Evolution and Belief in Allah

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We are living in a world where emphasis on science and technology has never been greater. Be it from parents who want their kids to do well in school, employers which are putting expensive efforts in R&D, or the governments which want the economy to but down on expenses through innovation, the focus on material science does benefit – more or less – man to do improve on life on Earth.

But to what extent? Based on conversations and observations, while anecdotal, I have a fear that the belief in God is being eroded by the very emphasis in science. Scientific advancements and discoveries aside, it is the fundamentalist belief “science can explain everything” that bothers me.

As Muslims, we are usually well-protected from such forms of influence, as the “arch-opponent” for our faith is usually deemed to be the Christians, who also believe in the existence of God. Coupled with layers of tough measures to prevent prosletyzation against Islam, conversion issues are usually tackled with eloquent approaches – academic arguments, scientific evidences, etc – on why being a Muslim makes sense (for one, Islam doesn’t say that Christians and Jews are totally wrong).

In fact, if one were to believe in a religion, I would argue that none is more complete that Islam, from the moment you wake up, to interaction with people, food you eat, economy, up till the moment you go to bed, and even when you are sleeping. There exists specific Islamic guidance on all aspects of life. It is a way of life. The most complete way of life, based on the belief of Allah and his prophets.

Nevertheless, such concerns usually may be summed up in the question “which religion?”, so the debate over the existence of God never came up.

But, in current times, the belief in The Creator itself is gradually being overshadowed by science and its atheistic rhetoric. Its spread into the minds of Muslims bypasses the protective system designed against apostasy; some scientific theories are being accepted in schools as “unfalsifiable”, thus regarded as the “truth”. And it may easily be ingrained in the young Muslims who are just discovering the world of science. Chief among it is evolution.

Questioning Evolution

Artists-rendition-of-Ardi-001

The discovery of Ardi (above) – the name given to a 4.4 million year-old human-like fossil – made news late last year. One can only know so much about the past, but the discovery has prompted revisions on the theory of evolution. Nothing drastic; mainstream science still states that modern men evolved from chimps of the past.

Her skeleton promises to fill in gaps about how we became human and evolved from apes. It has already reversed some common assumptions of evolution.

Rather than humans evolving from chimps, the new find provides evidence that chimps and humans evolved together from another common more ancient ancestor. (Source)

Yet despite that, the details of evolution is still being questioned by those who believe in Creationism, which I believe are usually led by the Christians. Muslims seems to be at loss when questioned on their religious views pertaining to such scientific theories. With the caveat of quoting Wikipedia, the theory of evolution and its compatibility with religion is a relatively new subject to Muslims.

A 2007 study of religious patterns found that only 8% of Egyptians, 11% of Malaysians, 14% of Pakistanis, 16% of Indonesians, and 22% of Turks agree that Darwin’s theory is probably or most certainly true, and a 2006 survey reported that about a quarter of Turkish adults agreed that human beings evolved from earlier animal species. (Source)

Furthermore,

An article in the latest issue of the journal, “Science,” suggests the evolution-creationist divide is about to emerge in the Muslim world. The article’s author, astronomer Salman Hameed, talks to “The World’s” Marco Werman about why the debate is heating up now, and implications for Muslims on both sides of the debate. The creation story in Islam is similar to the Biblical creation story, according to Professor Hammed: “But unlike the Book of Genesis, it is not laid out in a chronological order, nor is it in one single place. Secondly, it has this six-day creation, but the length of the days is less ambiguous.” (Source)

To highlight the seriousness of the issue, there are also calls for the school curriculum in Saudi to be revised to stem “foreign ideologies such as the Theory of Evolution.”

Evolution in Islam

Transcript:

It began in the sea, some three thousand million years ago. Complex chemical molecules began to clump together to form microscopic blobs: cells.

These were the seeds from which the tree of life developed.

They were able to split, replicating themselves – as bacteria do. And as time passed they diversified into different groups.

(Source)

How does Islam fare in the trolling against creationism? The advance of science, the proliferation of knowledge, and the smart-asses on the internet seemed to have given a new reason to scoff at beliefs which advocate creationism, i.e. all religions.

Some versions of Christian creationism theories believe the earth may be as young as 10,000 years of age, putting it on a collision course with scientists who place the earth at billions of years old.

Islam meanwhile doesn’t limit the theory of evolution to a time-frame; moreover the position of the theory of evolution is still somewhat vaguely established among Muslims.

Like many other issues which is not specifically stated in the Qur’an or hadith, it is open to many varying views. Some simply denounced evolution. Fataawa al-Lajnah al-Daa’imah lined out the Qur’anic evidences of the creation of man, while steering clear of any scientific arguments.

Some attempted to combine both scientific reasoning and for Muslims to ally with Christians and support Intelligent Design.

…Said Nursi, in the 1950s, foresaw an alliance between Islam and Christianity against materialism. He prophetically wrote, “A tyrannical current born of naturalist and materialist philosophy will gradually gain strength and spread at the end of time, reaching such a degree that it denies God. … Although defeated before the atheistic current while separate, Christianity and Islam will have the capability to defeat and rout it as a result of their alliance” (Nursi, Letters, s. 77-78).

