INGYouth – Answers to Frequently Asked Questions

Below are answers to 55 of the most common questions ING and its teen speakers encounter. Some of these answers address fundamental issues that are agreed upon by the majority of Muslims such as the six major beliefs or the five pillars, while others focus on areas that are more open to interpretation.

As in other faith traditions, Muslim scholars have developed different responses to the numerous issues that have arisen since the founding of the religion. Due to regional, ethnic and cultural differences, Islam is understood and practiced differently in the over fifty countries where Muslims are a majority as well as places where Muslims are a minority like the United States. There are also different sects within Islam, the most notable of which are Shi’a and Sunni. 

Muslim scholars have a long history of recognizing the diversity of peoples and circumstances and deriving opinions that reflect the reality of this diversity.

Our answers reflect the views of the Muslim American scholars that ING has worked with;  we do not speak for all Muslims. However, the views of these scholars reflect the majority of Sunni Muslims in the U.S. and worldwide.

In some cases, Muslim Americans are dealing with new realities and issues that are specific to their time (post- 9/11) and place (United States).  We attempt to address these questions in a way that is traditional, but also compatible with our current reality.  We strive to respect the diversity of Islam as both a scriptural and lived religion and start from five basic principles that ING believes are the backbone of our vision of Islam in America, and are values 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. 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?

As one of the three Abrahamic faiths, Islam 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 revealed to the messengers.
  • Belief in an afterlife that follows the Day of Judgment when people will be held accountable for their actions and compensated accordingly in the afterlife.
  • Belief in God’s divine will and His knowledge of everything that happens in the world.

3. How do Muslims practice their faith?

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

  • The profession of faith, namely the affirmation 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:

  • The 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, and 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 denomination of Islam only).

5. Who is considered a Muslim?

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

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.
  • Muslims fast in Ramadan in an effort to:
    • Draw closer to God through good deeds and worship.
    • Internalize piety, willpower, and empathy for those less fortunate.

7. What is the Ka’bah and why is it important?

  • The Ka’bah is the cube-shaped building covered with a black cloth in Mecca that is believed by Muslims to have been the first house of worship to God built by the prophets Abraham and his son Ishamel
  • Muslims throughout the world face towards the Ka’bah when they perform their daily prayers. Muslims also go around the Ka’bah during the hajj or pilgrimage to Mecca that is required of Muslims once in a lifetime if they are able to physically and financially to perform it.

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

  • Each of the five prayers has a window of time during which it can be performed. This time frame extends from an hour to as long as four hours depending on the specific prayer and the time of year, since the times shift seasonally and vary based on the length of the day.
  • Depending on their schedules, most Muslims do not need to perform all five prayers while at school or at work since the prayers are spread throughout the day.
  • During 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 winter, when the prayer time ends while students are still in school, they can take a few minutes during recess or lunch to pray. Students may ask their teachers if they can pray in an empty classroom, office, or section of the 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.

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

  • Muslims believe that this life is a test. Some people are tested with good things such as wealth while others are tested with hardship and suffering. 
  • Muslim believe that in the afterlife those who suffered in this life will be rewarded for their patience with any suffering they experienced.  
  • Additionally, suffering and tribulation inspires good deeds and compassion in other people, and reminds them to be grateful for the many good things they enjoy in this life.

10. What happens to people after death?

  • Muslims believe that all human beings will be resurrected on the Day of Judgment.
  • On this day, God will establish complete justice over what occurred in this life.
    • In the afterlife those who were wronged in this life will be rewarded, while  those who wronged others will be punished for their actions.

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

  • Muslims believe that God’s judgement will be based on both a person’s beliefs and actions, with a consideration of individual circumstances.

12. 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 that ultimately this is God’s decision. We also believe that God rewards righteous behavior, knows what is in people’s ’s hearts, and will judge everyone with complete justice.

13. 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 take are based on this free will, for which they are held accountable.

14. How did Islam spread throughout the world?

Islam spread in various ways:

  • Conversion to Islam in most areas controlled by Muslims generally occurred slowly through trade, social interaction, intermarriage, and the efforts of spiritual teachers (Sufis). This is evident in places like India where Islam was spread by Sufis, yet the majority of the population remained Hindu despite hundreds of years of Muslim rule.
  • In the Arabian Peninsula, where Islam unified warring tribes, the new Muslim community came into conflict with the nearest major powers of the time, the Byzantine and Persian empires. The resultant Muslim victories led to the expansion of Muslim rule and the establishment of a Muslim empire through conquest, similar to other empires at the time. However, Muslim rulers in this empire did not force, and often did not even encourage, conversion to Islam, which was a gradual process that took place over many centuries.
  • In areas like Indonesia (now the largest Muslim-majority country) and other parts of Southeast Asia, Islam spread mainly through traveling merchants and Sufis as it did 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.

