FAQ about Islam Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

FAQ about Islam

1 Conversation

This entry has been created to try to answer some of the more common questions that Muslims are asked about their faith. The questions are ones that have been raised at the Islamic Experience exhibition in Birmingham, England, and so the answers are from an Islamic viewpoint. The exhibition has been set up as a teaching aid about Islam for schools and other teaching bodies and governmental or social groups such as the police cadets, to help with understanding Islam and to separate fact from fiction.

Section 1: Faith and History

Who or what is Allah and what do Muslims believe about Him?

Allah is the Arabic word for God. In Islam God is seen to have no gender and has no body like we do. It is forbidden to draw pictures of God, as we have no idea or concept of what God could possibly appear like. God has knowledge of everything that happens including the future and what happened in the past. It is believed that God has knowledge of everything that is happening everywhere, and though He knows what is happening He is not part of any thing in this universe. Though Muslims address God as a He, this is simply for ease of language as the Arabic word Allah can not be made feminine or plural.

Where was the Prophet Muhammad buried?

He was buried in Madinah in the place where he passed away, as was the practice with all the prophets before him. His grave is now enclosed within his Mosque.

Why do Muslims sing the Qur'an?

Muslims do not sing the Qur'an, they only recite it in a melodious way as the Prophet directed them under the guidance of God. The melody of the recitation adds beauty to its meaning and message.

Why can the Qur'an only be recited in Arabic?

The meaning of the Qur'an can only be roughly translated into other languages. So a translated copy of the Qur'an is no substitute for the Arabic version. This is why most translations of the Qur'an are called interpretations of the meaning of the Qur'an rather than the actual translation of the Qur'an. The Arabic Qur'an is viewed as being the actual word of God. Reciting in Arabic also helps to ensure its preservation without alteration.

Is it forbidden to translate the Qur'an?

No, it is not, but it is disliked. This comes from the fact that you cannot get a literal translation of the Qur'an, and only a rough meaning of it. However, it is allowed, as it is better to read it in a language you understand than to read it in Arabic and not understand a word.

What is the role of Imams in Islam?

Imams are simply people who lead the prayer at the time of prayer. When you have a group of Muslims and it is time to pray, it is considered best that the person who knows the most Qur'an off by heart and has the most knowledge of Islam should lead the prayer. This is to ensure that all brothers and sisters can pray at the same time in the worship of Allah and get more reward for being in congregation.

In modern times there is a permanent Imam at all Mosques and he leads all the daily prayers at that mosque. Another duty of the Imam is to teach people more about Islam; for example, during the Friday prayers he gives a sermon, usually about a particular issue affecting Muslim people that week.

In the old days, it just used to be whoever was best for the role at that particular time for prayer.

Do Muslims believe non-Muslims will go to Heaven?

No, they do not. This is because Muslims do not decide who goes to Hell or to Paradise. It is only God who does this, depending on whether or not people accept His message of guidance sent through His messengers. So the answer to this has to be that Muslims do not know who is going to Hell or not.

Is it not arrogant to believe you can ask for forgiveness directly from God without an intermediate body?

Muslims believe that there is nothing arrogant about this. On the contrary, Muslims feel that it shows how much God loves all His creatures equally, so much so that each person can approach Him directly. Moreover, Muslims also feel that intermediaries may eventually become objects of worship in themselves, and draw worship away from God.

Is Islam a missionary religion?

Muslims believe that the message of Islam is for the good of all mankind, so people must not be so selfish as to reserve it for themselves only. Therefore, it is the duty of all Muslims to preach the message to others, albeit with wisdom and in a beautiful way (Qur'an 16:125).

Is the Qur'an like the Bible?

If you read the Qur'an you will see that it is only God who speaks in it. It was recorded in the same words as it came to Muhammad, and nothing has changed in it since, true to God's assurances contained in the book itself (15:9; 41:42). Moreover, it contains all the guidance that human beings need for all aspects of their lives on earth, in addition to how they themselves should relate to their Creator. Some of the stories in the qur'an are similar, but they are usually given with more information and from a different perspective than those found in the Bible.

