INGYouth – Frequently Asked Questions

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 in that time. We have selected 55 of them that we believe are the most applicable to young Muslims in 2016.

Some of these answers address concepts that are agreed upon by basically all Muslims such as the six major beliefs or the five pillars. However, others focus on areas that are more open to interpretation.

Islam, like all religions, is not a person and does not live or speak. There is, therefore, no uniform Islam, since, like any other religion, Islam exists only as it is understood and practiced by its believers.

As in other faith traditions, Muslim scholars have developed different opinions and responses to the numerous questions and issues that have surfaced over the past 1400 years. These perspectives and practices will change based on a variety of factors that include geography, ethnicity, culture, and age. Islam is practiced by a majority in about 50 countries and by a minority in many others such as the United States. Due to these and many other differences, Islam is practiced differently in the many places it exists. There are also different sects within Islam – the most notable of which are Shi’a and Sunni. Additionally, these two major sects are made up of many smaller sects, movements and approaches.

Fortunately, Muslim scholars have a long history of recognizing the diversity of peoples and circumstances and opinions that reflect that reality of diversity as well as of our shared humanity.

Taking all of this into account, it is important to stress that the answers presented here reflect 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.

In some cases, American Muslims are dealing with new realities and issues that are specific to their time (after 9/11) and place (America). We attempt to address these questions in a way that is traditional, but also compatible with the current day and age. We strive to respect the diversity of Islam as a lived religion and start from five basic principles that ING believes are the backbone of our vision of Islam in America. These values are shared by most of the world’s major religions:

  1. We affirm and uphold the holiness 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 home.
  4. We believe that God created us with all 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.

ISLAM

1. What does Islam teach?

Islam teaches the cultivation of excellent moral character to better oneself and the world around oneself. It teaches a set of values that promote life, liberty, equality and justice. Some of these values include:

  • Respect for the earth and all creatures
  • Care and compassion for those less fortunate
  • The importance of seeking knowledge
  • Honesty and truthfulness in word and deed
  • Striving continuously to improve oneself and the world

2. What are the major beliefs of Muslims

Islam is Abrahamic and therefore has beliefs similar to those of the other Abrahamic traditions, Christianity and Judaism. The six major beliefs include:

  • belief in God
  • belief in angels
  • belief in God’s prophets/messengers
  • belief in God’s revelations in the form of holy scriptures sent to the messengers
  • belief in an afterlife that follows the Day of Judgment on which people will be held accountable for their actions and compensated accordingly in the afterlife
  • belief in God’s divine will and His knowledge of what happens in the world

3. How do Muslims practice their faith

Like other religious traditions, Islam has rituals that are opportunities for spiritual rejuvenation and connecting with God. The five central practices include:

  • the profession of faith, namely that there is only one God, and that Muhammad is the Messenger of God
  • the five daily prayers
  • required annual donation to charity in the amount of 2.5% of one’s excess wealth
  • fasting during daylight hours in the month of Ramadan
  • making a pilgrimage to Mecca once in a lifetime, if one is mentally, physically, and financially able

4. What are the foundational sources of Islamic teachings?

The primary sources are:

  • Qur’an – generally believed by Muslims to be the divinely revealed word of God. Consists of stories of the prophets, references to nature, attributes of God, ethics and values, commandments
  • Sunnah – the example of the Prophet Muhammad (i.e., what he said, did, approved, disapproved, caused, ordered, or allowed to happen)
  • The rulings of the twelve imams (for the Shi’a sect only)

5. Who is considered a Muslim?

  • At ING, we hold the belief that any person who considers him or herself a Muslim is a Muslim.
  • This is generally someone who would affirm the Declaration of Faith stating that “There is no God but God and Muhammad is His messenger,” regardless of their practice

6. What is Ramadan and why do Muslims fast during it?

  • Ramadan is the month in which Muslims believe that the Qur’an was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad.
  • It is also the month in which Muslims fast in an effort to:
    • draw nearer to God
    • internalize discipline, willpower, dependence and empathy for those less fortunate

7. How do very busy students or professionals (e.g., firefighters) find the time to pray five times a day?

  • Depending on their schedules, most Muslims probably will not need to perform all five prayers while at school or on the job since the prayers are spread throughout the day.
  • In addition, each of the five prayers has a window of time during which each prayer can be performed. This time frame extends from about one hour to as long as four hours depending on the specific prayer and the time of year, since the times shift depending on the season and length of day.
  • Throughout most of the year, the prayer time for the noon prayer does not end while students are at school, so they can perform it when they return home. During the time of year when the prayer time ends while students are still in school, they can take a few minutes during recess or lunch to pray. Students can ask their teachers if they can pray in the classroom or library.
  • In the case of Muslim firefighters, if they are in the middle of fighting a fire and are unable to take a break to pray, they will perform the missed prayer as soon as they are able to, along with the next prayer.

