Islam In Focus
THE BASIC CONCEPTS OF ISLAM
The Concept of Faith (Iman)
Some people may think that man becomes a Muslim when he confesses belief in the Oneness of the True God and in Muhammad as His Last Messenger. But this is far from the full meaning of Faith. The full meaning of Faith in Islam is not, by any means, something nominal or mere formality. Faith in Islam is a state of happiness acquired by virtue of positive action and constructive conceptions as well as dynamic and effective measures.
The Holy Qur’an and the Traditions of Muhammad define these required measures and establish the standards which build up a meaningful Faith. Thus, the true believers are:
1. Those who believe in God, His angels, His Books as completed by the Qur’an, His messengers with Muhammad being the Last of them all, the Day of Final Judgement, the absolute knowledge and wisdom of God.
2. Those who trust God always and enjoy unshakable confidence in Him.
3. Those who spend in the way of God of what He has given them in the form of wealth, life, health, knowledge, experience, and so on.
4. Those who observe their daily prayers regularly as well as the weekly and annual congregations.
5. Those who pay their religious taxes (alms or Zakah) to the rightful beneficiaries (individuals or institutions), the minimum of which is two and half percent of the annual “net” income, or of the total value of stocks if in business – after discounting all expenses and credits.
6. Those who enjoin the right and good, and combat the wrong and evil by all lawful means at their disposal.
7. Those who obey God and His Messenger Muhammad; and feel increasing strength of faith when the Qur’an is recited, and humility of heart when God’s name is mentioned.
8. Those who love God and His Messenger most, and love their fellow men sincerely for the sake of God alone.
9. Those who love their near and distant neighbors and show genuine kindness to their guests, especially the strangers.
10. Those who say the truth and engage in good talk, or else abstain.
It is clear that the very meaning of Faith makes Islam penetrate deeply and constructively into every aspect of life. According to Islam, true Faith has decisive effect on the spiritual and material lot of man, and also on his personal and social behavior as well as his political conduct and financial life. To show how the Qur’an describes the true believers, here are some examples. The Qur'an contains numerous references like these:
They only are the true believers whose hearts feel submissive (and humble) when God is mentioned; and when the revelations of God are recited unto them, they (the revelations) increase and strengthen their Faith; and who trust in their Lord, establish the prayer (as enjoined on them) and spend of what We have bestowed on them (in the cause of God). Those are they who are in truth believers. For them are (high) grades (of honor) with their Lord, and a bountiful provision (Qur’an, 8:2-4).
And the believers, men and women, are protecting (and allied) friends of one another; they enjoin the right and forbid the wrong, and they establish worship and they pay the poor-due, and they obey God and His Messenger. As for these, God will have mercy on them; verily God is Mighty, and Wise. God promises the believers, men and women, Gardens under which rivers flow, to dwell therein, and beautiful mansions in Gardens of everlasting bliss. But the greatest bliss is the Good Pleasure of God. That is the supreme felicity (Qur’an, 9:71-72).
The true believers are those only who believe in God and His Messenger (Muhammad) and afterward doubt not, but strive with their wealth and their lives for the cause of God. Such are the sincere (Qur’an, 49:15).
Besides these Qur’anic references, there are many relevant Traditions of Muhammad. For example, he says:
None of you can be a true believer unless, he loves for his fellow believer what he loves for himself.
Three qualities are the sign of sound faith, and he who acquires them can really feel the sweet taste of Faith. They are (1) to love God and his Messenger most of all, (2) to love his fellow man for the sake of God alone, and (3) to resent and resist returning to disbelief as much as he does being cast into fire.
He who believe in God and Last Day of Judgement is forbidden to cause any harm to his neighbor, is to be kind to his guests – especially the strangers, and is to say the truth or else abstain.
There are many verses and traditions like the ones cited above. But it should be borne in mind, however, that the given quotations are not and cannot be the exact words of the Qur’an and Muhammad as they sound in the Arabic Text. The reason for that is simple. No interpreter, however learned and masterful he may be, can ever convey the spiritual power and charming appeal of the Qur’an through any language. The Qur’an is – and so God made it – inimitable, and it is beyond human imagination and power to produce anything like it. What is true of the Qur’an in this respect is also true of the Traditions of Muhammad to a certain extent, because, after the Qur’an, his words are the most conclusive and eloquent.
The Concept of Righteousness (Birr).
Islam always warns against superficial concepts and rituals, against lifeless formalities and non-effective beliefs. In one representative verse God explains the full meaning of righteousness as follows:
It is not righteousness that you turn your faces (in prayer) towards East or West; but it is righteousness to believe in God and the Last day, and the Angels and the Book, and the Messengers; to spend of your wealth – in spite of your love for it – for your kin, for orphans, for the needy, for the wayfarer, for those who ask, and for the ransom of slaves; to be steadfast in prayer and practice regular charity; to fulfill the contracts which you have made; and to be firm and patient, in pain and adversity and throughout all periods of panic. Such are the people of truth, the God – minded (Qur’an, 2:177).
In this verse there is a beautiful and clear description of the righteous man. He should obey all the salutary regulations, and should make his sincere motive the love of God and the love of his fellow man for the sake of God. Here we have four elements: (I) our Faith should be true and sincere, (II) we must be prepared to show it in deeds of charity and kindness to our fellow man, (III) we must be good citizens by supporting charitable institutions and social organizations, and (IV) we must be steadfast and unshakable in all circumstances.
It is clear, that therefore, that righteousness is not merely a matter of void utterances. It must be founded on strong faith and constant practice. It must cover the person’s thinking and action and extend to his inside and outside life, to his individual and common affairs. When the Islamic principle of righteousness is established, it provides the individual with peace in all circumstances, the society with security on all levels, the nation with solidarity, and the international community with hope and harmony. How peaceful and enjoyable life can be when people implement the Islamic Concept of Righteousness! What can be more reassuring than faith in the Beneficent Creator and investing in such good worthy causes? What can be more humane than relieving the deep anxieties of the subjugated, alleviating the sufferings of the exploited, and responding to the needs of the helpless? What is more methodical and honest than the fulfillment of commitments, the preservation of clear conscience, and the maintenance of integrity? And what is more spiritually joyful than doing all this regularly, as a matter of course, and for the love of God?
The Concept of Piety (Taqwa)
What has been said about faith and righteousness is generally true of piety. Again, it is not a matter of convenient claims and oral confessions. It is much more serious. As always, the Qur’an is our best source, and when it speaks of the pious it describes them as those who believe in the Unseen (which is taught by God), are steadfast in prayer, and spend of what We have provided for them; and who believe in the Revelation sent to you (Muhammad), and sent before your time, and (in their hearts) have the assurance of the Hereafter. They are on true guidance from their Lord, and it is these who will prosper (Qur’an, 2:3-5). The pious are those who spend (freely in the way God) whether in prosperity or in adversity; who restrain anger and pardon (all men; - for God loves those who do good; and those who – having done something to be ashamed of, or wronged their own souls – earnestly bring God into mind, and ask for forgiveness for their sins, - and who can forgive sins except God? – and are never obstinate in persisting knowingly in (the wrong) they have done. For such the reward is forgiveness from their Lord, and Gardens with rivers flowing underneath, - an eternal dwelling. How excellent a recompense for those who work (and strive)! (Qur’an, 3:134-136).