Muhammad

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

  • Scholars discourage physical representations of the Prophet Muhammad on the grounds that since the prophets are role models, this might result in presenting them in a manner that is disrespectful or might even result in people worshipping the image.  
  • However, one can find representations of the Prophet Muhammad in different periods of Islamic history, mainly in the form of manuscript illustrations known as Persian miniatures, in which his face is often obscured by light but is sometimes shown.

16. 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.)

  • In all such cases, the vast majority of Muslims did not protest or engage in violence. Violence is never an excusable or laudable response to insult.
  • Additionally, The protests were not always in response to the mere portrayals of the Prophet Muhammad. They often resulted from how the Prophet was portrayed, which was often in a demeaning manner. In the context of increasing Islamophobia and discrimination against Muslims, these protrayals were viewed as provocative which led to protests. In fact, some of the demeaning cartoons were published with the purpose of provocation.
  • Sometimes, violent reactions to these images were fueled by political agendas and not solely by anger at the offensive images.
    • For example, Libyan President Magariaf insisted that the 2012 Benghazi attack, which some people claimed was in response to the disrespectful film about Muhammad called The Innocence of Muslims, had actually been planned by militants for a long time.
    • Similarly, in the 2015 Paris attacks, militants may have been trying to recruit French Muslims to ISIS by performing an attack that would isolate Muslims from other French people.

17. Did the Prophet Muhammad marry a minor?

  • The actual age of Aisha, the minor in question, at the time of her marriage to Muhammad is not certain since good birth records were not kept until very recently, but it is generally agreed that they were not married until she reached puberty.
  • While it is less common today, in the history of 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 throughout the world, including in Europe and right here in the United States, where it is only very recently that many states set a minimum age for marriage and some still do not have a minimum age (https://www.unchainedatlast.org/).

18. 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 their marriage.
  • The idea of a man marrying multiple women, known as polygamy, was common in 7th–century Arabia as it was in many other cultures at the time.
    • For example, the patriarchs in the Hebrew Bible are said to have had multiple wives.
  • According to Muslim historians, the Prophet Muhammad’s marriages after the death of Khadijah were for the purpose of:
    • Assisting widows and divorcees.
    • Solidifying the community of Muslims by creating alliances among the tribes in and around Medina.
  • Considering the time and place, there was nothing unique or unusual about Muhammad marrying several women.

Sunni and Shia Differences

19. 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 excellent character and uphold the oneness of God and the prophethood of Muhammad—and adhere to the Five Pillars.
  • The main differences between them relate to religious leadership and where they get their religious knowledge.
  • 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 certain relatives and 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 position.
  • In terms of the source of their religious knowledge, Sunnis and Shi’as both rely on the Qur’an and hadith, but Shi’as also rely also on the rulings of their imams (religious leaders who were the descendants of Ali).

Other Religions

20. How does Islam view other religions?

  • 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, including Muslims, lies with God alone.

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

  • The term “infidel” was a pejorative (derogatory) term that was originally used by Christians to refer to Muslims and other non-Christians as a way of  excluding and separating Christians from non-Christians in pre-modern history.
  • Islam’s view of those outside of the faith is that they should be treated with love and respect, affirming the Islamic principle of respect for freedom of religion and conscience.  And according to recent polls by Pew, strong majorities of Muslims in every country support the freedom of non-Muslims to practice their religion freely.
  • In the Qur’an, the term kafir, which is now commonly translated to mean “disbeliever,” 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 sometimes wrongly conflated with the term infidel. However, the two terms are completely different with regard to origin and meaning.

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

  • Muslims, like Jews and people of other religions, have their own holidays which they celebrate.
  • While Muslims revere Jesus as a respected prophet, it is not part of their tradition to celebrate his birthday or that of the other prophets. There is even a difference of opinion among Muslims whether or not to celebrate the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday.
  • However, some Muslims celebrate Christmas as an American cultural observance but not as a religious holiday. 
  • Of course the majority of Muslim Americans celebrate other American holidays that are culturally based, such as Thanksgiving and Independence Day.

