15 Strategy 5: Study Islam

Imagine walking into a dark room with very little lighting.  In the corner of the room you spot an object but you are unsure of what it is.  It seems to be an animal of some sort and perhaps you just saw it move? Maybe this is a violent animal who is patiently waiting for the right moment to pounce upon you. Should you run?  Should you slowly walk away? As you are contemplating all of this, someone hits the light switch and the light turns on in the room.  Low and behold what you were looking at was nothing more than a harmless teddy bear.  Your shift from a state of trepidation to a state of calm was due to the light in the room that allowed you to correctly observe the reality of what you were seeing.

 

Our fifth strategy in dealing with destructive doubts is to study Islam. Many times we could experience doubts about Islam due to nothing more than not having the suitable level of  knowledge about an issue. In a sense, we are lacking the appropriate amount and intensity of ‘light’.  When the issue is ‘brought to light’, clarity ensues and calm enters the heart.  It is not of little consequence that the Qur’an employs the metaphor of light to signify this phenomenon in various way across numerous passages:

 

“Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth.1 The example of His light is like a niche within which is a lamp, the lamp is within glass, the glass as if it were a pearly [white] star lit from [the oil of] a blessed olive tree, neither of the east nor of the west, whose oil would almost glow even if untouched by fire. Light upon light. Allah guides to His light whom He wills. And Allah presents examples for the people, and Allah is Knowing of all things.”2

 

“O mankind, there has come to you a conclusive proof from your Lord, and We have sent down to you a clear light.”3

 

 

 

“O People of the Scripture, there has come to you Our Messenger making clear to you much of what you used to conceal of the Scripture and overlooking much. There has come to you from Allah a light and a clear Book.”4

 

In the physical sense, light would be useless if we had malfunctioning eyes and/or no consciousness that could perceive sight. Visual clarity is only possible when one has a functioning ocular device coupled with appropriate light. If we extend the metaphor of light into the domain of understanding truth, we can say that one not only needs ‘light’ (i.e. correct knowledge) but also a properly functioning ‘device’.  The ‘device’ in question here is the spiritual heart, which according to the Islamic intellectual and spiritual tradition is where one perceives truth through a dynamic interplay of the rūḥ (soul), nafs (self) ,‘aql (rational) and fīṭrah (original normative disposition).

 

As such, when we speak about studying Islam, it is unlike studying any other subject since it not only involves cognition but also a spiritual disposition. That is why when we reflect upon the Islamic source texts we find that whenever knowledge is mentioned conceptually, it is linked to spirituality in one way or another.  For example, the spiritual experience of ‘khashya’ (awe) is linked to knowledge in the following verse:

 

“Of all of Allah’s servants, only the knowledgeable are ˹truly˺ in awe of Him. Allah is indeed Almighty, All-Forgiving.”5

 

It is not only spiritual experiences (e.g. awe, hope in God’s mercy, fear of the hereafter, etc.) but also spiritual acts that are tied to knowledge as is indicated in the following verse:

 

“Is one who is devoutly obedient during periods of the night, prostrating and standing [in prayer], fearing the Hereafter and hoping for the mercy of his Lord, [like one who does not]? Say, “Are those who know equal to those who do not know?” Only they will remember [who are] people of understanding.”6

 

We see that when we speak about studying Islam, we are speaking about an exercise where there is a symbiotic relationship between spirituality and knowledge.  This path of building spirituality upon knowledge and increasing knowledge by way of deeper spirituality is key in attaining truth and certainty and it is the means by which one dismantles shubuhāt:

 

“In fact, We hurl the truth against falsehood, and it destroys it, and it quickly vanishes.”7

 

Ibn Qayyim comments on the dismantling of shubuhāt:

 

“Regarding the fitna of shubuhāt, this is due to having a weak vision and a lack of knowledge… This fitna is sometimes a result of incorrect understanding, misinformation…”8

 

Let us present a case study to see how knowledge can elucidate the reality of an issue that if left unchecked, may culminate into a destructive doubt.

 

Case Study:  Women inherit less than Men.

 

The claim that Islamic inheritance laws favor males over females is quite diffuse in our current global mileu.  For example, in an opinion piece in the New York Times titled, “Can Muslim Feminism Find a Third Way?”, Ursula Lindsey writes,

 

In Muslim countries, laws governing inheritance are derived from verses in the Quran; men generally receive larger, sometimes double, the shares that women get. Distant male relatives can supersede wives, sisters and daughters, leaving women not just bereaved but also destitute.”9

 

Before proceeding with a thorough analysis of this claim, we need to ask about the broader motivations that form the backdrop to such a claim.  In other words, what are the philosophical assumptions that this claim is used to bolster?  This claim is in essence trying to support the assertion that females are valued less than males in the Islamic paradigm and as such, the Islamic paradigm is inherently unjust and therefore, is false or at very least, needs revision. With this backdrop in mind, let us proceed with our analysis.

