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The foundations of morality in Islam: Reason or revelation?

Salaam. Can I say that religion is one of human needs, and that is to attain inner peace? As for how human beings live on the earth, we are free to make our own rules on how to regulate our people. I know from an Islamic religious group that human should not make their own rules on earth, but rather use God's Law (what they call Sharia Law) and whomever live life according to the rules made up by the geniuses (ones that is more capable in thinking than most of people) is considered ungrateful towards God and is openly disgrace His Greatness? I need your opinion about this. Thank you and I very much appreciate your time.

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

Attaining inner peace is a side effect of religion, not its purpose. The purpose of religion is to teach us how to form ourselves into that which pleases God the most.

We can discover many aspects of morality (conducting ourselves in the best way possible) by philosophical reflection. God has given us the ability to reflect on history and on the conduct of others and to aim for that which is good and wholesome. The problem is that we do not have any guiding principle that allows us to distinguish between good and evil, right and wrong, in all cases. Morality without guidance will always be on flimsy foundations because our perspective is limited to the human experience. We cannot access the keys of the universe to find out what the best conduct is within our particular universe. If you imagine two universes with two different creators, each of them may have different ideas about right and wrong. The moral rule in one of the universes may be that any society that engages in a particular sin will be wiped out within 100 years. There is no way to discover this based on philosophical reflection alone. People cannot talk to the Creator and ask them what the moral rule is in their particular universe. In the second universe there may be a different moral rule that causes people to be wiped out for a different sin.

So if it is true that our universe has a creator and that he is actively involved in running the universe, in directing history and the fates of individuals and civilizations, then it would be extremely naive to fully rely on our own philosophical reflections to decide moral questions. We may get some things right and some things wrong, and if we get important things wrong, that may cause us to be wiped out before we are able to make a correction.

So the wise thing to do in a universe managed by a creator is to find out the creator’s opinions on morality and to use those opinions as our guiding principles in morality. The creator’s opinions matter more than anyone else’s since they are in charge and can reward and punish us. The right course of action is to submit to the creator for our own safety and well-being rather than ignoring him and completely relying on our own philosophical reflections.

So while we are given enough wisdom to be able to decide many moral questions on our own, it would be arrogant and insulting to cut off the creator from our moral reflections. The creator is the most important moral authority, so their opinions should be our first principles.

This does not mean that we throw away our own reasoning and power of reflection. It means that we should be in constant conversation not just with each other, but also with the creator, through his revelations. In this way we can get a complete picture of morality. Without the creator’s opinions, we can never be sure if our morality is right or complete, and we may make the greatest errors and bring the greatest punishments on ourselves.

I do not support the opinion that all human morality is automatically wrong if it is not based on revelation (the Sharia). Humans can discover many aspects of morality on their own, it is just that their morality will be primitive and deficient without the creator. We do not have super-human intelligence and our universe is not managed by us. So it is only logical and reasonable to rely on the universe’s designer, creator and director on questions of morality.

Ibn al-Jawzi’s quote on combining opposites

Assalamualaikum, in your book 'Way of the spiritual muslim', there is a quote from Ibnul Jawzi no.52. I couldn't quite grasp what was the actual message and how to apply it,it was about the combining of opposites. I would be very grateful if there is a brief explanation about it.

Ibn al-Jawzi says:

I seek to reach the ultimate of what can be reached of turning knowledge into action, so that I aspire to the fear of God that Bishr[1] had and the asceticism of Maʿrūf[2]. Achieving these things, along with [what I do of] the reading of books, teaching people and mingling with them, is unlikely.

I also seek to be needless of people, and wish to have a better material status than them. But busying oneself with knowledge prevents acquiring wealth, and accepting the charity of others is against dignity and self-respect.

I aspire to have children, the same way I aspire to write books, so that both of these act as my successors after my death. And the seeking of children has nothing to do with the business of the heart which loves seclusion.

