Wednesday, 2 May 2012



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By Hamza Yusuf.

“All of the strife in this world is due to three people: a newscaster, a news seeker, and a news listener.” This is quoted by Imam al-Ghazali, may God have mercy on his soul and sanctify his secret, in his book Tibr al-Masbuk, which is only partially his work. He quotes this statement from Ibn al-Qasim al-Hakim. When I first read this, I was deeply struck by the statement. The more I reflected on it, the more profound it seemed to me.

Recently, Shaykh Abdallah bin Bayyah pointed out a mistake in Ibn Taymiyyah’s fatwa, a printing error made a hundred years ago that ended up in almost every printed edition since then. One exception was a quotation of it in a book by Ibn Muflih, a direct student of the Imam. Upon hearing about this occurrence, Imam Raisuni, the Moroccan Usuli scholar, said, “After this, we must be skeptical of any edition that is not critical and from a sound source.”

This is sound advice, especially given that we live in an age of too much information that moves too fast across the Dromosphere. Unfortunately, the standards of journalism fail to provide any assurance that the news will report the truth. Similar standards now pass muster far too often in academia with fudged citations, plagiarism, and even doctored experiments, giving a new meaning to the academic title, “Doctor” i.e. “one who doctors,” or tampers with something. So we need to question what we hear and read and see, and we need to scrutinize the sources.

One of the fundamental teachings of Islam is to be extremely vigilant about one’s sources. Our scholars developed the most sophisticated process of authenticating statements and formulated a basic rule: The onus of the source is upon the one stating the quote, and the onus of proof is upon the one making the claim. In other words, any statement that attributes words to another person must have sound proof that the words are indeed from that person; secondly, any claim made must be substantiated with a sound argument or, in the case of Islam, with a clear text from revelation that supports the claim. A person must always be ready and able to back up his quotes with sources and support his claims with sound arguments. If one is unable to do either, the quote must be withdrawn, and the claim should be abandoned. It is not acceptable to make public a quote or claim if one cannot authenticate it.

Even love has its proofs. A poet said,

You claim to love God, and yet you disobey God
This is a bizarre way of reasoning
Surely, the lover, if his love is true,
Is most obedient to the one he loves.

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The proof of love is wanting to please the beloved. In the age of the Internet, news and information posted online or broadcast globally reaches the far corners of the globe instantaneously. And if the information is incorrect, it’s almost impossible to correct it everywhere it reached. Early last year, when Hosni Mubarak’s regime was falling in Egypt, most major news organizations, including CNN, BBC, major British and American newspapers, all reported that he had stolen $70 billion from his country. This figure spread like wildfire in cyberspace and was amplified across the Muslim world. As it turns out, later reports put that figure closer to a few million or hundreds of millions. A billion is a thousand million. Hundreds of millions, undeniably substantial, is far from 70 thousand million. So what is the truth? Who knows, and that is the point. Muslims are sometimes quick to abandon our teachings and principles, especially when faced with “information” we find to our liking. On the one hand, many do not trust the news, claim it’s biased and conspiratorial, and so on. On the other hand, many quote BBC or CNN as if it was a Sahih hadith, especially if it substantiates a point we want to make.

In December, we heard that car bombs in Damascus killed 44 civilians. The news reports said it was done most likely by opponents of the Syrian government, which is arguably among the most vicious and unethical in the world. The government said it was done by Islamists. The great bogeyman of the West has gone East. While Bin Laden is dead, it seems his vast international network of shoe and underwear bombers are still capable of pulling off an extremely sophisticated scheme in the most controlled city in the world. I don’t know who masterminded the suicide bomb attacks, but I find it difficult to trust any official statements from the Syrian government. It is not a credible source. And as for the fact that the perpetrators were Muslims, it behooves us to keep in mind that Islam’s sacred law condemns suicide as well as murder, most likely with eternal damnation.

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Our challenge in this age of information overload is how to be informed without abandoning the principles and teachings of Islam, which require strict rules for authentication. We need to learn to question and examine what we hear or read, and not pass along anything unless we know the sources to be sound. I think we need news fasts just like we have food fasts. “If you are not careful,” Malcolm X said, “the newspapers will have you hating the people who are oppressed and loving the people doing the oppressing.”  Henry David Thoreau, the inspirational mind behind the Occupy Wall Street movement, said, “Read not the Times. Read the Eternities.” The Qur’an says, “What are they asking about? The great news! About which they are in great difference” (78:1-3).

