Frequently Asked Questions
The proper terminology used, in Islam, for God is “Allah.” There are a number of reasons for having a special word for God. First of all, the term “Allah” means, in Arabic, the one and only universal God or Creator and Provider of the universe. Notice here I am emphasizing “the one and only.” So a Muslim would not simply say, “There is one God.” That would not be as accurate or as strong an expression as saying ‘the one and only God’.
The main point to be emphasized here is that, unfortunately many of the writings that are found in various libraries in the West, which are not written from a Muslim standpoint or how Muslims understand Islam, depict Allah as if He is some type of a tribal Arabian God or even the ‘God of Muslims’. For example, they’d say Mohammed worshiped his Allah. Or Muslims worship Allah. Even if they use the term Allah they put it in such a way that leaves the reader or audience with the impression that maybe it is not exactly the same God.
The reason for considering the term Allah as more accurate, is that Allah is not only just a meaning of God it is also a personal name for God, both a reference to God and His personal name. This is beautiful in a sense. You don’t just say God but you can also say Lord but when you say Allah you’re invoking the name, the personal name, of God. It establishes a personal touch or a pull between the human being and the creator.
The other thing, which I consider also relevant, is that the term Allah, in Arabic, is not subject to plurality. For example, in English you can say God and you can also say gods. In Arabic there is nothing that is equivalent to [the English term] Gods, nothing whatsoever. In other words, there is no Allahs for example. This emphasizes the purity of Islamic monotheism.
A third reason, which is quite interesting as well, the term Allah does not lend itself to any gender. In other words, there is no female or male gender for the term Allah. In English you can have god and goddess. In Arabic, this simply doesn’t exist, which shows that the term Allah is a lot more accurate than using the term God even if you are using a capital G. At least it is relatively more accurate in conveying the true nature of the Supreme Creator.
There are many questions that come to mind when the name Jesus is mentioned. Some people say he was a prophet, others call him a god, while others say he was a very wise man. But whatever your idea is, one thing remains certain: he was not your ordinary man. So if there is something special about him, why all the confusion?
Just who was Jesus anyway?
Jesus lived about 2,000 years ago in ancient Palestine when the Roman Empire was at its zenith. He was not conceived in the usual way, but was implanted in the womb of a young woman named Mary. God simply commanded, “Be” and he was. In this sense, he was “a word” of God and a special sign for humanity. In fact, he was the last in a long line of religious guides sent to the Jews.
Mary, The Blessed
Mary was a righteous woman. Her mother dedicated her to God’s service even before she was born. As a child, she lived a life marked by health and righteousness, which others pointed to in admiration. She was raised by the wise Zechariah, who instilled in her, a beautiful sense of faith in God. When she had become a young woman, Mary sought to purify herself further before her Lord. Knowing that the hustle of life in the towns was distracting, she withdrew from her people to a sanctuary in the East. There she could meditate in seclusion and peace. Suddenly, on a day that seemed no different from the rest, an angel of God visited her, disguised in the likeness of a human. Afraid of so strange a sight, Mary prayed for protection, but the strange being reassured her and declared that he was a messenger from the Lord to announce the glad-tidings of a faultless son. Mary, astounded, asked how this was possible seeing that no man had ever touched her. But the angel replied, “Your Lord says, it is easy for Me …”. But when she felt the little child within her, she fled her sanctuary out of fear of what her family would do or say when they heard the news. Mary, however, was not to face hardship. When in her despair she cried out to God for oblivion, a voice soothed her and she found shade and a cool spring. Under a date-palm in the warmth of late summer, she made her dwelling and there bore the child unlike any other in human history.
Shortly thereafter, Mary returned to her community carrying the child who was to be called Messiah, Jesus, and son of Mary. When her people saw her with the baby in her arms they couldn’t believe their eyes, let alone accept her word. They refused to believe when she told of an angel who came and told her she was chosen above all other women to carry this burden. They accused her of infidelity and implied that she had ruined the family name. Mary, being overwhelmed, simply motioned towards the child meekly.
Now the child was the product of a miracle and consequently, miraculous things began to happen. In defense of his mother and of the truth, the infant Jesus spoke saying, “I am a servant of God. He has given me Scripture and has made me a Prophet. He has blessed me wherever I may be and has made prayer and charity my duty as long as I live.” This put the detractors to rest.
Throughout his youth, Jesus remained dutiful to his mother and developed quickly in intelligence, wisdom, and piety. He dumfounded the learned and was greatly admired by those around him who appreciated his talents. He claimed to be a sign of God and a Messenger to the Israelites.
His people had strayed from the spirit of truth and placed their trust in legalism, thereby burying their sense of mercy beneath dusty scrolls and rituals. Finally, when he came of age, Jesus began to travel and preach throughout the land of Palestine about a return to the truth of the old revelations and a rejection of all that man had added. In his task he was supported by the spirit of truth, the angel Gabriel.
The Gospel, His Message
He taught that love and mercy overcome hate and anger and that only a true and sincere faith in the Creator and obedience to His will can bring a person salvation in this life as well as in the next. To reinforce his message, which was called “Injeel” (Good News), God granted him the performance of miracles. He healed the sick, uplifted the distressed and revived the dead. All these things he did with the permission of God, never taking credit for them himself.
He led a simple and pious life. Soon he attracted an inner-circle of devoted followers who listened to his teachings with fervor and humility. These disciples, among them Peter, Barnabas, and John helped him carry the message of Divine Love to the people. They helped him in his mission.
A Test Of Wills
But no righteous man of God is without trial and tribulation. As the message of Jesus began to gain wider acceptance, a small clique of hypocrites and evil men began to plot against him. They were the priests and leaders of the Jews whose position and wealth depended upon their place as the sole interpreters of religion to the masses. They pursued him and his followers and eventually captured him. Though they abused him, he never renounced his faith in the one God. So in their anger they plotted to crucify him on a Roman cross. But Jesus slipped from their grip at the last moment, and all the while they thought they had succeeded. They were sure they had killed him but God answered Jesus’ prayer and saved him from their schemes. Confusion overtook the mob and they might have killed the man who betrayed Jesus instead. In any case, Jesus escaped from their grasp. Then God removed Jesus from this world into another dimension, to a place with Him, not to return until a later time.
