IslamQA

Answers to questions received on my islamic-art-and-quotes tumblr blog.

Masturbation is not clearly forbidden or allowed in Islam

The generally accepted principle of fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) is that when it comes to enjoying sexual pleasure, everything is forbidden unless it is explicitly allowed. The Quran’s general teaching on sexuality is that Muslims should “guard their privates” except when taking pleasure in the context of a religiously sanctioned intimate relationship.

A strict interpretation of this verse is that all sexual pleasure is forbidden unless it is had with a spouse. A non-strict interpretation is that all sexual intercourse is forbidden unless it is had with a spouse, which means that masturbation is not included in the prohibition.

The Quran never mentions masturbation, so we cannot use it to reach a final judgment. As for hadith, there isn’t a single authentic narration that mentions masturbation1, therefore hadith cannot help us either in reaching a definitive judgment.

ʿAmr bin Dīnār, one of the Tabiʿīn (belonging to the generations that came after the Companions) and a hadith and fiqh scholar says, “I see no issue with masturbation.”2 Jābir bin Zayd, known by the nickname Abu l-Shaʿthā, student of the Companion Ibn ʿAbbās also says he sees no problem with it.3 Ibn ʿAbbās says that marriage is better than masturbation, and masturbation is better than fornication.4. Aḥmad ibn Ḥanbal, founder of the Ḥanbalī school of fiqh, says there is no issue with it.5

The most famous scholar to permit masturbation was al-Shawkānī (d. 1839 CE), a widely respected reformer and revivalist. While he ruled that masturbation is permitted in Islam without conditions (other scholars have said that there are conditions needed to make it permissible, but al-Shawkānī says no conditions are needed), he says:

There is no doubt that engaging in this act is a flaw (in one's character), a show of a lack of self-respect, and a show of abasement in manners and a lack of willpower.

He criticizes the act, but says there isn’t sufficient evidence to forbid it.

In the modern world, the Moroccan scholar Abdel-Bari Zamzami (d. 2016 CE) allowed masturbation for men and women, saying that since it helps one avoid illicit sexual acts, and since there is no clear evidence that it is forbidden, permitting it is more beneficial than forbidding it.

The Mālikī and Shāfiʿī schools say that masturbation is forbidden.

Making sense of the situation

What scholars have often done is try to take the vagueness out of the Islamic texts by enforcing their own interpretations, either saying masturbation is a sin, or saying that there is nothing wrong with it. Both of these approaches ignore an important teaching of the Prophet ﷺ in dealing with vagueness in religious matters, expressed in this hadith narration from Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim:

Allah's Messenger addressed us and said: O people, Allah has made Hajj obligatory for you; so perform Hajj. Thereupon a person said: Messenger of Allah, (is it to be performed) every year? He (the Holy Prophet) kept quiet, and he repeated (these words) thrice, whereupon Allah's Messenger said: If I were to say" Yes," it would become obligatory (for you to perform it every year) and you would not be able to do it. Then he said: Leave me with what I have left to you, for those who were before you were destroyed because of excessive questioning, and their opposition to their apostles. So when I command you to do anything, do it as much as it lies in your power and when I forbid you to do anything, then abandon it.6

The above narration can be considered support in favor of silence over the issue of masturbation.The Quran and the Sunnah do not explicitly prohibit it, and they do not explicitly allow it, leaving it in a gray area, therefore Muslims should neither condemn masturbation, nor should they promote it.

To a pious person who is eager to please God, the meaning of these things is as follows:

  1. It is not important enough to be explicitly forbidden or allowed by God and His Prophet .
  2. Every Muslim’s aim should be to avoid it if they can, since true love and fear of God means that a person should avoid everything that has even the slightest possibility of displeasing Him.
  3. If someone is overwhelmed by desire into doing it, or cannot control their impulses so that they habitually do it, they should not obsess about, they should repent and go on with their lives, knowing that what they have done is a small lapse in manners, rather than a crime.

The Issue of Corporealization

Humans have a built-in revulsion toward masturbation due to the fact that it is a corporealizing act; it places focus on the human body in its physicality; it reduces a human to a mere animal, making a human’s individuality irrelevant during the act. Masturbation has little to do with sexual intimacy between two humans who love one another and who continue to see each other as individuals (rather than mere bodies) throughout the sexual act. Masturbation is obscene, it can never be made respectable or acceptable in society. For more on obscenity please see this answer on the issue pornography and erotica. Those interested in this topic can read the important book Sexual Desire: A Philosophical Investigation by the British philosopher Sir Roger Scruton.

It would be quite wrong to assume that Islamically ruling that masturbation is not prohibited would lead to an epidemic of masturbation throughout the Islamic world. It would probably not make the slightest difference in that regard (because humans are genetically inclined to feel disgust at masturbation and other corporealizing sexual acts); it would only reduce the feelings of guilt of those who already do it.

Masturbation, teenagers and scholarly humility

Teenagers, especially teenage boys, have heightened sexual desire while also having poor impulse control, since the brain’s prefrontal cortex does not finish developing until after the age of 25. These two factors (increased sexual desire, low ability to control urges) can make it very difficult for them to avoid masturbation. Making teenagers feel bad about masturbation is a short-sighted and destructive thing. It only serves to decrease these teenagers’ religious self-esteem, making them feel as if they will never be good Muslims, since they are supposedly committing a great sin and cannot stop themselves.

The result is that these teenagers start to think of Islam as an outdated and cruel religion that is asking them to do the impossible.

The balanced approach is to tell teenagers that it is best if they avoid it since it is in a gray area, while also telling them that it is not clearly forbidden, therefore if they cannot help themselves and end up doing it, they should not obsess about it, but repent and go on with their lives.

Rather than making baseless statements about masturbation, saying it is allowed or saying it is forbidden, we must acknowledge the vagueness of the Islamic texts on this issue, while also respecting the wisdom of the scholars and human nature in their dislike for it.

Conclusion

Different stages of growth and different life circumstances affect a person’s desire for masturbation. Depression, loneliness and a lack of social interaction, for example, makes it more likely that a person will want to masturbate, and not just among humans. I have seen many articles mention that monkeys in captivity masturbate, but those who live in the wild do not.

Most of our scholars consider masturbation an undignified act that a self-respecting person would not do. While they are right about this when it comes to themselves, they should have empathy for younger people living in very different circumstances and subject to far stronger sexual desires and a lower ability to control their impulses due to the fact that their brain development is not complete. Instead of asking the impossible of young people, of having perfect control over their desires like the scholars themselves, they should treat them with kindness and forgiveness, telling them that there is a consensus among Muslims that masturbation is not a dignified thing to do, but that Islam does not clearly forbid it, and that as people age, it becomes easier to avoid it.

The niqab is neither obligatory nor sunna

In answer to questions about whether the niqab is obligatory for Muslim women:

The respected Egyptian scholar Yusuf al-Qaradawi has done a detailed study of the evidence regarding the niqab, published as al-Niqāb Bayna Farḍīyatih wa Bidʿīyatih1, and his conclusion is that the niqab is neither a duty, nor is it a bidʿa (false innovation) to be condemned, it is rather a tool, an item of clothing, that a woman chooses to wear if and when she wants. If a woman sees that it is beneficial for her to wear it in her particular time and place, then she can do it. And if other women elsewhere decide not to wear it, like the majority of Muslim women have decided, then that’s their choice. There is nothing wrong with a woman veiling her face at a certain occasion, the way Victorian women used to, if she decides that she is more comfortable that way and expects benefits from it.

Dr. Ali Gomaa, Grand Mufti of Egypt from 2003 to 2013, has the same opinion.2 Egypt’s present Grand Mufti Dr. Shawki Allam says the same.3 This is also the opinion of Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, Grand Imam of Al-Azhar University.4 He says the the niqab is not a sunna and that there is no special virtue in wearing it.

The Syrian scholar Dr. ʿAli al-Shaʿʿāl says it is not obligatory.5

Sheikh Muhammad Ahmad Hussein, Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, also has the opinion that the niqab is not obligatory.6

The above are just some examples of the opinions of mainstream Islamic scholars. They represent the opinions of the majority of Muslims. There is also no strong evidence that the niqab is a sunna either, something that Muslim women should supposedly hope to one day wear. Neither the Quran nor any hadith recommend that women should wear it. The niqab, like sandals and water containers made of goat skin, is something that was present in medieval Arabia, it was part of their culture and had a useful function at the time, which was to help women avoid the attention of uncouth men who would make them uncomfortable through ogling. As someone who has traveled a bit, I have met such men in some Middle Eastern countries. If even a slightly attractive woman comes into their field of view, they will stare at her, and stare, and stare, as if watching a TV program. That objectifying gaze is extremely uncomfortable and demeaning for a woman, so if she lives in a society where she is unlucky enough to face such men often, then it would be beneficial for her to have a niqab handy.

