"Our Dialogue" 6th Edition Rev

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According to Islamic beliefs, Allah is able to do everything and He has power over all people and all forces. Indeed, nothing operates without His permission. That permission is given when He creates something and gives it its essential and inherent characteristics. He has, for example, given the sun its heat. Therefore, when the sun shines over something, it warms, heats or burns it. It does so by Allah's permission since He has given it the ability. He is always able to withdraw this permission and stop any characteristic or power from working. Perhaps the clearest example of how this works is the case of Ibrahim, when his people threw him in the fire.

Ibrahim destroyed the idols worshipped by his people on a day when they were absent from town. On returning, they questioned him and established that this was his own doing. They sentenced him to death by fire. They lit up a huge fire and threw Ibrahim in it. According to the laws of nature, which have been set in operation by Allah, Ibrahim should have been burned, since Allah has given fire the ability to burn human flesh and bones. However, with a simple command from Him, Allah stopped the fire from burning Ibrahim. There is nothing strange in that, despite its miraculous aspect. Miracles appear to us to be supernatural, because we classify as "natural" only what is familiar to us. To Allah, however, everything is natural. Setting a certain natural law in motion is as natural as stopping that law. For an essential characteristic to be operative and evident in a particular situation for millions of years is as natural as stopping it in a particular case, and for a particular purpose.

If we apply this to war and firearms, we say that, with Allah's permission, bullets kill human beings when they are shot in certain parts of their bodies such as their hearts or brains. This is the total sum of several inherent characteristics which are fulfilled in the firing of a bullet from a shotgun. The bullet which has a piercing head travels at high velocity and penetrates through the body causing a fatal injury. Allah can withdraw His permission and stop the bullet from either penetrating through the body or killing the person hit by it, or indeed He may prevent it from being fired. If he decides to do any of these things, the bullet will not kill the person at whom it is shot. To do this is as easy and simple as setting the original laws and giving the essential characteristics to the firearm and the bullet in the first place. There is nothing unnatural or supernatural in it, because everything is natural to Allah.

To sum up, Allah is able to make a particular group of fighters immune from the effects of their enemies' arms, if He so chooses. He may do so in any way He likes, whether by rendering the weapons un-operational, or making their operation ineffective.

Now the question which we need to answer is whether Allah does this sort of thing and orders that certain phenomena be overruled, in order to allow Muslim fighters to be saved. We have already said that He is able to do so, but whether He acts on that ability or not is a different matter. The answer is that He normally does not, for a variety of reasons.

Allah defines the struggle by the believers in support of His cause in terms of a deal which He has concluded with them. He says in the Qur'an: "Allah has bought from them in return for giving them paradise; they fight for Allah's cause and kill and get killed." These terms mean that being killed by the unbelievers is part of the bargain. Indeed, without it, the deal is meaningless. If Muslim fighters were to understand that they are immune from being killed, everyone will join the fight. But everyone must know that when he takes part in a campaign of jihad, he runs the risk of being killed. Indeed, that is the best of sincerity.

Jihad is the prefect translation into practice of our claim that we truly believe in Allah. This is because jihad involves a real risk of losing one's life. Jihad means sacrifice of life and property. It is for this reason that it earns such a great reward, namely, a certitude of being admitted into heaven. When the risk element is taken away from jihad, there is no way of knowing who is a true believer and who is not. We cannot say that those who are given the special power of being hit by their enemies bullets and are not saved by Allah are the ones who are true believers. If so, how is it that Allah did not save millions of martyrs who sacrificed their lives for the cause of Islam throughout its history? A large number of the companions of the Prophet were killed in battle, including some who were most distinguished and best loved by the Prophet. Perhaps the most famous among these is Hamza, the Prophet's uncle, whom he had described as "the most honored of martyrs." We remember that Hamza was not only killed in battle, but he was disfigured as well. How is it that Allah permitted his killing, if it is His will to save those who fight for his cause in the Moro country? Are they better servants of Allah than Hamza? Indeed not.

It may be suggested that if those fighters were to be defeated, the whole country might be turned away from Islam. Nevertheless, this has not been a reason for Allah's direct interference to save a certain community of believers. Allah tells us in the Qur'an about disbelievers who set up a huge fire and threw the believers in it. That is the story of "The People of the Pit" of fire. According to the story told to us by Allah, all the believers in that community were thrown in the fire and all of them died. .

What I am driving at is that Allah wants us to prove our faith in the setting He has chosen for human life. We are influenced by natural forces in the same way as our enemies are. He says to us: "If you suffer pain, they (i.e. the disbelievers) suffer pain in the same way as you do." In other words, the laws of nature affect us in the same way as it affects them. We make our achievements, with Allah's help, by our efforts.

