Saturday, 25 February 2012

Criticising Islam- A Malaysian Insider article

In the name of Allah Most High, and in whose name we seek Aid.
May the peace and blessings be upon the beloved, best of creation, the light of all times, Sayyidina Muhammed, and upon his family and companions.
A nice brother Syazwan Zainal I know has written a second article on Malaysian Insider (1), and it has gotten a lot of positive publicity lately. The reasons for that will insha'Allah be explained later, but I have felt a strong need to write on it, primarily because there are gross errors in the article, and my love for truth and Allah Most High means that I have to refute my friend.
I plan to take his arguments down one by one insha'Allah, and I seek Allah's aid in defending the truth here.
(Note that whenever I refer to the word "author", I mean brother Syazwan Zainal, and red writing is his.)

The author seems to think that it is his duty to correct the "evil" Islamic practices of the day, as he says "
This article is a humble attempt to point out what appears to me to be the faults of Islamic practices in Malaysia whilst trying to keep my feet planted firmly on earth."

He also thinks that this is only a few of the errors that he has spotted of the Muslim scholars in Malaysia as he says "A few examples are given. Needless to say these are non-exhaustive. This is not a comprehensive assessment of Islamic practices in Malaysia. "

And then he goes on further to label his opponents as "anti-intellectuals" and "non-Islamic" as he says "
It should also be noted that these are not “Islamic” practices per se, but rather an anti-intellectual culture that is embedded in our psyche as axiomatically non-Islamic."
With that, we already see the aim of the author here and what he thinks about others.

Considering the context, the author even thinks non-Muslims should tell us about what our Islamic practices should be, as he says "
Indeed I think it would do the nation good if our non-Muslim friends would give us constructive criticism and if need be, slap some sense into us."
Can the author give us examples where the non-Muslims can correct our Islam taught by our scholars?
This opinion about us being taught the correct Islam by non-Muslims is despite the fact that Allah said “And so amongst men and crawling creatures and cattle, are they of various colours. Those truly fear Allah, among His Servants, who have knowledge: for Allah is Exalted in Might, Oft-Forgiving.” (35:28)
“This day I have perfected for you your religion and completed My favor upon you and have approved for you Islam as the religion” (5:3 Qur’an).
 Thus we see that we are not in need of non-Muslims telling us about what Islam is, since Allah has taught us that already and confirmed that those with knowledge fear Him. And obviously non-Muslims don’t fear Allah, since they don’t believe in His Qur’an and commands, so they don’t have knowledge of Islam that has entered their hearts. And what value is learning Islam from one whose heart has not been opened by Allah Most High? How can someone say that the non-Muslims know something about Islamic law that we don't? After all, it is we who preserved the religion and believed in it, and Allah swt gave us the complete religion.
Furthermore the Prophet said “"There will always be a group from my Community that fight for truth and remain victorious until Judgment Day.” (Bukhari). Note the Prophet used “my community”, i.e. the Muslims, not “non-Muslims”. So the truth is found amongst the Muslims in regards to Islamic practices. It can’t be that all the Muslims be wrong, and then a non-Muslim comes and points out the correct way of Islam. That would contradict the above hadith and the hadiths on ijma (see later in my article).
And the Prophet even said: "My Community will split into seventy-three sects.  All of them will be in the fire except one group.  They asked: Who are they, O Messenger of Allah?  He said: Those that follow my way and that of  my companions." (Tirmidhi).
So which non-Muslim knows about the way of the Prophet and his companions and follows them, and thus can even be in a position to teach us Islam or criticise us on it?
The way our Islamic knowledge works is through the concept of isnad. The isnad connects the teacher to the Prophet, and so that is where the authorisation to teach comes from (and is given through the concept of ijazah). 
Imam Abd Allah ibn al-Mubarak (Allah be pleased with him) said: Isnad is part of religion (deen), and if it was not for Isnad, one would have said whatever one desired. When it is said (to the one who speaks without an Isnad):  Who informed you? He remains silent and bewildered. (Introduction to Sahih Muslim). He also said “The one who seeks matters of his deen without an Isnad is similar to the one who climbs to the roof without a ladder”/

The first assumption/generalisation the author makes is "At a time when Europe is fiercely atheistic, " 
Obviously that's wrong since Europe is a Christian majority continent. France, UK, Spain, Germany and Italy are majority Christians, and Christianity is their largest official religions.