8. How could God allow some people to suffer so much in this life, especially the innocent, such as children?

  • This question is difficult to answer because there are many types of suffering.
    • Most Muslims have an underlying positive opinion of God who can provide relief in one way or another.
  • Some of the suffering in the world is caused by the actions of humans, who may do horrible things to one another. Muslims generally believe human beings are given complete free will and therefore can do both good and evil.
    • If God intervened whenever humans decided to do something evil, humans would no longer possess free will.
    • Would you want a person, even a divine Person, standing over you ready to smack your hand every time you thought of doing something bad?
  • In our world, humans also experience suffering from natural disasters. Humans and nature are interdependent; therefore, some natural disasters like hurricanes, droughts, and earthquakes are caused by human caused climate change or by such activities as fracking.
  • Sometimes, however, natural disasters and other evils like illness are not caused by human action.
  • In such cases, we need to remember that people often grow emotionally and spiritually  in times of difficulty and suffering.
    • For instance, major disasters often bring out the best in people, as we see remarkable acts of kindness and courage in the way people respond to one another’s hardship.
    • In these cases, support and compassion may eliminate or at least mitigate suffering.
    • Suffering can be a test that helps us improve our character.
  • Muslims believe that nothing can happen except by the will of God. Therefore, since God is all good, Muslims should be confident that God can and will bring good out of what is apparently evil.
  • Muslims also believe in the power of prayer to alleviate suffering and to learn how to approach difficult situations.

9. What happens to people after death?

  • The common Muslim belief is that all people will be resurrected on what they call the Day of Judgment.
  • On this Day, God will establish complete justice over all matters of our world.
    • For example, those who were wronged in this world will finally get their reward and those who wronged others might get their punishment.

10. How will God determine who goes to heaven and hell?

  • On the Day of Judgment, God, according to His complete justice, will take all of these factors into account when determining judgment:
    • Two of God’s ninety-nine names in the Qur’an are “the Judge” and “the Just.”

11. If a person is a good person throughout his or her life, but does not believe in God, will he/she go to hell?

  • Muslims believe God rewards righteous behavior, knows what is in everyone’s hearts, and will judge all people with complete justice.

12. What good is “free will” if everything is predestined? If God already knows if we are going to heaven or hell, why doesn’t He just put us there?

  • While Muslims believe that God has complete knowledge of people’s ultimate destination, humans have the choice to do good or evil because they are unaware of this knowledge.
  • Therefore, whatever actions people commit are based on this free will, for which they are held accountable.
  • Here is a limited analogy: You are watching a movie you’ve seen before and know the beginning, middle and end of the plot. However, because the characters don’t have this knowledge, your knowledge (as the viewer) of the ending has no effect on the actions of the characters in the middle of the movie.
  • Additionally, God is not limited to the human/ earthly concept of time in relation to past, present and future. Therefore, in human terms, God can see everything at once.

13. How did Islam spread throughout the world?

  • It varied depending on the location and period of time.
  • Islam unified the tribes of the Arabian Peninsula and this new unity led to conflict with the nearest major powers, the Byzantine and Persian empires. The result was a major spread of Muslim rule and the establishment of a Muslim empire; but Muslim rulers in this empire did not force, and often did not even encourage, conversion to Islam.
  • The Muslim community, starting with Medina, provide some of the earliest examples of religious tolerance. Conversion to Islam, in most areas controlled by Muslims, generally happened slowly through social interaction, intermarriage, and traveling Sufi teachers of spirituality.
  • The degree to which Islam spread in such areas varied a lot; in the Middle East and North Africa, Islam became the dominant religion, but in South Asia, most of the population remained Hindu.
  • In areas like Indonesia (now the largest Muslim-majority country) and other parts of Southeast Asia, Islam spread mostly through traveling merchants and Sufis. A similar process appears to have taken place in central Asia and neighboring parts of China.
  • In sub-Saharan Africa (mostly West Africa, but also in parts of Ethiopia), Islam spread mostly through trade and commercial relations. Rulers would sometimes adopt Islam while much of the population continued to practice their traditional religions.
  • What is important to understand is that, while the details of the spread of Islam varied in different regions, the religion, contrary to a common stereotype, did not spread through forced conversions following military conquests.

Muhammad

14. Why can’t you display images of the Prophet Muhammad?

  • There is no specific teaching in traditional Islamic sources that says you cannot display images of the Prophet Muhammad. In fact, one can find illustrations of Muhammad and other prophets in different periods of Islamic history.
  • Scholars generally warn against the worship of these types of images, which is why some groups now say that it is forbidden to represent the Prophet Muhammad.

15. Why did some Muslims respond with protest and violence against portrayals of Muhammad in cartoons and film?

  • This question refers to protests, sometimes erupting into deadly violence, as in the attack in Paris, against cartoons published in a French satirical weekly and against the film The Innocence of Muslims.
  • These protests lead people to ask questions about freedom of expression (even when what is expressed offends some group) and the resort to violence.
  • The great majority of Muslims around the world support freedom of expression even for material that is offensive. Muslim leaders and organizations worldwide, even in countries that restrict the publication of such offensive material, vigorously condemned the instances of violence.
  • Violent reaction to these images is also fueled by political issues and not solely by anger at the offensive images.
    • For example, Libyan President Magariaf insisted that the Benghazi attack, which was viewed as a spur-of-the-moment response to cartoons of Muhammad in Denmark, had actually been planned by militants for a long time.
    • Additionally, in Paris, militants may have been trying to recruit French Muslims to ISIS by performing an attack that would isolate them from other French people.
  • There have been, and in some Muslim-majority countries still are, laws prescribing criminal penalties for statements or images deemed “blasphemous” (as there were in Great Britain and other European countries even into the twentieth century). American and other Western Muslims generally find such laws unacceptable, since:
    • They violate what we consider fundamental Islamic principles of freedom of expression and freedom of conscience
    • The Qur’an nowhere calls for such laws, leaving the punishment of such offenses solely to God
    • Muhammad himself never called for punishment of those who slandered or reviled him

16. Why did the Prophet Muhammad marry a nine-year old? If she was not nine, how old was she?

  • The actual age of Aisha at the time of her marriage to Muhammad is unclear, but the two could not have gotten married until she reached puberty.
  • While it is uncommon today, in many cultures, women were married at a young age. This custom of early engagement and marriage continued until the late 19th and early 20th centuries in a lot of the world, including Europe and right here in the United States.

