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The real meaning of kāfir and the difference between small kufr and big kufr

Is not wearing hijab kufr if the person knows and accepts that it's God's command but has a hard time fighting his nafs [ego]?

Kufr has two meanings when used in the Quran:

  • To deny a truth
  • To deny a blessing

The best translation of kufr might therefore be “denial”, a denial that includes both the denial of truth and the denial of blessings. Technically, any sin is to some degree kufr, because any sin we commit is a denial of God’s blessings. But since it does not contain a denial of truth, it is only what we may call “small kufr” in English. Not wearing hijab is a sin like any other and there may be acceptable excuses for it in the short-term.

There is also “big kufr”. When people think of kufr and kāfirs, this is what they usually think about. To commit big kufr is to turn your back against God, fight against Him and deny the truth of His scriptures and the truth of His blessings despite believing deep in your heart that God exists and that His scriptures are true.

When the Quran speaks of kāfirs it is not speaking of just any group of non-Muslims (as too many Muslims unfortunately think). A kāfir is one who believes in God but fights against Him, and the archetypal example of a kāfir is Satan, who lived in God’s presence and fully believed in His power and greatness, yet he disobeyed Him. A human kāfir is guilty of the same sin. They believe in God but deny His truth and His blessings.

By that definition, the majority of the world’s non-Muslims are likely not kāfirs, because they are not convinced in their hearts of the truth of God’s scriptures. A real kāfir knows the truth but denies it. A non-Muslim who has only heard negative things about religion and never gets a chance to fully explore it is a completely different type of person.

Regarding wearing the hijab, God does not ask you to do more than you are able. Wearing the hijab requires courage and it can be difficult if there is no one around you doing the same and supporting you in it. There are people who cruelly condemn Muslim women who do not wear the hijab. Know that God is kinder than humans, so do not let people’s cruelty make you think negative thoughts about God.

Hanging out with other hijabis can give you the courage and motivation to wear it. If you have a mosque near you, find out if they have a sisters’ circle and join them in their weekly gatherings. Belonging to the community can make it much easier to start wearing the hijab.

For more articles about the hijab please see this page.

Are the prayers and fasts of a non-hijabi accepted?

Salam brother, I'm a muslim sister, I'm having a hard time to start wearing hijab and I think I'll wait for the next year My clothes usually consist of tight jeans and t-shirts but I'm making changes to wear large pants and clothes that are more baggy but without wearing hijab, will allah be happy for the change I did even though I'm still not wearing hijab? And also I pray and love to fast every monday and Thursday like the sunnah, will allah accept my efforts if I'm not wearing hijab?

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

The opinions of mainstream scholars is that the acceptance of prayer and fasting is not affected by whether a woman wears the hijab or not. (Archived link to a fatwa on IslamWeb, a website by Qatar’s Islamic Affairs ministry. Archived link to a fatwa from Sheikh Atiyya Sakhr of al-Azhar University. Archived link to an article that mentions a fatwa by Egypt’s fatwa authority). There is no evidence that says a non-hijabi’s worship is not accepted, the decision is with God and we trust Him to do what is just and kind.

The main purpose of the hijab is to take the sexual element out of a woman’s public interactions so that she can interact with the outside world as a person, not as an object judged for her sexual attractions. You can go a long way toward achieving this goal without covering your hair and in this way ease yourself into wearing the hijab. God does not ask you to do more than you are able. A Muslim woman’s attire should be judged by how modest it is, meaning how good it is at taking her sexuality out of the picture, not just by whether she is covering her hair or not. You can design your attire with this goal in mind until you are comfortable with also covering your hair. You could also try wearing a decorative cap that covers most of your hair.

The second purpose of the hijab is identity (“so that they [i.e. Muslim women] may be recognized” as the Quran says in verse 33:59). It is meant to signal to others that you are a Muslim woman, especially to discourage sexual harassment from lecherous men (it is meant to act as a nun’s outfit, it makes such men act more respectfully). It requires courage to signal the fact that you are Muslim since it can lead to prejudice and maltreatment. Having hijabi friends to hang out with and perhaps joining the sisters’ circle at your local mosque can greatly help in giving you courage to wear it.

Best wishes inshaAllah.

On an agnostic’s marriage to a Muslim

So I’ve been seeing a man for about 4 years now (I’m a agnostic woman) and he’s Muslim, however we started off dating and I thought it was ok in the beginning till later on he told me it wasn’t and our relationship is just a friend based thing. The thing is he wants me to convert and get married to him to make it work but I don’t feel the need I have to convert to love him and respect his faith. I really would like to have a life with him but I know deep down that may not happen Your thoughts

It was wrong of him not to tell you in the beginning that he is not allowed to marry an agnostic. As for your question, in Islam marriage is not about the happiness of the husband and life alone. It is about the happiness of everyone around you, and the fate of your children and grand children. Marriage is about socially integrating your relationship into society’s life. It is possible that you would make a great wife the way you are and would be capable of respecting your husband’s relatives and creating a happy and functional family. But the probability of a non-believing woman making a great wife is lower than the probability of a believing woman. There are always exceptions, but this is the general rule. A woman who believes in God and feels herself bound by His commandments is going to have a much stronger force on her making her act kindly and responsibly than an agnostic who is only morally responsible to herself and her close friends and relatives.

