Does a True Islamic Society Exist?
Question: Is there any state in the world which is a true Muslim state, following only the Laws of Islam? If yes, please mention the name. If no, then how can we tell non-Muslims what our society, culture and laws are and where they can be witnessed?
Answer: Your question suggests that Islamic invitation to non-believers assumes an ideal Islamic State to convince its addressees. The truth is that although a good Islamic environment is always helpful in convincing many people, it is not an essential precondition for delivering the message. Islamic message is first and foremost based on its beliefs. There are fundamental questions about life which every human being no matter wherever he/she lives wants to get answers to. The Islamic message addresses those questions more than anything else. However, we do need to have certain norms which are to be followed if the basic presentation of Islam is accepted. Some of those norms are applicable to our individual life and some to our collective life. A non-Muslim is certainly more likely to be attracted towards the Islamic message if there are good examples around, both individual as well as collective. However, the message itself is not dependant upon these examples for its authentication. However, given the fact that we know that God Almighty would take into account the circumstances of an individual while deciding about his/her fate in the Hereafter, in case of those who received the message of Islam in an environment where no good examples were available, He is likely to treat such cases more leniently.
The Political Set-Up envisaged by Islam
Question: I was a bit confused about an issue, and I wasn't able to find satisfactory answers on the Internet or anywhere else, so I thought you might be able to help me understand. I was wondering what sort of government structure is endorsed in Islam. I've heard much talk of the "ideal" Islamic State, with the enforcement of the shari'ah Law throughout the land (essentially, a Theocracy, the likes of which we saw in Afghanistan and still see in Iran). However, I've found some important arguments against such a form of government in the Western media. This article (http://www.cqpress.com/context/articles/epr_theo.html), for instance, provides several practical reasons due to which a theocracy would be doomed to fail.
Some further thought-provoking arguments that a friend of mine in the US put forth are as follows:
In the US, one of our fundamental liberties is freedom of religion. There are literally dozens of different kinds of religions; just within Christian sects I am sure there are twenty or thirty different churches, each of which interprets the Bible very differently. There are an increasing number of Eastern religious groups too: Sikhs, Muslims, and Buddhists, among others.
I did not realize the true value of this freedom until I began studying the Middle East. Why can't Jews and Christians and Muslims share Jerusalem? Why have millions of people died as that proud city has changed hands so many times in history? My opinion: because none of the occupying groups is truly tolerant of an alternative religion. As each has controlled Jerusalem, they have mandated that people of other religions convert, leave, or face consequences.
It is a basic right to believe whatever you believe, without government sanction or hindrance, and that is why I believe that all theocracies are doomed to fail eventually. Likewise, nations that forbid free exercise of religion, like China, are also doomed to fail. People will seek their guiding spirit, or God, or Allah, or whatever you wish to call it, in their own way, and this cannot be controlled, because it is so personal. We think of anyone mandating a religious belief as a kind of thought-police, and as a matter of free expression, that just won't be acceptable here.
I am not, for instance, a Muslim, but I support you in following that path. Frankly, I am not terribly religious at all, and I have often felt that if religion did not exist, there would be many fewer wars. Throughout history, people have faced persecution for their beliefs all over the globe; indeed they do today. It is too bad we cannot be more reverent of the individual's desire to seek God in whatever way he feels inspired to do so. (I'd like to say here, that the US is not making war on Iraq because they are Muslim. While I don't agree with the reasons given for war, none of them involve that kind of argument.)
So what I'd like to ask you is: where exactly do we stand? Is there a fixed formula for govt. structure given in Islam, or are we left to figure out the best structure on our own? Is democracy acceptable in Islam, and why or why not? What is wrong with having a secular state if the rights of all the various religious groups are upheld? I know that history gives us a solid example of a theocratic State of Islam, under the leadership of Prophet Muhammad (sws), and that did work out very well. But considering the situation today, when we don't have such an ideal leader as the Holy Prophet (sws), when we have such a great lack of true tolerance, and when the Western nations uphold the concept of a democratic state, what should we do now? How should we answer their (the non-Muslims') concerns?
I would be obliged if you could help me understand this issue in a better manner. If it's not such a problem, could you also please give references to back your arguments, so that I can know where to look for a more detailed understanding on this matter?
Answer: One of the reasons why you feel inclined to accept a secular state more than a religious one is that the examples of the so-called religious states that we have seen in the recent times are not very impressive. However, Islam is based on the Qur'an and the Sunnah and not on the model of this or that contemporary Muslim state.
