New Islamic Directions

By Imam Zaid Shakir

Answers to Questions From “Ethical Basis” Web-cast

Posted in articles by Imam Zaid Shakir on 2008-05-29

I promised the subscribers to the last web-cast that I would answer the questions I was unable to get to during the actual web-cast in written form on the website. Here are the answers to those questions. Hopefully, others can also benefit from the answers.

1. Q: Does the idea of preserving the environment for the next generation stipulate some sort of population policy? I’ve known that many Muslims tend to have more than two kids even in countries where overpopulation has already become a problem.

A: The issue of birth control is a controversial one for many Muslims. However, the jurists are divided on the issue, many of them considering it lawful. In a situation where overpopulation is a factor in environmental destruction, along with helping to create a low quality of life for the general population, it is incumbent on Muslim leaders to emphasize the importance of population control. If the environment is destroyed, everyone’s life is threatened. Hence, such policies should be encouraged as they are consistent with the overall ethical framework that contextualizes Islamic law.

2. Q: Can we rebel against our leaders if they are suppressing us Muslims? What sort of means can we resort to?

A: The consideration as to when it is appropriate to rebel against oppressive Muslim leaders is if a rebellion will lead to oppression greater than that being encountered at the hands of such tyrants. This is conditional on the leader manifesting actions that unequivocally constitute disbelief. If a rebellion against a Muslim leader has little chance of succeeding, or will lead to more bloodshed and tyranny than that being experienced under the current tyrant, it is best to be patient. The optimal means in that case is patience and engaging in those practices that will get one closer to God. 

3. Q: I’m a Muslim convert of Chinese ancestry. After studying in North America for over a decade, I’m planning to go back to China. There are very few Muslims where I came from. Could you offer some advice to me in terms of remaining steadfast being in the minority and not deviating from the Right Way?

A: There are many Muslims in China. Seek them out and stay close to the righteous people among them. God-willing, you will be blessed with someone to assist you even in the area you come from. Call people to Allah with your character before you begin calling them with your words. Be steadfast in your prayer, recite your Qur’an often, and always make time to remember Allah. Insha Allah, if you do these things you will be fine.

4. Q: I am a biomedical researcher. What do Islamic ethics say about researching experimental treatments on terminally ill patients?

A: As long as such research is undertaken with the patient’s permission, does not hasten their death nor lead to their mutilation, and there is hope that it will lead to some widespread benefit for humanity, it is fine.

5. Q: Is it correct to say that Islamic law says that we should follow the laws of the land we live in, as long as they do not directly contravene Islamic law? Does this then make it not allowed under Islamic law for a man to marry more than one wife in the west? As his second wife and children from that marriage will not be recognized under the law, will not receive health benefits, social benefits or be able to inherit from his estate, doesn’t this make it impossible to treat both wives fairly and equally? As this is the main condition of marrying more than one wife (both must be treated equally), does this then disqualify its legality even under Islamic law?

A: Your assessment of following the “laws of the land” is quite accurate. However, the issue you discuss is more legal than ethical, although there is a degree of overlap. What you present concerning polygamy is an argument that many judicious Muslims make. It is an argument worth considering. The counter argument is that the equality mentioned in the relevant verses in the Qur’an and associated hadiths deals with sharing time equally, overt affection, and in providing the basic essentials of life to the degree possible. Some of the things you mention, such as insurance benefits, are beyond a person’s control, while others, such as inheritance, can be legally mandated to a number of beneficiaries at the discretion of the man involved. I would hesitate to say that polygamy is not allowable in this country because there are a lot of women that could potentially benefit from polygamous relationships. However, as most attempts to undertake such relationships usually end in unmitigated disasters, that severely damage all of the involved parties, one should be extremely cautious in recommending it. As for clandestine, hidden polygamous relationships, they are morally and ethically destestable, and legally dubious.

6. Q: How can we in the West perform dawah even to other Muslims within the framework of Islamic ethics?

A: As ethics deals with behavior, the very best “ethical” Dawah is through ones actions. If we are kind, courteous, courageous, well-manned, honorable people, who have the ability to be just and firm when those characteristics are called for we will leave a positive impact on the world.