America

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

  • There is certainly no conflict in being both. 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

24. Are men and women equal in Islam?

  • Qur’anic teachings view women and men as equal on the grounds that all human beings are equal before God because they share the same God-given nature, dignity, and humanity. 
    • Both are servants of God, worthy of respect, with a soul and intellect. 
    • The Prophet Muhammad taught his followers to treat their sons and daughters the same, and to show extra kindness and love to their daughters. 
    • Qur’anic teachings emphasize that men and women share the same religious duties such as prayer, fasting, giving charity, and seeking knowledge, and are equally accountable before God and deserving of reward for their good deeds.
    • They enjoy the same rights, including the right to choose their spouse and to own and keep their property and income. 
  • While throughout much of history and still today women have been viewed and treated as lesser beings in various cultures and societies, this is usually due to cultural influences.

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

  • The Qur’an instructs both men and women to dress modestly (hijab), but how this is practiced is culturally-based and therefore varies greatly in form. 
  • Many Muslim women follow a dress code which includes covering everything except their face and hands in public, while others emphasize modest behavior and dress.
  • According to a 2013 Pew poll, majorities of Muslims in diverse countries believe that women should be free to choose whether or not to cover their hair.

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

  • Religious teachings encourage both men and women to dress modestly by wearing loose clothing that covers most of the body. 
  • The traditional clothing worn by Muslim men in such places as South Asia, where they wear a loose shirt and pants (shalvar-khamees), or in some Arab countries, where men wear what looks like a long gown (jalaba) and a head covering (kuffiyah). 
    • While it is not as common to see this type of male dress in America, many Muslim men grow a beard and wear a head covering that looks like a skull cap called a kufi.

27. What is Islam’s view of abortion?

  • There are different opinions on this subject. The view of many Muslim scholars is that abortion is permissible for medical or other valid reasons for up to the first four months of the pregnancy.  Other valid reasons include rape, incest or, in some cases, pregnancies of  unmarried mothers.
  • However, abortion out of fear of financial need is prohibited in the Qur’an because the Qur’an teaches that God is the provider for all of His creation.

28. Were there female prophets?

  • While all the prophets mentioned in Quran are male, there are references to other unnamed prophets, so there is a possibility that some of them were female. 
  • Some Muslim scholars believe that Asiyah, the wife of Pharaoh, and Mary, the mother of Jesus, might have been prophets because they received revelations from God.
    • Even if one doesn’t consider them to be prophets who brought a specific message to their people, they are examples of the many righteous and influential women mentioned in the Qur’an.

29. Can Muslims be feminists?

  • We define feminism as a movement to establish the equality of men and women.
    • By this definition, yes, many Muslims identify as both Muslim and feminist.
  • In fact, Islamic feminism is a movement which seeks to establish this equality framed in Islamic terms as it challenges patriarchal interpretations of scripture.
    • 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.
    • Organizations such as Karamah provide education about the Islamic foundation for gender equity and encourage women’s leadership.

30. Are Muslim women oppressed?

  • There are more than 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.
    • Laws of the country.
    • Social and economic circumstances.
    • Cultural views and practices.
    • Region (urban or rural).
    • Family circumstances.
    • Religious interpretations about women which vary from country to country.
  • In many Muslim-majority countries women hold high positions in education, business, and politics and work as physicians, engineers, lawyers, and other professionals.
  • Muslim women have also been heads of state in a dozen Muslim-majority countries, including 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 that are part of the culture or religious interpretation.

Marriage and Dating

31. Can Muslims have boyfriends/girlfriends or date?

  • While Individual Muslims may practice 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 physical intimacy until after marriage.

32. 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 has been 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 is forced into a marriage against his or her will, then this practice violates Islamic laws, which require the consent to a marriage by both parties.

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

  • Monogamy, which means marriage between a man and a woman, is the norm in Islamic teachings. 
    • The Qur’an also states that God created things in pairs and that the first human creation was such a pair: Adam and Eve.
    • The vast majority of Muslim are monogamous.
  • Marriage to more than one woman, or polygamy, is a practice which predates Islam in many cultures, including that of ancient Israel as portrayed in the Hebrew Bible, where many of the patriarchs are described as having multiple wives.
  • The Qur’an modified but allowed the continuation of the existing practice of polygamy 1400 years ago in the context of war, when caring for orphans was a major concern. 
  • The Qur’an, however, allows this only under strict conditions, among them that if a man takes a second wife, he must treat both equally.
    • The Qur’an also warns that since this is difficult to achieve, it is better to be monogamous.
  • And of course where the practice is illegal, Muslims have a religious obligation to obey the law of the land.

