QuestionTo print this letter click here

I am a white North American male.  I was born and raised as a Catholic but refused my religious upbringing.  I have recently found Islam and have found a potential wife.  I have become well known in my Mosque for being a good man. The woman in which I wish to marry fears her father's reaction to my cultural and religious background, as they are Turkish and very old fashioned. 

There are several gentlemen at my mosque who have offered to sponsor me in this endeavour. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. 

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With reference to your letter, we are not exactly clear as to what exactly are the "reaction"(s) of this girl's "old-fashioned" Turkish parents. Are they hesitating or refusing to consider or approve of this proposal for their daughter on the grounds of your a) cultural background and/or b) your new conversion to Islam? We are also unable to understand what you mean by "sponsor" in this context. Therefore, we are not sure if we can be any help to you, except to clearly state that both a) cultural background and b) new conversion to Islam are not bars, legally speaking, to marrying a Muslim lady. However, according to the Hanafi and some other schools of law, there is a need for taking into account the respective social status of the couple. This is known as kufv which means that it is desirable as a legal consideration for the bride and groom to have equal social status. I hope this will help clarify the Islamic legal position in this regard for you. 

Question To print this letter click here

What is the Islamic view on consuming vinegar in cooking, is it the same as alcohol?

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Vinegar does not contain any intoxicating qualities and for that reason, it is not forbidden -- it is permissible (halal). Vinegar, which is used as both a flavour enhancer and a food preservative, results from the conversion of ethyl alcohol to acetic acid by acetic acid bacteria. (Please see below for why vinegar is considered halal). Regulations in the U.S.A., for example, require that the unmodified name "vinegar" apply only to the product which has been derived from apples and that this product contain not less than 4 g of acetic acid in 100 ml of vinegar. Vinegar also contains small quantities of ash, sugars, phosphoric acid, and glycerol. A quick method of manufacture is to pour fermented apple cider containing about 10 percent alcohol over wood shavings while air is blown through the mixture. The resulting liquid is then clarified and filtered. Malt vinegar is preferred in Britain, and wine vinegar in continental Europe. The final product of this chemical process does not have any intoxicating qualities whatsoever and is therefore halal.

Vinegar may be produced from a variety of materials: apples or grapes (final product - wine vinegar or cider vinegar); malted barley or oats (final product - malt vinegar); and industrial alcohol (final product - distilled white vinegar).  The intoxicating quality is removed when vinegar is made. However, the intoxicating qualities still remain unchanged for nabeez, which is made from ripened dates and has not been put through the oxidizing and filtering process that vinegar is put through. For this reason nabeez is forbidden (haram)

The holy Prophet p.b.u.h. said:

Book 22, Number 5091: [Sahih Muslim]
Narrated A'isha: Allah's Apostle (p.b.u.h) said: The best of condiments or condiment is vinegar.
Book 22, Number 5093 [Sahih Muslim]:
Narrated Jabir ibn Abdullah: Allah's Messenger (p.b.u.h.) asked his family for a condiment. They (the members of his household)  said: We have nothing with us but vinegar. He asked for it, he began to eat it, and then said: Vinegar is a good condiment, vinegar is a good condiment.

Jurists pronouncements

The jurists agree that if wine has been left exposed to air, and has subsequently  turned to vinegar, then it is permissible (halal) at that time. The taste is the test because vinegar has a very noticeable 'sour' taste. (Bada'a 5:113 ).

If the vinegar was made by adopting certain processes such as by mixing salt with it or aerating wine and exposing it to Acetobacter bacteria, (which alters the wine completely and changes it to vinegar) such vinegar is also permissible (halal) according to the Hanafi doctors of law. However, according to some other jurists, this conversion into vinegar is unlawful (haram) (Bahar 8:219)

It has been related by Abu Hurairah that, in the days of the Prophet p.b.u.h., wine was generally made from 5 different sources: grapes, dates, wheat, barley and rye. According to the Qur'an, every intoxicating substance is "khamar" and is therefore prohibited. It is also a rule of law that if a larger amount of a certain intoxicating substance creates an intoxicated condition, then even the smallest possible quantity of the same substance, irregardless of whether or not it creates an intoxicated condition, is also forbidden (haram). However, in cases of extreme necessity, i.e., such as for medicines which have been prepared in the western countries and which contain alcohol, these medicines would be permissible (halal).

