Confessions of a Muslim Skeptic

Questioning Faith

The other day, a Muslim teen asked me the purpose of prayer. Why should we believe in God? Why do bad things happen to good people? As it turns out, this barrage of questions only represented the tip of a big, ominous iceberg.

There are a whole host of questions like this that are festering in our community and causing many crises of faith. The unfortunate reality is that Muslims are leaving Islam due to these unanswered questions, a trend that is exacerbated by the decreasing popularity of organized religion in society at large.

So Many Questions, So Few Answers

How do we address this challenge?

As someone who grew up as an American teenager in the 90s, the questions I had then, only 15 years ago, were mere child’s play compared to the soul-swallowing issues that Muslim youth are struggling with today. Topics like gay rights, the war on terrorism, scientific proof for the existence of God, the value of modesty, the merits of sexual abstinence, human evolution, the importance of family, etc. — anything and everything is up for debate, analysis, and, ultimately, disavowal.

In sum, religion is seen as lacking any intellectual credibility. The only way to restore that credibility in the minds of the doubting masses is to address these questions head on.

Skepticism Defined

Whether in the academic or professional sphere, the most effective way to address complicated, controversial questions is to take a step back and pinpoint the hidden assumptions that underlie those questions. This way, one can problematize (or undermine) the question itself and, thus, proactively address it on one’s own terms.

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Traditionally, this tendency to problematize and undermine common beliefs has been associated with skepticism. In the sense I am using the term, a skeptic is someone who will pause to deconstruct and critique a thought system in order to judge its intellectual merit (not to be confused with philosophical skeptics, who question the possibility of knowledge entirely).

Oftentimes, it is religious beliefs that are the target of skeptical questioning: Why should we believe God exists? Why should we believe the Quran to be the word of God? Why should we believe Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was the messenger of God? Skeptical questioning of this nature originated with atheists and opponents of religion but, over time, has spread to all corners of the globe. Nowadays, even the faithful ask themselves these questions, and, when they cannot find answers, they either abandon the religion or ignore the questions entirely.

But there is another way.

 

Intellectual Hypocrisy and Bill Maher

From my experience, skeptics of religion often are hypocrites in that they do not attack all thought systems equally. They save their most rabid lines of critique for religion, especially Islam, but give certain non-religious beliefs a free pass.

For example, someone like Bill Maher, a self-proclaimed liberal, has no shortage of animosity in critiquing Islam. But does he take that same critical, skeptical mindset to his evaluation of, say, liberalism? Has he spent any time on TV delving into the many different critiques and questions plaguing liberal thought? Has he dedicated any of his programming to contemplating the amount of violence and death modern liberalism has wrought?

Maher portrays himself as an objective, neutral analyst using the power of rational thought to discover the truth, but, in actuality, he is a propagandist, as detached from objectivity and rationality as the fervent Bible-thumpers he lampoons. The only difference is he proselytizes liberalism instead of Christianity.

The Muslim skeptic, then, is someone who gives such hypocrites a taste of their own medicine.  Why can’t Muslims turn the tables by expressing skepticism about liberalism, the nation-state paradigm, scientism, humanism, progressivism, and the rest of the unquestioned modernist dogmas of our times?

Turning the Tables

Consider this small sample of “controversial” or “tough” questions:

  1. What is the scientific proof for the existence of Allah, angels, the afterlife, the soul, etc.?
  2. Why does Islamic Law require women to wear the hijab but not men?
  3. Why would an all-merciful God allow evil to exist?
  4. Do we have free-will to make our own choices?
  5. Why does Islamic Law prohibit homosexual acts?
  6. Why do many Muslims not accept the evolutionary theory of man’s origins?

What we often fail to realize is that these questions do not arise in a vacuum. Most of these are not questions that troubled or even arose in the minds of Muslims 30, 40, or 500 years ago. These are questions that are characteristic of our time and intellectual culture in the 15th/21st century. As such, there are complex, deeply ingrained assumptions that underlie each of them. The only reason they may seem “tough” to address is that we are blind to those assumptions and take them for granted.

The Muslim skeptic must dig out these assumptions in order to scrutinize and interrogate them. In this way, rather than resolving such “tough” questions, the Muslim skeptic aims to dissolve them.

Given the number of such questions threatening the faith of our community, there is a pressing need for such a skeptical approach.

Skepticism in Action

As a brief example, consider the question of God’s existence. Some modern Muslim commentators concede that there is no objective evidence for the existence of God, and it all boils down to a “leap of faith.” The Muslim skeptic’s approach, in contrast, would be to first investigate the word “objective.” (Yes, the concept of “objectivity” itself has a convoluted and interesting history that we cannot take for granted.) Then, the Muslim skeptic would reflect on widely accepted standards of evidence used to undermine belief in God, e.g., scientific evidence, and evaluate them for consistency. For example, if we are supposed to reject the existence of God due to an alleged lack of scientific evidence, should we also reject the existence of things like the passage of time, human consciousness, mathematical entities, etc., that similarly lack scientific or physical modalities? Clearly, most people are not extreme enough to deny such things that clearly have a reality, despite a lack of scientific evidence. And so on.

In this way, the Muslim skeptic is not afraid to question widely held, cherished beliefs, such as the authority of science, in order to unpack hidden assumptions that cloud the issue and confuse people.

Conclusion

To be sure, skepticism is a negative, deconstructive exercise. Its purpose is to use rational argumentation to topple false idols so that the light of Truth has a chance to shine through. One of the greatest Muslim skeptics then, in these terms, was Prophet Ibrahim ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) who cleverly undermined the idolatry of his people, as related in the Quran (6: 75-80). By pointing to a star, the moon, and the sun, saying, “This is my lord,” Ibrahim imitated the discourse of his detractors in order to reveal the internal inconsistency of their beliefs.

Muslim intellectual history is full of Muslim skeptics who employed all manner of rational stratagem to evaluate, undermine, critique, and overturn philosophies they deemed dangerous or subversive. This is a lost art Muslims today should be keen to revive, especially given that we find ourselves in an intellectual climate that has proved time and again to be hostile to our worldview. As Sayyidina `Umar once asked, rhetorically, “Are we not on the Truth?” It is time for us to start acting like it.


 

Daniel Haqiqatjou was born in Houston, TX. He attended Harvard University where he majored in Physics and minored in Philosophy. He completed a Masters degree in Philosophy at Tufts University. Haqiqatjou also studies traditional Islamic sciences part-time. He writes and lectures on contemporary issues surrounding Muslims and Modernity as well as the intersection of western philosophical thought and Islamic intellectual history.

 

63 / View Comments

63 responses to “Confessions of a Muslim Skeptic”

  1. kamran khan says:

    Those who study Quran and Hadith have less question than those who don’t study sometimes a number of question makes you more confuse

    • @kamran khan: …Yes, but the vast majority of Muslims don’t study Quran and hadith, unfortunately, and many of them have no inclination to do so, either, because of nagging issues threatening their faith. We have to be able to speak to these Muslims in another language, so to speak, because simply telling them to study Quran and hadith is not going to be well received or accepted by them.

      • Hyde says:

        I must sir, as with your website, this article topic is of supreme importance. I’m tired of hearing about hijabs and gay rights and shia and sunni….what’s point if there is no faith. I have forwarded this to many people. Thank-You for keeping things in prospective.

  2. Special Purpose says:

    What the author is missing is that the West arrived at its undeniably towering intellectual achievements including the clarity about man’s invention, organized religion, AFTER centuries of experience with theocracy. Primitive humans have been anthropomorphizing their ignorance of the vast, glorious, godlike physical Universe, since the beginning of time. Been there, done that. Islam, born in an exceedingly primitive society of warring tribes, is no better. Be good to others is all you need to know. Bow to the dictates of an ancient warlord (yes that is an accurate description of Mohammad), or a modern power hungry theocrat? Sorry, that is not an intelligent thing to do. Remain in utter awe of Existence (which needs no book to speak to you)? Now that does make sense.

    • GC66 says:

      You don’t appear well versed in Islam or the history of it.

      There is no such thing as “cliff notes” to Islam, which is what you seem to imply with the general statement that is made time and time again of Muhammad(pbuh) and Islam.