Then he uses that false assumption to say ", it is laughable that some commentators still invoke Christianity as the justification for the complete ban on Muslims to celebrate Christmas" (bold is my edit)

Well pretty much all known Sunni scholars ban Muslims from celebrating Christmas because of Christianity (the origins of Christmas being Christianity or pagan), so its not a case of just a few or some. Its actually the case of the vast majority (probably the consensus) of all the scholars (including Shi'ites). And I've not come across any Sunni or Shia scholar to allow Muslims to celebrate Christmas.

It doesn't matter even if the majority of people celebrating Christmas are atheists. The issue is whether its still practised as a religious thing by some, and what it is associated with. There still are many Christians that take Christmas as a religious celebration. Even if you ask a 5 year old kid, "what is Christmas?", he will say "when Jesus was born, and he was son of God". So its haram. But if in 1000 years time, if no one is Christian, and people don't associate Christmas with any religion, and its just a cultural thing, then it could be different case.

I guess his own statement "If you want to make a case against something, at least make sure that the case would be able to withstand public scrutiny." applies to himself too.

And then he contradicts himself here "It might appear that you are merely doling out these edicts and invoking the most convenient stereotype as an excuse.". Clearly he made a stereotype by claiming that Europe is fiercely atheistic, and then he condemns Muslim scholars for their supporting a stereotype!

Now what is strange is that this author seems to not know in regards to why Muslim scholars ban Muslims from celebrating Christmas. He seems completely oblivious to the fact that many modern day scholarly fatwas already consider the fact that there are many atheists that celebrate Christmas. I would have hoped that the author had done some research before bashing scholars and the Muslim community.
My own discussions with an insightful and well-educated local scholar (who Syazwan could easily ask if he wanted) showed that he already knew of the current practice of Christmas and that some people celebrate it for cultural reasons and are atheists. Yet he still declared it haram/prohibited for Muslims to partake in Christmas since its origins are pagan and Christian and still it is partaken of by significant number Christians as a Christian thing. However in the past only Christians would celebrate Christmas, so scholars in the past gave the fatwas against it with an added reason of "imitating the religious traditions of another religion". Actually it still applies since Christmas is a religious tradition of the Christians, and Muslims are warned against celebrating in the religious traditions of other religions (and Sayyidina Umar (RA) expressely forbade it).
This is due to the hadith about festivities of other people or where certain practices are unique to non-Muslims, “Whoever imitates or resembles a people is one of them” (Bukhari)
The issue where traditions are banned, even though it is no longer religious, is explicitly shown by the fatwas against halloween and valentines day, since it is obviously hardly believed to belong to any modern religion (2)
The Prophet also prohibited people from being similar to non-Muslims in their unique features, as he saidAct contrary to the polythesists, trim closely the moustache and grow the beard." This is despite the fact that not all polytheists didn’t have beards, and some polytheists did have beards.
And so how will the author understand this Hadith and command? Will he say that many people had beards at the time and weren’t Muslim and we can all challenge the Prophet? Will he say the Prophet should not have made statements that are not “able to withstand public scrutiny”?
May Allah Most High save us!

Furthermore if one considers the fact that in the past, some people celebrated Christmas, yet were atheists (even though in the minority), you see the fatwas still don’t become inapplicable now.
How many people must celebrate a religious festival for non-religious reasons, for the festival to become halal to celebrate? This the author doesn’t answer, so he hasn’t proved that the situation has changed enough from the past to require a different fatwa. I guess its because he isn’t a scholar nor trained in the Islamic sciences.

Then the author says "Personally I do not see anything particularly wrong with joining in another faith’s celebration as long as one’s faith is not compromised. " Obviously this is his personal opinion and not the opinion of Islam, since it clearly contradicts the Hadith above, and the practice of the Sahaba and Sayyidina Umar (RA). They encountered many other religions, yet they did not partake in their religious practices. Furthermore by merely partaking in another faith’s celebration, one’s faith is compromised (unless there is a valid reason like the scholars just attending a Christmas celebration for the sake of community relations).
Indeed the verse about entering Islam completely was revealed due to a Muslim person wanting to celebrate Sabbath! It looks like the author wants to take us to the days of jahiliyya (pre-Islamic days). See the tafsir of the verse O you who have believed, enter into Islam completely [and perfectly] and do not follow the footsteps of Satan. Indeed, he is to you a clear enemy. (2:208)
Before understanding the legal ruling with regards to celebrations, it is worth remembering here that imitation (in certain cases) of the non-Muslims is something that Islam strictly disapproves of. Please see an explanation of it in the fatwa given in the reference (4).

