So there's a fun new fatwa being covered in the international news, and it goes like this: Mars Is Haram.

Screen Shot 2014-02-21 at 11.15.32 PM

 I know what you're thinking- come on, it's just another one of those made-up fatwas, like last year's Great Syrian Sex Jihad and the Erotic Fruit and Vegetable Fatwa of 2011. Those were great fun for the media, and in all their journalistic glee, they forgot to check their stories. There is something to be said for journalistic integrity, unless there's a funny fatwa story. Then it's a free for-all.

Summers temps in Saudi go up to 54C/129F, and you think they couldn't handle this?

Summers temps in Saudi go up to 54C/129F, and you think they couldn't handle this?

Of course, this isn't the first time the media's lost sight of due diligence when it comes to stories about Muslims. Remember the man who was too handsome for Saudi? Or the Egyptian Necrophilia Fatwa- where unnamed and unsourced clerics said it was okay for a grieving husband to have “Farewell Intercourse” with his spouse's corpse for up six hours after the time of death. Grieving wives had conjugal rights to dead husbands as well, because Muslims do believe in equality of the sexes, see?

Remember the fatwa where if your spouse saw you naked, your marriage became invalid?  Or how breastfeeding your male colleagues could make them your mahram? Those were fake too.

Muslims generally hear these stories, heave a long-suffering sigh, and go back to worrying about real news- like other Muslims being ethnically cleansed, burned alive, and frozen to death across the world.

Follow-up news: Muslim zombiepocalypse enthusiasts file official complaint to Egypt.

Follow-up news: Muslim zombiepocalypse enthusiasts file official complaint against Egypt.

We tend to take these stories in stride with the rest of the c@#$ that mainstream media dumps on us already. Yes, yes, we heard already- we are the stupid, violent, intolerant, controlling men who obsess about sex, gender relations, and suspiciously shaped produce – and the women who love them.

The men I mean. Not the fruit. Because there's a fatwa about that.

So what is a fatwa?

Let's say I have a dry cough. I read the directions on the cough syrup, and confirm it was for dry cough. But then I read the fine print, where taking the syrup can be risky in conjunction with other medications. Now, I do happen to take some of those medications, but not often. I am looking for some clarity, so I call my doctor and he gives me his medical opinion- not an order- about my specific case. He tells me what he thinks I should do, and why he thinks so. Whether I think he's right, or whether I want to go looking for a second opinion is up to me. He hasn't given me an order, he has given me a  fatwa.

YourOpinion

In a non-legally binding way, yes.

A fatwa is a  non-binding Islamic legal opinion, issued by a legal scholar or institution.  What that means is:

  • Fatawa are legal opinions, not laws
  • The purpose of fatawa is to seek clarity. This usually happens in cases dealing with new, specific, or unclear issues.

The doctor told me what he was thinking based on his knowledge, training, and personal experience. He told me why he was thinking it, and I am free to follow it or not. That is a fatwa. Given the number of bad doctors in the world, it seems more understandable then, why there can be confusing Islamic fatawa. Muslims are humans, humans make mistakes, and humans can be expected to have differing opinions, medical or otherwise.

For every two sensible doctors out there is at least one nut-job who tells us to put herbs in our socks or wear a magnetized bracelet to cure the chronic bronchitis I am actually incubating. So yes, it is possible to get a strange non-legally binding opinion- or fatwa- from a real  Muslim, the same way I can get an unhealthy recommendation from a real doctor.

Indeed.

Indeed.

What happened to Mars?

It all started with a Dutch Company called Mars One, whose mission is to “establish a permanent human settlement on Mars.”  The company plans to start sending people up to the red planet by 2024, and they'll be sending them one-way. 

According to the original story in the Khaleej Times, the General Islamic of Islamic Affairs and Endowment of the UAE – locally known as the Awqaaf, takes issue with this type of mission.  

“Such a one-way journey poses a real risk to life, and that can never be justified in Islam,” the committee said.  “There is a possibility that an individual who travels to planet Mars may not be able to remain alive there, and is more vulnerable to death.”

