"Our Dialogue" 6th Edition Rev

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However, some of us, in our little way, do a great deal for other people. Nevertheless, the example you have chosen does not serve your purpose well. In order to be clear, I acknowledge without hesitation that as individuals, the majority of Western people are good in their own way. But when we speak of a society and a government, then it is the West which has spent and is still spending so much on arms of mass destruction, selling them to countries in the Third World and encouraging them to make their countries experimental battle fields, thus sapping their resources and keeping them in continuing poverty. I realize that we should not blame the West for our own mistakes, but when we speak of the West as governments and societies working for the benefit of mankind, then our argument may be heavily lopsided.

• Birthday of the Prophet, peace be upon him: Celebration of

In many Muslim countries, the Prophet's birthday is celebrated with functions which include chanting slogans and poems. Since some scholars participate in these functions, it is assumed that they are appropriate. Please comment.

Neither the Prophet nor any of his companions celebrated or marked his birthday in any way or manner. Hence, we cannot attribute any particular significance to such an occasion. What we have to remem­ber is that our religion, as conveyed to us by the Prophet, is complete. Nothing can be added to it. Allah Himself says in the Qur'an that He has completed and perfected our religion for us. If something has been perfected by Allah, it cannot be made "more perfect" by man through any additions or amendment. The question is simple and straightforward. If the Prophet and his companions considered celebrating the Prophet's birthday to be part of our worship, then why did they not do it? They cannot be accused of any omission, since the Prophet conveyed Allah's message complete to us. His companions were keen to fulfill every obligation and recommendation he pointed out to them. Since none of them cele­brated the Prophet's birthday, it follows then that it has no particular significance.

Those scholars who take part in such activities either do this in order to keep traditional practices, or they are not scholars at all. If they know that such celebrations are not part of Islamic worship, then they should try to enlighten people, not simply do what the people like them to do. Otherwise, they would not have fulfilled their trust. If their knowledge is incomplete, we should seek guidance from learned scholars.

• Birthday of the Prophet, peace be upon him: Significance of

The month of Rabi Ul-Awal, which is the third month of the lunar year, has a special significance for Muslims. According to the more authentic reports, Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, ibn Abdullah was born in that month, ..... His birth signaled a new stage in human history, since he was destined to be the man who would receive and convey Allah's final message to mankind. With him the process of divine revelation was to reach its climax, for it was through Muhammad, peace be upon him, that we received the Qur'an, which provided a complete and final constitution for human life on earth. Allah has taken it upon Himself to preserve the Qur'an intact in order that all human generations should have the same divine guidance.

The occasion of the birth of the Prophet was, then, a great one. Yet we do not celebrate his birth in any formal or ritual manner. This is because we have received our religion of Islam from Allah through Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. Allah has given us our religion complete, and by doing so, He has perfected the grace He has bestowed on us, as He expressly tells us in Verse 3 of Surah 5: "This day I have completed your religion for you and perfected My grace on you and have chosen Islam to be your religion." What is complete and perfect can admit no addition. The Prophet did not celebrate his birthday, nor did he ever hint that its celebration was of any religious significance. His companions, who provided the perfect model of how Islam should be practiced, did not celebrate it either. Hence, we cannot make of the Prophet's birthday a religious occasion.

It is always important, however, to remember the Prophet and give him the love and respect he deserves. He was the means through which we received Allah's guidance. Equally important was the fact that he provided for us the perfect example of how to live in accordance with that guidance. Every thought, every feeling and every deed he had or did was conceived within the framework of the guidance Allah chose for man. Every utterance or statement he made had the single aim of getting people to know Allah's guidance and put it into practice. Nothing gave him greater happiness than the acceptance of Islam by a new person. He personally did not gain anything from that. His only gain was that another human being had seen the light.

Ever since the Prophet realized what role Allah had chosen for him, he dedicated himself totally to the task in hand. He did not hesitate to take any risk, speak to any person, undertake any action or spend any amount of money in service of his cause. He did not aspire to any of the luxuries of this life. He lived the life of a poor man. When he was the sole master of the whole of Arabia, he prayed: "My Lord, let me live a poor man, and die a poor man, and resurrect me on the day of judgment with the poor."

The Qur'an describes the Prophet as "kind and benevolent to the believers." His kindness and benevolence was unequaled. They were also shown, in equal measure, to all believers. He would go himself to a family in order to propose to them that they marry their daughter to a poor man of his companions, knowing that the man stood little chance of being accepted should he go by himself.

He would lay the body of a dead young man of his companions in his grave and pray Allah to be pleased with him because the young man did not have any relatives in the Muslim community. His companions were unanimous in describing the great care he showed to the weak among his companions. We are told that any young child was able to take him by the hand wherever it wanted. He would not leave it until he had done for it whatever it wanted.

