Frailty of the Powerful, Musa and Death, Undisclosed Balancing

Issue 1024 » November 9, 2018 - Rabi al-Awwal 1, 1440

Living The Quran

Frailty of the Powerful
Al-Ankabut (The Spider) - Chapter 29: Verses 41-43

"Those who take anyone other than God for their protectors may be compared to the spider which makes for itself a home. Indeed the spider's home is the frailest of all homes, if they but knew it. God certainly knows the nature of whatever people invoke instead of Him. He alone is Almighty, Wise. Such are the comparisons We draw for people's benefit, but none will grasp their meaning except the people of knowledge."

This is an amazing but true picture of the powers operating in the universe. People sometimes overlook this truth and hence their values fall by the wayside. Indeed their concept of human relations grows corrupt and all their criteria become ill-balanced. They do not know which way to go, what to take up and what to leave. In this situation, the power of government deceives them. They feel it to be too strong, address their wishes and complaints to it, fear it and try to appease it so that they remain safe from its strong-handed measures. Similarly, they are deceived by other powers, such as that of wealth which they imagine to control people's lives. They, thus, try to obtain wealth so that they can exercise power over others. The power of knowledge also deceives them as they consider it a source of strength, wealth and all other elements that give people power. Hence, they approach it with humility, just like a worshipper engaged in devotion. Whether controlled by individuals, communities or states, apparent power deceives them. They are pulled towards it like moths are attracted to light or swarm towards a fire.

People are thus oblivious of the one power which creates all the little powers, owns, gives, directs and uses them as it pleases. They forget that seeking support and protection from these little powers is just like a spider taking refuge in its web. It remains a small powerless insect that has no power within itself or its flimsy web.

The only real support and protection for man is with God. This is the main truth which the Quran takes special care to instil in the minds of believers. It makes their community stronger than all the powers that try to obstruct it. Over the centuries it enabled the community of believers to place the arrogance of tyrants under its feet and to overcome tyranny in its strongest forts and seemingly impregnable lines. This great truth is established in every believer's mind, it has filled every heart and become part of their very being. It is no longer a word we utter, or a subject for debate. It is the main idea in our lives, minds and senses.

Compiled From:
"In The Shade of The Quran" - Sayyid Qutb, Vol. 13, pp. 253-254

Understanding The Prophet's Life

Musa and Death

Abu Hurayra reported that the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, "The Angel of Death came to Musa, peace be upon him, and said, 'Respond to your Lord.' Musa, peace be upon him, punched the Angel of Death in the eye and knocked it out. So the angel returned to Allah Almighty and said, 'You sent me to a slave of Yours who does not want to die and he has knocked out my eye.' Allah restored his eye to him and said, 'Return to My slave and ask him, "Do you want life? If you want life, place your hand on the back of an ox and you will have a year for every hair your hand covers."' He said, 'Then what?' 'Then you will die,' he said. He said, 'The time is near. Allah, make me die a stone's throw from the Holy Land.'" The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace then said, "By Allah, if I were with him, I would show you his grave beside the road at the Red Dune." [Bukhari]

Anyone who accuses someone of heresy for denying the hadith is careless of the honour of Muslims. The truth is that the text contains an impairing fault which makes it less than sound. Its acceptance or rejection is a matter of intellectual dispute, not a dispute involving dogma. The fault in the text was noted by exacting scholars but is hidden from people of superficial thought.

If the angel had told Musa, "Respond to your Lord," meaning "Your life has ended, so prepare to surrender your soul and return to Your Lord," why should this grieve Musa? Those who defend the hadith say that Musa, like all people, hated death. We reply, "Dislike of death is understood in normal circumstances for normal people but it has no sense at the end of someone's lifespan when the angel comes to take back the trust. Why would Musa dislike the unavoidable meeting to the extent that this dislike was transformed into the anxiety and anger which caused Musa to knock out the eye of the angel as is said! Those who defend the hadith say that Musa knocked the eye out of the form that the angel took because he came in the form of a human being; but that is refuted by what one hadith says about Allah restoring his eye to him.

The real point is that this hadith and those like it have no relevance to doctrine or conduct which would make it important for the practical teachings of Islam. So why do people delve into it, distract others with it and ascribe heresy to those who hesitate to accept it? The enemies of the Islamic Resurgence are behind this pointless exercise. The imams of hadith reject the soundness of its isnad and fault its text, and so by these shortcomings it fails to meet the preconditions of soundness.

Compiled From:
"The Sunna of the Prophet" - Muhammad al-Ghazali


Undisclosed Balancing

Are parents allowed to force their daughters to marry? Is it lawful for the daughter in question to refuse to marry the person her parents have selected? Is it unlawful for a woman to defer marriage so that she may complete her studies? Is a woman religiously obligated to marry?

