ISLAMIC VIEWPOINT ON CONTEMPORARY ISSUES
This chapter is intended to address the Islamic position on primary issues undermining the confidence and moral values of today's society. American society is daily confronted with personal or media accounts of drug abuse, violence, poverty and so on. Muslims, and especially new Muslims, must understand the Islamic teachings and attitudes about these subjects in order to better preserve their faith and morality.
The topics discussed in this chapter include substance and drug abuse, economic problems, racial issues, homosexuality, abuse of children and women, and family and social pressures that you may encounter if you are a new convert.
SUBSTANCE AND ALCOHOL ABUSE
The abuse of drugs and alcohol is one of the most phenomenal problems facing American society. In spite of the government spending huge amounts on the "drug war," young people are losing their lives and dreams to drugs. Such a thing as the "drug culture" has emerged, and drugs have become the major cause of gang warfare. Alcohol, long having been an integral part of American social life, has wrecked homes and caused countless deaths in car accidents. Government efforts to curb teenage drinking and drunk driving have had little success. For the addict involved with drugs and alcohol, there seems to be no end in sight.
The Islamic injunction concerning intoxicants, that is the complete forbidding of drugs and alcohol, seems idealistic for American society. Yet it is the only solution. Allah commands Muslims in the Holy Qur'an:
"O ye who believe! wine and the game of chance... are only an abomination of Satan's handiwork. So shun each one of them that you may prosper. Satan seeks only to create enmity and hatred among you by means of wine and games of chance, and to keep you back from the remembrance of Allah and from Prayer..." (5:91-92)
The Arabic word "al-khamr" is used in this verse which means anything that intoxicates or alters the mind. Thus, all forms of intoxicants are forbidden. The verse clearly explains the problems created by the use of intoxicants; first, they lead to hatred and enmity amongst people, causing murder, violence, immoral behavior etc.; and secondly they lead people away from Allah and His religion. Allah wants the believers to keep their minds pure and clean, so that they worship Him fully. A Muslim may not offer prayers (salaat) when he is not in full possession of his senses, even if that is caused by excessive emotion or a state of sleep. Certainly, a mind that is intoxicated is not able to focus on Allah.
Finally, it is important to note that drugs and alcohol are used as a means of escape from overwhelming difficulties and responsibilities. The attitude of one who has truly embraced the teachings of Islam cannot be compatible with this state of despair. A true Muslim places his reliance on Allah for the relief of hardship. When the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be on him) proclaimed Allah's commandment concerning intoxicants, his followers broke their pots and jugs of wine until the streets flowed with it. This is the example for the new convert to Islam. Some hadith of the Holy Prophet about intoxicants are:
Islam understands that it may not be easy for a person to break away
from addiction, so it does not exclude or discourage the use of outside
resources, such as counseling or rehabilitation. But the most potent
tool is prayer and begging Allah's mercy.
There is no question that the world's economic condition today is complex and far-reaching. It includes such issues as government and economy, poverty, welfare, homelessness and labor. This section looks at the Islamic viewpoint on welfare and labor specifically with regard to a Muslim's personal attitude towards wealth.
In America today, poverty and homelessness have continued to increase. These problems are often compounded by unsuccessful government programs and by drug and alcohol abuse. The welfare system, set up to help the poor and needy, is at present perhaps the most dysfunctional of government programs. Welfare has become a cyclical problem creating several generations of dependents. In many cases, it is more profitable for a recipient to stay on welfare than to take a job at minimum wages. Perhaps the greatest loss is that of personal dignity and control of one's life.
Islam takes care of such problems by dignifying labor and teaching a believer to rely on Allah for his needs. Poverty and need are timeless conditions, and the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be on him) gave clear teachings on begging and on charity. Begging or asking for food and money without repayment was the means by which the poor survived at the time of the Prophet. The Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be on him) disapproved of begging, and only allowed it under three circumstances: if one was in severe poverty, when one owed enormous debt, or when one did not have the means to pay blood-money. He did not allow begging by a rich person or by one who "has strength and is sound in limb." He said:
"He who begs from people when he has a sufficiency will come on the Day of Resurrection with his begging showing itself as scrapes, scratching and lacerations on his face."
Islam encourages empowerment of the individual, so that he may take control of his circumstances as far as he is able, and leave the rest to Allah. The Holy Prophet also said:
"It is better for one of you to take his rope, bring a load of firewood on his back and sell it, God thereby preserving his self-respect, than that he should beg from people whether they give him anything or refuse him."