The legal principle

It is important to keep in mind the legal principle which governs such situations. This legal principle can be explained as follows: In the process of converting (i.e., changing the chemical or physical character of) one object or a thing into another object or thing depends on two distinct series of acts or changes which pass from one phase or state to another:

1. In the first type of change, the essential nature and a fundamental quality of a thing (substance) (eg. the intoxicating ability of wine) is changed to such an extent that it virtually becomes a new substance.  In Islamic legal terminology, such a change is called istihala. Since the newly transformed substance is not what it used to be anymore, it's legal status will change accordingly --  not only for external use but also for internal use. Here the legal status changes because the wine, which  is an "unclean" (najis) substance, has been changed into a "clean" substance.

2. The second type of change is like the decomposition or splitting of a thing into several parts or components. In the Fiqh (Islamic Law) terminology, it is called "tajziah". If the essence and the fundamental nature of the changed thing (eg. the intoxicating ability) remains intact or reduced but leaves traces of the original quality intact, its previous legal status remains unchanged. Accordingly, the old laws and rules applicable to its old status eg. haram (forbidden) and najis (unclean) continues. For example, if wine has been altered only to remove its colour or smell, but not its intoxicating element or quality, then the object or thing has not changed in the real sense, because as far as the legal command which relates to its unlawfulness is concerned, the essential intoxicating element has not been completely eliminated or removed.

QuestionTo print this letter click here

Are gambling and alcohol major or minor sins?

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We have found that the best way to answer to your question would be to quote from the  book entitled "Introduction to Islam" by Dr. Muhammad Hamidullah. The particular paragraphs that would be most relevant to your question are as follows:

251. The prohibition of alcoholic drinks is one of the most well known traits of Islam. It was by gradual steps that the Qur'an had enforced it: "They question thee about alcoholic drink and games of chance; say: In both there is great sin and certain profits for man, yet the sin of them is greater than their usefulness." (Qur'an 2:219). Again (Qur'an 4:43) "O ye who believe! Draw not near unto service of worship when ye are drunk, till ye know that which ye utter . . ." And finally (Qur'an 5:93-94): "O ye who believe! Verily wine and games of chance, and idols, and defining arrows are only infamy of Satan's handiwork; leave it aside, that haply ye may prosper. Satan seeketh only to cast among you enmity and hatred by means of wine and games of chance, and to turn you from remembrance of God and from (His) worship; we'll ye then abstain?" It will not pass unnoticed that in this last verse, the Qur'an includes alcoholic drinks and idolatry in the same category. During his life, the Prophet Muhammad administered forty stripes to those who violated the injunction. The caliph Umar doubled the punishment, arguing that drunkenness lead to obscene loquacity in which one calumniates the chastity of women, for which latter crime, the Qur'an (24:4) has imposed the punishment of eighty stripes; therefore alcoholic drinks should also have the same sanction. That enormous economic loss would be avoided and how many homes would recover peace, if alcohol, so dangerous to health and morality, were given up!

252. Among the acts for which no definite penalty has been prescribed but which are left to the discretion of the judge, we may mention games of chance of all kinds (including lotteries, gambling on the results of races, etc.). Who is not aware of the tragedies of casinos? How many homes have not been ruined in the vain hope of easy gain, and therefore illicit gain? Lotteries, on a national scale, gradually upset the equitable distribution of the country's wealth, and prove to be the source of all economic ills. They also affect politics.


368. In prohibiting these, the Qur'an (5:90) has characterized them as "work of Satan"; and this is for cogent reasons. It is recognised that most of the social evils emanate from the unequal distribution of the national wealth, with some individuals being too rich and others too poor. This results in their exploitation by the rich. In games of chance and lotteries, there is great temptation for quick and easy gain, and often this easy gain is bad for society. Suppose that in racing -- of horses and others -- and in the lotteries, public or private, as well as all other games of chance, the people of a country spend three million pounds every week -- as is the case in certain countries -- in the course of only ten years, a sum of 1,560 million pounds will be collected from a very large number of inhabitants and redistributed among a ridiculously small number. Less than one percent of the people then thrive at the expense of the remaining 99 percent. In other words, 99 percent are impoverished in order to enrich the scant one percent, and this creates one percent of millionaires by systematically ruining the remaining 99 percent. Whether games of chance, including lotteries, are private or nationalized, the evil of accumulating wealth in the hands of the few, at the expense of the vast majority, works with full force. Hence the total prohibition of games of chance and lotteries in Islam. As in capitalistic securities, games of chance bear one-sided risks.