…Intelligent Design (ID) is a term that implies creation. The universe and life are not products of blind forces of nature, ID holds, but show evidence that they were designed by an intelligence. The ID Movement has deliberately chosen not to specify the identity of the Designer. Through science you can demonstrate convincingly that there is a designer, but you can’t go further without invoking theology. (Source)

Some, such as Sheikh Nuh Ha Mim Keller went to great lengths to debunk evolution.

“Though their existence provides the basis for paleontology, fossils have always been something of an embarrassment to evolutionists. The problem is one of ‘missing links’: the fossil record is so littered with gaps that it takes a truly expert and imaginative eye to discern how one species could have evolved into another…. But now, for the first time, excavations at Kenya’s Lake Turkana have provided clear fossil evidence of evolution from one species to another. The rock strata there contain a series of fossils that show every small step of an evolutionary journey that seems to have proceeded in fits and starts” (Sharon Begley and John Carey, “Evolution: Change at a Snail’s Pace.” Newsweek, 7 December 1981).

Speaking for myself, I was convinced that the evolution of man was an unchallengeable “given” of modern knowledge until I read Charles Darwin’s “Origin of Species“. The ninth chapter (The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. Ed. J.W. Burrow. London: Penguin Books, 1979, 291-317) made it clear, from what Darwin modestly calls the “great imperfection of the geological record” that the theory was not in principle falsifiable, though the possibility that some kind of evidence or another should be able in principle to disprove a theory is a condition (if we can believe logicians like Karl Popper) for it to be considered scientific. By its nature, fossil evidence of intermediate forms that could prove or disprove the theory remained unfound and unfindable. When I read this, it was not clear to me how such an theory could be called “scientific”.

However, it seems clear that none of the Islamic views support that Prophet Adam evolved from an ape. So what does that make of the hours of evolution-of-man being hammered into young Muslims’ mind? How do we answer this, amidst all the differing  views and opinions? Do we even have a concrete answer?

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Answering with the Mind

Islam and science have also been supportive and complimentary. There are many many many verses recording scientific facts revealed some 1400 years ago, long before they were discovered by scientists. (Dr. Maurice Bucailles’ The Bible, the Qur’an and Science is a good start.)

The Qu’ran and sunnah revealed passages about the creation of earth and space which is compatible with the Big Bang and expansion of universe theories. For instance, as for the video above on the Tree of Life, which stated that everything started out in the sea, the Qur’an states (which also includes the Big Bang):

أَوَلَمْ يَرَ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا أَنَّ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالأرْضَ كَانَتَا رَتْقًا فَفَتَقْنَاهُمَا وَجَعَلْنَا مِنَ الْمَاءِ كُلَّ شَيْءٍ حَيٍّ أَفَلا يُؤْمِنُونَ

“Have not those who disbelieve known that the heavens and the earth were joined together as one united piece, then we parted them? And we have made from water every living thing, will they not then believe?” (al-Anbiyaa’:30)

وَاللَّهُ خَلَقَ كُلَّ دَابَّةٍ مِنْ مَاءٍ فَمِنْهُمْ مَنْ يَمْشِي عَلَى بَطْنِهِ وَمِنْهُمْ مَنْ يَمْشِي عَلَى رِجْلَيْنِ وَمِنْهُمْ مَنْ يَمْشِي عَلَى أَرْبَعٍ يَخْلُقُ اللَّهُ مَا يَشَاءُ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَلَى كُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدِيرٌ

“And Allah has created every animal from water: of them there are some that creep on their bellies; some that walk on two legs; and some that walk on four. Allah creates what He wills for verily Allah has power over all things.” (al-Nuur:45)

(Sidenote: In the same video, there is also an interesting point which is related in the Qur’an, regarding the extinction of dinosaurs and the appearance of the birds. At 4m 24s, it noted “…65 million years ago, a great disaster overtook the Earth. Whatever its cause, a great proportion of animal life was exterminated. All the dinosaurs disappeared – except for one branch, whose scales had become modified into feathers. They were the birds.” After Prophet Adam’s descent to Earth, which he is told to take sartorial cover from the feathers of the birds as in al-A’raaf, 26: “You Adam’s sons and daughters, We had descended on you a cover (that) conceals your shameful genital private parts, and feathers/riches/possessions, and the fear and obedience (of God’s) cover/dress, that (is) better.” The word for ‘feather/riches/possessions’ here is  ريشاً and usually translated as adornment, but in it’s original meaning, it is referred the feather of birds; the bird’s feather is its adornment. Obviously this is a relation which may require some stretch of imagination, so I’ll pause here. Furthermore, this doesn’t exactly assist my argument below.)

