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Islamic Religion

Discover Islam

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QURANIC VIEW OF RELIGION

The Quran uses the word ‘din’, usually translated as ‘religion’, in different contexts with different meanings. Judging, rewarding or punishing (1.4; 51.6; 82.18-9; 37.53; 56.86); way, law, constitution (12.76); penal law (24.2), the collection of moral, spiritual and worldly principles, system, way of conduct (33.5; 40.26); servanthood, obedience (16.52); peace, order (8.39) are the most important and frequently used of these meanings.

With Islam God completed the religion He revealed and chose for mankind. Literally, Islam means ‘submission, peace and salvation’. In its most essential or fundamental aspect, Islam is epitomized in the most frequently recited of all Quranic phrases, the Basmala — In the name of God, the Merciful (al-Rahman), the Compassionate (al-Rahim). Both words are related to the quality of rahma, meaning mercy and compassion. God manifests Himself essentially through His absolute, all-inclusive Mercy and Compassion, and Islam is founded upon that affirmation. The mission of the Prophet Muhammad, with whom God sent Islam to mankind, is called in the Quran "a mercy for all the worlds", for the whole of creation.

Islam is uncompromisingly monotheistic. The concept that begins and ends Islamic theology is the Unity of God. In the light of that concept, the universe is seen as an integral whole, whose parts are all interrelated and co-operative. That is why there is such a splendid co-ordination, harmony and order throughout the universe and within each individual organism, including man. The harmony and orderliness prevalent in the universe and man come from the Unity of God Who alone created them and He is absolute, without partner or peer or like. The universe operative according to the laws God has established, is, in the literal sense of the word, Muslim, absolutely submitted to God. That is why there is stability, order and harmony in the operations of the universe.

Nevertheless, among creatures man has been equipped with freedom of will. While the other creatures are unable to fully manifest the Divine Names the All-Willing, the All-Knowing and the All-Speaking, man has so comprehensive a nature as to be a perfect mirror to God’s Names and Attributes. God has also equipped him with the knowledge of things or a capacity to learn and discover — ‘names’, in the language of the Quran — and made him His vicegerent to rule on the earth according to His laws. But, having free will means being faced by choices, so man’s life is the course of his choices between the opposed possibilities of right and wrong.

Religion is a universal intellect, a guidance from beyond human reason and human experience

So that he may survive and fulfill his functions as God’s vicegerent, man is empowered with three principal faculties. These are his appetites — for the opposite sex, offspring, livelihood, commodities, etc.; his anger or forcefulness in defense and struggle; and his power of reasoning or intellect. Since man is tested in his worldly life and has freedom of will, these faculties are not restricted in creation by God. However, man’s individual and collective happiness lies in his disciplining them for the sake of a harmonious, peaceful social life. Unless he so disciplines them, these faculties may drive man to immorality, illicit sexual relationships, unlawful livelihood, tyranny, injustices, deception and falsehood, and other vices. To prevent the chaos and suffering that must follow undisciplined exercise of human powers, man must submit to an authority that will guide and regulate his collective affairs. Since subjugating some people to others more wealthy and powerful means an open injustice and it is impossible for humankind to find out a justice to encompass all people, there is need for a universal intellect, a guidance from beyond human reason and human experience, to whose authority all may freely give their assent. That guidance is the religion revealed and perfected for man by God through His Prophets, namely Islam.

Islam is the name of the religion which God revealed to mankind through all of the Prophets

Islam is the name of the religion which God revealed to mankind through all of the Prophets. All of them, upon them be peace, came with the same essentials of belief — belief in the existence and Unity of God; belief in the final destruction of the world and the Resurrection and Judgment; belief in Prophethood and all the Prophets without distinction; belief in the Divine Scriptures; belief in angels and Divine Destiny and Decree without excluding human free will. All of the Prophets called people to worship only One God and preached and promoted the moral virtues and condemned vices. The differences lie in particular rules and injunctions connected with economic and political relationships at a particular epoch, and in the fact that while all the previous Prophets were sent to a specific people for a specific epoch, the Last Prophet, Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, was sent to all mankind for all time. To be Muslim requires belief in all the previous Prophets and in the originals of the previous Scriptures.

