Ask a Muslim Scholar Volume 5

Q: I have a question related to requirements for a prayer space. At some schools, they are not able to offer students a Musalla only for Muslims, but instead want to provide an interfaith prayer room, which means other religious groups could use it during the day. What requirements should we have for such an arrangement?

A: Prayer requirements are very simple and precise. The place we pray in should be clean and should not be contaminated by Najasah or filth. It should be free of idols and statues. If we have a choice, we should ask for empty room which can be consecrated as a Musalla. If any of these conditions cannot be met, then the principle of jurisprudence “Al-Mash`qa Tajleb At-tayseer” or ‘whenever there is hardship the law is relaxed’ is applied. 

If, therefore, the only room available for prayers is an inter-faith hall where idols and statues are found, we can pray there provided we cover them up. 

This is the least we could do. Prayer is fine, and Allah will take us only to ask if we violate the laws intentionally. We are required only to fear Allah to the best of our ability. 

In conclusion, you are allowed to pray in an interfaith rooms provided they are kept clean and you cover up the images with wrapper or curtain.

Q: As an American Muslim I pay taxes to the government, which takes up a major portion of my income; it is my understanding that a portion of the taxes thus collected by the government goes to the poor and those who work to collect them; this being the case, can I consider myself as being absolved from the duty of paying Zakah?

A: Payment of tax can never absolve a Muslim of his/her duty to pay the zakah, which is a divine mandate, while tax is a human institution.

Zakah is the third foremost pillar of Islam; it is enjoined by Allah upon the rich to pay a fixed portion of their wealth/income as an act of worship. It is due only upon those who possess wealth/income in excess of their essential needs as well as the taxes due upon them. Its main purpose is to help the poor and the needy. Taxes, on the other hand, are imposed by the government of the day in most regions primarily to defray the costs of governance and the costs of services provided to residents of the jurisdiction. Zakah is intended mainly to benefit the poor and the less privileged, while the benefits of taxation are enjoyed by all residents of a given area, and not merely the poor and the needy, as is the primary purpose of zakah. 

Furthermore, Zakah has been divinely fixed in form and spirit; its purpose, form, specifics, as well as its recipients have all have been determined by the Lawgiver, and as such, it is not subject to alteration by any human agency. Taxation, however, is entirely different; it is improvised and legislated by governments, again, to defray the costs of governance and the services it provides, and it is subject to changes. 

The hall-mark of zakah is that it is an act of worship; its validity is dependent on two essential pre-requisites, both of which are integral to any prescribed act of worship in Islam. First, niyyah (intention to fulfill one’s duty to Allah); second, full conformity to the dictates of the Lawgiver. These can never be the case with the payment of tax to the government. 

A Muslim, therefore, must give zakah in order to fulfill one of the foremost requirements of his/her faith, expecting his/her rewards solely from Allah. A Muslim is also obligated to pay taxes due upon him/her in order to contribute his/her share toward the general betterment of society, and to pay for benefits and services provided by the government. A Muslim strives to be a good servant of Allah, just as he strives to be a good citizen of the country he/she resides in. These two aspects are never conflicting; rather they are complementary.

Q: Is it permissible for me to hug or kiss my wife while I am fasting?

A: If you are reasonably certain that you will not be carried away by your desire to violate the sanctity of Ramadhaan through sexual relations by indulging in this behavior then you can do it; otherwise, it is always preferred to stay away from such activities, for, who knows, when the desire flares up and one is carried away to break the fast. One should, therefore, persuade one’s against such activities by reminding oneself of the gravity of sin involved in breaking a single day of Ramadhan fast; the Prophet, peace be upon him, said, “Whoever breaks a single day of fast during the month of Ramadhaan, they may never be able to make up for it by fasting an entire year!” 

Furthermore, breaking a single day of fast through sexual intercourse entails very serious penalty: One should either fast two months consecutively; if one cannot do it, then feed sixty poor people for each of fast thus broken. 
A believer therefore must never be complacent about such issues if he/she is serious about their faith and afterlife.

We read in the sources that the Prophet, peace be upon him, used to kiss his wife while fasting; when asked about it, his beloved wife Aishah, may Allah be pleased with her, confirmed it, but she asked the interlocutor, “Who among you is capable of controlling his desire as the Prophet, peace be upon him, was wont of doing?” 

This is why we read in the sources that the Prophet, peace be upon him, once told a person who had asked him, “Can a person who is fasting kiss his wife?” that he was not allowed to do so; while the same question was put to him by another person but he replied to him, “Yes. You can!” Explaining the discrepancy between the two answers, Ibn Abbas, may Allah be pleased with him, said, “The first person was rather a young man (who, he thought was unable to control himself) , while the second was an elderly person!” Thus the Prophet, peace be upon him, wanted to teach us that while such activities may be permissible for some, they may be unlawful for others because of their intensity of desire and their inability to restrain themselves.

In conclusion: If you are not sure of controlling yourself you should stay away from such activities while fasting.

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