“Difficulty Causes Ease” and the case of the Coronavirus

“Difficulty Causes Ease” and the case of the Coronavirus

One of the five major maxims of Fiqh is “المشقة تجلب التيسير” which is usually translated as “Difficulty causes ease”. I prefer to translate it as “Extreme difficulty causes relaxation of the law” as that is more clear and precise. This maxim means that the laws of Islam are flexible enough to cater for difficult situations. The maxim is extracted from several rulings found in the Quran and Sunnah.

These include the permission to make Tayammum when water is not available or useable, the permission to consume Haram when there is a risk of life, and the permissibility to shorten and combine prayers when traveling. All of these rulings share one common theme; they are all examples of the law beings relaxed because of difficulty. This maxim is agreed upon by all four madhhabs, although they may differ in how to implement it.

Types of difficulty that cause the law to change

The scholars of Fiqh list seven types of difficulty (المشقة) that can cause the law to change. These causes are coercion, sickness, travel, forgetfulness, ignorance, lack of legal competence, and public affliction. There are examples of each of these in the Shariah. An example of coercion is that it is permissible to say words of Kufr to save one’s life. The examples of sickness are plenty which includes the allowance of Tayammum when using water is harmful and the permissibility to delay fasting when ill in Ramadan. Likewise, the examples of travel are clear i.e. delaying fasting or shortening prayers while traveling.

Ignorance and forgetfulness are a bit different. This simply means that Allah forgives anything that is done out of forgetfulness or genuine ignorance. Similarly, we should go easy on people who are genuinely ignorant or made a mistake. Lack of legal competence falls into the same category. For example, children are not responsible to obey the laws of the Shariah until they hit puberty, so we should go easy on them and be gentle with their mistakes.

It is the final type of difficulty, public/common affliction that concerns us here. The Shariah allows for the relaxation of several laws when the health, lives, wealth or general well-being of the community is at risk. There are two examples of this from the reign of Umar bin al-Khattab. During the plague that afflicted al-Shaam, the Muslims isolated themselves in the mountains to prevent it from spreading. Then when a drought hit Arabia, Umar suspended the law of amputating the hands of thieves due to mass starvation. In both cases, the well-being of the community was given preference over individual laws of the Shariah.

The types of Ease

As the scholars divided difficulty into seven categories, they did the same for the types of changes that can occur to the laws. The first type of change is that the laws can be omitted, like when Umar suspended the amputation of the hands of thieves. A change could also mean a decrease is what is expected like the reduction of the number of Rakah to pray when traveling. Or it could refer to delaying an act of worship or doing it earlier than usually allowed, like combining Dhuhr with Asr in one time when traveling.

Laws can also be replaced or substituted with others, like replacing Wudhu with Tayammum when water is not available, or replacing fasting in Ramadan with Fidya for the chronically ill. Laws can also be changed to accommodate the hardship like praying Salah al-Khawf during times of civil unrest or war. Finally, the haram can become permissible at times of necessity, depending on the level of prohibition and the level of necessity. Each of these seven types of changes can be found in the Shariah and in practice throughout our history.

The Coronavirus and the application of this maxim

As the coronavirus (COVID-19) spreads across the globe, we are entering perhaps for the first time in decades, a situation of public affliction on a global scale. This means that scholars around the world need to consider what kind of Taysir (Relaxation) can be done to the laws of Islam in order to stop the spread of this virus and to save the lives of the believers.

It is my opinion that the following changes take place in the law during this time of crisis. Note that these changes apply only to countries that are afflicted, and the changes will be rolled back when the crisis is over.

The changes are:
1. The suspension of congregational prayer until it is over, with the exception of small congregations in the home.
2. The obligation to pray Jum’ah falls away, and it becomes permissible to pray Dhuhr at home.
3. Masjids and other places of mass gatherings should be closed if possible. If not possible, then measures should be taken to prevent the spread of the virus in our places of gathering.
4. Weddings should be delayed, a small nikah will suffice to avoid large gatherings.
5. If someone passes away from the virus, then Ghusl may not be possible, Janazahs may be limited to ten people, the family will not get to attend the funeral and people will not be allowed to visit the family.
6. Taraweh should be prayed at home with one’s family. Likewise, Iftar should take place at home with the family.
7. If necessary, Eid prayer should be canceled completely.
8. Avoid leaving the home except for necessities. The best usage of our time now is to be at home worshipping Allah and asking for His Divine Assistance.

None of these changes should be a source of happiness for the believer. It should hurt our hearts that we are unable to pray in congregation, attend Islamic gatherings, or enjoy the atmosphere of the Masjid. This is a test from Allah, and these changes to the law are for the protection of human life, which is one of the fundamental goals of the Shariah.

Remember; to stay home is Fiqh and to feel bad about it is Imaan.

May Allah protect us all and help us through this difficult trial.

Posted by Ismail Kamdar in Islam, 0 comments
Yes, Fiqh needs to be localized

Yes, Fiqh needs to be localized

For some reason, a lot of people online get upset when they hear scholars in the West saying that they need to formulate their own Fiqh and not blindly follow the Fiqh of India/Saudi/Mauritania. They take it as an attack on traditional scholarship and a type of deviation.

This is a misunderstanding about what Western scholars intend when they say this. It is also a misunderstanding of the nature and history of Fiqh itself. In this short article, I want to highlight four things;

  1. Yes, Fiqh needs to be localized.
  2. It doesn’t mean what you think.
  3. It has precedence in Uṣūl al-Fiqh and History.
  4. Technically, all Muslims countries already do it.

