Islamic Voice A Monthly English Magazine

August 2007
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Our Dialogue

Preaching Islam After the Prophet

Q.1. Some people claim that 100,000 companions of the Prophet (Pbuh) left the Middle East after the Prophet’s death and travelled throughout the world to preach Islam. Could you please shed light on this and whether they left their women and children back home?

A. After the Prophet (Pbuh), the Islamic state he established in Arabia faced serious challenges by the two superpowers of the time, the Persian and the Byzantine Empires. Both wanted to smash the new state, as they felt that it represented a threat to them. Therefore, the Muslim rulers who succeeded the Prophet, Abu Bakr, Umar and Uthman, had to raise armies to fight on both fronts. The numbers that these combined armies included was well below the figure you have quoted. The Muslim army that fought the major Battle of Yarmouk in southern Syria was less than 30,000, scoring a resounding victory against a force that exceeded 200,000 of the Byzantines. This Muslim army was the largest concentration of Muslim forces at the time. Others, which were fighting in Iraq and Egypt were much smaller. Amr ibn Al-Aas led an army to Egypt which was only 4,000 men strong. Further reinforcements were sent to him doubling the forces under his command. Despite facing enemies on several fronts and having to fight battle after battle, Umar issued a general order to all commanders that no married soldier should be away from his family for more than four months without taking a home leave. Needless to say, when you join an army expecting to fight the enemy, you do not take your wife and children with you.

It took around 25 years for the situation to calm down and settle, during which large areas came under Islamic rule, including the whole of Syria, Egypt, Libya, Iraq and Iran. As things settled in some areas, some of the Prophet’s companions also settled there and they taught what they learned from the Prophet. This, however, was done at the individual level. There was no mass exodus or organized plan of any missionary work. When some of the Prophet’s companions wanted to leave Madinah, immigrating to the new areas that came under Islamic rule, Umar ordered them to stay in Madinah. He needed some of them to help in the running of the state, but he did not wish others to become celebrated personalities among new Muslims in the liberated areas. As for travelling further for the purpose of spreading Islam, this was not done by the Prophet’s companions, except perhaps in very few cases. Islam does not have any such strategy.

Celebrating Birthdays

Q. I know that celebrating birthdays is un-Islamic, but is it permissible to express good wishes to people on their birthdays?

A. Some scholars maintain that celebrating birthdays is a practice of unbelievers which is forbidden to follow. It may be so, if the intention is to follow in the footsteps of unbelievers. However, the overwhelming majority of Muslims who mark their own or their children’s birthdays have no such intention. They simply use the day as a platform for some celebration, inviting relatives and friends to spend sometime together in an atmosphere of joy and relaxation. Islam certainly has not encouraged such an activity, but there is no specific prohibition either. A matter which has no express verdict in Islam remains permissible unless a certain factor applies to make it otherwise. In this case, the factor is imitating unbelievers. Therefore, the verdict is subject to the intention of the person arranging it. Expressing good wishes to people we know on their birthdays is permissible.

Removing Armpit Hair and Pubic Hair

Q. What is the ruling regarding removing armpit hair and pubic hair? How often? Does it apply to both men and women?

A. Plucking or removing armpit hair and shaving pubic hair is a recommended practice, which means that we earn a reward when we do it, but incur no sin when omitting to do it. The Prophet (Pbuh) has recommended us to attend to this once in no more than 40 days. This applies to both men and women.

Shortened Version of Names

Q. People call each other or their children by a shortened version of their names, which may have no meaning. Is this permissible?

A. People always call their friends and children by some endearing names that could be a short version of their full names. There is no harm in that, as long as the person concerned does not mind and the nickname does not carry any association that is contrary to Islamic values.

Young Children Attending Congregational Prayers

Q. Back home, children who are at the mosque when congregational prayer is held are forced to stand in a row behind the congregation, while here a child stands next to his father. People at home argue that children may leave during the prayer and cause a disturbance, or that they may not be clean. Please explain.