Mutannabi, the 10th Century Arab poet, whose name is derived from the word for “news” and can mean “the forecaster,” wrote in a poem,

People differ to such a degree they agree on nothing,
Except death that is, and even on that they disagree.
Some say the soul goes on after the death of the body
While others claim the soul, with the body, dies too.

I believe that everything we hear, see, and read, even from our own tradition, with the exception of the actual text of the Qur’an and rigorously authenticated hadith, must be looked at with a critical eye. But the real crisis is that too few of us have done the work or been afforded the education to develop a sound critical eye. To quote Mutanabbi again:

How many a fault-finder in words
Only reveals his faulty understanding.

Learning to read is much more difficult than what is taught or naturally acquired in early education. Reading involves coming to terms with the writer, i.e. understanding his words. It involves a familiarity with what is referred to in logic as material fallacies; they crop up in modern thought more abundantly than weeds in a wasteland. Critical eyes need refined minds, and the place to refine them is at school. But our schools have failed most of us, and the rapid decline and fallen state of our popular culture is proof perfect. More refined minds would demand more refined pleasures to entertain them when pleasure and repose is called for, but more refined minds would want to spend what precious time they have concerned with matters more elevated than constant entertainment. (For the thirsty, I would recommend reading Tolstoy’s masterful essay, “What is Art.”)

Watch Out! 05/02/12
By Hamza Yusuf
  The birthday of the Prophet, God’s peace and blessings be upon him, is a great blessing for our community and, indeed, for all believers. So if we know the day, it should renew our joy manifold times. The Mawlid (his birthday) has traditionally been a time to reflect on – and be grateful for – our Prophet, peace be upon him, and his life, miracles, and the sacrifices he made on behalf of his community. Most of our scholars have considered celebrating the Mawlid as a good practice based upon the sound hadith, “Whoever establishes an excellent practice (sunnah hasanah) in Islam has its reward and the reward of those who act upon it.” This hadith, as some less perspicacious have thought, does not contradict the narration of Lady Aisha, may Allah be pleased with her, in which she relates that the Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him, said, “Whoever introduces something in this matter of ours that is not from it will find it rejected.”

The latter hadith refers to blameworthy innovations that are not from Islam. Ibn Daqiq al-Eid, a polymath master of Islamic tradition, says that this hadith is foundational and that it rejects any innovation in the religion, and then further explains,

As for those matters that branch off of the roots and do not depart from his Sunnah, peace be upon him, this rejection does not apply to them, such as the copying of the Qur’an [with its innovated orthographies], and the various juristic schools that emerged as a result of the excellent study and thought of our mujtahid scholars capable of seeing the connection that the branches have to the roots, which is what the Messenger, peace be upon him, has transmitted; not included also [in this prohibition] are the later books of grammar, arithmetic, inheritance laws, and other sciences that have their basis in the words of the Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him, and his dictates. None of that applies to this hadith.

Celebrating the Mawlid, as great scholars such as Imam al-Suyuti have shown, does not depart from the Sunnah and is a branch from the root of love of the Messenger, peace be upon him.

Loving him is clearly from the Sunnah, as illustrated in the hadith in which when Umar, may Allah be pleased with him, expressed his love saying, “O Messenger of Allah, you are more beloved to me than everything except my own soul,” he was then reminded by the Prophet, peace be upon him, “None of you truly believes until I am more beloved to him than even his own soul between his sides.” At that point, Umar said, “By Allah, you are more beloved to me than my own soul between my sides.” The Prophet, peace be upon him, then said to Umar, “Now, O Umar, now!”

