IslamQA

IslamQA: How to focus better on dhikr or prayer

Salam alaykum, how does one do dhikr so they are engaged with it and not bored? I want to fix this part of my ibadah but I find with the repetitions my mind wanders and am surprised to find myself in the middle of planning my grocery list while my tongue is saying the words mindlessly on autopilot. How do people do dhikr with sincerity?

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

I don’t think there is a way to have perfect focus on dhikr or prayer except by entering a trance state (as I explain below). The point is to do your best, to put in the time and effort, and if despite that your brain does not cooperate, then it is not your fault. Your reward depends on your effort and sacrifice. A person who has a hard time focusing but spends more time and effort in doing dhikr or prayer will likely have a higher reward than someone who has perfect focus but spends less time and effort. Your sincerity depends on your intention and effort, not on whether you can focus or not.

Being able to focus depends on your brain chemistry at the time. Right before bed it is much easier to focus on prayer than in the middle of the day, for example. And if you do five minutes of meditation right before the dhikr or prayer, you will be able to focus much better. Personally I do something called self-hypnosis where I lie down or sit comfortably in a chair, relax, and say in my mind “I feel calmer and calmer, I feel more and more relaxed.” After about five minutes I enter a hypnotic trance where my mind is extremely lucid and calm, and if I do dhikr, or recite Quran in my mind, it is easily ten times more powerful and emotional than doing it in a normal state. I believe this is what certain Sufi practices achieve, except this is much easier and doesn’t require any Sufi ideas or beliefs.

IslamQA: Is wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar halal?

Salam, I read somewhere it says that white wine vinegar is consumable for us Muslims because it is considered a vinegar more than a wine. Is it true ?

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

There is no issue with drinking wine vinegars. The traditional way of making vinegar uses a double fermentation process where first the vinegar stock (such as grape juice) is fermented into a wine-like alcoholic liquid, then in the second fermentation the alcohol is turned into vinegar. So any traditional or homemade vinegar will have passed through a wine-like stage at some point even if it is not called a wine vinegar. There will be very small amounts of alcohol left in the vinegar, but since it is impossible to get drunk on vinegar, this is not an issue.

IslamQA: Is lack of hardship a sign that God does not love you?

Salam. I have a question that I have been wondering about for a while now, and it may seem a little strange. It is often said that the more beloved you are to Allah, the more you are tested. If you are not tested with anything particularly severe, does that mean you are not as beloved to Allah? It's not that I don't have any worries/problems in my life, but I have never been tested with anything severe (Alhamdulillah) and sometimes I wonder if it's because I'm not that beloved to Allah.

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

We are all tested in different ways. For those who worship God sincerely and seek to always be close to Him, God always creates the ideal situation where an aspect of their character is tested and enhanced. God helps us mature by showing us our defects and enabling us to correct them. Living in ease can also be a very difficult test, since we are tempted to think that God likes us and approves of us and we mistakenly think our ease is because of that. I recommend that you always seek to remain close to God (such as by reading the Quran daily), and leave it to God to take care of helping you improve and mature.

IslamQA: Caught between Catholicism and agnosticism

Do you have any advice on getting through a religious dilemma? I grew up in a somewhat Catholic household, for years I have prayed and went to church quite regularly, but in my early 20s, I have became an agnostic person due to my scientific studies, but now I don't think science and religion is mutually exclusive. A year ago I visited Jerusalem and I was amazed by being at the "source" & became fascinated by Islamic art. I am now kind of stuck - how can my beliefs, faith (or lack of) coexist?

Face God and sincerely pray to Him for guidance, and He will guide you. God is always with you, you just need to start speaking to Him. If you feel something blocking you from wanting to speak to Him, ignore it and do it anyway regardless of how you feel and regardless of whether it seems to have any benefit or not.

Another thing you could do is read the Bible and the Quran in a good translation (such as Abdel Haleem’s). To fully appreciate the Quran a person should read it multiple times. The first time you read it all the new information may make it difficult to take in its deeper meaning. But the second time you will be able to connect with it much better.

If you have difficulty connecting with Islam, try reading C. S. Lewis’s works (especially Mere Christianity). The best things in Christianity are also present in Islam, so if you appreciate Lewis you will be able to appreciate both Christianity and Islam all the more.