In these verses we find that piety requires a proper use of the mind by grasping truth of God and life, a proper use of wealth by spending in the way of God under all circumstances and a proper use of the spiritual as well as the physical abilities of man by observing the prayer. It also demands a high degree of self – control over one’s anger and emotions, a moral capacity for forgiveness and patience, and conscious urge to make the sinner return to God in regret and repentance. To be pious is to be a man of true and fine convictions, of determination and character, of will and courage and, above all, to be a man of God. Piety, righteousness and meaningful Faith are interrelated and all pour into one channel. They lead to Islam and build up the true Muslim.
The Concept of Prophethood.
The Merciful and loving God has sent many prophets at different times of history. Every known nation has had one prophet or more. All the prophets of God were men of good character and high honor. They were prepared and chosen by God to deliver His Message to mankind. Their honesty and truthfulness, their intelligence and integrity are beyond doubt. They were infallible in that they did not commit sins or violate the Law of God. But as mortals, they might have made unintentional mistakes in some human affairs and decisions. Their private judgment were not necessarily always right.
The sending of these prophets from God is a clear manifestation of strong link between Heaven and Earth, between God and man. It means that man is reformable and in him there is much good. The purpose of prophethood is to confirm what man already knows or can know, and to teach him what he does not or cannot know by his own means. It is also to help man to find the Straight Path of God, and to do the right and shun the wrong. Prophethood is an eloquent expression of God’s love for His creations and His will to guide them to the right way of belief and behavior. It is an emphasis of His justice to man, because He shows him true guidance first, and then holds him responsible for his deeds. He gives warnings through His prophets, and if man fails to see the dangers of his wrong deeds, his behavior becomes punishable. This is in complete accord with God’s love and justice, and the worth and capability of man of being responsible to his Lord.
The Source of prophethood and the Sponsor of all the prophets are One and the Same: it is God. Their aim is to serve God, to acquaint man with God and His Divine teachings, to establish truth and goodness, to help man to realize the true purpose of his existence and help him to conduct his life in a purposeful way. It is on this basis that the Muslims make no discrimination among the prophets and accept their teachings as consistent and complementary. And this is the reason why the Muslims believe in all the Divine Books and accept all the prophets of God as already mentioned.
The Concept of Life
Life is a brilliant demonstration of God’s wisdom and knowledge, a vivid reflection of His art and power. He is the Giver and Creator of life. Nothing comes to existence by chance, and nobody creates himself or anybody else. Life is a dear and cherishable asset, and no sensible or normal person would like to lose it by choice. Even those who feel so desperate and take their lives by committing slow suicide, try in the last minute to regain their existence and wish to capture a second chance to live. Life is given to man by God, and He is the only Rightful One to take it back; no one else has the right to destroy a life. This is why Islam forbids all kinds of suicide and self-destruction, and recommends patience and good Faith when a dear soul passes away. When a murderer is executed in punishment, his life is taken away by the right of God and in accordance with His Law.
When God gives life to man, it is not in vain that He endows him with unique qualities and great abilities. Nor is it in vain that He charges him with certain obligations. God means to help man to fulfill the purpose of life and realize the goal of existence. He means to help him to learn the creative art of living and enjoy the good taste of life according to the Divine guidance. Life is a trust from God, and man is a trustee who should handle his trust with honesty and skill, with mindfulness of God and with consciousness of responsibility to Him.
Life may be likened to a journey starting from a certain point and ending at a certain destination. It is a transitory stage, an introduction to the Eternal life in the Hereafter. In this journey man is a traveller and should be concerned with only what is of use to him in the Future Life. In other words, he should do all the good he can and make himself fully prepared to move any minute to Eternity. He should consider his life on this earth as a chance provided for him to make the best of it while he can, because when his time to leave comes he can never delay it for one second. If his term expires, it will be too late to do anything about it or extend it. The best use of life, therefore, is to live it according to the teachings of God and to make it a safe passage to the Future Life of Eternity. Because life is so important as a means to an ultimate end, Islam has laid down a complete system of regulations and principles to show man how to live it, what to take and what to leave, what to do and what to shun, and so on. All men come from God, and there is no doubt that they shall return to Him. In one of His comprehensive statements Prophet Muhammad wisely advised man to consider himself a stranger in this life or a traveller passing by the world.
The Concept of Religion
Throughout history religion has been abused and misunderstood. Some people use it as a means of exploitation and suppression, as a pretext for prejudice and persecution. Some other people use it as a source of power and domination over the elite and the masses alike. In the name of religion unjustifiable wars have been launched, freedom of thought and conscience has been oppressed, science has been persecuted, the right of the individual to maturity has been denied, and man’s dignity and honor have been flagrantly debased. And in the name of religion an injustice has been inflicted upon humanity with the result that religion itself has suffered many losses.
These are historical facts which no one can deny. But is this the proper function of religion or the right approach to religion? Could this be the purpose of religion? The indisputable answer is an emphatic no. There are many religions in the world, and each one claims to be the one and only true religion. Each religion is supposed to have come from God for the right guidance of man. But these claims contradict each other and have caused dissensions among people and vehement reactions to religion – instead of welding mankind into one universal brotherhood under the One Universal Benevolent God. This situation makes any neutral observer confused and perhaps averse to all kinds of religion.
The Islamic concept of religion is unique in the broadest sense of the word. It is true that genuine religion must come from God for the right guidance of man. And it is equally true that human nature and major human needs are basically the same at all times. This conception leads to one conclusion, and that is: There is only one true religion coming from the One and the Same God, to deal with the outstanding human problems of all times. This religion is ISLAM. But it should be borne in mind that Islam was taught by Prophet Muhammad alone. On the contrary, Islam had been taught by all the prophets before Muhammad, and the true followers of Abraham and Moses as well as those of Jesus and the rest were all called MUSLIMS. So Islam has been, and will continue to be, the true universal religion of God, because God is One and Changeless, and because human nature and major human needs are fundamentally the same, irrespective of time and place, of race and age, and of any other considerations.
Bearing this in mind, the Islamic concept maintains that religion is not only a spiritual and intellectual necessity but also a social and universal need. It is not to bewilder man but to guide him. It is not to debase him but to elevate his moral nature. It is not to deprive him of anything useful, or to burden him, or to oppress his qualities but to open for him inexhaustible treasures of sound thinking and right action. It is not confine him to narrow limits but to launch him into wide horizons of truth and goodness. In short, true religion is to acquaint man with God as well as with himself and the rest of the universe. This is by no means an oversimplification of the function of religion. Here is what it means.
When the purpose of true religion is carefully examined, it will be found that religion satisfies the spiritual and moderate material needs of man. It unties his psychological knots and complexes, sublimates his instincts and aspirations, and disciplines his desires and the whole course of life. It improves his knowledge of God – the Highest Truth in the universe, and of his own self. It teaches him about the secrets of life and the nature of man and how to treat them, about good and evil, about right and wrong. It purifies the soul from evil, clears the mind from doubts, strengthens the character and corrects the thinking and convictions of man. All this can be achieved only when man faithfully observes the spiritual duties and physical regulations introduced by religion.
On the other hand, true religion educates man and trains him in hope and patience, in truthfulness and honesty, in love for the right and good, in courage and endurance, all of which are required for the mastery of the great art of living. Moreover, true religion insures man against fears and spiritual losses, and assures him of God’s aid and unbreakable alliance. It provides man with peace and security and makes his life meaningful.