He also referred to the rough hands of a laborer as the hands God loves. Self-reliance is only part of a Muslim's thinking because it is always coupled with reliance on Allah. There are countless examples of Allah answering prayers concerning financial hardship when there seemed no other way.
One of Allah's blessings and a solution for economic disparity is the institution of Zakaat(see Chapter 1). Zakaat is a tax on the wealth of a Muslim which is distributed to the poor. Allah says in the Holy Qur'an:
"Take alms out of their wealth, so that thou mayest cleanse them and purify them thereby..." ( 9:103)
Thus Islam has made the giving of charity a purification for those with wealth and a means by which the wealthy may achieve nearness to Allah. In addition, the giving of charity provides for those in poverty. Muslims have been instructed to give charity on many occasions, such as the birth of a child, or on Eid, so that they may receive Allah's blessings. Even those who have very little are encouraged to give charity, be it food, clothes or labor. Wonderful examples of generosity are found in the lives of the Holy Prophet and his family, who themselves lived lives of hardship.
Islam teaches Muslims to take care of their relatives who may be less fortunate than themselves, thus encouraging the distribution of wealth. The Holy Qur'an says:
"They ask thee what they shall spend. Say, "Whatever of good and abundant wealth you spend should be for parents and near relatives and orphans and the needy and the wayfarer. And whatever good you do, surely Allah knows it perfectly well." (2: 216)
In addition, the Holy Prophet has said:
"Your charity to others is certainly misplaced if you have a near relative to deserve it."
"Giving charity to the poor hath the reward of one charity; but that given to kindred hath two rewards; one, the reward of charity, the other, the reward of helping relations."
RACE RELATIONS AND EQUALITY OF MANKIND
Muslims believe that the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be on him) was sent as "a Mercy for all the worlds," and that he brought a final religion for all humanity. As already mentioned in Chapter 1, one of the fundamental teachings of Islam and one which every Muslim cultivates in his heart is that of brotherhood and equality of human beings.
However, when you look at the world today, brotherhood and love between human beings is rarely seen. All over the world there is fighting and hatred, not only between different races and religions, but also between people of the same nationality and even the same faith. In America, racism is ever prevalent. Very little progress has been made towards harmony and understanding between the races. It is therefore the responsibility of Muslims, especially new Muslims, to abandon all prejudices towards others, develop a love for all humanity and uphold the special quality of brotherhood among Muslims.
The Islamic concept of equality is one that challenges the Western idea that equality means everyone should be the same. Rather, Allah says in the Holy Qur'an that He has created many different kinds of people in order to promote diversity and progress. All mankind is spiritually equal in the sight of God, but cannot possibly be physically equal or the same.
"O mankind, We have created you from a male and a female; and We have made you tribes and sub-tribes that you may know one another. Verily, the most honorable amongst you in the sight of Allah, is he who is the most righteous among you. Surely Allah is All-Knowing, All-Aware." (Holy Qur'an, 49:14).
The verse clearly shows that all created beings come from the same source and thus are equal in the sight of God. The worth of a man is not judged by the color of his skin, his wealth, rank or social status, his descent or pedigree, but by his moral goodness and the way he fulfills his duty to God and mankind. Allah divided humanity into tribes, nations and races to give them better knowledge of each other and to benefit from one another's characteristics and qualities.
Islam therefore totally rejects racism in any shape or form. Racism in this society is seen as prejudice against people of different color, race, nationality, religion, economic status and class. It expresses itself as name-calling, arrogance, hostility and violence between races. Islam not only lays down the doctrine of equality, but also addresses this type of racist behavior. Allah says in the Holy Qur'an:
"O ye who believe! let not one people deride another people, haply they may be better than they; nor let one group of women deride other women, haply they may be better than they. And do not defame your people or call one another by nicknames. It is an evil thing to be called by bad name after having believed; and those who repent not, such are wrongdoers." (48:12)
While other religions also teach equality and love for humanity, Islam is unique in that it requires physical expression of brotherhood. In the daily salaat or prayer, Muslims must stand shoulder to shoulder, indifferent to the status or color of the person next to them. There is no greater physical example of equality than the Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca) when all Muslims wear the same dress and circuit the Kaabah (House of Allah) in unison.
In daily life, Muslims should show openness and affection to each other by greeting each other with the salutation of "peace be with you," and by following the example of the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be on him). Among his hadith are:
"If you shake hands with one another rancor will depart, and if you make presents to one another and love one another, malice will depart."
"You should provide food and greet both those you know and those you do not know."
If you are a new convert to the Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam, or have
come into contact with it, you have probably already experienced the
international character of the Movement. This is most strikingly seen
at the Annual Gatherings (Jalsas), and also in local communities.
