How the Sharia Law Particularly Victimizes Women

How the Sharia Law Particularly Victimizes Women
                                                          By Abdur Rab and Hasan Mahmud 


There are a few general things to note about the Sharia Law. First, this Law overwhelmingly influences traditional Islam as practiced by most Muslims. Second, contrary to popular perception, the Sharia Law is not really Divine Law. Its origin is traceable to a body of normative principles historically understood and developed by a group of Muslim jurists during the 8th-10th centuries, i.e., about 150 to 250 years after the death of the Prophet Muhammad. There is, however, no unified body of the Sharia Law, as different schools of jurisprudence have applied different interpretations. The vast majority – some eighty percent – of Muslims are Sunnis and they generally follow Hanafi and Shafii laws. There are more than six thousand Sharia laws in each of the Hanafi and Shafii Law books. In this paper, we will concern ourselves with these laws as they relate to the treatment of women. Third, the Sharia Law draws on the Quran only in small part, and that also in a rigid, out-of-date way. Its main source, among a total of more than eleven, is the Hadith literature, which, ironically, is overtly and overwhelmingly biased against women. It is due to the application of the Sharia Law that there is a widespread perception, especially in the non-Muslim world, that Islam promotes misogyny. However, as we will see below, the Sharia Law is a gulf apart from the core teachings of Islam as professed by the Quran.

Sharia (Aka Shariah, Shari’a) literally means “a moral path.” However, as Professor Abdullahi An-Naim of Emory University rightly observes, “two factors account for much of the confusion about the role of Sharia in the modern context: a lack of appreciation of the critical role of human agency in the conception and development of Sharia and a grossly exaggerated sense of the application of Sharia as a comprehensive, self-contained and immutable normative system in the pre-colonial period.” The Sharia Law is a largely man-made phenomenon that came to light in the Middle Age. The laws are made through FIQH, which literally means “Human Understanding.” Hence, as Professor An-Naim further notes, “the first several generations of Muslims could not have known and applied Shari’a as it came to be accepted by the majority of Muslims for the last one thousand years.”

Saudi Arabia is perhaps the closest country example where the Sunni Sharia Law is most rigidly applied and where women are particularly discriminated against. Saudi Arabia and Qatar primarily apply the Hanbali Law. Hanbali is the most conservative of the four Sunni schools and the forerunner of the Wahhabi-Salafi movement. The Saudi authorities have vigorously promoted this brand of Islam throughout the world. Eminent Islamic Law professor Khaled Abou El Fadl of UCLA has provided, in one of his books, a vivid description of how the Wahhabi ideology has caused a great distortion in Islam. This ideology treats women in a particularly degrading manner. In recent days, the problems the Saudi women face in moving and driving freely and independently without male escorts have received media spotlight. But there are other serious Sharia-related human rights violations against women that are endemic throughout the Muslim World. Below we provide a checklist of such violations.


The Sharia Law severely discriminates against women mainly due to its predominant reliance on the Hadith. Though there are some passages in the Hadith, which display respect for women, these are overwhelmingly overshadowed by other texts that portray women in a particularly bad light. Some examples of such texts are that the Prophet saw that women constituted the majority of the inhabitants of Hell (Bukhhari, Vol. 7, Book 62, #124), that women are more deficient than men in intelligence and religion (ibid, Vol. 1, Book 6, #301), that women represent a bad omen (ibid, volume 7, book 62, #31) and an affliction more harmful than anything else for men (ibid, volume 7, book 62, #33), and that women are ungrateful to their husbands (ibid, Vol. 7, Book 62, #125; Vol. 1, Book 2, #28). Similar texts are also in other Hadith books, including Muslim, Tirmidhi and Nasa’i. In one of his books, Abou El Fadl cites several Hadith texts reported in Tirmidhi, Abu Dawud, Ibn Majah, Nasai, Musnad of Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, and Ibn Hibban that make God’s grace for a wife contingent on the husband’s pleasure and thus make wives virtually slaves to their husbands. Such texts are unreliable and problematic against the moral teachings of the Quran, according to which, men and women equally qualify for God’s grace, and according to which, the conception of the marital relationship presupposes mutual love, compassion, and cooperation. Below we provide a checklist of Sharia rules that discriminate against women.

Sharia Rules in Family Matters 

  1. Sharia considers women disqualified to serve as guardians to conduct marriages. Only men are qualified to perform this service.
  1. Sharia requires as witnesses for marriage two males or one male and two females in lieu of one man. This provision is made keeping in view the Quranic provision for witnesses in the context-specific case of financial transactions. However, this discrimination against women is no longer justified in the modern age when women are almost as educated and qualified as men.
  1. Child marriage is sanctified under Sharia, presuming that the Prophet Muhammad married Ayesha when she was a six-year old child. However, modern scholars contest this assertion about Ayesha’s age when the Prophet Muhammad’s marriage with her took place. Also, child marriage is not consistent with the Quran’s advice in dealing with orphans, which mandates that marriage require sound, responsible judgment on the part of both the bride and the bridegroom (4:5-6). This Quranic direction effectively precludes child marriage. The Sharia adherents use the Quran’s verse 65:4 to justify child marriage, since this verse talks about the waiting period of a divorced wife who may not be having menstruation. However, this verse does not necessarily mean a pre-puberty child. As modern medical science shows, there may be various reasons, medical or genetic, other than pregnancy that can explain amenorrhea (i.e., a delay or stoppage of menstrual period) in adult women. So amenorrhea cannot be cited as a definitive case for child marriage. Furthermore, under the Convention on the Rights of the Child adopted in 1989 by the United Nations (in force with effect from September 2, 1990), a child is defined as a person below the age of 18, unless adulthood is set at a younger age by a particular country’s laws. The Convention calls for review by countries of ages set lower than 18.
  2. Sharia provides virtually unilateral power of divorce to the husband. It provides only very limited power of divorce to a wife who is required generally to go to a court to seek divorce. Furthermore, Sharia requires explicit consent of the husband for the divorce. Such restrictions on a wife intending to divorce her husband – go to a court and take the husband’s consent – prove too forbidding for an aggrieved wife. The husband is often reluctant to divorce his wife. This is tyrannical to the wife, as she has to tolerate unbearable torture of her husband in the face of his continuing refusal to divorce. These Sharia provisions are in direct conflict with the Quran’s directions that a wife should not be compelled to stay with her husband against her will (33:28, 4:19), and to her hurt (2:231), that a wife has rights similar to her husband (2:228), and that a husband needs to treat his wife in a compassionate manner (2:228, 229, 231, 65:2).
  3. Worse still, Sharia entitles a husband to divorce his wife instantaneously by uttering the word “talaq – I divorce you” three times and without requiring any witness. The divorce is considered valid even if the husband may utter this in a fit of rage or when drunk and does not really mean it. However, these Sharia provisions flagrantly violate the Quran’s clear directions on divorce. The Quran requires two witnesses (65:2) and a well-defined waiting period for divorce to be effective (2:228, 229, 231, 65:1, 4). In fact, the Quran even wants husbands who want to dissociate from their wives to wait four months to give them a chance to see if they would like to change their mind during this period (2:226).
  1. The Sharia Law stipulates that once the divorce of a wife becomes effective at the end of the iddat period, the divorce becomes irrevocable and the divorced wife cannot go back to her husband, or remarry him, unless and until the divorced wife marries another person and until that husband divorces her. Sharia makes physical intimacy a condition for this marriage, even though the Quran allows a husband to divorce his wife before touching her – see 33:49. The requirement of marriage of a divorced wife with another person as a condition for her to think of returning to her husband after her new husband divorces her is a notoriously despicable practice called halala or hilla and is prevalent in parts of the Muslim world. This condition is drawn on an untenable inference from a Quranic verse, but which is counter to the very worldview and egalitarian spirit of the Quran’s message. This condition stems from a misreading of the Quran verses 2:230 and 232 and some relevant Hadith texts. However, verse 232 urges believers to create no obstacles in the way of the divorced wife remarrying her husband, if the couple so wants. As elaborately explained by us elsewhere in an article and in a drama-video, the halala system not only misses and violates the Quran’s clear directions and egalitarian message on this, but it also exacts a terrible human cost in terms of enormous suffering inflicted on the couple willing to reunite.
  1. Under Sharia Law, wives divorced instantaneously get nothing for livelihood from their husbands, while those divorced normally get only three months’ provision from their husbands after divorce. Then husbands are absolved of their duty to see where they go and how they live. This does not appeal to humanity. The Quran, on the other hand, urges husbands not to take back anything that has been given to them (2:229) and to retain or release them in kindness, and not to hurt them (2:231).
  2. A dangerous aspect of the Sharia Law is that divorced wife is barred from taking her children anywhere without the permission of their father. The cruelty of this aspect becomes evident when one observes the plight of many divorced Iranian immigrant mothers in Canada.
  1. One particularly inhuman Sharia rule is that the husband’s financial support to his wife is contingent on complete obedience from her. If, however, a wife turns out to be disobedient to her husband for some reason, she forfeits all of her husband’s financial support.
  2. Sharia displays a patriarchal bias in dealing with child custody rights. It allows mothers custody of her children generally up to the age of seven for sons and nine for daughters. There is, however, no uniformity about the ages of sons and daughters, up to which child custodial rules should apply. Also, a mother is deprived of her child custody rights if she does not pray and when she takes a mahram husband, even though the condition of “praying” does not apply to her husband. The Quran allows separated or divorced couples to decide about child custody by mutual consultation, and it makes the husband squarely responsible for bearing the financial costs of children under mother’s custodial care, if he has financial capability (65:6-7).
  3. In the area of inheritance, as discussed more elaborately by us in our earlier article, Sharia rigidly applies, in most cases, the provision that the male heir should receive twice as much as the female counterpart, ignoring the spirit of the exceptions that the Quran makes about this rule and ignoring the socioeconomic background in which this rule was made in the seventh-century Arabia, when women were totally dependent on their husbands for financial and other support. As argued by many modern Islamic and feminist scholars, the socioeconomic condition for women has vastly changed in the modern context, when women are almost equally participating in contributing to the family income and welfare. Furthermore, the human rights instruments such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR, 1948) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW, 1979), to which all Muslim countries are also signatories, also oblige them to move toward removing all forms of discrimination against women, including in the inheritance case.

Sharia Rules in Other Areas Affecting Women

  1. Sharia prescribes for married persons the brutal punishment of stoning to death for adultery. Ibn Majah Hadith suggests in Vol. 3, #1944 that the Quran did have a verse prescribing the stoning punishment, but it did not get included in the Quran because the parchment that contained that verse was eaten by a goat. This story sounds ludicrous against the Quran’s claim that God Himself took the burden of guarding it from any corruption (15:9) and that He made it a book of complete guidance for humankind (16:89, 5:3). The Quran prescribes a maximum of one hundred lashes, and that also after four witnesses confirm the criminal offense (24:2). The Quran also allows the convicts to be left alone if they repent and mend their conduct (4:15). Although the Sharia stoning punishment is equally applicable to both men and women, it often goes against women since the offence is much more easily detected in the case of women, either with a DNA test or when the women involved become pregnant (The Pakistan court did not accept the DNA test). The Quran also enjoins marriages of adulterous men with adulterous women (24:3,26). If stoning to death is an applicable punishment for adultery, then the question that arises is how can they get married after death?
  1. Sharia permits Muslim men to have marital relationship with women of the Ahle al-Kitab (the people of the Book traditionally interpreted as Christians and Jews), but does not extend the same option to Muslim women to wed non-Muslim men. This it does by narrowly interpreting the Quran’s verse 5:5, which is addressed to men. However, as Professor Khaleel Mohammed of San Diego State University rightly contends, this Quranic verse, like other verses, is addressed to men simply because of the custom of the time. The Quran’s direction applies equally to both men and women. The Sharia restriction on women often leads to honor killings of Muslim women by their parents, when their daughters seek to marry non-Muslim men. Sharia condones honor killings, as there is a Sharia provision that parents are not liable for punishment for murders of their children. Note also that Sharia applies its narrow interpretation even to the marriage of a Muslim woman with a Muslim man and considers their marriage dissolved when he is declared an apostate. This was applied to the Cairo University professor Nasr Abu Zayd, which led the couple to seek exile abroad and leave the country.
  2. Sharia does not recognize testimonies from women in hudud and adultery cases, including in drinking cases, not even along with a male witness. This is a gross discrimination against women in ensuring justice in society.
  3. Shari’a: the Islamic Law by Dr. Abdur Rahman Doi mentions that if there is a son of the murder victim of a family, then only he, not any daughter of the victim, can claim blood-money.
  4. Sharia considers the marriage of a non-Muslim man with a non-Muslim woman dissolved the moment she becomes a war captive to Muslims. This consequently allows a Muslim man to possess her and have sexual relation with her without marriage. This Sharia provision literally legitimizes the raping of female war captives. The Indian promoter of Wahhabi/Salafi ideology Dr. Zakir Naik also supports such a view by his strange interpretation of the Quran’s expression “those your right hand posseses” in 4:24, even though he also mentions that the Quran encourages freeing of slaves and marrying them. The raping of slave women is incompatible with the very spirit of the Quran’s message, which vividly encourages freeing of slaves (90:12-13) and marrying them (4:25) and forbids them to compel them to prostitution without marriage (24:33).
  5. Under the Sharia Law, women judges are not eligible for conducting hudud This Sharia rule is ostensibly based on a Hadith that says that women are more deficient in intelligence (that implies also judgment) and religion. The Quran nowhere suggests that women are inferior to men.
  6. Under Sharia, it is forbidden for women to lead the umma or to head a government, this despite the Quran’s mention of rule by the Queen of Sheba (23:27) and rule by many Muslim women in different Muslim countries.


The Sharia Law makes a travesty of true Islam by ruthlessly discriminating against women in numerous ways. This is not only against the very spirit of the Quran’s message about how we should treat women; it also belies the noble example of what we know in the Quran itself about how our Prophet treated them. Such Sharia rules are also incompatible with the very norms of human decency, etiquette, and human rights that are enshrined in various United Nations declarations. Because of its brutal features particularly affecting women, Sharia has made itself deeply misogynic. It cannot really be applied to any modern, civilized society.








The Quranic Inheritance Law: The Case for a Gender-Neutral Understanding

The Quranic Inheritance Law: The Case for a Gender-Neutral Understanding
By Abdur Rab* and Hasan Mahmud**

  • ABSTRACT. This paper examines afresh the particular Quranic inheritance provision that the male heir should receive twice as much as the female counterpart. It reviews the important exceptions the Quran itself makes to this provision, which emphatically suggests that the stated discrimination against female heirs is not intrinsic to the very spirit of the Quran. Further, the paper reviews the contributions made in recent years by a number of Islamic scholars as well as the arguments put forward by the Feminists toward a gender-neutral reinterpretation of the Quranic Law. It briefly observes modern development trends where the female members of mostly nuclear families share responsibilities equally with their male partners. It concludes that the existing gender discrimination being continued in inheritance has little justification to be perpetuated. Finally, the paper also briefly looks at the record of progress (or lack of progress) made in some Muslim countries toward gender-neutral treatment in inheritance matters.


