Nail Polish and Ablution: a colourful conversation

The validity of ablution (wudhu) for women wearing nail polish has been a persistent question posed to jurists in the modern era given that nail polish is a relatively new phenomenon. My aim here isn’t to negate variant views - nothing significant is lost by not wearing nail polish all the time and I feel both sides of the debate have reasonable positions. 

This is not a fatwa but a brief informative article, primarily for our students, to offer some clarity around the issue. I’m cursorily providing both sides of the debate with two different hats as any scholar ought to be able to do. It’s also important to keep in mind that jurists have differed on issues far greater than nail polish without resorting to juvenile polemics. 

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Music: Some facts of the matter

Over a decade, I've been asked about music so frequently that I've finally written this. I hadn't done so until now because I didn't want to engage the cacophony of polemics. However, I hold it that believers deserve better than the one-sided narrative they’ve been presented with, especially when we're speaking on behalf of God as to what He holds to be offensive, and as millennials (and younger) become the dominant generations, we need to be far better informed. I am not advocating what people should or shouldn’t do - things affect them differently so each moral agent ought to decide what's best for them. Also note that this brief post is not a juristic presentation but just a brief clarification for those who've asked.

From the get-go it's important that we distinguish between two things people tend to conflate:

  • A range of cultures/behaviours associated (rightly or not) with types/genres of music,
  • Music as melodious sounds, and instruments.

Here I am solely dealing with music as melodious sounds (including instruments) and not speaking to certain types of music that might inspire negative behaviour in some. Since I'm dealing with melodious sounds (including instruments), I don't distinguish between sounds from singing (ghina’) and sounds from instruments (aalaat) in this shar'i discussion - and most early jurists didn't.

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The Taliban and this time around

Given that I advocate a) that believers ought to concentrate on rectifying their own regional affairs rather than assuming that they can somehow save the world to the detriment of their own situation, and b) that we need to re-evaluate the notion of all Muslims everywhere being of equal priority, why am I now commenting on Afghanistan and the Taliban? 

Simply put, the last time the Taliban were in power many young people here were left without shar’i-educated and informed voices to offer them substance and clear guidance in how to view things and what to do. What became deeply unfortunate was that this lack of cultivation allowed for the “war on terror” to cause a generation of radicalisation or misplaced priorities in the name Islam. Most became reactionary and were easily provoked along the way to do things that were counter-productive. Of course, the nefarious actions of the US and its allies required staunch opposition, but underlying confusion towards the Taliban’s claims of sharia and our relation to it, misrepresentations by lay imams, and juvenile characterisations of the Taliban built on their visual representations (beards and turbans) had people misconstrue them as the Sahabah!

Well this time around things are very different. Newer generations have much more nuanced thinking. Personally, I now have the moral obligation to do something about it, and having observed the last two decades, I have no desire to go down that path again, nor allow for a future in which my kids have to deal with the same (understandable) shortcomings. Hindsight is great wisdom and we should’ve learned a lot by now: what to do and what not to do. Many Muslims often assume doing the same thing repeatedly will somehow bring about different results - the essence of stupidity - but intelligent people know better.

For a clear idea on the issues I intend to address (and on a basic level, where the lack of clarity revolved around):

  • the Taliban
  • the shariah
  • The Caliphate 
  • The ummah
  • opposition to foreign policy

These issues have persistently caused confusion for western Muslims, who, driven by riled up emotions come out with all sorts of things, unworkable or absurd. Nearly everything you hear on these issues are uninformed by the shariah and vastly informed by populism, post-colonialism and grievance politics. In the west, political and social strategies lead to behaviour that’s either pointless or ineffective, and frustrations from the resulting failures entrenches Muslims in their unproductive methods. I think it’d be interesting to see what happens this time around if we press the restart button.

We’re certainly in a different place now, and today’s generations are different (so too are the Taliban). Times have completely changed and much of this is down to social media. Whilst Muslim millennials are far more cosmopolitan, better politically informed, more socially attuned and carry less immigrant anxieties, many ideas are still inherited because thinking on these issues hasn’t been reformed - and with negative consequences.

This is my humble attempt to do my bit, and I beseech the Most High for guidance, sincerity and rectitude.

Some clarity on the Abaya

An abaya is a common term many British Muslims use to denote a particular form of covering. Typically, it is worn by women in the Arabian Gulf from where it originates, and is synonymous with a robe or long dress. Men in the Arabian Gulf ALSO wear an abaya (also a robe). I’d like to clarify from the outset that it is NOT an Islamic garment in as much as there is no such thing as Islamic clothing - all clothing is cultural and they either meet shar’i requirements or do not.

