Welcome Development, Cautious Celebration
Princeton theological seminary recently announced that it would be awarding 27 million dollars in scholarships as reparation for its involvement in the history of slavery, although it – as an institution – was not involved in the slave trade itself. The PTSEM was founded in 1812. While it did not own slaves, it did benefit from the slave economy through investment. By doing business with Southern banks and accepting donations from those who profited directly and indirectly from slavery. Its founding faculty and leaders used slave labor during their lifetime.
“Princeton Theological Seminary will set aside more than $25 million to pay reparations for its historical ties to slavery, thrusting the seminary to the forefront of a national debate over how America’s should reconcile with its slave-owning past. Calling the payments an act of repentance, President M. Craig Barnes said in a statement Friday the seminary is “committed to telling the truth,” even though the seminary itself never owned slaves.” [link]
Princeton theological seminary has a 1 billion dollar endowment, largely a result of the Seminary’s long history of accepting donations as mentioned previously. The details of this involvement can be found in the PTSEM’s “Slavery and the Seminary as Institution”.
The reparations will not include cash awards, but instead scholarships and programs will be created for students. 30 new scholarships, at the cost of tuition plus $15,000, will be awarded to students who are descendants of slaves or from “underrepresented groups.” Among the other initiatives planned are the seminary designating five doctoral fellowships for students who are descendants of slaves and hire a full-time director for the Center for Black Church Studies. While this certainly is a welcome development, in my opinion we have to be cautious in celebrating too soon, as it is unclear what is meant by “underrepresented groups.” In a strictly legal sense, reparations are due to descendants only to the exclusion of others, however underrepresented they are.
Islamic Legal Precedent for Reparations
So what is the Islamic legal position on reparations? Are the descendants of slaves due restitution of the damages caused to their ancestors? One of the first instances of reparations being awarded is recorded by Ibn Rushd al-Jadd about an incident in Cordoba circa 5th century. While I have been working on a detailed paper on this issue for sometime I’ve held off until I read both Jonathan AC Brown and Bernard K. Freamon‘s recently released books on slavery and the Islamic world.
What is an Islamic Theory of Reparations based on?
The Islamic position on reparations centers itself on three core concepts:
- The prohibition of selling a free person
- The imprescriptible right to restitutionary damages for harm and injury
- The invalidity of escheatment of these rights when living heirs exist
In the simplest terms:
Kidnapping a person and selling them into slavery is forbidden. If that person cannot be returned to their family, then you owe blood-wit for their murder as well as the projected value of their work in supporting their family.
As long as these amounts go unpaid, they compound and remain due to the heirs of that individual. Failure to pay represents a form of unlawful seizure that damages are due for as well, due to lost opportunity costs. The simple passing of time does not forfeit their inheritors’ rights to these compounded amounts and they cannot be stripped away by the state. If specific lineage cannot be established, but general relationships can, an equitable pro-rated distribution would be awarded.
A Core Concept of Justice
For Muslims it is a core concept of justice to support the idea of slavery reparations. Texts of the Quran enjoining justice and hadith texts invoking God’s curse on those that enslave the free and profit financially from their misery should come to mind here. While it is natural to ask how such reparations would be equitably distributed, it is not natural to consider that a delayed right finally being awarded to the descendants of people oppressed and wronged is somehow unfair to those who are not included in that category. Asking a question like “Isn’t this unfair to people who won’t receive money?” is like saying “Isn’t it unfair that you inherit from your father & I don’t?” Ensuring that the rights of lawful recipients are awarded and safeguarded is a core function of Islamic legal justice.
“One who resembles his father has done no wrong…”
Its said that Ru’ba b. Ajjaj once saw the generosity of ‘Adi b. Hatim, and so he recited this line:
بأبه اقتدى عدي في الكرم *** ومن يشابه أبه فما ظلم
“It was his father that Adi followed in generosity *** and one who resembles his father has done no wrong.”
