IslamQA

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

Did Abraham’s wife Sarah laugh at the destruction of Lot’s people?

Did Allah grant Isaac and Jacob to Sarah because she was happy that the People of Lut would be destroyed? Why did then prophet Ibrahim not react same way but Allah SWT still didn't say anything bad about his reaction when they are two opposite reactions?

The reason for Sarah’s laughter is not given in the Quran. It is a mystery that scholars have tried to solve in various ways. The Persian Quran commentator al-Rāzī mentions eight different opinions on the reason for her laughter, and only one of them is that she was happy at the destruction of Lot’s people, I will discuss the opinions on her laughter below. The best interpretation in my opinion, as I will discuss below, is that her laughter was a laughter of joy and relief at finding out that the men were actually angels.

The Quran, in the following passage, suggests that they found out about the destruction of Lot’s people after being given the good news of having a son:

27. He set it before them. He said, “Will you not eat?”

28. And he harbored fear of them. They said, “Do not fear,” and they announced to him the good news of a knowledgeable boy.

29. His wife came forward crying out. She clasped her face, and said, “A barren old woman?”

30. They said, “Thus spoke your Lord. He is the Wise, the Knowing.”

31. He said, “What is your business, O envoys?”

32. They said, “We are sent to a people guilty of sin.” (The Quran, verses 51:27-32)

Another passage that retells the story is the following:

52. When they entered upon him, and said, “Peace.” He said, “We are wary of you.”

53. They said, “Do not fear; we bring you good news of a boy endowed with knowledge.”

54. He said, “Do you bring me good news, when old age has overtaken me? What good news do you bring?”

55. They said, “We bring you good news in truth, so do not despair.”

56. He said, “And who despairs of his Lord’s mercy but the lost?”

57. He said, “So what is your business, O envoys?”

58. They said, “We were sent to a sinful people.” (The Quran, verses 15:52-58)

Another passage compresses the story into the following two verses:

31. And when Our envoys brought Abraham the good news, they said, “We are going to destroy the people of this town; its people are wrongdoers.”

32. He said, “Yet Lot is in it.” They said, “We are well aware of who is in it. We will save him, and his family, except for his wife, who will remain behind.” (The Quran, verses 29:31-32)

In the following passage, which is the one you referred to, she is mentioned as laughing immediately after the people of Lot are mentioned:

70. But when he saw their hands not reaching towards it, he became suspicious of them, and conceived a fear of them. They said, “Do not fear, we were sent to the people of Lot.”

71. His wife was standing by, so she laughed. And We gave her good news of Isaac; and after Isaac, Jacob.

72. She said, “Alas for me. Shall I give birth, when I am an old woman, and this, my husband, is an old man? This is truly a strange thing.”

73. They said, “Do you marvel at the decree of God? The mercy and blessings of God are upon you, O people of the house. He is Praiseworthy and Glorious.”

74. When Abraham's fear subsided, and the good news had reached him, he started pleading with Us concerning the people of Lot. (The Quran, verses 11:70-74)

It appears that the Arab Quran commentator Ibn Kathir like the opinion that Sarah’s laughter was because of her happiness that the people of Lot would be destroyed. The Egyptian Arab scholar al-Suyuti in his very short commentary Tafsīr al-Jalālayn also summarily mentions this opinion without mentioning any of the others. But the reality is that the majority of scholars reject this view. The Persian scholar al-Wāḥidī mentions in his Quran commentary al-Basīṭ that Ibn ʿAbbās and Wahb ibn Munabbih had the opinion that her laughter was due to the strangeness of the news of having a son at her old age (this is also the reason for her laughter mentioned in the Torah in Genesis 18:11-14). Even though in verse 11:71 her laughter is mentioned before she is given the news of having a son, in Arabic literary writing something that is mentioned after another thing could have actually happened before it (known as al-taqdīm wa-l-taʾkhīr).