An abayah is usually thought of as the Quranic reference to a jilbab. Strictly speaking they’re separate things. In the shari’ah, jilbab has become a conceptual form of covering (in the Prophet's era they associated it with something specific, but certainly not an abaya that didn't exist back then!), so it can include an abayah but also many other forms of covering as well. So they are NOT the same thing. (I’ll address jilbab elsewhere)

Now my point isn’t to discourage people from wearing the abayah, please do as you wish and whatever makes you happy. I’m simply addressing a point on God’s Law that people tend to misunderstand due to conflating the two separate things, and then bizarrely imposing Arabian Gulf culture on the rest of the world as if it’s a moral virtue. IT ISN’T. God the Most High neither wanted nor ordained that the world dress like Arabians, nor is it “the better thing to do” or “mustahab” - and any such assertion is silly both from a scriptural perspective AND common sense. That’s not to mention that the abaya can also be worn in a way that contravenes shar’i codes on awrah and on MANY occasions it is.

God’s Law outlines the amount to cover, and He left it with humans and their diverse cultures to decide what fashionable form that would take. If one has an inclination to a particular cultural aesthetic then that’s fine, but there is NO moral virtue in one cultural method over another (unless there are secondary factors to consider).

Washing hair after sex

I have been repeatedly asked by numbers of believing women as to the laws of bathing (ghusl) to remove sexual impurity (janabah), with the concerns around frequent ghusl and the impact it can have on hair health. Problems are exacerbated in hard water areas, not only to hair but to skin, and often skin is irritated either to frequent exposure, or the elongated periods spent in the shower detangling hair under running water. For some hair types (such as particularly curly hair) repeated showers can be quite costly having to saturate hair with conditioning products to provide enough slip to reduce hair breakage.

Even after having a bath, there are persistent issues. Certain hair types can take a significant period of time to dry, and if there is a frequent need to bath due to an active sex-life or recurrent nocturnal emission, persistent wet hair can lead to illness.

These concerns are in no way modern, approximately 1400 years ago it reached A’ishah that Abdullah b. Umar advised women to untie their hair if they bathed. Her response was the same as we might hear today: “How surprising of Ibn Umar! He directs women to untie their hair if they bath, he might as well direct them to shave their heads!" (Muslim)

To be sure, God has said concerning standing for salah, "And if you are junub (sexually impure), then cleanse yourselves." (Quran 5:6), and to not come near salah "if you are junub (sexually impure) - though you may pass through the mosque - not until you have bathed." (Quran 4:43)

However, what does bathe constitute in regards to washing the hair in this context, that is, the bathing of sexual impurity (ghusl al-janabah)? The Prophet's wife Umm Salamah, asked: "Messenger of God, I am a woman who plaits my hair, must I untie it to bathe from sexual impurity?" He said: "No, it merely suffices you that you apply three handfuls on your head then pour water over you (i.e the rest of your body) to purify.” (Muslims and Ahmad)

According to the hadith, the following suffices for purification from janabah:

  • Three handfuls of water poured over the head, and then the rest of the body saturated with water;
  • Plaited hair may remain plaited; hair does not need to be untied;
  • There is neither a requirement to rub water into the hair (or its roots) nor saturate the length of the hair.


Now before explaining the bulleted points above, a preliminary point must be made especially for those who might have multiple baths within a very short space of time. Ghusl is not obligatory immediately after intercourse; it is a condition for those who wish to engage in certain actions such as salahtawaf and dealing with the Quran. It is not necessitated merely to talk to another person or to sleep, nor is ritual impurity transferred from one human to another by touch; the Prophet said: “the believer does not pollute (others).” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim; narrated by Abu Hurairah)

Many of the aforementioned issues typically occur due to idea that the entire head must be saturated with water and rubbed, or that the length of the hair (to the tips) must be washed. To note, some of the assumptions are understandable given the hadith of Ali b. Abi Talib: “I heard the Messenger of God say: whoever leaves a spot of hair from sexual impurity which water does not reach, then God shall do such and such with him from the fire.” (Ahmad, Abu Dawud, al-Tayalisi, and al-Bazzar.) Furthermore, the hadith of A’ishah offers us a general description: “If the Prophet bathed due to ritual impurity he would begin by washing his hands, then he would pour with his right hand over his left and wash his private parts. Then he would perform ablution for prayer. Then he would take water and enter his fingers into the roots of his hair, until he believed he had poured over his head with three handfuls. Then he poured water over his entire body, and then washed both feet.” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)

However, the hadith of Jubair b. Mut’im offers another perspective: “We were discussing the bath of janabah with the Messenger of God and he said: As for me, I take two handfuls of water and pour it over my head, thereafter I pour (water) over my entire body.” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim) The chief Hanbali jurist Majd al-Din b. Taymiyyah wrote in al-Muntaqa, ‘It is evidence for those (jurists) who neither necessitate massaging, nor gargling, nor sniffing.’

