Attacking the Azhari methodology, ideology and its scholars
Many youths belong to a group that claims to be the only one that follows the example of the salaf (pious predecessors) and the straight path. Its members accuse all those who disagree with them of treason, disbelief, and atheism — they do not even spare the scholars. They attack the ideology of the Azhar and its scholars, and accuse the Ash'aris of innovation. What is your opinion on this group regarding keeping the beard, shortening garments, and their claims that qunut supplications in morning prayers are an innovation?
Muslim youths, especially those who seek knowledge, must work towards uniting Muslims and not strive to create dissonance and dissension. Allah the Almighty commands us to hold fast to His firm rope and not split into factions over religious matters. He said, Hold fast to God's rope all together; do not split into factions. [Al-'Imran, 103]
And obey Allah and His Messenger; And fall not into disputes, Lest ye lose heart and your power depart; And be patient and persevering: For Allah is with those who patiently persevere. [Al-Anfal, 46]
Allah also commands us to speak good words to others. He said,And remember We took a covenant from the children of Israel (to this effect): Worship none but Allah; Treat with kindness your parents and kindred, and orphans and those in need; Speak fair to the people; Be steadfast in prayer; and give zakat, then did you turn back, except a few among you, and ye backslide (even now). [Al-Baqarah, 83]
The Messenger of Allah ordered us to embrace everything that leads to unity to the extent that a person is even rewarded for smiling at another.
Youths must distance themselves from the methodology of accusing others of disbelief and the trends of accusing others of innovation, dissolution and misguidance — common accusations made by pseudo-scholars at present. Moreover, youths must conform to proper etiquette with eminent scholars and the pious of the community. Any group that adopts the title of 'salaf' to screen its designs and create dissension and discord among Muslims has mixed truth with falsehood. Allah the Almighty says,And cover not truth with falsehood, nor conceal the truth when ye know (what it is). [Al-Baqarah, 42]
It is known that the venerable Azhar institution follows the Ash'ari ideology which is that of the sunnis. The Ash'aris (may Allah be pleased with them and gratify them) comprise the majority of the community scholars; they are those who have repelled the doubts cast by atheists and others and are those who, over the course of history, have adhered to the Book of Allah and the sunnah of our Messenger . Whoever accuses them of disbelief or impiety, risks forfeiting his faith. The hadith scholar, Ibn 'Asaker (may Allah have mercy on him) mentions in his book Tabyeen Kidhb al-Muftari Imam Abu Hasan al- Ash'ari's words [on the danger of reviling scholars]. He said, "Know, may Allah grant us His satisfaction and make us among those who are mindful of Him as much as He is worthy, that the flesh of scholars is poisonous. It is well known that Allah exposes those who seek to vilify them; whoever insults them, Allah will cause his heart to decay before he actually dies."
Throughout Islamic history, the venerable Azhar has been the minaret of knowledge and religion — it remains the greatest religious institution the community has ever known after the first three centuries of Islam. Through the Azhar, Allah has guarded His religion against the critics and skeptics. Whoever attacks its noble religious mission stands in great danger of becoming one of the dissenters and those who spread falsehoods to cause sedition of whom Allah says,Truly, if the hypocrites, and those in whose hearts is a disease, and those who stir up sedition in the city, desist not, We shall certainly stir thee up against them: Then will they not be able to stay in it as thy neighbors for any length of time. [Al-Ahzab, 60]
Shaving the beard
It is established in Islamic law that keeping the beard and refraining from shaving it are from the acts of the Prophet ; he used to trim his beard and its top portions to match the contour of his face and his overall appearance. He also used to wash his beard with water and comb it. The Companions (may Allah be pleased with them) followed him in his actions and decisions.
There are Prophetic traditions that support keeping and grooming the beard just as there are traditions that support the use of the siwak [toothstick], paring the nails and trimming the moustache. Some scholars have taken these hadiths to mean that these actions are obligatory, and according to this opinion, shaving the beard would be prohibited. Other scholars have taken these hadiths to mean that these actions are recommended, and according to this opinion keeping the beard is a sunnah — one is rewarded for keeping it and not punished for leaving it.