Answering from the Heart

Yet despite the great scientific revelations of the Qur’an, humans have a tendency to nitpick on one single scientific theory (evolution) which may not be explained by the Qur’an? Or perhaps it will be, in the far future, once Allah decides to reveal that particular detail to mankind. What is the possibility that we didn’t evolve from apes? Long ago, everyone on earth believed the world was flat, and that theory was history. How sure are we about evolution that it can’t be falsified and proven otherwise?

And perhaps the actual danger comes from the fact that most of the college and university-educated Muslims are simply trained have a systematic thought process; one before two, have money before kids,  etc. While it may be beneficial, it may also hinder the faith in Allah and the spirit of tawakkul when in dire circumstances, such as those who would thinks that a credit loan is the foremost solution to monetary problems instead of praying first to Allah. This also signals the loss of adab to The Creator, He is the utmost whom we seek refuge and help in any situation.

A pertinent question was asked by Ziauddin Sardar:

[The scientific-miracles apologia] opens the Quran to the counter argument of Popper’s criteria of refutation: would the Quran be proved false and written off, just as Bucaille writes off the Bible, if a particular scientific fact does not tally with it, or if a particular fact mentioned in the Quran is refuted by modern science? (Source)

How true, not everything can be scientifically explained. How would one scientifically explain heaven and hell, isra’ mi’raaj, and many more instances of mu’jizah gifted to our beloved Prophet Muhammad ﷺ? Scientific knowledge is still growing and ever-changing pending new findings and experiments. How would one explain the ruh (soul) to scientists? Even with the MacDougall Experiment in 1907, the loss of weight upon death was some 21 grams, which some argue is either the weight of breath inside the human body, or within the margin of error.

Attempting to justify everything with scientific knowledge may lead to bad science. One doesn’t need to be convinced of the scientific advantages behind Allah’s instruction. It could simply be a test for the heart and soul, to elevate the faith of the believer and condemn those who aren’t.

A friend once asked me why do Muslim women wear the hijab. I told her for reasons such as modesty and humility. She replied, “But you do not need reason to do that. If you believe in Allah, why do you need to question his command?”

Not every single thing can be proved by science. Instead in this “everything-can-be-explained-by-science” world, more emphasis should be placed on faith. Just because you believe in miracle, doesn’t mean you must or can explain it.

Even though the fitrah of the human is belief in The Creator, having ourselves tamed to do otherwise in years of secular institutions only serves to enhance our insecurity through the limited reasoning of the human mind. Often the teachings of Islam is sidelined to accommodate the peer-pressure rhetorics of society dominated by secular atheistic opinions.

For this reason, it’s not surprising that non-religious, college-educated adults fall back on purpose-seeking explanations. Many people have little understanding of evolution and instead view it as a cultural belief, thinking: “‘I’m a good secular liberal, I’m no yokel, I believe in Darwin,'” Bloom says. (Source)

And the gifted Sayyed Hossein Nasr recently pointed out:

The secularist paradigm which was created in the 17th century is itself a pseudo-religion in that it is a view of the nature of reality. There is no abstract knowledge; knowledge is always within the framework of a worldview, of a way of looking at the nature of reality.

We need to be reminded that secularism itself is not value-free. It is heavily influenced by the post-Christian movement, and the result is looking at everything from a completely atheistic point of view.

We always forget that Allah is the creator of this beautiful earth, suspended in space with the other planets religiously moving on a trajectory determined by Him. We always forget that Allah doesn’t need scientific reasoning to create, “kun fa yakuun” (“Be, and it becomes”), as was how we were created into beings. We always forget that we were created from nothing, and once we pass away, from nothing we will be recreated. Nothing is impossible, as Allah the Omnipotent Creator is unlike us, not bound by the laws of physics which He imposed on us mortals. If he decided to create Prophet Adam from dust, then he be. And he was.

…regarding the issue of natural “laws,” or more precisely, the issue of causality which is a prerequisite for the construction of natural laws. Scholars from Ash`ari school of theology, such as Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, denied the principle of causality, asserting that Allah is either acting directly or through the angels. This was done in order to uphold the omnipotence of God who, given a strict view of causality, would be subservient to the laws of nature, and, hence, would not constitute the ultimate reality. (Source)

Allah doesn’t need a cause. Kun, fa yakuun.

Even experts who delve deep in the knowledge of science find themselves berlieving in the existence of a Creator. For instance, the man who cracked the genome code said:

“When you make a breakthrough it is a moment of scientific exhilaration because you have been on this search and seem to have found it,” he said. “But it is also a moment where I at least feel closeness to the creator in the sense of having now perceived something that no human knew before but God knew all along.

“When you have for the first time in front of you this 3.1 billion-letter instruction book that conveys all kinds of information and all kinds of mystery about humankind, you can’t survey that going through page after page without a sense of awe. I can’t help but look at those pages and have a vague sense that this is giving me a glimpse of God’s mind.”