He enjoyed the love of his companions and followers to a degree which defied any comparison. They laid their lives at his fingertip. They did not make him forget his modesty at any moment. He continued to remind them that he was simply "the son of a Makkan woman who used to eat dried meat."

Yet his anger was great indeed when anyone tried to usurp a right which belonged to Allah.

He recognized the great favor Allah bestowed on him by choosing him to convey His last message to mankind. When he conquered Makkah, an almost bloodless conquest which represented his greatest victory, he entered the holy city with his head as low as possible, in gratitude to Allah for that favor.

The Prophet was a great statesman and a shrewd military commander. He was also the perfect model of modesty, kindness and compassion. He conveyed his message complete and perfect. He has left with us divine guidance which ensures that we do not sink into error. He, then, deserves our whole love.

How should we love the Prophet? He has indeed given us guidance even on this question. He tells us: "No one of you is a true believer until I am dearer to him than himself, his money, children and all people." His great companion, Umar, once said to him: "Messenger of Allah, you are dearer to me than everything else with the exception of myself." The Prophet said: "No, Umar! You must love me more than you love yourself." Umar said: "I do love you more than I love everything else, including myself." The Prophet said: "Now you have got it, Umar," meaning true faith.

This is not a simple thing, easily achieved. It is something which requires a great effort and a perfect understanding of Islam and the position of the Prophet. Moreover, it requires us to overcome our natural and deeply seated love of ourselves in order to obey the Prophet in every small matter as we obey him in the more serious affairs.

• Biscuits with surah for improving memory

My son who is aged 12 is in the initial stage of memorizing the Qur'an. A friend of mine suggested to me to give him biscuits to eat after writing on them the surah 'Al-Fateha', or the Opening with saffron. I know the importance of this surah, but I am at a loss to understand how can it be used as energizer. To support his argument, my friend has shown me some religious books as reference. Your comments will be highly appreciated.

I am too at a loss to understand what your friend has suggested. You may ask your friend whether it is the biscuits, the saffron or the surah which helps the memorizing this way. Or is it perhaps the three together. Will the prescription work if you use the saffron to write on something other than biscuits? What if you write it with sugar or a mixture of spices? To my mind, this is an absolute absurdity. The Qur'an is not to be used in this way. It is far better for your son to start his session of memorization with reading the surah Al-Fateha, to put himself in the proper frame of mind for memorization. You may help him by a little prayer to Allah to help him. On the other hand, for any mental exercise, it helps if the boy is well nourished. This is not to say that he should eat before a session of memorization, but to have enough nourishment generally. Also it helps if he has enough recreation. In other words, you should not be too strict with your son, allowing him no time to play in order to attend to his lessons and memorization of the Qur'an. A boy at this age needs physical exercise and mental recreation.

You say that he showed you some books as reference, and you call these books religious. Let me tell you very briefly that not everything you read in a book which the author or the readers claim to be a religious book is correct. There is plenty of stuff claimed to be part of our religion which has no foundation whatsoever.

Therefore, when you find something contrary to common sense being claimed to be part of our religion, you should question it. Your questioning should be on the lines that you will need supporting evidence from the Qur'an or the authentic Hadith. If no such support is provided, then you hold it in doubt until you make sure of its correctness by asking a scholar who should be able to give you the religious argument for it. If he cannot give you supporting evidence or a sound argument, then he probably is not a well read scholar. You then leave that thing altogether.

• Bowing when we greet

What is the Islamic view of bowing when we greet someone?

Any action which is similar to an act of worship is forbidden in Islam when it is offered to anyone other than Allah. To bow one's head or to do any similar gesture when one meets another person is to do something akin to an act of worship. Therefore, it is unacceptable from the Islamic point of view. As you realize, bowing is part of our prayer. Even when you do not bow fully as you do in prayer, to lower your head in order to greet someone falls in the same category as doing something which is similar to worship, but you are offering it to a human being. That cannot be sanctioned by Islam.

• Boy meets (or goes out with) a girl

I have tried to find a ruling in the Qur'an or the Hadiths on a man going out with a woman, but I could find none. Since it is only natural to be attracted to the opposite sex, it seems to me that such a meeting, or going out, is permissible. If you disagree, how could you justify your ruling, when it is Allah who has made this mutual attraction part of our nature?

It is true that Allah has placed this attraction in our nature. Otherwise, humankind would not have been preserved. Allah, however, wants us to satisfy our natural desire in a clean, legitimate way. Therefore, He regulated the relationship between the two sexes on the basis of marriage.