According to Muqatil (an early Persian scholar of tafsir), she may have been laughing or sneering at Abraham’s fear (because he was a tribal chief and it was out of place for him to act fearful of anyone), while according to the Persian scholar al-Farrāʾ (one of the great authorities on the Arabic language and on the interpretation of the Quran) her laughter was a laughter of relief. She had been afraid the angels were men planning to do violence to them, so when they said they were from God, she laughed with joy. The Persian Quran commentator Al-Ṭabarī mentions the various opinions on the matter but he himself sides with the opinion that she was laughing because she marveled at the way they people of Lot were going to be destroyed while they were unaware (she wasn’t happy at their destruction, she was being philosophical about it).

There also an entirely different line of interpretation, mentioned by most scholars, that interprets the word that is translated in English as “she laughed” to mean “she [started] menstruating”, because the word is used in Arabic poetry both to mean laughter and to mean menstruation depending on the context. This interpretation is rejected by scholars like al-Farrāʾ, but it is actually plausible because of the context. Sarah is a very old woman and probably has not menstruated in many years. But now she is about to be given the news that she will bear a son, and it is fitting if she starts menstruating at that time as a sign that her reproductive system is starting to function like a younger woman’s again.

Among all of these possibilities, the strongest one appears to be al-Farrāʾ’s, that Sarah was laughing with joy and relief at finding out that these men were angels. One line of argument that strengthens this interpretation, which I have not seen mentioned in any of the Quran commentaries I looked at, is that by merging all of the above passages together we can create the following chronology:

  1. The angles appear to Abraham and his wife looking like men
  2. The become fearful of them.
  3. The angels tell them not to fear and say that they have been “sent” to the people of Lot, but without actually explaining their purpose
  4. The angels give them the tidings about Isaac and Jacob
  5. When Abraham calms down, he asks the angels what their business is regarding Lot’s people
  6. The angels explain
  7. Abraham argues with them and tries to save Lot’s people.

Looking at the Quranic passages, the angels only explain what they are planning to do regarding Lot’s people only after giving them the tidings about Isaac. Before giving them the tidings they may have made a casual mention of Lot’s people (as in 11:70) without giving the details. This by itself does not prove much, but it adds a some extra support to interpretations (like al-Farrāʾ’s) that disassociate Sarah’s laughter from the destruction of Lot’s people.

In summary, there is no compelling evidence that Sarah’s laughter was at the destruction of Lot’s people. It is only one possibility among many, and the best interpretation (in my opinion) is that her laughter was a laughter of relief.

Does the Quran blame Lot’s people for “desiring” men when desire is outside human control?

Salaam. Why does it say it say in the Quran (I'm reading saheeh translation)"do you desire men instead of woman" about people of Lut.Desire is not something you can control but action is? If the desire is a test then it shouldn't be acted on. Also why did Lut give his daughters? The daughters are innocent and homisexuals can't be fixed by having intercourse with woman ?

The actual phrase the Quran uses is “approach men with desire”, which is an euphemism for sexual intercourse.  For more on the Quran and homosexuality please see: Did God destroy the People of Lot for rape instead of homosexuality?

As for Lot offering his daughters, please see: Is homosexuality more evil than rape in the Quran? Not exactly

Why is Islam opposed to homosexuality?

In answer to questions asking about the real, material reasons why Islam is opposed to homosexuality.

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

It is possible that a person in a homosexual relationship will have a happy and fulfilling life. But Islam is only concerned with the happiness of individuals. It wants to create thriving and sustainable civilizations. So Islam’s opposition to homosexual relationships is not because it is opposed to the happiness of homosexuals, it is because homosexual relationships (and other forms of sexual freedom) go against Islam’s long-term goals (there are likely other reasons, but I will focus on this one in this answer). To understand this, you have to be able to think in terms of generations and centuries.

Many people do not care what happens 100 years from now. Islam cares. Islam is a very-long-term survival strategy for God’s believers. It is a strategy that has been followed since the time of God’s earliest Prophets, and that strategy requires avoiding anything that can cause the believers to go extinct. Look around you in the world today and you will not find a single society where there is widespread sexual freedom and where fertility rates are above replacement. Every society that celebrates homosexuality has below-replacement fertility, meaning that it is slowly going extinct. Each generation is going to be slightly smaller than the one before it. You may rightly ask what an individual’s relationship happiness has to do with fertility rates.