      Islam is not just a religion. It is a way of living life. All(practicing) Muslims worship Allah by living their daily lives accordingly upholding the principles of Islam as taught by Muhammad(pbuh) and ALL of God’s prophets gone by.

      It is easy for a non-Muslim to find fault with Islam with the issues of today, but turn the tables and find the faults of Christians in their religion or of Judaism, then the word JIHAD comes to the non-Muslim and to be weary of All Muslims because they wish to enforce Sharia upon the world.

      That is ridiculous to assume such a misdirected motive which is driven by those in this world in power and with no faith at all.

    • @Special Purpose: Any other cliches about “primitive religion” you want to include? Does “being good to others” include trolling websites and calling others “primitive” and “ignorant”? Or are you just spreading the Good Message to us savage Muslims? For someone who is railing against theocracy, you sure know how to proselytize.

  3. ummAda says:

    But then isn’t good relative? What is “good”? What is “wrong”? So after thousands of years of being dictated by “books”, human beings come to the conclusion that they need to define their own standards of right and wrong. During the process (which is still incomplete) the human race (mostly the west) has progressed, “intellectually” to meet its own needs, one generation building on another. Those with more socio economic stability progressed more so than others, to what purpose? What is “progress”? Is it the ability to serve ourselves better than our predecessors? But is that true? Are we serving ourselves better? Are we less barbaric for our progress? Are we more “humane” ? Are we healthier, wealthier, happier? What defines happiness? Who is power hungry and what makes a warlord?

    Our definitions are all relative, to our experiences and exposure. Is it truly possible to step back and analyse without bias. I wonder what anarchy would do to man? Is it in everyones best interest to look out for the interests of others? Why? Is there some principle of Karma out there? Why be good to others? Who defined that? Why have justice? What is equality? What is the freedom of will? Is it for men and women to follow whatever path they may choose whether that may be more in tune to there animal instincts than for the “greater good”?

    So “Special purpose” are you sure your opinion is not completely relative to your own experiences? On what basis can you label someone a power hungry theocrat or an ancient warlord. Maybe its the extent of information that reaches you. Maybe the power hungry theocrat is not even a theocrat, maybe the warlord never fought except when necessary. Maybe the philanthropic liberal atheist has a hundred lies to conceal. Do you know? For sure? What is “information”? Are we getting information, or facts on which we base our opinions or is it just another persons opinion that is in sync with our own “relative”, experiential learning.

  4. Miserable Questioner says:

    Forget the ‘big, fancy’ questions like free will, predestination, and all of that – I am a teenager, who has lived as a practicing Muslim for years and years. I have never in my life had a problem with ‘standing out’ or ‘being different’, I have never found Islam embarrassing, and I definitely realize the philosophical assumptions that underly crazies like Maher, in fact I prided myself on easily seeing the stupidity of ‘science worshippers’ that made so many of my generation doubt their faith. I come from a religious family, I am fairly well acquainted with the Quran and ahadith and the Islamic arguments – I am not some young kid finding out about some culturally relative issue like Aisha’s age for the first time.

    For me the ‘big question’ that is currently pretty much destroying my Islam is that of sexual slavery. Absolutely no one has been able to answer this for me. I never before in my life doubted the authenticity of the Quran, even in the worst of my struggles and doubts – but how can I believe in a book where I am made to understand that men have the ‘right’ to ‘what their right hands possess’, with the ahadith elaborating that this can be done whether the enslaved woman was married or not, regardless of the fact that enslaved women are usually non Muslim and we are not allowed to marry non Muslims. The classical scholars that I read flatly say that a slave woman has no right to refuse the advances of her master because he owns her, and she can only marry with his permission. Combine this with the fact that the Prophet reportedly said that a slave who runs away from his master will not have their prayers answered, and I am utterly stupefied. I am stupefied because this seems more like the descriptions of American slave traders raping African girls than anything else – something that all peoples of all times surely see as abhorrent and disgusting.

    No one can explain this away without basically saying that rape is somehow an allowed way of spreading Islam, which is disgusting. To me this basically screams that the actions of Boko Haram are perfectly acceptable in the eyes of God after all. It forces me to question the divinity of the book, and the status of the Prophet, because there is nothing in the heavens or the earth that requires men to rape helpless captive women, nor that requires their religion to allow it. Had the Quran said something to the effect of ‘And those who are unmarried of your slave girls, who become Muslim, you may take them in lawful concubinage, but woe to he who forces a girl to it’ – then I would have understood. But not this.

    Perhaps if this was merely an issue that the Quran was silent on, I could wave it away, contextualize it – but to have the Quran and Hadith so clearly ALLOW this behavior has simply ruined me. How can I go on believing in a religion that allows this? I’ve always been taught that the whole point of Islam is integrity in practice – that you can’t dismiss one part of the book whilst practicing another – that the same basic rules apply to all peoples across all times, they’re the objective rules of morality as laid out by God, and we can’t change them as we please, as this is the behavior of the kuffar. I’ve always disliked ‘progressive’ Islam because it felt to me to be academically dishonest when they denied what the religion clearly said about itself – but now I find myself at an impasse where I simply cannot accept this law as one being from The Lord of All Worlds.

    I’ve never felt so miserable in my life, frankly – I believe in Islam, even when it’s hard, even when it feels ‘senseless’ I’ve struggled on. But how can I accept this? How can I go on being Muslim? I’m weeping as I write this, because I don’t understand what to do, other than move towards viewing my faith agnostically, and enter that entire slippery slope. Please don’t think that I am writing this here in order to ‘destroy faith’ or anything like that – I am writing it to show you what is REALLY getting to many Muslim youth – that often, it is not the ‘weak, un practicing’ person who leaves Islam, as we have so often been told. We have this image that it is some unschooled person who has their Islam attacked and ends up leaving the religion – when in fact, what I’ve seen is that the people who have a ‘simpler’ understanding of Islam often make it through university much more easily and with their faith intact. I am seeing that it is people like me, who have defended Islam and stood up for it and understand very well the philosophical tenets, who are being completely shaken in their integrity towards their faith. It is practicing people who cannot intellectually live with themselves when faced with an issue such as the above. It is people who have been taught that rejecting any part of the Book is tantamount to hypocrisy and will land you in Hell forever – it is us who realize that according to Islam, we are not considered Muslim anymore through issues such as these. Now what?

    • @Miserable Questioner: I would be careful saying, “according to Islam, we are not considered Muslim anymore.” In any case, this is a topic that will be addressed in this column inshaAllah. For now, I recommend doing further research on the classical fiqh because some of your characterizations are not accurate of the fiqh and others are not positions across all schools. Just like any area of fiqh, you will find there are many details that do contextualize the issue or will at least will give you some breathing room. Then there are further considerations that will inshaAllah wipe out remaining doubt without being historically dishonest (a la progressivist revisionism), which I hope to share in the near future with a dedicated post. Please make dua.

    • Haku says:

      Hang in there.
      I had similar question regarding rape within marriage. You can find scholars who outright claim it is ok to forcibly have sex with one’s wife. I posed the question to some of the well known scholars, and was able to get a clear answer that it is indeed NOT ok. The problem however is, there are some scholars who do maintain forcible sex is ok.
      I view the question regarding female slaves similarly. In Islam, it is not allowed to hit slaves right. then how can one rape which is far worst physical aggression? The rules regarding slavery in Islam seems to be in contradiction with ‘sexual slavery’. It would be nice to get a well known scholar to make some explicit statements in the matter.

    • M. Mahmud says:

      “with the ahadith elaborating that this can be done whether the enslaved woman was married or not”

      This refers to the women who were captured by the Sahaba RA. Initially the Sahaba RA refrained from having sex with them because they had husbands. Then they asked an-Nabi sallahualayhiwasalam and 4:24(at least the first part) was revealed.

      So the marriages with their husbands before captivity were annulled. The Sahaba RA didn’t literally have sex with them while they were also married. Then who would the child be attributed to?

