I have never thought I would be asked the first question in this letter. Is a parent’s permission necessary for a young person to declare his or her acceptance of Islam? Every Muslim knows that Ali was the first young person to embrace Islam in its very early days. At the time Ali was only 10 years old. His father Abu Talib, who was the Prophet’s uncle never embraced Islam as a faith despite his protection of the Prophet, peace be upon him, against his enemies.
Has anybody heard that the Prophet, peace be upon him, told him to consult his parents first? The whole idea is absurd. If one wants to believe in God, would he wait for anyone’s permission? If the permission is not granted, would he continue to follow his old faith, whether it is pagan, polytheistic or whatever? The Qur’an denounces the non-believers in Arabia who declared that they would continue to follow the faith of their forefathers, putting to them the question: “What if your fathers are devoid of knowledge and understanding?” When a person declares his acceptance of Islam and states that he believes that “there is no deity except God, and Muhammad is God’s messenger”, that person is a Muslim no matter who objects and who is happy.
If a Muslim woman elopes with a non-Muslim and marries him according to the civil law in the country, that marriage is not valid from the Islamic point of view. If she declares herself to be a believer in that man’s religion, then she is an apostate. She is no longer a Muslim, and her marriage is of no concern to Islam. However, if she decides to come back to Islam, her decision must be based on conviction that Islam is the true faith. When she declares herself to be a Muslim again, we take her word as true. If she persuades her husband to do likewise, we should accept both of them as new Muslims.
Every possible help should be extended to them to make their settlement in their new life as a Muslim couple smooth and easy. In fact, whatever may help them to establish a new Muslim home should be given to them. Their marriage needs no new solemnization, as the Prophet, peace be upon him, accepted all marriages of non-believers as valid when couple accepted Islam together. He did not order any couple to remarry each other, as it were. If the couple have decided to come back to Islam, the woman’s family should accept her and her marriage, putting no impediment in their way. An authentic Hadith states that “embracing Islam wipes away what was done previously.” This means that when the woman has returned to Islam, she is to be treated as new Muslim. Her past error should be forgiven. It is wrong of her family to try to punish her in any way.
Setting an example to others should never come in the form of a punishment to that woman. In fact the family elders would be committing a gross error if they take any action against the woman because they could be driving her and her family away from Islam again. If they wish to be answerable to God for them, that is their business. But I would tell them that God’s reckoning would be too tough. If the elders are really interested in keeping the family honor and guarding against similar trouble, they should try to impart to all young people in the family, boys and girls, better Islamic education so that these young people will be able to judge the likely effects of their actions before they take them. It is only when young people are aware of the principles and values of Islam that they will adhere firmly to them. When the elders have done their duty by educating the young well, they are not answerable when a young person chooses nevertheless to disobey God.
• Appearances & true piety
I am a regular reader of your column, although I am not a Muslim. I recently came across a Hadith, mentioned by Al-Ghazali, which quotes the Prophet, peace be upon him, as saying in his supplications: "We seek refuge in God from the Chasm of Grief." When asked about this Chasm of Grief, the Prophet, peace be upon him, said: "It is a part of hell which God has prepared for the ostentatious reciters of the Qur'an." It appears that the Prophet, peace be upon him, himself recognized that overzealous piety is also a sin. Please comment.
I am very grateful to you for the kind words you have said about this column. I only try to present Islam as I learned it: a religion revealed by God, Whose wisdom and knowledge are limitless, and Who wants this religion to shape human life in a reasonable manner to bring happiness to mankind. Extremism is alien to the nature of this religion, as it is indeed to all divine messages.
What you have pointed out is certainly correct. Ostentation [display or bragging] is shunned in all matters, but most of all in religious practices. Moreover, we are instructed not to judge people by the appearances they put out. A man spoke highly of a person he knew in front of the Caliph Umar ibn Al-Khattab. Umar questioned him about how well he knew the other person, asking if he was his next door neighbor, or if he had any financial transactions, or gone on a trip with that man.
When he answered in the negative to all three situations, Umar said, "Then you might have seen him in the mosque moving his head up and down as he recited the Qur'an?" This time the man answered in the affirmative. Umar told him: "You do not really know him."
In this case we have a testimonial rejected by Umar, who was endowed with an exceptional insight into the Islamic faith, simply because it was based on an acquaintance in the mosque where the person concerned was in the habit of reciting the Qur'an.
It had no basis in actions and practices that relate to dealings with fellow human beings. The Prophet, peace be upon him, defines true faith as how a believer deals with other people. That is the true test of whether a person is truly religious or not. It is always easy to pray and fast, but to observe a strict code of values in day-to-day affairs, overcoming the natural tendency to put one's own interest first, is not so easy.