The Quran’s guidance on the inheritance of wealth left by a deceased person begins with a general direction that all surviving close male and female relatives have definite shares in the inheritance, whether large or small (4:7). This is followed by a definite prescription that the decedent should leave a living will or bequest (waṣeyya) before death for his or her near relatives:

  • 2:180    It is prescribed for you that, should death approach any of you, if he leaves any assets, it is best that he leave a bequest for his parents and near relatives according to normal usage – a truthful obligation (haq) on the part of the righteous. (See also 2:181-182, 5:106-108)

However, the Quran leaves open the issue of how much one can bequeath to his or her surviving heirs.[1] Three other verses provide specific guidance on the distribution of the remaining wealth left by a decedent after accounting for any bequest made, any remaining debt of the decedent, and other expenses such as funeral-related expenses. The Quran specifies exact shares for a number of male and female heirs. The shares of other eligible heirs are determined either residually or by applying the rule that the male heir gets twice as much as the corresponding female heir. For the time, this prescribed inheritance law was a great advance from earlier times, when the inheritance was mostly limited to the male agnate relatives of the deceased (asabas) with preference for the nearest adult male. Women and minors were mostly deprived, and the surviving parents, and the husband and half-brothers and sisters from the mother’s side were also excluded from the inheritance. The three verses that set out the inheritance rules are as follows:

  • 4:11    God commands you, with respect to your children, that the male shall inherit the equivalent of the share of two females. If there are only females – two or more, then they should receive two-thirds of what he leaves; but if there is only one female, she is entitled to one-half. To each of his parents, one-sixth of what he leaves, if he has any children; but if he has no children, then his parents will inherit him, the mother receiving one-third. But if he has any brothers (or sisters), then his mother receives one-sixth. (The distribution in all cases) after any will he had made or any debt he had incurred [is taken care of]. Your parents and your children—you know not who of them is nearest to you in terms of benefit. A directive from God; God surely is All-Aware, Wise.
  • 4:12    In what your wives leave, your share is a half, if they leave no child; but if they leave a child, you get a fourth; all after payment of legacies and debts. In what you leave, their share is a fourth, if you leave no child; but if you leave a child, they get an eighth; all after payment of legacies and debts. If the man or woman whose inheritance is in question, has left neither ascendants nor descendants, but has left a brother and or a sister, each one of the two gets a sixth; but if more than two, they share in a third; all after payment of legacies and debts; so that no loss is caused (to any one). Thus is it ordained by God; and God is All-Aware, Most Forbearing.
  • 4:176 They ask you for a legal decision. Say: God directs (thus) about those who leave no descendants or ascendants as heirs. If it is a man that dies, leaving a sister but no child, she shall have half the inheritance. If (such a deceased was) a woman, who left no child, her brother takes her inheritance. If there are two sisters, they shall have two-thirds of the inheritance (between them); if there are brothers and sisters, (they share), the male having twice the share of the female. Thus does God make clear to you (His law), lest you err. And God has knowledge of all things.

The “provision for making a will before death provides a special opportunity for the dying person to correct any possible imbalance that he or she might foresee and perceive in the application of the specific inheritance rules and to accommodate special considerations for his or her near relatives who are disadvantaged or for other poor people he or she may have in mind. The law of inheritance prescribed by the Quran also provides for making a special accommodation for the needs of the poor, including poor relatives”[2] at the time of inheritance distribution:

  • 4:7-8   Men shall have a share in what parents and kinsfolk leave behind, and women shall have a share in what parents and kinsfolk leave behind, whether it be little or much – a share ordained [by God]. And when at the time of distribution (of inheritance), relatives, orphans, and the needy are present, give them (out of the property) and speak to them kindly.”

The newly introduced Quranic rules of inheritance giving shares to wives, daughters, mothers, and, in some cases, sisters constituted definite reforms of the existing patriarchal system. Yet, from a modern point of view, the reforms did not go far enough. In this paper we focus particularly on the stated rule of the Inheritance Law that gives the male heirs twice as much as it gives to the corresponding female heirs. Since, the rules of this Law were drawn in a specific socio-historical context, we need to consider whether these rules need to change in a vastly different modern context.[3]

“The traditional Muslim rules of inheritance are derived from the basic structure set out in the Qur’an, which was then elaborated and systematised by the various madhhab[s], or schools of law, through jurisprudential methods and interpretations. Many modern Muslim nation-states have adapted these rules from one of the major Sunni or Shi‘ite schools of law, have combined rules from two or more different schools, or have created modern inheritance laws based loosely on traditional jurisprudence but suited for modern realities. Because human interpretations have played such a key role in shaping both the traditional inheritance rules and the modern codifications of inheritance laws, the standard articulation of these rules cannot be considered divinely revealed Shari‘a, but rather man-made fiqh.”[4]

The first thing to note about the traditional position on the inheritance issue is that it is not a unified position. There are some perceptible differences between the Sunni and Shia positions on how the bequests and distribution of inheritance shares are to be made. Both the Sunni and Shia schools of law limit the bequests to one third of the inheritance. However, for bequests to be made to any heir, the Sunni schools require consent of all other heirs, while the majority Jaafari Shia school does not require such consent. With regard to the distribution of inheritance shares among the heirs, there is an important difference in the Sunni and Jaafari school of Shia laws when the heir is only a daughter (or when the heirs are daughters). In Sunni schools, the daughter gets one half of the property, and the other half goes to the brothers of the deceased. In the case of two or more daughters, they get two thirds of the inheritance and the remaining one third goes to the brothers of the deceased. In the Jaafari school of Shia laws, the daughter gets (or the daughters get) the full property. There are other differences between the Sunni and Shia schools and among even the Sunni schools. But these are outside the purview of this paper.


The Quran-prescribed inheritance law provides for, with some exceptions, dividing the property left behind by a person on death according to the rule that the male heir gets twice as much as the corresponding female heir. This rule is required to be observed in the following cases:

  1. In the case of son(s) and daughter(s), when the deceased leaves behind children of mixed gender (4:11);
  2. In the case of parents, when the deceased has no surviving children but has surviving one parent or two parents (4:11);
  3. In the case of the surviving male or female spouse (4:12); and
  4. In the case when the deceased has no descendant or ascendant heirs, but has brothers and sisters (from the father’s side) (4:176).

Two important exceptions made to the above rule are worth noting

  • In the case when only parents (both or one) survive along with the deceased’s children, each parent gets one sixth of the inheritance; if only one parent survives, he or she gets one sixth. The rest goes to the children. (4:11)
  • In the case when the deceased has no descendant or ascendant heirs, but has a uterine brother or a sister (from the same mother with different fathers), each one equally shares one sixth of the inheritance; if they are more than two, they share equally in a third (4:12).[5]

Another exceptional, rather anomalous, case arises in a situation where a woman dies leaving behind her husband and both parents as the only heirs. In this case, the husband gets his one-half share, and if the mother gets her given share of 1/3rd (4:11), there is only 1/6th left for the father to share as a residuary. Here a strict literal interpretation of the verse position leads to an anomaly that, instead of the male getting twice as much as the corresponding female, yields an opposite result of the male getting half of what the female gets. This vividly illustrates the limitation of a strict literal interpretation of the inheritance rules in all cases.[6]

The exceptions made in the Inheritance Law suggest that the distinction made in general between male and female heirs giving the former double the share of the latter is not essentially inherent in the Quranic Law itself. The provision giving preference to the male over the female rather responds to the particular socio-economic milieu of the time when the husband took full socio-economic responsibility to support the wife and the family as a whole. If this situation changes, then there must be room for changes in the rules of the Inheritance Law. This is what we discuss below in more detail.


On a close reading of the Quran’s provisions about the inheritance rights of the surviving relatives of a deceased person, one important conclusion that emerges is that the overall intention or direction of the Quran was to ameliorate the financial conditions of the decedent’s relatively weaker and more disadvantaged relatives, according them greater shares of his or her inheritable property. The direction is definitely egalitarian. The Inheritance Law, even in its existing textual content, provides ample scope for carrying out any desired reform by appropriately using the existing provisions of the directive for a living will and for distributing part of the property left by the decedent to the poor relatives and other deserving people. The Quran’s overall egalitarian approach or direction is worth more attention than the actual extent of such reforms indicated in the shares of the Inheritance Law, which were nonetheless quite remarkable in a seventh century context. What is important to note is that these reforms were grafted onto an existing predominantly patriarchal legal system.

Another point to note, one that has been well emphasized by noted modernist scholar late Fazlur Rahman (1919-1988), is that Muslims need to pay attention to the major sociomoral objecives of the Quran, which are “the moral conduct of man and the establishment of an order of socioeconomic justice and essential human egalitarianism.”[7] With changing time and context, human perceptions of what constitute justice also change. Even though the Quran did not declare an outright ban on human slavery, no sane person would say today that we should have slavery in our modern society.

Also, since the inheritance rules are not an isolated aspect of family laws, possible further reforms of these rules need to be addressed as part of, and in conjunction with, overall family law reforms. While reforms on other fronts such as marriage, divorce, social and political rights, etc., have made appreciable progress in a number of Muslim countries in recent years, there is not much discernible progress in inheritance reform in these countries.

Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya (1292-1350), a thirteenth century jurist and a great reformer of his time was much ahead of his time when he said, “Any rule that departs from justice to injustice, from kindness to harshness, from the common good to harm, or from rationality to absurdity cannot be part of [true] Shari’a.”[8] The modern family law reform agenda has progressed along two lines – one is the feminist movement within the Islamic tradition itself and the other is a logical extension of the progress in secular liberal ideas leading to widespread recognition and acceptance of human freedom, human rights, and gender equality. As a book edited by contemporary feminist scholar Ziba Mir-Hosseini et. al. aptly puts it, “Gender equality is a modern ideal, which has only recently, with the expansion of human rights and feminist discourses, become inherent to the generally accepted conceptions of justice.”[9] Mir-Hosseini continues, “Contemporary notions of justice informed by the ideals of human rights, equality and personal freedom depart substantially from those that underpin rulings in classical fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) and established understandings of the Shari’a. This disjunction is a central problem that permeates debates and struggles for an egalitarian family law in Muslim countries.”[10]

Two recent reform pieces – one a book Women in the Shari’a and Our Society (1930) by Tunisian religious reform thinker al-Tahir al-Haddad (1899-1935) and the other an article “The Status of Women in Islam: A Modernist Interpretation” (1982) by Pakistani-American scholar Fazlur Rahman, both declared heretical by conservative clerics, lay the groundwork for an egalitarian family law. “[A]l-Haddad argues for legal equality for women in all areas, including in inheritance. According to him, the Qur’an’s assignment of a lesser share for women was due to the conditions of the time; it was a concession to the social order. But here again equality is the principle and when we look closely, we find that,”[11]

Islam did not allocate a lesser share to a woman compared to that of man as a principle applicable to all cases. It gave the same share to her in the case of parents inheriting from their dead son when there is a male child and if it involves blood siblings…[12]

Al-Haddad’s ideas helped shape a reformed Tunisian family law, codified in 1956. Fazlur Rahman’s ideas helped shape the feminist scholarship in Islam. As mentioned before, he based his argument on the Quran’s direction for immutable “moral principles, which show us how to establish a society on earth where all humans can be treated as equals as they are all equal in the eyes of God. This is at once the ‘challenge and the purpose of human existence, the trust – amana – that humanity accepted at creation.’”[13] Rahman contends “that the specific legal rules of the Qur’an are conditioned by the socio-historical background of their enactment and what is eternal therein is the social objectives or moral principles explicitly stated or strongly implied in that legislation. This would, then, clear the way for further legislation in the light of those social objectives or moral principles.”[14] He further notes that legal reform can only be effective in changing the status of women in Muslim contexts when there is an adequate basis for social change; otherwise its success will be limited, transitory or confined to certain social groups.[15]

Building on the work of these and other earlier Muslim thinkers such as Muhammad Abduh and Muhammad Iqbal, a whole new generation of progressive Muslim scholars such as Mohammad Arkoun, Khaled Abou El Fadl, Muhammad Shahrur, Nasr Abu Zayd, Amina Wadud, Mohammad Mojtahed Shabestari, Abdolkarim Soroush, Ziba Mir-Hosseini, and the former leader of the Sisters in Islam Zainah Anwar reengages the Quran from a perspective that was sorely lacking in the classical Islamic scholarship. Their contributions inform, and lead to, a gender-neutral, feminist movement in Islam. They think that the moral teachings of the Quran do not really discriminate against women and that the “verses that assign greater rights to men […] reflect a patriarchal context in which men were dominant and solely responsible for supporting women.”[16] It is, therefore, imperative that the rules we apply serve the basic objectives of the law.

The traditional position on the inheritance rules makes a first major violation of the Quranic direction on bequests. While the Quran urges us to bequeath from the inheritance to parents and next of kin, the Sunni and Shia scholars limit such bequests to a maximum of one third of the inheritance and the Sunni scholars require consent of all heirs for such bequests to any heir. Also, as noted contemporary Syrian Muslim scholar Muhammad Shahrur, a strong critic of the traditional scholarship, questions the widespread belief that “no testament shall invalidate an heir’s right”, which, he points out, “basically disrespects a proper bequest and unfairly prioritizes strict inheritance rules.” He continues, the Quran, on the other hand, mandates and prioritizes such bequeathing before death, taking necessary testimony (2:180-182, 240; 5:106-108). He further points out that the Quran’s mandate for bequeathing before death is shown as imperative as performing other religious activities such as salat, fasting and pilgrimage.[17]

As Khaled Abou El Fadl aptly points out, the ultimate objective of the law is to ensure justice, mercy and compassion in society.[18] He rightly puts it, “men and women equally qualify for God’s grace and reward. The authority given to men over women is not because they are men but because, in a particular historical context, men financially provided for women. But if the circumstances change, and women share financial responsibility with men, authority must be equally shared between the two as well.”[19] “[T]he rules of law that apply to women”, as Abou El Fadl aptly notes, should not be regarded as “static and unchanging. The Islamic law has to keep changing forward to achieve the moral objectives expressed in the Qur’an. To achieve justice, there has to be a constant effort to achieve a more authentic proportionality between the duties and rights of Muslim women. So, for instance, if within the social dynamics of time, women carry a financial responsibility equal to [that of] men, it is more consistent with Shari’a to allow women an equal share to men in inheritance.”[20]

Muhammad Shahrur also rejects the rigidly defined inheritance rules given by the traditional scholars. He has come out with a groundbreaking interpretation of the Quranic laws, which also provides accommodation for treating males and females equally in respect of inheritance. He maintains that the Quran should be read and understood in relation to ever changing socio-cultural realities. He wants us to understand the Quranic laws in terms of what he calls “the theory of limits” (hudud), which means that the Quranic laws set limits within which societies with sociocultural diversity can set their own rules or laws. The theory of limits, according to Shahrur, allows flexibility in regulating various Quranic laws, including inheritance, according to sociocultural diversity. Thus the inheritance share of a male heir could vary within the upper limit of twice the female share and the female share could be higher than the lower limit of one half of the male share, this depending on the particular sociocultural context.[21]

In the modern age, women often need to work side by side with men to either support herself or to contribute to supporting the family. And it is also important to consider the fact that in many cases, even if women are qualified, they are unable to take any paying jobs on the top of taking proper care of their children and of the family as a whole. In such cases, it will only be in the fitness of things that we appropriately impute the nonmonetary contribution of the wife to the overall service for the family in monetary terms. If we do this, it might well be the case that the wife shoulders a larger share of the overall family responsibility than the husband. Thus whether wives work or not may not be the dominant issue. The dominant issue is how both husband and wife share the overall responsibility of maintaining and supporting the family as a whole. From this point of view, it is imperative that no distinction be made in the shares of inheritance between male and female heirs.