Through Ahmadiyyat, Islam has spread to 148 countries of the world.
Many Ahmadis in the United States have had the chance to meet their
brothers and sisters from Africa, Indonesia, Pakistan, India, Germany
and elsewhere. In addition there are numerous interracial and international
marriages within the Ahmadiyya Movement. This atmosphere of cultural
diversity bears testimony to the doctrine of equality in Islam as well
as to the truth of Ahmadiyyat as the renaissance of Islam.
Homosexuality is a delicate and controversial subject prevalent in today's society. You may be wondering about the Islamic position on homosexuality in the face of radical gay activism versus fundamentalist Christian teachings. Islam considers same-sex marriages to be invalid, thus all homosexual activity is extra-marital. As you have already read in Chapter 3, Islam forbids all sexual activity outside of marriage. Therefore, homosexual acts are considered to be sin. More specifically, Islam forbids "lewdness" between men and men, women and women, and men and women who are not married to each other. (See Holy Qur'an, 4:16-17). In addition, numerous hadith of the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be on him) condemn sodomy as hateful in the sight of God. This position against homosexuality supports the Islamic teaching of chastity and of the sanctity of sex within marriage. In general, it is consistent with a Muslim's goal of always seeking his or herself and spiritual development and leaving aside those things which attract the lower, baser side of human beings' nature.
As a new convert to Islam, you may have questions about gay rights
and the fight for equality, and you may wonder whether discrimination
against gays because of their sexual preference is right or wrong. It
is important to point out that gay activists are seeking rights on the
same grounds as African-Americans, women and other minorities; namely
that their sexual preference is as innate as a person's skin color or
gender. As this is not so, African-Americans, women and others should
be wary of joining with gay activists in their political fight because
their rights are not due on the same grounds.
ABUSE OF WOMEN AND CHILDREN
It is a sad fact of life that you can pick up any newspaper today, and find accounts of wife abuse and crimes against children. It seems that the greatest and saddest loss in the march towards "progress" has been the safety and upbringing of children. The list of crimes perpetrated against children is horrendous, from neglect to kidnaping to sexual abuse. While the average person is not an abuser or molester of children, more and more children are suffering neglect, as careers and material gain have taken priority over devotion to family. Children are left alone at home for hours, or treated as objects in custody battles between divorcing parents. Worse still, many newborn children are either abandoned or killed by desperate parents. A society in which such actions are common cannot claim to have made much progress from the pre-Islamic days when Arabs were burying their baby daughters alive.
Islam not only champions human rights and the rights of women, but it fervently teaches protection and love for children. Allah says in the Holy Qur'an:
"... and slay not your children for fear of poverty - it is We who provide for you and them . . . " (6:152)
This verse has been interpreted to mean the slaying of both born and unborn children for the fear of poverty. In this verse, Allah protects the child's right to life, and enjoins the parents to place their trust in Allah. Islam teaches that children are a blessing, and their proper rearing is a means of gaining Allah's pleasure. It is no wonder that wherever there is a Muslim gathering, you will always see children with their parents.
One of the significant differences between Islam and Christianity is over the nature of children at birth. While Christianity teaches that children are born into sin, Muslims believe that every child is born completely innocent and pure. Thus Islam takes the responsibility for its spiritual condition away from the newborn child and places it on the parents. The Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be on him) emphasized that Allah's reward is great for parents who look after the moral and spiritual needs of their children. Mothers are given the primary responsibility for caring for children.
Islam provides complete guidance for the upbringing of children in the Holy Qur'an and the hadith. The Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be on him) said:
"Do not curse a child for when you curse, angels add: Let it be like that, and like that it becomes... Address a child politely and courteously, for a child is a great mimic. If you address it rudely, it will return the compliment in kind. Do not lie to a child nor be peevish or arrogant with it. It will certainly imitate you."
The Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be on him) loved children and was a great champion of orphans. The Holy Qur'an says:
"And they ask thee concerning the orphans. Say, promotion of their welfare is an act of great goodness." (2:221)
Thus, the Holy Prophet spoke often for the protection and generous treatment of orphans. The Promised Messiah (peace be on him) also demonstrated love and respect for children and instructed Ahmadis never to strike their children anywhere on their face, and to pray for them fervently. The Second Khalifa of the Promised Messiah has given detailed instructions for the proper upbringing of Ahmadi children in his book, "Way of the Seekers."
