In the Name of God, the Most Compassionate, the Dispenser of Grace
We have reached the end of the Gregorian calendar year and after labouring hard during the past year, many of us are looking forward to enjoying a well-deserved holiday. In this khutbah I propose a jurisprudence of recreation (fiqhal-tarfih) in which we view enjoying wholesome entertainment during our vacation time as fulfilling a natural human need and not as frivolous non-Islamic activities.
It is my considered view that in Islam relaxation and enjoyment (tarfih) is not at odds with piety and dignity (taqwa). The Prophet Muhammad (may Allah’s everlasting peace and blessings be upon him) prayed and engaged in worship more than anyone, but he also enjoyed good things, smiled and joked. However, as devoted as he was in his personal worship, he was quick to indicate to his followers that the path of Islam is the way of moderation and balance. Thus, when the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was informed that one of his companions undertook to continuously fast every day of the year, another asserted that he would spend the entire night in prayer, and yet another vowed he would never marry, he rebuked them by proclaiming that his Sunnah (the prophetic way) was to combine piety with wholesome recreation (This hadith can be found in the most authentic collections of Bukhari and Muslim).
Moreover, relaxing the mind and enjoying recreational activities also has the additional benefit of resting and rejuvenating the body so that when we eventually return to fulfill our various responsibilities, we will be more focused and ready. The following advice from the illustrious companion of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) `Ali bin Abi Talib (may Allah be pleased with him) is instructive in this respect:
“Minds get tired, as do bodies, so treat them with humour.
Refresh your minds from time to time, for a tired mind becomes blind.”
Developing a Fiqh of Recreation
The renowned contemporary jurist consult, Shaykh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, has been at the forefront of advocating a philosophy of Islam that encourages Muslims to make time to relax and enjoy themselves. In his famous book Al- Halal wal Haram fil Islam (The Lawful and Prohibited in Islam) he develops the rudiments of what I call ‘a jurisprudence of recreation’ (fiqh al-tarfih) from the authentic sources of Islam in which he argues:
“Islam is a practical religion; it is not idealistic, but is rooted in the realities and day-to-day concerns of people. It does not regard human beings as angels but accepts them as mortals who enjoy nourishment from food as well as pleasure from leisurely walks around the market place. Islam does not require of Muslims that their speech should consist entirely of pious utterances that their silence should be a meditation, that they should listen to nothing except the recitation of the Quran, nor that they should spend all their leisure time in the Masjid. Rather it recognizes that Allah has created human beings with needs and desires, so that, as they need to eat and drink, they also need to relax and enjoy themselves.”
I believe that in this quotation Shaykh Qaradawi aptly embraces Islam as a natural and balanced way of life. Taking my cue from Shaykh Qaradawi I propose that a jurisprudence of recreation (fiqh al-tarfih) needs to be recovered from the authentic sources of Islam. More especially, in relation to the challenges the ‘holiday season’ may bring, we should promote a fiqh al-tarfih that guides us as to how we can enjoy our leisure time without compromising our Islamic value system. The most primary source of Islamic guidance, the Glorious Qur’an, in many verses espouses such a balanced perspective of Islam and is most eloquently expressed in following Surah al-Ma’idah, chapter 5, verses 87-88:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آَمَنُوا لَا تُحَرِّمُوا طَيِّبَاتِ مَا أَحَلَّ اللَّهُ لَكُمْ
وَلَا تَعْتَدُوا إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يُحِبُّ الْمُعْتَدِينَ
وَكُلُوا مِمَّا رَزَقَكُمُ اللَّهُ حَلَالًا طَيِّبًا
وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ الَّذِي أَنْتُمْ بِهِ مُؤْمِنُون
O Believers: Do not deprive yourselves of the good things of life which Allah has made lawful to you. But do not transgress the bounds of what is right. For God does not love those who transgress the bounds of what is right. Therefore partake of the lawful and good things which God grants unto you as sustenance. And be conscious of God in whom you believe. (Q5:87-88)
The Qur’an also repeatedly exhorts Muslims to follow the path of moderation (ummatan wasatan), and censures those whose disposition is towards prohibition. For the latter tendency results in unnecessary hardships for human beings and Allah’s commands in this regard are very explicit:
يُرِيدُ اللَّهُ بِكُمُ الْيُسْرَ وَلَا يُرِيدُ بِكُمُ الْعُسْرَ
Allah desires ease for you, and He does not desire hardship for you. (Q2:185)
يُرِيدُ اللَّهُ أَنْ يُخَفِّفَ عَنْكُمْ وَخُلِقَ الْإِنْسَانُ ضَعِيفًا
Allah desires to lighten your burden, for the human being was created weak. (Q4:28)
مَا يُرِيدُ اللَّهُ لِيَجْعَلَ عَلَيْكُمْ مِنْ حَرَجٍ
It is not Allah’s desire to place a burden upon you. (Q5:7)
وَمَا جَعَلَ عَلَيْكُمْ فِي الدِّينِ مِنْ حَرَجٍ
Allah has not placed hardship on you in the religion. (Q22:78)
The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) understood this Qur’anic imperative and worked tirelessly against tendencies of extremism prevalent amongst even some of his own followers. He warned those who were guilty of this with the following strong words:
“The zealots will perish.” (He repeated this thrice) (Sahih Muslim)
Consonant with the message of ease and moderation (taysir and yusr) contained in these verses of the Qur’an and the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), we should not deprive ourselves of recreation and leisure activities as long as we refrain from things that are clearly and explicitly prohibited by Allah, the Lord of Wisdom. I would like to provide some examples of how we could make our holidays enjoyable while remaining faithful to the ethos and value system of Islam.