But must the general hadiths of Ali and A’ishah apply? A key hadith used by jurists to argue that they do not is the narration of Umm Salamah, the wife of the Prophet, who said, “I said: Messenger of God, I am a woman who plaits my hair, must I untie it to bathe from sexual impurity? He said: No, it merely suffices you that you apply three handfuls on your head then pour water over you (i.e the rest of your body) to purify.” (Muslim and Ahmad)

Based on this hadith, Ahmad b. Hanbal conclusively opined, as narrated by way of Muhanna, that a woman need not untie her hair if bathing from sexual impurity (but should do so for her menses). The hadith of Umm Salamah relates to janabah whilst the Prophet said to Lady A’ishah who was menstruating: “untie your hair and comb it (through).” (Al-Bukhari)

Generally, it is the asl (default position) to untie the hair so as to ascertain water reaching that which is obligatory to wash but there are clearly allowances made for bathing from sexual impurity since it occurs often and causes both difficulty and harm. (See Ibn Abi Umar's al-Sharh al-Kabir) To reflect this, we find that ‘it reached A’ishah that Abdullah b. Umar was directing women to untie their hair if they bathed. She said: “How surprising of Ibn Umar! He directs women to untie their hair if they bath, he might as well direct them to shave their heads! The Messenger of God and I would bath together and I would not pour over my head more than three handfuls.’ (Muslim) The notion of ‘shaving their heads’ is predicated on the fact that frequent washing can lead to hair loss from breakage and tangling.

A similar point of view was also considered for washing the length of the hair to the roots. Whilst some Hanbalis (and the school of al-Shafi’i) viewed it as obligatory relying on the hadith “beneath every hair is janabah, so wet the hair and cleanse the skin” (Abu Dawud and al-Tirmidhi), it was the opinion of leading Hanbali jurists such as Ibn Qudamah, and before him intimated by al-Khiraqi, that it is not obligatory to wash all of the hair given the response of the Prophet to the concern of having hair in plaits, “It suffices you that you apply three handfuls on your head”. As Ibn Qudamah pointed out, ‘This does not usually soak plaited hair, for if saturation were obligatory, it would then (also) be obligatory to untie the hair so as to know that saturation had been achieved.’ (Ibn Qudamah, al-Mughni)

An interesting point of consideration specific to janabah is whether there is a requirement to wash the hair at all. Ibn Qudamah emphatically questioned the assumption arguing the analogy that in the shari’ah, the hair is not considered a part of the animal (with humans considered articulate animals – hayawan natiq) given that hair does not become impure by death, nor is there life in it, nor is ablution negated by a man touching a (non-mahram) woman’s hair, nor is a woman divorced by her hair (i.e. “I divorce your hair!”). Given the shar’i division between the two, it is not obligatory to wash it just as it wouldn’t be obligatory to wash her clothes merely for having worn them during sex. (See: al-Mughni) Ibn Qudamah’s response to the hadith used by interlocutors “drench the hair” is persuasive: al-Harith b. Wajih alone narrates the hadith, and his narrations are weak when narrating from Malik b. Dinar. 

Alternatively, it may be argued that the eyebrows and eyelashes must be washed so why not the hair on the head? I assert that eyebrows and eyelashes are washed by necessity in order to reach the skin underneath which constitutes the face for which there is no concession for partial saturation; those parts of the face is only reached by washing the hair that sits on top. It essentially goes back to the legal maxim: that which is necessarily required to fulfill an obligation also becomes obligatory.

To be clear, the hadith of Umm Salamah is pivotal for an overview for it proposes the following:

  • the prophet took into consideration the circumstances of women on this matter;
  • that three handfuls of water over plaited hair suffices although it neither saturates the entire head nor the length of the hair. 

As indicated from the prophetic directives, God desires that believing women purify themselves but without harm or injury to person nor obstructing the needs of intimacy. A divine wisdom that becomes clear is that the purpose for frequent baths (i.e. intercourse) should not become the cause of subsequent troubles: the loss of desire in the husband due to the hair loss of his wife. Additionally, God has limited the possibility of deen being used as the excuse to impede the rights of spouses. In order to maintain sexual attraction but also ensure purity, God lightened the burden on a woman and offered her a normative approach that beautifully balances the maslahah (benefit) of intimacy with corporeal purification to devotionally worship the Most High.

All praise is for the Most Wise, and we defer full knowledge to Him alone.

Moving beyond village religion

I'm entirely devoted to the grand and civilisational way of thinking, talking about, and advocating, true subservience to God. By ‘civilizational’ I mean an understanding of true subservience which resonates with the experiences of those who live in an advanced state of human society, as opposed to villages.

