What does Zikr mean?

July 6th, 2015

God has vowed to preserve the Quran Himself. He says, most emphatically, in verse 15:9,
“Verily, it is We who sent down the Zikr and verily, We surely shall be of it Preservers.” (15:9)

The word Zikr (with a fricative Z as in this or that) means mention, remembrance or reminder. The syntax and context are what determines which semantic is meant. The scholars have been unanimous that the Zikr mentioned in 15:9 is the Quran. What they did not agree on is whether it is only the Quran. The reason they thought other items may be included in the Zikr in 15:9 is the apparent implication of other verses. For instance,
“And We sent down to you the Reminder that you may make clear to the people what was sent down to them and that they might reflect.” (16:44).

In this verse, if the Zikr is only the Quran, then what is “what was sent down to them”? Isn’t that the Quran also? That is why many scholars have opined that the Zikr here refers to the Hadeeth.

But if the Zikr includes the Hadeeth, then it too must have been preserved by God. While the strict Muslims take that position, historical evidence begs otherwise. While the Quran was written down before the death of the Prophet (PBUH), and committed to memory by thousands of people, the Hadeeth was not written down for two hundred years after the Prophet’s death. It was only then that the Hadeeth was meticulously authenticated and less than one in ten narrations have been found to be authentic. This means that the Hadeeths evaluated as authentic can be relied on in matters of the religion, but it also means that the Hadeeth was not preserved, or else it would not have required such massive effort to authenticate.

Therefore, I respectfully disagree that the Zikr refers to the Hadeeth, or includes it. So, how can we explain 16:44?

The key to understand 16:44 is to notice the word “people” in it. People include non-Muslims! Thus, what this verse is saying is that one of the functions of the Quran is to clarify to non-Muslims the scriptures which were sent to them, e.g., the Torah and the Gospel.

This conclusion is backed up by a later verse in the same Chapter,
“By God, We did certainly send [messengers] to communities before you [, O Muhammad], then Satan embellished for them their works, so he is their ally Today and for them is a painful torment.

And We have not sent down upon you the Book [, O Muhammad], but so that you may clarify to them what they differed about and as guidance and mercy for a folk who believe.” (16:63-64)

16:63 makes it clear that the pronoun “them” in 16:64 refers to followers of prior scriptures.

A reader may jump in here and quote,
“And We certainly did write in the Zaboor (Psalms), after the Remembrance (Torah), that the land – shall inherit it My righteous worshipers.” (23:105)
and argue that the Torah has been described as the Zikr. It was. But then, it was humanly altered thus it ceased to be Zikr. Only the original, pure revelation from God qualify as Zikr. The only scripture that God has vowed to preserve Himself is the Quran.

The Grace of gradual revelation

March 3rd, 2015

The style of the revelation of the Quran was gradual, over a period of 23 years. A command would initially be revealed in much general terms. This was done to ease Muslims into the new Divine regulations. When the initial command is absorbed by Muslims, God followed it with more details about it, such as how to implement it properly. Many scholars thought that subsequent commands were abrogation of the initial command! But that is incorrect, since abrogation means cancellation, and the initial command always remained in force.

A good example of that is the prohibition of drinking alcoholic beverages. The first command God sent down on this issue was,
“And from the fruits of the palm trees and grapevines you take for yourselves intoxicant and good provision. Verily, in that is a sign for a folk who reason.” (16:67)
Here is a very subtle indication that intoxicants are not a good thing. God leaves the word without an adjective to describe it, but He follows the word “provision” with the adjective “good.” Those who got the hint, Umar ibn Al-Khattaab (RA) was one, understood that God is not pleased with alcoholic beverages.

A subsequent command was then revealed,
“They ask you about intoxicants and easy gain (gambling). Say: In them is major sin and benefits for people. But their sin is bigger than their benefit.” (2:219)
So, those who did not notice before are now left with no doubt that alcohol is bad. Notice that this verse does not abrogate 16:67, because not describing something as being good is tantamount to describing it as more bad than good!

Then, a third command was revealed,
“O you who have believed, do not approach prayer while you are intoxicated until you know what you are saying, ” (4:43)

Now the matter is getting serious; intoxication prevents a Muslim from even approaching a prayer! Still, many people thought that it was OK to drink outside prayer times! They still didn’t get the hint. You see why God is walking them those baby steps? It is very hard for a society used to drinking alcohol to quit that habit. They need training. That is what God was doing, out of His Grace, by the gradual revelation of these commands. Notice also that this verse does not abrogate either of the aforementioned verses, because not praying while drunk does not mean drinking is allowed.

Finally, the prohibition was revealed in no uncertain terms,
“O you who have believed! Verily, intoxicants, easy gain (gambling), [sacrificing on] stone alters [to other than God], and divining arrows are but defilement from the work of Satan, so avoid it that perhaps you may prosper.

Verily, Satan only wants to drop between you enmity and acrimony through intoxicants and easy gain (gambling) and to shun you from the remembrance of God and from prayer. So, are you ceasing?” (5:90-91)

It is of particular interest to notice that Chapter 5 was one of the very last chapters of the Quran to be revealed. That means that the prohibition of alcohol took the entire period of revelation between Chapter 16 and Chapter 5, almost a decade!

That is just one example of why the Quran may not start off a command with the clear statement outright.

Is friendship between a man and a woman allowed in Islam?

January 6th, 2015

This question is actually the second of three very related questions:

  1. Can a man talk to a woman whom he can legally marry (non-Mahram)?
  2. Can non-Mahram men and women be friends?
  3. Can a non-Mahram man and a non-Mahram woman be alone together?

The reason these three questions are related, and the reason this is an issue at all, is because of the intensity of the physical attraction between men and woman, which, if not controlled, almost certainly will lead to sex. Sex between men and women who are not married to each other is a major sin in Islam. The Quran calls it a debauchery and lists it as one of the very few offenses for which it has set a legal punishment.

To answer the third question above, the Prophet (PBUH) made it unambiguously clear that the answer is no. He said, as narrated by Ibn Abbaas (RA), “Let not a man be alone with a woman, except if with them is a Mahram (a man whom she cannot marry)”, authenticated and reported by both Al-Bukhaari and Muslim.

Why is that? After all, if people are respectful of each other and are God-conscious, they can be trusted not to engage in sin, right?

Wrong! The best people sin, because they’re human and because Satan has taken upon himself to seduce them into sin with whatever means available to him. You will hear people say, in justification of falling into the sin of fornication, “We did not plan this. It just happened!” They did not plan it, but it did not just happen! It was what was sure to happen.

To illustrate this point further, think of this parable. You are going to walk down Baker Street to get to a grocery store. I know that there is a great deal of construction work being done on Baker Street and that there are no warning signs. I know that even if you were careful where you step, you are almost certainly going to fall into one of the many holes there. If you decide to ignore my advice and take Baker Street anyway, and then fall in one of its pits, whom would you blame?

Therefore, if you can say with complete confidence that being face-to-face friends with a woman will never result in the two of you having sex outside matrimony, then the answer to the second question is yes!

But can you? The odds are against you.

If the friendship is not face to face, then the odds improve considerably. That is because a man is visually stimulated.

Bear in mind too that human emotions, such as love and loneliness, and desires, such as lust, often develop in an irrational way.

Similarly, we can answer the first question: if talking one-on-one to a woman will never lead to the two of them having sex, then the answer to that question is yes. Many scholars have ruled against it though, because they fear the worst, do not trust human nature, or simply to be on the safe side.

So, in summary, you can be friends with a woman whom you legally can marry if you can fulfill all of the following conditions:

  • Neither of you will ever engage in a suggestive dialog,
  • Neither of you will ever make an advance at the other, and
  • The two of you will never be alone together anywhere.

That being said, knowing human nature, especially if you are a young man, and knowing the constant whispering of Satan, the above conditions practically rule it out.

Drawing images of living beings

October 16th, 2014

Forgive my bad English (I’m from Spain).
I heard that Prophet Muhammad said that making a picture of a human or animal being is haram (prohibited) and in the Day of Judgement God will ask us to turn our pictures to life. Is it true? Can’t we paint this beings?
God bless you

Your English is just fine! Thanks for writing. And may God bless you too for doing the research and verifying what you hear. Too many people simply take for granted what they have been told, without ever attempting to ask themselves if it is true.