Whoever opts for this “hazardous trip”, the committee said, is likely to perish for no “righteous reason”, and thus will be liable to a “punishment similar to that of suicide in the Hereafter”.

The committee, presided by Professor Dr Farooq Hamada, said: “Protecting life against all possible dangers and keeping it safe is an issue agreed upon by all religions and is clearly stipulated in verse [4:29] of the Holy Qur'an: Do not kill yourselves or one another. Indeed, Allah is to you ever Merciful.”

Professor Dr. Who?

Dr. Farouk Al Hamada is real person.  In fact, he's even really in the UAE.  He is a published author, and according to his personal website, he is currently “an adviser at the Crown Prince Court of Abu Dhabi, Emirates.”  His website was last updated on Jan 8, 2012.

He is not, however, the Grand Mufti of the UAE, let alone all of Saudi Arabia as some of the headlines claim.  A quick Google search shows that there doesn't seem to be a Grand Mufti of the UAE, but there is a Grand Mufti of Dubai.  His name is Dr. Ahmad Al Haddad; in July of 2013, he made the news with some very sage advice, “Be careful about fatwas on twitter.”

Beware Twitter FatwasWhat Dr Farooq Hamada said was:

  • Taking an unnecessary risk with your life is not allowed in Islam
  • A one-way ticket to Mars means you'll probably die
  • If you  do go and die, you may be held accountable for killing yourself for no good reason

What Dr. Farooq Hamada didn't say was:

  • Travel to Mars (versus Jupiter) is not allowed
  • Flying to Mars (versus walking) is not forbidden
  • Colonizing Mars (versus visiting) is not allowed
  • Housing on Mars (versus education?) is haram
  • Living on Mars is sinful
  • Even wanting to live on Mars is sinful
  • Muslims traveling to Mars will suffer punishment

There are other opinions about this issue- and they will most likely hinge on whether travel to Mars is a righteous reason or reasonably safe. They have nothing to do with flying, colonizing, the high rate of Martian housing, or nurturing secret dreams of space travel. At this point in time, a one-way trip to Mars is a bit like jumping into an alligator pit. If I'm doing it to save a kid who fell in, I can risk my life because that's a righteous reason. But if I'm doing it to take a selfie, that's suicide. And I'm an idiot.

A third alligator option exists, where I'm going in to take a selfie, but the alligator is either tame, toothless, or safely restrained. In that case, I don't need to have a righteous reason, because I'm not risking my life. That would be like going to Mars if/when traveling by space is like taking a cruise, but one where we'd drink recycled urine.

Is that allowed? Can we get a fatwa on that?

The bottom line is that life is precious, so if I'm deliberately putting mine at risk, I'd better have a good reason for it. If not, my death may be judged as suicide versus sacrifice. If there is more to this fatwa, it's not in the original story, and the Martian fatwa in question does not appear in the archives of General Islamic of Islamic Affairs and Endowment of the UAE.

Last year alone, the General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments issued over 337,000 fatawa, and you'd be hard-pressed to find another one in the international news. They are maintained in a searchable archive here, and contain such sensational questions as:

Why does this keep happening?

Telephone game

The Telephone Game: Like this, but with truth at stake instead of money.

Journalists: they dig deep to find buried stories, uncover injustice, and show the world what's really happening so we can all get up and do something about it. And in their spare time, they play the telephone game.

Without fact-checking information beforehand, major media outlets share stories that humorously “confirm” what they think they know about Muslims, but if a news story features something positive about a Muslim, it is ignored.

This is called information bias- and it happens when people choose to promote or recognize what supports their existing point of view. That's why a story with a Saudi cleric, two goats, and not a leg of truth  between them  can make international news, but the same story- without any Muslim affiliations, would be an insult to journalism.

The titles change. Funnily enough, the cover art stays about the same.

The titles change. Funnily enough, the cover art stays about the same.

