28-2017.

[3] See http://www.cnn.com/2017/02/26/opinions/believer-personal-faith-essay-reza-aslan/index.html, last accessed 2-28-2017.

[4] People who want to claim to be Muslim for the political purpose of combatting Islamophobia, such as those who have offered to enlist themselves into the potential ‘Muslim Registry’ of President Trump to disrupt the database, are excluded from this statement because they do not really claim to be Muslim at heart. Also, from a purely political perspective, since all people who claim to be Muslim are likely to face discrimination by Islam-haters, there is a possibility to have two definitions of ‘Muslim’, a political one and a theological one. This article focuses on the theological aspect of the term.