IslamQA

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

Distinguishing between trustworthy and untrustworthy Muslim scholars and intellectuals

How can we distinguish an honest and good scholar from a bad and misleading. I used to think before that they are all honest so I didn't understand why Islam was telling me to be so evil. It also makes me confused because why would someone dedicate so much time for the sake of Allah to be a scholar and then be misleading?

Scholars are humans and are subject to all the forces and temptations that cause humans to be unjust at times. Sometimes out of anger or a personal dislike for someone, a person may feel strongly tempted to say or do something unjust.

As for finding who the best scholars and thinkers are, even the pagans of Mecca recognized the good and honorable character of Prophet Muhammad even though they rejected his mission. The reason they could do that was that they saw that the Prophet never lied, had impeccable manners, never broke promises and never betrayed anyone’s trust. Truthfulness and honorableness are characteristics that are relatively easy to discover in people.

Judge Muslim scholars and intellectuals according to their manners and character and how much they are like the best people mentioned in the Quran. Trustworthy Muslims do not scoop down to personal attacks. They are polite, even toward the rudest of people. They do not get angry. They admit the limits of the evidence instead of trying to convince you that their opinion is correct. If a Muslim is desperate to convince you of something so that you start to feel uncomfortable, as if they are trying to convince you to make a leap of faith and to submit to their opinion, that is a very strong red flag that that person is not trustworthy.

Trustworthy Muslims respect the fact that you are an honored human in the sight of God whose dignity and conscience are inviolable, they consider you a respected human whether you agree or disagree with them, while untrustworthy Muslims consider you an instrument; if you agree with them and submit to them, they will be nice and kind, and if you refuse to do that, they become rude. They are tribalists who only consider you a proper human if you belong to their “tribe” (sect, madhhab, etc.), and if you do not belong to it they treat you as if you were subhuman.

Above I have described the extreme examples of trustworthy and untrustworthy people. Most people fall somewhere between the two extremes since no human is perfect, so how much you trust someone should depend on how close they are to the trustworthy or untrustworthy side.

If you are sincere in your faith and you have the Quran to guide you, it would be easy for you to distinguish between those who are most trustworthy and those who are least. Those who fall victim to misguided and harmful doctrines generally do so because of flaws in their faith; they follow a person who offers them a lax version of Islam that helps them continue sinful lifestyles or one that offers them wealth, connections or glory, and they choose to follow them despite the warnings of their intellect and conscience. In Islam, since you have been blessed with an intellect and conscience, you are considered responsible for who you choose to follow. Saying “I followed the wrong person” is not a valid excuse, because you are considered sufficiently intelligent and capable to distinguish between trustworthy and untrustworthy people yourself (there might of course be rare exceptions). In two passages (2:165-167 and 34:31-33) the Quran mentions God rejecting the excuses of people on the Day of Judgment who say they were only following others.

On raising the hands during salah as a Hanafi

As a Hanafi would it be wrong for me to raise my hands during salah?

The Hanafi opinion is that you shouldn’t do that, so if you respect the Hanafi school and try to follow their opinions then you shouldn’t raise your hand.

You may also research the topic yourself and follow the opinion that sounds best to you. In the past, the schools of jurisprudence (madhhabs) were like guilds. Those who belonged to a school had to act according to the scholars of that school in order to be accepted by the community around the school, and the scholars themselves had to strictly adhere to the school, otherwise would have lost their jobs as teachers in the madrasas and imams in school-associated mosques. But the guild-like nature of the schools has today disappeared in many parts of the world today, especially in large, cosmopolitan cities. People instead follow the opinions of the scholars they respect most without caring very much about the scholar’s school, and the scholars themselves often combine opinions from multiple schools.

Ideally, Muslims should follow the opinions that have the most reliable evidence behind them regardless of what school the opinion comes from. But we cannot all research each and every topic as that would take most of our time, so in general it is reasonable to follow the opinions of scholars you know and respect.

On the Shia and their fate according to Sunni Islam

What are your views on Shia and their beliefs? And are they among the 70+ sects that are doomed?

First, the notion of the “72 doomed sects” is false, as I explain here. It is based on fabricated evidence.

As for the Shia, I believe that anyone who believes in God and His Books and does their best to follow Him, sincerely and in good faith, will be rewarded by Him, as the Quran promises:

Those who believe, and the Jews, and the Sabians, and the Christians—whoever believes in God and the Last Day, and does what is right—they have nothing to fear, nor shall they grieve.1

The above verse and those like it have been interpreted in various ways. The fate of ‘others’ in Islam, whether non-Muslims or Muslims belonging to sects considered non-orthodox, is a contentious issue that lends itself to many interpretations. Those interested can read professor Mohammad Hassan Khalil’s book Islam and the Fate of Others: The Salvation Question, which is a study that shows that there is sufficient room within Islam for what I mentioned above.