With their teacher gone, the devoted followers of Jesus tried to maintain the purity and simplicity of his teachings. But they were soon besieged and overtaken by a flood of Roman and Greek influences, which eventually so buried and distorted the message of Jesus that only a little of its truth now remains. Strange doctrines of Jesus being a man-god, of God dying, of saint worship and of God being made up of different parts came into vogue and were accepted by many of those who took the name “Christians” centuries after Jesus.
The only records that have come down to us concerning Jesus are some sketchy biographical material, poorly researched and compiled, which can in no way be representative of the full and accurate Message of Jesus, the Son of Mary. The time of the final and incorruptible Message was not yet at hand. It would be left to the last prophet of God, Muhammad (peace be upon him), to clarify the truth from man’s additions and deletions.
Jesus taught the same eternal message that was taught by all the Messengers of God, from Adam, on through Noah, Abraham, Moses and ending with the mission of God’s last Guidepost to humanity, Muhammad (peace be on them all), whose coming was foretold by Jesus himself.
Every nation and every people, from the Aztecs to the Greeks, have received a Prophet or a Messenger from God. Jesus was the last of a series of Messengers sent to the Israelites, but they consistently strayed from the path of surrender to God. Each of the many Messengers spoke a different language and followed varied customs. Yet the core faith taught by each was the same: surrender your imperfect and fickle will to the perfect will of the Power that is greater than you. You will then find the peace and freedom that only the Creator of all things can provide. Then you must do what is right and good to your fellow creatures. This way of life is called Islam (surrender to God and find peace).
Abraham (pbuh) was born in a house of idolaters, in the kingdom of Babylon. His father Aazar was a well known idol sculptor that his people worshipped. As a young child, Abraham (pbuh) used to watch his father sculpting these idols from stones or wood. When his father was done with them, Abraham (pbuh) would use them as toys, riding on their backs, and kicking them at times. Then after a while, he would see these same statues in the temple, and people prostrating in front of them! Abraham (pbuh) asked his father: “Why do you take these toys to the temple?” His father said: “They are statues that represent our gods. We worship them, we ask favors from them, and we offer them presents.” Abraham (pbuh)’s mind rejected this idea, and he felt a repulsion towards the idols.
In search for the Truth
Time went by, and Abraham (pbuh) became a young man. He still could not believe that his people were worshipping the statues. He laughed whenever he saw them entering the temple, lowering their heads, silently offering the statues the best of their food, crying and asking forgiveness from them.
He started feeling angry towards his people, who could not realize that these are only stones that could neither benefit nor harm them. They could not be gods, they have no power. God is Greater than what his people were worshipping, Most Powerful, Most Magnificent. One could not find Him sitting on a table in a temple!
One night, Abraham (pbuh) went up to the mountain, leaned against a rock, and looked up to the sky. He saw a shining star, and told his people: “Could this be my Lord?” But when it set he said: “I don’t like those that set.” The star has disappeared, it could not be God. God is always present. Then he saw the moon rising in splendor and told them: “Could this be my Lord?” But it also set. At daybreak, he saw the sun rising and said: t “Could this be my Lord, this is bigger?” But when the sun set he said: “O my people I am free from all that you join as partners with Allah! I have turned my face towards Him Who created the heavens and the earth, and never shall I give partners to Allah.” Our Lord is the Creator of the heavens and the earth and everything. He has the power to make the stars rise and set. Abraham (pbuh) then heard Allah calling him: “O Abraham (pbuh)!” Abraham (pbuh) said trembling: “Here I am O my Lord!” “Submit to Me! Be a Muslim!” Abraham (pbuh) fell on the ground, prostrating and crying, he said: “I submit to the Lord of the universe!” Abraham (pbuh) kept prostrating until night came again. He got up and went back to his home, in t peace, full of conviction that Allah has guided him to the Truth.
Abraham (pbuh) invites his father to Islam
A new life started for Abraham (pbuh). His mission now was to call his people to the Truth. He would start with his father who was the closest person to him, and whom he loved so much. He said to him in the softest and kindest voice: “O father! Why do you worship that which doesn’t hear, doesn’t see, and cannot avail you in anything? O father, I have got knowledge which you have not, so follow me. I will guide you to a straight path.” His father replied angrily: “Do you reject my gods, O Abraham (pbuh)? If you don’t stop I will stone you. Get away from me before I punish you.” Abraham (pbuh) said: “Peace be on you! I will ask forgiveness of my Lord for you.”
Abraham (pbuh) confronts his people and rejects their idols
He left his father after he lost hope to convert him to the right path, and directed his efforts towards the people of the town, but they rejected his call and threatened him. By Allah, he said, I shall plot a plan to destroy their idols. He knew that a big celebration was coming soon, where everybody would leave town for a big feast on the riverbank.
After making sure that nobody was left in town, Abraham (pbuh) went towards the temple armed with an ax. Statues of all shapes and sizes were sitting there adorned with decorations. Plates of food were offered to them, but the food was untouched. “Well, why don’t you eat? The food is getting cold.” He said to the statues, joking; then with his ax he destroyed all the statues except one, the biggest of them. He hung the ax around its neck and left.
How big was the shock when the people entered the temple! They gathered inside watching in awe their gods broken in pieces. They wondered who might have done this? Then they all remembered that the young Abraham (pbuh) was talking evil of their idols. They brought him to the temple and asked him: “Are you the one who has done this to our gods?” Abraham (pbuh) said: “No, this statue, the biggest of them has done it. Ask them if they can speak.” “You know well that these idols don’t speak!” They said impatiently. “Then how come you worship things that can neither speak nor see, nor even fend for themselves? Have you lost your minds?”