I also seek pleasure through women, although the lack of wealth prevents acquiring it, and if the pleasure is acquired, it reduces motivation [for seeking other worthy things]. I also seek what is good for my body of food and drink, so that it is used to gentle and indulgent treatment, but the lack of wealth prevents this.

And in all of these things is the combining of opposites.

Compare my condition to those whose ultimate goal is the worldly life. I do not like that the acquisition of anything of the worldly life should taint my faith in any way, and I do not like that it should affect my knowledge nor my deeds.

How anxious I am to perform qiyām [to stay up at night for worship before going to bed] and to achieve true fear of God, while also refreshing my knowledge, and busying the mind and heart with writing, and with acquiring food that is fit for the body!

How sorrowful I become when I miss the opportunity to speak with God in private due to the meeting and informing of people! How much the fear of God fades when one has to seek what a family cannot do without!

[1] Bishr al-Ḥāfī (Bishr the Barefoot, 767 – 750 CE), one of the most famous early ascetics in Islam.
[2] Maʿrūf al-Karkhī (died about 820 CE), one of the most important saints of early Sufism, he was a Christian who converted to Islam, likely of Persian origin.


Ibn al-Jawzi’s message is that a spiritual Muslim is caught between the demands of the worldly life and the demands of the spiritual life. The point is to try to balance them rather than ignoring either side. He clarifies this teaching in many of his other quotes. So the true spiritual life is about trying to balance these opposite demands of life: worldly demands and spiritual demands.

If the message is still unclear to you, please let me know and I will try to clarify it further inshaAllah.

What do jinns in dreams mean?

assalamu aleikum, does having nightmares with djinns have a particular meaning that we should take into consideration? or are they just like any other bad nightmares?

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

My attitude toward dreams, good or bad, is that they are just natural phenomena caused by the way the brain works. I consider it a waste of time to try to read too much into our dreams or try to interpret them, unless we have the same dream many times.

I have seen no hadith that mentions jinns have a special significance in dreams.

Is Allah a moon god?

Salaam Aleyckum, do you ever heard about Allah is a moon god ( استغفر الله) ? I read articles and watch on YouTube some videos who talk about that .

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

That is just a theory promoted by some Christians and rejected by better scholars. From Wikipedia:

On the basis that the Kaaba was Allah’s house, but the most important idol within it was that of Hubal, Julius Wellhausen considered Hubal to be an ancient name for Allah.

The claim that Hubal is a moon god derives from the early twentieth century German scholar Hugo Winckler. David Leeming describes him as a warrior and rain god, as does Mircea Eliade.

More recent authors emphasise the Nabataean origins of Hubal as a figure imported into the shrine, which may have already been associated with Allah. Patricia Crone argues that “If Hubal and Allah had been one and the same deity, Hubal ought to have survived as an epithet of Allah, which he did not. And moreover there would not have been traditions in which people are asked to renounce the one for the other.”

Allah was never represented by an idol.

The theory is promoted by Christians who like to suggest that Muslims are really pagans who worship a false God different from the God of Judaism/Christianity. There is really nothing to say to such people. They are not respectable scholars trying to find the truth. They start with the conclusion that Muslims must be pagans, then try to find evidence to support that claim and ignore that vast literature of Islamic theology that defends God’s oneness and transcendence.

Islam and downloading cracked software (piracy)

Assalamu alaikum. What is the rule for using a free-downloaded software from the internet? Do we have to buy the original software from the publisher so that we don't violate the copyright?

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

I have seen no intelligent juristic voice on digital piracy, so I decided to do my own research on the matter. The result is my essay Why Digital Piracy is Ethical and Necessary.