First, with the frenetic lives many of us live, we don’t have too many opportunities to spend quality time with our relatives and friends. The holiday season is a good time to remedy this. Family picnics and barbeques or braai’s have long traditions within our communities and should be encouraged. Such holiday activities serve to strengthen our familial ties. In this regard `Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her) reports that the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is reported to have said:
“The best of you are those who are the best to their families,
and I am the best of you to my family.”
(Recorded in the hadith compendiums of Ibn Hibban, Ibn Majah and Al-Hakim)
Second, during the holiday season we spend a lot of time outdoors on beaches, camping, picnicking and hiking. We should use these opportunities to cultivate an appreciation for the wonders of nature and the environment, which Allah has bestowed to us as a trust. We should therefore take care not to pollute and spoil these natural beauties. In this regard, the companion, Abu Sa`id al-Khudri (may Allah be pleased with him) reports that the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) advises us as follows:
“The world is green and delightful, And Allah has made you a custodian over it (the world), and is observing carefully how you
deal with it.”
(Recorded in the hadith compendium of al-Tirmidhi)
Third, during this time of the year music is also part of our recreational activities. It is deeply entrenched in our Cape Muslim culture. Many great scholars of Islam, including al-Kindi (d.873), al-Farabi (d.950), Ibn Sina (d.1037), Imam Ghazali (d.111), wrote profusely on the theory of music and encouraged its performance. Following these classical scholars of Islam, Shaykh Qaradawi claims that music and singing is among the entertainment which may comfort the soul, please the heart, and refresh the ears. Inspired by the teachings of these great scholars of Islam we should celebrate the abounding musical talent in our communities and enjoy the many musical events and stage plays that are taking place in and around our city at this time of the year.
Such a positive and life-affirming approach to cultural norms and practices is most poignantly illustrated in the life of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). To provide one example of this, I would like to cite the following hadith narrated by the beloved wife of the Prophet (pbuh) Lady `Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her) and in greater detail by the companion, Abu Hurayra (may Allah be pleased with him). Both of these prophetic traditions can be found in the most authentic collections of Imam Bukhari and Imam Muslim. (Sahih Bukhari, Sahih Muslim, Kitab al-`Idayn, see also Musnad al-Humaydi)
Abu Hurayra recalls that it was the days of `Id-al-Adha and some Abyssinian Muslims decided to celebrate this joyous occasion in the African way. These earliest African converts to Islam began giving expression to their sense of joy by performing a cultural dance with spears to the rhythm of their leather beating drums in al-Masjid al-Nabawi i.e. in the Prophet’s masjid in Madina. According to the report of `Aisha, she informs us: “the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) himself asked me if I would like to watch the African spear dancing. And I said yes.” The Prophet (pbuh) then took `Aisha into the crowd and placed her on his back so that she had a better view and she fondly remembered her cheek touching his cheek while she keenly watched the African spear dance and drumming in al-Masjid al-Nabawi. Shortly thereafter `Umar ibn al-Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him) entered the Prophet’s masjid and on seeing the dancing and drumming he was instinctively offended and he immediately picked up some stones and began throwing the dancers with it so as to get them to stop. As soon as the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) became aware of `Umar’s protests he reprimanded him by saying:
د عهم يا عمر
“Leave them alone, Ya ‘Umar”
Moreover, the Prophet (pbuh) felt obliged to encourage the African dancers to continue by saying:
دونكم يا بني أرفدة
“Carry on with your drumming and dancing, Ya Bani Arfida!
The contemporary Muslim scholar, Shaykh `Umar Faruq `Abd-Allah, insightfully interprets the Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) intervention to rebuke ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab for stoning the Abyssinian as follows:
“Ethiopians were not to be judged by `Umar’s Arab standards or made to conform to them. The sons of `Arfida had their own distinctive cultural tastes and conventional usages. The fact that they had embraced Islam does not mean that they were also required to commit cultural apostasy or become subservient to Arab customs”.
Of course we should also be vigilant about not transgressing the moral and ethical boundaries of Islam. In this regard we should be guided by one of the well-known principles of Islamic jurisprudence (usul a-fiqh) that the “essence of all things is permissibility” (al-aslu f’il ashya al-ibahatu). This essentially means that permissible activities are vast and boundless, and that those that are prohibited (haram) are few and limited.
