"Our Dialogue" 6th Edition Rev

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What the West did with Darwin's theory was something different. Scientists tried to show that the great observations of Darwin indicate that there is a process of natural selection which is set in motion and continues to operate forever. Hence, that process provided for them a platform to announce their atheism and agnosticism and reject Allah's role altogether. They could not explain how the process of natural selection operates. Is it subject to the physical phenomena that exists in the universe? What made all species acquire the ability to adapt themselves to such phenomena? As for the two gaps, Western scientists who took over from Darwin tried to explain them away by saying that these were two missing links. They have not come up with any explanation why these links have been and continue to be missing? If the process of natural selection is self-supporting and ensures its own continuity, why has it not tried to bridge these two gaps? Whey does the missing link continue to be missing at those particular two points? In all this, we find an arbitrary attempt to replace religion with science, making of it a new god to which submission is required, even though it involves believing in some inexplicable phenomena. Such scientists say that their alternative is more logical and reasonable, but they cannot use it to explain everything that needs explanation. If scientists want to carry their research a step further than studying what is available in the universe so as to explain its existence, they must come up with a complete explanation that can be proved throughout with facts that cannot be challenged. If science is to replace religion, it should offer something which is complete, true, verifiable, unchangeable and absolute.

But we will not be interested if scientists say to us: This is what we can prove now. Take it for the present as correct, and if we come up tomorrow with something that is more reasonable or for which we can provide better evidence, you take that instead of what we have offered you now. We do not want a Big Bang Theory to replace Darwin's theory, leaving as many un-answered questions as its predecessor. On the other hand, we welcome the Big Bang Theory and all other scientific research when offered in the right approach. It then can tell us more about our planet and the universe in which we live and how Allah brought it all into existence and continues to control it all.

Bindiya: the use of

Is it forbidden to keep 'bindi' i.e. adhesive sticker or colored enamel on our foreheads?

The general rule which governs the use of such material is that everything is lawful unless pronounced otherwise. There may be some rules which restrict the use of certain items and these rules may apply to other items by analogy. It is forbidden for a Muslim, for example, to wear clothes or to have an article of equipment which bears a distinctive mark of unbelievers. I am not sure what this bindi looks like, but I can say that it is permissible in the first instance. However, if it is distinctive of women who follow some other religion like Buddhists or Hindus, it becomes forbidden. The prohibition does not come as a result of anything inherent in the article itself, but as a result of its being distinctive of non-Muslim women. [Added: If you are living in a society where there are both Muslim and non-Muslim women living and those non-Muslim women use 'bindi', then it will be forbidden for the Muslim women to wear 'bindi'. However, in a purely Muslim society, where a women is accepted and treated as a Muslim unless established otherwise, there should be no restriction on its use. However, one may still say that it is strongly discouraged.]

On the other hand, if this adhesive sticker or enamel is waterproof, then a Muslim woman who wears it cannot have a proper ablution. It prevents the water from reaching a part of her face which should be washed. Since her ablution is incomplete, her prayer will be invalid. In this case, the prohibition is a consequence of its effect on prayer.

To sum up, if this enamel or sticker is not distinctive of non-Muslim women, a Muslim woman may wear it provided she removes it when she wants to have ablution for prayer.

• Birth control: As national policy

Is it appropriate for a married couple not to have more than two children because of their limited economic resources? Is it acceptable that they take measures to prevent pregnancy after having had two children?

During the time of the Prophet, some of his companions tried to reduce the chances of conception and pregnancy, because they did not want any more children. The Prophet was aware of that. Some referred to him while some relied on the fact that no edict was given concerning the question of preventing pregnancy. The general rule is that "everything is permissible unless pronounced otherwise." Thus, we have statements by some of the Prophet's companions such as: "We resorted to contraception at the time when the Qur'an was being revealed", and "We resorted to contraception and the Prophet was aware of that but he did not stop us." These statements are clear in their import. If the Prophet's companions had been doing something unacceptable to Islam, God would have either revealed a prohibition in the Qur'an or the Prophet would have given an order in a Hadith.

The fact is that the Prophet did not give such an order. Instead, when he learned from one of his companions that he resorted to contraception, the Prophet said clearly that no method of contraception would stop the creation of a child, should God will that the child be born. As such, no method of contraception can stop God's will being fulfilled.

The method of contraception which was known at that time was coitus interruptus. Modern methods are equally permissible, provided that they are safe and they prevent conception. Sterilization of either the man or the woman is not permissible except when it is made absolutely necessary for medical reasons. Thus, if doctors determine that any pregnancy is likely to present a serious risk to the life of the mother, then sterilization may be approved. But each case must be considered separately on its own merits.

