Islam In Focus
The Ideological Foundation Of Islam
Knowledge of God and belief in Him constitute the very foundation of Islam. The question of God’s existence has preoccupied the great minds for many centuries. Those who believe in God seem to agree that the limited finite human intelligence cannot prove the existence of the infinite Boundless God Who is. It can only illustrate or demonstrate His existence to the satisfaction of the curious human mind. Those who deny God claim to rely on science, philosophy, or special theories of knowledge. Their arguments are sometimes inapplicable, sometimes irrelevant, always complex, and often incomprehensible. However, the developed free mind will find its way to God. Failure to find the way does not mean that there is no way. Denial of reality does not make it unreal. The subject is so vital that it calls for a thorough and clear discussion. For the purpose of clarity some simple demonstration will be used. This may sound boring or too simple for those who already know something about the subject. Such informed persons are invited to have patience and show appreciation of the importance of the matter.
There are individuals who like to doubt the concept of God in the name of science, or because of a lack of experience and understanding. The attitude of such people reflects an uneasy mentality, although they claim to be learned intellectuals. My concern will not be with their claim; rather it will be with their true position. This will explain why a great deal of the discussion is designed in a simple shape as if it were directed mainly to children, and not to adults. On the other hand, a major objective of this work is to convey the true concept of God in Islam to the young Muslims. Another consideration here is that the concept of God in Islam is distorted in the minds of many non-Muslims who are so-called believers in God and advocates of religion.
For these reasons some simple and perhaps elementary demonstrations are used in this presentation. Yet the simplicity of some arguments here may provoke profound thinking in many adults. If it does so, it will prove to be a desirable and creative simplicity, which itself is a distinct characteristic of Islam.
As we look around in our environments, we see that every family has a head; every school has a principal; every city or town has a mayor; every province state has a premier governor; and every nation has a head of state. Moreover, we know beyond doubt that every product is the work of a certain producer, and that every beautiful art is the creation of some great artist. All this is obvious, yet it does not satisfy the hunger for knowledge and the curiosity of man about the great things in the world. One often wonders at the beauties of nature with its scenic charms and marvels; the almost endless horizon in the sky and their far-reaching expansions; the ceaseless succession of day and night in the most orderly manner; the course of the sun, the moon, and the great stars; the world of animate and inanimate objects, the continuous process and evolution of man generation after generation. One often wonders because one would like to know the maker and maintainer of all these things with which we live and which we immensely enjoy.
Can we find an explanation of the great universe? Is there any convincing interpretation of the secret of existence? We realize that no family can function properly without a responsible head, that no city can prosperously exist without sound administration, and that no state can survive without a chief of some kind. We also realize that nothing comes into being on its own. Moreover, we observe that the universe exists and functions in the most orderly manner, and that it has survived for hundreds of thousands of years. Can we, then, say that all this is accidental and haphazard? Or can we attribute the existence of man and the whole world to mere chance?
If man were to come into being by accident or by sheer chance, his entire life would be based on chance, and his whole existence would be meaningless. But no sensible man can conceive of his life as meaningless, and no rational being would leave his existence at the mercy of fluctuating chance. Every reasonable human being tries to make his life as meaningful as possible and set for himself a model of conduct according to some design. Individuals, groups and nations do plan their course of action, and every careful plan produces some desired effects. The fact of the matter is that man does engage in planning of one sort or another, and can appreciate the merits of good planning.
Yet man represents only a very small portion of the great universe. And if he can make plans and appreciate the merits of planning, then his own existence and the survival of the universe must also be based on a planned policy. This means that there is a Designing Will behind our material existence, and that there is a Unique Mind in the world to bring things into being and keep them moving in order. The marvellous wonders of our world and the secrets of life are too great to be but the product of random accident or mere chance.
In the world, then, there must be a Great Force in action to keep everything in order. In the beautiful nature there must be a Great Artist who creates the most charming pieces of art and produces everything for a special purpose in life. This Force is the strongest of all forces, and this Artist is the greatest of all artists. The true believers and deeply enlightened people recognize this Artist and call Him Allah or God. They call Him God because He is the Creator and the Chief Architect of the world, the Originator of life and the Provider of all things in existence. He is not a man because no man can create or make another man. He is not an animal, nor is He a plant. He is neither an idol nor is He a statue of any kind because none of these things can make itself or create anything else. He is not a machine. He is neither the sun nor is He the moon or any other star, because these things are controlled by a great system, and are themselves made by someone else. He is different from all these things, because He is the Maker and Keeper of them all. The maker of anything must be different from and greater than the thing which he makes. We also know that nothing can come to life on its own, and that the marvellous world did not create itself or come into existence by accident. The continuous changes in the world prove that it is made, and everything which is made must have a maker of some sort.
The Maker and Sustainer of the world, the Creator of and Provider for man, the Active Force and Effective Power in nature are all one and the same, and that is known to be Allah or God. This is the Secret of all secrets and the Most Supreme of all beings. The Holy Qur'an, the True Book of God says:
It is God Who has made the night for you, that you may rest therein, and the day to see. Verily God is full of Grace and Bounty to men. Yet most men give no thanks. Such is God, your Lord, the Creator of all things. There is no god but He; why then do you turn away from Him. Thus are turned away those who deny the Signs of God. It is God Who has made for you the earth as a resting place and the sky as a shelter, and has given you shape and made your shapes beautiful, and has provided for you sustenance of things good and pure; such is God your Lord. So glory to God, the Lord of the worlds! He is the living (One); There is no god but he: call upon Him, giving Him sincere devotion. Praise be to God, Lord of the Worlds (Qur'an, 40:61-65).