The hadeeth you refer to is authentic. It was narrated by Ibn Abbaas (RA) and reported by Al-Bukhaari. Another version of it, also reported by him, was narrated by Ibn Umar (RA).

Those two hadeeths, and there are other, use the Arabic word صورة “Şoora”, which in today’s Arabic is often used to mean a picture, but it actually means “likeness” and that is how it was used by the Arabs of the Seventh Century. The word for picture is actually رقم “Raqm”, which in today’s Arabic has come to mean marking or engraving.

This distinction can be discerned from another authentic hadeeth, reported by Muslim and narrated by Abu-Talha, where the Prophet (PBUH) made an exception from the prohibition a raqm on a cloth. It is, therefore, reasonable to conclude that the prohibition applies only to three-dimensional images, i.e., statues, figurines, embossed images, etc.

The ending of the two hadeeths of prohibition give away the reason for the prohibition. It’s what Americans call “playing God.” That is, the attempt by humans to do things that only God may do. Creation of living beings is God’s domain only.

This prohibition is not unique to Islam. The exact same thing is said in the Second Commandment, prohibiting making engraved images and bowing to statues.

This is the key to understanding the prohibition of sculpting images of living beings. It is God’s protection of us from Shirk (associating others with Him in worship).

One may think that shirk is far-fetched in today’s educated world. One, therefore, may think that this prohibition may have been called for in ancient times, when shirk was rampant, but not relevant in today’s sophisticated societies. But that is not actually the case! There are millions of people in today’s sophisticated world who pray to statues. Many even bow down to images on the wall. Many believe that a token or a figurine will bring them good fortune, heal them or stave evil away from them. All of that is shirk.

Why is shirk so dangerous? Because it creeps on people’s psyche, with enthusiastic help from Satan, until they are detached from God. That is the greatest loss.

Tawheed (the oneness of God) is the central teaching of Islam. It is also the subject of the First Commandment. God is teaching us to worship Him only and abandon any hint of worship of anyone or anything else – not because He needs it, but because we do. Human nature is such that we look for idols, literal or figurative. We keep aggrandizing the people we admire. Americans have coined a good term for that: hero worship. Shirk can be subtle.

The issue at hand is not art, creativity or expression, all of which are allowed in Islam. Rather, it is the kind of art, creativity or expression that is dangerous to our souls.

Dispropotionate expiation?

July 22nd, 2014

I have a question regarding fasting. I heard that if one were to intentionally break 1 day of their fast without any good reason then they would have to fast 60 consecutive days. Now when I heard this I was a little surprised as I never heard of such a thing. But when I looked it up on the internet I found out that it is a real thing.

Now I read it was from a hadith but a lot of hadiths out there aren’t authentic and have a lot of problems. This particular hadith in my initial opinion contradicts the Quran where Allah says that he doesn’t want to ‘burden us more than we can bear,’. And where the prophet says in a hadith that ‘this religion is easy and to not make it hard on yourself’. With that said, 60 days of fasting for only missing one fast is a little excessive for me and doesn’t seem like a fair thing. And I don’t think that that is something Allah wants for us.

So can you please clear up this issue for me and explain this hadith and this whole “60 day fast for only missing 1 fast type thing”?

Both Adam and Satan disobeyed a direct order from God. Yet, God forgave Adam and gave him a second chance, while He cursed Satan till the Day of Judgment. Why?

The difference between the two is that Adam recognized his error, regretted it and begged God to forgive him. Satan, on the other hand, refused to acknowledge that he did anything wrong and did not even attempt an apology to God. Adam knew his place; Satan deemed himself too big. Adam admitted his mistake; Satan argued with God. Adam bowed his head; Satan thumbed his nose. Adam submitted; Satan arrogated.

When you say “missed one day of fasting”, you’re not being accurate. Missing implies inability or forgetfulness. When one can fast but won’t, it’s not called missing, it’s called defiance. Missing is excusable; defiance is not.

That is why the expiation (“Kaffaara”) is different for each. The expiation for excusable breaking of the fast is one day of fasting later, or feeding a poor person a day’s worth of meals. The expiation of inexcusable breaking of the fast is to fast two consecutive months or feed sixty poor people. It is to teach the sinner humility before God. God does not benefit an iota from our worship. We do. It is in the best interest of the servant of God to be reminded of his place whenever he transgresses. If God leaves a sinner to himself, then know that the sinner is a lost cause, a hopeless case.

