Archive for the ‘Translation’ Category

Drawing images of living beings

Thursday, October 16th, 2014

Forgive my bad English (I’m from Spain).
I heard that Prophet Muhammad said that making a picture of a human or animal being is haram (prohibited) and in the Day of Judgement God will ask us to turn our pictures to life. Is it true? Can’t we paint this beings?
God bless you

Your English is just fine! Thanks for writing. And may God bless you too for doing the research and verifying what you hear. Too many people simply take for granted what they have been told, without ever attempting to ask themselves if it is true.

The hadeeth you refer to is authentic. It was narrated by Ibn Abbaas (RA) and reported by Al-Bukhaari. Another version of it, also reported by him, was narrated by Ibn Umar (RA).

Those two hadeeths, and there are other, use the Arabic word صورة “Şoora”, which in today’s Arabic is often used to mean a picture, but it actually means “likeness” and that is how it was used by the Arabs of the Seventh Century. The word for picture is actually رقم “Raqm”, which in today’s Arabic has come to mean marking or engraving.

This distinction can be discerned from another authentic hadeeth, reported by Muslim and narrated by Abu-Talha, where the Prophet (PBUH) made an exception from the prohibition a raqm on a cloth. It is, therefore, reasonable to conclude that the prohibition applies only to three-dimensional images, i.e., statues, figurines, embossed images, etc.

The ending of the two hadeeths of prohibition give away the reason for the prohibition. It’s what Americans call “playing God.” That is, the attempt by humans to do things that only God may do. Creation of living beings is God’s domain only.

This prohibition is not unique to Islam. The exact same thing is said in the Second Commandment, prohibiting making engraved images and bowing to statues.

This is the key to understanding the prohibition of sculpting images of living beings. It is God’s protection of us from Shirk (associating others with Him in worship).

One may think that shirk is far-fetched in today’s educated world. One, therefore, may think that this prohibition may have been called for in ancient times, when shirk was rampant, but not relevant in today’s sophisticated societies. But that is not actually the case! There are millions of people in today’s sophisticated world who pray to statues. Many even bow down to images on the wall. Many believe that a token or a figurine will bring them good fortune, heal them or stave evil away from them. All of that is shirk.

Why is shirk so dangerous? Because it creeps on people’s psyche, with enthusiastic help from Satan, until they are detached from God. That is the greatest loss.

Tawheed (the oneness of God) is the central teaching of Islam. It is also the subject of the First Commandment. God is teaching us to worship Him only and abandon any hint of worship of anyone or anything else – not because He needs it, but because we do. Human nature is such that we look for idols, literal or figurative. We keep aggrandizing the people we admire. Americans have coined a good term for that: hero worship. Shirk can be subtle.

The issue at hand is not art, creativity or expression, all of which are allowed in Islam. Rather, it is the kind of art, creativity or expression that is dangerous to our souls.

Are we at fault for all bad things?

Saturday, September 14th, 2013

I would like to know why do we tell “Everything good is from Allah SWT and everything bad is from us.”

If you have already answered this question in your older posts, please provide me the link.

You are referring to verse 4:79, but you should also take verse 4:78, which establishes the context, in order to understand it:

“{4:78} Wherever you may be, death will catch up with you, even if you should be within towers of lofty construction. And if good comes to them, they say, “This is [coming] from God”; and if a bad [thing] hits them, they say, “This is [coming] from you.” Say, “All [things come] from God.” So what is [the matter] with those people that they can hardly understand a statement?

{4:79} What comes to you of good is [caused] by God, but what comes to you of bad is [caused] by yourself. And We have sent you, [O Muhammad,] to the people as a messenger, and sufficient is God as Witness.”

Most translations I read of these two verses fail to distinguish between the two different prepositions that God used here, namely من and من عند, which would lead the English reader to view these two verses as contradictory to each other! 4:78 says that God is the source of all things, good and bad, while 4:79 says that only good things are caused by God while bad ones are caused by us. The distinction specified in the Arabic is lost in the translation and leads to a wrong conclusion! Rather, من عند means “comes from the reservoir of” while من means “is caused by.” Thus, to be faithful to the Arabic, and in doing so dispel confusion, I suggest the above translation.

