The following is a review of an Urdu-language book on the Islamic shari'a practices required of Muslims with regard to mobile phones and social media such as Facebook and WhatsApp. The book's cover introduces it as "A valuable collection of more than 100 fiqhi [juristic] and shari'a issues regarding mobile [phones] and telephones."
The book, titled "Mobile Phone ke Zaroori Masayel" or "Essential Problems of The Mobile Phone," is by Muhammad Tufail Ahmed Misbahi, an Islamic cleric who is also subeditor for a magazine called Mahnama Ashrafiya - a monthly published from the town of Mubarakpur in Azamgarh district of the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. The 190-page book is published by the Falah Research Foundation. Both author and publisher belong to the Barelvi school of Sunni Islam. It was published as an e-book in December 2014 or early 2015. Mubarakpur is a seat of learning for the Barelvi school of Sunni Islam in northern India.
The book includes many chapters devoted to different aspects of the Internet, notably: Koranic predictions of the emergence of mobile phones; Islamic guidelines about the business and repair of mobile phones; the Islamic way of speaking on mobile phones; the use of mobile phones by Muslim women; mobile phone ringtones and etiquette and respect for the mosque; the shari'a order regarding games on mobile phones; offering prayers without silencing or turning off the phone; the problem of Nikah (Islamic marriage) through messaging, search engines, Internet chat, and social network accounts; the shari'a order regarding Facebook; the shari'a order regarding WhatsApp; and so on.
"Mobile Phones And The Internet Have Declared War On Human Villages... The Mobile Phone Has Attacked The Moral Tenets And Religious Traditions Of Humans"
Introducing the book, Mufti Muhammad Matiur Rehman Razvi, an Islamic cleric at the Jamia Ashrafia (a Barelvi madrassa in the town of Mubarakpur), states: "As a Muslim, the way a Muslim should use everything is in the light of Islamic principles and laws; likewise, the Islamic principles and laws regarding the use of mobile phones should be before them." Introductory comments are also provided by Allama Muhammad Faroghul Qadri of the World Islamic Mission, U.K., who is also introduced as "the preacher of Asia and Europe." Qadri notes that the modern scientific discoveries prove Islam's claim 1,500 years ago as "truth," adding: "This honor is available only to Islam, which has solutions for all problems emerging in the future."
In the book, author Muhammad Tufail Ahmed Misbahi, notes that the 18th century was the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and that the mobile phone is an example of this, "an important scientific invention" of the modern era that has shrunk the world to fit in the palm of one's hand. Misbahi goes on to argue that the Koran predicts mobile phone, citing Verse 6:59: "And no grain is there within the darknesses of the earth and no moist or dry (thing) but that it is (written) in a clear record [in the Koran]." Verse 54:53 is also cited: "And every small and great (thing) is inscribed [in the Koran]." Misbahi cites Abdullah bin Abbas, a companion of the Prophet Muhammad, as having said: "If the string of my camel is lost, I will be able to search for it in the Koran."
The book argues that these verses and this saying are proof that mobile phones were predicted by the Koran, and also cites Verse 81:4: "And when full-term she-camels are neglected." This, it says, means that camels would no longer be needed, because railways, cars, and planes would be invented. It also cites additional verses saying that Allah created the male and female of a species, and that humans will move from stage to stage (as if in interplanetary travel), as an argument that that the Koran is basically a treasure trove of science and that therefore the discovery of mobile phones is also predicted by the Koran. Discussing a wide range of benefits of mobile phones, such as video conferencing and mobile banking, the author's argument throughout the book is that Muslims should use it according to the tenets of shari'a.
Author Misbahi writes, "The biggest religious benefit of mobile phones is that today, due to mobile phones, religious work is being carried out on a large scale," and adds: "The disadvantages of mobile phones are greater than its advantages." In the author's opinion, because of mobile phones, happiness has disappeared, women's dignity has vanished, etiquette and civility have been buried; mosques are no longer venerated, the new generation becomes adult before its time, the snake of love and flirtation is dancing around, the path to rape is cleared, music and singing have reached a peak, women who are strangers and na-mahram (i.e. not relatives) are contacted and teased, religious tenets and Eastern traditions have been suffocated, and so on.
