Dar Al-Iftaa answers the questions frequently asked by the growing Muslim population abroad
by Dominika Maslikowski
It’s a delicate balance for Muslims living in the West between assimilating into a new culture and preserving the religious traditions of their homelands. It may be empowering to fast in Cairo when the entire city refrains from food and drink, and when every alley during Ramadan is lit up as crowds of neighbors and friends gather for iftar. But fasting is harder for a Muslim in a small town in, say, Norway, where there may be only a few hours between sunset and dawn. Daily life itself in a non-Muslim country can bring up problems that hardly cross the minds of Muslims living in Islamic countries. And while many fatwas are mindful of the challenges that Muslims face in the West, other rulings have sparked controversy and were held up as examples of extremism. Egypt Today looks to Dar Al-Iftaa, a major center for Islamic legal research in Egypt, to see what sheikhs advise for the growing Muslim populations living abroad.
How do you fast in a northern Scandinavian country where there may be only a few hours between sunset and dawn, or where daylight extends for 24 hours?
According to Dar Al-Iftaa, jurists have proposed that Muslims living in countries with extended daylight hours should follow the times for starting and ending a fast of the nearest country with moderate hours. Yet Sheikh Gad al-Haq, former Grand Imam of al-Azhar, ruled out that method because it can be “difficult to calculate,” and said Muslims living that far north should follow the timings of Mecca and Medina. A fatwa on islamqa.info, a website founded by Saudi scholar Muhammad Al-Munajid, says the ruling to fast in the Qu’ran isn’t addressed to any particular country, and that Muslims everywhere are obligated to fast “no matter whether the day is short or long.”
Is it un-Islamic to celebrate recently introduced holidays like Mother’s Day?
Islam takes a strong stance against any kind of innovations, but only if they contradict Islamic law. There is nothing in Islamic law to prohibit a holiday in which children celebrate their mothers, according to Dar Al-Iftaa, especially given the high status of mothers in the Qu’ran and hadith.
What about Christmas?
It’s one of the more sensitive topics for Muslims living abroad: how to get through the December holiday season while respecting the traditions of Islam but without seeming rude. The Christmas holidays, with windows lit up with decorated trees, exchanged holiday greetings and flowing alcoholic eggnog can sometimes pose a challenge for Muslims who want to be friendly without crossing their religious boundaries. Converts to Islam living in the West who have Christian families often joke on Facebook that tis the season to be merry, but also the season of heated online debates on how to decline pork dishes at the Christmas dinner table, or pleas from mothers to attend midnight mass. Australia’s biggest mosque sparked an outcry last December when it posted on its Facebook page that it was a “sin” to wish others a merry Christmas. The message was later removed by Lakemba Mosque in Sydney, but such incidents can often be held up in Western media as an example of Islam’s intolerance. Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa spoke up on the issue in December, in a statement responding to a decree from a panel of Salafi scholars forbidding Muslims from making holiday greetings to Christians. Gomaa said that “in light of the current circumstances, we need [to promote] brotherly feelings, solidarity and national unity to drive out discord and disagreement.” Many converts to Islam who spend the holidays with their Christian families say it might be a challenge to steer clear of religious debates when their beliefs clash with the customs of their families, but they say that remaining friendly, but firm, is key when they decline a glass of red wine or a serving of holiday ham.
Does God accept fasting and prayers from a woman who does not wear the hijab?
Muslim women in the West may feel pressure to go without a hijab when the Islamic headcovering jeopardizes their chances in the workplace or leaves them open to rude comments. Dar Al-Iftaa leaves the issue open when it comes to women who don’t wear the hijab for whatever reasons. Whether their prayers or fasting is accepted is a “matter that is left to the Almighty.”
When should you break a fast when traveling by plane during Ramadan?
Expats and Muslims living abroad often find themselves traveling mid-Ramadan to their native countries to spend the holidays with their families. But when do you have your iftar in mid-air when there might be a huge difference in time zones between the country you left and your final destination? Dar Al-Iftaa advises that you don’t break your fast according to the time of the country that you’re flying over, or the country of your departure or your final stop. Rather, break your fast when you see from your plane that the whole disk of the sun has set.
Is hearing the adhan (call to prayer) a condition for attending prayers at the mosque?
Muslims in European countries cannot listen to the call to prayer because loudspeakers cannot be turned up to be heard outside the mosque’s premises in most Western countries. In the West, most Muslims rely on schedules of prayer times or computer software that plays the adhan five times a day to inform them of the proper times for salat. Many mosques in the West print out and distribute Ramadan schedules listing proper times for iftar to those who cannot rely on their neighborhood imam’s voice to let them know when to break their fast. Dar Al-Iftaa maintains that Muslims do not have to hear the adhan to perform congregational prayers at the mosque, because other means exist ― like watches and schedules ― that can inform Muslims of when to pray.
How should a Muslim living in a non-Muslim country be buried when there’s no other alternative except a non-Muslim cemetery?
It is obligatory to bury a Muslim in a Muslim cemetery if there is such an option available, but Dar Al-Iftaa maintains that a Muslim can also be buried in a non-Muslim cemetery if that is the only option and if a burial in their native country poses hardship. There is no objection to burying a Muslim in a non-Muslim grave because “necessity renders prohibited things permissible,” and burying the deceased takes precedence over leaving him without a burial, the legal research center says.
What can you do when it’s prayer time and you’re in a place where it’s difficult to determine the direction of Mecca?
Facing Mecca is one of the conditions that makes salat valid. But Muslims living abroad, sometimes in neighborhoods where the nearest mosque is hours away, may have problems determining which direction to face especially when they are often traveling or out of their home. Dar Al-Iftaa says it’s best to ask experts and exert yourself to make an effort to determine the direction of the qibla. Muslims abroad often use compasses or websites like qiblalocator.com.