Worship is meant to enhance one's consciousness of God so that one always remembers that he will inevitably face the reckoning on the day of judgment when God will ask him about his actions. Only those actions which are undertaken purely to please God earn the highest reward.
Hence the Prophet, peace be upon him, encourages us to keep voluntary worship private. In Islam, the obligatory part of worship may be done in public. Congregational prayers are held in mosques for the obligatory prayer, but voluntary prayer is better done at home. If you are fasting voluntarily, as all of us are encouraged to do, it is reprehensible to talk about your fasting to others.
The most rewarding voluntary prayer is the one done at night, in the privacy of your own home, when other people are asleep. In such a situation, you appeal to God feeling that you are so close to him. The Prophet, peace be upon him, says: "The best type of remembering God is that done in secret." As you may be aware, we are all encouraged to remember God all the time, glorifying and praising Him, but such remembrance produces the best effect on us when no one sees or feels we are doing it. If it is left between a person and his Lord, it is bound to improve his behavior. It also earns the richest reward. The Prophet, peace be upon him, also mentions seven types of shelter on the day of judgment, when there is no shelter other than the one He provides for those with whom He is pleased.
Among these are "a person whose eyes are tearful when he remembers God in private." His tears are a mark of his firm belief in God and the day of judgment. If his tears flow when he remembers God in the company of people, he may be pretending, or he may be trying to demonstrate that he is a firm believer.
But when he is tearful at a time when no one sees him other than his Lord, he is a genuine believer who worries that his sins may be too grave and numerous to merit forgiveness by God.
All this confirm the view you have expressed that ostentation is shunned. A moderate and sensible approach to religion is the one God wants of all of us.
• Aqeeqah: Is it obligatory?
Is the aqeeqah obligatory? What if a person cannot afford to buy the sheep to slaughter? How does it affect the child?
The aqeeqah refers to a sacrifice given by a family on the occasion of the birth of a son or a daughter. One sheep is adequate for the aqeeqah for either a girl or a boy. Relatives and neighbors are invited, because this is a joyous occasion to be shared with the immediate community. The aqeeqah is a Sunnah, which means that it is strongly recommended. Its time is in the early days of the birth of the child. When we say it is strongly recommended, this means that it is not obligatory.
If a family cannot afford to sacrifice a sheep, then no blame is attached to it for failing to do so. "God does not charge a soul with more than it can reasonably undertake." This is the translation of a Qur'anic statement. A poor family that finds it difficult to make both ends meet is not expected to observe the aqeeqah. The child will not be affected in any way for his parents' failure to observe a Sunnah, even when they can afford it.
• Aqeeqah: It's necessity and the time limit
Is aqeeqah necessary for all Muslims?. If so, does it have a time limit?
The aqeeqah is a sunnah. When a child is born to a family, the father is strongly recommended by the Prophet to slaughter one or two sheep and to invite relatives and neighbors to a meal, in order to allow the community to share in the happy event. The aqeeqah is recommended to be carried out shortly after the birth of a baby, preferably on the seventh day of his birth. It may be delayed for a week or two or perhaps a little longer. However, when it is delayed for a long time, the very purpose of it is lost.
• Aqeeqah: the purpose of
When my son was seven days old, I gave him the name of Er-Rafi' and did the "aqeeqah" on his behalf. Recently, I was told by a friend that this name was one of attributes to Allah, and I should change it. I did that, but a scholar in our community told me that I should do another 'aqeeqah' for the other name. Is this true?
Let me say first that Er-Rafi' is an attribute of Allah, but it is not one of those which may be used only with Allah. If you had retained your son's name, that would have been appropriate. Now that you have changed it, your action itself is permissible. The opinion of the scholar who told you that you need to have a fresh aqeeqah for your son is perhaps mistaken. Aqeeqah is the slaughtering of one or two sheep to organize a party to which neighbors and relatives are invited so that they join in the celebration of the new arrival and share in the joy of the family Allah has blessed with a son or daughter. Therefore, the aqeeqah is offered for the child, not for the name. No fresh aqeeqah is recommended in your case.
• Arabic: Can non-Muslims teach Arabic?
In my village in India, a young woman who is not a Muslim was appointed by the government as a primary school teacher and was given the task of teaching Arabic, since she is a graduate of Arabic. Muslim parents have refused to allow her to teach their children the language of the Qur'an as they claim this is not allowed by Islam. Is this true?
It is examples like that which strengthen my belief that the most important thing Muslims need these days is a good knowledge of Islam. You have here a situation where Muslim parents prefer their children not to learn Arabic because the teacher is a non-Muslim. From where did they get the notion that a teacher of Arabic must be a Muslim. I do not know. The notion is highly mistaken. It cannot be supported by any logical reason. These parents may think that because Arabic is the language of the Qur'an, it is sacred. There is no such thing as a sacred language. Indeed, Islam does not speak of anything as sacred or holy. These parents may think that an Arabic teacher will have to teach their children passages of the Qur'an. As a non-Muslim, their teacher is not allowed to read the Qur'an, or so they think. Little do they realize that Allah has addressed the Qur'an to non-believers on every occasion, so that they might listen to its argument and realize the truthfulness of its message. If we were to stop non-Muslims from listening to the Qur'an and learning its message, how do we expect them to have a favorable view of Islam?