But in a civilized, middle class society where the men do not act like that, there is little point to the niqab. Whether one should wear niqab or not should be judged according to its potential benefits and harms and one’s own present time and culture. Just because we have reports of the people of that time doing some thing does not automatically mean it is recommended for us to do it. Thinking the niqab is recommended just because some women in medieval Arabia wore it is probably similar to thinking that hanging water containers made of goatskin in the living room, as the Prophet did, is somehow virtuous. A sunna, or virtuous act taught by the Prophet , can only be established when we have clear and multiply-verified evidence that the Prophet recommended that act. But we have no such evidence. As al-Qaradawi mentions, we have numerous authentic hadiths in which Muslim women are mentioned as showing their faces in public, and we have no convincing evidence that that Prophet would have liked them to hide their faces, even as a voluntary act of piety.

A woman who wishes to hide her face as a personal act of piety can certainly be rewarded for it, but it would be wrong if she said it is a sunna. Not every good deed is a sunna. For example if you choose to donate 5% of your income to charity, we have no evidence that the Prophet did the same or recommend that we do this, but you can do it with a good intention and get rewarded for it.

Those who say the niqab is obligatory are often converts or people who know little about Islam and who are now trying to be good Muslims. They sometimes come under the influence of Saudi-funded websites like IslamQA.info and due to their lack of knowledge end up thinking that these websites represent some true or authentic version of Islam. And due to the way that these websites teach their followers to think of themselves as the only true Muslims, they end up looking down on everyone else and try to force their opinions on them. Usually after a few years of crusading against mainstream Muslims they either abandon Islam (since they can no longer live with themselves) or they become moderate as their knowledge increases.

For more about Saudi-funded sites see my article about IslamQA.info.

What’s a good modern biography of Prophet Muhammad?

Can you recommend a good bibliography of the prophet Muhammad pbuh. I've read one so far but I didn't like it. The style of the author was too heavy.

I just read Tariq Ramadan’s In the Footsteps of the Prophet and it is extremely good. I think it should be required reading for every Muslim. It focuses on the personality and spiritual teachings of the Prophet, , rather than focusing on unnecessary technical details.

Karen Armstrong’s Muhammad: A Prophet for Our Time is also good.

(I assumed you meant biography)

What to recite next after finishing salah

After finishing salah what should be reciting next? and are you meant to do dhikr after each fard prayer?

You can do various forms of dhikr or dua. The most common dhikr, which is done after every prayer, is to say subhanAllah 33 times, alhamdulillah 33 times, and allahu akbar 33 times, mentioned in Sahih Bukhari. You can also shorten these to ten each, aslo mentioned in Sahih Bukhari.

You can also recite any other dhikr words you know if you choose.

After that, you can perform dua, or stand up to pray the voluntary salah, if there is a voluntary salah associated with the obligatory one.

Can a person perform the ritual washing of a dead spouse’s body?

Regarding the ruling of washing a dead body; can a man or woman wash the body of their spouse? In my East Asian culture the scholars say that the nikah is ended when one of the spouse dies, and therefore it's haraam to wash their body. I tried on islamqa, but their not giving a definite answer.

The Saudi scholar Ibn Baaz says there is nothing wrong with washing a spouse’s body. He mentions that Asmaa’ bin Umais (the wife of Abu Bakr, may Allah be pleased with him and her) washed Abu Bakr’s body when he died, and that Fatima (daughter of the Prophet, and his family) washed Ali’s body.

Dealing with parents who disrespect and fight each other

I would like to ask about my family problem. My parents have been fighting for years. My father no longer talks to my mother although he tried to make amends once. My mother constantly talk bad about my father to me and my siblings. She is always full of hatred and anger towards my father. I'm afraid with time I'll begin to hate my father as well. What is the view in Islam about parents talking bad about their partner to their kids? Where should I stand in this? Thank you.

What your parents are doing is against Islamic teachings. What you should do is stay neutral and respectful toward both of them. If one parent does something unjust toward the other parent or toward one of the children, if you can help prevent it without causing greater harm, then you should try, without belittling or offending either parent.

In your situation, one thing you can do is encourage your siblings to think the best of your father so that they are not unjustly biased against him by your mother’s words. Since your father is not speaking to her and allowing the situation to continue as it is, it appears that both parents are responsible for the bad situation, therefore it is best to not take sides but try to be fair toward both.

If there was anything you could to improve their relationship, then that would be a good thing to do, although it is unlikely. Anything you try could do greater harm than good, since they are older than you and know much more about each other than you do.

Please also see my answer On Islamic Manners Toward Parents.

On Islamic Manners Toward Parents

What if there is something your parents want you to do and it doesn’t please you despite of dropping clear signs they refuse and claim that they know what’s best for you. Are you supposed to take a stand or leave it on Allah?

As Muslims, our default mode of interaction with our parents should be as verse 17:24 commands:

And lower to them the wing of humility, out of mercy, and say, “My Lord, have mercy on them, as they raised me when I was a child.”

Every truly admirable people I have met have had such an attitude toward their parents. They “humor” their parents, treating them as if they are intelligent, admirable, likable and worthy regardless of how they really feel about them. This is a return of the favor that our parents bestowed upon us when we grew up (whatever their faults) in their treating us as if we were worthy and smart even when we were being foolish and immature. A child might draw a really ugly drawing but the parent celebrates it as if it is beautiful, in this way making the child feel appreciated. Islam tells us to treat our parents the way good parents treat their children, never insulting them and trying to make them feel appreciated and wanted. Even if the parents were abusive, this does not mean that we have to continue the same cycle of abuse toward them, we can be “the bigger person” and treat them like they good parents they never were. This is where true virtue shines. There is nothing admirable about a son who is abusive toward his mother because she was abusive toward him in his childhood. What is admirable and moves our hearts is when a son or daughter is kind, loving and dutiful toward parents who were not this way toward them.

If you love a child, even if the child asks for something somewhat ridiculous, you may still do it for them out of love. The Quran is asking the child to return this favor to their parents. Even if the parents say something or demand something that is somewhat unreasonable, you should do your best to respond positively, instead of belittling them and telling them they are unwise and foolish.

This does not mean that one should act like a slave to them. You can discuss things with them and debate with them if there is something to be gained by this. But wherever possible, you should let them have the last word, lowering to them the wing of humility, as the Quran says, out of love and mercy toward them.

I always do my best to avoid debates with my father, even if we are talking about something that I know far more about than he does and he says something wrong. If he tells me to do something and I have good reasons for not doing it, I will still try my best to do it and to agree with his and my mother’s other demands unless I really cannot do it.

So if your intelligence tells you that they are being unwise and even foolish about something, your love and mercy should take precedence, you should treat them as respected and honored parents at all times. If they burden you with something, never forget that you too were a burden on them for years and made many unreasonable demands of them.

When dealing with your parents, love and mercy must always take priority over logic, unless it is something extremely serious.

What to do if you cannot find interesting and like-minded Muslims to befriend

I have experienced bad things in Muslim communities for so many years that it led me to giving up religion and I went astray. After going through many hardships in life alhamdulillah I came back to the Deen to take shelter. However I'm afraid of mixing with Muslims again. They are shallow at their thinking, even non Muslims understand me better and try to help. I'm tired of being judged yet I want to belong to a community or at least have Muslim friends so I'm not alone. How can I find balance?

Your experience of not finding mixing with other Muslims uplifting, although disheartening, is common. The Medieval scholar Ibn al-Jawzi mentions the same thing, and one of the primary pieces of advice he offers in his book of advice Sayd al-Khatir is that one shouldn’t mix too much with others, because most people are not very spiritual and will harm rather than benefit your faith.

When it comes to most Muslims, Islam is just a small add-on on top of their personalities and characters, so that if their personalities and characters are not compatible with yours, Islam will do little to change things. The exceptions are those who have taken Islamic spirituality to heart and try to follow Quranic manners in everything, but such people are rare, and you will be lucky to meet one among a hundred Muslims you meet.

There are different sections of society, each section having its own interests, character and manners. What Islam means for one section can be very different to what it means for another, therefore if you try to engage the wrong section, you will may not get anything satisfactory out of it.