There is also the spiritual side. God’s believers are like a separate race of their own. Part of a successful life for them is the bringing up of children and grand children who have an equally strong belief in God. We consider ourselves part of one single line of prophets that go back to Muhammad, Jesus, Abraham and Noah until Adam. We do not want this line to go extinct by our children abandoning our faith. And since a mother has an important role in forming her children’s worldview, a believing mother is more likely to bring up believing children than an agnostic woman is.

Religious laws and regulations are there to take account of these probabilities by prohibiting the types of relationships that are less likely to be successful. It is possible, but not very probable, that an agnostic woman will make a great wife and will bring up strong believers in God, so to increase the probabilities of successful marriages and the survival of the believing community, marriage with agnostics is prohibited.

This is not a judgment on you as a person. It is about the long-term good of the community. In Islam personal fulfillment has to be balanced with our social duties. In the West the belief is that one should seek fulfillment as long as they do not do any harm to others. In Islam one is required to reach a compromise between their personal fulfillment and their duties toward their families and communities. We are neither slaves to the interests of society nor are we individualists who turn our backs on it. For more on the logic of marriage in Islam please see my essay: The Point of Marriage in Islam (and the Problem with Romantic Relationships Outside of Marriage)

As for your personally, you could try reading multiple translations of the Quran and watching lectures about Islam to find out if there is more to this religion than you thought previously. You could also watch videos about converts to Islam (such as this one) to find out what made them convert. If you are serious about your relationship, it is only reasonable to find out as much as you can about whether there is any chance at all that you could become a Muslim.

Of course, converting to a religion is a very heavy decision to make and it can sometimes take years. Your only way forward, as far as I can see it, is to explore Islam deeply to find out whether a chance you could convert or not. If you convert, then your relationship will work out for you, and if you conclude that you could never convert, then, in that case, maybe you would be able to make a firm decision about whether to continue the relationship or not.

Best wishes.

On watching Quran videos during tahajjud

Asalamu aleikum, I just read your essay on tahajjud, which was very interesting, I didn't know tahajjud existed. I have a question though: I'd like to watch videos of Quran recitations, so I can both hear it in Arabic and read in English. I'm wondering if this is okay, wouldn't it be too much like a break/distraction from the rest of the prayer? Also, what is the time period for performing tahajjud? Thank you for all your posts!

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

It would be best to watch those videos in between the units of prayer rather than inside them. You would pray two units, say the salām, watch Quran videos for ten minutes, then get up to pray two more units, say the salām, then watch Quran videos for ten more minutes. In this way you can spend an hour or more in tahajjud and Quran-reading.

All of the scholarly opinions I looked at had an unfavorable view of non-Arabic Quran inside the prayer, therefore it is best to keep it outside of it. I have updated the essay to mention this fact.

How to be forgiving and mentally stronger

Assalamualaikum. Sorry to bother you but I think I really need to type this out. My heart has been so heavy lately. I feel like I am always the after thought with my friends (I am always made fun off and I always feel like the extra person) Maybe because I make it so easy. And family problems have also got me so down. And I feel lost and stuck. Do you have any advice on how I can be mentally stronger and not so sensitive all the time? How do I forgive my friends? Thank you for reading this.

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

It is in the nature of this world to constantly throw difficulties, challenges and distractions in our way that keep us out of balance. Many people’s lives are made of short periods in which their life feels happy and meaningful separated by long periods of boredom and discontent. It is possible to escape this cycle by attaching your heart to God rather than to the world. But the problem is that this is easier said than done. Even if you hang half a dozen signs throughout your home that say “Attach your heart to God, not to the world”, this reminder by itself will have no power to create the reality of being attached to God rather than to the world.

Attaching your heart to God requires daily work, skipping this work for just a few days is sufficient to put you back in the world’s cycle of ups and downs. I describe how to achieve the state of being attached to God in my essay: God has not abandoned you

About the questions you asked regarding family problems, being mentally stronger and being able to forgive your friends, if you have spent an hour last night in tahajjud and Quran-reading as I describe in the above essay, then the next day it becomes much easier to remain serene and free of negative emotions toward people regardless of what happens and what they do. Being attached to God means that your ego stops being a factor in your interactions with others, and this makes it extremely easy to be kind and forgiving toward those who are mean to you, and this in turn causes a virtuous cycle as people start to like you more and trust you more for your kind and forgiving nature. The Quran says:

Good and evil are not equal. Repel evil with good, and the person who was your enemy becomes like an intimate friend. (The Quran, verse 41:34)

For an egotistic person whose heart is attached to the worldly life, it is nearly impossible to respond to meanness with kindness. But for someone whose heart is attached to God and whose ego has been subdued, this requires no effort at all, it becomes second nature to them.

You may also like my essay: The Road to Maturity: On Dealing with Life’s Unsolvable Problems

Best wishes inshaAllah.

Why Saudi Arabia does not represent Islam

Do you dislike the Saudis? If so why?

I consider them no better or worse than most other governments, but they are greatly responsible for the negative image of Islam that the rest of the world has about us, and for this reason they deserve to be denounced, as I will explain below. This is not a criticism of the Saudi people, it is a criticism of the actions of the Saudi government at the highest levels.