17. Why did the Prophet Muhammad marry so many women?

  • It is first important to note that Muhammad was in a monogamous relationship with his first wife Khadija, until her death (25 years after marriage).
  • The idea of a man marrying multiple women is known as polygamy, which was common in 7th– century Arabia and many other cultures as well.
    • For instance, the patriarchs in the Hebrew Bible are said to have multiple wives, and the kings of Israel are described as having harems numbering in some cases into the hundreds.
  • According to Muslim historians, the Prophet Muhammad’s marriages after the death of Khadijah were made to:
    • Assist widows and divorces
    • Solidify the community of Muslims by creating alliances among the tribes in and around Medina
  • Given the time and place, there was nothing unique or unusual about Muhammad marrying several women.

Sunni and Shia Differences

18. What is the main difference between Sunnis and Shi’as?

  • It is first important to remember that the majority of both Sunnis and Shi’as share the core values of Islam—the desire to cultivate an excellent character and the oneness of God and the prophethood of Muhammad—and adhere to the Five Pillars.
  • The main differences between them are religious leadership and where they get their knowledge.
    • Sunnis and Shi’as rely on the Qu’ran and hadith, but Shi’as rely also on the rulings of their imams.
  • Historically, the difference developed over the question of who would rule after the death of the Prophet Muhammad.
  • Sunnis believe that the Muslim community was free to choose the most qualified person to rule.
  • Shi’as believe that only the family and certain descendants of the Prophet Muhammad could rule.
  • Shi’as believe that God chose Muhammad’s cousin, Ali, who was married to Muhammad’s daughter, Fatima, to be his successor and that Muhammad formally announced this before his death.
  • Shi’as also view Ali as the first in a line of imams, or predominant religious leaders, whom they regard as the spiritual and political successors to Muhammad.
  • In contrast, Sunnis believe that Muhammad did not appoint any particular person for this job.

Other Religions

19. How does Islam view other religions?

  • The majority of Muslims believe that respect for freedom of religion and conscience is a basic Islamic principle, and that diversity, including religious diversity, is part of God’s divine plan.
  • Muslims also believe that the salvation of all people, Muslims included, lies with God alone.

20. Whom do Muslims consider to be “infidels” and how should they treat them?

  • According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the English word “infidel” means “a person who does not believe in religion or who adheres to a religion other than one’s own.”
  • The Arabic word kafir is often translated “infidel”, however it would probably be better translated “unbeliever,” since that term does not have the negative connotations that “infidel” does.
  • In the Qur’an, however, kafir usually refers to a person who not only rejects the beliefs of Islam but also takes a hostile stance toward Muslims and their religion; it is used primarily to refer to the Meccans who attacked and fought against the Muslim community. In modern Arabic, kafir is often used to mean simply “non-Muslim,” without any necessary negative connotation.
  • We strongly believe that people of other faiths should be treated with love and respect, affirming the Islamic principle respect for freedom of religion and conscience. According to recent polls by Pew Research, strong majorities of Muslims in every country support the freedom of non-Muslims to practice their religion freely.

21. Why is it that Muslims do not celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas?

  • Since Christmas is generally considered a Christian holiday, the majority of Muslims do not celebrate it. There is even debate amongst Muslims over the celebration of Muhammad’s birthday.
  • However, some Muslims do celebrate Christmas because they see it as more of an American cultural observance than a religious one.
  • The majority of American Muslims celebrate other American cultural holidays such as Thanksgiving and Independence Day.

America

22. Is there a conflict between being a Muslim and an American?

  • There is no single definition of the concepts of “Muslim” and “American.” But there is certainly no conflict in being both.
  • This question is like asking whether there is conflict between being a Christian and an American. One is a religious identity, while the other is national identity. America has traditionally been a land of immigrants from a wide range of cultures, religions and backgrounds.
  • Furthermore, many American Muslims view American and Islamic values as one and the same, such as respect for education, hard work, family, democracy, individual rights, and liberty.

Women and Men

23. Are men and women equal in Islam?

  • Many Muslims, in America and elsewhere, support and demand complete equality between men and women.
  • Women hold and have held many positions of authority and leadership in the American Muslim community. In Muslim-majority countries, women today work as physicians, businesswomen, engineers, lawyers and have served as heads of state.
  • In other Muslim communities, depending on social, historical, and cultural conditions, the position of women is very different and is not equal either in theory or practice.

