There is no rigid ruling concerning dancing, just like many other activities. Decent dancing which does not aim at arousing unacceptable emotions, and does not make of the women's body an object of exciting desires, and does not involve holding or pulling close to oneself a member of the opposite sex, is permissible. Many communities have folk dancing which is acceptable from the Islamic point of view. The dancers would be respectably dressed and the dance may involve elaborate movements, but it remains decent. It involves no exciting of desire to do anything forbidden. When such dances are performed by men, or when they are performed by women in presence of women audience only, these are permissible.
When the delegation from Abyssinia visited the Prophet, they performed some of their folk dancing in the mosque. The Prophet watched them and he also lowered his shoulders so that Lady Aisha, his wife, could watch. Had every type of dancing been forbidden, the Prophet would not have done so. He would have made the ruling clear to all present.
• Darwin's theory of evolution
During a discussion, a friend of mine claimed that human beings came from apes (Darwin's theory of evolution). This led to a heated argument and a scar on our friendship. May I ask who were the first human beings on earth? Whom did they worship and who was their god?
The theory of evolution has two basic flaws. It observes in fine details the gradation of species from one-cell organisms up to the chimpanzee and man, who the theory considers to be the next in line. Advocates of the evolution theory have admitted this and sought to explain by speaking about a "missing link". The other basic flaw in this theory is that it cannot be proven in any scientifically acceptable way. Its argument is rather didactic. It makes a huge jump from scientific observation to theorization about life and existence. Thus, it imposes its theory on scientific findings. Perhaps it is appropriate to state here that Muslim scientists have observed the gradation of species, not only in the animal world but also in the world of plants. They referred to the fact that there is a very fine line which separated one species from the next. They also observed that there are two huge gaps: The one which separates the highest from the lowest, i.e. the chimpanzee from man. However, Muslim scientists did not seek to impose any arbitrary theory of life on their findings. They simply attributed this gradation to its appropriate cause, the will of Allah, the Creator of all.
As Muslims, we recognize only one source for the formulation of our concepts of life and the role of man. That source is divine revelations. We know that Allah has revealed the Qur'an, His last message, through the angel Gabriel to His last messenger, Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. Allah has also guaranteed that the Qur'an which contains His message, will remain intact, free from distortion, for the rest of time. Therefore, we must refer to the Qur'an for the formulation of our concepts of life and creation. We know that the knowledge contained in the Qur'an is factual, because it comes from the Creator whose knowledge is limitless and absolute. We cannot, therefore, abandon this factual source of knowledge, preferring it to a scientific theory which is liable to amendment or improvement as even its most outspoken advocates admit. On the basis of information Allah has given us in the Qur'an, we state without hesitation that human life on earth started with Adam, peace be upon him, who was created of clay and Allah breathed of His spirit into him. Therefore, man is the result of a combination of clay and spirit. He came into existence as a result of Allah's will when He decided to appoint a vice regent on earth. How did Allah breathe His spirit into Adam whom He made of clay and when did all this happen are details which He has not chosen to give us. Therefore, we need not concern ourselves with these for two reasons: First, we have no means of finding out the answers with any degree of certainty because the only source which can give us such information, namely, Allah (limitless He is in His glory) has chosen not to tell us. Second, our knowledge of such details will not be of any help to us in the fulfillment of our task which is given to us by Allah, namely, the building of human life on earth. Had such information been of benefit to us in this regard, Allah would not have withheld it.
You ask about the God worshipped by the first human beings. There has always been obviously one God, Allah. Adam was a prophet who taught his children how to worship Allah alone. The Unitarian faith existed as long ago as man himself. What professors of comparative religion in Western universities assert about the development of religious beliefs is totally untrue. They claim that man started with primitive concepts of God and worshipped forces of nature and represented them with idols and totters, etc. Later, as man developed, his beliefs also developed and he started to believe in a small number of deities, who were then reduced to two before the concept of monotheism evolved. All this is contrary to what Allah tells us in the Qur'an. Allah gave Adam, the first man on earth, the message based on the Oneness of Allah. His children continued to worship Allah alone for many generations before deviation crept into their faith. Therefore, Allah sent them prophets and messengers to call on them to revert to the Unitarian faith. They made such a return at the time of Prophet Noah, when the group of believers who survived the flood with Noah , started a new social order. Other returns were achieved by other prophets in different communities. This message was given its complete and final form in the Qur'an revealed to Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, Allah's last messenger.
• Day of judgment: Signs, indications
Are there any signs and indications of the approach of the day of judgment? Could you please outline them?