They kept silent for a while, for he got a point there. Their minds and their senses were telling them that the Truth is with Abraham (pbuh), but their pride prevented them to accept it, and reject the idols they were worshipping for generations. This they thought would be total defeat. They started yelling at him and shouting: “Burn him! Burn him! Take revenge for your gods !”
The Miracle: Allah saves Abraham (pbuh) from the fire.
The decision to burn Abraham (pbuh) to death was affirmed by the priests and the king of Babylon, Nimrod. The news spread like a fire in the kingdom, and people were coming from all places to watch the execution. A huge pit was dug up and a large quantity of wood was piled up.
Then the biggest fire people ever witnessed was lit. The fire flames were so high up in the sky that the birds could not fly over it for fear of being burned ! Abraham (pbuh)’s hands and feet were chained, and he was put in a catapult to throw him into the fire. At that time, Angel Jibreel came to him and said: “O Abraham (pbuh)! Is there anything you wish for?” Abraham (pbuh) could have asked to be saved from the fire, to be taken away, but no, he said: “I only wish that Allah be pleased with me.” The catapult was released, and Abraham (pbuh) was thrown in the heart of the fire. But Allah would not allow His Prophet to be killed, He ordered the fire: “O fire! Be coolness and safety for Abraham (pbuh)!”
And the miracle happened. The fire obeyed and burned only his chains. Abraham (pbuh) came out from it as if he was coming out from a garden, peaceful, his face illuminated, and not a trace of smoke on his clothes. People watched in shock and said: “Amazing ! Abraham (pbuh)’ s God has saved him from the fire!”
Abraham (pbuh) debates the Babylonian king, Nimrod
Abraham (pbuh)’s notoriety grew bigger after this event and the king of Babylon felt that his throne was in danger, and that he was loosing power, because he was pretending that he was a god. He sent for Abraham (pbuh). He wanted to debate with him and show his people that he, the king is indeed the god, and Abraham (pbuh) was a liar. He asked Abraham (pbuh): What can your god do that I cannot?
-My Lord is He Who gives life and death.” Abraham (pbuh) said
-I give life and death. I can bring a person from the street and have him executed, and I can grant my pardon to a person who was sentenced to death and save his life.” The king said proudly
-Well my Lord Allah makes the sun rise from the East. Can you make it rise from the West?
The king was confounded. He was beaten at his own game, on his own territory, in front of his own people! Abraham (pbuh) left him there speechless and went back to his important mission, calling people to worship the one and only God, Allah.
Allah blesses Abraham (pbuh) with a son to become a prophet
Only a woman named Sarah and a man named Lot believed in Allah, and followed Abraham (pbuh). He realized that nobody else would listen to him, and decided to emigrate for the cause of Allah, and to spread His Message elsewhere. Before leaving, he tried once again to convert his father to Islam, but to no avail. Abraham (pbuh) said to his father and his people: “We are free of you and of whatever you worship besides Allah. We have rejected you and there has arisen between us and you enmity and hatred forever unless you believe in Allah and Him alone.”
Abraham (pbuh), Lot and Sarah started their long travel. They crossed Babylon, went through Syria and Palestine calling people to Allah, helping the poor and doing good deeds. By that time Abraham (pbuh) married Sarah. Their hope was to have children who would spread the Message of Allah after their death. As for Lot, he emigrated to the land of Sodom and settled there.
Time went by and no children were born to Sarah. She realized she was sterile. She accepted her fate and submitted to the will of Allah.
Abraham (pbuh) and Sarah moved to Egypt where the king gave Sarah a woman to be her servant. The woman’s name was Hajar. Sarah was seeing Abraham (pbuh)’ s hair getting white, and it grieved her to see his chance of having any child slipping away. She offered Hajar her servant as a wife to her husband, and prayed Allah to bless Hajar and Abraham (pbuh) with a child. And so came Ismail, a baby boy born to Hajar.
How unselfish Sarah was! For her, the need to have an offspring who would carry the Message after Abraham (pbuh) was greater than her pride. Fourteen years later Allah rewarded Sarah with a son, Ishaq in spite of her old age.
Young Ismail and his mother alone in the desert of Makkah
Abraham (pbuh) woke up one day and asked Hajar to prepare herself and baby Ismail for a long travel. Abraham (pbuh) and Hajar kept walking, crossed a fertile land followed by barren mountains till they arrived at the Arabian desert. Abraham (pbuh) brought Hajar to a high hill called al-Marwa, made her and her baby sit under a tree, placed a bag of dates and some water near her, and set out homeward. Hajar ran after him and said: “Are you going to leave us in this desert where there is no one to keep us company?” She repeated this many times but he would not look back at her. She asked: “Has Allah ordered you to do so?” He said yes. “Then He will not neglect us.” She said. Abraham (pbuh) walked away until he got out of their sight, he raised his hands and prayed Allah: “O our Lord! I have made some of my offspring dwell in a valley with no cultivation, by Your Sacred House, in order that they may offer prayers. So fill some hearts among men with love towards them, and provide them with fruits, so that they may give thanks.”
Hajar went on nursing Ismail and drinking from the water until it was all used up. She became very thirsty and the child was crying. She left him on the al-Marwa hill and hurried to the nearest hill, as-Safa. She stood there and started looking at the valley keenly so that she might see somebody, but she could not see anybody. She descended from as-Safa, crossed the valley running and reached al-Marwa hill. She stood and started looking but could see nobody. She kept running between as-Safa and al-Marwa seven times. When she reached al-Marwa for the last time, she was exhausted, she sat next to the baby. Then she heard a voice. She stood up and said: “O whoever you might be! Have you got something to help me?’ She saw an angel, Angel Jibreel, digging the earth until water flowed ! She built a little basin around it. She scooped water with her hands, drank, filled her water-skin, and nursed her baby. The place from which water flowed was Zamzam. Muslims till this day drink from the holy water of Zamzam, and during Hajj they walk between as-Safa and al-Marwa seven times to commemorate this event.
