Frequently Asked Questions

What does Jihad mean?

Why did Prophet Muhammad marry many wives?

Isn’t it true that Islam was spread by the sword?

Why does the Qur’an allow Muslim men to have four wives?

What are some of the rights given to women in Islam?

What does Islam say about domestic violence?

Why do Muslim women cover their heads (hijab)? Isn’t this a sign of subjection of women?

Jesus said that he is the way and that no one can come to God except through him. What do Muslims say about that?

If God is Loving, Kind, and Merciful, why would He punish anyone in Hell?

Does the Qur’an teach Muslims to believe in the Torah, the Psalms and the gospel? If so, how come Muslims do not accept the Bible?

What does Jihad mean?

This word represents a concept which is much misunderstood in the West. The term is explained nicely by the Christian scholar Ira G. Zepp, Jr. in his book entitled “A Muslim Primer on pages 133-135” We adapt from his answer the following: The essential meaning of Jihad is the spiritual, psychological, and physical effort we exert to be close to God and thus achieve a just and harmonious society. Jihad literally means “striving” or “struggle” and is shorthand for Jihad fi Sabeel Allah (struggle for God’s cause). In a sense, every Muslim is a Mujahid, one who strives for God and justice.

Al-Ghazali captured the essence of Jihad when he said: “The real Jihad is the warfare against (one’s own) passions.” Dr. Ibrahim Abu-Rabi calls Jihad “the execution of effort against evil in the self and every manifestation of evil in society.” In a way, Jihad is the Muslim’s purest sacrifice: to struggle to live a perfect life and completely submit to God.

Another form of Jihad is the striving to translate the Word of God into action. If one has experienced God and received guidance from the Quran, one struggles to apply that guidance in daily life. So the larger, more prevalent meaning of Jihad is the spiritual struggle of the soul. In this case, Jihad is always present for the believer whether there is an external enemy or not. We should never reduce Jihad to violence.

A third level of Jihad is popularly known as “holy war.” The classic passage is found in the Quran: “Fight in the way of Allah those who fight against you, but transgress not the limits. Truly Allah likes not the transgressors” (Quran 2: 190). It is crucial to note here that what is condoned is defensive warfare; Islam cannot justify aggressive war.

Robert Ellwood of the University of Southern California has the following to say about the Muslim concept of Jihad:

Out of the community idea of Islam comes the concept of jihad, or holy war, which is designed to defend Islam and allow its social practice, though not to force individual conversions, which is forbidden. Since Islam in principle is a community as well as a religion, presumably only an absolute pacifist would be able to reject the theory of jihad out of hand, since other communities also fight to defend or expand their ways of life.

(Many Peoples, Many Faiths by Robert S. Ellwood, 4th edition, Simon & Schuster, US, 1982, p. 346).

 

Why did Prophet Muhammad marry many wives?

When people hear that the prophet had many wives they conclude without much thought that the prophet was a sensuous man. However, a quick historical review of his marriages, proves otherwise. When he was twenty-five years old he married for the first time his wife, Khadijah, who was fifteen years older than he. She remained the only wife of the prophet for the next twenty-five years, until she died (may Allah be pleased with her).

Only after her death, did the prophet marry other women. Now, it is obvious that if the prophet was after physical pleasure he did not have to wait until he was more than fifty years old to start marrying more wives. He lived in a society in which it was quite acceptable to have many wives. But the prophet remained devoted to his only wife for twenty-five years. When she died .she was sixty-five years old.

His later marriages were for various reasons. Some marriages were with the view to help the women whose husbands had been killed while they were defending their faith. Others were with a view to cement relationships with devoted followers like Abu Bakr, may Allah be pleased with him. Yet others were to build bridges with various tribes who were otherwise at war with the Muslims. When the prophet became their relative through marriage, their hostilities calmed down, and much blood shed was averted.

Recent non-Muslim writers who had the opportunity to study the life of the prophet first-hand reach a similar conclusion about his plural marriages. John L. Esposito, Professor of Religion and Director of the Centre for International Studies at the College of the Holy Cross, says that most of these marriages had “political and social motives” (Islam: The Straight Path, Oxford University Press, 1988, p. 19). This he explained as follows:

“As was customary for Arab chiefs, many were political marriages to cement alliances. Others were marriages to the widows of his companions who had fallen in combat and were in need of protection” (John L. Esposito, Islam: The Straight Path, pp. 19-20).