It is God Who has subjected the sea to you, that ships may sail through it by His command, that you may seek of His Bounty, and that you may be grateful. And He has subjected to you, as from Him, all that is in the heavens and on earth, Behold; in that there are Signs indeed for those who reflect (Qur’an, 45:12-13).
The Supreme Master of the whole world and the Creator of everything is Allah (God). Because He is so Great and different from the other beings, man can know Him only by reflection and through meditation. He exists at all times, and His great power is in action everywhere in the world. Man has to believe in His existence because everything in the world proves that He exists. Belief in God and His great power alone can provide mankind with the best possible explanation of many mysterious things in life. This is the safest way to true knowledge and spiritual insight, the right path to good behavior and sound morals, the surest guide to happiness and prosperity.
Once man believes that God exists he must know His attributes and names. Generally speaking every perfection and absolute goodness belong to Him, and no defect or wrong applies to Him. In specific terms, one should know and believe the following:
1. God is only One, has no partner or son, neither gives birth, nor is He born. He is eternally besought by all and has no beginning or end, and none is equal to Him (Qur'an, 112:1-5)
2. He is the Merciful and the Compassionate, the Guardian and the True Guide, the Just and the Supreme Lord, the Creator and the Watchful, the First and the Last, the Knowing and the Wise, the Hearing and the Aware, the Witness and the Glorious, the Able and the Powerful (Qur'an, for example, 57:1-6; 59:22-24).
3. He is the Loving and Provider, the Generous and the Benevolent, the Rich and the Independent, the Forgiving and the Clement, the Patient and the Appreciative, the Unique and the Protector, the Judge and the Peace (Qur'an, for example, 3:31; 11:6; 35:15; 65:2-3).
Each one of these names and attributes of God is mentioned in various places in the Holy Qur’an. We all enjoy the care and mercy of God Who is so Loving and Kind to His creation. If we try to count His favors upon us, we cannot, because they are countless (Qur’an, 14:32-34; 16:10-18).
God is High and Supreme, but He is very near to the pious thoughtful people; He answers their prayers and helps them. He loves the people who love Him and forgives their sins. He gives them peace and happiness, knowledge and success, life and protection, He welcomes all those who want to be at peace with Him and never rejects any of them. He teaches man to be good, to do the right and keep away from the wrong. Because He is so Good and Loving, He recommends and accepts only the good right things. The door of His mercy is always open to any who sincerely seek His support and protection (Qur’an, 2:186; 50:16).
The Love of God for His creatures is immense and beyond human imagination. We cannot measure or count His favors. He creates us and takes good care of us, not only from the time of our birth onward, but even long before that. He makes us in the best form of creation and gives us all the senses and faculties that we need for our growth. He helps us when we cannot help ourselves, and provides for us and for our dependents. He creates in man the mind to understand, the soul and conscience to be good and righteous, the feelings and sentiments to kind and humane.
By His mercy we gain true knowledge and see the real light. Because He is Merciful He creates us in the most beautiful shape and provides us with the sun and the moon, the land and sea, the earth and the skies, the plants and the animals. He is the Creator of all these things and many others for our benefit and use. He makes things that are of service to us in this life, and gives man dignity and intelligence, honor and respect, because man is the best of all created things and is God’s viceroy on earth. The mercy of God gives us hope and peace, courage and confidence. It enables us to remedy our griefs and sorrows, to overcome our difficulties and obtain success and happiness. Indeed, the mercy of God relieves the distressed, cheers the afflicted, consoles the sick, strengthens the desperate, and comforts the needy. In short, the mercy of God is active everywhere all the time in every aspect of our lives. Some people may fail to recognize it only because they take it for granted. But it is real and we can feel it with our hearts and appreciate it with our minds.
The Loving Merciful God never forgets us or lets us down or ignores our sincere calls upon Him. By His Mercy and Love He has shown us the Right Way and sent to us messengers and teachers, books and revelations – all are meant for our help and guidance. The Last Messenger from God is Muhammad, and the most genuine existing book of God is the Qur’an. From the traditions of Muhammad and the teaching of the Qur’an, we learn about the Forgiving God. If a person commits a sin or does something wrong, then he is violating the Law of God, committing a grave offense against God and abusing his own dignity and existence. But if he is sincere and wishes to repent, regrets his wrong deeds and wants to turn to God, faithfully seeks pardon from God and honestly approaches Him, then God will certainly accept him and forgive him. Even those who reject God or His Oneness are assured of forgiveness, should they realize their erroneous attitude and resolve to come back to God. In this connection the Qur’an says:
God forgives not that partners should be set up with Him; but He forgives anything else, to whom He pleases; to set up partners with God is to devise a sin most heinous indeed (Qur’an, 4:48, 116).
Say: ‘O My servants who have transgressed against their souls! Despair not of the Mercy of God: for God forgives all sins: For He is Most Forgiving, Most Merciful. Turn to your Lord (in repentance) and submit to Him, before the penalty comes on you; after that you shall not be helped. And follow the Best of the courses revealed to you from your Lord, before the penalty comes on you – of a sudden while you perceive not!’ (Qur’an, 39:53-54).
