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Lack of Universality in the Qur'an!

Question: The Qur'an claims to be an open book for those who want to have true guidance. But it usually addresses the Jews, the Christians and the Muslims only. Does Islam not consider other religions like Buddhism, Hinduism etc. important enough? Or does it consider them as sub-religions of Judaism, Islam and Christianity. Or Islam does not want (or require) to address those religions in the Qur'an? Please clarify.

Answer: My understanding is that it is wrong to expect from the Qur'an that it would comment on each and every ideology of the world that was in existence at the time of its revelation. Although the Qur'an is a book of guidance from the Almighty for all times to come, He has talked in it about the issues that were directly relevant to the immediate environment of Prophet Muhammad (sws). The basic purpose and the direct subject matter of the Qur'an was the successful completion of Prophet Muhammad's divine mission of ensuring the earthly dominance of the ideology brought by him in the Arabian Peninsula:

It is He Who has sent His Apostle with Guidance and the Religion of Truth that he may proclaim it over all religion even though the Pagans (al-Mushrikun) may detest it." (61:9)

We, therefore, find that the religious problems associated with the people who were his immediate addressees have been directly discussed in the Qur'an.

The Jews and Nasarah (Christians settled in the then Arabia) have been talked of in detail in it because these two religious communities were directly confronted by the Prophet (sws). We don't find mention in the Qur'an of the beliefs that were not held by the Christians of Arabia, even though they were very much found in other Christians of the world. For instance, we don't find in the Qur'an the mention of the belief that Jesus (sws) died at the cross for the sins of mankind. Likewise, the polytheists of the Arabian Peninsula have been directly addressed in the Qur'an, while Hindus, Buddhists and other religious groups have not been directly addressed for the same reason.

It would have been against the interests of the immediate purpose of the Qur'anic mission of enabling the religion of Allah to prevail over all other religions of the Arabian peninsula had the Qur'an talked about the other religions of the world theoretically. It was the duty of the Muslims of the later times to derive the understanding from the Qur'anic verses to find correct approach towards other religions too in the light of what the Qur'an has mentioned regarding the people of the Arabian society. Indeed there is enough material available in the contents of the Qur'an to enable Muslims to form correct opinions about all the important religious matters man confronts even today. As for the detailed solutions on these matters, the Almighty wants us to use our intellect which He has given to us to find out solutions to them.


The Christian God versus the Muslim God

Question: I was wondering if Muslims feel like Allah loves them. Christianity is based on love – the love of God for His people and the love of Christ, who died for all, and the love of Christians for their God. Is there any concept of such love in Islam? If so, can you explain it to me? And if not, what is Islam based on?

Answer: Certainly, in Islam, the pre-dominant motive for people to come closer to God is love. There is certitude of His Love, Mercy and Kindness that is always there for humans to experience and benefit from, should they reflect.

The Qur'an itself begins by the expression: Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim." al-Rahman and al-Rahim, being the attributes of God Almighty, convey belief in a God who is Extremely Merciful, whose Mercy is Ever-Lasting. Verse 2:165 of the Qur'an says that "those (who are) of Faith are overflowing in their love for Allah" - that as human beings, despite being equally capable of loving others as much, their strongest love is unquestionably reserved for God. Given the context of the passage, this is because when an intelligent human being looks around him, he finds that every creation is for his benefit, brought at his disposal by none other than the Master, who keeps providing out of Love. An intelligent observer inevitably finds himself over-whelmed by this extreme display of kindness and compassion.

In short, yes, the Islamic spirit is pre-dominantly the spirit of love from God, and for Him. But the love that the Almighty reciprocates is far stronger than all the love that we can all manage to ever put together. The Qur'an says, for instance:

And He is the Oft-Forgiving, Full of Loving-Kindness. (85:14)

These attributes are mentioned all throughout the Qur'an. His Mercy pre-dominates all other virtues that belong to Him. However, one thing needs to be mentioned. The Qur'an gives a complete understanding of God, which is not exaggerated towards any one particular attribute/understanding of His, at the expense of others. God is a complete and perfect Being, and therefore, has attributes that are all complete and good. And what is important is that understanding God through His attributes as mentioned in the Qur'an, one can relate them to our living lives, day in and day out. You do not end up having a utopian understanding of God, which although is very romantic, is far from reality, and brings disappointments as a result. Because when you have an understanding that is primarily and singularly of a Caring and Loving God, you will be at a loss to understand the sufferings and pain one finds in this world. How would you, for instance, comprehend the fact that He allows some people to unleash their evil desires and ambitions of greed and terror upon others?

