Islamic Voice A Monthly English Magazine

April 2006
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Our Dialogue

Quran and Natural Phenomena
By Adil Salahi

Q. I am an American citizen who accepted Islam 20 years ago. Recently some questions were put to me asking about the Islamic view as to whether the earth is flat or rounded, whether it rotates or remains stationary, and whether it circles the sun or vice versa? I could not answer these questions, as I do not have a clue. Please help.

A. Islam is a faith and its teachings are concerned with human life in all its aspects, particularly man’s position in relation to God, the universe and other human beings. Therefore, it provides guidance on all aspects of life, particularly social relations within the family and the community, as also relations between the Muslim community and other groups and societies. Needless to say, the central theme of the Qur’an is the belief in God, His oneness and the message He sent to mankind to provide guidance in all their affairs. In its presentation of this message, the Qur’an employs variety of styles and arguments. Some of these call on man to look around him in the universe, reflect on its creation and how it is supported. It draws man’s attention to what he sees around him in the universe and invites us to reflect on how it all comes into being, the balance we observe in nature and how its disturbance affects the universe and man’s life. In doing so, the Qur’an highlights some of what we see around us, on earth, in the skies, in the sea and in the open universe. But this does not mean that the Qur’an is a book of geography, geology or astronomy. Similarly the Qur’an highlights many natural phenomena and the interaction between different natural forces. This does not make the Qur’an a book of earth sciences. All these issues are addressed as they relate to the central theme of the Qur’an, which is belief in God and His oneness.

Having said that, we wish to add that the Qur’an does not concern itself with telling us whether the earth is flat or rounded, rotates or remains stationary, or indeed any aspect of its shape or physical aspects. Nevertheless, the Qur’an calls on us to consider everything around us on earth and in the universe, reflecting on their function and creation, the perfection of their design and the fine balance they provide. It relates all this to God’s perfect creation, arguing that no one could have created all this, but God.

The Qur’an also mentions certain aspects of life that could not have been known to any human being at the time of its revelation. It tells us of the several stages an embryo goes through before it is born. The most advanced scientific discoveries in this area confirm the accuracy of the Qur’anic description, given in a form understood by people at the time and accurate by our standards. No doubt they will remain accurate, however human knowledge advances.

Some Muslim scientists speak of the references given in the Qur’an to natural aspects and phenomena, highlighting this as a miraculous aspect of the Qur’an, testifying to its divine origin. This is well and good, but there are two points to make here: 1) the fact that such references confirm the most advanced scientific knowledge proves nothing more than what we already accept, namely, that the Qur’an is revealed by God who has perfect, absolute and unlimited knowledge; and 2) if human knowledge happens to be at variance with what the Qur’an states, then the Qur’an is true and our knowledge is suspect and will inevitably prove to be faulty. With respect to the specific questions the reader asks, scientists dwell on certain statements in the Qur’an highlighting them as scientific truth. These include that the earth is round, not flat, and that it split from the sun at some point in the distant past, and that the earth, the moon and the sun, move in their respective orbits.

In practice, the Qur’anic call on people to look around, study and reflect encouraged scientific research in all aspects, and Muslim scientists were able to expand their knowledge and use it in numerous ways that benefited man. They proved that the earth was round, not flat, and that it circles the sun, not the other way round, several centuries before Europe accepted these facts. However, some people in the West today try to accuse Islam and Muslims of being reactionary or old fashioned. A couple of years ago, I watched a programme on television when Richard Perle, a top official in the present US administration, referred to Muslims as flat-earthers. This only exposed his own lack of knowledge. But he and people like him always try to berate Islam and Muslims. We should not pay any attention to such war-mongers.

Women's Money and Responsibility

Q. We have always been taught that what a woman owns belongs to her and she is not required to pay anything towards the family expenses. However, a book on Shariah law suggests that this applies to what a woman owns before her marriage, or what comes into her possession through inheritance. As for her earnings, the matter is totally different. Please comment.

A. What you have been taught is right. A woman is not responsible for any of the family expenses. In Islam, this responsibility is fairly and squarely on the husband. Even when a woman is rich and has an income, the same rule applies. Not only so, but even when her income is much higher than that of her husband, the responsibility is his. I should add that nowadays, when many wives are working outside the home and have regular income, scholars suggest that there should be some sharing of the financial responsibilities. They point out that when a woman works, she actually uses her time to which her husband has a claim. Moreover, when a woman works, the family expenses become higher, particularly if the children have to be placed in a nursery, or a child minder need to be employed for them. Therefore, sharing becomes a desirable and practical solution.

Weird Disease Treatment

Q. I have seen someone who treats people with the iron rod method and he appears to be able to call on the jinn for curing human illness. He makes no claim to this latter method, but I am wondering whether the iron rod method is acceptable from the Islamic point of view.

A. If anyone makes a claim to be able to call on the jinn to help in any way, then he claims something he cannot prove. How can he know that he is speaking to a jinnee or that the jinnee is listening to him when he cannot see the jinnee or speak to him? God tells us in the Qur’an that the jinn can see us while we cannot see them. Besides, how do we know whether the jinn can help with the treatment of any illness? Are their diseases the same as ours? Are they more advanced than us? Can they do what we cannot? We have no clear answer to any such question. All we know is that God has created the jinn and made certain things applicable to them, such as having a free will, and being able to believe and abide by the teachings of faith, or reject it and lead a life of disobedience to God.

I am not sure what you mean by the iron rod method and how it works. Is the iron rod very highly heated so as to burn the skin, or is it used in a different way? If the former, then it is a method of cauterization which may be useful in some cases. Cautery is used in medicine to help with certain medical conditions. If the iron rod works on the same principle, then it can be a useful method. However, one must be very careful lest he should trust a medical condition to a quack.

