"Our Dialogue" 6th Edition Rev

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The responsibility for looking after your children lies on their uncles, in the absence of any nearer relatives, such as a grand-father or a brother. However, you need to sort this out by talking to all parties concerned. If your present husband is willing to support them [and you may have touched upon this important aspect with him before marrying], well and good. If he is not, then their uncles should give them enough maintenance. Obviously your own financial needs are provided by your husband, so the burden on their uncles is reduced. It may be that you need to come to an agreement which makes each party pay a share, so as to reduce the burden on each one of them.

• Children: Growing up where Islam does not exist

You have said that a child born into an unbelieving family must believe in Islam when he grows up into an adult and starts thinking. Otherwise, he is answerable for being a polytheist. Suppose that this child is born and grows up in a village where Islam simply does not exist. He lives all his life without being aware of Islam. Is he responsible for not becoming a Muslim?

It is the collective duty of the Muslim community throughout the world to convey the message of Islam to mankind and to make it clear to everyone that Allah had chosen Islam as a faith and a code of living for the human race. Therefore, everyone is required by Allah to believe in Oneness of Allah, the Supreme Being, and in the message of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. If there are impediments put in the way of the Muslim community to prevent it from discharging this duty, the community is expected to do everything in its power to remove these impediments.

It is the right of every human being to learn about Islam and to receive its message. If some people go through life without knowing about Islam or that they are required by Allah to believe in it, Allah will not hold them to account for not being Muslims. We have to remember that Allah is the most just of judges. Hence, He would not make any person accountable for not believing in something about which he knows nothing.

When we say that everyone is required to think and consider and choose his faith, we have in mind someone who has the means to know about different creeds and faiths and who has the ability to distinguish what is true from what is false. A person whom Allah has endowed with sound mind and given him education and opened to him the ways to learn about His message which is addressed to all mankind, is certainly responsible if he fails to make an intelligent choice or decides not to bother about the whole issue of faith and believing in Allah. It is such a person with whom we are concerned and whom we call upon to believe in the Oneness of Allah and in the message of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him.

• Children: Parents’ approach toward teaching Islamic faith

I was brought up as a Christian, but then I did not really believe in Christianity. When my husband explained to me the full meaning of the basic Islamic concept of the Oneness of Allah, I gladly accepted Islam. However, because of the wide discrepancy between people's practices and what they profess to believe in, my husband and I feel that we should give our son a completely free choice. We will teach him about Islam but the choice to be Muslim or not should remain his. Some people object to our attitude and say that we should bring him up as a Muslim. Are we wrong to adopt this approach.

I appreciate what you are aiming at. You will be surprised to know that Islam has established the principle of free choice for everyone. It requires every single one of its followers to accept it as a matter of choice, not because he or she has Muslim parents. Those who go through life, practicing Islam as a religion simply because they have been brought up into it, not questioning its principles and not looking into other choices available to them before making an enlightened decision to be Muslims, are considered negligent of an important duty. A Muslim is expected to choose his religion by himself. So, what you want for your son is in line with what Islam wants for him.

Having said that, I must say that I do not think that your approach is right. Perhaps you have not explained it fully to me, but I can only be guided by the information supplied to me by my kind readers.

The main point is that everyone of us has an inherent desire to know Allah and to believe in Him. This is part of our nature which Allah has implanted within us when He created us. If you look at the world generally, and people in different countries and cultures, as well as different generations of people, you find that to believe in Allah is an important need of every human being. If a child grows up not having received enough knowledge about his Creator, he is likely to be influenced by different creeds. He may not be able to formulate a consistent concept of the Creator. This leads him to confusion and, may be, to error. Therefore, every Muslim has a duty to fulfill toward his children, to make them fully aware of the Islamic concepts and what it means to every individual to believe in Allah, His messenger and in the Day of Judgment. There should be no coercion or pressure on the child to accept Islam in a dogmatic way. What is important is to have an enlightened approach toward learning about the Islamic faith and its requirement. The choice is eventually the child's.

You speak of Muslims whose practices, when they go abroad, leave much to be desired. This is certainly unfortunate, but then Islam does not believe in coercion. If people deviate from the moral standards of Islam, they know what their deviation entails. But you must also be aware of the fact that numerous young men and women from Muslim countries go abroad to study and continue to observe Islamic teachings and principles without hesitation. The difference between these two sets of young Muslims is largely due to the fact that one group has made an enlightened choice of Islam as a faith and a way of life while the other look at Islam as their inherited religion. What Islam requires of you is to bring up your child so as he or she could easily belong to the first group. He should be able to question things and make an enlightened choice. To do so, he must be fully aware of the facts of Islam. That is your role: To help him have that knowledge so that he can appreciate the benefits of Islam as a faith and the infinite good that results from adopting an Islamic way of life.