It is particularly interesting to me that in 4:78, God chastises people for not understanding plain talk. That means that this distinction I explained above was clear enough, yet people did not get it. Indeed, the source of all things is God. Who else is or can be a source? But the cause of something is creature action. If we don’t do the wrong things, nothing wrong will happen! The Sunna (way) of God is that everything is in order, working as planned, in harmony, in precise measure and timing, well designed for maximum benefit. That is why God says that the cause of good is He. God does not do anything to ruin His plan or design. But we often do.

Why are there wars, famine, scarcity, disease, poverty, ignorance, etc., in the world? It is all caused by human action. We are all capable of choosing right, but some of us willingly and knowingly choose the wrong. The result is suffering. That is the cosmic law of cause and effect that God created and set forth.

Related post: Why is there suffering, death, evil and injustice in the world?

On destiny and supplication

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

AssalaamuAlaikum akhi.

Hope you and your family are doing well by the blessings and mercy of Allah(SWT). I have a question on destiny and dua’a. I understand it is a very confusing topic. But, well I believe, we humans can sure speculate and understand a pattern of the same. InshaAllah.

My question is, 1. Do really Dua’a change the destiny of believers? If yes, then What about the dua’a(prayers) of disbelievers? Does Allah(SWT) accept their prayers also and change their destiny akhi?

2. Are their any factors that make our dua’s to be accepted soon by Allah(SWT)? I understand it is a matter which Allah(SWT) knows about and not us. BUt considering the limitations of our human mind, are their factors?

3. This is a bit off the topic, I have heard that we should not judge people by their appearances, as their imaan lies in their heart & Allah(SWT) knows the best what sort of person he/she is? But isn’t it that if imaan is there in our heart, it would be shown/seen out in our actions, behavior, our appearance? What is the Islamic & also your view point on it?

You can take one question at a time and answer it akhi. At your leisure. JazakAllah Khair.


Wa Alaykum Assalaam, brother.

Destiny is not a confusing subject. It is quite simple. Only God knows where each of us will end up. Nobody else. He says in the holy Quran, “Say: None in the heavens and the earth knows the Beyond but God.” (27:65). Very straightforward.

Perhaps the confusion comes from the many opinions and theories people have formed about fate over the centuries. I’d suggest that you read the previous posts in this blog in the Fate category.

I think you are referring to the hadeeth, “Nothing holds back a Divine Decree except supplication.”, narrated by Salmaan Al-Faarisi and reported by At-Tirmizhi who rated it “sound but strange.” The authenticity of this hadeeth is suspect. But even if it were authentic, the word “Al-Qadhaa'” that appears in it is wrongly translated as destiny or pre-destination. This is a very common error that most Muslims fall into. Al-Qadhaa’ simply means Divine Decrees. What the hadeeth means is that God may suspend a Decree of His when the affected believer supplicates to Him. This does not change the believer’s destiny. God knew all along that His servant will call upon Him. He sends down His Decree then holds it. Why? In order to convey to us how much He loves supplication! This teaches us that if we want to be saved from afflictions and hardship, our best chance is to call upon God to save us from them. Amen.

God may reply to your supplication immediately or may defer the reply. He does that because He is the only One who has the whole picture. He grants everything in precise measure and timing. That is what the word Al-Qadar means. Another word that is wrongly translated as fate.

As for appearance, it can, as we all know, be deceiving. Some people look pious but are wicked inside. God says in the holy Quran, “And among the people is one whose utterance in this world you admire and he holds God a witness to what is in his heart while he is the fiercest of adversaries!” (2:204).

And the flip-side is also true. The Prophet (PBUH) said, “There may be a man, dusty and uncombed, whom people pay no attention to, but if He swears upon God for something, God will fulfill it!”, narrated by Anas ibn Maalik and reported by At-Tirmizhi who rated it it soundly authentic.

Learning the Quran by learning Arabic

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012


I just want to ask if perhaps you could help me to understand the Qur’an better. The thing is I know how to read and write Arabic. We have that as a subject from first to sixth grade although my school was a Catholic school. So I can read the Qur’an but I can not understand Arabic save for some words. I end up relying on the English translation. But I still want to read, write and understand. Can you suggest any website or anything where I can learn to understand Arabic? I know it would take a long time but it will be a great help to me. Thank you.