Esposito reminds us of the following historical fact: “Though less common, polygyny was also permitted in biblical and even in postbiblical Judaism. From Abraham, David, and Solomon down to the reformation period, polygyny was practiced (p. 1 9).

Another non-Muslim Caesar E. Farah writes as follows: “In the prime of his youth and adult years Muhammad remained thoroughly devoted to Khadijah and would have none other for consort. This was an age that looked upon plural marriages with favour and in a society that in pre-Biblical and post-Biblical days considered polygamy an essential feature of social existence. David had six wives and numerous concubines (2 Samuel 5:13; 1 Chronicles 3:1-9, 14:3) and Solomon was said to have had as many as 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11 :3). Solomon’s son Rehoboam had 18 wives and 60 concubines (2 Chronicles 11:21). The New Testament contains no specific injunction against plural marriages. It was commonplace for the nobility among the Christians and Jews to contract plural marriages. Luther spoke of it with toleration” (Caesar E. Farah, Islam: Beliefs and Observances, 4th edition, Barron’s, U.S. 1987, p. 69).

Caesar Farah then concluded that Muhammad’s plural marriages were due “partly to political reasons and partly to his concern for the wives of his companions who had fallen in battle defending the nascent Islamic community” (P69).

Isn’t it true that Islam was spread by the sword?

 

No. This is not true. However, this is common misconception in the minds of many people. The Qur’an declares:

“There is no compulsion in religion. The right direction is henceforth distinct from error, (Quran 2:256). This Quranic verse shows that God has made truth and falsehood distinct from each other and people are therefore free to choose one or the other. No one can be forced to believe in a religion since belief is something very personal. One who follows the Quran will not try to force another person to believe.

Even the prophet Muhammad, on whom be peace, could not force another person to become a Muslim. God revealed to him the following words: “And if your Lord willed, all who are in the earth would have believed together. Would you then compel people until they become believers? It is not for any soul to believe except by the permission of Allah (Quran 10:99-100).

This instruction from God makes it clear that anyone is mistaken who thinks that he or she can compel others to believe. If God wanted He could make everyone believers, but rather has given them free choice. Even so, no one can believe upon being forced. It is the grace of God on a person that will result in belief. Is there a teaching more beautiful than this? How could any true follower of the Quran turn around and force his faith on others?

On the contrary, the Quran instructs its followers on how to call people to true faith as follows:

Call unto the way of your Lord with wisdom and fair exhortation, and reason with them in the better way” (Quran 16:125).

Huston Smith discusses in his book entitled The World’s Religions, on page 256, how the prophet Muhammad, on whom be peace, granted freedom of religion to the Jews and Christians under Muslim rule. The prophet had a document drawn up in which he stipulated that Jews and Christians shall be “protected from all insults and vexations; they shall have an equal right with our own people to our assistance and good offices,” and furthermore, that they shall “practice their religion as freely as the Muslims” (Quoted in The World’s Religions by Huston Smith, Harper Collins, 1991, p. 256). Smith points out that Muslims regard that document as “the first charter of freedom of conscience in human history and the authoritative model for those of every subsequent Muslim state” (p. 256). So, was Islam spread by the sword? The following short answer comes from Ira Zepp Jr., a non-Muslim, in his book entitled A Muslim Primer:

“It is unfortunate that Islam has been stereotyped as the ‘religion of the sword’ or that Islam was ‘spread by the sword.’ The historical reality is that the expansion of Islam was usually by persuasion and not by military power. In any case, Islam cannot be forced on anyone; if profession of the shahadah [i.e. the declaration of Islam] is forced on someone, it is not true Is lam” (A Muslim Primer by Ira Zepp, Jr., 1992, Wakefield Editions, US, p. 134).

Why does the Qur’an allow Muslim men to have four wives?

Polygyny has been practiced by many religions and cultures over the years, polygyny is permitted in the Bible too. The Qur’an permits only a restricted and limited form of that practice. In reality it is very rare. Only 2% of Muslim marriages worldwide are of this nature. In the UK polygamy is not legal. Notice that the Quran permits but does not command a man to have four wives. Furthermore, the Quran stipulates that a man is responsible for the maintenance of his wife or wives. If a man has more than one wife, he has to provide separate living accommodation for each of his wives. Multiple marriages are a heavy responsibility on the male. It is not a pleasure trip as some people may assume. Some even imagine all kinds of sexual exploits involving a man and his wives altogether. However, such activity is not permissible in Islam. A man must divide his time equally among his wives. If a man cannot maintain justice in the treatment of his wives, the Qur’an stipulates that he is to have no more than one wife.