The impression that some people have that Saudi Arabia is an “Islamic” country following an authentic version of Islam that others should look up to is something of a fairy tale promoted by Saudi propaganda. It is true that Saudi Arabia spends billions of dollars on Islamic projects throughout the world to create the image of being a defender of Islam and Muslims, but as I explain below, it probably earns many times as much through usury (ribā) alone, something the Saudi government was very eager to hide until it came out in the 1980’s. Saudi Arabia’s support for various Islamic projects is not necessarily hypocritical, they may really believe they are doing God’s work and there are many good and admirable Saudi people involved with these projects. But that does not change the fact that everything the government does is completely tainted with usury. Is God so desperate to need the services of usurers? It is utterly hypocritical for a Muslim to turn a blind eye on this.

The version of Islam the Saudi government propagates is the highly intolerant Wahhabi interpretation of Ḥanbalī Islam that was severely denounced by the muftis of Mecca in 1743 from all the four major schools of Islam, including the Ḥanbalī mufti.

Recently the Saudi crown prince admitted that they spread Wahhabism in Afghanistan and Pakistan at the request of Western powers:

The Saudi-funded spread of Wahhabism began as a result of Western countries asking Riyadh to help counter the Soviet Union during the Cold War, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told the Washington Post.1

The result was the Taliban. Taliban means “students”, these were the graduates of the madrasas founded in Pakistan by Saudi Arabia. These madrasas were designed to spread Wahhabism as part of a Pentagon operation known as Operation Cyclone. This operation was meant to breed jihadis and help them take over parts of Afghanistan, using Pakistan as a staging ground, in order to cause the Soviet Union to invade the country. The creator of this plan was Zbigniew Brzezinski, a Jewish-American military strategist. The plan resulted in the deaths of somewhere between 562,000 to 2,000,000 innocent Afghan men, women and children. Professor Andrew Bacevich writes:

What judgment to render on all this is a matter of perspective. Asked in 1998 if he had any regrets about having helped instigate Soviet intervention in Afghanistan, Zbigniew Brzezinski, in many respects the god-father of Operation Cyclone, reacted with astonishment. "Regret what?" he replied. "That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap and you want me to regret it?"

The interviewer pressed the point. Hadn't subsequent rise of radical Islamism tarnished that victory? Not in Brzezinski's view. "What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?"

The Saudis on the outside were promoting their “one true” version of Islam, while behind the scenes they were helping carry out a US plan for causing endless war in Central Asia in order to help weaken Russia. Unless they were incredibly naive, they knew that millions of innocent people could die in this plan to corrupt and prostitute the concept of jihad in order to weaken Russia’s southern borders for the benefit of the United States. They should be held responsible for every innocent Afghan and Pakistani man, woman and child that died because of this evil plan that continues to cause death and destruction in these countries to this very day. (See America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History by professor Andrew J. Bacevich).

But it does not end there, as I explain here, the Saudis are also responsible for bankrolling the US military through the petrodollar system. (See The Hidden Hand of American Hegemony: Petrodollar Recycling and International Markets by the American scholar David E. Spiro) The Saudi government earns billions of dollars every year by charging interest (ribā) on money it lends to the American government, in return the American dollar’s value is kept at a fixed, high price, enabling the US government to continually print dollars without the currency losing its value, enabling the US government to spend trillions of dollars destroying Muslim countries without suffering any great financial consequences.

In addition to the above, almost every terrorist attack in the world today is carried out by people influenced by Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi propaganda, which teaches its followers to view the world as if it is in a state of perpetual war. The Wahhabis are supposed to be the only true Muslims who have the God-given right to carry out any atrocity they want against both Muslims and non-Muslims in this “war” whose end will only come once the Wahhabis are in control of the world.

So the Saudi question is complicated. Most Saudi citizens will probably be as shocked as anyone else if they learned about these things. The Wahhabi Islam I describe above is not the Islam followed by most Saudi citizens, they mostly follow a reasonably moderate Islam like most other Muslims. Wahhabism is a tool used by the government to justify its rule, to shut down criticism and to breed a class of ultra-intolerant propagandists that serve the government’s interests.

The Saudi government is involved in good and bad things. The good should not make us turn a blind eye toward the bad. It is very hypocritical for Muslims to say they stand for truth and justice while letting this government get away with its actions. No one is so holy as to be above criticism, and the rulers of the cities of Mecca and Medina should be held to the highest possible standards because anything evil they do will reflect on all other Muslims.

Wanting to repent but not feeling repentant

There are many moments where I want to ask for God's forgiveness, but I just can't bring myself to. I've heard that one of the conditions to be be forgiven is to really feel the repantance in your heart and even be moved to tears if possible. I'd love to constantly ask for forgiveness but when I do, I don't feel much inside; as though I'm speaking with the tongue and not the heart. Not sure what to make of this or how to solve this. What are your thoughts on this?

Feeling repentance in your heart requires having the necessary mental state for it. In order to feel repentant, you need to feel God’s greatness and power and your utter dependence on Him (rather than merely rationally acknowledging these things). Such appreciation for God requires daily effort. What I recommend to all Muslims who seek to feel spiritual is to perform tahajjud plus Quran-reading before bed every night (see here for the details). Just a week of doing that will probably be sufficient to help you feel spiritually connected with God.