In return for all these great favors and kindness God does not need anything from us, because He is the Needless and the Independent. He does not ask us to pay Him back, for we cannot reward Him or value His immeasurable favors and mercy. What He commands us to do, however, is only to be good, to be thankful and appreciative, to follow His recommendations and enforce His Law, to be the proper manifestation of His goodness and excellent attributes, to be His honest agents and true representatives on earth. He does not want to enslave us, because He is the One Who grants us dignity and honor. He does not wish to subjugate us, because He is the One Who emancipates us from fear and superstitions. He does not desire to humiliate us because He is the One Who creates us and exalts our ranks above all other beings. So whatever rules and prescriptions He passes unto us are designed for our own benefit and good. They are meant to help us to enjoy our lives with one another in peace and kindness, in brotherhood and cooperation. They are destined to make us attain His most pleasant company and adopt the surest approach to eternal happiness.
There are various ways to know God, and there are many things to tell about Him. The great wonders and impressive marvels of the world are like open books in which we can read about God. Besides, God Himself comes to our aid through the many messengers and revelations He has sent down to man. These messengers and revelations tell us everything we need to know about God. So by reflecting on nature, by hearing the words of the messengers, and by reading the divine revelations we can gain most convincing knowledge about God and find the Straight Path to Him.
To complete this portion of discussion, some representative verses of the Qur’an may be rendered as follows: Allah bears witness that there is no god but He – and so do the angels and those possessed of knowledge – Maintainer of Justice; there is no god but He, the Mighty, the Wise (Qur’an, 3:19). Allah is the Creator of all things, and He is the Guardian over all things. To Him belong the keys of the heavens and the earth (39:63-64). Allah originates Creation; then He repeats it; then to Him shall you be brought back (30:12). To Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and the earth. All are obedient to Him. It is He Who originates the Creation, then repeats it, for it is most easy for Him. His is the most exalted state in the heavens and the earth. He is the Mighty, the Wise (30:27-28).
The Meaning of Islam
The Meaning of Islam
The word Islam is derived from the Arabic root “ SLM” which means, among other things, peace, purity, submission and obedience. In the religious sense the word Islam means submission to the Will of God and obedience to His Law. The connection between the original and the religious meanings of the word is strong and obvious. Only through submission to the Will of God and by obedience to His Law can one achieve true peace and enjoy lasting purity.
Some outsiders call our religion “Mohammedanism” and address the believers in Islam as “Mohammedans “. the Muslims both reject and protest the use of these words. If our faith is classified as Mohammedanism and if we are called Mohemmadans, there will be seriously wrong implications. This misnomer implies that the religion takes its name after a mortal being, namely, Muhammad and that Islam is no more than another “ism” like Judasim, Hinduism, Marxism, etc. Another wrong implication of this misnomer is that outsiders might think of the Muslims, whom they call Mohammedans, as worshippers of Muhammad or as believers in him in the same way as Christians, for example, believe in Jesus. A further wrong implication is that the word Mohammedanism may mislead the outsider and make him think that the religion was founded by Muhammad and therefore takes its name after the founder. All these implications are seriously wrong or at best misleading. Islam is not just another “ism”. Nor do Muslims worship Muhammad or look upon him the same way as Christians, Jews, Hindus, Marxists, etc., look upon their respective leaders. The Muslims worship God alone. Muhammad was only a mortal being commissioned by God to teach the word of God and lead an exemplary life. He stands in history as the best model for man in piety and perfection. He is a living proof of what man can be and of what he can accomplish in the realm of excellence and virtue. Moreover, the Muslims do not believe that Islam was founded by Muhammad, although it was restored by him in the last stage of religious evolution. The original founder of Islam is no other than God Himself, and the date of the founding of Islam goes back to the age of Adam. Islam has existed in one form or another all along from the beginning and will continue to exist till the end of time.
The true name of the religion, then, is Islam and those who follow it are Muslims. Contrary to popular misconceptions, Islam or submission to the Will of God, together with obedience to His Law, does not mean in any way loss of individual freedom or surrender to fatalism. Anyone who thinks or believes so has certainly failed to understand the true meaning of Islam and the concept of God in Islam. The concept of God in Islam describes Him as the Most Merciful and Gracious, and the Most Loving and most concerned with the well-being of man, and as Full of Wisdom and care for His Creatures. His Will, accordingly, is a Will of Benevolence and Goodness, and whatever Law He prescribes must be in the best interest of mankind.
When the civilized people abide the laws of their countries, they are considered sound citizens and honest members of their respective societies. No responsible person would say that such people lose their freedom by their obedience to the Law. No rational being would think or believe for a moment that such law-abiding people are fatalists and helpless. Similarly, the person who submits to the Will of God, which is good Will, and obeys the law of God, which is the best Law, is a sound and honest person. He is gaining protection of his own rights, showing genuine respect for the rights of others, and enjoying a high degree of responsible, creative freedom. Submission to the good Will of God, therefore, does not take away or curtail individual freedom. On the contrary, it gives freedom of a high degree in abundant measures. It frees the mind from superstitions and fills it with truth. It frees the soul from sin and wrong and quickens it with goodness and purity. It frees the self from vanity and greed, from envy and tension, from fear and insecurity. It frees man from subjugation to false deities and low desires, and unfolds before him the beautiful horizons of goodness and excellence.
