Rafed English

A Code of Practice For Muslims in the West

A Code of Practice For Muslims in the West by : Ayatullah Ali Al-Husayni Al-Sistani


On the morning of a sunny day in winter of Rajab 1416 A.H. (January 1995), the aircraft took off with me on board towards London, the capital of Britain.

When the aircraft moved from the east to the west, from the land of sunshine to the capital of fog, I could feel the warmth of the sun from the plane's windows, the warmth that I bade farewell to as I left my homeland.

When the plane leveled off at the centre of the sky and its flight become smooth and calm, as if it were firmly fixed on a central poll, I decided to use the time by reciting some chapters of the pocket-size holy Qur'an that was with me.

This has been my habit from my childhood since I set my eyes on my grandfather in our vast home in Najaf and heard him recite the Qur'an every morning, afternoon, and at night, during his travels and at other times. And I also have retained in my memory the fact that my father used to carry a copy of the Holy Qur'an in his pocket so that he is not far removed from it at home as well as away from home.

I opened the Holy Book and started reciting in a lowered voice the verses so as to purify my soul, to perfume my mouth from the dirt of matter and its temptation, and to seek the Almighty Allah's help in protecting this flying object from the calamities of time.

It was midday, the time for noon prayer came close. I got up from my seat, went to the toilet, renewed my wudhu (minor ablution), and then I took out a comb from my pocket and combed my hair after the wudhu. Then I took out a small perfume bottle that I always carry in my pocket so that I may use it, for it is related that it is mustahab to use perfume, in that the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) used to love it, and that a salat with perfume is equal to seventy salats.

After the wudhu, combing, and perfuming, I returned to my seat while I was still reciting some Qur'anic verses that I had memorized from childhood.

Then I started thinking: Where will I say the salat? How will I know the direction of the qiblah? Is it obligatory to say the salat in a standing position or can I do so while I am seated?

When these thoughts were going through my mind, I reclined on my religious knowledge and remembered that Islamic Jurists say: it is obligatory to say the salat in a standing position as long as I can do so; if I am unable to perform it thus, I should pray in a sitting position. The format of prayer would move from one level to a lesser level based on my ability and the given circumstances; but the obligation of salat would not be waived from a Muslim under any circumstance.

So when I reached this conclusion, I looked around the plane to find a place in which I could say the salat in a standing position. My eyes settled on a small area in one part of the plane that was sufficient for saying the salat. I said to myself that the problem of the place has been resolved but now I have to find the direction of the qiblah as long as the plane is flying in one direction. I decided to seek the help of the airline crew to determine the direction of qiblah.

An air steward passed for gathering the tea cups from the tables, I seized the opportunity and asked him in broken English as follows:

Can I ask you a question?

"Yes, go ahead."

Can you help me in showing me the direction of the qiblah?

"I am sorry, I didn't understand your question."

The direction of qiblah…the direction towards Holy Mecca?

"Are you a Muslim?"

Yes, and I would like to say my noon prayer.

"Let me ask in the cockpit and I will be back."

I realized that I should also have asked for something to put on the floor of the aircraft to pray on it.

When he came back with the answer on the qiblah, I requested him to bring me something like a blanket or a newspaper that I could place on the floor of the aircraft.

He brought a blanket which I spread on the floor and prayed noon and afternoon salat, two (rak'at) each as qasr, facing the qiblah. Then I recited the tasbih of az-Zahra' (a.s.) by saying "Allahu abkar" 34 times, "al-hamdu lil lah" 33 times, and "subhan Allah" 33 times. After the tasbih, I thanked Allah and returned to my seat while I was in a different and more content state of mind because I was afraid that saying the salat in the plane would be difficult and I might be drawing unnecessary attention from the other passengers.

But my fears were unfounded. It became clear to me that the salat earned me a special respect and added esteem for me in the eyes of the non-Muslims, including the steward, who were on board the plane.

My thoughts were interrupted by the announcement that food will be served soon. The airhostesses started asking the passengers about their preference from the menu. One of them asked me if I would prefer fish or chicken. I asked for the fish not because fish is preferable to me than chicken but because I was not allowed to eat that chicken since I was not sure that it has been slaughtered in accordance with Islamic laws. This is a problem that I have faced many times in foreign countries.

Since I was born and brought up in a Muslim country, I have no lingering doubts regarding chicken, or fish bought in a Muslim market. But in a Western country, the situation is completely different. And that is because I am not allowed to eat any meat until I am sure that it was slaughtered according to the laws of Islam. This normally creates hardship.

The meal was served to us and the tray that was placed in front of me contained the following: fish fried in sunflower oil garnished with fried potatoes, a little bit of rice, salad, a couple of green olives, grapes, black fig, dessert, water in a small container, and small packets of salt, sugar, pepper, two pieces of bread, a fork, two spoons, a knife, and a napkin. I was really hungry.

I thanked Allah first, then picked the fork and knife, and cut the fish into small pieces that could be eaten easily. Then, I stopped and the following thought passed through my mind: It is true that if the fish is of the type that has scales, and that it has come out of the water alive or died after being caught in the net, then it is permissible for me to eat it irrespective of the fact that the fisherman is a Muslim or a non-Muslim, and no matter whether the name of Allah was invoked on it or not. This is correct. But the problem may be in the oil in which the fish was fried. Was that oil ritually pure (tahir). And was the cook a Muslim?

These were the disturbing thoughts passing through my mind at that moment. So I stopped eating that fried piece of the fish, despite the fact that I was hungry! I put down the fork on the side of the plate and tried to recall the rules of these issues that I had read about in the Manual of Islamic Laws of my marja' when I was getting ready for the journey.

First I asked myself about the sunflower oil: is it ritually pure? I immediately responded positively because the religious law says, "everything is pure for you until you come to know about its impurity." And since I did not know about the impurity of the sunflower oil, I assumed it was pure.

Now since the oil used in frying the fish was pure, the whole fish is pure, and thus I am allowed to eat it.

As for the cook who prepared the fish, was he a Muslim or from the Ahlul Kitab (so he would be considered as tahir) or was he a non-Muslim from the non-Ahlul Kitab? This question is not important as long as I do not know that the person who fried it has touched it with his hand. And again the general rule of the shari'a, "everything is pure for you until you come to know that it is impure", gave me a clear decision: the fish is pure, and I am allowed to eat it.