In Islam, children are seen as a source of great joy as well as the prized future of the Jamaator community. Thus in most Muslim societies, mothers stay home and devote the major part of their time and energy to their children. However, the reality for Muslim parents rearing children in a society focused on careers and the necessity of earning a living may be a little different. But based on the enormous challenge of rearing a child with a strong Muslim identity in a Western society, Muslim women must consider the long-term effects of placing a small child in the care of others while working. They should try, within their means, to be with their own children and ensure their nurturing, their strength of character and their Islamic upbringing, even if this may mean material sacrifice.
The treatment of wives has been discussed in Chapter 3, and you are already aware of the respect and equality that Allah has given to Muslim women. Islam does not permit the abuse of women in any form. The Holy Qur'an tells Muslims to "consort with them (their wives) in kindness," and to find qualities in them that are pleasing. A common misconception exists in the West that Muslim men are permitted to beat their wives whenever they please. The Holy Qur'an says:
" ...And as for those on whose part you fear disobedience, admonish them, and keep away from their beds and chastise them." (4:35)
This verse means that if a wife is seriously disobedient to her husband, he should try and convince her of her fault. If that fails, he should cease to have conjugal relations with her (limited to a period of four months). Only in very extreme circumstances is he allowed to chastise her. Even then, according to the hadith, he may not injure her in any way.
The Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be on him) repeatedly emphasized kind treatment of wives, saying:
"To treat a wife tenderly and put a morsel in her mouth is charitable."
SOCIAL AND FAMILY PRESSURES
One of the most difficult things a new convert faces is relating to friends, family and lifestyle he or she knew before accepting Islam. The belief in your heart is very strong, yet there are many difficult questions to resolve because you still have the same parents and family and work at the same place or see your old friends. There will be many judgement calls and decisions about how you will live an Islamic lifestyle in this Western society.
Concerning social pressure and friends you had when you accepted Islam, you should consider what kind of lifestyle your friends have, and what social activities you engaged in with them. Muslims should follow the Islamic teaching of hijab/purdah, refrain from alcohol and give up all those things which are inconsistent with the moral goals of a Muslim. This is not to say that all non-Muslim friends are immoral and non-religious. Muslims should be open, compassionate and friendly to everyone. However, Allah stresses the importance of choosing believers as your true friends. The Holy Qur'an advises that Muslims should not prefer non-Muslim friends as very close, intimate friends to Muslim friends. Allah says:
"Let not the believers take disbelievers for friends in preference to believers-- and whoever does that has no connection with Allah--except that you cautiously guard against them..... " (3:29)
"O ye who believe! take not those for friends who make a jest and sport of your religion..." (5:58)
Instead, Allah says, when choosing your friends:
"And help one another in righteousness and piety; but help not one another in sin and transgression." (5:3)
Thus, it is better to choose friends based upon their compatibility with the moral and spiritual goals of the Islamic way of life.
The question of family pressure is more difficult because Islam places great emphasis on proper treatment of blood relations. In many cases, a new convert's parents and family may have great difficulty in accepting her new religion. It may be a source of pain and conflict for all concerned. While a new convert must always maintain her identity as a Muslim, it is important not to sever family ties. The Holy Qur'an refers often to the importance of kind treatment of parents and relatives. Allah says:
"Thy Lord has commanded that ye worship none but Him, and that ye show kindness to parents. If one or both of them attain old age with thee, never say to them as much as "ugh," nor reproach them, but always address them with kindly speech. And lower to them the wing of humility out of tenderness and say, 'My Lord, have mercy on them even as they nourished me when I was a little child.'" (17:24-25)
The Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be on him) spoke emphatically against disobedience to parents, except in the matter of shirk (associating partners with Allah). The hadith mentions often that the undutiful child will be among those who will not enter Paradise. There are many hadithconcerning acts of kindness to parents and Allah's reward for committing them.
The limit past which you are permitted to disobey your parents is the
same limit as prescribed for disobedience to the government of the country
in which you live: that is, in the event that you are asked to go against
or give up your belief in Islam. Through your prayers and kindness,
your family may eventually come to see you as a new and better person
who has chosen Allah's path.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION
Holy Qur'an with commentary, Trans. & Ed. Malik Ghulam Farid. U.K., 1994
Holy Qur'an with commentary. 5 volumes. Trans. & Ed. Malik Ghulam Farid. U.K., 1988.
Ahmad, Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmood. Ahmadiyyat or the True Islam. Pakistan, 1972.
-----The Life of Muhammad. U. K., 1990.
-----Way of the Seekers. Washington, D.C.
Ahmad, Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam. How to get rid of Bondage of Sin. Pakistan, 1972.
Ahmad, Mirza Tahir. Islam's Response to Contemporary Issues. U. K., 1993.
Orchard, B.A. Life Supreme. Canada, 1993.
See appendix for additional references.