I love reading, but the majority of people, including the majority of Muslims, do not. The people I like to befriend are those who enjoy reading and learning, and such people are few. This means that most people I meet are not going to be the type I can enjoy spending time with, even if they are good people and I like them.

Your experience might be the same. This is also the experience of many genetically European converts to Islam, who want to find fellow Muslims who are interested in intellectual topics, who care about the long-term good of the community and want to plan things and solve problems, but who discover that most people in the community do not care very much about these things. Perhaps this is what you meant when you said you find most Muslims shallow.

The type of people you like might be rare and perhaps not present in your local community. The internet can be a great help in overcoming this issue. You can find like-minded Muslims from around the world and follow them and perhaps befriend them. The people I keep in contact with over the internet are far higher in quality as friends compared to anyone I know at my local community.

Feeling lonely is a common experience if you are different from the people around you. You must first accept this reality, knowing that this is how things will always be unless God grants you the deep friendship of someone. In the end, it is only God who can cure our loneliness. He can arrange things for us, plan for us and facilitate things for us so that we are no longer lonely, if He wishes, if the time is right and if we deserve it. For this reason this is a thing that must be sought through God more than through any other means.

Islam’s theory of free will versus physical determinism: Why humans are responsible for their actions even though God operates the universe

Emission Nebula

In your essay "God, Evolution and Abiogenesis," you said an atom has no power to move on its own. It is God who has to move every single thing that moves in this world. Given that, does that mean we don't have free will? On the atomic level, it is due to the chemical reactions and the firing of neurons in our brains that we think and make decisions. So, since God is responsible for everything that's in motion (including atoms), then isn't God to blame for all my immoral actions?

Your soul is “plugged into” this universe without being part of it. When you desire to lift up your hand, the desire is yours, therefore you are responsible for this action, but it is God who actually has to move the atoms (and everything else) for your hand to actually move.

When you play a video game, you can issue a command for your game character to lift its hand. You personally have no power to lift the character’s hand, it is the video game engine that actually has to carry your command out, and if the video game engine malfunctions, no matter how many times you issue the command for your character to do something, it may not do it.

When your soul, which is independent from this universe, issues a command, it is fully responsible for this command. But this command is nothing but a feeble wish, it has zero power to change the universe. It is God who has to communicate the soul’s commands to your body, and it is God who has to carry the command out by moving the universe, since nothing in this universe has the power or ability to move or change by itself.

So your soul is free, it is not part of the functioning of this universe. This universe can be thought of as a simulation that is entirely upheld and operated by God. Your soul has no power except to wish for things, and God can transfer these wishes to the body that is temporarily under a human’s control inside our universe. When a person dies, the soul is simply “unplugged” from the universe, and when the person is resurrected, the soul is plugged back into a new body.

Since He wants us to have the choice of disbelieving in Him, He always reliably operates this universe for us, making us think that we have control over our brains and bodies, and making us think that this universe would function by itself even if there was no God. This is a necessary part of the design of the universe, to make faith in God a choice.

Imagine yourself as sitting in a room outside of this universe, holding a remote control that enables you to send commands to your brain and body which are inside the universe. You are responsible for the commands you issue, but you do not have any power or authority to cause a change within the universe. God (or some mechanism laid down by Him) changes the universe so that the command is carried out. He does this so reliably for us that we are tricked into thinking that we have power over this universe.

In reality, the view of the universe we arrive at from the Quran is that it is a simulation-like thing upon which humans have zero power. The human soul is temporarily given the illusion of control over a body, and as the soul issues commands, God moves the body in response, as part of everything else He does in operating this universe.

Saying the soul is independent of this universe does not mean that it is not affected by it. By being plugged into this universe, it experiences it and responds to it. When a human is presented with a temptation, the physical body (and I include the brain in this), which belongs to this universe, responds to it and desires it. The soul, however, maintains final judgment on whether the human succumbs to the temptation or not. The stronger the temptation is, the less room there is for the soul to exert control over the physical body, and the weaker the temptation, the more control the soul has over the body. For this reason we are not always, perhaps never, entirely responsible for the bad deeds we do, the environment affects us and pushes us toward some things. The mistake is in thinking that the environment completely controls us, which is what some atheists say. The Quran says that while the environment affects us, our soul maintains its independence, being able to go against the environment if it wants.

God could prevent all evil from happening, since all that He has to do is stop carrying out an evil person’s intentions, or cause slight changes so that a terrible accident does not happen. I explain why He does not prevent evil things from taking place in my essay Why God Allows Evil to Exist, and Why Bad Things Happen to Good People.

Humans would have had no responsibility for their actions if they were merely brains and bodies, similar to other animals. If things were so, they would be parts of this universe, and everything they do would be a consequence of the motion of particles and forces within the universe, similar to the actions of bacteria in a pond. But when a soul is plugged into the body, the soul “rides” the body, taking charge of it, directing it, and being responsible for it.

At times, the physical body is out of control, such as when under the influence of a drug, or due to mental illness, or due to witnessing some horrible crime. When this happens, when the soul loses control over the brain and body, it is no longer responsible for what the brain and body do until it regains control.

Our responsibility for a sinful act increases as the involvement of the soul increases. If there is no terrible temptation making us partially lose control over the human body that we control, if our sin is done in cold blood while having full control over the earthly body, then this is a far greater sin than a sin done out of overwhelming desire.

This concept also applies to good deeds. A person who forces their unwilling earthly body to do a good deed is going to deserve higher rewards than a person who only does good deeds that make them feel good. It is for this reason that Umar ibn Abdul Aziz says:

The best good deeds are those that one has to force the ego to perform.

When your ego wants to do evil and your soul overcomes it and prevents it from doing it, or your ego dislikes to do a good deed but your soul overcomes it and forces it to do it, in both of these cases you deserve reward, you used your free will to go against the environment, against the ego your soul is plugged into.

The ego is the earthly body’s sense of self. Even if humans had no free will, if they were merely animals, they would still have an ego. This ego makes them seek what they desire and avoid what they do not desire. The soul is an add-on over the ego, able to override it or go along with it. The ego is arrogant, loves pleasures and dislikes work. The soul can submit to it and do as the ego pleases. It can also receive guidance, submit to God and go against the ego when the ego desires something harmful.

You will meet some humans who mostly live inside their egos. The soul has nearly fully relinquished all control, letting the ego make nearly all of their decisions for them. These people are greedy, power-hungry and love pleasures, they are kind and loving toward their own families (since it is an animal instinct to be this way toward one’s own family), but have no empathy or understanding for others. If their child unjustly beats up someone else’s child, they will continue to defend their own child without caring about right or wrong, since they judge things based on the ego, and the ego wants what is good for the human animal’s interests and does not care about justice.

An easy way to find out if someone lives in their ego is to ask yourself, “Will this person help me if helping me required them to do something that gave them some inconvenience and discomfort?” People who live in their egos will generally only help others if helping others is easy and costs them nothing. If there is any cost involved, they immediately ignore the person who is asking for help, treating them as an annoyance to be gotten rid of. But if helping others will bring them fame and praise, they will do it.

The concepts mentioned in this answer are not meant to be used in scientific discussions with atheists, they help explain the Quranic view on these matters for people who have already accepted the truth of the Quran. The concepts in this essay are also useful in discussions with atheists like Sam Harris who falsely claim that the theory of physical determinism proves free will wrong. If the universe was physically determinate, there would be no free will. But there is no proof for this, as I will explain. What they say is similar to saying “If God did not exist, then there would be no God.” In reality, we can have a perfectly scientific universe that appears physically determinate, while also having free will that operates in parallel to it, and which to a scientist appears either as randomness or as a chaotic and emergent behavior

There is no proof that free will exists, the same way there is no proof that God exists. All that we have is soft evidence (rather than hard evidence) that the Quran is true, and once we have accepted the Quran as true, we accept that both God and free will exist.

Should Muslims boycott the Hajj because of Saudi repression and war crimes?

I've read that when we do hajj we are financially supporting the Saudi government to oppress people in it's country and also to kill people in Yemen. Is it true that they use hajj revenue for bad stuff?

I doubt there is a major country in the world that does not kill innocent people whenever it suits its political goals. Doing business with them or buying products from them always in some way supports them in doing this.

The United States is responsible for the murder of somewhere between 500,000 and 2 million innocent Afghans through staging the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980′s. It is also responsible the murder of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Syrians through its regime change and war-mongering operations. This means that doing any business with the US in some way supports them in doing these things.