What I have said so far applies at the individual level only. A national policy of family planning which aims to reduce the population is unacceptable because it is likely to have serious repercussion on the health of the nation as a whole.

• Birth control: Coitus interruptus

You advised a young man to get married and delay having children until he has finished his studies. This obviously means that he has to resort to methods of birth control. In our community, most scholars say that birth control is not acceptable from the Islamic point of view. Please comment.

In ancient times, before the new methods of birth control were invented, people resorted to coitus interruptus in order to restrict the number of children. This is a safe method, because it does not involve the use of any substance or chemical compound. It is a simple method which involves withdrawal before discharge. It is not highly effective, because some of the sperms may be released before the actual discharge. These could easily fertilize the female egg. This method was practiced in Arabia, as well in many other places. The companions of the Prophet mentioned it to him and asked him whether it was wrong. The Prophet did not forbid them that, but he told them that it could not stop Allah's work. If He wants us to create something, or in this case, if He wants a child to be born, the resort to contraception would not prevent the mother from getting pregnant.

We have reports from companions of the Prophet mentioning that he was aware of their resort to contraception, but he did not forbid them that.

In the light of the foregoing, we can say that using a safe and effective method of birth control is permissible, if it does not involve the use of a harmful substance. The couple must check with their doctor if a particular method is safe for them to use. If so, then they decide whether to use it or not.

• Birth control: Contraception & sterilization

I have four children and I am considering resorting to a sterilization operation to be done for my wife. She is thin and weak and can hardly cope with the demands of the family, especially during my prolonged absence, away from home to work here in Saudi Arabia. May I also say that my financial situation is not that bright. Indeed, I can hardly cope with the great demands placed on me.

Let us first of all deal with the financial aspect of this question. We know that Allah provides sustenance for everyone of His creation. I personally have experienced an improvement in my financial level with every child I have had. Indeed, that improvement was very tangible in the case of one of my children. Some people may not have such a tangible experience. It is true to say, however, that Allah will not neglect to provide sustenance for any human being. It is up to the breadwinner of the family to make use of the opportunities that Allah provides for him.

Having said that, I should also point out before attending to the question on sterilization that resorting to methods of contraception which are safe and do not affect the health of the mother is permissible. That must be kept at the individual level. By this I mean that a family may resort to contraception in order to limit the number of their children if they determine that such a thing is desirable in their particular circumstances. At the time of the Prophet, some of his companions resorted to coitus interruptus, which was the only method of family planning known to them, and the Prophet was aware of what they did. He did not instruct them to stop, nor did he tell them that what they did was forbidden. Therefore, it is permissible. Other methods of family planning have the same verdict provided they are safe.

Sterilization which involves a surgical operation is a special case. Unlike other methods of contraception it is permanent. Therefore it has to be viewed separately. Preventing pregnancy by surgery is known as sterilization which can be performed for either the husband or the wife. It is perhaps more accurate to say that we cannot make a general, sweeping statement in order to say that such an operation is either forbidden or permissible. Any surgery may be considered, from the strictly religious point of view, as required, recommended, discouraged or forbidden, according to the different circumstances of its person. If a highly competent doctor advises his patient that a certain operation will not only cure his illness but also prevents a speedy deterioration of his case, which is otherwise inevitable, then we can say that the operation is recommended. On the other hand, if there is no strong medical grounds for operating on a certain patient, but the doctor advises the operation only to get his fee, then the doctor commits a sin by giving such an advice.

In the case of sterilization, what we have to look for is the effect of pregnancy on the health of the mother. If a competent doctor determines that every pregnancy is likely to pose a real threat to the life of the mother or to cause serious threats to her health and that other methods of contraception may also have a bad effect on her health, then the woman may have such an operation without any qualm of conscience. It is permissible in her case. On the other hand, for a woman who asks her doctor to perform such an operation because she feels that a pregnancy may spoil her figure or having children may stop her from taking a lengthy holiday every few months, such an operation is forbidden.

In your particular condition, I do not think the reasons you have advanced for such an operation constitute a sound argument to justify the operation. Your wife may be thin and weak, but you can easily delay pregnancy by resorting to other methods of contraception. On the basis of what you say in your letter, you are only with your wife for a month or so every year. If you take adequate precautions, you can almost certainly prevent pregnancy. Therefore, the operation is not required on medical grounds. Hence, it cannot be lawful in your case.