What do Muslims believe about Jesus?

Muslims believe that Jesus was one of the mightiest messengers of God; that he was the Christ; that he was born miraculously – without any male intervention; that he gave life to the dead by God's permission; and that he healed the blind and the leper with God's permission. In fact no Muslim is a Muslim if he does not believe in Jesus. However, Muslims do not believe that Jesus is the Son of God or that he is part of the Christian concept of the Holy Trinity.

How do you see traditional law v. Islamic law, as in Turkey v. Saudi Arabia (for example, differences in dress code)?

What is called traditional (or conventional) law is entirely man-made, while Islamic law is based on the guidance given from God, and God knows human needs and what is good for them better than human beings themselves do. The divine guidance that is the basis of Islamic law can be interpreted from time to time in the light of human needs, though the principles remain unchanged. Islamic law guarantees peace for all and justice as well as sustained progress, which man-made laws cannot. All Muslims, irrespective of nationality, are required to follow Islamic law.

As for differences in dress code, they are recognised in Islam provided they meet the minimum requirement allowed in Islamic law.

Section 2: Salat (Prayer), Shahadah (Declaration of Faith) and Zakat (Charity)

Why do Muslims have to face Makkah?1 to pray?

When Muslims pray towards Makkah they are actually praying towards the Ka'bah. The Ka'bah is a stone building that Muslims believe was built by Prophet Abraham. The Ka'bah is referred to as the House of God. This is because they believe it was the first structure to be built for the worship of only one God. So, facing the Ka'bah is symbolic of monotheism and a sign of the unity of the missions of all the prophets of God. In the period immediately before the rise of Islam, the pagan Arabs had used the Ka'bah as a shrine holding their idols, thus perverting the use of the Ka'bah. This is why Muslims prayed facing Jerusalem for a period of time, until the Ka'bah had been cleansed of the idols by the Prophet Muhammad.

With regard to prayer, if someone is suffering and in pain, do they have to pray? How do they perform the actions?

The ritual prayer is very important and obligatory to all Muslims - so much so that they are required to perform it even if they are bedridden, as long as they remain conscious. Anyone in pain, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, can be helped with medication to stop or reduce his or her pain as much as possible. In such circumstances, Muslim patients may pray sitting down, or even lying on their side. They may do the symbolic tayammum (dry ablution, using sand or other such things) instead of wudu (ablution, ritual washing before prayer) when necessary.

How do you get Muslim teenagers to pray five times a day?

Muslim children are taught and encouraged to perform the ritual prayers from as early as seven years of age. So by the time they are teenagers, they are already used to it. Moreover, they are brought up to appreciate the value of regular communication with God through the regular prayers for their own spiritual and moral wellbeing.

Do you have to pray; ie, is it a must?

Yes. Ritual prayer is a point of contact and communication with the Creator. And so it is in the best interest of a Muslim to maintain such communication with God. Muslims are told that all creatures make prostration before God and praise Him in different ways that we humans do not understand. So it is in our nature to pray to God and not doing so is a crime against our very soul.

The Prophet Muhammad said that the difference between belief and disbelief is prayer.

Why can't you pray without washing?

Cleanliness is a very important part of ritual worship in Islam. We all know it is natural to make yourself clean and tidy when meeting the public or important personalities. God deserves the greatest of respect. Moreover, washing parts of your body for prayer also has the effect of cleansing your soul of the filth of sin. Therefore each time you have made wudu, you also feel a sense of repentance, which makes your soul as well as your body clean and fit to stand before your Creator.

Why do women pray behind men?

The ritual prayer requires concentration and complete devotion to the remembrance of God. Therefore, anything that might cause a distraction for a Muslim in prayer is avoided. This is why men and women stand in separate rows.