While from Einstein himself:

“There are people who say there is no God,” he told a friend. “But what makes me really angry is that they quote me for support of such views.” And unlike Sigmund Freud or Bertrand Russell or George Bernard Shaw, Einstein never felt the urge to denigrate those who believed in God; instead, he tended to denigrate atheists. “What separates me from most so-called atheists is a feeling of utter humility toward the unattainable secrets of the harmony of the cosmos,” he explained.

In fact, Einstein tended to be more critical of debunkers, who seemed to lack humility or a sense of awe, than of the faithful. “The fanatical atheists,” he wrote in a letter, “are like slaves who are still feeling the weight of their chains which they have thrown off after hard struggle. They are creatures who–in their grudge against traditional religion as the ‘opium of the masses’– cannot hear the music of the spheres.”

So, while the certain parts of the Qur’an may be supported by science, we must also remember that many other parts involve the ghaibiyyaat, the world of the unseen, not bound by the laws of science and physics that applies to Allah’s creations: the minerals, animals, elements, planets, and his creatures which we do not even know exist. Some people are more keen to credit unexplainable events to the “force of nature”, rather than Allah. Lest we forget, our very existence is bound by our purpose in life. Humans are no “accident” of “nature”. We will be questioned on our doings.

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Further Readings:

Evolution and Islam by Shaikh Nuh ha Mim Keller (recommended)

Evolution in the Light of Islam

Islam’s Darwin problem

Muslim academics and students are turning against Darwin’s theory

Academics fight rise of creationism at universities

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General law will prevail over fatwa (Pt II): Nuzriah not as a substitute?

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Going through MUIS’ 30-odd pages of deliberation on the fatwa regarding nuzriah and joint-tenancy (where the ownership of a property is shared between two people), I have a sense that the exercise of nuzriah is seemingly recommended only on joint-tenancy properties.

Based on what I read and discussions with some colleagues, the fatwa on nuzriah is presented not as a substitute for the faraidh, but instead as a recommendation specifically on properties which were purchased under joint-tenancy agreements. Basically, this is to avoid disputes on claims of the property when there are still surviving joint-tenants living in the place.

To illustrate:

1. Husband and Wife bought an apartment together as joint tenants.

2. Husband passed away leaving $100,000, and the apartment which costs $400,000. As the Wife owns half of the apartment, the husband’s total estate is the $100,000 cash, and half of the apartment’s value which is $200,000, making it a total of $300,000.

3. Husband also has one brother. According to faraid, the Wife and the Husband’s Brother should split the $300,000 equally, making it $150,000 per person.

4. Now even if the wife gives the Husband’s Brother the $100,000 cash, she still has got to fork out another $50,000. It might be very difficult for her to sell off the apartment and get a new one. Add to that the scenario of the Wife taking care of her parents, or suffering from a disease, or facing other difficulties.

5. As such, the nuzriah is recommended to be exercised on the apartment only, which was bought under joint-tenancy agreement. This is especially useful if the wife and children are still living in the house; one wouldn’t expect them to move out after the father’s death so that it can be sold and divided to other beneficiaries; where would they stay then?

In this sense, I agree that this advantageous approach (of nuzriah) in ensuring the well-being of the immediate beneficiaries (usually the surviving wife and children living in the house), while at the same time allowing the rest of the estate (i.e. the $100,000 cash as in the example above) to be allotted according to the faraidh.

Here’s MUIS’ (ambiguous?) official reply to the matter. As for the deliberation, while from my understanding the MUIS’ paper seemed to incline on limiting the nuzriah for joint-tenancy properties, it stopped short of promoting faraidh for properties purchased otherwise.

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Avatar, “Allah”, and the Palestinian shawl

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What’s up with name association these days?

I try not to comment on such subjects; the internet and newspapers are already laden with views and arguments from more qualified experts. But then I received an email related to the movie “Avatar”, which said:

Before you get your children excited over “AVATAR” and keep saying the word again and again.

It continues:

An Avatar is in incarnation of a fragment of God on Earth. Avatars that are known of in the West include, Christ, Buddha, Rama, and Krishna; but there are many others as enumerated in the Bhagavata, the story of all the major Avatars.

To be frank, the first thing that came to my mind when I hear the word “avatar” was the small picture that is placed by a user in an internet forum, as a mean to identify himself. But that may be because I am partly internet-biased.

However, such associations of terminologies are nothing new, although it’s given its time in the media now. Especially, with the current debacle over the usage of the word “Allah” for Christians in Malaysia.

“Allah”: Is it for Muslims only?

To answer that, the easiest method will be to ascertain whether the word “Allah” was used in times before Islam. According to the editable Wikipedia (pinch of salt), the term “Allah” was already used in pre-Islamic times in the Middle East.

And to my humble knowledge, the term “Allah” is already being used in the Middle East today to refer to “God”, so much so that if you can get your hands on an Arabic-language bible, you can see clearly that the word “Allah” is used in it. (Sidenote: the debate over there must have been much more interesting, if there were any.)

Spot the word “Allah” (). Taken from the Old Testament, Exodus 1.


Taken from the New Testament, Luke 1.