This line of poetry and its related story came to mind today as I was scrolling through my phone. I came across a photo collage made by my phone that had “matched” two pictures of the same person. To my surprise, the two pictures my phone said matched were a picture of my father and one of me. After remembering this line of poetry, another memory came to mind. One of my sons – known for being particularly animated and somewhat of a busybody, always “into stuff” – used to jokingly be called “Fa maa Zalam” i.e. “has done no wrong” by one of my teachers, who would recite this line and nod at me as if he knew exactly how I was as a child as well when he’d see him playing in the background during classes.
With these memories in mind, I decided I’d take a moment and talk a little about the respect due to parents in general and particularly fathers as a core of Islamic character. We often hear the texts about respect for mothers, that they are three times more deserving of our companionship, etc. There is no doubt that that is the case. Having lost my father over a decade ago, I thought it was a good reminder to remind others that fathers too are due respect and are doors to Paradise. If your father is still alive, make sure you use that opportunity to gain Paradise.
“Dumb Ole Dad” & The Culture of Disrespect
In times when rights are neglected and responsibilities are shirked, it becomes a must to highlight the respect and veneration due to our parents, and specifically our fathers. This, to me, is particularly important because we live in a media saturated world that inculcates a culture of disrespect for both parents, and for “dumb old dad” especially. A cursory glance at TV programs show the kids as smart (or smart-asses), the mother as doting but clueless, and the father as either a) absent, b) an imbecile, or c) an abuser.
We can change this culture of disrespect by teaching our values to our children, putting the sanctity of the family before the recreation and ease of children, and by holding each other as spouses to a higher standard of respect as well. Children will often reflect what is happening at home, and so when one parent is disrespected by the other – secretly or even worse openly – it is only a matter of time that they will not only disrespect the parent who encouraged such behavior but then also other figures who are due respect such as grandparents, teachers, and employers. This reciprocity in treatment is echoed in another related text, narrated by Al-Bukhari from Abdullah b. Amru, where the Prophet said “No one should curse his parents.” Surprised, as if to say this was inconceivable to his companions, they asked how that could be? He replied: “One of you curses another’s father, and so he curses your father. You curses another’s mother, and so he curses your mother.”
This is a recipe for societal disaster, one that cuts to the bone and slowly saps us of our energy to be better and do better, by slowly chipping away at the sanctity of the family. In fact from the signs of the Day of Judgment is that “the slave-girl will give birth to her master” interpreted by some scholars to mean that children would become so oppressive to their parents that they would order them around like slaves. Children must be taught that disrespect of parents is a major sin, and parents themselves must remain cognizant of the fact that by encouraging disrespect, they are complicit in their children committing a major sin, and earn the same sin for doing so.
Here are some texts about respect for parents in general, and in particular fathers.
The Imperative of Filial Piety: A Focus on Fathers
Filial Piety (Birr al-Walidayn), the fancy term for “treating your parents well,” is an obligation that follows immediately after worship of God alone.
وَقَضَى رَبُّكَ أَلَّا تَعْبُدُوا إِلَّا إِيَّاهُ وَبِالْوَالِدَيْنِ إِحْسَاناً إِمَّا يَبْلُغَنَّ عِنْدَكَ الْكِبَرَ أَحَدُهُمَا أَوْ كِلاهُمَا فَلا تَقُلْ لَهُمَا أُفٍّ وَلا تَنْهَرْهُمَا وَقُلْ لَهُمَا قَوْلاً كَرِيماً
“And your Lord decrees you worship none but Him and show excellence with your parents. If they were to reach old age – one or both of them – then don’t say ‘uff’ to them or chastise them; instead speak to them kindly.” Surat al-Isra 23.
Muslim narrates from Abu Hurayra from the Prophet who said: “Ruined is the one, ruined is the one, ruined is the one that finds his parents in old age – one or both of them – and they are not cause for him to enter Paradise.” (1)
Al-Tirmidhi and Ahmed both narrate from Abu al-Darda who said: I heard God’s Messenger say: “The father is the middle most door of Paradise, so neglect that door or preserve it.” (2) Commenting on this, scholars said that the “middlemost” in Arabic is a phrase reserved for those things which are easily accessible and best. Respect for one’s father then is easy to achieve and best if you want to make it to Paradise, and by extension respect for mothers even more so.