It is not considered appropriate to the dignity of Muslim women to pray in front of men, as garments can come loose in prayer and could reveal parts of her body which ordinarily are covered up. This would not only be embarrassing for the woman but would also distract men praying behind her, so the arrangement in Islam is that men pray in front of the women.

Section 3: Ramadan (Month of Fasting) and Hajj (Pilgrimage)

What is inside the Ka'bah (the black structure in Makkah)?


Can you go inside the Ka'bah?

Yes. Indeed, once a year delegations of Muslim leaders from different parts of the world enter the Ka'bah to cleanse and pray inside it.

Do Muslims go to Makkah to worship the Ka'bah?

No. Muslims worship nothing but Allah alone.

Why do Muslims have to go around the Ka'bah seven times?

The Ka'bah is the most sacred place on earth for Muslims, as it was the first house built on earth for the worship of Allah. Going around it is in accordance with God's instructions through the Prophet Muhammad. During Tawaf (Going around the Ka'bah), Muslims praise Allah, seek his forgiveness and make supplication to God for their needs and desires. So it is both an act of worship and an opportunity to make supplications to God.

Why do the men going on Hajj (pilgrimage to Makkah and the Ka'bah) have to wear white?

White is a symbol of purity and cleanliness, so when pilgrims are dressed in two pieces of white clothing they remember how pure and clean they should make their intentions, both during and after the pilgrimage. Moreover, wearing the same colour and style of dress as everyone else, regardless of their differences of race, colour and social class, gives the pilgrims a profound sense of brotherhood and equality before their Creator. The same applies to women, except that they must cover their whole bodies apart from their hands and face.

Do men have to be circumcised to go on Hajj?

They do not have to be circumcised, as it is not a ritual of Hajj. Circumcision is considered highly recommended, first, because it was the practice of all the prophets, and secondly, because it facilities the hygiene of that part of the body especially for the purpose of prayer.

What happens if you eat something by accident while you're fasting?

As long as it was unintentional, then it does not break the fast. The person should just stop eating as soon as they realise that they are supposed to be fasting, ask for forgiveness and carry on with their fast.

Does the proscription against sex in Ramadhan (the holy month where Muslims abstain from food, drinking, sex and bad language) mean the whole of the month or just during the fast hours?

It is only prohibited during the period of the fasting hours (from sunrise to sunset) just as for food and drink. This is clearly stated in the qur'an (2:187).

Do Muslims fast at any other times of the year?

Yes. Optional fasting can be done at other times such as on Mondays and Thursdays, the three days in the middle of the lunar month, and so on. Some fasts are also prescribed to make up for certain kinds of sin.

How long does it take to read the whole qur'an?

It depends on how much time you can spare every day. Some people read one part a day so they complete it in thirty days, while others read it in seven days. There are some that can read it all in one day, but this is not liked as Muhammad said anyone who reads the book in less than a day did not understand it.

Section 4: Family and Social Life

Can a Muslim marriage be annulled?

Though marriage is intended to last until the death of either of the couple, Muslim marriage can be dissolved if there is a good reason to do so.

For example, if the couple cannot live together peacefully anymore and all efforts to achieve reconciliation have failed, then it is permissible. Annulment is a different matter. It means declaring something invalid. If a Muslim marriage was invalid from the start, then no marriage has actually taken place, so it should be annulled.

Do Muslim women have to obey their husbands?

The relationship between husband and wife is one of mutual consultation and co-operation. Yet, just as there must be a captain of a ship or aeroplane to avoid calamity or confusion, the husband is the leader of the family and should be obeyed within set limits by the rest of the family. But if the husband is being unreasonable or is telling her to do something un-Islamic, then she should not do it, and if he is persistent then she should seek help from either the family or the Imam at the mosque.

What happens if a Muslim woman does not wear a headscarf?