In an ideal Islamic state, people will have the right to believe in and practice whatever religion they feel comfortable with. In fact, their religious rights shall be protected just as the religious rights of the Muslims. Their places of worship shall be protected just as ours. The Qur'an says:
Had not Allah repelled some people by the might of others, the monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques in which Allah's praise is daily celebrated, would have been utterly demolished. Allah will certainly help those who help His cause; most surely Allah is Mighty, Powerful. (22:40)
The reason why I would demand an Islamic state is that I have accepted the entire Qur'an as the word of God. I read in it injunctions that are applicable on my individual life and there are others that are applicable on the society. Although I will most certainly look at the circumstances before asking for the enforcement of these injunctions that have to do with the society, I will not ignore my God's injunctions because they run contrary to the desires of human rights activists. It is a part of my belief that God Almighty is more intelligent than us and that He knows everything. I can't imagine how humans can come up with a law that is superior to God's. However, I must emphasize that the state would enforce Islamic shari'ah only when i) Muslims are in a majority and ii) proper arrangements have been made to make the environment conducive for implementing the shari'ah.
I find it very strange how fasting mentioned in the Qur'an should be considered okay for a Muslim but hundred lashes for adulterers mentioned in the same book should not. If both are from God, both have to be valid for me. The only difference is that one injunction is applicable on me as an individual while the other one is for the society to implement. To a secular minded person, both injunctions are from a religion that doesn't come from God and therefore both are unreasonable. However, if fasting helps an individual in getting satisfaction, he/she should not be stopped from doing it, but since hundred lashes are a public law, it should not be allowed to have any role in our society. To them, since Qur'an is not the book of God, it is unacceptable that it should have any role in influencing the public law. To a Muslim, the two injunctions are the same as far as their significance is concerned, but different only in the sense that the public law is only enforceable when the situation is conducive. This condition too is accepted because the Qur'an itself gives us reasons to believe that's how it should be done.
I hope I have answered your question, but do ask more if you think I haven't clarified some point.
Is Islamic Banking, in fact, Islamic?
Question: Could you please explain briefly, the difference between murabayhah (Cost-Plus Financing) and bay' mu'ajjal (Deferred Payment Contract), that are used in connection with Islamic Banking. Are they the same? I just could not get the difference between the two.
Answer: Because the proponents of Islamic banking have been obsessed with the idea of portraying Islamic-appearing, Arabic expressions for the products they proposed (which was an unnecessary exercise, at times even deceptive), they borrowed these two expressions (i.e. murabahah and bay' mu'ajjal) from the works of the earlier jurists.
Murabahah, as found in the earlier works, was simply a sale transaction in which the seller used to disclose the cost at which he bought the commodity and mentioned to the prospective customer, the profit (ribh) he proposed to add. bay' mu'ajjal, on the other hand, was simply a credit sale transaction. Our contemporary architects of Islamic banking merged the two by ingeniously borrowing cost plus element of murabahah and delayed payment element of bay' mu'ajjal. Even though both these arrangements were perfectly legitimate in their original classical forms, their illegitimate marriage has resulted in a hybrid that is a very good example of riba, even though it is jealously defended (for understandable reasons) at every forum of Islamic banking. The end result is that all neutral, unbiased observers are left wondering as to what then is wrong with riba if this murabahah/bay' mu'ajjal arrangement is okay. All people I have met, who have no "ideological commitment" to Islamic banking, unanimously agree that if there is any difference between riba (interest) and murabahah/bay' mu'ajjal, at least an ordinary intelligent person cannot figure that out. Despite this utter confusion, Islamic banking flourishes. Good luck to it!
I would want to know what the modern understanding of both these terms is. I have often tried to unsuccessfully understand the difference. Beyond semantics, I haven't found anything.
Helping the Poor with Money earned un-Islamically
Question: Is it allowed for a charity organization to buy prize bonds from its saving with the intention that prize money would also be used for charity purposes? I know that prize bonds are haram but in this era of economic exploitation, wouldn't it be okay for NGOs like Edhi etc, which exist in a country that does not have an Islamic economic system, to buy prize bonds not for personal benefit but for the poor? What about things like PSO loyalty card which announce prizes after every three month to its customers?
Answer: I believe that it is not allowed for organizations doing charitable work to invest their funds in any investment that is un-Islamic. If these organizations are doing their task to please the Almighty, they shouldn't do anything that displeases Him. God knows that there is suffering in this world. Had He willed, He could have removed it Himself. He has created this worldly life as a trial for us to go through it. It is a part of this trial that we should not do anything unlawful to come to the rescue of the poor. Therefore, all efforts undertaken to collect funds for the needy through methods that are un-Islamic are disallowed.
At the time of the revelation of the Qur'an there was a custom amongst the rich of the society that they used to come together at the time of droughts, and gambled and drank. Those amongst them who would win in gambling would spend the entire amount in charity for the welfare of the suffering poor. When the Qur'an started getting revealed some people started wondering what would be the Almighty's response to the custom which despite its evil aspects was extremely helpful for the suffering poor. The Qur'an responded with the following message:
They ask you about drinking and gambling. Tell them: "There is great sin in both, although they may have some benefit for men; but the sin is greater than the benefit." (2:219)