And yet there are millions of Muslims living in the US, paying taxes, and in this way supporting the US government.

A government is not a single beast. It is made up of various groups, often conflicting, each working for its own interests. Parts of it does much good, for example the US government and thousands of American charities have saved millions of lives around the world. Technologies developed in the US have helped save millions more lives through making farming more efficient and in this way bringing down the price of food.

We cannot, therefore, treat a government like an individual and make a final judgment on it when it is something very complex and made up of millions of individuals with varying degrees of morality. When American Muslims pay taxes, while supporting the US military, they also support it in taking care of millions of poor people, in doing scientific research and in carrying out various projects for the benefit of humanity.

In return for paying taxes, American Muslims get to enjoy the freedom to practice their religion in a peaceful and prosperous country. This is a great privilege that takes priority over the US government’s immoral actions. While we criticize the government and try to stop its immoral and unethical deeds, we recognize that good that it does, and recognize that living the US and paying taxes is preferable to living in a war zone or in a tyrannical country. There is no such thing as an all-good government, therefore we must operate within the limits of what is possible, enjoining good and forbidding wrong wherever we can.

The same applies to the Saudi government. By going to the Hajj, we carry out an important religious duty, we support the Saudi government in taking care of Grand Mosque in Mecca and the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina, and we support it in providing welfare for millions of its citizens, while also supporting its oppressive government and its murder of Yemenis.

The Saudi government is also partially responsible for all of America’s wars, because through its petrodollar agreement with the US, it ensures that the US dollar remains the world’s reserve currency, and this enables the US to print trillions of dollars and use it to wage wars without fearing poverty. The Saudi’s have enabled the US to have a free source of cash wherever they need it, and in return they get US weapons and support.

It is a question of whether the good of performing the hajj outweighs the evils of supporting the Saudi government. Most people think that the good outweighs the bad, meaning that performing the Hajj is justifiable even if it in some way supports the Saudi government.

Whenever you do business with anyone who does not have good morals, you support them in doing any immorality they do. But Islam does not prohibit us from doing business with them, because the facts of reality are complicated, and we must do what circumstances require, rather than closing ourselves off and expecting perfection from the world. Tumblr, Facebook and Google are all Jewish-owned companies and all of them support Israel to some degree. Yet we use their services, because we (rightly or wrongly) think that the good of using their services outweighs the vague evil of their support for Israel. Ideally, we’d have alternatives to these services, owned and operated by better people. But realistically, since there are no such services, we cannot give up their services, because the loss we suffer from avoiding these services is greater than any good we do by avoiding their services.

Avoiding these sites is somewhat similar to cutting your house’s electricity because the electricity company’s owner is supports Israel. Will you do so, or will you decide that the good of having electricity outweighs the bad of supporting a company owned by a such a person? Most people will choose to continue to have electricity until there is a better alternative.

Even if you went back 500 or 1000 years, you could still find evil deeds that the rulers of Arabia did that would make you question whether doing the Hajj is justifiable. This is not a new problem.

Muslims are free to boycott the Hajj to shame the Saudi government into behaving better, and perhaps if there was a worldwide boycotting movement, it would do good. But this would require the support of many religious leaders, who at the moment are unlikely to support a boycott, since they believe that performing the obligation of Hajj takes priority over reforming the Saudi government. Maybe if things get much worse they will support a boycott. But at the moment there is little political will to do this.

You are free to try to educate Muslims about the mass murder of Yemenis by the Saudi government (which is largely ignored by the West’s media, since it is done with the full support of the US) and to encourage them to boycott the Hajj. But don’t be surprised if most people prefer to do the Hajj despite Saudi’s actions.

Most of the Saudi government’s revenue is from oil, not Hajj. If your country imports oil from Saudi, like most countries do, and you drive a car or pay to use a taxi, then you are in reality sending money to the Saudi government. If someone is really serious about boycotting Saudi, they should also boycott their oil.

Most people don’t like boycotts because they make life difficult. In Islam, the choice is yours. You can boycott the entities you dislike, or you can continue to do business with them if you have to, while working to make the world a better place in whatever way you can, through enjoining good and forbidding, exposing and criticizing wrong.

What to do if strict/intolerant Muslims make you dislike Islam

I'm now making slowly process to turn to Islam (as a Muslim) after years of no Iman. However sometimes I can come across really blogs here that post Islamic posts that are really strict and even dark in someway. I feel like I can't keep it up if Islam requires me to hate other religions and groups so I end up not performing my prayers etc. because I don't feel peaceful at my heart. It feels as if I've come to the wrong religion.

Generally whenever you stray away from the Quran and put your focus on anything else, you will lose your understanding of God and get an inaccurate and even depressing view of Him and His religion. This is true even if you read books by inspiring writers like Ibn al-Qayyim, who focus too much on certain of God’s characteristics and less on others. Only the Quran is perfectly balanced, all other sources will contain some imbalance that can upset or mislead you.

It is the Quran that defines your mission in life, your principles, your philosophy, your ideals. When people say something that goes against anything in the Quran, reject it and go on with your life.

There is no such thing as an “Islam” that is independent of the Quran. Islam is nothing more or less than the Quran applied to the real world. Read the Quran and you will see that it will not tell you to hate other religions. Read In the Footsteps of the Prophet by Tariq Ramadan and you will see that the Prophet, , was an example of love and tolerance toward non-Muslims.

You should not allow others to define Islam for you. Do your own reading and learning, and if anyone says something that insults your intelligence or goes against your sense of justice, research it and ask others about it, and you will find out that there is always a sensible answer. Instead of giving in to others when they present a version of Islam that you find unacceptable, find your own tolerant and beautiful version of Islam and use it to challenge theirs.

Many of the “strict” Muslims you see are Salafis who believe that the best way to please God is to follow the authority of hadith as an equal to the Quran, while the school of Islamic thought that I follow is Quran-focused Islam, which considers the Quran the center of Islam. These two different approaches lead to very different types of Islam. Salafism is “strict” and thinks virtue is in strictness, which often leads to an intolerant and judgmental form of Islam, while Quran-focused Islam is tolerant and respects your dignity and individuality.

Also see: How Islam Can Adapt to the Modern World: The Persian versus the Arabian Approach to Handling Complexity.

God has not abandoned you: Regaining your sense of purpose when life feels spiritually empty, lonely and meaningless

Flowering Azaleas by Marie Egner (c. 1895)

I would appreciate some advice. I pray all my prayers on time and I read Quran daily, along with other forms of worship, but I feel so numb & empty. I feel like I have no purpose in this life, like if I died it won't even matter. I don't affect this Ummah in any way. I just work full-time, I'm single, I don't have friends, my family and relatives are not on good terms, and I have social anxiety so I hate interacting with others. I feel so useless, is there a point to my worship?

It is human nature to want to be productive and achieve things for the sake of any cause you believe in, such as Islam. But ideally, your Islam should not be in any way attached to results.

Even if you were the only remaining human on earth, you can still perfectly apply Islam in your life, achieving your mission in life and a great success in the afterlife.

Your mission is the same as the Prophet’s mission, . It is to read the Quran and apply it wherever you can in your life, living by its manners, principles and philosophy.

When speaking of placing humans on Earth, God said to the angels, “I am placing a steward on Earth.” What is a steward? It is someone who takes care of something, for example a farm, for the sake of its owner, until the owner comes back.

We Muslims (and faithful Christians and others) are stewards on Earth. Our job is to take care of it for the sake of its Master. And this is achieved by following God’s Straight Path. The Straight Path is a program designed to ensure two things: humanity’s long-term survival (by placing various mechanisms to ensure that humanity doesn’t die out), and humanity’s short-term moral integrity (never justifying evil in the name of the greater good, never saying “the end justifies the means”).

We stewards are God’s representatives on Earth, and an important part of our stewardship is to keep God’s remembrance alive:

"And I have chosen you so listen to what is being revealed.
"Indeed, I am God, there is no god except Me, so worship Me and establish the prayer for My remembrance. (The Quran, verses 20:13-14)

Regardless of your situation, you are always able to fully live your life as a Muslim. You do not need anyone else’s involvement, this is something between you and God.

I have lived alone twice in my life, once when I was 18 and another time when I was 27, and both are some of the worst experiences of my life. I understand the difficulty of your situation, and how purposeless and meaningless it feels.

These are the times when your faith in God is tested. Will you think bad thoughts about Him, consider Him incapable of helping you, or consider Him unkind so that He wants you to suffer?

