All About Questions by Ayub A. Hamid
When it comes to asking questions in matters of religion, there is a lot of confusion out there in the minds of people about what to ask and what not to ask and when to question and when not to question. There is also quite a bit of generational gap in the views about the desirability or undesirability of questioning. This article will explain what questions must be asked and which ones must be avoided as well as what is the balanced and healthy position regarding raising questions.
Faith must not be blind Most of the people believe that faith must be blind and must be accepted without questioning. Faith does not have to be logical, rational or sensible. That is not Islamic attitude. Islamic view is that we must not believe blindly. Our belief must be rational, it must make sense and it must be accepted after due questioning. Accepting faith blindly is what Shaytaan thrives on. The main reason non-Islamic beliefs survive is because of this blind faith concept. If people adopt faith only if it makes sense, people will be break away from the illogical beliefs of their forefathers and their societies and come to Islam – the only rational faith.
However, the rational faith does not mean positively proven faith, but the most reasonable and the most sensible faith in the unseen realities that cannot be ordinarily proven or unproven.
Is blind faith and faith in unseen the same thing? Blind faith and Faith in unseen are absolutely two different concepts. Blind faith is believing in something that does not make sense. The example is faith in trinity. Although it does not make sense at all, and the believers do acknowledge that it does not make sense, but they still believe in it. Faith in unseen is believing on the basis of intellectual and rational evidence, instead of relying on physical evidence. It is like believing in the existence of viruses and germs or neutrons and protons without personally and physically seeing them.
Commands must not be questioned! Nowadays, the trend is that although people believe blindly but when it comes to following the religious edicts, they question the commands and follow only what makes sense to them. Once again this is a trap of Shaytaan, not an Islamic approach. Islamic view is that once you have accepted Allaah (subhaanahu wa ta`aalaa) as your Lord, you must submit to Him unconditionally and without questioning any commands He gives you. When we believe that Allaah (subhaanahu wa ta`aalaa) is our Lord, Master and Owner, we do not have any right except to submit to Him and His commands as slaves without asking why or what for. When we believe that He Ta'aalaa has the ultimate knowledge and wisdom, it does not behove us to question the wisdom of His commands for us. Whether the wisdom of the command is understood or not, and whether the rationale of commands is given or not, the command must be obeyed happily, willingly and wholeheartedly. If it is established clearly that the command came from Allaah (subhaanahu wa ta`aalaa) and his Messenger (sal-Allaahu alayhi wa sallam), the obedience must be instantaneous and unquestioned.
The questions that can be asked about commands
Of course, questioning to establish if the command is from Allaah (subhaanahu wa ta`aalaa) and His Messenger (sal-Allaahu alayhi wa sallam), is essential, but once the origin of the command is established to be from Allaah (subhaanahu wa ta`aalaa) or His Messenger (sal-Allaahu alayhi wa sallam), a believer is expected to say “I listen and I obey”.
In addition to questioning to establish source of command, the only question allowed is that did Allaah (subhaanahu wa ta`aalaa) or His Messenger (sal-Allaahu alayhi wa sallam), give a purpose of the command. If purpose of the command has been mentioned we should understand that purpose so that in obeying the command we do fulfil the purpose. However, if Allaah (subhaanahu wa ta`aalaa) and His Messenger (sal-Allaahu alayhi wa sallam), has not mentioned the purpose or wisdom of the command themselves, we should not speculate or try to determine it on our own.
Naturally, if someone does not know Islamic teachings about certain practical situation in life, he or she should ask the knowledgeable people about it. Asking these questions is part of seeking knowledge, which is an obligation.
The questions that are abhorred in Islam
There are two types of questions that are extremely disliked in Islam:
Raising questions that do not have immediate practical benefit to questioner or that are not relevant to their current situation. These are the speculative questions people ask: what if such and such happens, without encountering that situation or expecting to encounter it in near future.
The questions that emanate from reluctance to obey or that seek to make a general command into a more specific one. The example of this type of questioning is illustrated by the story of slaughtering of cow mentioned in the Soorah Al-Baqarah. The raised questioned about the kind of cow to be slaughtered because of their reluctance to slaughter it. In an effort to sidetrack the command they kept asking for more specifics. Originally, they could have slaughtered any cow and the command would have been fulfilled. But in response to their questions, it became a very specific cow of certain age, colour and other attributes. Often we fall into this trap when we are not satisfied with a general command and keep asking questions to pinpoint specifics.
This type of questions and attitude was extremely disliked by Allaah (subhaanahu wa ta`aalaa) and His Messenger (sal-Allaahu alayhi wa sallam). Muslims were told (the translation of the meaning of the Qur-aan) :
O believers! Do not ask questions about things which if declared to you may trouble you,
and if you question about them when the Qur’aan is being revealed, they shall be declared
to you; Allaah has pardoned this, and Allah is Forgiving, Forbearing. A people before you
did ask such questions, and then became disbelievers on account of them. (Al-Maaidah 5:101)
Often, Allaah (subhaanahu wa ta`aalaa), being kind and merciful to people, leaves some commands in general terms to allow people flexibility to act upon them as their circumstances allow, but some people ask question that end up making a command very specific. Such specificity becomes a burden for many others. That kind of attitude had made Sharee’ah burdensome and difficult to follow for Banee Israaeel. Hence, Muslims were told to avoid that tendency.