There are very clear statements in the Qur'an concerning the day of resurrection. The first is that its timing is known only to God who keeps it to Himself: "They question you concerning the hour and when it will come. Say: 'Its knowledge belongs to my Lord. He alone will reveal it at its appointed time." (7:187) We also know that it will arrive suddenly. "It will overtake you without warning."
We are told in the Qur'an that it will be preceded by strange happenings in the universe. One of these is that a walking creature will come out of the earth which will speak to people. This is a true piece of information mentioned in Verse 82 of Surah 27, entitled 'The Ants.' We do not know exactly what sort of creature this will be but it must be something like animals, because the word used to denote it is normally used to refer to walking animals. Since God has not given us any more information about this creature, we do not venture to say any more. We only say that we believe the Qur'anic statement as it is, knowing that God is able to do what He pleases in the manner and fashion He chooses.
Another indication which the Qur'an has mentioned is the release of Gog and Magog after the collapse of the wall which separates them from us. We do not know who are Gog and Magog, or where their land lies, or where the wall is. If we manage to identify these on the basis of research and linking various sorts of evidence and we come up with a conclusion which is not contrary to the Qur'an, we accept it. Otherwise, we accept the Qur'anic statement in its generality.
There are other indications which have been outlined in authentic Hadiths, such as true knowledge becomes scanty, while ignorance becomes widespread. Drinking intoxicants and adultery becomes commonplace. Women become greater in number than men, and honesty becomes a rare commodity in human society. Social standards become inconsistent, and lowly people rise in society. The impostor will make his appearance when he will delude a great many people. None but the true believers will be able to recognize that he is an impostor. The second coming of Jesus, the Messiah, will then follow, and he will certainly support the message of God's final Prophet, Muhammad, peace be upon him.
• Day of Judgment: Uniting of married couples
It is said that married couples who earn God's pleasure will be united again in the life to come. What happens if a woman who has lost her first husband is married to another and all three are obedient to God and keen to do their duty in this life? With which of her husbands would a woman be united?
I prefer not to go into the details of what things will be like on the Day of Judgment, and which people will receive what treatment. These are matters that God determines. We know that God will be most kind to those who have been obedient in this life and who try to abide by God's orders and instructions. His kindness knows no limit. His grace will be shown to everyone who is good. Therefore, if a woman had married in this life two husbands, both of whom she loved and with both of whom she was happy, God is certain to have all three of them satisfied and happy in the life to come.
It is important to realize in this respect that the sexual desire is very much a matter of this life, not of the life to come. This desire is closely related to the instinct of survival and ensures the continuity of the human race. In the life to come, this is not required. People would have an everlasting life. They do not need to procreate, because the test of the human race will have been over. In these circumstances, it is not difficult to envisage that a woman who had two husbands will be in heaven with both of them, and all three will be bound by a feeling of close relationship as obedient servants to God. On the day of judgment, the believers will have been purged of any ill-feelings they may have toward others.
• Daybreak: When does a day start?
A day starts at the time when Fajr, or dawn prayer falls due. That takes place, roughly speaking, at about one and a half hour before sunrise. The common practice of considering that a day begins at 12 mid-night is simply an agreed convention. People may have agreed to start a day at sunrise or at 7 o'clock in the morning or at any particular time. From the Islamic point of view, it starts with the first act of worship in a 24-hour cycle, and marked by a new chance to earn reward from Allah for good actions which may be done during the day.
We have a hadith in which the Prophet is quoted to have said : " With every break of dawn, a voice cries out : son of Adam, I am a new creation to witness your actions. Do make the best of me because I shall never return until the day of judgment. "
• Daydreaming about committing offenses
A person I know seems to have a hyperactive imagination, repeatedly fantasizing about committing crimes and offenses that are impossible for him to commit. Is such daydreaming a sin?
Allah forgives us what we may contemplate of offenses and crimes. He takes us to account only for what we commit. However, the person whose case you have mentioned should make an effort to stop his daydreaming. If he always thinks of committing such offenses, a day may come when he falls victim to his active imagination and commits the offenses in question.
• Death: A grieving daughter's suffering
I still keenly feel the loss of my mother who died 10 months ago. I am often in tears mourning her. Since she is buried in a grave near our house, I often go there to sit near the grave and talk to her. Can she hear me? I am told that crying hurts her. People also say that when a person dies, he forgets about living. Is this true?
That you so keenly feel the loss of your mother is understandable, particularly if you were so close to her when she was alive. The important point is that your sense of loss must not develop into a protest to God's will. As long as you accept that death occurs by the will of God and that we have to accept it without protest, feeling your grief is perfectly understandable.