The text proofs used to substantiate the former opinion are the hadiths encouraging Muslims to grow their beard to distinguish themselves from Zoroastrians and polytheists. It has also been narrated through 'A`isha (may Allah be pleased with her) that the Prophet said, "Ten things are from the primordial state: trimming the moustache, keeping the beard, using the siwak, snuffing water and expelling it from the nose to clean it, paring nails, cleaning knuckles, plucking out underarm hair, shaving pubic hair, and decreasing the amount of water one uses" [Imam Muslim]. Some of the narrators reported [that the Prophet said], "... and I forgot the tenth, which is rinsing the mouth with water."
Shafi'i scholars who are the proponents of the second opinion based their opinion on the understanding that commands related to customs, food, drink, clothing, sitting, outward appearance, and so forth, are recommended and not obligatory. To substantiate this, they cited the examples of the command to dye clothes and pray in one's sandals and the like, to prove that these are not commands meaning obligatory actions, but rather recommended actions as Ibn Hajr al-'Asqalani mentions in his Fat-h Al-Bari.
Based on the above, there is a scholarly debate concerning the ruling for shaving the beard. When there is a variance of legal opinions concerning an issue, it is preferable to avoid it. If this is not possible, one should follow the scholars who permit it.
The basic principle regarding clothing, is permissibility provided this does not involve extravagance or arrogance. This is based on the hadith narrated by 'Abdullah Ibn 'Amr (may Allah be pleased with them both) who reported that the Prophet said, "Eat, drink, give charity, and dress, but without extravagance or arrogance" [recorded by Ahmad, al-Nasa`i and Ibn Majah; Al-Hakem declared it authentic]. It is this meaning that is deduced from the hadiths prohibiting dragging the hem of garments. These include:
• The Prophet said, "That part of the garment hanging below the ankles is in hell" [Bukhari].
• The Prophet said, "There are three [kinds of] people whom Allah will not talk to, look at, or purify on the Day of Judgment and who will endure a painful torment." The Prophet repeated this thrice. Abu Dharr (may Allah have mercy on him) said, "They have failed and are ruined. O Messenger of Allah! Who are they?" The Prophet replied, "Those who wear the hems of their garment below their ankles, those who remind others of their charity to them, and those who sell their merchandise swearing that they paid for it more than they actually did" [Muslim]. This hadith is interpreted to designate those who do any of the above out of arrogance and pride as is explicit from other hadiths such as the following:
• 'Abdullah Ibn 'Umar (may Allah be pleased with them both) narrated that the Prophet said, "On the Day of Judgment, Allah will not look at whoever lets the hem of his garment drag on the ground out of arrogance" [recorded in Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim].
Imam al-Nawawi said that the general meaning of these hadiths must be restricted to dragging the hem of garments on the ground out of vanity. Imam al-Shafi'i mentioned the need to differentiate between dragging the hem of garments on the ground out of arrogance and for other reasons. Imam al-Bukhari devoted a chapter in his Sahih to this issue and called it 'Those who drag the hem of their garments on the ground for reasons other than pride', and included [the following] hadiths in it:
• Ibn 'Umar (may Allah be pleased with them both) narrated that Abu Bakr al-Siddiq (may Allah be pleased with him) said, "O Messenger of Allah! One side of my robe gets lose and slips to the ground unless I constantly tend to it ." The Prophet replied, "You are not of those who do this out of pride."
• Abu Bakra (may Allah be pleased with him) said, "The solar eclipse occurred while we were sitting with the Prophet . He got up and rushed to the mosque, dragging his robe behind him. The people assembled and the Prophet led [them] in a two rak'ah prayer. When the eclipse cleared, the Prophet turned towards us and said, 'The sun and the moon are two of the signs of Allah. So, if you see them eclipse, pray and supplicate to Allah until He clears them.'
These two hadiths explicitly demonstrate that dragging the hem of garments on the ground is prohibited only when done out of pride and arrogance. This is because rulings are contingent upon the existence or absence of their causes.
