Undue Hardship is Not Piety


Written by Junaid Jahangir

The fight against Islamophobia is one about securing the civil and human rights of Muslims to live and practice their faith without let or hindrance. It requires an intersectional approach for Islamophobes do not distinguish between Muslim and Sikh, conservative and liberal, as for them all are “ragheads.”

Consistency requires that as Muslims adopt an intersectional approach to further their concerns, they do not abandon the same principle when it comes to intra-Muslim issues. Otherwise, they will end up being hypocrites and the Qur’an goes to great length admonishing the munafiqun (hypocrites).

This means that as Muslims call for diversity and inclusion, they will have to practice it within themselves as well. As they call for inter-faith dialogue, they will have to look inward for intra-faith dialogue as well.

We are told that diversity and inclusion are strengths for they allow us to drown out extreme voices, safeguard the rights of vulnerable minorities and allow for multiplicity of thought. In the Muslim context, this means that Sunni and Shia, Ithna Ashari and Ismaili, Bohra and Ahmadi, progressive and LGBTQ, any and all, are afforded dignity, respect and space within the larger umbrella of Islam.

Such diversity applies to religious practice as well especially during Ramadan, which technically is about cultivating taqwa (ethical consciousness), but gets reduced to an exercise in extreme judgment of fellow co-religionists.

…As Muslims call for diversity and inclusion, they will have to practice it within themselves as well.

Laws are created in places like Pakistan and Algeria against public consumption of food, community members look down upon those who do not fast, and those who fast longer hours sell their rigid opinions as that of “normative” Islam. What was meant to be an exercise in self-reflection becomes yet another tool for riya (showcasing false piety).

But the command of fasting is not for mere hunger and thirst. Islamic teachings are clear that some people only achieve hunger and thirst for they have failed to attain ethical consciousness. This is a consistent teaching on rituals that also include prayer and animal sacrifice. We are told that Allah does not need prayer and that it is not the flesh and the blood of the animal but ethical consciousness that reaches Allah.

Therefore, if people stubbornly adopt long fasting hours at the expense of the spirit of the ritual then it is of no consequence. Islam is a religion of the tariq al wasat (the middle path). Ghuluw (fanaticism) is frowned upon especially in ibada (worship) rituals, which is why the juristic principle is prohibition unless the worship ritual is sanctioned by the primary sources of Islamic knowledge.

The timing and duration of Islamic rituals are based on normal and usual circumstances pertaining to the places of revelation, Mecca and Medina, and not based on what is uncommon with respect to the holy cities. This well established principle has been upheld by the likes of al-Asqalani (d. 1449), Ibn Abidin (d. 1836) and even the austere Ibn Taymiyyah (d. 1328).

Indeed, the Prophet was clear that timings were based on urf (custom), as is evident from the Hadith on Safwan bin Mu’attal whose tribe customarily rose after sunrise, so the Prophet allowed him to pray after sunrise.

In the context of fasting, Mustafa al-Zarqa (d. 1999) proposed that those living in latitudes higher than 45 degrees (which includes most of Europe and all of Canada) should fast according to Mecca timings, as it is the “Mother of Villages,” which Muslims turn to not only for qibla (prayer direction) but also for estimating timings.

This is not a novel opinion but one that is entrenched in classical Hanafi jurisprudence as Muslims traveled to Northern Europe in the middle ages. Additionally, Zarqa’s fatwa (religious edict) has precedence in a similar edict by Mohammad Abdou (d. 1905), who opined that fasting hours should be estimated based on cities with moderate hours, which is consistent with the teaching of the middle path or of the Prophet adopting the easier of two equally valid paths. Mahmud Shaltut (d. 1963), Muhammad Hamidullah (d. 2002) and Jad al Haqq (d. 1996) shared similar opinions on fast timings.

Some Shia Ithna Ashari jurists are even more radical when it comes to realizing fasting. Ayatullah Muhaqqiq Damad based the duration of fasting on the person’s capacity based on the rationale that this ritual is like Hajj, where pilgrimage is still valid even if one is not physically able to perform one of the acts.

Ayatollah Zanjani even allowed for minimal drinking of water during fasting possibly based on the raf al harj (repelling harm) juristic principle. This principle, alternatively stated as, “There is no harm or reciprocating harm in Islam,” is also found in the very passage on fasting. The relevant excerpt from verse 2:185, which is repeated in other places in the Qur’an, reads, “Allah wishes ease for you, not hardship.”

In the context of fasting and praying, al-Shatibi’s (d. 1388) work shows that when Allah offers a facility then he prefers it to be used, as excessive rigidity is not piety. Indeed, the Prophet has admonished his Companions that “among you are those that drive people away.”

This has never been truer than today when the Yaqeen institute has shown that 1 in 5 American Muslim youth have left Islam. So while hardline Muslim leaders and zealous converts tout their rigid practice as the voice of “normative” Islam based on classical legal manuals, they are distancing so many from the sanctuary of Islam.

But we cannot allow the born again Muslims and zealous celebrity converts to dictate our religious practices. It is time for what Dr. Sa’diyya Shaikh refers to as the Tafsir (commentary) of Praxis, which includes experiential and everyday modes of understanding Qur’anic teachings. It is time for what Dr. Rumee Ahmed refers to as “hacking” Islamic law through engagement and creativity.

And it is time for ordinary, everyday Muslims to come out to assert their truth for fasting is not just the practice of zealous Muslims who equate hardship with piety. This means some fast for twelve hours, as they go from 6 to 6, some fast based on Mecca timings, some fast year long from lying and cheating instead of mere hunger and thirst, and some look beyond rituals to the constant task of nurturing taqwa (ethical consciousness).

Indeed, the Sufi mystics remind us through their poetry that Islam is not found in rituals and dusty old books but in the comfort and benefit believers bring to all humanity.

Source: https://missmuslim.nyc/undue-hardship-is-not-piety/

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