When the Prophet's last son died, he was in tears, and he said: "An eye may be tearful, and a heart may be full of grief, and we are certainly sad to have to lose you, Ibrahim."
That your tears would hurt your deceased mother is not true. How would they when she has no way of knowing that you are in tears for her loss? But what you should guard against is lamenting her departure with wails and words which may not be acceptable from the Islamic point of view. Such wailing and lamenting is forbidden because it goes beyond the expression of sorrow to saying things that are often untrue, in addition to putting up a show that does not fit with the concept of accepting God's will.
There is no harm in visiting the grave of your mother, provided that you do not make a scene of your sorrow. If you 'talk to her', as you do, then I have to tell you that she cannot hear what you say. God says in the Qur'an: "You cannot make those in the graves hear what you say."
What you should do is to pray to God as often as possible for your mother, and appeal to Him to have mercy on your mother and to forgive her whatever mistakes she might have done during her life, and to give her a higher position in heaven. When you do that, you will feel that you are doing something to benefit her.
The Prophet, peace be upon him, says: "When a human being dies, all his (or her) actions come to an end, except in one of three ways: A continuing act of charity, or a useful contribution to knowledge, or a dutiful child who prays to God for him." You may also benefit your mother by offering the Umrah or pilgrimage, or giving sadaqah, or by reading the Qur'an and requesting to credit the reward of your recitation to her.
We know that all the dead will be resurrected on the day of judgment when they will have to account for what they have done in this life, and on the basis of that reckoning their fate is determined. May God grant you the ability to bear your loss with fortitude and to do what benefits your mother.
• Death: Body and the spirit
What sort of pain is associated with death: how does it start and how long does it last? Will the angels of death be visible to us and do they show us the place to which we will be taken? Is it necessary to recite the "kalimah" to a dying person? Why do we apply honey to his lips? Does the spirit hear or see people after a person has died? Does it feel pain if the body is moved or touched? Does the pain vary from one person to another?
As you are aware, man is made of the combination of spirit and body. As long as they are united, he is alive. Once the spirit departs from the body, that human being dies. What causes this separation is Allah's will, since He has given each one of us a specific life duration, at the end of which we die. It is to be expected that the departure of the spirit from the body may be associated with pain which is different from the pain one experiences during an illness. No one, however, can describe this pain, since those who die do not return to this life. We have a Hadith from which we infer that the experience of this separation varies according to whether or not the dying person is a believer. Abu Hurairah quotes the Prophet as saying: "When a believer is about to die, the angels come to him with a white sheet of silk and say: Come out, good soul, well pleased and well pleasing to a world of mercy and roses and to meet a Lord who is not displeased. It comes out with an odor which is more pleasant than musk. The angels hand him over one to the other until they get him to the door of heaven where its angels say: What a pleasant smell has come to you from earth. They bring him over to meet the spirits of believers who are more joyful to meet him than any one of you when he meets a dear relative who has come back after a long absence. When a disbeliever is about to die, the angels who administer torture come to him with rugs and say: Come out, you spirit, displeased to receive divine punishment. It comes out smelling like a most rotten corpse and they take it to the earth gate where the angels say: What a rotten soul. Then they throw him with the spirits of disbelievers. Related by Al Nassaie, and by Muslim in an abridged form.
Let me point out, however, that suffering extreme anguish at the time of death is not indicative of any judgment on the person concerned. It must never be assumed that a person who dies a very calm and peaceful death is in a position of favor, or that a person who suffers much anguish is in a position of disfavor. The Prophet himself endured much pain at the time of his death. This has made Lady Aisha say: "I do not envy anyone a peaceful death after having seen what God's Messenger has endured" (Related by Al Bukhari).
We certainly try to get a dying person to say the "kalimah", or repeat the declaration that he or she believes in the Oneness of Allah and in the message of Muhammad, peace be upon him. As for putting honey on the lips of a dying person, this is something that I know nothing of. As for the rest of your questions, I think the best answer is to quote you this authentic Hadith: "Anas quotes the Prophet as saying: When a deceased person is placed in his grave and his relatives and friends leave, he hears the sound of their shoes. Two angels come to him and sit him up and question him. They ask him: What was your view of this man, Muhammad? If the person was a believer, he would say: I bear witness that he is Allah's servant and Messenger. They say to him: Look at your position which you would have had in hell, Allah has replaced it for you with a position in heaven. He sees both positions. When a disbeliever or a hypocrite is asked what used to be his view of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, he would answer: I do not know. I used to say what other people said. The two angels say to him: May you never know and never tell. He is then struck with an iron hammer in between his ears. He makes a cry which is heard by all creatures with the exception of human beings and jinn." (Related by Al-Bukhari and Muslim)
As for the question whether a deceased person feels pain, the answer is that the body loses its senses after the spirit departs.