If we are fair-weather friends of God, then we will worship Him and love Him when things are easy, and once things get truly difficult, once our patience is tested, we fail the test and prove that we are unworthy of being honored by Him.

The Prophet, , suffered many hardships during his career that must have seemed purposeless and needless, since God had the power to protect him at all times and to ensure the very best for him. For 13 years he and his followers had to suffer under the hands of the pagans of Mecca. Couldn’t have God made this only one year, so that the Prophet and his followers used their time more productively? Couldn’t they have used all these years of suffering better if God had enabled Islam to spread faster? What was the point of the Prophet losing his wife and his main protector in Mecca, his uncle Abu Talib, at a crucial place in his career, greatly weakening him?

What the Prophet was taught with all of these difficulties is that God is a King, and He does as He wishes with His servants. If we have truly submitted, we will accept His decrees, thinking the best of Him and continuing to love Him, praise Him and worship Him, even as we suffer knowing that He can end our suffering.

Know that God has no need of you. You cannot do God any favors. No matter how talented or capable you are, God can always create someone with exactly your talents and abilities in little time. Everything we do for God’s sake is actually a gift from Him, because it is He who taught us, guided us, and sustained us throughout all of these years so that we could do this thing in His name and claim credit for it.

Any good deed you do for God is actually a favor from Him. If you want to be productive, to serve Islam, Muslims and humanity, what you are actually asking is for God to give you the favor of being useful in His cause.

You are asking God for a great favor. Ask yourself if you deserve it. Ibn al-Qayyim says:

Whoever, among the workers, wishes to know his status in the eye of the King, let him look at what jobs He gives him and with what He busies him.

If you want the King to give you a great job the ensures you rewards in this life and the afterlife, then you must know that this job is given to those He wishes, and not to everyone. You must purify yourself, rededicate yourself to God, give up all sinful behaviors, and constantly seek His guidance and forgiveness, while remaining patient and thinking the best of Him, and in this way you will be guided to Him step by step, month after month, until you reach a place where He decides to give you a better task in life.

There are no shortcuts if you want to be a sincere and useful servant of God. You must turn yourself into the type of person who deserves God’s honor and favors, and He will give these to you.

God can change your situation in an instant, solving all of your problems, giving you immense knowledge and placing you somewhere where you can be a great and highly admired leader. God will not do this for you, because God does not perform miracles for us. If God did miracles for us, yet we sinned afterwards, this would cause us to deserve the utmost punishment from Him, as happened to Jesus’s apostles:

112. “And when the disciples said, 'O Jesus son of Mary, is your Lord able to bring down for us a feast from heaven?' He said, 'Fear God, if you are believers.'“

113. They said, “We wish to eat from it, so that our hearts may be reassured, and know that you have told us the truth, and be among those who witness it.”

114. Jesus son of Mary said, “O God, our Lord, send down for us a table from heaven, to be a festival for us, for the first of us, and the last of us, and a sign from You; and provide for us; You are the Best of providers.”

115. God said, “I will send it down to you. But whoever among you disbelieves thereafter, I will punish him with a punishment the like of which I never punish any other being.” (The Quran, verses 5:112-115)

They demanded a miracle from God, and God answered their prayer. But to maintain justice, it is necessary for God to hold these people who see the miracle to extremely stringent standards afterwards. Disobeying God after seeing physical evidence with your own eyes of His power is a far greater sin than disobeying God while He feels hidden from you.

It is out of His mercy that He does not do miracles for us. If He did miracles, this would be a burden that many of us couldn’t carry. On the one hand, it would cheapen our good deeds, because now we’d be doing them while having some proof of God’s existence. On the other hand, it would greatly increase our sinfulness if we disobeyed Him in anything, because we’d be committing sins while having had direct experience of Him.

What God wants, instead, is for us to go through the boring, difficult, numbing experiences of life, so that the good we do can be fully attributed to us, and so that we can be rewarded for our faith and patience. If God intervened directly in our lives, showing Himself and performing miracles, all of these things possibilities would be destroyed.

Accept your situation, knowing that God is fully capable of changing it in an instant. He wants you to be responsible for the change, so that He can reward you for it, instead of He Himself causing the change directly and taking away the chance for you to prove yourself.

Nothing you achieve in this life is going to be of any worth except the record of your deeds. Even if you build the world’s greatest mosque in His name, when the world ends, it will be destroyed and turned into nothing, as if it never existed. If you want to work for Him, then know that results only come through Him, and not through your own efforts. If He allows you to achieve any success in His name, then know that this is a favor from Him, not a favor from you to Him.

This is not to say that nothing we do for Him is of value, saying that He can accomplish anything He wants Himself. It is, rather, to realize that there are two worlds, the world of the seen and the world of the unseen. The unseen world is that which has priority. Nothing you do in the seen world is of value if the unseen part of your world is corrupt. And nothing you do in the unseen world is worthless regardless of your results in the seen world.

Becoming a chosen servant of God

If you want to become the type of servant that God favors by making him or her productive in His cause, then these are the steps you can follow to accomplish this.

1. Clean your slate

Chronic sins in your life will block God’s blessings. You cannot hope to be honored by God if part of your life is in direct contradiction to His teachings. For example, if you have usurious debt (debt upon which you pay interest, such as mortgage, car or credit card debt), then this is going to be a blocker of God’s blessings in your life. If you have cut off your relationship with a family member despite the fact that God commands love and kindness and tolerance toward them, then this will block God’s blessings.

Think of your life and find anything that could be considered a chronic sin, and fix it as soon as you can, doing your utmost to do so. God will not believe you to be sincere in wishing for His forgiveness and love if your life contains sinful parts that are insults toward Him.

The next thing to do is to ask God for His forgiveness for every great and small sin you have ever committed. Do this with every prostration of every one of your formal prayers, and do it after every formal prayer.

Equally important is to not add new sins to your record. Your goal should be to have a pristine record, clear of all sins. You cannot hope to have God’s favors if you are carrying a great burden of sins on your back.

2. Reestablish your connection with God through worship and Quran-reading

Perform tahajjud at night and read Quran between every two units. The Quran is the most important guide in our lives, because it is humanly impossible for us to remain mindful of all of our duties and concerns. Without the Quran, we end up focusing on one thing and ignoring other equally important things. We may think that being kind to our parents, or being charitable, or doing public service, or performing dhikr throughout the day, is the most important thing in life. We invariably edge toward one or a few things and lose our balance. Through daily Quran reading, we are made mindful of every possible mistake and are reminded of the dozens of things that we need to balance in life to be well-rounded and complete believers. There is no one clever maxim or teaching (“subdue the ego!”) that can replace the Quran, nothing can replace it because humans are complicated and life is complicated and to remain on track and to remain connected with God in the best way possible, we need its thousands of verses to help shape our characters and correct our errors.

For more tahajjud please see my essay: Mysticism without Sufism: A Guide to Tahajjud, Islam’s Meditation Practice

Sit down for a few minutes after every formal prayer, supplicating to God for everything you desire. Do this with all of your five prayers.

3. Be patient and do not expect results

Even if you do not see results for months, detach yourself from expecting results, knowing that God is a King, and a King does what He wills with His servants. Submit to His decree. Do your part of worship, seeking forgiveness and avoiding sins, knowing that God will do His part. If you repent, worship Him ardently and constantly pray for His help, yet see no results for a week or two, what do you know, perhaps if you are patient, results will come in a few months, when you are ready for it.

If you feel numb, uncared for and abandoned, then realize that all of us have felt like that at some point in our lives, even the Prophet, who after revealing the first few revelations, stopped receiving revelation for a period of six months to two years, after which these verses were revealed:

1. By the morning light.

2. And the night as it settles.

3. Your Lord did not abandon you, nor did He forget.

4. The Hereafter is better for you than the First.

5. And your Lord will give you, and you will be satisfied.

6. Did He not find you orphaned, and sheltered you?

7. And found you wandering, and guided you?

8. And found you in need, and enriched you?

9. Therefore, do not mistreat the orphan.

10. Nor rebuff the seeker.

11. But proclaim the blessings of your Lord. (The Quran, verses 93:1-8)

4. Read

An important help toward being patient, thinking the best of God and understanding His decrees is to read. Read Ibn al-Jawzi‘s and Ibn al-Qayyim‘s sayings. If you do not speak Arabic, read multiple translations of the Quran, especially Muhammad Abdel-Haleem’s. Read Tariq Ramadan’s In the Footsteps of the Prophet if you haven’t. Read every good Islamic book you can find, especially by modern, mainstream writers.