Some Arabs traveling through Makkah saw birds flying around alMarwa. “They must be flying around water.” They said. When they arrived at the water, they found Hajar and asked her: “Would you allow us to stay with you, and use the water from your well?” She agreed and was pleased by their company. The people sent for their families, settled there and became permanent residents. The whole valley became alive. Ismail grew up, learned Arabic, and later married a woman from amongst the Arabs.
Meanwhile, Abraham (pbuh) who had not seen his son since he was a baby, came back to Makkah to visit him. Upon arriving, he heard that Hajar had died, but Ismail was still living there. Abraham (pbuh) was yearning to see his son whom he loved and missed a lot. He saw Ismail under a tree near Zamzam, sharpening his arrows. When he saw his father, Ismail rose up, hugged him and greeted him. It was the happiest moment for both father and son. But Allah wanted to put them to test, and it was a tough test indeed. During one night, Abraham (pbuh) had a dream. He came to Ismail and said: “O my son ! I have seen in a dream that I am slaughtering you as a sacrifice to Allah, so what do you think?” They both realized that this was an order from Allah. Ismail said without hesitation: “Do what you are commanded, you shall find me very patient insha Allah.” They had both submitted to the will of Allah. Abraham (pbuh) laid his son prostrate, put his forehead on the ground and directed a sharp knife towards his neck. At this very moment, Allah called him: “O Abraham (pbuh)! You have fulfilled the dream! Thus do We reward the good doers !” A big sheep was sent down from heaven to be slaughtered instead of Ismail, which Abraham (pbuh) did, and they both had a big celebration that day. This event is celebrated every year by all Muslims. It is Eid al-Adha where we slaughter the sacrificial sheep.
Abraham (pbuh) and Ismail kept on calling people to worship Allah. At that time there was no place built for the worship of Allah. Abraham (pbuh) wished there could be such a place where people would be in peace, and concentrate solely for the worship of Allah. His wish was answered when Allah ordered him to build the Sacred House, the Ka’bah.
Abraham (pbuh) said to Ismail: “O Ismail, Allah has given me an order, will you help me execute it?” “Yes I will.” Ismail said. “Allah has ordered me to build a house here.” He said, pointing to a hillock higher than the land surrounding it. They went towards the place and started building the foundations of the Ka’bah Ismail brought the stones and Abraham (pbuh) built the walls, and when the walls became high, Ismail brought a large stone and put it in front of his father who stood over it and carried on building, while Ismail was handing him the stones.
Both of them went on building and going around the Ka’bah, saying: “O our Lord accept this service from us.” When they finished the building, Angel Jibreel descended from heaven and showed Abraham (pbuh) the rituals of Hajj. Then Abraham (pbuh) stepped on the stone and called on people: “O people obey your Lord.” This large stone which Abraham (pbuh) stepped on is still there to this day near the Ka’bah. It is called Makam Abraham (pbuh).
Thus ends the story of Abraham (pbuh), the father of the prophets. From him descended all the prophets who came later, including Moses, Jesus and Muhammad (peace be upon them all). Abraham (pbuh) devoted all his life calling others to the worship of One God. Alone he stood against his people, his father, and even the mighty king of Babylon, and never flinched. Yet his method was always to gradually persuade them by bringing irrefutable proofs, that most often embarrassed those who refused to accept the Truth, but as God said: “Any whom Allah leaves to stray, there is none to guide !”
The newest buzzword these days is ‘Shariah.’ As several states scramble to pass legislation to outlaw Shariah, a hyped fear and persistent confusion surrounds this loaded term. Most people who speak passionately against Shariah do not, in reality, understand it and often reduce it to merely a penal code. This introduction describes the universal principles of Shariah and its holistic approach. It further highlights misconceptions about Shariah in order to address the concerns currently surrounding this topic.
Shariah is an integral part of Islam. It is often defined as ‘Islamic law,’ causing one to assume that it consists mostly of criminal rulings and penalties. However, Shariah encompasses much more than the conventional understanding of law. While Shariah provides the legal framework for the foundation and functioning of a society, it also details moral, ethical, social and political codes of conduct for Muslims at an individual and collective level.
Islam is a faith that every prophet sent by God preached to his people, culminating in the message brought by the final prophet, Muhammad, peace be upon him (pbuh), in the 7th century in Arabia. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) called people towards the belief in one God and encouraged them to be just and compassionate to one another. In Islam’s holy book, the Quran (also spelled ‘Koran’), God explains that he sent Muhammad (pbuh) as a source of mercy for humanity: “And We have not sent you, [O Muhammad], except as a mercy to the worlds.” (21: 107)
His mandate for mercy is symbolic of the overall message of Islam. The Quran states, “O mankind! There hath come to you a direction from your Lord and a healing for the (diseases) in your hearts, and for those who believe, a guidance and a Mercy.” (10:57)
In the same spirit, the essence of Shariah is also characterized by mercy and compassion. The very purpose of Shariah is to facilitate the individual and the community to establish a relationship with God and one another. Its rules and regulations are designed to benefit and protect all members of the society. God declares in the Quran, “O you who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin…” (4:135)
According to Ibn al-Qayyim (d. 1350), one of the great scholars of Islam, “The Shariah in its entirety is justice, mercy and benefit. So any issue that leads from justice to injustice, or mercy to its opposite, or benefit to harm, then it is not from the Shariah, even if someone thought that it is.”