You are fortunate that you can read and write Arabic. Most Muslims don’t!

While learning Arabic is not necessary for being a good Muslim, or for understanding the Quran, since there are many good translations of it, knowledge of Arabic adds a dimension to understanding the Quran that no other tool can approach.

The Quran is the undisputed masterpiece of Arabic language and literature. Even non-Muslims who have mastered the Arabic language agree. The sheer beauty of the Arabic words, expressions and style that God uses in His Quran has mesmerized the polytheists of Mecca, who were themselves masters of Arabic literary avenues. The Quran challenged them to come up with a book like it. They did not even try. Then the Quran challenged them to come up with ten chapters like any of its chapters, some of which are as short as three verses (11:13). They did not even try. Then the Quran challenged them to come up with one chapter like any of its chapters (2:23). They did not even try. Finally, the Quran declared its superiority, “Say: Verily, if mankind and the sprites combine in order to bring about the like of this Quran, they will not, even if they backed each other!” (17:88)

The Most Read Book discussion board attempts to translate the Quran into English in a way that preserves the Arabic style and literal meaning of each word as much as the English language permits. Take a look at it and you will get a sense of why that is important and why knowing the Arabic can make a significant difference in learning the Quran.

I take it that you really want to master the Arabic language as it is used in the Quran. I know of a school in the USA whose mission is to do just that. It is called Al-Bayyinah Institute and it was founded by a gentleman whose native language is not Arabic, but he was determined to master it and he did. His name is Nouman Ali Khan, may God bless his effort.

Arabized words

Friday, August 19th, 2011

Why does the Quran use Isa for the name Jesus (as)? Why dosen’t it use Yeshua? Because in google translate, when you translate the english name Jesus to Arabic, it says Yeshua…but when you write Jesus son of Mary and translate that to Arabic, THEN it says Isa ibn Maryam. Why does the pronoucation of the name Jesus(as) change? Thanks!

His name was not Yeshua either. Jesus, peace be upon him, spoke Aramaic. His name, therefore, is what the word is in Aramaic, that is `Eesho`.

So, why is he referred to in the Quran as `Eesa? Because that is how the Christian Arabs referred to him. Ancient people did not keep foreign people’s names as they are pronounced in the foreign language. Instead, they transliterated the names, and sometimes even translated them, to their language.

Coptic Egyptian Christians refer to Jesus as Yasoo`. The Japanese refer to him as Yesu.

The translation of names is particularly interesting. Take for instance the disciple Peter. The name Peter is an English rendition of the Greek Petros, which means “a rock.” Why is that? Because Peter’s actual name was Sakhr, which in Semitic languages means a rock.

BTW, Google Translate is very good, but it has errors, and Google actually lets you suggest improvements to the translation it produces.

Does the Quran demean women?

Friday, June 24th, 2011

An Islamophobic blog wrote the following under the heading, “Top ten Quran quotes all women should know.” I know that you and others have answered such allegations many times, but please comment anyway.

  • A husband has sex with his wife, as a plow goes into a field.2:223 “Your women are your fields, so go into your fields whichever way you like . . . . (MAS Abdel Haleem, The Qur’an, Oxford UP, 2004)

That web site caused my anti-virus program to launch into high gear! It is possible that it’s not only trying to spread lies about the Quran, but may also be trying to spread malware.

You need to understand the background of many Islamophobes when it comes to the issue of women. They come across as defending women’s rights, when in fact they are defending their rights to women. The way Western society has evolved affords men to have sex with women they are not committed to by way of legal marriage. This is a dream come true for many men. They have been pursuing this dream for centuries. They finally succeeded when they convinced women that sex without marriage is not a sin if it is by mutual consent between grownups. A majority of Western women, unfortunately, fell for it. The result is what you see everyday of children born out of wedlock, single mothers, abortions, abandoned children, cheating husbands, one-night stands, promiscuity, sexually transmitted diseases, women treated as sex or display objects, etc. It is a truly sad state of affairs for women who may actually be duped into thinking that they are “liberated.” It is also a sad state of affairs for men who may be feeling in full control, yet their souls are in pain for violating God’s commandments.

