Answers to Frequently Asked Questions About Islam and Muslims

Introduction

ING has been delivering educational presentations about Muslims and their faith for over two decades. The following are answers to some of the most common questions that ING and its affiliates across the country have encountered during that time. While many of the answers address issues relating to creed or issues that are well established because of a clear citation in the Qur’an or Hadith (prophetic sayings)—such as the six major beliefs or the Five Pillars—others focus on areas that are more open to interpretation. These answers reflect the fact that Islamic teachings are the product of a dynamic conversation among Muslim scholars and between the scholars and the laity who apply their best understanding of the primary sources of Islam rather than a fixed set of laws and regulations.

This points to the fact that Islam, like all religions, does not live or speak apart from the people who practice it. There is, therefore, no monolithic Islam, since, like any other religion, Islam exists only as it is understood and practiced by its adherents.

As in other faith traditions, Muslim scholars have developed varied positions and responses to the numerous questions and issues that have been raised and discussed over the past 1400 years in the various lands where Islam is practiced. These perspectives and resulting practices differ partly because of the diversity within the Muslim community in geography, ethnicity, culture, and age. There are about fifty countries in the world today with a majority Muslim population, each having its own distinct history and culture (or multiplicity of cultures). There are also sizeable Muslim minorities in many other countries, including the United States and virtually all the countries of Europe, that are living Islam in their own unique situations. These Muslim communities have a variety of cultures and histories and live in varied social, cultural, and political circumstances, all producing significant variety in the way that they understand and practice Islam. In addition, there are various sects among Muslims, most notably Sunni and Shi’a, as well as various groups within each major sect. These differences in varieties of Islamic understanding and practice also reflect Muslim scholars’ long tradition of recognizing the diversity of peoples and circumstances and the opinions that should reflect that reality of diversity as well as of our shared humanity.

Therefore, it is important to understand that the answers to the following questions reflect the views of the American Muslim scholars that ING has worked with. In other words, we do not speak for or on behalf of all Muslims. In most cases, however, the views of these scholars probably reflect the views of the majority of Sunni Muslims in the U.S. and worldwide.

There are new realities and issues that are specific to the time and place experienced today by Muslim Americans, who are the main focus of ING’s work. These issues cannot always be addressed by the laws of past eras or of different cultures in Asia or Africa. Here, we attempt to address these questions in a way that is traditional, yet compatible with the realities of the American experience in the 21st century. In these matters, we strive to be descriptive, respecting the diversity of Islam as lived religion, but our reference point is the Islam we believe in and practice as Muslim Americans; in most cases, but not necessarily all, this is in accord with Islam as believed in, practiced, and lived by the majority of Muslims worldwide.

We start from five basic principles that ING subscribes to as basic to our vision of Islam in America. These are fundamental values shared by most of the world’s major religious traditions today:

  1. We affirm and uphold the sanctity of all human life, the taking of which is among the gravest of all sins.
  2. We affirm the right to freedom of thought, religion, conscience, and expression.
  3. We affirm the right to security in one’s livelihood, profession, and residence.
  4. We believe that God created us all with the diversity of race, religion, language, and belief to get to know one another, respect one another, and uphold our collective human dignity.
  5. We believe that Islam is above all a religion of peace and mercy and that as Muslims we are obligated to model those traits in our lives and characters and to work for the good of our homeland and society, wherever that might be.

Wherever possible, we indicate which of these principles is the basis for our responses to these questions.

Finally, it is important to note that most of the following questions are actual questions that were asked of our speakers, including some of the most repeatedly asked questions in an educational setting where we supplement curriculum relating to Islam and Muslims in the context of world history, social studies, or cultural diversity programming.

Angels

Crime And Punishment

Day of Judgment

Diet

Divorce

Economics

Free Will

General Questions About Islam

God

Hijab

Islam And Modernity

Islamic History

Jesus and Mary

Ka’bah

Marriage/Dating

Muhammad

Muslim Americans

Muslim Extremists

Other Religions

Prayer

Prophets

Qur’an

Satan

Science And Nature

Sharia

Sunni And Shi‘i Division

Taliban

Terrorism/Warfare

Women