In light of the foregoing jurisprudential principle those who advocate the view that music or any other recreational activity is permissible do not require any evidence to support their positions. On the contrary, the onus rests upon those who declare an action to be prohibited (haram) to provide clear and unequivocal evidence from the primary sources of Islamic guidance to substantiate their position. Moreover, if there is no scholarly consensus in the matter (ijma`) those scholars who have reached the conclusion that an action is prohibited (haram) should conform to an ethics of disagreement (adab al-ikhtilaf) acknowledge the fact that others may have reached an opposing position and restrain themselves from engaging in extreme polemics and coercion.
Fourth, we should ensure that our children enjoy a balanced holiday programme. Children need to be gently persuaded to understand that the holidays do not simply mean a time for carefree merriment and that while it is important to relax, have fun and recharge their batteries, it is also beneficial to spend some time during each day doing productive and constructive activities. We therefore need to take them into our confidence and jointly plan daily programmes, which could include for example, reciting the Qur’an for a few minutes everyday, playing sport or doing other physical activities outside, playing board games instead of spending too much time glued to mobile devices, spending time with friends, reading books, volunteering time to community projects and even helping with household chores. This programme will ensure that they enjoy a fun, wholesome and meaningful vacation. Let us not leave our children to their own devices, nor order them only to make salah and recite the Qur’an.
Driving as an Amanah
Finally, at this time of the year many holidaymakers travel to different parts of the country and consequently there are many more vehicles on the roads. Let us therefore be extra careful on the roads. Driving a vehicle is an awesome responsibility (amanah) that especially our youth should be encouraged to take seriously. Such a responsible attitude towards driving should serve as a guiding principle to restrain us from driving recklessly and at high speeds. In fulfilling a trust the Islamic principle of “No Harm” or Non Maleficence should be respected.
The companion, Abu Sa’id al-Khudri (ra) narrated that the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) said:
ضِرَارَ وَلاَ ضَرَرَ لاَ
“There should be neither harming yourself or others, nor reciprocating harm.”[Recorded in the compendiums of ibn Majah & al-Daraqutni]
The message of this hadith should serve as a guiding principle for any action – especially in restraining us from driving recklessly and at high speeds.
The driver is responsible for himself, his passengers and the vehicle. By accepting driving as an amanah (responsibility), drivers are making a commitment to pay attention to their surroundings, to follow the laws, and to take extra care on the roads. We ask Allah, the Most High, to keep us safe on the roads during this holiday season.
In conclusion, all of the recreational activities that I have described underscore the advice given to us in an instructive hadith reported by the Prophet Muhammad’s companion, Hanzalah al-Usaidi, and recorded in the hadith collection of Imam Muslim. Hanzalah and Abubakr (may Allah be pleased with them) went to the Prophet (pbuh) and confessed to having become hypocrites because they could not
sustain their high levels of spirituality which they attained when they were in the company of the prophet. They told the Prophet (pbuh):
‘O Messenger of Allah, when we are with you, you talk about the Fire and the Paradise until it is as if we can see them. Then we go out and play with our wives and children and deal with our properties, and we forget much.’ The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) then replied: ‘By Him in whose hand is my soul, if you were to continue at the same level at which you were when with me and in remembering Allah, the angels would shake hands with you when you are resting and when you walk about. But, O Hanzalah,
There is a time (for this) and a time (for that).’
He repeated this phrase three times.’
This hadith teaches Muslims to live a life balanced between devotion to his/her Lord and fulfilling his/her natural human need for recreation, leisure time and enjoyment.
In other words, there is a time for devotion and a time for relaxation. There is a time for hard work and a time for rest. There is a time for contemplation and dedication and a time for entertainment. This balanced vision of Islam is reflected in one of the most popular Muslim prayers found in the Glorious Qur`an, Surah al-Baqarah, chapter 2, verse 201, with which I would like to conclude:
رَبَّنَا آتِنَا فِي الدُّنْيَا حَسَنَةً
وَفِي الْآخِرَةِ حَسَنَةً وَقِنَا عَذَابَ النَّارِ
“Our Lord, grant us goodness in this life, as well as goodness in the hereafter, and protect us from the torment of fire” (Q2:201)
At this sacred hour of jumu`ah please join me in a special prayer asking Allah, Rabb al-Aman, to guide us and to keep us safe during the holiday season:
O Allah we thank You for bringing us to the end of another productive year. We ask that you guide us during the holiday period and help us to behave in balanced and wholesome ways that are pleasing to You.
O Allah, we make du`a and pray for our children at this time. We pray for their safety and protection in all their activities.
O Allah, grant all drivers a steadfast hand, a watchful eye and most of all lots of patience. Protect us on the road and lead us safely to our destinations.
O Allah, be with us as we spend quality time with family and friends. Keep us involved in wholesome activities, give us good fun and good rest so that we may start the New Year refreshed and rejuvenated.
May we always be conscious of You in our lives and live in Your Compassionate Care and Mercy.