Overwhelmed and Confused in Trying to Understand and Practice Islam: What Can I Do?
Answered by Ustadh Salman Younas
Question: (1) I keep on hearing that those who miss a single prayers beyond its time are disbelievers. Does that make me a non muslim?
(2) I personally find it difficult to believe that most of humanity will be in the hellfire eternally. What are the rulings on apostasy? What is the ruling on homosexuality?
(3) I am also overwhelmed with all the knowledge that i have to learn. I’m already using Seekersguidance but what other sources are there?
Answer: assalamu `alaykum
You raise a number of issues in your question, and I will attempt to answer them below to the best of my ability:
The Issue of Anathema (takfir)
Judging a particular individual to be within the fold of Islam or not is a serious matter as it has consequences not only on the individual being identified as being outside the fold, but the one forwarding such a claim. Abu Hurayra once instructed a person who accused another of disbelief, “I heard the Messenger of God (God bless him) state, ‘Whoever bears testimony against a Muslim of which the latter is not deserving, let him prepare for his seat in the Fire.” [Ahmad, Musnad; Abu Dawud, Musnad] Similarly, the Prophet (Allah bless him) stated, “Whoever charges a Muslim with unbelief is as though he has killed him.” [Bukhari, Sahih]
These are not mere words but serious warnings against accusing another of being outside the fold of Islam, and only those who lack a holistic understanding of the prophetic way make it their habit to judge those around them at the expense of heeding the prophetic warnings on this issue.
The judgment regarding the Islam of a particular individual is strictly a matter reserved for a judge or jurisconsult after thorough investigation that requires the fulfillment of stringent conditions. Additionally, such judgments are primarily out of a consideration for the earthly rights that attach themselves to the matter such as issues of marriage, inheritance, and the like. They do not represent anything decisive regarding the status of such an individual in the next life. Therefore, ordinary Muslims, which include both the non-qualified and semi-qualified, have no business in deeming people outside the fold of Islam.
The Issue of Missing Prayer
The majority of scholars have clearly stated that one does not become a disbeliever due to the sinful actions that he commits. Imam al-Tahawi succinctly summarizes this in his statement, “A person does not step out of belief except by disavowing that which brought him into it.”
This is a general rule, and while certain exceptions may exist, the majority of scholars have also clearly opined that missing prayer does not take one outside the fold of Islam unless such an act is accompanied with a belief in its non-obligatory nature.
Sunni scholars have cited textual evidence in support of this rule. The most prominent are the traditions of the Prophet (God bless him) that demonstrate the sufficiency of the testimony of faith (kalima) in attaining salvation. Thus, for example, it is related that the Prophet (God bless him) said, “Whoever testifies that there is no god but God, paradise is made obligatory for him.” [Bukhari, Muslim] This tradition is mass-transmitted in meaning having been related from the Prophet (God bless him) by over thirty of his Companions. [al-Kattani, Nazm al-Mutanathir]
Thus, the Hanafi, Shafi`i, Maliki, and Hanbali schools have all opined that leaving the prayer does not take one outside the fold of Islam. [Nawawi, al-Majmu`; Hattab, Mawahib al-Jalil; Ibn Qudama, al-Mughni; Ibn `Abidin, Radd al-Muhtar] It is true that some scholars held the opinion that leaving prayer makes one a disbeliever. However, the mere fact that there is difference of opinion on this issue renders any verdict of disbelief unacceptable. As Imam al-Haskafi states, “a legal verdict may not be given of the unbelief of a Muslim whose words are interpretable as having a valid meaning, or about the unbelief of which there is difference of scholarly opinion, even if weak.” [Durr al-Mukhtar]
Finally, even in the situation where someone denies the obligatory nature of the prayer, the scholars caution from rushing to judgment on the Islam of such a person due to the fact that there may be doubts and reasons underlying his opinion that require clarification and instruction.
The Salvation of Others
You also raise concerns about “most of humanity” being in hellfire eternally. However, this is not what Islam teaches us, and there is little to support such speculation from the primary texts of our religion.
The basis when it comes to the next-worldly fate of others is that the matter is consigned to God. We know that those who reject Islam after recognizing it as the true religion are promised punishment, and we know those who profess Islam sincerely to be rewarded, but as for the categories of individuals in the middle, we cannot pass any decisive judgment.
In fact, one of the most influential scholars of Islam, Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, held that most non-Muslims in Europe and Central Asia during his time would be eligible for salvation since they had not heard the message of Islam at all or because they had only heard a corrupted version of Islam. [Ghazali, Faysla al-Tafriqa] In other words, al-Ghazali considered moral responsibility to be established only after (a) one was informed about Islam and (b) that this was done in a sound manner.
Similarly, Shah Wali Allah al-Dihlawi, a famous scholar of the Indian Subcontinent, stated that among the category of people excused by God in the next-life are those:
“who are sound in body and disposition, but who have not been reached by the message of Islam at all; or it has reached them, but only in such a way that the proof was not established, and confusion about it did not cease. Thus they grew up neither indulging in despicable traits nor in destructive actions, nor did they turn their attention to the direction of God either to deny or confirm Him, and most of their concern is preoccupied with the immediate worldly supports of civilized life.” [Hujja Allah al-Baligha, tranl. by Mohammad Hasan Khalil]
I mention both the aforementioned viewpoints in an attempt to demonstrate the presence of diversity in our traditional discourse concerning the salvation of others, a discourse that continues to be had among scholars even to this day.
Being Overwhelmed with Knowledge
As for being overwhelmed with knowledge, the key to this is recognizing that the religion is about moderation. The Prophet (God bless him) stated, “None makes the religion difficult except that it overcomes him. So, aim for what is right, stick to the moderate way…” [Bukhari]
Part of moderation is recognizing that one can only take on so much. It is about identifying what one’s priorities are. There is, for example, little use in studying detailed aspects of theology (in most cases) when one does not know how to pray properly. You are not expected to know everything, and even what you are required to know something, it will take time for you to learn it. This amount of time will vary from person to person. Remember, that the Companions were not all Abu Bakrs; some were simple Bedouins. God be well-pleased with them all.
Therefore, I would advise you not to worry too much about this. Start with the basics: your purity, your prayer, your fasts, your zakat by taking the courses on SeekersGuidance. Taking one course every term and actually doing it properly is better than taking multiple courses and not being able to complete them at all. Be gradual. Do not take on more than you can chew, and know that you will slip because that is part of the human condition.
Learning is a life-long process. So, be ready to spend your life learning. Continually pray to God to facilitate things for you, and know that He desires ease for us, not hardship. See: What Is the Meaning of the Hadith “Ruined Are the Extremists”?
I hope that answers some of your questions.
Checked & Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani