ASCL’s Ramadan Paper: Deformation of Islam Beneath the Cover of Concern and Advice (2)

ASCL Ramadan guidance

Part 1 can be accessed here:

ASCL’ s Ramadan Paper: Deformation of Islam Beneath the Cover of Concern and Advice (1)


Doublespeak and Distorted Theology

The paper claims that “ASCL does not endorse any particular interpretation of Islamic law or practice.” A close analysis of the content reveals misleading and blatantly incorrect statements which are presented as erudite scholarship, and which the paper adopts as its position under the guise of “advice”.

Thus from the start the paper states,

“They should be made aware that there is a wide and diverse range of opinions on how to observe Ramadan and from what age, which give the necessary allowances for them to perform to the best of their ability in exams.

“If the school notices signs of dehydration or exhaustion then the child should be asked if they are fasting and advised to terminate the fast immediately by drinking some water. They can be reassured that in this situation Islamic rulings allow them to break their fast and make it up later.”

Assuming the position of a Mufti,[1] the authors of the paper seemed to have gone fatwa-shopping and settled on a bad buy. The paper has clearly taken a position that where mere signs of dehydration or exhaustion manifest, pupils can break their fast. Of course, this new Mufti for schools struggles with the utmost basics. When one considers that that the paper asserts that “Those fasting are recommended to have one meal (suhur) just before sunrise”, there is not much hope in the reliability of the rest of the espoused theology. The suhur meal is just before dawn, not sunrise.

The following is another example of an imposition of their views, which is completely antithetical to mainstream Islamic understanding:

“when there are competing views, an individual is at liberty to decide what is best for themselves and their family.”

On the contrary, where there are competing views, the Prophetic advice is to err on the side of caution, and refer the matter to trusted Islamic jurisconsults. As the Prophet peace be upon him instructed,

“Leave that which causes you doubt for that which does not cause you doubt.”[2]

The paper is granting the mantle of discernment on matters of jurisprudence – a science which has a plethora of other sciences (usūl al-fiqh,[3] usūl al-hadith,[4] tafsīr,[5] ilm al-tarjiḥ,[6] etc.) as desideratum and which take decades to master – to practically anyone. Conduct your own heart surgery where surgeons differ, is the argument being made.

In one of the passages, the paper confidently asserts,

“Fasting is only obligatory under Islamic tradition when a child becomes an adult. However, jurists differ over when this is. Parents and carers should be made aware of the following points of view to facilitate their decision-making: The ‘biological maturity’ view: children become adults when they reach physical or biological maturity, that is, puberty. According to this view, children are expected to fast at the age of 15, possibly earlier. The ‘intellectual maturity’ view: children become adults upon attaining intellectual maturity in addition to biological maturity. According to this view, the expectation to fast will occur at some point between the ages of 16-19. Fasting, including partial fasting, is only recommended before this.”

The papers provides a sole reference for these claims: al-Fiqh al-Islāmī wa Adillatuh by Wahba Zuhayli. On “legal maturity” (bulūgh), Zuhayli has only the following to say:

“The indicators of legal maturity are five: wet dream, growth of pubic hair, menstruation, pregnancy and reaching ‘the set age’, which is 15 years, while it was said to be 17 years, and Abu Ḥanifah said 18 years.”[7]

In other words, Zuhayli does not mention two views, one being the “biological maturity view” and the other, the “intellectual maturity view.”

In fact, there is consensus according to classical Muslim jurists that a girl will be regarded as “legally mature” (bāligh) when she begins menstruating, and a boy will be regarded as “legally mature” upon experiencing a wet dream. There is consensus on this across the Sunnī schools of thought.[8] Ibn al-Mundhir (d. 318 H), an early jurist, said:

“The jurists have reached consensus that the obligations and laws become binding on a sane person that has experienced a wet dream, and on a woman with the appearance of menstrual blood.”[9]

In brief, if a girl begins menstruating, or a boy experiences a wet dream, none of the classical jurists state they may still be regarded as a minor on account of intellectual immaturity.[10] Yet, the information sheet suggests there is an alternative view that states that despite reaching biological maturity (in the manner described above), a boy or girl may still be regarded as a minor.

