There are many narrations which encourage asking questions and thinking critically in order to understand our religion thoroughly. We are told that every action or thought recommended in Islamic tradition has a purpose, a goal, a reason. The reason for asking questions, therefore, should be to truly gain knowledge so that we may act upon it.
Islam has been around for quite some time now. Our Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) gave his all to make sure that when he left this world, his followers would be equipped with all the right gear and with resources galore to make it in the long run. We have many Ahadith, the Sunnah, the Holy Qur’an, as well as prayers and supplications. But surely there is more to it – right?
There are many hadith which encourage asking questions and thinking critically in order to understand our religion thoroughly. We are told that every action or thought recommended in Islamic tradition has a purpose, a goal, a reason. The reason for asking questions, therefore, should be to truly gain knowledge so that we may act upon it.
Hasan as-Sayghal asked Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (peace be upon him) about the meaning of what people mean when they state that it is better to think for one hour than to pray for one whole night. The Imam then replied in the positive saying that the Prophet had said: “It is better to think for one hour than to pray for one whole night.” Hasan asked how one should think, to which the Imam replied: “He should ask the following questions when he passes a house or the ruins of an old building: Where are the residents? Where are those who constructed this building? And why do they not speak?” (Mishkat ul-Anwar)
In the related tradition, we are taught to ask questions and think critically about more than what meets the eye. After all, even in grade school we are taught to ask the 5 Ws: who, what, when, where, why…and how! Asking questions which will lead to a better understanding of why something is the way it is, will help us to better understand the logic and purpose that Allah has given us through Islam. The best result is when we take that understanding a step further and actually implement the knowledge gained from questioning.
Unfortunately, it seems as though the more resources we have, the more incompetent we become in asking profound questions. Countless numbers of books have been translated into countless languages for all to read. Books of hadith and other topics have been published on the internet – which is now accessible through our cell phones and other electronics which we carry with us all the time. As well, we cannot forget our scholars and jurists who have spent a majority – and sometimes all – of their lives to help keep Islamic tradition and reasoning accessible and understandable.
Yet when we are presented with an opportunity to ask a respected scholar a question, we still tend to ask about things which can easily be found out from innumerable sources. With all these beautiful resources at our hands, why do we not open our minds to receive the knowledge that’s right in front of us? Why do we still not understand the purpose and explanation of Imamate? Why do we still not know how to do our minor ablution? Why, in 2010, are we still asking if we can smoke or not while fasting during the holy month of Ramadan? (Yes, that really was asked this past month!)
When will we stop handicapping ourselves and start to “think big”? Isn’t it time to ask why the Imam of our time (may Allah hasten his reappearance) is still in occultation, and how we can realistically bring him back? Isn’t it time for us to pick up a book or visit our Marja’s website, so that our scholars can focus on other issues that need to be dealt with – such as the more local socio-political issues – rather than on our basic questions?
What must the Holy Prophet be thinking as he watches us hold our Q&A sessions, spending an hour debating about the Alam rather than about how to spread the message of Ashura of standing up against oppression? How many more times can we ask if we are allowed to donate blood, organs, clothes, or hair? If we are able to use our phones and laptops to look up YouTube videos, go shopping, and communicate all over the globe, then we should definitely be able to visit our Marja’s website and get the answers to our basic questions. When gathering with other Muslims, we can use our time wisely and progress at least an inch by using these resources. In order to be more confident in our faith, why aren’t we holding discussions about why we claim Islam is the truth and how we can prove it is right? When will we ask questions about the reasoning of how we slaughter our meat, rather than about whether we have to triple-check if our Muslim brothers and sisters are selling halal goods at our bake sales? The list of such questions is endless.
We must encourage ourselves and our young ones to do research on our own using reliable sources, rather than spending the next 100 years applauding ourselves for simply organizing a Q&A session. That is not to say that Q&As are discouraged or unimportant, and it is not even that repetition is a bad thing; they are, in fact, very good strategies for learning. But it is time to start repeating “Labbayk ya Hussain” with our actions by preparing true followers of Islam. We need to prepare followers who can answer any classmate’s questions about whether Islam oppresses women, whether men and women are treated unfairly, or whether Muslims hate non-Muslims. It is a scary thought, our kids having to face these questions at such an early age. So instead of hiding them in un-Islamic clothing and annual trips to the Islamic centers, let’s have some Q&As for the sake of preparing for Imam Mahdi’s return.