Nor is there any evidence to support the view of these Muslim parents. Indeed, we have evidence to show the fallacy of their view. After the battle of Badr, the Muslims were left with 70 prisoners of war. The Prophet decided to allow their relatives to buy their freedom. However, to those prisoners of war who were able to read and write, he made the offer that they could buy their freedom by teaching ten Muslim children to read and write. Obviously those teachers were teaching Muslim children Arabic writing and reading. They worshipped idols and associated partners with Allah. They indeed were polytheists. But that did not stop the Prophet asking them to teach Muslim children their Arabic language. Some of these polytheists accepted the Prophet's offer and completed their task of teaching Muslim children writing and reading, and then they were set free. You may tell those Muslim parents in your village this example, to help them benefit by the services of the Arabic teacher. Otherwise, their children may not be able to learn Arabic.
Having said that, I realize that if the Arabic teacher in your village was a good scholar of Qur'an, he or she can be an infinitely better teacher. But if such a person is not available, let us make use of the facility which is available.
• Arabic: Is it a divine language?
Should Arabic be considered a divine language, being the language of the Qur'an and the Sunnah? Should it be made compulsory for all Muslims throughout the world? Is it true that Islamic scriptures cannot be understood properly except in Arabic?
No. Arabic is a human language. It is true that Allah has chosen it for His final message of mankind. Moreover, the Prophet expressed his Sunnah in Arabic, his mother tongue. But this is as far as it goes. Arabic is a language of human beings. That Allah has chosen a human language for His message is perfectly logical, because His message is meant for human beings.
As for making it compulsory for all Muslims, this is a rather complex question. It is Allah who has made us speak different languages. He says in the Qur'an that this is one of His signs which manifest the greatness of His creation. He puts it on the same level as other signs such as the creation of the heavens and the earth. He says: "And of His signs are the creation of the heavens and the earth and the diversity of your tongues and your complexions. In all that there are signs for those who are endowed with knowledge." (30;22). What is required of every Muslim is to be able to read the surah entitled "Al-Fatihah" and some other passages of the Qur'an in Arabic to enable him to offer his prayers.
However, it is to the advantage of every Muslim to understand Arabic, because that would enable him to have a better insight into his faith. There is no doubt that you will understand the Qur'an and the Sunnah better, if you know Arabic. This applies to any work which you may be able to read in its original language or in translation. No translation could give an exact meaning of the original text because of the different associations and connotations of the words used in each language.
• Athan: Change of wordings
Is it permissible to leave out the words that mean "prayers are better than sleeping" in the call to Fajr prayer? Are there any Hadiths in connection with this? Who inserted these phrases in the call to prayer?
A famous report suggests that when Bilal was taught the wording of the Athan on the instructions of the Prophet, peace be upon him, he inserted the phrase, "Assalah khairun min annawm" when he said the Athan for the Fajr prayer. The Prophet approved his action. If this report is true, then the inserted words were sanctioned by the Prophet and have become a Sunnah to be included in the call to Fajr prayer.
An authentic Hadith is reported by Abu Muhthurah, a companion of the Prophet who was a late comer to Islam. He mentions that the Prophet taught him the words of the Athan and told him to go and make the call to prayer in Makkah. That was after the Battle of Hunain which followed the conquest of Makkah. He mentions that the Prophet instructed him to say this phrase in the first call to Fajr prayer. This Hadith is related by An-Nassaie and Abu Dawood.
There is no doubt, then, that the Prophet had sanctioned the inclusion of this phrase in the Athan of Fajr prayer and, as such, this phrase is part of the Athan. Indeed, Abu Muhthurah used to call the Athan in the presence of the Prophet. He used to say this phrase twice in the first call to Fajr prayer. Leaving this phrase out deliberately in the Fajr prayer means that one declines to follow the Sunnah. That is not the attitude of a good Muslim. [Please read also: Prayers advanced on a rainy day.]
• Athan: For the newborn
Is there any authentic Hadith to confirm the desirability of the practice of calling the Athan at a short distance from the ear of a newborn baby?
Abu-Rafi, a companion of the Prophet reports: "I saw the Prophet, peace be upon him, calling the 'Athan' close to the ear of Al-Hassan ibn Ali (the Prophet's grandson) when his mother Fatimah (the Prophet's daughter) gave birth to him." (Related by Abu Dawood, Ahmad, At-Tirmithi and others). You see there is a Hadith which is related by quite a few of the best known scholars.