Cleaning parts of the body hit by toilet splash-back

Assalamu 'alaikum, when I use the toilet I feel splash-back (not certain exactly where so I wash everything) and it's too hard to wash it off - i go in the tub (as staying on the toilet will cause even more splash-back) and it gets quite lengthy and tiring. What should I do to eliminate any splash-back and clean up. Jazakallah khayr.

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

Eliminating splash-back is an engineering problem that I cannot help with. You can search for “eliminate toilet splash” on Google and YouTube for many articles and videos about ways to eliminate it.

As for the religious part, according to some scholars it is sufficient to use a dry object, such as a piece of toilet paper, to clean the parts of your body that you think were hit by the splash. This opinion is mentioned by the editor of the Maliki compendium al-Sharḥ al-Ṣaghīr by the jurist al-Dardīr (d. 1786) on page 81, footnote 1. This opinion is also supported by a modern fatwa on the Qatari website IslamWeb which is operated by Qatar’s Islamic Affairs ministry (archived link in Arabic).

Her parents fight constantly and stress her out

Assalamualaikum, I live in a family that is not harmonious and makes me stressful, I have been tried to be patient but I think to get married so that I can get far away from my parent. Is it a good idea ? Please advise me.

My parents are constantly fighting. If they’re not done fighting at home, they fight in public and often they drag me and my brother into it as well. What’s worse is we’re expected to start smiling and acting normal as soon as the scene is over. We’re expected to have no feelings at all. I’m sick of all this embarrassment it has left me scarred. I’m tired of praying because nothing ever changes! I’m so sick of life. The only reason I’m alive is because I cant commit suicide.

Despite of all these problems, I have made it into med school but now I just cant do it anymore. I am so depressed and hurt I just cant study anymore. I cant focus on anything. I have stopped enjoying every hobby that I had. My life sucks and I just want to get it over with.

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

I am sorry to read about your situation and I hope things get better for you. Please see the articles on this page on my site where I deal with the various aspects of parent-child relations.

For general guidance on dealing with difficult and impossible situations, please also see my essays God has not abandoned you and The Road to Maturity: On Dealing with Life’s Unsolvable Problems.

Best wishes inshaAllah.

Can Muslim women be intellectuals and have careers?

Salamu alikoum. I'm wondering what you think of woman who are intellectual? I've heard many negative comments from muslims that woman are stupid etc, and I've also read a lot of ahadith about it. SubhanaAllah I've met sisters with PHD in mathematics, physics , with degree in philosophy and psychology etc. I personally know many sisters who are very smart. My uncle's wife graduated with background in petroleum engineering. Both her and her husband were classmates during her time in university. But now he works in a well known oil company , that is like 4th or 5th largest internationally and she wasn’t allowed to work within the field. She works in administration at a school and she makes very little money. She told me herself that she doesn’t like to ask her husband to give her money and usually all her money go to her kids. So what is your opinion on thinking a woman can’t be smart or can’t have a high status job? Is it Islamic?

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

There is no clear evidence in the Quran or the Prophet’s teachings (pbuh) that tell us a woman should not be an intellectual or should not have a good career. It is about cultural beliefs and prejudices. In 1918, it would have been scandalous for an Egyptian woman to attend university. In 2016 more women than men were enrolled in university (34.8% vs 34%). As these cultures grow into the modern world over time, they will give up outdated cultural ideas while retaining Islam’s teachings (Egypt remains a conservative Muslim country despite the great increase in women’s education).

I believe women should be free to choose whether they want to focus on careers or to focus on their families. They should not be prevented from having careers if they want, but we should not force careers on them either. Their own choices and propensities should be respected. There is a tendency in the West to look at family women with contempt, as if a woman needs to succeed in the corporate world or become famous to prove her worth. In Islam she is considered worthy by the virtue of being a woman, she does not have to do anything additional to prove her worth. My sisters and aunts get far more respect and deference than most Western women get, not because they have done anything to deserve it, but because it is something guaranteed to them by my society’s Islamic morality and ethics (the same was true in 19th century Christian societies).

What types of insurance can Muslims get?

Salaam. I wonder how do we muslims deal with matter of insurance? We need to be insured incase of any damage to our expensive belognings such as house etc , or any illness/accident. So its hard to reject it

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

If we are legally required to get non-halal insurance, for example in order to be able to drive a car, then we can do it.

As for the general question of insurance, Islam has its own insurance system that is greatly superior to ordinary, Western-style insurance, in that it is non-profit-making and non-usurious.

In the Western insurance system companies try to charge as high a price as they can get away with for as bad a service as they can get away with. They, similar to banks, are like paradises on society that constantly seek out new ways of extracting money from people. The Islamic insurance system removes this parasitical tendency by making the customers the shareholders in the company, by forbidding profit, and by forbidding usurious re-investment. This means that the insurance system in Islam acts as a social safety net upheld by the rest of the customers, without anyone wanting to enrich themselves by other people’s misfortunes as is the case with Western insurance.

There are no established Islamic insurance companies in the West as far as I know. As I said, if the law requires that one get insurance in order to be able to do something, such as driving cars or practicing medicine, then Muslims can use ordinary insurance. But when it comes to matters of choice, such as home insurance, then the pious thing to do is not get insurance and accept the risk until there is a viable Islamic alternative. If some Muslim thinks this is too great a risk then they can get insurance in these things and accept the moral responsibility, perhaps God will accept their excuses.