• Children: Parents’ misdeeds and the children’s suffering

In our part of the world people say that the children of people who were guilty of practices forbidden by God's law, such as corruption, theft, rape and murder, seem to suffer much. They experience misfortune, poverty, neglect, etc. According to the popular view, the suffering is only a natural consequence of the evil deeds of their parents. How far is this view acceptable?

I am sure that some examples could be quoted to prove this common belief. There are other examples to prove the reverse. Who commits more crimes against God's law than a dictator who does not care for human rights? He treats his people like sheep which he may kill for his food. Yet the children of dictators often live to enjoy vast wealth they get only because they were the children of a ruler who treated the whole country as his private farm.

There are other examples which may be quoted as well. There are many cases of a father who might not hesitate to commit any forbidden thing when they would serve his interest. His children may grow up as God-fearing people who do their best to stick to what is permissible and refrain from anything forbidden. Where does this lead us? Only to the basic Islamic principle that each individual has his own status. No one's destiny is determined by his parents' beliefs or behavior. God provides chances to every individual to recognize His guidance and to follow it. People either take these chances or ignore them.

Those who ignore them suffer, while those who take them and follow God's guidance enjoy His blessing and reward. Having said that, I would like to add that those who resort to theft, corruption and murder normally do not bring up their children well. They are busy planning for their offenses or trying to escape punishment. Hence their children may have the wrong sort of upbringing.

They are either spoilt or neglected. In either situation they are likely to suffer. Their suffering is due to their parents' not looking after them properly. It is not a punishment for their fathers' deeds. That punishment is incurred upon the ones who committed those offenses, not their children. God says in the Qur'an: "No one shall bear the burden of another." This applies to children and parents as much as it applies to others.

• Children: Parents’ responsibility for children’s deeds

Are parents responsible for their children's bad deeds? People say that if something bad happens to their children in their young age that is caused by the parents' bad deeds, and if their children do not look after them in their old age, it is because of some deed they had done. Please comment.

There is a statement repeated three times in the Qur'an to provide maximum emphasis. It says: "No soul shall bear the burden of another." This applies to parents and children in as much as it applies to unrelated people. Hence, no one is made to suffer on account of another person's bad deeds. It does not fit with divine justice that a child comes to harm because his father has committed so many evil acts, or that a parent is ill-treated on account of his children's bad deeds. The proper thing which is enforced in this world and throughout the universe is that God holds everyone to account for his or her own deeds.

Having said that, I should add that God may inflict punishment on some people in this life in order to make them an example so that others may take heed and refrain from willful disobedience. This means that they are made to suffer for their own deeds, and their suffering is limited to themselves.

In other words, if God decides to inflict punishment on someone, he does not make that suffering through evil befalling that person's children or parents. To do so does not fit in with God's justice.

• Children: Restricting the number of children

In a discussion with friends recently, some of us were of the opinion that there should be no restriction on the number of pregnancies or child-bearing. Others insisted on allowing time between every two pregnancies to give the mother a chance to recover and the child a chance to grow up more healthy. They said that temporary methods may be used for this purpose. Is this permissi­ble?

Experienced and honest doctors are unanimous in their view that pregnancy spacing, which means allowing two or three years between each two pregnancies is important for the health of the mother. It allows her time to recover her strength before she goes through another pregnancy which adds a significant burden on her health. They allow that frequent pregnancies, particularly by women in poor areas, may expose the mother to a number of health risks. Women who have several pregnancies in quick succession may suffer under-nourishment which aggravates the risk to which they are ex­posed. Since this has been proven beyond doubt, it is permissible, from the Islamic point of view, to take any legitimate steps which are calculated to give the mother a better standard of health.

It is only common sense to say that a mother with a young baby will be able to take better care of her young child if she is not pregnant than she can do during pregnancy. She can better breast-feed and take good care of the child during illness. This child will benefit a great deal if the mother is free to devote more time. In the light of the foregoing, it is both desirable and preferable to allow a period of time, such as 2-3 years between each two pregnancies.