The author says:
"Besides, Christianity is probably the last thing on the minds of many of the people who celebrate Christmas each year. Christmas is wildly popular in Japan and China even though, Christianity is merely the minority religion in both countries."
But those countries aren’t Muslim, and so they don’t have the concern of maintaining the purity of Islam. They’ve adopted many things like the culture of consumerism and materialism from America, so should we follow them too? You’ve seen how the beliefs of the Japanese and Chinese on family have been compromised by following things seen as “harmless”, like consumerism.
The Prophet forbade prostration to people, because he feared that it would lead to shirk, as people would become closer to doing shirk. That's how Islam has been able to be fiercely monotheistic, by clearing itself of foreign elements.
Also these countries are following America and Europe in Christmas, and who are they (and the atheists etc) following or imitating in celebrating Christmas? Well they're imitating the current Christians. So there you have it in another way, Christmas being celebrated by misguided Muslims would fulfill the Hadith about imitating the non-Muslims.
The Prophetic example is the best. He didn't have Christmas trees, nor did anything that was tied to another religion or non-Muslims uniquely. He didn't say "we need to have some pictures of the Quraysh idols so that we can show intercommunity faith-building" or any of that nonsense used to justify haram practices.

Then the author says ". I hardly think that to have a Christmas tree inside your house and to exchange presents on December 25 each year counts as a radical departure of faith."
The author can also say against the Prophetic hadith on beards "I hardly think that to not keep a beard is a radical departure of faith". This is a misunderstanding of Islam, because Islam a complete religion based on following the commands of Allah and His Prophet. Furthermore, the issue of Christmas is more serious because it involves shirk and polytheism/idolatry, the precise things the Prophet came to take away and remove, and protect Islam from..
Is the author going to say “we can wear crosses on our necks because many punks wear crosses even if they’re atheist”? There are many logical flaws that arise by the reasoning of the author.
It still is a departure nevertheless to put Christmas trees, due to scholars pointing out that it resembles a religious tradition. But such a point aside, why should we put them?
After all, the author linked recently in facebook to the article (3) about the large loss of trees in Malaysia. I suppose if Christmas trees become more common in Malaysia, even more trees will be lost and the environment damaged for the sake of consumerism and greed (after all, Syazwan says it isn't for religion, but for other reasons).  So having Christmas trees doesn't lead to much benefit to people, but damages the environment, what a way to go! What is the benefit of having the trees, that we're destroying the environment for?
Also the author ignores certain other reasons why scholars prohibit Christmas celebrations. That is based on the fiqh principle of "blocking the means"/sad adh-dhara'i. This is because Islam is a practical religion and based on history, wants to stop Muslims from engaging in the dilution of the religion, and engagement in the haram.
Indeed the Qur’an shows the principle many times. Like with alcohol. Alcohol was prohibited because it would lead to some people committing bad things, like murder and discord, even though not everyone drinks to that level.
So Islam is prohibiting us from taking part in other religion’s festivities because it will eventually dilute our religion, like it did with the Christians and Jews. The Christians get their Christmas ideas from the pagans in many ways. And the Jews got their ideas from the Greeks. And it all started from the idea “oh we’ll accept their festivities because they’re no longer religious and everyone else does them”

The author then said ". Quite a number of us Muslims for example seem to think that just because an individual holds an opinion dissimilar to an ulama, it becomes an act worthy of condemnation."

Actually if a person holds an opinion that contradicts the consensus of the scholars/Ulema, then does the opinion of the unqualified person become worthy of condemnation. If s/he follows the opinion on which there is a difference of opinion, then the person is not condemned.
However the intention of the author (based on the context of this article) is that it is wrong to condemn people for holding opinions that disagree with all the scholars. This view of the author is incorrect and contradicts the Prophetic hadiths on following the majority. The Prophet (Sallallahu alaihi wa sallam) strongly condemned disagreement with the ijma/consensus as he said: "My community shall never agree upon misguidance, therefore, if you see divergences, you must follow the greater mass or larger group” (Ibn Majah)
In another Hadith: "Verily Allah will not make my community (jama'a) agree on error, and Allah's hand is with the largest congregation."  Tirmidhi said: "And the meaning of "jama`a" according to the people of knowledge is: the people of jurisprudence, learning, and hadith (i.e. the Ulema/scholars).”
If one sees the meaning of the hadith from
And proof for following scholars is found in the last part of this verse:
"O you who believe, obey Allah and obey the Prophet and those of authority among you" (4:59).
And in the Hadith “Scholars are the heirs of the Prophets” (Abu Dawud).
So knowledge of Islam is preserved with the scholars, and we don’t need to go any further for the knowledge of Islam. We shouldn’t diminish the status of scholars and think that we are of the same authorisation in Islam.
He says "
I remember a particularly controversial moment during the Projek Amanat Negara. A participant pointedly dismissed Zainah Anwar as unworthy of commenting on Islamic law simply because she did not have an Islamic Law degree."
What if Zainah was talking about how to do a heart operation in medicine, and making recommendations on that? If someone said she's unworthy of commenting on it, would the author or anyone else have complained for telling her the plain truth? Hardly!
So you see the logical contradictions facing the author and his followers. They make Islam as the exception and think that anyone can comment on Islam, but for other sciences, you need to be a doctor or have a degree in physics and so on to have your opinion as worthy of consideration and worth anything.
But why exclude Islam? The author thinks he MUST have his opinion taken into consideration, he MUST be thought of as worthy and at the same value as other people who spent 20 years studying and mastering the sciences of Islam.