Even the famous Muslim preacher Ahmad Deedat had been saying the word “Allah” does exist in the bible. At the same time, he also pleaded:

I had made some public statements regarding my discovery of the word “Alah” as alternatively spelled from the usual Christian spelling “Elah.” My plea to the Christians was this that spell the word as you like, with an “A” or an “E”, with a single “L” or double “LL’s”, but for goodness sake pronounce the word correctly, as we Muslims do.

…As much as the Englishman has the right to dictate to us as to how his language is to be sounded, surely we Muslims have as much right to demand a common courtesy when taking the name of God. We do not wish the word Allah to go into limbo like the “Yahuwa” of the ]ews. More than 6000 times the formula “YAHUWA ELAH,” or ya”HUWA ALAH,” or “HUWALLAH,” (He is Allah!) occur in the Hebrew manuscripts of the Jewish Bible, commonly called the “Old Testament,” by the Christians.

(Source)

Differing views

However in this blog here, the author posited that the the word “Allah” is used exclusively by the Muslims, and the Christians were advised with caution when using such terms.

The ex-PM of Malaysia has also lent his voice to the issue, citing his disagreement over the permissibility of the usage of “Allah” for non-Muslim reference.

This puts him at loggerheads with his own daughter, who sees no wrong in the usage, and also, surprise surprise, the Islamic political party PAS, which allows the usage of “Allah”, with caution against abuse.

Let Islam/Muslims be the Trendsetter

Yet, it is very common for Muslims be on the opposite of the spectrum, i.e., apprehensive of non-Islamic terms being used in everyday communications, such as the word “idol”. Muslims, generally, are very aware of the etymology of the word “idol”, especially when American Idol variants first came to our shores.

Then there were the Muslims who warned me when an Ar-Raudhah mosque (Bukit Batok, Singapore) was built with no dome, and star polygons decorating it. They say that  if another religion were to take over the mosque, they don’t need to do any redecorating. Firstly, I think it’s unlikely that “another religion” will “take over” the premise, and secondly, I think they confused it with the Jewish Star of David.

Same as those who sees the designs in window frames as Christian crosses. Some people may even freak out at the uncapitalized sans bottom-stroke “t”.

Still, such mindsets come from those who are not keen on Muslims copying from other people, yet unknowingly they are hogging everything that’s un-Islamic. Then there are the multi-colored rubber wristbands (made popular by superman Lance Armstrong), the supposedly-beneficial magnetic bracelets, and many more trends which numerous Muslims bulldoze through to be a part of.

This is the Palestinian-popularized kuufiyyah. People usually know it as keffiyah. (Image credit)

Then sometime two years ago, American talk-show host Rachel Ray came under fire for wearing one of those Palestinian kuufiyyah in her commercial. Of course the ad got pulled off as idiocy auto-translates that into support for the Palestinian cause.

Personally, aside from the controversy, I think the kuufiyyah is one of those examples that Muslims can learn from; a Muslim-associated symbol that is being internationally accepted. While its current usage on fashion runways is not something that a Muslim should be proud of, it does aid in the much-needed awareness for the Palestinian cause.

How wonderful is it if we can have more beneficial teachings and ideas which originate from Islam and Muslims themselves. Such trends and positive influences had contributed to the spread of Islam in Southeast Asia, through the generous Yemeni merchants (or some argue the Indian Muslim merchants came first). The spread of knowledge into Europe and the contribution the Islamic philosophers, scientists, religious scholars and many more in the time of “medieval” science and technology, Islamic architectures and designs being replicated and explained today through mathematics and many more, were all due to Islam and Muslims being the trendsetters of their time.

Come to think of it, it is hard to think of contemporary Islamic trendsetters nowadays.  Nobel (non-peace prize) laureates, brilliant inventors, and skilled orators (no entertainers please) are what we need badly to give a positive lift to our disdained image today. While consistently producing world-class trendsetters admittedly takes time, I think the Palestinian shawl is a good place to start.

So what now?

Back to the usage of the word “Allah”, while it is already being used in native Arabic-speaking countries, Deedat’s word does hold sound advice. However, in religiously-sensitive Malaysia, one has got to understand that the usage of the word may lead to more confusion than liberation.

While it is true that language, as well as fashion, evolves from one time to another, one has also got to weight the nuances of sentiments, and ramifications of judgment.

For instance, some restaurant owners display “Allah” openly to signify that they serve halal Muslim food. So maybe one day, the time will come when a customer got to ask whether that hanging “Allah” frame means they serve halal food or not; issues like this must be considered too before passing judgment.

As for me, I’m still waiting for the proper hijab is going to be an international fashion trend.

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Further reading:

Beza Antara Merebut Nama Allah Dan Mempertahankan Akidah (The Difference Between Wrestling for Allah’s Name and Defending the Faith)

Related post:

The “Allah” Dilemma: A Linguist’s View

The (Long) Road to Racial Understanding

Forget about racial/religious harmony. To reach that pinnacle of give-and-take, basic understanding must take place. This, one assume, is basically a given in Singapore; most people from other groups know that the void deck is being used by Malays to hold marriages, Chinese for funerals, and Indians to hold birthdays and other gatherings.