This isn't limited to news, there are the books too.  But the stories aren't necessarily fake- sometimes they are poignant- or not so poignant- coming of age stories where people wake up, open their eyes, and stop being Muslim long enough to secure a lucrative book deal. This model has been so successful that even non-Muslims try to get in on the act, and some famous frauds- recently Ergun CanerWalid Shoebat, and Kamal Saleem- gave it a good run before finally being exposed.  In doing so, they did their part in lending legitimacy (however phony) to the stereotypes.  Because, Islam is so bad even Muslims are leaving it, see?

The Bigger Picture

Fake Ex-Muslims, Former Muslim Tell-Alls, and Freaky Fatwa news all fit into a bigger picture-they are all sneaky manifestations of the straw man argument.

MIke TysonThe Straw Man, or Aunt Sally as she's know in the UK, is a logical fallacy in which someone defeats an argument– not by defeating the argument itself–but by knocking over a dummy argument in its place. Imagine that anti-Muslim bigots are set to box with Mike Tyson, and when the bell chimes, they come out swinging at a mannequin that sort of looks like him. The mannequin goes down, the crowd cheers, and Islamophobia is crowned the heavyweight champion of the Internet.

Fake Ex-Muslims face off against a dummy version of Islam, using their “real life” experiences to prove that Muslims really are terrorists- and then knock that dummy over using a new-found love of Christ and hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer funds.

Former Muslims prop up a paper-back version of Islam as a harbinger of chaos, cultural darkness, and burkas- and use the feather of their touching nostalgia to blow it gently over. Through the rose-tinted lenses of their simplistic narrative, there appears to have been nothing wrong with their country/family/life when it was secular, and there was nothing right when it was “Islamic.”

Freaky Fatwa news is part of the same game. Bigoted–or just irresponsible–media props up dummy versions of Islam- incorrect, backwards, over-the-top, and sexually immature stories of what Muslims do and believe,  and with every like, share, and eye-roll, we readers do our part to knock them over.

Now what?

The success of the straw man argument rests entirely on the crowd's inability to tell the difference between a mannequin and Mike Tyson, so the more  people understand real Islam, the less likely they are to swing at the straw men propped up in Islam's place.

If you're a Muslim and you find fake information about Islam getting shared in your social media circles, speak up. Be brave. Be funny. Stand up in the crowd and politely point out that the guy in the blue corner is actually a scarecrow and the real champion is the Qur'an and Sunnah.

Lion of Truth

Advice for Journalists

If you're a journalist, and you're not sure whether a funny story you read about a Muslim is news-worthy,  copy the text of the story and remove all references to Islam, Muslims, and Saudi Arabia- and then read it again.  Now, ask yourself a few questions:

  1. Can the story be verified?
  2. Is the content genuinely interesting, significant, or relevant to your readership?
  3. Was a real person willing to put their name on this? Is there an original, reliable source or byline?
  4. Could the text of this email be mistaken for a chain letter?
  5. If you published this religion-free version, would your editor call you an idiot with no news sense?

If you are looking at a verified news story that is genuinely significant or relevant to your readers, written by someone who wasn't embarrassed to put their name to it, you're off to a good start.

If, however the content you're looking at could pass as a chain letter, or suddenly isn't funny if Muslims aren't involved, then please delete it and do something better with your life.

Thank you.

Insert Saudi Here

 

50 Responses

  1. Mahmud

    Assalamualaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh

    Those who intend to humiliate Muslims in this life should think of unending humiliation.

    إِنَّ الَّذِينَ يُؤْذُونَ اللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ لَعَنَهُمُ اللَّهُ فِي الدُّنْيَا وَالْآخِرَةِ وَأَعَدَّ لَهُمْ عَذَابًا مُّهِينًا
    Indeed, those who abuse Allah and His Messenger – Allah has cursed them in this world and the Hereafter and prepared for them a humiliating punishment.

    وَالَّذِينَ يُؤْذُونَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ وَالْمُؤْمِنَاتِ بِغَيْرِ مَا اكْتَسَبُوا فَقَدِ احْتَمَلُوا بُهْتَانًا وَإِثْمًا مُّبِينًا
    And those who harm believing men and believing women for [something] other than what they have earned have certainly born upon themselves a slander and manifest sin.

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  2. Amad

    Love this article… I think the key issue is lazy journalism— how to maximize hits on the webpage for the particular media outlet. Truth is a casualty and misinformation easily forgiven.

