I Need Guidance
Question: I am PhD student at CUNY New York. Recently I am struggling with a question posed by some colleagues as well as my 7 yrs old son. In our Islamic center, one guest Islamic scholar said that we have no right of saying that the ahl-i kitab are going to Hellfire. Let Allah decide who is going to Hellfire and who is going to paradise.
One guy in the audience raised the point quoting from the Qur'an and Hadith literature that whoever do not believe in Prophet Muhammad (sws) and oneness of Allah will go to Hell, despite his good deeds, and this should be part of our iman. They started arguing with each other and some harsh conversation developed. Since then I am thinking on this issue.
Will a classmate of my son, who is growing up in a typical Christian or Jewish family, going regularly to church or synagogue, getting all teaching from his parent, not receiving true message of Islam from anyone, will go to Hell?
The colleague in the Islamic center replied to me that "these days there is no one who doesn't know about Islam due to media and internet". But I am wondering that majority of people are receiving negative news/views about Islam. If they didn't receive the rue message, how come they are accountable?
Answer: Everyone is accountable to God Almighty on the basis of what he/she knows. "Allah doesn't burden a soul more than what it can bear" (2:286).
Muslims are therefore going to be accountable for what they know about the message they acknowledge to be from God: Islam. Non-Muslims are going to be accountable, likewise, for what they honestly thought to be from God.
There are three areas of understanding about which, according to the Qur'an, all humans are informed a priori, to a lesser of greater extent: God, Hereafter, and good deeds. Therefore, the Qur'an says: "Indeed the believers [Muslims], the Jews, the Christians, and the Sabeans, whoever amongst them believes in God, Hereafter, and does good deeds, for him is a reward with his Lord: he will neither fear for the future nor would he have regrets for the past" (2:62).
What it implies is that if a person gets convinced that a certain message is from God, then it would be a part of the expectation from him that he submits himself before that message. If he wouldn't do that, his belief in God would be questionable. However, we have no right to claim that a certain individual hasn't accepted the message of God knowingly. It's the All-Knowing God only Who can decide about it.
God Almighty has informed us that the people who chose to remain non-Muslims during the times of the prophets were kafir (the one who rejects God's message despite knowing it to be from Him). All kafirs are destined to Hell. I don't know whether non-Muslims of other times are guilty of the same crime or not, nor does anyone else know about it for sure. We should therefore not form any opinions on it. Our job is to understand the message of God, follow it, and present it intelligently to the non-Muslims. The rest should be left in the Hands of the Almighty, Who is the best of judge.
Some Questions on Modesty and Identity
Question: The reason why I am writing to you today is that I am and have been struggling with an issue for a long time now and would like to know your perspective on the issue so that it might help me come to a resolution. I have worn a hijab for around 9 years. When I decided to start wearing it, it was because I thought it was something that should be done; so why delay. I did not look into the religious, rational or any other type of debate or arguments for or against it at that time. It was just something accepted that was supposed to be done. A few years ago, I started to read other perspectives on the issue of covering ranging from views that expressed it is not required in Islam at all to views arguing modesty in context to a view arguing complete covering including the face as required. In reading these interpretations and applying them to my own rational understanding, I have tried to put a strong emphasis on Islamic textual interpretation as well as social norms and modernity. I do believe that the Qur'an and Sunnah are primary, but I also believe that the social context and practical life are also important. Also, in the end, regardless of which view might sound "correct", it will be a personal decision that one must make. More recently, I have been weighing the "costs and benefits" of the head covering. I feel it is a big part of my identity and an example of my faith, and it is mainly for these reasons that I do continue to wear it. On the other hand, I have questioned my feelings toward it both as a part of faith and as part of my identity. This questioning began while I was in Pakistan, so it is not simply a result of living in the US Although it is a strong identifier, good or bad, in the US it is almost equally the case in Pakistan or any other Muslim country (other than those that impose covering on women). There are a number of reasons why I would consider taking off the covering, and this includes reasons of religious interpretation and flexibility, personal ease and comfort in wearing it in various environments, and other reasons which vary in importance. I am afraid that I continue to wear it not