Opinion, August 2003, www.aljazeerah.info
Balancing Different Considerations
Arab News, 8/4/03
Q.1. I frequently visit a country where people with a beard, particularly Muslim foreigners, are suspected of involvement in terrorist activities, and are often subjected to harassment and what may be even worse. Is it permissible not to wear a beard in this case? What if wearing a beard causes difficulties at work?
Q.2. Is it permissible to make friendship on the Internet with members of the opposite sex, where people may chat and exchange letters and general conversation?
(Name and address withheld)
A.1. Wearing a beard is said by some scholars to be obligatory to Muslim men, but other scholars maintain that it is a Sunnah. This latter view is perhaps more weighty. If we accept the view that it is a Sunnah, then there is no obligation on a Muslim man to wear a beard and one can choose according to one’s circumstances. Even if we consider it obligatory, the obligation is waived if compliance exposes a person to serious danger. One must balance all considerations. There is certainly no virtue in unnecessarily exposing oneself to serious danger, as a result of maintaining what is essentially a Sunnah. If the case is true, it is permissible to try to avoid that danger by pretending that one does not belong to what exposes him to that danger.
A.2. Normally talking to members of the opposite sex is permissible, but what is said could change this verdict to make it reprehensible or even forbidden, as the case may be. The Prophet and his companions talked to women who were not related to them. Muslims used to go to the Prophet’s wives and ask them about matters relating to the Prophet’s life or to aspects of religion.
Talking without seeing the other person, as happens on the net, is also perfectly permissible. However, forming such a friendship often leads to familiarity, which could progress to intimacy. When this happens, the conversation changes in character and may develop into what may be forbidden. One has to watch what one says and always maintain the Islamic standards of propriety.
Ram’s Period of Life
Q. Hindus claim that Ram, whom they consider as one of their main deities, lived in the period 2500-1900 BC. Some people maintain that Ram is a fictitious figure who lived only in people’s imagination. Could you please enlighten us about this and also mention which prophets lived at that Bronze Age.
A. Our policy is not to mention anything about other religions except what we have been told by God in the Qur’an, or by the Prophet in a Hadith. We then give the Islamic point of view, which may be at variance with the beliefs of the followers of those religions. But this is only to explain the Islamic point of view, not to discuss the other religion concerned. When we are not told anything about a certain faith, we do not discuss it, simply because we have no means of establishing the truth about the beliefs of the followers of that religion.
As far as Hinduism is concerned, no reference is made to it in our main sources. Hence, we do not discuss it in this paper. We do not know when or where Ram lived, and what was his history. But we know that Ram is not a God, because there is no deity other than God Almighty. We also know that God sent prophets and messengers to all nations. He has told us about some of these and chose not to tell us about others. We do not go beyond that.
As for the prophets who lived at a particular time, you will find that Islamic accounts of earlier prophets do not give dates, because dates are not important for the purposes for which these accounts are given. We know, for example, that Moses had a tough encounter with Pharaoh, but we cannot identify with any certainty the Pharaoh who opposed Moses. Some people suggest that Moses lived around 4,000 years ago, but this is an approximate date, which could err by a couple of centuries, or more, either way. There is no way for us to know.
Q. Many practices have crept into the marriage procedure in our country, some of which may have no Islamic origin. Could you please explain how Islamic marriage is conducted, and what is necessary for the marriage to be valid.
A. Islamic marriage is simple and straightforward. It consists of a commitment by the bride, or whoever is acting for her, and an acceptance by the bridegroom. The commitment is made when the bride’s father or guardian says to the prospective husband: “I give you my daughter, who has authorized me to act for her, in marriage according to the Islamic way.” He may specify the dowry required to be paid by the bridegroom. The latter replies, saying: “I accept to marry your daughter, etc.” When this is done in the presence of at least two witnesses, the marriage contract is complete.
The dowry is paid by the bridegroom, and it becomes due at the moment the contract is made, unless the two parties agree to defer part or all of it. In this case, it is considered a preferred debt, payable whenever the wife asks for it. In any case, it is paid when the marriage is terminated by divorce or death of either man or wife. It belongs to the wife and she may do with it whatever she likes. It does not go toward furnishing the house where the couple will live. It should not be used for any purpose other than what the owner, i.e. the wife, decides.
In some countries, like India, marriage involves another dowry, paid by the bride to the groom. This is un-Islamic, borrowed from the Hindu culture.
It is strongly recommended to give a dinner when the marriage takes effect. Neighbors, friends and relatives are invited in order to give them a chance to share in the happy occasion. Apart from that, there is nothing required in Islamic marriage, except perhaps to say that no girl or woman may be married against her will. She must be happy to authorize her marriage to the bridegroom of her choosing.
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