Submission to the good Will of God, together with the obedience to His beneficial Law, is the best safeguard of peace and harmony. It enables man to make peace between himself and his fellow men on the one hand, and between the human community and God on the other. It creates harmony among the elements of Nature. According to Islam, everything in the world, or every phenomenon other than man is administered by God-made Laws. This makes the entire physical world necessarily obedient to God and submissive to His laws, which, in turn, means that it is in a state of Islam, or it is Muslim. The physical world has no choice of its own. It has no voluntary course to follow on its own initiative but obeys the Law of the Creator, the Law of Islam or submission. Man alone is singled out as being endowed with intelligence and the power of making choices. And because man possesses the qualities of intelligence and choice he is invited to submit to the good Will of God and obey His Law. When he does choose the course of submission to the Law of God, he will be making harmony between himself and all the other elements of Nature, which are by necessity obedient to God. He will be consistent with the truth and in harmony with all the other elements of the universe. But if he chooses disobedience he will deviate from the Right Path and will be inconsistent. Besides, he will incur the displeasure and punishment of the Law-Giver.
Because Islam means submission to the Good Will of God and obedience to His Beneficial Law, and because this is the essence of the message of all God-chosen messengers, a Muslim accepts all the prophets previous to Muhammad without discrimination. He believes that all those prophets of God and their faithful followers were Muslims, and that their religion was Islam, the only true universal religion of God (Qur’an, 2:128-140; 3:78-85; 17:42-44; 31:22; 42:13)
To sum up this discussion, it may be helpful to reproduce my statement which appeared in the Observer Dispatch (O. D.) of Utica on December 4, 1972. The statement shows how much distortion and confusion there is in this regard. The partial overlapping and repetition may be forgiven because of the extreme sensitivity of the issue and the need to reiterate the Islamic point of view:
A particular news item (O. D., Nov. 25) is alarming. It invites sympathy for the misinformed public and pity for many a school teacher or man of the pulpit. It calls upon every man of good will and conscience to stand up to his moral obligations.
Marcus Eliason reported from Israeli-occupied Jordan that “The Moslems,” among other things. “worship Abraham as Ibrahim…”
It is incredible in this day and age, in this small world of ours, to read in fresh print that the Muslims worship Ibrahim. It is more incredible yet that this news comes from sources presumably knowledgeable and is passed on to a public entitled to know.
For centuries, many Westerners held and propagated the idea that the Muslims worshipped Muhammad, whose religion was called Mohammedanism and whose followers were known in the West as Mohammedans. Then it somehow become apparent to those Westerners that the Muslims worshipped Allah, a “deity of sorts.” And now this new discovery that they worship Abraham as Ibrahim.
The fact is that the Muslims never worshipped Muhammad or any other human being. They have always believed that Muhammad was mortal like the numerous prophets before him, and it is the highest tribute to humanity that a man could achieve the most exalted status of prophethood.
The Muslims believe that Muhammad was the last, not the only prophet, who reinforced and immortalized the eternal message of God to mankind. This message was revealed by God to many prophets of different nations at different times. Including Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, David, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad (peace be upon them). What is more important is that the Muslims believe in them without discrimination against any.
Because of their universal outlook and cosmopolitan orientation, the Muslims sorrowfully consider it an unfortunate misnomer to call them Mohammedans and their faith Mohammedanism. The implications are distasteful and for good reasons. The Muslims do not think of themselves as a racial or ethnic group with any exclusive monopolies. Their religion is not named after a man or place; it is transcendent and atemporal.
The proper name of the religion is Islam and its followers are properly called Muslims. In the religious context, the word Islam means submission to the will of God and obedience to God’s Law. The will of God is defined by the Qur'an as good and compassionate, and His law as the most beneficient and equitable. Any human being who so submits and obeys is, therefore a Muslim in a moral state of Islam. It is in this sense that the Qur'an calls Abraham and all authentic prophets Muslims and designates their religions by one and the same title, namely Islam. Hence, the Muslim is not only a follower of Muhammad exclusively he also follows Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and the rest of God’s messengers.
Finally, the word Allah in Islam simply but most emphatically means the One and only Eternal God, Creator of the universe, Lord of all lords, and King of all kings. The only unforgivable sin in Islam is the belief in any deity besides or other than God. The most common daily prayer among Muslims is: “In the name of God, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful.”
The Fundamental Articles Of Faith In Islam
The true, faithful Muslim believes in the following principal articles of faith:
1. He believes in One God, Supreme and Eternal, Infinite and Mighty, Merciful and Compassionate, Creator and Provider. This belief, in order to be effective, requires complete trust and hope in God, submission to His Will and reliance on His aid. It secures man’s dignity and saves him from fear and despair, from guilt and confusion. The reader is invited to see the meaning of Islam as explained above.