The cut-off age of fifteen, seventeen or eighteen is only taken into consideration when the other indicators of legal maturity do not occur – which include menstruation and wet dream by consensus.

The “Pursuit of Knowledge” Spin and Dodgy Fatwas

Recall that the paper claimed that it does “not endorse any particular interpretation of Islamic law or practice”.  Moving beyond the endorsement, it creates fatwas without basis in Shari’ah and promulgates it as a de facto legitimate legal opinion:

“Children and their parents or carers should be informed that extra devotions in Ramadan are voluntary; whereas for a child or young person to perform well in exams, given their consequences, is obligatory“.

The cited source texts (i.e. on the obligatory nature of attaining knowledge) do not say that doing well in GCSE exams is obligatory, nor were these texts understood in this way. Rather, they were understood to be referring specifically to knowledge of theology, or more specifically, knowledge that an individual Muslim needs in order to fulfil his basic duties as a Muslim i.e. in terms of doctrine, and in terms of devotional and non-devotional practices.[11]

Yet the context clearly suggests that performing well in exams is a religious duty and obligation despite there being no support given for this claim. Even amongst contemporary Muslim scholars, it will definitely not be a point of consensus that it is a religious duty to do well in GCSE exams!

Usama Hasan and Shortening Fasting Hours

Usama Hasan’s influence is clear in this section. The paper proclaims that,

“Islamic jurists differ on timing of fasting hours; the majority say dawn to sunset but there is a minority of jurists who limit the fasting timings to a maximum of 12-16 hours, wherever one is in the world.”

The latitude of 45 degrees or more is used to define “high latitude” with an ascription of this view being assigned to Shaykh Mustafa al-Zarqa. There is no reference to the text however. Pertinently, Hasan was using Shaykh al-Zarqa, and other Azhari modernist scholars like Muhammad Abduh, who was adversely affected by colonialism and Freemasonry, to support his questionable opinion that one could shorten the fast in Britain, which has a clear sunrise and sunset.  Indeed, it seems the ASCL paper has even copied the aspect which excludes certain European countries from this definition of a high latitude (Spain, Portugal, and Southern France).

The view referred to in the paper as the position of “a minority of jurists” is presented as though it is a classical opinion. However, it is a recent opinion at odds with the consensus of classical jurists, and hence for many Muslims, would not be admissible as a valid scholarly opinion. Pertinently, it is in conflict with a clear text of the Qur’ān: “Complete the fast till the night.”[12] “Night”, in terms of Shari’ah, begins at sunset. In the UK, despite the length of the day, the sun does indeed set. So according to the import of this verse, it will be necessary to fast until the sun sets.

The rest of Hasan’s opinion published on his blog is not reproduced in the ASCL paper. Whilst a complete breakdown of his spurious arguments are beyond the remit of this article, it is worth briefly highlighting a few of the claims made to demonstrate the dubiousness of the arguments and the type of “expert” views ASCL have chosen to disseminate among Muslims.

In his update to his piece, he states a “senior Hanafi UK mufti” informed him that medieval Hanafi jurists gave a similar fatwa, after Muslims travelled to Northern Europe including Rus (Russia) and Scandinavia.  However, both these areas are or cover extreme latitudes, and are therefore unlike Britain. Incidentally, it is ironic to see a progressive “reform theologian” desperate to demonstrate that his view has historic scholastic precedent.

Hasan makes a claim that there is a view that the start time of fasting can be delayed until after true dawn (but before sunrise). Whilst this is true, this view is an extremely fringe opinion and was given no support by any of the major jurists. It was refuted by Imams Tahāwi, Abu Bakr al-Jassas, Ibn Kathīr and others. Ibn Rushd regards it as a “shadhdh” (radically conflicting/marginal/fringe) opinion. Such opinions cannot be followed. The Qur’ān clearly says to start the fast when “the white thread of dawn is distinguishable from the black thread (of the night),”[13] with dawn being mentioned explicitly. Moreover, there are numerous hadiths, including some in the most authentic collections, narrated by a number of Companions, which clearly say the fast begins from true dawn. And finally, Ibn Hazm does not support the view that the fast starts after true dawn as claimed by Hasan. Ibn Hazm agrees with the vast majority that the fasting time starts from true dawn.