You ask whether it is possible for a person to achieve miraculous powers through the remembrance of Allah, i.e. thikr. The answer is that the remembrance of Allah gives us great support. We are able to show greater courage. Through this remembrance, we are also able to weigh matters up in the proper perspective. We do not give undue importance to life or to any other factor. We realize that life on earth is not our ultimate goal. Indeed, happiness in the hereafter is our greatest prize. Therefore, we seek it even if we have to risk our lives in the process. The remembrance of Allah gives us the courage to make such a decision and the strength to carry it through.

It may be said that in certain events, miracles happened and believers were able to escape from the effects of natural phenomena. Some might not have been drowned despite being thrown in the sea and not knowing how to swim. That is certainly possible, but only if Allah wills it. However, Allah does not issue His orders to overrule the laws of nature He has set in operation simply to fulfill the desire of His servants. Indeed the believers have no say in the matter. If He chooses to take such a decision and overrule the laws of nature, He does so at His own time, and in accordance with His own free will. No one, not even the greatest of believers, can say that He will be performing a miracle in the next five minutes, or five months, or five years or even five centuries. Miracles happen by instructions given by Allah at the time and in the way He pleases. That is not related to what believers may feel to be the appropriate purpose.

In view of this, I wish to add that I am not convinced of the story of the "invincible" fighters, not because it cannot happen, but because Allah wishes His laws of nature to operate smoothly.

• Burial: Delayed

If a foreign worker dies, how soon should he be buried? Is it appropriate for the employer to delay burial until he receives the consent of the worker's parents or next of kin? Does this not intervene the rule which specifies a time limit for burial?

Let me first of all say that there is no time limit for burial. Islam does not say that a dead person should be buried within a particular number of hours or days after the death has occurred. Having said that, it is well known that it is more appropriate from the Islamic point of view to bury a person as soon as possible after his death. Burial is not to be delayed unnecessarily. When it is feared that the body of a deceased person could begin to decompose, preparation for burial should be started with maximum speed. On the other hand, if there is a valid reason for a delay in burial, then this is acceptable. Such delay may be necessary if a crime is suspected. A coroner may require a postmortem to be carried out in order to determine the cause of death. This will inevitably delay burial, but this is certainly acceptable.

In the case you have mentioned, the employer may have felt that the relatives of the deceased worker may wish to have the body returned to the worker's home country for burial there. From the Islamic point of view, it is undesirable that a person be sent from one country to another for burial. [or, for that matter, from one town in the same country to another town.] Even when a Muslim dies in a non-Muslim area, it is perfectly appropriate for him to be buried there. There is no need for him to be taken away to a Muslim country. The whole earth belongs to Allah and wherever we are buried, He resurrects us on the day of judgment.

• Buying good deeds done by others

If a person is able to transfer the reward of his good deeds to others, would it be also possible for the recipient to buy such good deeds? If so, then rich people would have every chance of buying any amount of reward they need. On the other hand, is it possible to transfer the punishment of a bad deed to another person?

I could not tell from the tone and style of the writer whether he is asking a genuine question with the need to know the answer, or whether he wants only to express his objection to the view that reward may be transferred and the recipient stands to benefit by the work of other people. If it is the latter, then he has certainly aroused my interest by his original method of argument.

If the question is genuine, then the answer is very simple. It is not in the power of anyone to transfer the sin of an action he does to another person. Otherwise, the whole idea of reckoning and being answerable for one's deeds becomes a mere game. People who have a grudge against others would try to get their revenge by doing something and transferring it to those whom they do not like. God then becomes a mere book-keeper recording what people want to do to their fellow-human beings in order to settle their accounts with them. Far be it from God's justice to do any such thing.

Yet people may have a grievance against others, and sometimes the grievances are genuine. There is much injustice in the world and all injustice is an assault by one person on the rights of another. It is often the case that the person who is at the receiving end of injustice has no way of repelling such injustice or protecting his rights, or retrieving what is rightfully his. The answer to that is not by allowing such a victim of injustice to transfer the sin of a bad deed to his oppressor, but to seek God's help in the establishment of justice. God will certainly retrieve the right of everyone of His servants, and He will punish the perpetrator of injustice, no matter what great power they may enjoy in this life.

As for buying the reward for good actions, this is again absurd. Money is not the way to earn reward, except when it is spent for a good purpose.

A person with money will earn more reward when he spends more on charitable purposes. If a rich person opens a school for the children of those who are poor and provides them with free education, or if he gives financial support to an orphanage, then he will certainly earn reward from God. But he cannot employ someone to do some good deeds and transfer them to him. Imagine someone offering an amount of money to a person who fasts or prays on his behalf! That is certainly absurd.

