Recently, I went to a farewell dinner thrown for one of the mentors I had growing up. There were many individuals present that I had never met, but I valued being in their presence because they were all somehow involved with youth-led American Muslim endeavors in their respective Michigan Muslim communities. Because I was acquainted with so few of the people, I drifted from clique to clique, on the look-out for potentially engaging conversations. I finally came to a group of men who had just been counselors at a Muslim youth camp in southeastern Michigan, and I was curious to hear their reflections, so I approached them.
As I found it slightly rude for joining mid-conversation, I politely asked if I could join, but the answer I received caught me off-guard.
“You look kind of dark, are you Hanafi?” one of the man asked me.
Somewhat baffled, I responded, “The majority of people in my masjid are Hanafi, and so is the Imam there, so I have some attachment to the madhab, however, I do not strictly follow a madhab. When I do, I usually follow the Malaki opinion, but in some cases, the Hanafi one.”
“Oh,” he said, “So you’re not Paki, right?”
I brushed off the seemingly racist remark (racism in our own communities is perhaps a post for another time), because I was curious to see why this man had asked me such an unexpected question.
He went on to recount stories during the camp where counselors following the Hanafi madhab scolded youth at the camp for actions acceptable in Islam, but at odds with the Hanafi madhab such as praying Asr at a certain time or wiping socks during wuduu’. I began to think that I, personally, would not have a problem if a counselor gave me this advice if he or she went on to explain that there were other acceptable opinions from other madhahib. However, I have seldom seen this be the case. I went to countless Muslim camps and Islamic schools while growing up, and I was not aware that different schools of fiqh existed until I was 18. It seems that the mentality is that youth are too stupid to understand that differences of opinion can exist and therefore must be taught that there is only one way to place your hands during prayer, one way to make wuduu’, and one way to place your toes and fingers while reciting the tahiyaat. This type of teaching overlooks one of the most beautiful characteristics of Islam, it’s plurality. The fact that Muslim youth are not made aware of this is a disservice to Islamic history and leads to petty arguments stemming solely for intolerance caused by ignorance.
Yes, all these thoughts did occur in my head when the man told me these stories. However, his ‘holier than thou’ attitude of expressing his discontent, which expressed a distaste for all Hanafis, was ridiculous to me. Wasn’t his vilification of a group of Muslims even worse than omitting some information from some youth? Both acts were acts of intolerance to me; and stupid ones at that.
This exchange reminded me of an event that transpired at a mosque near my house a few years ago. Like many American mosques, the masjid offered two jummah salahs to avoid over-crowding. It was winter, and I went to the second salah at 2:15. After the prayer was done, the Imam went on to lead Asr prayer as well. After the prayer, he was immediately scolded by a group of men who said that Asr should not have been prayed in congregation at that time because many of the mosque’s members followed the Hanafi madhab. There was a brief exchange that was handled well by the Imam with no clear resolution.
The next week, the Imam addressed the incident in his khutbah. He retold a story of a time where Imam Shafi’i visited a mosque where a large percentage of the population followed the Hanafi madhab. Imam Shafi’i led the fajr prayer and respecting the fact mentioned in the previous sentence, did not recite the dua qunoot after the second raka’a. The take home message from the kuthbah was that we, first, have to be aware of the differences in our community, and, second, we must respect these differences. Respect can only come from understanding and these two qualities will bring the ummah closer together, not because differences are eliminated, but because they are understood and embraced.
With the current political climate in the United States that often carries anti-Muslim rhetoric that aims to infringe on the civil liberties of American Muslims, shouldn’t we as American Muslims join together to combat these sentiments rather than argue amongst one another and demonize one another over fiqhi issues that have already been debated by far more learned scholars centuries ago?