34. Is homosexuality allowed in Islam?

  • While Muslim tradition accepts the existence of homosexual tendencies, the majority of Muslim scholars uphold the belief that Islam teaches the avoidance of homosexual relations. While homosexuals have generally lived peacefully in Muslim societies, with some exceptions, their sexuality remained a private matter.
  • In the United States young Muslims are more likely to believe that homosexuality should be accepted by society according to a Pew poll, and there are growing numbers of openly gay Muslim individuals and organizations. 
    • 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.

Crime and Punishment

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

  • The Qur’an clearly states that “there is no compulsion in religion” (2:256); therefore a person’s decision to leave Islam is something between him or herself and God.
  • In pre-modern times (before the 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. This was true of the early Muslims fighting against the Meccans who viewed them as the enemy. Treason was punishable by death, as it is today in many countries, including the United States.
  • Today, we and many other Muslims support the fundamental Islamic principle of freedom of conscience per the Qur’anic verse cited above.

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

  • The Qur’an clearly states that “there is no compulsion in religion” (2:256); therefore a person’s decision to leave Islam is something between him or herself and God.
  • In pre-modern times (before the 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. This was true of the early Muslims fighting against the Meccans who viewed them as the enemy. Treason was punishable by death, as it is today in many countries, including the United States.
  • Today, we and many other Muslims support the fundamental Islamic principle of freedom of conscience per the Qur’anic verse cited above.

37. 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 apply these punishments.
    • When applied by 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.

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

  • “Honor killings” refers to the murders of a family or clan member, usually a female, by one or more family members who believe the victim brought dishonor upon the family.
  • These acts are absolutely forbidden and condemned in all interpretations of Islam, because 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 the Qur’an specifically prohibits even speaking ill of a woman without the testimony of four witnesses, and calls for the punishment of one who does so without this virtually impossible requirement.
  • Those who commit honor killings should be arrested and tried for murder.
  • 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 should not be tolerated in any society where they occur.

Halal

39. What is halal?

  • “Halal” in Arabic means something lawful or permitted. The opposite of halal is “haram,” which means unlawful or prohibited.
  • The term 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 is similar to the guidelines set by Jewish law that classify meat prepared in this manner as kosher.
    • It is common to find halal butcher shops and restaurants in most major cities in the United States.

40. Why can’t Muslims eat pork?

  • While many reasons have been suggested, there is no one consensus other than  because the Qur’an forbids it.
  • Observant Jews also follow this dietary restriction based on their scripture.

41. Why can’t Muslims drink alcoholic beverages?

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

42. How does Islam view dogs and other animals?

  • Islam teaches kindness to all living things, including animals.
  • There are many Hadith (prophetic sayings) about the reward for one who is kind to or saves the life of an animal.
  • Some Muslims are hesitant to keep dogs in their homes because they follow an interpretation that views dog saliva as something which invalidates their state of physical purification before prayer.
  • However, dogs are valued for hunting, as guard dogs, or for other purposes.

Entertainment

43. Is music allowed in Islam?

  • Traditionally, music has been a part of Muslim culture and even some religious events throughout Islamic history. Music for example was performed in celebrations, by military bands, and used for therapeutic healing in mental health hospitals. In fact, many musical instruments have their roots in Muslim cultures (e.g., the guitar has its origins in the lute or oud).
    • While there is a difference of opinion about the type of music that is allowed, traditional Muslim scholars focused more on the lyrics and types of behavior associated with the music than about the music or musical instrument themselves.
  • In the modern era, Muslims have different opinions on the permissibility of music and musical instruments.
    • Some Muslims believe that so long as the music or activities associated with the music do not promote promiscuity, violence, drugs, or alcohol, music and musical instruments are permissible.
    • Other Muslims believe that music and musical instruments are inherently not permissible, with few exceptions including a specific type of drum for weddings and celebrations.

Science

44. 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 saltwater.
  • These teachings influenced Muslim society in the Middle Ages, when Muslims made great advances in the fields of 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.