Who is a prophet?

A Prophet is one who, purified of all sins and vices and having a deep relation with God, guides people to truth and sets a perfect example for them in life with his exalted character. Absolute truthfulness, trustworthiness, communication of Divine Message without hiding anything in it, having the highest intellectual capacity, wisdom and profound insight, sinlessness and being free from all mental and bodily defects are essentials of Prophethood. Just as the planets are attracted toward the sun by the invisible force of gravitation, so too people are attracted toward the Prophet by the force of his profound relation with God, by certain miracles, and by the sheer nobility of his person, his purpose and his character.

Faith or belief is the very essence of religion

Faith or belief is the very essence of religion. Belief is not just a simple, brief affirmation based on imitation. It has degrees and stages of expansion or development as from, say, the seed of a tree to the fully grown, fruit-bearing state of that tree. Belief contains so many truths pertaining to all Names of God and the realities contained in the universe, that the most perfect of all human sciences and knowledge and virtues is belief, and knowledge of God originating in belief based on argument and investigation. This degree of belief has many degrees and grades of manifestation to the number of the Divine Names. Those who have been able to attain the degree of certainty of belief coming from direct observation of the truths on which belief is based, can study the universe as a kind of Divine Scripture.

The Divine Scripture (the Quran), the universe, and man

The Divine Scripture (the Quran), the universe, and man, are three kinds of manifestation of one truth. Therefore, there cannot be in principle a contradiction or incompatibility between the truths of the Quran (from the Divine Attribute of Speech) and the truths derived from the objective study of its ‘counterpart’, the created universe (from the Divine Attributes of Power and Will). Within an Islamic civilization, true to its authentic, original impulse, there cannot be a contradiction between science, the objective study of the natural world, and religion, the effort in personal and collective life to seek the approval and good pleasure of God. True belief is not something based on blind imitation; it should appeal to the reason as well as the heart, and combine affirmation by the reason and the inward experience and submission of the heart.

There is another degree of belief, namely certainty coming from direct experience of its truths. This depends on regular worship and reflection. The one who has acquired this degree of belief can challenge the whole of the world. So, the Muslims’ foremost duty is to acquire this degree of belief and try, in utmost sincerity and purely for the sake of pleasing God, to communicate it to others.

Belief and worship

The highest aim of creation and its most sublime result is belief in God. The most exalted rank of humanity is the knowledge of God. The most radiant happiness and sweetest bounty is the love of God contained within the knowledge of God; the purest joy for the human spirit and the purest delight for man’s heart is the spiritual ecstasy contained within the love of God.

From belief follow the different kinds of worship of God: worship that is responsive to explicit injunctions like the prescribed prayers, fasting, alms-giving and pilgrimage; worship that is obedient to the prohibitions such as against drinking alcohol, gambling, usury, killing, deception, etc. In order both to strengthen one’s belief and to attain higher ranks of perfection, one should be careful about the ‘acts’ of the heart and intellect, such as contemplation or reflection, invocation or recitation of God’s Names, self-criticism, perseverance and patience, thankfulness, disciplined living, perfect reliance on God, and so on. Moral virtues are the ‘fruits’ of religious life; the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, said: I have been sent to perfect the virtues.

Divine Religion also has rules to regulate man’s collective life. Through belief and worship, and through its intellectual, moral and spiritual principles, Islam aims to educate the individual in the best way possible; through its social and economic principles, it aims to establish an ideal society. Its final aim is that there should be no dissension, corruption, anarchy and terror in the world and that all people may obtain happiness in both worlds.

Man’s servanthood to God

Many Western intellectuals and their counterparts in the Muslim world assert that servanthood to God or religious life is a compensatory device contrived to console man for his own weaknesses and defects. Nevertheless, although modern man, armed with science and technology, entertains the illusion that he can be free of belief in and servanthood to a Supreme Being, and though he sees himself as a powerful one, yet he will, if it serves his self-interest, so far abase himself as to bow in worship before the meanest thing. Modern man is stubborn and unyielding, yet will countenance great degradation for the sake of a single, brief pleasure; he is unbending, but so mean as to kiss the feet of devilish people for the sake of some vulgar advantage. He is conceited and domineering but, since he can find no point of support in his heart, he postures like an impotent, vainglorious tyrant. He is a self-centered egoist, who strives to gratify his material, carnal desires and to pursue personal interests or particular national interests that coincide with his own.