This applies to every natural desire common to all mankind. We need to eat in order to live and there is a natural desire to eat which is common to all people. Unlike animals, which satisfy their hunger in a mechanical, instinctive way, man has refined his approach to food so as to make it part of human civilization. It is natural for men to enjoy tasty food. If you are walking along a country road and you see a fruit tree, heavy with ripe, tasty fruit, you are not allowed to pick one and eat it without the permission of the owner. Yet, if you do, you are only satisfying a natural desire which is closely related to your existence. As you know, without food we cannot live more than a few days. All human beings agree that only goods obtained in a legitimate manner are permissible to eat. You cannot just take what does not belong to you. You have to buy it or be given it as a present. Otherwise, you commit a sin if you take it away. The same applies to the satisfaction of natural tendencies of establishing a relationship which must be legitimate and the only legitimate relationship in this connection is that of marriage. The fact that the attraction is natural does not mean that we can seek its satisfaction in an unruly or undisciplined manner. Its satisfaction is regulated within the marriage institution. This distinguishes Islamic society by its clean, healthy relationship.

It is forbidden in Islam for a man to be alone with a woman who is not his wife, or a very close relative (i.e. one whom he cannot marry), in a room where they cannot be seen. This is not due to any lack of trust in either the man or the woman. It is only meant to strengthen them against any temptation. Abdullah ibn Abbas quotes the Prophet as saying: "Let no one of you be alone with a woman except in the presence of a relative whom she may not marry." (Related by Al-Bukhari and Muslim) Ahmad also relates a Hadith in which the Prophet is quoted to have said: "He who believes in Allah and the Last Day must not be alone with a woman without the presence of a close relative of hers which she may not marry. Otherwise, Satan would be the third one with them." This applies even to a relative whom the woman may marry such as her cousin. She must never allow herself to be alone with him where they cannot be seen.

• Bribery viz.-a-viz. coercion

In my country, corruption has become so widespread among government officials that it is almost impossible to obtain one's rights without having to pay some official or another. In some cases, people have to pay government officials just to be allowed to carry on with their business which is legitimate and allowed by the government. If the official is not paid, he creates untold problems. Scholars in our locality say that paying such bribes is permissible. Please comment.

There is no doubt that bribery is forbidden. The Prophet curses the one who pays bribery and the one who receives it. We have, however, to be clear about what constitutes bribery. The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines it as: "Money, etc. offered to procure (often illegal or dishonest) action or decision in favor of the giver." This is indeed the sense of the Arabic word "Rashwah" which the Prophet has used in the Hadith which invokes Allah's curse on both the briber and the bribed. The reason is that through bribe the giver gains an unfair advantage. The practice is, therefore, an unjust one since it causes another person to be deprived of his rights. Moreover, the recipient of a bribe uses his position in order to give unfair advantage to the giver. [ Be it just the fact that the giver gets his perfectly legitimate work done - out of his proper turn. Thus, another person's turn is delayed and an unfair advantage is obtained by the giver. This is equally unacceptable.) This is corruption if any action deserves the description of being corrupt.

What you are speaking about, however, is something different. A government official makes use of his position in order to procure for himself something which he cannot otherwise get. Moreover, what he is receiving is paid to him by people against their will. Had the matter been left to them, they would not have paid him a single halalah (one hundredth of a riyal). Therefore, we cannot describe it as paying bribery. One is actually paying a penalty or a fine, for nothing wrong one has done, but simply to be allowed to carry on with one's legitimate business.

Keeping that in view, I would say that if you are absolutely certain that what you are doing is absolutely legitimate and you are not seeking to have unfair advantage and you are paying that official simply to avoid whatever trouble he can cause you, then it is not forbidden to pay him. If you can do without payment, it is all the better, but if you cannot get your right without giving a "sweetener", as the expression goes, then you have no option.

Some scholars take a stricter view and say that when we pay such officials, we are actually encouraging them to use their position unfairly. If many of us stand up to them and refuse to pay them, then they will not be able to demand payment. This is certainly true, but we are often in a position where we cannot do anything about our immediate situation. (We submit to coercion.) We should try hard to stop such a practice, but until we are able to do so, we may have occasionally to play the game as it is.

• Bridge to hell

Religious preachers in my country often mention a bridge which they describe as sharper than the edge of a sword. They claim that everyone will be required to cross it on the Day of Judgment. The pious will pass without difficulty, while the non-believers will fall off it into hell. Please comment.