When I reached this conclusion, I breathed a sighed of relief. Then I picked up the fork and ate the fish. I looked at the fries for the same reasons and concluded that they were pure and ate them.

I did the same with the bread, salad, fruit and the dessert. I ate them all since they were pure. Then I drank the water and also the tea because they are also pure. This is what the religious laws tell me.

The plane was flying at 30,000 feet from sea level, and we still had two and a half hours before we reach London Heathrow International airport.

Inside the plane, some passengers were busy reading the morning papers, while others were in deep sleep. I stretched my arm and picked up a paper and started browsing through it.

My memory went back to the question that kept lingering in my mind for the last few days: "How will I preserve my religious identity from being destroyed in the foreign country?"

This has worried me for a long time since I thought of travelling to Europe, and it intensified the day I made that decision; at times I think about it and at other times it comes without thinking, leaving me only when I go to sleep at night.

I decided to meet a friend of mine who had been to London. My friend pointed out certain issues to me, and also took me to the bookstore and showed me a book that contained various issues that gave me a general idea of what I should do.

Both, the friend and the book, pointed out that I should place great importance on the following issue: "The negative elements of migration are not limited to the fact that it would not be possible to fulfill the Islamic laws by the immigrants or that they will not study the religion. The reality is even worse than that in the sense that migration would significantly affect the outlook of the Muslim, his habits, traditions, and also the state of his intellectual, moral and social aspects of life."

The author of that book continues, "It is necessary for the Muslim who is compelled to migrate to a non-Muslim country to create by himself the religious climate that does not exist in those countries. Of course, he will not be able to create the general Islamic environment but he surely can bring about that atmosphere in a certain measure so that he may be able to arm himself with the religious spirit that is suitable for him.1

"Creating a suitable Islamic atmosphere is to some extent like inoculating against a disease from whose clutches one cannot escape-so he tries to deal with its danger by building a safety net around himself.

"Although we do not claim that this task is easy by any means, at the same time we cannot underestimate the great danger faced by a Muslim in his commitment to the religion which is the main foundation of his identity. So it is important to safeguard it even at the cost of loss in other aspects of life. Just as we emphasize the significance of these pitfalls, we must also emphasize safeguarding and protecting the Muslims from falling into them.

"A Muslim who struggles in those countries to secure his worldly future -in education or finance or other aspects- he is not supposed to lose his future in the Hereafter for the sake of this world. Just as a merchant is not allowed to lose his honour or life for the sake of material wealth, irrespective of its quantity, because it is worthless compared to his life and honour. Similarly, the sick person patiently bears the bitterness of medicine or the pain inflicted by the scalpel so that the disease may not spread and lead to death.

"So it is obligatory on a Muslim who resides in alien societies to protect himself against their adverse effects and dangers; and he must create an appropriate religious environment for himself that will compensate the loss of the environment that he had in his own country."22

In this way, he, his wife and children, and even his brethren will be following the words of the Almighty:

"O you who believe! Save yourselves and your families from a fire whose fuel is men and stones; over it are angels stern and strong, they do not disobey Allah in what He commands them, and do as they are commanded." (66:6)

They would also be acting in accordance with the statement of the Most Praised Lord

"And the believing men and the believing women, they are helpers of one another: they enjoin the good and forbid the evil." (9:71)

And also in accordance with what the Prophet (s.a.w.) said, "All of you are 'shepherds' and all of you are answerable in regard to your 'flock'."

Thus would also be implementing the requirement of enjoining good and forbidding evil. The spiritual immunization mentioned above can be achieved by the following:

1. By committing to recitation of some chapters or noble verses of the Holy Qur'an on a daily basis or listening to its recitation with humility, reflection and contemplation because in them are

"Clear proofs from your Lord, a guidance and a mercy for a people who believe; and when the Qur'an is recited, then listen to it and remain silent so that mercy may be shown to you." (7:203-204).

2. In the words of Imam 'Ali (a.s.), "No one will sit besides the Qur'an but that when he rises he will achieve an increase or a diminution: an increase in his guidance or elimination of his (spiritual) blindness. You should also know that no one will need any thing after (guidance from) the Qur'an and no one will be free from want before (guidance from) the Qur'an.

Therefore, seek it as cure for your ailments and seek its assistance in your distresses. It contains a cure for the biggest diseases, namely unbelief, hypocrisy, revolt and misguidance. Pray to Allah through it and turn to Allah with its love. Do not ask the people through it. There is nothing like it through which the people could turn to Allah, the Sublime. Know that it is an interceder and its intercession will be accepted.

For whoever the Qur'an intercedes on the Day of Judgment, its intercession for him would be accepted…"3 It has also been said, "Whosoever recites the Qur'an at a tender age, the Qur'an will intertwine with his flesh and blood, and the Almighty Allah shall place him among the respected and virtuous messengers; and the Qur'an will be his protector on the Day of Judgment."44

There are certain copies of the Holy Qur'an which contain brief commentaries that can be easily carried, and it will greatly benefit the Muslims in foreign countries.

3. Commitment to say the daily obligatory prayers on time, rather, even the recommended ones as much as possible.5 It has been narrated that the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) said to 'Abdullah bin Rawaha in an advice to him when the latter was leaving for the Battle of Mu'ta: "You are going to the city in which there are few prostrations; therefore increase the prostrations."

Zayd ash-Shahham narrates from Imam as-Sadiq (a.s.): "The most beloved of deeds with the Almighty Allah is salat; and that is the last advice of the prophets."66

Imam 'Ali has also advised us concerning the salat:

"Pledge yourself with prayer as much as possible and seek nearness (of Allah) through it, because it is upon the believers a timed ordinance [4:103].

Have you not heard the reply of the people of Hell when they were asked, 'What has brought you into Hell?' They shall say, 'We were not of those who offered the regular prayers.' [74:42-43]

Certainly, prayer sheds sins like the dropping of leaves (of trees), and removes them as ropes are removed from the necks of cattle. The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessing of Allah be with him and his progeny) likened it to a hot bath situated at the door of a person who bathes in it five times a day. Will then any dirt remain on him?"7

4. Reciting whatever is possible of supplication (du'a), whispered prayers (munajat) and remembrance of Allah, since they remind us of the sins, warn us to refrain from evil deeds, and encourage us to do good deeds.

