IslamQA

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

Balancing materialism and fatalism

Do we as Muslims count on what is written/ decreed by Allah for us, and not worry about anything? Or do we ourselves need to take action due to the free will granted to us by Allah Subhanahu Wa Ta'ala, even if that might involve risk? My question is, to what extent do we take matters in our own hands or leave it to Allah in order for them to happen? What if you've waited a long time for something to happen and it didn't? Is it because it wasn't decreed or because we didn't take action?

Many have blamed Islam for being fatalistic, meaning that Muslims are supposedly made intellectually lazy and inactive due to their belief that whatever happens happens because of God. This is generally said by people who take a few verses of the Quran out of context and do not take the trouble of appreciating the message of the book as a whole. It is true that many Muslim cultures until the past few centuries were fatalistic, but that was a cultural belief that was given an Islamic justification. As the beliefs and practices of modern cosmopolitan Muslim societies shows, fatalism has nothing to do with the realities of Muslim life and thought today.

Islam teaches us a balanced creed between fatalism and materialism (self-reliance). The Quran, for example, says:

Then after the setback, He sent down security upon you. Slumber overcame some of you, while others cared only for themselves, thinking of God thoughts that were untrue—thoughts of ignorance—saying, “Is anything up to us?” Say, “Everything is up to God.” They conceal within themselves what they do not reveal to you. And they say, “If it was up to us, none of us would have been killed here.” Say, “Even if you Had stayed in your homes, those destined to be killed would have marched into their death beds.” God thus tests what is in your minds, and purifies what is in your hearts. God knows what the hearts contain.1

This verse sounds completely fatalistic; it says that life and death is in the hands of God and that regardless of human actions, those destined to die at a certain hour will die in that hour.

Yet the Quran also says things like this:

The Hajj is during specific months. Whoever decides to perform the Hajj—there shall be no sexual relations, nor misconduct, nor quarreling during the Hajj. And whatever good you do, God knows it. And take provisions, but the best provision is righteousness. And be mindful of Me, O people of understanding.2

In the above verse, the Quran asks Muslims to “take provisions” when going on the Hajj, instead of saying “everything is in the hands of God, so even if you take no provisions God will provide for you.”

It also says:

And do not keep your hand tied to your neck, nor spread it out fully, lest you end up liable and regretful.3

The Quran, instead of saying “give away all your wealth, God will replace it”, tells us not to give away too much wealth and bring poverty on ourselves. The Quran teaches us to be sensible and pragmatic on the one hand, and to keep in mind that God is always in charge and has complete power over everything.

The reason for these two seemingly contradictory teachings is what I call the Principle of Plausible Deniability. God does not want His existence to be proven beyond doubt, because that would make faith needless. The Quran says:

Are they waiting for God Himself to come to them in the shadows of the clouds, together with the angels, and thus the matter is settled? All things are returned to God.4

If God showed Himself to us, “the matter” would be settled, meaning there would be no purpose for the existence of this universe anymore. The purpose of the universe is to be a testing ground of faith, in which humans, without being given physical proof of God’s existence, obey Him faithfully and deserve great rewards in the process.

In other place the Quran says:

Are they waiting for anything but for the angels to come to them, or for your Lord to arrive, or for some of your Lord’s signs to come? On the Day when some of your Lord’s signs come, no soul will benefit from its faith unless it had believed previously, or had earned goodness through its faith. Say, “Wait, we too are waiting.”5

Atheists may say that they will wait for physical proof for God’s existence before believing in Him. The Quran tells them “then keep waiting, the faithful will wait too.” If God performed miracles for our benefit, that would be physical proof of God’s existence and it would change the nature of our relationship with Him. This is what happens to the Disciples of Jesus when they request that God send down a feast from heaven:

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

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

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

115. God said, “I will send it down to you. But whoever among you disbelieves thereafter, I will punish him with a punishment the like of which I never punish any other being."6

God agrees to show them a miracle, a physical proof that He exists, but in return He says that anyone who disbelieves after that will be punished in a way so horrible that no other being will be punished.