We also need to take into account the progress modern civilization has made toward recognition of genuine women’s rights and gender equality in all spheres of life. The modern idea of gender equality has become inherent to the global conceptions of justice and has gained recognition through the adoption by the United Nations of two historic instruments – The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) adopted in 1948 and The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) adopted in 1979. Most Muslim-majority countries, including Egypt, Iran and Pakistan, signed the UDHR. Saudi Arabia did not sign, objecting that it was not Sharia-compliant. “Since it came into force in 1981, [the] CEDAW has been ratified by all Muslim states except Iran, Qatar, Somalia and Sudan, though, in most cases, ratification has been subject to ‘Islamic reservations’—a notion that speaks of unresolved tensions between [the] CEDAW and Islamic legal theory.”[22]

Muslim countries now accord equal political rights, including equal voting rights, to men and women. Saudi Arabia is the only Muslim country where women had no political rights until just recently, even though women’s literacy rate is high at or above 70 percent. Women today do not lag much behind men in education[23] and their participation rates in the public workplace are quite respectable in many Muslim countries[24]. There are variations among Muslim countries. Egyptian women are well educated and hold responsible professional positions in virtually every sector. Algerian women comprise sixty percent of university students, seventy percent of lawyers and sixty percent of judges, and dominate the medical profession.[25] In other Muslim countries, women not only enjoy the voting right, but they can also run for political offices and become members of parliament. Several Muslim countries such as Pakistan, Turkey, Indonesia, and Bangladesh have or had women as heads or deputy heads of government. Today, women in many Muslim countries work as engineers, doctors, scientists, teachers, and lawyers alongside their male colleagues.[26] As Reda Zaireg (translator Pascale el-Khouri) puts it, while discussing the Moroccan case, “Islamic law governing inheritance has been drawn taking into consideration the extended family model, which has now disappeared and been replaced with the nuclear family model. Moreover, men before had to meet the needs of the women of their clan, but nowadays they no longer have a monopoly over family finances.”[27] In such scenarios, the current discrimination between males and females in sharing inheritance would clearly appear out of date.

It is striking that the conservative segments of society still cling to the old ideas even when their well respected patron Abul Ala Mawdudi strongly favors, and calls for, updating the Sharia Law “through the interpretation of the principle of Islamic theology and law in the light of the changed conditions (ijtihad).”[28] As feminist leader Zainah Anwar aptly puts it:

  • For too long, Muslim women who demanded reform to discriminatory laws and practices have been told, “this is God’s law” and therefore not open to negotiation and change. […] Evidently, the problem is not with Islam. It is the position that men in authority take in order to preserve their privilege. […] To conflate patriarchal laws and practices is nothing more than tactical power play.[29]


The conservative religious scholars have their own arguments to fiercely oppose any change in the Quran’s inheritance rules. They resist any change in inheritance rules on the ground that God’s word prevails for all times and all places. However, as we have seen above, many modernist Muslim scholars, including even their mentor Abul Ala Mawdudi, have refuted this argument saying that the Quran needs reinterpretation in the context of changing reality. Also, their argument is seriously flawed since they fail to recognize the vital difference between the moral objectives and principles of the Quran that should not change and those aspects that require constant updating to keep up with the moral intent of the Quran.

A second argument the traditional ulama use is that a woman inherits a half-share only in four cases, compared with more than thirty cases in which she inherits a more share. However, the irony of this argument is that it has virtually no teeth, since it is precisely these four cases that make up the most frequent cases in reality.

Also, there had been historical precedents of updating many Islamic laws during the times of the Prophet himself and Caliph Umar, which the ulama cannot deny.


Whatever little information is available suggests that[30] there has been very limited progress made in inheritance reform in Muslim countries, even though notable progress has been made in recent years in a number of countries in other aspects of family laws that address existing discrimination against women in marriage and divorce.[31] Progress on the inheritance front has been either blocked or stalled in most Muslim countries due to the official use of the Sharia Law in many countries, use of a dual legal system of both secular and Sharia laws, with the Sharia Law applied to deal with family matters, and stiff resistance from traditional Muslim clerics. “Many majority Muslim countries have a dual [legal] system in which the government is secular but Muslims can choose to bring familial and financial disputes to sharia courts. The exact jurisdiction of these courts varies from country to country, but usually includes marriage, divorce, inheritance, and guardianship.”[32] Sharia courts operating in the United Kingdom are allowed to settle cases brought to them by resident Muslims. The limited progress in inheritance reform seems due also, in part, to a lack of clarity in United Nations human rights agreements of the UDHR and the CEDAW with respect to addressing gender disparity in the Muslim inheritance law and shortcomings in their follow-up of implementation in different signatory-countries. Spotty progress in inheritance law reform in some countries is noted as follows. 

Turkey. Turkey remains a model for other Muslim countries. In 1926, Kemal Ataturk introduced sweeping reforms, replacing the Sharia Law with the Swiss civil code, and gave a status and rights to women equivalent to those of men. “Legal equality between the genders was instituted between 1926-1934 with changes in a multitude of rules and regulations. […] The equal rights provided by the Swiss Code covered the areas of […] marriage, divorce, custody, and inheritance.”[33] Remarkably, the Turkish revolutionary reforms in family reforms came well in advance of the UN-adopted human rights agreements. There was a relative decline in the status of women after 2002 when a moderately religion-friendly government came into power. Some reforms in the family laws such as those relating to monogamy and child marriage got reversed in their implementation, especially in the rural areas. However, the Ataturk-time inheritance reforms remain intact. 

Somalia. Somalia is another example where the inheritance rules are completely gender-neutral. Male or female children, or grandchildren in the event of no surviving children, get equal shares. In the event of no surviving children and no surviving spouse, the surviving one parent inherits the whole estate and it is divided equally between both living parents. With a surviving spouse and both parents, the spouse gets one half and each parent gets one fourth. With children or grandchildren, each parent gets one sixth of the inheritance. With no children or grandchildren, the widow or the widower gets one half of the inheritance; with children or grandchildren, he or she gets one fourth. Similar equality is maintained also in the case of only surviving siblings, whether full or half.[34] 

Tunisia. Thanks to the ideas of the Tunisian reformist scholar al-Tahir al-Haddad, Tunisia became a frontliner in the Arab world in carrying out family law reforms. The reforms came through the promulgation of a Tunisian Code of Personal Status in 1956, which formed the basis for addressing gender discrimination in a wide array of areas such as access to justice, laws ensuring gender equality in marriage and divorce, freedom of movement, freedom from gender-based violence, and social, political and economic rights. However, even though a second wave of reforms was carried out in the 1990s under the influence of women activists, strikingly, the issue of unequal inheritance among male and female heirs still remains unaddressed.[35] Even though a new state constitution adopted in January last year enshrines gender equality, inheritance rules have remained as patriarchal as before under the Sharia-following Ennahda government. A new government defeating the Ennahda party has come into power in October last year, which paves the way for new legislation in the direction of ensuring equal inheritance rights for male and female heirs.

Morocco. Morocco started late in reforming family laws. A family code (Mudawana – Morocco Personal Status Code) adopted in 2004, though less ambitious than in the Tunisian case, was hailed by women’s rights groups as a big step forward. In 2011, “the country passed a new constitution guaranteeing gender equality. Even so, Moroccan women say that equality is still a long way off, and much of the old order remains untouched, including the inheritance law section of the family code.”[36] But there is a growing pressure for change. In the current situation of Morocco, men are no longer the head of the households; “women provide for the family or at least contribute in a significant manner.”

Indonesia. A country with the largest Muslim population, Indonesia presents a fascinating case where efforts to push women-friendly reforms are having little impact due to the opposition from conservative forces. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Indonesia brought out a Kompilasi Hukum Islam (Compilation of Islamic Laws). During this compilation, the Government’s Religion Minister proposed to equalize inheritance between men and women to bring it into line with Indonesian adat, or customary law, and Southeast Asian social realities, and the progressive ideas of some Indonesian scholars. However, this proposal was nipped in the bud before it could be actually outlined in a formal draft due to resistance from the conservative clerics. One important piece of gender-neutral inheritance reform introduced by an Indonesian Supreme Court decision in 1994 was that a male or a female child of the decedent could exclude collaterals. The court made this landmark decision by interpreting “walad” in Quran’s verse 4:176 to mean both male and female children.[37] This was an important theological interpretation that can support future gender-neutral reform in Indonesia and also in other countries.

Even though Indonesian law code marginalizes women, it nevertheless embraces some women-friendly reforms in marriage and divorce areas. In 2003, the Religious Affairs Ministry formulated a document – The Counter Legal Draft of the Islamic Code of Law – based on a critical analysis of the existing law code. This document offers a promising future for gender-neutral reforms, putting emphasis on human rights, advocating gender equality, and voicing humanistic, pluralistic, and democratic views of Islam.[38]

Egypt. In a landmark development in 2000 and in a sharp break with the past, Egypt introduced some reforms in family laws, granting certain rights to women to divorce unilaterally.[39] A legislation in 2007 outlawed also female genital mutilation. Insofar as the inheritance issue is concerned, two noticeable changes were made in the Sharia Law. First, grandchildren, both male and female, are included as legitimate heirs up to one third of the inheritance. Second, the bequest has been made mandatory up to one third of the inheritance.[40]

Pakistan. An ordinance promulgated in 1961 by President Ayub Khan made some noticeable reforms in family laws relating to marriage and divorce such as banning child marriage, setting minimum marriageable ages for boys and girls, requiring marriage registration, and subjecting polygyny to certain conditions, including requiring first wife’s consent and authorization by an arbitration council. The only visible reform in the inheritance area was to recognize the inheritance rights of orphaned grandchildren. Gender-neutral reforms look a remote possibility in the current situation where politically powerful conservative forces are wielding a major influence, even though the government is a signatory to the CEDAW.

Bangladesh. Relative to its South Asian peers, Bangladesh’s achievement in recent about two decades in some social development indicators such as education and health has been spectacular, which, importantly, includes elimination of gender disparity in primary and secondary school enrollments and near achievement of basic universal education.[41] The government’s stance since the time of the country’s liberation from Pakistan in 1971 has been essentially secular. Article 28 (2) of its constitution professes gender equality “in all spheres of the State and of public life.” The secular stance has been somewhat undermined, during the rules of two dictators in 1977 and 1988, when it embodies the declaration that the State is Islamic. Such a provision has given scope for the conservative ulama to weigh in on matters especially relating to family laws and inheritance.

The 1961 ordinance promulgated during the time when Bangladesh was part of undivided Pakistan, embraces certain family law reforms as mentioned above in the Pakistan case. However, in a stark contrast to Bangladesh’s advance on the social development front, the implementation of family law reforms has been rather very limited, due primarily to the influence of the conservative clerics, except in the case of the ban on child marriage. In the inheritance case, the only improvement is the inclusion of orphaned grandchildren as heirs. However, as a signatory to the CEDAW, the government is committed to establishing gender equality by removing all forms of existing discrimination against women. Recently the government proceeded to take some cautious steps towards gender-neutral inheritance, but stepped back in the face of strong resistance from the religious clerics. However, given the growing public opinion toward reform amid general socioeconomic development, the future seems to be on the side of reform.


Though the Quran generally provides for division of inherited property among surviving children and near relatives according to the rule that the male heir should get twice the share of the corresponding female heir, many modern scholars have convincingly demonstrated that this rule is now out of date. This rule is rooted in a socio-cultural environment where man is the only caretaker of the family. In today’s context, when women are equally sharing with men the burden of supporting a family both monetarily and non-monetarily, this unequal gender treatment is clearly untenable. The nonmonetary contribution of women to a family has long been overlooked. The spirit of the Quran was never meant to promote gender inequality. Its text contains important exceptions that accord equal treatment to the male and female heirs. The stated discrimination against female heirs was predicated solely on the premise that man is the sole breadwinner and supporter of the family. That premise is no longer applicable in the modern context. The adoption of the human rights instruments such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR, 1948) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW, 1979) also underpins the case for establishing equal gender treatment in the inheritance case.

It should be stressed though that our recommendation for gender-neutral treatment in inheritance is meant to be a means to an end, not an end itself. The focus should be on removing existing unjust discrimination against women in the very spirit of the Quran, which envisions family relationship as one of love and compassion (30:21) and requires the husband to treat his wife in a humane manner even when he decides to divorce her (2:231). This reform should not be pushed in an authoritarian way. It should be carried out, in line with the recommendation of Fazlur Rahman, when social conditions and public opinion are conducive enough. It should be carried out, where appropriate, in combination with reforms in family laws covering marriage and divorce issues. This analysis, however, does not warrant extending the idea of gender equality to all cases, lest it generates unwelcome societal outcomes.

A number of Muslim countries have made noticeable progress in removing discrimination against women in family laws that relate mainly to marriage and divorce issues. However, progress in reform in the inheritance area remains muted and confined to only a very few countries. Addressing this issue of inheritance is still considered taboo and presents a formidable challenge in many Muslim countries due to continuation of the Sharia Law and in the face of fierce opposition from the conservative Muslim clerics. Yet, change is possible and change is taking place in some countries toward gender nondiscrimination, especially since many Muslim countries are signatories to the United Nations agreements and since the state constitutions of many of these countries have provisions that envisage gender-neutral treatment in all matters.
*Abdur Rab, Ph.D., is a retired public policy analyst and the author of Rediscovering Genuine Islam: The Case for a Quran-Only Understanding, the third succeeding two earlier editions, which were highly endorsed by eminent Muslim scholars. His articles on select Islamic topics have appeared on World Religion News, Aslan Media, and Oped News, and include one presented to a conference at Princeton University. Follow Abdur Rab at

**Hasan Mahmud is a Member of Advisory Body, World Muslim Congress, General Secretary, Muslims Facing Tomorrow, Canada, and the author of Sharia Ki Bole, Amra Ki Kori (in Bangla) being translated into English as How Sharia Hijacked Islam (tentative title) forthcoming and three movie-dramas (the making of a fourth one is in progress, all in Bangla with English subtitles) that highlight the problems with the Sharia Law.

Alami, Aida, “Gender Inequality in Morocco Continues, Despite Amendments to Family Law,” New York Times, March 16, 2014.

Anonymous writer, untitled document on Islamic inheritance reform, January 3, 2007, available at INHERITANCE REFORM!!!!!!!!!!!.pdf.

Cammack, Mark, “Indonesian Islamic Inheritance Law: Testing the Boundaries of Doctrinal Reform,” Center for Asian Legal Studies, Faculty of Law, National University of Singapore, October 16, 2013.

Charrad, Mounira M., “Family Law Reforms in the Arab World: Tunisia and Morocco,” Report for the United Nations, 2012; available at

Esposito, John L., What Everyone Needs to Know About Islam, Oxford University Press, 2002.

………………….., The Future of Islam, Oxford University Press, 2010.