But we are in trouble if that is all we know, especially if we are part of the organizing personnels involved in multi-racial multi-religion events.

For instance, I’ve been to events which were supposed to provide lunch and dinner for the participants, of which include Muslims. The organizers know a bit about Muslim diet; we aren’t allowed to consume pork. So they prepared chicken wraps and salads. In such cases, the chicken is avoided, and the salads usually come to the rescue.

No Pork No Lard ≠ Halal

True, Muslims can’t eat pork, and it’s no rocket science that chicken isn’t pork. Unfortunately, another aspect of the Muslim diet which most people do not know is that all meats must be slaughtered in a specific manner, thus the term halal meat. Alcohol should also not be served, and that includes tiramisu.

The importance of details in planning such events are so vital that most attendees just assume that their needs are catered to. Here in Singapore, organizers are usually aware of the particularities of those involved, and just choose to conveniently cater from halal-certified providers, or go vegan.

By the look of things in Singapore, I would say most passed the food test, except for the tiramisu which I really suspect isn’t alcohol-free. But, they’ve still got a long way to go.

Firstly, the “no pork no lard” phrase has just gotta go. It may work well for someone who has allergy or adverse reaction to pork, but it is sometimes confusing for those who doesn’t understand that “no pork no lard” ≠ halal. Though one may not entirely fault the shopowners (usually bakeries which doesn’t use no pork/lard but uses non-halal sausages etc) as they are merely stating facts, the Muslim consumer should also be more aware of his decisions.

no pork no lard

“No pork no lard” ≠ halal! Religion is not to be dictated by the rumbling stomach. (Image credit)

Such diluted understanding is prevalent here in Singapore, but apparently in other countries. Take this biscuit produced in Korea, sold here in Singapore.

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The highlighted part actually translates into: Free from pork products and its derivatives. While this may put some hearts at rest, other may question does the E-4xx emulsifiers contain gelatin from non-halal beef? Here’s what the local religious body’s got to say on the matter.

Food claims such as ‘No Pork, No Lard’ do not necessarily imply that the food is truly Halal. Halal food must not contain and/or come into direct contact with non-Halal items. Examples of these include alcohol, pork and meat deriving from sheep which are not slaughtered in accordance with the Islamic Law.

Calendar and Events

Besides food, some religion also possesses their own calendar system. Nothing too hard to ignore, as major religious events are widely reported here, such as the Deepavali, Hari Raya, Chinese New Year, and Thaipusam. Event organizers should therefore take note of the dates, else the targeted crowd may not come.

This is a banner of what is supposed to be “Racial Harmony Sports Day”. At first glance, all seems to be okay; everyone from all races are invited to participate – a wonderful thought.

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The true test of endurance: Sports + fasting.

One little issue though, the date 13/09/2009 is the final week of the fasting month of Ramadan, prior to the Muslim Hari Raya celebration.

One may say that I’m being too picky by pointing these out, but in reality, a fasting person would do as much to conserve his energy as even a drop of water is not allowed. Furthermore, for the event organizers to call it “Racial Harmony” is unfortunately oxymoronic if it is not suited to the racial groups’ observances.

And here’s a reader’s letter from today’s paper on Deepavali. I share his thoughts on the issue.

Diwali is essentially known as the festival of lights, as it marks the return of King Rama to reclaim his throne after a 14-year exile in the forest, and his victory over Ravana, a legendary evil king who abducted his wife Sita, and lights were put up in celebration.

It is also celebrated by Sikhs, who commemorate the return of Guru Hargobind, who had been imprisoned with 52 other princes at Fort Gwalior by Emperor Jahangir.

It is a major symbolic festival, but the proper greeting should be simply ‘Happy Diwali’ or ‘Happy Deepavali’, and more good times ahead, not ‘Happy New Year’.

While I do appreciate the nice gesture from my non-Muslim friends when they send me greetings on Hari Raya, it slightly bugs me that most of them choose to greet by saying “Happy New Year”. Hari Raya is not a new year. It falls on the 10th month of the lunar calendar. That’s like wishing someone a happy new year in October.

<Given-Name> <Family-Name> <Father’s Name>

Each culture also has their own name structure convention. Chinese and Western names usually have a <given-name><family-name> convention (or vice-versa). Malay and Indian names (at least in Singapore) meanwhile doesn’t include family names, their names consist of <given-name> <father’s name>.

I had naively expected this to be common cultural knowledge, knowing that the word bin and binte in the Malay/Arabic naming convention correlates with the Indian s/o and d/o. Well, I thought wrong.

Here’s a passage from the local daily, which mentions a politician’s name. The politician, a Malay,  is Hawazi Daipi. According to the Malay naming convention, he should be called by his first name, and not his last name; his last name is actually his father’s name and not his family name.