so much because of a religious dedication but because I have just become used to it and would feel strange without it. I wouldn't want my reasons for covering to be based on familiarity only. My question to you is: what is your perspective, religious and otherwise, on the head covering? What is your view on the different opinions I have mentioned relating to how the references for modesty for women are interpreted? Does the Qur'an simply state there should be modesty, and therefore, the form that this takes would depend on the social context or is it clearly meant to imply covering the hair at all times? I have not come to a decision on this issue, but I believe that if I did decide to not wear it all the time (as opposed to deciding to not wear it at all - which is not something I am considering at all), I would wear it when the context would require it, i.e. in the masjid or a Muslim gathering to show respect, or in certain areas in say Muslim countries where such a form of modesty is the norm and where in such a context not covering would be unusual. On the other hand, I believe that the modesty shown should be a little beyond the typical definition of modesty in that context, i.e. In America wearing loose clothing that covers the body in a clearly modest fashion, opposed to the normal standards. I hope that I have made my views clear. I do appreciate the scarf and see the value in it, but I also wanted to clarify the concept of modesty in Islam and how this can be interpreted in practical life. Any guidance you can provide would be very helpful.
Answer: My understanding of what constitutes the obligations of modesty of men and women towards each other when they are interacting is that they should abide by the following rules of interaction:
1. Muslim men and women are not to gaze at each other in suggestive ways in mixed gatherings.
2. Muslim men and women must cover their private parts properly.
3. Women, in addition, should cover their bosoms with an extra piece of cloth.
4. Also, in case if they are wearing ornaments or are otherwise have beautified themselves, women should conceal their beautification from non-mahram relatives, except in the case of their faces, hands, and feet. (24:30-31)
Other than that, according to my understanding, their is no obligation for both men and women, except that they should very clearly know that the Almighty has asked us not "to come near obscenity, both hidden and apparent". (6:151)
Given this understanding, I believe that covering of the head is an additional measure which good Muslim ladies have always adopted but has never been a necessary part of the shari'ah for them. However, if in a situation where you find yourself getting teased by men or else feel uncomfortable in their presence, the Qur'an has asked you to cover yourself as much as you can to stay away from their evil. "O prophet, tell your wives, your daughters, and the women of believers, that [in case of danger of being teased] they should lower their outer part of garments on themselves. That is more likely to ensure that they would be recognized and would not be teased" (33:59).
Given the above understanding, I think what you are intending to do in this regard is well within the limits of Islam. May the Almighty enable us all to follow the right path.
Will everyone be Forgiven in the Hereafter?
Question: A renowned Sufi scholar, in a rare public appearance, gave a lecture at LUMS on the life after death. In his lecture, he quoted a Hadith, which said that the Almighty will eventually forgive all human beings and they will enter Paradise. He claimed that this Hadith was correct, as the sequence of narrators has been traced. What do you think about this view? I understand you may feel awkward to comment on a guest's views but I hope you will not ignore this serious and important question.
Answer: The question whether the Almighty will forgive every one or not in the hereafter has been dealt with most unequivocally in the Qur'an in a number of verses. Perhaps the clearest passage in this respect is the one where the Almighty has responded to a misunderstanding of the Jews which is similar to the one mentioned in your question. The Qur'an says:
The Jews say: "The fire shall not touch us except for a few days." [O Messenger], say: "Have you obtained such a promise from Allah which He would not break? Or do you assert against Allah what you do not know?" Nay! Those who commit evil and become encircled in sin are the inmates of Hellfire; they shall live there forever. (2: 80-81)
In another passage the Qur'an says:
Surely Allah will never forgive the one who commits the sin of shirk [polytheism] and may forgive anyone else if He so pleases. One who commits shirk has indeed gone far away from the right way. (4: 116)
I can't understand how one can form an opinion contrary to what has been mentioned so clearly in the Qur'an. The Qur'an is the book of Allah, preserved for all times to come (Qur'an; 15: 9). It is al-Furqan: the ultimate criterion for sifting right from wrong (Qur'an; 25:1). The Prophet (sws) was required to follow each and every word of it (10:15). I am not prepared to imagine for a moment that he could have said anything that goes against a clear verdict of the Qur'an.