For example, the supplications in As-Sahifah as-Sajjadiyya of Imam Zaynu 'l-'Abideen (a.s.), du'a of Kumayl bin Ziyad, and the du'as of the month of Ramadhan like the du'a of Abu Hamzah Ath-Thumali and the du'a of dawn, and the du'as of the weekdays, etc.8This purification is needed for every Muslim, especially if he is in a non-Muslim country.

5. Frequently visiting the Islamic centers and organizations that observe the Eids, religious occasions, the birth anniversaries and death commemorations, as well as other religious programs like lectures and counselling - in the month of Ramadhan or Muharram or Safar or during other months, days, and times.

In cities that do not yet have any dedicated center and organization, Muslims should observe the religious occasions in their homes. [Actually this is how early immigrants started to gather, and gradually formed a communities that later on rented or purchased a centre for their religious programs.]

6. Attending and participating in the Islamic seminars and conferences that are held in foreign lands.

7. Reading Islamic books, magazines, and newspapers for they contain both useful as well as entertaining materials.

8. Listening to the various cassettes that contain Islamic talks that have been painstakingly prepared by the respected scholars and great speakers. In them you will find advice and counsel [for betterment of your faith].

9. Keeping away from the centers of entertainment and immorality including the viewing of immoral television programs and special channels that present movies which are not compatible with our beliefs, our religion, our values, our customs, our traditions, and our Islamic intellectual and civil heritage.

10. Establishing friendships with those who are good people for the sake of Allah: you guide them and they guide you, you strengthen them and they strengthen you so that you may spend your free time with them in a useful manner.

In this way, you will stay away from those who are immoral in their behaviour, and also protect yourself from loneliness and its negative consequences. Imam as-Sadiq (a.s.) narrates through his forefathers that the Prophet (a.s.) said, "No Muslim person has gained a benefit after Islam [itself] better than a brother from whom he derives benefit for the sake of Allah."9

Maysarah narrates that Imam al-Baqir (a.s.) said to him, "Do you have your own gatherings, talking and saying to one another whatever you like [i.e., without fear of government spies]?" I said, "Yes, by Allah, we indeed get together, and talk and say whatever we want." He said, "I surely love your fragrance and your souls; you all are on the religion of Allah and that of His angels. So help one another by piety and hardwork."10

11. A Muslim should evaluate his deeds on a daily or weekly basis; if there is good in it, then thank Allah and add onto it; and if there is evil in it, then ask for forgiveness, repent, and make a commitment of not repeating it. Our noble Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) advised Abu Dharr saying, "O Abu Dharr, evaluate yourself before you will be evaluated, this will be easier for your appraisal tomorrow [on the Day of Judgment]; weigh yourself before you will be weighed; prepare for the great Judgement, the day when you will be judged. No secret is hidden from Allah…

12. O Abu Dharr, no person can be counted among the pious ones unless he be more critical of himself than a business partner can evaluate his partner so that he may know the source of his drink and dress: has it been secured from a permissible or from a forbidden [source]."11 Imam al-Kadhim (a.s.) said, "A person who does not evaluate himself every day is not one of us. If he has done good, he should ask Allah to increase that; and if he has done an evil act, then he should ask Allah`s forgiveness and repent for it." 12

13. Attaching importance to the Arabic language, the language of the Holy Qur'an and the language of numerous sources of Islamic laws and ethics. For those immigrants who come from Arabic speaking countries, Arabic is also the language of their ancestors: so they should encourage their children to speak it. Since the students in these countries learn more than one foreign language, it is better that they learn the language of the Qur'an so that they do not loose touch with their religion, heritage, values, history and civilization.

14. Attaching due importance to the up-and-coming generation by bringing them -both males as well as females- up on the love for the Book of Allah and its recitation by way of competitions and other encouraging activities. They should be trained to perform the devotional prayers and acquire good morals like truthfulness, courage, fulfillment of promise, and love for others.

One should accompany them to the Islamic centers and organizations so that they get used to visiting those places. They should be made aware of the enemies of Islam, and the concept of Islamic brotherhood should be strengthened in them. They should be encouraged to participate in the observance of various Islamic occasions and celebrations. In short, everything should be done to help them in better understanding of Islam and adopting the best manner of conduct according to its values and principles in this life.

The thought of how I should behave in the foreign country and preserve my individuality without being absorbed into another culture, and also without isolating myself and adopting the "seashell" attitude, kept haunting me. Then I asked myself: How will the others (among whom I shall soon be living) judge me?

My hometown [Najaf] which is filled with pilgrims and visitors the year round had conditioned me to judge the behaviour of a society by the behaviour of its members, or to judge a religion by the actions of its followers. If a visitor from a city would demonstrate good attitude, I would say that the inhabitants of that city are good people; and if a visitor demonstrates negative attitude, I would say that the inhabitant of that city are not good people, etc.

So, it is natural that the people of the non-Muslim country where I shall reside will judge Islam through my behaviour as a Muslim and then generalize their judgement on all Muslims. So, if I am truthful in my words and deeds, fulfill the promise, honour the trust, abide by the general laws, help the needy, deal with my neighbours kindly, and follow the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) example and respect his teachings, in that he has emphasized that "the religion [of Islam] is positive interaction [with people]" - if I do all this, then a non-Muslim who interacts with me will say: "Islam is the religion of the higher moral ground."

But if I lie, not fulfill my promise, be abrasive with others, disobey the law of the land, harass my neighbour, cheat in my dealings, violate the trust, etc, then those who deal with me will say: "Islam is a religion that does not teach its followers high morals."

The pilot interrupted my thoughts and announced that we are flying over Germany. I opened my briefcase and took out a book that I had acquired to help me [in the foreign land]. Five ahadith from Imam as-Sadiq (a.s.) in that book attracted my attention.

In the first one, addressing his followers, he said, "Be a source of pride for us, do not be disgrace to us. Make people love us and do not make them hate us [because of your behaviour]."

In the second hadith, he quotes his father, Imam al-Baqir (a.s.), "Be among those who are foremost in doing good; be thornless leaves. Those who have passed before you were as the example of thornless leaves, and I fear that you would become thorns with no leaves. Be those who call people to their Lord, bring them into the fold of Islam and do not make them abandon it. Those who were before you were recruiting others into Islam and were not making them abandon it."