A. Children who should form a row behind the congregation are those who are able to manage by themselves and are well aware of the meaning of prayer and how to conduct it. These are the ones who are about 10 years of age. Yet there is no harm if they stand within the ranks of the congregation. On the other hand, young children who feel insecure when they cannot reach their parents should stand close to them so that they do not disturb the congregation by crying or running around when the prayer is in progress.

We have a famous Hadith when the Prophet (Pbuh) was leading the prayer in the mosque and one of his two grandsons mounted him as he was in prostration. The Prophet (Pbuh) remained in that position until the child came down. It took a long time and some people in the congregation feared that something might have happened to the Prophet. When the prayer was over, they asked the Prophet what had happened. He said: “This son of mine rode on my back and I did not like to interrupt his fun. I waited for him to come down.”

Needless to say, the child was less than seven years of age. Had he been over seven, he would have been taught to pray and stand in the congregation. He was allowed to play in front of the congregation, near to his grandfather, the Prophet, as he led the prayer. In his play, he was tempted to ride on his grandfather’s back and the Prophet let him have his fun. This may happen to any of us. There is no harm in it. As for children being unclean, no Islamic duty is required of children below the age of seven. As long as there is no visible impurity on the child, we do not need to worry about this issue.

Position of a Person's Hands During Prayer

Q. What is the proper position of a person’s hands during prayer?

A. The Prophet (Pbuh) did many aspects of prayer in different ways at different times, to indicate that there is no special preference, or that all these ways are acceptable. Thus he made it easy for us to offer our prayer, choosing the position we are more comfortable with. His companions reported these. Those who saw him in a particular position more often reported that it was his preferred one. Therefore, we have different reports by different companions. This is the original cause for the variations that we see today. Thus, you notice a person who follows the Shafie school of fiqh putting his hands close to his heart, while a Hanafi puts them over the middle of his abdomen and a Maliki leaving them to his two sides. All these positions are acceptable and rely on some evidence. You can do any of them and your prayer is correct, regardless of your school of thought.

Women's Group Travel

Q. Can a group of women travel together, without a male companion, to undertake a mission of advocacy, i.e. dawah? Sometimes they travel abroad and sometimes within the same country? Such a trip may take them a week or even longer.

A. Islam requires that a woman does not travel unless she is accompanied by a mahram, i.e. her husband or a close relative, such as her father, brother, son, uncle or nephew. This is not due to any lack of trust in women, but to provide them with necessary care in areas where they may know no one.

It is part of the care Islam takes of women. Therefore, scholars have spoken of “safe companionship” as a replacement of a male companion. This, however, applies in cases where the travel is a necessity, as in the case of performing the pilgrimage. When the travel is unnecessary, a Muslim woman should not travel unless accompanied by a male companion.

Having said that, I note that the reader mentions specifically travel for dawah or Islamic advocacy work, which is the type of activity undertaken by members of the Tableegh organization. There is no doubt that the Tableegh people do much good work. However, their strategy of travel for such work and attaching so much importance to such travel may be questioned on different counts. Some people undertake such travel without ensuring proper provisions for their families during their absence. Some risk becoming unemployed, thus bringing hardship to their families. Thus, they put their family duties, which are obligatory, as secondary to their advocacy, which is recommended and can be done at home. Hence, their order of priorities is questionable. This does not apply to all of them, but the importance attached to such travel in the overall strategy of the organization certainly raises a few question marks.

If this organization is now sending women members on such trips, it needs to re-examine its approach very carefully. How do they look after these women when they travel is a very grave consideration. Men members may sleep in mosques at the places to which they travel. Where do they put up their female advocates? How do they encourage women to be away from their families for a week or so? This is certainly wrong. Why do they not confine the activity of their women members to their home towns and villages?

No Translated Text of the Qur'an Can be Considered as a Proper Substitute

Q. We were reading in a book about the hardship that people will face during the testing times of the Impostor, i.e. the false Messiah. It says that a person who memorizes the first 10 verses of surah 18, Al-Kahf, will be safe from it. What if a new convert to Islam finds it very hard to memorize these verses in their Arabic form? Can such a person memorize them in English or in his mother tongue?