The Concept of Mediation through the Dead
Question: A Hadith says:
A companion went to the grave of the Messenger of Allah and said: "Oh Messenger of Allah, ask Allah to give rain to your ummah; they are close to perish. "
al-Bayhaqi and Ibn Kathir in his Tarikh said that this Hadith is sahih.
If the Prophet (sws) was "dead," why do you think the companion did tawassul (mediation) through him? If tawassul was shirk, why do you think a companion would do that? If the companion was wrong, why are there no reports of other companions forbidding him from doing that? Simple answer is that tawassul is allowed, even after one passes away! What do you say?
Answer: The Qur'an condemns the practice of ascribing partners to God as an unpardonable crime (4: 48, 116). The Book of Allah mentions some of the lame arguments the polytheists used to present to justify their crime and rejects them by pointing out their flaws. One of the arguments the people of Makkah used to present to justify their shirk of praying to deities other than God has been mentioned by the Qur'an thus:
And those who take helpers besides Him [say]: "We worship them only that they may bring us near to Allah." (39:3)
The Qur'an responds to this claim by saying:
Indeed Allah will judge between them concerning that wherein they differ. Truly Allah guides not him who is a liar, and a disbeliever. (ibid)
In another verse the Qur'an says:
And when My slaves ask you about Me, [tell them] I am indeed near to them. I respond to the prayers of the supplicant when he calls on Me. So let them obey me and believe in Me, so that they may be led aright. (2:186)
We also know that immediately after the death of the Prophet (sws) Muslims had to go through many serious problems. None of the senior companions even once asked the Prophet's grave to be approached to get some help from God. Now we are being told that doing so is a perfectly acceptable exercise because Bayhaqi informs us that a companion did something that justifies tawassul. My questions on this claim are:
1. Why are such incidents not mentioned in Bukhari, Muslim and other more authentic books of Ahadith?
2. Who was this companion and what was his status compared to the rest of the companions?
3. Did this incident actually come to the notice of the companions who never tolerated even an inch of deviation from the message they had received from the Prophet (sws)?
4. Do our friends who claim that tawassul is a part and parcel of Islamic teachings feel comfortable on the basis of just one incident mentioned in Bayhaqi while loads of evidences both in Qur'an and Hadith are suggesting that this act is likely to be categorised on the day of judgement as the most serious crime imaginable? It's an unnecessarily serious risk that they are undertaking. It's difficult to imagine what motivations could there be behind following such a risky trail. I would urge these people to make sure that their motivation in doing so is not what the Qur'an has already rejected in the following way as an unacceptable religious reason for doing anything:
When it is said to them: "Follow what Allah has sent down", they say: "No! Instead, we shall follow what we found our elders doing." (2:170)
As for the question of asking a living person to pray for us, it is a completely different matter. It has been reported that the companions of the Prophet (sws) used to request others to pray for them. Since the one requested was alive, there was no religious problem in seeking help from him. For a person who is dead, to seek his assistance in getting a prayer heard by the Almighty should first be sanctioned by the Qur'an or the Prophet (sws) in clear terms. It is not enough for tawassul through the dead to show that those who die don't actually perish but are living at another level. Although that claim is true in case of all people who die -- good or bad -- yet there is no religiously valid proof to show that we, the living, can establish contact with the dead people directly. Therefore to ask a living person to pray for us is very different from asking the dead to do the same.