As such, for many of us the time for ‘village Islam’ is over.

And yes, the distinction between village Islam (synonymous with desert-dwellers) and civilizational subservience to God has been made in both the Prophet’s time and later on by fuqaha (jurists). There are many hadith that explicitly speak to the distinction, such as, “The testimony of a villager against one from civilised society (urbanite) is not be accepted.” (Abu Dāwūd and Ibn Mājah, and there’s a discussion on its reliability)

Continuing with the distinction, the distinguished Hanbali jurist Mansūr al-Bahūti wrote about leading salah, ‘The urbanite, one who is raised in a city or town, is ranked above the villager, who is raised in a village, because most villagers are crude and have little knowledge of the injunctions pertaining to the rules of prayer. God said of the bedouins, “They are the least likely to know the limits God has sent down to His Messenger” due to their distance from those they may learn from.’

Al-Shāfi’ī provided a nuanced position in his opus Kitāb al-Umm that intimates how he saw it: ‘And if a villager leads an urbanite then it’s not an issue, if God so wills, except that I would like that the people of fadl take the lead in every circumstance of leadership.’ While taking every situation on its own merit, the latter part of his statement suggests that he saw those of fadl (superiority) as tending to be found amongst urbanites.

To be honest, village Islam was never appropriate for us. But economic migration, largely from poor or rural places, meant that it was inescapable. This is certainly not a value-judgement about that generation, but a wakeup call for THIS one. Civilisational subservience to God isn’t just deep knowledge and insight that integrates various fields of learning and enquiry, but it’s also an attitude and a vibe. A culture behind the thinking that becomes the basis of action.

For far too long Muslims have been palmed off with village Islam.

Even when so-called scholars try to present a pseudo-intellectual argument, it's merely village Islam with sources and citations. Village Islam is great for the village and being simple is perfectly fine, but that’s about maintaining a humble status quo that regulates basic impulses by providing simplistic solutions. It is nowhere near erudite or rich enough to provide the tools to build and advance as a community in sophisticated societies, and especially in our western context.

Yet your mosques and institutions socialise you with it, most preachers and teachers advocate it as a norm, and it's the basis for public engagement.

It's like the difference in business acumen and attitude between running a million/billion-pound corporation, and a market stall. Yes, you can make money with both but they're hardly comparable in terms of profit, power, and influence. Yet magical thinking has Muslims believe that the market trader, in the aggressive world of unfettered capitalism, has a hope. If this line of thinking wasn't so widespread and tragic, it'd make for an award-winning comedy show.

The difference between village Islam and civilisational Islam has nothing to do with orthodox vs liberal/progressive - a false distinction made in defence of village Islam, but the extremely variant levels of engaging with orthodoxy. In fact, village Islam doesn't need to engage with the details of orthodoxy because it's meant to be simplistic. It all goes wrong because village Islam is ill-equipped to engage at such levels of depth and analysis. Such intellectual inquiry is inherently a civilisational undertaking.

We reliably see its bad effects across the board. For example, many jihadists (for lack of a better term) want change. But because village Islam has no constructive content (it’s about maintaining a simplistic version of subservience) they reductively proceed to destroy what exists merely to replace it with a medieval village. Many callers for “sharia law” are the same – their conception of doing "sharia law" is simply to re-enact village living. Yet, as the Hanbali legal philosopher Ibn al-Qayyim put it in I’laam al-Muwaqqi’in, ‘Whoever gives fatwas to the people merely from what has been related in books differing from the customs, habits, era, social/political circumstances and contextual variables, misguides others and is himself misguided. His injury to the faith is greater than that of a doctor who treats patients inconsiderate of their different customs, habits, era, circumstances and contextual variables, merely seeking to reflect what is in the general books of medicine. Such a doctor is an ignoramus, and such a mufti too is an ignoramus; both are the most harmful they could possibly be to the people’s religion and their bodies – may God help us!’

The vast majority of Muslims are afflicted with this quandary in some way: we’re told that “Islam is the solution” but none of us can see exactly how a village approach will resolve our problems, or the world’s. And no, I'm not merely referring to geopolitics, or the way powerful states influence others, but even to matters closer to home.

For example, we're plied with populist preaching and 'heart softeners' as if they'll constructively provide us a consistent godly resilience in modern life. Resultantly, people are taught to confuse an emotional spike with a way of being and outlook that correlates with God's account of reality. Or we're told that a 'good believer' is always studying and then sold immaterial courses on the particulars of hadith criticism, or the works of Ibn Hazm - entirely academic undertakings absolutely irrelevant to a modern godly life which is what the pitiable participants were actually looking for.