In the third hadith, after conveying his greeting to the faithful among his followers, Imam as-Sadiq (a.s.) says, "I enjoin you to fear Almighty Allah, be pious, work hard for the sake of Allah, be truthful in speech, trustworthy in handling trusts, prolong the prostration (sajda) and be good neighbours. This is what Muhammad (s.a.w.) came with. Return things trusted to your custody, whether they belong to a pious person or a sinner because the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.) used to enjoin the returning of even [small items like] a thread and a needle. Maintain relationship with your kinfolk, participate in their funerals, visit their sick, and fulfill their rights.

"If a person from among you is pious, truthful in speech, honours the trust, behaves well with the people, it will then be said that 'This person is a Ja'fari,' that pleases me and delights my heart because it would be said, 'This is the character of Ja'far.' "But if a person is otherwise, then his bad behaviour and disgrace is attributed to me and it is said, 'This is the character of Ja'far.'

"By Allah, my father (a.s.) has narrated that if there is a Shi'a of 'Ali in a tribe, then he should be its pride: he should be the most trustworthy, the most deligent in upholding the rights, the most truthful in speech, and should be one to whom people entrust their wills and trusts. When people inquire about him from his tribe, they would say, 'Who can be like him? He is the most trustworthy, and the most truthful of us in speech.'"

In the fourth hadith, he says, "I call upon you to say the prayer in the mosques, to have good neighbourly attitude towards the people, to be willing to testify [for the sake of truth], and to participate in funerals - because you need the people; no one's life is independent of the people; people need one another."

In the fifth hadith, the Imam (a.s.) answers the question of Mu'awiya bin Wahab who had asked, "What should be our attitude between ourselves and our fellow tribesmen and acquaintances from the people who are not of our persuation (madhhab)?" He said, "You should look towards your Imams whom you follow and do what they used to do. By Allah, they used to visit their sick, participate in their funerals, testify for and against them, and honour the trusts."13

Once I finished reading these ahadith, a sense of relief overwhelmed me since they chartered for me the way I should act and outlined for me the code of conduct. At that moment, I made a resolution to compile in my notebook the most important problems that I shall face in the non-Muslim country and seek help from the books of jurisprudence that were in my briefcase. If I come across new problems that I cannot solve in the sources that are with me, then I shall write to the mujtahid so that he can answer my questions. With this I shall have solved my problems -related to ethics and jurisprudence- as well as those of the other immigrants.

This is how I started noting down my religious problems, one by one, and sought the expert opinion of the mujtahid on issues to which I have no answers in his Manual of Islamic Laws. Gradually this book came to existence.

This book is divided into two parts: Part One deals with Acts of Worship; and Part Two with Laws on the Mundane Aspects of Life. It also has three appendices.

Part One on the Acts of Worship consists of seven chapters that I think are more important to the immigrant Muslim than others. These chapters are as follows: Migration to non-Muslim Countries; Taqlid: Following a Jurist; Ritual Purity and Impurity; Salat: the Ritual Prayer; Sawm: Fasting; Hajj: the Pilgrimage to Mecca; and Death Related Issues. Each of these chapters begins with an introduction on the topic, followed by some rules that are relevant in non-Muslim countries, and ends with the most important question-answer [from the mujtahid] on that subject.

Part Two on Laws on the Mundane Aspects of Life consists of eleven chapters as follows: Eating and Drinking; Dress and Clothing; Dealing with Laws in Non-Muslim Countries; Work and Investment; Interaction in Social Life; Marriage; Women's Issues; Youths' Issues; Music, Singing and Dancing; and Miscellaneous. Again each of these chapters begins with an introduction on the topic, followed by some rules that are relevant in non-Muslim countries, and ends with the most important question-answer on that subject.

The book also contains three appendices. Appendix I contains a sample of questions sent to the Ayatullah as-Sistani and his answers to them. Appendix II contains a list of main ingredients that are used in food items and which are forbidden to the Muslims. This is followed by Appendix III which has the names and pictures of the fish that have scales and are permissible for consumption. At the end of the book, I have listed the references and a detailed table of contents.
1. Dalilu 'l-Muslim fi Biladi 'l-Ghurba, p. 27.

2. Ibid, p. 36-37.

3. Nahju 'l-Balagha (ed. Subhi Salih) p. 252 [sermon 176].

4. Al-Kulayni, al-Usûl mina 'l-Kafi, vol. 2, p. 603.

5. See al-Hurr al-'Amili, Tafsilu Wasa'ili 'sh-Shi'a, vol. 4, p. 105.

6. Ibid, vol. 4, p. 38.

7. Nahju 'l-Balagha (ed. Subhi Salih) p. 317 [sermon 199].

8. Translator's Note: English translations of all these du'as are easily available in most centres in Europe and North America.

9. Wasa'ilu 'sh-Shi'a, vol. 12, p. 233.

10. Al-Kulayni, al-Usûl mina 'l-Kafi, vol. 2, p. 187; and also see the chapters on "visiting the brethren" (vol. 2, p. 175) and "remembering the brethren" (vol. 2, p. 186).

11. At-Tusi, Amali, vol. 2, section 19.

12. An-Naraqi, Jami'u 's-Sa'adat, vol. 3, p. 94.

13. Al-Hurr al-'Amili, Wasa'ilu 'sh-Shi'a, vol. 12, p. 6ff. Also see al-Kulayni, al-Usûl mina 'l-Kafi, vol. 2, p. 636.
This book is the second in its league. It is yet another contribution of the author, as-Sayyid Abdul Hadi al-Hakim, after the publication of the translation of his book alfatawal muyessarah - Jurisprudence Made Easy, to the effort of making the body of fiqh (jurisprudence) easier for the layman to come to grips with.

Translating such work is a challenging task. Yet the translator, as-Sayyid Mohammad Rizvi, has done a great job. However, where I saw the reader's interest is better served, I have made some changes. The title of the book now reads, A Code of Practice for Muslims in the West. To avoid repetition, I decided to collate the translator's footnotes, dealing with clarifying the meanings of the Arabic terms, as well as some other "Frequently Used Terms" under one title, i.e. "Glossary".