However Islam needs even more restrictions in terms of who can speak about Islam or give opinions on it, since Islam deals with the soul and its eternal condition, thus more important than medicine is for the body.
I mentioned the importance of Isnad in Islamic scholarship and in learning religion. In fact we also have the Prophet only allowing very few people to give fatwas (decisions on Islam to others). This Prophetic example is the best and soundest example to follow. Yet Syazwan has given the decision to others that Christmas is halal to celebrate.
The Prophet also warned us on making fatwas without Islamic knowledge as he said:
"Whoever gives fatwa without knowledge, the angels of the heaven and the earth curse him" (Suyuti)
And he also said:
"Whoever interprets the Qur'an without knowledge should make his abode in Hell." (Tirmidhi)

Seriously we should look at the example of the Sahaba and how they were hesitant on giving their opinions on Islamic matters.  Ibn Jareej used to attend the majlis (sitting) of Abdullah ibn Umar, Radi-Allahu anhuma. "In answer to more than half the questions he used to say I don't know." Ibn Abi Layla saw 120 Sahaba (companions). "Whenever one of them was asked a question he wished that someone else would answer it." (5)

The author then tried to prove everyone can comment and issue opinions and criticisms on Islam as he said "It was reported that when Umar wanted to put a maximum cap on the amount of Mahr for marriages, a woman stood up and invoked a verse from the Quran establishing that the Mahr is the right of the woman, hence the Caliph had no authority or power to put a cap on the amount of Mahr. Umar immediately agreed and discontinued the policy.  "

However the woman was not a person ungrounded in Islam, but she had the necessary Islamic knowledge to correct him, since she knew the relevant Islamic proof from the Qur'an and Sunnah (since she quoted the proof), and learnt from the Prophet directly, and knew Arabic. Apart from the narration being weak (since its broken, see Bayhaqi and its relevant commentary on who it was), the Sahabi knew Arabic (if its a real incident), and had met the Prophet, and that makes the analogy to now very different and wrong, where the people don't know Arabic, let alone the Arabic to understand the Prophet.
Furthermore, Syazwan's opinion of anyone (especially laymen) commenting on Islam, and the above basis being used as proof of that, is refuted by his own words as he says "the rest of the companions of the Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. are all Islamic intellectuals in their own right." So obviously these companions weren't ordinary people, and no one today, even if all of humanity alive today were put on one side of the scale, and one of the sahaba put on another side, the value of the one sahabi would outweigh them all. In fact Syazwan deems the Sahaba all intellectuals, and thus qualified in Islamic matters. So using the sahaba example is not relevant to his arguments
So I'll let Syazwan decide how his proof works now.
However I will point out the fact that most of the companions were not qualified in giving Islamic opinions or criticisms, and only a handful of the Sahaba were allowed to give fatwa.
Note that the author’s opinion would also logically mean that this was okay to speak against the Prophet:
While the Prophet was distributing something, 'Abdullah bin Dhil Khawaisira At-Tamimi came and said,"Be just, O Allah's Apostle!" The Prophet said, "Woe to you ! Who would be just if I were not?" (Bukhari)
Note that the people who acted like that were compared to the khawarij (I’ll let readers research on who such people are).
Then  the author says It would seem that by extension, criticism of a government policy, even if it is based on an Islamic injunction, is not wrong per se.”
The criticism is valid if some conditions are fulfilled:
1)      The person criticising is qualified in Islamic matters
2)      The person criticises based on Islamic sources like the Qur’an and Sunnah
3)      The person criticises not those matters of Islam which have an ijma’
However to criticise Islam or Islamic law is a serious crime and sin.