For more on how the Western financial system is designed to make the rich richer at everyone else’s expense, and how it can be fixed, please see my free ebook A Short Introduction to Usury.

On the Evil Eye, Hadith Authenticity and Confirmation Bias

I’ve always read protection from evil eye, al fatiha and 4kuls over my daughter before she sleeps every night. But every time I post her picture on Instagram and it’s only in stories so it’s not up very long, she soon starts vomiting and more difficult than usual. I don’t understand tho, I’ve read protection over her every night and everyone uploads their children’s pictures and they’re perfectly fine. What am i doing wrong? She’s perfectly pleasant otherwise.

Further to my question about the evil eye, someone recommended to wear gold and diamonds as a cure as women are prone to being frail and weak. It sounded ridiculous to me. Is there any merit to that suggestion?

There are a number of authentic narrations that mention it, but since it is not mentioned in the Quran, I do not consider it important enough to be worth worrying about.

As for the issue of your daughter suffering those symptoms, I cannot say it is not the evil eye because, like I said, it is not proven to be false. But it could also be confirmation bias, which is a well-attested fact of human thinking. If you keep thinking about the evil eye when you upload pictures of your daughter, and if a quarter of the time something bad happens afterwards, you might blame it on the evil eye even though three quarters of the time nothing bad happens. When we are looking for supernatural causes for what happens around us, we tend to find all the evidence we want and ignore the evidence that goes against it.

If you were to keep a diary in which you make a note every time you upload a picture, writing whether something bad happened afterwards or not, you may find out that something bad only happens 10% of the time, nowhere sufficient to prove that it is caused by uploading pictures of your daughter.

There are superstitious people who think the color of their clothing affects what happens to them throughout the day, and just like people who keep track of the evil eye, they too find ample “evidence” that the color of what they wear is causing all kinds of things to happen to them. But if they too were to keep a diary, they will likely find out that what happens to them has no relationship with what they are wearing, it is something that they think is happening because of confirmation bias, because they are only giving weight to the evidence that confirms their beliefs and ignoring the evidence that goes against it.

I have not heard anything about it being recommended to wear gold and diamonds for frailness. It is probably just a folk belief.

On “thighing” and semen on the Prophet’s clothes

I was wondering if you could shed some light on "thighing" and is it true Aisha used to wash the semen off Muhammad (pbuh) clothes before he went to pray? What was he doing for that to be all over his clothes.

Nothing in the Quran or authentic hadith narrations mentions “thighing” as far as I can find, but it is not forbidden. It is for a man to enjoy sexual intimacy with a woman without sexual intercourse by placing his sex organ between her thighs.

Regarding your other question, during that time it was common for people to keep their clothes mostly on during sexual intercourse, which meant that sometimes semen could get on clothes. The hadiths I have seen in Sahih al-Bukhari do not say that it was “all over” his clothes, just that that there was one spot that had to be washed.

The sunna prayer of dhuhr (ẓuhr) can be prayed in units of two or four

I'm fairly new to praying and was wondering how should the four sunnah rakats before zuhr be prayed? I've heard it can either be four or two by two with two tasleems. Which method is correct?

Both of them are considered acceptable by the majority of scholars, but praying them in units of two has stronger evidence behind it.1

The Saudi-educated scholar Bilāl al-Sālimī (born 1970) has performed a detailed study of this issue in his book al-Ḥāfil fi Fiqh al-Nawāfil (2003) and his conclusion is that the evidence is overwhelmingly in support of praying the ẓuhr sunna prayer in units of two rather than four.

There are billions of non-Muslims, so how can Islam be the one true path?

It’s hard for me to imagine that there are populations and populations who barely have clue what Islam is and yet it is the one true path. What will happen then to these people?

God’s purpose in building this universe was to make it possible for humans to exist who love Him and believe in Him without having hard evidence for His existence. That purpose could only be achieved if the universe was vast enough to hide its edges from us. And it could only be achieved if the world functioned according to reliable laws of nature. And that means that it should be possible for humans to think of themselves as abandoned in a vast universe without anyone caring about them, thinking that they have come into existence randomly and that there is no purpose for their existence.

These things are part of the setup of this universe. The universe should feel completely natural and should make almost perfect sense to an atheist, so that belief in God becomes a choice rather than being forced on us through too much evidence for His existence. God has designed the universe in a way that makes atheism possible. I discuss this in more detail in my essay on reconciling the Quran with evolution: Al-Ghazali’s Matrix and the Divine Template.

If a nation decides to abandon God, God will not intervene to save the day unless He wants to. He may allow things to take their course. The existence of non-believers is simply part of the background of the universe for us, similar to the existence of the trillions of other galaxies around us. It does not take away anything from God’s power to allow billions of humans to exist who do not believe in Him. They are all part of the story.

From God’s point of view, it is the story of His believers that is the main purpose of this universe. He wants them to believe in Him and follow Him in a world that is apparently controlled by secular powers. He wants to guide them through history and help them survive, grow and prosper regardless of the non-believers around them. The story of this world is the story of God’s believers, it is like a film directed by God, everyone else is part of the stage.