Shariah is an Arabic word that literally means a ‘vast road leading to an uninterrupted source of water.’ Figuratively, it refers to a clear, straight path, as mentioned in the following Quranic verse: “Then We put you, [O Muhammad], on a straight way concerning the matter [of religion]; so follow it and do not follow the inclinations of those who do not know.” (45:18) Hence, Shariah is the practical guidance Muslims live by. It is rooted in the divine teachings of Islam and relates to all aspects of life. Its collective aim is to facilitate justice and benefit for humanity in this life and the hereafter.
Shariah is derived from the scholarly study of Islamic texts. These texts include the final revelation from God (Quran) and the recorded teachings of Prophet Muhammad (Sunnah) which are timeless and of divine origin. However, scholars derive specific rulings from the revealed texts by using human effort and interpretation, taking into account the surrounding context. As such, Shariah relies on scholarly consensus, legal analogy, and interpretive reasoning in deciding rulings. Hence, there are areas of Shariah where the scholars unanimously agree due to clearly defined evidence and areas where disagreements exist. This flexibility enables Shariah to maintain its applicability and relevance in the light of changing social, cultural, and historical circumstances, while remaining faithful to the guiding principles of Shariah and its core objectives.
Objectives of Shariah
To fulfill its intrinsic goal of achieving benefit and justice, Shariah sets forth certain timeless principles, which deal with the necessary, supplementary, and voluntary realms of human lived experience.
Firstly, Shariah preserves basic human rights in order to maintain harmony in society. This necessary protection applies to all members of society, irrespective of their race, religion, or ethnicity. These rights are classified as faith, life, progeny, property, and intellect. These fundamental protections ensure freedom of religion, affirm the sanctity of life, validate the importance of family, guarantee the security of assets, and uphold the power of reasoning.
As with any liberties, certain provisions in Shariah open avenues for advancement whereas some are designed to keep people from stepping over the rights of others. In his essay titled “The Objectives of Shariah,” Dr. Mohammad Hashim Kamali, former professor of law at the International Islamic University of Malaysia, explains that Shariah encourages work and trade so that individuals are able to earn a living. Similarly, Shariah urges the pursuit of knowledge and education to ensure the intellectual growth and development of people. On the other hand, theft is punishable because it threatens the inherent right of property. In addition, adultery and alcohol consumption are prohibited because the former violates the sanctity of the family unit and the latter has the potential to impair one’s intellectual capacity, leading to the abuse of other people’s rights.
After securing these necessities, Shariah supplements them by removing hardships. God states in the Quran, “God wants ease for you, not hardship.” (Quran 2:185) He also says, “And He has imposed no difficulties on you in religion.” (Quran 22:78) The permissibility of hunting for food and profit sharing, for instance, are concessions which facilitate human life. Likewise, the prohibition of exploitative or doubtful contracts prevents harm.
Furthermore, God assures, “… if one is forced by necessity, without willful disobedience, nor transgressing due limits, then he is guiltless, for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.” (Quran 2:173) This has given rise to the Islamic legal principle, ‘Necessities make the prohibited permissible.’ For instance, fasting during Ramadan is obligatory. Yet, if someone cannot fast due to a medical reason, they may skip the fasts in that month and compensate for them through alternatives outlined in Shariah.
Lastly, after protecting the essential rights of people and granting complementary concessions, Shariah focuses on additional and voluntary factors that enhance and refine life. For instance, fasting outside of Ramadan is added worship which falls under this category. Developing good habits and perfecting one’s interpersonal skills are also extra deeds. Similarly, desires and comforts which beautify life, such as fine clothing, nice furniture, and delicious food, are incorporated here, provided one does not indulge in them at the cost of their physical and spiritual health.
The necessary, supplementary, and voluntary principles within Shariah all seek to promote its primary objective: to achieve benefit. In its broadest sense, benefit encompasses this life and the afterlife, the individual as well as the society, the present and the future. Human intellect requires the comprehensive knowledge and guiding wisdom of God to achieve this benefit in its entirety. Indeed, God has ordained Shariah for the benefit of His creatures and it exemplifies His Mercy.
A Way of Life
Shariah is much more than ‘Islamic law’ because it is not limited to legal issues. While it covers areas of contracts, family law, and international relations, it also includes a social system that encourages the just and generous treatment of neighbors, the preservation of the environment, and caring for the poor and oppressed, along with personal acts of worship such as prayer, fasting, and charity. In fact, Shariah contains a detailed code of conduct. Here are some examples from the Quran (final revelation of God) and Sunnah (teachings of Prophet Muhammad, pbuh):
• “And speak good words to all people.” (2:83)
• “The servants of the Lord of Mercy are those who walk humbly
• on the earth, and who, when the foolish address them, reply, ‘Peace’.” (25:63)
• “God loves those who seek to purify themselves.” (9:108)
• “…whoever pardons and makes reconciliation – his reward is [due] from Allah. Indeed, He does not like wrongdoers.” (42:40)
• “… those who are patient and do righteous deeds; those will have forgiveness and great reward.” (11:11)
• “The believer does not defame, abuse, disparage, nor vilify.”
• “You do not believe until you love for your brother (in faith and in humanity) what you love for yourself.”
• “The world is green and delightful and God has put you in charge of it and is watching how you behave.”
• “Show mercy to those on earth so that He Who is in Heaven (God) will show mercy on you.”
• “Make things easy on people and do not make them difficult, and cheer people up and do not put them off (by your behavior).”
In addition, Shariah seeks to protect all the vulnerable segments of society. The following is a brief list of these:
• Women have the right to education, to marry someone of their choice, to divorce, to work, to own and sell property, to vote as well as to participate in civic and political engagement, and to be protected by the law.
• Zakah, an obligatory charity, is collected from individuals who fall above a specific income bracket, amounting to 2.5% of their wealth. This money is redistributed to eight different groups of needy people and institutions, starting with the local needs first.
• Children have rights that Shariah protects, including the right not to be abused. When parents get a divorce, custody is granted according to the child’s benefit.
• Caring for the poor, orphans, widows, and the elderly is a collective responsibility of the community.