Also realize that deciding to become religious (whether Christian or Muslim) is not an intellectual decision. It is similar to the way no amount of reading will enable you to drive a car unless you actually get in a car and do it. In the end you will have to “open your heart”, to make a leap of faith, to take a great risk and accept its consequences. This requires a great amount of courage and sacrifice.

IslamQA: Is salah valid if the first tahiyya/tashahhud is forgotten?

Salam I want to ask, what to do if a person forgot to read Tahiyatul during the second rak'ah?

Alaikumassalam wa ra rahmatullah,

The first tahiyya is sunna, not fard, so forgetting it does not nullify the prayer. If you forget it simply do sujud al-sahw after the prayer. Since sujud al-sahw is also considered sunna by some schools, forgetting to do this will not nullify the prayer either according to this opinion.

IslamQA: Can we ask God for small things as well as great?

Alslam alikum Sometimes I want to ask ALLAH for something to help me with my studying life or love life but then I remember the people who has more serious issues than mine ,like those who have cancer or those who have lost a child and I feel bad about myself so I don’t ask or Dua’a I would like to hear your opinion in this case

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

Asking God for things is a form of worship, so you should do it as often as you can for whatever reason. If you are cooking something, ask God to make it turn out well. If you can’t find your keys, ask God to help you find it. Whatever difficulty, small or great, that you face throughout the day should be an occasion for asking God for His help. It doesn’t cost Him anything and it increases His love for you. Ideally we should spend our days asking of Him, praising Him or thanking Him whatever the reason or occasion.

IslamQA: Do Muslims believe in establishing a caliphate?

Salaam. Many ulema in Indonesia agreed that the Caliphate is one of Muslim obligation to be established, while I've read your essay that you do not agree on the re-establishment of the Caliphate. Your essay mentions only for the Western, that it do not need a Caliphate. Does your thoughts and opinion also applied to every country and place on Earth, that we do not need a re-establishment of Caliphate?

Also, why are there people who think that Muslims need a Caliphate and that it's re-establishment is obligated upon every Muslim? I noticed that not a single ayat in the Quran says that Allah made the Caliphate an obligation. Also, when Prophet Muhammad's (peace be upon him) time was near, he did not emphasize his speech to call upon the people to keep running the Caliphate. If Allah and Prophet Muhammad did not befall this responsibility to Muslim ummah, why are there some who eager for it?

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

My opinion applies to the whole world. There is no strong evidence that it is required for Muslims to establish a caliphate. I expect the reason why some people like the idea is that it seems to give them a purpose in life that they can work toward–it gives them a seemingly achievable goal, and a sense of power, while also freeing them from the requirement of reforming their own hearts.

Islam’s view of reform is bottom-up (or “grassroots”). Change begins with the individual, and the best example is the Prophet PBUH who never sought political power but only reformed the individuals around him. But Islamists (those who like to turn Islam into a political ideology/movement) turn things upside down. They have a “top-down” understanding of change. They think that if they can gain power they can make the world such a better place for everyone. This utopian/fairy tale idea of creating a perfect state was imported from Western political ideologies and has no basis in Islam. Islam does not teach us to gain power to do to good. It teaches us to do good right now and leave it to God to give us power, when He wants, for as long as He wants.

Unlike Zionist Jews, we do not have a “Greater Israel” to establish. Islam does not promise us some wonderful future on earth where every problem will be solved. Islam teaches us that power is given and taken by God as He likes. Even if we establish the perfect caliphate and it rules the world for the next 500 years, it too will be destroyed like every caliphate/Islamic state before that. History goes in cycles and our goal is to be the best humans we can be regardless of how powerful or powerless we are.

Note that I am not against political activism as I discuss in the essay.

Salaam. I agree that Moslem should have the "bottom-up" mindset. And I interested to your opinion about we (Moslem), should not to re-establish caliphate in anywhere. Then, I have a question. What should we do as a Moslem, to get unity? And in hadith, Rasulullah (peace be upon him) said that Moslem could conquer the Rome. How we could to get there if caliphate isn't re-establish? I just curious with ur opinion, cause I still looking the best way to living Islam. Jazakumullah khairan katsira

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

Unity is like all the other good things that Islam teaches us, such as fearing God. We can never attain perfect unity or perfect fear of God. But we can strive to accomplish as much of it as possible. Even if the Muslim world achieves perfect unity for 10 or 50 years, this will end and things will go back to the way they have always been. There isn’t some state of perfection that we can achieve permanently. Islam is all about the journey, the destination is not this world but the afterlife. In this world, whatever we accomplish will sooner or later come to an end. Nothing in this world is lasting except the record of our deeds.