• Birth Control: Through sterilization

Since birth control is not allowed in Islam, may I know if it is permissible to try to elongate the period between pregnancies, depending on necessity and on condition that both husband and wife agree on that? Is it also forbidden in Islam to sterilize a man or a woman in order to control birth?

You have started by saying that birth control is not allowed in Islam. I am afraid that this is a very general statement which is far from accurate. I have often mentioned in this column that the authority to forbid anything belongs only to Allah. No one can declare anything forbidden without clear evidence from the Qur'an or the Sunnah. Therefore, anyone who claims that birth control is forbidden must produce his evidence. When he tries, he will soon discover that his efforts are far from successful.

To start with, there is nothing in the Qur'an on this subject. When we look at Hadith, we find several reports by companions of the Prophet saying that they used to resort to methods known to them to delay conception and they told the Prophet about them, or that he was aware of them, but he did not speak against them. Indeed, he told them that such methods would not prevent creation of any human being Allah wants to create. On the basis of these reports, contemporary scholars have given a verdict that new methods of birth control are permissible, provided that they are absolutely safe. However, this permissibility applies in individual cases.

Needless to say, proper spacing between pregnancies is perfectly acceptable from the Islamic point of view, as long as it is done through legitimate means. When sterilization of either man or woman is done for compelling health reasons, it is acceptable. Proper advice should be sought from a competent, God-fearing Muslim Doctor. If he determines that such a course of action is absolutely necessary to protect the person's life, then it is permissible. Otherwise, such an operation involves a change of what Allah has created and, therefore, it is forbidden.

• Birth, life and death — feeling of helplessness

May I start by saying that I adhere to Islamic teachings as much as I can. However, I am bothered by the thought that I have no choice as to the very basic step of coming into existence. It may be that my parents wanted so much to have a baby, but why should I be responsible for my birth? May I give the analogy of obeying one's superiors in one's job. We all do this because we do not wish to lose our jobs.

There is nothing wrong with thinking about one's existence. Indeed, we are invited to do so by Allah because such thinking is conducive to strengthening our faith. When sometimes our thoughts do not seem to fit in with our beliefs, we should be a little careful. We should examine our premise and how our thoughts develop. There may be something wrong in the process.

What seems to trouble you, in the line of thinking you are following, as you have explained it to me, is the thought of choice which you seem to desire before coming into existence. But this is the thought of a mature human being about a stage of existence which is very different from his own. May I ask: At what point in time you think a human being should be given this choice at the beginning or end of adolescence? In childhood? Immediately at birth? At the time of conception? Or should the choice be given to the male sperm or female egg separately? If anyone suggests that the choice should be given to the sperm, then would it be fair to give it to every single sperm, although any one in billions is destined to become a full human being? If one suggests that the choice should be given at the time of conception, would a zygote be able to make a rational choice?

Perhaps it is more reasonable to suggest that the choice should be given sometime during one's life, when one has known enough about human life to determine whether to continue with it or not. One could then choose whether to continue with one's life, obeying Allah's rules and taking the risk of punishment in the hereafter if he fails to do so. Otherwise, one is immediately and finally obliterated.

Suppose that such a choice is given, what sort of result would be expected from it? Would you not think that every human being will opt for a continued existence, giving every pledge to follow divine guidance? The love of life makes every single one of us cling to it despite going through very difficult circumstances. We always hope that our situation would improve and we would be able to enjoy a better life. On the other hand, if we say that the choice should be given to us before we are born, would we be able to make a choice based on mature judgment without ever being aware of the outcome of the choice we make?

The fact is that we have a choice at every moment in our lives. While it is true that the choice is not whether to live or not, but what sort of life we should lead. We should not portray the choice in the way you have, as something we have to give in order to avoid future suffering. That is certainly a grim picture if it was true. It is not. What is wrong with the way you describe the choice is that it implies that we will be saved from suffering in the life to come if we are willing to pay a price now, in the form of obeying certain rules. That makes the benefit of our compliance accrue to someone else or indeed to Allah. This is wrong because Allah does not benefit at all by our obedience or compliance of His rules. Read if you will, the sacred ( or Qudsi ) Hadith in which the Prophet quotes Allah as saying:

"My servants, you will not attain harming Me so as to harm Me, and you will not attain benefiting Me so as to benefit Me. My servants, were the first of you and the last of you, the human of you and the jinn of you to be as pious as the most pious heart of any one man of you, that would not increase My kingdom in any way. My servants, were the first of you and the last of you, the human of you and the jinn of you to be as wicked as the most wicked heart of any one man of you, that would not decrease My kingdom in any way. My servants, were the first of you and the last of you, the human of you and the jinn of you to rise up in one place and make a request of Me, and were I to give everyone what he requested, that would not decrease what I have, anymore than a needle decreased the sea if dipped into it. My servants, it is but your deeds that I reckon up for you and then recompense you for, so let him who finds good praise Allah and let him who finds other than that blame no one but himself." (Related by Muslim, At-Tirmithi and ibn Majah)