379. We may end this brief sketch by mentioning two prohibitions of considerable importance, which form the characteristic features of the daily life of a Muslim -- games of chance and alcoholic drinks. We have had the occasion to discuss games of chance, where sometimes one spends continuously over many many years without gaining anything in return. What a loss to those who are economically weak! The use of alcohol has the peculiarity that its consumption in small quantities makes one gay and weakens his resolution to drink no more, for when one becomes drunk, one loses control over one's actions. One may then squander money without noticing it. To these evils may be added the unhygienic effects of alcoholic drinks which are then transmitted to children and posterity too [i.e. foetal alcohol syndrome, and the risk of alcoholism running in the family - editor]. One of the Quranic verses (2:219) speaks of it in interesting terms: "They question thee about wine and games of chance. Say: in both is great sin and some profits for man; but the sin of them is greater than their usefulness." (Qur'an 2:219). The Qur'an does not deny that there are certain profits in the use of alcohol, but it declares it as sin against society, against the individual himself, and of course against the Legislator. In another verse (5:90) it relegates it to the same level as idolatry, and declares it to be the handiwork of Satan; and adds, if one would desire to be happy in the two worlds, one should abstain from games of chance and alcoholic drinks.


Masha'Allah! The web page [on Sex in Islam] is  excellent. I was just looking through the role of sex in Islam and I have never found any literature like this before.  It is important that we learn all the aspects of Islam and Islam is not just about Salat and fasting but is the way of life. 

Al hamdu-lillah keep up the good work! I have a few questions and I  hope you can help:- Jazazkallah! 

Q1. Because I cannot find any information in any other place about islam and sex, I thought you would be able to help. What does Islam say about using a condom? And what about masturbation? 

Q2. I wanted to ask you that of the four Imams, Hazrat Abu Hanifa, Shafi etc. I just  wanted to know which school of thought you follow so that I can understand which school of thought I am following. 

Jazakallah for your time and keep up the excellent efforts! 

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With regards to your questions, a condom is one of the methods of family planning, which is permissible by the Shar'iah and which is mentioned in our article on Family Planning.

As to your question about masturbation, as far as my knowledge is concerned, it would be permissible on medical grounds, for instance if a urologist or other specialist required a sample of semen for tests, (i.e. sperm count, etc.) then the Shari'ah permits this on the grounds of medical necessity.

There are differing legal opinions in the situation where a person resorts to masturbation when he faces a very crucial problem where it becomes almost impossible for him not to take recourse to a means of sexual satisfaction which is illegal (haram/prohibited by the Shari'ah) e.g. fornication, etc. In this case, some jurists are of the opinion that one could resort to the lesser evil of masturbation in order to avoid the more heinous and more serious sin of fornication, adultery, and so on. Whereas other jurists are of the opinion that masturbation is not permitted under any circumstance whatsoever. The reasoning is "a haram is haram'! Click here  or here for further discussion on this. 

As to your second question, please be advised that we follow the Sunni-Hanafi school of law, al hamdu li Allah. As a matter of fact, we bring this to the attention of our readers on the page that the reader must go to in order to get our e-mail address.

Question To print this letter click here

Greetings from Dubai, UAE.  I wanted to write and congratulate you on a most informative and easy to use web-site, with sympathetically written, accessible copy that will hopefully attract more converts and re-educate born Muslims in the way of Allah. 

I have a general question for you - which I appreciate you may not wish to answer.  As a new convert I find that this country does little - apparently - to follow the way of Allah, and I am seriously considering emigrating to another country.  May I please have your assessment of what Canada would  be like for a Muslim? 

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Thank you for your compliments and encouragement for the way we manage both the presentation and contents of our website. 

Islam is a universal religion. The word 'religion' in the Islamic context connotes an all comprehensive meaning which signifies that Islam is a complete way of life. Consequently the word 'religion' cannot be understood in the ordinary sense of the word commonly used in the West. It almost seems like the world is shrinking due to the proliferation of the Internet and other communication techniques and now more than 1/3 of the total of the world's Muslim population live in non-Muslim countries as minorities. Most non-Muslim countries seem to have adopted the more the secular way of life in preference to the religious way of life. 