Islam does not teach us to always work to get rich in order to give our money in charity. It teaches us that God grants wealth to whomever He wants and tells us to give our money in charity if we ever have enough to give away. In the same way, Islam does not teach us to always work to gain power (as Islamist ideologues think) in order to do good with our power when we have it. It teaches us that all power belongs to God and that He gives it to whomever He wants, and teaches us to use power responsibly if we are given it.

Note that “Rome”, when mentioned in hadith, actually means Byzantium (present-day Turkey), which was conquered by the Ottomans.

IslamQA: Making art that serves God as a Muslim

Salam, how can I make my art serve God? For example it suggests of the poets at the end of Surah Ash Shura? Many thanks

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

The possibilities are endless. But it is important to know the difference between religious art and religious propaganda. The fiction works of C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Jane Austen, Fyodor Dostoevsky and Leo Tolstoy represent true Christian art. They show you what it is like to experience the world through the spiritual awareness that Christianity brings–without talking about Christianity.

Great religious art enables everyone, including non-religious people, to experience what it feels like to have religious experience. For example a good poet can write a poem that enables the readers to know what it feels like to go on Hajj while barely speaking of any of the technicalities of making the pilgrimage.

Speaking more generally, producing anything that is truly beautiful can be considered a form of worship, because beauty enables people to come face-to-face with God (see my essay on beauty). Just seeking to be a great artist can be a form of serving God.

IslamQA: Is it a sin to feel sorry for yourself?

Is it a sin to feel sorry for yourself?

I do not like to say anything is a sin unless it is explicitly stated in the Quran or hadith that it is a sin. But self-pity ultimately means that we feel God has wronged us, since God is in charge of the universe and nothing that happens to us happens without His knowledge and will. So thinking of it this way it does seem sinful, since we would be questioning God’s wisdom, mercy and power. The true Islamic attitude is the opposite of self-pity; it is to say to God, “Whatever you decree for me, it will never decrease my love for You.”

IslamQA: Should we worship God out of love or fear and desire?

Hello brother, I fear the afterlife, the time when I'll be laying in my grave, and it scares me whenever I think of it, especially at night. But when the Sun is up I start to forget about it. and another thing is, I am afraid it is the fear that leads me to be a good muslim. But I want it to be out of love to the God rather than out of fear. I want to live Islam in a harmony and to fix my trust in God's Mercy. Yet I've sinned, and still find hard to leave some bad habits. What should I do?

Hello,

There is nothing wrong with worshiping God out of fear or desire. The Quran says:

And do not corrupt on earth after its reformation, and pray to Him out of fear and desire. God’s mercy is close to the doers of good. (The Quran, verse 7:56)

Those who think that God should only be served out of love are naively choosing one of the God’s attributes as if it is superior to His other attributes. God wants to be worshiped for all of His attributes. When you ask Him to give you something because you desire it, you are pleasing His attributes of power and generosity. When you worship Him out of fear, you are pleasing His attributes of power and majesty. God never tells us that some of His attributes are superior to others. We must take all of His attributes into consideration when we interact with Him.

A person who only relies on God’s attributes of love and forgiveness are in reality trying to set up a false god; they are creating their own god by picking and choosing some of His attributes over others. To truly know God, the real God, is to fear Him, to desire His generosity and mercy, to fear His retribution, and to want to be loved by Him.

Being a good Muslim is a daily struggle. No matter how faithful and spiritual you felt the day before, the next day you have to start the struggle from scratch. You will continue sinning as long as you live. The point is to always go back to God, ask Him for His forgiveness and guidance, and work to better yourself.

As for fearing the afterlife, there is nothing wrong with this unless it prevents you from enjoying a good and productive life. We are supposed to fear it. Any Muslim who does not fear it, who thinks they are now in such a good place spiritually that they will be safe if they die, has got it wrong and has become proud and has lost their true understanding of God. We are never safe as long as we live, and this feeling should always make us seek safety in God. This world is a testing hall. The only true safety we achieve is when we get the results in the afterlife and we are told that we passed the test.