At that moment, Umar’s faith was completed – when his love matured from natural love to willful love. Natural love is the love of a child for a parent or the love of a devoted student for a teacher. This emanates from a simple truth, as stated by the Prophet, peace be upon him: “Hearts are inclined to love those who do good to them.” In other words, the human heart has no choice in the matter of natural love – love simply flows. Willful love, on the other hand, is of a higher order; it is love attained after deep contemplation of the beloved and a profound awareness that the object of one’s love is perfect, as in the case of God, or after the realization of the immense debt one owes to the beloved, as in the case of the Prophet, peace be upon him. Willful love is a matter of choice and introspection. Umar realized that his own soul that he loved so much was nothing, a cipher, without the blessing of the Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him. It was at that moment that his willful love occurred; it took precedent over the natural love that everyone feels instinctively and without musing or meditation.
The celebration of his birthday, peace be upon him, is a matter of willful love, as it is from the religion to honor him and remember him, and part of the remembrance of Allah is to pray upon our Prophet, peace be upon him. Anything that helps us to do that, and is not an innovation, is good. Ibn Lubb and others have defined innovation as “what obliterates a sunnah.” Encouraging the community of believers to reflect on the Prophet, peace be upon him, on the sacred day of the 12th of Rabi’a al-Awwal, the day of his birth, is not destructive to the Sunnah that he brought. Moreover, the day itself is auspicious – it was the day of the Prophet’s arrival to Medina after his migration (hijrah). The day he died was also the 12th of Rabi’a al-Awwal. These are not coincidences. So let the lovers love in peace. The Mawlid is a national holiday in every Muslim country in the world except for one. May you use this time to read sirah and reflect on the blessings of his birth.

In closing, I would like to share a poem written by one of my favorite scholars, Ibn Juzayy al-Kalbi, who died a martyr in the battle of Tarifah defending the lands of the Muslims:

I desired to praise the Chosen One and was hindered
By my own inability to grasp the extent of his glory.
How can one such as I measure an ocean, when the ocean is vast?
And how can one such as I count the stones and the stars?
If all of my limbs were to become tongues, even then –
Even then I could not begin to praise him as I desired.
And if all of creation gathered together in an attempt
To praise him, even then they would stint in his due.
I have altogether ceased trying – awestruck, clinging to courtesy,
Tempered by timidity, glorifying his most exalted rank.
Indeed, sometimes silence holds within it the essence of eloquence,
And often speech merely fodder for the faultfinder.

Sheikh Hamza Yusuf Mark Hanson

Biography of Hamza Yusuf

Hamza Yusuf is a cofounder of Zaytuna College, located in Berkeley, California. He is an advisor to Stanford University’s Program in Islamic Studies and the Center for Islamic Studies at Berkeley’s Graduate Theological Union. He also serves as a member of the board of advisors of George Russell’s One Nation, a national philanthropic initiative that promotes pluralism and inclusion in America. In addition, he serves as vice-president for the Global Center for Guidance and Renewal, which was founded and is currently presided over by Shaykh Abdallah bin Bayyah, one of the top jurists and masters of Islamic sciences in the world. Recently, Hamza Yusuf was ranked as “the Western world’s most influential Islamic scholar” by The 500 Most Influential Muslims, edited by John Esposito and Ibrahim Kalin, (2009).

Hamza Yusuf is one of the leading proponents of classical learning in Islam. He has promoted Islamic sciences and classical teaching methodologies throughout the world. He has also been a strong advocate for social justice, peace, and conviviality among peoples and places. For several years, he has argued that the “them versus us” problem is fundamentally flawed, as he considers himself one of “them” as well as one of “us.”

Hamza Yusuf has served as an advisor to many organizations, leaders, and heads of state. He has been an innovator in modern Islamic education, founding the highly imitated Deen Intensives, and with Shaykh Ibrahim Osi-Afa, he started the first Rihla program in England, which has been running for over fifteen years. Dozens of young Muslims who were influenced by his call to reviving traditional Islamic studies in the West went to the Muslim lands in the nineties and early part of the current decade to study, many of who are now teachers in their own right.

With Eissa Bougari, Hamza Yusuf initiated a media challenge to the Arab world that resulted in a highly successful cultural religious program that he hosted for three years and was one of the most watched programs in the Arab world during Ramadan. Cambridge Media Studies stated that this program had a profound influence on subsequent religious programming in the Arab world. He has also been interviewed on BBC several times and was the subject of a BBC documentary segment The Faces of Islam, ushering in the new millennium, as it aired at 11:30pm on Dec. 31st 1999.

Hamza Yusuf has been a passionate and outspoken critic of American foreign policy as well as Islamic extremist responses to those policies. He has drawn criticism from both the extreme right in the West and Muslim extremists in the East.