2. He believes in all the messengers of God without any discrimination among them. Every known nation had a warner or messenger from God. These messengers were great teachers of the good and true champions of the right. They were chosen by God to teach mankind and deliver His Divine message. They were sent at different times of history and every known nation had one messenger or more. During certain periods two or more messengers were sent by God at the same time to the same nation. The Holy Qur’an mention the names of twenty five of them, and the Muslim believes in them all and accepts them as authorized messengers of God. They were, with the exception of Muhammad, known as “national” or local messengers. But their message, their religion, was basically the same and was called ISLAM, because it came from One and the Same Source, namely, God, to serve one and the same purpose, and that is to guide humanity to the Straight Path of God. All the messengers with no exception whatsoever were mortals, human beings, endowed with Divine revelations and appointed by God to perform certain tasks. Among them Muhammad stands as the Last Messenger and the crowning glory of the foundation of prophethood. This is not an arbitrary attitude, nor is it just a convenient belief. Like all the other Islamic beliefs, it is an authentic and logical truth. Also, it may be useful to mention here the names of some of the great messengers like Noah and Abraham, Ishmael and Moses, Jesus and Muhammad, may the peace and blessings of God be upon them all. The Qur'an commands the Muslims thus:
We believe in God, and the revelation given to us, and to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob and the Tribes; and that which was given to Moses and Jesus, and that which was given to all prophets from their Lord. We make no discrimination between one and another of them, and we bow to God (2:136, cf. 3:84; 4:163-165; 6:84-87).
3. The true Muslim believes, as a result of article two, in all the scriptures and revelations of God. They were the guiding light which the messengers received to show their respective peoples the Right Path of God. In the Qur’an a special reference is made to the books of Abraham, Moses, David and Jesus. But long before the revelation of the Qur’an to Muhammad some of those books and revelations had been lost or corrupted, others forgotten, neglected, or concealed. The only authentic and complete book of God in existence today is the Qur’an. In principle, the Muslim believes in the previous books and revelations. But where are their complete and original versions? They could be still at the bottom of the Dead Sea, and there may be more Scrolls to be discovered. Or perhaps more information about them will become available when the Christian and Jewish archaeologists reveal to the public the complete original findings of their continued excavations in the Holy Land. For the Muslim, there is no problem of that kind. The Qur’an is in his hand complete and authentic. Nothing of it is missing and no more of it is expected. Its authenticity is beyond doubt, and no serious scholar or thinker has ventured to question its genuineness. The Qur’an was made so by God Who revealed it and made it incumbent upon Himself to protect it against interpolation and corruption of all kinds. Thus it is given to the Muslims as the standard or criterion by which all the other books are judged. So whatever agrees with the Qur’an is accepted as Divine truth, and whatever differs from the Qur'an is either rejected or suspended. God says: ‘Verily We have, without doubt, sent down the Qur’an; and We will assuredly guard it’ (15:9; cf. 2:75-79; 5:13-14, 41, 45, 47; 6:91; 41:43).
Good literary works cannot be fully translated into any other language. This is more so in the case of the Qur’an, the book that challenged (and still does) the native masters of the Arabic Language and literature and proved their inability to produce anything even remotely similar to the shortest chapter of the Book. It is impossible, therefore, to reproduce the meaning, beauty, and fascination of the Qur’an in any other form. What appears here, then, is not the Qur’an proper or its perfect translation even if such were possible. Rather it is a human interpretation in a different language that falls for short of the forcefulness of the original Book of God. For these reasons, no quotation marks will be inserted in any strict fashion in what appears here as translation.
4. The true Muslim believes in the angels of God. They are purely spiritual and splendid beings whose nature requires no food or drink or sleep. They have no physical desires of any kind nor material needs. They spend their days and nights in the service of God. There are many of them, and each one is charged with a certain duty. If we cannot see the angels with our naked eyes, it does not necessarily deny their actual existence. There are many things in the world that are invisible to the eye or inaccessible to the senses, and yet we do believe in their existence. There are places we have never seen and things like gas and ether that we could not see with our naked eyes, smell or touch or taste or hear; yet we do acknowledge their existence. Belief in the angels originates from the Islamic principle that knowledge and truth are not entirely confined to the sensory knowledge or sensory perception alone (16:49-50; 21:19-20. See also the references in article two above).
5. The true Muslim believes in the Last Day of Judgement. This world will come to an end some day, and the dead will rise to stand for their final and fair trial. Everything we do in this world, every intention we have, every move we make, every thought we entertain, and every word we say, all are counted and kept in accurate records. On the Day of Judgement they will be brought up. People with good records will be generously rewarded and warmly welcomed to the Heaven of God, and those with bad records will be punished and cast into Hell. The real nature of Heaven and Hell and the exact description of them are known to God only. There are descriptions of Heaven and Hell in the Qur’an and the Traditions of Muhammad but they should not be taken literally. In Heaven, said Muhammad, there are things which no eye has ever seen, no ear has ever heard, and no mind has ever conceived. However, the Muslim believes that there definitely will be compensation and reward for the good deeds, and punishment for the evil ones. That is the Day of Justice and final settlement of all accounts.
If some people think that they are shrewd enough and can get away with their wrong doings, just as they sometimes escape the penalty of the mundane laws, they are wrong; they will not be able to do so on the Day of Judgement. They will be caught right on the spot defenceless, without any lawyer or counsel to stand in their behalf. All their deeds are visible to God and counted by His agents. Also, if some pious people do good deeds to please God and seem to get no appreciation or acknowledgement in this temporary world, they will eventually receive full compensation and be widely acknowledged on That Day. Absolute Justice will be done to all.
