Shariah is Human

People interpret religion and its strictures. These interpretations are human and can be flawed or change over time. We do not have the view of God and have to rely on our senses and abilities to develop religious law.

Koonj has a great post which makes the point that we humans interpret and create all laws, even religious law.

Religion and religious law must always be the human reading of a law. The notion of a “God’s-eye-view” law is a tempting and beautiful one. However, it is one of those things for which we yearn on earth, similar to perfection, eternal life, perfect beauty, endless love, and so on. Earthly life is not made for such things.

A human being cannot access “God’s-eye-view” law or religious law.

Paradoxically, religion and religious law must always be more or less human–but always somewhat human.

To claim that you have access to God’s-eye-view of law is to claim that you have God’s view, which approximates blasphemy.

So to claim that your perspective on religion/religious law is infallible, is, in a way, to claim divinity. And as even Ibn Arabi says, the Lord is the Lord wa in tanazzal, and the servant is the servant, wa in ta’arruj (will not translate for fear of doing it poorly).

[…] Some of us think that literalism is safe refuge from our own readings, but there is never any refuge from our own readings. Whether you read one of the seven inner meanings and the seven inner meanings of the inner meanings of each Qur’anic verse – or whether you try to go from a “linear atomistic” (see Mustansar Mir) reading of each line, – or whether you struggle to read the Qur’an using the Qur’an itself as its commentary – or whether you use a scholar’s readings – we ordinary human beings always use words, our limited five senses and our limited spiritual senses, to try to KNOW.

Haj and Eid Mubarak

Congratulations on your Haj to all Hajis. Eid Mubarak, everyone.

Today is the main day, the day of Arafa’, of Haj, the Islamic pilgrimage to Makkah. Congratulations to all Hajis including my mother-in-law.

The day after is Eid-ul-Azha in Saudi Arabia. Here, we are celebrating Eid on December 31 while it is on New Year’s Day in Pakistan. Eid Mubarak, everyone.

UPDATE: As usual, we have sent our donation to the Edhi Foundation for the qurbani (slaughter of goat) in Pakistan.

Looking at the Atlanta mosque websites, it seems like a majority of them are going to follow Saudi Arabia and celebrate Eid on the 30th. However, we like combining New Year’s Eve celebrations with Eid.

Awards and Carnivals

Go nominate blogs for Brass Cresecent awards. Also, contribute to Carnival of Islam in the West. Include the real-time Carnival of Brass in your blog sidebar and read Muslims in the West blogs together in your feed reader.

Since the end of the year is near, it is again time for the Brass Crescent Awards for the Islamicate blogosphere.

Brass Crescent Awards Nominations

Right now they are taking nominations for a bunch of categories until November 17. So go and nominate your favorite weblogs. Do note that a blogger does not need to be a Muslim to be nominated (and definitely not necessary for those nominating or voting).

In defining the Islamsphere, we are not relying solely on adherence to the faith, but an affinity for parts of the diverse cultural fabric that Islam embraces and is embraced by worldwide.

Abu Sahajj, the owner of the Wa Salaam blog, started the Carnival of Islam in the West a few months ago. You can read the first and second editions of the carnival. Now it is time for the 3rd edition being hosted by Travellers on the Path of Knowledge. Do submit if you have any blog posts realting to the experience of Muslims in the West in these areas:

  • Religion and Worship
  • Marriage and Family
  • Education and Life
  • Business and Careers
  • News and Politics
  • The State of the Ummah

While on the subject of carnivals, Aziz has created a sort of “real-time” carnival called the Carnival of Brass where you can submit blog posts and media stories and there is an output feed which you can include on your blog which includes the items posted to the carnival. It updates at about one new item per day. I have included both the media and blog ones on my sidebar. If you want to include Carnival of Brass in your blog sidebar, please read Aziz’s FAQ.

Abu Sahajj also has an Islam in the West feed which aggregates quite a few Muslim blogs in the West. Just subscribe to the feed using your favorite feed aggregator and you can read a lot of Muslim blogs.

UPDATE: This month’s edition of the Carnival of Islam in the West is now up.

Islamic Calendar

Fiqh Council of North America has decided to use astronomical calculations for the Islamic lunar calendar. I like the idea, but it is very controversial in the community. Let’s take a look at the blogosphere’s reaction. Ramazan Mubarak!

Finally, the Fiqh Council of North America has made the decision to create an Islamic lunar calendar using astronomical calculations instead of relying on sighting the moon every month.

A special conference on Hilal Sighting was organized by the Fiqh Council of North America (FCNA) on 10 June 2006, in Virginia, attended by a number of jurists, Imams, astronomers and other concerned Muslims. [… T]he following is concluded:

  1. It is decided to use astronomical calculation to determine the beginning of the Islamic lunar months with the consideration of the sightability of the crescent anywhere on the globe.
  2. To determine a lunar Islamic calendar, a conventional point of reference must be used. The International Date Line (IDL) or the Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) may be used.
  3. The new Islamic Lunar month begins at sunset of the day when the conjunction occurs before 12:00 GMT.