While it is common for Muslims to complain about Islamophobia in the West and the fact that people refuse to try to understand Islam, they themselves unfortunately act in very much the same way toward other Muslims. I have talked to some Sunni Muslims who have never met a Shia Muslim in their lives and who have the most absurd misconceptions and prejudices about the lives and thinking of the Shias. The Iranian government, in the name of Shia Islam, has committed a great deal of injustice and oppression against the Sunnis (a glaring example being that Sunni Muslims are not allowed to pray the Friday prayers in cities like Tehran, in their sectarian chauvinistic view only Shia mosques should have the right to hold Friday prayers). But many Iranian Shias do not support the actions of the government, or are simply busy making a living and not having the time to worry about what their government is doing, similar to the attitude of many Americans toward their government’s mass-murder of innocent people overseas. Among the Shia there are those who do their best to hold onto the Quran and to follow it in their lives, and God is generous and intelligent enough to understand and appreciate the efforts of such people even if they have beliefs and attitude that Sunnis would consider wrong. The Quran says the following about Jews and Christians, and I believe the same applies to the Shia:

113. They are not all 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.2

So my view is that God holds each soul according to the knowledge He has given it:

God never burdens a soul beyond what He has given it.3

God will not hold a Shia Muslim responsible for what Sunnis consider wrong beliefs if they really think what they believe is true, if they follow the Quran in good faith, and if they do not knowingly do evil.

By saying that, I do not mean to say that Sunni and Shia Islam are equally good religions. Religions are tools toward understanding and worshiping God, and the best tool is the one that helps the most people worship God in the best way possible. We can judge a religion by the number of pious, self-less and devout people it can produce, and I believe Sunni Islam comes out on top according to this measure.

On unanswered prayers, and is it normal for a Muslim to doubt God’s existence?

As a Muslim is it normal to ever doubt Allah's existence? I pray 5x daily and have completed Umrah, but i feel like my prayers have never been answered.

That’s normal, and that is why faith is rewarded. We are supposed to believe in God without having physical proof of His existence. Believing in God while having physical proof is like believing that the sun or the moon exist. There is no virtue in that. This world is designed to test our faith by making us feel abandoned, or making us think that good and bad things happen randomly, or that it is evildoers who are rewarded with the best life. These are very much part and parcel of the design of the universe, seeing these things around us is as normal as seeing furniture in a house.

It is normal to doubt God’s existence when you feel your prayers are not being answered. The question is whether you will keep your faith in Him despite this, whether you will continue to put your hope and trust in Him, or whether this world’s difficulties overpower you so that you turn your back on Him, doubt His existence and abandon serving Him. The Quran says:

Do you expect to enter Paradise before God has distinguished those among you who strive, and before He has distinguished the steadfast?1

God will intentionally make us go through periods of suffering and abandonment to bring out our true nature. Instead of letting us stroll into Paradise while we continue to be selfish, greedy and disloyal toward Him, He will make us suffer exactly the type of circumstances that brings out the best and the worst in us. And this way He distinguishes between His servants:

  • These are those who continue to love him and work to please Him despite the worst suffering.
  • There are those who are on the whole patient and faithful but whose faith is almost overwhelmed every time difficulty and abandonment hits them.
  • There are God’s fair-weather friends who are faithful during times of ease and abandon Him when their faith is tested.
  • There are the ex-believers who, after suffering a number of tragedies, turn their backs on Him, refusing to submit to His decree, thinking the worst of Him and even fighting against Him and His believers.

The Quran has this important passage on the issue of unanswered prayers:

47. To Him is referred the knowledge of the Hour. No fruit emerges from its sheath, and no female conceives or delivers, except with His knowledge. And on the Day when He calls out to them, “Where are My associates?” They will say, “We admit to you, none of us is a witness.”

48. What they used to pray to before will forsake them, and they will realize that they have no escape.

49. The human being never tires of praying for good things; but when adversity afflicts him, he despairs and loses hope.

50. And when We let him taste a mercy from Us, after the adversity that had afflicted him, he will say, “This is mine, and I do not think that the Hour is coming; and even if I am returned to my Lord, I will have the very best with Him.” We will inform those who disbelieve of what they did, and We will make them taste an awful punishment.