As for what happens to them, we have no certain knowledge about this. We know that God is kind and just and that He does not hold humans responsible except for that which they are able, therefore if a person’s circumstances make it impossible for them to believe in God (maybe they never learned religion properly), God will not blame them for that. He deals with each person individually, according to their own level of knowledge and responsibility. There is nothing preventing God from letting these billions of people all enter Paradise. God says:

And race towards forgiveness from your Lord, and a Paradise as wide as the heavens and the earth, prepared for the righteous. (The Quran, verse 3:133)

When the Quran says “the heavens and the earth”, that is what we call “the universe”. If Paradise is as large as the universe, God could easily give the non-responsible non-Muslims (who neither believed nor disbelieved, because they never had chance to choose either way) a star system or galaxy of their own to enjoy life there as they wish. It does not take anything away from God’s power to do that, and if that is the fair and just thing to do, then we can be sure that God will do that since God is fair and just.

I should clarify here that we do not believe that it is only Muslims who are the believers. A believer is anyone who believes in God and does his or her best to serve Him to the best of their knowledge and ability. Islam is one tool, and the best tool, for accomplishing this purpose (of serving God), but it is not the only tool. There are deeply spiritual Jews and Christians who also believe in God and try to serve Him, and the Quran does not tell us that their worship will be rejected. The Quran says:

113. They are not alike. Among the People of the Scripture is a community that is upright; they recite God’s revelations throughout the night, and they prostrate themselves.

114. They believe in God and the Last Day, and advocate righteousness and forbid evil, and are quick to do good deeds. These are among the righteous.

115. Whatever good they do, they will not be denied it. God knows the righteous. (The Quran 3:113-115)

Many Muslim scholars have interpreted what the Quran says about God’s rewards for Jews and Christians as only applying to those who followed these religions before Islam in light of certain hadith narrations and the opinions of certain Companions of the Prophet . But the Quran’s evidence suggests otherwise; that God deals with each human according to what they really believe in their hearts. When it comes to a Christian who really believes Christianity to be true and tries to serve God as best as they can, then it is much closer to the thinking of the Quran to think that such a person will be rewarded by God.

The Quran tells us that God accepts no religion other than Islam…except that it is talking about Muslims when it says that:

85. Whoever seeks other than Islam as a religion, it will not be accepted from him, and in the Hereafter he will be among the losers.

86. How will God guide a people who disbelieved after having believed, and had witnessed that the Messenger is true, and the clear proofs had come to them? God does not guide the unjust people. (The Quran, verses 3:85-86)

Verse 85 above tells us that God will not accept any religion other than Islam. But verse 86 tells us that verse 85 is talking about Muslims, those who have “witnessed that the Messenger is true”. What the passage tells us is that even though God may accept the Christianity of Christians, Muslims are not allowed to convert to Christianity because they have already accepted the better religion that supersedes it. A Muslim who has accepted Islam but who converts to Christianity out of personal desire (maybe they are a politician in a Western country and think they are more likely to get elected if they are Christian), then such a person’s faith will not be accepted by God because they have knowingly rejected a better religion for a worse one out of personal desire.

Islam is not exactly the “one true path”, it is simply a re-statement of the religion of God’s previous prophets. God constantly sent prophets to different nations to call them to His way, in order to help humans attain the status of being God’s friends. It is not God’s purpose to make every human a believer. The Quran tells us in many places that God is capable of guiding all of humanity, but that it is not His wish to do that:

If you find their rejection hard to bear, then if you can, seek a tunnel into the earth, or a stairway into the heaven, and bring them a sign. Had God willed, He could have gathered them to guidance. So do not be of the ignorant. (Verse 6:35)

Had God willed, they would not have practiced idolatry. We did not appoint you as a guardian over them, and you are not a manager over them. (Verse 6:107)

Had your Lord willed, everyone on earth would have believed. Will you then compel people to become believers? (Verse 10:99)

We are free to ask if there wasn’t a better way of doing things. Why did the world have to be this way? We have no answer. We are thrown into this universe and have no choice but to play by God’s rules whether we like them or not. We have the choice of acting like Satan, telling God He is wrong that He made things in this way. There are some people who make this choice, they are angry at God, at society, at the universe, at the fact of their own existence. But that path only leads to our own destruction. We cannot harm God. Even if we do not understand why things have to be this way, we have no choice but submit to His decrees, knowing that He is infinitely wiser than ourselves, and that we cannot think a single thought that He Himself has not already thought. If we question God’s decisions, it means we think ourselves somehow superior to Him, as if the God who designed us somehow knows less than we know or is less wise or intelligent than ourselves.

So I agree that there are things we can wonder at, but since God is infinitely wiser and more intelligent than ourselves, we have to believe that He knows what He is doing. If we dislike His choices for us, we are doing what Satan did in disliking His choice in preferring Adam over him. The wise thing to do, for which God will reward us, is to always seek to please God, to trust His wisdom and to admit that He can do whatever He wants, since He created all of this and no one has any power over Him.

On being in Paradise and not feeling negative emotions

Hi, i don't remember where i learned this from but as far as i know, when a believer enters jannah, all the bad and unpleasant wishes will be removed from them. Isn't that means we are not gonna be fully ourselves? Why we can't fulfill our wishes as who we are there? Why can't we simply be us, rather than fixed versions of us?

In Paradise you will become a better version of you. That does not mean you will stop being who you are. The same way that in Paradise your physical defects will be removed, your spiritual defects will also be removed.

If you think of the best memories of your life, then Paradise will be like those memories extended forever. It will be like this life with all of the negative things taken out and all the positives amplified. I doubt that once we enter Paradise we will complain about the fact that we no longer have negative emotions. We will probably be thankful for it. At least that is how I understand it.