My conclusion is that pirating a product when a person cannot easily afford it is morally justified until copyright laws are reformed and publishers abandon the pretense that digital products can only be hired rather than sold. My reasoning relies on the following:

  • Digital products are zero-reproduction-cost goods (it costs nothing to copy them), therefore the concept of stealing does not apply to them.
  • Creators of these products have a moral duty to share them for free with those who cannot afford them, since this costs them nothing while benefiting others.
  • Creators should support libraries that offer their products for free to those who cannot afford them. But instead they are immorally fighting such libraries and preventing them from being created.
  • The digital piracy scene is simply a library for using digital products for those who cannot afford them. Therefore this library and its use are both morally justified even if creators dislike it.

Muslims should therefore try to support the original creators whenever possible. If they can easily pay $500 for a software product then they should do so. And if they cannot, their piracy is excused. When it comes to things like books, it can actually be the superior moral choice to get the pirated version then pay the creator (for example by making a donation). In this way we can bypass the immoral system that publishers have created while supporting creators.

Who does “Woe to those who pray” refer to?

Assalamualaikum brother. In this verse "So woe to those who pray. [But] are heedless of their prayer – Those who make show [of their deeds]. And withhold [simple] assistance." [Quran 107: 1-7] is it only referring to those who pray just for 'show' or also those who struggle to concentrate during prayer? / sometimes I become overwhelmed with emotion during prayer and I'm not sure why and It affects it do you have any advice for this? May Allah bless you.

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

It is referring to those who pray for show without their heart being in it. The context makes it clear that all the verses together refer to the same type of person.

As for having difficulty paying attention when you sincerely want to, that is a different matter. Please see this previous answer on how to focus better when praying: How to focus better when praying (performing salah)

Best wishes.

Why a Muslim should read or listen to the Quran for an hour everyday

Assalamualaikum, from my readings I noticed that you consistently reminded us readers to at least allocate one hour a day to listen to the Quran. So, with regards to that how long have you practiced this and what changes have you felt ever since you started practising it.

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

I started seriously practicing this since last Ramadan when I promised God to spend an hour every day in extra worship.

Since I started doing that, everything in my life has seemed to go more smoothly and I have enjoyed numerous new blessings that I never expected.

The greatest benefit has been the fact that it makes sinning almost impossible. It feels like God is always with me and I cannot engage in any sinful idea without feeling His strong presence. So it is a way of ensuring true submission to Him.

Another benefit is that it feels like my life is on a course managed by God. I do not care what happens tomorrow, next month or next year. God is in charge and He will ensure my good. So it has completely removed all anxiety I have had about the future.

To me therefore it seems like a Muslim who wishes to be extraordinary and who wishes to achieve the peak of spirituality should make this a daily practice that they plan to do for all of their lifetime. There is nothing better than always being in God’s presence; it takes life’s problems away, it takes away all sins, it makes life meaningful and it brings constant new blessings. Problems that seemed unsolvable to me in the past have disappeared.

A village imam was found in a brothel

Assalamualaikum. My friend told me about an imam in her village who was found passing away in a brothel. After an investigation on how he could end up there, it was found that the imam actually frequented the brothel to use the service. This really troubles me, how can someone who's in worship more frequent than others do such illicit behavior in parallel. I'm starting to fear that my worship won't guarantee me to stay out of major evil deeds. What's your opinion? Thank you very much

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

An imam is just an ordinary person chosen by the community to give sermons and lead prayers. It is quite possible for such a person to go through these motions without their heart being in it.

The lesson from that imam is that doing “Islamic” work is no guarantee of having a high Islamic character. In order to maintain a high character we need to do constant, daily work, for example listening to the Quran for an hour every day. Without this work our natural human instincts take over and we start to act by them whether we are an imam or other Islamic leader. We shouldn’t put our trust in imams or scholars as if their status automatically ensures their high character. They are just humans and they can suffer all human weaknesses.

They cannot stop sinning despite their worship and feel like a hypocrite

Salamalaikum Brother Ikram, I hope all is well. I tried to implement what you mentioned in your essays into my life. But I still feel guilty, shameful, and lonely. It's a part of life now. I have been patient and I have sought therapy for a long time as well, but nothing seems to work. I keep going back to committing sins that I should not because of these feelings. It's a cycle: I pray, I read the Quran, then I feel guilty, and then I sin, and then I go back to praying. It feels like its never-ending. I feel like a hypocrite. I pray every day and ask for forgiveness but then I return to the sin. Is there something you would like to recommend me?

