Question #1: Defining “Chaplain”
What is a Muslim Chaplain?
This is a great question, since the Muslim community is not as familiar with chaplaincy as it may be with other forms of communal leadership. A Muslim Chaplain is someone trained in both Islamic Studies as well as Counseling and Pastoral Care. Although a chaplain is not necessarily a scholar or shaykh, he or she would be expected to have a strong foundational understanding of Islam to be able to rely upon and convey faithfully. The aspect of chaplaincy that makes it particularly unique is that there is a focus on counseling skills and methods. Through chaplaincy training, one acquires listening and problem-solving skills (among other things) which help a chaplain assist the person seeking counsel find the best advice for their particular situation. To make a long story short, a chaplain is basically a trained religious counselor.
Question #2: The relationship between ideology and people
I believe the best way to examine an ideology is to examine a group of people who best exemplify that ideology and carry it out in their lives to the fullest. For example, I believe in capitalism, not communism, because Reagan’s America produced a level of prosperity unprecedented in human history while the Soviet Union failed. Today, the people groups that most collectively and thoroughly display Islam in their lives are in the Middle East – Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt, etc. Not the nicest places in the world. How do you respond to that?
Thank you for your thoughtful question. Firstly, I think it is important to differentiate between entire masses of wondrously diverse people and their governments (especially if those governments are not chosen by their people, but that’s another story). The Middle East is a very diverse place, both religiously and culturally, and although many people in the Middle East are Muslim, the majority of Muslims actually live outside of the Middle East. But to answer your question about how “nice” people are in the places you mentioned – you might actually be surprised at the amount of generosity, hospitality, and kindness you would find from most people in those places. It’s important to be able to separate the political image of a certain place and not to superimpose those generalized and simplified images upon the various groups of people who live there. In a nutshell, Muslims are people, and people are complex and diverse. It also might be eye-opening to reach out to Muslims in your area and gauge their character, values, and ideals – and I hope you have a positive experience in doing so!
Question #3: Dealing with differences in opinions
First of all, thank you for the amazing work that you have been doing at the UofT St. George campus. I’ve gotten a chance to attend some of your lectures and I must say that your presence on campus has been very inspiring! May Allah reward you immensely for all your hard work.
I’m a huge fan of this column, its a great initiative. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading some of your previous responses. This brings me to my question: We live in a time and age where Islamically speaking so many different opinions exist. Not just regarding madhabs but also general issues such as moon-sighting, halal food etc. There is a plethora of opinions out there. The ideal approach would be to learn enough about the religion and equip ourselves to deal with these questions. But to an average every day Muslim who has the very fundamental knowledge of Islam, what would be your advice concerning these issues?
Especially with regards to the approach, what would be the best approach in dealing with these differences? JazakAllah Khayr, Mansoor
Wa ‘alaykum assalam,
Firstly, thank you so much for your kind words and good opinion. May Allah bless you and increase you in every goodness. It’s awesome to hear positive feedback letting us know that the MC is having an impact on students. All praise and thanks belong to God.
To answer your question regarding the various opinions we often face within our communities and how the average person navigates through that; this is a brilliant and practical question which does confuse a lot of people (and can even be quite frustrating sometimes!). Practically speaking, having differences of opinion on certain issues can be challenging for a lot of people, but it is a reality that we have to deal with. One of the most important principles to keep in mind when faced with valid differences of opinion is that we should always have respect for one another. One should not become angry with or look down upon someone who chose to fast on a different day than you, for example. The Companions of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, sometimes had slightly different interpretations of things, but they remained respectful and loving towards one another. We should hold to the same standards of brotherhood and sisterhood in our communities today.
Perhaps the simplest way to figure out which opinion to choose is to look to your local mosque or ask a nearby scholar you trust. At the end of the day, do your best, be moderate, and follow what you feel would be most in line with the character of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him.
And God knows best.
Question #4: Shaking hands with the opposite gender
As far as I know shaking hands with the opposite gender is not permitted in Islam (ruling across all madhabs). How do I go about an awkward situation when someone offers their hand? You might say, it is an opportunity for Dawah but often times this opportunity hardly exists (banquet or during a formal meeting). What would be your advice in dealing with this?
This is a really great question, and it’s something that a lot of people have to deal with in their day-to-day interaction. I would like to preface my answer by saying that I am not a scholar or jurist, and am only giving general advice I have heard from various scholars in regards to this question. This is not a fatwa by any measure, just some practical advice. Please feel free to ask more reliable scholars for their insights and perspectives.
With that being said, if you are able to tactfully communicate to the person that you prefer not to touch or shake hands based on your religious beliefs, then to do so is better. If one is not able to do that, for whatever reason, I have heard scholars say that if someone who is not a Muslim and is unaware of the practice of Muslims extends their hand, and you are sure they would be offended if their greeting was not reciprocated, then it would be understandable if a Muslim returns the handshake. Nevertheless, try to inform the person of your religious practice when appropriate so that they may understand your discomfort. Even if a person finds your religious practice to be strange to their sensibilities, if one remains true to themselves while being courteous with others, that person will probably come to respect you and your faith.