I must stress, though, that throughout the process of making these changes, and others for that matter, I was in close consultation with both the author and the publishers, Imam Ali Foundation, UK, London.

I pray to Allah, the Exalted to forgive any inadvertent mistake or error of judgment I may have made in the course of editing the book. I also implore Him to make this work of mine a step towards attaining His approval, that He accepts it favourably and make it of use.

Najim al-Khafaji, BA
In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.

May Allah send His blessings upon Muhammad and his progeny.

Writing the manuals of Islamic laws for use by Muslims is an evolutionary process, reflecting the change in lifestyles and the relevance (or the lack of it) of certain problems and issues that vary from time to time and place to place. The spirit and the purpose remain constant but the style and the format change.

In the present century we first saw the widely used Tawdihu 'l-Masa'il in Persian (also known as risala-e 'amaliyya), and then came the Minhaju 's-Salihiyn in Arabic by the late Ayatullah al-Hakim (which was later expanded by the late Ayatullah al-Khû'i and even further improved by Ayatullah as-Sistani). In mid seventies, the late Ayatullah Sayyid Muhammad Baqir as-Sadr brought about a completely new style in his al-Fatawa al-Wadiha.

The present book, al-Fiqh lil Mughtaribin by Hujjatul Islam Sayyid 'Abdul Hadi al-Hakim, is a further development in the same line of change and continuity. Sayyid 'Abdul Hadi's distinction is that he has focused on the problems and issues faced by the Muslims in the West, formulated those questions, and compiled their answers without going into details that can be easily obtained from other commonly used sources of Islamic laws. And so it was indeed a great pleasure when I was asked to undertake the translation of this book into English.

A Note on Translation: I have been quite liberal while translating the author's Introduction but had to strictly abide by the wording and expressions as they appeared in the original in the latter and the major part of the book. This was done to ensure the accuracy in conveying the views of the Grand Ayatullah as-Sistani.

This translation is based on the first Arabic edition of 1998 but with quite a few changes and amendments done by the Fatwa Committee of the Office of Ayatullah as-Sistani in Qum. And so those who would compare this translation with the first Arabic edition should keep this fact in mind. The changes were of various length and nature: in some instances, words, phrases and sentences were changed or added to further explain the problem;1 in some cases, the rulings have changed;2 and in three cases, the items were deleted completely.3

Moreover, in some instances I had asked for further elaboration that was kindly provided by the Committee.4 I have also taken the liberty of changing the placement of certain rulings so that similar issues are found in the same section. For the same reason, in Part Two, I have switched the sequence of two chapters: Chapter 8 ("Youths' Issues") and Chapter 9 ("Women's Issues) since women's issues are much closer to issues of Chapter 7 on "Marriage". Interestingly this is the order that the author himself has listed pages 31 and 136 of the Arabic but has somehow changed it in the final printing. I have written some footnotes to clarify the meaning and have also added a short list of "Frequently Used Terms" at the beginning of each chapter.

I pray to Almighty Allah to accept this work as a humble attempt in simplifying His laws for the Muslims in non-Muslim societies, and may He reward the author and grant long life to the Ayatullah as-Sistani on whose expert opinion this book is based.


Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi

Shawwal 1419 / February 1999
1. See for example items 16m 20, 23, 29-30 on p. 37-39; item 11, p. 56; item 96, p. 100; item 178, p. 149; item 301, p. 203; item 383, p. 251. All page numbers in this note refer to the first Arabic edition.

2. See, for example, item 114 on p. 110 on sighting of the new moon.

3. See item 218 (p. 168), item 285 (p. 191), and item 269 (p. 187) in the first edition.

4. See item 115 in this translation on the criterion of following the moon sighted in a city west of your own city.
In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.

It is a pleasure for me to present to the respected readers my book, al-Fiqh lil Mughtaribin, according to the views: of his eminence Grand Ayatullah as-Sayyid 'Ali al-Hussaini as-Seestani (May Allah prolong his blessed presence among us).

This book is the first attempt at writing Islamic laws For Muslims who have settled in non-Muslim Countries. Muslims who were compelled to leave their countries and the places where they grew up, and had to migrate to non-Muslim countries in which they now live under different laws and systems, dissimilar values and rules, and unfamiliar customs and habits. The modes of conduct and manners of the host societies are greatly at variance with what the guests were used to; there is a wide gulf between their own upbringing and the values of the host countries. Consequently, new problems have emerged and a number of questions arose that called for answers - answers that would clarify the ambiguous, enlighten the obscure, guide the stray, and brighten the darkness.

From this came the need for writing a book that would deal with the various practical problems of immigrant Muslims, and provide answers and present solutions for them.

It was against this background that al-Fiqh lil Mughtaribin was written with a detailed introduction, followed by two parts with each part branching out into various chapters which contain new questions, issues that had not been charted before, and problems that have not been discussed in most Manuals of Islamic Laws and other commonly used books of Islamic Jurisprudence. Hopefully these parts and chapters will act as a stimulus for further questions that the learned reader may raise; and I will be greatly pleased to receive those queries so that they may be included with their answers in future editions, insha Allah.

Islamic Laws for Muslims in non-Muslim Countries is the third attempt following two other books "al-Fatawa al-Muyassara" (Jurisprudence Made Easy) and "al-Muntakhab mina 'l-Masa'ili 'l-Muntakhabah" (Current Legal Issues) through which I hope to have contributed to the process of making Islamic laws accessible, and endear them, to lay people. If I have succeeded in my aim, all praise is due to Allah; and if I have not, it is sufficient that I have tried "and my success is not but from Allah, and in Him I place my trust and to Him I turn."

I had the privilege of reading some chapters of this book to my respected father (may Allah prolong his life) during his stay with me in London when he came for treatment. His guidance has indeed enriched this book.

I pray to the Almighty Allah that He may accept this work with a good acceptance I am grateful to those who helped me in completing this book. I would like to especially thank His Eminence the Grand Ayatullah as-Sayyid 'Ali al-Hussaini as-Seestani (may Allah prolong his blessed presence) who took upon himself the trouble to provide the answers to the questions. I am also grateful to the offices of the Grand Ayatullah in Najaf [Iraq], Qum [Iran], and London for helping me in ensuring the accuracy of what I have written and in ensuring that it is in accordance with the views of the Ayatullah.

