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Adat is not always a bad thing

16.12.2008 13:04

A national Tatar (or, to be more exact, Turkic) holiday “Sabantuy” belongs to such an interesting category, as adat (arab. synonym–‘urf). What is it like and what Islamic spiritual tradition does it reveal? This question has been discussed in Russian ummah for a long time, and the question remains open until now.

According to the Islamic Encyclopedia, published by the Publishing House “Ansar” not so long ago, “adat means conventions and local traditions of a nation. Certain jurists assigned a certain regulating role to adapt, specifying that A. must not be contrary to the Sharia. Adats, that are contrary to the Sharia, are considered abandoned (Quran, 7:28)”.

Ayat 28 from surah 7 makes it clear that Allah the Tremendous forbids only those traditions, which are “indecent”: “And when they commit an indecency they say: We found our fathers doing this, and Allah has enjoined it on us. Say: Surely Allah does not enjoin indecency; do you say against Allah what you do not know?”

The Quran also contains an instruction to abide by the convention, allowed by the Sharia, as a solution to certain problems: “And the mothers shall give suck to their offspring for two whole years, for him who desires to complete the term… there is no blame on them, if ну decide on a foster-mother of your offspring there is no blame on you, provided ну pay (the foster mother) what ну offered, on equitable terms”. (2:233) Convention as such is not rejected by Islam. At the same time, adat must not be canonized (as it often is in fact, unfortunately), and its instructions must not bear obligatory character. Correspondence to the Sharia and common sense is the basis of correct adat.

For example, in Russia it’s a widely adopted custom to let elderly people have a sit in public transport, meanwhile in Europe such a gesture of courtesy may be understood as insult by an elderly person, who considers him/herself to be quite young and healthy. In their eyes, you are publicly demonstrating that a person, whom you are letting to have a sit to, is an old and decrepit person, who is not even able to stand. The same concerns letting have a sit in public transport to ladies. In Russia it is a gesture of courtesy, meanwhile in the East and in the West, where “sexual harassment” is traced everywhere, it may be understood as an attempt to flirt with an unfamiliar lady. Convention simplifies the life of people, helps them to be socialized and structure the perception of the world around them. Therefore, adat is should not be necessarily connected with a certain ethnic group, it may differ from community to community and in different groups of people. Somewhere people drink coffee for breakfast, and somewhere they prefer fried eggs, and in other places they do not have any breakfast at all–and all of these habits are different conventions.

In the past there were conventions, which were contrary to moral norms and common sense, for example, burying infant girls alive. And according to the description by Ibn Fadlan, ancient Bulgars, both men and women, used to swim in the river in a disgraceful appearance. Naturally, such conventions contradicted the Islamic way of life and vanished as years passed.

But those adats, which are acceptable in Islam, have been kept and are in use until present days. For example, wearing a yasmak, or hijab is one of these. However astonishing or even shocking it might appear, it is actually so: wearing a hijab is not a convention brought by Islam. It is important to note here that such a convention was typical of many nations, including European ones. As far as Arabs are concerned, wearing a hijab also was part of the convention of this nation. Even after Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) came, women continued leaving their faces unveiled in all situations. On the contrary, the Prophet of Allah (May God bless him and grant him peace) pointed at the necessity of uncovering the face in certain cases, for example, when a young man was going to propose to his wife-to-be.

Therefore, Islam neither prescribes women to cover their faces, nor prohibits them doing so, under a condition, that this decision is her free will. If her husband makes a woman follow this convention, she has the right to disobey, as Islam does not prescribes obligatory following this national tradition.


The above-mentioned quotation from Encyclopedia states, that “Certain jurists assigned a certain regulating role to adat, specifying that A. must not be contrary to the Sharia”. One of the first Muslim scholars who understood the necessity of using and implementing ‘urf, was the great Imam Abu Hanifa. One of the reasons for it was the fact that Abu Hanifa lived on the territory, which was partly (and, possibly, even mostly) inhabited by followers of different religions, including Christians and Zoroastrians. The scientist faced a lot of minor questions, and there was no answer to them either in the Quran, not in the Sunnah of the Prophet (May God bless him and grant him peace).

Some Muslims, who do not fully understand certain delicate points of fiqh, accuse this great scholar of the fact that he knew few hadithes, because he lived not in Medina and, therefore, his ideas and thoughts are far from being flawless. Naturally, nobody is perfect, except for those chosen by Allah, although the method of Abu Hanifa presupposed understanding not only the form, but also the content of hadithes. One of the examples of this rational method was the attitude to dealing out special alms, dedicated to the end of the Ramadan. Emphasizing the content, and not the form of the prescription, the great scholar permitted using money instead of flour or dates in some cases. Actually, especially nowadays money will be far more useful for poor people, that, for example, grain. Was this decision contrary to the Sunnah of the Prophet (Peace be upon him)? Obviously, not! On the contrary, Abu Hanifa, who gave priority to the content, and not the form of a certain prescription, honed following the Sunnah to perfection. Such a method brought the Sharia to the real life, and it is one of the achievements of this great faqih.