John Esposito says: “Although it is found in many religious and cultural traditions, polygamy (or more precisely, polygyny) is most often identified with Islam in the minds of Westerners. In fact, the Quran and Islamic Law sought to control and regulate the number of spouses rather than give free license. (John Esposito, Islam: The Straight Path, Oxford University, 1988, p. 97). Esposito then goes on to explain that in a society which allowed men an unlimited number of wives, Islam limited the number of wives to four and encouraged only one. Then he continued to say:

“The Quran permits a man to marry up to four wives, provided he can support and treat them all equally. Muslims regard this Quranic command as strengthening the status of women and the family for it sought to ensure the welfare of single women and widows in a society whose male population was diminished by warfare, and to curb unrestricted polygamy” (John Esposito: Islam the Straight Path, p. 97). Karen Armstrong explains much the same in her book entitled Muhammad: A Western Attempt to Understand Islam. She says: “We have to see the ruling about polygamy in context. In seventh-century Arabia, when a man could have as many wives as he chose, to prescribe only four was a limitation, not a license to new oppression” (Karen Armstrong, Muhammad: A Western Attempt to understand Islam, Victor Gollancz Ltd., 1991, p. 191). It is unfortunate that the Western media often gives the wrong impression of what Islam is all about. Karen Armstrong writes:

“Popular films like Harem give an absurd and inflated picture of the sexual life of the Muslim sheikh which reveals more about Western fantasy than it does about the reality” (p. 190).

Some people incorrectly assume that because of this ruling most Muslim men would have four wives. However, as Huston Smith points out, “multiple wives are seldom found in Islam today” (The World’s Religions, p. 252). Ira Zepp, Jr. says that “less than 2% of Muslim marriages are polygamous” (A Muslim Primer, p. 180).

 

What are some of the rights given to women in Islam?

 

The Quran places men and women on a ‘Similar relationship before God, and promises both the final goal of paradise for those who believe and do right (see Quran 3:195; 4:124; 16:19; 40:40).

The Quran also speaks of similarity in terms of creation. God tells us that He created a single soul and from it its mate, then He made countless men and women from those two (see Quran 4: 1). The Quran does not contain the belief that the man alone is created in the image of God.

Because of this fundamental similarity between men and women, the Quran declares that women have rights similar to the rights against them according to what is equitable (see Quran 2:228).

In a time when women were devalued and female infants were buried alive, the Quran raised the value of women and prohibited female infanticide. Due to the Quran, this practice was abolished, but in recent times advances in the science of genetic selection has encouraged some unbelievers to practice a modern form of female infanticide.

The Quran also abolished the practice whereby inheritance went to only the oldest male heir. Instead, a woman can inherit from her father, her husband, and her childless brother (see Quran 4:7, 32, 176).

In Islam when a woman gets married she does not surrender her maiden name, but maintains her distinct identity. Some Muslim women have adopted the surnames of their husbands, but this is due to cultural influence, not Islam.

In a Muslim marriage the groom gives a dowry to the bride, not to her father. This becomes her private property to keep or spend, and is not subject to the dictates of her male relatives. Any money she earns or receives is similarly her very own.

Under Islamic Law a woman cannot be married without her consent. She has final approval on a marriage partner and she can repudiate a marriage arranged without her consent. She also has the right to initiate a separation from marriage if her rights under marriage are not being granted.

Widows have the right to remarry, and they are in fact encouraged to do so. The Quran places on men the responsibility of protecting and maintaining their female relatives. This relieves women of the need to earn their own living. It also means that a man must provide for his wife even if she has money of her own. She is not obligated to spend her money in the maintenance of her family. Incidentally, a woman is also not required to cook for her family, although she may do so out of love and compassion. The example of our noble prophet, on whom be peace, is that although he was such a great leader, he assisted in the housecleaning and mended his own clothes. In return for the added responsibility, the Quran gives men the degree of leadership (see Quran 2 :228; 4:34).

This does not mean that men should dominate women, but rather that they should deal with them in kindness, mercy, and love (see Quran 4: 19; 30:21)

 

What does Islam say about domestic violence?

The prophet, peace be upon him, said, “Do not beat the female servants of Allah.” Allah knows that life is not always a bowl of cherries. And so He stipulates that a man must be kind to his wife even if he happens to dislike her (Quran 4: 19). Allah offers a good reason as to why men should not dislike their wives. Allah says that He has placed much good in women (Quran 4: 19).