If our worship and compliance with Allah's orders does not benefit Him, why are we then required to do it? The answer is: For our own benefit, Allah has created us the way we are, and has sent us messengers to show us how to lead a happy human life. Their role is to point out to us what benefits us and what spares us problems and misery. What they have conveyed to us is a complete message which outlines an integrated system, devised by Allah, who has created man and who knows what benefits us and suits him, to be implemented in human life and to bring man happiness. Thus, when we obey Allah's rules, we are beneficiaries. The benefit is immediate, because the rules are made so that they spare man affliction, contradiction and confusion. You say that you try to live by the Islamic code. Have you asked yourself: What benefit to Allah are your prayers and your fasting? When you think deeply about it you are bound to conclude that they can benefit Him in no way. But prayers certainly benefit you by keeping you always on your guard against temptation and falling in sin. Fasting also teaches you self-discipline. When a human being puts Allah's constitution behind his back, it is he who suffers. He does not harm Allah in any way. So the choice we have in this life is whether to do what is right and enjoy its benefits immediately in this life, or to reject it and suffer the consequences of this rejection.

Moreover, complete obedience to Allah is not possible, not even by the best human beings. Everyone is liable to error and every one errs. But when we do, we seek Allah's forgiveness and it is forthcoming when our request is genuine. Let us not forget that a human being may be in error throughout his life, but then he realizes his mistake and repents them, seeking Allah's forgiveness. He may die shortly after that, but he is forgiven everything he has done in his past. If you take this example and that of a person who lives the most pious life and put them together, what do you get? You will find that even the most pious person slips often enough to incur punishment. He cannot thank and praise Allah enough for His blessings, yet he disobeys Him. If Allah were to treat him according to the merits and demerits of what he does, he would throw him in hell., But Allah does not do that. He forgives everyone who turns to Him in genuine repentance, even the most wicked of mankind.

Therefore, we must not view our obedience of Allah's message as something which is sufficient to ensure our salvation. Our salvation is attained only through Allah's grace. But the choice is ours throughout our lives. The choice is to adopt a responsive or defiant attitude. Although when we make the right choice, we do not live up to it, Allah's grace is so great that our choice ensures our salvation.

• Birth — the purpose of our birth

Is anything mentioned in the Qur'an regarding the purpose of our birth? It seems that we are born to eat, work, sleep and get married, and perhaps pray but to create problems for others as well. Are we, Muslims, doing anything good for the benefit of human beings, as the West is doing? It looks as if we are living our lives without any specific purpose or goal.

You may be true about the condition of Muslims nowadays, the large majority of whom do not seem to have any specific purpose in life. But that is their own fault as they seem to neglect looking into their main sources of faith to determine their duties and their mission in life.

However, it is clearly mentioned in the Qur'an that God has created us to put us to a test so that we may prove who of us can utilize his life to the best purpose. God states in the Qur'an:

"He is the One who created the heavens and the earth in six days. His throne rises over the water, so He may test you: Who is finest in action." (11;7)

In the system of God's creation, there are the angels who can do only what is good. At no time can an angel do something evil or disobey God. On the other hand, Satans are the opposites: They can do only evil. Man is given the power of choice and he determines for himself whether to follow the guidance provided by God through his messengers or to indulge in satisfying his wanton desires. The test is made clear for man right from his early years and the chance to rectify his attitude and choose what is good for him is offered at every juncture. In fact, if he errs, he can at any moment correct his error, repent and turn to God for forgiveness. If he does so, then he is forgiven. When people abandon God's guidance, their lives on earth seem to be nothing more than eating, drinking and self-indulgence. God says in the Qur'an:

"God will admit the ones who believe and perform righteous deeds into gardens through which rivers flow, while those who disbelieve will enjoy themselves and eat just as animals do, and the fire will be their lodging place." (47;12)

You add that some people who pray also create problems for others. I am afraid that not many people do pray, but quite many of them are guilty of mischief, and try to take advantage of others, paying no attention to other people's interest.

You ask whether we do any good for the benefit of other human beings, citing the example of Westerners as do-gooders. I can say that as a community, a nation, or followers of a great faith, most of us do not do much good.

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