Why do we need a Religion?
UWA, Western Australia on 14 September 2002
The question posed in today’s lecture is "Why do we need a religion?" I
am not going to answer this particular question directly. In fact, I
view the "religion" itself as being offensive. It is a
misrepresentation of the word "deen", which means a complete,
structured, divinely ordained way of life. Therefore the topic today is
"Why are we in need of a correct way of life?"
We have been placed on this earth for a special purpose, and one day we
will be questioned regarding the fulfillment of that purpose, and
whether we have fulfilled our obligations to God, society and to
Religion must address essential humanistic needs - physical needs,
societal needs, emotional needs and psychological needs. My mission
today is to show you what Islam puts forward in relation to these
It is not my purpose to "win you over to Islam." We hold firmly that
your entering Islam will not benefit Allah in all His Glory in any way,
and His Glory will not be diminished by your rejection of Islam. My
mission is simply to get you acquainted with what one-fifth of the
world’s population espouse as being the Ultimate Truth. It is to
clarify your doubts, address your stereotypical assumptions and to call
you to the realization that Allah calls you to worship Him Alone.
Turning first to physical needs - it is essential that a person’s
physical needs be met, regardless of the individual’s place or
situation. Examples of physical needs include food, the quenching of
one’s physical thirst, the displacement of one’s sexual drive, the need
for freedom, security and peace. Islam touches upon all of those
essential aspects of our physical life – what we eat, how we eat, why
we eat, with whom we share our food, etc. It is a complete way of life.
The Prophet (sala Allahu ‘Alihi wa Salaam - Peace be upon him) gave the
example of an individual who is in the middle of the desert, and his
camel runs away, taking with it all his provisions. He will raise his
hands in supplication and will say, "O Allah, feed me", but his food
that he had was from haram or unlawful sources, and his clothing was
from haram or unlawful sources. The Prophet (sala Allahu ‘Alihi wa
Salaam - Peace be upon him) asked, how can this man expect that Allah
will accept his supplication and prayers? This shows the importance in
Islam of fulfilling our physical needs in the correct manner. As
Muslims we do not simply seek out sustenance and nourishment. Rather we
seek out lawful means to earn the wealth with which we purchase our
foods. A true Muslim would prefer to forgo special foods purchase from
illicit sources and eat in its place bread and water.
In Islam, the difference between halal (lawful things) and haram
(unlawful things) is the articulation of a word and the righteous
intention that accompanies it. A good example is marriage. The
difference between halal and haram personal relations between a man and
a woman is that the bride and the groom saying "I accept" – that
utterance governs the entire future of those two people. In Islam,
marriage is essential, and having relations outside of marriage is
haram – it is a social vice that is deemed worthy of punishment.
Therefore we see that the discharge of ones’ physical needs – food,
water, and lusts – are governed by the Laws of Allah.
As such, we begin to now see that Islam means to submit to Allah to
attain peace with Allah. The scholars of Islam have stated that the
essence of Islam is captured in the Qur’an. The essence of the Qur’an
in turn is encompassed in the opening chapter of the Qur’an wherein
With the Name of Allâh, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful.
All the praises and thanks be to Allâh, the Lord of the
'Alamîn (all that exists).
The Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful.
The Only Owner (and the Only Ruling Judge) of the Day of Recompense
(i.e. the Day of Resurrection).
You (Alone) we worship, and You (Alone) we ask for help (for each and
Guide us to the Straight Way
The Way of those on whom You have bestowed Your Grace, not (the way) of
those who earned Your Anger, nor of those who went astray.
And the essence of the opening chapter of the Qur’an is contained in
one verse of the opening chapter: Iyyaaka na’budu wa iyyaaka nasta’een
– You (Alone) we worship, and You (Alone) we ask for help (for each and
everything). Thus, the essence of Islam to is to submit only to Allah.
It is also important to note that Islam contains a martial law that
dictate the mannerisms of warfare – laws that are so strict that if a
Muslim breaks them against a non-Muslim, the non-Muslim is viewed as
being oppressed, and the Muslim is the oppressor. In Islam we hold
firmly that if in such a situation the Muslim would be deemed a sinner
and at risk of being worthy of Allah’s Wrath and punishment.