The sincere believer does not degrade himself to bow in worship before even the greatest of the created. He is a dignified servant of God who does not take as object of worship a thing of even the greatest benefit like Paradise. Though a modest servant, and gentle in his nature and his bearing, he does not lower himself voluntarily before anybody other than his Creator beyond what He has permitted. Though aware of his weakness and neediness before God, he is independent of others, because he relies upon the Wealth and Power of his One Master.

For all practical purposes, the assumption of modern Western civilization is that collective life consists of competing selfish interests which are in a state of necessary conflict, arbitrated by force or might. It promotes as the bond that unifies particular communities an aggressive and negative nationalism which has often degenerated into a brutal racism. The result, for the majority of the world’s peoples, of the recent dominance of Western civilization, has been acute misery and humiliation; and for the favored minority, gratification of worldly needs accompanied a continual stimulation and increasing of those needs which engenders more competitiveness and anxiety.

The life of religion and servanthood to God accepts ‘right’, not ‘force’, as the point of support in social life. It holds, in place of the realization of selfish interests, virtues and God’s approval as the aim of collective life, and in place of necessary conflict, it holds to the principle of mutual assistance. It promotes, not racism and negative nationalism, but the ties of religion, profession and country, as the bonds within and between communities. Its aim is to put a barrier against the attacks of worldly desires and, by urging the soul to sublime goals, it encourages man on the way to perfectibility. Right calls for unity. Virtues bring solidarity. The principle of mutual assistance means coming to the aid of one another. Religion secures brotherhood and attraction. By disciplining the corporeal self and urging the soul to virtue, it brings happiness in this world and the next.

The reasons why the unbelieving modern civilization has been so long triumphant over the Muslims

Here it may be asked why the unbelieving modern civilization has been so long triumphant over the Muslims. The answer was given by Said Nursi in his writings. He argued that, although a Muslim must be Muslim in all his attributes and actions, he cannot always be so in practical life. Also, it is not always the case with a transgressor or unbeliever that every attribute and action of his should originate in his unbelief or transgression. Therefore, by virtue of having Muslim attributes and acting in conformity with Islamic principles more than a Muslim who fails in practicing Islam, an unbeliever may be victorious over a Muslim.

God has established two kinds of laws: one is the Shari’a, known by everybody, which is the body of God’s laws issuing from His Attribute of Speech and governing man’s ‘religious’ life. The reward or punishment for following these laws or not usually pertains to the afterlife. The other body of Divine laws comprise those governing creation and life as a whole, which issue from His Attribute of Will and are generally (but wrongly) called the ‘laws of nature’. The reward or punishment for them mostly pertains to this world. The Quran insistently draws attentions to ‘natural’ phenomena, which are the subject-matter of sciences, and urges their study. In the first five centuries of Islam, Muslims succeeded in uniting sciences with religion, the intellect with the heart, the material with the spiritual. However, in later centuries, the West took the initiative in sciences. This has meant that their obedience — although unconscious — to Divine laws of ‘nature’, has enabled their dominance over the Muslim world, which failed to practice both the religious and scientific aspects of Islam. Power and force have some right in life, they have been created for some wise purpose. Armed with power through sciences and technology, the West has got the upper hand over the Muslims.

By suffering the attacks of the hawk, the sparrow develops its defensive strengths and skills. In a comparable way, God has allowed the world of unbelief to attack Islam so that Muslims may acquire the necessary skills and strengths and restore Islam to its original purity and re-gain its authority in the world.


Recommended Readings:

They say religion is a means contrived by mankind to cover up problems that man could not solve but which, with further advances in civilization, will one day be solved and so, they ask, will religion no longer be needed?

Islam & Humanity at the Crossroads

Last Updated on July 22, 2000

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