The Sign of Jonah

By Jeremy Ben Royston

Was the sign of Jonah the equation of days in the belly of a whale to the days Jesus was in his grave, as is proposed in Matthew (12:40). Or is it something else, more akin to the events surrounding Nineveh and the Queen of Sheba in antiquity?


Reconstruction of the double walls of Nineveh by Marjon Verburg

Second Time of Asking

According to both Meyer’s linguistic commentary and Bengel’s Gnomen, when the priests asked for a sign, they wanted to see a sign from Jesus that he had a Divine mission. They wanted a heavenly sign from him, not because they had not seen him [calm daemons], but because [on whim] they thought this sign was insufficient and required him to attempt a stronger test (and fail it). Meyer claims the incident in Mark (8:11), Luke (11:16) 1nd Matthew (16:1) is the second time a sign is asked. This is despite both Luke (Chapter 11) and Matthew (Chapter 12) containing the trial of Be-el′zebul, the incident in which the priests claim the sign of calming daemons was from the Prince of daemons rather than from heaven.

The Prince of Daemons

In both Matthew and Luke, the response of Jesus was:

“Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand / a divided household falls; and if Satan casts out Satan / for [if] you say that I cast out demons by Be-el′zebul, he / Satan is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand?  And if I cast out demons by Be-el′zebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore, they shall be your judges. But if it is by the spirit/finger of God that I cast out daemons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you (Matthew 12:25-28, Luke 11:17-20).”

The parable of the strong man that follows the above simile is worded differently, but its message is the same:

Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house (Matthew 12:29).” / “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are in peace; but when one stronger than he assails him and overcomes him, he takes away his armour in which he trusted, and divides his spoil (Luke 11:21-23).”

“He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me, scatters (Luke 11:24, Matthew 12:30).”

The People of Nineveh

According to the book of Jonah, after Jonah returned from the whale or shark, he threatened the people of Nineveh with God’s punishment, hoping that it would come about (Ellicott’s Commentary). He preached,

“Not forty days shall pass before Nineveh shall be overthrown (Jonah 3:4)!”

However, instead, of rejecting his message and challenging him, the people repented and followed the advice of their king, who proclaimed,

“Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; let them not feed, or drink water, but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them cry mightily to God; yea, let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence which is in his hands. Who knows, God may yet repent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we perish not (Jonah 3:7-9)?”

When Jonah realised God would not destroy the enemies of Israel, he angrily left the city and went out into the desert. To teach him a lesson, God then caused a plant to grow up and provide for him overnight, and then, the following night, caused it to wither. Jonah complained to God about destroying the plant, but God retorted:

“You pity the plant, for which you did not labour, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night, and perished in a night. 11 And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle (Jonah 4:10)?”

This calmed Jonah down and he returned to the city to guide them in their new creed and their worship of God.

We know that he was swallowed by a huge fish or whale when he fled to sea. The question to ask is, when did he flee? Was it before he, a stranger from Israel, ever went to Nineveh, as is stated in the Book of Jonah? Or after he grew up in Nineveh and was called to be their Prophet, as is stated in the Quran?

Alternative Viewpoints on the Prophet Jonah

Let us grant that, although it places it after Jonah’s passage through the whale, the Bible truly describes the preaching of God’s impending punishment by the prophet to the people of Nineveh. In Islamic narrative, he deserted his calling in anger, rather than patiently staying on the job, because the people had rejected his message. Hence, the impending doom would have been shown to the people of Nineveh after he left the city. Furthermore, rather than after he returned from the being swallowed, his preaching would have come before the event. Moreover, can it be plausibly asserted that the plant that sheltered him in the desert was simply a means to his recovery after his ordeal in the stomach of a great fish or whale? Or could we say its provision, as is stated in the Bible, was simply to demonstrate that those who did not know God are all as precious to God as the plant was to Jonah, and so may be apportioned His mercy. In either case, it still occurred just before his (second) return to the city.

Manifest Doom and Last-minute Redemption

Thus, let us suppose that Jonah did warn Nineveh of its impending doom if they repented not, and in despair of them heeding the warning when it was nigh upon them, he fled on a ship of Tarshish. Let us suppose, further, that the event described in the Quran then occurred where the city witnessed its doom about to fall on it.  Let us also suppose that the king made his proclamation in response, and the people repented. Would this not account for Jesus talking about the sign of Jonah and its relation to Nineveh? No sign would be more appropriate for “this evil generation” of hypocritical disbelievers [priests of the Temple] than the looming evidence of doom seen by the people of Nineveh when Jonah left them.


This phenomenal storm, with two tornadoes spinning simultaneously, was photographed in early June 2015 near Simla, Colo. (Kelly DeLay)

Obedience to God

It is interesting that Luke’s,

“Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it (Luke 11:28)!”

juxtaposes neatly with Matthew’s homily,

“On the day of judgment men will render account for every careless word they utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned (Matthew 12:36-37),”

at this point of the narrative, just before mentioning the sign of Jonah.

Do these homilies point to the mythical connection between Jonah’s sojourn in the belly of a shark or whale and Jesus’s sojourn in his grave, or to the more important and evident message that only by obeying God and being careful not to disobey Him will their blessed afterlife be guaranteed?

Three Days and Three Nights

Let us see what Luke said about the sign of Jonah. He says,

“This generation is an evil generation; it seeks a sign, but no sign shall be given to it except the sign of Jonah.  For as Jonah became a sign to the men of Nineveh, [he warned of doom in forty days, and – according to the Quran – the men of Nineveh saw it approaching [and repented]] so will the Son of man be to this generation (Luke 11:29-30).”

Indeed, the temple was torn down and the people of Israel scattered within 40 years of his crucifixion. Matthew, however, adds, as he is wont to do, his interpretation of verses from the Old Testament. He says,

“An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign; but no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale …. The men of Nineveh will arise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here (Matthew 12:39-41).”

Basically, Matthew and Luke are in accord except for that phrase upon which much of Christian faith hangs,

“For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so will the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth (Matthew 12:40).”

 Are these really the words of the original Aramaic scripture, or added in conveniently by the Greek translator to fit in with his creed?

All the commentaries on the sign of Jonah focus on these “three days and three nights” and explaining the evident misfit with being buried Friday evening and disappearing from his grave by dawn on Sunday, rather than on the more important theological implication that Jonah became a sign to the men of Nineveh, and they [the men of Nineveh] repented at the preaching of Jonah. Luke (11:28), in his chapter, recalls a beatitude. I suggest Christians recall all the beatitudes of Matthew gathered, rather than scattered as in Luke, in one of his chapters (Chapter 5).

The Beatitudes

In Meyer’s Commentary it states that the language suggests these beatitudes will result in

“attaining the salvation of the kingdom, which is nigh at hand”.

by those doing what is based on these.

What are these beatitudes?  Matthew, in his Gospel, says, that the poor in spirit, the gentle, the merciful, the pure in heart, and the peacemakers, are all blessed, because theirs is the kingdom of heaven. They shall see God, inherit the earth, receive mercy, and be called sons of God. Also blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness and have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, and mourn. Theirs is the kingdom of heaven, too, and they shall be satisfied and comforted (Matthew 5:1-10).

The Light of the World

Jesus also preached, in the same chapter, that,

“when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of God’s messenger, then rejoice and be glad, because your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you (Matthew 5:11-12).”

In accepting such persecution for God’s sake, and for struggling against it, Jesus says,

You are the salt of the earth (who the misguided ignore, cast aside and trample) and “the light of the world (Matthew 5:13-14)” to “shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven (Matthew 5:16).”  

Not surprisingly, Luke (11:33-36) mentions the parable of the Light in the chapter of The Sign of Jonah.” Equally, it is not surprising that the Bible editors calls the parable, there, “the lamp of the body” (NIV) rather than “the light of the World” or the light of God’s message.”

This Light refers to a similar Light in Qur’an (24:35),

“Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth. 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.”

It is also alluded to in the Gospel of John when Jesus says,

“While I am in the world, I am the light of the world (John 9:5),” and “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should remain in darkness (John 12:46),” and “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in the darkness, but will have the light of life (John 8:12),” and “It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life (John 6:63).”

