Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Sheikh Ramaḍān Al-Būṭī on Dancing in Dhikr

The full statement from his work Fiqh As-Seerah (The Jurisprudence of the Prophetic Biography) as translated by Nancy Roberts and revised by Anas Ar-Rifāʿī (Dar Al-Fikr, Damasus, 2008), p.527-531. (This book is available from

[Sheikh Muḥammad Saʿīd Ramaḍān Al-Būṭī:]

Two: A word on the ḥadīth concerning Abū Bakr and the additions to it which some have fabricated in order to justify a particular heretical practice. As we have seen based on the ḥadīth about Abū Bakr related by Abū Dāwūd and al-Tirmidhī, Abū Bakr brought all of his wealth to the Prophet (pbuh). Then, when the Prophet (pbuh) asked him, “What have you kept for your family?” he replied, “I have kept God and His Apostle.”
An addition to this ḥadīth has been fabricated according to which the Prophet (pbuh) then said to Abu Bakr, “O Abū Bakr, God is pleased with you. Are you pleased with him?” In response, Abū Bakr was so filled with rapture, he got up and danced before the Messenger of God (pbuh) saying, “How could I not be pleased with God?!” Having concocted this addition, its originators then turned it into evidence in support of the legitimacy of dancing and whirling in the dhikr ceremonies for which the Mevlevis and other Sufi sects are known.
As I have mentioned, the evidence upon which this practice is based is a fabrication. There is no ḥadīth, be it sound or weak, which mentions that Abū Bakr got up and danced before the Messenger of God (pbuh). Rather, all we have by way of texts on this subject is the ḥadīth related by al-Tirmidhī, al-Ḥākim, and Abū Dāwūd which, as I noted in my earlier discussion of it, contains possible weaknesses.
As for the conclusion which some Sufis draw based on this fabrication, it must be said that not only is there no support for it, but there is positive evidence against it. Specifically, it is held by the majority of Muslims jurisprudents that when dancing involves bending and swaying back and forth, it is prohibited, and that when it does not involve such movements, it is still undesirable. Hence, to introduce dance – of whatever sort if happens to be – into ceremonies devoted to the remembrance of God is to interpolate into Muslim worship a practice which is, if not utterly banned, at the very least undesirable.
Add this to the fact that the state into which these “worshippers” enter leads them to utter sounds which have nothing to do with the words employed in the remembrance of God. Rather, they are nothing but inarticulate utterances by means of which they produce a steady drone that harmonizes with the rhythms of those chanting and singing and increases the mood of escstatic exhilaration. How can this be the type of remembrance which God has commanded us to engage in, and which was practised by the Apostle (pbuh) and his Companions?! How can activity such as this be worship, when worship – as you are all aware – is what God has legislated for us in the Qur’an and the Prophetic Sunnah, neither of which is to be added to or detracted from?
Rest assured that what we are saying is in accordance with the view which has been held by scholars of Islamic law across the ages, with none disagreeing except for a small minority of dissenters who have established practices for which God has not granted permission. As for the latter, countless are the forbidden acts which they have deemed lawful and the mortal sins which they have committed, at times in the name of ecstatic transport inspired by the love of God, and at other times in the name of liberation from the “noose” of religions obligations.
The following is a quotation form al-ʿIzz Ibn ʿAbd al-Salām, one of the most highly esteemed Muslim esteemed leaders and teachers, known and respected for his uprightness, knowledge, piety and Sufi way of life. He states,
As for dancing and applause, these are the acts of thoughtlessness and frivolity the likes of which one generally sees only in girls. No one but the lightheaded or the charlatan would engage in such practices. Why, then, do we see dancing to the rhythm of song by those whose hearts and minds have grown heedless and fickle, even though he (pbuh) has said: “The most virtuous of all generations is my own, followed by those who succeed us, followed by those who succeed them,” and even though not a single member of the righteous generations which we are to emulate engaged in such things? [1]
The same thoughts are expressed by Ibn Hajar in his book, Kaff al-Raʿāʿ ʿan Muḥarramāt al-Lahū wa-al-Samāʿ (“Preventing the Masses from Engaging in Forbidden Acts of Frivolity and Listening”), and by Ibn ʿAbidīn in his well-known, widely recognized commentary, where he distinguishes between a genuine, overwhelming experience of ecstatic transport, and a bogus show of the same.
As for Imam al-Qurṭubī, he goes into even greater detail in warning against this dangerous innovation and the reasons for the prohibition against it; those who wish to read what he says on this matter may refer to his Qurʾānic commentary on the following verses: “…and who remember God when they stand, and when they sit, and they lie down to sleep…” (Qurʾān 3:191) and, “And do not walk upon the earth exultantly. Indeed you will never tear the earth (apart), and you will never reach the mountains in height.” (Qurʾān 17:37). Were it not for the fact that it would lead to prolixity on a topic that requires brevity, I would set forth the views expressed on this matter by many other Imams as well. Be that as it may, the position I have expounded here is virtually uncontested, being agreed upon by the vast majority of Muslim scholars, both ancient and contemporary. [2]
It is clear, of course, that the prohibition of dancing being discussed here could not be applied to someone who, while engaged in the remembrance of God, entered a spiritual state in which he was no longer in control of all his feelings or actions. For when a person is in a state such as this, binding judgments such as the one under discussion cease to apply. This fact must be borne in mind when considering statements to the effect that al-ʿIzz Ibn ʿAbd al-Salām himself once went into a frenzy and got up and began jumping about. After all, given that he held the view which we quoted above, how could he have engaged in such behaviour of his own volition? [3] 
[1] Qawāʾid al-Aḥkām fī Maṣāliḥ al-Anām, 2:186