7. Q: In divorce, why does Islam not allow the wife to receive half of her husband’s assets? If she was allowed to live on her husband’s income under Islamic law during the marriage and does not have to contribute to living expenses, unless she wishes, why then is she faulted for it during divorce under Islamic law? Is it ethical for her to ask for an equal half as a wife’s responsibilities do not include financial support? This is granted by civil courts and seems very fair for women, while marrying a woman and then leaving her with very little seems to violate her rights, as in the recent case in Maryland. How do we explain that Islamic law is not unfair to woman if a man can do that to someone he has been married to for 20 years?

A: First of all, Islam does not allow a woman to claim half of her husband’s assets because they are his assets not hers. Similarly, if she has assets, he has no right to them. No fault, 50/50 divorce rulings work against the woman also as many women increasingly have more assets than men in contemporary society. In these cases, Islamic law would not give the man 50% of the woman’s assets, as happens in many cases now.

Secondly, Islamic rulings concerning a divorce are predicated on a holistic social setting where the woman is not living on her own before marriage, nor will she live on her own after divorce, rather she will return to the care of her family. In all cases, she is not called upon to take care of her living expenses. In cases of divorce where children are involved, the man is obliged to take care of his children until they are self-sufficient. Those payments would more than allow for the woman to live adequately and in a dignified manner as the shelter and food for the children would meet her needs also.

In light of the fragmented social system that characterizes most contemporary societies, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, qualified jurists must examined the changed circumstances and determine what are the best policies to advocate in light of new realities and enduring Islamic legal principles and philosophy. In the meantime, the best guarantor of the husband’s, wife’s, and the children’s right is a healthy dose of basic human decency.

8. Q: Why did non-Muslim citizens pay the dhimmi tax in historical Muslim states? It is not collected any longer in Muslim countries.

A: Such taxes are no longer levied in contemporary Muslim societies, nor were they consistently enforced historically. The wisdom of such a tax, which was nominal when implemented, was to pay for the exemption of the relevant populations from military service, and to help finance the security apparatus needed to ensure their legally-mandated protection as “taxed” people.

9. Q: How can Muslims improve moral and ethical values in their non-Muslim societies, without imposing religious beliefs or values on others?

A: See the answer to #6 above. None of the things mentioned there has anything to do with ritualistic religious teachings.

10. Q: The ethical / moral ceiling is always falling. How do Muslims retain their own ethical values in the workplace without hindering someone else’s human rights? For example, hiring a homosexual or a trans-gendered person.

A: One’s personal code of ethics is based on ones personal behavior and standards. One is not required to hire a homosexual in ones private business. If one is working in a governmental office and has to adhere to mandated equal opportunity policies, then adhering to those policies is not a reflection of ones personal “moral ceiling.” Even if you were to argue that you could quit that job, the person would be hired any way. Hence, your action has no bearing on the outcome one way or another. One should not engage in homosexual acts nor advocate for their legalization or popularizing. Were one to do so then it would reflect a lowering of ones “moral ceiling,” in this specific case.

11. Q: Do we have a right to refer to someone as an atheist, as we may not know their inner state, though they may say they don’t believe in anything?

A: All judgments in such instances are based on the outward appearances of things. If a person openly claims they do not believe in God, we can justifiably call him an atheist. We leave the inner secrets of their hearts and minds to God, who has access to that knowledge. At the end of the day, He is the ultimate judge, and His ruling will determine the fate of people’s souls.

12. Q: What are the ethics concerning purchasing products, for example coffee, from companies that openly contribute to violating the human rights of others in apartheid states or to attacking another nation?

A: We should avoid such products as the benefit in their purchase and use can never outweigh the harm involved in their production and distribution.

13. Q: What ethical responsibility do Muslims have to alleviating government corruption and poverty in their countries of origin?  What can we do about these so-called Muslim states, and how do we respond to those non-Muslims who tell us that ‘our’ governments are violating human rights?