The author makes the case that Muslims must not take mobile phones into the mosque, because prayers are affected when they phones are not turned off. He adds: "This is the saddest aspect of the damage done by the mobile phone, and its satanic role." Due to mobile phones, he notes, the new generation is awash in illicit sex and rape. He notes: "You read every other day in newspapers that some girl eloped with her lover," and recommends: "Parents should be aware and pay special attention to their adult daughters, and keep a stern eye on their activities, and, insofar as possible, do not permit their girls to use mobile phones." He writes that "mental" and "spiritual" diseases are emerging and that "due to mobile phones, fights break out between wife and husband."
"Mobile phones and the Internet have declared war on human villages. Or, let's say that the mobile phone has attacked the moral tenets and religious traditions of humans," Misbahi notes. Advising Muslim women to recite Koranic verses during pregnancy, the author notes: "A dangerous aspect of mobile phone is that its very bad impact registers on a pregnant woman and the health and morality of the child growing in her belly." He declares mobile phones a fad and states: "The 21st century is a link in the era of Jahiliyya [pre-Islamic ignorance]. The things that were done openly during the Jahiliyya are nowadays done in the name of individual freedom and fashion."
"Since It Is Kufr [Unbelief] To Respectfully Salute A Dhimmi Kafir [Non-Muslim Living Under Muslim Rule], Respectfully Saluting A Kafir Harabi Of Hindustan [Hindu Infidel In India] Will Be Kufr Of The First Order"
Misbahi criticizes girls for using mobile phones, saying: "Like the (male) children of Adam, the daughters of Eve are also not behind anyone in the fashion of using mobile phones. They too are engaged in the disease of mobile phones. Like the boys, girls too are openly seen talking on mobile phones in open markets, streets and parks. Forget about criticizing others, Muslim girls too are engaging in such activities; and it is disconcerting to see them wearing fashionable niqab [veils] and roaming around in open markets and on the highways. The voice of a woman is woman, i.e. something to be hidden. But it is sad that our mothers and sisters do not practice this."
The author then goes on to argue: "The solution of all problems to emerge till the Day of Judgment is present in the Islamic laws." Since the author belongs to the Barelvi school, which follows the 8th century Islamic jurist Imam Abu Hanifa, he notes: "[With regard to] the issues and problems that can emerge in the next 100 years, clear orders [solutions] for them are present in Hanafi jurisprudence." It is unclear why the author mentions only the "next 100 years." The author then moves on to the business of buying, selling, and repairing mobile phones. Quoting several hadiths (traditions) of the Prophet Muhammad, he stresses that nothing haram - i.e. forbidden by shari'a - should be carried out in the business of cell phones.
An interesting point mentioned by Misbahi is that just as when selling a pregnant beast the unborn young is also part of the sale, according to shari'a, the seller of a mobile phone must also provide the battery, charger, and earbuds. He added that in the same way, buying and selling a phone for 1,000 rupees payable on the spot and buying the same phone for 1,100 rupees on time is also legitimate according to shari'a - and that "this is not interest/usury." Quoting Fatawa Rizwiya - a book of fatwas belonging to the Barelvi school - he argues that a seller is entitled to sell his product at whatever price he wishes - for example, he can sell a mobile phone worth 1,000 rupees for 5,000 rupees, provided he does not mislead the buyer into thinking that it was initially purchased for that inflated price.
Underlining how Islam controls almost every aspect of daily life, the author discussed who should be the one to utter the greeting first in a phone call, citing a hadith according to which the Prophet Muhammad said that the one who is mounted, say, on a camel, should greet the one who is on foot, and the one on foot should greet the one who is seated. By citing this hadith and others, he said that the caller should be the first to do so. "It is against the Islamic tenets to say 'Hello' before Salaam [the Islamic word for greeting]," he notes.