Thus reconciling the Islamic way of life with secular way of life becomes a difficult balancing act. Consequently Muslim minorities have to do the best they can and follow the Islamic Law (Shariah) to the extent that they can adhere to it. 

This same principle, namely, to do the best one can in order to adhere to the Islamic Law, also applies to Muslims who live in Muslim countries as well, regardless of how those Muslim countries interpret Islamic Law in their practical life. To put it simply - you must follow what you feel is correct, sensible, rational, and practical in your approach to the beautiful precepts of Islam. This is usually done by  choosing a particular school of law (Madhab) to follow (for instance the Sunni-Hanafi School of law) and to not be bothered if the rest of the community chooses to follow other schools of law and if they do not follow the Islamic injunctions in as conscientious a manner as they ought to. Because, in the final analysis, every individual Muslim has to go by his own conscience. Islam does not have a pope or an institutionalized 'church' to force people to obey their commands rather than the commands of Allah s.w.t. and His Prophet p.b.u.h. in accordance with one's own conscience. 

So you see that no matter where in the world you choose to live - it does not really matter! One thing that can be said about living in a Muslim country is that at least in a Muslim country, you will have an Islamic environment which would obviously be more conducive in following the Islamic way of life as opposed to general foreign, (even hostile) environments of non-Muslim countries. 

Question To print this letter click here

I have recently become very interested in Islam. Your website has been very helpful and I would like to thank you for the educational service you provide. 

I am a westerner and have been working in the Middle East for the last 2.5 years. I have met and worked with many Muslims who have all impressed me with their honesty and integrity. 

Although you have mentioned that your role is not to answer questions, perhaps you would consider answering mine as I do not see the question on your list of sample letters and I consider it an important question. 

I would like to ask what is the process required for a westerner to become a Muslim? Furthermore as I was previously not a very religious person what would conversion mean in terms of my soul and the hereafter?

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Our response to your question is to first of all say that Islam is a universal religion. That means that it is all-inclusive, for it welcomes people from all cultures - whether they be Oriental, European, Middle Eastern, Indian, African, North American, South American etc. Islam is a world faith which treats all human beings as equals. All those who subscribe and adhere (in practice) to the Islamic Ideology and its standard of morality as prescribed in the Islamic Law (Shari'ah) become members of (i.e. 'citizens' of) the Muslim Ummah (community, 'nation') regardless of their place of residence. Therefore, no one nationality can claim it as its own. So even though you describe yourself as a 'westerner,' this does not preclude the Islamic religion for you. In fact it may be to your own advantage as you will see shortly. Currently, Islam is the fastest growing religion in Great Britain. It has been projected that in the next 20 years, the number of British converts will equal or overtake the immigrant Muslim community that brought the faith to the U.K. to begin with! 

Contrary to the way the western media portrays it, Islam is a very gentle faith, and it is assumed that a person who wishes to convert will have explored the faith in greater detail. And if he/she still wishes to embrace Islam after having learned more about it, then all he or she need do is recite the following testimony (known as the Shahada) in front of a Muslim witness: La illa ha illa Allah Muhammad ur rasool Allah. (& in RealAudio) (There is no god [worthy of worship] but God, and Muhammad is His Messenger). That's it! There are no documents to sign, no ceremony - just a simple pledge. Quite often this testimony is recited in front of an Imam (his role is like a Minister in Christianity, or a Rabbi in the Jewish faith, only he is Muslim). More details about this can be found on our "Who We Are" web page under the title of "And what we stand for." 

With regards to your last question, when a person embraces Islam, it's like they have become a new-born baby. All of their previous sins are 'wiped from the book,' so to speak. Born Muslim's don't get that kind of preferential treatment, unless after having drifted from their faith they then sincerely repent and revert back to it - this is a beautiful gift from God's store of infinite mercy. So when a person embraces Islam, all their previous sins are forgiven by God and they can start again fresh with a clean slate. Now, starting a new life with this clean slate involves two important things: (i) upon conversion, a person must wholeheartedly believe beyond any shadow of a doubt whatsoever that all his/her past transgressions and sins have been forgiven by God in His mercy, and (ii) he/she should not let any thoughts or memories of past sins haunt him/her in their new life. In fact, one should make the utmost effort to forget them altogether and instead thank God for His guidance to the Truth. 