Fadl, Khaled Abou El Fadl, The Great Theft: Wrestling Islam from the Extremists, HarperSan Francisco, A Division of Harper Collins Publishers, New York, 2005.

Mahmud, Wahiduddin, M Niaz Asadullah, Antonio Savoia, “Commentary – Bangladesh’s Achievements in Social Development Indicators: Explaining the Puzzle,” Economic & Social Weekly, Vol. XLVIII, No. 44, November 2, 2013.

Mawdudi, Abul A’la, The Sick Nations of the Modern Age; available at

Mir-Hosseini, Ziba, “Towards Gender Equality: Muslim Family Laws and the Shari‘ah,” undated: available at

……………………, Kari Vogt, Lena Larsen and Christian Moe, (ed.), Gender and Equality in Muslim Family Law: Justice and Ethics in Islamic Tradition, I.B. Tauris & Co. Ltd., 2013.

Rab, Abdur, Rediscovering Genuine Islam: The Case for a Quran-Only Understanding, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2014.

Rahman, Fazlur, Islam & Modernity: Transformation of an Intellectual Tradition, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, London, Paperback Edition, 1984 (Original 1982).

Sumer, Aynur Uluatam and Ilknur Boray – ASA Board Members, Ataturk Society of America, Washington, D.C,, April 20, 2013, “Ataturk’s Reforms Empowered Turkish Women And Set Example For The Developing World: A Look At The Remarkable Transformation Of A Nation;” available at

Shahrur, Muhammad, The Qur’an, Morality and Critical Reason: The Essential Muhammad Shahrur, translation and edition by Andreas Christmann, Brill, Leiden, Boston, 2009, pp. 226-227; available at

Slackman, Michael, “A Quiet Revolution in Algeria: Gains by Women,” New York Times, May 26, 2007.

Schröter, Susanne (ed.), Gender and Islam in Southeast Asia, Brill, 2013; the article “Towards Justice in Marital Law” by Siti Musdah Mulia.

World Bank, World Bank Development Indicators.

Zaireg, Reda (translator Pascale el-Khouri), Al Monitor, February 9, 2014; available at
End Notes

[1] The Hadith limits it to 1/3rd of the total estate, but this might be at odds with the normal or reasonable usage that the Quran mandates.

[2] Excerpted from Abdur Rab, Rediscovering Genuine Islam: The Case for a Quran-Only Understanding, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2014, p. 139.

[3] Applying the rule that the male heir receives twice the share of the female heir would yield different individual shares under different compositions of children. For example, when there are only one son and one daughter, the daughter receives 1/3rd and the son receives the remaining 2/3rds of the inheritance. In case the heirs are only three children, one son and two daughters, we could see that each daughter would get 1/4th and the son gets one half of the inheritance. In the case of two sons and three daughters, the formula that determines the individual shares is 2 times 2x + 3 times x = 1, where x is the individual female share. Solving the equation yields 1/7th of the inheritance for each daughter and 2/7ths of the inheritance for each son. If the surviving heirs are a widow or a widower, children, and one or both parents, we would estimate the respective shares by applying a little complicated formula, where the specified shares of the widow or widower and parents are first taken care of. The shares of the children are then residually determined. Also note that the sum of the stated shares of the Quran may in some cases exceed one, where the respected shares are proportionately reduced to make the sum equal to one. In cases, where the sum of the stated shares are short of one, the remainder is either distributed back to the heirs according to their respective shares or it goes to the state exchequer.

[4] Anonymous writer, untitled document on Islamic inheritance reform, January 3, 2007, available at INHERITANCE REFORM!!!!!!!!!!!.pdf.

[5] In case when the deceased has no descendant or ascendant heirs, but has two sisters, they share equally in a third of the inheritance (4:12). The verse 4:176 states that two or more sisters (from the same father’s side) share equally in two thirds of the inheritance. The verse 4:12 provision that two or more sisters share in a third of the inheritance relates to uterine sisters.

[6] This anomalous case has reportedly been settled by Caliph Umar in consultation with other learned companions by deciding that the father should be given 1/3rd and the mother 1/6th of the inheritance. But this overtly violates the Quranic provision that the mother should receive 1/3rd. A settlement that entitles both parents to equal shares would seem more in line with the provision that entitles them each to share 1/6th in case when the decedent has children (4:11). Another way to get away from the anomaly is to read the verse (4:11) situation to mean where the parents are the “only” surviving heirs, where the mother takes her 1/3rd stated share and the father gets the remaining two thirds.

[7] Rahman, Fazlur, Islam & Modernity: Transformation of an Intellectual Tradition, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, London, Paperback Edition, 1984 (Original 1982), 14, 19; cited in Abdur Rab, Rediscovering Genuine Islam: The Case for a Quran-Only Understanding, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2014, p. 7.

[8] Cited in Ziba Mir-Hosseini, Kari Vogt, Lena Larsen and Christian Moe, (ed.), Gender and Equality in Muslim Family Law: Justice and Ethics in Islamic Tradition, I.B. Tauris & Co. Ltd., 2013, p. 7.

[9] Mir-Hosseini, Ziba, Kari Vogt, Lena Larsen and Christian Moe, (ed.), Gender and Equality in Muslim Family Law: Justice and Ethics in Islamic Tradition, I.B. Tauris & Co. Ltd., 2013, p. 1.

[10] Mir-Hosseini, Ziba, ibid, p. 7.

[11] Mir-Hosseini, Ziba, ibid, p. 18.

[12] Al-Haddad, al-Tahir, Women in the Shari’a and Our Society, p. 47; cited in Mir-Hosseini, Ziba, ibid, p. 18.

[13] Cited in Ziba Mir-Hosseini, op. cit., p. 20.

[14] Cited in Ziba Mir-Hosseini, op. cit., p. 24.

[15] Cited in Ziba Mir-Hosseini, op. cit., p. 24.

[16] Esposito, John L., What Everyone Needs to Know About Islam, Oxford University Press, 2002, pp. 90-91.

[17] Shahrur, Muhammad, The Qur’an, Morality and Critical Reason: The Essential Muhammad Shahrur, translation and edition by Andreas Christmann, Brill, Leiden, Boston, 2009, pp. 226-227; available at

[18] Fadl, Khaled Abou El Fadl, The Great Theft: Wrestling Islam from the Extremists, HarperSan Francisco, A Division of Harper Collins Publishers, New York, 2005, p.131

[19] Ibid, p. 268.

[20] Ibid, pp. 263-264.

[21] This theory is equally applicable in various areas such as criminal punishments (theft, murder, adultery), marriage (polygyny), divorce, inheritance, dress codes, and so on, “provided that legislators and mujtahids always stay strictly within the limits that Allah has laid out in the Book.” Cf., Muhammad Shahrur, op. cit., pp. 216, 145.

[22] Ziba Mir-Hosseini, “Towards Gender Equality: Muslim Family Laws and the Shari‘ah;” undated; available at, p. 44.

[23] Consider the high (near 100%) ratios of female to male school enrollment in both primary and secondary schools in many Muslim countries in recent years (2010-2012) as complied by UNESCO, included in World Bank Development Indicators; available at


[24] See the ILO–compiled female labor force participation rates (of ages 15+) as percentages of female population of the same age group, included in World Development Indicators; available at

[25] Slackman, Michael, “A Quiet Revolution in Algeria: Gains by Women,” New York Times, May 26, 2007; available at

[26] For more, see John L. Esposito, The Future of Islam, Oxford University Press, 2010, pp. 149-152.

[27] Zaireg, Reda (translator Pascale el-Khouri), Al Monitor, February 9, 2014; available at

[28] Mawdudi, Abul A’la, The Sick Nations of the Modern Age; available at

[29] Anwar, Zainah, “Barriers of Change,” New York Times, March 5, 2009; cited in John L. Esposito, The Future of Islam, Oxford University Press, 2010, p. 151.

[30] The countries that are covered under Sharia Law include Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Yemen, and the United Arab Emirates. Pakistan, Malaysia, Iran, and Iraq, among others, also use laws that are deemed not antithetical to Sharia. Muslim countries with secular governments include Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Chad, Somalia, Senegal, and Bangladesh.

[31] Reforms in Muslim family laws relate mainly to marriage and divorce laws such as limitation of polygamy rights, expansion of the rights for women seeking divorce, including the right to financial compensation, expansion of the rights for women to participate in contracting their marriage and to stipulate conditions favorable to them in the marriage contract, raising of the minimum age for marriage for both spouses, prohibition of child marriage, and expansion of the rights of women to have custody over their older children.

[32] Johnson, Tony, and Mohammed Aly Sergie, “Islam: Governing under Sharia,” Council on Foreign Relations, July 25, 2014; available at

[33] Sumer, Aynur Uluatam and Ilknur Boray – ASA Board Members, Ataturk Society of America, Washington, D.C,, April 20, 2013, “Ataturk’s Reforms Empowered Turkish Women And Set Example For The Developing World: A look at the remarkable transformation of a Nation;” available at

[34] Esposito, John L., Women in Muslim Family Law, Second Edition, Syracuse University Press, 2001, p. 110.

[35] Charrad, Mounira M., “Family Law Reforms in the Arab World: Tunisia and Morocco,” Report for the United Nations, 2012; available at

[36] Alami, Aida, “Gender Inequality in Morocco Continues, Despite Amendments to Family Law,” New York Times, March 16, 2014.

[37] Cammack, Mark, “Indonesian Islamic Inheritance Law: Testing the Boundaries of Doctrinal Reform,” Center for Asian Legal Studies, Faculty of Law, National University of Singapore, October 16, 2013.

[38] Schröter, Susanne (ed.), Gender and Islam in Southeast Asia, Brill, 2013; the article “Towards Justice in Marital Law” by Siti Musdah Mulia.

[39] See link:


[41] Mahmud, Wahiduddin, M Niaz Asadullah, Antonio Savoia, “Commentary – Bangladesh’s Achievements in Social Development Indicators: Explaining the Puzzle,” Economic & Social Weekly, Vol. XLVIII, No. 44, November 2, 2013.

An Awesome, In-depth Review of My Book by Our Friend Siraj Islam – a Must Read

Abdur Rab’s “Rediscovering Genuine Islam: The Case for a Quran-Only Understanding” is, in my opinion, one of the most enlightening books of our time on original, true Islam.

It is an independent, in-depth study of the Quran by a freelance researcher, a truth-seeker who is not prejudiced – neither by any of all those spurious, stereotyped, traditional Muslim interpretations nor by any so-called ‘pro-modern’ or ‘pro-western’ bias.

This book provides many invaluable insights and explores and shares some serious wisdom underlying the divine writ, often ignored or unnoticed by many.

Unfortunately, the current so-called Islam is a distorted religion severely polluted by medieval ignorance, irrational human interference, and misinterpretations by hadiths and traditions. This pseudo-Islam has little to do with the simple rational monotheism of original, genuine Islam, preached by all messengers and freshly delivered by Muhammad through the Quran. No doubt, rediscovering the genuine Islam as incorporated in the Quran is important for Muslims and non-Muslims alike, and for people of various backgrounds, particularly in this time of great turmoil.

Rab’s “Rediscovering Genuine Islam” deals with some of the most important debates about Islam in modern time. The rich plethora of its contents becomes immediately obvious when we go through the headings of its chapters: The Latest Book of God: How Does It Read?; The Central Message of the Quran: The Road to Spiritual Progress; Spiritual Evolution and Conceptions of Heaven and Hell; The Real Meaning of Prayer in the Quranic Light; The Scope of Socioeconomic Welfare Spending in the Quranic Light; The Place of Tolerance, Pluralism, and Human Rights in Islam; What Makes Us Righteous?; Marriage, Divorce , the Status of Women, and the Treatment of Slaves; Implications of the Quran’s Message for the Economic System; The Hadith is Unreliable: Earlier Hadith Criticism and Theological and Historical Tests of Hadith Authority and Authenticity 197 Annex to Chapter X: Criteria for Hadith Evaluation; The Hadith is Unreliable: The Objective Test; Epilogue: The Rise of Religious Fanaticism and The Direction For True Islamic Revival.

The central focus of this work, however, is the spiritual message of the Quran that promotes faith in God’s oneness and high moral standards as it stands for kindness, tolerance, peaceful co-existence, equality, mutual cooperation, deterring from wrong doing, honesty, and service to all humanity.

If one wants to get the whole book in a nutshell, one needs to ponder on Rab’s answer to the vital question: ‘What makes the Quran’s core message spiritual?’ Here is his answer:  “What makes the Quran’s core message spiritual? … when we come across verses in the Quran such as those that say, for example, that the Quran’s inherent purpose is to purify or civilize humankind and make it wise (62:2), or that it is not the eyes that are blind, but it is the hearts, which are within the bosoms, that are blind (22:46), or that turning to the East or the West is not righteousness (2:177), or that it is not the flesh or blood of sacrificed animals that reaches God (22:37), or that they think that they are deceiving God and believers; nay, they are deceiving none but themselves, but they do not realize (2:9), we cannot but conclude that the Quran’s central message for us is spiritual. We need to care about the inner meanings, the kernel and essence of things, not the outward and superficial structures and forms. We need to ask about the deeper, more fundamental, questions: Why are we here, what is the meaning and significance of our life’s existence, how can we make our life worth living, how can we make it more enriched and blissful? And so on. We need to concentrate on things that make for our real progress on earth in terms of piety, knowledge, creativity, benevolence, and real contentment and happiness.” pp. 25-26.

Many Muslims place excessive emphasis on certain rules and rituals. But they often fail to realize that these traditionally accepted forms of religious practice, even when not distorted, are only a small, superficial aspect of Islam. As a complete way of life in accordance with the natural laws, Islam is much more than that. Rab notes that the Quran prescribes several simple, relatively structured forms of worship that include salat (regular contact prayers with purpose to commemorate God), siam (fasting, abstinence programme), zakat/ sadaqa (spending in God’s way for social betterment) and hajj (pilgrimage). However, while going through a deeper interpretation of these practices, he argues that the Quran persistently lays stress on the rationality and simplicity about religion, while it calls to concentrate on the true, profound meaning of faith, which is more than mere rituals like formal prayers or fasting. Moreover, the Quran insists that the true religion, which should be based on knowledge and reasoning, is not actually rituals but submission to one God alone, expressed by all thoughts and actions in all aspects of life. It thus instructs its readers to make spirituality an essential, integral part of religion and to keep religious practice simple and free of any dogma or mystical proposition, of all self-mortification and exaggerated asceticism, and free from burden of complicated, extra rituals.

Rab notes that “It is misleading to limit the main obligatory religious duties only to five things and omit altogether so many other things of right conduct or righteousness, which have been mentioned and emphasized in the Quran. One cannot be a good Muslim without strictly observing such prescriptions of righteousness.”

The genuine Islam, according to Rab’s understanding, outlines a socio-economic order that is consistent with “the capitalist system with a socialistic overtone, i.e., with a safety-net system that adequately cares for the genuine needs of the poor and the dispossessed.” This Islam demands a socio-economic order with proper, obligatory taxation system (much more than the traditional fixed ‘zakat’) for fair distribution of wealth and social welfare, while stressing on the social responsibility of voluntary charity and caring for the deprived and the weak. While protecting conditional right to inheritance as well as conditional right to private ownership and enterprise and economic freedom, it discourages non-productive economy and asks humankind to be in harmony with nature in order to prevent wastage and environmental pollution.