The Need For Localization

Fiqh (understanding and interpretation of Islamic Law) is not set-in-stone, as Shariah is. Fiqh, by its nature, is meant to be localized and personalized. Throughout history, Muslim scholars have changed their verdicts based on the culture, customs, norms, and traditions of the people they were dealing with. This is completely normal and very practical. The opposite, importing Fiqh from foreign countries, is impractical and makes the religion unnecessarily difficult.

Let me provide an example from my community. I live in South Africa, but the majority of Islamic scholarship in my community has roots in India. As a result, a lot of the local Fiqh is imported from India and not relevant to the local community. One such fatwa is the idea that practicing Muslim men should wear the Kurta (traditional Indian dress, similar to the Thowb) and the Topi (Indian headgear). Some ʿulema declare it Sunnah, and others even declare it Wajib. Some go as far as to label Muslim men who don’t wear Topis as Fāsiqs. (Open Sinners)

There are several problems with this fatwa. The first problem is that it imports Indian culture and enforces it upon a traditional African community. The second problem is that it is not clearly addressed in the Quran and Sunnah. The third problem is that it makes life difficult for Muslims in an area in which the Shariah left things open and relaxed. They importing this fatwa from India to Africa, many traditional Africans are forced to dress like Indians in order to be considered religious.

The above case is a clear example of a Fiqh issue that is need of localization. Islamic dress codes should take into consideration local dress norms, while of course maintaining the boundaries of Hijāb that are clearly outlined in the Shariah. This brings me to the misunderstanding a lot of people have.

It doesn’t mean what you think

When scholars in the USA, for example, say that they need their own localized Fiqh, a lot of Muslims in the East are angered by this. This is because of two false assumptions. Some assume that Western scholars are saying that Eastern Fiqh is not good enough. Others assume that this means changing the fundamentals of Islam. Both assumptions are wrong.

Basing one’s opinions on local customs is not an insult to other cultures, it is the way Fiqh has always worked even during the time of the Ṣaḥāba. A clear example of this was the different clothing choices and lifestyles of Ṣaḥāba living in Syria, compared to those living in Madina. Both groups dressed and lived according to the culture of their lands within the boundaries of Shariah. Neither took it as an insult to their culture or opinions.

A simple fact that the first assumption overlooks is that there is no such thing as Eastern Fiqh. The Fiqh of Saudi Arabia differs greatly with the Fiqh of India, Turkey or Malaysia. Each of these ‘Eastern’ lands has its own localized Fiqh which is exactly how Fiqh is supposed to be. Muslims in Malaysia are not expected to follow Saudi fatwas, neither do Muslims in India follow Turkish Fiqh. So why then are Muslims in South Africa, U.K. or U.S.A. expected to follow Indian or Saudi fatwas, instead of deriving their own fatwas based on the local culture?

The second assumption is also wrong. None of these scholars are calling for changing the principles of the religion or matters of consensus. If anybody is doing this, then that individual is wrong and heading down a deviant path. Rather, all these scholars are calling for is changing the verdicts that are based on cultural norms in Saudi Arabia or India (or wherever) and replacing them with new verdicts based on the cultural norms of their own countries. And they plan to do all of this utilizing the principles (Uṣūl) of Fiqh and agreed upon Fiqh maxims. This brings me to the third point.

This is the way Fiqh has always operated

One of the primary maxims of Fiqh is “Local Custom is the deciding factor”. This maxim is found in all math’habs and has been the basis of fatawa for the bulk of Islamic History. It is the core reason why the Fiqh of North Africa is so different from the Fiqh of Indonesia, or why the Fiqh of India is different from the Fiqh of Turkey. The true scholars of any community have always localized their Fiqh based on principles like ʿUrf (local culture), Maṣlaḥa (focusing on the greater benefit for society) and ʿAdāt (local customs).

This has been the case throughout history in every culture and country. So why shouldn’t it be the case for Muslims living in South Africa or the U.S.A. where the ʿUrf and ʿAdāt of society are so different from “back home”? The above-stated maxim makes it the duty of scholars to localize Fiqh. So not only is it something good, it is actually something necessary for Islam to remain practical in every place and time.

Scholars “back home” already do this

Scholars in India, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Turkey, and every other Muslim country already localize their Fiqh. All of these scholars are wary about importing fatwas from other cultures and urge their followers to follow local fatwas instead. So why should scholars in the U.S.A. or South Africa be any different? Why should they import fatāwa from foreign countries that have no relevance to their lands and make life unnecessarily difficult?

Localization is the way forward

As Muslim communities are still new and relatively young in many of these countries, they are still formulating their local Fiqh. What is needed is for young bright minds to travel to Muslim countries, study Islam intensely under scholars there, then come back and…not repeat whatever they learned verbatim. Rather, they need to utilize the Uṣūl that they studied to think over, discuss and formulate the right Fiqh for their people. This means engaging with the tradition, instead of simply memorizing and narrating it. It means going against the opinions of your teachers on many issues. Not because they are wrong, but because their opinions are for their lands, and you need opinions suitable for your land.

I end with a simple question: Why is it so controversial that scholars in these lands (Africa, America, Europe, etc.) want to localize their Fiqh? Think about it.

Posted by Ismail Kamdar in Inner Peace, 3 comments