If a Muslim goes on top of a mountain and throws himself off it, saying God will save them, God will not reveal Himself for the sake of that person and perform a miracle to save them. He will instead let them plunge to their death. While the Quran teaches us that God has the power to do anything, it also teaches us not to try to force God’s hand. We should never put ourselves in a situation where a miracle would be needed to save us. God has made it a rule of this universe that His existence should be hidden; asking Him to do a miracle is asking Him to break His own rule.

There is no virtue in obeying God if He and His power was visible to us. We would be forced to obey Him. What God wants from us is to obey Him out of our own free will, without seeing Him or having physical proof of His existence. That is the whole point of this universe, producing true believers in God, worthy people who love Him and serve Him although they cannot physically affirm His existence.

As Muslims, we should do our best but know that God is ultimately in charge. If you are in charge of a business, you should be as shrewd and practical as an atheist in managing it, while keeping in mind that your success or failure is in God’s hands; He can inspire you to do something you would have never thought of otherwise that make you very successful. Or He may protect you from various calamities that other businesses suffer from.

Our relationship with God is dynamic. We make decisions and we act, and God makes decisions and He acts. He is totally in charge of our world, but He gives us the freedom to act and watches what we will do, then He may respond to our actions by decreeing good or bad things for us and watching us what we will do next. We are like actors in film that is directed by God. As actors we are free what we do, but the Director is in charge and can do anything He wants to us or those around us.

It is also like being in a ship. Inside it, we are free what we do. But the ship itself and the ocean in which it sails are both controlled by God. We may do everything in our power to get something we want, but God may decree something else for us. Others may do everything they can to prevent us from getting something we want, but if God decrees that we should get it, no one can get in the way of His decree.

The Quran teaches us to neither be proud of our accomplishments nor sad about our failures:

22. No calamity occurs on earth, or in your souls, but it is in a Book, even before We make it happen. That is easy for God.

23. That you may not sorrow over what eludes you, nor exult over what He has given you. God does not love the proud.7

Anything good we accomplish was accomplished through God’s support, and any calamity we suffer, God had complete power to prevent it but did not. The Quran wants us to reach a state of true submission to God’s decrees. While we act intelligently and pragmatically, our hearts rely on God and submit to His decrees, knowing that it is He who is really in charge. We are not attached to the worldly life like materialists are, who are so eager for success that some of them start to almost worship money and power. We are attached to God, knowing that all good things come from Him and that if He protects us no one can harm us. But we do not ask Him to do miracles for us; we respect His decree that He should be hidden from us until the Day of Judgment.

For more on this topic please see: Islam’s theory of free will versus physical determinism: Why humans are responsible for their actions even though God operates the universe

Wanting to get married as a Muslim woman but having no suitors

I'm referring to the article on your personal website about the most desirable women for marriage -- well, as it happens, I am in my early twenties, a follower of Islam, fairly intelligent, and decent-looking, but I don't have Muslim men asking for my hand in marriage.. I mean, I am interested in marriage, but how do I go about finding potential suitors?

Setting up a marriage is something that each culture does in its own way. In most Muslim societies each family has hundreds of relatives and acquaintances. Marriages are set up through networking between mothers, sisters and friends (a woman may have a friend who wants to get married and know just the right man for them and try to set things up for them).

Due to the spread of university education in Muslim countries there is today also an increase in marriages between classmates whose families do not know each other. In such cases each family may do things its own way. A man and woman may come to know each other relatively well through being in the same class or working in the same place, and at some point the man may politely mention to the woman his interest in marriage, and she may tell her family, and in this way they may set up an appointment for the man to visit the family. Once their families visit one another multiple times and find that they are comfortable with their son/daughter marrying into the other family, the engagement ceremony may take place.

For Muslim immigrants, the networks that make marriage possible in the home country are often no longer be available to them, and I expect this is how it is in your case. To make up for this, you can build your own networks in the new country, for example by being involved in the mosque/halaqa/charity scene in your town so that you get to know other people. The more people you know the more likely it is that you will find the right person or that someone may refer someone to you.