Apparently the reporter doesn’t get it, and reported here:

…Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Manpower Hawazi Daipi in Parliament on Monday afternoon.

Mr Daipi was responding to questions by MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC Baey Yam Keng who asked what help do bosses who can’t afford to pay the full medical bills of their maids get. He also asked if the Government would consider capping the maximum liability of bosses.

Mr Daipi said to reduce the burden of these large medical bills…

Sloppy, as a quick google would have produced his CV and given clues to his ‘surname’.

But this example is not a rarity. I have been many times, in situations when formality ensues, called by my ‘surname’; I don’t have one, so they were actually calling me by my father’s name. So much so that I got used to it.

In fact, my previous workplace requires the work email address to be a combination fo the first letter of my first name, and my last name in full. Which in this case will be x_FATHERSNAME@xxxxx.com. It truly was irritating. My request to have it changed wasn’t accepted. I do not mind if I actually do have a surname, but I simply don’t.

And it sounds really idiotic to have my email address based on my father’s name instead of my own. Just what can I do then?

Understanding, then Harmony

Until we have these issues being understood by everyone of different racial and religious background, the word “racial/religious harmony” will amost always be viewed like some propaganda horn blown by from the top. True, to an extent is does coerce a nervous and artificial form of tolerance, with the main objective of avoiding trouble and confrontations, while gulping down the occasional uneasiness.

But when one look closely, these trivial issues are not really so trivial, they form the very basis of harmony. How can a society truly achieve this “harmony” if it doesn’t even know what to call its neighbour? Or what to serve when hosting them? Or when to hold meet-ups or gatherings?

Culture is deeply rooted for generations. Religion is a way of life. They influence names and name structure, possesses their own calendar system, practices, and rituals.

In the end, one must remember that religion and culture is not just all about food.

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Why Muslims Follow Mazhabs

This is a 10-point summary-excerpt of Sheikh Nuh Ha Mim Keller’s excellent treatise, titled “Why Muslims Follow Madhhabs“.

1. Introduction:

The work of the mujtahid Imams of Sacred Law, those who deduce shari‘a rulings from Qur’an and hadith, has been the object of my research for some years now, during which I have sometimes heard the question: “Who needs the Imams of Sacred Law when we have the Qur’an and hadith? Why can’t we take our Islam from the word of Allah and His Messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace), which are divinely protected from error, instead of taking it from the madhhabs or “schools of jurisprudence” of the mujtahid Imams such as Abu Hanifa, Malik, Shafi‘i, and Ahmad, which are not?”

2. “Why can’t I interpret the Qur’an and hadiths on my own?”

Here’s why:

I had a visitor one day in Jordan, for example, who, when we talked about why he hadn’t yet gone on hajj, mentioned the hadith of Anas ibn Malik that

the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “Whoever prays the dawn prayer (fajr) in a group and then sits and does dhikr until the sun rises, then prays two rak‘as, shall have the like of the reward of a hajj and an ‘umra.” Anas said, “The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said: ‘Completely, completely, completely’” (Tirmidhi, 2.481).

My visitor had done just that this very morning, and he now believed that he had fulfilled his obligation to perform the hajj, and had no need to go to Mecca. The hadith was well authenticated (hasan). I distinguished for my visitor between having the reward of something, and lifting the obligation of Islam by actually doing it, and he saw my point.

But there is a larger lesson here, that while the Qur’an and the sunna are ma‘sum or “divinely protected from error,” the understanding of them is not. And someone who derives rulings from the Qur’an and hadith without training in ijtihad or “deduction from primary texts” as my visitor did, will be responsible for it on the Day of Judgment.

3. “But I’m different! I understand some Arabic, and have access to translated verses. I can base my rational judgment on my personal understanding.”

Not that easy. There are requirements to fulfill.

…there should be a category of people who have learned the religion so as to be qualified in turn to teach it. And Allah has commanded those who do not know a ruling in Sacred Law to ask those who do, by saying in surat al-Nahl,

“Ask those who recall if you know not” (Qur’an 16:43),

in which the words “those who recall,” ahl al-dhikri, indicate those with knowledge of the Qur’an and sunna, at their forefront the mujtahid Imams of this Umma. Why? Because, first of all, the Qur’an and hadith are in Arabic, and as a translator, I can assure you that it is not just any Arabic.

4. “What Arabic is it then?”

To understand the Qur’an and sunna, the mujtahid must have complete knowledge of the Arabic language in the same capacity as the early Arabs themselves had before the language came to be used by non-native speakers.

5. “Yet we all have our Yusuf ‘Ali Qur’ans, and our Sahih al-Bukhari translations. Aren’t these adequate scholarly resources?”

These are valuable books, and do convey perhaps the largest and most important part of our din: the basic Islamic beliefs, and general laws of the religion. Our discussion here is not about these broad principles, but rather about understanding specific details of Islamic practice, which is called precisely fiqh. For this, I think any honest investigator who studies the issues will agree that the English translations are not enough. They are not enough because understanding the total Qur’an and hadith textual corpus, which comprises what we call the din, requires two dimensions in a scholar: a dimension of breadth, the substantive knowledge of all the texts; and a dimension of depth, the methodological tools needed to join between all the Qur’anic verses and hadiths, even those that ostensibly contradict one another.

