"Our Dialogue" 6th Edition Rev

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The question of the lady is much more serious, not only because the action itself is clearly forbidden, but because the husband in this case does not heed his wife's feelings. He thus makes another violation of Islamic rules. The Prophet, peace be upon him, has instructed all his followers to take good care of their women, and his action is clearly in opposition to such instructions.

How do we deal with such situations? In general we can only remind the offender and hope that one day he will come to see the offense he commits for what it really is. In the case of the lady reader, she needs to be a little tactful with how she approaches her husband. She should try not to make the matter personal. She should show her husband that she is concerned for his position on the day of judgment [and even his position when people observe his gaze.] He may respond better when he feels that she cares for him. He may feel that he should at least show the same care for her. If he does not, she should try to look at her situation in a wider perspective and determine the best method to influence her husband's attitude. Her question does not have an easy answer. May God help her.

• Believers: What makes one a believer?

If a Muslim neither offers his prayers nor observes his other Islamic duties, but expresses instead his doubts about God's existence, and argues against Islamic teachings, claiming that Islam does not maintain equality between people, what should be his position in Islamic society? What should his wife do if she is a good Muslim?

My objection to this question is the description of such a person as a Muslim. Islam is not a matter of birth or belonging to a family or a nation. We cannot describe a person as Muslim simply on the basis that he is born to Muslim parents or that he belongs to a Muslim tribe or community. Being a Muslim is a matter of conscious and free choice. A person is a Muslim because he chooses to believe in Islam and accepts its tenets [ideology] and beliefs. If someone asks what brings a person into the fold of Islam, the answer is the declaration that God is the only deity in the universe. He makes a conscious choice to believe in his religion. If he accepts Islam only because he is brought up as a Muslim, his faith remains deficient.

This person has been expressing doubts about basic Islamic beliefs. It is clear that he does not accept these. How is he to be considered a Muslim? The proper thing to do with him is to require him to come clean and own to his beliefs. If he says that he does not believe in God and His messenger, the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, then he is not a Muslim.

His wife cannot remain married to him for a second after that. She should request the authorities to register the fact that her marriage is over on grounds of difference of religion. She is free to be married to another person after she completes her waiting period. During such a waiting period, if her husband declares his acceptance of Islam and makes a serious commitment to live as a Muslim, she may be reunited with him in marriage. If not, their separation is complete.

• Believers: Who is a true believer?

Who comes under the definition of a Muslim? There are people who have Muslim names and say that they are Muslims because they have Muslim parents. They rarely, if at all, practice Islam. Others may attend to certain Islamic practices on occasions, such as those who offer their prayers only on Fridays, and perhaps in Ramadhan when they do fast. Please comment.

Once the Prophet asked a delegation who came to him in Madinah representing a tribe how they defined themselves. They said: "We are indeed believers." The Prophet said: "Everything has a substance, so what do you define as the substance of your belief?" They said to him: "We have fifteen characteristics. Five we have been told by your representative to believe in, and five you have ordered us to do and five are among our traditions. We will maintain [them] unless you instruct us to the contrary."

The Prophet asked them about these. They told him that they believed in God, His angels, His revealed books, His messengers and in resurrection after death. Those were the five beliefs taught to them by the Prophet's representatives. The ones he instructed them to do were the declaration that there is no deity save God, prayers, zakah, fasting in Ramadhan and pilgrimage. The five among their traditions were: To be grateful in time of plenty, to be patient in adversity, to accept God's will whatever it may be, to remain steadfast in battle and not to show pleasure when calamity befalls an enemy.

The Prophet commended them on these and added five more to make their total twenty. He said to them: If you are truly as you say, then do not amass what you cannot eat, or build what you do not reside in, nor compete in what you will soon abandon. Fear God to whom you shall return and work for what you will soon be facing."

Here we have an example where the Prophet makes it clear that there should be a practical interpretation of beliefs. Otherwise, it will remain theoretical. Hence, he defines faith as: "Something that is well established in people's minds and hearts, and to which credence is given by practice." So, faith cannot be treated as an academic theory or an abstract idea. Its practical effect has to be seen so that the claim of being a believer is seen to be true. Hence, Islam is embodied in statements and practices. The Prophet says: "Islam is built on five (pillars): the declaration that there is no deity save God and Muhammad is His messenger, regular attendance to prayer, the payment of zakah, the fasting in Ramadhan and pilgrimage to the Sacred House when a person is able to do so."

People who claim to be Muslims only because they have been born in Muslim families do not provide a practical proof of their claim. Yet, if they genuinely believe in the Oneness of God and the message of Muhammad, they are considered Muslims. If they do not go beyond that declaration, they are doing badly because of their negligence. They should be advised that their faith is not complete unless they attend to their Islamic duties.