It is also how “The Word” is described by John in his Gospel.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and (to) God was the Word. It was in the beginning with God; all things were made through it, and without it was not anything made that was made. In it was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came for testimony, to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through it. He was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light. The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world. (John 1:1-9).” [The text from RSV is modified, here, so that the pronoun “he” is “it” when referring to “The Word”.]


To drive the point home, Jesus adds,

“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. So, whoever annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. And unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven… Therefore, you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:17-20 & 48).”

Many a Christian says that the perfection God requires to approach Him is impossible for men to attain and only through God’s sacrifice of His only son is such required perfection attained through washing the Christian soul with the blood of their “Saviour” (their Christ God). Yet, in this statement, Jesus tells his followers that to be perfect like the Father, one needs to follow the Law, teach others to follow it, and love not only your brethren, but also love the stranger – even the enemy, and be merciful towards them. In the prayer he teaches, he tells us to ask the Father to forgive our sins as we forgive the sins committed against us by others. This is the key to righteousness. The righteousness of perfection. Not some mythical cleansing effect of Christ God’s sacrificial blood. As it is said in the Quran (22:37),

“It is neither their meat or blood [i.e. of your sacrifice] that reaches God, but the piety of yourself that reaches Him.”

The Queen of Sheba


عرش بلقيس – معبد بران في إقليم سبأ

In addition to the example of Nineveh, Jesus invokes the story of the Queen of Sheba. She and her nation, too, would judge the disbelieving generation of priests as the people of Nineveh would. In the classical texts explaining the visit of the Queen Sheba to Solomon in the Bible, the focus is on the surprising wisdom of Solomon and his ability to provide answers to her hard questions (Ellicott’s Commentary) and demonstrate his wisdom to the inquirer [the Queen of Sheba]. It also focusses on from whence she came – the nether ends [Yamani] of the earth [edge of the known world], which invokes the spread of God’s word across the modern globe. The Bible records the Queen of Sheba giving sumptuous gifts in return for his advice, the wisdom of which amazed her.  Jewish tradition suggests that she became one of Solomon’s wives or concubines (Rashi’s Commentary), which suggests she accepted his religion, too. Rashi also states that she gave birth to Nebuchadnezzar, who was instrumental in bringing down the temple at the second exile to Babylon – reflecting what happened in 70 C.E.

Turning to the Islamic interpretation and lessons, the Queen of Sheba is not so much a free-thinking philosophical inquirer, impressed by Solomon’s wisdom and justice which she repays with rich material gifts, but a self-confident rival vanquished and confounded by Solomon.

In the Quran, Solomon discovers the Queen Sheba in Yemen through the report of a bird, whom God had taught him to understand. She was the ruler of a rich and powerful country and sat on a wonderful throne, but she and her people worshipped the sun, not Allah. He sent her a message, telling her to present herself to him and submit to the True God [Allah]. She consulted with her advisors and they told her that she had the army and the ability to go to war, if she so desired. However, the advice did not make her precipitate the nation into war; rather, she displayed wisdom. She would send Solomon a rich gift as if to buy him off from attacking her and open the way to her payment of tribute. However, this would be a test by which to measure him. She said to her advisors that if Solomon accepted the gift and tribute, it would prove that he was but a king desiring her queendom to submit to his, but if he refused it, it would prove he was a prophet who wanted their submission to God for the sake of God.

When Solomon received her gift, he sent it back with a message that he was coming to her with his army to conquer her in the name of God. In return, she returned a message with the good news that she was inclined to listen to his call to God and would come with all her commanders and advisers to receive instruction in his religion. She reserved her trustees, whom she charged with the protection of her magnificent throne and the government of the people.

Further proofs of God’s power were supplied by God to Solomon for her education when she arrived. The first was the appropriation of her throne, brought to him by Jinn whom God had placed under his command, despite all the defences her trustees had set up. Before she arrived, he changed it – swapping the placement of its jewels, restructuring some of its body – and then tested her with its altered shape (Tafsir Ibn Kathir). Is this your throne? he asked her.

She was cautious, so she did not deny that it was, but said, It is very like it.

He also constructed a glass floor in a tower where he housed her that covered a pool of water. When Solomon invited her to enter the room with the pool, she lifted her skirts so as not to wet her hem. How surprised she was when she walked on water, rather than in water. When Solomon told her how God had helped him prepare the tests he had waiting for her, she recognised how powerful and gifted and blessed Solomon was, and attributed his magnificence to his relationship with God, and thus entered wholly into his religion – submission to God (Tafsir Ibn Kathir).

The Sign of Jonah

Whether one takes the Muslim or Jewish account of the Queen of Sheba’s visit to Solomon, she clearly was convinced of his God given gifts and knew he was a Prophet of God. Although there is no indication she accepted Judaism in 1 Kings 10, the reference Jesus makes to her witness against the insincere generation of Pharisees and Sadducees along with people of Nineveh indicates that he was aware she did submit to God.

What Jesus means by the sign of Jonah is therefore clear. The disbelieving hypocritical priests of the Judaic institution would only believe if they saw their doom looming, and their refusal in the face of what they had already witnessed [of the light] would be held against them not only by God, but by the groups of people who accepted God’s guidance among the gentiles on the day of Judgement.


Sahih International Translation of the Quran [all Quran quotes are from here unless otherwise stated]

Ibn Kathir’s Tafsir of the Quran (translated)

Rashi’s Commentary on The Complete Jewish Bible

Revised Standard Version of the Bible [all Bible quotes are from here unless otherwise stated]

New International Version of the Bible

Meyer’s Commentary of the Bible

Bengel’s Gnomen

Ellicott’s Commentary of the Bible for English Readers


How to Write Powerful Blog Posts that Resonate With Readers

Nicole Bianchi Nicole Bianchi June 13 2017

Visit for productivity tips & creative inspiration for writers.

The 5 steps I’ve followed to write trending articles on Medium

Recently, I was talking to a friend who was feeling disappointed with her blog. She’d publish a post, and all she’d hear were crickets. Even after promoting her posts, hardly anyone was commenting or sharing her articles.

scrunched paper

Most of us bloggers know what that feels like.

When I began my blog just over a year ago, I set out to write blog posts that would inspire and help fellow writers. But after spending days crafting a post, I would only receive a handful of comments.

Most of those comments were positive, though, and they encouraged me to keep going. Still, I felt a little discouraged. I wanted my posts to reach more readers.

After a while, it occurred to me that maybe the problem wasn’t with my content but with the way I was presenting it. So I decided to study the rules of copywriting and read every article I could get my hands on about how to write powerful blog posts.

As I started implementing what I was learning, my posts began receiving more and more comments and shares (one even went viral on StumbleUpon). I republished my posts on Medium, and many have become trending articles in The Writing CooperativeOne was even picked up by The MuseAnd my blog’s email list grew from 100 to over 1,200 subscribers in less than a year.

In today’s post, I’m boiling down into five steps everything I’ve learned about writing blog posts over the past year. Please note: This isn’t a guide to writing viral posts. Rather, this is a guide to writing compelling blog posts that will resonate with your readers and add value to their lives.

1. Craft a Strong Headline

Imagine you’re browsing through the newly released books at a bookstore. You don’t have enough time to stop to look at every single book. Most likely, you’ll only pick up a book if it has an intriguing title and cover design.

The same is true of blog posts. People’s social media feeds are flooded with a constant stream of articles and online content. In order to make yours stand out, you have to have an attention-grabbing headline: something that offers value to the reader in exchange for their time.

David Ogilvy, known as The Father of Advertising, is said to have stated,

“The headlines that work best are those that promise the reader a benefit.”

A benefit could be anything from entertaining someone to teaching someone to inspiring someone to helping someone solve a problem.

Take for example my top three posts from 2016:

Each of these headlines states a clear benefit to the reader.

As you write your blog post headlines, keep the 4 U’s of headline writing in mind:

  1. Unique
  2. Ultra-specific
  3. Urgent
  4. Useful

Usually, you won’t be able to cover all four of those U’s, but if you include at least one or two you should be able to come up with a strong headline. List posts perform well because they are ultra-specific, and how-to posts do well because they are useful.

You can run your titles through the Coschedule Headline Analyzer to see if there are ways to tweak them to make them more powerful.

Write Better Headlines: Free Headline Analyzer From CoSchedule – @CoSchedule
Free headline analyzer that will score your overall headline quality and rate its ability to result in social shares…

Bonus Tip: Once you’ve come up with your headline, you should also choose a lead photo for your blog post that illustrates your headline in some way. This is the photo that will appear when your post is shared on social media (or in your readers’ Medium feeds) so make sure it is eye-catching.