A number of people say that it is against the practice of Prophet Muhammad to use astronomical calculations and hence should not be done. However, we use such calculations for lots of things nowadays as this explanation says.

These astronomical calculations are already being used in acts of Islamic worship such as directions of Qiblah, five daily prayers, Imsak and Iftar timings, the acts of worship which are more significant and frequent than sighting the crescent. The Qura’nic verses and the Prophetic commandments clearly indicate some means to accomplish the aspired objectives. For instance, The Qur’an connects the Imsak timings with the white and black thread at the dawn time. Presently we go by our watches based upon the astronomical calculations. The Hadith connects the Iftar timings with seeing the night coming from the East. Currently we break fast without sighting the night coming from the East but by our watches. The Qur’an and Ahadith connect the five daily prayers timings with the shadow and movement of the Sun. According to the Ahadith Angel Jibreel himself taught the Prophet (PBUH) timings of these prayers and connected them with the shadow of the Sun. The entire Ummah somehow goes by the astronomical timings of the watches and not with the letter of the Qur’an and Hadith texts. There is a consensus among the Muslim jurists that these means are permitted to determine the Salah, Imsak and Iftar timings and nobody makes fuss about them being against the Sunnah or against the crystal clear texts of the Qur’an.

Here is some information from the Fiqh Council of North America and here is the calendar for the next 5 years.

This is not the first instance of Muslims not using moonsighting. There is a Fatimid calendar used by Nizari Ismailis and Dawoodi Bohras.

The Tabular Islamic Calendar (also called the Fatimid Calendar) is a rule-based variation of the Islamic calendar. It has the same year numbers and months, but the months are determined by arithmetic rules rather than by observation or astronomical calculations. […]

Each year has 12 months. The odd numbered months have 30 days and the even numbered months have 29 days, except in a leap year when the 12th and final month has 30 days. There are 11 leap years in a 30 year cycle.

In addition to all the confusion and waiting till late night that the moonsighting approach entailed, there were also scheduling and economic issues.

Kareem Irfan, of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago, where an estimated 400,000 Muslims live, said the uncertainty of the old system has been costly.

Organizers of the massive community worship services that mark the holiday had to reserve convention halls for two different days, losing money on the double deposit, he said. Muslims who needed a day off from work or had to make plans for pulling their children out of school could not say when the celebration would be.

So how have we, in North America, been deciding on Ramazan and Eid until now? The Moon Sighting Debate Blog explains.

Camp #1: This is the camp of the majority of the traditionalists. They firmly follow the local moon sighting position.

Camp #2: This is the Saudi moon sighting camp. Although, they tend to portray themselves as followers of the global sighting position, in reality they only determine their Islamic dates according to the moon sighting announcements made all the way in Saudi Arabia.

Camp #3: True followers of the traditional global sighting position. I have personally come across only one major scholar from Syria who says he follows this position.

Camp #4: This is the brand new camp. [… T]his camp has declared a five year pre-determined Islamic calendar based solely on astronomical calculations.

Most of the mosques in Atlanta fall in camp #2, but it is still common to have two Eids in almost every major city in the United States.

While I think a calendar based on astronomical calculations is a good idea, it is definitely no panacea for the multiple Eids problem since a lot of people are sticking to their guns and plan to observe Eid using the method they like. In fact, in recent days, a number of new organizations based around moonsighting have sprouted.

Here are some reactions from the Muslim blogosphere, without comment, on this issue.

Wa Salaam: I’m still not sure exactly where I stand on this issue.

Eteraz: Muslim sure do fight over the moon a lot. This is because the Muslim calendar is lunar and so to know when Ramadan starts (or ends) you have to have a moon-sighting. The problem is that because the Earth spins on an axis (stupid axis!), the moon does not appear at the same time in different places. In fact, because the axis spins on a slow 24 hour cycle (stupid axis!) it means that the same moon can appear in one place a whole day after it appears in another place (stupid moon!). This, in the American context, gives rise to the most idiotic ‘debate’ to strike Islamic Law since Khomeini’s madrassa hypothetical.

جہانزیب: میں آسٹرانومی کی بنیاد پر بنائے گئے کیلنڈر کے حق میں ہوں اور امریکہ میں خصوصاً اور باقی اسلامی دُنیا میں عموماً ایسے لوگ پہلے سے موجود ہیں جو آسٹرانومی کی بنیاد پر کیلنڈر کا اجراء چاہتے ہیں۔ نہیں تو حالات وہی رہیں گے جو نیویارک میں ہیں لوگ پاکستان، سعودی عرب فون کر کے پوچھتے رہیں گے کہ رمضان کب ہے اور اُس حساب سے اپنی عیدین مناتے رہیں گے۔ ہمارے گھر کے قریب ایک مسجد ہے جہاں دو عیدیں پڑھائی جاتی ہیں وہاں ڈیوٹی پر موجود ایک پولیس اہلکار کا سوال تھا کہ ایک ہی علاقے میں رہنے والے مسلمان ایک ہی عید پر متفق نہیں ہو سکتے؟