Al-Tirmidhi narrates from Abdullah b. Amru b. al-’Aas from the Prophet who said: “The Lord’s pleasure is in your parent’s pleasure, and the Lord’s anger is in your parent’s anger.” (3)
al-Hakim narrates from Anas that God’s Messenger said: “Two doors that open up expedited punishment in this world: oppression and disrespect for parents..” (4)
al-Daynuri mentions that Umar b. AbdulAziz said: “Don’t show love to one who is insolent to their parents. How could they love you back, when they’ve disrespected their own father?” (5)
Abu al-Layth al-Samarqandi mentions a question posed about respect for parents: What if a person’s parents have passed away and they were angry with them? What do you do in that situation? Can they be pleased even after their death? The response: Yes, you can please your parents and show them respect in three ways: 1) That you yourself be a righteous person, because parents wants anything more than for their child to be a good person, 2) stay connected to their relatives and friends, 3) seek forgiveness for them, pray for them, and give charity in their name. (6)
References with texts:
(1) روى مسلم عن أبي هريرة عن النبي ﷺ قال: رغم أنف، ثم رغم أنف، ثم رغم أنف من أدرك أبويه عند الكبر أحدُهما أو كلاهما فلم يدخل الجنة.
(2) روى الترمذي وأحمد عن أبي الدرداء قال: سمعتُ رسول الله ﷺ قال: الوالد أوسط أبواب الجنة، فإن شئتَ فأضع ذلك البابَ أو احفظه.
(3) روى الترمذيُّ عَنْ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ بْنِ عَمْرٍو بنِ العاص عَنْ النَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم قَالَ: رِضَى الرَّبِّ فِي رِضَى الْوَالِدِ وَسَخَطُ الرَّبِّ فِي سَخَطِ الْوَالِدِ.
(4) روى الحاكمُ عن عَنْ أَنَسٍ، رَضِيَ اللَّهُ عَنْهُ قَالَ: قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ: بَابَانِ مُعَجَّلَانِ عُقُوبَتُهُمَا فِي الدُّنْيَا الْبَغْيُ وَالْعُقُوقُ
(5) وذكر الدينوري عن عُمَرُ بْنُ عَبْدِ الْعَزِيزِ رحمهُ اللهُ قوله: لَا تَوَدَّنَّ عَاقًّا، كَيْفَ يَوَدُّكَ وَقَدْ عَقَّ أَبَاهُ؟!
(6) قَالَ أَبُو اللَّيْثِ السَّمَرْقَنْدِيُّ رحمهُ الل في تنبه الغافلين: فَإِنْ سَأَلَ سَائِلٌ أَنَّ الْوَالِدَيْنِ إذَا مَاتَا سَاخِطَيْنِ عَلَى الْوَلَدِ هَلْ يُمْكِنُهُ أَنْ يُرْضِيَهُمَا بَعْدَ وَفَاتِهِمَا، قِيلَ لَهُ بَلْ يُرْضِيهِمَا بِثَلَاثَةِ أَشْيَاءَ: أَوَّلُهَا أَنْ يَكُونَ الْوَلَدُ صَالِحًا فِي نَفْسِهِ؛ لِأَنَّهُ لَا يَكُونُ شَيْءٌ أَحَبَّ إلَيْهِمَا مِنْ صَلَاحِهِ. وَالثَّانِي: أَنْ يَصِلَ قَرَابَتَهُمَا وَأَصْدِقَاءَهُمَا. وَالثَّالِثُ: أَنْ يَسْتَغْفِرَ لَهُمَا وَيَدْعُوَ لَهُمَا وَيَتَصَدَّقَ عَنْهُمَا.
Joe answers the question “Is Life Insurance Halal?” discussing:
- What is an insurable interest,
- how insurance companies are structured,
- and how they invest the insurance pool (i.e. the money that you pay for the policy).
Lots of people ask me year after year, “I’ve paid my Zakat, is it wrong for me to claim a tax deduction? Am I benefiting from my charity by taking a tax deduction?”
In this video I answer the question “Can I claim a tax deduction for paying my zakat?”
1- How tax liabilities and deductions work.
2- Charitable Deductions.
