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July 2006
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Our Dialogue

Punishment for Criticising the Prophet (Pbuh)
By Adil Salahi

Q. Is it imperative that the punishment for criticising the Prophet (Pbuh) of Islam should be death? This is based on the Prophet sentencing a poet who lived in Makkah to death because of the abuse he hurled on Islam and the Prophet.

A. When the Prophet entered Makkah, and it fell to Islam, its people were extremely perturbed. For 20 years they had been fighting Islam: They persecuted its followers when they were among them; killed some of them; tried to assassinate the Prophet who had to leave the city at night when the assassins were at his doorstep; then they raised armies and forged alliances trying to suppress Islam and annihilate its adherents. God granted him victory and he marched into the city. Had he been anyone other than Muhammad, God’s messenger, he would have shown elation at his achievement. Conquerors at all times would ransack the capitals of their adversaries. Muhammad (peace be upon him) entered the city showing great humility before God. The only thing he destroyed was the images and statues the unbelievers claimed to be deities. By doing so, he practically showed the people who worshipped these statues and images that they were inanimate objects that do nothing.

Before his entry, he gave a pledge to the people of Makkah, telling them that whoever went into the mosque, or stayed indoors, or went to their leader’s home were safe. However, he named a group of people, totaling 19 in number, sentencing them to death. These were the ones who spared no effort in trying to bring Islam down and harm its people and Prophet. In practice only four of them were executed. At that time, poetry was the most effective mode of propaganda, and a fine poet would be compared to a controller of a broadcasting service in our time. The poet you mention, Abdullah ibn Al-Zibaara, was for many years the mouthpiece of idolatry, doing his utmost to present Islam and the Prophet in bad colours. As the Muslim army approached Makkah, he fled to Najran in the south of Arabia. Hassan ibn Thabit, the Prophet’s companion who was a fine poet himself, attacked him with one line of poetry, and that was sufficient for Abdullah ibn Al-Zibaara to reflect on his position much more deeply. He realised that he had to succumb to Islam, the word of truth. He came back and met the Prophet, declaring his repentance in four lines of his best poetry. The Prophet, as usual, pardoned him.

The same was true of Kaab ibn Zuhayr, another fine poet who did his utmost to mar the image of Islam. His brother, Bujayr, also a fine poet, was a Muslim. Their father, Zuhayr ibn Abi Sulma, is still studied in schools and universities all over the Arab world as one of the finest poets of the pre-Islamic era. At the time of the fall of Makkah to Islam, Kaab went into hiding. Later, when the Prophet returned to Madinah, he went to see the Prophet after Fajr prayer in the mosque, where he delivered a fine poem declaring himself a Muslim. This poem, starting with a few lines about love, is still studied and widely quoted. Both Abdullah ibn Al-Zibaara and Kaab ibn Zuhayr are considered among the Prophet’s companions, not opponents.

I suppose I need say no more about the question, yet I want to ask: Why should anyone abuse the Prophet of Islam? No one asks them to believe in Islam. They have their own faith, but why abuse the man who brought us God’s guidance? Only malice and spite produce such an attitude. Salman Rushdie thought that by abusing the Prophet he would rise to fame and earn a great amount of money in royalties for his Satanic Verses. Such an attitude is neither civilized nor respectable. Why should we allow such a greedy person to get away with it? Such an attitude spoils relations between nations and perpetuates hatred. The recent cartoons published in European newspapers do not advocate free speech; they claim a right to ridicule and abuse others. This is totally unacceptable, even by Western standards.

Translations of Qur'an without Arabic Text

Q. What is the ruling on the publication of a translation of the Qur’an in English or other languages without the Arabic text? Some scholars mention that it is a dangerous step towards destroying the originality of the Qur’an. They emphasize that the translated text cannot be accepted as the word of God. They also point out that it is impossible for any human being to produce a fully correct translation of the Qur’an. Therefore, it is obligatory to publish any translation of the Qur’an with Arabic text, so that if any confusion regarding the translation arises, then it can be checked against the original Arabic text. Please comment.

A..The Qur’an is God’s message, expressed in the Arabic tongue in God’s own words. Its literary merits are superior, and its economy of word is of a standard that is unknown in any writing. All literary critics who have examined the Qur’anic style agree that it is inimitable. Should the best Arabic writer try to paraphrase the Qur’an, or rewrite its message in his own style, he cannot produce anything similar to its Arabic text. What can we expect, then, from one who tries to express the same meaning in a different language, when all translators agree that a translated text cannot be a mirror image of its original? Translation is bound to lose some aspects of the original text, due to the special features of each language and the way each community develops its usage of its language.

In the case of the Qur’an, the loss is even greater than in any other text, because of the unique qualities of the Qur’anic style. Therefore, we cannot say that its translation is the same as its original text, or that the non-Arabic, translated text is the word of God. To my knowledge, no translator of the Qur’an, whether Muslim or not, has made such a claim. Not only so, but no user of a translation makes such a claim. Such a translation is no more than the translator’s expression of his own understanding of the text. He may be mistaken in some cases, less than expressive in others, exaggerating elsewhere, or conforming to a particular viewpoint regarding some statements.

One major difficulty of Qur’anic translation is that in numerous cases, the Qur’anic text admits more than one interpretation, and all these are correct. No translation of such a statement will ever be able to render its possible meanings in full. So we must discard any notion that the translated text is a substitute for the original. It is merely an aid to understand it.