A modern society that celebrates homosexuality also invariably celebrates other forms of sexual freedom. There is no way to take things like the prohibition on sex before marriage seriously when homosexuality is celebrated in a society. If you are a straight woman, there is no way you could accept to have your sexual freedom limited if your brother is in a happy homosexual relationship with another man.

Once sexual freedom becomes the norm, casual sexual relationships become the norm in that society and marriage starts to go out of fashion. In 1960, only 8% of American women had never married. In 2012 17% had never married. Never-married men went from 10% to 23%. When marriage goes out of fashion and becomes something of a formality rather than a solemn undertaking, people start to identify more with themselves as individuals rather than identifying with a family that they are dedicated to supporting and protecting.

That, in turn, leads to collapsing fertility rates. Many people lose their interest in having children because children are thought of in economic terms, rather than in spiritual terms. It is too costly and time-consuming to raise children, and raise them for whose sake? They will grow to be adults then leave the home to live as they want.

Islam wants to create the type of society you see in Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice. Most Muslim societies, of course, fail to live to up to that ideal, but nonetheless the ideal exists. Please see the following essay for a discussion of what I mean by that type of society: The Point of Marriage in Islam (and the Problem with Romantic Relationships Outside of Marriage)

It is impossible for such a society to exist if it celebrates sexual freedom. An immature person may think that they can create a magical utopia of love, respect and sexual freedom if society allowed them, but every such experiment has been a disaster. Many people will happily destroy the foundations that made their societies and civilizations possible because, in their ignorance, they think they can do better. People who play around with human sexuality, thinking they can do something better than the traditional gender roles, are breaking a tradition that has been maintained for thousands of years because they think they are too modern, enlightened and sophisticated to continue to follow it. And the results are everywhere for us to see in the West where traditional morality has been abandoned for the sake of sexual freedom: depression, loneliness, people hating their families, people selfishly hoarding wealth without caring about the situation of those around them, people refusing to have children because they think of children as economic burdens rather than as humans to be cherished, millions of Americans happily working for defense contractors that are involved in the mass-murder of thousands of innocent people every month because for them having high-paying jobs is what matters even if it involves the killing of innocent people. For every ten Americans who refuse to do an unethical job there are a hundred who will gladly do it.

I should mention that I have no negative feelings for people in homosexual relationships. They are not necessarily responsible for where Western society is today, they are mostly a symptom of the West’s abandonment of Christianity, a process that has been going on for centuries. And if there was a city filled with people in homosexual relationships and if they were threatened, the right attitude would be that of Prophet Ibrahim (Biblical Abraham), who tried to save Lot’s people by arguing with God’s command rather than celebrating their destruction.

If a religiously conservative society suddenly decided to embrace homosexuality, the results would be as I described. But when it comes to today’s homosexuals in Western societies, we cannot point the finger of blame at them, telling them they are responsible for society’s decline, that decline happened without their help and will continue without their help.

I am aware that an irreligious person will likely not be convinced by these arguments. It is similar to the problem of usury. The evil effects of a homosexual or usurious lifestyle are subtle and long-term. Most humans are too short-sighted to give up their present satisfaction, whether it is to do with sexual gratification or easy money, for the sake of some vague long-term purpose. The truth is that without strong religious belief, every human society is practically bound to embrace sexual freedom and usury because of the short-term pleasures and gains these things promise.

Therefore I do not expect to convince anyone through argument to avoid homosexuality or usury. Only religious belief can convince humans to avoid these things, and once religion is taken away from them (as in the West), they fall very easy prey to these things.

Balancing worship with productive work

Salam Alaykum. Do you have any guide for one to be consistent to his routine, of practising night prayers & reading the quran, while still working hard on improving themselves (worldly skills like writing & other craftsmanship)? I find night prayers really pleasuring, but I also want to balance it with my studies and self-improvement like those great scholars. Thank you in advance.