Past Wrongs, Regrets and Repentance

Q. One person deceived another and got away with some money from him. Now he regrets what he did and has repented. What should he do concerning the money? He is too ashamed to inform the man of what he did to him. What should he do?

A. What we should know is that when we repent our past sins, slips or mistakes, God will forgive us the part that is owed to Him, i.e. any shortfall in performing our duty towards Him. Anything that we owe to other people, He will not forgive unless the person concerned forgoes his right. Therefore, it is important that we should give back to other people what belongs to them. If we have verbally abused them and they are not aware of the fact, we should tell them and beg their pardon. If we have taken their money, we should refund them what we had taken.

This may sound too ideal, particularly in a situation where it is very difficult for any of us to admit a guilt that the other party is unaware of. But if we are aiming for God’s forgiveness, this is what we should do. After all, if you go to someone and tell him that you had wronged him in a particular manner, of which he is unaware, your confession will win you his favour. He will realise that you had no benefit by making such a confession other than to wipe your slate clean. He may appreciate your gesture and you two may become the best of friends.

Some people, however, might not take such a confession in this way. If you fear that your admission of your past misdeed may bring trouble to you, try to get the money back to him in an indirect way, perhaps through a mutual friend or a relative you can trust. Such a friend should tell him that the money is due to him and he cannot reveal the identity of the person who asked him to deliver it. You may then gauge by his attitude what he would do if he knows that you are the one concerned.

Impurity and Intoxicants

Q.1. As a group of new Muslims we want to know what is the Islamic concept of impurity? We are raising this question because we know a person who once carried a bottle of wine in his pocket while praying. Maybe he did not do it intentionally. Intentional or not, is his prayer valid?

Q.2 Why should we love the Prophet (Pbuh) more than we love our parents?

A.1. The answer to this question depends on the view we take to the type of impurity we attach to all intoxicating drinks including wine. God describes wines in the Qur’an as impure, but the majority of scholars consider this impurity to be abstract, in the same sense as unbelievers are described as impure. Should we shake hands with an unbeliever, we do not have to wash our hands like we must do when an impurity falls on them. This is because such impurity is abstract. Alcohol is impure in the same sense. As such a person carrying a wine bottle in his pocket while praying is not carrying a physical impurity. Hence, his prayer is valid although he is committing something forbidden at the same time. The two actions are considered separately.

On the other hand, if we consider wine to be a physical impurity, as some scholars do, then the man’s prayer is invalid, because an essential condition for the validity of prayer is to ensure the purity of one’s body, clothes and the place where we are praying.

Having said that, there is a third way to consider this question. If the man knows the way Islam looks at alcoholic drinks and still carries a wine bottle in his pocket as he stands to pray, his action mocks his prayer. He may be considered a hypocrite, although only God knows what is in people’s hearts. God does not accept any apparently good deed done by a hypocrite.

That said, I would like to add that in the past, students of Islamic Fiqh indulged in trying to answer hypothetical questions of this sort. Their action was not welcomed by scholars, because a scholar should concentrate on practicalities, not hypothetical questions that may never arise.

A.2. Everyone of us is indebted to the Prophet (Pbuh) for having delivered God’s message complete, and shown us the way to earn God’s pleasure and to achieve admission into heaven. As such, he has done everyone of us the greatest favour we may ever have. In return, it is a mark of true faith that we should love him more than we love our parents, children and our own souls.

Zakah on Rent

Q. I am told that zakah is not payable on rent received from real property. Thus, if one invests his money in buying houses and other property, and renting them, he is not liable to pay much zakah. Is it appropriate to thus try to minimize one’s zakah liability?

A. Why should people try to minimise what they pay in zakah? They should remember that zakah is an act of worship which is richly rewarded by God. They make no better investment of their money than paying out their zakah and adding some more voluntarily in sadaqah or charity. The fact that a person is liable to zakah means that he has enough to maintain a good standard of living for himself and his family, and he has a minimum of saving that is equal to the value of 85 grams of gold, and that such savings are held by him from one year to the next. If you consider that God always mentions zakah in the same sentence as prayer, repeating His commandment that we must fulfill both obligations, and also consider that people are generally willing to offer voluntary prayers, you wonder why they are less forthcoming when it comes to zakah. In fact their approach should be the same to both duties. They should remember the Prophet’s (Pbuh) statement that never does the property of anyone decrease as a result of the payment of zakah.

Having said that, I should add that it is universally agreed by scholars that rent received from property is liable to zakah. The owner of the property should pay zakah on his net income from such rent, after deducting any expenses he incurs in the transaction. This of course assumes that the person receiving the rent has more than the threshold of zakah. Rental income is zakatable every year.

A Sunnah Before Maghrib

Q. In my home country, the Philippines, people do not offer two rak’ahs of Sunnah before they start the congregational prayer of Maghrib, which is the practicein Saudi Arabia. Why is this difference, and how do we correct this practice?

A. This is just another example of the differences between schools of fiqh, or Islamic jurisprudence, on matters of detail. In the school of Fiqh that predominates in your country, which I expect to be the Hanafi school, the recognised view is that Maghrib should be offered within a few minutes of its becoming due. Other schools allow longer time, although they stress the importance of offering it early in its time range. They also recommend offering two rak’ahs of Sunnah before the obligatory prayer.

There is no need to re-educate the people in your community so as to change their practice. Had their practice involved some deviation from the recognised Islamic principles, some action would have been needed. But as the case is not so, nothing need to be done.