Yet it is possible to do something good and request Allah to credit its reward to someone else. That is a gift we may give to others. The Prophet, peace be upon him, has clearly stated that a woman may do the pilgrimage on behalf of her father who has become too old to withstand the difficulty of the journey. He himself included in his supplications prayers for some people and he named these people on certain occasions. If you give something to charity and pray God to credit it to your deceased mother, then your action shows your belief in God and the day of judgment, and your dutifulness to your mother as well as your wise choice of a good deed to enhance your own and your mother's positions on the day of reckoning.

• Carrion: Forbidden to eat — but ...

The ingredients shown on some European types of cheese show rennet as one of them. This is taken from a calf's stomach and used in the making of cheese for thickening and compacting. I wonder whether such cheese is permissible to eat for Muslims because, mostly, the cows are not slaughtered in the Islamic way.

Once the Prophet passed by a house and found near it a dead sheep. He suggested to its inhabitants that they should take the hide of that sheep and use it. They told him that the sheep died by a natural cause, and as such it was carrion. As you realize, carrion is forbidden to eat. The Prophet said to them that he did not mean that they could eat it, but the fact that the sheep died natural death does not preclude using its hide to some benefit. This applies to other parts of any dead animal. As long as we are not using it for food, then we can make use of it. This rennet is used as a chemical in the making of cheese. When it is used up, it becomes part of a chemical process and it changes its substance. The outcome is totally different from the stuff that entered into the process. Nor is it possible to separate the cheese in order to get back the milk and the other ingredients that go into the making of that cheese. It is a rule in such situations that if a forbidden substance is used in a chemical process and changes its nature altogether then it becomes permissible to consume. This means that it is perfectly appropriate to eat the European cheese which uses rennet, as long as the rennet is not taken from pigs, but from cows or other animals which are lawful for a Muslim to eat.

Moreover, although the Europeans do not slaughter their animals in the Muslim fashion, their meat is permissible to eat because God says that the food of people who believe in earlier divine religions is permissible for Muslims to eat. He did not make any conditions on the method of slaughter of such meat. What they accept as lawful in their religion is permissible for us to eat, unless it is specifically forbidden in our religion, such as pork.

• Celebrations — anniversaries and the like

Some people celebrate certain anniversaries, such as the birthday of a child or death of a relative. What I would like to know is whether such celebrations are acceptable or not from Islamic point of view. I may add that when death anniversaries are marked they often include certain activities such as a gathering to read the Qur'an and providing food to those who are present. Some religious people suggest that such food may only be given to poor or needy people or to orphan children. Please comment.

It is important to know a basic rule in Islam that everything begins as permissible unless something is introduced so as to make it forbidden. This may be a clear verdict of prohibition stated in the Qur'an or in a Hadith or it may be a particular aspect of that thing which takes it out of the realm of what is permissible in order to make it forbidden. Moreover, the authority to prohibit anything belongs to God alone. No one may slam a verdict of prohibition on any matter without supporting his view with clear evidence from the Qur'an or the Prophet's statements or practices. If we take the two practices that you have mentioned and say that either or both of them are forbidden we need to support our verdict. If we cannot produce such evidence whatever we say is without foundation.

Let us begin with birthdays. We have nothing in the Qur'an or the Sunnah to say that the marking of the birthday of children is forbidden. Therefore, we have to look at the action itself in order to find out whether it includes anything contrary to Islamic teaching or principles.

If it does, then it will be forbidden on the basis of what it includes, not on the basis of what it is. Bearing this in mind, we can say that if parents celebrate the birthday of their children to imitate non-Muslims, feeling that the practices of such non-Muslims are better than those Islam encourages, then such a celebration is forbidden. Similarly, if adults mark their own birthday by organizing a function in which un-Islamic practices are condoned, then that is also forbidden. However, if parents organize a birthday party for their young child in which children gather to have some games, sing and have some food and enjoy themselves generally, then there is nothing wrong with that.

Commemorating the death anniversary of any person is not acceptable because it is borrowed from the practices of other religions. While it is permissible, and indeed encouraged to pray God to have mercy on those of our relatives who are dead and that He may forgive them all their sins, and also to read the Qur'an and pray God to credit the reward of our recitation to the deceased, what is done in some communities where death anniversaries are common practice does not win Islamic approval. To start with, the practices themselves are worship practices, but they were not practiced or approved by the Prophet. Hence, they are innovations. That is sufficient to make them unacceptable.

The Prophet says: "Whosoever introduces into this matter of ours (meaning Islam) something that does not belong to it shall have it rejected." Secondly, the provision of food into these functions is done in a way that Islam rejects. While giving food to poor people or orphans is highly commendable, the way it is done in these functions makes it totally different. To start with, the food is placed at a certain place and the rituals are then made in a way so as to suggest that this food is special. Besides, the notion that this food may only be eaten by the poor is alien to Islamic thinking.