Pixabay and Unsplash are two fantastic databases where you can find beautiful, royalty free photos to use.

2. Open with an Irresistible Introduction

You’ve caught your reader’s attention with your headline, but does your post deliver what it promised?

The first paragraph of your blog post should draw your readers in and make them want to read more. This is where you lay out what they can expect in the rest of the blog post.

There are three elements of a powerful introduction:

  1. The Hook
  2. The Transition Section
  3. The Thesis Statement

This is the same formula I used when writing introductions to college essays, and it is very effective for blog posts too.

In the hook, you grab your reader’s attention with a memorable story or fact or question. Usually, in the hook, I set up a problem that is facing the reader. Often I like to address the reader directly with a question. For example, “Does it ever feel like there just aren’t enough hours in the day for everything that you want to accomplish?”

Next, I’ll transition into a story about a famous writer or even a story about myself. In this transition section, I’ll dig a little deeper into the detrimental effects of the problem. Then, I’ll explain that I have found a way to solve the problem.

Finally, I present the thesis statement: a one-sentence summary of the post and how I will be helping the reader solve their problem. For example, “In today’s post, I’m looking at five different ways we can carve out time for writing even when it seems like there are no more hours left in our schedules.”

My examples are from a how-to post, but you can adapt this formula to any type of post that you are writing.

3. Follow the Story Structure of the Hero’s Journey

Stories add another dimension to our writing. This fascinating Infographic shows how the human brain is hardwired to respond to storytelling differently than other forms of writing.

You can use stories to illustrate your main points, and you can also use the elements of storytelling to structure your entire post.

When I write my posts, I follow the outline of the hero’s journey, a term coined by American scholar Joseph Campbell to describe one of the most common storylines in literature. Think of the plot of Star WarsThe Lord of the Rings, or The Odyssey.

Here’s the basic outline:

  • A hero is called to go on an adventure to solve some kind of problem. (Every good story has some kind of conflict driving the plot forward.)
  • She may be reluctant to accept the call but eventually realizes that if she doesn’t solve the problem, her life will spiral out of control.
  • A mentor helps her prepare for the adventure.
  • After facing a series of challenges, the story reaches its climax. Will the hero overcome the problem or not?
  • The hero emerges victorious and returns home transformed.

How can you use this storyline to write your blog post?

Use the body of your post to take your readers on a journey. Your hero is your blog reader. You are the mentor. Share the steps you took to overcome a problem that the reader is facing. Then show the reader how they will be transformed once they implement those steps.

My post below shares eight more tips for writing powerful stories that will connect with your readers:

8 Tips from The Memoir Project That Will Make You a Powerful Storyteller
Back in September, I traveled to Tennessee to attend the 2016 Tribe Conference, a writing conference run by my friend…

4. Make Your Post Easy to Read

Even if you write a wonderfully compelling or incredibly helpful post, people might still not stay around to read. Most people glance over a post quickly to see how long it is. Others are wary of click bait, not wanting to invest their time in something that won’t benefit them.

Here are three steps you can take to make your post more convincing to read:

1. Break your post up into short sections with subheadings

The subheadings give your reader an outline to follow, and the short sections make a long post much easier to digest.

However, you want to make sure that the subheading doesn’t give too much away or people won’t bother reading each section. Notice how each of my subheadings in this post are short teasers to what follows in the paragraph.

2. Use short paragraphs and sentences

Long blocks of text are intimidating to read, especially if you are reading on a mobile device. I try to write paragraphs that are no more than three to four sentences long.

3. Evaluate your post’s readability

I use Grammarly to catch any typos or grammar errors I might have made. And then I evaluate my post against a readability score.

A readability score tells you roughly what level of education someone would need in order to read your piece of text easily. It will help you write with a more conversational style. I try to write my posts as if I were talking to you in person over a cup of coffee in a café. Would you like another latte?

You can use this website to measure your text readability. Or if you have a self-hosted WordPress website, I recommend downloading the Yoast SEO plugin. It will help you optimize your content for the web and has a built-in readability analyzer.

Here are several more tips from Kurt Vonnegut on how to improve your writing:

8 Rules From Kurt Vonnegut That Will Make You a Better Writer (Infographic)
At this point in your writing journey, you’ve probably read hundreds of writing tips by famous authors. If you’re like…

5. End With a Call to Action

You’ve taken your reader on an incredible adventure. Now what should he do with that information he’s just learned?

I usually title the conclusion of my blog post “The Takeaway”. It’s where you can emphasize the most important lessons of your post.

Next, give your reader a clear call to action to follow. Maybe you tell them to implement the steps they’ve read about in your post (stress the dangers if they do not take action).

Finally, you have a chance to build a relationship with your reader.

I like to end with a question and encourage readers to answer it in the comments. You could also create an additional resource to accompany your post that readers can download by signing up for your email list. (You can embed an email subscription form in your Medium post using Upscribe.)

And don’t forget to ask readers to share your post on social media if they enjoyed it. At the bottom of my Medium posts, I ask readers to click the heart if they found the article helpful.

The Takeaway (and a free checklist!)

No matter what kind of article you are writing (a how-to, a listicle, a personal narrative, a book review, a recipe post), you can use these steps to make your article more powerful and engaging. Adapt them to your style and your topic.

Ultimately, you want to keep your readers in mind. How will your post add value to their lives? Is there any way that you can dig deeper and add a unique perspective to your topic?

When you implement these five steps, you will transform your posts into content that will truly impact your readers. They will be eager to share and read more of your work.

I’ve compiled these five steps into a PDF checklist that you can use the next time you write a blog post. Get the free PDF here along with access to all of my writing guides, including my guide to using Medium to grow your email list.

If this article helped you, please click the heart so other writers will see it. Also make sure to come join my private writing community on Facebook to connect with other writers.

This article was originally published at

The Writing Cooperative is a community of people helping each other write better. Become a member to join our Slack team, get fresh eyes on your writing, and participate in the 52-Week Writing Challenge!

Nicole Bianchi


‘Is the Sharia Timeless?’ (Lecture by Abdullah al Andalusi, Cardiff University)

The Muslim Debate Initiative

MDI’s Abdullah al Andalusi presents a thought-provoking lecture at the University of Cardiff, Wales, UK on the topic ‘Is the Sharia Timeless?’.

Many people in the West question how Sharia can be relevant or able to deal with modern day problems. Few of them realise how the very systems of Western government and society are even older than the coming of the Prophet Muhammed (saaw) (e.g. Ancient Greek idea of Democracy, Roman Republicanism)!

The lecture breaks down what ‘law’ means, what kind of changes human society undergoes – and particularly, how the human equation always remains the same throughout time. I then demonstrate how any law can always be current, and how technology brings nothing new that law can not deal with.

However in the Western context, implicit in this question of the lecture, is the belief that current status quo of the world, which is dominated by Secular Liberal…

View original post 60 more words

Is Voting Really Haram?


Posted by: Shaikh (Dr) Haitham Al-Haddad in Current  Affairs , Fataawa, Politics, Recent, SpecialUKvoting, 21/04/2015

Fiqh Al Waqi’ (Weighed up Practice)

When we discuss the issue of voting, or any other (contemporary) issue of a similar nature, we should try to understand its reality before forming a conclusion regarding its ruling, a phenomenon termed fiqh al waqi’ (knowing and understanding the environment and factors surrounding the topic of concern). Ibn al-Qayyim considered one of the prerequisites of the mufti alongside fiqh al mas’alah (possessing proper perception of the issue at hand and its related rulings) as being fiqh al waqi’, given that it is also necessary in order to arrive at a legal opinion about a certain issue of concern.