5. Put your hopes in the afterlife

This world will never live up to your expectations, and nothing you achieve in it will last forever. It is a central spiritual teaching of the Quran to focus more on the hereafter than on the present life, as verse 4 above teaches.

Think of this world as nothing more than a waiting room. You are here for a while, waiting for the door to be opened, behind which there is a beautiful and thriving city where you can finally have peace and freedom from all stress and worry. Arriving at this city must be your goal, you must never be deluded by the cheap counterfeit goods of the worldly life, which almost always cause as much pain as the pleasure they bring.

If you at this moment feel depressed and unable to do anything for the afterlife, then wait patiently, and this in itself is worship. Imagine yourself waiting in that waiting room. Just wait, if you cannot do anything more. Wait, knowing that eventually the door will open. You do not need to do anything more than waiting, God does not burden you with more than you are able.

6. Be easy on yourself

A mistake many of us make is to rededicate ourselves to God for a short period of time, such a during Ramadan, only to burn out, feeling that we can never be the perfect saint that we hope to be.

Never push yourself beyond what you are able to carry at this moment. Continue to enjoy what you enjoy, reading novels, browsing your favorite sites, playing video games, doing whatever (non-sinful) thing you enjoy doing.

Islam does not ask you to give up the pleasures of this world, or to turn yourself into a God-worshiping robot. It asks you reform your life, to remain close to God as much as you are able, and to continue living a normal human life. God does not blame you for enjoying yourself, for taking the time off to go to the park, to listen to music, to do anything you find enjoyable and uplifting.

Be gentle with yourself and increase what you do for God only when you are able. If today you are tired and cannot perform an extra good deed that you performed yesterday, then do not do it.

Pushing yourself too hard can cause your ego to rebel, because it will feel like Islam is an enemy that wants to prevent it from enjoying life. Children and teenagers also feel this way when their parents try to push them too hard to be pious and religious.

Instead, be a gentle and kind master with yourself, respecting your own dignity and giving yourself time to do what you enjoy.

7. Rely on His guidance

Another mistake that people make is losing hope in God’s ability to guide them. They lose hope and think that they are permanently lost, thinking as if God is incapable of reaching into their lives and purifying it again. The truth that Quran teaches us is that God is with us every hour of every day, teaching us, educating us, helping us overcome challenges and grow into better humans.

Some Muslims, especially strict ones, mistakenly think that for a person to acquire guidance, a thousand things have to go exactly perfectly for them. In reality, once a person accepts the Quran as their guide, and sincerely prays to God for guidance, then their guidance is assured. God will take care of arranging for them everything necessary to help them grow and improve. The Quran speaks much of guidance (al-huda), and there would be little point in mentioning this if it was all about a human’s own efforts toward learning about God and Islam. Rather, guidance is largely about God bestowing His favor upon humans, inspiring them and helping them along the way:

God chooses to Himself whom He wills, and He guides to Himself whoever repents. (The Quran, 42:13)

He said, “I am going towards my Lord, and He will guide me.” (The Quran, verse 37:99)

No matter how lost you feel, pray to God for guidance, and He will guide you, in ways you do not expect. He will arrange for you to go through the right experiences, to hear, read and see the right things, to be able to learn and grow and mature. What you must do, above all, is repent and be sincere.

On social anxiety and loneliness

I too do not enjoy social interactions except with people I know really well. This is perfectly normal. It is not a character flaw, it is due to your genes. If you get only four hours of sleep one night, the next day nearly all of your social anxiety will be gone, because the parts of your brain that cause you social anxiety will stop doing their usual thing.

Consider social anxiety just one of life’s annoyances, similar to a person who has an accident and has to limp for the rest of their lives. It is probably never going away completely, although many things can significantly reduce it (such as gaining wealth and status). Accept social anxiety as a part of life and move on. There are people who are blind, be thankful that your problem is not as serious. It will still get in the way of enjoying a life that people would call normal, but it is not more than you can bear.

When you are in a situation where your social anxiety becomes a factor, it is like a person who has a limp being expected to move fast or run. It is not enjoyable and you’d much rather avoid it, but if you think of it as just another physical disability, then you will be able to handle it with few negative emotions. If people constantly expect you to be outgoing and comfortable socially, then the blame is on them for expecting you to act in a way you are not designed to act. Instead of trying to live up to their expectations, trying to act the way their genes make them act, instead of acting the way your genes make you act, be comfortable with yourself, accepting your limitations, finding social enjoyment in the ways you can (instead of in the ways people expect), and having hope that as you grow older, you will learn better ways of dealing with the issue.

If you feel lonely and wish for meaningful social interactions, for example with a loving spouse, then you can pray for this and let God decide when and how you will have it. Loneliness is just one of the many tests of life, and the happiness we desire from ending our loneliness is only something that God can give to us:

42. And that to your Lord is the finality.

43. And that it is He who causes laughter and weeping.

44. And that it is He who gives death and life.

45. And that it is He who created the two kinds—the male and the female.

46. From a sperm drop, when emitted.

47. And that upon Him is the next existence.

48. And that it is He who enriches and impoverishes. (The Quran 53:42-48)

It is best not place your hopes of fulfillment in this life, as already mentioned, and this includes hoping for an end to loneliness. It is better to put our ultimate hope in the afterlife and to serve God as best as we can, expecting favors and blessings only from Him, whenever He decrees these for us.

This is about the spiritual side of things. As for the material side of things, you are free to seek fulfillment, for example by trying to get married. If you take care of the spiritual side, God will give you His help and guidance as you use your intelligence and planning ability to improve your material situation.

Spiritually, seek fulfillment only through God. Wealth, a spouse, family and friends will not bring you fulfillment unless He allows it and makes it possible. In the worldly life, act like any intelligent human, spiritually, act like His servant, knowing that He is the King above all kings.

Also see:

When to stand up during the iqamah, at the beginning, a specific point or at the end?

In our part of the world, I have noticed a few people standing up for the salah when the caller pronounces the words “Haiya as Salah” during the iqamat and most stand up from the beginning of the iqamat. Which is correct?

There is no specific evidence on the right time to stand up once the iqamah starts, and this is what Ibn Uthaymeen says. The various schools have used different arguments to justify different times for standing up. But since there is no strong evidence on any of these opinions, you are free to stand whenever it suits you. There is a hadith in Sahih al-Bukhari in which the Prophet says not to stand up until the crowd sees him stand up, therefore if there is a specific person who is meant to lead the prayer, then the rest should wait for that person to stand up before standing up themselves.

The Hanafi opinion is to stand up when the athan reaches “hayya alas salat”.

The Shafiee opinino is to stand up once the athan is finished.

The Maliki opinion is that you can stand any time, at the beginning, middle or end of it.

The Hanbali opinion is to follow what the imam does. The imam is supposed to stand up once the athan reaches “qad qamatis salat”. But if the imam takes longer to stand up, then the rest will wait until the imam stands up.

However, if there is a specific imam who is meant to lead the prayer, and the imam is late, and the iqama is said, the rest should wait for the imam to arrive before standing up.

Muslims may use “God” instead of “Allah”, and why most converts to Islam should keep their pre-Islam names

They say in our doctrine that the word "God" is way different than "Allah", and shouldn't be said as long as the Kuffar use it. We as Muslims differ from what they came with.. Similar to what happened when Adan was first confirmed. What's your take on that?

The Saudi scholar Ibn Uthaymeen says there is no issue with using foreign words to refer to God if the meaning of the word is commonly known and well-understood and not confusable with pagan deities.

I try to use the word “God” wherever I can if I am speaking or writing in English, because it sounds more natural than using “Allah”. My wife is a native English speaker and we always say “God” when we speak.

I come from a Kurdish culture and we always use Khwa and Khoda when we speak about God. It sounds highly unusual if someone says Allah in the wrong context, it is like saying “thou” and “thee” in English to refer to someone.

You will find some Arab-centric opinions on the internet that say to use “Allah” instead of other words, acting as if the cultural choices of hundreds of millions of non-Arab Muslims around the world are of no importance.

Using the word God in English is recommendable because it shows non-Muslim English speakers that we are not speaking of some foreign deity like some of them mistakenly think. It shows that we are speaking of the same God that they know of, the God of Abraham and Jesus, peace be upon them.For similar reasons I recommend that converts to Islam keep their pre-Islam names. A convert to Islam named Christopher is going to have a far easier time befriending and approaching non-Muslims, putting them at their ease and showing them that Muslims are just like themselves. If he chooses some foreign-sounding name, this will always act as a barrier.