It is similar to the way that you do not feel negative emotions toward anyone if you are having the best day of your life.

Muslim woman prays without hijab

Alsalam alykum, I need an advice to solve this problem, a friend of mine started to read a lot and I got no idea what type of books she reads, but I’ve noticed some changes in her way of thinking and behavior. She told me recently that she prays without hijab because she’s not sure why she has to be covered in front of god. I tried to tell her that this is wrong but she is sure she is right, and many other religious beliefs changed.

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

According to the Egyptian professor of comparative Islamic law Saʿd al-Dīn al-Hilalī, there is a minority view within the Mālikī school that believes praying without hijab is acceptable, but I cannot find more information on this.

Regarding your friend, it is probably just a phase she is going through. When we are young we think it is clever to question everything and throw away traditions unless there are proofs for their correctness. But as we grow older and learn more, we start to realize that there is a great deal we do not know and that it is best to do as tradition says unless we have a very good reason to act otherwise.

How to know which Islamic scholars to follow

salaam alaykoum. I'm wondering which shaykh or scholar should I listen to? Because they differ and it's very confusing for me who's trying to understand islam . How did you do to find reliable scholars? How should one do to avoid extremists one, or the ones who don't have evidance for their claims etc. Jzk

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

A powerful criterion is to see which scholars are respected by the kind and decent people you meet. People with similar hearts are attracted to each other. You will never find a kind and sweet person following some crazy fringe scholar. This means that any Muslim you meet, if you find their behavior and thinking acceptable, can teach you about a number of scholars that might be worth listening to.

Muslim countries have their own “national” scholars that are respected by the majority of the mainstream Muslims of that country, for example Mohammed al-Ghazali (not to be confused with the more famous al-Ghazali) and Ali Gomaa in Egypt, Said Nursi in Turkey, Salman al-Ouda in Saudi Arabia, and so on. These scholars are all worth listening to. We also have globally respected classical scholars like Imam al-Ghazali that are worth reading.

You are not required to agree with everything some scholar says or to belong to their school. You should make your own way by taking in all the knowledge you are able.

An important criterion for distinguishing between scholars is the Quran. Read it many times to learn the worldview behind it, then use what you have learned to judge what others say about Islam. We call the Quran a “guide” because it is designed to help you find the way, it is designed to help you make sense of all the conflicting information you receive so that you can find the middle road between them.  A person that says something that clearly clashes with the Quran’s teachings is clearly taking a narrow and extreme position. The Quran tells us that Abraham (Prophet Ibrahim) argued with God’s angels to save the people of Sodom and Gomorrah from punishment, despite their being great sinners. Someone who takes pleasure in the idea of sinners being punished has clearly failed to take Islam’s teachings to heart.

What should be the Muslim attitude toward the Bible?

Salam Alaykum. By reading books and listening to informative lectures, I’ve come across quiet many bible verses. There are a few verses like the story about the tower of Babel & Noah’s Ark that are used for general research, which can be useful. There are also stories I’ve never heard of as a muslim. So, how should a muslim really react to biblical studies, and know which verses is to believe?

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

We can read the Bible as an interesting historical artifact, but we cannot take any religious guidance from it unless it is strongly confirmed by the Quran. Our attitude is that while the Bible contains many important truths, 1. we can never be sure which parts are really true and which parts are later additions, and 2. the Quran contains everything beneficial that is contained in the Bible, so a person who only relies on the Quran is not missing out on anything they need.

Islam’s view is that the Quran is the “Final Testament”. Similar to the way a new version of a software program replaces an older version, the Quran replaces the Bible. The Bible, in the Islamic view, holds the corrupted version of God’s religion. The Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament) were given to the Jews as God’s guidance to them. Many prophets were sent afterwards to correct their errors and guide them back to God’s path, the sayings of some of these prophets make up some of the other books of the Old Testament, such the Book of Isaiah by the Prophet Isaiah who lived in the 8th century BC.

Jesus was the final Jewish Prophet who came to reform Judaism and ease some of their religion’s difficult laws.

47. She said, “My Lord, how can I have a child, when no man has touched me?” He said, “It will be so. God creates whatever He wills. To have anything done, He only says to it, ‘Be,’ and it is.”

48. And He will teach him the Scripture and wisdom, and the Torah and the Gospel.

49. A messenger to the Children of Israel: “I have come to you with a sign from your Lord. I make for you out of clay the figure of a bird; then I breathe into it, and it becomes a bird by God’s leave. And I heal the blind and the leprous, and I revive the dead, by God’s leave. And I inform you concerning what you eat, and what you store in your homes. In that is a sign for you, if you are believers.”

50. “And verifying what lies before me of the Torah, and to make lawful for you some of what was forbidden to you. I have come to you with a sign from your Lord; so fear God, and obey me.”

51. “God is my Lord and your Lord, so worship Him. That is a straight path.”

52. When Jesus sensed disbelief on their part, he said, “Who are my allies towards God?” The disciples said, “We are God’s allies; we have believed in God, and bear witness that we submit.”

53. “Our Lord, we have believed in what You have revealed, and we have followed the Messenger, so count us among the witnesses.”