As far as learning more information about Islam goes, we have uploaded to our website a substantial amount of material from Dr. Muhammad Hamidullah's excellent book "Introduction to Islam."  Insha Allah (God willing) we will soon have almost the entire book uploaded, (as part of our on-line library project which promotes useful knowledge) but for now you can read a great deal here. Dr. Hamidullah explains Islam in a most beautiful fashion to the western reader and in terms that they will understand. 

Finally I would like to point out that the most important point, really, is that a person must come to Islam voluntarily. They must be absolutely certain (in both heart and mind) that they are adopting this new way of life by exercising their fundamental human right to make their own choice in accord with their own conscience. This means that a person must come to Islam through his/her own personal choice and voluntary action, thereby exercising their basic human right to freedom of conscience. What I mean by 'freedom of conscience' is that a person has the right to choose his or her own faith without external pressure or indoctrination. The Qur'an is crystal clear in it's fundamental doctrine that, "(It is) the truth from the Lord of you (all). Then whosoever will, let him believe, and whosoever will, let him disbelieve." [Qur'an 18:29]  And also "Let there be no compulsion (i.e. pressure of any kind) in (the matter of) din [religion] [Qur'an 2:256] Having said this, I think it would be appropriate to insert one caveat here, so I will quote Dr. Hamidullah, because he says it so succinctly. He says, "apostasy after embracing Islam is a political crime, [which is actually considered to be treason] revolt against the community; and so it is punished severely. Better to not embrace Islam to begin with, rather than abandoning it later". . . 

P.S. FYI - I myself am a westerner who was raised as a Christian but I converted to Islam over eight years ago and I've never looked back once nor regretted it Al hamdu li Allah (All praise is to God). 

(This letter was drafted by Rabia, (our webmaster) and proof-read and approved by Syed Mumtaz Ali.) 

QuestionTo print this letter click here

I am a Muslim female who is 23 years old. I have always admired my religion (Islam/Sunni), and always wanted to be a good Muslim, trying very hard to do what a real Muslim woman should be doing. 

My concern is I am in love with a Christian man who works with me where I work. I have tried hard to remind myself of what a severe punishment a Muslim girl would have if she married a Christian. But fortunately, he is very interested in Islam, and is willing to convert as he learns more about our wonderful religion. 

Please tell me if he converts, is it okay to marry him, or will Islam have doubts about his real reasons of converting whether it is because if he really believes in Islam or because it is the only way for him to marry me? 

How can I know what is in his heart truly? I am sure that he believes in Islam, but I am also sure that if he had never met me he would never convert so I am the motivation for him to convert, is that OK in Islam? 

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Once a person declares that he is a Muslim by saying the Kalima (la illa ha illa Allah) verbally, then that person's life, honour and property is protected in Islam -- period. 

On the authority of the Prophet of Islam himself, once a person declares the Shahada, it is not for other Muslims to question the sincerity of such a person because what is in the heart of a person is known only to Allah, s.w.t. and nobody else. However, if the conduct of such a person happens to be such that his actions openly contradict his words, for instance if the person says or does publicly such things that would indicate his belief or commitment to atheism or his intentional refusal to accept and obey the Divinely commanded obligations (e.g. salat, zakat, fasting, and Hajj), then other Muslims would be justified in doubting his sincerity and in fact he will thus remove himself from the pale of Islam. However, it should be remembered that if a Muslim person fails to perform such obligations out of sheer laziness or neglect, then he would remain a Muslim, although a sinful one.

We have attached the following hadiths which are relevant to your question. 

All quotes are from Sahih Muslim -- Kitab al-Iman (The Book of Faith)

Page 1 footnote 1: (the translator, Abdul Hamid Siddiqi, added these footnotes to to the English Translation) 

Faith (iman) has two aspects - cognitive and volitional. It is at once and affirmation of truth from the depth of one's heart and a surrender to the truth affirmed. When the volitional aspect is emphasized, we have the notion commonly denoted by the word "trust"; when the cognitive aspect is stressed, we have belief. The word 'iman' signifies originally 'conviction of the heart,' while Islam signifies originally 'submission' and hence is primarily action. 