Ultimately it comes down to personal choice whether a convert chooses to change their name or not. But it is a big mistake to tell them this should be one of the first things they should do after converting. This should be one of the last things they do, by choosing a foreign name they separate themselves from their local community and make it far more difficult on themselves to get their conversion to Islam accepted by others on the one hand, and to get others to have a friendly view of Islam on the other.

Additionally, converts to Islam who have children have the right to continue using local names, as long as these names do not have a meaning conflicting with Islam. Irish Muslims can continue using common Irish names, the way that Kurdish Muslims use Kurdish names, and Turkish Muslims use Turkish names.

Strategies for forgiving others

I'm having a bad past and it was not easy to forgive and forget. I've already tried my best to forgive people, but I still can't find the inner peace. I still can't find what I should be. Why it is so hard to forgive people? And why it is hard for me to forget the past. What should I do?

You are a human living in a human body. It is a natural part of you to find it difficult to forgive people who have injured you, since the subconscious part of the mind keeps track of every harm others have done us and in this way controls our emotions toward them. This is done for our own good, it is an automatic response meant to help us stay away from people who may harm us.

It is sufficient for you to consciously forgive people (to decide in your mind to not try to harm them or take revenge on them), as for your subconscious mind, it will continue to have its negative emotional response toward these people until a long time passes and you either start to see these people in a new light based on positive interactions, or so much time passes that you forget most of the injuries they have done you.

If you can consciously forgive people, and you can control your actions toward them, then there is no need to worry about the rest. Your focus should instead be on maintaining a heightened state of spirituality (through daily Quran reading, listening to lectures, and other acts of worship), increasing your knowledge, and always going closer toward God. As you improve in these regards, the worldly things that trouble you will feel less important.

Your subconscious (the emotions you feel toward people) is not under your direct control. The only way you can affect it is indirectly, by focusing on things that can rewire its priorities so that it stops worrying about people. And this is done, as I said, through days, months and years of spiritual practice.

There were people in my life who were extremely unkind to me years ago. Instead of trying to forgive them, I moved on with my life. I read hundreds of books, traveled, suffered many hardships and many good things, and in this way the negative things I felt toward these people became irrelevant, so that today I can interact with them without feeling anything negative toward them.

This is similar to how we do not feel strong emotions toward people who were mean to us in kindergarten or elementary school. It is not that we actively forgave them, it is that we grew up, we changed, so that they no longer feel relevant to us, to our emotions and our sense of self-worth.

In the same way, to forgive someone, a person can go to a different country, spend 5 years there and become a completely different person, and coming back to their home country, they may discover that they have forgiven the person even though they almost never thought about them.

To forgive, grow into a new person, move to a new position in life where those people’s negative actions toward you no longer feel important or interesting, so that you do not even bother to think about them anymore.

Besides Islamic worship, another thing you can do is to read 100 books. Read 100 good novels (classics written before 1965) and I guarantee that you will feel like a very different person once you are done, your view of yourself and the world around you will expand and you will start to see the world differently, so that your past stops having the power to hurt you.

What to do if the Quran (in English) does not touch your heart

I have an issue I feel bad about. Whenever I read the Qur'an i can't connect to it. At worst I haven't even had a clear feeling it's from God. Idk why. Maybe because I don't know Arabic. But whenever I watch a religious video explaining the religion i feel very connected.

You could try different translations of the Quran, some of them have a very technical style that is hard to connect to. Many people like The Qur’an (Oxford World’s Classics) which is not available for free online. You can also try Irving’s translation, which is free.

And if that doesn’t work, but you continue to enjoy lectures, then that is fine too. Once you have understood the religion and follow it, you are free to worship God and seek spirituality in the way that works best for you.

My favorite way to feel spiritual other than listening to the Quran is to read my collection of Ibn al-Jawzi’s sayings, which I have published as a book and which you can read here for free.

What is “sabr”?

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What is sabr actually? Is it to learn to be stoic?

Sabr means “patience”, its literal meaning is “to withhold”. To have sabr means to be able to withhold yourself from doing anything that displeases God. In times of hardship, sabr means not to complain, not to think negative thoughts about God, and not to give up worshiping Him and seek refuge in other things.

In times of ease, sabr means to withhold yourself from using God’s blessings to disobey Him. It also means to continue worshiping Him as ardently as during times of hardship, instead letting times of ease make you complacent and lazy toward worship.

To have sabr means to be steadfast. Regardless of what life throws at you, if you have sabr, you continue to obey and worship God, withholding yourself from doing things that displease Him.

Dating and Relationships in Islam: What is Allowed and What is Not

Is dating and having relationships totally forbidden in Islam?

I will start with a description of an example scenario of the way dating and relationships work in Islam, then will clarify the Islamic stance. If a woman works somewhere, and there is a man there that she likes and who likes her, and both of them want to enjoy a relationship with each other, Islam asks them to get their families involved and work toward getting married.

The time between knowing someone and marrying them could be years. When two people are interested in each other, Islam does not strictly prescribe how they should behave with one another. The two people are expected to get their families involved, and to have a polite and formal relationship with one another, until the marriage takes place.

Depending on the culture, the couple may be allowed to see each other often; for example the man may visit the woman’s family and see her there once or twice a week. This is how dating works among conservative Iranian families. Once the nikāḥ takes place (the official engagement ceremony), but before the wedding, they are allowed to spend time alone outside, going to cafes and restaurants for example, and it is accepted of them to be in constant contact with each other, such as through their phones. But they are not expected to be sexually intimate until after the wedding.

Therefore the Islamic way of dating is as follows. This is the Iranian solution (which is perfectly acceptable in Sunni Islam as well) which allows for dating before the wedding. Note that this is not a loophole, this is perfectly in accordance with Islamic manners:

  1. The man and woman know each other, either as family friends, coworkers or classmates, and both show interest in marrying the other (or the man is interested in marrying her).
  2. The man approaches the woman’s family in an official proposal ceremony. If the man doesn’t know the woman’s family at all, he may get her family’s contact information and set up an official meeting with them. The woman will tell her family about it, and in this way it is set up. The man visits the woman’s family accompanied by some of his own family, and in this way the two families get to know one another.
  3. If everything goes well, the man and woman maintain a formal and polite relationship, although it is not expected to be as formal as that between strangers. The man may visit the woman’s family occasionally. The two families work toward setting up a nikāḥ ceremony.
  4. The nikāḥ takes place. The relationship between the man and the woman becomes religiously officiated by a cleric. They are not married yet culturally. They are allowed to date and to be in contact, similar to a Western-style relationship (without sexual intimacy).
  5. The wedding takes place, after which they are a married couple.

There are all kinds of subtleties involved with this process, and Islam does not strictly prescribe the exact way it is carried out, as long as there is no intimacy before the nikāḥ.

Within the Islamic system, people are discouraged to become intimate emotionally before the nikāḥ, although there is no punishment for this within Islam, so it is not considered a crime, it is considered a breach of good manners and etiquette that could have harmful consequences, so that a person who truly fears God would avoid it.

Lovers in a Garden by Marcus C Stone (c. early 20th century)

For someone living in a different society, what they do could be different. Islam strictly prohibits physical intimacy between people before marriage, leaving emotional intimacy in a gray zone. If a young man and woman fall in love and become emotionally intimate before getting their families involved, their behavior may be considered sinful, or approaching sinfulness, but they have not committed a punishable crime. They are instead strongly encouraged to get their families involved and to maintain a formal relationship until after the nikāḥ.

For two Muslim converts in the West who get to know each other and who want to start dating, performing the nikah is as simple as getting the permission of the woman’s guardian (a male family member, such as a father, brother or other blood relative if they are Muslim, if not, some respect Muslim man from the community), performing a 10-minute nikāḥ ceremony in front of witnesses, then publicly announcing their nikāḥ / engagement (for example on Facebook). This can be done months before the wedding. Once this ceremony has been performed, they can start dating like any couple (if they want to date but not marry). In this ceremony the woman’s dowry is set. If they decide to separate before physical intimacy, the women receives half of her dowry, rather than the full dowry, she can also forgo the dowry if she wants.

And, if after the nikāḥ they want to start living together as a husband and wife (without a wedding ceremony), they can do that too, making the nikāḥ the wedding too. In Iran too, sometimes the nikāḥ and the wedding are on the same day, other times they are separated by long periods of time.