Hamza Yusuf has also authored several encyclopedia articles and research papers. His published books include The Burda (2003), Purification of the Heart (2004), The Content of Character (2004), The Creed of Imam al-Tahawi (2007), Agenda to Change our Condition (2007), and Walking on Water (2010). Forthcoming are The Prayer of the Oppressed, and The Helpful Guide.

By Hamza Yusuf.
Whenever someone calls his brother Muslim a kafir, one of them must be a kafir [either the one being accurately being called a kafir, or the one who falls into kufr, by inaccurately accusing his brother of being a kafir].”

– Prophet Muhammad, God’s peace and blessings be upon him
Fitna[1] is asleep; may God curse the one who awakens it.”
– Prophet Muhammad, God’s peace and blessings be upon him
“Takfir should be reserved for one who clearly falls into apostasy, states it openly, chooses it as his din, rejects the testimony of faith, and leaves the religion of Islam altogether.”
– Taqi al-Din al-Subki
“To deem a thousand disbelievers Muslim is safer with God than to deem one Muslim a disbeliever.”
– Imam Abu Hanifah

What is apostasy, and how does it differ from simple error? When a Muslim suspects a fellow Muslim of apostasy, how should he or she act? Recently, certain Muslims have been attempting to “expose” me as a deviant Muslim by highlighting mistakes I have made in my talks that are on the Internet. Some of these attempts[2] have been so ridiculous that I will not waste time refuting them. Nevertheless, they raise some important issues that I want to address: What is a proper response to error? And what should a Muslim do when accused of apostasy? In this essay, I will explain how I fell into one error, and I will apologize for it. I will also review the larger issues of kufr, takfir, and fitna, and their interrelations.

An Error and a Retraction
The error I wish to clear up concerns a statement I made some years ago while commenting on Imam al-Tahawi’s creed. In dealing with the section on the “seal” of prophecy in that text, I brought up the false interpretation of that concept used by the false prophet, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. In retrospect, perhaps I should have refrained from providing a detailed explanation. Instead, I ventured into a thorny area, based upon my understanding of the key figures of the Ahmadiyya movement, and in doing so, I made some statements that I am obliged to retract.

My error was in differentiating between the status of the two groups – the Lahoris and the Qadianis – of the Ahmadiyya movement, and stating that the Lahoris are not outside the fold of Islam. My understanding of this issue came from people I trust, not to mention Al-Azhar University’s approval of Muhammad Ali’s[3] Religion of Islam as well as his insistence in the introduction to his Qur’an translation that he was a Muslim who accepted the finality of the Prophet Muhammad, God’s peace and blessings be upon him. Though I clearly stated that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was a false prophet and is considered outside the fold of Islam, as are his followers, and I warned people about reading Muhammad Ali’s books, I inappropriately commended his English translation of the Qur’an. I am certainly not the first Muslim to have done so, as some well-known scholars of the past have acknowledged the merit of Muhammad Ali’s translation, and some translators, including Yusuf Ali and Marmaduke Pickthall, not only relied heavily on it but also praised it. Regrettably, I was in error by doing so. Adherence to the sound principles of our Prophet, God’s peace and blessings be upon him, is our only salvation from error. According to a hadith, to praise deviants and innovators is to aid in the destruction of Islam. I seek refuge in God from that and ask forgiveness for anything done unwittingly to that disastrous end.

When the issue concerning the difference between the Lahoris and Qadianis was brought to my attention, I made several calls to scholars I know and trust, and received different opinions about the religious category under which the Lahoris fall. One prominent and well-known Pakistani scholar informed me that while there is a nuanced difference between the two groups, both, however, are equally anathematized in Pakistan. Another well-known American scholar of Islam informed me that he was under the same assumption as I based upon Al-Azhar’s certification of Muhammad Ali’s Religion of Islam. He stated that Al-Azhar would never certify an apostate’s work on Islam. Nevertheless, since that time, several fatwas and statements of various scholars I trust stating the contrary opinion have come to my attention and convinced me of my error.
Al-Azhar has ruled that both sects are outside of Islam, and I accept the ruling of the former rector and mufti, Shaykh Al-Azhar, Gad al-Haqq, may God have mercy on him. I am very cautious of takfir, but if a body as meticulous as Al-Azhar issues an official position about a group, we are obliged to concede to them. I have great respect for the balance and moderate tradition that Al-Azhar represents and know that they do not take takfir lightly. Hence, I defer such judgment to them, and retract my previous statement. As the saying goes, “The people of Mecca are more familiar with their mountain trails.”