      I do remember one academic cited Imam as-Shafi’i who said the slave girl’s consent is not asked for because she does not own herself. That made sense to me-I never understood my fellow lay Muslims(and I haven’t heard this belief from a classical scholar, just fellow lay Muslims) who said she must provide consent. Surely if there was any evidenced I’d believe it but(skeptical) I didn’t. Someone who is ordered around and commanded to be obedient, who can be bought or sold has consent? Didn’t make any sense. Some lay Muslims spread this hadith about not beating ones slave. But I also discovered a hadith where Abu Bakr RA beat a slave an an-Nabi sallahualayhiwasalam did not criticize him or command him to free his slave. So again, I had no reason to believe them. It seemed like one of those things some Muslims just said to satisfy others.

      Surely we’d be better off learning the opinions of classical scholars than listening to fellow laymen. Personally, this specific issue doesn’t bother me. One man may have struggles in understanding one matter of this deen while another finds it easy to handle but finds another matter difficult. Everyone is different. I can understand why I found so many lay Muslims saying the above two (her consent is required, a man cannot ever beat his slave.) This issue can be difficult for someone raised in the West with Western ethics.

      In any case it’s a dead issue. There are probably no legal slaves in the world today that would be halal to purchase or sell under the Sharia. As that is the case, anyone with sense will realize it’s unwise to bring it back. Slavery is dead inshaa Allah. Hopefully that will give you some comfort.

      Allah commands what He wills. Neither you nor I can question Him. His authority is overriding.

      لَا يُسْأَلُ عَمَّا يَفْعَلُ وَهُمْ يُسْأَلُونَ
      He is not questioned about what He does, but they will be questioned.(Surah Anbiya)

      Abu Hurairah ‘Abd al-Rahman bin Sakhr, radiyallahu ‘anhu, reported: I heard the Messenger of Allah, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, say: “Avoid that which I forbid you to do and do that which I command you to do to the best of your capacity. Verily the people before you were destroyed only because of their excessive questioning and their disagreement with their Prophets.”

      [Al-Bukhari & Muslim]

      “I’ve always been taught that the whole point of Islam is integrity in practice – that you can’t dismiss one part of the book whilst practicing another – that the same basic rules apply to all peoples across all times, they’re the objective rules of morality as laid out by God”

      Part true and part untrue. Our laws are different from previous laws. The first children of Adam married each other. Under our laws, anyone doing that will face punishment. So morality did change by Allah’s decree.

      But yes, one cannot disbelieve part of the book and believer another part.

      “. It is people who have been taught that rejecting any part of the Book is tantamount to hypocrisy and will land you in Hell forever”

      True. Dying a disbeliever warrants an eternity in the fire. Perhaps you can be consoled by the fact that our religion has more incentives to treat slaves kindly and free them than any other. Perhaps you can be consoled by the fact that our religion is realistic and in those eras, slavery was an institution that was better off regulated and limited than outright banned.

      However consolation is one thing and acceptance is another. The believers surrender their whims to Allah.

      Allah says in Surah al-Nisa’ Ayah 65:
      But no, by your Lord, they can have no Faith, until they make you (O
      Muhammad, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam) judge in all disputes between them, and
      find in themselves no resistance against your decisions, and accept them with full
      submission.

      In Surah al-Ahzab Ayah 36, Allah says:
      It is not for a believer, man or woman, when Allah and His Messenger have
      decreed a matter that they should have any option in their decision.

      • M. Mahmud says:

        ““with the ahadith elaborating that this can be done whether the enslaved woman was married or not””

        Just to provide a source because I didn’t in my first comment,

        Ibn Kathir:

        ﴿وَالْمُحْصَنَـتُ مِنَ النِّسَآءِ إِلاَّ مَا مَلَكْتَ أَيْمَـنُكُمْ كِتَـبَ اللَّهِ عَلَيْكُمْ وَأُحِلَّ لَكُمْ مَّا وَرَاءَ ذَلِكُمْ أَن تَبْتَغُواْ بِأَمْوَلِكُمْ مُّحْصِنِينَ غَيْرَ مُسَـفِحِينَ فَمَا اسْتَمْتَعْتُمْ بِهِ مِنْهُنَّ فَـَاتُوهُنَّ أُجُورَهُنَّ فَرِيضَةً وَلاَ جُنَاحَ عَلَيْكُمْ فِيمَا تَرَاضَيْتُمْ بِهِ مِن بَعْدِ الْفَرِيضَةِ إِنَّ اللَّهَ كَانَ عَلِيماً حَكِيماً ﴾

        (24. Also (forbidden are) women already married, except those (slaves) whom your right hands possess. Thus has Allah ordained for you. All others are lawful, provided you seek them (with a dowry) from your property, desiring chastity, not fornication. So with those among them whom you have enjoyed, give them their required due, but if you agree mutually (to give more) after the requirement (has been determined), there is no sin on you. Surely, Allah is Ever All-Knowing, All-Wise.)

        Allah said,

        ﴿وَالْمُحْصَنَـتُ مِنَ النِّسَآءِ إِلاَّ مَا مَلَكْتَ أَيْمَـنُكُمْ﴾

        (Also (forbidden are) women already married, except those whom your right hands possess.) The Ayah means, you are prohibited from marrying women who are already married,

        ﴿إِلاَّ مَا مَلَكْتَ أَيْمَـنُكُمْ﴾

        (except those whom your right hands possess) except those whom you acquire through war, for you are allowed such women after making sure they are not pregnant. Imam Ahmad recorded that Abu Sa`id Al-Khudri said, “We captured some women from the area of Awtas who were already married, and we disliked having sexual relations with them because they already had husbands. So, we asked the Prophet about this matter, and this Ayah was revealed, e

        ﴿وَالْمُحْصَنَـتُ مِنَ النِّسَآءِ إِلاَّ مَا مَلَكْتَ أَيْمَـنُكُمْ﴾

        (Also (forbidden are) women already married, except those whom your right hands possess). Consequently, we had sexual relations with these women.” This is the wording collected by At-Tirmidhi An-Nasa’i, Ibn Jarir and Muslim in his Sahih. Allah’s statement,

        ﴿كِتَـبَ اللَّهِ عَلَيْكُمْ﴾

        (Thus has Allah ordained for you) means, this prohibition was ordained for you by Allah. Therefore, adhere to Allah’s Book, do not transgress His set limits, and adhere to His legislation and decrees.

      • shaks says:

        Maybe we can attack this issue of “slavery” from the point of view presented in this article.
        The human rights and abolishing of slaves was done just recently. What is human rights and equality between all human beings? That has been announced just recently. Why are should all people be equal?
        So we can assume in an Islamic society the 1st rang people – Muslims, the 2nd rang people – Dhimmi, then we have the 3rd rang people: slaves. This looks like a caste society. If God allowed it in India – then it is nothing wrong if the Islamic society would also be structured in castes – with an aim to make all people equal, as Muslims. Why it is reasonable to consider society structured in castes? The answer can be probably found by asking any Hindu…
        I am not sure my argument is very correct, I just gave it a try.

    • I think we have to accept that our minds are limited as human beings, and we don’t have to rationalize everything.

      That’s what “islam” (submission to Allah) is all about.

    • Syed says:

      Salam Alaikum Questioner,

      I’d like to share my opinion here. I too was very bothered by this issue, feeling major discomfort whenever reciting verses with the term “ma malakat aymanukum.” It was when memorizing Surah Nisa – focussing on the Arabic rather than the translation – that I began to question the orthodox Islamic teachings that allows sex slavery.

      Verse 4:24 is often used to support a man’s right to force sex on his female captives, even if they are already married. The verse is TRANSLATED to say, “And (forbidden to you are) married women, except those (captives) your right hands possess.” Hadith (through Abu Sa’id al Khudri) tell us that this verse was revealed to allow men to sleep with the captured women from Awtas even when they already had husbands. But note how the phrase “forbidden to you” is in parentheses – that’s because it’s not explicitly in the verse and only inferred as a run on from the previous verse. What the verse actually says is – “And the muhsanat among women except ma-malakat-aymanukum…”

      Alone, the meaning of the verse is hard to make out. ONE of the meanings of muhsanat IS “married women,” so it would make sense at first that the muhsanat are forbidden. But muhsanat also means other things, including “free women” or “chaste women” whether they are married or not.