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

I am very happy that you tried to implement what I say in my essays. I believe your course of action should now be patience and perseverance. You should be prepared for this state of things to continue for months and even years as disheartening as this sounds. Even if you fail a thousand times, always get back up and go back to God. Consider this a test of your patience and loyalty.

If you understand Arabic, I recommend listening to the Quran for an hour every day. If not perhaps reading it English will also help, get a good translation (such as Abdel Haleem’s) and spend an hour with it every day. Keeping doing this for months and see where that takes you.

Additionally you could try learning more about Islam. As your knowledge increases you will be better able to understand yourself and find the best path forward. You can check out our curriculum page and start reading the books on there.

I would greatly appreciate it if you report back your progress. Thank you for staying in touch and may Allah bless you and make things easy for you.

Loving someone but sexually desiring another person

Asalam Walikum, I have an issue. I feel that I can't stop having these intimate desires for this person, I can't stop feeling hormonal about it. I do like someone else but I like that person romantically not sexually. I do fear that if I end up with that someone else I'll still have sexual desires for this person. How can I stop?

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

Developing sexual desire for a person is something that our brains do automatically if we do not repress it from the beginning. We have instincts to always keep a lookout for eligible attractive mates regardless of our wishes. 

For now you may not be able to do much about it. When you are married to your intended, you can work to make them the sole locus of your romantic and erotic attention. This is something that will require active work on your part. Whenever you find yourself thinking erotically of someone else, you can actively bring your spouse to mind. In this way you can train your brain not to sexualize others.

Another and maybe more important way is to develop a close relationship with God. My way of doing it is to listen to the Quran for an hour every single day. If I ever find myself trying to think erotically of someone, or trying to appreciate a woman’s exposed body, God immediately comes to my mind. Since I do not wish God’s respect to decrease for me, I automatically abandon the thought. God is always present in the back of my mind and knowing that He is there makes me want to act in a way that pleases Him and gains His admiration. This means that I never feel that I have the privacy to think inappropriate thoughts about others in my mind.

Please check out the page Guides on Getting Closer to God for more information on achieving closeness with Him.

Best wishes.

Is studying hard science a form of worship (ibada)?

Assalamualaikum, is studying STEM topics considered an ibadah, and if so, how do we make sure that the things we study may benefit us in the akhirah. Thank you.

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

My own thinking is that if we do the minimum of daily worship necessary to maintain a high character, and if our life is focused on achieving true stewardship (acting as an agent of God on earth), then everything we do can be considered worship.

Personally I listen to the Quran for an hour every day. I consider this the minimum worship required of me and plan to continue doing it for the rest of my life. Everything else I do is also geared toward satisfying the purpose of God’s creation of me here and now. So I consider all of my studies and projects a form of worship.

But that minimum amount of worship is extremely important. We should never delude ourselves into thinking that the project we are working on is so important that we can neglect our duty of God’s remembrance. If you find yourself sinning (even if it is a very minor sin) then that is a sign that the minimum amount of worship has not been achieved. God has no need of our works if we first do not act as purely submissive servants of Him. He does not like us to think that we are serving Him while betraying Him in other ways.

So the civilized Muslim should first create a foundation of impeccably high character and work toward maintaining it. From then on they can work on other things in their attempt to achieve true stewardship on earth.

Best wishes.

Western vs. Asian mental abilities

Salaam, brother. I hope you're doing well. I was wondering. Why do people in the Western seem to come up with theories so easily? It's like, as an Asian person, I'm kinda envious of them. Are we just different in way of thinking and approach in life, also in character?

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

I cannot really say, but it it is a fact that Asians (for example the Japanese) show much less interest in open-ended and non-practical topics like philosophy. Maybe reading science fiction, classical literature and philosophical works will help you acquire the same mental patterns.