For all these reasons, I request that my statements about the Lahoris be removed from the Internet, as I am not qualified to have an opinion about the matter and cannot make takfir of a group or individual on my own, as that is a judicial responsibility in Islam.

Why Does This Matter?
Many modern Muslims are probably unfamiliar with the great loss of life this particular fitna caused in the past. In 1953, Pakistan was shaken by protests aimed at removing the Qadiani minister, Zafar Allah Khan. The protests succeeded, but over ten thousand Pakistanis lost their lives in the process. I hope that the few Muslims who have seized upon my mistakes will refrain from reawakening a fitna that has had such frightful consequences in the past. A hadith says, “Fitna is asleep; may God curse the one who awakens it.” The use of fitna as a method for social disruption is increasing in our communities. Muslims must be more vigilant about those within and without us who wittingly or unwittingly cause strife and conflict, which increasingly is leading to loss of life and limb. The Internet has become the number one source and weapon for this phenomenon, which may herald the introduction of what the Prophet, God’s peace and blessings be upon him, referred to as “the age of fitna.”

In refutation to those accusing me of disbelief or questioning my faith, I would like to clarify something that is obvious to most people who know me: I am an orthodox Muslim. I follow the Maliki school of law; I believe in and accept the creeds of Imam al-Tahawi, Imam al-Ash’ari, and Imam al-Maturidi as all being valid understandings of the Divine in our faith and sources for sound dogmatic theology; and I am also a believer in the agreed-upon path of Imam al-Junaid and of those who are rightly-guided among the Sufis, such as Abu Talib al-Makki, Imam al-Qushayri, Imam al-Ghazali, Sidi Ahmad Zarruq, and countless others. I am not a Perennialist and never have been. I believe Islam abrogated previous dispensations, as asserted in the major creeds of Islam, but I do agree with Imam al-Ghazali’s position of the possibility of salvation outside of the faith of Islam and am not exclusivist in that manner. When I said, “I don’t believe in exclusivist religion” I was referring to that position and was not attributing Divine sanction after the advent of God’s final dispensation, Islam, to any other faith tradition.[4]

I sincerely thank those who defended my honor in the light of these attacks and made excuses for me, as that, according to the Prophet, God’s peace and blessings be upon him, is a hallmark of the believer, whereas seeking out mistakes is a quality attributed to hypocrisy. I was asked by several people to clarify this issue due to an apparent obsession that a few people seem to have with exposing my mistakes on the Internet, as opposed to writing to me privately and edifying me that I might correct them, especially at a time when Muslims are so disunited and fragmented. Their claims to have contacted me are bewildering, as I received nothing to that effect.
Our community is currently dealing with many grave matters: suicide bombings, sectarianism, civil wars, our great scholars of the past having their bodies dug up from their graves and desecrated, mentally challenged adolescent girls accused of blasphemy, embassies destroyed and ambassadors killed or under threat, … the list continues. As a result of the madness in our community, increasingly, for the first time since I became Muslim thirty-five years ago, I am hearing pleas such as, “Help my son – he has left Islam; help my daughter – she is having a crisis of faith.” I now receive letters and emails requesting that I talk to Muslim youth who no longer identify with our faith. Sadly, harsh-hearted haters among our community are driving people from the mosques and making the most beautiful teaching in the world appear ugly.

What Is Apostasy, and How Should We Respond to It?
A concerned brother from England, asking me to address the Lahori statement, pointed out that some brothers have declared me a kafir based upon the argument “one who does not make takfir of a kafir is also a kafir.” Their reasoning is this: Lahori Ahmadiyyas are kafirs; Hamza Yusuf did not call them kafirs; therefore, Hamza Yusuf is a kafir. To edify those seeking clarification on the issue of declaring Muslims kafirs, I have provided the explanation that follows.

The precept articulated is related to a precept known as “lazim al-madhhab madhhab,” which is not as simple as some would have it. Regarding apostasy, Sidi ‘Abd Allah Ould al-Hajj Ibrahim, the great usuli scholar, states: “Anyone who demeans the sanctity of God, His prophets, or His angels leaves Islam. The condition of intended apostasy when demeaning is a disregarded position.”

