Whenever the discussion on Islam and the modern world issues comes up we invariably hear a comment, “These mullahs are against any kind of advancement. When loudspeaker was invented they said it is haram to use it.” Having read the works of the “mullahs” I have known that it is wrong to say that at least the learned and well reputed among of the ulema were/are against technology. Actually what they are against is not the use of technology but the blind imitation of West in its culture in the name of advancement. (Suggested reading, Mufti Taqi Usmani’s “Islam and Modernism”)
In this backdrop what perplexed me the most was the suggestion that ulema once condemned the use of loudspeakers as haraam. I always wanted to know what really happened and why? How the fatwa was changed overtime? What do the scholars who were part of the process of the change in fatwa say? And how do they feel about their earlier verdict?
Lately, I found answer to all these questions and today I mean to share with you the same.
Yes, the fatwa declaring use of loudspeakers as haraam was given and it was given by a well-known scholar and jurist, Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanwi. Three of his fatwas on the subject are given in the first volume of Imdad al-Fatawa- the collection of religious verdicts given by him. It was compiled by his student Mufti Muhammad Shafi’. Towards the end of the volume the compiler, Mufti Muhammad Shafi’, in an addendum, explains the background, basis and reasons for eventual change in the verdict. Following is its summary.
First fatwa on the subject was given in Ramadan 1346 AH (i.e. Feb. 1928) in which Maulana Thanwi opined that its usage is altogether haraam. Shortly thereafter the same opinion was repeated in Zil Hijjah 1346 AH (May 1928 CE). According to Mufti Shafi’ this opinion was given in the early days of instrument’s introduction (in the subcontinent) when it was not widely known. The opinion was based on the presumption that it was something like Gramophone that was then used almost exclusively for songs and music. Moreover, since the instrument was not generally used and was mostly unknown to the people no need was felt to seek to probe deeper into the details of it.
The basic premise for declaring it unlawful for use in acts of ritual worship was that confusion on the actual working of the instrument. Maulana Thanwi and other scholars were not clear whether it simply amplifies the sound or first records it and then transmits it and to this day scholars maintain that prayers are not valid with recorded sound. (It is pertinent to mention that even when Maulana Thanwi gave this opinion Mualana Shabbir Ahmad Uthmani even at that stage did not agree that prayers are nullified with its use). They set to seek the help of different people they thought were well versed in these matters. The names and replies of those people are preserved in the footnotes in Imdad al-Fatawa vol.1 pp.685-687. The opinions on the working of the instrument were sought included:
1- Syed Shabbir Ali, M.A., Professor Science Dept., Aligarh Muslim University
2- Burj Nandar, B.A., BSc. Science Alexander High School, Bhopal
Names of others are not specifically mentioned.
Not to say that they were some real authorities but it does show the concern and attitude of Maulana towards the issue. He did take the trouble of asking the people who were in a better position to comment on the issue he faced. Mark the fact that opinion of a Hindu was also considered. However, the confusion persisted (considering the responses he got) and Maulana Thanwi then opined that even though ritual prayers cannot be out rightly declared null and void still one needs to avoid praying with the use of this instrument. (Imdad al-Fatawa, vol.1 p.685 n.2)
In Muharram 1357 AH (March 1938 CE) in response to a detailed question about some modern instruments in which their true nature and scope of use was brought to his notice Maulana Thanwi opined that it is permissible to use it in ordinary sermons and speeches. But he maintained that it was impermissible to use it in ritual prayers (salah) and ritual sermons (khutbas of Fridays and ‘Eid) and as a reference he referred to his fatwa of Zil Hijjah 1346 AH and wrote, “All this research is written as per personal information. If someone knows more and or something different he should follow his own research and if he intimates us he will be rewarded. And Allah knows best and His knowledge is most perfect and most sound.” (Imdad al-Fatawa, vol.1 p.691)
After the death of Maulana Thanwi his disciple and student Mufti Shafi’ continued to give verdict according to his opinion. However, after the creation of Pakistan he sent the same query to experts at Radio Pakistan. The unanimous response was that the sound transmitted was simply amplified and it was not first recorded. Mufti Shafi’ writes that this actually bulldozed the entire basis of the opinion of its impermissibility of its use in prayers. Thereafter he wrote his treatise on the subject of use of the loudspeaker in Sha’ban 1372 AH and it was revised later in 1382 AH.
Here it is critical to understand the position of a mufti. He is to give a very careful opinion and his words have implications not only for the people but most importantly for himself for in a way he is responsible for any outcome of his verdict. The issue most especially related to the validity of the prayers- the most important act of worship in Islam. Approach of ulema was very practical and careful for they forbade people from using something that could, considering the doubts in their minds, possibly affect the validity of prayers while they dwelt on seeking clarity. And as the things became clear they changed their opinion.
Points to note:
1- The first fatwa was based on limited and mistaken information and that too in the absence of any pressing need to probe in to what was then a little known device.
2- To clarify the details of the working of the instrument the very reasonable attitude of consulting the experts was adopted and they did not shy away from taking the input of a Hindu as well.
3- Once the nature of the instrument was clear the scholars stopped declaring its use unlawful for activities other than ritual worship (ibadat).
4- However, they continued to forbid its use in ibadat because details of its working were not clear and ibadat require extra care in following the original rules. Nevertheless, ulema were open to more insight and asked for help in bringing clarity to the issue.
5- Later, however when the experts gave the unanimous opinion that the instrument does not record and then transmit the voice rather it simply amplifies the sound, scholars did not shy away from revising the verdict.
No matter how weird it now appears in the hindsight but putting one in their shoes one has to accept that the approach of ulema was very meticulous. They were careful but they were not stubborn and were open to new information and adopted the right course of consulting the experts to seek clarity on the actual working of the instrument and accordingly revised their opinion.
Unless one thinks with a borrowed brain and wants Muslims to adopt everything and anything new even when it relates to specific ritual ibadat one has to appreciate the approach adopted by the ulema.