In this connection it would seem appropriate to quote Maulana Muhammad Abdul Aleem Siddiqui from one of his lectures where he says . . . "to recite the kalima(the Islamic Creed: there is none worthy of worship except Allah and Muhammad is His Prophet) with the tongue is meaningless unless it expresses the corresponding conviction. And conviction means nothing less than actually submitting oneself to God's commands and the Holy Prophet's leadership. It comprehends within itself the whole sweep of Islamic life."

Page 3 footnote 6: Iman (faith) may be described as the mental state of assurance or conviction in which mind accepts and endorses its experience as corresponding with Reality - the Reality, assented to and endorsed in the case of religious beliefs, of course being of a far wider, far deeper and far more comprehensive nature than reality elsewhere. With faith or belief in the sense, there invariably emerges a sense of security, a feeling of satisfaction that the road to salvation has been found - a subsuming of oneself in all-compromising Reality. 

Page 3 footnote 9: Ihsan means benificence, performance of good deeds, but in the religious sense it implies the doing of good deeds over and above what is just and fair. It is indicative of the intense devotion of man to his Creator and Master and his enthusiasm for virtue and piety. What implies by the term tasawwuf in Islam is nothing but Ihsan. The aim of Ihsan is to create a sense of inner piety in man and to train his sensibilities in a way that all his thoughts and actions flow from the fountainhead of the love of God. 

Sahih Muslim Book 001, Number 0004: 

Abu Huraira reported: One day the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) appeared before the public that a man came to him and said: Prophet of Allah, (tell me) what is Iman. Upon this he (the Holy Prophet) replied: That you affirm your faith in Allah, His angels, His Books, His meeting, His Messengers and that you affirm your faith in the Resurrection hereafter. He (again) said: Messenger of Allah, (tell me) what does al-Islam signify. He (the Holy Prophet) replied: Al-Islam signifies that you worship Allah and do not associate anything with Him and you establish obligatory prayer and you pay the obligatory poor-rate (Zakat) and you observe the fast of Ramadan. He (the inquirer) again said: Messenger of Allah, what does al-Ihsan imply? He (the Holy Prophet) replied: That you worship Allah as if you are seeing Him, and in case you fail to see Him, then observe prayer (with this idea in your mind) that (at least) He is seeing you. He (the inquirer) again said: Messenger of Allah, when would there be the hour (of Doom)? He (the Holy Prophet) replied: The one who is asked about it is no better informed than the inquirer. I, however, narrate some of its signs (and these are): when the slave-girl will give birth to her master, when the naked, barefooted would become the chiefs of the people - these are some of the signs of (Doom). (Moreover) when the shepherds of the black (camels) would exult themselves in buildings, this is one of the signs of (Doom). (Doom) is one of the five (happenings wrapped in the unseen) which no one knows but Allah. Then he (the Messenger of Allah) recited (the verse): "Verily Allah! with Him alone is the knowledge of the hour and He it is Who sends (down the rain) and knows that which is in the wombs and no person knows whatsoever he shall earn tomorrow, and a person knows not in whatsoever land he shall die. Verily Allah is Knowing, Aware. He (the narrator, Abu Huraira) said: Then the person turned back and went away. The Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) said: Bring that man back to me. They (the Companions of the Holy Prophet present there) went to bring him back, but they saw nothing there. Upon this the Messenger of Allah remarked: he was Gabriel, who came to teach the people their religion.

Book 001, Number 0173: 

It is narrated on the authority of Miqdad b. Aswad that he said. Messenger of Allah, you just see (here is a point): If I encountered a person amongst the infidels (in the battlefield) and he attacked me and struck me and cut off one of my hands with the sword. Then he (in order to protect himself from me) took shelter of a tree and said: I become Muslim for Allah's sake. Messenger of Allah, can I kill him after he had uttered this? The Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) said: Do not kill him. I (the narrator) said: Messenger of Allah, he cut off my hand and uttered this after amputating it; should I then kill him? The Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) said: Don't kill him, for if a you kill him, verily he would be in a position where you had been before killing him and verily you would be in a position where he had been before uttering (Kalima). (see footnote 172) 

footnote 172: 

This part of the Hadith has been interpreted differently by different authorities but, according to Imam Nawawi, the most appropriate meaning is given by Imam Shafi'i and Ibn Qassar: When he made a profession of la ilaha ill-Allah and embraced Islam, he became a Muslim like you and his life was protected, and when you killed him, you came to his position and the protection was withdrawn. 