Let us commence by considering the following scenario: There is, in a faraway land, a ruler who lives alongside his subjects. The ruler, in formulating his governance, leaves the matter to the people offering them two choices: they may choose either the law of God or secular law. This situation involves the following three parties:

Firstly, for the ruler who offers the implementation of the law of the Creator (Sharīʿah) and questions or debates between people; there is no doubt that this ruler has committed an act of kufr (disbelief) for he is obliged to rule by the law of the Creator. Allāh says, “Legislation is for none but Allāh. He has commanded that you worship none but Him.”[1] To him this ayah is addressed, “And whosoever does not judge by what Allāh has revealed, such are the Kāfirūn (disbelievers).”[2]

Secondly, as for the subjects who are requested to select between the Sharīʿah and secular law; of course, it is incumbent upon them to opt for the Sharīʿah. The mechanism of choosing the Sharīʿah may take various forms such as voting, demonstrations, or lobbying through correspondence. No doubt, people must do their best in order to bring about the implementation of Islamic law, and thus, can anyone argue that it is impermissible for people to vote to choose the Sharīʿah since voting is an essential part of democracy which in turn is kufr? If such a claim were to be posited then it becomes evident that we have proved unable to conceptualise the issue at hand. To claim voting is an act of kufr is extremely inaccurate and, as a point in case, take the situation where a person is consulted (as happens in some countries including the UK) as to whether he would opt for a Sharīʿah court or a court that will rule on the basis of secular law. Should this person, in view of the aforementioned erroneous argument, declare that he refuses to choose since choosing is voting which in turn is part of democracy, a system of kufr?! What should such an individual do? Should he abstain from doing anything? What if the constitution states that the judicial system is to remain secular unless the person opts for the Sharīʿah? Can we say in this case that this person is obliged to vote or choose the Sharīʿah court? Can we also say that abstention from voting means that the person has implicitly accepted secular law as the basis of the judicial system which is an act of kufr?

From this discussion, we can conclude three important points:

  1. Voting, in many cases, merely means choosing or selecting.
  2. Participation in a kufr system does not necessarily mean participation in kufr itself. It depends on the nature of such participation.
  3. Abstention from voting sometimes causes more harm than voting itself.

Thirdly, the people who want to be part of the legislative executive are like those who want to be members of parliament. This issue requires a separate detailed study and is beyond the scope of this discussion.

Another important scenario which must be highlighted is when the inhabitants of a country who have the Sharīʿah as the dominant system want to choose a leader – they employ elections as a mechanism selection; can we say this is democracy and thus an act of kufr?

From the above discussion, we may conclude that it is absolutely wrong to generalise the ruling by saying that democracy is an act of kufr. Instead we should say things that makes sense to people and reflects our correct understandings. We should be extremely careful in accusing individuals of kufr. The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said, “The one who accuses his brother of kufr then surely one of them is as has been claimed.”

The word democracy was originally coined to mean the rule of the people, however, these days it has various connotations where it can be used to merely mean a selection mechanism. That is why we see the introduction of the term liberal democracy. Some observers believe that this new term was introduced in order to emphasise that Muslim countries should be democratic in their selecting rulers as well as constitution. So, from this perspective, a liberal democracy entails that the constitution itself has to be subject to selection through a democratic mechanism.

Muslims living under a Kufr system

Muslims living in a liberal democracy should understand their situation in all of its various facets. Muslims believe that ultimate justice, peace, and reason cannot be achieved unless the divine system is dominant. In many cases they are unable to achieve this in the foreseeable future. So, what should they do until they reach this stage?

Abstinence from voting will not realistically lead to change and any sane person would say that abstaining from selecting the least evil option would only leave room for the more evil option to win.

Here I would like to respond to the various arguments posited by those brothers who are against selection through voting. What is important is that we identify why we are against voting, is it because it is an act of kufr or because it is harmful and damaging for Muslims? Having responded to the first claim let us now focus on the second. It may be argued that:

Selecting one of these parties ultimately endorse their policies that are based on man-made laws (kufr law).

This is not necessarily the case for the following reason: choosing an option means that you endorse it only if there are better options offered. But if the other choice is worse, then you are actually endorsing the difference between this option and the one that is less harmful. Take for example eating un-slaughtered meat for a starving person, he is allowed (or even obliged) to do so, yet does that mean that he is endorsing eating un-slaughtered meat? Of course not; he is endorsing the difference between these options which, in this case, is saving his life. Saving his life by eating un-slaughtered meat is better than starving to death. That is why this is an agreed upon principle. So, quoting each party’s statement that they are going to do so and so if they win separately and without comparing this with what other parties say is not a very honest approach since it does not give the audience the full picture. This becomes worse when the alternative presented is just a hypothetical solution.

So, I urge the brothers and sisters not to accuse anybody of kufr or sins just because they vote for one of these parties in such a situation. Such accusations reflect ignorance as well as naivety in comprehension.

By voting you are involved in the political system – a step towards integration which ultimately results in the loss of Muslim identity whilst living in western countries.

I agree that integration in its wider meaning leads to the loss of Muslim distinctiveness and it is a hidden agenda by the enemies of Islām to deceive Muslims so that they lose their identity. However, this is not necessarily an implication of voting. I agree that full political participations might lead to major problems for Muslims and we have to be very careful when stepping into this arena. However, ticking the box for one of the candidates in no way qualifies as full political participation.

I would like to mention here that I also advise our brothers who are involved in leading Muslims in terms of politics to be aware that some Muslims might understand that voting means full involvement in the game of politics, a realm that is full of deception and cunning, a fact realised by many non-Muslims themselves. So, they should use cautious language when encouraging Muslims to vote. Statements such as “voting is the only way for Muslims in this country”, “voting is the lifeboat”, “voting is part of our belief”, “voting means citizenship” and so on should be avoided. Such emotional and excessive statements lead to contrary statements and reactions that are equally emotional and extreme.

It is not true that we do not have another option. We have to strengthen our Muslim community and work hard for our independence.

I think all agree that the Muslim community needs to strengthen itself and its own organisations. However, this is not an option that is incompatible with having party A, B or C in power. We can vote to select the best option while we are working for our community and our future.

We are not going to get anything by voting while it might be impermissible so it is better to abstain from it.

It is not easy to come up with such a conclusion. We need a thorough analytical study that can confirm that all parties are nothing but different faces of one coin. I agree that voting is not the lifeline for Muslims in this country as represented by some Muslims and I have asked parties on both sides of the voting argument to come up with an academic study to prove their points. However, it is difficult to say that all parties are exactly the same in internal and external policy. Logically, not all non-Muslims are the same, even the kuffar of Makkah were different. Abū Ṭālib, the uncle of the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam), was completely different from Abū Jahl. Abū Ṭālib helped the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) and sheltered him while the other uncle would torture the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) and his companions. Should we not do our best to choose the one that is less evil and better for humanity? Indeed, abstention from voting is essentially indirect voting. Let me explain this by the following example:

Imagine that 6 people, including me, were to vote for two parties named ‘A’ and ‘B’. Party ‘A’ states in his manifesto that he will legalise pornography, ban faith-schools, kill 1000 Muslims, and prevent Muslims from adorning the hijāb. Party ‘B’ states that he will legalise pornography but allow faith schools and kill 500 Muslims. If three of us vote for A and two of us vote for B and I, in believing that voting is kufr, abstain from doing so. What will happen?

Inevitably, A will win, but if I vote for B, then no one will. So, by participating I lessen the evil. Let us now say that we have two more people, either they vote for B or abstain. Abstention will not change the situation while encouraging them to vote for B, who will do all these filthy things, will mean that A will lose which means that we saved the lives of 500 Muslims and had a chance to have faith schools and practice hijāb! So, whether we vote or not, we actually vote since we are part of the population. This is how the system works, at least in Britain. If someone disagrees with this then they should provide proof bearing in mind that they should be systematic in their approach and clear in presenting their case. In his abstaining to vote he has implicitly accepted the principle of voting when it is proved that abstention from voting is indirect voting.

If we vote we will not bring any Muslim to power.

It is indeed correct, but who said that our aim (in the near future) is to bring a Muslim into power. Our realistic aim in the near future is to have a better person with a better system in power. It is impractical to think of having a true Muslim leader in the near future in most non-Muslim countries. Our ultimate aim is to help those who are better than their co-politicians.

Boycotting elections is better for Muslims since it sends a strong message to the politician that we are not happy with them and their system. Moreover, it will show the ineligibility of this round of elections.

This might be true but as I said earlier we need a deep study and understanding of the complicated political situation to confirm such conclusions. I urge those brothers who believe in this to produce a provisional work proving this point. In the mean-time we should know that such boycotting will not be effective unless all Muslims do so. That is why, before we arrive at such conclusions a deep discussion with all Muslims involved in politics and other related fields should take place. It should not be an individual opinion of a single party. However, we should bear in mind that if a decision were taken to boycott elections, then we should be clear why we do so. Is it because of the original ruling of voting and elections or because of the impracticality of it?