In the venerable Islamic law, customs play a role in matters of dress and outward appearances. The Prophet prohibited dressing for recognition in a manner that contravenes the customs of one's people. 'Abdullah Ibn 'Umar (may Allah be pleased with them both) reported that the Prophet said, "Whoever dresses for recognition, Allah will clothe him with the robe of ignominy on the Day of Resurrection" [recorded by Abu Dawud and Ibn Majah. The hadith scholar, al-Mundhiri declared it fair]. When the Companions entered Persia, they prayed in Persian pants. Scholars have mentioned that there is no harm if, by convention, people lengthen their garments so that each group is distinguished by its garbs and their customs allow it — only long clothes worn out of arrogance are prohibited.
A Muslim, who desires [to follow] the sunnah, must be acquainted with the realities of his times; he must apply the sunnah prudently in such a way as to encourage people to adhere to it and not turn them away from their religion. Moreover, he must differentiate between the actions of the Prophet as a man and others dictated by custom and other traditions. He must be careful not to prioritize recommended actions over obligatory ones nor be diligent with external matters at the expense of internal ones. He must be gentle towards others and guide them in a manner they can understand, while simultaneously accommodating their customs lest he be instrumental in discrediting and depreciating the sunnah. Ali (may Allah be pleased with him) said, "Talk to the people about what they know and refrain from what is strange to them; would you that Allah and His Messenger be accused of lying?"[Bukhari and others]. 'Abdullah Ibn Mas'ud (may Allah be pleased with him) said, "You will cause some people tribulation if you speak to them beyond their comprehension" [Muslim].
Making qunut during dawn prayers is a confirmed Prophetic tradition. The pious predecessors from among the Prophet's Companions, their successors and later scholars maintained its validity. Anas Ibn Malik (may Allah be pleased with him) said, "The Prophet made qunut for a whole month asking Allah to punish [the tribes of Ra'l and Dhakhwan] and then ceased to make it. He continued to observe qunut during dawn prayers until his death" [This hadith was recorded by a group of hadith scholars who declared it authentic]. Shafi'i and Maliki scholars followed the hadith in the well known opinion of their schools. According to them, it is recommended to make qunut under any circumstances during dawn prayers. They held that what has been reported on the abrogation of qunut or its prohibition applies to observing it against a specific group of people and not qunut in general. Another group of scholars which include the Hanafis and Hanbalis maintained that qunut during dawn prayer is conditioned with the presence of afflictions and trials befalling Muslims. Consequently, qunut is not allowed in their absence. This is the opinion of Hanafi and Hanbali scholars.
There is no contention on the permissibility of making qunut during the dawn prayer if an affliction befalls Muslims; the contention only concerns making qunut during the other prescribed prayers. Some scholars such as the Malikis restricted making qunut to the dawn prayer. Others, such as the Hanafis, maintained its permissibility during all of the audible prayers. In the most correct opinion of their school, Shafi'i scholars maintained that qunut is permissible in all of the prescribed prayers at times of affliction and trials. They cited examples of afflictions such as epidemics, draught, torrential rains, fear of enemies and the capture of scholars.
In brief, scholars have debated the permissibility of making qunut during dawn prayers at times other than afflictions and trials. At such times, they agreed not only on its permissibility but its recommendation in dawn prayers, though they differed on its observance during the other prescribed prayers. Based on this, the objection to making qunut during dawn prayers on the pretext that it is an innovation is invalid. There is no doubt that the Muslim community is beset with catastrophes, epidemics and attacks launched by other nations against it. All of these require supplicating Allah in abundance to release us from the grip of others, return our lands and please His Prophet with the victory of his community and return of its sanctuaries, for Allah is Ever-Near, the Responsive.
This applies if we take into account the continuity of afflictions and their unrestrictedness. Those who limit the period of the observance of qunut to not more than one month or forty days, base their opinion on adhering to the opinion of the followed scholars who employed ijtihad and whom we have been commanded to follow. Allah the Almighty says,
Ask the people of knowledge if you do not know. [An-Nahl, 43]
Whoever follows another scholar whose opinion on this issue he deems right is not entitled to disagree with others who observe qunut. This is because the legal axiom states, "Objection is not for issues where there is a difference of opinion" and "One legal opinion does not nullify another".
Allah the Almighty knows best.