The scarf is only one part of the modest dress for a Muslim woman. If she covers her head properly with some other material, that will serve the purpose. But if she chooses to uncover her head, that will displease God. By wearing a head-cover, Muslim women are less liable to molestation by men. Their clothing sends out a clear message that they want to be good, respectable and to serve God. On the note of clothing, it is also important for men to cover themselves up properly, as there is a dress code for men as well as one for women.

Can Muslim teenagers date?

Muslim teenagers should not date (go out with one member of the opposite sex alone), as that may lead to temptation for them and their friend. In her own interests, no Muslim woman should remain in a secluded place with a male person unless such a person is a close relation she cannot marry.

Is abortion allowed?

In Islam abortion is forbidden; it is regarded as a major sin. It is only allowed when a reliable doctor can show that, if left to continue, the pregnancy may lead to the death of the mother.

What is the punishment for adultery?

A lot of scholars say that it is capital punishment for adultery if it can be proven according to the proven procedure. For fornication it is 100 lashes. The punishment is given to either sex, meaning that married men can be stoned to death as well as women.

Some people argue that the Arabic word in the qur'an is the same for adultery and fornication and it says the punishment is only 100 lashes for either, so stoning to death is wrong.

Regardless of which, it is very rarely done, as you have to have four witnesses to them actually performing the deed. This makes the guilt of both cases very hard to prove, and offenders are urged to repent and live a chaste life henceforth.

What happens if a Muslim teenager falls pregnant?

It is considered disgraceful to her and the family if this happens outside of marriage, because of the sinfulness of this. But the child must not be aborted and teenagers should try to avoid situations that can lead to this. The punishment for fornication is not given, as there is no proof of sexual intercourse, and as it is possible to get pregnant from contact with seminal fluid from a non-sexual source. As for the child, this should be bought up the same as any child, as any fault is on the parents and not the child.

Why can a man marry four wives but a woman only have one husband?

If women were to marry more than one man at a time, it would be difficult to know which was the real father of the child. Muslim women can marry more than one man in succession, but not all at the same time. Muslim men are not under an obligation to marry more than one wife, but when the need arises then they can, under the conditions prescribed by the holy qur'an.

Does wearing the face cover (Niqaab) mean that you are more religious?

Muslims, male or female, are not required to cover their faces - not even as part of their dress in public - even though some regard it as recommended. According to Prophet Muhammad, it is enough to cover the whole body except the face and hands.

Why do Muslims not eat pork?

Because God says clearly in the qur'an that Muslims should not eat it. There are loads of other reasons that can be given, but the only honest answer that can be given is because Muslims are told not to.

If a couple divorces, who gets custody of the children?

It depends on the age of the children. If they are too young to make an informed decision, the mother takes custody until they can decide which of the parents they want to live with. Whichever of the parents takes custody of the children must facilitate contact and visits with the other parent. Though some countries decide this by state government, most Islamic countries follow the Sharî'ah law given above.

What about sex before marriage?

In Islam sex before marriage is entirely forbidden. Muslims see it as not being good for the persons concerned or for the society and as something that weakens the family unit and may spread sexual disease in the society. They also see it as being undignified for the woman, as it leaves her unprotected from abuse by men who have no interest of taking on the responsibility of a permanent relationship and children.

Is female circumcision allowed in Islam?

Female circumcision is not allowed in Islam, as it leaves the woman in constant pain. Unlike the male circumcision that helps keep the penis clean, facilitates cleanliness in that area and does not leave the man in pain for the rest of his life, female circumcision has no health benefits to it and only causes pain.

There is a Hadith of the Prophet Muhammad that is regarded as weak, which says that if you have to perform it, then only remove the smallest amounts from around the vagina. This was because in Africa where it is a cultural thing to circumcise girls, the Muslims living there could not break completely away from their culture. So the Prophet said that if you cannot ignore the culture, then only remove the minimum amount.