What he means is that anyone who diminishes the exalted station of God or any of His prophets, angels, or symbols (such as by spitting on the Ka’ba or throwing a copy of the Qur’an into the trash) is an apostate, whether that person intended to leave Islam or not. There is an opinion that the intention of apostasy must precede the act in order for it to be considered apostasy, but that is a weak opinion.

Sidi ‘Abd Allah then says, “The scholars are harsh on a mufti who says that one is not a kafir who is a kafir. Indeed, disbelief is feared for one doing so.”

“Disbelief is feared for one doing so” is the precept that the young man from England was referring to when he said, “one who does not make takfir of a kafir is also a kafir.” However, note how Sidi ‘Abd Allah articulates it. He refers to a “mufti” who does not deem as disbelief that which scholars have concluded is disbelief, whether in word or in deed. The scholars censure such a person severely, as a mufti’s implication that he accepts those proscribed words or deeds as permissible can lead to the disbelief of others.

Another aspect of this is contained in the related maxim, “What is implied or inheres in a statement is also a statement” (lazim al-qawl yu’addu qawlan). In other words, if a person does not declare to be kufr something that is considered kufr by a consensus of the scholars, then that disregard for the consensus of the scholars on that issue is, in effect, kufr. That is, if one does not deem kufr to be kufr, it follows that one accepts the kufr. However, implied in this principle is that one is pleased with the kufr or at least views it as acceptable for another person. In that case, the acceptance of the kufr is indeed kufr. In the case of grey areas, however, when possible, one should attempt to interpret the offending word or deed in such a way whereby implications of disbelief are overlooked.

To illustrate the nuances mentioned here, let us look at the problem of anthropomorphism. Someone who attributes to God qualities of His creation may not understand the inherent problems that such a position engenders. Some scholars declare such people outside of the faith, while others do not. Shaykh Abu al-Qasim al-Tawati says, quoting al-Takmil, “This is based upon the principle that ‘what is implied or inheres in a school is also a school’ (lazim al-madhhab madhhab). But this is a matter of difference among scholars.”

Shaykh al-Tawati continues, “Does the derived meaning of a statement function as the same statement or not? Many have been considered disbelievers based upon this, like the one who asserts rulings and attributes and yet denies them also – what innovation! [He is referring to the Mu’tazilites and others.] This includes also the Anthropomorphists. It follows that what they worship is other than what Muslims worship.”

His argument is that to attribute to God literally those things that are attributes of His creation, is, in essence, idolatry. That is because those who do so, while not worshiping anything physical, have conceptualized in their object of worship qualities that imply physicality, such as limbs and direction. Hence, some scholars have deemed them idolaters given that their literalism declares a deity who exists in space, is physically located on something, etc., all of which delimits the limitless true God of Islam.

On the other hand, a more lenient scholarly opinion holds that while such an understanding of God is erroneous, it does not render such people idolaters because they are merely asserting what God states in the Qur’an but are mistaking it as literal, failing to understand that such an interpretation results in profound theological problems. In his commentary on Ibn ‘Ashir’s poem, Ibn Hamdun says about this strain of Hanbali Anthropomorophists (Mujassimah), “Their faith (iman) is accepted only if their intellects cannot grasp the subtle distinction [between their conceptualization and its attendant problems].”

Hence, in a desire to avoid takfir, some scholars have rejected the principle, “What can be deduced from a statement is also a statement” (Lazim al-qawl yu’addu qawlan), given that it does not account for the person’s intention or heedlessness to the implications of their words or subsequent conceptualizations. This is a more merciful approach and one taken by the greatest scholars of Islam.

Sidi ‘Abd Allah then states, “[Charging] apostasy should be avoided if another interpretation can be found [to the act or statement].” This approach invokes the virtue of mercy, of being generous and charitable, if there is doubt in how we may be interpreting someone’s words or deeds, or if there is doubt regarding that person’s intention.

Shaykh al-Tawati comments, “If a statement implies disbelief or something else, one should not deem it apostasy but rather use an alternate interpretation, if it bears that, in order to prevent bloodshed.”