    Especially as it relates to Muslims, it appears there are hardly any consequences or credibility risks for media outlets when they get it wrong. People still believe the original “fatwas” because the retractions are often buried in the some obscure section of the paper.

    That is why some have resorted to suing papers, esp. in UK for defamation– I think Shaykh Yahya even won his case. Until these papers are brought to some level of accountability, they will continue to go about their merry way. But difficult to paint defamation when no specific person is involved and news is entirely fictional! There needs to be some organized effort to contact the editors when fictional stories are reported. At least, it will get the offender fired or reprimanded (hopefully)!

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  3. Rabya

    Great article and very funny :-) Islamophobia is the new “IN” thing, so anything to display it, sells!

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  4. Redbear762 (@docwatson223)

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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    • Princess

      God says in the Quran:

      “There is no compulsion in religion…” (Quran 2:256)

      Not only does Islam demand their freedom to practice religion, but also that they be treated justly as any other fellow human. Warning against any abuse of non-Muslims in an Islamic society, the Prophet stated:

      “Beware! Whoever is cruel and hard on a non-Muslim minority, curtails their rights, burdens them with more than they can bear, or takes anything from them against their free will; I (Prophet Muhammad) will complain against the person on the Day of Judgment.” (Abu Dawud)

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    • Umm Yasa'ah

      Clearly you have quite al ot of misunderstandings about our religion. Just to clear one of your misunderstandings, I’d highly recommend watching the following video:

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    • Abu Asiyah

      Yes, because when I want to find out the truth about Islam, I go to some random American guy who lived over 200 years ago and didn’t speak a lick of Arabic.

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  5. Yas123

    The problem, Redbear762, is that you view your previous opponents in context of their religion instead of that which was the actual, direct reason for them being your opponent- their nationality. They considered you an enemy to be fought because you were on their land, not because you were a non-Muslim on their land. Also, the Quran does not call for the subjugation of anyone. The only circumstances in which that is even close to true is when Muslims are being attacked by an enemy. Muslims are then supposed to do their best to fight of and subdue those who seek to destroy them. There are 2 billion Muslims in the world, the majority of which are in southeast Asia (Indonesia, etc.). Your experience with a few thousand Muslims who feel they are protecting their home from intruders should be as much of a judge of Muslims as a whole as angry middle-aged white men in a few states who shoot unarmed minority teenagers should be a judge of the entire North American population of white men.

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  6. Rida

    This is a very nice article and an excellent satirical look on lazy journalism. That being said, the article tries to say ALL of the bad fatwas are fake. I think this is a matter of knee jerk reaction to bad media. Unfortunately we do get bad fatwas here and there too, and we need to acknowledge and address them properly. For example, the breast feeding male colleague fatwa:
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/6681511.stm

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    • Abez

      AssalamuAlaikum Rida- JazakAllahukheiran for the feedback. I did mention that:

      “Given the number of bad doctors in the world, it seems more understandable then, why there can be confusing Islamic fatawa. Muslims are humans, humans make mistakes, and humans can be expected to have differing opinions, medical or otherwise.”

      The authenticity of the breastfeeding fatwa is ambiguous- but again- it’s an opinion, and people can be expected to have all sorts of strange opinions. Including Muslims. :)

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  7. ZAI

    Stuff going on in Muslim countries is ridiculous enough that I’m surprised these anti-Muslim bigots feel the need to make things up and send it
    over the top. Perhaps these truly ridiculous accusations are more tantalizing…like typical tabloid fodder or in the age of the internet, more prone to going “viral”. Easier to get attention this way than to talk about nuanced and complex topics like women’s or minorities rights/treatment, animal rights, environmental concern, political or free speech issues, Western and Muslim intrigue or aggression upon Muslim majority nations, etc. etc…all while keeping in mind that the Muslimworld is not a monolith.

    Was the breastfeeding-mahram fatwa fake though? I read that the one emanating from Saudi Arabia was a fake, but a pair of fools from Egypt and Iran both really did come up with that fatwa…

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    • Abez

      AssalamuAlaikum Zai- I’m not sure about the breastfeeding fatwa, and haven’t been able to dig up any original sources, or the text from the fatwa.