Getting married is similar to setting up a successful business. A thousand books can be written on it. For some people everything works out for them with little effort, while for others it can be extremely difficult and can take many years. A devout Muslim should do what they can to have a successful marriage then leave the matter to God, knowing that He can do anything He wants and that nothing is impossible with Him. If this year your prospects of marriage seem very low, next year things may completely change.

Solution for a person who due to illness cannot make up missed fasts

I’m girl and I started fasting in 2010. The problem is, i’m not a healthy problem i have been dealing with too many issues and couldn’t fast the days where i ate during Ramadan (period time) We re in 2017 now and i have a debt of 50 days What should i do ?

For someone who cannot make up missed fasts due to health issues and does not expect to one day get better, it is sufficient for them to pay the fidya, which the Fiqh Council of North America calculated at $10 per day1 for each missed day of fasting. There is no need for such a person to make up the fasts if the illness continues to prevent them.23 This is the Mālikī, Shāfiʿī and Ḥanafī opinion.4 According to this latter source, if a person misses the fast due to chronic illness and cannot make it up and pays the fidya, then that is sufficient, and even if later they are cured and are able to fast again, they will not have to redo the fasts for which they paid the fidya, this being the Ḥanbalī opinion. But if they are cured before they have paid the fidya, they will have to make up the fasts and also pay the fidya.

Not feeling at ease when reading the Quran

Whenever I read the Quran I don't feel ease at all. Especially the verses about punishment , war etc

The Quran is written to help the faithful deal with all of this life and the afterlife’s primary issues, which includes war in this life and God’s punishments in the afterlife. Certain chapters of the Quran, such as chapter 9 (al-Tawbah) are designed to be grim because they are dealing with certain extremely difficult situations that the Muslims faced.

What you can do is find which chapters you find inspiring and enjoyable and read those. Some chapters, like Maryam/Mary, are heart-touching without being grim.

Hope for someone desiring suicide

I want to KILL myself But im not cuz its haram But idk what to do help me Give me hope

Think back to the past and remember all the difficulties that you once suffered from and that have disappeared from your life. Sooner or later, your present difficulty will also be part of the past and will stop influencing you. No matter how difficult the day or week is, it will pass. To kill yourself is to say that you do not believe that God can put a stop to your situation. Do you think God is that powerless? Ask God for help and He can help you in ways you never expected.

Please see these two articles I wrote a while ago:

The Road to Maturity: On Dealing with Life’s Unsolvable Problems

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

On the evil eye

Salaam 'alaykom. I reblog a lot of photography, but a lot of times i forget to say Ma Sha Allah. Can I cause evil eye on the person on the photos because of this? I'm sorry if this sounds ridiculous.

My way of practicing Islam is to judge a thing’s importance by the amount of attention that the Quran dedicates to it. Since the evil eye is never mentioned in the Quran, I consider it of negligible importance. There are a number of authentic narrations in al-Bukhari, Muslim, al-Muwatta and others that state that the evil eye is a real thing. To answer your question, if you look at a photo and you admire something in it (a person’s clothing, etc.), then it is recommended that you make a prayer for the benefit of the person. Whether your merely looking at a photo can have a negative influence is not something we can determine with any degree of certainty.

Getting engaged Islamically without marriage

I have met this non-muslim guy who is willing to change his religion for me and always puts my happiness over his own. Now we both love each other but want to accomplish our personal goals such as uni first before we can marry and live together which would be in almost 8 years. My concern is that we won’t be able to not have sex until then.

In that case you should perform the nikah/engagement ceremony now but put off the wedding. This would make your relationship formal and halal, it would allow you to be intimate without it being sinful, while also allowing you to continue living as you do now. This is done in countries like Iran where culturally the religious engagement ceremony (the nikah) and the wedding are considered two different things that can happen years apart.

I’ve messaged you already because of this non-muslim guy couple days ago and I agree a nikah would make sense. The problem is that in my culture you have a nikah the same day you marry. Therefore my parents wouldn’t agree.

This is a matter between you and God. It is up to you to decide whether God’s pleasure is more important or your desires and parents’ opinion. This world is a testing hall. God asks you to do certain things, but lets you have the freedom to act according to your desires and watches to see what you will do. If you do what you want regardless of His wishes, you fail the test like millions of others do daily.