In this regard the prophet Muhammad, on whom be peace, said that no believing man should hold a grudge against a believing woman. So what is a husband to do if he dislikes something about his wife? This is bound to occur, since no human being is perfect. The prophet instructed that men should look for the agreeable traits in their wives rather than focus on their faults. (See Saheeh Muslim, chapter on advice relating to women).

The prophet also advised men that if they wish to benefit from marriage they should accept their wives as they are rather than try to straighten them out and thus end up in divorce.

In the following verse of the Quran, Allah warns men that if they retain their wives in marriage it should not be to take advantage of them. The verse reads:

“Retain them in kindness or release them in kindness. But do not ret them to their hurt so that you transgress (the limits). If anyone does that he wrongs his own soul. Do not take God’s instructions as a jest” (Quran 2:231).

Once the prophet, on whom be peace, was asked what are the obligations of husbands toward their wives. He replied:

“Feed her when you eat, and provide her clothing when you provide yourself. Neither hit her on the face nor use impolite language when addressing her”. The prophet equated perfect belief with good treatment to one’s wife when he said:

“The most perfect believer is one who is the best in courtesy and amiable manners, and the best among you people is one who is most kind and courteous to his wives”.

Finally, the prophet, the best example of conduct said: “The best among you is the one who treats his family best.”

Some of the last words of the prophet delivered during the farewell pilgrimage enjoins that men should hold themselves accountable before Allah concerning the question of how they treat their wives. Therefore his advice to all men, is as follows: “You must treat them with all kindness.”

Why do Muslim women cover their heads (hijab)? Isn’t this a sign of subjection of women?

Muslim women cover their heads for various reasons, as a sign of faith, feminism, national tradition or simply because they want to. For many Muslim women, wearing a hijab offers a way for them to take control of their bodies and to claim a stance that challenges the ways in which women are judged by their physical appearance in the public sphere. But primarily because God directed it in the Quran. The head cover is specifically mentioned in 24:31. This instruction from God is only one aspect of a wider context of purity of thought and action for men and women. Islam has very strict rules against adultery and fornication, and introduces many cautious measures to ensure the prevention and avoidance of such sins. Another measure is that BOTH men and women should cover the specified areas of their bodies which may arouse desire in others (see Quran 7:26; 33:59). When addressing modesty, the burden of responsibility is not put on the women alone. The Quran commands men to not stare at women and to not be promiscuous. The Quran 24:30 obliges men to observe propriety: “Say to the believing men that they restrain their eyes and guard their private parts. That is purer for them. Surely, Allah is well aware of what they do.”

The Prophet rode with his companion Al Fadl bin Abbas. A woman described as strikingly beautiful approached the Prophet to seek his guidance on some religious matters. Al Fadl began to stare at her because of her beauty. Noting this, the Prophet Muhammad did not scold the woman for dressing immodestly or revealing her beauty. Instead, he “reached his hand backwards, catching Al Fadl’s chin, and turned his face to the other side so that he would not gaze at her”. Thus, the Prophet Muhammad showed men are commanded to restrain their eyes, they should fulfil their own obligations and take responsibility for their own actions first.

Jesus said that he is the way and that no one can come to God except through him. What do Muslims say about that?

Muslims believe that Jesus, on whom be peace, was indeed the way. This means that he showed the way by which people should approach God. He expected that people should follow him and imitate him. His early followers were called followers of the way because, obviously, they followed Jesus, and Jesus was the way (see Acts 9:2; 18:25; 19:9; 19:23; 22:4; 24:14; 24:22).

They were also called Christians, which means ‘imitators of Christ’ (see Acts 11:26). This shows that the early followers of Jesus copied and imitated him. Jesus had said that his true followers will hold on to his teachings, then they will know the truth, and the truth will set them free (see John 8:31-32). God did reveal his truth in these last times. And true followers, of Jesus will readily accept that truth, for they will find it in agreement with the unadulterated teachings of Jesus. In these last times God has sent a messenger and declared that anyone who claims to love him must follow his messenger, on whom be peace. God directs his messenger as follows:

“Say: If you love Allah then follow me. Allah will love you and forgive your sins. Surely Allah is

Forgiving, Merciful” (Quran 3:31).

Now this messenger, Muhammad, on whom be peace, has brought God’s final message for all of humankind. If we love God we must follow him. He brought the truth which Jesus said his true followers will recognise. The truth sets people free from unreasonable doctrines and dogmas.