A practical example is where we're told women should stay in the home, take care of the house, and obey their husbands. But the village lifestyle doesn't work for those who live in metropolitan conurbations where astronomical prices means both men and women are forced into the workplace. So what inevitably happens is that a women works a 9-5 then comes home and takes care of everyone and everything, whilst the man does little to share the domestic burden (although she's sharing financial burdens).

Now there’s a refined and nuanced shar’ī way to discuss these issues that'll probably offend BOTH liberal and conservative sensibilities, but we've certainly not had them. Instead its polarised: it tends to be either village Islam, or a rejection of village Islam for secular liberal sentiments. A civilisational (high) shar’ī conversation is by-and-large non-existent in the public space.

These are mundane examples (to some). But the truth is that there ISN'T a realm in which village Islam isn't having deleterious effects today.

From our conceptions of God and the Law, to personal wellbeing, politics, finance or society, village Islam not only rules the roost but increasingly worsens every situation or fails to provide the direction needed. It's for this reason that I don't actually blame Muslims in politics: where village Islam offers little by way of political theory one will inevitably be drawn to other interests (in the name of Islam) such as ethnic minority rights and multiculturalism. And those who don't, end up on the other side seeming to associate with right-wing conservatism. What's heartening is that the intentions of many are good, but activists simply don't have the tools.

But what do you do when your leaders are actually the same as you, and most are no more sophisticated than village elders, or behave like shaman?

Recognise it for what it is and move out of the village. If you're not ready to, or you find it unsettling because it's unfamiliar, then you're free to village Islam but you're in no place to advocate it as the complete notion of what the Prophets delivered from God, nor should you bizarrely view it as an ambition.

The believers and the ‘black experience’

Before moving on to discussing the 'black experience' in private communal contexts (mosques, Muslim spaces etc), it is important to differentiate between two different things:

  • a black identity - internal representation of an individual based on colour
  • the ‘black experience’ - external (shared) treatment of an individual based on the perception of others. It comes from being racialised as ‘black’ which then becomes the basis of prejudice, inequality and marginalisation.

As I’ve made clear, I’m coming from a shar’ī Abrahamic perspective. As for those seeking a lens or a sense of self-determination from other sources, then as always one is free to do as they see fit. But I share with those believers targeted with the black experience an entire outlook on how to view (and identify) ourselves, the world around us, and the best ways we proceed in any given situation - all deeply informed by God’s account of reality gleaned from revelation. What I write in these posts relate to this.

Please note, I’m trying to keep these posts
extremely brief and I acknowledge that they do not address many of the possible
contentions that may be raised. Hopefully, I’ll follow up and clarify elsewhere
for those interested.

A black identity

A ‘race’ is a social group based on arbitrary characteristics. A black identity is a political one, it is not a positive one: calling someone ‘black’ (or identifying as such) doesn’t tell us anything about a person’s language, culture, values, norms, outlook, or relationship with God (and yes this also goes for a ‘white’ identity although this identity was created to denote something positive in juxtaposition to being black). It denotes an experience rooted in marginalisation, being subjected to prejudice and discrimination, and racialised brutality. The assumptions behind the racialisation are fallacious: those racialised aren’t homogeneous: skin tones and hair types vary, so too do languages, faiths and cultures. If one says it’s based on those who look ‘African’ then what’s being missed is that Africa is a colossal continent with thousands of groups and languages, and people who look entirely different across it. If one asserts that it’s about people of African heritage, then *newsflash* we ALL have that heritage somewhere up the line, no matter how straight your hair or light your complexion. What’s interesting is that most people in Africa do not identify as ‘black’ nor internalise 'blackness'. Before European colonialism diverse sets of people usually identified with their tribe or nation (a common language and culture). Those from the African continent who do so in more recent times have done so as a reaction to being invaded by white supremacists and being designated black by those supremacists. It is a nefarious pigmentation-based designation meant as a defining value of the human being.

So how do believers relate to this imposed identity? Well given that it comes from a disbelieving (kufri) mentality that groups all of these independent and diverse humans into one category (initially for the purposes of maltreatment which still informs its use) then to use it as a pervasive means of reference, or internalise this kufr-inspired proposition as a means of realising a self-identity, seems flawed.