As human beings we understand the necessity of a person’s way of life
being fluid – inflexible in some circumstances, but malleable in
others. Muslims come from many, many different nationalities – but they
all believe in the same thing, perform the same acts and submit in
unison to Allah. Islam is fluid, and accessible to all nationalities.
The Prophet (sala Allahu ‘Alihi wa Salaam - Peace be upon him) informed
that he came to teach both the light and the dark in complexion. And
the Qur’an states that:
O mankind! We have created you from a male and a female, and made you
into nations and tribes, that you may know one another. Verily, the
most honourable of you with Allâh is that (believer) who has
At-Taqwa (piety). Verily, Allâh is All-Knowing, All-Aware."
In Islam, it is an individual’s responsibility to his Creator that he
lives among the people according to Islam. Therefore, for example, an
employee should be diligent, punctual and perform his duties correctly
– not because he is afraid that he will be fired or he may suffer a pay
cut, but only because he fears Allah. He or she knows that Allah is
judging them in how well they fulfill their duties and the obligations
that they have been delegated. Similarly, the family situation is based
on love, trust, caring and openness, not because a person is a mother
or father, but because their Creator directs them to treat their family
members with love, respect and justness.
Islam also dictates that we share what Allah has given us on this
earth. Islam contains more specific laws relating to the physical
environment than any other faith. For example, the Prophet (sala Allahu
‘Alihi wa Salaam - Peace be upon him) said: "A woman has been brought
to the door of Hell because she was cruel to a cat." His companions
asked, "How could this be?" He replied, "She confined the cat to a cage
so it could not go out and find food, and she did not feed it herself."
The Prophet (sala Allahu ‘Alihi wa Salaam - Peace be upon him) also
said, "A man has been granted admission to Paradise because he gave
water to a thirsty dog."
Once the Prophet (sala Allahu ‘Alihi wa Salaam - Peace be upon him) saw
a camel with tears in its eyes. The Prophet consoled the camel, and
noticed that it had an excessive load of burden on its back, which was
causing it to be distressed. The Prophet ((sala Allahu ‘Alihi wa Salaam
- Peace be upon him) admonished the person who had done this to the
The Prophet (sala Allahu ‘Alihi wa Salaam - Peace be upon him) would
often give his lessons under the shade of a tree. He informed his that
the tree can hear him and benefits from his nearness.
The Prophet (sala Allahu ‘Alihi wa Salaam - Peace be upon him) said,
"If an individual has an opportunity to plant a tree, even if he knows
the Day of Judgment is imminent, let him plant the tree." The Prophet
((sala Allahu ‘Alihi wa Salaam - Peace be upon him) taught us that we
would be rewarded for planting a tree even if the fruits of the tree
were stolen – because planting the tree itself is an act that is
sanctioned by Allah.
We are Allah’s vicegerents on the earth; it has been given us in trust.
Just as we are not the lords of nature and the world, so the world is
not our property which we can dispose of as we wish or as we are able.
Allah created nature and it belongs to Allah. Everything in nature is a
sign of Allah’s existence; that is, a token or missive. The Qur’an
expresses this truth as follows:
"We shall show them our signs in the [furthest] regions [of the earth],
and in their own souls." Fussilat 41:53
"Behold! In the creation of the heavens and the earth; in the
alternation of the night and the day; in the sailing of the ships
through the ocean for the profit of mankind; in the rain which God
sends down from the skies, and the life which He gives therewith to an
earth that is dead; in the beasts of all kinds that He scatters through
the earth; in the change of the winds, and the clouds subjugated
between the sky and earth — [here] indeed are signs for a people who
think." Al-Baqarah 2:164
Emotional needs and the Importance of family
Islam also teaches us the importance of the family relationship. The
relationship in the home is a relationship that builds communities. The
first people that the Prophets would tell of their Divine Message were
their own family members – for example, after seeing the burning bush,
Moses first went home and told his immediate family of what he had
seen; when Noah heard that the flood was about to come, he first went
and told his family. The same was true of the Prophet Mohammad (sala
Allahu ‘Alihi wa Salaam - Peace be upon him) – the first people that he
told about his message were his wife, his best friend, his cousin and
his adopted son.
The Muslims must follow this example. When Muslims give anything –
whether it be knowledge or material things – they must begin first with
their immediate families, and spread from there to their friends,
neighbours and extended families.