24. Do Muslim women have to wear hijab (cover their hair)?

  • It depends! Many Muslim women accept an interpretation of Qur’anic verses and hadith that say women should cover their hair and much of their body to be modest.
  • The Oxford Dictionary defines modesty as “behavior, manner, or appearance intended to avoid impropriety or indecency.”
  • Muslims in different cultures understand modesty differently which may or may not include:
    • type of dress
    • how much the opposite genders interact
    • humility towards God and other people
  • In most of the Muslim world, women have a choice as to whether or not they wear hijab. They also do it for a variety of reasons relating to:
    • culture, identity, religious devotion, or to indicate that they don’t want to be judged by their body

25. Why don’t men wear hijab? Why are standards of modest dress different for men and women?

  • It also depends! The Qur’an says that both men and women need to be modest; however, this practice varies a lot.
  • The Oxford Dictionary defines modesty as “behavior, manner, or appearance intended to avoid impropriety or indecency.”
  • Muslims in different cultures understand modesty differently which may or may not include:
    • type of dress
    • how much the opposite genders interact
    • humility towards God and other people
  • One understanding of modest dress for men requires them to cover at least from the belly button to knee in loose-fitting clothing.
  • You may notice the traditional clothing worn by Muslim men in places like South Asia, where they wear a loose shirt and pants (shalwar kameez), or in some Arab countries, where men wear what looks like a long dress (jalaba) and headscarf (kuffiyah).
    • This differs little in the amount of covering from the traditional dress of Muslim women.
  • While these types of clothing are not common in America, many Muslim men grow a beard or wear a head covering that resembles a skullcap (kufi), as do observant people of some other religions.

26. What is Islam’s view of abortion?

  • There are many opinions on this subject. The general view of Muslim scholars is that abortion is permissible for medical or other valid reasons for the first four months of the pregnancy.
  • Other valid reasons include rape, incest or, in some cases, even unmarried mothers.
  • However, abortion out of fear of financial need is banned in the Qur’an.

27. Were there female prophets?

  • Some Muslim scholars believe that Eve, the mother of all human beings, Asiyah, the wife of Pharaoh, and Mary, the mother of Jesus, might have been prophets because they received revelation from God.
  • Even if one doesn’t consider them to be prophets who brought a specific message to their people, these are two examples of the many righteous and saintly women mentioned in the Qur’an.

28. Can Muslims be feminists?

  • For the purposes of this question, we define feminism as a movement to establish the equality of men and women.
    • In this case, yes, many Muslims find no issue in identifying as both Muslim and feminist.
  • Furthermore, Islamic feminism is a movement which seeks to establish this equality framed in Islamic terms as it challenges patriarchal interpretations of traditional texts such as the Qur’an and Sunnah.
    • One noted Muslim feminist is Alaa Murabit, a physician and peace builder, who founded The Voice of Libyan Women, an organization aimed at advancing and protecting the rights of women in Libya using verses directly from the Qur’an and Sunnah.
    • Another noted Muslim feminist is Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian lawyer and human rights activist who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003.

29. Are Muslim women oppressed?

  • There are 50 Muslim-majority countries in the world. They differ widely on women’s rights, depending on a variety of factors. These factors include:
    • political development
    • social and economic circumstances
    • cultural views and practices
    • region (urban or rural)
    • education
    • family circumstances
  • Religion may or may not play a significant role in the rights women have.
  • For example, in many Muslim-majority countries there are women in high positions in education, business, and politics.
    • This includes female physicians, engineers, lawyers, and other professionals.
    • Muslim women have been heads of state (presidents/ prime ministers) in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Turkey, Kosovo, and Pakistan.
  • However, in other countries, women’s freedoms are seriously limited due to oppressive attitudes and practices of male dominance.
  • One noted Muslim feminist is Alaa Murabit, a physician and peace builder, who founded The Voice of Libyan Women, an organization aimed at advancing and protecting the rights of women in Libya using verses directly from the Qur’an and Sunnah.
  • Another noted Muslim feminist is Shirin Ebadi, anIranian lawyer and human rights activist who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003.

Marriage and Dating

30. Can Muslims have boyfriends/girlfriends or date?

  • Individual Muslims go about this differently.
  • Our understanding from the Qur’an and hadith (prophetic sayings) is that people of the opposite gender should avoid situations, relationships, or actions that might lead to a violation of the principle that couples should abstain from sexual intimacy until after marriage.

31. Are arranged marriages condoned in Islam?

  • This depends on what one considers an arranged marriage and on the specific culture of the Muslims involved.
  • Muslims generally define arranged marriage as the way that a couple first meets, through referrals by family or friends (“matchmaking”). After they meet, they are free to choose to marry or not.
    • Although this is a common practice, increasingly, younger Muslims, like young people of any other religion, are meeting in school, at work, or online.
  • If the definition of an arranged marriage is that a person (man or woman, but usually a woman) is forced into a marriage against his or her will, many Muslims today cite prophetic sayings that uphold a woman’s right to accept or reject a marriage proposal and, therefore, they do not consider this practice acceptable.

32. Is it true that Muslim men can marry more than one woman?

  • Monogamy is actually the norm in Islamic teachings: one man, one woman.
    • The Quran also informs Muslims that God created things in pairs, as Muslims also believe that the first human creation consisted of Adam and Eve: again one man, one woman.
  • The idea of more than one wife came about at a particular time and place, when war and other catastrophes led to a shortage of men and made it urgent to take care of widows and orphans by marrying them (or, in the case of orphans, their mothers) to men already married.
  • The Qur’an, however, allows this only under strict conditions, among them that all wives must be treated with strict equality.
    • But the Qur’an also warns that this is so difficult to achieve that it is better to be monogamous.
  • And of course where the practice is illegal, such as the US, and other Western and Muslim-majority countries, Muslims have a religious obligation to obey the law of the land.