Indeed Allah has helped make such pregnancy spacing easier by stating that the full term of breast feeding is two years. This encourages mothers to breast-feed their newborn children for two complete years. The majority of women do not get pregnant while breast-feeding, although a substantial proportion of them do. Women in the latter group need a supplementary method of birth control to enjoy a long enough period free of pregnancy. Such methods are permissible to adopt on the individual level, provided they are safe and involve nothing harmful to the woman or to the fetus. Methods which prevent conception are the one to be em­ployed. It has been authentically reported by some of the compan­ions of the Prophet that they used to resort to available methods of birth control and the Prophet did not forbid them that. He told them that such methods could not stop the creation of a human being, if Allah wills him or her to be created.

• Children: Rights of an illegitimate child

May I ask the responsibilities of a man who has a child born to him by an illegitimate relationship? What are the rights of the child? Does the man have to marry the mother? If so, does she need her father's permission to marry him? What about financial support to the child and how far is the father responsible to provide Islamic education to the child?

When a Muslim commits a sin, particularly one which is punishable by a specific punishment, he should not publicize what he has done. Publicity is an additional sin. If he makes a confession of what he had done, the punishment prescribed by Allah must be enforced. To make such a confession is permissible, but the Prophet teaches us that a person who commits a sin should not lift the mantle with which Allah has covered it. Therefore, a person who commits adultery should not publicize that. If he has a child born to him illegitimately and he marries the mother of the child, no one will ask him about the legitimacy of the child.

The relationship between an illegitimate child and his father is broken. That means that neither the child nor the father have any rights or duties toward each other. The two are like strangers. This means that the child does not have the right to be supported by the father, but equally the father cannot require the child to be dutiful to him.

However, the family relationship between the child and his mother is perfectly established and should be observed. The child has all the rights which any child claims from his mother, and so does she from him. He inherits her and she inherits him in the normal way. He must be dutiful to her and she has to support him.

You ask whether a man should or must marry the mother of his illegitimate child. There is an important rule included in Verse 3 of Surah 24 which states: "An adulterous man may only marry an adulterous woman or one who associates partners with Allah; while an adulterous woman may only be married to an adulterous man or one who associates partners with Allah. This is forbidden to believers." Therefore, one may not marry a partner who practices adultery or takes it lightly. If a man or a woman is known to do so, it is not permissible for a Muslim to marry him or her. It is only when such a person repents of his or her past conduct and resolves not to do it again that he or she may be married to a Muslim. In the light of the foregoing, if the man has repented of his sin, he may marry the woman if she has also repented. If both feel that they have done wrong and they want to live a proper life, obeying Allah and his messenger, they may get married and the man is recommended to help the woman keep her error a secret and bring up the child normally.

The marriage of such a woman is the same as the marriage of any other woman. In Islam, she must have her father or guardian present at her marriage.

It is needless to say that every child is entitled to be given proper Islamic education. How else could the father expect the child to avoid the sin which he himself has been guilty of?

• Children: Saving for the future of a child

We have recently had a baby born to us. We have thought of opening a saving account in his name so that he would find money to help him with his life requirements when he grows up. There is no interest free banking in our country. Can we go ahead and open an account for him?

The idea of putting aside some money for the child is a very good one, because it provides the child with something at the start of his working life in due course.

However, if this is your first child, then you have to bear in mind that you would do the same for every child, boy or girl, you may have in future in order to maintain justice among your children. You may alternatively decide that this saving account is for your children, to be shared equally in due course, no matter how many you have eventually have.

The important point in this is that this account must not involve anything forbidden. Otherwise you would be starting your children on the wrong course. Interest is very similar to usury and God has forbidden usury in all shapes and forms.

Therefore, I would strongly urge you not to expose your child to this type of transaction at this stage when he does not have any say in the matter and does not have the ability to distinguish between what is lawful and what is not. My advice is that you should use for him an Islamic bank, which operates a scheme of saving that is acceptable from the Islamic point of view. A bank, which operates a profit-and-loss sharing account scheme, is acceptable.

You say that there is no such bank in your home country. You should try and keep the savings in such a bank even if it means that you keep them in a foreign country. However, this may be against the law in your country. If it is, you have to look for a scheme, which is Islamically acceptable. If you can find none, then you may try to invest the money with a businessman whom you can trust. Whatever you do, you must not expose your child to interest or any usurious transaction.

• Christians: Muslims insulting their religious book, the bible

Is a Muslim liable to punishment if he tears off the Bible during a quarrel with Christians?