Sidi ‘Abd Allah then quotes a statement attributed to Imam Abu Hanifah: “To deem a thousand disbelievers Muslim is safer with God than to deem one Muslim a disbeliever.” Quoting Waking up the Sleeper (Iqadh al-wasnan), Shaykh al-Tawati states,
It was said to Malik, “Are the heretics (ahlu al-ahwa) apostates?”
He replied, “On the contrary: their heresies were an attempt to flee from disbelief.”
For example, in the case of the Anthropomorphists, they took their position of literalness out of fear of denying the Book of God or God’s attributes. Hence, they were indeed attempting to flee from disbelief, not fall into it.

In the same book, Taqi al-Din al-Subki was once asked if one should declare extreme innovators disbelievers (takfir ghulat al-mubtadi’ah), to which he replied:
Absolutely not! Know this, questioner! Anyone who fears God, the Exalted, will deem it an enormity to accuse someone who says, “La ilaha illa Allah, Muhammad rasulullah” of being a disbeliever. Indeed, this is an affair most grave and dangerous, because the one who calls another [Muslim] a kafir is really saying, “I know he will be forever in the hellfire; his blood and wealth are permitted in this world [apostasy was a capital offense according to most pre-modern scholars in the three Abrahamic religions];[5] he cannot be married to a Muslim woman [his marriage would be nullified]; and the rules of Islam do not apply to him, either in his life or after death.” Indeed, to mistake a thousand disbelievers [as believers] is better than to make a mistake that causes blood to flow from a Muslim. And a hadith states, “That a ruler should mistakenly forgive a criminal is dearer to God than that he should punish an innocent man.” So takfir should be reserved for one who clearly falls into apostasy, states it openly, chooses it as his din, rejects the testimony of faith, and leaves the religion of Islam altogether.
Conclusion: Sectarianism and Fitna
Some modern Muslims have become so sectarian that they are “quick on the [apostasy] draw,” ready to gun down anyone who disagrees with them – at times not just figuratively. Due to this misuse of learning, many Muslims have lost faith in the scholastic community, dismayed by the pettiness with which some half-baked imams and mullahs too often use their “knowledge.” As Allama Muhammad Iqbal so cogently and eloquently stated, “Neem hakim khatra-e jaan; neem mullah khatra-e iman.”[6] And, in the wise words of Shaykh Abdallah bin Bayyah, referring to these same “scholars”: “Ta’rifuna ma qala rabbukum, wa la ta’rifuna lima qala rabbukum.”[7]

The seriousness that our earlier scholars applied to this issue is clear. Imam al-Ghazali begins his opus, Revival of the Religious Sciences (Ihya ‘ulum al-din), with a powerful indictment of the scholastic community whom he refers to as “formalists,” people who have become so trapped in the trappings of religion that they have forgotten its true essence. Echoing the Qur’an, Imam al-Ghazali pointed out that most people follow what they were born into and taught by their parents and elders. Moreover, it is the originators of false creeds and ideologies who are the real transgressors, not the unfortunate people who have unknowingly imbibed false teachings from early childhood, which makes discovery of truth much harder for them. These same people, after years of indoctrination, in turn indoctrinate their own children, unwittingly perpetuating the cycles of falsehood that the Qur’an came to end. God says, “Oppose the leaders of disbelief” (9:12), given that they are the ones who disseminate error and thus mislead the trusting masses. But as for their misguided followers, we should have compassion for them and help them see the truth. That is only achieved through mercy.

It is not in my nature to hate people. I actually desire good for all people, including Hindus, Jews, Buddhists, Christians, Atheists, Agnostics, and certainly my brother and sister Muslims. I would hope to see humanity guided as opposed to misguided. The Prophet, God’s peace and blessings be upon him, said, “That a person should be guided at your hand is better than the world and what the sun sets upon.”

The Qur’an says to the Prophet Muhammad, God’s peace and blessings be upon him, “It is a mercy from your Lord that you are so gentle toward them. If you had been harsh and hard-hearted, people would have fled from your presence” (3:159). It is indeed the harshness and obstinacy of some overly zealous Muslims today, combined with the absence of mercy in their hearts, which is driving people out of Islam and deterring others from considering or even respecting it. They are conducting themselves based upon some misguided adherence to their understanding of Islam. They are uncertain in themselves, and so they feel threatened by anyone who might differ with them; through fanaticism, they attempt to protect themselves from doubt but result in only obscuring their view. Fanatics are blinded by the light of God as opposed to guided by it. The Prophet, God’s peace and blessings be upon him, warned of these people when he said, “Perish they who go to extremes.” We should try our utmost not to be one of them.