Belief in the Day of Judgement is the final relieving answer to many complicated problems of our world. There are people who commit sins, neglect God and indulge in immoral activities, yet they seem to be “superficially” successful in business and prosperous in life. And there are virtuous and God-minded people, yet they seem to be getting less rewards for their sincere efforts and more suffering in the present world. This is puzzling and incompatible with the Justice of God. If the guilty people can escape the mundane law unharmed and, in addition, be more prosperous, what is, then, left for the virtuous people? What will promote the cause of morality and goodness? There must be some way to reward goodness and arrest evil. If this is not done here on this earth – and we know that it is not done regularly or immediately – it has to be done some day, and that is the Day of Judgement. This is not to condone injustice or tolerate mischief in this world. It is not to sedate the deprived or comfort their exploiters. Rather, it is to warn the deviants from the Right Path and remind them that the Justice of God shall run its full course sooner or later (see, for example, the previous references).
6. The true Muslim believes in the timeless knowledge of God and in His power to plan and execute His plans. God is not indifferent to this world nor is He neutral to it. His knowledge and power are in action at all times to keep order in His vast domain and maintain full command over His creation. He is Wise and Loving, and whatever He does must have a good motive and a meaningful purpose. If this is established in our minds, we should accept with good Faith all that He does, although we may fail to understand it fully, or even think it is bad. We should have strong Faith in Him and accept whatever He does because our knowledge is limited and our thinking is based on individual or personal considerations, whereas His knowledge is limitless and He plans on a universal basis.
This does not in any way make man fatalist or helpless. It simply draws the demarcation line between what is God’s concern and what is man’s responsibility. Because we are by nature finite and limited, we have a finite and limited degree of power and freedom. We cannot do everything, and He graciously holds us responsible only for the things we do. The things which we cannot do, or things which He Himself does, are not in the realm of our responsibility. He is Just and has given us limited power to match our finite nature and limited responsibility. On the other hand, the timeless knowledge and power of God to execute His plans do not prevent us from making our own plans in our own limited sphere of power. On the contrary, He exhorts us to think, to plan and to make sound choices, but if things do not happen the way we wanted or planned them, we should not lose Faith or surrender ourselves to mental strains and shattering worries. We should try again and again, and if the results are not satisfactory, then we know that we have tried our best and cannot be held responsible for the results, because what is beyond our capacity and responsibility is the affair of God alone. The Muslims call this article of Faith the belief in ‘Qadaa’ and ‘Qadar’, which simply means, in other words, that the Timeless Knowledge of God anticipates events, and that events take place according to the exact knowledge of God (Qur’an, for example, 18:29; 41:46; 53:33-62; 54:49; 65:3; 76:30-31).
7. The true Muslim believes that God’s creation is meaningful and that life has a sublime purpose beyond the physical needs and material activities of man. The purpose of life is to worship God. This does not simply mean that we have to spend our entire lives in constant seclusion and absolute meditation. To worship God is to know Him; to love Him; to obey His commandments; to enforce His law in every aspect of life; to serve His cause by doing the right and shunning the evil; and to be just to Him, to ourselves, and to our fellow human beings. To worship God is to “live” life not to run away from it. In brief, to worship God is to imbue ourselves with His Supreme Attributes. This is by no means a simple statement, nor is it an oversimplification of the matter. It is most comprehensive and conclusive. So if life has a purpose and if man is created to serve that purpose, then he cannot escape the responsibility. He cannot deny his existence or ignore the vital role he has to play. When God charges him with any responsibility, He provides him with all the required assistance. He endows him with intelligence and power to choose his course of conduct. Man, thus, is strongly commended by God to exert his utmost to fully serve the purpose of his existence. Should he fail to do that, or misuse his life or neglect his duties, he shall be responsible to God for his wrong deeds (see 21:17-18; 51:56-58; 75:37).
8. The true Muslim believes that man enjoys an especially high-ranking status in the hierarchy of all the known creatures. He occupies this distinguished position because he alone is gifted with rational faculties and spiritual aspirations as well as powers of action. But the more his rank excels, the more his responsibility grows. He occupies the position of God’s viceroy on earth. The person who is appointed by God to be His active agent, must necessarily have some power and authority, and be, at least potentially, endowed with honor and integrity. And this is the status of man in Islam; not a condemned race from birth to death, but a dignified being potentially capable of good and noble achievements. The fact that God chose His messengers from the human race shows that man is trustworthy and capable, and that he can acquire immense treasures of goodness (2:30-34; 6:165; 7:11; 17:70-72, 90-95).
9. The true Muslim believes that every person is born “Muslim”. This means that the very course of birth takes place in accordance with the Will of God, in realization of His plans and in submission to His Commands. It also means that every person is endowed with spiritual potentialities and intellectual inclinations that can make him a good Muslim, if he has the right access to Islam and is left to develop his innate nature. Many people can readily accept Islam if it is properly presented to them, because it is the Divine formula for those who want to satisfy their moral and spiritual needs as well as their natural aspirations, those who want to lead a constructive and sound life, whether personal or social, national or international. This is so because Islam is the universal religion of God, the Maker of human nature, Who knows what is best for human nature (30:30; 64:1-3; 82:6-8).
10. The true Muslim believes that every person is born free from sin and all claims to inherited virtue. He is like a blank book. When the person reaches the age of maturity he becomes accountable for his deeds and intentions, if his development is normal and if he is sane. Man is not only free from sin until he commits sin, but he is also free to do things according to his plans on his own responsibility. This dual freedom: freedom from sin and freedom to do effective things, clear the Muslim’s conscience from the heavy pressure of Inherited Sin. It relieves his soul and mind from the unnecessary strains of the Doctrine of Original Sin.