      This becomes clear in the following verse, 4:25, which says, “And whoever amongst you does not have the means to marry the believing muhsanat, then from ma-malakat-aymanukum from among your believing slave-women…And MARRY them with the permission of their people (ahl).” Here there’s a clear implication that a believing man should seek FIRST to marry the believing muhsanat – who are clearly NOT married women – before turning to the believers among ma-malakat-aymanahum, MARRYING them in proper fashion.

      The traditional interpretation however relies on considerable INTERPRETATIVE ACROBATICS. In order to support the institution of sex slavery, we are taught that
      1) Muhsanat means “married women” in verse 4:24 but “unmarried free women” in verse 4:25
      2) Ma-malakat-aymanukum means “the slaves you personally own” in verse 4:24 but “slaves owned by other people” in verse 4:25.

      There is definitely an interpretation of the two verses where the meanings of muhsanat and ma-malakaat-aymanukum are consistent. Consequently, sex slavery fades from the picture, and wholesome marriage emerges:

      4:24: And (concerning marriage with) the muhsanat (free, chaste) among women except ma-malakat-aymanakum (your slaves [they’ll be discussed later]), God’s scripture is upon you. And lawful to you are those other than those (explicitly listed in verse 4:23), that you seek them with your wealth, in order to protect (muhsineen) and not seeking lust (ghaira musafiheen)…
      4:25: And whoever does not find means to marry the believing muhsanat (free, chaste) women, then (seek) ma-malakat-aymanakum (your slaves) from among your believing maids…and marry them with the permission of their families and give them their support that they become muhsanat (free, chaste), not lustful (ghaira musafihat), and not taking two lovers. And when they have become in husn (free, chaste), if they bring an indecency, upon them is half what is upon the muhsanat (already free, chaste) regarding punishment…

      Certainly, this is my interpretation from reading the Arabic alone, but God always knows better.

      • ZAI says:

        Brilliant & thorough explanation Br. Syed. I have also seen the verse this way given the context of preceding & subsequent verses are talking about marriage. I think it is extremely unlikely our religion is so strict on sex outside of marriage & even caps wives at four, yet a man is allowed as many “those whom your right hands possess” as he can afford. As you said, it seems extreme logical gymnastics are required to make it so. Allah knows best. I hope the Br. above takes from what you’ve written & puts his heart somewhat at ease.

      • Abu Milk sheikh says:

        “The traditional interpretation however relies on considerable INTERPRETATIVE ACROBATICS.”

        Tell that to the Prophet صلى الله عليه و سلم and the Sahaba رضي الله عنهم أجمعين, who interpreted it as it should be interpreted and implemented it as it should be implemented.

        Alhamdulillah for the preserved Sunnah, otherwise anyone would be able to say about Islam whatever they wished and get away with it.

      • M. Mahmud says:

        I will remain civil but my tone will be angry and justifiably so because what I have just read is the most outrageous set of lies I have come across in a long time. Muslims-have some honor for your Messenger sallahualayhiwasalam. Have some regard for the ayat of Allah. Anyone speaking of it without knowledge will take his seat in the fire. Anyone lying against the Messenger sallahualayhiwasalam will also take his seat in the fire.

        Syed-it’s explicitly known from the Seerah that the Sahaba RA had sex with slave women. So if you deny it’s permissibility, not only is that a form of kufr which MAY expel you from the fold of Islam if you lack an excuse of ignorance, you are also accusing the Sahaba RA of zina in the case.

        Furthermore, as Ibn Qayyim and others have said, an-Nabi sallahualayhiwasalam had concubines. So you’d be accusing the Messenger of Allah sallahualayhiwasalam of zina or at least allowing zina.

        “The traditional interpretation however relies on considerable INTERPRETATIVE ACROBATICS. In order to support the institution of sex slavery, we are taught that
        1) Muhsanat means “married women” in verse 4:24 but “unmarried free women” in verse 4:25
        2) Ma-malakat-aymanukum means “the slaves you personally own” in verse 4:24 but “slaves owned by other people” in verse 4:25.”

        Utter nonsense. Fear Allah and quit interpreting the words for yourself. The explanation by scholars is clear from that, you’d need arm chair word twisting to follow your opinion. And it’s not “sex slavery” this is a filthy lie against the deen subhanAllah. It’s slavery which is permissible and sex with female slaves is halal.

        e.g. Musa alayhisalam says to Bani Israel “kill yourselves” in the Quran but he doesn’t literally mean to kill yourself, rather the ones who did not do shirk were commanded to attack those who did do shirk.

        So if we follow your linguistic gymnastics(not that of the scholars of the Ummah who you’ve slandered, your acrobatics), we’d be confounded and confused by other parts of the Quran. All because you don’t understand the patterns of speech? SubhanAllah. Your lie about linguistic acrobatics has already been proven false.

      • M. Mahmud says:

        The ayat of the Quran explicitly allow it and no one will disagree except for one who Allah has put in fitnah. They contradict your specious and weak interpretation of the ayat. So you’re explanation is also rejected by other ayat in the Quran.
        “O Prophet (Muhammad)! Verily, We have made lawful to you your wives, to whom you have paid their Mahr (bridal‑money given by the husband to his wife at the time of marriage), AND those (slaves) whom your right hand possesses — whom Allaah has given to you, and the daughters of your ‘Amm (paternal uncles) and the daughters of your ‘Ammaat (paternal aunts) and the daughters of your Khaal (maternal uncles) and the daughters of your Khaalaat (maternal aunts) who migrated (from Makkah) with you, and a believing woman if she offers herself to the Prophet, and the Prophet wishes to marry her a privilege for you only, not for the (rest of) the believers. Indeed We know what We have enjoined upon them about their wives AND those (slaves) whom their right hands possess, in order that there should be no difficulty on you. And Allaah is Ever Oft‑Forgiving, Most Merciful”

        [al-Ahzaab 33:50]

        “And those who guard their chastity (i.e. private parts from illegal sexual acts).

        Except from their wives or the (women slaves) whom their right hands possess for (then) they are not blameworthy.

        But whosoever seeks beyond that, then it is those who are trespassers”
        [al-Ma’aarij 70:29-31]

        I remember that Umar Ibn abdal aziz said it’s a good thing the Sahaba disagreed on some issues because than disagreeing with them would be kufr(as following certain opinions where they disagreed is halal for Muslims)

        Now we find people with no knowledge whatsoever disagreeing where they AGREED.

        Disagreeing where the scholars have differed is one thing…..disagreeing where they have agreed? Ina lilahi wa ina ilayhi rajioon. Wallah, the things I read on this website would be things people would be EXECUTED FOR in the early generations. Now it’s almost common among ignorant laymen……

        وَلَا تَقُولُوا لِمَا تَصِفُ أَلْسِنَتُكُمُ الْكَذِبَ هَٰذَا حَلَالٌ وَهَٰذَا حَرَامٌ لِّتَفْتَرُوا عَلَى اللَّهِ الْكَذِبَ ۚ إِنَّ الَّذِينَ يَفْتَرُونَ عَلَى اللَّهِ الْكَذِبَ لَا يُفْلِحُونَ
        And do not say about what your tongues assert of untruth, “This is lawful and this is unlawful,” to invent falsehood about Allah . Indeed, those who invent falsehood about Allah will not succeed.

      • M. Mahmud says:

        Ibn Katheer said:

        Taking a concubine as well as a wife is permissible according to the law of Ibraaheem (peace be upon him). Ibraaheem did that with Haajar, when he took her as a concubine when he was married to Saarah.

        Tafseer Ibn Katheer, 1/383

        And Ibn Katheer also said:

        The phrase “and those (slaves) whom your right hand possesses — whom Allaah has given to you” [al-Ahzaab 33:50] means, it is permissible for you take concubines from among those whom you seized as war booty. He took possession of Safiyyah and Juwayriyah and he freed them and married them; he took possession of Rayhaanah bint Sham’oon al-Nadariyyah and Maariyah al-Qibtiyyah, the mother of his son Ibraaheem (peace be upon them both), and they were among his concubines, may Allaah be pleased with them both.

        Tafseer Ibn Katheer, 3/500

        The scholars are unanimously agreed that it is permissible.