 

The claim that Islamic inheritance laws favor males over females is derived from a part of a verse of the Qur’an which begins:

 

“Allah instructs you concerning your children: for the male, what is equal to the share of two females…”10

 

It would seem, after a casual reading of this part of a verse of the Qur’an that indeed, males inherit more than females.  However, there are a number of problems with such a conclusion. First, it is not true that males ALWAYS inherit more than females.  Second, the conclusion is based upon an incomplete reading of the entire verse and other source texts that make up the body of Islamic inheritance law. Third, the incomplete reading of the verse leads to discounting the sophistication of Islamic inheritance law which is tasked to deal with a number of familial scenarios. Fourth, there is a hidden assumption that the valuation of a male or female is primarily based upon a monetary yardstick.

 

Do males always inherit more than females? In fact, under Islamic inheritance law, there exist only 4 scenarios in which a female inherits less than a male compared to the 16 scenarios where a female inherits more than a male. In addition, there are at least 10 scenarios where a female inherits the same share as a male.

The allocation of shares is based upon a number of criteria.  One of these criteria has to do with familial proximity to the deceased.  Thus, for example, shares will be less for the niece of the deceased as compared to the daughter of the deceased.  Another criterion has to do with the generational position of the heirs. For example, the daughter of the deceased will inherit more than the grandmother of the deceased as there is only one generation between the daughter and the deceased father while there are two generations between the deceased father and his grandmother.

 

Yet another criterion has to do with financial burden and obligations.  There is a social hierarchy in the Islamic milieu where financial rights and responsibilities are delineated. Under such a milieu, generally the male has greater financial obligations than the female and this is reflected in how shares are allocated in Islamic inheritance law. Consider the following: It is the financial responsibility of the father to provide for his wife and the wider family. On the other hand, the wife is entitled to her husband’s wealth while at the same time, her personal wealth is her own and she has complete autonomy over it.  Thus, a portion of the inheritance received by the father, if not all in certain circumstances, is to be used to support his wife and the wider family.  Receipt of inheritance by the wife, in contrast, is free of familial obligations tied to it and she can spend the inheritance as she pleases.  Thus, part of the wisdom behind discrepancies of amounts received between males and females has to do with the division of financial burdens and rights.

 

1 In this passage, it starts off by saying that Allah is the ‘Light of the heavens and the earth’ which refers to Allah being the source of the light of guidance to distinguish truth from falsehood. This is mentioned in the exegesis of the verse by the early 9th century exegete, Muḥammad ibn Jarīr al-Ṭabarī, who justifies this understanding of the verse by linking it to the preceding verse (“And We have certainly sent down to you clear verses and examples from those who passed on before you and an admonition for those who fear Allah.”).  See Jarīr al-Ṭabarī, Muḥammad ibn. “Tafsir Surat Al-Nur [24:34-35].” Altafsir.com. Accessed March 24, 2022. https://www.altafsir.com/Tafasir.asp?tMadhNo=1&tTafsirNo=1&tSoraNo=24&tAyahNo=35&tDisplay=yes&UserProfile=0&LanguageId=1.

2 القرآن الكريم. “Surat An-Nur [24:35] – The Noble Qur’an.” Accessed March 24, 2022. https://legacy.quran.com/24/35.

 

3 القرآن الكريم. “Surat An-Nisa’ [4:174] – The Noble Qur’an.” Accessed March 24, 2022. https://legacy.quran.com/4/174.

 

4 القرآن الكريم. “Surat Al-Ma’idah [5:15] – The Noble Qur’an.” Accessed March 24, 2022. https://legacy.quran.com/5/15.

 

5 القرآن الكريم. “Surat Fatir [35:28] – The Noble Qur’an.” Accessed March 24, 2022. https://legacy.quran.com/35/28.

 

6 القرآن الكريم. “Surat Az-Zumar [39:9] – The Noble Qur’an.” Accessed March 24, 2022. https://legacy.quran.com/39/9.

 

7 القرآن الكريم. “Surat Al-’Anbya’ [21:18] – The Noble Qur’an.” Accessed March 24, 2022. https://legacy.quran.com/21/18.

 

8 Jawziyya, Ibn Qayyim al-. Ighāthatu Lafān Masāyidush-Shaytān, n.d.

 

9 Lindsey, Ursula. “Opinion.” The New York Times, April 11, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/11/opinion/islam-feminism-third-way.html.

 

10 القرآن الكريم. “Surat An-Nisa’ [4:11] – The Noble Qur’an.” Accessed March 24, 2022. https://legacy.quran.com/4/11.

 

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