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

That is a very good question and I spent many years wondering about it. The answer I have settled on is that we should do sufficient extra worship that even the smallest sin becomes unthinkable for us because of the sense of loyalty and closeness to God that develops from it. An hour or so of tahajjud and Quran reading every night seems sufficient to create such a state that lasts throughout the next day. This might be the baseline level of worship that every ambitious believer should aim for. If during the day you engage in anything that you later have to repent from, even something like being slightly rude to someone, then you know that you are not performing the necessary amount of worship.

Once that state of closeness to God has been achieved, it seems to me that we are free to spend the rest of our time doing whatever productive thing we want to do (we can also do things we enjoy doing, such as socialization, playing sports or games, Islam is not against enjoying ourselves as long as it is not taken to an extreme). God wants us to be His stewards on the earth that take care of it for His sake (a steward is someone who takes care of a farm or business in the absence of the owner). God does not want us to spend time in worship when there is other work that needs to be done, for this reason many scholars have severely criticized a minority of Sufis who used to stay at mosques to worship and who refused to work, so that they became beggars who relied on people to provide for them.

Ibn al-Jawzi (d. 1200 CE), a hadith scholar and historian, has an opinion that is similar to what I said. He says that the remembrance of God should not be done to such an amount that it prevents one from getting work done.

There is, however, a dangerous temptation in focusing on work and ignoring worship by telling ourselves that our work is meant for God anyway since we are His servants. Therefore the “sin test” is my criterion for balancing worship and work; we must perform sufficient worship to enable us to spend our days and nights completely free of sins and heedlessness (or as free as is humanly possible), then we can use whatever time remains in the ways we prefer. Of the 24 hours we have, if we spend 8 hours in sleep and one hour in extra worship, then that leaves 15 hours free for whatever we have to do throughout the day and night.

As for the question of whether it is a good thing to go beyond the baseline and for example do two hours of extra worship every day instead of one, I believe this is a matter of personal choice and depends on a person’s circumstances. If we achieve the baseline, then everything else we do can also be considered worship, so there is no clear evidence that spending 30 minutes in prayer is superior to spending 30 minutes in learning something beneficial, helping someone who needs help or doing other useful things.

So our first priority should be achieving the baseline. The amount of extra worship necessary for achieving this may differ from a person to person and from one stage of life to another. I mentioned “one hour” as an example, doing an hour and a half may be better.

Why are Muslims so judgmental?

Salam Aikoum brother. I wonder why the Islamic communities are very judgemental. One feels burdened more than anything. The hijab, and all obligations are a journey and sensible topics, and I think people should be mindful. But my experience is that muslims are more judgemental than any other group I encountered, maybe its only my experience I dont know, but the whole idea that woman who dont wear hijab are promiscuous and not God-fearing and will go to hell is just to harsh

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

As I discuss in this previous answer, the problem with Muslims is their home cultures and human nature, not Islam. Swedish converts to Islam are not going to be any more judgmental than Swedish non-Muslims even if they are very good Muslims, because their culture has developed to a point where they are taught all of their lives to have empathy for others. Muslim cultures are slowly developing in the same direction. If you find that Indian or Egyptian Muslims are judgmental, you will find Indian and Egyptian Christians to be just as judgmental. As I mention in the previous answer, Muslim societies are changing fast so things are going to get better with time.

Can Muslim women wear shirts and training pants for sports?

Salam. I have studied that Muslim women should cover themselves outside of the house with khimar and jilbab. My question is, does Muslim women allowed to wear two piece clothes (long sleeve shirt and training pants) to do sports, or do we still have the obligation to cover ourselves with khimar an hijab especially made for sports? Thank you.

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

That is a matter of some debate, but the mainstream position is that wearing long-sleeve shirts and training pants is permissible provided that her costume properly covers her body, is not tight and is not see-through. As mentioned in a previous answer, the goal of women’s dress code in Islam is to hide her physical attractions so that a lecherous man should have nothing to feast his eyes on when he sees a Muslim woman. If the sports costume achieves this goal, then it is permissible. This is the opinion of Egypt’s fatwa authority (which has many qualified scholars from al-Azhar University)1 It is also the opinion of the Syrian (female) scholar Dr. Līna al-Ḥumṣī (professor at the Damascus branch of al-Azhar University).2

Both of the aforementioned fatwas deal with the wider issue of women wearing (loose) shirts and pants and their conclusion is that there is no clear evidence to forbid it, and that the logical position is that anything that achieves the goals of the Islamic dress code, which is to prevent the sexualization of women, is permissible.