On the other hand, we must not allow ourselves to assume the mantle of judges who pass judgment on people, claiming that certain people are true Muslims while others are not. If a person tells us that he is a Muslim, we take his statement at its face value. But if he does not confirm his statement by doing the duties God has imposed on Muslims, we advise him that he is exposing himself to the risk of God's punishment. Some of these people say that God is too merciful to punish them They are not doing anything bad, they are simply not attending to their duties. This is a false argument.

A person who does not fulfill a duty God has imposed is certainly doing something bad. What is worse than the deliberate negligence of a duty God has imposed? Besides, a believer does not say that God will certainly forgive him. He certainly hopes for God's forgiveness, but he does not behave as though it is a certainty. He must always balance that hope with the fear that he might not be forgiven. That balance should provide a motivation for him to attend to his Islamic duties.

• Believers & non-believers: Drawing clear distinction between

The term "believers" and "non-believers" draw a clear distinction between people of this world. No one can deny the fact that God is One. He is the Lord of all human beings, whether they are Christians, Jews, Hindus or Muslims. His Oneness is recognized in all religions. Therefore, a human being who believes in God is a believer and only a person who does not believe in Him is a non-believer. May I ask why Muslims consider themselves as the only believers? The way Muslims behave makes it appear as if He is the Lord of no one else on earth. This sounds rather eccentric. There are surely among Muslims some bad people who do not follow the teachings of their religion. By merely becoming a Muslim, a person does not become a true believer. On the other hand, there are among non-believers some noble people who devote their lives to the welfare of mankind. These are righteous people by any standard. Do you agree? Or do you ignore purity, morality and righteousness among those who belong to any other conviction? Do you not agree that the Qur'an should be explained and interpreted by universal human virtues, not particularly what is acknowledged by Muslims only? Please do not misunderstand me. I have great respect for Islam, Prophet Muhammad and the Qur'an. If I lead a clean and straight life, deeply believing in God, and following my own religion, I see no reason why I should convert to Islam.

I appreciate the clarity and the honesty with which this letter has been written. I have chosen to publish it in full because it expresses the feelings of many an honest non-Muslim who may be irritated by the thought that every virtue has to be Islamic in order to be acceptable to God. Hence the accusation of patronization of God that is sometime leveled at Muslims.

This question can only be sorted out if we go back to basic belief. The question of believing in God is inherent in human nature. However, it is an aspect of God's grace that we do not have to rely on this intrinsic tendency in our nature to formulate our concept of Him. He sent messengers and warners to educate mankind and teach them how to believe in God.

All these messengers emphasized God's Oneness and formulated the same concept of the Godhead, warning their people against associating partners with Him. Messengers were sent to all nations and communities.

God tells us in the Qur'an: "You are but a warner; We have sent you as an announcer and a warner about the truth. There has been no community unless some warner has passed among them." (35; 23-4)

This means that there were numerous prophets, messengers and warners who explained to mankind how to conduct their lives in a way which would be acceptable to God. There are about twenty-five of these mentioned by name in the Qur'an. However, God states in the Qur'an that He has mentioned some of His messengers to His Prophet Muhammad, while some He has chosen not to mention. Therefore, the great teachers of mankind who strove to establish faith among their communities and to lay down concepts of morality might have been prophets and even messengers. But we certainly cannot say with any degree of certainty, because certainty about such matters can only be stated by God Himself. Since He has chosen not to tell us about those people and their status, we cannot say anything in this connection. We simply limit ourselves to the certain knowledge God has revealed in the Qur'an. We do respect those great teachers of mankind and what they have done.

However, God makes it clear that the Qur'an is His final message to mankind, and He undertakes to keep it intact for the rest of time. "We ourselves have sent down the reminder and We will indeed safeguard it." (15; 9) "It is for us to gather it and to cause it to be read (as it ought to be read)." (75; 17)

But God also tells us in the Qur'an that earlier messages suffered distortion and twisting of texts. This applies particularly to Torah and the Gospel. Therefore, although we believe that these two books were originally revealed by God to the great prophets, Moses and Jesus Christ, peace be upon them both, we also believe that any fundamental difference between either of them and the Qur'an is the result of willful distortion.

The very fact that God has sent so many messengers and prophets to mankind to teach them how to believe and conduct their lives makes it clear that it is from Him alone that we should derive our concepts of God, faith, the position of man and how he should believe in his Lord. The Qur'an denounces the pagan Arabs for having adopted the concept of polytheism, establishing for themselves so many deities whom they considered intermediaries between themselves and God. They did not reject God altogether, but felt that He was too great for them to put their address to Him directly. Therefore, they associated with Him partners whom they worshipped so that those partners could bring them nearer to God. That was totally unacceptable to Him.