میرا پاکستان: رمضان کی آمد آمد ہے اور ایک بار پھر مسلمان اس تفرقے کا شکار ہوجائیں گے کہ رمضان کب شروع کریں اور عید کب کریں۔ عرصہ ہوا دنیا کو اتنی ترقی کۓ ہوۓ کہ چاند کے گھٹنے بڑھنے کا اندازہ پہلے سے ہی لگایا جانے لگا مگر مسلمان ہیں کہ اس ٹیکنالوجی سے انکاری ہیں اور وہ اپنی آنکھوں سے ہی چاند دیکھ کر رمضان شروع کرنے پر بضد ہیں۔

David Kearns: Based on what I’d read, and the assertions of groups like ISNA, I’ve been saying for years that if you don’t sight the moon, it just doesn’t count. Apparently that’s not the case any more. In reality I’ve just followed the guidance of ISNA, and I guess if they’ve taken a new stance, then I’m all for it. This certainly helps for scheduling things. Maybe some day I’ll be less busy and can investigate the jurisprudence behind this.

Ginny’s Thoughts and Things: I’m all for creating an “American Muslim identity” and all of that, but let’s not throw away the Qur’an, along with the Sunnah of our noble prophet (Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him), in the process of “trying to fit in”. We can use science, yes, we can carve out our own niche, we can do all of that, but we can do it and still “follow the rules”, as it were. I mean, while we are at it, if we’re going to be “like everyone else” and dispense with calculations, then let’s stop wearing hijab, let’s just stop eating hilal meat, etc. Basically, in my “sarcasm” I think this is getting dangerously close to the “slipperly slope”

Lota Enterprises: This is literally something that has been unknown to the ummah of Muhammad(saw) for literally over 1,420 years. It has never been done before, and especially not on this scale. Its August, and they have already announced Eid. They’ve zapped all of the fun, excitement, and most of all the SUNNAH of anticipating Ramadan and Eid!!

The Moon Sighting Debate Blog, which actually presents only the side against the astronomical calendar, has reactions against the Fiqh Council decision here and here.

And I forgot. Ramazan Mubarak! It starts tomorrow.

UPDATE: Also, Happy Rosh Hashanah!

Evolution: Another Viewpoint

Following up on my critique of Muslims not accepting evolution and after finding out that Harun Yahya, one of the opponents of evolutionary theory, is not a scientist, I discovered a lecture by a Saudi geologist (specializing in micropalaeontology) Dr Zaghloul Al-Najjar that he gave at the University of New South Wales Islamic Society. He basically denies macroevolution and humans being related to animals.

Muslims have taken one of two stands regarding this issue. One is to completely reject it, and the other is that this is the result of scientific endeavour and we have to accept it fully. Both stands are completely wrong. In Islam we are taught not to accept theories dogmatically and at the same time, not to reject theories that have some evidence behind them.

The theory says that everything in this Universe was created gradually, created one step after another, which is true. We can find ample evidence that supports gradualism in Creator. This does not negate creation at all, and does not stand in the face in the limitless powers of the creation. So we believe in the gradualism of creation. Things were not created suddenly, but Allah has the power to say “Be” and it “is”.

The second part of the theory says that the simple forms led to more complex forms. This part must be considered more carefully and critically. How can a simple single-cell amoeba understand that in time it will develop into a human being, needing a backbone, and requiring particular dimensions for the skull and limbs, and certain organs to function? No man worth his salt would assume this. This assumption is beyond the scientific process itself. To assume that simple forms evolved to higher forms by themselves without any divine guidance is completely incorrect. It is unscientific. We know from life on Earth that this process is very slow, and neither subject to direct observation nor to direct experimentation. The shortest lifespan of a species is 500,000 years. Who would live for 500,000 years to observe that species A has slowly changed into species B? It is unscientific. It is a theoretical conclusion established on the background belief of whoever is expounding this theory. If you are a believer, you will frame this information in a completely different way from someone who has a disbelieving attitude.

In the area of evolution, Islam has no trouble at all accepting the concept of evolution, with three basic conditions:

  • We cannot believe that the earliest forms of life started spontaneously by the reaction of the sun with mud and water. One of our contemporaries wanted to estimate the probability of making a single protein molecule. Protein is composed of Carbon, Hydrogen, Nitrogen, Oxygen and sometimes Phospohrous. To simply select these five would take a mass much greater than that of the known universe and an ange several time the age of the universe. Then each protein molecule consists of amino acids and these can be very complex. The probability of assembing the amino acids into useful proteins and to DNA in particular is extremely remote.
  • For creation to take place by itself is impossible. The early beginnings of life must be carefully planned, else they are doomed to failure. This creation by whatever means, is a miracle that is beyond the reaches of science. These simple forms of life can not evolve upwards by themselves, and if evolution did occur as suggested, it must have been encoded into the first cells themselves.
  • Man is not part of this general schema and was created separately and is not linked to the process itself.

This means that in Islam, it is perfectly acceptable to accept one of two theories. One of separate creation of each individual lifeform, or what we might call “evolutionary creation”, carefully planeed and set out, with each lifeform having its own period and stage.

Why can’t he simply accept evolution while maintaining that everything is created by God? Sort of like the pope.