        Ibn Qudaamah said:

        There is no dispute (among the scholars) that it is permissible to take concubines and to have intercourse with one’s slave woman, because Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning):

        “And those who guard their chastity (i.e. private parts from illegal sexual acts).

        Except from their wives or the (women slaves) whom their right hands possess for (then) they are not blameworthy.”

        [al-Ma’aarij 70:29-30]

        Maariyah al-Qibtiyyah was the umm walad (a slave woman who bore her master a child) of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him), and she was the mother of Ibraaheem, the son of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him), of whom he said, “Her son set her free.” Haajar, the mother of Isma’eel (peace be upon him), was the concubine of Ibraaheem the close friend (khaleel) of the Most Merciful (peace be upon him). ‘Umar ibn al-Khattaab (may Allaah be pleased with him) had a number of slave women who bore him children, to each of whom he left four hundred in his will. ‘Ali (may Allaah be pleased with him) had slave women who bore him children, as did many of the Sahaabah. ‘Ali ibn al-Husayn, al-Qaasim ibn Muhammad and Saalim ibn ‘Abd-Allaah were all born from slave mothers

        Al-Mughni, 10/441

        Al-Shaafa’i (may Allaah have mercy on him) said:

        Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning):

        “And those who guard their chastity (i.e. private parts from illegal sexual acts).

        Except from their wives or the (women slaves) whom their right hands possess for (then) they are not blameworthy.”

        [al-Ma’aarij 70:29-30]

        The Book of Allaah indicates that the sexual relationships that are permitted are only of two types, either marriage or those (women slaves) whom one’s right hand possesses.

        Al-Umm, 5/43.

      • Syed says:

        Dear brother abu milk shake, salam alaikum

        I do not question or doubt anything of what the Messenger (saws) brought, but the laughable extent to which we must do interpretative summersaults to force the Quran to allow sex slavery and war-time rape raises many questions as to the soundness of the hadith.

        No muslim can question the Prophet (saws), but none of us today have heard the Prophet (saws) directly. We must rely solely on statements passed down by word of mouth. The traditional interpretation of verse 4:24 is based on a single hadith reportedly transmitted from Abu Sa’id al-Khudri to Abu ‘Alqamah al-Hashimi to Salih Abu l-Khaleel to people like Qatadah. Yes, scholars of the past did not know any negative things about these people, so considered it “sound” (sahih). Likewise, we need not to say bad things about these people, but we also must know as Muslims that none of these people were divine nor partners with God and that they could certainly make mistakes (perhaps reporting something they heard mistakenly attributed to the Messenger (saws)).

        Nonetheless, the hadith clearly contradicts with the Quran unless we do a dance, a couple of flips, and interpret the meaning of terms like “muhsanat” and “ma-malakat-aymanukum” liberally. But note, if we truly convince ourselves that “muhsanat” means “married women” in 4:24 and “unmarried women” in 4:25, and that “ma-malakat-aymanukum” means “your slaves” in 4:24 and “other peoples’ slaves” in 4:25, we have already opened the door to making the Quran completely meaningless.

        I suppose you consider it an element of faith to believe that rape is an essential teaching of Islam, because there is no more accurate way of describing what the hadith describes happened at Awtas. According to the hadith, the Muslims captured married women in war and had sex with them. That’s rape. If that is your Islam, go ahead. But I assure you that any true believer who sincerely reads verses 4:24 and 4:25 in arabic, truly seeking God’s guidance, will reject the fanciful acrobatics required by the traditional opinion.

        It was once said, “Consult your heart. Righteousness is what makes the soul and the heart tranquil, and harm is what wavers the soul and makes the breast at unease, even when people repeatedly give their fatwas in its favor.”
        http://sunnah.com/nawawi40/27

      • M. Mahmud says:

        Syed it would take linguistic arm wrestling to believe you over the scholars of this Ummah. there are NUMEROUS ahadith which talk about the Sahaba RA engaging in sexual interouse with slave girls. And you seem to be forgetting these ayat-

        يَا أَيُّهَا النَّبِيُّ إِنَّا أَحْلَلْنَا لَكَ أَزْوَاجَكَ اللَّاتِي آتَيْتَ أُجُورَهُنَّ وَمَا مَلَكَتْ يَمِينُكَ مِمَّا أَفَاءَ اللَّهُ عَلَيْكَ وَبَنَاتِ عَمِّكَ وَبَنَاتِ عَمَّاتِكَ وَبَنَاتِ خَالِكَ وَبَنَاتِ خَالَاتِكَ اللَّاتِي هَاجَرْنَ مَعَكَ وَامْرَأَةً مُّؤْمِنَةً إِن وَهَبَتْ نَفْسَهَا لِلنَّبِيِّ إِنْ أَرَادَ النَّبِيُّ أَن يَسْتَنكِحَهَا خَالِصَةً لَّكَ مِن دُونِ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ ۗ قَدْ عَلِمْنَا مَا فَرَضْنَا عَلَيْهِمْ فِي أَزْوَاجِهِمْ وَمَا مَلَكَتْ أَيْمَانُهُمْ لِكَيْلَا يَكُونَ عَلَيْكَ حَرَجٌ ۗ وَكَانَ اللَّهُ غَفُورًا رَّحِيمًا
        O Prophet, indeed We have made lawful to you your wives to whom you have given their due compensation AND those your right hand possesses from what Allah has returned to you [of captives] and the daughters of your paternal uncles and the daughters of your paternal aunts and the daughters of your maternal uncles and the daughters of your maternal aunts who emigrated with you and a believing woman if she gives herself to the Prophet [and] if the Prophet wishes to marry her, [this is] only for you, excluding the [other] believers. We certainly know what We have made obligatory upon them concerning their wives and those their right hands possess, [but this is for you] in order that there will be upon you no discomfort. And ever is Allah Forgiving and Merciful.

        And also,

        وَالَّذِينَ هُمْ لِفُرُوجِهِمْ حَافِظُونَ

        And they who guard their private parts

        إِلَّا عَلَىٰ أَزْوَاجِهِمْ أَوْ مَا مَلَكَتْ أَيْمَانُهُمْ فَإِنَّهُمْ غَيْرُ مَلُومِينَ
        Except from their wives or those their right hands possess, for indeed, they will not be blamed –

        فَمَنِ ابْتَغَىٰ وَرَاءَ ذَٰلِكَ فَأُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الْعَادُونَ
        But whoever seeks beyond that, then those are the transgressors –

        Your argument about acrobatics is false and specious. Even Musa alayhisalam tells Bani Israel to “kill yourselves” but that means some kill others. You clearly do not know more than the scholars of the Ummah and you clearly don’t understand Arabic speech patterns.

        • Dear brother

          In order to conserve space, instead of the Arabic of the ayah please just provide reference (as you have often done). This will serve the purpose as anyone who understands Arabic can look it up in sha Allah. Also if you are replying to more than one comment with the same basic content and references, it is best to refer them to other comments.

          JazakAllahu Khairin.
          Aly

      • shaks says:

        I have some comments, not necessarily proving any conclusion as if I am definitely too weak for that… and I am sure my logic fails somewhere, but….

        1) In verse 4:24, the noun case for “ma mu7sanatu min al-nisa’i …” is the same as in verse 4:23 when it is referring to the prohibitions, so it suggests a continuation to it. Otherwise, the structure of this sentence doesn’t make sense in arabic – there is no verb, and if there was, it should have been located at the beginning and not at the end as you inferred by by the meaning of “kitaba Allahi 3aleykom”. So the official translation makes sense by inferring “also prohibited to you are … ”

        2) The real meaning of muhsanat is “protected” women, who can be (a) protected by marriage (b) unmarried, but protected by a family as a daughter or by her own virtue.
        So, “al muHsanatu min al nisa’i ila ma malakat aymanakum” – if it refers to women protected by a marriage, then it is exactly the sense given in the translation. If it refers to an unmarried women protected by other means, as you suggest, it would not make sense why they would be forbidden.