33. Is homosexuality allowed in Islam?

  • The vast majority of Muslims would likely believe that homosexuality is not permissible. However, LGBTQ people have always existed and lived peacefully in Muslim societies, with some exceptions.
  • In Muslim-majority countries, as in many others, sexuality is generally a private matter, and homosexuality, despite the traditional teachings against it, has been tolerated as long it remained private.
  • In the United States today, there are growing numbers of openly gay individuals and organizations. There is some debate in the American Muslim community about how to respond to this.
    • Today, there are Muslims, including at least one openly gay imam, who have argued for the acceptance of homosexuality in Islam.
    • That opinion, however, is still in the minority.
  • Regardless of their religious beliefs about homosexuality, American Muslims condemn hate, discrimination, and violence against LGBTQ communities and stand in solidarity with them as they have with American Muslims against Islamophobia.

Crime and Punishment

34. What happens to a Muslim who does not follow one of the five pillars?

  • Most Muslims believe that acts of worship should be done for the sake of God and that God alone will judge each person according to his or her intentions and actions.

35. What happens if someone decides they do not want to be Muslim anymore? Would they be killed?

  • No, of course not. The Qur’an clearly states that “there is no compulsion in religion” (2:256), and therefore a person’s decision to leave Islam is something between him or herself and God.
  • In pre-modern times (before 19th century), one’s religion was strongly identified with citizenship in a community or country. So if someone left their religion, it was considered treasonous at some level, depending on whether that country was under threat or secure. Treason was punishable by death, as it is today in many countries, including the U.S..
  • It is not clear how much the death penalty was enforced in cases of leaving one’s religion, which is referred to as apostasy. We know that the government of the Ottoman Empire completely abolished the death penalty for leaving Islam in 1844, though apostasy laws remain to this day on the books in a few Muslim-majority countries.
  • We, along with other American and Western Muslims, object to such laws because they violate the fundamental Islamic principle of freedom of conscience and the Qur’anic verse cited above.
  • Within the countries that still have these laws, there are increasing calls for their abolition.

36. What is the Islamic view on punishments such as capital punishment, stoning, or cutting off someone’s hands?

  • People have different interpretations based on when and where they live. In other words, the “Islamic” view of punishment will change depending on the person doing the interpreting and on the period, circumstances, culture, and country that he or she lives in.
  • The severe punishments listed in the question (known as a special class of penalties called hudd) were practiced 1,400 years ago in the tribal society of Arabia. However, they were rarely carried out because the conditions for imposing them were so strict.
    • For instance, the punishment of stoning for adultery could be done, according to the Hadith, only based on the testimony of four eyewitnesses—a virtually impossible condition.
    • Capital punishment for murder could be avoided if the victim’s family agreed to payment for their loss—a normal practice in the society of the time.
  • These punishments are very similar to those found in the Hebrew Bible, which, like the Qur’an, spoke to social conditions and attitudes vastly different from those of later times and different places.
    • Jews today, even the most strictly Orthodox, do not practice these punishments, and Christians generally regard them as replaced by the ethic of Jesus.
  • Today, most Muslim-majority countries do not practice these punishments.
    • When practiced under extremist groups such as the Taliban or ISIS, the required due process (fair treatment by the judicial system) is not followed, which is why many scholars have condemned their use.

37. What does Islam say about “honor killings”?

  • “Honor killings” are murders of a family or clan member, usually a female, by one or more family members who believe the victim has brought dishonor upon the family.
  • These acts are absolutely forbidden and condemned in virtually all interpretations of Islam, because Muslims do not approve of murder.
  • Killing someone without charge or trial ignores two major principles in Islam:
    • Right to life
    • Right of due process (fair treatment by the judicial system) for anyone accused of a crime
  • In fact, Muslims  arrest and try offenders of honor killings all the time.
    • The practice is not tolerated by the vast majority of legal systems in Muslim majority countries.
  • It is also important to realize that, while honor killings occur in some Muslim-majority countries, they also occur in other areas, such as predominantly Catholic Latin America and some Hindu communities in India.
    • We at ING believe that honor killings are barbaric and should never be tolerated in any society where they occur.

Halal

38. What is halal?

  • Halal in Arabic means something lawful or permitted. The opposite of halal is haram, which means unlawful or prohibited.
  • It can be used when talking about many aspects of life but is most commonly associated with food, because some Muslims follow specific dietary restrictions.
  • In relation to meat, halal means that the animal was slaughtered according to Islamic guidelines, which include reciting God’s name over the animal before slaughter and draining all of its blood.
    • This practice for meat is similar to the kosher guidelines specified by Jewish law, except that Jewish practice does not include saying God’s name over the animal.
    • It is common to find halal butcher shops and restaurants in most major cities in the U.S.

39. Why can’t Muslims eat pork?

  • The Qur’an forbids the practice.
  • Reasons have been guessed, but the reason Muslims don’t eat pork is simply that the Qur’an forbids it.
  • Observant Jews also follow this dietary restriction.