When we speak of believing in God, we have to acknowledge the fact that in order to be true believers, we have to believe in Him in the way He likes. That is to say, the concept we formulate of God should be the one He Himself outlines.

This He did through the prophets and messengers He sent in all periods of history, up to the final messenger, Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. There can simply be no conflict between what every one of those messengers preached about God. It is true that there can be only one God. Different religions may offer different concepts of Him, but there can only be one true concept.

That is the one He Himself has laid down in His messages to mankind. Since these were subject to distortion, then that concept can only be derived from the message He guaranteed to keep intact, namely, Islam. Hence, true believers must reject any concept that is not in total agreement with the monotheistic concept of God stated clearly in the Qur'an. There can be no truth in any concept of duality, trinity or plurality of the Godhead.

The other part of your question tries to distinguish between a Muslim and being a believer. The Qur'an also makes this distinction. Reflect, if you will, on the Qur'anic verse which may be translated as follows: "The desert Arabs say: We believe. Say: You have not believed, but say instead: We submit. Yet belief has not penetrated your hearts. If you obey God and His messenger, He will not slight you in any of your actions. God is much-forgiving, merciful." {49; 14)

The Arabic term used for the expression, "We submit," is "Aslamna," which is the verb used to indicate acceptance of Islam. As you are probably aware the term "Islam" means "submission to God." The Qur'anic verse thus distinguishes between submission, or Islam, which is a practical attitude and having faith, or “iman” which indicates a conscious belief and a conceptual attitude. What the faith of Islam requires of all people is far more than the practical attitude. It is to have faith deeply entrenched in one's mind and heart.

It is true that some Muslims may not give, in their action and practices, full credence to their faith. Some may not even distinguish between what is forbidden and what is lawful. Some may have very little knowledge of right and wrong. The very fact that they were born into a Muslim family does not ensure their salvation. Islam requires of everyone to have a conscious belief in God, His Oneness and all His attributes. Therefore, true faith can only come through deep thinking, reflective study and conscious acceptance of the basic principles of faith. It then requires that everyone should conduct his or her life in accordance with Islamic teachings. Salvation can only be ensured through faith and action. Neither one is sufficient on its own.

There is no doubt that there are among the followers of other religions people of integrity, honesty, high caliber and serious morality. Even among the pagan Arabs there were some of these. The Prophet was asked: "Who are the best people?" He gave his questioners one answer after another, but those answers were not the one they sought. He then confirmed that they were asking about the different types of people. He then said to them: "The best of them in pre-Islamic days are the best after having accepted Islam; if they would learn it properly."

We cannot subject the Qur'an to different interpretations. We interpret it and explain it the way Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, has explained to us. Otherwise, we would be imposing our views on the Qur'an. This is not open to anyone to do.

• Bible: The position of bible in Islam

How do we differentiate between the Qur’an and the Bible? Is the former revealed to Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, while the latter to Prophet Jesus? Is the Bible obligatory for Muslims to read? What is the concept of the Trinity? How do we consider the people who follow the true teachings of Prophet Jesus and neglect those of Prophet Muhammad? What is the minimum and maximum punishment of the people of hell?

The Bible is the term, which refers to the revelations, which should be held sacred by all Christians. It includes the Old Testament, or the Torah, which was revealed to Prophet Moses, and the New Testament, or the Gospel, (or the Injeel, to use Islamic terminology), which was revealed to Prophet Jesus, peace be upon them both. Christians normally concentrate on the Gospel with particular emphasis on the four books known as Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. These books were either written or dictated by those people to whom they are attributed as they learned the teachings of Jesus Christ from his followers. They were not the exact words taught by Jesus himself.

The Qur’an is the book that includes the revelations of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, as he received them from on high. It is written in the exact words of God taught to Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, by the Angel Gabriel. Moreover, it is guaranteed to remain intact, free from distortion. That guarantee is given by no one other than God Himself. You will find no differences among copies of the Qur’an printed today or those written by scribes in any period of history, ever since it was revealed. God tells His messenger that He will guarantee that book will always remain intact, and will be available to people in its original form. The Qur’an is God’s final message to mankind. Hence it is important that it remains available to all people, as indeed it has been ever since its first revelation.

God tells us in the Qur’an that earlier books revealed from on high were distorted by priests and rabbis and also by other people. The starkest example of such distortion is the claim that God has a son, or that His son is Jesus. This is a wild claim for which there is no proof whatsoever, either in the teachings by Jesus, or indeed from any other source. We believe what God says of Himself in the Qur’an, His final message which will always remain true and free from distortion, that God has not begotten a son and will never have one. Hence, we reject that claim altogether without need to go into its details. Moreover, we accept that the Bible, in its Old and New Testaments, is true in its original form. Since we have no access to that form, we say that whatever in the Torah and the Gospel does not contradict any statement in the Qur’an is true, and whatever contradicts the Qur’an is false, as it is the result of distortion. Hence, the Bible is not obligatory for Muslims to read.