That is what true religion can do for humanity, and that is the concept of religion in Islam. Any religion which fails to bear these fruits is not Islam or rather, is not religion at all, and any man who fails to draw these benefits from religion is not religious or God-minded. God is absolutely true when He says in the Holy Qur’an: Verily the religion with God is Islam. Nor did the People of the Book dessent therefrom except through envy of each other, after knowledge had come to them. But if any deny the Signs of God, God is swift in calling to account (Qur’an, 3:19). And if anyone desires a religion other than Islam, never will it be accepted of him; and in the Hereafter he will be in the ranks of those who have lost (all spiritual good) (Qur’an, 3:85).
The Concept of Sin
One of the major troublesome areas of human existence is the problem of sin or evil in the world. It is commonly believed that sin started with Adam and Eve during their life in the Garden of Eden. That event led to the Fall and has ever since branded the human race with guilt, stigma, and bewilderment.
Islam has taken a unique position on the whole issue, a position which is not shared by any other religion we know. The Qur’an states that Adam and Eve were directed by God to reside in the Garden of Eden and enjoy its produce as they pleased, assured of bountiful supplies and comfort. But they were warned not to approach a particular tree so that they would not run into harm and injustice. Then Satan intrigued them to temptation and caused them to lose their joyful state. They were expelled from the Garden and brought down to earth to live, die, and taken out again at last for the Final Judgment. Having realized what they had done, they felt shame, guilt, and remorse. They prayed for God’s mercy and were forgiven (Qur’an, 2:35-38; 7:19-25; 20:117-123).
This symbolic event is significantly revealing. It tells that the human being is imperfect and ever wanting even if he were to live in paradise. But committing a sin or making a mistake, as Adam and Eve did, does not necessarily deaden the human heart, prevent spiritual reform or stop moral growth. On the contrary, the human being has enough sensibility to recognize his sins and shortcomings. More importantly, he is capable of knowing where to turn and to whom he should turn for guidance. Much more important is the fact that God is ever prepared to respond to the sincere calls of those who seek His aid. He is so Gracious and Compassionate that His Forgiveness is Encompassing and His Mercy all – Inclusive (Qur’an, 7:156). One last revealing reading of the event is that discrimination on the basis of sex and hereditary guilt or sin are alien to the spirit of Islam.
The idea of Original Sin or hereditary criminality has no room in the teachings of Islam. Man, according to the Qur’an (30:30) and to the Prophet, is born in natural state of purity or fitrah, that is, Islam or submission to the will and law of God. Whatever becomes of man after birth is the result of external influence and intruding factors. To put the matter in terms of modern thought, human nature is malleable; it is the socialization process, particularly the home environment, that is crucial. It plays a decisive role in the formation of human personality and the development of moral character. This does not deny to the individual the freedom of choice or exempt him from responsibility. Rather, it is a relief from that heavy burden of hereditary criminality or instinctual sin.
God, by definition, is Just, Wise, Merciful, Compassionate, and Perfect. He has created man by breathing into him of His own Spirit (Qur’an, 15:29; 32:9; 66:12). Since God is the absolute infinite good and His Spirit the absolute perfect one; since man, through creation, received of the Spirit of God, then man was bound to retain at least some portion of this good Spirit of the Creator. This may account for the good dispositions of man and his spiritual longings. But, on the other hand, God created man to worship Him, not to be His equal, rival, the perfect incarnation or absolute embodiment of His goodness. This means that no matter how much good and perfect man may be, by the grace of creation, he is still far short of the goodness and perfection of the Creator. Man is not without such qualities, to be sure. But they are limited and proportionate to man’s finite nature, capacity, and responsibility. This may explain the imperfection and fallibility of man.
However, imperfection and fallibility are not the equivalent of sin or synonymous with criminality – at least not in Islam. If man is imperfect he is not left helpless or deserted by God to fall victim to his shortcomings. He is empowered by revelations, supported by reason, fortified by the freedom of choice, and guided by various social and psychological dispositions to seek and achieve relative perfection. The constant gravitation between the forces of good and evil is the struggle of life. It gives man something to look forward to, ideals to seek, work to do, and roles to play. It makes his life interesting and meaningful, not monotonous and stagnant. On the other hand, it pleases God to see His servants in a state of spiritual and moral victory.
According to the moral scale of Islam, it is not a sin that man is imperfect or fallible. This is part of his nature as a finite limited creature. But it is a sin if he has the ways and means of relative perfection and chooses not to seek it. A sin is any act, thought, or will that (1) is deliberate, (2) defies the unequivocal law of God, (3) violates the right of God or the right of man, (4) is harmful to the soul or body, (5) is committed repeatedly, and (6) is normally avoidable. These are the components of sin which is not innate or hereditary. It is true, however, that man has the potential capacity of sin latent in him; but this is not greater than his capacity of piety and goodness. If he chooses to actualize the potential of sin instead of the potential of goodness, he will be adding a new external element to his pure nature. For this added external element man alone is responsible.
In Islam, there are major and minor sins as there are sins against God and sins against both God and man. All sins against God, except one, are forgivable if the sinner sincerely seeks forgiveness. The Qur’an has stated that truly God does not forgive the sin of shirk (polytheism, pantheism, trinity, etc.). But He forgives sins other than this and pardons whom He wills. Yet if the polytheist or atheist comes back to God, his sin will be forgiven. Sins against men are forgivable only if the offended pardon the offender or if the proper compensations and / or punishments are applied.
In conclusion, sin is acquired not inborn, emergent not built-in, avoidable not inevitable. It is a deliberate conscious violation of the unequivocal law of God. If man does something that is truly caused by natural instincts or absolutely irresistible drives and uncontrollable urges, then such an act is not a sin in Islam. Otherwise, God’s purpose will be pointless and man’s responsibility will be in vain. God demands of man what lies within the human possibilities and reaches.
The Concept of Freedom
Freedom, both as a concept and as a value, has been denied to many individuals, groups, and nations. It has been often misunderstood and abused. The fact is that in no human society can man be free in the absolute sense of the word. There must be some limitations of one sort or another, if the society is to function at all.
Apart from this general idea, Islam teaches freedom, cherishes it, and guarantees it for the Muslim as well as for the non-Muslim. The Islamic concept of freedom applies to all voluntary activities of man in all walks of life. As already stated, every man is born free on the fitrah or in a pure state of nature. This means that man is born free from subjugation, sin, inherited inferiority, and ancestral hinderance. His right of freedom is sacred as long as he does not deliberately violate the Law of God or desecrate the rights of others.
One of the main objectives of Islam is to emancipate the mind from superstitutions and uncertainties, the soul from sin and corruption, the conscience from oppression and fear, and even the body from disorder and degeneration.
The course which Islam has enjoyed on man to realize this goal includes profound intellectual endeavors, constant spiritual observances, binding moral principles, and even dietary regulations. When man follows this course, religiously, he cannot fail to reach his ultimate goal of freedom and emancipation.
The question of freedom with regard to belief, worship, and conscience is also of paramount importance in Islam. Every man is entitled to exercise his freedom of belief, conscience, and worship. In the words of the Qur’an, God says: Let there be no compulsion in religion. Truth stands out clear from Error. Whoever rejects Evil and believes in God has grasped the strongest bond that never breaks. And Gods knows all and hears all things (Qur’an, 2:256).
Islam takes this attitude because religion depends upon faith, will, and committment. These would be meaningless if induced by force. Furthermore, Islam presents the Truth of God in the form of an opportunity and leaves the choice for man to decide his own course. The Qur’an says: The Truth is from your Lord. Let him who will, believe, and let him who will, disbelieve (Qur’an, 18:29).