When the Prophet (sal-Allaahu alayhi wa sallam) presented the general Qur’aanic command that Hajj has been made obligatory for Muslims, a person asked, “Is it an annual obligation?” The Prophet (sal-Allaahu alayhi wa sallam) did not respond. When he kept repeating the question, the Prophet (sal-Allaahu alayhi wa sallam) responded, “Pity on you. If I say yes, it will become a yearly obligation, then you will not be able to follow the command and will disobey.”
He (sal-Allaahu alayhi wa sallam), also was reported to have said, “The biggest culprit among Muslims is he who raised questions about something that was not prohibited for people, but answers to his questions ended up making it prohibited.”
He (sal-Allaahu alayhi wa sallam) also told, “Indeed Allaah (subhaanahu wa ta`aalaa) has obligated obligations, so do not disregard them; He has prohibited some things, do not approach them; He has set some limits, do not transgress them; He has not talked about some things without forgetting them, so do not enquire about them.”
In the light of the above, Muslims should curb the tendency of making generalities, more specific; concise points into detailed statements; vague concepts into categorical pronouncements or, loosely defined rules into precisely defined regulations. Most of the discord in the Ummah has in fact resulted form people violating these teaching of Allaah (subhaanahu wa ta`aalaa) and His Messenger (sal-Allaahu alayhi wa sallam).
A perfect example of what to question and what not to question
The Holy Qur-aan presents, the attitude of Ibraaheem ‘Alayhissalaam as a perfect and the most beautiful example of a Muslim’s attitude in terms of where to raise questions and where to submit instantly and willingly.
When he grew up, he took a rational approach to his parents and his society’s believes. Through his logical and rational approach, he concluded that it does not make sense to worship the idols that people make with their own hands. He reflected on the universal realities around him (the translation of the meaning of the Qur-aan):
And thus did We show Ibraaheem the matters of kingdom of the heavens and the earth in order
that he would be of those who are sure. (Al-An’aam 6:75)
He concluded that any finite entities such as stars, moon or sun are not worthy of worship. One must submit only to One and Only Infinite Creator of this finite universe, thus he announced (the translation of the meaning of the Qur-aan):
Surely I have turned myself truly, wholly and solely to Him Who originated the heavens and the earth,
and I am not of the polytheists. (Al-An’aam 6:79)
But once he accepted Allaah (subhaanahu wa ta`aalaa) as his Lord, He submitted to him most willingly, without any hesitation or reservations, and without even asking about why a certain action should be carried out. He listened and immediately obeyed. Whether it was leaving his family to an uninhabited, inhospitable desert, or sacrificing his one and only son or anything else, he jumped to obedience willingly and wholeheartedly, no question asked.
He presented the perfect example of questioning the faith so that one adopts only the correct faith, but obeying unconditionally like an obedient slave, without asking questions, and having full faith in the wisdom and knowledge of Allaah (subhaanahu wa ta`aalaa) .
Every now and then people ask some inappropriate question in the matters of religion. To support their questions they throw in the example of Ibraaheem’s ‘Alayhissalaam asking Allaah Ta'aalaa to show how He raises the dead. This example is commonly misunderstood and hence quoted inappropriately.
First of all, neither did Ibraaheem ‘Alayhissalaam question Allaah’s (subhaanahu wa ta`aalaa) capability of raising the dead nor did he ask for a proof for that capability. He already had full faith in it. In fact he did not even ask a question, rather, he just requested a demonstration to gain personal knowledge of ‘How’ it happens. As a prophet he was being shown the behind the scene workings of Allaah’s kingdom, as every prophet is given that knowledge to enable him to become witness to mankind of the realities of faith on the basis of their personal observation, instead of just being told about these facts. From that perspective, he asked for this demonstration (the translation of the meaning of the Qur-aan):
And when Ibraaheem said: My Lord! Show me how do you give life to the dead, He said: Do you not believe? He said: Yes I do, but that my heart may be satisfied. (Al-Baqarah 2:260)
Secondly, this request for demonstration was about a matter of faith (raising the dead) put forth to help him do his prophetic job on the basis of personal knowledge. It was not about any commands of Allaah (subhaanahu wa ta`aalaa), for which he always surrendered without ever asking a question – not asking even the purpose of the command or its rationale.
We can quote this example to indicate natural human curiosity, but we cannot quote it to support our questions for two reasons: A non-prophet does not have the prophetic privilege to ask for demonstration of the realities of faith. Thus, using this example in justifying any questions common people raise is inappropriate and irrelevant. If we are questioning Allaah’s (subhaanahu wa ta`aalaa) commands, then it is irrelevant because Ibraaheem ‘Alayhissalaam never ever questioned Allaah’s (subhaanahu wa ta`aalaa) command.
The valid example to follow in this regard is his questioning of the faith of the elders and his no-questions-asked obedience to Allaah (subhaanahu wa ta`aalaa).
Copyright ©2003, Ayub A. Hamid
Permission is granted to circulate among private individuals and groups, to post on Internet sites and to publish in full in not-for-profit publications. Contact author for all other rights, which are reserved
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