i. Making Vows of Worship is Recommended
Many people are of the opinion that Islam encourages a person to make a vow to offer some worship ritual if his wish is granted. Thus a person pledges before God that he would, for example, fast for a certain number of days or pray a certain amount of optional prayers if a certain desire of his is fulfilled.
It needs to be appreciated that making vows of worship for the fulfilment of certain wishes was never the way of the Prophet (sws) and his Companions (rta). It means that a person is imposing a condition to carry out certain virtuous deeds and also burdening himself with something which may ultimately be very difficult to fulfil. Worship done in this manner may also adversely affect a person’s relationship with his Creator. It becomes more of a mechanical act often done in disregard to the spirit of worship. Worship should be done with willingness of the heart and eagerness of the soul, otherwise it will fail to reap the real benefit it carries: purification of the inner-self. In fact, worship done if one’s wish is not granted may at many times be more beneficial in achieving this end.
The correct way in this regard is to pray to the Almighty that a certain wish be granted. If the wish is granted, a person should express his gratitude by letting his feelings take their own course and manifest themselves in whatever form of worship at that particular time. Also, the quantity of worship does not matter in such cases: it is the quality that really counts.
ii. Praying after the ‘Asr Prayer is Forbidden
It is generally believed that Muslims have been forbidden to pray or prostrate after the ‘asr prayer until maghrib.
It needs to be appreciated that according to the established Sunnah of the Prophet (sws), the only forbidden times for prayer are sunrise and sunset. This precautionary measure is meant to curb polytheism, since many nations of antiquity worshipped the sun at these times. At all other times, prayers can be offered. Consequently, one can pray between ‘asr and maghrib.
It seems that the following Hadīth has led to the belief that no prayer can be offered between ‘asr and maghrib:
أَبَا سَعِيدٍ الْخُدْرِيَّ يقول سمعت رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم يقول لاَ صَلاَةَ بَعْدَ الصُّبْحِ حَتَّى تَرْتَفِعَ الشَّمْسُ وَلاَ صَلاَةَ بَعْدَ العَصْرِ حَتىَّ تَغِيْبَ الشَّمْسُ
Abū Sa‘īd al-Khudrī says that he heard the Prophet say: “There is no prayer after dawn until the sun rises and there is no prayer after ‘asr until the sun sets.”
If all the texts of this Hadīth are collected, it comes to light that a part of it has been left out in most of its texts. This can be observed from the underlined portion of the following two Ahādīth:
عن عَلِىٍّ رضي الله عنه عَنِ النبي صلى الله عليه وسلملَا تُصَلوُّا بَعْدَ الْعَصْرِ اِلاَّ اَنْ تُصَلوُّا وَالشَّمْسُ مُرْتَفِعَةٌ
‘Alī reported from the Prophet (sws): “Do not pray after ‘asr except if the sun is high [in the sky].”
عن علي رضي الله عنه قال قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلملَا تُصَلوُّا بَعْدَ الْعَصْرِ اِلاَّ اَنْ تُصَلوُّا وَالشَّمْسُ نَقِيَّةٌ
‘Alī reported that the Prophet (sws) said: “Do not pray after ‘asr except if the sun is shining brightly high [in the sky].”
In other words, what the Prophet (sws) actually forbade was praying very near the time of sunset since this might accidentally lead a person to pray in the forbidden period of sunset. Consequently, it is clear from these Ahādīththat if one intends to pray after ‘asr, one should make sure that one does so before sunset. One has not been stopped from praying after ‘asr, as has been inferred by some.
iii. The Almighty asked for Ishmael’s Sacrifice
It is generally believed that God asked Abraham (sws) to sacrifice his son. True thesacrifice never took place but the question is: Why was is it asked for?
It needs to be understood that the Almighty never commanded Abraham (sws) to sacrifice his son. It was Abraham (sws) who took this step thinking that the Almighty wanted this to happen. In this regard, the following points must remain in consideration:
1. Abraham (sws) thought that he was directed to sacrifice his son by the Almighty in a dream shown to him. For the Prophets of Allah, such dreams are a source of contact with the Almighty, and in them they are shown certain images by Him for the purpose of their education and instruction. However, as a principle, they are not to be interpreted literally; they contain realities which are depicted in symbolic form. Symbolic representation is a very subtle and powerful way of expression: facts seem veiled, yet for one who pauses to ponder, they are most evident. They portray a fact in figurative form in order to make it more effective to understand. As an example, consider the dream of the Prophet Joseph (sws) mentioned in the Qur’ān. It says that he saw the sun, the moon and eleven stars bowing down to him. The interpretation of the dream offered by the Qur’ān itself at the end of Sūrah Yūsuf shows that this bowing down was a symbolism to show that his eleven brothers and father and mother would submit to his authority as the king (12:100). Similarly, more examples can be given from the Qur’ān.