Rab’s study also sheds light on the traditional Muslim confusion about the Quranic concept of ‘usury’ (riba). He observes that the Quran makes a clear distinction between ‘usury’ (riba) and ‘interest’, which are basically two very different concepts. Usury (riba) is forbidden because it exploits the needy. Interest (commercial or bank interest), on the other hand, is allowed because it is not exploitative as it is based on mutual profits, changing value of money and inflation. His observation is similar to Edip-Layth-Martha’s note on Quran 2:275: “The interest that the Quran prohibits is not the interest collected from money lent for businesses, but rather the money lent for consumption of necessities. When considered with its context, this prohibition is about usury. The Quran does not treat this subject in the context of business or trade, but in the context of the charity to the needy.” Rab argues that interest plays such a vital role in the modern trade and banking system that it is difficult to conceive a modern economy without interest in some form or other.

Rab makes some real contribution to the on-going debate ‘Islamic state or secularism?’.  He notes that, while rejecting all sorts of monarchy, oligarchy and dictatorship, the Quran promotes a political system, translatable in modern terms as parliamentary democracy, with consultation and representation in public affairs, where participation of all citizens is encouraged and facilitated. In this regard a state can get the best guidance to the right direction if it simply follows the general Quranic principle of inductive reasoning: ‘listen to all statements, and then follow the best of it’. 39:18. Thus, for decision making in political matters, a state should listen to every citizen in order to reach the best consensus out of all various opinions. Obviously, this full representation of all the members of a society – irrespective of race, religion, age, gender and socio-economic status – will then tend to spontaneously generate a fair political system: a parliamentary democracy with secularism, pluralism, equal human rights and justice for all.

Analysing various aspects of the issue, Rab puts strong emphasis on secularism. He observes: “One important requirement to safeguard and guarantee peaceful interreligious tolerance, pluralism, and basic human rights is that the state should be faith-neutral or secular. Emory University Professor and human rights activist Abdullahi An-Naim makes a powerful, ingenious case for a secular state by arguing that religious freedom itself, as mandated by the Quran, subsumes voluntary compliance on the part of individuals and rules out use of any coercive religious edict by the state. He also points out the abuses and dangers of religious edicts used by the state. … Secularism does not mean absence of, or animosity to, any religion. It simply works as a guarantor of freedom of religion to all faith followers. The same reasons why Muslim minorities in non-Muslim majority countries require full freedom to practice their religion are also applicable to non-Muslim minorities in Muslim majority countries.”

The Quran constantly declares a most clear message: Emancipate yourself and others from all forms of subjugation and exploitation – social, economic and political – and from all bondage – physical, mental and moral. This genuine, Quranic Islam, as perceived by Rab, upholds impartiality, justice and human rights. It unifies humanity by promoting gender and race equality; and stands against slavery, misogyny, patriarchy and all socio-economic inequality and injustice in a view to abolish them eventually. While standing for the oppressed, it pursues the golden-plated brazen rule of equivalence, i.e. right of retaliation within its limits, balanced with responsibility and forgiveness; and prescribes a legal Code – apparently in response to the specific needs of the time and place of its revelation – including a criminal justice system, which is flexible and which can transcend according to the guidance of reason. This genuine Islam promotes peace, while deterring the aggressive parties; insists that the entire world belongs to God and thus to all humanity; and offers far-reaching peace and co-operation among nations.

As expected from the name of the research itself, “Rediscovering Genuine Islam: The Case for a Quran-Only Understanding”, Rab derives his inferences by using the Quran as the only religious source of Islam. While rejecting Hadith as a religious authority, he argues that Islam has been misinterpreted and distorted throughout the ages by hadiths and various other man-made so-called secondary and tertiary sources.

As a major contribution to the correct understanding of the Quran, this should be a must-read book for all who are interested in gaining a short-cut access to the introduction of genuine Islam.


World Religion News



Abstract: The conception of God as One and Unique speaks to His undiluted Individuality, Indivisibility, Independence, and Absoluteness. This conception is significant because it enables us to deduce some important implications for humankind such as that: (1) God is only our Supreme Lord worthy of worship and emulation; (2) God’s Independence means that He does not need anything from us, but it’s we who need spontaneously to worship Him, seeking His help and grace; (3) We as humans all stand before God on an equal footing, with an obligation not to create any discrimination amongst us, except on grounds of pure merit; and (4) As nothing works beyond the God-given Laws of Nature, we need to reevaluate our work and our prayer and rituals in a whole new light. God is best conceived of as Immanent in the universe. His conception as Omnipotent, All-Seeing, All-Hearing, and All-Knowing should be understood in a way that is compatible with His given immutable Laws of Nature as well as with Free Will that He has bestowed upon His creatures out of His own Will.

The central message of the Quran to humankind – the most important and powerful one that sets Islam apart from most other religions – is the idea that God is One and Unique (Al-Ahad or Al-Wahid):

2:163 Your Ilah (God) is One; there is no Ilah but He, Most Gracious, Most Merciful. (Also see 13:16, 14:48, 38:65, 39:4, 40:16, 112:4)

Other expressions found in the Quran reinforce this concept of Tawhid:

Naught is as the likeness of God, as in 42:11, 112:4;
He neither begets nor is begotten, as in 112:3; and
He has no partners, as in 6:163, 7:190-198, 9:31.

The Quran strongly denounces the ideas that He has sons and daughters (2:116; 19:34-35; 6:100-101) and that He is the Trinity (5:73, 116). According to the Quran, Jesus was an illustrious prophet, not a Son of God as believed in Catholicism.

The ideas that God neither begets nor is begotten and that He does not have any partners convey the meanings of His undiluted Individuality, Indivisibility, and Independence. The idea that He is Independent is also explicitly affirmed in the Quran as Al-GhaniAl-Qayyum, or As-Samad (Al-Ghani, as in 2:263, 267, 3:97, 29:6, 31:12; Al-Qayyum, as in 2:225, 3:2, 20:111; and As-Samad, as in 112:2). One important lesson we can learn from this Independence of God idea is that we need God, but He does not need anything from us (35:15). We need to note this important message, which means that whatever we do is for our own benefit. It does not matter in any way to God.

3:97 If any reject faith, God is Independent of any of His creatures.

29:6 And whoever strives, strives only for his own soul (nafs), for God is fully Independent of anything in the universe. (See also 31:12)

It is important for us to translate this fundamental truth in our own behavior. Whatever good we do, we should do spontaneously, keeping our own interest in view in line with what our conscience dictates, and not because God wants us to do it. God does not really want anything from us.

Ironically, however, Muslims generally consider the Quran-prescribed actions and rituals as Ends in themselves to please God, rather than as Means to an End.

The Quran also mentions God as the Light (An-Nur) of the Heavens and the Earth (An-Nur ul-Smawati al-Ardi, as in 24:35):

24:35 God is the Light of the Heavens and the Earth. The metaphor of His Light is like a niche wherein is a lamp – the lamp is in a glass – the glass is as it were a shining star, lit from a blessed tree, an olive neither of the East nor of the West, whose oil almost radiates light, though no fire has touched it. Light upon Light. God guides to His Light those whom He pleases.

This metaphor of light used for God would seem to suggest two things. First, it strengthens the idea of the Individuality of God as One. Light is spread throughout the universe and could hence lend itself to a pantheistic interpretation. But in the metaphor given in the verse above, this light is centralized in a lamp and further individualized in a glass, and possessing the special quality that its radiance does not depend on fire. These ideas thus effectively preclude any idea of pantheism. Second, light, according to modern physics, has the highest, unsurpassable velocity that does not change with the movement of observers. This special characteristic, as Muhammad Iqbal aptly notes, makes light the nearest object to the Absolute. Hence, this quality would also suggest the Absoluteness of God.[1] The Quran also explicitly mentions God as the Absolute (As-Samad, as in 112:2), which also vindicates God’s Oneness.

The Quran has its own compelling arguments in defense of the Oneness of God:

If there were other gods besides God, certainly they would have sought a way to the Most Powerful Lord (17:42); and
If there were more than one God, the universe would have been in utter chaos (21:22).

These arguments in turn inevitably lead to the conclusion that God as One and Unique must also be the Most Powerful and that He must also be the One Who is behind the order of the universe.

Most would view the second argument – the idea of God being behind the order of the universe – as implying that He is its Creator and Manager. The Quran and other Scriptures also talk of God as the Creator of the universe. However, in the light of development in modern scientific thought, especially in the light of the theory of evolution, we need to treat the Scriptural idea of creation in a figurative sense. God does not really create in the strictly literal sense. His creation of the universe should be understood in the same sense as can be applied to other texts in the Quran that speak of God doing various things such as those that say that He gives life and death (2:258), or that He feeds us (6:14), or that He sends winds, clouds and rain, and thereby brings forth fruits of all kinds (7:57). We know that these things happen when the forces or laws of Nature and human and other agents of God are in action in the universe. The creation idea thus needs to be understood in a way that makes it compatible with the idea of evolution that is also clearly set out in the Quran. The conception of God as a Creator is ruled out on the simple, compelling ground that it begs the question of an infinite regress – who created God, who created the creator of God, who created the creator of the creator of God, and so on. This infinite regress problem cannot simply be brushed aside or assumed away. Philosophers have done that and postulated various theories for the existence of God. But, unfortunately, all such theories are beset with serious problematic issues.

As I have argued elsewhere, “we should conceive [of God] as Immanent in the universe, which means that He is manifest in the very laws of nature and the actions of human and other agents. He has been involved or Immanent in the very process of evolution since the beginning that has brought about everything, or is bringing about, everything in the universe. The Quran reveals this idea, if we read into its relevant texts carefully. The Quran likes us to reflect on the causes that brought the universe and other things into existence and the laws that cause the alternation of the day and the night (3:190-191, 29:20). Recounting the routing of Goliath’s army by David’s one, the Quran states that if “He” does not repel some men by others, this earth would remain corrupt (2:251). Another verse reads, “You did not slay them, God slew them; and when you threw, it’s not you who threw, but God threw…” (8:17). […] All this illustrates how God acts through [Nature and] human agents. God acts through […] other living beings as well.”[2]

Note that this idea of the Immanence of God in the universe should not be taken in a pantheistic sense to mean that everything in the universe is godly or god. While God is everywhere and in everything and every being, nothing or no being is God. The Quran rules out pantheism with a single stroke of the pen: Naught is as the likeness of God (Quran, 42:11, 112:4).

Now we turn to the first argument of the Quran that God as One must also be the Most Powerful or the Supreme Lord to do away with the need for, or the existence of, other gods. The Supreme Lord idea easily lends itself to agreement with our common sense. He epitomizes in Himself the perfection of all conceivable qualities that are worthy of emulation. This is because less than perfect beings have no legitimate basis to command our worship and emulation. It makes a lot of sense for us to take Him as our best Ideal to follow. The Quran itself declares that God is always on the right course – sirat im-mustaqeem (11.56). Hence, to be righteous, we need to emulate and worship God, One Lord. This is the second important lesson we learn from the concept of Tawhid.

Since we should not recognize any living beings as our lords and since we should all serve One God, the idea of Tawhid also sends another powerful message that we, as servants of One God, are all equal in the eyes of God. We can excel one another only in terms of righteousness and not in any other criteria such as color, sex, race, religion, wealth, national, social or geographic origin, political or other opinion, birth or similar status. All men and women are equal in the eyes of God; only virtuousness determines who is nearer to Him (3:195; 4:124; 16:97; 33:35; 49:13). All the children of Adam – all men and women – deserve the same dignity (17:70). Thus a third important lesson we learn from the Islamic concept of Tawhid is that all human beings stand on the same equal footing as servants of God, which in turn means that we are morally obligated to treat all men and women equally.

This, of course, does not mean that we should not accord due respect to those who deserve respect because of their more respectable work and superior knowledge. In fact, following those who walk in the way of God implies the same thing as following God Himself. And not respecting those who are more respectable and knowledgeable than us really amounts to arrogance and disrespecting of God Himself. That is precisely the reason why God urges us to follow the prophets, and those who have authority or justification to be followed (4:59). We need to appreciate the qualities of, show due respect to, and bless and support, superior persons. Such appreciation, blessing, or support has a special spiritual significance. By extending such appreciation and support, we in the process enlist their blessing or support in return.

We turn now to considering the conception of God as the Omnipotent, which takes on various shades of meaning in the Quran such as: Al-Qadir (The Almighty, He Who is Capable of doing Everything as in 2:20, 3:189, 4:149, 6:65, 46:33, 75:40), Al-Aziz (The Almighty, The Honorable as in 2:129,209,220, 3:64:1589:4048:7, 58,21, 59:23), Al-Jabbar (The Irresistible, The Compeller as in 59:23), Al-Qawi (The Strong as in 8:52, 11:66, 22:40,74, 33:25, 42:1957:25), Al-Muqtadir (The All-Prevalent, The Dominant as in 18:45, 43:42, 54:42, 45)), and Al-Mutakabbir (The Majestic, The Supreme as in 59:23). The pertinent question we need to ask here is: Does Omnipotence mean that God could do anything and everything without any limits? If yes, that would imply that God is arbitrary and capricious. However, God could never be conceived of as One Who is arbitrary and capricious. God has His own self-imposed limitations. One such, albeit the most important, limitation is given by his own created fixed laws, the Laws of Nature that govern how all things work in the universe. God subjects Himself to such Laws, as He always acts rationally, which is reflected in the Quranic expression that there is no flaw in His creation or action (67:3-4) as well as in the statement that God never changes His Sunnah or Ways (35:43, 17:77).

Another limitation is given by the free options exercised by humankind and other living species. Various passages in the Quran unequivocally uphold the freedom of human choice: “The Truth (has now come) from your Lord; let then, him who wills believe (in it), and let him who wills reject (it)” (18:29); “You are responsible for your own selves” (5:105); and “Spend in God’s cause, let not your hands cause you to ruin” (2:195). A key passage of the Quran states that God does not change the condition of people until they change their own nafs or selves (13:11). Still another says that there is nothing for man except with effort (53:39, 20:15, 2:286). All this convincingly proves man’s ability to freely decide and do his action.[3] As Muhammad Iqbal beautifully puts it, “No doubt, the emergence of egos endowed with the power of spontaneous and hence unforeseen action is, in a sense, a limitation on the freedom of the all-inclusive Ego [i.e., God]. But this limitation is not externally imposed. It is borne out of His creative freedom whereby He has chosen finite egos to be participators of His life, power, and freedom.”[4]

The perception of God as All-Seeing (Al-Basir as in 2:96,110, 4:58, 134, 8:72, 17:1,18, 42:11, 27), All-Hearing (As-Sami as in 2:127,137,224, 256, 3:34, 4:58, 8:1749:1), and All-Knowing (Al-Hakim as in 2:32,129,209, 220,228,240, 31:2746:257:1, 66:2, or All-Aware (Al-Khabir as in 2:234, 271, 3:153,180, 6:18, 103, 17:3049:1359:18) also needs to be understood in a proper perspective. What needs to be recognized is that what is not visible cannot be seen also by God, although nothing is hidden from Him. Likewise, what is not audible is not amenable to hearing also by God. In other words, God sees only the visible and He hears only the audible. Thus God’s knowledge encompasses all that can be known and foreknown. It will be wrong to assume, as many do, that God knows all future events. Knowing all future events amounts to predetermination of all such events. But God does not predetermine all future events, for if He does, that would amount to negating free will to human beings. If He negates free will to human beings, he cannot legitimately hold them accountable for their actions. This very fact, as discussed above, acts as a limitation of God’s power. But this is a limitation chosen by God Himself. To quote Iqbal again, “The future certainly pre-exists in the organic whole of God’s creative life, but it pre-exists as an open possibility, not as a fixed order of events with definite outlines.”[5]

Finally – a fourth, albeit a very important, lesson we can draw from the unchanging character of the Laws of Nature is that – we are bound by these Laws just as God has bound Himself to such Laws out of His own volition and that it is because of these Laws that we know what works and what does not work for us. These Laws form the essential foundation of all scientific progress. At the same time exploring, and working in conformity with, these Laws, along with striving to reflect God’s attributes or qualities in our life, is the greatest salat or prayer we can perform. And importantly, the Laws also imply the extent or limit to which our prayer can work, since we cannot make God deviate an inch from His Laws. This suggests that there can be no miracles in the sense of defying the Laws of Nature.