40. Why can’t Muslims drink alcoholic beverages?

  • The Qur’an forbids the practice.
  • The Qur’an states that while alcohol has some benefits, its harm outweighs its benefits.
  • Some Buddhist and Hindu teachings also have this prohibition.

41. How does Islam view dogs and other animals?

  • Islam teaches kindness to all living things, including animals.
  • There are many prophetic sayings about the reward for one who is kind to or saves the life of an animal.
  • A famous story tells of a woman who gave a thirsty dog water and was promised heaven for her action.
  • Some Muslims are hesitant to keep dogs in their homes because they follow an interpretation that views dog saliva as something which invalidates one’s physical purification before prayer.
  • However, dogs are valued for hunting, as guard dogs, or for other purposes.

Science

42. How does Islam view science?

  • There are many verses in the Qur’an which discuss scientific concepts, including astronomy, geography, biology, and other aspects of nature and the universe.
  • These include the creation of the earth and the interaction of fresh and salt water.
  • These teachings influenced Muslim society in the Middle Ages, when Muslims made advances in mathematics, astronomy, physics, chemistry, botany, zoology, and medicine.
  • Today, many Muslims in America and globally work in and excel in science-based professions such as medicine, dentistry, and various fields of engineering.

43. What is the Islamic view on the theory of evolution?

  • The answer depends on who one talks to.
  • Some Muslims accept the whole theory of evolution.
  • Others accept the basic concept that living beings evolve over time to adapt to their environment via genetic change but do not include humans in this process.
    • They believe that the Qur’anic description of the creation of Adam and Eve as the first human beings rules out the idea that human beings evolved from more primitive primates.

Sharia

44. What is sharia?

  • Sharia comes from the Arabic word meaning “path to water”.
  • It is often translated as “Islamic Law,” which is not wrong but incomplete.
  • Instead, sharia refers to values, guidelines, and practices that give direction for different areas of a Muslim’s life.
  • It is considered divine guidance drawn from the Qur’an and Sunnah (teachings and example of Prophet Muhammad) for the purpose of helping humanity worship and draw close to God and live with love, kindness, and justice towards His Creation.
  • Sharia has five main objectives:
    • to protect life, property, lineage, religion, and intellect
  • The overarching objective is to establish social justice, fairness, mercy, and security in societies.

45. What is fiqh?

  • While sharia provides basic principles; fiqh is the process of working out concrete applications of sharia to specific questions and circumstances, resulting in laws.
  • The sources of fiqh are:
    • Agreement of the scholars
    • Reasoning using analogy—applying principles or laws from the Qur’an and Sunnah to situations not directly discussed by them
    • Lived experience of Islam, which varies with different cultures and individuals
  • Fiqh is characterized by flexibility depending on the context and the people interpreting it. Only some of the rulings are social and, of these, only a very few intersect with government law.

Terrorism and Warfare

46. What is jihad?

  • Even though it is often mistranslated as “holy war”, jihad literally means “striving” in Arabic.
  • Muslim sources refer to two types of jihad – the greater and the lesser jihad.
    • According to Muslim scholars, the “greater jihad” is the internal struggle against negative actions and the effort to cultivate good character.
    • The “lesser jihad” is the external pursuit of justice, in self-defense or against oppression. This can be done through activism and civic engagement such as voting, organizing and working for a cause, etc.—and only if all peaceful means fail, by fighting.

47. What is the Islamic view of terrorism?

  • Along with the vast majority of Muslims, we utterly condemn terrorism.
  • Terrorism, defined as the use of violence and threats to intimidate, or exact revenge, especially for political purposes, blatantly violates at least three interrelated Islamic principles:
    • respect for life
    • right to due process
    • individual responsibility
  • The principle of respect for life prohibits the targeting of innocent civilians even during a state of war.

48. Where are the Muslim peacemakers?

  • Muslim peacemakers are working throughout the world building bridges between people of different faiths.  To give but two contemporary examples:
    • The work we’re doing at ING (authors of this document), for example, to increase religious literacy is the best antidote for conflict.
    • The Muslim Peace Fellowship upholds the tradition of Muslim nonviolence and peacemaking.
  • Contemporary Muslim advocates of nonviolence include Sari Nusseibeh in Palestine, Maulana Wahiduddin Khan in India, Muhammad Yunus in Bangladesh, and women leaders such as Rebiya Kadeer in the Uyghur region of China and Iltezam Morrar in Palestine, who led a successful nonviolent effort to keep Israel from building its “separation wall” through the middle of a Palestinian village.
  • In recent history, examples of Muslim peacemakers include:
    • Abdul Ghaffar Khan, a close associate of Gandhi in India, who called nonviolence “the weapon of the Prophet” and organized the world’s first nonviolent army, the Khudai Khidmatgar or “Servants of God”
    • the late Grand Ayatollah Muhammad ibn Mahdi al-Shirazi, a major leader in Iran among Shi’a Muslims, who upheld the tradition of Muslim nonviolence

49. If Islam is considered to be a religion of peace, why is there so much conflict among Muslims?

  • This question makes two assumptions:
    • There is more conflict among Muslims than among followers of other religions
    • Conflicts involving Muslims are caused by their religion
  • The first assumption is a false impression. Of the 50 Muslim-majority countries, the vast majority are at peace.
    • Furthermore, many countries with non-Muslim majorities are involved in conflict. The United States, for instance, a Christian-majority country, is the world’s largest arms exporter and is involved currently in several armed conflicts. The two largest world wars in history were fought mostly between Christian-majority countries (i.e., World Wars I and II).
  • The second assumption is also misleading. While religion is sometimes invoked by parties to support a war, religion is at most one factor among many in producing conflict, and usually not the most important one.
    • Ethnic, economic, and political issues are generally the underlying causes behind most conflicts, including those involving Muslims.