That is why the expiation, as harsh as it looks, is not disproportionate at all, nor unfair, nor contrasting God’s grace. Rather, it is tough love. A needed training of the believer who was headed the wrong way.

As for the hadeeth that tells us what the expiation is for inexcusable breaking of the fast, it was narrated by Abu-Hurayra and reported by Al-Bukhaari, Muslim, Abu-Daawood and Ibn Hibbaan. It is authentic. However, it is specific about mating during the fasting day. Scholars have concluded, however, that other inexcusable acts may be expiated the same way by analogy (Qiyaas). In other words, mating is just one example.

The expiation, according to this hadeeth is (a) freeing a slave, or, if not possible, (b) fasting two consecutive months, or, if not possible, (c) feeding of sixty poor persons.

The role of intention

April 15th, 2014

I read this somewhere that we will be judged by God because of our INTENT (نیتنا). Do you believe that INTENT نية is more important than performance? (as reported by Ali and Ja`far As-Saadiq, may God have been pleased with them).

If you’d agree with me then should I keep going? I still haven’t made a decision. If I choose not to, it won’t be because of my situation (calamity). I swear to my dear Lord that it’s not about misfortunes of my life. Maybe everyone hates me, even my family, all people except kids.

I just wanna see the truth, wanna see God, wanna see my Dear Lord because I believe that it would be enough for me, I’ll endure those flames just for that sight of Him. Then I’ll rest even in hell.

That will be the INTENT behind my action, so tell me as a man of God, not personal answer, as someone who knows the truth (Allah) and have a task to share that, is this forbidden too to make such a decision?

I’ve nothing to contribute, because of your perfect site, but pray. May our Dear Lord bless your soul.

Thank you for you kind words about the blog and for your prayer for me. May God accept it and give you same.

How do you know that you will see God? There is no evidence that this will happen except for the people of Paradise. The Prophet (PBUH) said, “When the people of Paradise enter Paradise, God will say to them, ‘Do you want more I can add for you?’. They will say, ‘Did You not admit us to Paradise and save us from the Fire?’. Then the veil will be uncovered. They would never be given anything more beloved to them than looking at their Lord.” Narrated by Suhayb ibn Sanaan and reported by Muslim who rated it authentic. In another narration of the same hadeeth, he subsequently recited, “For those who did good is the best reward and more.” (10:26)

Thus, you assumption that you may see God either way has no basis. If what you are talking about is committing suicide, God forbid, then you should know that it is the only terminal sin in Islam. All other can be remedied in time.

It is also unforgivable, regardless of the intention behind it. One day, in a battle, a man was quite the warrior. His fellows were praising his valor, but the Prophet (PBUH) surprised them by saying, “He is in the Hellfire!” Shortly thereafter, the man was so badly wounded and in so much pain that he killed himself. Now the Sahaba understood the Prophet’s prophesy about him. The Prophet (PBUH) also said that a man from the prior nations had a painful open wound, so he committed suicide. Then God said, “My servant preempted Me with himself; I have forbidden him Paradise.” (Narrated by Jandab ibn Abdillah and reported by Al-Bukhaari). If, God forbid, you should commit suicide, you would lose both this world and the Hereafter. I pray that you come to your senses and expel Satan who is whispering such delusions into your ears.

The reality of this world can certainly be hard. God made that clear to Adam, “So, We said, ‘O Adam, verily this (Satan) is an enemy to you and to your spouse, so do not let him evict you from the Garden lest you should suffer.'” (20:117)

But does that mean we should abandon living and renounce the world? If that were true, how come the Prophet (PBUH) and all his noble companions were fully engaged in the world, in spite of all its trials, tribulations and unpleasantness? The Prophet (PBUH) had uncles who cursed him and even plotted to kill him. And what did he do? He kept friendly relations with them to the end. As a matter of fact, he practiced forgiveness, largess and graciousness.

If renouncing the world was a teaching of Islam, don’t you think that God, or His messenger, would have told us so?

This world was meant to mix the good and the bad, the wholesome and the filthy, the right and the wrong, guidance and loss. How else would the free will that man took on be exercised or tested? Why do you think God keeps telling us in the holy Quran to endure, keep the faith and do good? It is precisely because human nature would lead man to despair, lose faith and detach from the world otherwise. Maybe even drink to forget. Satan is counting on it!