• Animals are to be treated with kindness, and cruelty towards them is a grave sin.
The primary theme in all of these examples is the individual and collective effort to achieve benefit in material, moral, and spiritual spheres of life through mercy and compassion.
Misconceptions about Shariah
Many people think Shariah forces Muslims in America to reject the U.S. Constitution while others openly assert that American Muslims want to replace the U.S. Constitution with Shariah. In reality, this is not true. Shariah actually demands that Muslims follow the law of the land. This command is binding so long as they are not forced to commit an irreligious act or prevented from fulfilling their religious duties. Thankfully, this is not the case in the U.S. because the Constitution protects freedom of religion.
In fact, the U.S. Constitution and Shariah have much in common. The Constitution begins with, “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution of the United States of America.” These stipulations are very similar in nature to the objectives of Shariah, as described above. In addition, Shariah is comparable to the laws of other religious communities, such as Jewish customs in terms of dietary restrictions, aspects of ritual purity, and a detailed code of conduct.
As any other faith-based community in America, Muslims may disagree with certain laws enacted by the majority, and may exercise their right to peaceful persuasion, in order to bring about a change. However, this free and peaceful expression of ideas can hardly be deemed a threat, given that the Constitution itself guarantees this right for every individual under the First Amendment. Indeed, a healthy attitude toward differences of opinion is a source of enrichment for our common culture.
The aspects of Shariah related to a Muslim’s ability to practice Islam, such as prayer, fasting, and charity, do not conflict with Common Law. However, differences do arise in some matters. For instance, the laws of inheritance in Shariah are distinct from those in Common Law. In this case, Muslims have utilized means provided by the Common Law, such as writing wills in accordance with Shariah, in order to be faithful to their religion while following the law of the land.
Peaceful coexistence is mandated by Shariah. When a Muslim lives in the U.S., they are doing so while agreeing to follow the law of the land and this agreement is binding upon them according to Shariah. In the Quran, God commands Muslims to fulfill their covenants: “O you who have believed, fulfill (all) contracts.” (5:1) God also commands Muslims, “Fulfill your agreement with them to the end of their term. God loves those who are mindful of Him.” (9:4)
Therefore, attempts to outlaw Shariah are not only absurd, they can potentially alienate millions of peaceful, law-abiding Muslims currently living in America. After all, Shariah safeguards essential rights such as acts of obligatory worship, instructs Muslims regarding their dietary regulations, and encourages them to be pious, truthful, and tolerant individuals. Misguided efforts to outlaw Shariah would in fact impede Muslims from practicing the very basics of their religion, from praying and fasting to consuming food according to Islamic guidelines. Hence, these anti-Shariah bills are far from securing Americans from an impending threat and actually infringe upon the rights of the American Muslim community.
Contrary to its distorted image, Shariah is a comprehensive social and legal system which is an integral part of a Muslim’s life. Its guiding principles are based on mercy and compassion and its core objectives are designed to achieve benefit and justice, on an individual as well as collective level.
Perhaps the greatest misunderstanding about Islam today is that it is an inherently violent religion whose followers condone acts of terrorism. In reality, terrorism and indiscriminate violence completely contradict the teachings of Islam. Islam is a religion of mercy and ethics. It encourages people to beautify their relationship with God and with those around them through good character and deeds. This pamphlet addresses several misconceptions regarding Islam and violence; in the process, it shows that terrorism inherently conflicts with Islam’s foundational beliefs and teachings.
The Quran, the divinely revealed scripture of Islam, displays an extraordinary respect for human life: “…if anyone kills a person – unless in retribution for murder or spreading corruption in the land – it is as if he kills all mankind, while if any saves a life it is as if he saves the lives of all mankind” (5:32). At another point, the Quran states, “…do not take the life God has made sacred, except by right. This is what He commands you to do: Perhaps you will use your reason”(6:151).
Muhammadp, who Muslims revere as God’s final messenger to humanity, listed murder as one of the major sins. He warned his followers, “The first cases to be settled between people on the Day of Judgment will be those of bloodshed.” Muslims are even prohibited from indiscriminately harming animals, and have been taught by Prophet Muhammadpthat “there is reward in kindness to every living thing – animal or human.”
Furthermore, Islam encourages people to bring about benefit and good for others in every way possible. In the Quran, God (Allah in Arabic) praises those who have given preference to others over themselves (59:9). Prophet Muhammadp has said, “God constantly helps the one who helps his brother,” and, “Even a smile or kind word is charity.” There is particular emphasis in Islam on helping the downtrodden in society, especially orphans, the poor and needy. Muslims are instructed by their faith to work for the betterment of their communities, societies and the world at large. Simply put, Muslims are commanded to build, not to cause harm or destruction.
Consequently, Muslims struggle on a daily basis to uphold a treasured spiritual principle: to strive, to endeavor, to exert. It may be to purify oneself of negative habits, to care for one’s aging parents, to cope with loss, to spend one’s wealth on charitable causes, to communicate the word of God or to speak truthfully in the face of an unjust ruler. In other words, they perform jihad.
The Meaning of Jihad
Jihad is often mistranslated as ‘holy war’ – a term that actually has no equivalent in the Quran. Jihad literally means ‘striving’ and refers to any struggle a person engages in for a righteous cause. Muhammadp explained that a fundamental form of jihad is the internal struggle an individual tackles in order to reform one’s self.
Physical struggle is one of the many dimensions of jihad. Islam permits engagement in war for purposes of self-defense and combating oppression, after all efforts at peace fail. God proclaims in the Quran: “Why should you not fight in God’s cause and for those oppressed men, women, and children who cry out, ‘Lord, rescue us from this town whose people are oppressors! By Your grace, give us a protector and give us a helper!’” (4:75).