IslamQA: Is using cash-backs permitted in Islam?

Assalamualaykum brother. In this cashless era, many start-ups offer promotions like cash back for its customer. Is this considered halal? I personally use this cash back quite often, but I don’t know what Islam says about this kind of thing. Jazakallah khairan for your answer

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

There is no issue with cash-backs since they are (at least they are supposed to be) part of the profits that the company gives back to the customer in order to increase transactions.

IslamQA: Sharing complaints with others rather than God

assalamu aleykom wa rahmatullah wa barakatuhu, i'm still learning so much about my religion and i wish to know, if it is somewhat islamic as in if it's right thing to do as a muslim, as a seeker of Allah's mercy, to complain or to open up about our sorrows to our friends, i don't meant family or a therapist but strictly friends. would it be better to stop doing so and do so with Allah during salat? barakAllahu fik for your answer

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah wa barakatuh,

I don’t see any issue with sharing your problems and sorrows with a friend as long as you do not do it in a self-pitying way as if God has wronged you. Self-pity is due to a lack of spiritual understanding (and it is also never attractive and makes people dislike us). A great thing about reading the Quran daily is that it makes self-pity impossible, at least for me.

IslamQA: Avoiding self-pity as a Muslim

Salam! Do you have advice on how to not pity oneself. I didn’t realize how much I actually do this and how it goes on to affect the way I interpret my daily life and past.

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

I believe the cure is to have a very firm belief in the fact that God is in charge of the universe, that nothing happens to us without His allowing it, and that He is just, kind and merciful and always gives us what we need for our growth and maturation. However merely recognizing these things intellectually is not enough. One also needs to keep the recognition alive in the heart, otherwise self-pity (and all kinds of other negative character traits) always creep back regardless of how wise and saintly we are at the moment. We need to do constant, daily work to maintain our balance, and the best way to do that is to read the Quran daily.

IslamQA: An Islamic view of postmodernism

What are your thoughts on post-modernism and how do you handle living in its time?

Post-modernism is just a rehashing of an idea that has been recycled over and over again. The idea is this: “Humans are helpless animals controlled by X.” In Marxism X is economic circumstances, in Freud it is sexuality, in the Frankfurt school it is social prejudice, in Betty Friedan’s feminism it is gender conflict, in post-modernism (Derrida and his followers) it is “dominant discourses”, in Wallerstein and A. G. Frank it is “world-systems”, in Jared Diamond and his followers it is environmental circumstances.

Once you see the pattern you will recognize what utter boring, unscientific and elitist rubbish all of these are. All of the thinkers of the above schools think they are God’s chosen people sent to take the ordinary, unwashed animals (us) out of the darkness and into the light. They all suffer from the delusion that they have been granted truths that no one (except those who agree with them) have access to. We are all supposedly controlled by factors that we are blind to, but somehow, magically, they are not blind like us.

If a person believes in God and follows Islam (or traditional Christianity) then they are automatically protected from these forms of mental illness.

For more on this see the Islam and Postmodernism page on my site.

IslamQA: What creationists get wrong

What is wrong with creationists?

Assuming this is a serious question, the problem of many of the religious when dealing with science is that they think there is an opposition between God and nature, so that if something is given a natural explanation, they think this takes away God’s involvement in it. So they have to talk about “guided evolution” because they cannot imagine how God could cause evolution to happen without guiding it day by day. Or they think that finding scientific explanations for rain or hurricanes means we can no longer attribute these phenomena to God’s agency.

As I explain in the following essay, we do not need guided evolution to attribute to God the creation of living things, and finding scientific explanations for phenomena does not take away God’s involvement in them because the whole universe is like a simulation controlled by God:

Reconciling Islam and Darwinian Evolution: Al-Ghazali’s Matrix and the Divine Template

IslamQA: Dealing with life’s stress and fast pace as a Muslim

Assalamualaykum. How to slow down in this fast pace life? I mean, I rush with almost everything. I lost my consciousness and awareness about myself, what I’m doing, my surroundings, even with my prayer and my relation to Allah. I’ve realized time just passed by without barokah in it. I’m afraid I’ll die with such conditions 😢 naudzubillahimindzalik. Where should I start to fix this? Any advice? Jazakallah khairan.

