The return of society to moderation

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Making things easier is one of the lofty ideals of the religion of Islam. It is the basis for all the rituals that are made obligatory for the faithful. Ease is the opposite of hardship as the Holy Qur’an puts it. “Allah intends for you ease and does not intend for you hardship.” The Qur’anic verse related to fasting gives exemption for the sick and those who are traveling from observing fasting on the condition that they have to make it up later. Such concessions are applied to other obligatory rituals as well.

Allah has provided ease with every hardship. The Qur’an says in Surah Inshirah: “For indeed, with hardship (will be) ease. Indeed, with hardship (will be) ease.” The Prophet (peace be upon him) never had two choices except that he chose the easier of them. But some people tend to be hardened and narrowed in their viewpoints on religious matters though they have no basis either in the Book of Allah or in the Tradition of the Prophet (Sunnah).

There have been two incidents in our society recently indicating that clerics are instrumental in making things easier for people as well as in enabling them to stay away from hardening and making things harder for people. The first incident was the fatwa (religious edict) issued by Sheikh Abdullah Al-Mutlaq, a member of the Council of Senior Scholars and adviser at the Royal Court who is known for his moderate viewpoints. During his recent radio and television program, he was asked about the abaya worn by women. Sheikh Al-Mutlaq answered that there are two major types of abaya. One is the abaya which is placed on the head, and the majority of preachers and scholars advocate for it.

The second is the abaya that is placed on the shoulders, and some preachers and scholars forbid this type of abaya considering that wearing it is an aberration from religious principles. In his fatwa, Sheikh Al-Mutlaq absolutely nullified this false notion saying that this is an inferior view. He said: There is no difference between these two types of abayas. He went further saying that Islam sets no condition that women need to wear an abaya. In fact, the abaya is only a means to cover (a woman’s body), and women can wear any dress that covers what must be covered from the body of a woman.

Sheikh Al-Mutlaq’s comments drew mixed reactions with some supporting and others criticizing and opposing him. This prompted the Sheikh to make a statement in which he explained what he had previously said on the topic, giving a befitting reply to those who criticized and opposed him. He emphasized that more than 90 percent of pious Muslim women in the Muslim world do not wear abayas. “Some of these Muslim women do not know about abayas and they wear various other types of dresses, which are not akin to abayas. However, they are confident that they are wearing dresses that fulfill the purpose of covering the body modestly as ordained by the Islamic Shariah.” He also noted that not wearing an abaya cannot be called either a violation of the teachings of Islam or non-compliance to achieve the real purpose of the Islamic Shariah with covering the body by the Muslim women.

The fatwa of Sheikh Al-Mutlaq is not the first of its kind. Several eminent scholars have spoken on the subject and have said that it is permissible for women to wear abayas from the head or from the shoulders or to wear an alternative to the abaya. However, it is interesting to note that no one expected this fatwa to come from Sheikh Al-Mutlaq at this time.

There is no longer any justification for tightening and hardening religious matters for people on an issue that did not exist 30 years ago in some parts of the Kingdom when women did not use abayas and many of them did not even know about them at that time.

The dispute about wearing abayas from the head or from the shoulders originated as a result of the toughening of the position by some preachers. This reached the point that some people disapproved of wearing abayas from the shoulders considering that it was contrary to the teachings of the religion.

The second incident was the outlook of some preachers about offering roses as a gift to some passersby on the occasion of Valentine’s Day, after some scholars issued a fatwa that doing so was permissible. No one dares to do such a thing because it is regarded as a forbidden act by some scholars. However, some other scholars consider this not to be a forbidden act but only an undesirable one in view of the fact that it is a celebration of non-Muslims and an invitation to forbidden love-making.

Some scholars do not see any sin if someone presents a rose to his mother or wife or daughter on that day. But some scholars oppose this also on the grounds that there should not be any special day set aside in a year to celebrate the festival of love. As for love, it must be given uninterruptedly to those who deserve it. In the Holy Qur’an Allah says, addressing His messenger: Say, (O Muhammad), “If you should love Allah, then follow me, (so) Allah will love you and forgive you your sins. And Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.”

— Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi is a former Saudi diplomat who specializes in Southeast Asian affairs. He can be reached at algham@hotmail.com


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