      Muslims are entitled to have weird opinions- being human after all- but the issue isn’t in Muslims being weird, but in the media delighting in Muslim weirdness, regardless of its authenticity. :)

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  8. MEe NO

    A great article.. humour at its best but deep too. Salute to the writer’s effort
    . At least some are doing good out there

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  9. Sarah

    Salam – just a quick comment, no need for publication if you’re moderating:

    I think that MuslimMatters wouldn’t put up a photo of a female singer striking sultry poses, so I’d like to ask that the photo of the sultry-posed male Khaleeji be taken down or replaced, in the name of fairness. Thank you!

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    • Aly Balagamwala | DiscoMaulvi

      WaAlaikum Assalam:

      I believe you are referring to the photo of “the man who was too handsome for Saudi” … since it relates to the topic and the awrah is not exposed it complies with our image policy.

      However, your suggestion is noted.

      Jazakillahu Khairin
      Best Regards
      Aly

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  10. Muhammad Jibran

    Ironic coupling religion and truth. But since enough people think religion = truth, we should, like the quote says let it loose and defend itself. Too bad criticizing faith, this one in particular increases your chances of getting killed.

    Point about lazy journalism taken.

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  11. Exhibition celebrates history of Islam's second holiest city

    […] How Mars Became Haram: A Guide to Freaky Fatwa News According to the original story in the Khaleej Times, the General Islamic of Islamic Affairs and Endowment of the UAE – locally known as the Awqaaf, takes issue with this type of mission. “Such a one-way …. Funnily enough, the cover art stays about … Read more on MuslimMatters […]

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  12. Mustafa Hanif

    Absolutely delightful article! … You sister have an awesome and genuine sense of humor. And yeah I feel proud that you have Pakistani genes too :P

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  13. Abu Milk Sheikh

    It seems that the author hasn’t taken her own advice that she so eloquently stated in this article.

    GAIAE reaffirmed their fatwa prohibiting it on Feb 24 http://goo.gl/9gk2aV

    Grand Mufti of Dubai Sheikh Dr. Ahmad Al-Haddad also reaffirmed it on Feb 26 http://goo.gl/iHwUTB

    The disection of fatawa made by ‘ulema should be left to ‘ulema, rather than laypeople.

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    • Aly Balagamwala | DiscoMaulvi

      Dear Brother

      1) JazakAllahu Khairin for the two links you provided. The information contained in these does not change the point of the author that such fatawa are taken out of context in a deliberate attempt to malign the name of Islam and muslims. In addition, the author does state reasons for the validity of this fatwa and your links affirm those reasons.

      2) Your pseudonym is in violation with our Comments Policy as it calls for a valid name, kunyah or blog handle (if accompanied with link to your blog and valid email address). Any further comments will be subjected to censure unless they comply with this policy.

      Was-SalamuAlaikum
      Best Regards
      Aly

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      • Abdullah

        Hi this is Abu Milk Sheikh. Abdullah is not my name. See how pointless your ‘rule’ is? Rules should make sense.

        And the fact you bring this up now, while I’ve been posting as Abu Milk Sheikh on MM for months (even though I only comment rarely), is a bit odd. This is aside from the fact that many comments are approved here that don’t implement your ‘please use a ‘real’ name, even if it’s a fake one’ rule.

        A bit of consistency is in order.

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      • Aly Balagamwala

        Dear Brother

        You are correct this rule is not implemented very consistently and may Allah forgive us in our shortcomings. You may think this particular rule is pointless but we have some reasons for it. Abdullah may not be your real name but we prefer it to your using Abu Milk Sheikh. As for the fact why now, we actually are starting to enforce it now even though this rule was there.

        Therefore, please do use your real name in future comments. We would prefer you do not lie by using a fake name. :)

        Best Regards
        WasSalamuAlaikum
        Aly

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    • Abez

      AssalamuAlaikum Brother- I have not commented on the veracity of the UAE Fatwa- it may very well be true. My comment was that the text does not appear in the searchable archives, which is why more information about it cannot be obtained.