I would like to conclude by urging the community to be united in their decision. Such unity is the only way for their voice to be effective. Unity here means following one strategy whether we decide to vote or boycott elections. Once we decide to vote, which in the UK is the decision at least for the moment, we should appoint one main body to lead us in the political process.



[1] Al-Qur’ān, 12:41

[2] Al-Qur’ān, 5:44



Dr. Haitham al-Haddad is a jurist and serves as a judge for the Islamic Council of Europe. He has studied the Islamic sciences for over 20 years under the tutelage of renowned scholars such as the late Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia as well as the retired Head of the Kingdom’s Higher Judiciary Council. He specialises in many of the Islamic sciences and submitted his doctoral thesis on Islamic jurisprudence concerning Muslim minorities. Shaikh Haitham is highly respected having specialised knowledge in the field of fiqh, usul al-fiqh, maqasid al-shari’ah, ulum al-Qur’an, tafsir, aqidah, and fiqh al-hadith. He provides complex theories which address the role of Islamic jurisprudence within a western environment whilst also critically re-analysing the approach of Islamic jurists in forming legal rulings (ifta’) within a western socio-political context. He has many well-known students most of whom are active in dawah and teaching in the West. The shaikh is an Islamic jurist (faqih) and as such is qualified to deliver verdicts as a judge under Islamic law, a role he undertakes at the Islamic Council of Europe as Islamic judge and treasurer. Dr Haitham al-Haddad also sits on various the boards of advisors for Islamic organisations, mainly in the United Kingdom but also around the world.

How To Maximise the Benefit of The Ramadan Fast

The Gate of Ar-RayyânMoon in Cloauds

In the name of Allah, The Beneficent, The Merciful.


The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said,

There is a gate in Paradise called Ar-Rayyân, through which only those who observe fasting will enter on the Day of Resurrection; and none except them will enter through it. It will be called out,

“Where are those who used to observe fasting?”

So they will stand up and proceed towards it. When the last of them will have entered, the gate will be closed. And no-one will enter through that gate after that.

[Sahîh Muslim]


Praise be to Allah! We approach the month of Ramaðân yet again. As the righteous predecessors and the companions of the Prophet ﷺ did, let us greet it with joy and pray: ‘O Allah! Let us live to fast it!‘ Not only would they supplicate for themselves, but they would greet each other and congratulate each other on the approach of the fast, and supplicate for their neighbour what they supplicated for themselves. Following their tradition, I ask Allah to grant our readers peace, and I pray that He lets you live to begin the fast and live to complete it. And may Allah accept your fast and grant you Jannah even should you die before its completion.

For many of us, Ramaðân is the month in which we increase the time we spend with our relatives. We visit even distant cousins to break the fast with them, and they visit us for the same purpose. It’s our chance to socialise and remember and have fun with them, and enjoy the night. And even when we are not occupied with visitors, we can stay up and enjoy each others company, secure in the knowledge that we have done our duty by fasting the day.

Ramaðân is also a time when we feel more generous. All those things one’s wife or husband needed during the year, and you held back; all those things one’s children wanted, and you held back; all the things the family needed and you held back; for all of these things one held back on, your hand opens during Ramaðân. Often, that means shopping sprees, during which one can enjoy window shopping and fast food snacks en famile.

Ramaðân is also the time when we tend to make those special, delicious dishes to indulge in when sunset comes. When we have visitors, we present the best of what we have cooked or bought so the guests are satisfied and happy. All this in accordance with the ayah of the Qur’an which says:

“Permitted to you, on the nights of the fast, is the approach to your wives. They are your garments and you are their garments. Allah knows what you would secretly do among yourselves; but He turned to you and forgave you; so now associate with them, and seek what Allah Has ordained for you, and eat and drink, until the white thread of dawn appears to you distinct from its black thread; then complete your fast till the night appears; but do not associate with your wives while you are in retreat in the mosques. Those are limits set by Allah.” [1]

How Kind and Generous Allah is!

However, are we really fulfilling what Allah intends for us by these customs? Does not the entertainment of guests, the preoccupation with special dishes, eating and drinking while we are permitted, and expending on the material needs generated by such, interfere with other activities which would reward us more, spiritually? Does not Allah precede the ayah above with an exhortation to use the time of Ramaðân fruitfully in prayer? And follow it with a clear command to learn self-restraint? He says:

“Complete the prescribed period, and glorify Him in that He has guided you; and perchance you shall be grateful.When My servants ask you concerning Me, I am indeed close (to them): I listen to the prayer of every suppliant when he calls on Me; let them also, with a will, listen to My call, and believe in Me, that they may walk in the right way.” [2]


“Do not approach the limits (set by Allah). Thus does Allah make clear His Signs to men; that they may learn self-restraint.” [3]

So how can we make Ramaðân as fulfilling in our religion as it is fulfilling the need of family togetherness?

The first step is to practice self-restraint.

That is, primarily, to avoid indulging in the material. Allah says in the Qur’ân:

Strain not your eyes in longing for the splendour of the life of this world; the things We have given to various groups of them that we may test them thereby. But the provision of your Lord is better and more lasting. And enjoin the salah (formal prayer) on your family, and be patient in offering them. We ask not of you a provision; We provide for you. And the good end is for those who have awe (of Allah).”[4]

What better time than Ramaðân to turn your face away from that which glitters and causes envy not only in your heart, but in the hearts of the guests you invite to your house. Eat simple fare without wasting anything, and just sufficient for your needs. Avoid the distractions of material toys and concentrate, instead, on beneficial play, like competition in Islamic knowledge or telling and acting out Islamic stories with your children. If you go out, make it to the local Mosque or Islamic Centre, or to open natural areas where you can contemplate Allah’s work, rather than man’s work, and enjoy vigorous exercise without seeking out a gym. Avoid spending money on material indulgences; spend it for the sake of Allah instead.

Secondly, one should avoid useless or malicious talk, or losing one’s temper with other people.

The Prophet ﷺ said:

“When any one of you observes the fast on a day, he should neither indulge in obscene language nor should he raise his voice,” [5]


“If one does not eschew lies and false conduct, Allah has no need that he should abstain from his food and drink. [6]

Surely we want to avoid that which will invalidate the effort one makes in fasting. So how should we occupy our time?

Instead of occupying one’s tongue remembering what you and your relatives did together in time gone by, or discussing the family activities while you have been apart, why not occupy it with remembering Allah. Instead of getting angry or quarrelling over the temporal, why not fill your time seeking reconciliation, being generous in forgiving others and giving, in charity. It is not that there is anything wrong in catching up on family news. However, getting into conflicts over worldly affairs, or idly talking and joking about mundane matters, brings little benefit in the hereafter. Rather, sharing beneficial knowledge with them and performing good deeds together is better for you.

Thirdly, we should seek to get close to Allah.

Allah says:

O you who believe! Fasting has been decreed for you as it was decreed on those before you, that you may become righteous.” [7]


Those who fulfil the covenant of Allah and do not break it. And those who join what Allah ordered to be joined, and fear their Lord and dread the reckoning of (their) evil. And those who are patient, seeking the countenance of their Lord, and establish the prayer and expend what we have provided for them secretly and in private, preventing evil with good; those are whose end is the good home: The gardens of Aden. They will enter, and with them, whosoever were righteous among their fathers, their spouses, and their offspring. And the angels will welcome them from every gate saying, ‘Peace be upon you for what you patiently endured. And excellent is your final home’.” [8]

Fulfilling the covenant of fasting is to comply with all its stipulations, and then not invalidate it:

  • By leaving off other obligations, such as: offering the five prayers on time.
  • By inappropriate behaviour, such as: being vain [9], idle [10], self indulgent [11], greedy [12], stingy [13], untruthful [14], bad-mannered [15], jestful [16], gossipy [17], short-tempered [18] or quarrelsome [19].

Furthermore, you can increase both your nearness to Allah and His reward in many ways:

  • By keeping the bonds of kinship secure and active.
  • By purifying yourselves with Wudu’ (ablution), Salah (the five daily prayers) and Zakât al-Fitr (The poor due in kind for the ‘Eid feast of the indigent).
  • By avoiding sins, by turning to Allah in supplication and with extra, voluntary salâh. 
  • By giving generously in charity, and by remembering Allah yourself and to those around you.