It had to happen, because of human nature. That is why we all need God’s guidance to set us straight. The Quran is that guidance. Men who do not want women to listen to the Quran and mend their ways, will undoubtedly attack and try to demean the Quran. Did you know that more than half of new converts to Islam are women? That is what the men are afraid of! Muslim women will not date them.

Why do so many women accept Islam? Didn’t they read the Quran and see that top ten list? Why did the Quran not repulse these women, and on the contrary, attracted them? It’s because the Quran spoke the truth to them. God wants to honor women but most men’s natural impulses eventually will lead to disgracing them. As God clearly said in the holy Quran,

“God wants to accept your repentance, but those who follow lusts want you to swing a great swinging.” (4:27)

Isn’t it profound that God uses the same word that came to identify the “sexual revolution”: swinging?!

With that background well understood, you can now see through the men who claim to “defend women”.

Now, let me address their method. First, they quote a translation, which they pick from many available, because it can be easily assailed. Everybody knows that meanings often suffer through translation. They will not offer other translations that elucidate the meaning better, because they don’t want you to know the original meaning.

The other aspect of translation is that it is highly influenced by the translator’s culture and knowledge of Arabic, and it is also susceptible to the reader’s culture and knowledge of English!

That is why I always advise folks who ask me, to consult several translations before making a conclusion about a verse. This web site is one of many that show multiple translations to help the reader understand the Arabic verse better.

The other point to highlight about their attack method is that they take verses out of context. That’s a well-known pseudo reasoning technique, because it changes the premise. This is known in logic as a red herring.

Other techniques that apply to that blog are scare tactics, appeal to spite and indignation, and quoting common practice as valid reasoning.

That was a necessary foreword. Now, let me reply to the point quoted. Verse 2:223 does NOT say that women are fields to plow. The verse uses tilth as a metaphor for pregnancy. That metaphor has been used by all cultures throughout the ages. To this day, medical clinics that help women get pregnant are called fertility clinics. So, that blogger should start his attack by protesting in front of a fertility clinic demanding they change their name!

  • Husbands are a degree above their wives.2:228 “Wives have the same rights as the husbands have on them in accordance with the generally known principles. Of course, men are a degree above them in status . . .” (Sayyid Abul A’La Maududi, The Meaning of the Qur’an, vol. 1, p. 165)

Notice how he changed the translation source? Now you understand how he operates?

This issue has been answered before in this post. The degree referred to is a degree of responsibility. The Arabic does NOT say “status”. This is consistent with the beginning of the sentence, “And due to them (women) is similar to what is expected of them.”

What should happen when an issue in the family must be decided? Islam teaches that the issue must be discussed between husband and wife, e.g., see verse 2:233. If there is no agreement reached after such discussion, then how would a decision be made? Islam says the man decides. Does that blogger suggest that the woman should decide instead? I doubt it.

Why does Islam make this rule? It is not because men are better than women in decision making, nor because men are better than women in analysis or intelligence. It’s because men have that responsibility from God, while women have other responsibilities. It’s a simple division of labor in order to get the needed work done.

  • A male gets a double share of the inheritance over that of a female.4:11 “The share of the male shall be twice that of a female . . . .” (Maududi, vol. 1, p. 311)

That’s because the male is responsible for the female in Islamic societies. In Islam, a woman never has to work, but she can if she wants to. If she chooses not to work, her financial support is guaranteed. If her husband, father, sons, uncles, etc. cannot support her, the government must!

What about the woman’s own money? She has no obligation to support any men in her family from it. Even if she’s rich! Her dowry, her inheritance, her savings and investments are her property. No one can demand her spend from it if she does not want to. On the other hand, the husband has to support his wife, and the women in his family who need support, from his money.

Do you see now why he inherits double? It is not unfair to women, it’s a responsibility upon men. The blogger did not care to make that clear.

  • A woman’s testimony counts half of a man’s testimony.2:282 “And let two men from among you bear witness to all such documents [contracts of loans without interest]. But if two men be not available, there should be one man and two women to bear witness so that if one of the women forgets (anything), the other may remind her.” (Maududi, vol. 1, p. 205).

Doesn’t the verse explain why? The ruling is contingent upon forgetfulness, which was the norm for most women in financial matters throughout the ages. Up until the 1950s, you heard women in the US say that they “have no head for business.”