50. Why don’t Muslims condemn terrorism?

  • Unfortunately, these statements are rarely highlighted in the mass media in the US, leading many people to mistakenly think that Muslims have not denounced terrorism.
  • However, one could also respond by asking why Muslims must always condemn terrorism. Are all Christians and Jews expected to denounce every irresponsible or destructive statement or action made by members of their religions?
  • This question assumes that Muslims support or condone every act committed by other Muslims unless they specifically state otherwise. This assumption is unreasonable.

51. Who is ISIS and where did they come from?

  • ISIS stands for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, also called the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant or ISIL, and, more recently, just IS or Islamic State. The group is popularly known as Da’-ish in Arabic.
  • Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, former Al-Qaeda member in Iraq, laid out ISIS’ original ideology.
    • Though killed by a U.S. airstrike in 2006, Zarqawi was the first person to shift the rebellion in Iraq from a struggle against U.S. troops to a Shi’a-Sunni war.
  • The makeup of ISIS is diverse, as it includes members of different ages, ethnicities, and agendas.
    • Former followers of Saddam Hussein’s Baathist regime in Iraq make up a large portion of the organization. After the US went to Iraq, Baathist supporters who were not put in military prisons fled into hiding. When US troops left, the weakness of the temporary government left a power vacuum. This was an ideal setting for the creation of ISIS.
    • Teaming up with former members of Al-Qaeda’s Iraq branch, the former Baathists created what became ISIS.
  • Led by Abu Ayyub Al-Masri, a former Al-Qaeda member, and Omar Al-Baghdadi, a former Baathist, a handful of small rebel groups joined together to form the Islamic State in Iraq.
    • There is much speculation over who the original leader was, but Al-Baghdadi was identified as the organization’s public face.[1] Both of these leaders were killed in an U.S.-Iraqi air strike in 2010.
    • In February 2014, al-Qaeda cut all ties with the group, reportedly because of its brutality.
  • In June 2014, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed himself the Caliph. He is rumored to have several college degrees in Islamic studies.
    • Many former Saddam Hussein followers have been known to hold high positions in ISIS’ regime, and ISIS makes use of Baathist war tactics.[2]
  • Today, ISIS has occupied large areas in Iraq and Syria, creating chaos, murdering and terrorizing thousands, and driving many more from their homes.

52. Why do people join ISIS?

  • There are a variety of reasons that people decide to join the Islamic State.
  • Through its propaganda and recruitment process, IS targets those who are outcasts in their community or minorities in their country or who have been discriminated against in a Western context.
    • These individuals are usually either men in their mid-twenties who have a history of radical and violent behavior or association, or orthodox, traditional Muslims who often have personal radical views.
  • For the younger recruits, the violent actions combined with the accessible propaganda glorifying ISIS’ victories seem glamorous and exciting.
  • Orthodox Muslims, however, often confuse the Islamic State’s ideology with legitimate traditional Islam and see joining the group as a pledge of loyalty to their faith.
  • ISIS also consists of refugees from the conflict in Syria who, sometimes feeling that they have no other choice, swear allegiance to ISIS in exchange for food, shelter, and a promise of safety.[3]

53. What do Muslims think of ISIS?

  • Muslims worldwide have condemned ISIS for its brutality, extremism, and actions that are is contrary to Islamic teachings.
  • Many people and institutions have condemned the group, including the government of Saudi Arabia, a coalition of over 100 scholars worldwide, and authors and organizers of numerous articles, rallies, and press conferences.
  • Muslims especially condemn their beheadings and other brutal killings; kidnappings; enslavement; oppression of women [4]; aggression against Muslims, Christians, Yazidis and other minority groups who disagree with ISIS; and other atrocities.

54. How does ISIS justify its actions in the name of Islam?

  • ISIS focuses on the idea of jihad, which they incorrectly translate as “holy war.”
    • In the Qur’an, jihad (meaning simply “struggle” or “striving” in Arabic) is not used to defend killing innocent people or to allow violent behavior, even during war.
    • The Qur’an says that military jihad is only allowed as defensive action when the Muslim community is directly attacked.
  • ISIS glorifies death in jihad as martyrdom (dying and going straight to Paradise) to motivate male (and sometimes female) members to fight to death, using Islam to push forward their own agenda.
  • The Islamic State also publishes an online magazine, where they feature cherry-picked quotes from Islamic scripture. [5]
  • They take verses out of context and justify mass killings as ridding the earth of the kuffar, whom they define as anyone who does not agree with them.
  • According to ISIS, failure to believe in their version of Islam is a crime deserving of death, mutilation, or slavery, which contradicts with the Qur’anic command that “there is no compulsion in religion” (2:256).