The truth is that in a neutral (and thus normative) setting, people would NEVER identify as black if such racialisation wasn’t imposed on them by the disbelievers and would find it quite bizarre. What we ought to keep in mind is:

  • As believers, we should NEVER allow disbelievers to dictate or shape how we view ourselves.
  • To assume that we shall find ultimate emancipation in the very same label and associated identity used for our subjugation (i.e. blackness) is strange. And taking on the term but with an eye to alter the negative connotations seems misplaced, since (a) we still end up reducing ourselves to pigmentation which no one else does, (b) we remove ourselves from the context of a profoundly meaningful and greater human history God places us in, and (c) the linguistic baggage around ‘black’ is profoundly entrenched.
  • It is offensive to God that skin complexion affords us any understanding of a human, let alone end up being a totalising one. This overwhelming delusion doesn’t just underly many societies, but as a reactive measure has become embraced by those dehumanised by the entire racialisation project. No other groups of humans self-identify by their pigmentation other than those disbelievers who gave 'blacks' such a designation (white supremacists) and locate a sense of supremacy in the entire project.
The black experience

So am I saying that calling someone (or yourself) ‘black’ is ultimately wrong or inaccurate? Not necessarily so (and it’s a tangent to be unpacked and discussed elsewhere), but *before* we progress to discussing the use of terms and what we mean by them, we FIRST have to recognise what it is we’re talking about or attempting to internalise. (I acknowledge that there is a difference between something being a limited physical description and an identity.) My only point at this juncture is to question the idea that believers either confer or internalise an identity based on ‘blackness’.

However, this is not to deny the black experience - that some of us are racialised as ‘black’ by others (since we did not choose this designation for ourselves) and face negative treatment as a result, some of which I detailed in the previous post. And I think that it is reasonable that those of us who share this experience might be drawn to some sense of likeness as a result.

So what does the shar’ī Abrahamic lens mean?

Well in this context, it means rejecting the characterisations of supremacist disbelievers, not internalising them - the Prophet of God would never allow the leaders of disbelief (a’immat al-kufr) like Abu Jahl or Abu Lahab negatively define the believers (whether it was by their pigmentation or anything else), and yes, they actually tried to do so with respect to Bilal b. Abi Rabah, Ammar b. Yasir, and other notable prophetic companions (ṣahābah). But avoiding the internalisation of an identity in no way means negating an experience, and as believers we are committed to dismantling the structures that create the black experience (as well as any other form of jāhilīyah). And rightly, this moment is about the 'black experience', just as there are other moments where the injustices others face are raised. Bringing up every other cause in this moment, or attempting to generalise this specific struggle with "all lives matter" is simply a nefarious attempt to undermine this one.

In our view, where are we ultimately going?

The activism God calls us to, is to work towards an environment that is conducive to tawhīd and hanīfīyah (monotheism and Abrahamic values) – the higher objective of any shar’ī activist. What mustn’t be lost on the believers is that anti-racism is not merely a goal in and of itself: racism (and colourism) are symptoms of shirk and jāhilīyah (shirk inspired culture) which are the foundations from which this problem has arisen. My point in this post is not to undermine work towards achieving greater equality in our society, but to point out to believers that our mission is twofold: that we seek to weaken what creates the 'black experience' in our society whilst keeping in mind that its ultimate cause is a jāhilī mentality which can only be holistically remedied by an Abrahamic outlook. This is how we plan to meet God in the afterlife.

For those with a godly outlook, since the age of the ancient Mesopotamians (and even before), alongside our respective tribes or peoples we have identified as those who have submitted to the one true God: “Strive hard for God as is His due: He has chosen you and placed no hardship in your faith, the religion of your forefather Abraham. God has called you submitters (to Him) both in the past and in this (message)...” (22:78)

Now some will understandably say: “Well Muslims can be racists, so religion doesn’t work here.” Some points in response:

  1. I’m not calling to ‘Muslimness’, I advocate the religion of Abraham as Muhammad the final messenger of God did. This is not a 'religion' but a totalising lens with which to view oneself and the world around us. The response is based on a faulty understanding of subservience to God (with which I can sympathise due to religious illiteracy) which views deen through an anthropological lens and boils deen down to what people do, not what God says. It’s also a racialised perspective where your faith is what you inherit rather than what you are compelled by, and it usually comes from those who feel that they cannot compel others from a shar’ī perspective. But this then says more about them than the strength or weakness of an approach.
  2. For some, this response is motivated by a stronger belief in the efficacy of secular approaches (whether liberal or post-colonial) than the sunan (ways) of the Prophets. It’s not that they don’t believe in shar’ī constructs, but they either engage with them as mere theory, or they think that people won’t accept them. But perhaps if they put in *as much effort* into learning shar’ī outlooks and educating others with it as they do reading books on anti-racism activism and working with it they’d see the difference they’re dubious about. (Please note that there’s a lot of good work out there on anti-blackness and how its perpetuated which ought to inform our work.)
  3. People who call themselves Muslims do not represent the values of God’s Law and Way unless they internalise and live by them. As for those who demonstrate or internalise racism, the term Muslim doesn’t make them any less jāhilī (paganistic), and they require education and confrontation just like anyone else. We have the choice of confronting them with either secular informed or shar’ī-informed anti-racism activism. Ultimately, the former uses social pressures whereas the latter employs these along with a remedying account of reality from God which is far more transformative across the board, whilst resolving inevitable challenges that arise in the process.