It is when you understand God in the complete sense that you are able to accept the goings-around in the world today. Although love, mercy, compassion, forgiveness and sympathy are His most significant attributes, yet, He is much more than that. He is simultaneously Loving, Fair, Wise, Strong... All His attributes put together make a complete picture; emphasis on one distorts the image. Love alone may help you when in need of a utopian understanding, but it will cater to a disability in reconciling it with the world around us. It is Islam that will tell us that His Love and His Sympathy results in providence and forgiveness, and at the same time, His Strength, and Wisdom renders forgiveness available to only those who seek it with utmost sincerity. Here lies the difference between the conception of the Christian God and the Muslim God.

In Christianity, belief in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ is enough to enable access to the Love of God; in Islam, God is most certainly Loving and Caring, but His Love is available to only those who seek it - if you don't, you miss it; if you do, it overwhelms you.


Is Swimming un-Islamic?

Question: I have come across this point of view recently that swimming for women is un-Islamic, even if this is done in an area to which no man has access. Could you please comment on this? Also, can you please tell of a religiously acceptable dress-code for swimming for women?

Answer: I think the view you've come across is based on a very strict understanding of something. The requirements of dress and general behaviour for men and women while in each others' company have been mentioned clearly in the Qur'an: "What is binding on Muslim women is that [like men are expected to do regarding women], they should keep their gazes in check while in the company of men [which means that they should not stare at each other nor look at the private parts of each other], and they should wear clothes that properly cover their private parts [so that they don't appear prominent]. In addition, women have also been asked to properly cover their chests and, if they embellish themselves, they should not disclose their beautifying make up and ornaments except for what is apparent to anyone; this is not binding if they are in the presence of close male relatives with whom they are not allowed to marry because of closeness of their relations with them." (24: 30-31)

If women are swimming with their bodies adequately covered and there are no men around, why should there be any problem in that from an Islamic point of view? While swimming for ladies living in urban areas may be regarded as a luxury, for women living in places where they have to travel on boats, launches etc., in lakes, rivers and seas etc., it becomes a matter of life and death for them to be able to swim. The shari'ah is interested only in the fact that promiscuity and lewdness is avoided and that men and women should be dressed in the proper manner.


Are my Dreams the Product of a Marriage Proposal?

Question: I need your help. I've been experiencing filthy dreams for some time now, and I don't know how to get rid of them. In this time, I've had a proposal from a man, and I'm not sure whether the two are connected. What should I do to rid myself of these problems?

Answer: I'm not particularly sure as to what these dreams you're experiencing mean. I am not good at interpreting dreams. What I can suggest to you is that if you, or your parents, have received a proposal from a man whom you're not particularly confident about, you should resort to the prayer of istikharah. Continue offering that supplication every now and then, and more particularly, after saying your prayers. Sooner or later, as a result, insha Allah, you'll have inner strength and inclination towards the right decision - i.e. whether you'd like to accept or reject the proposal.

We hear occasionally of people seeing dreams as a result of the du'a of istikharah, indicating them of the right response. I do not deny the possibility of such guidance, but I myself haven't experienced any dreams as a result of doing istikharah nor do the wordings of the prayer itself make any such suggestions. So in response to your filthy dreams, you should pray to God Almighty that you get rid of them. These are the trials of life, and we need to endure these hardships and pray to the One. In addition, we need to keep good company, pray regularly, recite the Qur'an as much as possible, and remember God as much as can be done. Before going to sleep, make sure that you pray to the Almighty to spare you from experiencing such dreams.

And once again, for your decision-making, continue offering the prayer of istikharah, ensuring that you understand what it means. The Almighty hopefully will give you resoluteness in making the right decision.


Should the Name of God be taken at the Time of Slaughter?