The Islamic concept of freedom is an article of faith, a solemn command from the Supreme Creator. It is built on the following fundamental principles. First, man’s conscience is subject to God only, to Whom every man is directly responsible. Secondly, every human being is personally responsible for his deeds and he alone is entitled to reap the fruits of his work. Thirdly, God has delegated to man the responsibility to decide for himself. Fourthly, man is sufficiently provided with spiritual guidance and endowed with rational qualities that enable him to make responsible, sound choices. Such is the foundation of the Islamic concept of freedom and such is the value of freedom in Islam. It is a natural right of man, a spiritual privilege, a moral prerogative, and, above all, a religious duty. Within the framework of this Islamic concept of freedom, there is no room for religious persecutions, class conflict, or racial prejudice. The individual’s right of freedom is as sacred as his right of Life; freedom is the equivalent of Life itself.
The Concept of Equality
One basic element in the value system of Islam is the principle of equality or, better yet, equity. This value of equality is not to be mistaken for or confused with identicalness or stereotype. Islam teaches that, in the sight of God, all men are equal, but they are not necessarily identical. There are differences of abilities, potentials, ambitions, wealth and so on. Yet none of these differences can by itself establish a status of superiority of one man or race to another. The stock of man, the color of his skin, the amount of wealth he has, and the degree of prestige he enjoys have no bearing on the character and personality of the individual as far as God is concerned. The only distinction which God recognizes is the distinction in piety, and the only criterion which God applies is the criterion of goodness and spiritual excellence. In the Qur’an, God says:
O mankind, verily We have created you from a single (Pair) of a male and a female, and have made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other. Verily the most honored of you in the sight of God is the most righteous (49:13).
The difference of race, color, or social status are only accidental. They do not affect the true stature of man in the sight of God. Again, the value of equality is not simply a matter of constitutional rights or gentlemen’s agreement or condescending charity. It is an article of faith which the Muslim takes seriously and to which he must adhere sincerely. The foundations of this Islamic value of equality are deeply rooted in the structure of Islam. It stems from basic principles such as the following: (1) All men are created by One and the Same Eternal God, the Supreme Lord of all. (2) All mankind belong to the human race and share equally in the common parentage of Adam and Eve. (3) God is just and kind to all his creatures. He is not partial to any race, age, or religion. The whole universe is His dominion and all people are His creatures. (4) All people are born equal in the sense that none brings any possession with him, and they die equal in the sense that none brings any possession with him, and they die equal in the sense that they take back nothing of their worldly belongings. (5) God judges every person on the basis of his own merits and according to his own deeds. (6) God has conferred on man, man as such, a title of honor and dignity.
Such are some of the principles behind the value of equality in Islam. When this concept is fully utilized, it will leave no place for prejudice or persecutions. And when this Divine ordinance is fully implemented, there will be no room for oppression or suppression. Concepts of chosen and gentile peoples, words such as privileged and condemned races, expressions such as social castes and second – class citizens will all become meaningless and obsolete.
The Concept of Brotherhood
Another fundamental element in the value system of Islam is the value of human brotherhood. This value also is founded on the same principles which have been discussed in connection with freedom and equality. Besides those foregoing principles, human brotherhood in Islam is based on an unshakable belief in the Oneness and Universality of God the worshipped, the unity of mankind the worshippers, and the unity of religion the medium of worship. For the Muslim, God is One, Eternal and Universal. He is the Creator of all men, the Provider for all men, the Judge of all men, and the Lord over all men. To Him, social status, national supermanship, and racial origin are insignificant. Before Him, all men are equal and brothers of one another.
The Muslim believes in the unity of mankind with regard to the source of creation, the original parentage, and the final destiny. The source of creation is God Himself. The original common parentage is that of Adam and Eve. To this first parentage, every human being belongs and of it he partakes. As for the final destiny, there is no doubt in the Muslim’s mind that it will be to God, the Creator, to Whom all men shall return.
The Muslim believes in the unity of God’s religion. This means that God does not confine His religion or favors to any particular nation, race, or age. It further means that there can be no contradiction or fundamental differences in the Religion of God. When all this is interpreted properly, it will leave no ground for pretended supremacy or presumptuous exclusivity. And when it is imparted into the human mind, it will provide man with a clear concept and a solid basis of human brotherhood. Because the Muslim believes in the Oneness of God, the unity of mankind, and the unity of religion, he believes in all the Messengers and Revelations of God without discrimination.
The Concept of Peace
To appreciate how Islam approaches the question of peace, one has only to consider a few elementary facts about Islam. Peace and Islam are derived from the same root and may be considered synonymous. One of God's names is Peace. The concluding words of the daily prayers of every Muslim are words of peace. The greeting of the Muslims when they return to God is peace. The daily salutations among the Muslims are expressions of peace. The adjective “Muslim” means, in a sense, peaceful. Heaven in Islam is the abode of peace.
This is how fundamental and dominant the theme of peace is in Islam. The individual who approaches God through Islam cannot fail to be at peace with God, with himself, and with his fellow men. Taking all these values together, putting man in his proper place in the cosmos, and viewing life in the Islamic perspective, men of good regain human dignity, to achieve equality, to enjoy universal brotherhood, and to build a lasting peace.
The Concept of Community
The word community has acquired certain connotations, some of which are romantic and nostalgic, some derogatory and reactionist. But since we intend to deal with the basics, we shall confine our discussion to the most fundamental meanings of the word community.
In one basic sense, the concept community means “all forms of relationship that are characterized by a high degree of personal intimacy, emotional depth, moral is commitment, social cohesion, and continuity in time ….. It may be found in ….. locality, religion, nation, race, occupation, or (common cause). Its archetype ….. is the family” (Robert Nisbet, The Sociological Tradition - New York: Basic Books, 1996, pp. 47-48)
In another basic sense, a community is a comprehensive group with two chief characteristics: (1) it is a group within which the individual can have most of the activities and experiences that are important to him. (2) The group is bound together by a shared sense of belonging and a feeling of identity (L. Broom & P. Selznick, Sociology: A Text with Adapted Readings New York: Harper & Rowe, 1968, p.31).
The Historical master trend has been a movement from those intimate, deep, moral relationships of community to those impersonal, formal utilitarian relationships of mass society. The movement has been designated by different phases and marked by far-reaching consequences.
From this historical trend, one can infer certain conclusions. First, this historical evolution has not been totally negative or completely positive and constructive. Both negative and positive consequences have affected different people in different degrees. Secondly, modern society is far from perfect, there is a great task yet to be performed. Thirdly, the human condition is not a lost cause or a hopeless case. True, there are crises and travail, but the situation is not entirely out of control. Finally, mankind has grown more interdependent and human societies more intertwined. Whatever happens in one segment of society is bound to affect the rest. We should keep this in mind when we discuss the Islamic concept of community.
It should be generally correct to state that the Islamic concept of community has certain unique characteristics. Such unique characteristics relate to the foundation or basis of the community, its historic mission and purpose, its status among other communities, its identity, and its continuity.
The community in Islam is not founded on race, nationality, locality, occupation, kinship, or special interests. It does not take its name after the name of a leader or a founder or an event. It transcends national borders and political boundaries. The foundation of the community in Islam is the principle which designates submission to the will of Allah, obedience to His law and commitment to His cause. In short, an Islamic community is present only when it is nourished and fostered by Islam.