Follow-up Question

Brother, I have read your answer regarding Muslim women who wear shirts and training pants for sports. Jazakallah khayr. I have one more thing to ask. I have searched for the answer before and the result on the search engine is that, many sites wrote this hadith as an argument on why Muslim women can't wear pants: "Allah Curses the women who wear men's clothing and men who wears women's clothing." I began to develop doubts because of this. I need your insight.

That hadith can be interpreted in a number of ways. The mainstream interpretation is that the Prophet was referring to cross-dressing with the intention of appearing like the opposite sex. No one will mistake a woman who wears hijab and sports pants for a man since the hijab is a very obvious statement of her femininity, so the hadith’s statement is considered to be irrelevant to this question.

A minority of Muslims (literalists/textualists) reject using common-sense interpretations of the Prophet’s statements. They treat the Prophet’s words similar to the way we treat the Quran and believe every hadith should be followed to the maximum possible extent. They think we should in general copy what the Prophet says without thinking about the intents and purposes behind his statements, and for this reason they believe that all clothing that has any association with males should be forbidden to females. This is not the mainstream view and the majority of scholars do not think in this way.

On Muslim hypocrisy in not defending other persecuted peoples

Salam Aleikoum. I wonder how we Muslims are against that quraysh was persecuting muslims at that time and all the suffering they had to go through,but many muslims today are doing the same. they are OK with the fact that shias/ismailis /sufis are persecuted in many muslim countries. Isn't that hypocrisy?

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

The fact is that Muslims are humans who act like other humans. Few among them live up to Islam’s high spiritual ideals. The Quran tells us that Prophet Ibrahim tried to save the people of Lot despite knowing them to be great sinners, but if you look at Muslims today you will see that many of them lack the spiritual maturity to see the tragedy in the destruction of a sinful people and may even celebrate it.

We should not blame the failure of Muslims on Islam, but on their human nature. Look at any Muslim population and you will be able to see various negatives. But take away Islam from them and they will become worse, not better. Islam’s critics blame Islam for the problems of the Middle East but are generally completely blind to the fact that Christian Latin America is doing much worse than the Middle East when it comes to many things (homicide rates and scientific research output are two examples).

We can criticize the intolerance of India’s rural Muslims, but compare them to India’s rural Hindus and you will find that the Muslims are doing much better when it comes to many things.

If we compare most Muslim countries to Western Europe, then the Muslim countries will look worse, because they have yet to catch up to the same level. But if we do a fair comparison, comparing the Muslims of any country with its non-Muslims, we see that the Muslims are actually better, not worse. Swedish converts to Islam are just as nice, kind and open-minded as Swedish Christians and agnostics. Egyptian Muslims are in no way inferior to Egyptian Christians. Honor killings, which people like to blame Islam for, are common in India among the Hindus and Christians. Whatever problems Muslims have are better explained by the state of their society rather than their religion, and if we look at the non-Muslims around them, we see them suffer from the exact same problems and often worse ones. A Muslim migrant in Sweden will often be worse than the native population when it comes to many things, and the West’s many amateur sociologists will blame that on Islam and ignore the fact that a non-Muslim migrant from the same country will have exactly the same problems and probably worse ones.

