Answered by Shaykh Farid Dingle
Question: Assalamu alaykum
There is a program at my school that encourages students to go to different cultural immersion experiences to gain points for recognition, increase understanding…There is a Hindu festival being held called Diwali. It is connected to a Hindu God (unless I’m mistaken).
Is it permissible for me to go as part of my school program?
Answer: Wa alaykum assalam wa rahmatullah wa barakatuh,
InshaAllah, I will try to answer this questions from a few different angles.
Involvement in un-Islamic religious activities
Assuming you want to learn about other religious with the intention of calling them to Islam, to what extent can you actually get involved in their religious activities?
What is clearly haram is to take part in an action that is a religious rite of some other religion. Fasting Lent as a Christian, or bathing in the Ganges in imitation of Hindus, or anything else of that ilk would be completely haram. There is a big difference between reading a book on other religions, watching a documentary about how others pray etc., or even watching an event itself, and actually taking part in it. Ibn Batuta (1304-1377 CE), who was not just a traveller but also an accomplished Islamic scholar, witnessed Hindu women throw themselves into fire at the death of their husbands (Sati), and narrated the details of the event for the edification of posterity. That said, he didn’t take part in it. For more details of what is considered a religious activity or merely custom, please see this answer and this one.
Entering churches, Hindu temples and the like
The default is that one should not enter a church or Hindu temple, or any other place built for non-Islamic worship, unless there is some pressing need. Allah knows best, but given that so much educational material is available on Hinduism, entering a Hindu temple for the sake of learning about a particular religious event or practice would not be permissible. Although there reliable positions that permit one to enter churches or temples, it is generally not advised. [Kash al-Qina, al-Bahuti; al-Mughni, Ibn Qudama; Mukhtasar Khalil]. Please see this link for more information.
This is particularly the case when entering a church of Hindu temple that contains statues and idols because the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) said, ‘Angels do not enter a house in which there is a dog or images.’ [Bukhari and Muslim]
Learning about the world and about humanity is a communal obligation without which harm would befall one and the Muslims collectively. Many, many Muslim writers have written about the world, be it from a geographical point of view, like al-Kindi (801–873 CE) and Yaqut al-Hamawi (1179–1229 CE) and many besides, an historical one, such as al-Tabari (839–923 CE) or Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406 CE), or a more anthropological view, such as Ibn Batuta and Ibn Fadlan (877-960 CE). Ibn Fadlan’s description of the Volga Vikings has actually received much attention is academic circles by virtue of its being from among very first accounts we have of the life, religion and culture of the vikings. (See this link)
Learning about the outwardly un-Islamic is not permissible if it is just for mere curiosity; however, when it fits in the framework of structured and directed education, it is actually an communal obligation. That said, this should all be done under the guidance of a Muslim adult who has a sound grounding in Islamic learning. [Tuhfa al-Muhtaj, Ibn Hajar al-Haytami; Fatwa 2005 ]
Inviting others to Islam
Learning about other religions is also a key, if not essential, means by which we can call others to Islam. In his anthropological work on India and its religious, cultures and history, Al-Biruni (973–1050) made a point of correcting a fundamental misunderstanding about Hinduism: he pointed that educated Hindus are not actually polytheists, but rather monotheists. He says, ‘With regard to God, the Hindus believe that he is one, eternal, without beginning and end, acting by free will, almighty, all-wise, living, giving life, ruling, and preserving; one who is unique in his sovereignty, beyond all likeness and unlikeness, and neither resembling anything nor having anything resemble him. In order to illustrate this, we shall produce some extracts from the Hindu literature, lest the reader should think that our account is nothing but hearsay.’ He then goes on to quote evidence from book of Patanjali. (See this link)
Imagine if you were trying to have a serious conversation with deeply religious Hindu, and you were trying to convince him that there was only one God: you might find yourself barking up the wrong tree.
If we are to properly undertake the obligation of calling others to Islam, we have to do it with knowledge and insight, and there is no way to do that without learning about others’ faiths and cultures. But this must be done with proper guidance and and direction.
If you can avoid it, try to simply read about the rites that take place. An even better way to get school points could be to organise an interview with a Hindu and ask them to talk about what the whole event means to them and how it changes their life. This would be far safer than going to a place that Allah dislikes.
And Allah knows best.
I pray this helps,
[Shaykh] Farid Dingle
Shaykh Farid Dingle grew up in a convert family in Herefordshire, UK. In 2007, he moved to Jordan to pursue traditional studies. Shaykh Farid continues to live in Amman, Jordan with his wife and kids. In addition to continuing his studies he teaches Arabic and several of the Islamic sciences.
Shaykh Farid began his journey in sacred knowledge with intensives in the UK and Jordan (2004) in Shafi’i fiqh and Arabic. After years of studying Arabic grammar, Shafi’i fiqh, hadith, legal methodology (usul al-fiqh) and tafsir, Sh. Farid began specializing in Arabic language and literature. Sh. Farid studied Pre-Islamic poetry, Umayyad, Abbasid, Fatimid, and Andalusian literature. He holds a BA in Arabic Language and Literature and continues exploring the language of the Islamic tradition.
In addition to his interest in the Arabic language Shaykh Farid actively researches matters related to jurisprudence (fiqh) which he studied with Shaykh Hamza Karamali, Shaykh Ahmad Hasanat, and continues with Shaykh Amjad Rasheed.