The concept of the Trinity is based on the belief in the union of three personalities (the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost) in one Godhead, or the threefold personality of the Divine Being. This is an essential concept of today’s Christianity which emphasizes that Jesus was son of God and that he and the Angel Gabriel were in union with God who is claimed to be the Father. This is a polytheist concept, which could have never been preached by Jesus Christ, who was a noble prophet and a messenger of God ranked among the messengers of the firmest resolve, which is the highest rank among prophets.

Since God has sent His final message to mankind, in the form of Qur’an, all people are required to believe in Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, as God’s final messenger and to accept the Qur’an as God’s final message. They are required to implement it in their lives. Those who do not, are not believers in the true sense of the word. They may believe in God, but they do not formulate the true concept of faith which He requires people to have. What He does with them on the Day of Judgment is His own business.

As far as we are concerned, we say that such people have not believed in what God wants us to believe. Hence, we cannot include them among true believers, because they do not believe in the message of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him.

I do not know whether a true copy of Torah or the Gospel, as they were revealed to Prophets Moses and Jesus, peace be upon them both, is in existence anywhere. Nor can I give an answer to the last part of this question, concerning the minimum and maximum punishment in hell. That is something which only God knows, However, there are descriptions in the Qur’an of the sort of punishment which those who are in hell will suffer. These are given in examples in a language, which we understand. They suggest unbearable suffering. The impression they give is sufficient for us to realize what will happen to the dwellers of hell. May God spare us all such punishment and forgive us our sins.

• Big Bang: Origin of the universe — the right approach

Articles and books have been published postulating about the "big bang" as the probable origin of the universe some 10 billion years ago. It will be appreciated if you could share with us some thoughts about how religion in general, and Islam in particular, view such a scientific research being pursued in an attempt to approve this theory.

I am not particularly familiar with this theory, or its details. I have watched a television program about it and read an article, but I am not in a position to speak about it in any depth. What I would like to say about it, however, is that whether it is proved to be true or false, it should not affect our view of religion in any way. Allah could have brought about such a "Big Bang" to create the universe, if He wanted to do so. He could certainly have created the universe in some other manner. Whichever way He adopted to create the universe testifies to His limitless ability and overall control of the universe and everything in it.

Where scientists reach the limits of their research, they are seen making attempt to make such a theory a basis to negate or cast suspicion on what Islam says about creation. If the universe came into being as a result of a Big Bang, does that mean that the bang happened by itself, without any cause? Or does it mean that Allah caused it? If the latter, well and good. If they opt for the first answer, saying that the bang just happened by itself without a cause, we will ask for a proof. We will say: Was there anything before the bang took place? Did it happen by a collision of physical entities, electric charges or other sources of energy? If so, where did these come from? Who gave them their existence? Such a line of questioning will inevitably lead us to decide our starting point.

Are we seeking an explanation for the existence of the universe in total isolation of the concept of Allah's existence? In other words, does scientific research want to prove that life could have come about without any need for a creator? If so, then we are simply not interested in such an endeavor. Let scientists do what they like, they will never be able to come up with any logical explanation that can be proven to be true and at the same time negate Allah's role altogether. If Muslim scientists find enough evidence to suggest that the Big Bang Theory explains how the universe came into existence, they would relate that to Allah and His power. They would say that Allah has created the universe by causing a big bang to take place and they would then carry on with their investigations. Their research may lead them to great discoveries, but that does not negate Allah's role.

The problem with scientists' research in the West is that it seeks to provide a theory which can be used as an alternative to the fact that the universe is Allah's creation. As a result, scientists go far astray. Moreover, they can produce no theory which can stand the test of time. Take for example the theory of Charles Darwin on the origin of species. There is nothing that an Islamic scholar or a man of religion can find wrong with the observations about the gradation of species and that one species leads to the next which is slightly higher. They noted that the gradation is observable in the plant kingdom as well as in the animal kingdom. They have also mentioned that there seems to be two un-bridgeable gaps, one between the highest plant species and the lowest animal type of life and the other between the highest animals which are closest to man and man himself. Their view is that it is Allah who has willed the system of creation to be such. Such a gradation proves His great ability to anyone who reflects on what Allah has placed in the universe. Muslim scientists have also spoken about the fine balance which we find in nature and how no species is allowed to multiply in great numbers so as to swarm the planet or dominate the universe. They attributed all that to the great hand of the Supreme Lord. This is the logical explanation which uses natural phenomena as a proof of the greatest fact of all, namely, Allah's existence, His Godhood and Lordship.

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