It takes a great deal of education for people to start to have empathy for outsiders. Westerners only started to see non-Westerners as proper humans about two hundred years ago, Muslim societies are developing in the same (good) direction, but change takes time and should be measured in generations, not months or years. The Muslim world is changing very fast. We can look at the example of Indonesia:

In 1950 there were 10 institutions of higher learning with a total of about 6,500 students. In 1970, 450 private and state institutions enrolled about 237,000 students. By 1990 there were 900 institutions with about 141,000 teachers and nearly 1.5 million students. By 2009 there were 2,975 institutions of higher education and more than 4.2 million students. (From Wikipedia)

The Islamic world is entering a phase that has never been seen before, and that is going to change everything. For all of Islam’s history until recently, the number of people who could read and write was often around 1-2% of the population. Today the literacy rate is approaching 100% in most Muslim countries, while the number of people attending university has doubled in most of these countries in the past 30 years. As people become more educated, we can expect them to become more open-minded and to develop better empathy for people who differ from them and to stand up for their rights.

How do I find the one who is right for me?

I decided to do a lot of istighfar for loving someone before marriage and not lowering my gaze and I've lost attachment to that person Alhamdulillah. how do I find the one who is right for me?

That is similar to asking, “How do I become successful in life?” Each person’s life is different. Successfully finding the right person depends on your personality, your looks, your family’s reputation and connections, where you live and the number and quality of available men. There are dozens of factors involved with it and some of them are completely out of our control.

From the material side, you could increase your chances of meeting the right person by getting more involved with your community, such as through volunteering at the mosque, school or other charities and joining the sisters’ circle at the mosque. Meeting more people means that you will be more likely to be recommend to the men they know. But that, of course, depends on how well they like you after meeting you.

There are also Islamic dating services online and offline that could help put you in contact with the right man.

From the spiritual side, the right attitude is patience. You can do what is needed to make it more likely to meet the right man, but at the end of the day there are many factors that are outside your control. Rely on Him to give you a happy and meaningful life. God says in the Quran:

Whoever works righteousness, whether male or female, while being a believer, We will grant them a good and wholesome life—and We will reward them according to the best of what they used to do. (Verse 16:97)

That is a promise from God: if we take care of the spiritual side by being good people, God will take care of the material side for us by arranging those things favorably for us that are outside our control.

Regarding the spiritual side, please see the following two articles:

Best wishes.

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?

I have never liked the concept of the evil eye because of how superstitious it sounds, the fact that it is not mentioned in the Quran, and the fact that it attributes supernatural causation to other than God, which feels almost pagan to me. But I spent a whole day studying the hadith narrations on the evil eye and their authenticity. There are a number of “authentic” narrations that mention it, but there are various shades of authenticity that would be invisible to a non-specialist, and the quality of these narrations does not enable them to prove the existence of the evil eye beyond doubt according to the methodology of the scholars of uṣūl al-fiqh (legal theory) like Imam al-Ghazali, which is the methodology I prefer (as opposed to the methodology of traditionalist hadith scholars, who consider something proven if they can find a single authentic narration about it).

We have “authentic” narrations from Companions like Abdullah ibn Umar in Sahih al-Bukhari that say women are a “bad omen”, i.e. just seeing a woman would cause a bad thing to happen in your life. And then we also have authentic narrations that refute them:

Two men from Banu Aamir came to Aisha and told her that Abu Hurayra narrates that the Prophet said, “Bad omen is in a house, a woman and a horse." She was enraged, full of anger and said; "By the One Who Revealed the Quran to Muhammad, God’s Messenger did not say that, what he said was that in the days of pre-Islamic ignorance people used to see bad omen in these things.” (Musnad Ahmad 24841, authenticated by al-Albani)

We have to be extremely careful in reading hadith and not take out particular hadith narrations from Sahih al-Bukhari and Muslim and run away with them as some Muslims do. Even such highly respected Companions like Ibn Umar and Abu Hurayra were capable of (unknowingly) completely corrupting the meaning of something the Prophet said, so we have to take all of the relevant evidence into account. Of course, not every Muslim can be a scholar and study these matters for themselves, so they can rely on the opinions of scholars they respect for most things, except when a scholar’s opinion sounds absurd and unreasonable, in which case they can get the opinions of other scholars to find out more.

Much deeper study will be required to conclusively show that the evil eye is a false and fabricated concept, so at the moment I consider the issue mawqūf (in abeyance), meaning that I neither say it is true nor false until further study. But in my mind and thinking I continue to ignore it as I have always done.

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.

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