This is because for some people, it is possible to do less than culture tells them to, but they are not strong enough in faith to completely ignore their culture on that issue.

The Prophet did not condone female circumcision but he simply said that if you're going to do it anyway, then limit the procedure as much as possible. Generally, in accordance with other Hadith and the Holy qur'an, female circumcision should not be performed. The Hadith is regarded as weak because its chain of narration is not very reliable and it does not fully lie in concordance with the qur'an.

Section 5: Islam and Science

What does Islam say about the theory of evolution (ie, Darwin)?

Darwin's theory of evolution is in disagreement with the Islamic teachings that Allah created everything as either human beings, reptiles, birds, fish or mammals right from the beginning, not that apes developed and became human beings (qur'an 24:45).

Do Muslims believe in the theory of evolution?

No, Muslims believe in creation.

For Muslims, evolution can only be the name of a process, it is in no way an ultimate cause. It does not explain the very origin of the universe and life, but only the way they progressed after they came in to existence. Muslims believe that species may adapt to different conditions and give rise to a number of new varieties, but they remain distinct and do not evolve, over time, into a new species.

If the qur'an is God's word, then why does it not have chemical formulas in as proof rather than just a bit about seas, etc?

When the qur'an talks about the mixing of oceans or talks about mountains, it is doing so to draw our attention to things that were not known at that time period. It usually encompasses this information with a lesson of some sort or another that can be learned or as an example of God's power.

God would not sound very powerful if He said 'I am the Creator of all and behold E=mc2' to an Arab living 1400 years ago, as they have no knowledge of such things to even begin comprehending it. Also and more importantly, the qur'an is a book of signs to draw people on to the right path in life and it is not a book of science.

Is stem cell research allowed in Islam?

According to the Sharî'ah, we should make a distinction between actual life and potential life. Also we should make a clear distinction between the fertilised ovum in the dish and the fertilised ovum in the womb of its mother. Indeed an embryo is valuable. It has the potential to grow into a human being, but it is not yet a human being. Similarly, there is big difference in having something in a test tube or dish or something in the body of a human being. Because these embryos were developed initially in the laboratory solely for the sake of reproduction, due to limitations of the in vitro fertilisation technique, they were produced in excess of what was required for this purpose. As a result, the remaining embryos would have either been frozen indefinitely or destroyed. If these embryos were treated as full human, it would have been forbidden to produce them in excess and to destroy them later. No-one treats them as humans. Destroying such embryos is not called and cannot be called abortion. Muslims disagree with the Catholic position that this is equivalent to infanticide.

Also, in Islam, an embryo is not actually human until after 40 days, as stated by these Hadith:

In every one of you, all components of your creation are gathered together in your mother's womb by 40 days.
(Narrated in Saheeh Muslim and Al-Bukhari).
When forty-two nights have passed over the drop (nutfah), Allah sends an angel to it, who shapes it and makes its ears, eyes, skin, flesh and bones. Then the angel says, ‘O lord, is it male or female?' and your lord decides what he wishes.

An embryo in the laboratory at this stage is not human. It is not in its natural environment, the womb. If it is not placed in the womb, it will not survive and it will not become a human being. So there is nothing wrong in doing this research, especially if this research has a potential to cure diseases. However, it is important that we establish strict rules against the misuse of embryos. Research on embryos has the potential for misuse, for instance in regards to the donors of these cells, and we should anticipate what these misuses might be and establish safeguards against them. (For example, doctors might have patients go through extra cycles of ovulation just so they can obtain more embryos, or they might pay women to produce embryos, or embryos might be obtained without the consent of the donors). In making rules the authorities should also clarify that there is a difference between the use of spare embryos from in-vitro fertilisation procedures which would be destroyed regardless, as compared to the deliberate production of embryos for stem cell research. Each year thousands of embryos are wasted in fertility clinics around the world. Such embryos should not be wasted, they should be used for research.