Confusion arises in the minds of some who imagine that Jesus is the only way for peoples of all times and all places. Clearly, the Old Testament prophets directed people to Yahweh the only God. They showed therefore the way to Yahweh. In fact, people were calling on the name of Yahweh since the time of Adam (see Genesis 4: 1).

Jesus was the way for his time; now Muhammad is the way. We believe in both of them, and we worship the one God whom they both worshipped. These men showed us the way to worship God. Jesus, for example, fell on his knees and worshipped God (see Luke 22:41). He also fell on his face and worshipped God (see Matthew 26:39). Muhammad too adopted similar postures of humility in worshipping God. Likewise is the practice of the true imitators of Jesus and Muhammad, peace be upon both of them.

Finally, we should recall that Jesus is the way, not the destination. He spoke of one who is greater than himself (see John 14:28). And he said that that one alone is the only true God (see John 17:3).

God has sent numerous prophets and messengers. Each in his time was the way to God. No one can approach God in a way contrary to the way of God’s messenger. This is why God said that He will call to account anyone who does not listen to His prophet who will speak in His name (see Deuteronomy 18: 19).

 

If God is Loving, Kind, and Merciful, why would He punish anyone in Hell?

Due to a slight misunderstanding, many people see this as an unresolvable contradiction. This question has troubled them to the point of driving them away from religion altogether. The misunderstanding begins with the assumption that God loves everyone, even sinners. Then it becomes difficult to explain why God would punish sinners.

Some people attempt to explain their way around this by saying that God loves the sinner but hates the sin. This explanation would have been good enough if God would punish the sin and save the sinner. Instead, God will punish the sinner, so the problem remains.

To survey the problem a little further, consider the following quote from Matthew’s Gospel:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies … “(Matthew 5:43-44). Now, this passage indicates that it is a good thing to love one’s enemies. It follows, then, that God, being infinitely good, must love His enemies too. But then, why would He punish them? Why, for example, would God torment some of His creatures day and night for ever and ever in a lake of burning sulphur if He loves them? (See Revelation 20:1 0)

The Quran resolves this problem by indicating quite clearly that although God is full of loving kindness He does not love sinners who refuse to change. It makes sense that God will not treat the good and bad in the same manner. Therefore we must try our best to do what pleases God, and seek His forgiveness for our failings.

The Qur’an tells us that Allah loves the following

categories of people:

• those who do good,

• those who repent for their sins,

• those who keep themselves clean,

• those who fulfil their pledges and are conscious of Allah,

• those who are steadfast on the right path,

• those who trust in Allah .

Let us therefore ask God to make us deserving of His, infinite love.

 

Does the Qur’an teach Muslims to believe in the Torah, the Psalms and the gospel? If so, how come Muslims do not accept the Bible?

The Qur’an commands Muslims to believe in the revelations given to all of God’s prophets. These prophets include Moses, David, and Jesus (peace be upon them). Muslims must believe in the revelations received by such prophets. Books associated with them are called by the names Torah, Psalms, and Gospel. Muslims, therefore believe in the original Torah, Psalms and Gospel.

The Bible contains books by the same names and other books besides. Muslims are not commanded to believe in the other books. To be more specific, the Bible contains 66 books in the Protestant version, and 73 in the Catholic version. In the Bible, consisting 66 or 73 books, the Torah is represented as 5 books, the Psalms as 1, and the Gospel in 4 versions. This makes a total of 10 books within the Bible. Muslims are not required to believe in any more than the ten books.

But that assumes that the 10 books referred to are the same as what the Quran refers to when the Quran speaks of the Torah, Psalms and Gospel. A further check proves that these books changed contents over time although their names remained the same. To understand this concept, consider that a book like the Encyclopedia Britannica changes its contents and size several times throughout its history, yet is called by the same name. Obviously the Encyclopedia Britannica is not the same as

it used to be.

A closer check shows that something similar occurred with the Torah, Psalms, and Gospel. For a long time many people believed that Moses wrote the five books called Torah in the Bible. But now it is widely known that Moses could not have written those books in their entirety. One evidence for this is that Chapter 34 of the book of Deuteronomy describes the death and burial of Moses, and how the people mourned for him after his death. Obviously, Moses did not write that passage.

Biblical scholars also acknowledge that the present composition of the Psalms cannot in its entirety be traced back to David.

The Gospels is a more complex matter because the Bible contains not one but four. There is only one true Gospel which Jesus preached, but these are represented in four versions each according to a different author.

The Quran requires Muslims to believe in the original Gospel that Jesus preached before the four versions were written. Everyone agrees that the four versions were written long after Jesus.