The Islamic community has a historic mission far beyond mere survival, sheer power, breeding, or physiological continuity. Such a mission is described in the Holy Qur’an as follows:
Let there be a community (or ummah) among you, advocating what is good, demanding what is right, and eradicating what is wrong. Theses are indeed the successful (3:104). You are the best community ever raised, you enforce what is right, fight what is wrong, and believe in Allah (3:110).
The historic role of the Islamic Community is to be the true embodiment of the virtuous, the wholesome, and the noble. A truly Islamic community is the alert guardian of virtue and the bitter enemy of vice. What is required of the community at large is likewise required of every individual member. This is because the whole community is an organic entity and every individual is accountable to Allah. The role of the individual Muslim is best described by the statement of the prophet:
Whoever of you sees something wrong must seek to rectify it by action or deed; if he cannot, let him try to change it by word; if he cannot, let his feelings of disapproval and condemnation intensify and this is the minimal degree of faith.
As we can see, this description is very significant and comprehensive. In this age of revolutionary media, no one in his right mind can underestimate the power of concerted actions, or the power of communicable words, or the power of feelings.
The historic role of the Islamic community is further restated in the Qur’anic verse:
We have made you middle nation, a well-integrated community, a balanced ummah, so that you may be witnesses over other people and the Messenger a witness over you (2:143).
Such a role of witnessing is both highly significant and extremely demanding. It means that the community of Islam must be exemplary. It must set the highest standards of performance and be the reference point for others. It must avoid excesses and extravagances, static rigidity and instant evaporation. To strike a middle course of action, to be steadfast and consistent, to know what to accept and what to reject, to have principles and at the same time remain adaptable is probably the hardest test of the human character and social viability. But this is the role of the Islamic community and the historic mission of Muslims. And it is this very criterion that qualifies the Muslim as the best human community ever to evolve.
The identity of the community centers upon the principles of consistent balance, exemplary conduct, unity of purpose, reciprocity of feelings, solidarity, and equity. Numerous are the statements of the Qur'an and Sunnah to this effect (for example 4:135, 21:92, 23:52).
With regard to the continuity of the Islamic community, certain points are noteworthy. It is the duty of Muslims to do everything within their means to insure that continuity. The rules of marriage and inheritance, the duties of Zakah and Hajj, the mutual rights and obligations of kin, the individual conscientiousness and social belonging – all these are oriented to the healthy continuity of the community of Islam. On the other hand, Allah has pledged to prophet this continuity in several ways. First, He has pledged to preserve the Qur’an and protect it purity (15:9).
This means that there shall always be a community to follow the Qur’an; the Qur’an shall not be without followers even though there may be followers of other books. Secondly, Islam itself is a continuity. Whenever a nation deviated from the path of Allah, He restated His word, reaffirmed His truth, and commissioned new prophets or reformers to carry on. Thirdly, Allah has issued a strong warning to the effect that if Muslims turned away from the right path, they would be the losers; Allah would replace them by other people unlike the failing Muslims (47:38).
Again, the believers are warned that if any of them turns back from his Faith, soon will God produce people whom He will love and they will love Him, - humble toward the believers and mighty against the disbelievers, fighting in the way of God and never afraid of reproaches (Qur’an, 5:57).
The Concept of Morality
The concept of morality in Islam centers around certain basic beliefs and principles. Among these are the followings: (1) God is the Creator and Source of all goodness, truth and beauty. (2) Man is a responsible, dignified, and honorable agent of his Creator. (3) God has put everything in the heavens and the earth in the service of mankind. (4) By His Mercy and Wisdom, God does not expect the impossible from man or hold him accountable for anything beyond his power. Nor does God forbid man to enjoy the good things of life. (5) Moderation, practicality, and balance are the guarantees of high integrity and sound morality. (6) All things are permissible in principle except what is singled out as forbidden, which must be avoided. (7) Man’s ultimate responsibility is to God and his highest goal is the pleasure of his Creator.
The dimensions of morality in Islam are numerous, far-reaching and comprehensive. The Islamic morals deal with the relationship between man and God, man and his fellow men, man and the other elements and creatures of the universe, man and his innermost self. The Muslim has to guard his external behavior and his manifest deeds, his words and his thoughts, his feelings and intentions. In a general sense, his role is to champion what is right and fight what is wrong, seek what is true and abandon what is false, cherish what is beautiful and wholesome and avoid what is indecent. Truth and virtue are his goal. Humbleness and simplicity, courtesy and compassion, are his second nature. To him, arrogance and vanity, harshness and indifference, are distasteful, offensive and displeasing to God.
More specifically, the Muslim’s relationship with God is one of love and obedience, complete trust and thoughtfulness, peace and appreciation, steadfastness and active service. This high – level morality will, undoubtedly, nourish and reinforce morality at the human level. For in his relationship with his fellow men, the Muslim must show kindness to the kin and concern for the neighbor, respect for the elderly and compassion for the young, care for the sick and support for the needy, sympathy for the grieved and cheer for the depressed, joy with the blessed and patience with the misguided, tolerance toward the ignorant and forgiveness of the helpless, disapproval of the wrong and rise above the trivial. Moreover, he must respect the legitimate rights of others as much he does his own. His mind must be occupied with constructive ideas and serious pursuits; his heart must beat with compassionate feelings and good will; his soul must radiate with peace and serenity; his counsel must be sincere and courteous.
The Muslim’s moral obligation is to be a vivid example of honesty and perfection, fulfill his commitments and perform his tasks well, seek knowledge and virtue by all possible means, correct his mistakes and repent his sins, develop a good sense of social consciousness and nourish a feeling of human response, provide for his dependents generously without extravagance and meet their legitimate needs. Nature and the world are the field of exploration and the object of enjoyment for the Muslim. He must utilize their elements and ponder their marvels, read them as signs of God’s greatness and preserve their beauty, explore their wonders and discover their secrets. But whether he uses them for utility or for sheer enjoyment, he must avoid waste and excess. As a responsible agent of God and a conscientious trustee, he must always be mindful of others who share the world with him and who will succeed him in the future.
The moral principles of Islam are sometimes stated as positive commitments which must be fulfilled and sometimes as negative prescriptions which must be avoided. Whether they are stated positively or negatively, they are designed to build in the human being a sound mind, a peaceful soul, a strong personality, and a healthy body. There is no doubt that these are necessary requirements of the general welfare and prosperity of mankind. And to help man to satisfy these requirements Islam has, among other things, laid down the following regulations:
1. To bear witness to the Oneness of God and the Messengership of Muhammad in a meaningful commital way;
2. To observe the daily prayers regularly;
3. To pay the religious tax which is known as alms or the poor-due (zakah);
4. To keep the fast of the Holy Month of Ramadan;
5. To make a pilgrimage to the Holy City of Mecca at least once in his lifetime.
The moral and social implications of these regulations will be discussed later in detail.
Besides these positive measures, there are others which may be called preventive and precautionary ones. To protect man from insanity and degeneration, from weakness and indulgence, from indecency and temptation, Islam has prohibited certain things pertaining to food, drinking, recreation and sex. Among these are the following:
1. All kinds of intoxicating wines, liquors, and spirits (Qur’an, 2:219; 4:43; 5:93-94);
2. The meat and products of swine (pork, bacon, ham, lard), of wild animals that use claws or teeth to kill their victims (tigers, wolves, leopards, etc.), of all birds of prey (hawks, vultures, crows, etc.), of rodents, reptiles, worms and the like, of dead animals and birds that are not slaughtered properly (Qur’an, 2:172-173; 5:4-6);
3. All forms of gambling and vain sports (Qur’an, 2:219; 5:93-94);
4. All sexual relations out of wedlock and all manners of talking, walking, looking and dressing in public that may instigate temptation, arouse desire, stir suspicion, or indicate immodesty and indecency (Qur’an 23:5-7; 24:30-33; 70:29-31).
