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Marriage and family issues

Below are a selection of questions that have been answered by Dr Musharraf Hussain, if you have a question, then please use the contact form to get in touch.

Q: How do you decide whether or not to shake hands with someone from the opposite sex?

A: Some Muslim men and women will not shake hands with members of the opposite sex. However, there are others who will. My own practice is that if a woman puts her hand out, I will not reject that since it is better not to offend a non-Muslim. I do not shake hands with Muslim women nor do I encourage that.

Q: Could you please shed some light on naming a Muslim baby after an angel? Is this permissible and if not, can you please explain why?

A: Angels are gender-neutral i.e. no gender, they are Mafzul i.e. lesser than humans and finally there are only four angels whose names we know. In light of these, it is not recommended to use their names. The principle for naming is simply using traditional names that have historic importance; they should also be beautiful and meaningful.

Q: There are a number of speed-dating programs set up for Muslim professionals. Is this something that is allowed in Islam?

A: I think the important point in all of this is that you’ve got to do your homework before launching into it. It is important to get to know the other side thoroughly and this is where I think the arranged marriage is quite good, where your parents and family get involved. I’m not sure if speed dating is the best way to get to know your future partner properly and in some cases could be too fast.

Q: If you have parents who want you to marry a particular person and you don’t approve of their choice, can you say no?

A: Yes, this is very clear, there are two conditions in marriage: The first is that there have to be witnesses and the other is that you must give your consent. Without that consent, without that permission, there is no marriage. Any kind of coercion or compulsion into marriage would make it null. There is a very beautiful example in the life of the Prophet (peace be upon him); it is a story which is narrated by Bukhari and Muslim when a young woman comes to the Prophet (peace be upon him) and says that she had been married against her will to her cousin. She was interested in another man called Abu Lubabah but her father wanted her to marry her cousin. When the Prophet (peace be upon him) heard about this he said that the marriage was void and she could marry someone of her own choice.

Q: Is an arranged marriage a religious requirement?

A: It’s not a religious requirement that parents arrange their child’s marriage but out of a sense of love, compassion and generosity. It creates a closer bond and ensures a constant involvement in each others’ lives. Parents bring up their children for 17-20 years and put all their energy, live savings into giving them everything they can, including wanting to be part of this very important next rite of passage, which is marriage. They want to ensure that this wonderful child they have brought up gets the finest life partner and they will put their experience and savings into making sure this happens, and I think this is a very important contribution parents can make into the development and future of their child. This is how arranged marriages have happened traditionally in every society; it’s not peculiar to Muslims, the British upper class still do it, look at how Prince Charles was married, it was all very carefully arranged. It is, of course, vital that your children are on your side and have given their consent and willingness. Your parents are your sponsors, guarantors, financiers, and more importantly, give spiritual blessings and I believe that there are immense benefits from these blessings. Arranged marriages require huge trust from children in their parents and confidence from parents in their children so it is really a mark of a mature and morally developed family.

Q: What are the main responsibilities of being a parent?

A: The first and foremost responsibility is to take care of the physical, personal, moral and spiritual needs of your child. Every child has these needs and it is very interesting that the law makes it compulsory in schools to make sure they provide all those needs; the personal, moral, social, spiritual, development of a child, in addition to the cognitive, that’s the academic development. These are very important needs and the Quran says: “Protect yourself and your families from hellfire; you must care for their spiritual and moral needs”. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said the best thing a parent can give to their child is good education and manners. These are the most important requirements as well as looking after their physical well-being.

Q: Is circumcision compulsory?

A: It is regarded as the Sunnah al Fitra, the natural lifestyle, and the sunnah of the Prophet Ibrahim, and we as Muslims also follow that sunnah, that life-pattern. We would say that it is ‘highly recommended’.

Q: When meeting a potential marriage partner, are Muslims required to have a chaperone or can they meet in private?

A: The idea of having a chaperone, most likely an older, mature woman accompanying a young lady is certainly a requirement unless, and this might be controversial, they are meeting in a public place, let’s say in a hall/restaurant where there are other people or a corridor where it is open where people can see you. This sort of thing would be a public space, but I still say that it’s important to have a guardian from your own family with you.

Q: Are women equal to men in Islam?

A: Absolutely yes, the Quran makes it absolutely clear that men and women are equal in terms of their legal rights, spirituality, moral rights, and there is no distinction whatsoever in that. The Quran says that whoever believes in God and his righteous deeds, whether a man or woman, Allah will give them a pure life. In the Quran there are several places where Allah talks about the qualities of men and women side by side, the believing men, the believing women, the obedient men, the obedient women, the fasting men, the fasting women, those men who remember Allah, those women who remember Allah..  so what impression is the Quran giving? It is implying absolutely clear that in God’s sight there is no distinction between men and women and the Messenger (peace be upon him) in his own teachings makes this very clear as well.

I think this is a question that Islam finds quite alien. You can ask legitimately, ‘why aren’t Muslim men giving women certain rights’ and ‘why are they abusing certain rights that women have’. But this is not an issue that arises in the Quran because it absolutely makes clear equality between men and women. Islam gave women the right to own property centuries before the West did, women were always regarded within the religion as an independent being.

Q: Can a woman refuse offers of marriage against the wishes of her family?

A: Yes! This is one of the conditions of marriage, without the consent or permission of the bride and bridegroom there can be no marriage.

Q: Can a woman choose to have an abortion?

A: Abortions are not allowed in Islam unless there are medical reasons where the mother’s life might be in danger or if a woman has been raped. To have an abortion out of convenience because someone has simply made a mistake does not make it legitimate at all. We must remember that Allah is the most forgiving, the most compassionate, and certainly, there is no doubt that if someone did something they weren’t supposed to, God would forgive if you repent and do not make the same mistake again.