"Our Lord! Do not punish us if we forget or make a mistake. Our Lord! Do not lay on us a burden as Thou did lay on those before us. Our Lord! Do not impose upon us that which we have not the strength to bear; and pardon us and grant us protection and have mercy on us. Thou are our Master, so help us against the unbelieving people."

'Abdul Hadi as-Sayyid Muhammad Taqi al-Hakim

27 Ramadhan 1418 / 26 January 1998
A Muslim who is born and raised in a Muslim country where he consciously and subconsciously absorbs the laws, values and teachings of Islam, grows up into a young person who is aware of the customs of his religion, following its path and is led by its guidance. On the other hand, a Muslim who is born, and brought up in a non-Muslim country demonstrates the influence of that environment very clearly in his thoughts, ideas, behaviour, values, and etiquette unless his Lord helps him. This un-Islamic influence is seen more in the second generation of those who have migrated to non-Muslim countries.

This was the reason for Islam's view on at-ta'arrub ba'd al-hijra as reflected in many ahadith. At-ta'arrub ba'd al-hijra literally means "becoming shorn of one's percepts of faith after migrating [to city]," and technically, it means leaving an environment where you could follow Islam and moving to a place where you maybe prone to not following Islam. Such a migration is counted as one of the major sins. Abu Basir says that he heard Imam as-Sadiq (a.s.) saying: "The major sins are seven: killing a person intentionally; associating someone or something with the Almighty Allah (shirk); wrongfully accusing a married woman of adultery; Knowingly dealing in usury; running away from the battle-field in jihad; at-ta'arrub ba'd al-hijra; causing distress to one's parents [by encroaching on their rights]; and wrongfully acquiring the property of the orphan." Then he said, "At-ta'arrub and shirk are one and the same [in severity]."1

Ibn Mahbûb narrates that some of our companions wrote through me a letter to Imam al-Hasan al-'Askari (a.s.) asking him concerning the major sins. He (a.s.) wrote: "The major sins are the ones for which Allah has threatened with the Hell-Fire; the one who refrains from them, He will forgive his sins if he is a believer. Those seven which cause [one to burn in Hell Fire] are: killing an innocent person; causing distress to one's parents [by not upholding their rights]; dabbling in usury; at-ta'arrub ba'd al-hijra; wrongfully accusing a married woman of adultery; unlawfully confiscating the property of the orphan; and running away from the battle-field in jihad."2

Muhammad bin Muslim narrates from Imam as-Sadiq (a.s.): "The major sins are seven; intentionally killing a believer; wrongfully accusing a married woman of adultery; running away from the battle-field in jihad; at-ta'arrub ba'd al-hijra; unlawfully confiscating the property of the orphan; dabbling in usury; and every act for which [the punishment of] the Fire has been promised"?3

'Ubaydullah bin Zurarah narrates that he asked Imam as-Sadiq (a.s.) about the major sins. The Imam said, "In the book of [Imam] 'Ali, they are seven: disbelieving in Allah; killing a person; causing distress to one's parents; dabbling in usury; unlawfully confiscating the property of the orphan; running away from the battle-field in jihad; at-ta'arrub ba'd al-hijra." Then he asked, "So these are the most major of sins?" The Imam replied, "Yes."4

Imam ar-Rida (a.s.) explained the prohibition of at-ta'arrub ba'd al-hijra as follows: "Since there is the danger that because of at-ta'arrub, he [the immigrant] might abandon [Islamic] knowledge, get involved with the ignorant people, and drift away"5

This, however, does not mean that entering non-Muslim countries is always forbidden. Other ahadith had described for us the reward of one who visits non-Muslim lands, the reward that every Muslim longs for. Hammad al-Sindi narrates that he asked Imam as-Sadiq (a.s.), "I visit the cities of polytheism [i.e., of the polytheists]; and there are some among us who say that 'if you die over there, you will be raised [in the Hereafter] along with them.'" The Imam asked me, "O Hammad, when you are over there do you talk about our affair [i.e., our truth] and call [people] to it?" I replied, "Yes." The Imam asked me, "When you are in these cities, the cities of Islam, do you talk about our affair and call [people] to it?" I replied, "No." The Imam said, "If you die over there [in the land of the non-Muslims], you will be raised as an ummah by yourself, and there will be light in front of you!"6
General Rules
Based on these and other similar ahadith, and other religious proofs, the jurists (mujtahidin) have issued the following rulings:

1. It is recommended for a believer to travel to non-Muslim countries for the purpose of spreading the religion [of Islam] and its teaching, provided that he can safeguard himself and his young children against the dangers of loss of the faith. The Prophet said to Imam 'Ali, "If Allah guides a person from among His servants through you, then that is better than everything between the east and the west on which the sun shines."7 When asked by a person for a counsel, he said, "I advise you not to associate anything with Allah...and to call the people to Islam. You should know that [the reward] for you for each person who answers [your call] is [equal to] emancipating a slave from the children of [Prophet] Ya'qûb."8 (See the question-answer section below.)

2. A believer is allowed to travel to non-Muslim countries provided that he is sure or has confidence that the journey would not have a negative impact on his faith and the faith of those who are related to him.

3. Similarly, a believer is allowed to reside in non-Muslim countries provided that his residing there does not become a hurdle in the fulfilling of his religious obligations towards himself and his family presently as well as in future. (See the question-answer section below.)

4. It is haram to travel to non-Muslim countries in the East or the West if that journey causes loss of the faith of a Muslim, no matter whether the purpose of that journey is tourism, business, education, or residence of a temporary or permanent nature, etc. (See the question-answer section below.)

5. If the wife strongly feels or is sure that her travelling with the husband [to a non-Muslim country] will result in loss of faith, it is haram for her to travel with him.

6. If the baligh9 boys or girls strongly feel that their journey [to the non-Muslim country] with their father or mother or friends will cause loss of faith, it is haram for them to travel with those people.

7. What do the jurists mean when they speak of, "loss of faith"? It means either committing a forbidden act by indulging in minor or major sins like drinking intoxicant, adultery, eating forbidden meat, or drinking najis (impure) drinks, etc. It also means abandoning the fulfillment of a compulsory act like neglecting salat, fasting, hajj and other obligations.

8. If circumstances force a Muslim to migrate to a non-Muslim country with the knowledge that the migration will cause loss of faith (e.g., a person seeks political asylum in a non-Muslim country in order to save his life), it is permissible for him to make that journey to the extent that it saves his life, and not more than that. (See the question-answer section below.)

9. If an immigrant Muslim, residing in a non-Muslim country, knows that his stay in that country will lead to loss of faith or of that of his children, it is wajib on him to return to one of the Muslim countries. (See the questions at the end of this section.) As mentioned above, this loss of faith is realized by neglecting the obligatory acts or by committing sins.

10. The obligation to return to a Muslim country applies only if it does not lead to death [for example, for a political opponent who has fled his own country], or to putting him in untenable situation or, to an emergency situation where religious obligations are suspended (e.g., the necessity of preserving life which allows a person to eat haram meat in order to prevent his own death from starvation).

11. If the journey is haram for a person, then his journey will be considered "a journey of sin;" and, in such cases, he loses the benefit of the concession of praying (qasr) in four -rak'at salat and also the benefit of not fasting during the month of Ramadhan. As long as his journey maintains the status of "sin," he cannot benefit from such concessions provided by the shari'a for travellers.

12. A son is not allowed to disobey his parents when they forbid him from travelling, if their refusal to give permission is out of their concern for the son, or if his journey will cause distress to them because of his separation from them - provided that he does not suffer loss by not travelling.

13. It is permissible to approach the competent authorities [like police and the justice system in a non-Muslim country] for various important issues -like prevention of harm befalling the person, the honour and the property of a Muslim- provided that it is the only way for exacting one's right and preventing injustice.
Questions and Answers
14. Question: What is the meaning of at-ta'arrub ba'd al-hijra which is one of the major sins?

Answer: Some jurists have said that during our time, it applies to residing in countries that may cause the loss of faith. It means the migration of a person from a country -where it is possible for him to learn the obligatory religious teachings and laws, and where it is possible for him to fulfill his obligations and refrain from what is forbidden- to a country where this possibility does not exist fully or partially.

15. Question: A believer residing in Europe, America and other similar countries feels estranged from the religious environment in which he was born and raised. Neither does he hear the voice of the Qur'an [recited from mosques] nor the sound of the adhan10 coming [from the minarets]; and there are no holy shrines, and their spiritual atmosphere, that he can visit. Is leaving such an Islamic environment of his country and its positive aspects considered "loss of faith"?

Answer: This is not the loss of faith that would make residing in a non-Muslim country haram for that person. However, staying away from such a religious environment may, with the passage of time, weaken the religious resolve of the immigrant to an extent that he may consider negligence of wajib deeds and committing of sins as insignificant. If a person has this fear that he might lose the faith in this manner, then it is not permissible for him to take residence in that country.

16. Question: Sometimes a Muslim residing in Europe and America (and other similar places) indulges in haram activities that he would not have done, if he remained in his Muslim country. The manifestations of temptation in non-Muslim societies may attract a Muslim to committing haram deeds even if he is not inclined towards them. Does this come under the banner of "loss of faith" that makes it haram for him to stay in that country?

Answer: Yes; unless the sins he sometimes indulges in, and without insisting upon them, they are of the minor category.

17. Question: At-ta'arrub ba'd al-hijra has been described as "migrating to a country in which the religious knowledge of the immigrant will decrease, thus becoming more alienated from his faith." Does this mean that a Muslim in such countries is duty bound to be extra vigilant lest he should become alienated from his faith?

Answer: The extra care becomes wajib when not being mindful leads to loss of faith as described earlier.

18. Question: If a religious preacher who is mindful of his faith starts facing more situations where he commits haram deeds because of the social environment (e.g., nudity and indecent exposures), is it haram for him to stay in those countries; that is, should he stop propagation (tabligh) and return to his own country?

Answer: If he indulges in some minor sins occasionally, then it is not haram for him to stay in that country, provided that he is confident that he would not be tempted to commit more serious sins.

19. Question: If an immigrant fears the loss of faith for his children, is it haram for him to stay in that non-Muslim country?

Answer: Yes, the same rule applies to himself also.

20. Question: Is it wajib on the immigrants in Europe and America (and other similar countries) to strive for teaching their children Arabic, and that ignorance of Arabic may lead in the future to ignorance of the main Islamic body of knowledge, and that will naturally lead to less familiarity with religious teachings and loss of faith?

Answer: To teach them Arabic is wajib only to the extent which is necessary for performing their religious duties that have to be done in Arabic (e.g., recitation of the Opening chapter of the Qur'an, a second chapter, and other wajib recitations in salat). Teaching more than that is not wajib as long as it is possible to provide them with religious knowledge in a foreign language.

Of course, it is recommended to teach them the holy Qur'an [in Arabic]; rather it is important to teach them Arabic in a precise form so that they may benefit from the basic sources of Islamic teachings, especially, and foremost among them, after the holy Qur'an, is the Prophetic sunna and the sayings of the Ahlul Bayt (peace be with them all).

21. Question: If it is possible for a Muslim to reside in a Muslim country with some financial difficulty compared to his present situation, then is it wajib on him to travel to that Muslim country and leave leave his residence in Western countries?

Answer: It is not wajib [to leave the Western country] except if he has no confidence in himself, in that he may lose his faith -as explained earlier- while residing in the foreign country.

22. Question: If a person has the ability to propagate Islam to non-Muslims or to disseminate religious knowledge among Muslims in non-Muslim countries without any danger of losing his own faith, is it wajib on such a person to do propagation (tabligh)?

Answer: Yes, it is wajib kifa'i upon him and all the others who have the ability to propagate [Islam].

23. Question: Is it permissible for a person to buy a passport [i.e., to illegally obtain a passport] or change the picture in the passport so that he may be able to enter a country, and then he would let the immigration officials of that country know the truth about his identity?

Answer: We do not allow it.

24. Question: Is it permissible for a person to reside in non-Muslim countries with all its temptations that confronts the person on the street, the school, the television and other media while he has the ability to migrate to a Muslim country although that transfer would cause difficulty in residence, loss of material wealth and comfort, and constrain the worldly aspects of his life? If it is not permissible to remain in such a country, would his efforts in propagation among the Muslims (reminding them of their obligations and encouraging them to refrain from haram) change the rule for him and allow him to remain in that country?

Answer: It is not haram to stay in that country, if it does not create hurdles for him and his family in fulfilling their religious obligations presently as well as in future; otherwise, it would not be permissible even if he is engaged in some kind of propagation activities. And Allah knows the best.
1. Muhammad bin Ya'qûb al-Kulayni, al-Usûl min al-Kafi, vol. 2, p. 281.

2. Ibid, p. 277.

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid, p. 278.

5. Al-Hurr al-'Amili, Tafsilu Wasa'ili 'sh-Shi'a, vol. 15, p. 100.

6. Ibid, vol. 16, p. 188.

7. Al-Hurr al-'Amili, Tafsilu Wasa'ili 'sh-Shi'a, vol. 16, p. 188.

8. Ibid.

9. Translator's Note: Baligh means the legal age in Islamic laws which for boys starts at fifteen lunar years and for girls at nine lunar years. Growth of pubic hair or sexual discharge is also a sign of attaining the age of maturity.

10. Translator's Note: Adhan means the call for prayer announced at prayer times from the mosques.
Taqlid means acting according to the opinion of the jurist (mujtahid) who has all the necessary qualification to be emulated. So you do what the mujtahid's expert opinion says you should do, and refrain from what his expert opinion says you should refrain from without any research [in Islamic sources] on your part. It is as though you have placed the responsibility of your deeds squarely on his shoulders.

Among the conditions which must be found in a jurist (mujtahid) who can be followed is that he must be the most learned (al-a'lam) jurist of his time and the most capable in deriving the religious laws from the appropriate sources.
General Rules
Now it is appropriate to clarify the following issues:

25. A person who does not have the ability to extract and derive the religious laws must take up taqlid of the most learned mujtahid. The deeds of such a person without taqlid or ihtiyat are null and void.

26. The most learned mujtahid (al-a'lam) is the most capable in deriving the religious laws from their sources.

27. In order to determine who is the most learned mujtahid, one must refer to the ahlul khibra (those who are sufficiently knowledgeable in Islamic jurisprudence). It is not permissible in this matter to refer to a person who has no expertise in this subject.

28. You can know the opinion (fatwa) of your marja' by one of the following methods:

a. By hearing the ruling from the mujtahid himself.

b. By being informed about the mujtahid's fatwa by two just men or by a reliable person.

c. By referring to the Manual of Islamic Laws (risala) of the marja' or other books of that category.

29. When the most erudite mujtahid has no fatwa on an issue or if it is not possible for the layman to find the opinion of his marja' when he needs it, he can then refer to another mujtahid who is the second best in the line of hierarchy of being a'lam.
Questions and Answers
30. Question: The jurists tell us that it is wajib to emulate the most learned (a'lam) mujtahid, and when we ask the religious scholars in our area, "Who is the a'lam?" we do not get a clear-cut answer so that we may follow his fatwa. When we ask them about their answer, they say that they are not ahlul khibra and they also say that: "we have asked ahlul khibra1 and have been informed that identifying the a'lam mujtahid requires the study of the books of the mujtahids and that obviously is a time consuming and difficult task; so go and ask the others."

If the problem of identifying the a'lam mujtahid is so difficult in religious circles, obviously the problem would be even more difficult in other countries like Europe and America. After a lot of difficulty when we convince the youths of these countries that it is necessary to abide by the shari'a laws, we reach to the question of who is the a'lam, and find ourselves lost for words. Is there a solution to this problem?

Answer: If there are some ahlul khibra who refuse to identify the a'lam for one reason or another, there are other ahlul khibra who readily identify him. It is possible to contact those ahlul khibra through the religious scholars and others who are reliable and have contacts with religious seminaries and with the scholars in other countries. So, although identifying the a'lam is not without difficulty, yet it is not a serious problem.

31. Question: How do we know who ahlul khibra are so that we may ask them about the a'lam mujtahid? How do we reach them since we are far away from religious seminaries? Is there a way that can simplify for us the process of determining whom we should follow in taqlid

Answer: The ahlul khibra are the mujtahids and those next in line in religious sciences, and they know quite well that one person in a limited group of mujtahids is the a'lam. And they have to consider the following three things to identify that a'lam:

a. First: His knowledge concerning the methods for providing the authenticity of the hadith, and that involves 'ilmu 'r-rijal (the science of narrators of hadith) and 'ilmu 'l-hadith (the science of hadith). On this subject, issues like familiarity with the books [of hadith] and the ahadith that have been tampered with; knowledge of causes for fabrication [of ahadith]; variance in the manuscripts and distinguishing the most correct one; and being aware of confusion which sometimes occurs between the text of a hadith and the explanation of the compilers, are of utmost importance.

b. Second: His ability to understand the meaning of the text by considering the general rules of speech, especially the style used by the Imams of Ahlul Bayt (a.s.) in describing the laws. The science of 'usûlu 'l-fiqh (Principles of Jurisprudence), Arabic grammar and literature, as well as familiarity with the views of the Sunni jurists who were contemporaries of the Imams play an important role in the understanding of the hadith texts.

c. Third: Soundness of his view in deriving the rules from the sources. And the method of getting acquainted with those in whom the status of a'lam is confined to having scholarly discussions with them or to referring to their books or to the transcripts of their lectures on Jurisprudence and the Principles of Jurisprudence.

If a person cannot know the ahlul khibra by himself, he can come to know them through the religious scholars and others whom he trusts. The geographical distance should not be a barrier to establishing communication with them in this era where many fast means of communication are easily available.

32. Question: Sometimes the heart feels at ease in regard to a particular mujtahid. Is this feeling sufficient to do his taqlid if the ahlul khibra have difference of opinion in determining the a'lam?

33. Answer: If the ahlul khibra have difference of opinion in determining the a'lam, one must follow the view of those who are more qualified and capable among the ahlul khibra. This is the norm in dealing with all cases where the experts have difference of opinion.

34. Question: If the ahlul khibra have difference of opinion in determining the a'lam mujtahid or just say that following any one from the given number of mujtahids is sufficient, can a person apply the fatwa of one mujtahid in one issue and another mujtahid in another until it becomes clear for him who is the a'lam?

Answer: This question has three parts:

Share this article

Comments 0

Your comment

Comment description

Latest Post

Most Reviews