Contrary to how most people seem to visualize God, there are various nuances attached to the Oneness and Uniqueness of God that provide some clarity to the conception of God and leads to various lessons we can draw. Keeping in view this new understanding of God, we need to see our work, our conduct with others, and our prayer and rituals in a whole new light. None can bypass God’s Laws, which are nothing but the Laws of Nature, which form the essential backbone of all scientific and human progress. We cannot expect to hear our prayers heard when such prayers go beyond what is possible within the ambit of God’s Laws. At the same time, we need to be aware of what we need to do for our own sake and we need to do such things out of our own spontaneity, not simply because God wants us to do them nor just believing that the doing of such things could only please Him.


[1] Iqbal, Muhammad, Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, Adam Publishers and Distributors, Delhi, 1997, p. 51 (also published earlier (in 1934) by the Oxford University Press).
[2] See author’s article “How God Exists: What Can We Glean from the Quran?” Available at
[3] We should also note that the freedom of human choice could be constrained by hereditary and environmental factors, which are, so to say, God-given. For a synthesized view of Divine will and human freedom, see the author’s article here:
[4] Iqbal, Muhammad, op. cit., pp. 63-64.
[5] Ibid, p. 63.


The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and are not necessarily those of World Religion News.



Abdur Rab, Ph.D., is the author of Rediscovering Genuine Islam: The Case for a Quran-Only Understanding, the third succeeding two earlier editions, which were highly endorsed by eminent Muslim scholars . Besides presenting a paper on “Reform in Finance: Riba vs. Interest in the Modern Economy” at the 42nd NAAIMS Conference, organized by and held at Princeton University on September 28, 2013 (available here), Abdur’s articles have appeared on Aslan Media and OpedNews, available here.

WRN Featured Contributors are comprised of two groups: A) The official spokespersons affiliated with a religion or organization or B) WRN hand-picked religion and theology writers from around the web. If you would like to be a featured contributor, please contact us here.


This is Part 2 published on World Religion News on July 17, 2014 in a two-part series. Part 1 can be found here.

[Taken, with a slight adaptation, from a chapter in the author’s book Rediscovering Genuine Islam: The Case for a Quran-Only Understanding, 2014.]


Spending in God’s way means much more than is conventionally understood. A careful reading of the Quran does reveal that such spending should be from both income and wealth, that the amount we should spend should be a considerably higher proportion of our income and wealth than is currently being practiced, and that the purposes for which we should spend are much more varied than are usually thought.

The Quran urges us to spend out of our wealth and income or production (2:254; 6:141). Besides, we should use part of our income for our and our families’ current consumption, and save and invest part of our income for our future consumption, but we should not keep it idle or hoard it. Hoarding is bad for an economy. It deprives others; it curbs effective demand in the economy and holds back economic expansion, and if the hoarding is done in goods, it creates artificial scarcities and high prices of the hoarded goods. The Quran strongly condemns hoarding (3): 180).

Though everything prescribed in the Quran is  or obligatory for us, God specifically mentions  as fard for us, and mentions where such spending should go:

9:60 The alms (sadaqa) are for the poor, the needy, and those who administer them, and those whose hearts are to be reconciled (to truth), and to free the slaves and the debtors, and for the cause of God, and (for) the wayfarers; an obligatory duty (fard) imposed by God. God is Knower, Most Wise.

Such spending is for those who are needy, and for those who are deprived, or poor (70:25), for parents, near relatives, orphans, wayfarers, and for those who ask (2:177), and for other causes of God, including that for freeing of captives or slaves, and for necessary reconciliation or rehabilitation of new converts to religion (2:177, 215; 8:41; 9:60; 24:22). Spending is also for those who are in need of help, but being involved in the cause of God, are unable to move about in the land, and who do not beg importunately (2:273). Likewise, we need also to spend for other noble causes such as for relieving the burden of those who are heavily laden with debt (9:60) and for miscellaneous other noble purposes, which can be termed as causes of God. As for the spending for the new converts, the Quran speaks well of the God-loving believers during the Prophet’s time, who were so generous to those who came to them for refuge that they gave preference to the refugees over themselves in helping them, even though they were poor (59:9).

God advises those of us who are affluent that we should not make such promises as not to help our relatives, poor people, and those who leave their homes for the cause of God; and we are urged to forgive them and ignore their faults (24:22). He loves those who spend not only when they are in affluence or ease, but also when they are in hardship (3:134). He admonishes us to give others what is good, and not what we regard as bad and do not want to receive for ourselves (2:267). God characterizes freeing of war captives or slaves, or marrying them as equal partners as very important righteous deeds. Spending for such purposes is likewise a great virtue in the sight of God (2:177; 9:60).

The current practice of zakat at a low proportion (21/2 percent) of one’s wealth (which includes the value of most of one’s assets (with some exceptions such as the family house) appears inadequate in light of the Quran, especially for high-income people, as well as from the point of view of the demands of society for a multiplicity of beneficial works (for God’s cause) on top of the provisions for the poor.

Concerning what to spend in God’s way and how much, the Quran explicitly states:

2:267 O ye who believe! Spend of the good things, which ye have earned, and of what We bring forth from the earth for you, and seek not the bad to spend thereof when ye would not take it for yourselves unless ye close your eyes.
2:219 They ask thee concerning what they should spend. Say: That which is in excess (of your needs).
25:67 And they, when they spend (in charity), are neither extravagant nor stingy; they keep a just (balance) between these (two limits).

In these verses, the Quran asks us to spend out of what we earn and produce (i.e., from our income and production), out of what we like for ourselves, and from that which is in excess of our needs. Our needs can be understood as those for our own consumption, including needs that accommodate provisions for savings and investments for our needed future consumption. “Need” is a subjective term and hence can be interpreted variously. The same is true of the term “stinginess”. In one of the above verses the Quran exhorts us not to be stingy in spending as well. When deciding about how much to spend in God’s way, individuals concerned need to make their decisions according to what they feel or think about their own needs and what they consider as stingy. Thus the amount of spending in God’s way should be in excess of our needs and a reasonable balance between extravagance and stinginess.

Two other verses of the Quran also shed more light on how much one should spend out of windfall income or wealth like the spoils of war and other gains:

8:1 They ask thee (O Muhammad) about the spoils of war. Say: The spoils of war are for God and the Messenger.
8:41 And know: Of anything ye gain, a fifth is for God and His Messenger, relatives, orphans, the needy, and the wayfarer, if ye do believe in God and in what We have revealed to Our servant.

The first of these verses relates to gains such as the war booties. Such gains wholly belong to “God and the Messenger,” which means that such gains should be distributed entirely for God’s cause – for meeting the needs of the poor and needy people and other welfare needs. The handling and distribution of these gains should be done and administered by the state or by state-sponsored appropriate public or private sector organizations (modern-day NGOs, for example). There may be other gains of the nature of what economists call “windfall gains”, the handling and distribution of which warrant similar treatment. Some examples of such gains are instant treasure troves found by some people, and real estates, bank deposits, and other assets left by deceased people who have no near relatives with any legitimate claim to such assets. Lottery earnings also fall in the category of windfall gains, which deserve to be heavily taxed by the state for welfare needs. Note, however, that the Quran strongly discourages us to indulge in games of chance (2:219; 5:90–91). Hence, in Muslim countries lotteries and gambling should not be allowed in the first place. However, if any citizens in these countries receive profits from lotteries overseas, such profits deserve to be highly taxed by the Muslim state.

The second verse (8:41) calls for spending or distribution of a fifth of other gains or income we earn for God’s cause and for near relatives, orphans, needy, wayfarers, etc. That implies that there should be a twenty percent tax on normal or regular gains or income for both the state and other welfare activities. These verses warrant drawing the following summarized implications concerning how much we should spend in God’s way:

• First, we should spend in excess of our needs, and choose an appropriate balance between extravagance and stinginess;
• Second, the excess over needs implies a more than proportionate ability to spend in relation to income and wealth of a person suggesting a need for progressive taxation for welfare needs;
• Third, windfall gains such as war booties and other gains of the essentially same nature should be spent entirely in God’s cause, and their distribution should be left at the discretion of the public authority, i.e. the state; and
• Fourth, we should spend in God’s way one fifth of our normal gains – income or wealth, which are gains other than windfall gains of the nature of war booties. This entitles the state to tax people’s normal income or wealth at the rate of 20 percent to meet the welfare needs of the state. (I owe this interpretation to Layth Al-Shaiban, manager of the website and co-author of Quran: A Reformist Translation).

These directions of the Quran highlight that the proportion of our income, wealth, or gains to be spent in God’s way should normally be a considerably higher fraction than the 2½ percent (of wealth), which is generally believed as the zakat amount. Note that such spending should go not only to the destitute and the needy but also to a multiplicity of noble causes, which we can lump together as God’s cause. A substantial chunk of such causes is best handled at the state level, while others may be left for private individuals. During our Prophet’s time, considerable resources in the forms of believing men and goods were mobilized for conducting war against the invading infidels.

9:41 Go forth (O ye who believe), equipped with light arms and heavy arms, and strive with your wealth and your lives in God’s cause. That is best for you if ye only knew.

Resources mobilized in the forms of men and goods used for purposes of defense are spending in God’s cause. There are many such needs that need to be met at the government or public sector level. The government should cater to such needs, and sadaqa or appropriate taxation should finance such needs. All those parts of government expenditure, which are meant for social welfare – feeding and rehabilitation of destitute people, provisions for unemployed workers, education, labor training, health and hospital services, and similar spending directed especially to amelioration of the conditions of the poor, and those which are meant for making available what economists call “public goods” that are best produced at the public sector level – are indeed instances of spending for God’s cause. Public goods are those goods and services, the production of which, if left to the private sector alone, is grossly neglected or inadequately met. Public goods are similar to what Muslim scholars recognize as acts or goods of public interest (muslaha), but they are not exactly the same. Some examples of public goods are social peace and security, defense against external aggression, administration of law and justice, promotion of social, cultural, and spiritual development, economic policymaking, and general public administration for miscellaneous government functions. All such state functions should count within the purview of God’s cause.

And in an impoverished developing economy, the state has a special role to play in promoting economic development, which indeed is the best way to alleviate poverty for the poor. For promoting economic development, considerable investment is needed in physical infrastructure (such as roads, highways, railways, waterways, ports, telecommunications, power and energy, information technology, etc.) as well as in human skills and education, technology and research. Promotion of such development is crucial for expanding employment opportunities, raising living standards, and, in the long run, for dealing with the problem of the poor.

It is clear that spending in God’s way covers a lot more things than are currently being covered by the zakat or sadaqa system. It matters little whether one calls itzakat or sadaqa. But this system is in need of major reform in light of the directions given in the Quran and in light of recent developments in the conception of functions of a modern state. Spending in God’s way then of individuals will comprise both the taxes they pay for benevolent works of the government at the government level and whatever they can afford to spend voluntarily at the private sector level on top of the taxes they pay. It should be recognized that what the government can or should do efficiently is inadequate to deal with the total problem of social inequity and to promote overall social welfare; and there is much still left to be done at the private sector or individual level. But limiting such benevolent and humanitarian spending to just 2½ percent of one’s wealth will be taking a very narrow view of spending in God’s way in light of the Quran. Such spending should not be limited to a proportion of just wealth alone as is generally understood in the case of zakat. The verses (2:267; 6:141) cited above clearly point to spending from earnings and production. Hence earnings or production could also be used as a base for such spending. And the proportion should be a flexible one depending on how much one can afford neither being too generous nor too stingy as directed in verse (25:67) cited above, taking into account what he or she has already paid to the government in the form of taxes for God’s cause.

The ultimate aim of the zakat or sadaqa system should be to eradicate poverty and help people get work opportunities and become self-reliant, and not to perpetuate a beggars’ class in society, which is not only degrading for them but also a nuisance in society.

To the extent possible and economically efficient, such spending should be handled at the state level. Many modern developed countries have well-planned public welfare and social security systems embodying unemployment benefits, and certain medical benefits, and administered at the state level in conjunction with enterprise level retirement, lay-off and medical insurance benefits, and it is not left to the whims of individuals to cater to such welfare needs. Social security systems existing in some of the developed countries essentially exhibit the basic principles of the sadaqa system that the Quran propounds. The concessional aid developed countries provide and what their sponsored multilateral development financing institutions give to the developing countries is also a kind of sadaqa at state level on the part of the rich countries to the poor ones.

Such aid should also be counted in the calculation for how much more resources the government should mobilize domestically to cater to the needs of the poor and for development and social welfare needs. The need for paying sadaqa at the individual level will last as long as the state cannot pay full attention to the problems of the helpless people. The state in many developing countries is almost invariably unable to take full care of the poor and the needy. Also considering that public sector welfare systems in developing countries are found to be almost always plagued by significant corruption as available evidence suggests, there remains considerable room for charities at the private sector (NGO) and individual levels. When a believing man or woman can afford to spend and perceives the need for such spending, it becomes incumbent on him or her to do it. That is as good as his/her prayer for his/her own spiritual advancement. And a significant part of such spending should be given to reputable international charitable organizations, and international and domestic NGOs (non-governmental organizations), which engage in development and social welfare activities, and which are known to be more efficient and less corrupt than the relevant government departments.

Another point to note in this regard is that the scope of such spending should also embrace interest-free or concessional lending, which the Quran calls qarz-hasana (beautiful lending) (2:245; 57:11, 18; 64:17; 5:12; 73:20). In modern days, some of this concessional financing function is being performed in developing countries by developed country aid agencies and multilateral development financing institutions. The Quranic message of interest-free loans is applicable only for disadvantaged borrowers, who deserve to be treated with a humanitarian approach. The Quran also encourages the lenders to remit interest on remaining loans and postpone or write off the original loans in cases where the borrowers are in difficulty to repay them (2:278-280). In cases, which deserve humanitarian considerations, loans should indeed be extended free of interest, and where appropriate, such loans should be given as grants or alms, which is sadaqa in the Quranic terminology.