• Death: Burial time limit
If a foreign worker dies, how soon should he be buried? Is it appropriate for the employer to delay burial till he receives the consent of the worker's parents or next of kin? Does this not contravene the rule which specifies a time limit for burial? Is it appropriate to ship a body out to one's home country for burial?
Let me first of all say that there is no time limit for burial. Islam does not say that a dead person should be buried within a particular number of hours or days after the death has occurred. Having said that, it is well-known that it is more appropriate from the Islamic point of view to bury a person as soon as possible after his death. Burial is not to be delayed unnecessarily. When it is feared that the body of a deceased person could begin to decompose, preparation for burial should be started with maximum speed. On the other hand, if there is a valid reason for a delay of burial, then this is acceptable. Such delay may be necessary if a crime is suspected. A coroner may require a postmortem to be carried out in order to determine the cause of death. This will inevitably delay burial, but this is certainly acceptable. It is not acceptable, on the other hand, to delay burial in order to wait for someone to join the funeral. Such considerations are of little value from the Islamic outlook.
In the case you have mentioned, the employer may have felt that the relatives of the deceased worker may wish to have the body returned to the worker's home country for burial there. From the Islamic point of view, it is undesirable that a dead person be sent from one country [or from one town] to another for burial. Even when a Muslim dies in a non-Muslim area, it is perfectly appropriate for him to be buried there. There is no need for him to be taken away to a Muslim country. The whole earth belongs to Allah and wherever we are buried, He resurrects us on the day of judgment.
• Death: Condolence for the deceased
You have mentioned in the past that it is not proper that the relatives of a deceased person stay at a particular house or place for people to come and offer their condolences. In a book on Hadith I have read that when the news of the martyrdom of Zaid ibn Haritha and Jaffer ibn Abu Talib reached Madinah, the Prophet sat in the mosque and grief could be seen in his face. Muhammad Ali commenting on this Hadith says: "To sit in some place so that people may come and express their sympathy with and console the bereaved family, is, therefore, in accordance with the Prophet's practice." Please clarify.
The Hadith you have quoted mentions only that the Prophet sat in the mosque, but there is no mention in the Hadith itself that he sat there for the purpose of receiving condolences by his companions. We cannot conclude from that Hadith anything more than the fact that, on receiving the sorry news of the death of his commanders, the Prophet announced that to his companions and made himself available. He sat in the mosque, feeling very sad. It was only natural that his companions, particularly those who were close to him, should come to find out whether he was planning anything to support the Muslim army which suffered a defeat. Again, it is natural that those who arrived in the mosque should offer their condolences to the Prophet. This is exactly what I have said, that the offering of condolences should be left to the time when we meet the relatives of the deceased [ which may be immediately upon hearing the news of the death].
Had the Prophet encouraged, or even permitted, the organizing of any type of function, or the assembly of the relatives in a particular place for people to come at a particular time to offer their condolences, as happens in many Muslim societies these days, these practices would have been followed each time one of the Muslims in Madinah died. It would have been reported to us, particularly since a good number of the Prophet's companions died in wars or in time of peace in those ten years when he founded the Muslim state in Madinah.
Muhammad Ali has based his conclusion on this single incident, which does not suggest what he has concluded. May I ask whether this Muhammad Ali is the same as the Quadiani person who has translated the Qur'an? If so, then you should not take what he says because he is not a proper source from which to learn about Islam.
• Death: Dispute about the faith of a dead woman
When an Indian woman died there was a dispute about her religion. Muslims in the area insisted that she was a Muslim and wanted to have her buried. Hindus claimed that she belonged to their faith and they wanted to have her body cremated. Is there any way to ascertain the faith of a deceased person?
Faith and beliefs are questions of the mind. You cannot tell from looking at a person whether he belongs to the Islamic, Christian, Hindu faith or whether he is an atheist or an agnostic. There is simply no physical mark to indicate that. If this is true of a living person whom you can question about his faith or whose practices can be watched to determine whether he is a believer or not, it is certainly more true of a dead person with whom you cannot have any interaction. You cannot look for any mark on that person's body to know his religion.
I am at a loss to understand how such an issue arises only when a woman dies and only in connection with her burial. How is it that the deceased came to be the subject of dispute among the living? Was she known to offer her prayers and to attend to her other religious duties? If so, then surely many people would have known that and the matter would be easily resolved. Or has the dispute arisen because the woman simply did not know or did not care about religion? This sounds more like it.