This Act of Prohibition is introduced by God for the spiritual and mental well-being of man as well as for the moral and material benefit of humanity. It is not an arbitrary action or a self-imposed intrusion from God. On the contrary, it is a sign of God’s interest in the welfare of humanity and an indication of His good care for man.
When God prohibits certain things, it is not because He wants to deprive man of anything good or useful. It is because He means to protect man and allow him to develop a good sense of discrimination, a refined taste for the better things in life, and a continued interest in higher moral values. To achieve this, good care must be taken of man’s spirit and mind, soul and body, conscience and sentiments, health and wealth, physique and morale. Prohibition, therefore, is not deprivation but enrichment, not suppression but discipline; not limitation but expansion.
To show that all prohibitions are acts of mercy and wisdom, two Islamic principles are worth mentioning in this connection. First, extraordinary circumstances, emergencies, necessities and exigencies allow the Muslim to do what is normally forbidden. As long as these circumstances exist and to the extent that he cannot help the situation, he is not to blame if he fails to observe the moral rules of God (see Qur’an, 2:173; 5:4). Secondly, God has inscribed for Himself the rule of mercy: any who do evil out of ignorance, but thereafter repent and amend their conduct, will be forgiven; surely God is Merciful and Oft-forgiving (Qur’an, 6:54).
In a remarkable, typical passage, the Qur’an has laid down the grounds and philosophy of sound moral conduct. The passage may be rendered as follows:
O Children of Adam! Wear your beautiful apparel at every time and place of prayer; eat and drink, but waste not by excess, for God loves not the wasters. Say: ‘Who has forbidden the beautiful gifts of God, which He has produced for His servants, and the things, clean and pure (which He has provided) for sustenance?’ Say: 'They are, in the life of this world, for those who believe, (and) purely for them on the Day of Judgement.’ thus do We explain the Signs in detail for those who understand, Say: ‘The things that my Lord has indeed forbidden are: shameful deeds, whether open or secret, sins and trespasses against truth or reason; assigning of partners to God – and saying things about God of which you have no knowledge’ (Qur’an 7:31-33).
The range of morality in Islam is so inclusive and integrative that it combines at once faith in God, religious rites, spiritual observances, social conduct, decision making, intellectual pursuits, habits of consumption, manners of speech, and all other aspects of human life. Because morality is such an integral part of Islam, the moral tone underlies all the passage of the Qur’an and the moral teachings are repeatedly stressed in various contexts throughout the Holy Book. This makes it difficult to devise any reasonably brief classification of these moral teachings according to their citations in the Qur’an. Every principle is mentioned many times in various contexts. It appears either as a single significant principle or as an element of a total system of morality, which itself is an element of a complete religious supersystem.
In view of this, the following passages must be taken only as representative selections from the Qur’an, rendered and interpreted by human endeavors which, inevitably, fall short of the perfection of the original and complete version of the Book.
Serve God, and join not any partners with Him; and do good; - to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, the needy ones, neighbors who are near, neighbors who are strangers, the companion by your side, the wayfarer (you meet), and what your right hands possess (captives, slaves, animals, birds, etc.): For God loves not the arrogant, the vainglorious; - (Nor) those who are niggardly or enjoin niggardliness on others, or hide the bounties which God has bestowed on them; for We have prepared for those who resist Faith a punishment that steeps them in contempt; (Nor) those who spend of their substance, (out of hypocrisy) just to be seen of men, but have no faith in God and the Last Day. If any take the Evil One for their intimate what a dreadful intimate he is! (4:36-38).
Say (O Muhammad): ‘Come, I will rehearse what God has (really) prohibited you from’: join not anything as equal with Him; be good to your parents; kill not your children on a plea of want; for We provide sustenance for you and for them; …. And come not near to the orphan’s property, except to improve it, until he attains the age of full strength; give measure and weight with full justice; no burden do We place on any soul, but that which it can bear; and whenever you speak, speak justly, even if a near relative is concerned; and fulfill the Covenant of God. Thus does He Command you, that you may remember. Verily, this is My Way, leading straight; follow it; follow not (other) paths: They will scatter you about from His Right path. Thus does He command you, that you may be righteous (6:151-153).
God commands justice, the doing of good, and kindness to kith and kin; and He forbids all shameful deeds, and injustice and rebellion: He instructs you, that you may receive admonition. Fulfill the Covenant of God when you have entered into it, and break not your oaths after you have confirmed them; indeed you have made God your surety; for God knows all that you do . . . . Whoever works righteousness, man or woman, and has Faith, verily, to him will We give a new Life, a life that is good and pure, and We will bestow on such (workers) their reward according to the best of their actions (16: 90-91, 97).
Invite (all) to the way of your Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious; for your Lord knows best, who have strayed from His Path, and who are truly guided (16:125).
Who is better in speech than one who calls (others) to God, works righteousness, and says: ‘I am one of those who bow in Islam’. Nor can Goodness and Evil be equal. Repel (Evil) with what is best. Then the one between whom and you there was hatred will become as it were your friend and intimate! (41:33-34).
Whatever is given to you (here) is (only) a convenience of this Life. But that which is with God is better and more lasting. (It is) For those who believe and put their trust in their Lord; those who avoid the greater crimes and shameful deeds, and when they are angry even then forgive; those who hearken to their Lord, and establish regular prayer; who (conduct) their affairs by mutual consultation; who spend out of what We bestow on them for sustenance; and those who, when an oppressive wrong is inflicted on them, (are not cowed but) help and defend themselves. The recompense for an injury is an injury equal to it (in degree), but if a person forgives and makes reconciliation, his reward is due from God, for God loves not those who do wrong. But indeed if any do help and defend themselves after a wrong (done) to them, against such (persons) there is no cause of blame. The blame is only against those who oppress men with wrong doing and insolently transgress beyond bounds through the land, defying right and justice. For such (oppressors and transgressors) there will be a penalty grievous. But indeed if any show patience and forgive, that would truly be an exercise of courageous will and resolution in the conduct of affairs (42: 36-43).