54. They planned, and God planned; but God is the Best of planners.

55. God said, “O Jesus, I am terminating your life, and raising you to Me, and clearing you of those who disbelieve. And I will make those who follow you superior to those who disbelieve, until the Day of Resurrection. Then to Me is your return; then I will judge between you regarding what you were disputing. (The Quran, verses 3:47-55)

According to the Islamic view, Jesus was meant as a reformer of Judaism rather than the founder of a new religion. The Christians were meant to follow Jewish law as reformed by Jesus, and there are theories that the early Christians did follow Jewish law until Paul’s anti-law attitude (antinomianism) took over. There was a Jewish sect known as the Essenes which may have been the remnants of Jesus’s original followers. In the Dead Sea Scrolls we have documentation of this group’s beliefs; they continued to follow parts of Jewish law and continually referred to a false teacher who was corrupting Christianity (probably Paul).

While Jesus was a Jewish Prophet sent specifically to the Jews, Prophet Muhammad was a gentile (non-Jew) sent to all of humanity as God’s final prophet. Muhammad is descended from Abraham just like the Jews, but while the Jews are descendants of Isaac son of Abraham, Muhammad is a descendant of Ishmael son of Abraham (in Jewish literature Muslims are sometimes called Ishmaelites for this reason).

Just like Jesus, Muhammad was not meant to found a new religion exactly, he was meant as a reformer who brings back God’s true teachings as taught originally to Abraham:

67. Abraham was neither a Jew nor a Christian, but he was a Monotheist, a “Muslim” (”one who submits”). And he was not of the Polytheists.

68. The people most deserving to be associated with Abraham are those who followed him, and this prophet [Muhammad], and those who believe. God is the Guardian of the believers. (The Quran, verses 3:67-68)

In chapter, after narrating the stories of the Biblical prophets, the Quran tells us that we Muslims and those prophets are all part of the same community:

89. And Zechariah, when he called out to his Lord, “My Lord, do not leave me alone, even though you are the Best of heirs.”

90. So We answered him, and gave him John. And We cured his wife for him. They used to vie in doing righteous deeds, and used to call on Us in love and awe, and they used to humble themselves to Us.

91. And she who guarded her virginity. We breathed into her of Our spirit, and made her and her son a sign to the world.

92. This community of yours is one community, and I am your Lord, so worship Me. (The Quran, verses 21:87-92)

According to the Quran, all of the prophets are part of the same story, and the coming of Prophet Muhammad was not something out of the ordinary, it was an answer to a prayer by Abraham and his son made 2600 years before (around 2000 BC):

127. As Abraham raises the foundations of the House [the Kaaba in Mecca], together with Ishmael, “Our Lord, accept it from us, You are the Hearer, the Knower.

128. Our Lord, and make us submissive to You, and from our descendants a community submissive to You. And show us our rites, and accept our repentance. You are the Acceptor of Repentance, the Merciful.

129. Our Lord, and raise up among them a messenger, of themselves, who will recite to them Your revelations, and teach them the Book and wisdom, and purify them. You are the Almighty, the Wise.” (The Quran 2:127-129)

Some verses after the above, the Quran tells us that the Prophet was the answer to that prayer by using the same words to describe Prophet Muhammad that Abraham and Ishamel used in verse 129 in their prayer for a prophet:

151. Just as We sent to you a messenger from among you, who recites Our revelations to you, and purifies you, and teaches you the Book and wisdom, and teaches you what you did not know.

152. So remember Me, and I will remember you. And thank Me, and do not be ungrateful.

On dealing with anti-Muslim parents and siblings as a convert

I’m a convert and my relationship with my Mother and her husband has been horrible lately. When we meet they only talk about how Islam is evil and I’m in the wrong path. They openly look for anything bad to say, especially about my husband. Recently my younger sister even went through my phone when I was using the restroom. They do not want any good for us and say bad things that happen are God’s punishment in us. It’s very stressful. Is it ok to cut off contact at this point? It’s been years.

Regarding parents that try to turn us away from Islam, the Quran says:

But if they strive to have you associate with Me something of which you have no knowledge, do not obey them. But keep them company in this life, in kindness, and follow the path of him who turns to Me. Then to Me is your return; and I will inform you of what you used to do. (Verse 31:15)

Our default attitude toward our parents and relatives should be one of kindness and forgiveness. However, this does not mean that we should put up with their behavior regardless of how it is. The Quran says in another place:

O you who believe! Do not ally yourselves in close friendship with your parents and your siblings if they prefer disbelief to belief. Whoever of you allies himself with them—these are the wrongdoers. (Verse 9:23)

What I recommend is try to keep up polite relations with them, and if one of them is in need or is sick you should try to be there for them. But you can also tell them that they are not allowed to talk about religion or your husband to you and that if they do that you will cut contact with them until they change their behavior. If they agree to be civilized, then you can continue keeping up with them. And if they break the rule and, for example, email you an article by an Islamophobe, try to forgive and ignore it. But if they break the rule in a major way, inviting you to a dinner with the intent of lecturing you about Islam, you can respond to it as you would respond to any other insult, for example leaving the scene immediately, telling them they should apologize, and avoiding them unless they promise to be well-behaved next time.

But if you avoid them for their misbehavior, you should be willing to make an exception if one of them is in need or ill, if they genuinely need you then it is best to be there for them to the best of your ability.

Best wishes.

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