It is also good to encourage the research on the alternative: to use adult stem cells instead of embryonic or foetal stem cells. This would be much less controversial. However, it seems from the discussion of the experts in the field that adult stem cells are not nearly as useful as embryonic stem cells in their ability to differentiate into different cell types and would therefore not be as applicable in treating many diseases.

In the old days a woman was blamed if she had a female baby and not a male one. What does the qur'an say about this?

Firstly this viewpoint was one that dated back well before the revelation of the qur'an. The people at that time believed that woman were not equal to men, and so having a female child was a curse put upon the father. This is not endorsed in Islam, as God says in the qur'an:

And when the female infant buried alive is questioned - for what crime was she killed.
The Holy qur'an
Kill not your children on a fear of want: We shall provide sustenance for you as well as for them. Killing them is a great sin.
qur'an 17:31

These verses actually put a stop to the practice of killing unwanted children.

As for the sex of a foetus, it is determined by the nature of the sperm and not the ovum. The sex of the child, whether female or male, depends on whether one of the 23 pairs of chromosomes is XX or XY respectively. Primarily sex determination occurs at fertilisation and depends upon the type of sex chromosome in the sperm that fertilises an ovum. If it is an X-bearing sperm that fertilises the ovum, the foetus is a female and if it is a Y-bearing sperm then the foetus is a male.

That he did create in pairs - male and female, from a seed when lodged (In its place).
The Holy qur'an 53:45-46

This verse stopped men from blaming their wives, as it is clear that it is the man's sperm that was implanted that made the egg develop into a girl. Islam takes the stance that no-one is to be blamed for the sex of a child, though, as any child is a blessing from God.

What does Islam say about life on other planets?

The qur'an does allude to life in outer space, thus:

And among His signs is the creation of the heavens and the living creatures He has scattered through them. (42.29)


The seven heavens and the earth, and beings therein, declare his glory. (17:44)

These verses indicate that there is life in some form or another on some planets in the galaxies. Until scientific means become more sophisticated to make this discovery, this qur'anic statement will remain an unfulfilled prophecy.

Section 6: Additional Questions

If God exists why does he allow disasters to happen and for bad people to do bad things?

Disasters are of various kinds; many are the result of human activities while the others are from natural causes. Even those caused by human actions are only part of the full effects of such actions, as God, in His mercy, protects human beings from such full effects.

Now, you take disasters affecting only a tiny part of the world and only a small section of mankind at any given time to be evidence of the non-existence of God. By the same argument, you should see the perfect order in the rest of the universe and the non-occurrence of disasters among the much greater part of mankind to be clear evidence of the existence of God, who must be sustaining that order, and maintaining such protection.

For Muslims, believers who suffer as a result of disasters for no fault of theirs will be richly compensated in the hereafter, and the pleasures of the hereafter are much better and more lasting.

As for bad people doing bad things, well, Muslims believe that God created humans with the capacity to do good or bad and we have the choice of which we do. God has given us free will to do as we please but He has told us how we should behave.

God will only help those who turn to Him for help and guidance.

Was Satan originally an angel?

No. Muslims are told in the qur'an (18:50) that he was one of the jinn, creatures made from flames of fire, while angels are made from light. Furthermore angels, by their nature, do not have free will, meaning that they are unable to do anything but obey God's commands.

How could the prophets before Muhammad be Muslims when he was the one that started Islam (or that it started in the 7th Century)?

Islam means wholeheartedly accepting the guiding wisdom of Allah and submitting to His directives. And that was what all the previous prophets taught. It was only completed and perfected through Prophet Muhammad. So it is not true that Prophet Muhammad started Islam or that it started in the 7th Century.

Why do Muslims not believe in the ideas of the Original Sin and Atonement?