Rules for living in society
Islam seeks to stamp out all vices. So intoxication is forbidden in all
its forms – alcohol, drugs, cigarettes etc – because intoxication leads
to decay in society. Extra-marital activities are also forbidden for a
similar reason. The taking of a human life without due cause is
forbidden. The Qur’an states – as does the Torah – that the one who
gives life to an individual – that is, saves a human life – it is as if
he has brought life to all of humanity; and the one who kills an
individual, it is as if he has brought death to all of humanity. But
the Qur’an also states – as does the Torah – an eye for an eye and a
tooth for a tooth. The one who begins the aggression is the oppressor.
Islam has a shari’ah – a set of laws or rules which Muslims must
follow. In Islam, one cannot say that man-made laws could ever be
better than laws ordained by Allah. The Qur’an states: "Should not He
Who has created know (what is best for His Creation)? And He is the
Most Kind and Courteous (to His slaves) All-Aware (of everything)."
Why do we have to follow a shari’ah or divine law? Why this way of
life? What is so valuable about this way of life that would cause
people to leave the path they have known their whole life and join
The answer is simple. It is not always a person’s own choice, but a
guidance from Allah. The Qur’an says that the example of one who
receives guidance is as of one who has life. And the example of one who
does not receive guidance is as one who is dead.
Success is not tangible or measurable – one can never be rich enough,
or pretty enough, or ever have enough things. As the Prophet (sala
Allahu ‘Alihi wa Salaam - Peace be upon him) said, "If a man was given
a valley of gold, he would search for another one."
But in Islam, the individual recognises that no matter how high he is,
he can never be free of need. No matter how high he is, it can be taken
from him instantly – especially if his status and position is
ill-gotten. Also – and perhaps more importantly – the individual
realises that no matter how depressed he is, there is always Allah
watching over him, and it could always be worse. The individual knows
that there is something more than the 60 or 70 years on this earth, and
that there will come a day when he will be asked about how he fulfilled
There are three essential elements to belief
1) Belief that there is a Creator and a Rabb - Lord.
2) Belief that the Creator is singular and the only one deserving of
worship since He Alone is the sole Creator. As well if there was more
than one, they would compete with each other. Allah is the only One
solely worthy of worship.
3) Belief in the attributes of the Creator – this entails learning
about who Allah is and how He describes Himself to us through study of
the scriptures so as to recognize Him and maintain our duties to Him.
I challenge you to pick up
any copy of the Qur’an and read it, see why it attracts so many. Feel
its resonance in your heart. This is not different from the method of
those at the time of the Prophet Mohammad (sala Allahu ‘Alihi wa Salaam
- Peace be upon him): a group of people would walk past and hear the
recitation of a passage from the Qur’an, and it would bring tears to
their eyes. The method is the same as that which worked to bring people
to the truth at the time of Jesus (alihi as Salaam- Peace be upon him)
– he would say to people "Follow me", and they would follow him,
because they would hear the truth in what he said.
Think of the power of the testimony of Faith that Muslims constantly
affirm in word, inner belief and outward action. The Shaahaada –
Testimony of Faith is simple yet complex. In it we show our complete
belief in the fact that Allah – we bear witness that He is the only one
worth worship. You cannot bear witness to something unless you have
seen it. None of us have seen God, or the Prophet Mohammad (sala Allahu
‘Alihi wa Salaam - Peace be upon him), but we bear witness based on the
certainty of our faith that there is a God, and Mohammad (sala Allahu
‘Alihi wa Salaam - Peace be upon him) is His Messenger.
We pray five times a day – not when we want to, but at prescribed times
throughout the day. We fast – even from the things that are lawful,
such as water and food – simply to show God that we are willing to
sacrifice anything to please Him.
We give charity – 2.5% of the money saved from throughout the year – to
aid those in need.
We perform pilgrimage – the pilgrimage that changes lives. Malcolm X
hated the concept of integration of races. For him, "the white man was
the devil". This was a product of the intense oppression suffered by
racial minorities in many countries, especially in the USA. Allah
blessed this man who was full of hatred with pilgrimage.