So, in Islam it is considered bad manners and a weakness in one’s faith if one tries to have an intimate emotional relationship (for example over the internet) with a member of the opposite sex before the nikāḥ, because this can lead to various sinful behaviors, as there can at times be an immense desire for the couple to take the relationship further, “sexting” and exchanging inappropriate photos. A couple who want to follow Islam’s guidance fully would avoid such a relationship. If they want to know each other better before the nikāḥ, they would get their families involved, or at least the woman’s family (meaning her guardian) should be involved.

Different Muslim cultures have differing practices. Islam does not expect people to act like robots, it acknowledges their humanity, which is why it leaves the pre-nikāḥ relationship in a gray zone, acknowledging that different circumstances require different policies. It is ultimately a matter of conscience between you and God. It is very easy for us to find excuses for our sinful desires and to say that our case is different. So we must be aware of our ego’s desire to always take a relationship with a person of the opposite sex further until it becomes sinful.

By having a relationship with someone before nikāḥ, you constantly create opportunities for you and the other person to act in ways that would be considered sinful by others and by God. Therefore you must do your best to keep your ego’s desires in check, and you must do your best to get your families involved at the first possible opportunity.

If you want to date before marriage, then have your nikāḥ ceremony, then start dating. In this way you can have a relationship, and if you end up not wanting to get married, you have the option of ending the relationship. If it is the woman who wants to end it, then she will get no dowry. If it is the man who wishes to end it, he must give her half the dowry, unless she says she does not want it.

If it is a long-distance relationship, it is sufficient to have a Skype session that involves the two of them, the woman’s guardian and two male witnesses. In this session, the woman’s guardian gives his agreement to the nikāḥ and the dowry amount, and this would be it. They would be considered engaged in Islam, and they can publicly announce their engagement, and from then on they can have an intimate relationship like any non-Muslim Western couple. Depending on their culture, however, physical intimacy may be considered highly inappropriate until after the wedding, although technically it is allowed.

Why should your relationship life be anyone else’s business?

Why can’t young Muslims simply get into relationships without having to involve other people? They mean harm to no one, and they are old enough to think for themselves.

The reason is that in Islam, marriage is an extremely serious business, because the survival of humanity depends on it. Islam creates a system that ensures above-replacement fertility rates, meaning that sufficient children are born and taken care of so that the the population does not start shrinking and slowly going extinct.

Why should anyone care about that when one’s fulfillment is involved?

For the same reason that a factory owner has to worry about not releasing contaminated water into the environment. It may bring him or her great fulfillment to do this, since it reduces costs and increases profits, but for humanity’s greater good, their desire is curbed. What they do isn’t just their business, it is also society’s business.

In Islam, relationships and marriage are equally society’s business. It may seem really fun to spend one’s youth “hooking up” with a dozen different people, having a different sexual partner every few months. This can be highly enjoyable, there is no need to deny this. The problem is that this leads to a society that does not value its future, and that considers having and bringing up children a nuisance that gets in the way of personal fulfillment.

The result is that the number of people dying ends up being greater than the number of people being born, so that the population starts to shrink, like it is happening in Japan. A person may say, “So what? They have 120 million people, let it become 10 million instead.” But if a population can go from 120 million to 10 million, it can go from 10 million to zero if the same trend continues.

You are free to think this is OK, that it is fine if humanity goes extinct by preferring personal fulfillment over the good of society and humanity’s survival. Islam says it is not OK. Islam wants humanity to survive, and it doesn’t make a difference in God’s eye whether it is a plague that may kill off humanity in a year, or an ideology of sexual freedom that does it in 2000 years. The result is the same; humanity dies out.

You could say that you personally shouldn’t have to sacrifice your fulfillment for the sake of some disaster that may happen thousands of years in the future. Islam says you must. It says you must not kill, you must not use legalized robbery (usury) to extract profit from society, you must not do injury to others, you must not abandon your children so that they starve. And you must not have casual sex, you must instead build families intended to survive for the long-term.

All of these commandments are there to ensure humanity’s long-term survival while also ensuring its short-term moral integrity, since one of Islam’s central teachings is that the end does not justify the means; you must never do evil for the sake of some good you wish to obtain. Even if you are made to testify, and your testimony harms those you love or harms the Muslim community, you must do it. You must give preference to truth and justice over worldly concerns. To a materialist this sounds like insanity, to prefer principles over one’s material good. But this is what we believe in, because we believe that by following principles, God will ensure our material good.

When it comes to relationships, Islam asks you to not be selfish, but to engage in them in a way that benefits society and humanity’s survival, rather than harming it. You are part of humanity and you have a responsibility to leave it in as good a state as you found it, and that, needless to say, means that you do not do what leads to its extinction, whether it is by releasing toxic waste into the water supply or by giving preference to your sexual desires over doing the hard work of building families and raising children.

Reader Questions

I thought nikkah was the wedding not the engagement because that’s how it’s done where I’m from. Is nikka interchangeable or ?

Legally once the nikāḥ is performed, the man and woman are married and there is nothing further to do Islamically. But some cultures treat the nikāḥ ceremony as an engagement ceremony and delay the wedding. This allows the couple and their families to know each other better and makes it easier to separate if they end up not liking each other. If the couple separate before the wedding (before the marriage is consummated), the man will have to pay only half the alimony they agreed upon, while the woman’s family are strongly encouraged not to accept any alimony (Quran 2:237).

Having the nikāḥ without a wedding is a great solution for young Muslims living in Western countries. It allows couples to date in a way that is ḥalāl and while enjoying the involvement and respect of their families and communities.

Other cultures perform the nikāḥ and the wedding on the same day. And in some cultures both practices are common, if the couple desire it they have their nikāḥ and wait for a while before they conduct the wedding ceremony, and if they desire it they do both on the same day.

Islam versus Feminism

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My professor told me that men and women have different purposes, so we can't protest how men are more "free". We can't protest on how wives have to do what the husbands say as long as it's right. My Mom also told me that if your husband says no, then you don't do it. However, there are feminists that are rebelling against this, they say that it's sexist, women rights, equality, etc. What do you think about this? And what do you think about feminism? Sorry if it's hard to understand.

There are many types of feminists. Some of them believe in equal rights for women and there is nothing wrong with this. Others believe in women’s moral superiority and think that all men are inherently worthless

"I want to see a man beaten to a bloody pulp with a high-heel shoved in his mouth, like an apple in the mouth of a pig." —Andrea Dworkin

"All men are rapists and that's all they are" —Marilyn French, advisor to Al Gore's presidential campaign.

"In order to raise children with equality, we must take them away from families and communally raise them" —Dr. Mary Jo Bane, feminist and assistant professor of education at Wellesley College, and associate director of the school's Center for Research on Woman.

"The most merciful thing a large family can to do one of its infant members is to kill it." —Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, in "Women and the New Race," p. 67.

"We are, as a sex, infinitely superior to men." —Elizabeth Cady Stanton

These are feminism’s leaders and intellectuals. They have high-paying jobs as university professors and administrators, pundits and non-profit executives. These are not some crazy outsiders, they are at the center of feminism, and it is people like this who run most women’s studies departments at universities.

As for women who believe in the equal worth of men and women and simply want to promote equal rights and opportunities for women, then there is nothing necessarily wrong with that. So it is quite true that a Muslim woman can be a feminist and make a contribution to society.

There is a big difference between the old humanist feminism of Wollstonecraft and Stanton and the new radical leftist feminism in vogue today. The old one worked to end social injustice against women by demanding equal rights and freedoms for them. This old feminism is in keeping with Islamic principles and can serve a useful function in Islamic societies, ensuring that women’s rights are not neglected and women’s freedoms not limited due to un-Islamic cultural biases that exist in many places.

The new feminism, which is the doctrine of today’s women’s studies departments at universities, has little to do with the old feminism. It teaches that men are inherently evil and worthless, that men’s thinking is invalid, that the world would be a better place if all men ceased to exist. It promotes hatred and anger against men and civilization, teaching women to feel no moral responsibility toward their societies and to see everything from the highly skewed lens of a mythical war between the sexes. This view is highly un-Islamic, because it does not believe in the transcendent value of human life. It teaches that men are sub-human, lesser creatures, almost worthless. It teaches that a woman’s rights and feelings must be of the utmost importance while considering men’s (and boys’) rights and feelings laughable and worthless.

Any feminist Islam, therefore, must be highly sensitive to the differences between these two types of feminism and reject the new one in favor of the old, humanist feminism that truly believed in equality, in giving back to society, in cooperation with men rather than hatred toward them.

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