If any do wish for the transitory things (of this Life), We readily grant them such things as We will, to such persons as We will, but in the end We have provided Hell for them where they will burn, disgraced and rejected. And those who do wish for the (things of) the Hereafter, and strive therefor with all due striving, and have Faith, - they are the ones whose striving is appreciable (by God.). Of the bounties of your Lord We bestow freely on all-these as well as those: the bounties of your Lord are not closed (to anyone). (17:18-20)
Take not with God another object of worship: or you (man!) will sit in disgrace and destitution. Your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him, and that you be kind to parents. Whether one or both of them attain old age in your life, say not to them a word of contempt, nor repel them, but address them in terms of honor. And out of kindness, lower to them the wing of humility, and say: ‘My Lord! bestow on them Your mercy even as they cherished me in childhood.’ Your Lord knows best what is in your hearts. If you do deeds of righteousness, verily He is Most Forgiving to those who turn to Him again and again (in true penitence). After render to the kindred their due rights, as (also) to those in want, and to the wayfarer. But squander not (your wealth) in the manner of a spendthrift. Verily spendthrifts are brothers of the Evil Ones; and the Evil One is to his Lord ungrateful. And even if you have to turn away from them (the said people), in pursuit of the Mercy from your Lord which you do expect, yet speak to them words of easy kindness. Make not your hand tied (like a niggard’s) to your neck, nor stretch it forth to its utmost reach (like an irresponsible squanderer, if you choose either way), you will become blameworthy and destitute (respectively). Verily your Lord does provide sustenance in abundance for whom He pleases, and He provides in a just measure; for He does know and regard all His servants. Kill not your children for fear of want. We shall provide sustenance for them as well as for you, verily the killing of them is a great sin. Nor come near to adultery; for it is a shameful deed and an evil, opening the road (to other evils). Nor take life – which God has made sacred – except for just cause. And if anyone is slain wrongfully, We have given his heir authority (to demand equal punishment or to forgive). But let him not exceed bounds in the matter of taking life; for he is helped (by the Law). Come not near to the orphan’s property except to improve it, until he attains the age of full strength; and fulfill (every) engagement: for (every) engagement will be enquired into (on the Day of Reckoning). Give full measure when you measure, and weigh with a balance that is straight. That is the most fitting and the most advantageous in the final determination. And pursue not that of which you have no knowledge (idle and useless curiosity); for every act of hearing, or of seeing or of (feeling in) the heart will be enquired into (on the Day of Reckoning). Nor walk on the earth with arrogance; for you cannot rend the earth asunder, nor reach the mountains in height. Of all such things evil is hateful in the sight of your Lord. These are among the (precepts of) wisdom, which your Lord has revealed to you. Take not, with God, another object of worship, lest you should be thrown into Hell, blameworthy and rejected (17:22-39).
We bestowed wisdom on Luqman: ‘ Show your gratitude to God’. Any who is grateful does so to the profit of his own soul. But if any are ungrateful, verily God is free of all needs, worthy of all praise …..And We have enjoined on man (to be good) to his parents. In travail upon travail did his mother bear him, and in years twain was his weaning. (hear the command), show gratitude to Me and to your parents. To Me is your final Goal. But if they strive to make you join in worship with Me things of which you have no knowledge (or do any wrong), obey them not; yet bear them company in this life with justice (and consideration), and follow the way of those who turn to Me (in love). In the end the return of you all is to Me, and I will tell you the truth (and meaning) of all that you did …… O my Son! (said Luqman): Establish regular prayer, enjoin what is just (and right) and forbid what is wrong; and bear with patient constancy whatever betide you; for this is firmness (of purpose) in (the conduct of) affairs. And swell not your cheek (for pride) at men, nor walk in insolence through the earth; for God loves not any arrogant boaster. And be moderate in your pace, and lower your voice; for the harshest of sounds without doubt is the braying of the ass (31:12-19)
O you who believe! Intoxicants and gambling . . . are an abomination, of Satan’s handiwork. Avoid such (abomination), so that you may prosper. Satan’s plan is only to excite enmity and hatred between you, with intoxicants and gambling, and hinder you from the rememberance of God and from prayer. Will you not then abstain? (5:90-91).
But seek, with that which God has bestowed on you, the Home of the Hereafter. Nor forget your portion in this world. But you do good, as God has been good to you, and seek not mischief in the land; for God Loves not the mischief makers (28:77).
These selections can be supported by many others from the Qur’an and the Traditions of Muhammad. In themselves they are sufficient to portray the fundamental morals of Islam. These Islamic morals are unique in their nature under all circumstances. They are introduced by God not simply to be admired occasionally but to be enforced and effective. They are meant to help the individual to develop his personality and cultivate his character in the most wholesome manner, to strengthen his bonds and consolidate his association with God, the Source of all Goodness. Never were the Islamic morals designed to intimidate the individual and make him passive or indifferent. One example will illustrate the point. If a Muslim is wronged or oppressed, he has the free choice either to resist and retaliate in an equal measure or to forgive and entrust God with the results of his deed. He knows that he is authorized to take either action, and he equally knows that it is better for him to forgive. So when he forgives, he does so with his own free choice for the love of God. Similarly, when he retaliates he is not violating the Law or acting unjustly; he is defending his rights, an attitude which is a sacred duty in itself, and is helping the rightful authorities to establish order and justice. If Islam were to demand absolute forgiveness as some other creeds do in theory, many undisciplined people would be tempted to do wrong and exceed all limits. Likewise, if Islam were to demand only retaliation, as some other creeds ruthlessly teach, there would be no room for mercy and patience nor for spiritual reform and moral maturity, in which case many fine qualities of man would subside and many moral potentials may never be actualized.
It is common knowledge that the people who are taught to forgive under all circumstances do not, and probably cannot, practice their teachings, because it is not the interest of humanity in the long run, nor is it in the interest of morality itself. Likewise, the people who are taught to practice stern retaliation have little or no respect for human virtues and care less for moral values as universal rules. But Islam, the Divine foster of human nature, has given the right answer to human problems. To those wrong doers who are looking for a second chance, who may improve or benefit by granting them pardon, forgiveness is recommended and preferable. But against those who might misunderstand the motives of forgiveness or be tempted to pursue the wrong course, equal retaliation is authorized. Thus, the attitude of the Muslim in either case is sound and beneficial. When he forgives, he pleases God, retains the upper hand and contributes to the reformation of the delinquent. And when he retaliates, he defends the right, establishes order and justice, and helps to arrest evil. Now, which is sound morality? The attitude of the person who is a ruthless avenger indiscriminately? Or the attitude of a Muslim who makes room for mercy and forgiveness, and who allows for extraordinary circumstances? And who is normally sound? The person who forgives because he knows that he is not allowed to retaliate? Or a Muslim who forgives while he is fully aware that he can lawfully retaliate? Which is real forgiveness? The one resulting from external compulsion and prohibition not to act otherwise? Or the one resulting from freedom of choice and freedom of action? It is no wonder that the moral principles of Islam are sound, unique, and adaptive. They are the instructions of God, the Source of all goodness and morality.
The Concept of the Universe
In the foreword, we briefly discussed the position of the Muslims and the future of Islam in Western Hemisphere. In this part, we shall discuss the position of man in the contemporary world, the general human situation, and the Islamic concept of the universe or world view. This will reaffirm the concepts that have already been discussed, add some new ideas, and tie together the various dimensions of the subject in a summary recapitulatory fashion.
The present human situation is alarming, to say the least. It demands concern and active response on the part of all people of good will and God – mindedness. But this does not, and should not, lead to despair or resignation. The spirit of hope is, and has always been, an integral part of Islam (see, e. g., Qur,an 12:87; 65:3)
The problems and crises of modern times are not entirely unique or peculiar. It is true that they are difficult, complex, and agonizing. Perhaps this is even more so now than ever before. But the difference, however, between this age and those of yester centuries is basically a difference of degree rather than of kind. The ever – increasing complexity of our contemporary predicaments may be largely due to a similar, proportionate rise in our expectations and capacities.
For many centuries and in numerous regions of the globe, the chief source of the most difficult crises has essentially been a kind of inflexible, exclusive, and intolerant attitude toward the unfamiliar, the different, and the foreign. This orientation fostered racism, elitism, bigotry, prejudice, and a whole host of other equally distasteful attitudes.