Malcolm X wrote a letter
from Hajj to his wife, Betty:
"Never have I witnessed such
sincere hospitality and overwhelming spirit of true brotherhood as is
practiced by people of all colours and races here in this ancient Holy
Land, the home of Abraham, Muhammad and all the other Prophets of the
Holy Scriptures. For the past week, I have been utterly speechless and
spellbound by the graciousness I see displayed all around me by people
of all colors.
"I have been blessed to visit the Holy City of Mecca, I have made my
seven circuits around the Ka'ba, led by a young Mutawaf named Muhammad,
I drank water from the well of the Zam Zam. I ran seven times back and
forth between the hills of Mt. Al-Safa and Al Marwah. I have prayed in
the ancient city of Mina, and I have prayed on Mt. Arafat."
"There were tens of thousands of pilgrims, from all over the world.
They were of all colors, from blue-eyed blondes to black-skinned
Africans. But we were all participating in the same ritual, displaying
a spirit of unity and brotherhood that my experiences in America had
led me to believe never could exist between the white and non-white."
"America needs to understand Islam, because this is the one religion
that erases from its society the race problem. Throughout my travels in
the Muslim world, I have met, talked to, and even eaten with people who
in America would have been considered white - but the white attitude
was removed from their minds by the religion of Islam. I have never
before seen sincere and true brotherhood practiced by all colours
together, irrespective of their colour."
"You may be shocked by these words coming from me. But on this
pilgrimage, what I have seen, and experienced, has forced me to
rearrange much of my thought-patterns previously held, and to toss
aside some of my previous conclusions. This was not too difficult for
me. Despite my firm convictions, I have always been a man who tries to
face facts, and to accept the reality of life as new experience and new
knowledge unfolds it. I have always kept an open mind, which is
necessary to the flexibility that must go hand in hand with every form
of intelligent search for truth."
"During the past eleven days here in the Muslim world, I have eaten
from the same plate, drunk from the same glass, and slept on the same
rug - while praying to the same God - with fellow Muslims, whose eyes
were the bluest of blue, whose hair was the blondest of blond, and
whose skin was the whitest of white. And in the words and in the deeds
of the white Muslims, I felt the same sincerity that I felt among the
black African Muslims of Nigeria, Sudan and Ghana."
"We were truly all the same (brothers) - because their belief in one
God had removed the white from their minds, the white from their
behaviour, and the white from their attitude."
"I could see from this, that perhaps if white Americans could accept
the Oneness of God, then perhaps, too, they could accept in reality the
Oneness of Man - and cease to measure, and hinder, and harm others in
terms of their 'differences' in colour."
"With racism plaguing America like an incurable cancer, the so-called
'Christian' white American heart should be more receptive to a proven
solution to such a destructive problem. Perhaps it could be in time to
save America from imminent disaster - the same destruction brought upon
Germany by racism that eventually destroyed the Germans themselves."
"Each hour here in the Holy Land enables me to have greater spiritual
insights into what is happening in America between black and white. The
American Negro never can be blamed for his racial animosities - he is
only reacting to four hundred years of the conscious racism of the
American whites. But as racism leads America up the suicide path, I do
believe, from the experiences that I have had with them, that the
whites of the younger generation, in the colleges and universities,
will see the handwriting on the walls and many of them will turn to the
spiritual path of truth - the only way left to America to ward off the
disaster that racism inevitably must lead to."
"Never have I been so highly honoured. Never have I been made to feel
more humble and unworthy. Who would believe the blessings that have
been heaped upon an American Negro? A few nights ago, a man who would
be called in America a white man, a United Nations diplomat, an
ambassador, a companion of kings, gave me his hotel suite, his bed.
Never would I have even thought of dreaming that I would ever be a
recipient of such honours - honours that in America would be bestowed
upon a King - not a Negro."
"All praise is due to Allah, the Lord of all the Worlds.
Al-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X)
(From the AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MALCOLM X with
assistance from Alex Haley, the author of ROOTS)
Such is the power of the pilgrimage. People from all countries come to
Makkah wearing only two pieces of white cloth, all saying "Labbayk
Allahumma labbayk" – "At your service, O Allah, at your service".
The essence of faith is to worship Allah – Allah says, "And I
(Allâh) created not the jinns and humans except they should
worship Me (Alone)." Adh-Dhariyaat 51:56
Compiled by: Sr. Shadia Rahman
Edited by: Br. Yahya Ibrahim