This Islamic concept of freedom is based upon the principle of God’s justice and the individual’s direct responsibility to God. Each person must bear his own burden and be responsible for his own actions, because no one can expiate for another’s sin. Thus, a Muslim believes that if Adam had committed the First Sin, it was his own responsibility to expiate for that sin. To assume that God was unable to forgive Adam and had to make somebody else expiate for his sin, or to assume that Adam did not pray for pardon or prayed for it but it was not granted, would be extremely unlikely and contrary to God’s mercy and justice as well as to His attribute of forgiveness and power to forgive. To assume the said hypothesis, would be an audacious defiance of common sense and flagrant violation of the very concept of God (see the references in article nine above; Qur’an, 41:46; 45:15; 53:31-42; 74:38; the concept of Sin below):
On the rational basis as well as on the authority of the Our’an, the Muslim believes that Adam realized what he had committed and prayed to God for pardon, as any other sensible sinner would. It is also on the same basis, the Muslim believes, that God, the Forgiving and Merciful, granted Adam pardon (2:35-37; 20:117-122). Hence, the Muslim cannot possibly accept the doctrine that Adam with the whole human race had been condemned and unforgiven until Jesus came to expiate for their sins. Consequently, the Muslim cannot entertain the dramatic story of Jesus’ death on the cross just to do away with all human sins once and for all.
Here the reader must be cautioned against any wrong conclusions. The Muslim does not believe in the crucifixion of Jesus by his enemies because the basis of this doctrine of crucifixion is contrary to Divine mercy and justice as much as it is to human logic and dignity. Such a disbelief in the doctrine does not in any way lessen the Muslim’s reverence for Jesus, or degrade the high status of Jesus in Islam, or even shake the Muslim’s belief in Jesus as a distinguished prophet of God. On the contrary, by rejecting this doctrine the Muslim accepts Jesus but only with more esteem and higher respect, and looks upon his original message as an essential part of Islam. So let it be stated, again, that to be a Muslim a person must accept and respect all the prophets of God without any discrimination. The general status of Jesus in Islam will be further discussed in a later chapter.
11. The true Muslim believes that man must work out his salvation through the guidance of God. This means that in order to attain salvation a person must combine Faith and action, belief and practice. Faith without action is as insufficient as action without Faith. In other words, no one can attain salvation until his Faith in God becomes dynamic in his life and his beliefs are translated into reality. This is in complete harmony with the other Islamic articles of Faith. It shows that God does not accept lip service, and that no true believer can be indifferent as far as the practical requirements of Faith are concerned. It also shows that no one can act on behalf of another or intercede between him and God (see, for example, the Qur’an, 10:9-10; 18:30; 103:1-3).
12. The true Muslim believes that God does not hold any person responsible until He has shown him the Right Way. This is why God has sent many messengers and revelations, and has made it clear that there would be no punishment before giving guidance and sounding the alarm. So, a person who has never come across any Divine revelations or messenger, or a person who is insane is not held responsible to God for failing to obey the Divine instructions. Such a person will be responsible only for not doing what his sound common sense tells him to do. But the person who knowingly and intentionally violates the Law of God or deviates from His Right Path will be punished for his wrong deeds (4:165; 5:16 & 21; 17:15).
This point is very important for every Muslim. There are many people in the world who have not heard of Islam and have no way of knowing about it. Such people may be honest and may become good Muslims, if they find their way to Islam. If they do not know and have no way of knowing, they will not be responsible for failing to be Muslims. Instead, the Muslims who can present Islam to such people will be the ones responsible for failing to invite them to Islam and show them what Islam is. This calls upon every Muslim throughout the globe not only to preach Islam in words but also – and more importantly – to live it in full (see, for example, the Qur’an, 3:104; 16:125).
13. The true Muslim believes that in human nature, which God created, there is more good than evil, and the probability of successful reform is greater than the probability of hopeless failure. This belief is derived from the fact that God has tasked man with certain assignments and sent messengers with revelations for his guidance. If man were by nature a hopeless case, impossible to reform, how could God with His absolute wisdom assign him responsibilities and invite him to do or shun certain things? How could God do that, if it were all in vain? The fact that God cares for man and takes a stand in his interest proves that man in neither helpless nor hopeless, but is more appreciative of and inclined to good than otherwise. Surely with sound Faith in God and due confidence in man miracles can be worked out, even in our own times. To understand this properly, one has to carefully study the relevant passages in the Qur’an and reflect on their meanings.
14. The true Muslim believes that Faith is not complete when it is followed blindly or accepted unquestioningly unless the believer is reasonable satisfied. If Faith is to inspire action, and if Faith and action are to lead to salvation, then Faith must be founded on unshakable convictions without any deception or compulsion. In other words, the person who calls himself a Muslim because of his family traditions, or accepts Islam under coercion or blind imitation is not a complete Muslim in the sight of God. A Muslim must build his Faith on well-grounded convictions beyond any reasonable doubt and above uncertainty. If he is not certain about his Faith, he is invited by God to search in the open book of Nature, to use his reasoning powers, and to reflect on the teachings of the Qur’an. He must search for the indisputable truth until he finds it, and he will certainly find it, if he is capable and serious enough (see, for example, the Qur’an, 2:170; 43:22-24).