A. When we speak of the Qur’an, we refer to its original Arabic text. This is the text God has revealed in His own words. Any translation is simply the expression by the translator of what he understood of the text.

A translator may make a mistake in his rendering of the meaning of the text, or he may be unaware of certain nuances that are of importance, or his ability in translation may not be that good, or he may be influenced by a particular approach to religion generally. The text he produces is his own text. It is not the Qur’an. Therefore, no translated text of the Qur’an can be considered as a proper substitute. It may be very useful in understanding the meaning, but it is not the Qur’an. Therefore, it cannot be used for any religious purpose, such as in prayer or in any form of worship.

If you wish to memorize a short or long passage of the Qur’an, you have to do so in its original Arabic text. Having said that, I would like to comment on what you say of the benefit of memorizing those 10 verses as a means of protection against certain hard times. I do not know the Hadith you have mentioned. It could be authentic, but what really makes us immune to any change of heart with regard to our faith is being fully aware of it, to learn its principles and to understand its values, and then to lead our life observing these. If you are all the time seeking to do only what is permissible and to fulfil your Islamic duties and add what you can of what is recommended, or Sunnah, avoiding what is forbidden and steering away from what is discouraged, then you will be able to stand any hardship that tempts you away from your religion.

By contrast, if you are lax in your Islamic duties, and you indulge in what is forbidden, no amount of Qur’anic memorizations will protect you, because such memorization will be only words and sentences.

The message they give will not have taken hold of your thinking. Therefore, if you find such memorization hard, you need to strengthen your understanding of Islam and to implement Islamic principles in your life. This is the proper way to overcome any test or temptation.

Performing Prostration While Reading the Qur'an

Q. Could you please give a list of the Qur’anic verses when a prostration is recommended? What happens if we read these verses and not perform a prostration?

A. There are 15 verses in the Qur’an that mention prostration before God Almighty as a good action by God-fearing believers. Therefore, it is strongly recommended to perform such a prostration when we read or listen to any of these verses, whether during prayer or in any situation. Some scholars are of the view that even if one has not performed ablution, one should prostrate oneself.

These verses are given here, starting with the Arabic title of the surah which is followed by two numbers, the first indicating the surah, and the second indicating the verse,: Al-Araf 7: 206; Al-Raad 13: 15; Al-Nahl 16: 50; Al-Isra 17: 109; Maryam 19: 58; Al-Hajj 22: 18 & 22: 77; Al-Furqan 25: 60; Al-Naml 27: 26; Al-Sajdah 32: 15; Saad 38: 25; Fussilat 41: 38; Al-Najm 53: 62; Al-Inshiqaq 84: 21 and Al-Alaq 96: 19.

If you do not perform a prostration when you read or listen to any of these verses, you have done badly because you miss out on the reward of performing a prostration for God. You incur no sin and violate no divine order.

Permissibility of Insurance Policies

Q. Many insurance policies are available on the market, such as life, medical and professional quality insurance. What is the Islamic view on these?

A. Scholars differ in their view on insurance, with some saying that it is forbidden and others pronouncing it as permissible. Therefore, it is necessary to examine their views very carefully. The late Shaikh Mustafa Al-Zarqa, who was one of the top Islamic scholars of the 20th century, wrote a book on insurance, looking at all aspects of it. He concluded that all insurance is permissible, as it is a form of cooperation among a group of people to reduce the effects of an adversity that befalls any member of that group. He discusses the objections raised against insurance in a highly scholarly way, and rebuts all arguments. I find his verdict very convincing, particularly because he was very thorough in his work, able to analyse problems of modern life in the light of Islamic guidance.

Cheating Involved in Job

Q. A person working for a private school discovers that it is part of the board’s policy to pass students unfairly so that the school could have a better image. Can he continue to work for it?

A. If that person’s work does not have any direct relevance to the cheating involved, he may continue working in that school. Suppose that he runs the school cafeteria, he would not be involved in marking students. On the other hand, if his work requires him to be directly involved in the cheating, then he must not be party to it. He should leave if that is the only way to keep himself in the clear. If he leaves in order not to disobey God, then God will, if He so pleases, provide him with a better job.