A: We should help up to a point. We should try to work for changes in the historical Muslim lands within the limits of both reason and efficacy. As for the idea of collective responsibility, that is only relevant when a member of an offending group benefits from the oppression and tyranny perpetrated by other members of that group. As Muslims in America do not benefit from the tyranny of Muslim rulers, we are not collectively responsible for that tyranny. However, as concerned global citizens, we should try to do our best, bearing in mind, “That part of a person’s Islam being good is his leaving that which does not concern him.” Things that are beyond our control are not our immediate concern.

As for those non-Muslims who would condemn Islam based on the human rights record of the “Muslim” countries, I would say, “If you are living in a glass house, do not throw any stones.”

14. Q: What do Islamic ethics say about a man who insists that his wife also work to contribute to the household, though she may not wish to get employment outside the home?

A: This is a strictly legal and not a specifically ethical problem. No woman can be forced to work outside of the home. If the husband cannot take care of the household expenses without an income from his wife and she does not wish to work, then she has the right to be divorced from him. Surely, God knows best.


By ayesha on May 30, 2008 at 11:48am

As-Salaam Alaikum Imam Zaid, Thank you for this great service. your answers are very informative. For number 8, the question on the dhimmi tax, it should also be noted that the non-Muslim population were not required to pay the Zakat charity, while Muslims were. Hence there was no inequality upon non-Muslims. If there was such oppression as some like to claim, regarding Muslim societies, non-Muslims would not have existed and flourished for thousands of years, under Muslim rule. History points this out clearly. Also in regards to the question on the Maryland divorce case. If the wife and husband purchased their family home together, isn;t it considered a joint asset? Also if a wife is expected to stay home and cook and care for the husband who builds his career, how is she expected to build assets? The fact is that most women do not have a family to return to after their husbands decide to divorce after 20 years. This is not a holistic Islamic society where a brother's family will take in his sister. What then is a woman to do? Also in this case, the children were university age, and he did not help them with tuition etc. Is this not the ethical, Islamic thing to do? Jazakallah for your answers to all the questions

By Abdul Maalik Al Cubi on May 30, 2008 at 2:10pm

As Salaamu Alaikum bro. Imaam! Ya akhi, I hope you continue with this practice of yours, of posting these questions and answers, for those of us studying abroad and unable to keep up with all the beneficial duroos there in the States. Insha'Allah. May Allah reward you for your efforts. Your friend from Atlanta, Abdul Maalik Al Cubi Alexandria, Egypt.

By ziyad ahmed on May 30, 2008 at 9:15pm

this is what we need. thank you. thank you for your response to the question on polygamy. i would put it more bluntly and say that as muslims we must be law abiding citizens in the lands we have chosen to live in according to our own religious laws. yes, polygamy was good when it was done for the sake of women who were divorced, elderly widowed or single mothers. and when it was done in lands and times in which women could not provide for themselves and lived under dangerous conditions requiring the protection of men. islamic laws are all just, healthy and logical, when we know how to use them. i don't personally know any man that has done this, but the men i have heard about go off and marry a young 20 something while their late 30s to early 40s age wife is home struggling with children he has also neglected. It is not about the women anymore. its about the man having a mid-life crisis and fooling no one but himself that he is doing something that is a sunnah. there is also absolutely nothing islamic about lying to your wife and hiding a second marriage from her. marriages are meant to be celebrated and announced in islam, that is a sunnah these men seem to forget. and it all ends with 2 bitter, used women, neglected children that are at risk of turning into young delinquents, angry at society and wanting nothing to do with islam. and a man who has crushed several souls, including his own. not to mention making islam look completely illogical and archaic. any imam who performs a secret second nikah or tells a man its not only ok to do it when it is illegal in our nation, but to hide it from his wife and children, is completely disrespectful to individuals, families, society and to the laws of the land and islamic shariah. we must respect islam and stop following ignorant interpretations of islam. as for the case of the maryland man who divorced his wife, what kind of man does that to his wife of 20 years or even 2 years? marriage is serious and divorce is so devastating and disliked in islam, it should at least be done fairly. thank you ziyad

By abdurraheem on August 19, 2008 at 2:08am

This is excellent and so important: "In light of the fragmented social system that characterizes most contemporary societies, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, qualified jurists must examined the changed circumstances and determine what are the best policies to advocate in light of new realities and enduring Islamic legal principles and philosophy. In the meantime, the best guarantor of the husband

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