This is because: (1) Allah (God) forgave Adam and Hawwa (Eve) for their mistake in eating the forbidden fruit (qur'an 2:37) and Allah does not visit a forgiven sin on the sinner afterwards, let alone visiting it on his descendants; (2) human beings cannot be made to carry a sin their own hands have not committed, as they had not come in to existence at that time; (3) the mistake is a moral issue, not a defect that could be inherited. Allah says: 'the bearer of burdens (of sin) shall not bear the burden of another' (qur'an 17:15).

What is an Ayatollah?

An Ayatollah is a spiritual leader; he is someone who is very knowledgeable about Islam, and who knows all of the qur'an and all the Hadith and can interpret it all clearly. Such people are usually given a high role and can create new laws based on the qur'an and Hadith. But these days the title seems to be handed out to anyone in some countries, and it has lost some of the respect that is used to bring.

Do all Muslims speak Arabic?

No they do not, as not all Muslims are Arabs. It is recommended that all Muslims learn Arabic to understand the qur'an in its pure form, but there are many Muslims that do not speak Arabic.

Why can you spell qur'an, as Koran or Kor'an, etc?

Arabic, like many other languages, is intricate, and a single statement may have many layers of meaning. A translation to any other language, while it may be correct in its superficial meaning, could omit important subtleties. It is for this reason that translation is discouraged. This has the additional benefit of removing doubt about which 'version' of the Koran one might be quoting. There is no 'King James Version', only the original text.

The reason for various spellings is that Arabic also has many more letters than most languages and so people tend to choose spellings based on how it sounds in English, making the various spellings of the qur'an that we have around today. Also Arabic is not written in the Roman-based characters used by Europe and America but rather from the Sanskrit characters of the east, meaning there is no direct reference to one letter or another. This leads to people basically choosing the letters they think most closely sounds like the word.

What is a fatwa, as I heard it means death penalty?

The misconception here is that the word fatwa means death penalty. The actual Arabic meaning is 'opinion', and in the context it is used in Islam it becomes 'legal opinion'. This means that a fatwa is nothing more than a point of view on someone's actions from an Islamic perspective. This misconception arises from where people in Islam have issued a fatwa for someone's death where in actual light of the qur'an they would not be put to death. This means that this misconception has come by the actions of a few Muslims who have actually taken a step away from the teachings in the qur'an.

Does Jihad mean 'holy war'?

Jihad means' struggling' or 'striving' and applies to any effort exerted by anyone, such as a pupil at university who struggles to get their degree and has struggled to get as far as they have in education. In the West, Jihad is generally translated as 'holy war', a usage the media has popularised. According to Islamic teachings, it is unholy to instigate or start war; however, some wars are inevitable and justifiable. If we translate the words 'holy war' back into Arabic, we find harbun muqaddasatu, or for 'the holy war', al-harbu al-muqaddasatu. If you search all the qur'an and Hadith, you will never find the word Jihad meaning 'holy war'.

O you who believe! Choose neither your fathers nor your brethren for protectors if they love disbelief over belief; whoever of you takes them for protectors, such are wrongdoers. Say: if your fathers, and your children, and your brethren, and your spouses, and your tribe, and the wealth you have acquired, and business for which you fear shrinkage, and houses you are pleased with are dearer to you than Allah and His Messenger and striving in His way: then wait till Allah brings His command to pass. Allah does not guide disobedient folk.
The Holy qur'an 9:23-24

This verse is saying how every Muslim should put Allah before everything else, including his parents, wealth and other materialistic things. This is what Jihad is about, sacrificing and struggling to please Allah.

Also if we look at some Hadith: When Muslims are faced with two competing interests, it becomes Jihad to choose the right one, as the following Hadith show.

