Q. I would first off like to thank you so much for being a beacon in the fog of (mis)information on the Internet regarding the Islamic faith. A few conditions have encouraged me to start looking into Islam (I am a solitary practicing Christian, with some beliefs that are not the same as other Christians (for example, I don't believe in the concept of the trinity God in three parts).

One reason is a close friendship that I have had with a Muslim woman and her husband for the last 10 years. In those ten years, I have had many conversations on many topics, but no matter what the subject, there was never any pressure or hint from them that I should look into Islam; I would say that their actions spoke louder than words: that faith is one to be kept between yourself and God.

Another reason is that I found myself very confused when hearing disparaging remarks and generalizations in statements about Muslims and criticisms about the Qur'an, seeing that I have only had positive contact with practicing Muslims. Given my very limited knowledge of this Holy book, I decided to read it and do my own research (research on the Internet is immensely frustrating but I suppose you are already very aware of this problem).

And lastly, I have met a Muslim man whom I believe I could marry, and naturally since his faith is so important to him, it is very important that I know as much about it as possible.

When reading through your website, I am heartened to see that there are leaders and educated persons within the scope of Islam who are taking into account historical conditions and the ability to use one's reason in order to understand the Qur'an. All of your answers are well informed, thought out, and express more of the spirit which I have perceived (one answer that is especially helpful to me is 'Contradictions in the Qur'an', naturally because her situation at the time seems to reflect mine at this very moment).

Now to finally get to my questions:

1) My boyfriend (I use this term, not in the sense that we are participating in 'zina', but that we have a relationship with the intent to marry) is younger than I am, and comes from a culture that has interwoven cultural traditions with religion. This drives him crazy when he thinks about it! And for good reason, I think (the practice of discrimination on the basis of caste, and the use of dowry in marriage arrangements). I guess you can gather from those two things from what region he comes from. I have a child from my first marriage, and although he has no problem with this, he doesn't dare tell his family because it is unheard of in his culture that an unmarried man should marry a divorced woman, let alone one with a child! I have jokingly said that if his family asks about my age, that he can say that the difference is not as great as that of Muhammad (pbuh) and Khadijah (ra), but I fear that this will only alarm them more. Is there anything within the Qur'an that can help us in being truthful with his family and convincing them that it will be lawful for us to marry, or is this something that is best kept silent about until after marriage? He has great reverence for his parents, and I would hate for there to be a situation that would damage his relationship with them.

2) In preparation for our foreseen nuptials, I am studying the Qur'an and trying to learn as much as I can about the hadiths with regard to married and daily life. I have found one online course that looks interesting at www.sunnipath.com in their academy called 'Understanding Islam'. Do you know of these online courses and are they good (the reviews seem to be good), and can you recommend any other online sources for learning about Islam? I am looking online because English is my mother tongue, and I live in a foreign country.

3) Since we plan not to have children immediately, because it is his wish that I have sufficient knowledge to raise our eventual children (insha Allah) as Muslims, we have talked of using birth control for a short time after marriage. I have read your answer on family planning / birth control and am confused about two things:

a) The use of RU486 is prohibited because it can be akin to abortion (the termination of an existing pregnancy), yet you say nothing against an IUD, which prevents the zygote from attaching to the uterine wall. Is it only the attached zygote which is considered viable, and thus would an IUD under those conditions be an acceptable method of birth control within Islam?

b) Given that the shari'ah prohibits the excision of any organ that is not diseased or injurious to the body, how can the practice of circumcision still be so widely condoned? I personally don't believe in circumcision, and since my boyfriend and I have already discussed this subject and he has agreed that circumcision will be the right of the child to choose for or reject as an adult, it is not such a big issue to my personal life, but I would like to know how this practice continues given the obvious contradictions in these two rulings and the verse in the Qur'an (chapter 4, verse 119) stating that:

"I will mislead them, and I will create in them false desires; I will order them to slit the ears of cattle, and to deface the (fair) nature created by Allah. Whoever, forsaking Allah, takes Satan for a friend, hath of a surety suffered a loss that is manifest.