This is why Islam demands sound convictions and opposes blind imitation. Every person who is duly qualified as a genuine and earnest thinker is enjoined by Islam to employ his faculties to the fullest extent. But if a person is unqualified or uncertain of himself, he should pursue his thinking only as far as his limits can take him. It will be quite in order for such a person to rely only on the authentic sources of religion, which are sufficient in themselves, without applying to them any critical questioning of which he is incapable. The point is that no one can call himself a true Muslim unless his Faith is based on strong convictions and his mind is clear from doubts. Because Islam is complete only when it is based on strong convictions and freedom of choice, it cannot be forced upon anybody, for God will not accept this forced faith. Nor will He consider it a true Islam if it does not develop from within or originate from free and sound convictions. And because Islam insures freedom of belief many non-Muslim groups lived and still live in the Muslim countries enjoying full freedom of belief and conscience. The Muslims take this attitude because Islam forbids compulsion in religion. It is the light which must radiate from within, because freedom of choice is the cornerstone of responsibility. This does not exempt the parents from responsibility for their children. Nor does it condone their being indifferent to the spiritual welfare of their dependents. In fact, they must do everything possible to help them to build a strong inspiring faith.
To establish Faith on sound grounds, there are various parallel avenues. There is a Spiritual approach which is based mainly on the Qur’an and the Traditions of Muhammad. There is also the rational approach which eventually leads to Faith in the Supreme Being. This is not to say that the Spiritual approach lacks sound rationality. Nor is the rational approach deprived of inspiring spirituality. Both approaches, in fact, complement one another and may well become in state of lively interaction. Now if a person is sufficiently equipped with sound rational qualities, he may resort to the rational approach or to the Spiritual approach or to both, and may be confident that his conclusion will be right. But if a person is incapable of profound inquiry or is uncertain of his reasoning powers, he may confine himself to the Spiritual approach and be contented with the knowledge he can derive from the authentic sources of religion. The point is that whether one uses the Spiritual approach or the rational technique or both, one will in the end come to Faith in God. All these avenues are equally important and accepted by Islam, and when properly channeled, lead to the same end, namely Faith in the Supreme Being (Qur’an, 5:16-17; 12:109; 18:30; 56:80).
15. The true Muslim believes that the Qur’an is the word of God revealed to Muhammad through the agency of the Angel Gabriel. The Qur’an was revealed from God piece by piece on various occasions to answer certain questions, solve certain problems, settle certain disputes, and to be man’s best guide to the truth of God and eternal happiness. Every letter in the Qur’an is the word of God, and every sound in it is the true echo of God’s voice. The Qur’an is the First and most authentic Source of Islam. It was revealed in Arabic, it is still and will remain in its original and complete Arabic version, because God has made it His concern to preserve the Qur’an, to make it always the best guide for man, and safeguard it against corruption (cf. 4:82; 15:9; 17:9; 41:41-44; 42:7, 52-53).
In testimony to God’s conservation, the Qur’an is the only Scripture in human history that has been preserved in its complete and original version without the slightest change in style or even punctuations. The history of recording the Qur’an, compiling its chapters and conserving its text is beyond any doubt not only in the minds of the Muslims but also in the minds of honest and serious scholars. This is historical fact which no scholar from any faith – who respects his knowledge and integrity – has ever questioned. As a matter of fact, it is Muhammad’s standing miracle that if all mankind were to work together they could not produce the like of one Qur’anic chapter (2:22-24; 11:13-14; 17:88-89).
16. The true Muslim believes in a clear distinction between the Qur’an and the Traditions of Muhammad. The Qur’an is the word of God whereas the Traditions of Muhammad are the practical interpretations of the Qur’an. The role of Muhammad was to convey the Qur’an as he received it, to interpret it, and to practice it fully. His interpretations and practices produced what is known as the Traditions of Muhammad. They are considered the Second Source of Islam and must be in complete harmony with the First Source, namely the Qur’an, which is the Standard and the Criterion. If there be any contradiction or inconsistency between any of the Traditions and the Qur’an, the Muslim adheres to the Qur’an alone and regards everything else as open to question because no genuine Tradition of Muhammad can ever disagree with the Qur’an or be opposed to it.
In this discussion of the cardinal articles of Faith in Islam, we have deliberately differed from the Traditional view on the subject. We did not confine them to five or six articles. Instead, we tried to include as many Principles as was possible. But it should be pointed out here that all the articles of Faith mentioned above are based upon and derived from the teachings of the Qur’an and the Traditions of Muhammad. More verses from the Qur’an and many parts of the Traditions could have been quoted to show the foundation of these articles of Faith. This was not done because of the limitations of space. However, the Qur’an and the Tradition of Muhammad are available references for any detailed study.
We have also kept to minimum the use of Western terminology and technical language like predestination, fatalism, free will, and so on. This was done deliberately because we wanted to avoid confusion and technicalities. Most of the technical terms used in religion among non-Arabic speaking people lead to misunderstanding, when applied to Islam, and give wrong impressions. It would be impossible to serve the purpose of this work if foreign religious terms were adopted and applied to Islam. If we were to use the alien religious terminology here, we would have had to add many qualifications and comments to clarify the picture of Islam. This also would have required much more space which we could not possibly afford under the circumstances. So, we tried to explain things in ordinary simple language, and this same course will be followed in the remainder of the book.