Few people can really deny that humanity is facing an unusual crisis. This present human crisis seems to emanate from a serious imbalance between our external, outward, material explorations and our internal, inward, moral gropings. Nothing is simpler than calling for the maintenance of an equilibrium, advocating a “middle range,” or crusading for the “golden means.” Yet nothing has been harder to attain. In the past, utterances such as man cannot live by bread alone were sometimes so distorted as to connote disregard for man’s material welfare. Similarly, trust in God has been misunderstood; it is often taken to mean helpless fatalism or categorical denial of human free will and self-realization. An overemphasis on spirituality and resignation is bound to give rise to a counter emphasis on materialism, rationalism, “free will”, and so on. Stressed beyond certain limits, spirituality may become superstition, and confusion. Likewise, a counter stress may turn materialism into laxity, free will into libertinism, and rationalism into sheer vanity. The intellectual history of the last few centuries demonstrates these tendencies only too well.
Over the years of recent decades, the spiritual scale tipped up and down. In the sixties, and now in the seventies, the news-making events are those of the unsurpassed, unprecedented, outerspace explorations. Equally sensational are the unprecedented explorations in the inward, internal realms of being, however faddish, cultic, or neurotic they may seem to be.
The rise of these two unprecedented and unbalanced types of exploration is exceptionally alarming. The reason probably lies in the fact that the two types do not seem to relate to each other, let alone converge. There is no apparent reciprocity, mutual reinforcement, or crossfertilization. Besides, their precarious, unbalanced existence is a constant threat to the majority of people. It may very well drive them into ambivalence and confusion which may, in turn, intensify the problems of society and harden the lot of modern man. But such a precarious course can be changed if the outward scientific explorations and the inward moral gropings are somehow reconciled. Man does not live by bread alone. That is true enough. But neither does he live by prayers only. He is both a political or materialistic animal and a religious explorer of the holy.
As already mentioned, the contemporary world is clearly baffled by numerous problems. But it is equally baffled by the conflicting diagnoses and prescriptions to cope with these problems. Some people sing along with the popular lyric, “what the world needs now is love . . .etc.” Some call for a human rebirth. Others turn to Marxism, Humanism, Satanism, or Scientism as the ultimate solution. Still more are awaiting the arrival of some future Savior. Yet this long list does not even include the indifferent, the hopeless, and the apathetic who may in fact outnumber the optimist clubs combined. But it seems that the greatest need today is the pressing need for "understanding." What man needs most of all is to understand himself and his nature, his potentials and limitations, his place in the universe and relationships with its elements.
The question now is how can Islam help man to understand himself, unclog his mind, and clear his blurred vision? To try an answer to this question, it will be necessary to keep in mind the basic concepts of Islam which have been discussed and to elaborate further some elements of its value system. This analysis will hopefully show how they may relate to modern man in his contemporary predicament, and how they may help him to find his way through.
The principle of “moderation” is most characteristic of Islam. It is probably best expressed in the way Islam views human nature, the meaning of life, and the idea of God. Islam does not subscribe to the one-sided “humanistic” philosophy, which almost deifies man and recognizes nothing beyond. Neither does Islam endorse the equally one-sided verdict that human nature is inherently vicious, wicked, or sinful, Islam rejects the idea that life is nasty, brutal, short, and miserable. But it equally rejects the idea that life is an end in itself, pleasurable, and carefree. Islam does give life a positive meaning, a purpose. It would devalue life on earth only relative to the Hereafter. It is not concerned exclusively with the here and now, the instant hedonism, and the immediate pleasures. Nor does it completely bypass the here and now in pursuit of a future paradise in a hereafter. It addresses itself to both the human condition here on earth and the human destiny in the Hereafter. Such concern is, of course, proportionate; it values each phase of existence according to its relative effect on the general well-being of man (Qur’an 7:33; 17:18-21; 28:77; 57:20-21).
In the Qur’an, there is a passage (2: 27-39) which is typical of so many others. This passage contains some of the fundamental principles of Islam, and represents the foundations of the world view of Islam. Outstanding among these principles are the following:
1. The world is a becoming entity, created by the will of a Designer and sustained by Him for meaningful purposes. Historical currents take place in accordance with His will and follow established laws. They are not directed by blind chance, nor are they random and disorderly incidents.
2. Man also is created by God and is commissioned to be God’s viceroy on earth. He is so chosen to cultivate the land and enrich life with knowledge, virtue, purpose, and meaning. And to achieve this goal, everything in the earth and the heavens is created for him and is made subservient to him. Life on this planet is not a prison for man; his coming into the world was not an arbitrary punishment for previously committed sins. Nor was he expelled from another world and cast out into this one. His existence was no mere chance or undesigned occurrence.
3. Knowledge is the unique faculty of man and is an integral part of his personality and his being. It is knowledge that qualifies man to be the viceroy of his Creator and entitles him to command the respect and allegiance even of the angels of God.
4. The first phase of life on earth began not in sin or rebellion against the Creator. The “Fall” from the Garden of Eden and what followed thereafter – the remorse of Adam and Eve, their repentance, God’s forgiveness of and compassion for them, the enmity between man and Satan – all this was no surprise to the Creator. Nor was it an accident in the course of events. It was too meaningful to be accidental. Rather, it seems to have been designed to discipline the first man, to give him actual experience of fall and rise, moral defeat and triumph, straying from and reconciliation with the Creator. In this way, man would become better prepared for life and more enlightened to face its uncertainties and trying moments.
5. Eve was not the weaker party of the first human couple. She neither tempted Adam to eat of the forbidden tree nor was she alone responsible for the expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Both Adam and Eve were equally tempted and equally responsible; both were remorseful, repented, and were blessed with the forgiveness and compassion of God. This is significant as it liberates Eve from the curse that followed her and her sex throughout the ages, and acquits her of the charge that she alone bears all or most of the responsibility for the Fall. Furthermore, it declares in no uncertain terms that the belief in the moral inferiority of women is unfounded and the double standard is totally unjustifiable. Here, as elsewhere, the Qur’an makes it very clear that both man and women are equally capable of virtue and weakness, equally sensitive, and equally meritorious.
6. Man is a free agent endowed with a free will. This is the essence of his humanity and the basis of his responsibility to his Creator. Without man’s relative free will life would be meaningless and God’s covenant with man would be in vain. Without human free will, God would be defeating His own purpose and man would be completely incapable of bearing any responsibility. This, of course, is unthinkable.
7. Life emanates from God. It is neither eternal nor an end in itself, but a transitional phase, after which all shall return to the Creator.
8. Man is responsible agent. But responsibility for sin is borne by the actual offender alone. Sin is not hereditary, transferable, or communal in nature. Every individual is responsible for his own deeds. And while man is susceptible to corruption, he is also capable of redemption and reform. This does not mean that Islam prefers the individual to the group. Individualism means little or nothing when severed from social context. What it means is that the individual has different sets of roles to play. He must play them in such a way as to guard his moral integrity, preserve his identity, observe the rights of God, and fulfill his social obligations.
9. Man is a dignified honorable being. His dignity derives from the fact that he is infused with the spirit of his Creator. What is more important is that such dignity is not confined to any special race, color, or class of people. It is the natural right of man, every man, the most honorable being on earth.
10. The passage, finally, points to the deep-seated roots of the Oneness of God and the unity of mankind. It shows, further, that man’s highest virtues are piety and knowledge, that when such knowledge is acquired and invested according to the divine guidance, man’s blissful destiny will be assured and his life will be serene.