If you want a blessed life under His protection, you have to put His desires before your own. And if you want to live according to your own desires, God will take His blessings out of your life and your life will become a long string of meaningless inconveniences and failures.

It is in the nature of this world to present us with temptations that go against God’s wishes. This is something everyone experiences almost daily, the point in them is to allow us to prove whether we are loyal to God or to our own desires.

This is your life and it is up to you what you make of it. No one else will be held responsible for your sins.

Good luck and I hope things will turn out well for you inshaAllah.

The Quran guarantees religious freedom, so why don’t Muslim scholars believe in it?

I would be very thankful if you could answer me on my following question. In Quran is written: "There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion. The right course has become clear from the wrong. So whoever disbelieves in Taghut and believes in Allah has grasped the most trustworthy handhold with no break in it. And Allah is Hearing and Knowing."

But also on other places is talked about punishing or killing people who do things like for example: stopping being Muslim, having sex before marriage, being gay and so on. With punishing I mean punishing on this world, and not when we die. If we have freedom to be Muslims or not, why there is no freedom of doing some things that are against religion but don't hurt other people. I am really confused and i hope you can clear this topic for me. Thank you in advance.

Regarding the issue of religious freedom, you are right that the Quran guarantees it. The scholars, however, had to also reconcile various hadith narrations in which the Prophet Muhammad is mentioned as putting limitations on religious freedom. Another case is that of Abu Bakr in the Riddah wars; when some Arabian tribes wanted to leave Islam and stop paying the zakat, Abu Bakr did not let them but fought them until they were one again part of the Islamic state.

Out of these historical anecdotes, the scholars tried to come up with an interpretation of the religious freedom mentioned in the Quran. The interpretation they came up with was that Islam should not be forced on others, but that a Muslim should not be allowed to leave Islam. From their position of power and authority, it seemed only natural that this should be the case. Islam is God’s chosen religion, so people should be prevented from leaving it for their own good if not for anyone else’s.

That way of thinking went unchallenged until the last century or so. The new reality that Muslims found themselves in (being in a position of weakness rather than strength) forced the scholars to re-examine their interpretation of the idea of religious freedom. In the 20th century there was also a new movement to take the Quran more seriously than before. In the past, the Quran was treated as just a piece of historical evidence that stood side-by-side with hadith. In the 20th century, various new thinkers (Mustafa Mahmud, Muhammad al-Ghazali, Sayyid Qutb, Said Nursi, Ahmad Moftizadeh) arose who rejected this way of thinking and considered the Quran’s teachings superior and more authoritative than hadith. And with this came a new interpretation of various issues within Islam.

Out of this atmosphere came people like Mahmud Shaltut (Grand Imam of Al-Azhar from 1958 to 1963) ruled that apostates are only punished if they try to fight the Muslims and plot against them, that mere apostasy is not punishable, and more recently Ali Gomaa (Grand Mufti of Egypt from 2003–2013), who also says that apostasy is not punishable in Islam unless the apostates try to make other Muslims leave Islam. While this is not perfect religious freedom and not perfect freedom of speech, it is an important step in the right direction. Many clerics have yet to update their thinking on this matter, but that might happen within the next 50 years.

Regarding the death penalty for things like adultery and homosexual sex, this too, like the issue of apostasy, went unchallenged until the 20th century. The Egyptian scholar Muhammad Abu Zahra, one of the greatest scholars of Islamic law in the 20th century, rejected execution of adulterers saying that the historical evidence could be interpreted in a different way. Abu Zahra is not a liberal modernist, he was one of the religious scholars (ulema), and his opinion is highly significant.

Ideally, there should be a constitutional law that all Muslims and non-Muslims follow (as in Malaysia, although the Malaysian system has serious issues). Islamic law would be something that all Muslims willingly choose to live under, and anyone who wants to leave Islam should have the right to do so, so that they stop being subject to Islamic law and will only be subject to constitutional law that Muslims and non-Muslims agree upon.