Returning to adats, it is necessary to mention, that some Muslims take specific Arab conventions for the Sunnah. For example, wearing elements of Arab clothes is adat. Although some Arab adats are very near to Sunnah, a lot of them come from national Arab tradition. Besides, there are some elements of the Sunnah, which were adopted without reconsidering. For example, it concerns wearing short trousers. According to a hadith, some people wore clothes, that were extremely long, and it was a sign of their arrogance. But we must not lose sight of another hadith, which stated that one of the follower, dressed in long clothes, decided to cut his trousers short, but the Prophet of Allah (Peace be upon him) told him, that there was no need to do it, as he did not mean to show his arrogance with his clothes.

Naturally, some of modern conventions are imperfect, and following them is, therefore, either improper, or useless. Adat must correspond to the Sharia and common sense. If a convention is contrary to the Law of Allah or it has lost real base because of the changing circumstances, it must be abandoned. On the other hand, while reconsidering some adats, it is possible to instill new Islamic monotheist content into them. For example, nearly all the countries, including Muslim ones, have a holiday, connected with the independence day. Naturally, such holidays did not exist either in the epoch of the Prophet (Peace be upon him), or in the times of rightly guided caliphs (Peace be upon them). Although, even Saudi Arabia has such a holiday nowadays, as this date is full of patriotic meaning and is not contrary at all to the spirit of Islam. Sabantuy became such a date for Tatars, to be more exact, for all Turks.

After islamization of the populations, all Pagan elements have been eliminated, while the main emphasis has been put on national revival, especially in the latest centuries, when many Turkic nations have been subject to religious and national suppression. Therefore, Sabantuy became a symbol of the Tatar national consciousness, one of the few days, when one could remember one’s religion. In present circumstances Sabantuy plays the similar, if not a more important, role, as the modern youth is losing connections with its nation and religion. If Muslims prohibited this holiday, it would not bring any good, as it has no Pagan elements in it. On the contrary, the ummah would miss out a lot, as it would deprive young Muslims of the possibility to feel bound with their nation and religion.

Taking into consideration all above-mentioned, we may draw the following conclusion: Muslims should make use of any possibility to support their brothers and sisters in Islam, who still do not feel confident enough, for not allowing them to be assimilated in the modern society, separated from national and religious roots. If we instill cultural, moral, and religious meaning into national, “adat” holidays, we will chart the direction of Truth, which will guide the Russian ummah.

Some achievements have already been reached–for example, some Sabantuys are held without alcohol, and only halal food is served. “Make it easier, and not harder”–this is what our Prophet (May God bless him and grant him peace), so let’s make it easier and not push away those people, who still have not understand the beauty of the Islamic prescriptions.

Sunnah is about behavior and not about clothing

What is life of an ordinary person like? It is not a difficult question, if we take a look at ourselves, our relatives, neighbours or friends. People’s leisure time is monotonous, and despite the TV, which occupies most part of it, there are still other ways of spending free time, connected with a certain culture. Sometimes a hobby becomes the main element of somebody’s life and the centre of the inner world.

How is it related to Islam? Directly, as the Quran teaches us to call to Islam “in the best way”. Therefore, we are obliged to understand the “best” ways of da’wat (Islamic call), that can be implemented to different people, taking into consideration modern circumstances. For example, if a person is interested in history, he naturally pays his attention to everything connected with it. The same is with other spheres of science and art, and as everyone is interested in something, development of all these spheres within the framework of Islam would become a real breakthrough.

What was the Islamic civilization like in the XX century? Unfortunately, we have to admit that Muslims argued about the correspondence of different spheres of life to their religion, instead of making active contributions to progress. Surely, it is necessary to muse on this topic, but some arguments (about the TV or Internet) show alienation not only from the modern world, but even from Islam itself. It is not right, as the Muslim way of life is unique since it adopts and takes advantage of every useful thing the world created.

Somebody may be opposed to it, but all the history of Islam proves it. The first person, who started using the experience of other civilizations, was Prophet Muhammad himself (May God bless him and grant him peace), who often asked his followers for advice. When a Persian Salman Farsi recommended digging a graff around Medina, it protected the capital of the Muslim state from the Pagan invasion. At that time it was a new defence technology and, therefore, was of use. But if modern Muslims used it, it would not bring any profit, as this method is out-of-date nowadays.