Is it permissible to publish such a translation without the original? I find no evidence to the contrary. The only proviso is that such a publication must not claim to be the Qur’an. It should bear a clear indication that it is a translation. We say this knowing that there could be some inaccuracies in any translation. But these can always be checked against the original, which will remain intact, as God has guaranteed.

Your Best Companion is a Book

An activity that brings about joy is for you to read a book and develop your mind through the acquisition of knowledge.

Al-Jaahiz, an Arab writer from centuries ago, advised one to repel anxiety through the reading of books:

“The book is a companion that does not praise you and does not entice you to evil. It is a friend that does not bore you, and it is neighbour that causes you no harm. It is an acquaintance that desires not to extract from you favours through flattery, and it does not deceive you with duplicity and lies.

Praying for Something Personal

Q. Is it appropriate to pray to God for something personal, such as to facilitate one’s marriage to a particular woman, or to cure a physical handicap? What if one’s prayers do not seem to be answered? Does this suggest that his prayers are unacceptable to God? What does it take to make sure that one’s prayers are answered?

A. All that is required to ensure that our prayers are answered is that we should address them to God with sincerity, placing no one as intermediary between Him and us. When a prayer is addressed in such a way, with clear thoughts that God alone can grant our prayers and that He is able to accomplish His purpose, He will certainly answer our prayers. This is a promise to which He has committed Himself, saying in the Qur’an: “Your Lord has said, ‘Pray Me and I will answer you’.” (40: 60)

When we say that He will certainly answer our prayers, it does not follow that what we pray for will be immediately fulfilled. When God answers prayers, He may do one of three things: He either brings about what we prayed for without delay, as in the case of prayer for rain. Sometimes rain will fall even before those who pray for it have finished their prayers. Or He may give us something that He knows to be better for us than what we prayed for. Thus, you may pray to God to let you have a certain girl as a wife, but He knows that your temperaments are incompatible and that if you get married, you would not be happy together. He may give you a better wife, with whom it would be easier for you to be happy. Alternatively, God may decide to delay answering your prayer till the Day of Judgement, when He rewards you richly for it. The Prophet tells us that when we see what He gives us for our prayers which He retained with Him, we would wish that He had not answered any of our prayers in this life, but delayed them all to the Day of Judgement. So, whichever option He decides, we are certain to get either what we wish for or something better.

Sometimes, we pray for something we dearly wish, as in the case cited by the reader, i.e. the cure of a physical handicap. Suppose a lame person prays for a cure to his lameness. To start with, he should not merely pray to God to cure it and sit idle. He should look around for a means to cure it. If doctors assure him that there is no way that his lameness will be cured, then he must realise that God is able to cure it if He so wishes, by bringing about some element which is perhaps unknown to us. He should also realise that God may not wish to bring that about and that He has decided to credit us with the reward of such prayer. Therefore, we should remain reassured and we should thank Him for whatever He decides for us, because it is all to our benefit.

Soul and the Spirit

Q. 1. Why is it that when a Muslim dies he cannot be cremated? What happens to a person who dies in a fire and is burned to death, or one who dies in a plane crash? Some people suggest that the soul remains in the grave until the Day of Judgement, while others say that the angels take it to a part of heaven where it remains until the Day of Judgement. Will we be judged for everything we do in this life and in the after life until the Day of Judgement?

Q.2. Could you please explain the meaning of the Qur’anic statement that the food of Christians and Jews is permissible, and how do we reconcile that with the requirement that we must eat only what is halal?

A.1. In Islam, we are required to take special care of how we deal with our dead. Thus, when a Muslim dies, his relatives attend to him or her, washing their bodies thoroughly and wrapping them in clean shrouds, offering a special congregational prayer for them before burying them. Cremation is burning, and fire is the symbol of divine punishment. Therefore, it is not appropriate to cremate loved and dear ones when they die.

People who die in unusual circumstances, such as those who die in a fire or an accident, should also be treated with respect. If we can retrieve their bodies, or whatever remains of them, we prepare them for burial in the same way. If nothing of their bodies is found, then we offer the janazah prayer for them, even though the body is not present.

It is not true that the soul remains in the grave. To start with, we know very little about the soul, or the spirit, and what happens to it. God says in the Qur’an: “They ask you about the spirit. Say, (knowledge of) the spirit belongs to my Lord; and you have been given but scanty knowledge.” (17: 85) Therefore, we accept in this regard only what is stated in the Qur’an and authentic Hadith. The Prophet tells us, for example, that the spirits of martyrs remain within green birds flying in heaven. We are judged on the basis of what we do in this life. Once we die, there is no more work to be judged. The after life is the one that begins with the Day of Judgement.

A.2. The clause mentioned in the Qur’an gives a concession which allows us to eat the food of people who belong to earlier divine religions, even though it may not meet Islamic requirements in the way it is slaughtered or prepared, provided that it does not include something that is specifically forbidden to us. Thus, if a Christian gives us pork to eat, or something cooked with wine, such food is not permissible for us because the flesh of swine and alcoholic drinks are specifically forbidden to us. But if a Christian offers us lamb, or beef, we accept it without inquiring about the method of its slaughter. Even if the method used differs from what we are required to observe, it remains permissible, because this is a concession given to us by God.


“Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The similitude of His light is as a niche wherein is a lamp. The lamp is in a glass. The glass is as it were a shining star. (The lamp is) kindled from a blessed tree, an olive neither of the East nor of the West, whose oil would almost glow forth (of itself) though no fire touched it. Light upon light, Allah guideth unto His light whom He will. And Allah speaketh to man in allegories (parables), for Allah is Knower of all things.”

{The Glorious Qur’an, Surah An-Nur(Light)24:Verse35}