That started to change. When a contingency is no longer, so isn’t the ruling. Women with a “head for business” can therefore be witnesses, by themselves, of a debt writing. By the same token, men who have no head for business, and there are many, should not be witnesses to a loan by themselves!

Early Muslims understood this well. When they needed a testimony for an event that women are more familiar with than men, they accepted single testimonies from women. But the blogger would not want you to learn that.

  • A wife may remarry her ex—husband if and only if she marries another man and then this second man divorces her.2:230 “And if the husband divorces his wife (for the third time), she shall not remain his lawful wife after this (absolute) divorce, unless she marries another husband and the second husband divorces her. [In that case] there is no harm if they [the first couple] remarry . . . .” (Maududi, vol. 1, p. 165)

That applies to the husband too, doesn’t it? He cannot remarry his wife except after that protocol takes place, and it may never happen. That teaches him not to be hasty with divorce. Islam wants couples to stay together, but that blogger wants women to be available to all men at all times.

  • Slave—girls are sexual property for their male owners.4:24 “And forbidden to you are wedded wives of other people except those who have fallen in your hands [as prisoners of war] . . .” (Maududi, vol. 1, p. 319).

That was necessary in those times as likewise treatment. Prisoners of war were taken slaves by the enemy. Most men would not accept that humiliation of their women.

Islam was the first religion to take serious steps toward ending slavery. The Quran is clear that prisoners of war must either be ransomed or pardoned (74:4). Freeing a slave is considered one of the top righteous deeds and an expiation of sins (90:11-13).

Islam calls for what should be, but legislates for what is. Legislating for what should be is wishful thinking.

  • A husband may simply get rid of one of his undesirable wives.4:129 “It is not within your power to be perfectly equitable in your treatment with all your wives, even if you wish to be so; therefore, [in order to satisfy the dictates of Divine Law] do not lean towards one wife so as to leave the other in a state of suspense.” (Maududi, vol. 1, p. 381)

The blogger’s statement is a clear straw man argument. He reads into it what it does not say. In fact, it says the opposite! It orders men not to neglect any of their wives and favor one. Where does it say “get rid of”?

You can see that the blogger is running out of plausible, but misconstrued attacks, so now he’s inventing new ones.

The rest of the “top ten” have been answered many times before, so I won’t make this post longer by refuting them when others have done it so well, over and over again.

Does the Quran say that the earth is flat?

Thursday, January 6th, 2011

There are a number of verses in the Quran that appear to say that the earth is flat, which of course contradicts science. How do you interpret those verses?

  1. “And the earth- We have spread it out, and set thereon mountains standing firm, and produced therein every kind of beautiful growth (in pairs)” (50:7)
  2. “And We have spread out the (spacious) earth: How excellently We do spread out! ” (51:48)
  3. “And Allah has made the earth for you as a carpet (spread out), ” (71:19)
  4. “And at the Earth, how it is spread out?” (88:20)
  5. “Who has made the earth your couch, and the heavens your canopy; and sent down rain from the heavens; and brought forth therewith Fruits for your sustenance; then set not up rivals unto Allah when ye know (the truth).” (2:22)
  6. “And the earth, after that, He rolled it out.” (79:30)

50:7 – A better translation is “stretched out”. Being stretched out is not the same thing as being flat. The earth is stretched out, isn’t it? Wherever you look, you see it stretched out. That is actually all the hint you need to realize that the earth is round! Because, if the earth is flat, then the only way for it to look stretched out from every spot on it is if it is endless, or that it is round.

If you prefer the translation “spread out”, consider that you can spread whip cream all around an apple, right?

51:48- فرشناها means furnished it, not spread it out. And الماهدون means paving. That’s also the word used in 2:22.

71:19 & 88:20- These two verses emphasize the blessing of stretching out the earth so that we can walk on it, and that’s how it is, isn’t it?

79:30- This is a key verse that most exegetes did not get. Sheikh Ash-Sha`raawi, may God bless his soul, noticed it and explained how it combines the stretching AND the roundness of the earth at the same time! That’s because the word دحاها means the action of rolling and unrolling of dough such as when you make a pie crust. It is a metaphor that indicates that the earth is stretched like the dough when it is unrolled and round like the dough when it is rolled.