Misbahi also observed that saying Salaam is a form of prayer and therefore may not be said to non-Muslims, adding: "The prayer for forgiveness and wellbeing in favor of Kuffar [infidels] and Mushrikeen [idolaters] is illegitimate and haram. Therefore, saying Salaam on a mobile phone to a non-Muslim is extremely illegitimate and haram and extreme haram." He cited Radd Al-Muhtar, a celebrated 18th-century work of jurisprudence, as stating: "If a Muslim respectfully salutes a dhimmi kafir, then he will become a kafir because respecting a kafir is kufr [unbelief]." In his own words, the author explained: "Since it is kufr [unbelief] to respectfully salute a dhimmi [non-Muslim living under Muslim rule] kafir [infidel], respectfully saluting a kafir harabi of Hindustan [i.e. Hindus of India] will be the kufr of the first order. Therefore, do not salute/say salaam to the infidels and idolaters of here [India]." Hindustan means India; harabi refers to a resident of Dar-ul-Harb, or the land of war, as opposed to the Islamic world, which is seen as Dar-ul-Islam.
The author quoted several learned Islamic scholars of yore and books of fatwas to argue that for reasons of expedience, it is okay to greet an infidel and that in such a case it will not be considered as an act of kufr (unbelief). He arrived at several conclusions, one of which is that "to greet a kafir is not only haram, but kufr [an act that makes you an infidel]." He then moved on to discuss spoken manners on the mobile phone, citing hadiths on how to introduce oneself when making a call, and discussed in detail when to make a call and when not to do so.
The Prophet Muhammad Said: "Do Not Teach Women To Write"; Fatwa By Founder Of Barelvi Islam Ahmed Raza Barelvi: "It Is Forbidden For Women And Girls To Read And Write"
Misbahi asked: "Is it right or wrong as per shari'a for Muslim women and Muslim girls to use mobile phones?" He noted that the readers might get offended by such a question but nevertheless goes on to stress that this is a good question to ask. Misbahi went on to quote the Prophet Muhammad as saying: "Do not teach women to write." For this hadith, he cited Al-Mustadrak Lil-Hakim, a book of Islamic jurisprudence published by Darul Kutb Al-Ilmiyya, Beirut. He noted two other books of hadiths certifying this hadith: Shoab-ul-Iman and Sahih Ibn Habban (phonetics).
Misbahi quoted a fatwa of Ahmed Raza Barelvi, the founder of the Barelvi school of Sunni Islam, which states: "It is forbidden for women and girls to read and write." The same fatwa further states: "[Such an act of teaching women] will open the doors of mischief... And Allah says mischief is worse than murder." Misbahi observed: "Teaching writing to women is illegitimate and forbidden" and that doing so would lead to obscenity in society. Justifying this, he quoted the Prophet Muhammad as saying: "A time will come near the Day of Judgement when women will be without clothes despite wearing clothes. They will be inclined towards others and will get others inclined towards them."
Noting that when women learn to write they will open the floodgates of mischief, Misbahi observed that Ahmed Raza Barelvi's fatwa against teaching women clarifies that mobile phones cannot be allowed for women under shari'a. Having delivered his moral judgement on the use of mobile phones by Muslim women, he then added a disclaimer that the muftis (jurists who deliver fatwas) should weigh in on this matter, but also noted that while married women can use mobile phones to talk to "mahram" (related and permissible) men, it is better for unmarried women not to use mobile phones, and for any conversation between men and women to be per shari'a. The author goes on to bar ringtones playing music, songs or anything Islamic.
Regarding taking photos with phones, Misbahi observed that this is "totally illegitimate and haram [forbidden by Islam]... The [shari'a] order for making a statue and taking a photo of a living being is the same [haram]." He cited several fatwas to argue that both taking a photograph and being photographed are forbidden, and another, from Sahih Bukhari, according to which Muhammad said: "On the Day of Judgment, the most extreme form of punishment will be given by Allah for those who take photos." A second hadith is also cited: "On the Day of Judgment, photographers will be punished and will be ordered to inject life into the photograph they took." He notes that it is haram to have a picture of living being on a phone, but that photos of inanimate objects are allowed.
Regarding songs on mobile phones, the author declared: "To hear songs is haram and extremely illegitimate. Whether one hears songs from a tape recorder or a DJ or a mobile, listening to songs by every means is illegitimate." He cites several Islamic jurists and the Prophet Muhammad in support of this. He also stated that like photography, videography too is banned. However, he noted that some religious scholars have permitted filming of their conferences for the propagation of Islam, but that it is better not to do so. He added that mobile phones cannot have ringtones that are songs, but that certain Islamic songs such as naats (poems in praise of Prophet Muhammad) are acceptable.