Although the combative form of jihad and terrorism are often linked in people’s minds, there are key differences between the two. For example, jihad is limited to combatants while terrorism causes the death of civilians. Also, jihad is bound by strict rules of engagement but terrorism has no such limits. Hence, it’s important to distinguish between terrorism, constituting of cruel, vengeful attacks, and physical jihad, which is a dignified form of conventional war.
Rules of Warfare
The objectives of warfare in Islam are to establish justice and end oppression; the motive for combative jihad can never be to forcefully convert others or to seize territory and resources. God permits self-defense in the Quran by stating, “To those against whom war is made, permission is given (to fight), because they are wronged” (22:39). While consent is given to defend oneself, it should never lead to injustice against others. God says in the Quran, “Fight in God’s cause against those who fight you, but do not overstep the limits: God does not love those who overstep the limits” (2:190).
There are also very strict restrictions and rules for engaging in warfare. No fruit-bearing trees, crops, animals or infrastructure should be destroyed. Properties should not be damaged, and poisoning water sources is forbidden. The opposing side must be treated justly, with the wounded and prisoners of war given fair and humane treatment. More importantly, non-combatants are never to be harmed. Prophet Muhammadp instructed his followers, “Do not kill any elderly person, woman or child,” “Do not kill people who are sitting in houses of worship” and “Do not kill the monks in their monasteries.”
Hence, Muslims must maintain high ethical and moral standards even during war, and strive to cease the conflict as soon as possible. Their goal should always be to achieve peace and justice. As God declares in the Quran, “If they incline towards peace, you must also incline towards it, and put your trust in God: He is the All Hearing, the All Knowing”(8:61).
A Persistent Myth
Despite the facts, many people continue to associate Islam with violence. According to Karen Armstrong, a renowned author of books on comparative religion, this is a “received idea” from the times of the Crusades, which is being reinforced with the current cycle of violence.
“Islam does not preach violence, it does not preach vicious holy war; it certainly does not condone terror, suicide bombing or anything of that sort. Like all of the great world religions, it preaches compassion and justice, and that is why it has been a success,” emphasizes Armstrong.
Unfortunately, many associate even the success of Islam with violence, mistakenly believing that Islam was spread by the sword. In Islam, the matter of one’s faith is a personal choice between an individual and God. God explicitly says in the Quran, “There is no compulsion in religion” (2:256).
In the early history of Islam, when Muslim rule stretched from Western Europe to China, the various peoples living in these lands were not forced to convert to Islam. They were free to keep their own religions, though many chose Islam over generations. In numerous places, Islam spread via trade, communication and peaceful assimilation. For example, Islam reached Indonesia through Muslim traders dating back to the 13th century C.E. Today, Indonesia is the largest Muslim majority country in the world, with more than 200 million Muslims.
In his 1923 work, Islam at the Crossroads, historian De Lacy O’Leary refutes the myth that Islam spread by means of violence. He states, “History makes it clear … that the legend of fanatical Muslims sweeping throughout the world and forcing Islam at the point of the sword upon conquered races is one of the most fantastically absurd myths that historians have ever repeated.”
The worshippers of the All-Merciful are they who tread gently upon the earth, and when the ignorant address them, they reply, “Peace!” (Quran, 25:63)
Indeed, tolerance and coexistence with people of other religious traditions have been the hallmark of Muslim societies historically. Muslims are commanded by their faith to safeguard the rights of minorities and ensure that their religious sentiments are respected.
This is particularly the case with Christians and Jews, who are mentioned in the Quran as ‘People of the Book.’ Muslims are required to protect their right to worship according to their respective religions, and to safeguard their houses of worship. Proof of this can be seen in the existence of old churches and synagogues throughout the Muslim world, including places like Turkey, Egypt, Palestine, Syria and Bosnia. This is evidenced by the presence of significant non-Muslim populations in many Muslim-majority countries as well.
A substantial number of Muslims also live in peaceful coexistence with people of other faiths worldwide, including China, India, England, Nigeria and the United States. As minorities, Muslims are obliged to adhere to the laws of the land in which they live. They are considered to have entered into a covenant of protection with the government that must be honored and respected.
No matter where they reside, Muslims are taught by their faith to maintain kind and respectful treatment of others. In the Quran, God repeatedly reminds us of our common humanity. He states, “(God) created you all from a single man and a single woman, and made you into races and tribes so that you should recognize one another. In God’s eyes, the most honored of you are the ones most mindful of Him”(49:13).
A Global Epidemic
In keeping with its rich history, the vast majority of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims condemns all forms of unjustified violence and has worked to bring positive, uplifting changes in their communities. Unfortunately, popular media tends to ignore these contributions, focusing more on the sensational and violent actions of fringe groups and individuals. This reinforces an oversimplified and inaccurate image of Islam and Muslims, reducing both to a caricature of violence and terror.
Islamic scholars and organizations worldwide have publicly affirmed that the misinterpretation of Islam to justify acts of violence against innocent people is completely against the basic teachings of Islam. They have also vocally denounced terrorist attacks. These condemnations have come from renowned authorities on Islam across the world, including the Islamic Law Council of North America, the European Council for Fatwa and Research, the Islamic Council of Spain, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, scholars from Al-AzharUniversity in Egypt, the scholars of Deoband, India, as well as numerous others.
At the same time, it is important to recognize that terrorism is a global epidemic that manifests itself in various forms and afflicts practically every community that is mired in political and social problems across the globe. In other words, while terrorism involving Muslims represents a deviation from Islamic principles, it is by no means confined to Muslims alone.
In a world full of conflict, the most effective way in which we can combat terrorism is by building bridges of compassion and cooperation – no matter what our races, ethnicities or religions may be. Only then can we come closer to our shared goals of security and peace, thereby sanctifying life just as God intends us to – not only for ourselves, but for future generations as well.
Note: The subscript p next to Prophet Muhammadp represents the invocation Muslims say with his name: May God’s peace and blessings be upon him.