Spending in God’s way should be understood in a much broader sense than the generally understood zakat system. It involves considerable spending on the part of a modern state for a variety of functions financed through a well-devised taxation system, besides charitable spending at the private sector (NGO) and individual levels. The best kind of spending in God’s way is helping others stand on their own feet. To help another person in a way, which makes him or her look for help all the time, is inherently ill motivated and is like that of those who like to be seen by men and is of no intrinsic virtue to them (2:264). From this point of view, the modern state should take appropriate measures to promote investment and development to increase opportunities for gainful employment of unemployed people, along with crafting a well-devised social welfare and security system. At the individual level, such efforts should include saving, investment, and work that would help build infrastructure and industries for employment-generating development, along with their humanitarian spending in deserving cases.



[Published on World Religion News on July 14, 2014. Part 2 can be read here in the previous post. Taken, with a slight adaptation, from a chapter in the author’s book Rediscovering Genuine Islam: The Case for a Quran-Only Understanding, 2014.]


“It is in sharing the most, not in gathering the most, that the most is received.” – 


No topic seems to have received so much attention in the Quran as socioeconomic welfare spending, which the Quran labels as “spending in God’s way.” It is replete with verses that underscore the merit of such spending (92:18; 9:103; 107:1-7; 2:261; 30:39). God curses those worshippers who care not to help those who are in need (107:4-7). Through these and other verses (See also 90:12-116), the Quran places service to humanity at the top of the ladder of virtue, and equates serving humanity with serving God.

However, such spending has been identified in traditional Islam with a very narrowly defined concept of zakat (or zakah) – a term that really means purification. It’s not clear whether this term is derived from a verse in the Quran that says that spending in God’s way leads to an increase in one’s zakat or purification (92:18). Note, however, that although the Quran mentions zakat many times along with salat, nowhere it specifically uses the term to explain its meaning or to detail how much one should spend and where it should go, as it does with general spending (infaq) in God’s way and sadaqa, which means almsgiving.

The depth and breadth of what is detailed in the Quran as spending in God’s way in fact go way beyond the narrow confines of the traditionally understood zakat system. The Quran’s overall orientation is a stress on socioeconomic justice and egalitarianism, where the poor and disadvantaged segments in society are freed from poverty and deprivation and empowered to live healthy, productive lives. Some of the salient features such spending should embrace are as follows:

• The ultimate purpose of such spending should be to make the poor and disadvantaged people in society stand on their own feet – not to perpetuate a beggars’ class in society, which is really a social nuisance, degrading to humanity. • Such spending, according to the Quran, well exceeds the 2½ percent of assets(excluding one’s homestead) generally understood by Muslims as the zakat amount. And it should come out of both earnings (income) and wealth. • The scope of such spending covers not only welfare payments for the indigent and the needy and poor relatives but also those for other causes, lumped up as God’s cause, which covers a whole host of things, as would be mentioned below. • Finally, the state has an important role to play in such programs besides what individuals can and should do at their own levels on top of taxes they pay to the government to cover welfare needs at the state level.


Some of the reasons why those in society who can afford to engage in such spending should do so are as follows:

• Such spending forms an integral part of our service to humanity that could be viewed as equivalent to our very service to God; • It is through such spending that we bring about greater social and economic egalitarianism in society; • Such spending is self-purifying, and it brings real contentment and happiness to the giver; and • Such spending also makes economic sense.

The Quran emphatically declares, “Never shall ye attain piety until ye give out of what ye love (3:92).” It characterizes such spending as the gateway to ascent:

90:12-16 What will convey unto thee what the Ascent is! (It is) to set a slave free, And to feed the hungry in a day of hunger, An orphan near of kin, Or a poor person in misery.

There is no merit in the amassing of wealth, as it has no value as a measure of virtuousness of a human being before God (34:37). The Quran warns that those who amass or hoard wealth and are stingy in humanitarian spending would eventually find that wealth too burdensome for them on the Day of Resurrection (3:180).

Islam promotes neither pure capitalism nor socialism. It promotes free-market competitive capitalism with socialistic overtones. The Quran sanctifies private property ownership (2:188; 4:2, 10, 29, 58; 17:34; 26:183) and respects individual freedom, enterprise, and businesses to mutual benefit (4:29). But the individual owners are only caretakers of their earned or inherited wealth. They are entitled to use such wealth subject to the understanding that everything really belongs to, or is for, God (2:284; 3:109) and should be used for only godly purposes, i.e., to serve only God (12:40). This fundamental philosophy underpins the safety-net system for the poor and needy people and spending for other welfare needs of society. The Quran urges such spending to rid society of poverty and deprivation and to guarantee overall social welfare.

There is also a deep philosophical reason for humanitarian spending on the part of the rich people in society. The Quran directs us to be fully alive to the need for ensuring distributive justice in society. It strongly urged the Prophet Muhammad, who was an orphan and a needy person, not to be oblivious of the needs of the orphans and the needy (93:6-10). The Quran envisions for us an egalitarian society. A society is neither egalitarian nor healthy for its all-round development when some people swim in wealth while others are ill fed, ill clad, and ill housed, and when they cannot provide for their food, shelter, health, and education even at a basic level. Spending on the helpless and disadvantaged groups in society helps overall moral and spiritual uplifting of all humankind, which is the only way we elevate all men and women, and help develop their latent potentials and bring about all round progress in society.

Man can hardly live alone in happiness without sharing his earnings and possessions with others in society. Spending for a benevolent cause, i.e., in God’s way, is a way of purifying oneself (92:17-21). God-loving people spend for the poor, the orphans, and the captives out of love for, and pleasure of, God – which is essentially their own pleasure, and they seek or expect no reward or thanks in return (76:8-9; 92:20-21). Zakat means “purification” and is traditionally identified with charitable giving. But it could mean sharing a portion of one’s blessings with others for free, i.e., pro bono – where the giving is without expectation of any return (76:8-9; 92:20-21). Blessings could be in any form such as friendship, professional skill, knowledge, manual work, beautiful voice, and real or monetary resources. However, both zakat and sadaqa could be interpreted to mean the same thing for all practical purposes – sharing of one’s resources (or spending) – material or non-material – for God’s cause.

92:17-21 As for the righteous, he will be spared it (the blazing Fire), one who giveth from his riches for self-purification. He seeketh nothing in return, but seeketh (only) the pleasure of his Lord, the Most High. It is he who verily will find contentment.

It is only the wrong-headed people who dispute the case for spending for others:

36:47 When they are told: Spend of what God hath provided you, those who disbelieve say to those who believe: “Shall we feed those whom God could feed, if He so willed?” Ye are naught else than in clear error.

The economic rationale for such spending is no less compelling. A high concentration of income and wealth in fewer hands is counter-productive. Such a concentration adversely affects the development of human resources, and holds down effective demand, and holds back economic expansion. High inequality of income and wealth destroys social cohesion, peace, and harmony, and breeds bitter feelings on the part of the poor and deprived people, and creates scope for social crimes, immorality, and frustration. In a recent survey of studies on the relationship between poverty, growth, and inequality done by the World Bank, major conclusions drawn include the following:

• While economic growth itself is fundamental for poverty reduction, growth accompanied by progressive distributional change is better than growth alone. • High initial inequality of income is a brake on poverty reduction. • While poverty itself is also likely to be a barrier for poverty reduction, asset (wealth) inequality seems to predict lower future growth rates.

These conclusions appear to be equally valid for both developing and developed economies. In a 2012 article, Jonathan Rauch challenges a long-standing consensus that “inequality is the price America pays for a dynamic, efficient economy,” and concludes that growing inequality is seriously hurting the U.S. economy.

A Short Note on the Ramadan Fasting

The month of Ramadan has great significance for us. It’s during this month that the last Wonderful Book of God began being revealed, a Book that has come as the best Divine message of guidance for humankind to lift it from darkness into light and make it wise (5: 15-16, 62:2, 6:126, 17:9). That is precisely the reason the Quran has ordained this auspicious month for the fasting ritual (2:185). However, if someone is sick or on a journey, he/she is free to fast other days, or even skip fasting by feeding a person. The essential purpose for which fasting has been prescribed is for one to attain taqwa (2:183). Taqwa is interpreted variously: God-fear, God-consciousness, guarding against evil, or uprightness or righteousness.

This is a straightforward message of the Quran. Muslims generally regard this ritual as something to be observed as a necessary duty imposed by God on them, and in the process they mistake this ritual as an end in itself rather than to fulfill God’s advice for attaining uprightness. Also the performers of the ritual often boast of their performance to others, which, I think, is not in keeping with the spirit of the ritual. Whatever good one does is for one’s own benefit (17:15). Fasting is not something one should really boast of.

In my view, fasting has great spiritual value or benefit to the observer, but only if he or she observes it with the right observance and strives to guard against all devilish thoughts and actions. Refraining from food and drink and abstinence offer a golden opportunity for the believer to concentrate on any good work, including meditation and prayer and studying of the Quran with understanding. During the month, some qaris engage in reciting the whole Quran in the prayer. However, recitation in the prayer hardly makes any sense, since all the expressions in the Quranic verses are not consistent with the spirit of prayer. Reciting and studying the Quran with understanding makes sense only outside the prayer. (In prayer, one can, of course, use certain Quranic expressions that are perfectly in tune with the spirit of prayer or glorification of God. But such expressions should be used as the worshipper’s own words, coming from his or her own heart. For more on this, see my paper on prayer here.)

In some Muslim majority countries, restaurants are shut off from public view, with the door closed or a curtain hung at the door.  This, I think, is too much religious restriction. Observing the ritual should be left to individuals as a free option. It’s not something to be imposed by any authority. Besides, restaurants do need to be kept open for non-Muslims, and also for Muslims who are sick or traveling. Of course, non-fasters must show due respect to the fasters, and should not display their eating as a sign of slighting the observance of fasting.

The Hadith has added complication and confusion to the practice despite the Quranic message that God does not want to put us to any difficulty or hardship (2:185). It misleads believers on fasting in several ways. One way is through the abrogation of a Quranic verse. “A Hadith narrated by Nafi, who heard it from Ibn Umar at (Sahih Bukhari, Vol. 6, Book 60, # 33)  abrogates the Quranic verse (2:184) that states that one who cannot fast should feed a poor man by way of expiation. Another Hadith at (ibid, Vol. 6, Book 60, #32) narrated by Ata who heard it from Ibn Umar implies that this verse is abrogated for persons other than old men and women. Still another Hadith, which ostensibly clarifies it further, is as follows:

Narrated Salama: When the Divine Revelation: “For those who can fast, they have a choice either to fast, or feed a poor person for every day” (2.184) was revealed, it was permissible for one to give a ransom and give up fasting, till the verse succeeding it was revealed and abrogated it. (Sahih Bukhari, Vol. 6, Book 60, #34)

But this sort of abrogation of a verse or part of a verse by the Hadith is not tenable, as God cautions against disbelief in parts of the Quran (2:85). The verse (2:184) states that one should fast a certain number of days, and if he is sick or on a journey, he can fast other days, or those who find it difficult to fast and can afford it, they should pay a ransom in feeding poor persons. The verse at (2:185) advises believers to fast during the Ramadan and repeats the statement that if one is sick or on a journey, he or she can fast other days. This verse does not repeat the earlier statement that one could pay a ransom in the event that he or she cannot fast. This does not mean that the earlier verse message about the ransom has been abrogated. The Hadith misinterprets the Quran.

Thus while the Quran allows one to feed a poor person as expiation for not being able to fast, the Hadith denies it except for old people. This is a flagrant distortion of the Quranic message. In addition, the Hadith exaggerates the virtues of fasting by claiming that the Ramadan fast washes away all of one’s past sins (Sahih Bukhari, Vol. 1, Book 2, #37), and that during the Ramadan the gates of Heaven are open and those of Hell are closed and the devils are chained (ibid, Vol. 3, Book 31, #120, 123), and by making similar more claims. Prayer and fasting are striving for self-purification and self-development. Unless the striving is successful, and unless one is righteous in all respects, such rituals may not erase one’s past sins, regardless of the level of sins.” (This draws, in significant part, on my book “Rediscovering Genuine Islam… .“ The excerpts are also from this book.)

The Story of How I Turned into an Advocate of the Quran-Only Islam

I come from an unenviable, typical Muslim religious (Sunni) background. In my school days, I had been an ardent observant of the shariah-prescribed rituals – so ardent that my brother-in-law (I lost my father in my infancy) who was the Headmaster of the secondary school I attended once wanted to add a “Sufi” prefix to my name. After my school education was over, I was brought to Dhaka for higher education, where I stayed with my eldest brother. I often used to accompany my brother to a healer and spiritual guide, who used to hold dhikr (God’s remembrance) and discussion sessions (halqas) once every week. That marked the beginnings of my close association with my spiritual guide late Shah Aksaruddin Ahmad – a tall, saintly figure, an exceptionally knowledgeable and gifted person, well versed with the Quran, and a staunch proponent of the Quran-Only Islam. But his Quran-Only teachings were vehemently resisted by the traditional Bangladeshi ulama. Before I met him, he had written a booklet on the meaning and essence of prayer in the Quranic light, but he was forced to withdraw the booklet from circulation on the advice of the ulama. Later on, he embarked on writing three books in Bangla: Whither are Muslims Today? (Mussalman Aj Kon Path-e?), The Holy Quran: Bengali Translation and Word Rendering (Pabitra Quran: Banganubad o Shabdartha, the first of the thirty parts of which was completed), and Musings of the Heart in Lyrics (Gaan-e Praaner Kotha,). However, before he could even complete these writings, the ulama came to know about them and filed a suit against him and managed to get a court injunction against his writings.

But he is the person who has left a lasting impact on my life and has been instrumental in bringing about a paradigm change in my religious orientation. I started studying the Quran in earnest. In 1997, I, along with my family, visited our elder son in the United States when I came to know about the writings of Rashad Khalifa, which I found to be remarkably similar to the Quran-Only ideas of my teacher. I also benefited immensely from an excellent book on spirituality titled Creator and Creation (published by the Bangladesh Islamic Foundation in 1986) by Panaullah Ahmad, another student of Shah Aksaruddin Ahmad. (Curiously, the Bangladesh Islamic Foundation published this book despite some tersely critical remarks on the Hadith it contains.) We came to the United States again in December 1999 and have since lived here. Here I concentrated on further studies of the Quran and the Hadith, especially Bukhari, and books of modern Muslim scholars, including some literature that critiqued the Hadith. At some point, I thought of embarking on writing a book in the Quranic light and published my first book Exploring Islam in a New Light: An understanding from the Quranic Perspective (self-published by IUniverse in 2008). The manuscript was first sent to Amana Publications, which first decided to publish it when its review committee head Dr. Jamal Barzinji of the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT) commented that the manuscript was of “a superb class and the amount of effort [the] author has put in has been well reflected in his work.” However, Amana Publications rejected the title when some outside reviewers objected to its anti-Hadith content. (They still wanted to go ahead with its publication if I removed all references to the Hadith, but I did not yield to their demand.) It is indeed lamentable that in a country where the freedom of expression is so highly valued – where even anti-Islam and anti-Muhammad speech and writings are so liberally tolerated – the traditional book publishers have become a hostage in the hands of Hadith-accepting traditional Muslim scholars!