Qur'anic thoughts on colour and ethnicity

Race, ethnicity and nationality are all matters that are highly conflated in popular discourse. These posts attempt to unpick them before moving on to social ramifications and politics (in the context of the UK) in order to provide a very basic and structured account from first principles.

What is a 'race'?

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Shar’ī-inspired anti-racism activism

Given current events in the US and how it’s galvanising
people here in the UK, I’ll be sharing some shar’ī inspired thoughts on race,
prejudice, and political activism.

As ever, I speak to a British context not an American one,
and I’m fully aware that what I may say about things in the UK will probably be
inadequate for an American context, not to mention the unique struggles of
African Americans.

For brevity, I won't be unpacking everything I post into
bullet point form although I will try to be as clear as possible. Please try to
understand that there’s a lot behind these posts, and just because I’m making
one point, it doesn’t mean I’m being binary or negating other things on the

Now, there are various perspectives to approach and deal
with anti-racism:
  1. Secular liberal
  2. Post-colonial
  3. Shar’ī (Abrahamic)

The nature of these posts is to expound on a shar’ī and
Abrahamic perspective

I acknowledge that even within the shar’ī perspective, there
are competing and divergent modes and interpretations of the prophetic way.
Some are reductive, some misinformed, and some heavily concentrated on specific
points/prophetic events, missing the bigger picture. I acknowledge everyone’s
trying their best, and the intent behind my posts is the hope to develop the
nature of the conversation.

Some might respond with the customary: “Well you have no right to do that, just listen!” But such a response is misguided for those committed to the shar’ī (Abrahamic) perspective and speaking to one of their own, and whilst perfectly legitimate for liberal and post-colonial approaches, it overlooks our attitude that frames it as a group of believers mutually working together to constructively address the experience faced by some of them.

For a simplified characterisation between (1) the liberal and post-colonial approaches and (2) the shar’ī (Abrahamic) one, the following puts both approaches in a grievance and response formula:

  1. “Look what they do to us.”…“That’s injustice, just tell us what to do to help your community/people.”
  2. “Brethren, look what they did to some of us (believers).”…“Glory is only for God (Subhanallah)! What they have done offends God and takes the ways of pagans (jāhilīyah) whom the messengers of God were sent to guide or resist, so we too shall do the same. What they have done is done to us all - let’s strategise the best way to proceed.”

Now the point isn’t to silence raw emotions nor negate how subjected people might feel but we must realise that there are variant exercises depending on the objectives of the conversation. There is the initial listening exercise to hear the grievance and condition of those being offended, and then there's the strategy as to how we all (the believers) can collectively deal with the affront and reinforce one another like “a well-compacted structure” as God puts it.

I’m cognisant that there have developed so-called “correct” ways of talking about things. On one side we have those who police what ‘black’ expression and protest should be like according to what makes such monitors comfortable, and on the other there are approaches by specific (Black) groups who demand compliance to their narrative, as if to homogenise all racialised blacks and the approaches they take on these issues. Of course, liberal and post-colonial approaches have a great deal of valuable insights we ought to consider, but everything that we might take on board is framed within an Abrahamic context and God’s account of reality, since God’s guidance is the only true guidance.

I understand that many will still find what I’m saying here
to be somewhat ambiguous: “What does he mean and what’s he saying?” And with
that comes the hesitancy to engage with me in a neutral fashion. Hopefully, the
following posts will begin to illustrate where I’m coming from. In these posts,
I may challenge some of the approaches believers have instinctively adopted,
but it’s to do with constructively moving forward as believers. Again, my first
principles to such issues are taken from the sharī’ah, so whilst there might be
an ‘anti blackness solidarity framework’ from which to discuss things or
approach them, believers are not morally obliged to adopt it, nor acquiesce to
it. And yes, I’ve used the term “we” because I do not differentiate between
believers - if they’re targeted and mistreated, then it’s our concern.
Whilst believers ought to support anti-Jāhilīyah (regressive ideas that
ultimately source from paganism and superstition) movements irrespective of
faith, our fraternal bonds with true believers are naturally stronger with
those who are subservient to God in the way He wills it, and the more in-sync
that outlook the closer those bonds will naturally be.

Please note that these posts do NOT discount wider
solidarity with non-believers who experience immoral prejudice, I’m simply
focusing on what a wider shar’ī agenda compels us to consider. Whether it’s an
Abrahamic framework or it comes to wider solidarity, whatever we do is focused
from, and tempered by, the Abrahamic ways and a godly outlook to which we invite
all. That’s our fundamental basis in all things.