Allah tells us in the Qur'an that every single person shall come close to hell. He says: "Everyone of you will come within sight of it: this is with your Lord a decree that must be fulfilled. We shall then save (from hell) those who have been God-fearing: but We shall leave in it the evildoers, on their knees." (19:71-72). There are several Hadiths which mention "the bridge to hell". While one report mentions that this bridge is as sharp as the edge of a sword, the more authentic ones do not mention that particular aspect. These authentic Hadiths mention that believers will cross it as quickly as a wink, or lighting, or wind, or fast horses. What determines their speed is the quality of their deeds in this world. Those with the best deeds are the first and the fastest to cross it. In a Hadith reported by Abdullah ibn Massoud, the Prophet is quoted as saying: "They (i.e. believers) are told to save themselves according to their light (which is given them in proportion to their good deeds). Some of them will pass as quickly as a wink, some as wind, some as birds, some as fast horses and some as people running. The last of them is a man who has no more light than the size of his large toes, and who stumbles over the bridge. In one version of this Hadith, this last person is reported to turn to Allah and ask Him why has He made his crossing so slow. Allah will answer him: "It is your deeds that have made you slow." It is needless to say that the non believers will not be able to cross this bridge.

• Brothers — their obligations to sisters

What are the obligations of an elder married brother to his younger sisters, some of whom are unmarried but their parents have died? Is he required to tighten his belt so much in order to give his younger sisters good education? Is it right that he should waive his right to the property left by his parents so that his sisters may have it all for their own, claiming that this would provide for only a temporary life. A further reason he gives is that his father has the right to give the property to whomsoever he wanted because the father was the owner. If that elder brother's wife objects, she is told that she does not have any right to do so. Please comment, and kindly point out whether it is right that a woman should work for her living rather than be a dependent on her brother.

From the way this question is phrased, I can guess that it reflects some long-standing contention between a man with a keen sense of responsibility toward his family, particularly his sisters and an attitude of self-denial that extends before what can be reasonably expected of him in order to impose sacrifice on his own wife and children. Let me say first of all that I am full of admiration for such a person, although I feel he may need to take some highly necessary steps to ensure balance in his overall attitude.

The first thing to be said about this gentleman is that he prefers to ensure that his sisters have their full shares and receive good education, even though that might deprive him of something to which he is fairly entitled. This gentleman may expect to receive the right reward which God preserves for those who look properly after their womenfolk. The Prophet is quoted to have said: "A person who looks well after two young girls until they come of age will be my companion in heaven." If a man understands this properly and works for this prize, always ready to sacrifice what belongs to him in order to ensure that his sisters or his daughters receive their fair share, or even more than their fair share, then he must not be blamed. He is like a person who has been promised a very rich prize and works hard to achieve it.

The man who is the subject of this question appears to have a good vision of what his sisters need. Therefore, he is sacrificing his comfort to have his sisters educated. It is their education that would ensure that they are well brought up.

Although the questioner does not give me the full details of the problem, I gather that this man's father had wanted his family home to be shared out between the daughters, and that this elder brother has approved this. What I have to say about this situation is that the father should not have done so. He should have maintained justice between his children. But if the son, or the eldest son in this case, has approved what his father has done, then the matter is settled. The son's wife does not have the right to object, because this is a matter between members of her husband's family and they have to make an agreement together. If she accepts this situation and shows her husband that she fully appreciates his kindness to his sisters, she will get better than the lost share which has raised her complaint. Her husband appears to be a very kind man. His kindness will not end with his sisters. She is bound to receive her fair share of it provided that she shows that she is keen to have peace in her family. Therefore, she should not always remind him that he is doing this and that for his sisters. She should tell him that she is proud to have such a kind man for a husband.

What worries me in this whole situation is that this man may be asking his wife and children to sacrifice their comfort for the sake of others. If his kindness to his sisters creates an imbalance, then he should reconsider some of his actions. He should ensure that his wife and children receive their fair share of his kindness. If he does, then no one can object to the kindness he may show to his sisters.

There is no reason to prevent a Muslim woman doing any honorable or respectable job to earn her living instead of being dependent on her family.

• Bullet-proof soldiers

In our un-conquered Bansamoro country, a great number of Moro Mujahedeen are famous for being invincible. They fight with the ferocity of a tiger and bravery of a lion. Rain of bullets from firearms do not touch their bodies, even when fired from a close range. If any such bullet touches them, it only leaves a mark on their skin similar to that of a cigarette burn. Their fearlessness is an inherent characteristic. What makes them highly confident is their belief that it is Allah's will, not bullets, which may kill them. I have seen some of them totally unaffected by the passing of any cutting tool with a sharp blade over their bodies. They say that they derive their invincible power from Allah, the Almighty. They do a great deal of "thikr," remembering Allah's name, and they have special skills which enable them to face great weapons rather than fight them. May I ask whether we have in our history any stories of invincible Muslim fighters. Is it possible for us to perform miracles or do extraordinary things if we are absorbed with thikr, or remembrance of Allah?

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