To present to people, as the paper does, such a dubious and weak view based upon unsound premises as a legitimate Islamic ruling is hoodwinking in the extreme.

Obscure Exemptions

The ASCL has further of issues of vagueness and re-rendering of exemptions from fasting.

Travellers are a specific category in fiqh (jurisprudence), which carries with it specific conditions. The distance too, has its own juristic conditions which are dependent on length and duration of stay. The terms “Mental disability” is an obfuscation of the category of insanity. Those suffering the latter are exempt, not necessarily the former. Further, breastfeeding and pregnant women are exempted only when they fear for the well-being of themselves or their child.

All these points are omitted.

Concluding Remarks

The paper presents a grossly misleading and a dangerously deconstructionist view of the attitude one should take towards understanding and following Islamic rulings, as well as the rulings themselves.  To make matters worse, it is concerning a matter which is of utmost significance to Muslims. It utilises psychological manipulation and doublespeak to portray itself as a paper which is balanced, and free from imposition of views, but in reality, it promotes views which are concordant to the expressions of Walter Mitty-type characters; the neocon-enabling Quilliam deformists and their associates who have no recognition or acceptance in theology within the Muslim community, and more importantly, amongst the mainstream Islamic scholarly milieu.

Given the above analysis, the endorsement from the neocon-government, and the way papers have sold the story, it is difficult to not construe ASCL’s efforts, intentional or otherwise, as nothing short of a cog in the full-scale, neoconservative onslaught against Islam.

Despite the considerable discrepancies and distortions in the ASCL Ramadan paper, reports suggest that thousands of schools throughout the country have received a copy.

It is for Muslims to ensure that their sources of information are sound, and derived from trusted authorities of Islam. Further, it is imperative that Muslim parents speak to their schools to ensure that if the paper is being acted upon, they are informed it is not representative of their mainstream religious beliefs.  Well-intentioned teachers will no doubt not want to break the bonds of trust between the school, parents and pupils and acknowledge that imposing such deceitful advice would only result in resentment.

Allāh says: “Then We placed you on an ordained way (shari’ah) concerning the matter [of religion]; so follow it and do not follow the inclinations of those who do not know.”[14]

Imām Abdullāh Ibn al-Mubārak: “The Isnād is part of this religion and had it not been for Isnād, then anyone would be able to say whatever they wanted.”[15]

Imām al-Awzā’ī: You must practice the saying of the previous scholars, even if people leave you, and you must avoid the opinions of people, even if they decorate them with phrases and present them to you.”[16]

May Allāh be pleased with the Companions, and may His mercy be upon the righteous scholars. Ameen.


References:

[1] An Islamic scholar qualified to issue juristic rulings

[2] Ahmad, Tirmidhī, Nasā’ī

[3] Principles of jurisprudence

[4] Principles of hadith

[5] Exegesis

[6] Science of preference

[7] Al-Fiqh al-Islāmī wa Adillatuh, Dar al-Fikr, 1:91

[8] Radd al-Muḥtar, Dār ‘Ālam al-Kutub, 9:225-6; al-Inṣaf, Bayt al-Afkār, 9:19, Tuḥfat al-Muḥtāj, 5:163-4; Mawāhib al-Jalīl, 4:241

[9] Quoted in al-Mughnī, Dār ‘Ālam al-Kutub, 6:597

[10] Note: This is with the caveat, according to many classical jurists, that menstruation occurs after 9 lunar years, and for boys, a wet dream occurs after 12 lunar years. If menstruation occurs before 9 lunar years, the girl will not be regarded as legally mature; nor will a boy who experiences a wet dream before 12 lunar years be regarded as legally mature.

[11] See, for example: Fayḍ al-Qadīr, 4:267

[12] 2:187

[13] Ibid.

[14] Qur’ān 45:18

[15] Tirmidhī

[16] Ibn al-Qudāma, Hikayāt al-Munādhra fi al-Qurān ma’a ba’di Ahl al-Bid’ah

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