      I don’t think these links have any real bearing on the key points of this article- which are that:

      1. The media makes up entirely fake news to make Muslims look bad (Fake Fatwas)
      2. News outlets select stories (real or fake) and spin or promote them for the purpose of making Muslims look bad, furthering the information bias
      3. Both of these tactics to make a larger straw man argument against Islam

      And Allah knows best. :)

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      • Anwar Ul Haque

        Assalamo alaikum. Great article alhamdolillah! You are absolutely right! This deliberate maligning of Islam and Muslims has resulted in many serious consequences for totally innocent Muslims like Dr. Aafia and her 3 children. Many ignorant people turn violent by believing in these cooked up stories. In order to prevent this and as well as our duty to present the right image of Islam, the Prophet s.a.w we Muslims must be active and discharge our duty dutifully, sensibly and enthusiastically!

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    • mezaan

      This article is really well written, and I think one would suggest anyone reading this post to follow up with this youtube lecture by Br. Yasir Qadhi. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jJmrPh2sRuw. This whole article reminded me of Fatwas by men who were out-dated, out-of-sync and stopped thinking creatively.

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  14. Rawa Muhsin

    Assalamu ‘alaikum.

    Masha’Allah very eloquently written. May Allah reward you and keep you writing similar pieces.

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  15. Jeddah Blog

    As-salam alaikum Abez – thank you for writing that. There are so many misconceptions out there and sometimes it feels like a losing battle countering it all. That was a very well articulated article, addressing each issue point by point. We need more like it.

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  16. kayvee

    Great article mashallah

    I encourage everyone to read the book “You Are Not So Smart: Why You Have Too Many Friends on Facebook, Why Your Memory Is Mostly Fiction, and 46 Other Ways You’re Deluding Yourself” by David McRaney

    You can find it on amazon, i would link it here but I dont know if thats against the comment policies or not

    It teaches how to think critically and how we are hoodwinked by the media, politicians, ad companies over and over

    I also want to add that many journalists dont care about the facts. They want and seek the sensationalism of their stories

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  17. GC

    Abu…

    More than likely, John Quincy Adams was very famaliar with Islam.
    For this would have been the religion of the slaves he probably owned. Same for Jefferson.

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  18. GC

    I believe the real problem lies in many misunderstanding the Quran and how it applies to today.
    When reading the Quran, one must keep in mind that about 1/3 of it is a historical accountof Islam during the time of Muhammad(pbuh).
    This being said….please keep in mind that many of the commandments given to Muhammad(pbuh) apllied to only him and the people of his time.

    These commandments do not transcend into today’s age.

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    • Aly Balagamwala | DiscoMaulvi

      When reading the Quran, one must keep in mind that about 1/3 of it is a historical accountof Islam during the time of Muhammad(pbuh).

      Could you help us out and define how it is determined what 1/3 applied only to those times and is now invalid for us?

      Best Regards
      Aly

      *Comment above is posted in a personal capacity and may not reflect the official views of MuslimMatters or its staff*

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    • O H

      That’s a scary premise and HUGE generalisation. If you check the tafseer/explanation of the verses by scholars, there many verses where Allaah Subhana wa ta’ala mentions the Prophet in the verse or referring to the companions but the scholars have extended its application/relevance to the rest of the Ummah. Check the narrations/statements of our righteous predecessors such as the sahabas and those who followed them as they had the deepest understanding of the Qur’an.

      The Prophet (peace be upon him ) said “The best of people is my generation, then those who come after them, then those who come after them (i.e. the first three generations of Muslims).” [Reported by Bukhari and Muslim- Mutawaatir. Muslim, Narrated 'Aisha - Shaykh Al Albaanee declares it Hasan in Saheeh Al Jaami' no.3288]

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  19. akeesays

    Masha Allah! you are really talented and witty. loved this article. May Allah (swt) keep you and your little family safe. keep writing!

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    • Abez

      Hi Marc, if you’ve got questions, we’ll try to have answers. Muslim Matters is a great place to bring them.

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