In summary, the things you mentioned (killing apostates, adulterers and homosexuals) are all issues that have already been solved by respected scholars. What remains is for the rest of the scholars and preachers to catch up.

Dealing with the aftermath of a husband’s cheating

Assalamu Alaykum. I feel so helpless right now. I don't know what to do. I have a husband, and we are married for almost 2 years. We don’t have a child yet. But my husband has a baby who was just born last month from other woman. They committed zina. The girl secretly hide her pregnancy until she gave birth and now he wants my husband to marry her but my husband said he don’t love her but he is willing to provide for the baby. My husband is receiving death threats. What I should I do?

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

That situation will have to be resolved by discussion between your family, his family and perhaps that woman’s. There is no quick solution to such a situation. We have to be patient and trust God to take care of us in the end.

There is the danger of your husband maintaining a relationship with that woman in secret, since he doesn’t have sufficient self-control to not sleep with other women while married. Islam strictly forbids you from staying with a husband who commits adultery and does not repent (who plans to do it again). The Quran says about such people:

The adulterer shall marry none but an adulteress or an idolatress; and the adulteress shall marry none but an adulterer or an idolater. That has been prohibited for the believers.1

Therefore the situation must be resolved one way or another, whether it is through divorce or his promising to never see that woman again. And if he breaks his promise, then difficult as it will be, you will be required to divorce him. There is no toleration in Islam in any way for staying with a cheating spouse.

May God ease your situation and grant you patience and consolation.

Question from a reader

What does it mean that the adulterer should marry the adulteress or the idol worshiper. Aren't these things entirely different? And if a person strives to become better (if that's the main goal of Islam) then why marry someone who errs Just like you do? Aren't they by the hadd law supposed to have a death penalty so how can they have time to marry? I'm really confused about the answer.

Regarding the first part of your question, the verse is defining the boundaries between the believers and the non-believers. It is saying that marrying or staying married to an adulterer is not something a believer would do, it is only something a pagan or an adulterer would do. It is basically telling Muslims to stay away from known (unrepentant) adulterers in their societies. If they strive to be better (if they repent), then the verse does not apply to them.

As for the ḥadd punishment for adultery, this is a matter for the authorities (the police and the courts) to implement. The Quran does not assume that such an authority would exist. The Quran assumes that there will be unrepentant adulterers living in societies that Muslims also live in.

The great Egyptian scholar of Islamic law Muhammad Abu Zahra (1898 – 1974) rejected the death penalty for adultery. He based his reasoning on various arguments, such as the fact that we do not know at what point in the Prophet’s career the stonings recorded in  hadith took place; they may have taken place long before the verses on adultery in the Quran were revealed, meaning that they may be narrating events that took place at a time when the Prophet had no guidance except Jewish law. InshaAllah I will write an article to translate his full reasoning.

But even scholars who believe in the death penalty for adultery say that this is a matter for the government to carry out, so that someone who commits it may repent and go on with their lives.2 So the husband dealt with in this article, since his case did not go to court, may repent and stay married to his Muslim wife.

The issues surrounding the reliability of authentic narrations (al-Bukhari and Muslim)

I'm the one who asked for the explanation of how we should deal with hadiths. Thank you for your answer, it put things to perspective. Is there any book in which the author (scholar) himself has done the Quranic focused model of hadith as you described it, so I don't have to read directly from saheeh Muslim/bukhari. I read in a book that saheeh Muslim/bukhari have full isnad so how can any of them still be wrong?Also is there any book that can help me understand Qur'an better?

The science of hadith is an effort at historical reconstruction, which is an inherently subjective and error-prone effort. While hadith scholars considered the full isnād the “gold standard” of hadith reliability, early authorities like al-Hasan al-Basri are quoted saying that they did not mention full isnads for hadiths they had heard from multiple people, meaning that the hadiths they mentioned that lacked full isnāds (known as mursal hadiths) were actually more authentic because they had come down from multiple reliable sources.