Life is a finite opportunity to gain God’s approval and earn His reward. This can only be done if we maintain the right faith, remain steadfast on the Straight Path, fulfill our obligations, accumulate good deeds, expiate sins and call upon God to accept what we do right and pardon what we do wrong.

Finally, the role of intention is to validate good deeds. A charity could be intended for show-off. It may still be beneficial but it ceases to be a good deed – the kind that gets recorded in one’s book of deeds. A sin remains a sin regardless of the intention that preceded it. Intention is what differentiates the sincere from the hypocrites. That is why God judges by it, and only He fully knows it.

Answers to quizzes 19-25

April 5th, 2014

19. Noah (PBUH) to his son who remained a disbeliever and tried to escape the Great Flood by taking shelter in a high mountain. Verse 11:42.

20. Prophet Shu`ayb (Jethro)’s daughter. She recommended Moses (PBUH) to her father as a hired hand for he is “strong and trustworthy.” Verse 28:26.

21. Righteous man Luqman preaching to his son. Verse 31:18.

22. Prophet Saalih (Mesoselah), PBUH, to his destroyed people who refused to believe in his message. Verse 7:79.

23. Young Abraham (PBUH) to the idols in his city’s temple. Subsequently, he axed them all, but the biggest one, to make the point to his people that these statues they worship cannot even defend themselves. Verses 37:91-92.

24. Pharaoh’s sorcerers, impressed by the magic performed by Moses. They included his brother Aaron too, although Aaron is not mentioned performing any magic. Verse 20:63.

25. Joseph (PBUH) after the wife of the nobleman kept pursuing him for an illicit affair. Verse 12:33.

Is Islamic inheritance law unfair?

March 23rd, 2014

The British newspaper The Telegraph published today an article with the heading “Islamic law is adopted by British legal chiefs”. The author, John Bingham, alleges in the article that British lawyers will now for the first time be able to write wills for their clients that “deny women an equal share of inheritances and exclude unbelievers altogether.”

Is that true? Have testators never been able to exclude from their wills heirs they resented, or wished to penalize, and given some heirs more than others and even given people who were totally unrelated to them a large portion of their estate? I doubt that, since the English law, as far as I know, regards the testator as the sole owner of his or her estate and therefore the only one who has a say in how the estate is to be distributed. Probate courts only interfere when a litigator contests the will as being contrary to common standards of fairness.

One article I found, written by a lawyers group, spells out how a testator can disinherit some heirs. I’m sure you can find many other.

However, is Bingham’s Islamophobic allegation true about Islamic law? Does Islamic law of inheritance deny women an equal share of inheritance and exclude unbelievers altogether?

Not quite as stated. The reason women inherit half of what men inherit is because Islamic law requires men to financially support women! If this requirement is not found in a Muslim community, then the division becomes invalid. I hope that the legal guidance the article refers to has taken into consideration that important proviso. Bingham really should have asked about it before he published his article.

And what about non-Muslims, can they possibly inherit from a Muslim? While some schools of thought do not allow it, there really is nothing in the Quranic verses that makes that ruling. A Muslim testator certainly can specify a bequest in his will, not to exceed one third of the estate, to be given to any one person or group who is not a regular heir.

The questions and answers page of this software may answer more of the readers questions about Islamic law of inheritance. God says in the holy Quran “Verily, God does not wrong even the weight of a speck.” (4:40) Don’t let Islamophobic writers give you the wrong impression about God.

Bingham also reports in the article that the legal guidance documents will exclude out-of-wedlock children and adopted children from inheriting. Is this true? Apart from the fact that any British testator can probably do that already under British law, Islamic law does not deprive out-of-wedlock children. The Quran does not say they are excluded! As for adopted children, they are not regular heirs for the reasons we explained in previous posts, but they can inherit by way of a bequest.

Next Islamophobic allegation in the article is the exclusion of people married in a church or in City Hall! Where is that written exactly in the Quran? If the reader can point to the verse, I’d appreciate it.