6. “So exactly how much do I need to know?”

As for the breadth of a mujtahid’s knowledge, it is recorded that Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal’s student Muhammad ibn ‘Ubaydullah ibn al-Munadi heard a man ask him [Imam Ahmad]:

“When a man has memorized 100,000 hadiths, is he a scholar of Sacred Law, a faqih?” And he said, “No.” The man asked, “200,000 then?” And he said, “No.” The man asked, “Then 300,000?” And he said, “No.” The man asked, “400,000?” And Ahmad gestured with his hand to signify “about that many.” (Ibn al-Qayyim: I‘lam al-muwaqqi‘in, 4.205).

7. Not only that, the various categories of hadiths must also be considered, and one must also know where to look for them in the first place.

…Even if we eliminate the different chains, and speak only about the hadiths from the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) that are plainly acceptable as evidence, whether sahih, “rigorously authenticated” or hasan “well authenticated” (which for purposes of ijtihad, may be assimilated to the sahih), we are still speaking of well over 10,000 hadiths, and they are not contained in Bukhari alone, or in Bukhari and Muslim alone, nor yet in any six books, or even in any nine.

8. And when one finds and understands all the hadiths, he must be able to view them in a holistic, bird’s-eye view so as to find what all the various meanings reveal.

One example:

“The food of those who have been given the Book is lawful for you, and your food is lawful for them” (Qur’an 5:5).

This is a general ruling ostensibly pertaining to all their food. Yet this ruling is subject to takhsis, or “restriction” by more specific rulings that prove that certain foods of Ahl al-Kitab, “those who have been given the Book,” such as pork, or animals not properly slaughtered, are not lawful for us.

Ignorance of this principle of takhsis or restriction seems to be especially common among would-be mujtahids of our times, from whom we often hear the more general ruling in the words “But the Qur’an says,” or “But the hadith says,” without any mention of the more particular ruling from a different hadith or Qur’anic versethat restricts it. The reply can only be “Yes, brother, the Qur’an does say, ‘The food of those who have been given the Book is lawful for you,’ But what else does it say?” or “Yes, the hadith in Sahih al-Bukhari says the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) bared his thigh on the return from Khaybar. But what else do the hadiths say, and more importantly, are you sure you know it?”

There are several other beautiful and equally technical examples in the full text.

9. What about Imam al-Shafi’i’s  famous quote that I can just follow a sahih (authentic) hadith instead of his mazhab?

“When a hadith is sahih, it is my school (madhhab)” …has been misunderstood by some to mean that if one finds a hadith, for example, in Sahih al-Bukhari that is inconsistent with a position of Shafi‘i’s, one should presume that he was ignorant of it, drop the fiqh, and accept the hadith.

…Shafi‘i is referring to hadiths that he was previously unaware of and that mujtahid scholars know him to have been unaware of when he gave a particular ruling. And this, as Imam Nawawi has said, “is very difficult,” for Shafi‘i was aware of a great deal. We have heard the opinion of Shafi‘i’s student Ahmad ibn Hanbal about how many hadiths a faqih (fiqh scholar) must know, and he unquestionably considered Shafi‘i to be such a scholar, for Shafi‘i was his sheikh in fiqh. Ibn Khuzayma, known as “the Imam of Imams” in hadith memorization, was once asked, “Do you know of any rigorously authenticated (sahih) hadith that Shafi‘i did not place in his books?” And he said “No” (Nawawi: al-Majmu‘, 1.10). And Imam Dhahabi has said, “Shafi‘i did not make a single mistake about a hadith” (Ibn Subki: Tabaqat al-Shafi‘iyya, 9.114). It is clear from all of this that Imam Shafi‘i’s statement “When a hadith is sahih, it is my position” only makes sense — and could result in meaningful corrections — if addressed to scholars at a level of hadith mastery comparable to his own.

10. In conclusion…

As for would-be mujtahids who know some Arabic and are armed with books of hadith, they are like the would-be doctor we mentioned earlier: if his only qualification were that he could read English and owned some medical books, we would certainly object to his practicing medicine, even if it were no more than operating on someone’s little finger. So what should be said of someone who knows only Arabic and has some books of hadith, and wants to operate on your akhira?

To understand why Muslims follow madhhabs, we have to go beyond simplistic slogans about “the divinely-protected versus the non-divinely-protected,” and appreciate the Imams of fiqh who have operationalized the Qur’an and sunna to apply in our lives as shari‘a, and we must ask ourselves if we really “hear and obey” when Allah tells us

“Ask those who know if you know not” (Qur’an 16:43).

It’s worth the read. Trust me.

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Full text: Sheikh Nuh Ha Mim Keller’s “Why Muslims Follow Madhhabs”