We may recall here that when a pilgrim slaughters a sheep in pilgrimage or when the Eid sacrifice is slaughtered, we are expressly advised to "eat of it and feed the needy poor." It is only when the sacrifice is offered in compensation for a missed duty that we are not allowed to eat of it.

In this case it is a penalty for an omission. If the person offering it were to eat of it, the purpose of the sacrifice will be missed and the offender will be rewarded rather than penalized. All innovations in matters of religion are unacceptable, which means they are forbidden.

• Ceremonial impurity [or janabah] — the state of

Could you please advise whether it is obligatory to remove the state of ceremonial impurity immediately after one gets into it. This becomes extremely difficult in the case of newly weds or for any person who has involuntary urine discharge.

The state of ceremonial impurity, or janabah, occurs as a result of ejaculation, whether involuntary, as in the case of a wet dream, or deliberate, or as a result of sexual intercourse. To remove it, one has to have a full bath, washing his head and every part of his body with water. So, a shower, without soap is sufficient. It is not possible to offer prayers while a person is in a state of ceremonial impurity. Therefore, it is strongly recommended to remove that state by taking a shower or a bath immediately. If that is delayed, then one simply does not do well, but there is nothing sinful in it, unless it causes him to miss an obligatory prayer.

If one happens to get into this state two or three times a day, it may not be easy for him to have so many showers. Therefore, he should make sure that removing that state is easy before one gets into it.

If it happens two or three times, without taking a shower in between then one shower would remove it all. Suppose a person goes to sleep after he had prayed Fajr, and on waking up he discovers that he has had a wet dream. He realizes that he must leave home immediately because he is late for work. That is appropriate, if he knows that he will come back before Asr time and he will be able to have his shower and pray Dhuhr on arrival. Similarly, if one has more than one intercourse with his wife during the night, he can have one shower for all. He is recommended, however, to have an ablution, or wudhu', in between.

Involuntary discharge of urine is an illness which can be treated. For the purposes of prayer, however, one should make sure that the urine does not fall on his clothes or his body. [A urinal discharge does not cause ceremonial impurity and needs washing of the affected areas of the body only.] What he should do is to tie a polyethylene bag with a piece of cotton or tissue paper in it. When he wants to have ablution and pray, he replaces it with a clean one and has his ablution. He needs to have a fresh ablution only for every prayer, repeating the same method for cleanliness.

• Change came about — but how?

I was a person who cared very little about religion. I almost ridiculed religion and those who were religious. I have even rejected the existence of God and demonstrated that rejection in an outrageous manner. Yet, one day in November last year, it all changed. Waking up one morning, I started crying and kept saying "please forgive me, my Lord." Since that day, I have stopped smoking, drinking and all other sinful habits. How could all this have happened?

Everything which is made or manufactured provides a testimony to its maker and its manufacturer. If it is of high quality, then we conclude that the one who is responsible for making it is an excellent professional or a master craftsman, etc. The universe which is all Allah's creation, gives a most eloquent testimony to the great power of its Maker, Allah, glorified be He. There are so many signs, indicators and pointers throughout the universe, in the world around us, in our lives and within ourselves which emphasize the basic truth of Allah's existence and His supremacy in the universe. Allah has given all these indicators and asked us to contemplate on them and to draw out conclusions. He knows that when we think logically about creation and about the universe, the basic truth will inescapably sate us in the face. It is up to us to accept it and act upon it or pretend that we do not see it. When someone aggressively tries to emphasize his rejection of faith, he is subconsciously trying to justify his attitude of willfully turning a deaf ear to the call of faith. He wants to smother the voice within him which tells him that he is following the wrong way. He continues to do this until such an attitude of arrogant disbelief becomes a second nature to him.

As human beings, we are all amenable to accepting faith in the same degree. As you undoubtedly realize, Allah requires everyone of us to believe in the same set of truths which form the true faith of submission to Him alone. This applies in the same degree to simple, uneducated people as well as to the most educated and sophisticated minds. When we remember that Allah's justice is absolute, we conclude that we must have the same amenability or susceptibility to accepting the faith and conducting our lives on its principles. Hence, there is no human being who can be described as a natural disbeliever. Indeed, if people remain true to their nature, they will want to know their creator and they will continue to pursue a proper satisfaction of their inherent desire to be believers. The best proof of this susceptibility is the fact that Allah addressed us all with his message in the same language and in the same manner. The Qur'an, Allah's revealed book which contains the final and complete version of His message to mankind, speaks to all people alike. It does not distinguish between those who are highly educated and those who have never been to school. There is no doubt that people who are endowed with knowledge can have a profound understanding of Allah's message. It is equally true, however, that Allah's message touches certain cores within man which make us all willing to submit ourselves to Him.

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