        So far, it makes sense to trust the official translation.
        Let’s see if we can find any escape to it…

        (3) let’s suppose what I said in (1) is false, so your interpretation – “And (concerning marriage with) the muhsanat (free, chaste) among women except ma-malakat-aymanakum” – is correct. Thus in this interpretation you are assuming that ma-malakat-aymanakum is part of the muhsanat which to you means (free, chaste). But ma-malakat-aymanakum are slaves, though not necessarily recent captives, so they cannot be a subset of free and chaste. Here the slaves referred to are a subset of muhsanat, that means the slaves are muhsanat / chaste, but what follows in the ayat will refer to the part of muhsanat who are not the slaves. It refers to the free women, therefore mohsanat should have a broader meaning of both free and slave protected women, so that we can extract a category from it.

        (4) We take your interpretation with mohsanat referring to any kind of protected women, both free and slave, from which verse 4:24 will only refer to the rules for marriage with the free.
        Well the entire 4:25 stresses that one has to marry a believer woman (either free or slave) – but she should be believing. I wonder if the captive women were usually believing?! If they weren’t, then muslims should be prohibited to marry them anyway for religious grounds. just like any muslim is only allowed to marry either a muslim woman or from the ahl el kitab (general rule).

        This interpretation would also make sense, but providing that the grammatical structure allows it…

      • Herman says:

        Actually, the verse from the Quran permitting sexual slavery is not so much 4:24 as it is 70:29-30, which indicates that wise Muslim men are those who preserve their chastity except with their wives and those their right hands possess (female slaves).
        Concubinage has a notable history in Islam, among both caliphs and sultans.

    • Abu Milk sheikh says:

      1) “The classical scholars that I read flatly say that a slave woman has no right to refuse the advances of her master because he owns her…”

      I’m curious as to which classical scholars you’ve read on this issue and the extent of your training in fiqh.

      What sources did you use? Which manuals of fiqh? Have you studied fiqh properly? Were they the original works in Arabic? Do you know Arabic? Did you read the relevant passages to scholars who’ve studied the particular works?

      You might argue that this is a deflection, but answers to these questions are necessary in order to asses whether your issues result from errors in conceptualization. The entire paragraph that I took the above quote from sets off red flags.

      As the sayings go, “ruling comes after conceptualizing” and “what is built on baatil is necessarily baatil.”

      2) Who decides what is right and wrong, what is good or evil, according to you?

      When Abu Bakr Al-Siddiq رضي الله عنه was asked whether he believed Rasulullah’s صلى اله عليه و سلم story of Al-Isra’ wa ‘l-Mi’raj, he said “if he said it, it is true” and (paraphrased) “I believe in something more incredible than that. I believe that an angel comes to him with revelation from Allah.” That’s when he became Al-Siddiq.

      As a practicing Muslim, and someone who’s firm in his ‘aqeedah, you’ve already accepted and believe that Allah and His Messenger are True. Belief in everything they came with necessarily follows.

      3) Allah doesn’t have to justify himself to you. He is your Lord and you are His slave. Everything that exists is under His Dominion and He does whatever He wills. You will be asked about what you did, and not the other way around. Your job is to submit. If He said it, it is True.

      4) Say “Aamantu billahi wa rasulilhi” (I believed, believe and shall always continue to believe in Allah and His Messenger) to rid yourself of waswasa.

    • Mo says:

      Salam –

      I believe if you do your research, you will get a better understanding of the issue, inshaAllah.

      Translation of Sahih Bukhari, Book 2, Belief, Volume 1, Book 2, Number 29

      Narrated Al-Ma’rur: At Ar-Rabadha I met Abu Dhar who was wearing a cloak, and his slave, too, was wearing a similar one. I asked about the reason for it. He replied, “I abused a person by calling his mother with bad names.” The Prophet – peace and blessings of Almighty Allah be upon him – said to me, ‘O Abu Dhar! Did you abuse him by calling his mother with bad names You still have some characteristics of ignorance. Your slaves are your brothers and Allah has put them under your command. So whoever has a brother under his command should feed him of what he eats and dress him of what he wears. Do not ask them (slaves) to do things beyond their capacity (power) and if you do so, then help them.’

      Translation of Sahih Muslim, The Book of Oaths (Kitab Al-Aiman), Book 015, Number 4088

      Abu Mas’ud al-Ansari reported: “When I was beating my servant, I heard a voice behind me (saying): Abu Mas’ud, bear in mind Allah has more dominance over you than you have upon him. I turned and (found him) to be Allah’s Messenger – peace and blessings of Almighty Allah be upon him –. I said: Allah’s Messenger, I set him free for the sake of Allah. Thereupon he said: Had you not done that, (the gates of) Hell would have opened for you, or the fire would have burnt you.

      Translation of Sahih Muslim, The Book of Oaths (Kitab Al-Aiman), Book 015, Number 4086

      Abu Mas’ud al-Badri reported: “I was beating my slave with a whip when I heard a voice behind me: Understand, Abu Masud; but I did not recognise the voice due to intense anger. He (Abu Mas’ud) reported: As he came near me (I found) that he was the Messenger of Allah – peace and blessings of Almighty Allah be upon him – and he was saying: Bear in mind, Abu Mas’ud; bear in mind. Abu Mas’ud. He (Aba Maslad) said: threw the whip from my hand. Thereupon he (the Holy Prophet) said: Bear in mind, Abu Mas’ud; verily Allah has more dominance upon you than you have upon your slave. I (then) said: I would never beat my servant in future.

      Translation of Sahih Muslim, The Book of Oaths (Kitab Al-Aiman), Book 015, Number 4079

      “Zadhan reported that Ibn Umar called his slave and he found the marks (of beating) upon his back. He said to him: I have caused you pain. He said: No. But he (Ibn Umar) said: You are free. He then took hold of something from the earth and said: There is no reward for me even to the weight equal to it. I heard Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: He who beats a slave without cognizable offence of his or slaps him, then expiation for it is that he should set him free.

      Translation of Sahih Muslim, The Book of Oaths (Kitab Al-Aiman), Book 015, Number 4096

      Abu Huraira reported Allah’s Messenger – peace and blessings of Almighty Allah be upon him – as saying: “When the slave of anyone amongst you prepares food for him and he serves him after having sat close to (and undergoing the hardship of) heat and smoke, he should make him (the slave) sit along with him and make him eat (along with him), and if the food seems to run short, then he should spare some portion for him (from his own share).

      Translation of Sunan Abu Dawud, General Behavior (Kitab Al-Adab, Book 41, Number 5142

      Narrated AbuDharr: “The Prophet – peace and blessings of Almighty Allah be upon him – said: Feed those of your slaves who please you from what you eat and clothe them with what you clothe yourselves, but sell those who do not please you and do not punish Allah’s creatures.

      Translation of Sunan Abu-Dawud, Tribute, Spoils, and Rulership (Kitab Al-Kharaj, Wal-Fai’ Wal-Imarah), Book 19, Number 2946

      Narrated Aisha, Ummul Mu’minin: “The Prophet – peace and blessings of Almighty Allah be upon him – was brought a pouch containing bread and DIVIDED it among free women and slave women. Aisha said: My father used to DIVIDE things between free men and slave.

      The last words of the Messenger (SAW): Abu Dawood (5156)and Ibn Maajah (2698) narrated that ‘Ali (may Allaah be pleased with him) said: The last words that the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) spoke were, “The prayer, the prayer! And fear Allaah with regard to those whom your right hands possess.” This was classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in Saheeh Abi Dawood.

      Furthermore, the Prophet (SAW) married (and thus freed) both Juwayriyya and Safiyya. Maria, who was his concubine, gave birth to his son Ibrahim. I am also sure you have heard of the event that took place where Umar, may Allah be pleased with him, took turns with his slave, riding a camel all the way to Jerusalem where they would be met by royals.

      Also: there is this helpful video by Nouman Ali Khan: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n9cDJTVbQEc

      And also, there is this Q&A from askimam: http://askimam.org/public/question_detail/17032

      After thinking about all of this information and analyzing it, along with the countless verses of the Quran and hadiths which recommend treating slaves kindly and freeing them, you will see that slavery as we conceptualize it, is not similar to what Islam has to say about “right hand possessions”.