Ibn Qayyim said, “Forgiveness is more beloved to God than vengeance; mercy is more beloved to Him than punishment; acceptance is more beloved to Him than wrath; and grace is more beloved to Him than justice.”
I sincerely thank those many people who defended my honor as well as those who, with courtesy, brought this mistake to my attention that I might redress it. The Prophet, God’s peace and blessings be upon him, said, “All of you make mistakes, and the best of those who do so are those who repent from them.” Thank you for pointing out my mistakes that I might repent from and correct them. I am deeply sorry for any confusion they may have indirectly caused by allowing those who seized upon them to awaken a sleeping fitna.

When a woman chastised the caliph Omar for his claim that dowries should have limits, Omar, may God be pleased with him, said, “All of you are more learned than Omar” (Kullukum afqahu min ‘Umar).[8]

[1] Fitna (Arabic: fitnah): “Sedition, dissention, discord.” The word’s root is related to “enticement,” “allure,” “intrigue,” and “temptation.” Fattan means “fascinating,” “captivating,” “enchanting”; “tempter,” “seducer”; “denunciator,” “informer,” “slanderer” (Hans Wehr Arabic-English Dictionary). The close relationship of these words indicates that fitna can be seductive and enticing to some. When fitna broke out, the Salaf would often quote these lines of poetry: “War, when it first appears, is as a beautiful woman to every young ignoramus.” Under normal circumstances, such people do little or nothing but when exposed to a fitna suddenly become filled with zeal and actively engaged in “righteously” setting something right, often under the guise of duty and loyalty to the faith. This enticement is something from which we must guard our hearts.
[2] For example, I gave a talk to a group of Christian theologians, ministers, and students about the ill effects of usury, in which I argued that Christians had abandoned their prohibition of usury that had lasted for almost two thousand years. I used Dante Alighieri’s Inferno as a frame for the discussion. During the talk, I pointed out that Dante viewed the Prophet, God’s peace and blessings be upon him, as a schismatic Christian as opposed to a false prophet, as I wanted them to reflect on Dante’s subtle acknowledgement of the doctrine of Islam, as argued by the Catholic priest and scholar, Miguel Asin Palacios. Hence I told them that I wanted to “defend Dante a little bit.” These Muslims seized upon my use of the word “defend,” by which I meant, “explain,” which is a synonym of “defend.” On this basis, they argued that I “defended” Dante for insulting the Prophet, God’s peace and blessings be upon him – a claim so patently false and unfair, not to mention absurd, that I won’t even entertain refuting it.
[3] Muhammad Ali (1874–1951) was the most prolific student of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad and split with the Qadianis in 1914 over the issues of the succession and the claim to prophecy of Ghulam Ahmad, which Muhammad Ali argued was an addition by his son Bashiruddin and not part of the original teachings of Ghulam Ahmad. Muhammad Ali is considered the founder of the Lahori branch of the Ahmadiyyas.
[4] For a more detailed explanation of Imam al-Ghazali’s view on what makes a person a disbeliever, see my article in Seasons Journal, “Who are the Disbelievers?” Also, my article “Generous Tolerance in Islam and Its Effects on the Life of a Muslim” explains the noble character Muslims should have. Both articles can be found here:
[5] Punishment in this world for apostasy is not mentioned in the Qur’an; however, some sound hadiths indicate that it is a capital offense. These are not absolutely certain (mutawatir) traditions, and some scholars, such as al-Nakhi’ and others, argued against it. Imam Abu Hanifah’s school does not mandate capital punishment for a female apostate due to the mutawatir tradition prohibiting killing women or children, which he saw as limiting the singular hadiths enjoining capital punishment on apostates. Today, it could be strongly argued that the aim (maqsad) of considering apostasy a capital offense, which was to protect the faith, is lost in application, given that modern people suffer a crisis of faith due to such applications.
[6] A half-baked doctor is a danger to the body; but a half-baked religious scholar is dangerous to the soul (lit. faith).
[7] You know what your Lord says, but you do not know why He said it.
[8] According to one narration, Omar, may God be pleased with him, says, “The woman is more learned than Omar,” but in another he states that everyone is more learned.

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