In legal opinions issued by some jurists, it is asserted that it is unlawful to force a woman to marry; consent is a necessary element in the marriage contract and so coercion is impermissible. Next, they state that even though a father may not coerce his daughter into marriage, it is unlawful for a daughter to disobey her father by rejecting a suitor without good cause. They contend that fathers know what is in the best interest of their child, especially in the case of women because women are overcome by irrational emotions. If a father selects or approves of a suitor, then it is obligatory upon the daughter to accept that person unless the suitor is not religious - for example, he does not pray or drinks alcohol. Furthermore, it is religiously incumbent upon all women to marry, and deferring marriage in order to study is unlawful. Some offer the advice that if the woman wishes, she may set a condition in the marriage contract that would obligate her husband to allow her to complete her education. However, they then add that they do not believe that it is necessary for a woman to attain an education beyond the elementary level. It is sufficient for a woman to learn to read and write, and a pious Muslim woman should not aspire to more than that. Some go even further to assert that a woman may not neglect her housework or her obligation to take care of her husband in order to pursue Islamic studies. While religious knowledge is important, it is sufficient that a wife achieves a minimal degree of religious education.

It is difficult to extract from the responsa what might be considered a legal determination as opposed to social counselling. Whether fathers know best, or whether an elementary level education is sufficient for women, implicates value-based social assumptions. As to the remaining issues, those jurists use the word "unlawful" to describe the behaviour of a woman who refuses to obey her father, prefers study to marriage, prefers celibacy to marriage, and gives more attention to her studies than her husband. The use of the word "unlawful" invokes the authoritativeness of God, and indicates a legal determination. This, of course, raises the question: what is the basis of this determination? At the most basic level, those jurists were engaged in an undisclosed balancing process between different legal obligations, and the different interests attached to these legal obligations. Assuming that a daughter does have an obligation to obey her father, is weighed against the fact that a daughter has the right to choose her marital partner. The right to choose is affirmed by the prohibition of coercion in marriage. Furthermore, there is a clear Islamic obligation upon men and women to become educated, and to seek knowledge (talab al-ilm). Assuming that marriage is a legal obligation, the woman's interest in discharging the obligation of seeking knowledge must be weighed against the obligation to marry. Again, coming from particular value-based orientations, these jurists have no difficulty in ruling against the mobility and autonomy of women. Importantly, however, the outcomes of the balancing process are presented as clear Divine determinations not open to questioning.

The Quran and Sunnah do demand respect and reverence, by both men and women, for parents. However, conceptually, there is a difference between respect and obedience. Furthermore, the Islamic legal principle, "obedience is due (to anyone) only in what is good," raises the question, how do we define the good? For instance, assume that the husband picked by the parents is a pious person, but boring, short-tempered, bad-smelling or stupid. The fact that these traits might not bother the parents, or that they might not have noticed them, do not affect the parents but do affect the spiritual and intellectual balance of the spouse who has to live with them. Nothing in the sources dictates that the preferences, tastes or repose of the person who will do the actual marrying ought to be ignored or ought to be outweighed by the preferences, tastes or repose of the parents. The sources do set out principles such as respect your parents, marry a pious and good person, seek knowledge, and live a life of tranquillity etc., but they do not necessarily create a hierarchy for these principles. Importantly, the Quran emphasizes that marriage ought to be a source of tranquillity and repose for the spouses, and, arguably, this weighs the balance in favour of full autonomy for children in choosing their spouses.

Another element to consider here is the determination of the jurists that women ought to marry, even if it means cutting their studies short. The Quran does recommend marriage to those who are able to carry its burdens, and traditions attributed to the Prophet emphasize the same point. Importantly, however, the classical interpretive communities had determined that marriage is recommended, and is part of the Prophet's Sunnah, but it is not a legal obligation (al-zawaj nadb wa la yalzam). In fact, well-known jurists such as Ibn Taymiyyah and al-Nawawi never married. According to the classical jurists, a sin is not incurred for failing to marry unless a man or woman fears that they will be unable to abstain from illicit sexual relations. In addition, a person does incur a sin if they marry when they are unable to carry the burdens of marriage. Even more, the seeking of knowledge is considered a faridah (religious obligation) or, at least, a wajib (religious duty). Meanwhile, according to classical jurists, marriage is a Sunnah (recommended or favoured act), and not a mandatory obligation. Yet, those jurists, do not explain how they reached the determination that marriage takes precedence over the pursuit of knowledge. In their responsa, they invoke the categories of lawful or unlawful, but it is not clear to what extent are they relying on the authoritativeness of the classical juristic tradition, and if they are performing a de novo determination (ijtihad), what forms the basis for it. Furthermore, whether it is possible to marry and pursue knowledge at the same time hardly needs the determination of a special agent. This type of personal decision is very fact specific, and there is no indication that jurists are particularly qualified to make a general determination as to the appropriate balance to be struck in all cases.

Compiled From:
"Speaking in God's Name: Islamic Law, Authority and Women" - Khaled Abou El Fadl