3- Claiming a tax deduction for your Charity (Sadaqa, Zakat).
p.s. Want the shirt? You can get it here: (https://amzn.to/2OrAWke).
In this video I discuss three issues:
1- Can Muslims inherit from non-Muslims? Here I go over the classical opinions on the topic.
2- The difference between a testamentary gift and inheritance. The former being allowed in all cases.
3- The principle of the appropriate preservation of wealth that may go to waste.
Addendum (3 Apr 19):
In this video I cover a few issues related to inheritance & testamentary gifts from non-Muslim relatives. Inevitably, I will be asked if this position is normative in Sunni law or not. Let’s talk about that.
Inevitably I will answer “Yes it is” to that question. Usually the retort is “Well I’ve never heard that before!” Well true, you’ve probably never heard *anything* about Islamic probate law either, and probably never studied a basic Fiqh text back to front either.
So here are a few texts from the 4 Sunni schools that point about this:
- al-Sawi al-Maliki – “Or a kāfir, his testamentary gift is valid so long as he does not gift to a Muslim something like wine (i.e., property which the Muslim may not validly own).”
- Ibn Qudama al-Hanbali – “It is permitted from a sane adult, sinful or righteous, man or woman, muslim or kafir…”
- al-Nawawi al-Shafi’i – “The testamentary gift of every legally liable free adult is permitted, even if he is a kafir…” Notice that the phrase “even if” is to reject the idea that doing so is illegitimate.
- al-Marghinani al-Hanafi – “and it is permitted for a Muslim to leave a testamentary gift to a Kafir, and a Kafir to leave one to a Muslim…”
This is not to be trite, but the border-line neurotic reaction to stating things that are so normative in Sunni law they almost don’t need to be stated explicitly shows the need for more teaching and study in our community, especially from those labeled community workers/leaders.
Qunut al-Nawazil or Group Supplication During Difficult Times is a special dua made when there is a special need for prayers and solidarity. This short video discusses how it is done and why.
The mantra of Islamic Finance has been “Islamic Finance prefers partnership over debt.” Hammering this idea into the minds of the masses has resulted in many people using less than optimal structures for their business needs. At times its better to finance through debt, at times through partnership, and at times through revenue sharing. In this short article, I discuss a few of the pros and cons of each and when to use them.
DEBT BASED TRANSACTIONS
Loans at interest are synonymous with Riba, the pre-Islamic practice of charging a premium on a debt, whether that premium is stipulated at contract or on default. Given this prohibition, Muslim jurists encouraged the sale of assets, allowing for long term deferred debts to be created by these sales and the time value of money to be embedded in the value created by the sale. So while debt-based sales are feasible, they are not optimal for all business situations. Almost sole reliance on these contracts by nearly every segment of the Islamic finance industry has resulted in growing debt, greater default, and legal artifice that uses these structures to synthesize a guaranteed interest rate. When are debt-based sales optimal? When you are short on cash for a large purchase that ownership of will boost your business’ ability to grow and profit. Example: equipment for a construction company.
With partnerships, there’s several ways they can be structured. I wrote a bit about this for Oxford that you can read here. With partnerships, there are certainly upsides. By pooling financial resources, partners talent, and sharing time to improve the business, partnerships can prove lucrative. Where they falter is when the mission and vision of the partners is misaligned. When this happens, there will naturally be a misalignment in the human capital contributed. So regardless if both of you committed funds, when someone intentionally (or negligently) doesn’t pull their weight, the partnership will experience a downturn and all partners suffer.
There are several other downsides to partnerships, the greatest one being dilution of ownership. In order to bring in capital, owners must valuate their company and solicit investors to purchase shares of that company. Problem is, the capital contributed in exchange for the shares may not be worth the perpetual return that a partnership of any form offers. Why give up 5% of your business FOREVER just for a cash injection? Why invest significantly in a business that won’t give you more than 1% of the business? This is obviously where negotiation comes in, and finding that sweet-spot means creating the market for your offer, beating the best alternative to what you are offering. When are partnerships optimal? When all partners are aligned and your efforts now have a greater net future value than doing anything else.