Understanding the six fasts of Shawwal

This is a short post which seeks to help people understand the six fasts of Shawwal. They are not meant in and of themselves as stand-alone fasts but are intrinsically connected to Ramadan and meant to be performed in a particular way. The following is a brief explanation:

1. Ramadan has a number of purposes and has done from primordial times when the lunar month was called by another name in an earlier language and culture (such as Noah's or Abraham's). Amongst them is to familiarise one’s self with refraining to indulge core impulses and base desires – it’s not merely about feeling hungry and thirsty. The final Prophet lamented, “Perhaps a person fasts and achieves nothing from his fast except hunger and thirst...” (al-Nasā’ī)

2. Shawwal is the 10th Arabic month of the Hijri calendar. The first day of Shawwal represents the end of Ramadan, and so God appointed it as a 'Festival for the end of fasting' (Eid al-Fiṭr) - to glorify God and celebrate His guidance. It is related by Abu Ayyub al-Ansari that the Prophet said: "Whoever fasts Ramadan and then follows it up with six fasts in Shawwal, it's as if he fasted a lifetime (al-dahr)." (Muslim) Jurists also took al-dahr to mean “a year” based on the hadith of Thawbān.

3. What do the six fasts of Shawwal speak to? Well if we hold that fasting Ramadan is to temper the sway of base desires, then it makes sense that rather than abruptly ending an ongoing exercise and diminishing it's institution, there's a pause to allow the body to recuperate but then a follow up with six fasts to reinforce the newly learned behaviour for longer and sustained effect, at least for the rest of the year until the next Ramadan. This might speak to the point the Prophet made, “it's as if he fasted a lifetime/a year” as in it would help to restrain his nafs (base self) in the long term by cementing important constricting habits. Fasting the three middle days of a lunar month (ayām al-bīdh) seems to also serve a similar purpose.

4. From this we learn that:

  • these fasts are a follow on after a month of fasting. They're not meant in and of themselves (لذاتها) as stand-alone six fasts. Without following Ramadan, they do not serve the purpose for which they are intended.
  • it is the Ramadan fasts that are the ultimate mechanism that God instituted for human benefit, and fundamental to the Abrahamic way. Nothing comes close to them in sanctity or value. It something else did, God would’ve obligated those as well. This goes for all obligatory acts - there's a reason they're obligatory.

So (hopefully) having made this clear, the following ought to be taken into consideration:

1. These six fasts are optional. They're not simply highly encouraged as some make out and then pressure others into, but they are virtuous for the reasons outlined above. Those hesitant to fast because they need a break, or having found Ramadan particularly difficult, should not feel pressured to fast out of social conformity or the fear that they'll be socially disparaged. (If you are disparaged by your cohort, then it's a sign that you really need to check your social circle and their religious literacy level.)

2. In general, these fasts should be performed towards the end of Shawwal, and in brief, for two reasons: so that we strongly differentiate between the key fasts of Ramadan and these six add-ons; and so that reinforcing advantageous constricting habits takes place in an optimum way. Imam Malik b. Anas discouraged people from fasting in Shawwal for the first reason, and Imam Abu Hanifah discouraged fasting straight after the festivities. Malik added that the the early Muslims (salaf) wouldn’t fast the six, nor the learned and righteous of Madinah, fearing that it was a blameworthy innovation (bid'ah). Given the hadith of Abu Ayyub, what he perhaps meant (as innovation) was that people would take the six as being comparable to the Ramadan fasts or overstate its significance. Furthermore, it may be the case that there wasn't a culture of fasting the six in Madinah either because it was deemed that Ramadan sufficed, or because of the nominal reporting of the hadith suggests that it was said to specific persons for specific reasons which many felt didn’t apply to all.

3. If we except that these fasts are a follow on after a month of fasting, it makes sense that those who have to make up Ramadanic fasts (out of travel, sickness, menses, etc) do so before fasting six days, and that's not to mention the explicit wording of the hadith: "Whoever fasts Ramadan *and then follows it up..." Furthermore, making up the Ramadanic fasts in Shawwal serves a similar purpose to the six in that they follow up Ramadan and similarly reinforce the nafs-constricting proclivities, so in such situations where one might run out of time to perform the six Shawwal fasts due to making up the Ramadanic ones, it isn't necessarily a loss.

4. As for those who boil it all down to ritualistic acts and ajr (reward) seeking, I sincerely commend the simple and sincere desire to please God, but the main point of the six fasts might be getting lost. This deen is one of insight, intelligence, and meaningful purpose.

And God knows all things as they are in reality.