“O Mankind! Fear your Lord who has created you from a single soul, and from it He created its mate; and from them both, He brought forth multitudes of men and women. Be mindful of God through Whom you demand your mutual (rights), and revere the wombs that bore you. Surely, God is ever watching over you” (Quran, 4:1).
From the very beginning of the human saga, God makes it quite clear that men and women are equal beings created from one single soul, sharing the same father and mother, and subservient unto the same Lord. The verse mentioned above came to the Messenger of God, peace upon him (pbuh), at a time when women were being humiliated and oppressed.
God says: “…and when the female child, buried alive, will be asked: For what sin was she killed” (Quran, 81:8-9) This refers to an ancient practice of the Arabs (and even some modern societies through abortion) who would kill their female children out of fear of being humiliated in the community as only sons were prized, or out fear that they would not have the means to provide for them. Islam eradicated this heinous practice, amongst others, and after twenty-three years of prophetic teachings it had conferred upon women a status that was previously unthinkable.
Women possess independent religious responsibility
The first revelation—“Read in the name of your Lord who created…” (Quran, 96:1)— left the Prophet, pbuh, severely shaken, for he could not comprehend such an event happening to an unlettered, orphaned, desert Arab. It is related that he was consoled by his wife, Khadijah, may God be pleased with her, who believed in him and comforted him in a time of great need and distress. A successful and independent business woman of noble lineage, she was the backbone of his initial efforts for the advancement of the new faith. (Read more about Khadija here.)
After three years of secrecy, Muhammad was ordered by God to call his own family to the faith. He gathered his family and openly called upon them to believe in his message. Towards the end of the narration of this event, he specifically says to ‘Abbas b. ‘Abdul Muttalib, his uncle: “I cannot benefit you on the Day of Judgment.” He uttered the same statement to his aunt, Safiyyah bint ‘Abdul Muttalib, and to his daughter, Fatima. He added: “Ask me of my wealth in this world, but on the Day of Judgment I cannot avail you in any way.”
In this initial invitation to the faith, the Prophet, peace upon him, specifically named two women and one man, demonstrating that women possess independent religious responsibility that has no connection to their gender. This independence in faith is exemplified by the fact that the wives of Noah and Lot, peace upon them, both rejected faith. Hence, the Quran affirms that even the wife of a Prophet is free to believe or disbelieve.
Furthermore, Umm Habiba became a believer while her father was a staunch opponent of the Prophet (he accepted Islam later in his life). At the second Pledge of Aqabah, a covenant that involved specific political and strategic obligations, the Prophet, peace upon him, took an oath from both men and women. He was not content to have women confined to their houses and divorced from any involvement in public affairs.
‘One fourth of our religion depends on the narrations of women…’
The Quran, the most sacred and important source in Islam, was memorized by many of the Companions. After the Battle of Yamama, where a large number of those memorizers were killed, Umar advised Abu Bakr to issue a standardized edition of the entire Quran in the dialect of the Quraish. Abu Bakr issued such an edition and vouchsafed its protection. After his death, it passed into the protection of Umar and after his passing, it was given to Hafsah, the daughter of Umar, to be carefully guarded and preserved. During the caliphate of Uthman, it was noticed that divergent and erroneous recitations of the Quran were emerging among the newly converted non-Arab people in places like Armenia and Azerbaijan. Uthman then borrowed the edition of the Quran held in Hafsah’s protection to make six standardized copies to send to the major political and cultural centers in the Islamic realm. He ordered all non-standardized editions to be burned. It is clear here that no one questioned Hafsah’s trustworthiness as to whether she would lose, neglect, or alter the edition vouchsafed to her. (Click here to read more about Muslim female scholars.)
In the time of the Companions, the question never arose concerning the validity of learning directly from women. If we were to consider, for example, the books of prophetic tradition (hadith), in every chapter you will find women narrating as well as men. Imam Hakim Naisapuri states: “One fourth of our religion depends on the narrations of women. Were it not for those narrations, we would lose a quarter of our religion.” For example, Abu Hanifah considers there to be four units of supererogatory prayer before the obligatory noon prayer, whereas the remaining Imams say that there are only two. The latter depend on the narration of Abdullah b. Umar while Abu Hanifah relies on Umm Habiba and the other wives of the Prophet, peace upon him. Abu Hanifah argues that since the Prophet used to pray supererogatory prayers in his house, the narration of his wives is stronger.
Similarly, major events such as the beginning of the call to Islam were specifically narrated by women. Ayesha alone narrates the tradition detailing the circumstances of the first revelation, as recorded by Imam Bukhari, immediately after the hadith mentioning that actions are judged based on the intention accompanying them.
Another example regards performing ablution which is essential for the validity of ritual prayer. A female Companion, Rubiyya bint Muawidh b. Afrah, whose family members died in the Battle of Uhud, was a great narrator of hadith. Her narrations can be found in Bukhari, Muslim, Ibn Majah, and other compilations. She narrated how the Prophet performed ablution, actually witnessing his performance of the purification ritual. The Companions would go to learn from her despite the fact that Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman, Ali, Muadh b. Jabal, and Abdullah b. Masood, may God be pleased with them all, were all present in Medina. She was regarded as the expert in the performance of ablution. Her students included the likes of Abdullah b. Abbas and his father, the great Quranic exegete, and also a member of the family of the Prophet. He never asked: “Why should I learn from her when I am from the family of the Prophet and great exegete?” The same is true for Ali Zain ul-Abideen, the great grandson of the Prophet and a great scholar himself. Their resolve was to go to whoever possessed knowledge, irrespective of their gender.
Interestingly, there is no single hadith which has been rejected from a woman on account of her being deemed a fabricator or a liar. Imam Dhahabi affirms: “There are many men who have fabricated hadith. However, no woman in the history of Islam has been accused of fabrication.” In light of this, if the intellectual integrity of either gender would be questioned, it would be that of men. Women have always truthfully conveyed religious knowledge.
Adapted from an article published in Message Magazine.