There is another Hadith reported by Ibn Abbas which gives further support to this one. This means that the practice is recommended. If someone does not do it, he misses reward from Allah for not practicing what is recommended. However, he violates no principle of Islam.
• Athan: Laws prohibiting use of loudspeakers
In some non-Muslim countries, the use of loudspeakers is prohibited by law. How can Muslims in these countries make their call for prayer?
Muslims in these countries should abide by the law of their country. Islam does not encourage civil strife or conflict with authorities.
Moreover, there is no requirement in Islam that requires the call to prayer to be through loudspeakers. At the time of the Prophet, the call to prayer was made by Bilal or other companions of the Prophet who used to climb on the roof-top of the mosque and make the call to prayer by word of mouth. They did not employ any device which was likely to make their voice heard over a longer distance. The use of loudspeakers in Muslim countries was introduced only recently, when cities became densely populated and a call to prayer was heard only in the immediate vicinity of the mosque. However, if there are certain factors which prevent the use of a loudspeaker, it should not be used. No one will be accountable to Allah for not using a loudspeaker to make the call to prayer. If the call to prayer is made in the mosque, it is well and good.
It is perfectly in order, however, that the Muslim community in a particular country or city should approach the authorities for a permission to use loudspeakers in mosques to make their call to prayer. If their request receives a good response, and permission is granted to them they may go ahead and use loudspeakers. If not, they can continue to call for prayer without this additional device.
• Athan: Without ablution
Can one call the Athan without having had ablution first?
Athan, or the call to prayer, is part of zikr, or the remembrance of Allah. For any type of this remembrance, it is preferable or recommended to have ablution. However, if a person calls the Athan without having had ablution, the Athan is valid and he has not violated any Islamic rule. The Athan is not part of prayer itself, because if a person offers his prayer after its time has fallen due, without making the Athan or hearing it called, his prayer is valid. He needs ablution for his prayer, but not for the Athan which is the announcement that the prayer has fallen due.
• Aulia: A status or a title
I have read in a book published in India that God may give some of his special servants a position which enables them to give any order for anything and their orders will be immediately implemented. This has happened with so many people in the past. In commenting on this, a leading authority is quoted to have said that those highly honored servants of God would prefer nevertheless not to use this power and to limit themselves instead to saying, "In God's name". Thus, they emphasize that things happen by God's will, not theirs. Please comment.
Let me first of all remind my readers that whatever claim is made concerning the religion of Islam must be supported by proper evidence from the Qur'an or the Hadith. Otherwise, it simply cannot be accepted. We simply cannot take the word of any person, no matter what position or honor he commands, unless it is supported by such authentic and clear evidence. This is only logical because God has not left it to human beings to develop their concepts of faith, nor has He stopped at giving them broad guidelines so that they can formulate their essential beliefs. He has sent them a messenger with a clear message, contained in a book that God Himself has guaranteed to preserve intact.
Everything in that book is of absolute clarity and further supported by explanations made by God's messenger who was known even in his youth as "The Trustworthy". The messenger had called on people to believe in the faith as it is laid down in the Qur'an. The central point in that passage is the Oneness of God and that He admits no partnership with others, be they human beings, angels or other creatures. Moreover, the requirement to accept the faith and implement it in one's life is the same to all beings, men and women alike. This means that God has made the same requirement of us all, and made us equally susceptible to accepting the faith preached by His messenger.
People may vary in their degree of faith, but this difference is largely of their own making. Some excel in their willingness to do their duties and strive to earn more reward through doing what is recommended, or, to use the Islamic terminology, Sunnah. Such people are certainly given rich rewards by God. The reward is preserved mainly for the life to come, but some of its aspects may be granted in this life. This could be in the form of being honored by other people. You always find that those who are dedicated believers are loved by those who come in contact with them. But we must be clear in our minds that this comes as a natural process. A person who is dedicated to obeying Allah does not make this dedication public. He simply goes about the fulfillment of his duties and adding what is recommended to him without any publicity. However, this dedication reflects on him and his behavior, making him a likable person. The more you know of him the better you like him.
Such a person with strong faith and determined dedication to God's cause is known as "Wali" with a plural as "Aulia", which means a friend or ally of God. This is a status, not a title. We do not confer such a title on any person at all. It is a status which God recognizes. It is a status normally associated with readiness to sacrifice what is precious to serve God's cause. Therefore, a Wali could be a scholar, but he could also be an ordinary person, probably with limited knowledge, but with a strong faith and confirmed dedication. This applies to men and women alike. We may recognize such a Wali and may not. He himself may not recognize it. Indeed, he is hardly likely to ever think of himself as such, because he realizes that this is a position of honor conferred by God. It is true that he aspires to achieve such a status, but a good believer normally thinks himself unlikely to merit such a status.