Aisha, wife of the Prophet (pbuh2) asked, 'O Messenger of Allah, we see Jihad as the best of deeds, so shouldn't we join it?' He replied, 'But the best of Jihad is a perfect Hajj (pilgrimage to Makkah)’.
Sahih Al-Bukhari #2784
A man asked the Messenger of Allah (pbuh): 'What kind of Jihad is better?' He replied, 'A word of truth in front of an oppressive ruler!'
Sunan Al-Nasa'i #4209
Another man asked the Prophet (pbuh): 'Should I join the Jihad?' He asked, 'Do you have parents?' The man said, 'Yes!' The Prophet (pbuh) said, 'Then strive by serving them!'
Sahih Al-Bukhari #5972

Under difficult conditions it takes great courage to remain a Muslim, declare oneself to be a Muslim and call others to Islam. We read in the qur'an:

The (true) believers are only those who believe in Allah and his messenger and afterward doubt not, but strive with their wealth and their selves for the cause of Allah. Such are the truthful.
The Holy qur'an 49:15.

Is it true that it is the duty of any Muslim living in a Muslim or western country to work towards the overthrow of the government and its replacement with a Muslim one?

This is incorrect. Muslims are not allowed to do anything unlawful. If Muslims are living in a non-Muslim country and the government is not oppressing the people, then it is a Muslim's obligation to be an honest citizen, not to harm the government and to obey the laws of the country. If the country is stopping a Muslim from practising or is trying to force Muslims into doing something un-Islamic, then the Muslim should leave the country.

Just as there is no compulsion in religion, we do not have the right to force our beliefs of how a country should be run onto people. A perfect example of this can be found in the book called To be a European Muslim by Tariq Ramadan. On page 168 of this book he states:

The Muslims thus lived in a non-Islamic environment under the authority of a leader they respected for he was fair, trustworthy and generous. Umm Salamah, who lived in Abyssinia for several years within the small group of Muslim immigrants, explained later how they had appreciated this ruler and how they had hoped that his army, although he and his people were not Muslims, would defeat its enemies.

What this passage is talking about is when the Muslims had to flee Makkah, some of them fled to Abyssinia and lived there under its laws. Not once did any of them attempt to overcome the government or implement an Islamic state there.

Is it true that if you kill a non-believer, you go to paradise?

If you kill someone, it will be as if you had killed all of mankind, and if you save someone's life, it will be as if you have saved all of mankind. This is what Muslims are told. This means that if you kill someone for no reason, then you will be treated on the day of judgement as if you had killed all of mankind.

Killing someone is permitted if that person has been proven to have murdered without a shadow of doubt. In this case the victim's family can choose if the murderer be killed for his crime or if he spends time in jail. But they are told there is more reward if you do not sentence the guilty man to death. Killing is also permitted in cases of treason or self-defence.

What countries of the world are primarily Muslim?

Though there are many countries in the world that are primarily Muslim, such as Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iran, Iraq and Indonesia, there are no countries that are Islamic countries. What is meant by this is that an Islamic country (state) has to follow 100 percent Sharî'ah law and not have it mixed up with cultural traditions. Unfortunately all countries today have this mix of laws. This is why there is such a wide difference in the laws of Muslim countries.

Is music allowed in Islam?

Some scholars say that music is not allowed (Haram) while others say that it is permissible depending on the type. For example, it is not 'okay' to listen to music about sex and drugs. Many Muslims feel that listening to music is okay, if the music has a simple drum beat and is about the worship of Allah. The definition of what is considered 'music' and what types, if any, are allowed varies greatly from person to person.

Are pictures allowed in Islam?

Pictures of humans, animals and supposed representations of God are forbidden in Islam, as these objects on their own can become idols and be worshipped. But pictures of animals and humans are allowed if the intention behind using them is pure; ie, for educational use.

Related BBC Sites

1Mecca. In the 1980s, the government of Saudi Arabia changed the official transliteration of the city's name from Mecca, as it had been known to Westerners for centuries, to Makkah. Many English-speaking Muslims now consider this to be the preferred spelling.2Muslims traditionally acknowledge respect for Muhammad, Jesus and other prophets by adding the phrase '(peace be upon them)' or the abbreviation '(pbuh)' after their names.

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