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

I believe the best way to fix that is to dedicate a certain amount of time every day to reading the Quran (which is something I talk about often). The Quran helps you move outside the ordinary current of time and look at things from the point of view of eternity. It helps you live in the present moment; it offers forgiveness for your past mistakes, accepts you as you are, and tells you that the future is entirely in God’s hands so there is no need to worry about it. Merely recognizing these facts intellectually is not enough. The great thing about the Quran is that it helps you feel these things deep in your heart. It doesn’t just give you the facts, it makes you feel their reality.

IslamQA: Can one do good deeds on behalf of non-Muslims?

Aslam Alaikum, I wanted to ask you if it's allowed to do dikhr on behalf of someone who lacks faith (non-Muslim) and pray to Allah tala to give them the reward of dikhr? Will Allah tala give them the reward? I know it's a very stupid question but I care about this person and I want them to go to jannat and I want Allah tala to be happy with them and not angry on the day of judgment.

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

I have not seen anything on the validity of performing good deeds for the sake of non-believers. But it would be a much safer choice if you pray for their guidance and forgiveness. A good deed done for them is just one good deed, while if they are guided that would be a lifetime of good deeds for them.

IslamQA: Does Islam oppose poetry?

Salamalaikum, according to several hadiths, is all poetry that is not Islamic in subject matter not permitted or disliked? Esp regarding this hadith: "It is better for the belly of any one of you to be stuffed with pus rather than to stuff (one's mind) with poetry"?

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

The hadith you mentioned speaks against dedicating too much time and effort to poetry as was the habit of some Arabs (spending many hours on it daily). But I haven’t seen any hadith that declares a general prohibition on poetry. Ali b. Abi Talib RA, Imam al-Shafi`i and many other scholars composed poetry, and their themes weren’t always religious. The Quran speaks against poets for their boasting and false exaggeration. But it approves of poets “who believe, perform good deeds, remember God often, and do not humbly submit to oppression.” (paraphrasing 26:227). This does not mean that all poetry should be religious. It means that the type of poetry that God approves of comes from a person who has such a character. The poetry can be about anything, but the character of the poet determines whether it is wholesome poetry or otherwise.

And note that the Quran above is talking about the production of poetry, not its consumption. A person can read any type of poetry as long as they have a good reason to do so. But once they find that a particular poem or poet affects them negatively then it is better if they avoid it.

IslamQA: Is it permitted to recite Quran or dhikr in the bathroom?

Salam! Is it permissible to do dhikr and recite durood internally (like in your mind) while showering? Worried that since you are in a bathroom, it is not allowed. Thank you!

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

Even reciting the Quran aloud in a bath/shower (not toilet) is permitted by many important scholars (Imam Malik, al-Nawawi). Reciting the Quran or doing dhikr in your mind only is permitted by even more scholars, and some say it is permitted everywhere (even in the toilet) if it is silent (Ibn al-Mundhir and Ibrahim al-Nakha`i). If the bathroom has a bathtub/shower and toilet, then once the shower curtain is opened then it seems to me that that part of the bathroom can be considered a separate place and would have that same ruling as a bath/shower lacking a toilet.

References

Fatwa by Shaykh Abd al-Rahman al-Suhaym

IslamQA: Major and minor sins in Islam

El Salamou alaykoum Can you please explain what are el kabaîr and saghaîr? And how to make taouba ?

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

There are different opinions on what constitutes major sins. According to Ibn Taymiyyah they are sins that are mentioned in the Quran or hadith as deserving the anger or curse of God or as deserving punishment in this world or the afterlife. Among such sins are shirk (associating partners with God), murder, adultery, bearing false witness, disowning one’s parents, falsely accusing chaste women of adultery, and consuming the profits of usury (i.e. consuming interest income). Everything that is not a major sin is a minor sin.

As for repentance, it depends on the type of sin. If it involves the rights of others, then those rights have to be restored (for example a person who gave false testimony should confess it and try to undo all damage caused by it). Apart from that, asking God for forgiveness is all that is needed. My view is that if God inspires someone to ask for forgiveness, it is because He wants to forgive them.