      Muslim men who had female “slaves” did have permission to have sexual relations with them – but that came with a RESPONSIBILITY. These women were not “sex slaves” – they were only lawful for their ONE owner. The Messenger (SAW) told us to feed and clothe the slaves, our “brothers”, with the same food and clothing we used for ourselves. He (SAW) DIVIDED food amongst free women and slave women. There is no human relationship that is more close and intimate than that of a man and a woman, so wouldn’t it make sense for these “right hand possessions” (with whom the Muslim man has sexual relations) to get even better treatment than those other ordinary slave men and women?

      Keep in mind that women were not allowed to have sexual relations with their male right hand possessions – why do you think that is? In my personally opinion, I think that is because those men could not provide sustenance and security for the women. On the other hand, Men were allowed relations with female right hand possessions with the responsibility of protecting them and providing for them. The women could not have relations with any other man, unless she was sold/married off. If she bore a child, the child belonged to the man and her status in society was improved. In the end, you see that the differences between a wife and a right hand possession are few. Lastly, don’t forget society back then; there was no “government” with social assistance programs or police – if these women were not right hand possessions of the Muslims, there would be little protecting them from others. By being intimate with a man, they had the opportunity to become part of the family, have kids, have access to basic life necessities.

      • The Questioner says:

        Salam Mo,

        You and razainc were the only ones on this thread to have really helped me. Thank you. Let this conversation itself be a lesson to the Muslim community of what kind of discourses someone like myself, a practicing Muslim with questions, faces online – either people who are so revisionist as to pretend that certain aspects of the Sharia never existed and all the previous scholars got it wrong, or those who are so arrogant in their belief as to have no empathy for others and blindly defend everything, or those who simply are apologetic because they cannot relate to your worries and just “can’t see the problem”. Let’s pray that inshallah, we can find this new middle ground where we can intellectually engage with our religion whilst remaining academically honest and sympathetic.

        I recently joined a Muslim college community, and I am shaken by the ‘iceberg’ that you speak of, of fears and doubts underlying many if not most of us. I’ve always negotiated Islam on my own before, and it’s hard to find others in so much pain as well – it really shakes up your belief in Islam.

    • shaks says:

      It is incredible how this above post matches with my own thoughts and feelings. I could talk about almost anything in islam and explain it to someone, except for the issue of women slavery. This has definitely killed my mind for years and now that I’m not shocked anymore, I still don’t know what to believe. I asked so many sheikhs and all avoided to answer me, this is not a fair way of dealing with the Ummah’s intelectual and understanding problems. Would you, the author, please give some kind of perspective on this? Would be greatly appreciated. JazakAllah khairan

    • Osman H says:

      Salaamu Alaykum @Miserable Questioner. I really empathize with you as I went through the exact same struggle as you regarding this exact issue. First of all, I take off my hat to you for keeping your deen so far and that is great. I am going to sleep now but will address this issue in further detail tomorrow. I can’t help but notice that you are making a subtle philosophical assumption which I would argue is the root cause for all of this. I am surprised that no one has addressed this in the comments that I have read so far. It took a long time for me to understand that I have misunderstood this issue as you have and was making a hidden assumption which you have as well. I will also include this in my response. Watch this space.
      Take care of yourself until then.
      Assalaamu Alaykum :)

    • Em Hamzah says:

      Miserable questioner- i once was shaken in my faith because Allah tested me with some issue in Islam I could not wrap my head around. I felt as if I was going insane. It does not matter too much that you receive the most logical answer that even atheists would agree and support. No, you have to know that at the beginning that this questioning is your test. I am surprised the one who posted the last 2 verses of surah baqarah was down voted. This really reaally aided me in getting the “right answer” in my heart. Sometimes just submitting to Islam because we feel it is 100% true is enough for the knowledge and UNDERSTANDING to come. Faith and then knowledge. That is my two cents on dealing with this issue head on. May Allah help all the skeptics. I always remember that I came to Islam because it is true. I needed a reminder. All people testified that Allah alone is to be worshiped. If I did not submit to Allah and the religion of Islam, I knew living my whole life would be lived as a lie. The truth has come. Make dua. Don’t think me or anyone is going to satisfy your answer without the permission of Allah.

    • Em Hamzah says:

      Do you think you will say I believe and not be tested?
      Also know that once you pass your test inshallah, you WILL BE A BETTER BELIEVER. And you will get rewards for patience and perserverance.

    • razainc says:

      Here is an article that deal specifically with this issue it might be helpful for you

      In particular this section

      “Similarly, Umar condemned a man to death for having unlawful intercourse with a female captive he had acquired during war.

      Harun ibn Al-Asim reported: Umar ibn Al-Khattab sent Khalid ibn Al-Waleed with the army and Khalid sent Dirar ibn Al-Azwar along with a company and they invaded a district belonging to the tribe of Asad. They captured a beautiful girl and Dirar was impressed with her. He asked his companions to give her to him and they did, then he had intercourse with her.

      A letter was sent to Umar and he replied:

      فَكَتَبَ عُمَرُ أَنْ أَرْضِخْهُ بِالْحِجَارَةِ

      He should be stoned to death.

      Source: Sunan Al-Kubra 16761”

      Does Islam allow Muslims to rape female sex-slaves or keep unmarried concubines?
      http://www.faithinallah.org/does-islam-allow-muslims-to-rape-female-sex-slaves-or-keep-unmarried-concubines/

    • Hibaysh says:

      Assalamu’alikum Miserable Questioner,

      Reading your comment, something that came to my mind that might help you, in sha Allah, was what I heard in one of the audio Tafsir podcasts from Bayyinah, on Suratul Baqarah.

      Let me try to put it in simple terms in sha Allah.

      In Suratul Fatiha, we are taught to ask Allah for guidance; In fact, we directly ask Allah for guidance; “Ihdina siratal Mustaqeem”..”Guide us to the straight path”.

      And then in the very next Surah, Suratul Baqarah, the very first ayat is ‘Alif Lam Meem’. followed by Allah’s answer to our dua in Suratul Fatiha.. ‘This is the book whereof there is no doubt, a guidance to those who are Al Muttaqun..’

      The comment brother Nouman Ali Khan highlighted about the first ayah (‘Alif Lam Meem’) is that; nobody knows what it means. He further goes on to explain the possible answer to ‘Why Allah did not reveal what it means?’; It’s because this is Allah putting us in our place. To roughly quote him “If you want to understand this book; FIRST understand that you can’t understand everything!” i.e, Intellectual humility. You submit your intelligence to Allah; AND THEN Allah opens the doors of knowledge and guidance for you. One has to approach the book of Allah with that attitude.

      Another reminder I would like to give, that might help in sha Allah, is Allah saying in His book how He (swt) misleads some people by certain ayat and guides others by some.

      Brother, (I am assuming you are one), I understand the former is not the place where you want to be consciously, but just the knowledge that such type of a misguidance is possible, should in sha Allah, prompt you to hold on ever more tightly to the guidance you have already received, in sha Allah.

      May Allah give you peace of heart and mind, guide you to the correct answers and keep you on siratal Mustaqeem. Stay strong!

      • Hibaysh says:

        Another thing I would like to add; Knowledge of Allah’s attributes helps A LOT when dealing with such matters. For your specific situation, your concern is that there is some sort of injustice you perceive in Allah’s deen; I cannot address the issue itself since I lack knowledge in that area, but I can help direct you to the right approach, in sha Allah.

        So moving on, we know that one of Allah’s attributes is that He is the Most Just. And that ““Indeed, Allah does not do injustice, [even] as much as an atom’s weight.” (Surah Nisa, 40). Now you have a promise from Allah himself that He does no injustice. This itself should put your heart at rest. So you submit to the fact that Allah is the Most Just. So what we perceive as something unjust in His deen must be because of our own lack of knowledge and understanding; which may or may not be resolved (we always hope it will be).

        But what we do know is that our confidence in Allah’s attribute of being just should give us confidence in the His deen being one of justice, in sha Allah, and that you need to keep trying, keep making dua . talking to Allah, telling him that you know He is the most Just, and that you need to strengthen your faith by finding an answer to your question, which in sha Allah, definitely exists. And keep doing this till in sha Allah, Allah opens your heart to understanding and knowledge.