55. Do ISIS’ actions reflect Islamic teachings?

  • ISIS reflects an extremist interpretation of Islam that Muslims worldwide have declared illegitimate due to ISIS’ atrocious acts of violence toward others.
  • Additionally, intellectuals and world leaders have universally agreed that ISIS should be treated as a political movement rather than a religious one. The political plots involved in the conception of ISIS and the ways in which it carries out its agenda lead experts to conclude that, while ISIS may have a religious affiliation and identification, it is fundamentally a political organization.[6]

Following is a summary of an open letter by several hundred Muslim scholars and leaders to ISIS leader al-Baghdadi, found at: http://www.lettertobaghdadi.com/

Here are examples of the violation by ISIS of Islamic teachings as accepted by the majority of Muslims.

  • Murdering innocents: Its blatant disregard for human life in particular directly contradicts teachings about the sanctity of life and commands to avoid killing innocents or civilians, in particular women and children, even in warfare,.
  • Persecuting Christians and Yazidis: Its destruction of churches and attacks against Christians and Yazidis directly violate Qur’anic teachings about the status of “People of the Book,” whose lives and houses of worship the Qur’an and prophetic sayings command to safeguard (60:8; 22:17). The fact that this ancient sect—along with Iraqi Christians—has survived in Muslim lands is proof of the generally prevalent tolerant attitude of Muslims towards them and other minority religious groups.
  • Forced conversions: Converting people by force makes a mockery of religion, which according to widely accepted Islamic teachings should be embraced for God alone, not under pressure. The Qur’anic verse ‘There is no compulsion in religion” (2:256) clearly states the view on that question embraced by most Muslims, as do other verses that state that God chose to create diversity among people, including religious diversity, and that had God chosen to make everyone of the same faith He would have done so (10:99, 18:29, 13:31).
  • Torture and mutilation: Mainstream Islamic teachings specifically prohibit torture in any form, as they prohibit mutilating dead bodies or any disrespect of the dead.
  • Oppression of women: ISIS’s insistence on women wearing black, all-encompassing garments, including a face veil, is an extreme application of the general commandment to wear modest dress. Their misogynistic (women-hating) attitude towards women, including their insistence on confining them to their homes, at a time when Muslim women across the world are teachers, doctors, scientists, and even heads of state, is a misrepresentation of widely accepted Islamic teachings.
  • Slaves: One of the goals of Islam, as evidenced in both Qur’anic and prophetic practices about the merit of freeing slaves, was ultimately to end slavery at the time of revelation 1,400 years ago. This view has been universally adopted by Muslim societies and leaders. To revert to a practice that Islam sought to do away with makes a mockery of the principles of justice, equality, and other values and is a reflection of the gross misdeeds that are often perpetrated in war, including those against Muslim women in Bosnia and Syria. To do to others what was done to oneself is the antithesis of religion and morality.
  • Concubines: Particularly toxic is ISIS’ revival of concubinage (taking female prisoners of war as sex slaves). This practice existed in many pre-modern societies, including ancient Greece, Rome and China, as well as in the United States, where the use of female slaves for sex continued until the end of slavery after the Civil War. Concubines are mentioned in both the Bible and the Qur’an as an existing practice that reflected a particular time and social order in the greater context of slavery, often as a result of warfare. This practice has long been rejected by Muslims worldwide.
  • Harsh punishments: The random application of what are known as hudd punishments without the proper context for such application makes a mockery of the entire process. Additionally, all such punishments require the highest level of proof, which ISIS does not obtain.
  • Declaring a Caliphate: It is an Islamic principle that one who seeks leadership should not be given it. Additionally, one cannot merely declare oneself to be a caliph, which is a term adopted after the death of the Prophet Muhammad for those who rule after him as heads of state in a pre-modern context. This term continued to be used in the various dynasties which followed until the early 20th century, when the Ottoman caliphate was abolished. A true caliph as it has been understood would need to be chosen by consensus of Muslim communities worldwide based on virtue and reputation, not by force.

Note on Terrorism:

  • Wikipedia describes the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) as “a rebel group and heterodox Christian cult which operates in northern Uganda, South Sudan, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.”
  • Thus Wikipedia labels the LRA a “heterodox Christian cult” even though it uses scripture and Christian rhetoric in its founding documents to justify its brutality. IS, therefore, should be described as a “heterodox Islamic cult” rather than a genuinely Islamic movement.

Footnotes
[1] Suhaib Anjarini, “The Evolution of ISIS,” Al-Monitor (November 1, 2013). Accessed July 22, 2015.
[2] Malcom Nance, “ISIS Forces That Now Control Ramadi Are Ex-Baathist Saddam Loyalists,” The Intercept. Accessed July 22, 2015.
[3] , Richard Barrett, Shiraz Maher, and Raffaelo Pantucci, “Foreign Fighters in Syria: A Threat at Home and Abroad?” Chatham House: The Royal Institute of International Affairs (April 10, 2014).
[4] Robert Mackey, “Woman Hides Camera to Reveal Life Under Islamic State Rule,”  New York Times (September 25, 2014). Accessed July 22 2015.
[5] Graeme Wood, “What ISIS Really Wants,” The Atlantic (February 15 2015). Accessed July 22 2015.
[6] Elias Isquith and Charles Lister, “’The End of the World’: Why America Misunderstands ISIS — and What You Really Need to Know,” Saloncom RSS (April 1 2015). Accessed July 22 2015.