I have seen arguments stating that since Muhammad was born without a foreskin (though some say he was circumcised) that it is done to be more like the Prophet, though it seems especially absurd, should it be because he was born without one (entirely possible) because that is how Allah formed him, and therefore it was not an alteration. There are all sorts of reasons given for the practice, but I don't think they make any real sense when investigated.

Anyway, thank you so much for taking the time to read my questions, and I hope you can find the time to answer my first question soon, as it is the most important one to me at this time. May Allah bless and guide you in your work.

A. Thank you for your kind words. It is always heartening to see someone ask questions rather than blindly accept things. In regards to your questions:

1. Regardless of what his culture may state, the example of the Prophet stands there for us all to follow. The Qur'an is rather clear that widows or divorcees may remarry, as in Q2:231-5. The Qur'an places a lot of emphasis on the rights of children, and this has nothing to do with if they are one's own or adopted children. If your boyfriend is not man enough to stand up to his people to protect the rights of the woman he allegedly loves, along with her child, then either he needs to be educated, or something is wrong. Given the region from which we assume he hails, we would advise you to carefully look into the motives for this relationship. Is he truly appreciative of you, or are there other motives? The ahadith are replete with references to those who marry women with children, and the fact that the Prophet chose Khadijah to be his first wife certainly speaks volumes about his conduct. If a man for some reason chooses to "hide" the child of his wife, that action can have some truly negative repercussions on his relationship with that child, as well the relationship between the mother and that child. Should the child find out that its mother was party to hiding its presence, that could be very depressing, to say the least. The stories of the prophets are useful to us not simply as narratives, but for their moral message. If a Muslim takes pride in Muhammad marrying a widow and an older woman, and does not see how this is a commendable thing, then the whole idea of the Qur'an telling us that the Prophet is a model example becomes meaningless.

2. For learning about Islam, we suggest what sits comfortably with you. If thesunnipath does, then do use them. We are not sectarian, so we are careful about any site that makes its sectarianism so obvious. There are several books noted on our website that we think should assist you. Those books are from a variety of authors, among them Shias, Sunnis, Ahmadis, etc. The Qur'an is the best source, and Muhammad Asad's "The Message of the Qur'an" is highly recommended as his brilliant commentary throughout should answer many questions that you may have.

3. Regarding the issue of birth control, please read our answer again: we did mention that many of the traditional scholars consider the RU486 as forbidden. This is NOT our opinion since doctors in the US are, by law and medical ethics, not going to prescribe that pill where there is danger to the health of the mother. We believe in the right to choose, and a woman's freedom to make the choice about her pregnancy. We therefore allow for any procedure that ensures that right. What our answer on family planning meant to convey is that RU486 should not be used to terminate unwanted pregnancies as a form of birth control; steps should be taken to prevent any unwanted pregnancies.

4. On the issue of circumcision: we are dealing here with what has become ritual, and when something is in this category, dictated by Abrahamic covenant, then it is not one to which we apply the normal rules of rejection. Even before the time of the Prophet, according to Josephus, the Jewish historian, the Arabs were following the circumcision covenant. The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) did not change this. While we see it as a practice, we feel that since he chose to observe it, and since the Hebrew Bible is very clear that this was a covenant, we ought to uphold it. We are aware that there are those who say it is a barbaric ritual and would prefer that it not be followed. To this we respond that since it is not clearly mentioned in the Qur'an, one may elect to leave the practice. It is a matter of choice. The arguments about the Prophet not being born with a foreskin are absurd. Such arguments exist too in Judaism in the case of Adam. It is not a matter of removing something bad or good, it is a ritual that is mentioned in scripture. As an Arab, the Prophet would have had it done. Given that he did not attain prophecy until 40, there is no need to talk about circumcision. But the fact that the Arabs continued to observe the practice showed that the Prophet sanctioned it. Recent medical research has shown that there are health benefits (e.g., circumcision reduces the spread of HIV / AIDS). Do note that previously, based on religious freedom, circumcision was covered under medical insurance in many States. Today, the procedure is deemed elective and is not covered by health insurance in most States. For more information on this subject, you may reference the following articles. We hope this helps.

Male Circumcision and Risk for HIV Transmission and Other Health Conditions: Implications for the United States

http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/resources/factsheets/circumcision.htm

Circumcision 'reduces HIV risk'

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/4371384.stm

Posted February 12, 2011