The point stressed in the hadith is that when a man makes a profession of Islam, he should be treated as a Muslim and we should not try to probe his intention, because Allah alone knows what is there in the mind of a man. 

Book 001, Number 0176:

It is narrated on the authority of Usama b. Zaid that the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) sent us on a raiding party. We raided Huraqat of Juhaina in the morning. I caught hold of a man and he said: There is no god but Allah, I attacked him with a spear. It once occurred to me and I talked about it to the Apostle (may peace be upon him). The Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) said: Did he profess "There is no god but Allah," and even then you killed him? I said: Messenger of Allah, he made a profession of it out of the fear of the weapon. He (the Holy Prophet) observed: Did you tear his heart in order to find out whether it had professed or not? And he went on repeating it to me till I wished I had embraced Islam that day. Sa'd said: By Allah, I would never kill any Muslim so long as a person with a heavy belly, i.e., Usama, would not kill. Upon this a person remarked: Did Allah not say this: And fight them until there is no more mischief (see footnote 176) and religion is wholly for Allah? Sa'd said: We fought so that there should be no mischief, but you and your companions wish to fight so that there should be mischief. 

footnote 176: 

This is a Quranic verse (ii 193) in which the aim of fighting in Islam is determined. The Muslims have been exhorted to fight neither for imperialistic designs nor for personal glory but to eradicate mischief from human society. 

Book 001, Number 0177: 

It is narrated on the authority of Usama b. Zaid: The Messenger of Allah may peace be upon him) sent us to Huraqat, a tribe of Juhaina. We attacked that tribe early in the morning and defeated them and I and a man from the Ansar caught hold of a person (of the defeated tribe). When we overcame him, he said: There is no god but Allah. At that moment the Ansari spared him, but I attacked him with my spear and killed him. The news had already reached the Apostle (peace be upon him), so when we came back he (the Apostle) said to me: Usama, did you kill him after he had made the profession: There is no god but Allah? I said. Messenger of Allah, he did it only as a shelter. The Holy Prophet observed: Did you kill him after he had made the profession that there is no god but Allah? He (the Holy Prophet) went on repeating this to me till I wished I had not embraced Islam before that day. 

Book 001, Number 0178: 

It is narrated by Safwan b. Muhriz that Jundab b. 'Abdullah al-Bajali during the stormy days of Ibn Zubair sent a message to 'As'as b. Salama: Gather some men of your family so that I should talk to them. He ('As'as) sent a messenger to them (to the members of his family). When they had assembled, Jundab came there with a yellow hooded cloak on him, He said: Talk what you were busy in talking. The talk went on by turns, till there came his (Jundab's) turn. He took off the hooded cloak from his head and said: I have come to you with no other intention but to narrate to you a hadith of your Apostle: Verily the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) sent a squad of the Muslims to a tribe of the polytheists. Both the armies confronted one another. There was a man among the army of polytheists who (was so dashing that), whenever he intended to kill a man from among the Muslims, he killed him. Amongst the Muslims too was a man looking forward to (an opportunity of) his (the polytheist's) unmindfulness. He (the narrator) said: We talked that he was Usama b, Zaid. When he raised his sword, he (the soldier of the polytheists) uttered:" There is no god but Allah," but he (Usama b. Zaid) killed him. When the messenger of the glad tidings came to the Apostle (may peace be upon him) he asked him (about the events of the battle) and he informed him about the man (Usama) and what he had done He (the Prophet of Allah) called for him and asked him why he had killed him. He (Usama) said: Messenger of Allah, he struck the Muslims and killed such and such of them. And he even named some of them. (He continued): I attacked him and when he saw the sword he said: There is no god but Allah. The Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) said: Did you kill him? He (Usama) replied in the affirmative. He (the Holy Prophet) remarked: What would you do with:" There is no god but Allah," when he would come (before you) on the Day of Judgement? He (Usama) said: Messenger of Allah, beg pardon for me (from your Lord). He (the Holy Prophet) said: What would you do with:" There is no god but Allah" when he would come (before you) on the Day of Judgement? He (the Holy Prophet) added nothing to it but kept saying: What would you do with:" There is no god but Allah," when he would come (before you) on the Day of Judgement?