Q. Are witnesses required when one is making Shahadah and who should they be?
A. Making the choice to accept Islam and make Shahadah is an independent one in which no person should be coerced or manipulated. It is a contract between you and Allah - not between you and the people - therefore it is not necessary to have witnesses present.
The intention to accept Islam, like the intention made before commencing with the Prayer for the sake of Allah, is made in the heart and Allah, being well aware of everything, records His new servant’s covenant.
In to-day's society, where the Muslim community form a small minority of the whole, it may be that the witnessing of such an event serves a means of informing the Muslim community that as they grow in number the responsibilities such growth demands in terms of care and integration must be considered. Witnesses on this occasion may be all female, all male or both.
Q. In relation to reversion when is it necessary to make Ghusl and what is the right way to perform it?
A. Ghusl is the complete washing of your body with the correct intention, which ultimately depends on the circumstances for which you are performing the ghusl. One of these occasions is after one has entered Islam - that is after one has recited shahadah, not before.
The soul has been cleansed and purified through the declaration of 'La ilaha illallah, Muhammad ar-Rasul Allah' and now it is time to purify the body so that those obligatory duties, which every Muslim becomes responsible for, may be attended to. To wash the entire body is sufficient.
However, according to the practice of the Prophet Muhammad PBUH or the Sunnah, it is best to start with washing the private parts followed by making Wudu (ablution) just as one would do to pray except for the feet which the Prophet PBUH used to leave until the end. Then wash the body thoroughly, head and hair followed by right side, left side, thorough rinse and finally the feet. A shower is always more hygienic for this purpose than a bath.
Q. What if you were unaware of the necessity to perform Ghusl after making Shahadah?
A. It is highly likely that since making Shahadah, you will have performed Ghusl for one reason or another. What matters, however, is that you make Ghusl with intention which, in this case, would be that you have accepted Islam as opposed to performing Ghusl because of impurity.
It should not become an issue of grave concern for you as you should know that Allah will forgive you for any mistakes made before you had knowledge about it.
Q. Can a woman make the Shahadah when she is menstruating?
Q. Is it allowed to practice Islam in secret?
A. It is allowed to practice Islam in secret, in this or any society (even a predominantly Muslim one), that makes it difficult for the individual to be a Muslim. It may well be that family, work colleagues or friends may react in a manner that may jeopardize relationships or make very difficult one's practice of Islam.
It has to be remembered though that we are all human and therefore prone to weakness and frailties. In spite of our sincere intention to turn to a better life evil not only continues to exist, but also appears to increase in magnitude in an attempt to dissuade us from the true path.
It is important therefore for the Muslim community to be aware of your choosing Islam as your way of life because of the benefit to you in having access to that individual and community support necessary in a society which puts constant pressure on your beliefs.
In this case as with many other choices in life and in consideration of your own circumstances, apart from the Muslim community, it is perhaps best to be selective about whom you choose to share your new direction in life.
It is also very important for the rest of us as Muslims to be careful before we criticize another Muslim with regard to particular situations since it may be that circumstances demand it of him and in our limited capability we are unable to both see and understand such circumstances.
Q. Is it enough that just by reciting the Shahadah one will enter Heaven?
A. First, we must understand the meaning of 'Ashhadu alla ilaha illallah' because it is on this statement that you make the contract between you and Allah. Before you make or sign any contract, you must read it very carefully making sure you understand every word in it.
Its meaning is 'I bear witness that there is none worthy of worship except Allah'. This worship does not confine itself only to prayer but taking into consideration that everything for the Muslim is an act of Ibadah - worship - it therefore encompasses everything that Allah enjoined upon the Muslim, that which is pleasing to Him and endears His servant to Him. You have given your word to Allah and the responsibility now lies with you.
The Qur'an reminds us 'Truly, my prayer and my sacrifice, my life and my death are all for God, the Cherisher and Sustainer of all the worlds' (6 - 162). How then are we to dedicate our lives to Allah if we do not do what He has requested of us and leave what He abhors until our meeting with Him, which must be the ultimate purpose of all our lives.
We are also reminded to die in the state of Islam - having made the contract with Allah, we must carry out our duties as a Muslim until the moment of death - only then are we released from our contract.
Q. Is it necessary to have a Shahadah certificate as proof of your being a Muslim?
A. There is nothing in Islam, in the life of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and his companions, nor do the scholars advocate the provision of Shahadah certificates to those who accept Islam. It should be quite clearly understood that such a certificate has nothing to do with taking Shahadah. If there is another reason, however, like the need for such a provision for traveling, legal purpose or to convince stubborn family members of your commitment to Islam, then it should be available to those who need it.
Q. What is the opinion on circumcision - is it recommended or compulsory?
A. We must refer to the sources - the Qur'an, where there is no mention of anything relating to circumcision, and the Hadith of the Prophet Muhammad where we find our evidence. Here we find that it is a Sunnah - it is recommended in that it is a good thing to do but that it is not a must.
For a Muslim society where children are born into Islam, it should be part of normal practice. For those who become Muslim, and are mature of age or old and find it difficult for them to contemplate or do, they have the option to choose not to do it. This is the opinion of Imam Hanbal and since there is nothing in the Sunnah of the Prophet PBUH that circumcision is a must, we should accept it. He is also of the opinion that in a Muslim society where parents have neglected to carry out this duty for their son who has now matured, he, too, is not obliged at this stage to have it done.
It is enough that those new to Islam are made aware of the fact that it is Sunnah - that it is liked. Thereafter, the decision lies with the individual.
Q. Do you have to change your name on accepting Islam?
A. Changing the name is not an Islamic requirement. During the time of the Prophet Muhammad PBUH all of those who accepted Islam retained the name they had before Islam. These included some of the closest of the Prophets companions like Omar, Abu Bakr, Uthman, Bilal, Salman etc,.
The Prophet never changed the name of anyone except in the situation when the name had a derogatory meaning. An example of this was one companion whose name was Abdul Shams meaning 'the servant/slave of the sun' indicating peoples belief in the power of such things before Islam. The Prophet PBUH changed it to Abdur-Rahman meaning 'the servant/slave of God Most Compassionate'.
Some of the names we are familiar with in Islam are not of Arabic origin such as Ismael, Ya’qub, Yahya and Yusuf but were incorporated by the very fact that their owners identified themselves by 'La ilaha illallah'.
Regardless of origin, if the name given at birth does not have a derogatory meaning then it is not required to change it.
Q. A person should desist from what would be displeasing to Allah on declaring Shahadah, but they are only answerable for what they know. This puts emphasis on what they are told in a sensible way. What is your guidance on this?
A. When you become aware of what is forbidden in Islam, you should avoid it. If you are not aware of it however, it is not possible either to leave it or to be punished for it. For those who are in the position of guiding others in Islam, there is always the dilemma regarding how to inform and how much information should be given.
Since we are only human, we tend to empathize with the newcomer to Islam thinking that we are being merciful if we withhold some information which we feel they are not, as yet, ready for.
What has to be remembered is that whatever Allah forbids is forbidden and that not only have we to protect ourselves from doing wrong, but we are duty bound to make it known to others as well.
It is necessary therefore that we are fully aware of the reasons behind each injunction so that our explanation is thorough and informed. Of course, this information should always be delivered in the gentlest of manners making the receiver all the more appreciative given the nature of the subject and the scope of information on the topic you are in a position to offer. We will be answerable to Allah if we allow ourselves, or anyone else, to continue to do anything that is forbidden in the Shari'ah - law of Allah.
[i] These questions have been answered by Sheikh Abdullah Yusuf al-Judai, Islamic Research Centre, Leeds