Question: I am an Indian PhD student in South Korea, facing a few food problems (halal or haram) here, especially when I take dinner or lunch with my lab mates and professor. The proper food which can I take with them is "Chicken Items" but I am not sure who slaughters the chicken: People of the Book, others with no religion, or people of other religions (50% of Koreans are Christian and the rest either have no religion or something other than Islam). My main problem is that if I tell my professor that I can't even eat chicken, they'll have no food alternatives to offer, and my presence at these dinners is a must. It will only make them see me as a hardcore fundamentalist, non-cooperative, non adjustable to another society etc., and it will indirectly harm my relations with all of my colleagues.

Actually, the method of slaughtering chicken is just the manual killing as is the customs among Muslims, except for invoking the name of Allah. I am not sure what to do in this complex situation? Please guide me.

Can you also please let me know what the following Hadith means? Is it sahih?

Some people told the Prophet (sws) that some people brought them meat and they did not know whether the name of Allah had been spoken over it or not. The Prophet (sws) said: "Pronounce the Name of Allah over it and eat."

Answer:There are a number of things that you can do.

1) You can help those who prepare the food in slaughtering the chicken that is meant for your dinners. Of course, you can explain to them your prescribed limitations as per your religion. Your professors and colleagues, it is hoped, will understand.

2) Alternatively, you can be present at the time of slaughter, and recite the name of Allah yourself.

3) You can declare yourself a vegetarian. Nowadays, that is not an anomaly; a good number of people openly declare themselves vegetarians, and as a result, they are specially catered to in aeroplanes, restaurants, at dinners and parties. It is now a well-known and accepted fact that some people resort to vegetarianism for dietary, religious and other reasons, so there should be no problem in your case either. In fact, I see it as a good opportunity for you to explain why your religion requires animals to be slaughtered in a certain manner, and why the name of Allah needs to be pronounced: All life has been created by God Almighty, and He does not allow us to kill anyone, even the animals, without a reason. He created them for several purposes, one of which is to be consumed as food by humans. So if we were to pronounce Allah's name at the time of slaughtering, it would be like announcing His permission to do the same, because otherwise, we have no right to take any life, even if it be an animal's.

As far as the quoted Hadith is concerned, I can only on it comment in the light of the Qur'an:

Eat not of [meats] on which Allah's name hath not been pronounced: That would be transgression. (6:121)

I don't think that the Hadith is mentioning anything different from what the Qur'an is saying.

Those who asked this question knew it from the Qur'an that it was a necessary requirement. There could be two possibilities one can assume: Either it were the polytheists or People of the Book (who were not in the habit of taking Allah's name while slaughtering), who had slaughtered the animal, or it were Muslims or those people of the Book who were in the habit of taking Allah's name while slaughtering, who did so. When I look at this reported incident in the light of the Qur'anic teachings, I am in no doubt that it was the latter possibility and that the former one is out of the question.

Here's how I understand it:

On a certain occasion, when the Muslims received meat from other Muslims, and were not fully sure whether Allah's name was pronounced on it or not, the Prophet (sws) directed them to pronounce it at the time. Even today, we know that when we receive meat from a fellow Muslim, in all likelihood, Allah's name must have been pronounced at the time slaughter, but our doubts would not make the animal slaughtered unlawful for us. When a person or a group of people, who are used to taking His name while slaughtering animals and believe it to be a necessary practice, sometimes omit doing it, it doesn't make the animal thus slaughtered haram. In such cases, where you doubt whether it was done or not, the prophet's advice seems to be that you say "bismillah" and go ahead with eating it.

This Hadith does not at all entertain any case whereby it is known that the animal was slaughtered without Allah's name pronounced, by someone who has a policy of not doing it, for such meat would certainly be haram according to the Qur'anic verse quoted above.


Why Recite the Qur'an in Arabic when it is not understood?