Her father does not support the family because they receive welfare

Assalamualaikum, my mother receives welfare benefits and that's how she has raised our family. My dad never supported us financially and he says it's because our mother received welfare so he didn't have to. Is this valid? Or his he not fulfilling his rights. Jzk -p.s. (the welfare money was never in his name as he was unreliable and greedy with it).

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

It is a man’s duty both naturally and religiously to do his best to take care of his family’s welfare. His excuse is not valid because even if your family can get everything it needs for free, it is still his duty to try to improve your family’s situation in whatever way he can.

Are disturbing dreams a sign of a bad character?

AsalamAlaikum I lately have been having some disturbing and disgusting dreams. They feel so real that I get shocked when I wake up. I take refuge from Shaitan, and ask Allah to forgive me. Do you have any knowledge about this, why I get dreams like this? Things happen that I would never do in real life. Is it because I’m bad Muslim?

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

There is no reason to feel guilty about your dreams. According to what I have read, dreams are sometimes our brain’s way of preparing us for disturbing situations that we have heard about but that we have not thoroughly thought about. The brain makes up for our lack of attention for the issue by dedicating a dream to it and forcing us to come face-to-face with the issue.

The things you dream about have nothing to do with your character. In fact according to my understanding the more a person thinks about something, the less likely they are to dream about it (unless it is something new). So your dreams may sometimes actually reflect the opposite of your character.

Best wishes.

The Quran and black holes

Assalamualaikum, what does the Quran say about black hole?

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

There is no mention of black holes in the Quran as far as I have found.

The Quran seems to mention the big bang:

… the heavens and the earth were one mass, and We tore them apart … (The Quran, verse 21:30)

It also seems to mention the expansion of the universe (which was only discovered in the 20th century):

We constructed the universe with power, and We are expanding it. (The Quran, verse 51:47)

Update: A follower alerted me to a new interpretation of verses 81:15-16 of the Quran which say:

I swear by the invisible/receding/compressed ones.

The moving, sweeping/destroying ones.

These verses have often been interpreted as a reference to the stars or planets, but they could also be a reference to black holes.

Islam, vaccination and anti-vaccination

May I know the views of Islamic jurists regarding anti-vaccination?

Vaccination is permitted in general in Islam since a good purpose is achieved by them and there is no evidence to prohibit them. As for anti-vaccination, if a person refuses vaccination for no good reason and this causes them to suffer an illness, then this would fall under the category of self-inflicted harm, which is prohibited in Islam.

and do not throw yourselves with your own hands into ruin

From the Quran, verse 2:195.

Some people believe that vaccines can be harmful. Due to the politicization of the issue it is difficult to distinguish between fact and propaganda. For example there is a chance that vaccination may over-activated the immune system, leading to possible autoimmune diseases later in life. We will just have to wait for reliable scientific studies to know more about vaccines. At the moment, it seems safest to use vaccination for dangerous illnesses.

Sources on the permissibility of vaccination

Islam and having boyfriends or girlfriends

Assalamualaikum, I'm still a teenager and as teenagers do, I keep having intentions to have a girlfriend. I know its not the right thing to do at this age and at the because of the limitations between male and female in Islam. I need advice and a reminder from someone married and older.

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

Please see my answer Secret romantic relationships in Islam where I discuss the problem with having boyfriends/girlfriends.

Also see my essay: The Point of Marriage in Islam (and the Problem with Romantic Relationships Outside of Marriage)

Best wishes.

Are all Muslims humanists?

Is it safe to say that all Muslims are humanists?

I don’t think so. Many Muslims are what I call “tribalists” who think only people from their own sect/religion/race are true humans. This is the opposite of what I understand by modern (non-secular) humanism.

I would love to meet fellow Muslim humanists but as far as I know even among intellectuals there is not much knowledge about what humanism is and what it entails.