[2] Some of my readers may be surprised by the fact that I agree with the Wahhabite view on this particular matter, even though I have taken them to task for a number of other positions which they hold. Such surprise, where it exists, is no doubt due to a mistaken conception of how a Muslim ought to think and conduct himself. It is not Islamic in any way for an academic search dictated by the mind to be transformed into a bigoted prejudice that has taken over one’s soul. Nor is it consistent with the spirit or teachings of Islam for one to advocate a particular opinion or school of Islamic law on the pretext that in so doing, he is championing Islam itself, especially when such a person knows in his heart of hearts that he is simply defending the point of view because it has come to form a part of his personality and his standing among others.
When engaging in academic research, the Muslim must have in view nothing but the Book of God and the Prophetic Sunnah, and he must not allow any other power or authority to influence his emotions or thoughts. Moreover, is such a Muslim is committed to the truth, he must conduct himself in such a way that no other Muslim is caused distress by his words or angered by his judgments. If, in my discussion of issues raised in this book, I disagree in my conclusions with other people, this is not – and God is my witness – out of a desire to differ with others, but rather, simply out of a desire to be faithful to the Qurʾān and the Sunnah. Hence, I may err in my judgments and conclusions, but even if I do, my aim remains the same.
Similarly, if in my discussion of the question at hand I have reached a conclusion which agrees with that of some Muslims and differs with that of many others, including the Sufis among them, this is not because of any wish on my part to differ with them or because I take enjoyment in criticizing them; rather, it is simply because I sincerely desire not to stray for the Book of God or the Sunnah of His Messenger (pbuh). At the same time, I wish to affirm my appreciation for many of these esteemed individuals and my certainty of their integrity and the purity of their intentions, my excuse for differing with them being that this appreciation and esteem do not justify being unfaithful to the texts before me or interpreting them metaphorically such that their original intent is distorted.
If the Muslims sought out the truth they are meant to follow based on this same criterion, we would not find the various Islamic sects and groups treating each other with harshness and even enmity even if their views and interpretations happened to differ. However, prejudice and extremism have led the Muslims to the state in which they now find themselves. The Sufis call their opponents to account for what they see as fanaticism and excess, yet they do not call themselves to account for similar attitudes, and for those practices which have no basis in Islam! Is this, then, the truth which we should be living? Excess on one side only breeds excess on the other; hence, whoever wishes to come to the defence of God’s religion and the guidance brought by His Messenger (pbuh) must put an end to all extremism, harmful innovation, and heresy. This is the best possible remedy for the counter-extremism which one is likely to meet with among others.

[3] See Ibn Ḥajar’s Kaff al-Raʿāʿ, 48 on the margin of his book, Al-Zawājir
NOTE: The above footnotes are also the Sheikh's words, not mine. - Mahdi 

1 comment:

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