Declaring that marking April Fool's Day is haram, the author observed: "Due to the popular use and availability of mobile phones, the practice of observing April Fool's Day too is becoming common among Muslims." He derided non-Muslim practices being followed by Muslims, stating: "Nowadays, Jews and Christians celebrate 'New Year [Eve] Night', Muslims too have started celebrating New Year's. There is a tradition of celebrating Valentine's Day among Jews and Christians; Muslims too have begun celebrating Valentine's Day. Similarly, Jews and Christians have been celebrating April Fool for a long time, and Muslims too have begun marking April Fool, following Jews and Christians." Misbahi recommended that Muslims celebrate April 20 instead of April Fool, because it was on April 20, 571 CE that the Prophet Muhammad was born. He also cited Islamic traditions to prove that mobile phone games are against the Islamic shari'a.
"Transferring Songs Or Videos (Such As Films Etc.) From One Mobile Phone To Another Via Bluetooth Is Not Legitimate"
"Watching illegitimate videos and films on mobile phones is haram, haram and extremely haram. Similarly, watching movies in cinemas or on television is also haram, illegitimate and a sin," the author declared. He added: "Transferring songs or videos (such as films etc.) from one mobile phone to another mobile via Bluetooth is not legitimate." He cited shari'a-based rulings for such injunctions regarding songs and videos. Citing Fatawa Alamgiri, a 30-volume corpus of Islamic edicts issued by 500 Islamic clerics from across the world during the reign of the 17th century Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, Misbahi also rejected music and singing at Sufi shrines. It should be noted here that this view of Misbahi is in contradiction with other Barelvi clerics who usually approve Sufism and its syncretic practices.
"The Sufis have allowed singing and qawwali [a form of singing with music] as legitimate and have derived arguments in its favor from the acts of predecessor mystics, but this argument is invalid because there is a big difference between the acts of predecessor mystics and activities and acts of present-day Sufis," he notes. He cited fatwas from a seminar titled "The Shari'a Order for Animation," on the subject of animation and cartoons held in the town of Mubarakpur in January 2011. Mubarakpur is the Barelvi seat of learning where the author is based. He underlined the jurists' conclusions at the seminar, i.e. that animation and cartoons are like photography and videography, and therefore not allowed by shari'a when they depict living beings, but that photographs can be allowed as necessary for passports and the like.
Misbahi also discussed the need to turn off mobile phones during prayer, or once a person is inside the mosque. He said that the founder of the Barelvi school, Ahmed Raza Barelvi, had declared ceiling fans in mosques illegitimate because their sound interferes with concentration during prayer. Similarly, the phones must be switched off inside mosques. The author also prohibited Muslims from stealing electricity from mosques, and described a likely future situation in which the azan (call to prayer) is given by phone, not by a person, and concluded that such a step would not be legitimate according to shari'a. He also discussed whether the Koran downloaded on mobile phones is actually the Koran but concluded that it is indeed.
He called text messaging a valid mode of Nikah - i.e. Islamic marriage. "Nikah can be contracted through messaging. The Nikah organized through messaging is legitimate and correct as per shari'a," he said, adding that the Shari'a Council of India, which is based in Bareilly, the headquarters of Barelvi Islam, has ruled the following: "Writings by Fax, Email and SMS are in the list of letters and books. Nikah will be correct if the messages are read out and listened to [by the couple] or their theme is explained and they accept in a sitting [and there are two witnesses even though the couple might be in two different countries]." Similarly, with regard to divorce, he noted that the presence of the wife is not necessary for a husband to divorce her, and that Talaq (divorce) through messaging on mobile phones is valid.
Misbahi also discussed search engines and social media networks. He devoted a chapter to on Facebook and WhatsApp, writing, "By itself, Facebook is a means of connecting, which can perform legitimate and illegitimate work for the users. If Facebook is used without any discomfiture with regard to shari'a, then it is legitimate, otherwise illegitimate," he noted.
A key argument running throughout the book is that the Internet, search engines, and social media can be used by Muslims both in compliance with shari'a, and in order to promote Islamic teachings.
* Tufail Ahmad is Director of the MEMRI South Asia Studies Project. He is the author of Jihadist Threat to India: The Case for Islamic Reformation by an Indian Muslim.