Question: I am in Cairo these days and have had the opportunity to talk to many different people about Islam. I would like to ask something that has been bothering me for some time. In a casual discussion, someone asked me if I could understand Arabic. I said no. He asked me how was I able to perform salah or read the Qur'an. I replied that I know the meaning of the salah but the Qur'an I recite without understanding, and read the translation to understand. Afterwards, I had a discussion with someone, and he said that the reverence given to Arabic was purely political. Agreed that it is the chosen language of Allah but why do we have the belief that reciting the Qur'an or offering the salah in Arabic (without understanding) is better than doing the same in a language that one can understand? For example, why not offer the salah in Urdu or in English. That will also allow us to concentrate better. He said that religious people will disregard the idea of offering the salah in any other language without even giving it a second thought.

Frankly, I had no answers to his questions and the logic made sense as well, so please help me in this regard. Can I or can I not offer the salah in Urdu? Otherwise it seems that knowing Arabic becomes a sort of a pre-requisite to become a Muslim.

Answer: The formal prayer that we say has been taught to us by the Prophet (sws) in a manner that it has come down to us in almost exactly the same way as he taught. This claim is true because of the methodology that was undertaken for communicating it. The prayer the Prophet (sws) taught to the ummah comprises a few formal actions/postures and a few formal utterances. Some of these actions/postures are binding, while others are not binding. Likewise is the case with the utterances.

Whereas doing rafa' yadayn (raising the two hands on each change in posture) and keeping the two hands on the abdomen, with one on the top of the other, for example, are both voluntary acts in prayers, most of the rest of the postures in the formal prayers are binding to be followed. That's why we find that Muslims disagree in doing or not doing rafa' yadayn and keeping hands on the abdomen, but they don't disagree in most other matters. Likewise, in the utterances (azkar) of prayers, reciting Surah Fatihah, a portion of the Qur'an after that, saying sami' allahu liman hamidahu, rabbana lakal hamd, allahu akbar, and assalamu 'alaykum Wa Rahmatullah are all binding. In the rest of the prayers, the Prophet (sws) didn't specify any one thing in particular. He himself is reported to have uttered/recited different expressions on different occasions. In fact, in most of these cases he let people know what he himself used to be reciting when asked by people. In all these instances (i.e. ruku', sujud, tashahhud), one can say what the Prophet (sws) said on one occasion or another or what one thinks is good and similar to what the prophet said. In all such cases, one might also say in prayers things in one's own language. However, in cases where the Prophet (sws) is reported to have always said the same thing all throughout his life, we are not allowed to say anything other than what he recited.

When you look at the formal prayer from this point of view, it would present itself as a blend of rituals which require some Arabic expressions to be always uttered and rituals in which it has been left to the individual to say what he himself wants to, given his inclination, need, and understanding etc. The concern of those who say that one should speak to God in one's own language is adequately addressed in this scheme of the prayers.

The entire prayer, including the Qur'anic portions, haven't been allowed to be recited in one's own language, because translations are a human effort which may or may not be accurate. Even if a translation is very good, it still cannot take the position of the original Qur'anic text, which is the very word of God. The problems created by the translations in the Biblical text are for us to see as to why it cannot be left to the translations to replace the Qur'an in the formal prayers and even otherwise.

Indeed when we recite the Qur'an, we should read the translation as well. There is no point in reading the Arabic text of the Qur'an if one is not understanding it. The Qur'an has come to guide mankind; and if it is not understood while being read, it is not serving the purpose for which it was revealed. I therefore agree with those people who say that one should understand the meanings of the Qur'an when one is reading it.


Are Pairs made in Heaven?

Question: I keep hearing from people that pairs (couples) are made in heaven, and just celebrated on earth. This, to me, implies that basically it has already been decided as to who one will marry. Could you kindly throw some light on it?

Answer: What it means is that every decision that is taken on earth is already known to the Almighty beforehand, because He is the All-Knowing God. However, in the case of some such decisions, what is known to Him is actually expedited through us, as we use our discretionary powers. In other words, he knows beforehand what we will decide even though His foreknowledge doesn't interfere in our free-decision making process. I believe that decisions on marriages, in most cases, belong to this category.

However, there are other decisions known to the Almighty which He Himself has taken, for which our discretion is not allowed to play any role. Our birth, death, parents, and relatives etc., are some of the things on which we have not been given any discretion. But wherever there's room to act, we must act and consciously deal with a situation as best as we can.


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