It seems a tall order, but the reward is well worth the effort.

The Spiritual Value Ramaðân.

The Prophet ﷺ said:

“The reward of every deed of a person is multiplied from 10 to 700 times. Allah says, ‘The reward of fasting is different from the rewards of other good deeds: Fasting is for Me, and I Alone will give its reward. The person who fasts abstains from food and drink (and sexual pleasuresonly for my sake.’ The fasting person has two joyous occasions: one at the time of breaking his fast, the other when he meets his Lord. [20]

In the above hadîth qudsi, we are assured of a reward that only Allah knows. We do not know what Allah will reward us with, but we can hope for a something really good if we are sincere in offering our fast to Allah Alone. What is more, Allah makes it easy for us to be sincere by protecting us from the nagging devils that tempt us to show off. The prophet ﷺ said:

“When Ramaðân begins, the gates of Paradise are opened, the gates of Hell are closed, and the devils are chained up.” [21]

Some of that vast reward we already know. For we are told by the Prophet ﷺ in the two Sahihs that:

“Every day one observes fast for the sake of Allah Alone, He will draw (our) faces away from the Hell-fire a distance that can only be covered in seventy years.” [22]

Moreover, “if one observes the fast of Ramaðân completely with pure faith in the reward Allah will give you, your past sins will be forgiven” [23] by Ar-Rahmân.

Sincerity and faith are prerequisites for these wonderful spiritual rewards, so one should build up those qualities by concentrating and trying to do more worship while we have Allah’s ear and attention. This opportunity is abundantly available for all of us in Ramaðân.

What are these voluntary acts that draw us closer to Allah?

Well, studying and reflecting on the Qur’an is a start, and getting your family to do so with you. If you can, why not go yourself and sit in circles of knowledge and give the opportunity for your family to do so too. Encourage your family to make Dhikr (remember Allah) while they go about their normal pursuits, and do so yourself.

You can also increase your voluntary prayer, especially by never missing the nawâfil before and after each of the compulsory prayers. Try not to miss the Duha prayer either, which can be done anytime between approximately 15 minutes after sunrise and the same amount of time before noon, or the Witr prayer, which is a single rakâh before you sleep at night or just before eating Suhûr. The Prophet ﷺ  often advised his companions to “Offer two rakahs of ad-Duha in the forenoon and al-Witr before going to bed.” [24]

Qiyâm, or the night prayer, is one of the characteristics of Ramaðân, so if you can attend Tarawîyh prayer in the mosque, do so. The Prophet ﷺ  said:

Whomsoever performs the night prayer throughout Ramaðân with sincere faith, hoping for a reward from Allah; all his past sins will be forgiven.” [25]

Furthermore, if he “prays at night with his Imam till the latter leaves, he will be rewarded as if he had prayed the whole night.” [26] He, himself, never prayed more than eleven rakâhs for Qiyâm while at home, including the Witr, so you can see what a wonderful benefit that latter ruling is to you.

If you can’t make the Tarawîyh prayer, then you can make Tahâjud at home. The Prophet ﷺ  said:

“In the last third of the night Allah descends to the lowermost heaven and says,‘Who is calling Me so that I may answer? Who is asking Me that I may grant? Who is seeking my forgiveness that I may forgive?’” [27]

Supplicating and invoking Allah as much as you can also brings great spiritual benefits, especially at the times you are most likely to be heard and answered. In another hadith, the Prophet ﷺ  said:

“Every night there is a special space of time during which whatever a Muslim asks Allah for any good relating to this life or the hereafter, it will be granted to him.” [28]

He said what amounts to the same for thing about the daytime on Friday with the qualification that the du’a be made while performing sålâh[29]

Another especially propitious time for making du’a is between the aðân and iqâma of the congregational prayer. That is, five times a day, if you can make it to the mosque. Also twice during your sålâh one has the opportunity to have one’s prayers answered; whilst in prostration [30] and between saying at-Tahiyat and taslîym at the end of the prayer.[31] The prophet ﷺ  also assured us that our supplications will not be rejected under certain conditions, these being while it is raining, [32] while travelling or fasting, and if made by a parent for his child. [33] So combining any of these will make the acceptance of your supplications even more certain.

Laylat ul Qadr

In the last third of Ramaðân there falls a night that has enormous merit for your soul if you catch it. It is the night the Qur’an was brought down from the highest heavens to mankind. Of this night, Allah says:

“Verily We have sent it down on the Night of Decree. And what will make you know what the Night of Decree is? The Night of Decree is better than 1000 months.” [34]

We were told that this night falls on the odd nights of the last ten days. The first of these nights starts as we break the fast of the 20th day, and the last of these nights when we break the fast of the 28th day, because the night preceding the day belongs to it in the Islamic calendar. Which of the nights it is, exactly, we do not know; that makes these nights a kind of test. Only those who sincerely seek it every night will actually reap the benefit of its virtue. Like praying Qiyâm every night sincerely, whoever catches this single night in prayer, “with firm belief and expecting its reward, his previous sins are all forgiven.” [35]

How can you most easily perform all of these voluntary acts that draw us closer to Allah? Well, the Prophet used to practice I’tikâf, which is confining oneself in seclusion in a mosque, leaving behind every worldly affair, for the purpose of worshipping Allah alone, during the last 10 days of the Fast. If you are able to do this, it means you can concentrate on pleasing Allah exclusively. You can occupy your time with all these various activities of worship already mentioned, and really get close to Allah. The period needn’t be a full 10 days. It can be less, or more. It’s strictly a voluntary act of worship, so if it’s impossible for you, don’t worry. The Prophet ﷺ said:

“Do good deeds that are within your capacity.” [36]

He also said:

“The religion of Islam is easy, and whoever overburdens himself, it will overpower him. So follow the middle course; if you can’t do this, do something as near as you can to it, and receive the glad tidings that you will be rewarded…” [37]

Other Benefits.

Giving Charity during Ramaðân brings reward not only from Allah, but helps you increase your love of your brothers in Islam and their love for you. Furthermore, every charity you give during this blessed month is elevated in value, because the Prophet ﷺ  said,

“The best charity is that which is given in Ramaðân.” [38]

The best of the best is to give food to the hungry, for “if a believer feeds a hungry believer, Allah will feed him on the fruit of Paradise; and if he gives water to a thirsty believer,  Allah will give him sealed nectar.” [39]

And the best time to give food is when you break the fast, because someone who “provides breakfast to a fasting person, his reward will be equivalent to that person’s fast without decreasing the reward of the latter.” [40]

Imagine if one were able to give breakfast to ten people in one evening. That is like you fasted eleven days that day! And should one remember to say and mean, as you feed the indigent, the orphan or the prisoner,

“‘We feed you for the sake of Allah alone. No reward do we desire from you, nor thanks. We fear only the Day of Wrath from the side of our Lord.’


Allah will deliver them from the evil of that Day, and will shed over them a light of beauty and blissful joy.” [41]

Ramaðân helps us acquire patience, a virtue Allah has ordered for us over seventy times in the Qur’an, and a strong will. Whoever gives up bodily needs and seeks to satisfy the spiritual needs cannot help but learn restraint and develop the will and patience to practice it.

It also helps in increasing Ihsân. That is, increasing your Allah-consciousness. Just the act of concentrating on acquiring all the benefit you can from Allah makes you more aware of the things you should be doing and the mistakes you are making, and focusing on eradicating them brings you closer to Allah by your fear of His punishment and hope for His reward. Because of this, it brings about beneficial repentance. Whatever wrong you did, whatever failing you recognize from the previous year, you seek to eradicate and do better.

This carries forward into the following year due to the way Ramaðân trains you to do good by others and by yourself. It helps you to develop discipline in your worship as you try to make your acts of worship regular and constant. And it gives you a chance to train your children, too, in an ongoing religious context.

It helps you physically in that it purges your body (as long as you don’t spoil it by over-indulging at night) of impurities and obesity, as well as providing other biological benefits. It also has a psychophysiological [42] effect, somehow tuning your mind and soul to the spiritual ambience rather than the temporal.