45. What is the Muslim view on the theory of evolution?

  • While according to a Pew poll some Muslims accept the theory of evolution in its entirety, some Muslims take issue with the belief that humans and animals share a common ancestor or evolved over time. 
    • They 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

46. What is sharia?

  • Sharia is often translated as “Islamic Law,” which is not correct.
  • Instead, sharia refers to values, guidelines, and divine inspired practices that give direction for different areas of a Muslim’s life.
    • These are drawn from the Qur’an and Sunnah (teachings and guidance of Prophet Muhammad) to help humanity worship and draw close to God and live with love, kindness, and justice towards His Creation.
  • Actions such as praying, fasting, and giving charity are all examples of how Muslims follow sharia.
  • Certain laws are derived from sharia. In Arabic, the term for such laws is fiqh.

47. Do Muslims want to bring sharia to America?

  • Any observant Muslim already practices sharia in the United States just as Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists and other religious groups practice their religion through such actions as praying or giving charity. Sharia is no different than Halacha for Jews or cannon law for Protestants.
  • There is no evidence that Muslims want to impose sharia on other Americans, and since Muslims only make up 1-2% of the US population, such a claim is not only baseless, but ludicrous and is meant to foster irrational fear of Muslims.

48. 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:
    • The Qur’an and Sunnah (teachings and guidance of the Prophet Muhammad).
    • Agreement of religious 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 between different cultures and individuals.

Terrorism and Warfare

49. What is jihad?

  • Even though it is often mistranslated as “holy war”, jihad literally means “struggle” 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.
    • The word can also refer to military action against an aggressor to prevent oppression against oneself or others, similar to the reasons that America entered World War II to stop the aggression of Hitler and others in the Axis. It does not mean “holy war” and cannot be used to justify terrorism.

50. What is the Islamic view of 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 which prohibits the targeting of innocent civilians even during a state of war.
    • Right to due process.
    • Individual responsibility.
  • Mainstream Muslims, the vast majority, utterly condemn terrorism as contrary to Islamic teachings.

51. Where are the Muslim peacemakers?

  • Muslim peacemakers are working throughout the world building bridges between people of different faiths.  To give two contemporary examples:
    • The work we’re doing at ING (authors of this document) to increase religious literacy is one of the best antidotes and solutions to conflict.
    • The Muslim Peace Fellowship upholds the tradition of Muslim nonviolence and peacemaking.
  • Contemporary Muslim advocates of nonviolence include:
    • Malala Yousafzai in Pakistan.
    • Sari Nusseibeh in Palestine.
    • Maulana Wahiduddin Khan in India, Muhammad Yunus in Bangladesh.
    • Rebiya Kadeer in the Uyghur region of China.
    • 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

52. 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 false. 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 currently involved in several armed conflicts. The two largest and deadliest 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.
  • Additionally, in many of these conflicts Muslims are the victims rather than the perpetrators of violence and conflict. 
    • Some current examples include: Myanmar, where close to a million Rohingya Muslims have been persecuted and driven from their homes by the Burmese army and militants; in China, where over one million Uighur Muslims have been detained in concentration camps; in Kashmir where a brutal crack-down has resulted in the oppression of all its Muslim residents following decades of repression; and ongoing conflicts over land and rights in Palestine. 
    • This has also been the case in previous conflicts in Iraq, Chechnya, Afghanistan, and Bosnia, where others instigated conflict to the great detriment, loss of lives, destruction, and suffering of the Muslims living in those countries.

53. Why don’t Muslims condemn terrorism?

  • They do!
  • While there is no central authority for Muslims (like the Pope for Catholics), everyday Muslims have consistently and repeatedly denounced terrorism, even before September 11, 2001.
  • Unfortunately, these statements are rarely highlighted in the media, 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.

54. What do Muslims think of ISIS?

  • Muslims worldwide have condemned ISIS for its brutality, terrorism, and actions that are 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 [1]; aggression against Muslims, Christians, Yazidis and other minority groups who disagree with ISIS; and other atrocities.

55. Do ISIS’ actions reflect Islamic teachings?

  • No ISIS does not reflect Islamic teachings.
  • ISIS’s actions have been condemned by Muslims worldwide as contravening Islamic teachings.
  • In fact, their actions reflect the actions of criminals and terrorists, not a religious group.
  • Some people suggest 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.[2]
  • The following is a summary of an open letter by several hundred Muslim scholars and leaders to ISIS leader al-Baghdadi, found at: http://lettertobaghdadi.com/translations.php:
    • 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] Robert Mackey, “Woman Hides Camera to Reveal Life Under Islamic State Rule,” New York Times (September 25, 2014). Accessed July 22 2015.

[2] 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.