Lastly, there are revenue sharing agreements. While there were very common in the pre-modern period, due to it being almost wholly agrarian, they are not as widely used today. Any deal in which an individual receives distributions based on the revenue (i.e. the amount of money the business makes) rather than on the amount of work that was done is a form of revenue sharing. So let’s say you own a car but can’t operate it for profit, so you give it to someone to operate and share 1/3 of the revenue generated. Another example is you inject $1000 into your friend’s business for inventory, and take a little off the top of every sale until you’ve recuperated your capital and a profit.
WHICH ONE DO I CHOOSE
Each of these structures has their pros and cons. Deciding which one to use can make of break your business before it ever turns a profit. Want to discuss which one is best? Let’s talk.
Want to hear about projects I’ve vetted? Sign up to my mailing list and I’ll update you when I have something ready.
Ever Wonder Why You Do So Much But Achieve So Little?
Working with a non-profit client this morning, we reviewed their giving policy and services. Because previously the org tried to do *everything* for everyone, they essentially limited the funding they could secure. Why? Because it was that much harder to define exactly what they do and who they serve. Mission creep is a huge issue in non-profits. The assumption is that by doing less you somehow are less. That can’t be further from the truth. Do less, be more, and earn more. It’s all possible.
You Can’t be All Things to All People
Out of fear of losing donors, organizations will serve *all* needs instead of *unmet* needs. They induce paralysis in their donor base. Trying to please everyone and do everything simply won’t work. When faced with too many choices, customers, clients, and donors will make worse decisions or simply walk away. Pare down the decisions to what you are amazing at and what they are looking for, and you have a recipe for success.
When everyone is doing everything, it becomes that much harder for donors to understand where their choices will be the most effective. Let’s say you are a non-profit focused on hunger. You’d think that your mission is pretty simple: find hungry people and feed them. Its easy to get caught up in the ancillary needs of your community or even your target group. Feeding the hungry becomes clothing them, leading to sheltering them, leading to financial assistance, leading to a ton of operational overhead that you don’t need. You’re most probably duplicating other organization’s services, diluting their effectiveness and your own.
Guide Your Clients, Don’t Cower to Them
So if you want to retain dedicated clients/donors, you have to guide their choices so they are most effective. Think of it like a restaurant. Ever go to a restaurant that has a GIANT menu and offers a cornucopia of items, only to actually make one or two things constantly? How did your restaurant get to this point? Someone probably showed up and said “I want fish!” and you attempted to meet that need, then everyone else did the same. Soon after you were serving 100 items but really only making 10. In reality your customers, after scrolling through your ginormous menu, feeling the pressure to choose quickly (so the line isn’t held up), and seeing so many things they’d rather not take a chance on, will pick what’s familiar and easy.
So you’ll make lots of sub-par plates of Biryani, Hamburgers, Shawarma, or similar. Each item will cost you more as well, because your cost of goods to make at any time all those items is too high. You’ll make lots of less than happy customers due to the anxiety related to the process. Make your menu smaller, and your customers will choose faster, your cost of acquisition will be less, and you’ll make more on volume.
Saying No is a Superpower
So what’s our hunger non-profit supposed to do if their clients need clothes? Say no. It’s a superpower. It takes a lot to say no (here’s one of my favorite books on the topic). It takes even more to say no and know how to direct that client or donor’s energy afterwards. So if it was a client being served, you’d either refer them elsewhere, partner with a specialist, or make a pilot program to spin off into another entity. If it was a donor asking to earmark funds for something you don’t do, you’d either refuse, hone your pitch to convince them of your mission, or send them to a referral partner.
So while to most it seems paradoxical, by focusing on the 2-3 core things you are great at, you can devote more time to serving more people, and by extension bring in more money to do so.
Want to discuss your non-profit or business? Hit me up on Clarity and we’ll chat through it.
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When is Killing Transgressive?