At one point, at the suggestion of Brother Edip Yuksel, I got this book republished (with considerable revision and a slight change in the subtitle) by his Brainbow Press in 2010. And now I’ve come up with my third slimmer, updated version with an entirely different title.

Why the Anti-Hadith Stance?
My latest book Rediscovering Genuine Islam: The Case for a Quran-Only Understanding takes account of the contribution made by Professor Aisha Musa in her Hadith as Scripture: Discussions on the Authority of Prophetic Traditions in Islam.[1] I’ve detailed my position on the Hadith in two chapters of my book. Here I’ll make some brief observations.

My first reaction as an unsuspecting Muslim to Hadith criticism was one of surprise. How could the literature that is avowedly supposed to reflect the words and practices (sunnah) of our Prophet be really unreliable? The Quran asks our Prophet to say to his followers: I ask of you no reward for it but the Love (like that) of near kinsfolk (42:23). The Quran also asks Muhammad to say to his followers: If you love God, then follow me; God will love you…(3:31). The Quran also asks us to obey God and obey His Messenger (3:32, 4:59, 8:20). What then led me convincingly to reject the Hadith? My position on the Hadith is that it “is more a detractor of the Quran and the Prophet than a real guide.” It rests on three groups of solid grounds:

  • The Quran itself does not validate the Hadith (Theological ground);
  • The Hadith does not stand the test of historicity (Inherent flaws in historical accounts); and
  • The Hadith fails the test of internal integrity: it contradicts itself as well as the Quran (Objectivity test).

I’ve at the same time reviewed the Hadith-related literature of many scholars who have viewed the hadith as unreliable such as Sayyid Ahmad Khan, Muhammad Tawfiq Sidqi, Mahmud Abu Rayya, Abdallah Chakralawi, Ghulam Ahmad Parwez, Rashad Khalifa, and several others.

On theological grounds, I find the Hadith untenable as an authoritative source of Muhammad’s message. The Quran itself is emphatic on the point that it has explained everything in the Book and that it’s a Guide, a Mercy and Good News for Muslims (16:89). At one place, the Quran itself refers to the Prophet’s SAYINGS as nothing different from those revealed as the Quran (69:40-43). Islam came with the Quran and was perfected by the Quran (5:3). It does not leave untouched for us anything of religious significance. It gives us even minutest details of etiquette, decency, and decorum with which we should conduct ourselves with others. The Quran states Our Prophet’s duty was only to deliver the Quran (5:92, 99; 13:40; etc.). He was urged by God not to explain it, as God Himself took the burden of explaining (75:18-19). Our Prophet and we have been urged to follow it alone (6:155; 45:6; see also 7:3) and to judge by it alone (6:114; 4:105; 5:48-49). Furthermore, the Prophet himself emphasized, “I follow naught except what is revealed unto me” (6:50; 46:9), and God advised him and us to do the same (6:155; 45:6; see also 7:3).

Major factors that put into dispute the historicity of the Hadith accounts are:

  1. The reported prohibition of the Prophet himself on Hadith writing, and honoring of the same position by his immediate followers;
  2. The inordinately long time gap between the Quran and the Hadith, and the accompanying lack of proper records of the deeds and sayings of the Prophet;
  3. Flawed oral transmission due to weakness of the human sources including their imperfect memories;
  4. The influence of the ruling regimes, of people with wealth and power of the time, and of the disputing theologians on Hadith collection, recording, selection, and compilation;
  5. The weakness of the criteria used to judge authenticity of individual Hadith texts.

Historically, our Prophet himself banned Hadith recording and commanded the erasure of all recorded Hadith. The four pious and close companions of the Prophet – Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman, and Ali – who became caliphs after him all upheld this position. Abu Bakr and, especially, Umar were known to have burned existing collections of Hadith. Even Imam Abu Hanifa who is recognized as the leader of the largest Hanafi Sunnis considered the Hadith unreliable. In early Islam, Hadith criticism was led by Ahl al-Kalam and Mutazilites, and such criticism was widespread. It is the Umayyad and Abbasid regimes that promoted Hadith collection and compilation for their ulterior political motives. The Hadith critics were marginalized. Hadith criticism re-emerged in the 14th century and again in the 19th century and since then it continues to date with a growing number of modern and contemporary scholars overtly taking part in this anti-Hadith, Quran-Only movement.

Most of my Muslim brothers may not be aware that there are two stark facts about the Hadith that raise legitimate questions about their authenticity and reliability. One is that the compilations that have come to be respected by Muslims such as Bukhari, Muslim, Tirmidhi, Abu Dawud, etc. date more than two hundred years after the Prophet’s death. This long lapse of time inevitably gave rise to grave credibility issues for the Hadith reports due to mainly oral, but faulty transmission through questionable, often long, chains of transmission, through concoction and ingenious forging of reports by pseudo-enemies, and, also in part, because of imperfections of human memory. Second, the reports that have been included in the compilations form only a tiny fraction of those that have been collected. Bukhari, for example, chose about 7,000 out of 600,000 in circulation he considered. That means that he discarded some 99% of the collection as reports falsely or dubiously attributed to the Prophet. If the 99% is false or dubious, what’s the guarantee that the picked one percent is sahih or true? I have shown in the book how this one percent also fails miserably in terms of credibility. Aside from these two facts about the Hadith, additional factors that contributed to their fabrication include state patronization of particular Hadith reports and interference in their circulation, and rivalries among theologians to promote their respective favorite reports.[2]

Objectively, I’ve identified and documented in my book numerous texts in the so-called Sahih Bukhari, that contradict the Quran, science, and reason, and that send conflicting or confusing messages. The Hadith has perpetuated the harsh, extremist version of Islam, and created the fanaticism, violence, strife, and inequality seen so often in western portrayals of Islam. I have shown in my book how the Bukhari and other Hadith compilations corrupt our conceptions of religious beliefs and practices, insult and at the same time idolize our Prophet, create misogyny and inequality, create fanaticism and fatalism, encourage intolerance, violence, and terror, encourage cruel, archaic, or medieval punishments, and encourage aggressive jihad against other communities.[3]

Finally, but not the least, I’ve found that the criteria used to authenticate the Hadith are inherently flawed and inadequate. They rather mask or camouflage the real character of the Hadith and thus mislead unsuspecting Muslims.


[1] I’ve written a review of this book, which can be read here.

[2] For more on this, see my article: Does the Hadith Have a Solid Historical Basis?

[3] See also my paper titled “Fifteen Great Reasons We Should Embrace and Follow the Quran-only Islam.”

Critical Acclaim for Author’s Earlier Work

[Author’s note: My earlier book editions, on which the present compact volume Rediscovering Genuine Islam: The Case for a Quran-Only Understanding is based, were blessed by critical acclaim from a number of eminently distinguished Islamic scholars such as Riffat Hassan, Khaled Abou El Fadl, Reza Aslan, Jeffrey Lang, Khaleel Mohammed, and Edip Yuksel. The reviews made by them, as noted below, apply equally to the present volume.]

Dr. Riffat Hassan, Professor of Humanities, University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.A. and President, Iqbal Leadership Institute, Lahore, Pakistan, writes in her foreword to the book:
“Of significance amongst scholarly works, written by Muslim scholars against the backdrop of the contemporary situation, is Dr. Abdur Rab’s Exploring Islam in a Modern Light: An Understanding from the Quranic Perspective, a wide-ranging book  in which the author shares his own understanding of Islam as he has studied and lived it. […] Dr. Rab belongs to a school of thought which holds the view that the Qur’an embodies the core message of Islam which is best understood if one focuses solely on the Qur’an. He argues against the use of the Hadith for a number of reasons and points out that his book is “a renewed systematic attempt to show that there are serious problems with the so-called Prophetic traditions. […].” […] In more recent times, there have been scholars, such as Kassim Ahmad of Malaysia, and Ghulam Ahmad Parwez of Pakistan, who have taken a position similar to that of Dr. Rab on the Qur’an vis-a-vis the Hadith. […] Whether or not one agrees with all of Dr. Rab’s views, his book is a serious modern attempt at understanding Islam profoundly from within. […] It is also a book that offers valuable insights on a number of issues of interest and concern to contemporary Muslims. Though Dr. Rab has written his book as a committed Muslim,  his book has much to offer to all readers who are keen to see and understand Islam as it is embodied in the Qur’an which has been the major source of inspiration to the most outstanding modernist reformist Muslim thinkers such as Sayyid Ahmad Khan and Muhammad Iqbal.”

Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl, Chair of Islamic Studies, Alfi Distinguished Professor of Islamic Law, UCLA School of Law, notes:
“This is a surprising, inspiring, and ultimately, refreshing book. It is simultaneously a solid introduction to Islam, an ecstatic spiritual journey, and an analytical call for reform. Abdur Rab is not only a reliable and authoritative voice on modern Islam but he is an original and thrilling thinker. This is one book that is definitely well-worth the time investment and indeed it should be read widely by Muslims and non-Muslims alike.”

Reza Aslan, Professor of Creative Writing, University of California, Riverside; author of No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam, writes:
“At a time when misconceptions about Islam are on the rise, even among Muslims, Abdur Rab has provided a compelling argument for returning to the Qur’an for a deeper, more complete, more original understanding of the meaning and message of Islam. The result is a book that posits not a NEW interpretation of Islam, but a more authentic one.”

Jeffrey Lang, Ph.D., Professor of Mathematics, University of Kansas; author of Losing My Religion: A Call for Help, notes:
“Abdur Rab offers a comprehensive vision of Islam using the Quran as his sole religious textual source. He intentionally avoids the Hadith literature, which he believes, and argues, has done much damage to the message of the Quran. His work provides many very thought-provoking insights and should be a significant contribution to the ‘Quran only’ movement in modern Islam.”

Khaleel Mohammed, Ph.D. (McGill), Professor and Undergraduate Advisor, Department of Religious Studies, San Diego State University, writes in a good-length review:
“[…] In today’s world, it would seem that for all its youthfulness, compared to the other Abrahamic religions, Islam is characterized by the most retrogressive medievalist notions of faith and praxis. […] [Dr.] Abdur Rab’s “Exploring Islam in a New Light” is a welcome attempt by a Muslim to divest Islam from medievalism and show its relevance in the modern world.

The author writes as a believer, and seeks to use the Qur’an as the main foundation upon [which] that which passes as “Islamic” belief and practice ought to stand. Dr. Rab, while educated in economics, does not write as a jurist, and therefore approaches some issues that scholars of Islamic studies – especially those in Western universities – might question. Still the work reflects the deepest reflections of a committed scholar, one who is a true citizen of the world, and necessarily therefore, one whose words ought to be heeded.

  At the very beginning, Dr. Rab tells us that “Religion cannot be defined rigidly in ritualistic terms.” […] In doing so, he hits the crux of the problem of modern Islamic practice. The obsession of many modern Muslim preachers with dress and the proper performance of prayer or attention to legal minutiae serves to almost completely deny the ethics that are born of a genuine conviction and “taqwa” – God consciousness. And throughout the book, he seeks to find that which makes the Muslim a better person.

[…] While some might argue that there are certain terms in the Qur’an that do need extensive research, there is no doubt that the general tone and message of the Scripture is remarkably simple and functional. The semantic acrobatics and hermeneutic contortions so extensively employed by traditional imams have no place in Dr. Rab’s worldview. Islam, while faith based, does not deny rationality, and if something is discordant with proper human reasoning, it must be eschewed. Of course, the definition of “proper human reasoning” might differ from person to person, from situation to situation, from culture to culture. It is in this light that the author’s reflections must be seen, for since he sees the Qur’an as universal, and humankind as diverse, there can be no doubt about the permissibility of different positions, all equally viable.

One of the pillars of Islam is the “zakat,” a facet that many Muslims see as the obligation to give two and one half percent of their annual accumulation of wealth. This percentage, according to the author, is not stipulated in the Qur’an. In modern society, this proportion for all and sundry seems woefully inadequate, especially for those of very high incomes, and given the demands of society (77).

Throughout the large book, the author provides insights such as the foregoing, defending his positions with ample references to verses from the Qur’an. […] Indeed, but for the different ways of expressing opinions, many traditionalists, with their penchant for finding proof for even the most incompatible viewpoints, might fully endorse the book. […]

In a marked departure from the majority Muslim viewpoint, Dr. Rab poses the question: “Is the hadith a reliable religious guide?” The answers that he provides are scholarly, and manifest the vast synapse that exists in the position of those who preach adherence to hadith while admitting to the numerous problems about its reliability as a source in general. The author points out certain truisms: there are false and true hadiths; those who portray Islam in a good light often do so by tapping its “best traditions” (271). As the author astutely observes, however, the issue is not about good and bad traditions, but about if we can still afford to continue with traditions that continue to misguide us (271). His conclusion is that the hadith is more of a detractor of the Qur’an and the Prophet than a real guide (271). This blunt admission, for all its cogency, rests on three main points that the author propounds:

• The Qur’an does not validate the hadith.
• The hadith does not stand the test of historicity.
• The hadith fails the text of internal integrity: it contradicts itself as well as the Qur’an.

So that the reader might not be too taken aback by these admissions, Dr. Rab examines the literature that shows early hadith criticism was a wide field of scholarship. He cites numerous scholars who have viewed the hadith as unreliable, among them Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan, Muhammad Tawfiq Sidqi, Mahmud Abu Rayya, Abdallah Chakralawi and several others. This part of the book is certainly its most useful. The arguments are well-structured and in no way deny the place of tradition in Muslim practice. It however seeks to relegate the hadith to the area of conjecture, and reestablish the Qur’an as the criterion that should define Muslim outlook.

[…] He has produced a thoughtful, wonderful book that is constructively revolutionary.”

Edip Yuksel, Author; Professor of Philosophy, Pima Community College; an ardent advocate of Islamic Reform; and co-founder of Muslims for Peace, Justice and Progress (MPJP) notes:
“Exploring Islam in a New Light” by brother Abdur Rab is another valuable addition to a list of books that question the sectarian teachings under the light of the Quran. […] 
Abdur Rab, who received a PhD from Harvard and served the governments of Bangladesh and Pakistan, and the World Bank, diligently provides a theological and political evaluation from the Quranic perspective.


Abdur Rab is not shy of expressing unorthodox views. For instance, he finds no contradiction between the theory of evolution and creation. He justifiably quotes one of the many Quranic verses referring to evolutionary creation, such as, verse 71:13-14. Another example is his criticism of reciting prayers like parrots without understanding their meaning:


I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in learning Islam through the perspective of a student of the Quran. I congratulate brother Abdur Rab for this scholarly contribution to the message of Quran alone or rational monotheism movement.”

Dr. Rezaul Haq Khandker (late), a former senior official of UNDP, New York, USA, comments:
“[This] book brings Islam nearer to modernity, more particularly challenging […] aspects of practiced Islam so far thought unchallengeable. In that respect [the author’s] contribution can be called revolutionary.”

Further reviews of the earlier work are available here.

My Latest Book


Read the author’s latest title Rediscovering Genuine Islam: The Case for a Quran-Only Islam.

Buy it on Amazon or any other online bookstore.

This book is a substantially revised, compact edition of the author’s earlier acclaimed work Exploring Islam in a New Light: A View from the Quranic Perspective, published in 2010.