Is that guidance document “the first step on the road to a parallel legal system” for British Muslims, as the article quotes some campaigners? My humble answer to this question is that it can be, but never has to be. It all depends on how Islamic law is defined. If the definition is made by a school of thought, or some influential person, then the fears expressed in the article are legitimate. But that does not qualify as Islamic law. Islamic law is the Quran and the authentic Hadeeth, properly interpreted according to universally recognized logic, called in Islamic disciplines Usool-ul-Fiqh (Foundations of Deduction). Anything else is somebody’s opinion.

This whole issue of fear of “Sharia”, which resulted in several American states banning Sharia altogether, mixes two things which are not always related: Islam and Muslims! What Islam teaches is not necessarily followed by Muslims, and what Muslims do is not necessarily taught by Islam. To ban unfair laws is a good thing regardless of who wrote those laws. But to ban something based on misunderstanding it, or on mixing it with something else, is unwarranted.

If I were to advise the Law Society of Britain, I would only say that what they are told is Sharia may not be. It could simply be a tradition, or somebody’s refutable interpretation, and therefore should not overrule British law. They and the detractors and even many Muslims may be surprised to learn that much of British law has always been Sharia-compliant. In fact, the beginnings of the English Common Law were much influenced by Islamic law.

Quizzes 19-25

March 3rd, 2014

Another round of quizzes to test your knowledge of the Quran 🙂

Who is quoted in the Quran saying the following, and under what circumstances?

19. “My dear son, ride with us!”
20. “My dear father, hire him!”
21. “And do not puff up your cheek to people!”
22. “I gave you sincere advice, but you do not like sincere advisers!”
23. “Won’t you eat? Why don’t you speak?”
24. “These two surely are magicians.”
25. “Lord, prison is more to my liking than what they invite me to!”

Moral atheists?

February 15th, 2014

As-Salaam-Alaikum,
I would like to know, what is the Islamic response to those people (atheist, agnostics, etc.) who say that you can be moral without religion?

They say this because since they don’t believe in God or any religion for that matter that that you can be a good moral person without God or religion. In a way I kind of understand where they are coming from but then I kind of feel like something is wrong with their statements.

What is the Islamic response to people who say things like this?

Thanks!

Morality cannot be forced on people but it can be enforced by law. That is, a society can arrange itself such that certain values it considers paramount are upheld and others it considers harmful are stopped by force of law. But that is a different question altogether from people committing themselves willingly to certain moral values. We see all parents raising their children to certain moral values they believe in, but the children may not observe them when they grow up. And we also see the flip side: parents neglecting moral teaching of their children, yet the children acquire moral attitudes when they grow up!

Islam teaches us that non-Muslims can be moral and furthermore can do good. The Quran says, “And verily, among the people of the Book are those whom if you entrust with a Qintaar (a heap of money), he would deliver it to you” (3:75). God also tells us in the Quran that “whatever good they (non-Muslims) do, they will not be denied it” (3:115).

That is why, when non-Muslims do good to us, we are required to reciprocate with good. Asmaa’ bint Abi-Bakr had migrated to Medina, but her mother, Qateela bint `Abdil-`Uzza, remained in Mecca and remained polytheist. Then one day, Qateela traveled to Medina to see her daughter and brought her a gift. Asmaa’, however, wary that she must sever her relationships with polytheists, refused to let her in the house and would not accept her gift! The Prophet (PBUH) heard of this and told Asmaa’, “Accept her gift and be good to your mother.” Narrated by Abdullah ibn Az-Zubayr (Asmaa’s son) and reported by Al-Haythami and has been rated well by Ibn Hubbaan.

So, if religion is not a pre-requisite to morality, then why is religion necessary? Religion’s purpose is not only to establish a moral code, but also to establish a bond between man and God, a bond man feels very strongly. A bond that atheists cannot explain away. That affinity is ingrained in all of us since before we were born. God says in the holy Quran, “And [mention] when your Lord took from the children of Adam – from their backbones – their offspring and had them testify of themselves, [saying to them], ‘Am I not your Lord?’ They said, ‘But yes. We have testified.’ [This] – lest you should say on the day of Resurrection, ‘We were of this unaware.'” (3:172)

Besides, moral values vary with people. What is immoral to some may not be to others. And what is moral to some may not be to others. God has given us in the Quran the true moral code to live by. And He had His Prophet (PBUH) teach it to us in the authentic Sunna.