        Knowledge that Allah is also the Most Wise helps in the situation. You know that there is wisdom in every legislation, and the best of wisdom. Submitting to all of these attributes of Allah will help a lot in sha Allah.

        Seriously, the very struggle itself that you are going through seems to me a way for Allah to bring you closer to Him. ^All of the things I stated so far are simple spiritual exercises that can increase your Imaan exponentially.

        And Allah knows the best.

    • questioner2 says:

      Hi , i know this is 2016 but can you tell me what state you are in now and how you are feeling about your Islam? I would like to know because I am in something similar.

  5. Haku says:

    //To be sure, skepticism is a negative, deconstructive exercise….//

    That’s all fine and dandy, but where are the answers? Islam should be able to withstand the skepticism, right? The author should show how to answer, at least the questions he have put in this article.

    • GC66 says:

      A Muslim with strong deen and practicing their faith daily, already knows the correct answers to the questions in the article.

      • @GC66: How about Muslims that don’t have strong deen and are not practicing their faith? Should we just ignore them? What about non-Muslims who ask these questions about Islam? Telling them to just “have strong deen and practice your faith daily” is not really applicable in their case…

        • GC66 says:

          It is the responsibility of all Muslims to know their faith correctly and not rely on others to tell them what to think and how to act.

          Will weak deen be an excuse upon Judgment Day???

          I doubt Allah will accept this from His servants.

          The resource’s to learn correctly are there for all Muslims.

          If a Muslim suffers from weak deen, then they are not focused on the right thing in this world and at all times this should be dhikr.

          “If my servant remembers me, then I will remember him.”

          How many times are we reminded of this by Allah?????

          The non-Muslims are not seeking the same thing, so how can you even relate them into the same subject material?

  6. wandpen says:

    You barely scratched the surface with this article. Looking forward to reading more.

  7. Ibn Adnan Al-Yutaawi says:

    I hope we have more scholars taking these kind of questions head on. We need Muslim intellectuals writing books and giving lectures to defend Islam from Secular thought.

    • M. Mahmud says:

      Indeed. Disbelief takes many forms and we are capable of shattering all of them. There are many darknesses but there’s only one light.

      يَهْدِي بِهِ اللَّهُ مَنِ اتَّبَعَ رِضْوَانَهُ سُبُلَ السَّلَامِ وَيُخْرِجُهُم مِّنَ الظُّلُمَاتِ إِلَى النُّورِ بِإِذْنِهِ وَيَهْدِيهِمْ إِلَىٰ صِرَاطٍ مُّسْتَقِيمٍ

      By which Allah guides those who pursue His pleasure to the ways of peace and brings them out from darknesses into the light, by His permission, and guides them to a straight path.

    • Reptiliansmarts says:

      Jonathan A.C. Brown recently released his book Misquoting Muhammad around here. It’s quite a gem, as the author in part tackles questions like these, as well as guides you to them through showing you the depth of Islam’s interpretive tradition. Science, cultural issues, etc.

      If anyone else has read it, perhaps vouch for it or discuss the book’s relation to the topic at hand here?

  8. Zeba Khan says:

    AssalamuAlaikum Brother Daniel, welcome to the MM Team!

    I enjoyed this piece and am genuinely hoping that it’s the first of a series addressing some of the questions you posted. I think many “strong” Muslims intrinsically know the answers, but when it comes to making the answers explicit, we may struggle to get the answer out with the justice and depth behind its reason in Islam.

    I’m looking forward to more of your work, JazakAllahuKheiran!

  9. Sharmeen says:

    I agree that sometimes even the faithful Muslims face questions from themselves. Existence of Allah is something that my family told me not to be too worried about, I can research on other topics of Islam and if I find everything else to be 100% accurate then it’s obvious that Allah is always there and the way HE promised we will meet HIM, we will in sha Allah.
    The love for Allah and Islam eventually remove these doubts.

    • Dear Sister

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  10. Mohammed Khan says:

    Non Muslims or Muslims with wavering faith may also benefit from reading the FAQs on Dr. Zakir Naik’s website.
    Dr. Zakir Naik is well researched and readily quotes directly from the Quran, Sunnah and other Religious Books or authentic sources. He has held debates with prominent personalities in the World and has won all the debates.
    We obey and sumit to Allah…where we have questions unanswered we find the answers and pray to Allah to guide us to the right answers. We simply do not start questioning the wisdom in the Quran for that is surely a sign of weakness of our hearts and minds.
    Dr. Zakir Naik has categoris the FAQs as follows and every one will benefit.


    1. MOST COMMON QUESTIONS ASKED BY NON-MUSLIMS
    2. MOST COMMON QUESTIONS ASKED BY NON-MUSLIMS WHO HAVE SOME KNOWLEDGE OF ISLAM
    3. COMMON QUESTIONS ASKED BY HINDUS ABOUT ISLAM
    4. COMMON QUESTIONS ASKED BY CHRISTIAN MISSIONARIES AGAINST ISLAM
    5. QUERIES ON ISLAM ”

    Dr. Zakir Naik’s websie is:
    http://www.irf.net/faq.html

  11. Ha Dol says:

    Nice Article. For the past 15 years I’ve followed Muslim apologetics and have been disappointed. I think it’s time a new generation of intellectuals take these difficult questions. Shabir Ally has been helpful as well as Bassam Zawadi. I look forward to more contributions from Dan.

    • Omar says:

      Hi Ha Dol.

      I want to advice you a collection of books written by scholar. Even it is 6000 pages, it is possible that i might send you some very interesting and significant passages that might summarize the collection. You can find all the books in the internet in PDF format.

      Write me your e-mail address if you are interested!

  12. Amatullah says:

    Right now I am reading ‘God, Islam, and the Skeptic Mind’ by Saiyad Fareed Ahmad & Saiyad Salahuddin Ahmad. I think it nicely lays out Islam’s point of view regarding modern day agnosticism and skepticism. What I find most fascinating is that before looking into what Islam says about any of these questions that the skeptic mind poses, the authors look at the question from a secular point of view and then present what Islam has to say and how it makes so much more sense. I would really recommend this book. (p.s. Ustadh Nouman Ali Khan recommends this book for anyone having a crisis of faith).

    • Omar says:

      As Salam Alaykum Amatullah,

      As i said to Ha Dol, i also want to advise you the books (or samples from them). May you be interested? I would like to present the books to everyone here!

  13. Abu Milk Sheikh says:

    How long are comments allowed to be?

  14. Wa alaikumussalam Sr. Zeba, thanks for the welcome! Wa iyyakum

  15. Shahin says:

    Assalamu alaikum,

    This post does a great job of touching upon this subject of doubts in religion. Coincidentally, I attended a class on this topic just last weekend. For those who live in the U.S., here is some information. Oak Tree Institute has a class run by Dr. Mohamed Abu Taleb called “Shattering Doubts.” The class won’t answer all your questions, but it will definitely give you solid grounding on 1) How to approach doubtful questions in Islam and 2) How to navigate between “real” questions and other questions that you think are major but you are just misunderstanding them.
    There is one very important thing that we learned though. Lying underneath many of our questions is the unsaid *gasp* doubt that we have in Allah’s Attributes. His Attributes of Infinite Knowledge, Wisdom and most of all, Justice. When we ask certain questions, we are really saying: “Oh, I don’t understand this. How can it be allowed? How can Allah do this/allow this? Is Allah really the Most Just?” That last question is the one that we don’t say but it lies at the bottom. The only thing we can do is ask Allah for trust in Him and to make our faith strong.

  16. Hena Zuberi says:

    Assalam ‘alaykum Br Daniel & readers,

    May Allah bless your joining the Muslimmatters Family and your work.

    Alhamdulillah the comments section is hopping. JazakAllah Khayr, everyone for maintaining a cordial environment for genuine discourse.

    Looking forward to the next post in your column, The Muslim Skeptic. InshaAllah, we will try to post them every other Mondays on MM.

  17. Kalimatil says:

    Salaam, so where can we find the articles with answers? :)

  18. Skertel says:

    Great article. Mahaa allah. Looking forward to the next post in your column.

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