When is an act of killing considered oppressive or transgressive? Certainly when that the killing is intentional and malicious. Under Islamic law, there are three categories of killing that are crimes that may be sentenced in court:
1. Intentional malicious killing of another person (al-qatl al-ʿamd al-ʿudwān)
2. pseudo-intentional killing (shibh al-ʿamd)
3. Accidental killing (qatl al-khaṭaʾ)
I mention these here not because they are directly related to the topic of suicide, but because the idea of intentionality is core to approximating the status of the person who dies by suicide. More on this later. What’s important here is that all three of these types are related to one discerning, sane adult killing another person. They do not relate to instances of a discerning, sane adult taking their own life or instances of a person of diminished mental capacity taking their own life. The core differentiating factor here is intent. What did the person who died by suicide intend?
For intent to be demonstrated, certain conditions must be present. When a person exhibits any diminished capacity (they are clinically insane, chronically depressed, or any similar condition that impairs their judgment and sense of self) then their culpability for the act of killing must be abated. What’s that mean? If a person kills another or even themselves when they are not in their right mind, they may not be morally blameworthy for the act, although they would be legally responsible.
In the case of killing another person, they would pay compensation (see details of pseudo-intentional and accidental killing here). In the case when a person kills herself, there would be no compensation or legal effect per se, but understanding their mental state helps us to understand how post-death legalities are carried out (funerals, etc.)
Competing Notions of Suicide in the Hadith Literature
This tweet thread is by no means exhaustive or comprehensive to all of the text related to this topic. But let’s look at two more Hadith on this topic.
In Bukhari, the Prophet said about a man before battle “he is from the people of the fire.” That man then fought valiantly in battle, but was badly injured, then died. Someone said “that person you said was in hell fought valiantly, then died.” He replied “To the fire.”
While people were doubting what was said and wondering about his fate, someone approached and informed that he did not die in battle, but instead had been fatally wounded. Instead of succumbing to his injuries or seeking help, he fell on his sword and killed himself. In another narration he tried to kill himself with an arrow, then used his sword.
This Hadith and those like it, such as the one in Abu Dawud where a man cut his wrists in frustration with his sickness, indicate those who killed themselves did not do so out of desperation or despair, but merely out of frustration, shame, false pride, and righteous indignation that they did not deserve to live with such an injury or sickness, that such was beneath them and they knew better what they deserved.
Contrast this with the Hadith in Muslim of al-Tufayl b. Amr al-Dawsi.
A man from his tribe migrated to Medina, but then fell ill due to the weather. He fell into depression and grief and so one night he took a blade and cut open his knuckles, and bled out until he died. TufayI saw him later in a dream yet he was covering his hands. He said “What did God do with you after you’d gone?” He replied, “He forgave me due to my migrating to the Prophet.” He said “Why are you hiding your hands?” He said “I asked and was told we won’t fix what you damaged.” Tufayl informed the Prophet of this dream and he raised his hands in supplication and said “Lord God, even forgive even his hands.”
This Hadith is cited universally as proof that one that died by suicide is not unequivocally in the hellfire and is additionally deserving of prayer and forgiveness. So even by doing the sin of killing oneself, it doesn’t follow that one is a sinner or committed the sin of killing oneself.
Substantive Differences between the Two
Let’s take a look at some of the substantive differences between this Hadith and the one of the man who threw himself on his sword. In those that mention the phrase “nahar bihi nafsahu” or “qatala bihi nafsahu” there is an indication of false pride and righteous indignation at being afflicted with sickness or injury.
In the Hadith of Al-Tufayl, the phrasing is different: “He fell ill, into depression, then took a blade he had and cut open his knuckles then bled until he died.” The key term here being “hatta maat,” meaning his own death was not directly attributed to him but simply a result of his action. i.e. death was not by active intent, but due to desperation and depression. He did not take his life due to pride or displeasure with God’s will, but instead did something he thought may make his pain subside. Understanding the mindset of the person who is suffering from a particular illness, medical condition, or mental state is key in rehabilitating their condition and helping them improve beyond suicidal thoughts.
This is a key differentiation that many do not take into consideration and because of this they cause considerable pain to both those who have suicidal thoughts as well as those who are left behind after they die by suicide.
Article Three: What Effect Does Sin have on Faith?
Article Four: Is Every Suicide a Transgression? (This Article)
Article Five: Summary and Resources (TBD)