51. When We provide comfort for the human being, he withdraws and distances himself; but when adversity befalls him, he starts lengthy prayers.

52. Say, “Have you considered? If it is from God and you reject it—who is further astray than he who is cutoff and alienated?”

53. We will show them Our proofs on the horizons, and in their very souls, until it becomes clear to them that it is the truth. Is it not sufficient that your Lord is witness over everything?

54. Surely they are in doubt about the encounter with their Lord. Surely He comprehends everything.2

As believers, it is normal for this world to continuously challenge our faith and tempt us to abandon God. The question is whether we remain faithful despite these challenges, whether we continue to humbly submit and say “It is all from God, we belong to God and He can do anything He wants with us”, or whether we arrogantly reject His decree, become enamored of this world and start to disbelieve in Him.

The principle of Plausible Deniability (which I discussed in a previous answer) means that God will never, or almost never, answer our prayers in a clearly miraculous way. You may wish to get high marks on an exam, pray ardently for this and work hard, and once you do get the high marks, you will look back and wonder whether God had anything to do with it or whether it was all your own hard work.

That is how God answers our prayers; subtly, always keeping Himself hidden, and always leaving us room for doubt. He will not miraculously answer our prayers, because that would be physical proof of His existence.

If you wish for your prayers to be answered, become the type of person who deserves such a favor. Do you deserve having your prayers answered? Even if we pray ardently for something and worship God, if we regularly disobey Him, or selfishly ignore His commandments (such as those regarding giving charity to one’s relatives, etc.), or are involved in something sinful (such as having an interest-bearing savings or retirement account), then we are in effect asking for God’s help while also insulting Him by our disobedience. Such a person will have a very low status in God’s eyes.

Therefore we must first work on ourselves. We must purify ourselves, rededicate ourselves to God, give up all sin and disobedience, do everything we can to raise our rank in God’s eye, then we should expect Him to give us what we wish for.

The majority of people are only half-dedicated to God, so it is no surprise that God does not elevate their ranks. They serve Him with one hand while insulting Him with the other. God, out of His generosity and kindness, still protects such people and blesses them in countless ways that they cannot see:

That is because God is the mawlā (Protecting Friend) of those who believe, while the disbelievers have no protecting friend.3

There are millions of Muslims who have worse lives than we do. Why should we expect to be treated any better by God than those Muslims? What is so special about us that our prayers should be answered? Unless we have attained a special status in God’s eyes, we should not expect special treatment. God takes care of the faithful and ensures that they will have a generally good life, as the Quran promises:

Whoever works righteousness, whether male or female, while being a believer, We will grant him a good life—and We will reward them according to the best of what they used to do.4

But if we want more than that, if we want a life that has special blessings that we desire, than we should turn ourselves into the type of believer who deserves those special blessings.

On giving up a sinful relationship

I was and still am in a “friends with benefit” relationship with a senior in my uni, it wasn’t intimate one but making out and I fell in love with him but he doesn’t love me back. I’m a revert and he happens to be a Qatari. I know we both have sinned but we couldn’t stop each other. I’m attached and each time I want to say no, he kinda blackmails and I give in. It is damaging me and my soul because, he became my strength and I just can’t give up. I deeply love him. Please help

Your situation is similar to any addiction situation, where a person wishes to give up something but does not have the strength to do so. Continuing to be in contact with him would be similar to an alcoholic who wishes to give up alcohol but continues to regularly take a sip of alcohol every now and then, which makes it impossible for them to have the strength to give it up.

The best way to escape that situation would be to cut all contact with him difficult as it would be, telling him that he should either marry you or stop talking to you.

If you are too much in love to consider that, you should try finding a job in a different city or state.

When you are addicted to something sinful, it means it is impossible for you to control your impulses, therefore if you truly want to give up the sin, instead of trying to control your impulses, you should plan against the sinful behavior. By planning I mean coming up with creative ways of making it difficult or impossible for you to engage in the sin. Perhaps you can honestly tell God that you tried to stop sinning but as long as the sin was available you could not stop. But you are still responsible for staying in that situation when there might be alternatives, such as moving to a different town, state or country, which would put an end to the sin.