The misunderstanding many people fall into is when they do not realize how large the globe of the earth is. If you try to walk on a beach ball, you will make one step before the ball rolls and realize that you’re walking on a sphere. But when you walk on the earth, you can walk for miles and you still have covered only a tiny distance, so you never feel that you are walking on a sphere.

Is this a contradiction in the Quran?

Sunday, January 2nd, 2011

The Quran states that the family of Pharaoh has been cursed and are going to Hell. But it also says that Pharaoh’s wife, Asia, was a role model for believing women. Is that a contradiction, or an exception?

The Quran does not condemn the family of Pharaoh, it condemns “Aal” of Pharaoh. The difference is that the word Aal, which is often translated as “family of” or “house of”, actually means “followers of”. Asia was not one of those. She was a believer and a follower of Moses, not of Pharaoh. Thus, while she was from the family of Pharaoh, she was not from his Aal.

In each prayer, we Muslims acknowledge that God has blessed Aal of Abraham. We do that a minimum of nine times everyday! But we know that Abraham’s father is declared in the Quran as “an enemy to God!” (9:114) Therefore, he cannot be from Aal of Abraham! Sarah, Haajar, Isaac, Ishmael, etc. are.

This is further confirmed by the story of Noah (PBUH) and his son. Noah thought that his son would be saved from the Flood, but God explained to him that Noah’s son “is not from his family!” See verses 11:40-49.

I read this poem on another forum and thought it articulated this concept quite well,
The Aal of the Prophet are the followers of his religion,
Be they foreign or Arab.
If his Aal were only his kinsmen,
We would be praying for his tyrant uncle Abu-Lahab!

Fundamentalism and tolerance

Saturday, January 1st, 2011

I read a good article issued by the Institute of Islamic Understanding in Malaysia. It attempts, however, to legitimize fundamentalism when it says:

  • Fundamentalism is the most abused of words. It is equated with extremism. Yet if the teachings of Islam are studied, it would be clear that the best Muslims are the fundamentalists.
  • That’s not what fundamentalism is. Do you agree?

    You are right. That’s not what fundamentalism is. The mutual misunderstanding comes from the fact that the West means something completely different by fundamentalism from what Muslims means. The West means the belief that the fundamentalist’s opinion or view is the only correct one and all else is false, while Muslims mean by it the return to or insistence on the basics of the religion: the Quran and the Sunna.

    The Arabs translate fundamentalism as الأصولية (Al-Usooliyya) and that is where the error is made! The word has nothing to do with Usooliyya, which means foundationism.

    Fundamentalism is indeed evil, because it assumes that one interpretation, made by mortals who by nature are prone to error, is the only acceptable interpretation and all other are heresies. This can only cause animosity between people with different views. The article discusses verse 3:7, but neglects to mention its epilogue,

    “…As for those in whose hearts is a bias, they follow what carries multiple meanings of it, seeking discord and seeking its ultimate meaning. And no one knows its ultimate meaning except God. And those established in knowledge say, “We believe in it. All [of it] is from our Lord.” And no one remembers [that] except those of understanding minds.” (3:7)

    Yet, despite the clear declaration from God, countless scholars tried to interpret verses that carry multiple meanings, which God says is something that only He can do! See this discussion for more details about this verse.

    The lesson I think should have been learned form 3:7 is that a verse that carries multiple meanings was revealed that way because all of those meanings are intended! To confine such a verse to one meaning is to narrow down what God has widened.

    Is this translation correct?

    Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

    Is the following a correct translation of verse 31:34?

    “Verily the knowledge of the Hour is with God (alone). It is He Who sends down rain, and He Who knows what is in the wombs. Nor does any one know what it is that he will earn on the morrow: Nor does any one know in what land he is to die. Verily with God is full knowledge and He is acquainted (with all things).” (31:34)

    Actually many Non-Muslims use the highlighted part of the verse above to point out absurdity in Quran stating that we can know what is in the womb through the technique of amniocentesis.

    The translation is correct. The detractors fail to recognize what the expression means in Arabic. It means the total knowledge of every minutia of what is in the wombs, not just what man can learn by analyzing a sample or by taking an ultrasound video. Things such as how the life of that fetus will be until he or she dies and where is he or she going after death.

    God’s knowledge is not acquired, it’s original. It is also total, unlike our knowledge which is always limited to something.