Now lets take issue with the belief that the understanding of all the Muslim scholars could be wrong, and so we need the laymen to correct them.
We know that the scholars are the heirs of the Prophets, and we know that the scholars won’t agree on error (based on the Hadith), and we know that Islamic rulings are based on the necessary knowledge (such as Arabic) of Islam, and we know that the Qur’an commanded to follow scholars. And we know the Prophet commanded to follow the Qur’an and Sunnah, and he only appointed very few people to give Islamic opinions to people. And we know that the din is based on isnad (which is basically only what the scholars have). Thus we know that to give an Islamic opinion, and to criticise, one needs to KNOW what one is criticising, such as the legal premises, the various evidences and ways of analysing the evidences and so on. This means one must know the Arabic language, the science of tafsir, fiqh, hadith, qiyas and so on.
Thus any layman who criticised scholars, is criticising from a prima facie position of ignorance. He is lacking the tools to analyse the evidences and the issue at hand. His opinions have no worth. He will draw the wrong conclusions because the Prophet guaranteed that the Ulema are right. It is like a kid who has just done GCSE Physics challenging Einstein on the theory of relativity. How preposterous is that kid! Yet Islamic law is harder than physics.
With Islamic law, it is beyond thinkable that the laymen come up with the truth that the Ulema/scholars don’t have. After all, the Prophet assured us that the jama’ah (and it means the Ulema) won’t agree on error, and that the majority group in every age is on the right path. And if you see the meaning of ijma, it means what the scholars agree upon. Thus if you see a layman criticising the whole body of the Ulema, then know that the Prophet guaranteed the layman is wrong.
Now instead of following laymen, let us follow the example of these people: “The Abdal are in Syria, and they are 40 men. Whenever one of them dies,Allah substitutes another in his place. By means of them, Allah brings down the rain, givesvictory over enemies, and diverts punishment from the people of Syria.” (Ahmad)
And amongst these Abdals, in modern times was Sheikh Ahmad al-Habbal. Now we ask ourselves this question:
Who do we follow? Laymen about whom we can’t see any signs of wilaya (friendship with Allah swt), or scholars in whom we can see that they Walis? Indeed Allah swt has made the lights of guidance clear, even in this day and age through the miracles they have been given, and the extraordinary love for Allah and His Messenger. So we should follow them.

The article of Syazwan has got a lot of publicity due to the following reasons:
1) lack of knowledge amongst people
2) the want of people to follow their desires and to rationalise their desires
3) it favours non-Muslims, 

Thus you see many non-Muslims spreading and promoting the article. 

The author has been taking the Islamic law module by Dr Shaheen at Warwick, a woman who isn’t qualified in Islamic matters, and makes many blunders (like claiming that the Islamic law schools are against women and indirectly claiming that 1200 years of Islam were wrong).  That probably explains somewhat why the author has made many blunders in this article.
Also note that I'm not saying one can't follow one's own opinion. People are free to believe whatever illogical stuff they want. I'm just saying that it is a dangerous slope to issue one's own opinions, and that one can't expect one's opinion to be taken seriously when one isn't qualified. And the Prophet warned against it.
Alhamdulillah we have the Malaysian Insider (6) posting a beneficial article for once, as it defends scholars in the piece.
I also am not saying that Syazwan can't give his opinion in a public platform. I'm just saying that Islamically he shouldn't, because he's not qualified, and the Prophet warned against it, although no one will force anything upon Syazwan. And readers should realise that he's not an authority in the matter.
The fatwās of unqualified individuals are considered “null and void,” according to  Sayyidina Umar (RA), second caliph of the Prophet.
I leave you with a beautiful and intelligent Hadith that is being fulfilled now as we speak and reflect upon what has happened and is happening, and how the Prophet viewed people who give opinions without being Islamic scholars:
The Prophet (Sallallahu alaihi wa sallam) said: "Truly, Allah does not remove Sacred Knowledge by taking it out of servants, but rather by taking back the souls of Islamic scholars [in death], until, when He has not left a single scholar, the people take the ignorant as leaders, who are asked for and who give Islamic legal opinion without knowledge, misguided and misguiding" (Bukhari)

May Allah Most High guide us to the straight path, ameen 


"A criticism of Islamic practices in Malaysia" by Syazwan Zainal 
6) "Of ulama and misconceptions" By Muhammad Imran Mustafa

No comments:

Post a Comment