The Quran says:

Say, “If your parents, and your children, and your siblings, and your spouses, and your relatives, and the wealth you have acquired, and a business you worry about, and homes you love, are more dear to you than God, and His Messenger, and the struggle in His cause, then wait until God executes His judgment.” God does not guide the sinful people.1

Now, God does not ask us for more than we are able to give. Therefore if you truly cannot escape that situation, then complain of your weakness to God, and ask Him sincerely to help you and find a solution for you, and His help will come to you sooner or later inshaAllah. Also see these essays of mine:

A Muslim who cannot escape the guilt of a sinful life

I’m a revert, I lost my path again. I don’t really pray much now but still on deen. I have some confessions to be made cause these are eating me away. I tried to tell it all in a prayer (while making dua) but these things they still haunt me and I’m still in touch with it cause I’m bonded with it. I can’t let it go. It is a part of my life. I regret but I have no other option. Sometimes it gets suicidal but there’s no point in self harm. I can’t sleep and function properly.

Humbly ask God for His help and guidance. Talk to Him and tell Him that you are weak and that you do not know what to do. If you sincerely call for His help, He will help you. It might take time, but if you sincerely ask Him every day then your life will slowly improve, so that a year from now your situation may have greatly improved.

Do not give up hope. Prophet Ibrahim says:

“And who despairs of his Lord’s mercy but those who are truly lost?”1

And do not expect too much improvement immediately. Leave it to God to fix your life. If at the moment you feel so weak and exhausted that there is nothing you can do, then let it be so. God does not ask you for more than you are able.

Also see: On giving up a sinful relationship

Why is seeking knowledge important in Islam?

Why is seeking knowledge important in Islam and how does seeking knowledge not only religiously brings us closer to Allah swt?

The Quran says:

25. If they disbelieve you, those before them also disbelieved. Their messengers came to them with the clear proofs, with the Psalms, and with the Enlightening Scripture. 26. Then I seized those who disbelieved—so how was My rejection? 27. Have you not seen that God sends down water from the sky? With it We produce fruits of various colors. And in the mountains are streaks of white and red—varying in their hue—and pitch-black. 28. Likewise, human beings, animals, and livestock come in various colors. From among His servants, it is the learned who (truly) fear God. God is Almighty, Oft-Forgiving. 29. Those who recite the Book of God, and perform the prayer, and spend of what We have provided for them, secretly and publicly, expect a trade that will not fail.1

Exalted is God, the True King. Do not be hasty with the Quran before its inspiration to you is concluded, and say, “My Lord, increase me in knowledge.”2

In fact, it is clear signs in the hearts of those given knowledge. No one renounce Our signs except the unjust.3

And in another place it says, regarding the uneducated Bedouins:

The Desert-Arabs are the most steeped in disbelief and hypocrisy, and the most likely to ignore the limits that God revealed to His Messenger. God is Knowing and Wise.4

The Desert-Arabs say, “We have believed.” Say, “You have not believed; but say, ‘We have submitted,’ for faith has not yet entered into your hearts. But if you obey God and His Messenger, He will not diminish any of your deeds. God is Forgiving and Merciful.”5

The picture that the Quran draws is that those who lack knowledge are more likely to fall into error and sinful behaviors, and that increased knowledge helps a person become better and more pious.

As for non-religious knowledge, it helps us appreciate the Creator’s greatness to know more about His creations.

190. In the creation of the heavens and the earth, and in the alternation of night and day, are signs for people of understanding. 191. Those who remember God while standing, and sitting, and on their sides; and they reflect upon the creation of the heavens and the earth: “Our Lord, You did not create this in vain, glory to You, so protect us from the punishment of the Fire.”6

Do they not consider that God, Who created the heavens and the earth, is Able to create the likes of them? He has assigned for them a term, in which there is no doubt. But the wrongdoers persist in denying the truth.7

In verse 21:30, the Quran refers to two facts of the physical world, one from physics, the other from biology:

Do the disbelievers not see that the heavens and the earth were one mass, and We tore them apart? And that We made from water every living thing? Will they then not believe?

For a person who believes in God, the above verse seems to refer to the Big Bang hypothesis, which is the accepted theory for how the universe started. The Quran even refers to the expansion of the universe that was discovered in the last century:

We constructed the universe with power, and We are expanding it.8

While these facts of physics, biology, etc. are not sufficient to constitute proof, they are sufficient to constitute āyāt (“signs”, “pointers”). They are not proofs of God’s existence and greatness, by the point to Him and His power, they suggest it, and for the person who humbles his or her heart to God, they act as strengtheners for their faith and their appreciation of God’s presence and greatness.

The Egyptian scholar Muhammad al-Ghazali (1917-1996) says:

The Quran, in pointing to God's existence, is a universe that speaks, the same way that this universe is a silent Quran.