2. The next point which arises is about the symbolism found in “human sacrifice”. In other words: “What does human sacrifice stand for?” A knowledge of the ancient scriptures reveals that human sacrifice offered to God symbolizes consecrating and dedicating a person to the service of God. Thus for example the progeny of Aaron (sws) was assigned to serve the temple and whenever they were required to discharge this responsibility, they underwent all the rites meant for sacrificial animals:
You are to bring the Levites before the Lord, and the Israelites are to lay their hands on them. Aaron is to present the Levites before the Lord like a wave offering from the Israelites so that they may be ready to do the work of the Lord. After the Levites lay their hands on the heads of the bulls, use the one for a sin offering to the Lord and the other for a burnt offering, to make atonement for the Levites. Make the Levites stand before Aaron and his sons and then present them as a wave offering to the Lord. In this way you are to set apart the Levites from among the children of Israel, and the Levites shall be mine. After you have purified the Levites and presented them as a wave offering, they are to come to do their work at the Tent of meeting. (Numbers, 8:10-15)
Similarly, whenever someone was consecrated and dedicated to God, he had to be the first born:
They are the Israelites who are to be given wholly to me. I have taken them as my own in place of the firstborn, the first male offspring from every Israelite woman. Every firstborn male in Israel, whether man or animal, is mine. When I struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, I set them apart for myself. And I have taken the Levites in place of all the firstborn sons in Israel. (Numbers, 8:16-18)
In other words, the Almighty actually wanted Abraham (sws) to devote Ishmael (sws) for special tasks assigned by the Almighty.
3. Abraham (sws) in his spirit of submission to the will of God started to follow his dream in the literal sense instead of interpreting the dream; consequently, the Almighty told him that he had “made the dream a reality,” which of course was not required. However, this willingness to submit to a command of Allah as perceived by Abraham (sws) greatly pleased the Almighty since it was based on sincerity and a great readiness to do what he thought was Allah’s directive.
iv. Charity can be given instead of Animal Sacrifice
Some people think that instead of sacrificing sheep on ‘īd, one can donate an equivalent in money to charities. This notion is not correct and requires a little elaboration:
For every human being who believes in Allah, there are two distinct spheres of interaction in which relationships come into existence. The first sphere covers a person’s relationship with Allah, while the second one constitutes a person’s relationship with his fellow human beings. Islam and all divinely revealed religions do nothing but guide human intellect in these two spheres. A person’s relationship with Allah manifests itself in worship, which in Islam has some distinct forms. Similarly, a person’s relationship with his brethren takes the form of social interaction, which again has many areas. Total or partial negation of any one of these spheres results in an unbalanced life. Extremism in the first sphere breeds monasticism and asceticism while extremism in the second one breeds materialism. Islam wants every person to create a balance in his life by giving each sphere its due. Similarly, it wants a person to undertake the various prescribed forms of interaction in both spheres since each has a definite purpose.
In the first sphere, Islam has prescribed specific forms of worship of which one form cannot replace the other, since each has its own purpose and objective. Animal Sacrifice is one such form of worship. It has an underlying philosophy which must be well-appreciated in order to offer it in letter and spirit. Just as salāh cannot replace zakāh and vice versa, animal sacrifice also cannot be replaced by zakāh or charity. What animal sacrifice induces in a person, zakāh or salāh or hajj do not.
The reason for animal sacrifice on ‘īd is to commemorate a great event which depicts an extraordinary expression of submission to the command of Allah – the essence of Islam. The Prophet Abraham (sws) while obeying the Almighty set a platinum example of this submission. When we offer an animal in sacrifice, we actually symbolize our intention that we are ready to lay down our lives for the cause of Allah whenever required by Him, just as His great Prophet Abraham (sws) had once done so with spirit and splendour, glory and grandeur.
v. Zakāh cannot be given to Non-Muslims
Some people are of the view that zakāh cannot be spent on Non-Muslims. This view is not correct.
The following Qur’ānic verse spells out the heads under which zakāh can be expended:
إِنَّمَا الصَّدَقَاتُ لِلْفُقَرَاء وَالْمَسَاكِينِ وَالْعَامِلِينَ عَلَيْهَا وَالْمُؤَلَّفَةِ قُلُوبُهُمْ وَفِي الرِّقَابِ وَالْغَارِمِينَ وَفِي سَبِيلِ اللّهِ وَابْنِ السَّبِيلِ فَرِيضَةً مِّنَ اللّهِ وَاللّهُ عَلِيمٌ حَكِيمٌ (60:9)
Zakāhis only for the poor and the needy, and for those who are ‘āmils over it, and for those whose hearts are to be reconciled [to the truth], and for the emancipation of the slaves and for those who have been inflicted with losses and for the way of Allah and for the wayfarers. (9:60)
It is evident from the verse quoted above that the Qur’ān does not discriminate between the recipients of zakāh on the basis of their beliefs or religion. In other words, zakāh money can be given to any needy person whatever his religion is.