Finally, it helps you identify with the whole of the Ummah, both the local and worldwide Muslim community, so that you feel its essential unity because of the fact that we all fast together, we break the fast together, we all worship Allah together, and we pray Sålât ul-‘Eid together. So if some call for you to criticize how one section of the Muslims or another section times the start and finish of Ramaðân, ignore them. They are working in the opposite direction, striving to disunite the Ummah.

The last act of Ramaðân is to pay the obligatory Zakât al-Fitr.

The reward Allah promises for sincere Charity is an obligation on Him should you manage to give it to the right category of person. These are stipulated by Allah, Who says,

AsSadaqat is only for the indigent beggar, the needy who won’t beg, and (the salaries of) the tax collectors; and the one whose heart is inclined (to Islam) so as to attract him; and the freeing of captives; and those in debt; and (the one fighting) Allah’s cause; and the wayfarer (who is stranded): A duty imposed by Allah, All-Knowing, All-Wise.” [43]

Zakat al-Fitr is the Obligatory Breakfast Donation of approximately 3 Kg of the staple agricultural produce that serves as the staple food of that country, usually grain, which must be donated before the ‘Eid prayer. Dates are also a valid staple, and potatoes may well be valid where they serve that function.  Among other things, Zakât al-Fitrserves “as a redemption for the fasting person from unnecessary foul speech” [44] during Ramaðân. It is also ordered “so the poor will have food” [45] to share the feasting of the ‘Eid that marks the end of Ramaðân.

May Allah help you help yourself and make this Ramaðân one which Allah accepts from you, erasing all past sins and providing you with one of the places reserved for those who will enter at the gate of Ar-Rayyân.

Ramaðân Mubârak!


[1] Qur’ân 2:187

[2] Qur’ân 2:185-6

[3] Qur’ân 2:187

[4] Qur’ân 20:131-132

[5] Sahîh Muslim

[6] Sahîh Al-Bukhâriy

[7] Qur’ân 2:183

[8] Qur’ân 13:20-24

[9] Being prideful without cause; having a good opinion about oneself without there being any substance to back it up

[10] Being lazy; not doing anything; occupying oneself with empty, frivolous, worthless, useless activity.

[11] Gratifying one’s own desires without restraint or control

[12] Wanting more (food, drink, money, etc.) than you need

[13] (Parsimonious) Being unwilling to give (possessions, money) to, or spend (your money, time, effort) on, others.

[14] Lying

[15] (Churlish) Being rude and ill-mannered

[16] Making fun of people, or things, to elicit laughter; telling, or playing jokes

[17] Talking about other people behind their backs; rumour mongering; passing time with idle talk

[18] (Irascible) Being easily irritated and provoked to anger; hot tempered.

[19] Being inclined to argue and dispute with people, and break off friendly relations with them due to that.

[20] Sahîh Muslim (& Bukhâriy)

[21] Sahîh Muslim & Sahîh Bukhâriy

[22] ibid.

[23] ibid.

[24] Riyaδ as-Sålihîyn

[25] Sahîh Bukhâriy

[26] Ahl as-Sûnan

[27] Sahîh Muslim & Sahîh Bukhâriy

[28] Sahîh Muslim

[29] Sahîh Al-Bukhâriy

[30] Sahîh Muslim

[31] At-Tirmiðîy

[32] Abu Dawûd

[33] Al-Bayhaqiy

[34] Qur’ân 97:1-3

[35] Sahîh Muslim & Sahîh Bukhâriy

[36] Sahîh Al-Bukhâriy

[37] ibid.

[38] At-Tirmiðîy

[39] ibid.

[40] Nissa’i

[41] Qur’ân 76:8-11

[42] Or psychosomatic (Relating to or concerned with the influence of the mind on the body, and the body on the mind) = psychophysiological: combining or involving mental and bodily processes, from psychophysiology: The branch of physiology dealing with the relationship between physiological processes and thoughts, emotions, and behavior.

[43] Qur’ân 9:60

[44] Abu Dawûd

[45] ibid.

The Unlocking

opening Quran

Photo from William Hamblin and Daniel Peterson: Reciting from the Quran

BenRoyston, 20 May 2017

Below is an explanation of the translation of Surah Al-Fatiha supplemented with a simple verse by verse explanation by Imam Kamil Mufti.  He writes for ‘New Muslims‘, a website that is designed for those who have just assumed Islam. It was last modified on 03 Feb 2015.

Each part of his explanation is interspersed with further commentary added from the writer’s, own understanding on 15 May 2017.


Surah al-Fatiha is the first surah of the Quran and is recited in each prayer, as the Prophet, may Allah praise him, declared,

“There is no (valid)  salah without the opening chapter of the Book.”  (Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim)

On accepting Islam, a person should first memorise the Fatiha to be able to perform the prescribed prayers.  Its meaning should be learnt and contemplated every time we offer salah.


Al Fatiha is the opening verse of the Quran, the verse that unlocks the prayer and establishes the conduit between God and His invokers and supplicants, that is: those who worship Him.

The requirement to recite Al-Fatiha in Prayer is essentially true, as Imam Kamil says. However, there was once a man who had accepted Islam, who came to the Prophet complaining that he had difficulty memorising Al Fatiha, so the Prophet, may Allah praise him, told him,

“Say: (in Arabic) Glory be to Allah, praise be to Allah, there is no god except Allah and Allah is Most great, there is no god except Allah and there is no power and no strength except with Allah.” The man … said, “This is for my Lord, what is there for me?” He said, “Say:  (in Arabic) O Allah, forgive me, have mercy on me, guide me, and grant me provision and good health.” (Sunan An-Nasai and Sunan Abu Dawood)

There is always an easier way allowed by God when what is required is too difficult to do or cannot be met.



بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمنِ الرَّحِيمِ

  1. Bismillahir rahmaanir raheem

In the name of Allah, the Entirely Merciful, the Especially Merciful.

The Quran begins with the proper, unique, and personal name of God – Allah. ‘I begin with the name of Allah’ means a Muslim begins his recitation seeking the help of Allah.  Allah is the God of mankind who alone deserves worship.  No one else can take the name ‘Allah.’  Allah is the Most Gracious (ar-Rahman) Lord whose mercy extends to all creation.  He is also especially Merciful (ar-Raheem) to the faithful.


In the name of Allah, the Gracious and Merciful.

Here, the supplicant and invoker calls upon two of the most prominent of God’s qualities encompassed in His name (Allah) – the quality of Grace – God’s ability to provide Mercy – nurture through Forgiveness and Pardon for wrong doing in this life – which results in one’s Provision and further Guidance to a greater or lesser extent and Grace (entry into the levels of Paradise).


الْحَمْدُ للّهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ

  1. Alhamdu lillahi rabbil Aalameen

(All) praise is (due) to Allah, Lord of the worlds

Allah deserves to be praised for the perfection of His qualities, material gifts, and spiritual blessings.  Therefore, people should praise Him for everything He has given them.  He alone deserves it.  He is the Lord of the worlds, meaning He made everything that exists, maintaining it at every moment.  He is the Lord who nourishes the believers with faith and good works.


All praise is to Allah, Lord of the worlds.

Here, the worshippers affirm that their praise is reserved in the first place to the Lord of all the levels of Creation.


The domains of the Seen and Unseen, the Orb we live on and all the other orbs in this Solar System and beyond, and the Pre-life decree, the Worldly life and the Afterlife. Muslims believe that the Worlds also refer to other dimensions or alternate realities that may exist as well as the dimension we live in.


الرَّحْمـنِ الرَّحِيمِ

  1. Ar rahmaanir raheem

The Entirely Merciful, the Especially Merciful,

‘Most Gracious’ (Al-Rahman) and ‘Merciful’ (ar-Raheem) are two of the many names of Allah.


The Merciful, The Gracious.

Note that the Imam also translates Al-Rahman as “The Most Gracious” although the text of the Translation of the Quran he is using translates it as “the Entirely Merciful”.

I have left out the superlative inflection as God’s Grace and Mercy incomparable (in its infinity) to that of any of His Creatures. I have also applied the term Gracious to Al-Raheem and Merciful to Al-Rahman for two reasons. In the Christian religion, Grace is what God grants on Judgement Day to those He accepts into His Kingdom.

In the same way, Al-Raheem reserves entry into Paradise for the believers in God (Allah) and the unblameworthy (such as children who died before adolescence, those who died feeble-minded and those who never heard the message. Some say the ones who never heard the message includes those who never heard it delivered in the right context).

Al-Rahman, however, extends even to those in the mundane world who disbelieve and reject God and belief in Him. He exposes them to Guidance and Feeds them and Shelters them and makes them look out for each other. He also tests them so they reflect and warns them of the consequence of turning away from Him.

The root of both words is RaHaMa from which is also derived the word rahim, the womb which nurtures and develops our offspring until they are delivered into the mundane world.


مَالِكِ يَوْمِ الدِّينِ

  1. Maliki yawmid deen

Sovereign of the Day of Recompense.

Allah alone is the Master of the Day of Judgement, the Day when human beings will be rewarded for their deeds.  Reciting this verse in every rak’ah of payer constantly reminds a Muslim of the coming Judgement, and encourages him to do good and stay away from sins.


The King, or Owner, of the Promised Day.

Malik or Maalik – the first means King, whilst the second means Owner. Both forms are used in different Qirat (ways of reciting the Quran). Malik reinforces the notion of Ruler-ship: the One with the power to decide and decree, whilst Maalik emphasises that everything belongs to Allah, even His creations, Heaven and Hell. Because He owns them and us, He can dispose of us as He wills in either place.

The Promised Day

Yawm id-deenYawm m means Day; id-deen refers to the Day Allah promised that we would be raised up from death in the hereafter to answer for our deeds in the mundane world. Deen can mean debt – the debt that we owe Allah (which we fulfilled or did not fulfil by our deeds) and the debt fulfilled (fully) by Allah. It can also mean religion – our duty to perform what we were made for (to worship Allah) and believe in what He warned us would happen after death (Resurrection) and Judgement which would leave us in Heaven (if we believed and submitted) or Hell (if we did not believe nor submit).


إِيَّاكَ نَعْبُدُ وإِيَّاكَ نَسْتَعِينُ

  1. Iyyaka naabudu wa-iyyaka nasta-een

It is You Alone we worship and You Alone we ask for help.

We only submit to You in worship and seek only Your help in everything we do. Everything is in Your hands.  The verse tells us that a Muslim is not allowed to direct any act of worship, like prayer and asking for supernatural, help to anyone other than Allah.

The verse connects the heart with Allah and purifies it of pride and the desire to show-off.


It is You alone we worship and invoke and supplicate for aid

Iyyaka na’abadu and na’asta’een. TheIyya Kameans that (we are addressing) “nobody or nothing except O You”. It is the vocative case hail – hailing the one we have been extolling and recognising and invoking: Allah, Merciful and Gracious Lord, King, Owner (and Gateway to Good in the Promised Hereafter) “do we (n) Worship (obediently) and Request (‘abad and ‘asta’) (and depend on) for all our needs.

This ends the first part of the opening prayer, dedicated to invoking Allah and  the reason why we are invoking Him or Her  (Allah has no gender). After this invocation, we tell Him what we request – that is – we supplicate whom we have invoked.


اهدِنَــــا الصِّرَاطَ المُستَقِيمَ

  1. Ih dinassiratal mustaqeem

Guide us to the straight path

Guide us and show us the straight path and make it easy for us. Make us firm on it till we meet You.  The ‘Straight Path’ is Islam, the clear road leading to divine pleasure and Heaven shown by Muhammad, God’s last and final prophet.  A slave of Allah cannot be happy and prosperous except by following it.


Guide us in the straight path

The request we make is for guidance. Hadi – guide – n -us! What kind of guidance? The next source of material wealth or benefit? Not at all: spiritual guidance to Al-siraat al mustaqiym.

The Straight Path

Imam Kamil rightly said this path is Islam: The path laid down by the Prophets in general and by Muhammed, may Allah praise him, in particular. He drew a straight line in the sand with a stick by way of illustration and said,

This is the straight path of Allah.” Then the Prophet drew lines to the right and left and he said, “These are other paths and there are no other paths but that a devil is upon it calling to its way.” Then the Prophet recited the verse, “Verily, this is the straight path, so follow it and do not follow other paths.” (6:153) (Musnad Ahmad)

The path same path is obliquely referred to as “the way is narrow that leads to life” by Jesus just before he warns the people at the sermon on the mount to “do the Will of the Father.”

“Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it. For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14)


صِرَاطَ الَّذِينَ أَنعَمتَ عَلَيهِمْ غَيرِ المَغضُوبِ عَلَيهِمْ وَلاَ الضَّالِّينَ

  1. Siratal latheena an Amta Alayhim ghayril maghdoobi alayhim walad daalleen

The path of those upon whom You have bestowed favour, not of those who have evoked (Your) anger or of those who are astray.

The path followed by those who were blessed – the prophets, the truthful, the martyrs, and the righteous.  They are the guided.  Do not let us follow the path of two.  First, those who earned divine anger because they knew the truth but did not act on it, and that is the example of the Jews and whoever is like them.  Second, do not let us follow the path of those who lost their way and were not guided, and that is the example of the Christians and their like.  This is a prayer from a Muslim to purify his heart of stubbornness, ignorance, and misguidance.  The verse also shows Islam is God’s greatest blessing.  Those who know the way and walk on it are guided and, after the prophets they were, without doubt, the companions of Prophet Muhammad.  It is recommended to say ‘Ameen’ after reciting Fatiha in the prayer.  ‘Ameen’ means ‘O Allah, please accept.’


The path of those who have received your favours,

Those who have received the favours (that Allah) bestowed are those who are guided by Him – the ones who follow the straight path and narrow way to life.

Not of those who earned your anger nor of those who went astray.

Indeed, many scholars equate the maghdoub the Jews. Even Christians consider Jews to have lost favour with God due to hypocrisy (Matthew 23), and God portrays Jerusalem, or the people therein, to be a betraying wife in Jeremiah 3.

What it literally means is ghayr, meaning not or (set) apart (from), the people out of favour due to rebellion – thus angering their ruler: those who set themselves up as equals in dialogue with God, or set themselves against God. Agnostics would fall into this category, perhaps.

The dhaleen, however, refers to those who strayed – led astray, perhaps, by those rebellious ones with knowledge. Their hearts may be soft, rather than hard, yet they are misguided. These, perhaps, are the ones who follow their desires rather than the truth. Yet, perhaps, they are also the ones who have the potential to return; to make Tawbah, or to repent.

There are many more Christians than Jews who convert to Islam after they are convinced the Quran is God’s word, but some Jews do as well, so we cannot rigidly adhere to the scholars’ interpretation as to the groups they refer to. A key verse in the Quran that describes the People of the Book who return to guidance is in Surah 28, The Stories.

And We have conveyed to them the Word that they might be reminded. Those to whom We gave the Book before it – they are believers in it. And when it is recited to them, they say, “We have believed in it; indeed, it is the truth from our Lord. Indeed, (even) before (hearing) it, we were Muslims. (28:51-54)

And Allah says of these people:

Indeed, [O Muhammad], you do not guide whom you like, but Allah guides whom He wills. And He is most knowing of the [rightly] guided. (28:56)

When the Imam recites this supplication in the prescribed prayer, the jama’a, or congregation, confirms their participation by saying Amen in the Arabic way, which is Ameen.

Ameen / Amen

In Arabic, Ameen is used to end a prayer heard if one wants to participate in its benefits, so the meaning would be “may Allah accept it for me (for us) as well!” The prayer then becomes as if you said it. Etymologically, it is associated with Truth, Trust (entrusting) and Faith.

The meaning is similar in Judaism and Christianity, a word God ordered the Jews to say at the end of congregational prayer. In the Gospel, Jesus often initiates a sentence with the word while teaching. In such cases, it is often translated as “Verily” or “Truly”. In the Gospel of Mark, the word is amen is reproduced phonetically as αμην, but in the Gospel of Luke the same synoptic verse begins by using the word αληθος Truly“. (Mark 9:1, Luke 9:27). This shows us that the underlying meaning of the word “Amen” is Truth and Verity. It is a solemn affirmation. So, when Christians say, “Amen” they mean, “Yes, before God I agree with that; I believe that to be true; I want that to be so“. That is very similar to the meaning given to “Ameen” in the Arabic of Muslims.

Like the Lord’s Prayer, this prayer is the fundamental basis of salah, the formal prayer performed to a formal pattern, whether the obligatory prayers in the mosque or the extra voluntary prayers performed at home.