If we continue studying the Islamic history, we will find, that certain previously unknown technologies were successfully adopted by Muslims and were used in favor of Islam. Such a technology was, for example, the one of producing paper, which had been elaborated by the Chinese. In precise sciences Muslims are famous not only for Algebra, but also for numbers, which are called Arabic even nowadays. But not all of us know, that this numbers came to the Muslim world from India, so nobody did not even express an idea to prohibit them because of their origin. There are lots of examples of successful adoptions, which have enriched Islam and have stimulated its development. But one day such progressive advance stopped, and a period of regress started.

What should we do in order not to slip into ignorance, like out predecessors? It is necessary to provide the start of a new development period of the ummah, using all means and possibilities. But at the same time, we should solve this problem thoughtfully.

The development of the ummah must concern all the spheres, including the military one, although, the priority must be given to economic direction, as economy is a key to independence. Meanwhile, we should not forget about the cultural direction, which is yet another key–key to each human being. There are achievements in this direction, but in some Muslim countries they have been realized so slowly, that other countries surpass them. In addition, there is an internal conservative opposition, which is opposed to development, making an emphasis on “innovations”. But how is the Internet related, for example, to the term “bid’a”? Unfortunately, certain Muslims consider simple and ordinary things, like wearing underwear, to be innovations. I do not mean to hurt anybody, but if we accept such an attitude, we will always be surpassed by others.

The same concerns the so-called secular education. But what secular education can we speak about, if the conception of secularity does not even exist in Islam? If getting knowledge is not connected with haram, it is obviously halal. There is so-called “useless knowledge”, which the Prophet (Peace be upon him) asked Allah to protect him from, but how can medical or engineer education be useless? Is it possible to imagine our life without these professions and many others, is such a life possible at all? “We”–says Allah the Tremendous in the Holy Quran, - “…have made you nations and tribes that ye may know one another”–are these words about theology? No, this ayat stimulates us to sudy such disciplines, as geography and ethnography. And another ayat prescribes cosmos exploration, as Allah says–“…If it be ye can pass beyond the zones of the heavens and the earth, pass ye!”

But, unfortunately, some of our brothers and sisters are averse to any progress. Certain shaykhs even prohibit their followers to read books written by modern writers, as only medieval authors are worth attention. Thus they help the foes of Islam, who take advantage of such a situation, who want Muslims to be uneducated and passionately arguing about secondary matters. Let them “chat”, say such people, “and we will take care of real business”.

Surely, theology is an extremely important and useful science, but we should not forget about the fact, that all primary and even secondary Islamic principles have been elaborated and are not so urgent nowadays. A lot of works have been dedicated to theological topics, so let Muslim scholars study this heritage. Modern acute problems are so numerous, that it is not rational to waste time elaborating new religious decisions (fatwas).

Our ummah is in need of other things. We are in need of those, who can teach basic school disciplines, being a Muslim at the same time, and Islamic cultural elite. We constantly argue that the TV is a negative factor, but we do little to correct the present situation. There is still no Islamic satellite channel in Russia, although our leaders have a possibility to organize it. We even can’t create a Muslim radio station. And do we have our museums where people could learn Muslim history? Do we have our exhibitions, which would instill the sense of adoration and pride for Islamic civilization into people? I don’t speak about highly debated paintings, which can be called forbidden or disputable, but there are others styles of painting–from still-life to landscape. Who may say that Shishkin’s paintings are forbidden? And is magnificent Islamic architecture forbidden? Somebody can say that it has no relation to da’wa, but it is not true. Call to Islam must be carried out using all possible allowed means, to be more exact–“the best of them”, as it is said in the Quran.

The Sunnah of Prophet (May God bless him and grant him peace) is not confined to what we wear; its essence is activity, problem-solving method, attitude to certain things. The Prophet of Allah (Peace be upon him) and his followers tried to find words and examples, acceptable for all people. Thus, for example, when somebody asked one of his followers (May God bless them), why he didn’t come and read ayats more often, he said, that he didn’t want to annoy them. It is the Sunnah as well, but some Muslims due to some reasons don’t pay attention to it.

If one speaks Arabic fluently, but doesn’t know Russian well enough–is such a person useful in Russia? Doubtly. If one has learnt the whole Quran by heart, but is unable to explain at least part of ayats to listeners, is there any sense in learning it? Surely, such a person will receive reward, but, unfortunately, he will be less useful, than he who knows “Al-Fatiha” only, but can explain its sense in such a way, that his listeners will ask him to repeat it again and again.

Summing up all what has been said above, I would like to remind you once more of the great gift that Allah the Tremendous has given to us all–reason. The Holy Quran tells us to think and use this gift for good aims. And the main aim of all Muslim has always been da’wa–the call. But if we really want people to understand Islam, we should use the best and the most modern methods.

Ahmаd Davletshin

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