A Muslim is required to treat the followers of other religion with respect. Although he does not agree with their practices or with their concepts, he must keep that disagreement within the limits which do not cause them to be offended. Allah gives us an express order in the Qur'an not to abuse verbally the idols which disbelievers associate as partners with Allah. This is mentioned in verse 106 of Surah 6 which clarifies the reason for that prohibition, explaining that if we were to hurl verbal abuse on their idols, they will retaliate with hurling verbal abuse on Allah Himself. Mistaken as their concepts are and idolatrous as their practices may be, every community considers their actions sound, wise and correct.

It is needless to say that this prohibition applies to everything that the followers of other religions consider as sacred.

With Christians and Jews, we certainly have a special relationship, they follow religions which have divine origins contained in revelations vouchsafed by Allah to His two great messengers, Moses and Jesus, peace be upon them both. Although we know that distortion has crept into the revelations contained in the Torah and the Gospel, they remain sacred to the followers of these two religions. If a Muslim tears off the Gospel or the Bible, he should not wonder at a retaliatory action which may involve tearing off the Qur'an. He would have invited such an action which is bound to cause him great distress in addition to the fact that it is totally uncalled for. A Muslim must always remember the Prophet's definition of a strong person. He says: "A strong person is not the one who can overcome others physically, but the one who controls himself when angry."

You say about the punishment for such an action. Most offenses do not have specified punishment. It is left to a Muslim judge to determine the punishment in accordance with the teachings of the Qur'an and the Sunnah. If a Muslim is brought before an Islamic court for having torn off the Bible during a quarrel with a Christian, he is certain to be punished either by a fine or imprisonment or both, or indeed any other punishment the judge may decide.

• Christians: Muslims partaking in the celebration of Christmas

Some years ago I married an English girl who decided later to convert to Islam, without any pressure from me. We had then to move to Denmark where we have been living for the last few years. Needless to say, that has restricted our visiting my parents-in-law. It so happens that my wife and children visit her parents for two weeks at Christmas time. The parents accept the fact that their daughter has become a Muslim and respect Islamic teachings with regard to food and drink when she is with them, to the extent that we do not see pork or an alcoholic drink in their home during our visits. My wife gives them gifts at Christmas and they in return give her and my children presents at Christmas. I am thinking of telling my wife not to visit them next Christmas. Please advise.

A woman companion of the Prophet once told him that her mother had come to visit her, and that the mother was a non-believer who shared the pagan beliefs of the Arabs. She asked the Prophet whether it was appropriate for her to be kind and dutiful to her mother. The Prophet ordered her to be so.

You have been following the proper practice which Islam urges by maintaining good relations with your wife's parents. From what you have said about their behavior, they seem to be broad-minded people who will not cause you, your wife or children any harm. You may maintain warm relations with them.

Nor is there any harm in giving them gifts on Christmas, because the Prophet did not instruct Muslims not to do so. On the contrary, giving non-believers presents on their festive occasions is encouraged as long as they behave in a proper manner toward Muslims and Islam. Your parents-in-law seem to fall in this category of people. If you feel uneasy about your children developing the habit of associating Christmas with festivity and good presents from their grandparents, then perhaps you could suggest to your parents-in-law, in a gentle way that does not offend them, that you would prefer that they delay the gifts to your children until the new year, or some other occasion, such as Eid. You should try to make sure first that they will receive your suggestion without taking offense, and that they will be accommodating. If you determine that they may be offended at your suggestion, then it may be more advisable not to broach the subject at all. Instead, you can explain to your children that the gifts they receive at Christmas have no religious value. From what you tell me about your children and the way they cope with interfaith relationship, I feel that they will easily understand.

• Christians: Muslims putting across Islamic view to preachers

Over the last year or so, my family and I have been regularly visiting our Christian neighbors, on their insistence. They have taught us about their Bible, and the impact of their teaching on us is frightening. My wife and two children join them in prayer and go to church with them. I do not wish to deny being a party to it. Our neighbors have been so convincing and the thoughts of conversion to Christianity is not very far from our minds. May I put to you certain points which have had a telling effect on us? Perhaps you could enlighten us on these, putting across the Islamic point of view. Please do not shirk away from your responsibility and give us your comments.

I have nothing to say against your Christian neighbors for trying to win you over to their faith. They have been doing what they believe to be right, and simply tried to persuade your family to follow the faith which they believe to be the right faith. No one may blame them for that.

I am taking the points raised by the reader in his letter, one by one, hoping that he will come to the conclusion that doubts have only crept into his mind because he has not had enough Islamic education to strengthen the faith he received from his parents. Had he gone to a scholar in his area and spoken to him about these points, he would have had satisfactory answers for all of them.

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