Then there is the issue of the Prophet’s career . A hadith may mention something from year 15 of his career that was superseded a year or two later by a Quranic verse or a different practice. The great Egyptian 20th-century scholar of Islamic law Abu Zahra used this argument (among others) to go against the consensus of the hadith scholars in his rejection of the punishment of stoning adulterers. Imam Malik, who is considered perhaps the most reliable authority on hadith transmission in all of Islamic history, being part of something known as the Golden Chain, rejected narrations that were known to be authentic because they clashed with the practice of the devout Muslims of the city of Medina, which Malik considered more authoritative than hadith narrations.1

The majority of hadith narrations, including authentic hadith narrations, belong to a category known as āḥād (“solitary”) hadiths, which according to the field of jurisprudence (fiqh) are inherently doubtful. Scholars of hadith consider any authenticated hadith authentic, while scholars of fiqh require multiply-transmitted narrations to establish authenticity.

The practice of judging a person in an isnād trustworthy or not is sometimes extremely subjective. Hadith scholars who disliked someone for disagreeing with them on some theological or legal issue would retaliate by declaring that person untrustworthy. Sometimes a scholar would throw away the entirety of another scholar’s narrated hadith narrations after a quarrel.2

For a beginner’s guide to the issues surrounding hadith authenticity, see Jonathan Brown’s Misquoting Muhammad.

As far as I know there hasn’t been an effort to create new collections of hadith based on considering the Quran more authoritative than hadith. Such a work cannot be done by one person or a dozen, it will likely require centuries of work. What can be done is studying all the narrations having to do with one particular issue that is under discussion, such as whether drawing living things should be permissible or not, or whether music is permissible or not (my opinion and that of many modern scholars is that they are permissible). Studying just a single issue can take years because you have to bring together hundreds of narrations from a dozen or more collections, then you have to study the opinions of a dozen or more hadith scholars on each of the hundreds of people involved in their transmission, then you have to study the opinions of a dozen or more scholars on the contents of the hadith narrations.

What is needed is what I call the empirical study of hadith which ignores questions of which sect or group or cult one belongs to and uses the scientific method used by historians to judge the evidence. And instead of using the simplistic authentic vs. non-authentic framework (which is not actually used by hadith scholars, who are aware of the shades of authenticity that separates different authentic narrations), we should use a framework that admits the various shades of reliability that separate narrations. One narration may be 99% likely to be true while another might be 95% likely. One “reliable” hadith transmitter can be far more reliable (having a better memory, better knowledge and understanding of the hadiths they transmitted) than another “reliable” transmitter, and these differences between different transmitters should be taken into account.

The Western Islamic studies tradition has made important progress in the empirical study of hadith, some of which can be seen in Harald Motzki’s Analysing Muslim Traditions: Studies in Legal, Exegetical and Maghazi Hadith. This is a completely new way of studying Islam that has the power to accomplish what I described above since the evidence is not judged according to who belongs to what camp but according to the actual historical evidence.

20th century Western scholars like Ignaz Goldziher, Joseph Schacht and Patricia Crone, despite their thorough scholarship, had a hyper-skeptical attitude toward hadith narrations, considering most of the literature potentially false and fabricated until proven otherwise. These views have been largely discredited today. Hadiths represent a true historical record rather than fabrication on an industrial scale.

As for what a Muslim should when dealing with such a complex issue, it is actually quite simple. Hold on to the Quran. The Quran contains sufficient guidance for 99% of a Muslim’s life. What remains are all side issues, such as the proper to say the aḏān and how many times one should raise their hands during the ṣalāh. In such matters, you can follow the well-established opinions of the scholars, except in cases where your reason or conscience make you think that some opinion might be false. In these rare cases, you can do research and find out the differing opinions on it and follow the one that seems most sensible. The Quran itself is usually a sufficient criterion for judging such issues. If a person says that Islam should be forced on others and has some hadith to back up this opinion, the Quran’s principle of religious freedom (in verse 2:256) should take precedence regardless of the hadith. This is a highly simplified example, but in general, the Quran’s ethics and morality should always be paramount and no hadith should be allowed to override and corrupt its teachings.

Regarding understanding the Quran better, Abdel Haleem’s translation is extremely helpful due to its large number of footnotes clarifying the verses.

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