Divisions among Muslims and other religions

Edited by Adil Salahi, Arab News Staff
Publication Date: 
Mon, 2002-02-04 03:00

Q.1. Qur’anic and Hadith injunctions are clear that Muslims must remain united. Yet a Hadith tells us that Muslims will be split into more than seventy groups, which are all in Hell except one. Please comment.

Q.2. In some Muslim countries, we see mosques and Islamic centers functioning freely, while at the same time, places with un-Islamic character, such as drinking and gambling places, discos, etc., enjoy freedom of operation. When officials are asked how can the latter be permitted in a Muslim community, they reply that all types are permitted by law, and people may choose where to go. Please comment.

Zainul Irfan


A.1. It is true what the Prophet said about the division of people who claim to be Muslim. They are split in groups, some well-known, while others are relatively obscure. Since their differences are over matters of faith, then it is only logical that only one is bound to follow the truth contained in God’s message. This is the clear message to which the Prophet points out when he mentions this division. He also mentions that people of earlier religions, particularly the Jews and the Christians, have also been split into too many groupings and sects.

When the Prophet was asked to define which group is the one which will escape Hell and be admitted to Heaven, his answer was very clear. He said: "That which follows what I and my companions follow." Hence, a strict adherence to what the Prophet followed will bring us in line with his companions who followed his instructions and teachings in an exemplary way. We have a clear and full record of what the Prophet and his companions practiced. So we do not need to pursue any philosophical thought or any man-made creed or doctrine.

We have to give practical evidence of the declaration we make when we state that we believe in Islam, namely the declaration: "I bear witness that there is no deity other than God and I bear witness that Muhammad is His messenger."

What is the role of a messenger if not to bring a message? And if God has sent us a message, it only stands to reason that we should follow it. The Prophet has given us the perfect example of following that message and his companions followed his guidance and gave us a full social example of that message in practice. When we declare that Muhammad is God’s messenger, then we are committing ourselves to reject every thing that is in conflict with his guidance. Indeed that is the only way to lead to Heaven. The Prophet tells the truth and his Hadith states the issues before us very clearly.

A.2. The attitude the reader describes is like that of a father who places a packet of cigarettes before his young son, and shows him how to smoke and leaves him to try it. When the son picks up the habit of smoking, people blame the father and he protests that he never suggested to his son that he should smoke. He only offered him the choice and it was the son who chose to smoke.

A father who does this is certainly one to be censured by any moral and health standard. By placing the packet of cigarettes in front of his son, he gives him a message that smoking is an acceptable behavior, when it is both seriously injurious to health and forbidden in Islam.

Similarly a government in a Muslim country which allows the public contravention of Islamic principles and gives licenses to places such as bars and gambling clubs to function in full view of the community contravenes Islamic law which it is supposed to uphold. The argument that people may choose what they want does not carry any weight in Islamic standards. It is the responsibility of a Muslim government to help people to remain within the limits of what God has permitted and to steer away from what He has forbidden. By allowing such places to function, a government fails in the fulfillment of this responsibility.

Here we are not treating the public as young children, as in our example of the father and the young son, but we made only this analogy in order to show that failing to do one’s duty may lead others to suffer much harm. The father in our example failed in his duty to protect his son against harmful substances. In the question asked by the reader, the officials failed in their duty to help the population to maintain the path acceptable to Islam.

Some people may wonder how this affects the principle of freedom of choice. Islam certainly upholds this principle in the very basic question of believing in God or rejecting the faith. God says in the Qur’an: "No compulsion is admissible in matters of faith." (2: 256). Hence, Islam does not compel anyone to follow its teachings. People do so in complete freedom. But what we are speaking about here is the public contravention of Islamic teachings. This is not allowed in Muslim society.

Divorce at parents’ request

Q.1. When a man is caught in the middle between his parents’ wishes and those of his wife, what is the position he is required to take? What if the situation becomes so difficult that his parents want him to divorce his wife: what are his rights and responsibilities?

Q.2. When a person invites friends for iftar in Ramadan, do both the host and the guest get equal reward?

Q.3. When we sacrifice a sheep for the birth of a child, is it appropriate to partake of the meat, or should the whole sacrifice be distributed to the poor?

M.A. Khan, Abqaiq

A.1. It is wrong to put the question in this way, because we cannot establish a rule to apply in every case where one’s parents have some problems with one’s wife. A man has responsibilities toward his parents and others toward his wife, and the two sets of responsibilities may be met without problems in most cases. However, in some situations, difficulties arise and a man finds himself caught in the middle. He must realize that while he must continue to show his parents every kindness and much respect, he has other duties and he will have to account to God for their fulfillment. He must take care of his wife and show her all kindness and affection due to her. He certainly must not be unfair to her, no matter what anyone, including his parents require him to do.

This means that if his parents want him to divorce his wife, he should consider the situation very carefully. Some parents expect their daughter-in-law to be like a servant, attending to their every wish. Some consider that she should behave as though they were her own parents and meet their expectations of their own daughter. In such a case, a young wife may find it impossible to cope. There could be much friction as a result of unmet expectations. If the man’s parents insist that he should divorce her, and he acts on their bidding, he may be guilty of serious injustice to his wife.

Then, he will be accountable for such injustice before God. This is not a prospect that any man wants to be in. If he refuses to divorce his wife as his parents want him to do, he is well within his rights. Indeed, he may not obey his parents if they are unjust, because, as the Prophet says, "No creature may be obeyed in what constitutes disobedience to God."

What we need to understand is that obedience to one’s parents is not required in all case. What is required is being kind and dutiful to them. This means that when parents ask their son or daughter to do something wrong or to be unfair to someone else to disobey God in any way, such requests may not be obeyed. If one obeys them, he or she is responsible and liable to God’s punishment, if the situation requires such punishment. A husband may not be unfair to his wife in order to please his parents. She has her rights which he must respect and fulfill.

A.2. It is not for us to decide who gets what reward from God. It is God who gives everyone what is suitable to any action. However, it is only to be expected that the one who offers hospitality, incurs expense and goes to the trouble of having the food cooked and served will receive a reward commensurate with his efforts, while the guest will be rewarded for honoring his host and responding to his kind invitation. The two actions are not equal, hence the reward they receive is suitable for their respective roles.

A.3. The aqeeqah, or the sacrifice offered after the birth of a child, is meant to provide an occasion for relatives and neighbors to share in the joy brought about by the birth of a child in the community. Hence, what is required is not to distribute the meat of the sacrifice to the poor. Rather, to use it for a meal to which neighbors and relatives are invited. Its purpose is largely social, in addition to its being a demonstration of gratitude to God for giving the family a child.

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