For those of us who have submitted to God and love Him, the more we learn about the universe the closer we feel to Him, because we know it is all His creation, and that He is in charge of it.

Secular knowledge helps us know God better and also helps improve our lives in various ways (you can read a scientific book about food and in this way make better diet choices). It is quite obvious that more knowledge is better than less knowledge.

And as for religious knowledge, it helps us avoid errors and know the best ways of pleasing God, which is the purpose of our lives.

For a discussion of Islam and science see my essay: God, Evolution and Abiogenesis: The Topological Theory for the Origin of Life and Species

Is it forbidden for a Muslim to fall in love with a Christian?

Is falling in love with a Christian is haram?

Falling in love is an involuntary thing and Islam has no rules regarding it. Muslim men are permitted to marry Christian women, while Muslim women are not permitted to marry Christian men. Therefore if a Muslim woman falls in love with a Christian man, the falling in love in itself is not a sin, but she is not permitted to marry the man if she wants to remain a pious Muslim. Her case would be similar to a man falling in love with a woman who is already married.

On sharing a room with a homosexual person of one’s own sex

I wanted to ask that, my friend (female) was in a hotel with her friend who is also a female, for a convention. my friend knew that the other is a bisexual and she asked me if it's OK for Muslim girls to share a room with homosexual girls. when i was in middle school i asked the same thing to my teachers and they said we cannot. also that friend of mine and her friend are both Muslims. thank you!

I expect that those teachers who said that it is prohibited considered the situation similar to one of sharing a room with a person of the opposite sex. But that is not an exact comparison because your friend herself is not a homosexual, so there is no likelihood of sexual desire by her toward the homosexual girl, even if the homosexual girl may plausibly have it or develop it toward her.

For that reason, while it would be a good thing to avoid such a situation, it is not exactly the same as a woman sharing a room with a man. Whether one should accept to be in such a situation or not depends on the homosexual person’s character. If they are well-known to the person and are known to be self-respecting and trustworthy, then there is little danger in the situation. But if they are known to be unreliable and flirtatious, or are strangers or little-known, then one should avoid sharing a room with them.

By living a homosexual lifestyle, a person has broken religious laws, but they may still follow various social protocols and customs that makes it harmless to interact with them. It is probably not correct to assume that all rules applying to the opposite sex would also automatically apply to homosexual people of one’s own sex. I am not a mufti and cannot find relevant opinions on this matter from respected scholars. The above is just my opinion.

On responding to criticisms of Islam and the Prophet Muhammad

What do I say to people who claim Muhammad commanded us in the Quran to kill?

I suppose you refer to claims about Islam being a violent religion. It depends on the type of person. There are two kinds of people who might say negative things about Islam or the Prophet . A small number of them are honest and decent people who really think what they say is true. You can respond to such people by referring them to a good biography of the Prophet Muhammad, such as Muhammad: A Prophet for Our Time by Karen Armstrong or In the Footsteps of the Prophet by Tariq Ramadan. Or, even better, you can educate yourself by reading many books so that you can intelligently discuss the issues those people bring up.

The larger group of people who mention negative facts about Islam are those who for whatever reason have a deep dislike and prejudice against Muslims and Islam and who like to mention falsehoods and half-truths in order to propagandize against Islam. It is generally useless to talk to such people. Even if you refute everything they say and defeat them in argument, the next day you will find them repeating the exact same falsehoods again. They cannot be educated or swayed by reasoned argument. It is their hatred that drives them, the criticisms they mention are merely tools they use for propaganda purposes.

The only reason one may respond to anti-Islam propagandists is if there are honest and fair-minded people present who may be swayed by the propaganda. In such a case you should politely point out the falsehoods without expecting to convince the propagandists themselves. The aim of the propagandists is to show Islam and Muslims in a negative light, and if you lose your temper and behave rudely toward them that will only help them prove their point.

When you see someone criticize Islam, your first thought should be to ask yourself whether this person is being honest or whether they are merely expressing hatred and prejudice. If they are honest and decent people, you can talk to them. But most of those who criticize Islam are in the second category and are not worth bothering about, they should be ignored as the Quran recommends in various places:

So turn away from them, and wait. They too are waiting.1

So avoid him who has turned away from Our remembrance, and desires nothing but the present life.2

Be tolerant, and command decency, and turn away from the ignorant.3

It is a sign of the lack of knowledge and immaturity when a Muslim loses his or her temper with someone who criticizes Islam. Leave Islam’s detractors alone and do something productive with your time.

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