Towards Understanding Islam

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  • Towards Understanding Islam



    Islam means obedience to God. And it is a matter of common sense that this obedience cannot ensure in full measure unless man knows certain basic facts of live and reposes firm faith in them. What are those facts? And what are the primary essentials, which a man must know to fashion his life, in accordance with the Divine Way? This we propose to discuss in the present chapter.

    First of all, one should have unshakable belief in the existence of God, for unless a man has a firm and unalloyed faith in God’s existence, how can he render obedience to Him?

    Then one must know the attributes of God. It is the knowledge of the attributes of God, which enables man to cultivate in him the nobles of human qualities and to fashion his life in virtue and godliness. If a man dose not know that there is one and only one God Who is the Creator, the ruler, and the Sustainer of the universe and there is none else to share with Him even a shred of the Divine power and authority, he may fall a prey to false god’s and offer his homage to them solicit their favor. But if he knows the divine attribute of tawheed(oneness of God), there is not the least possibility of his falling a prey to this illusion. Similarly, if a man knows that God is omnipresent and omniscient and He sees, hears, and knows everything that we do in public or in private-nay, even our unexpressed thoughts!-then how can he afford to be indulgent and disobedient to God? He will feel that he is under eternal vigil and will, therefore, behave in the most appropriate way. But he who is not aware of these attributes of God may be misled, because of his ignorance, into God’s disobedience. So is the case with all other attributes of God. the fact is that the qualities and attributes which a man must possess, if he wants to pursue the way of Islam, can be cultivated and developed only out of profound knowledge of the attributes of God. It is the knowledge of God’s attributes, which purifies a man’s mind and soul, his beliefs, morals, and actions. And a mere cursory acquaintance with or just an academic knowledge of these attributes is not sufficient for the task ahead-there must be an unflinching conviction firmly rooted in the mind and heart of man so that he may remain immune from insidious doubts and perversions.

    Moreover, one must know in detail the way of living by following which one can seek the pleasure of God. Unless a man knows the likes and dislikes of God, how can he choose and adopt the one and reject the other? If a man has no knowledge of the Divine Law, how can he follow it? Thus the knowledge of the Divine Law and the Revealed code of Life is also extremely essential in this respect.

    But here, again, mere knowledge will not suffice. Man must have full confidence and conviction that it is the Divine Law and that his salvation lies in following this code alone. For knowledge without this conviction will fail to spur man to the Right Path and he may be lost in the blind alley of disobedience.

    Finally, one must also know the consequence of be-life and obedience and those of disbelief and disobedience. He must know what blessings would be showered upon him if he chooses God’s way and leads a life of purity, virtue, and obedience. And he must also know what evil and harrowing consequences would follow if he adopts the way of disobedience and revolt. Thus the knowledge of life after death is absolutely essential for this purpose. Man must have an unwavering belief in the fact that death does not mean the end of life; that there will be resurrection and he will be brought to the highest court of justice, to be presided over by God Himself; that on the Day of Judgment complete justice will prevail; and that good deeds will be rewarded and misdeeds punished. Everybody will get his due and there is no escape. This is bound to happen. This sense of responsibility and accountability is quite essential for the full-fledged obedience of the Law of God.

    A man who has no knowledge of the world to come may consider obedience and disobedience quite immaterial. He may think that the obedient and the disobedient will both meet a similar end: for, after death both will be reduced to mere dust. With this attitude of mind, how can he be expected to submit to all the inconveniences and troubles that are inextricably associated with the life of active obedience, and shun those sins the commission of which does not apparently bring to him any moral or material loss in this world? With this mental attitude a man cannot acknowledge and submit to God’s Law.

    Nor can a man, who lacks firm belief in the life hereafter and in the Divine Court of Judgment, remain firm and steadfast in the turbulent waters of life with its attraction or sin, crime and evil; for doubt and hesitancy rob a man of his will to action. You can remain firm in your behavior only if you are firm in your beliefs. if you carry a wavering mind you cannot remain firm and steadfast. You can whole-heartedly follow a course only if you are sure of the benefits that will accrue to you by following it and of the losses and grievances that will engulf you if you disobey it. Thus, a profound know-ledge of the consequences of belief and disbelief and of the life after death is extremely necessary for canalizing life into God’s obedience.

    These are the essential facts which one must know if one wants to live the life of obedience, i.e. Islam.

    Faith : What does it mean?

    Faith is what we have described in the foregoing discussion as ‘Knowledge and belief’. The Arabic word Iman, which we have rendered in English as faith, literally means ‘to know’, ‘to believe’, and ‘to be convinced beyond the least shadow of doubt’. Faith, thus, is firm belief arising out of knowledge and conviction. And the man who knows and reposes unshakable belief in the unity of God, in His Attributes, in His Law and the Revealed Guidance, and in the Divine code of Reward and punishment is called Mo’min (faithful). This faith invariably leads man to a life of obedience and submission to the will of God. And one who lives this life of submission is known as Muslim.

    This should clearly bring home the fact that without faith (Iman) no man can be a true Muslim. It is the indispensable essential; rather, the very starting point, without which no beginning can be made. The relation of Islam to Iman is the same as of a tree to its seed. As a tree cannot sprout forth without its seed, in the same way it is not possible for a man, who has no belief to start with, to become a ‘Muslim’. On the other hand, just as it can happen that, in spite of sowing the seed, the tree may not grow for a multiple of reasons, or if it sprouts, its growth may be impaired or retarded, in the same way, a man may have faith, but due to a number of weaknesses, he may not become a true and staunch Muslim. Thus we find that faith is the starting point and leads man to the life of submission to God, and that a man cannot become a Muslim without faith. On the contrary, it is possible that a man may have faith but, because of the weakness of his will power, poor training, or bad company, he may not be living the life of a true Muslim. As such, from the viewpoint of Islam and Iman, all men may be classified into four categories:

      1. Those who have firm faith-a faith that makes them absolutely and whole-heartedly submit to God. They follow the way of God and devote themselves heart and soul to seek His pleasure by doing all that He likes and by avoiding all that He dislikes. In their devotion they are even more fervent that is the common man in pursuit of wealth and glory. Such men are true Muslim.


    1. Those who do have faith, who believe in God, His Law and the Day of Judgment, but whose faith is not deep and strong enough to make them totally submit to God. They are far below the rank of true Muslims deserve punishment for their defaultations and misdeeds, but still they are Muslim. They are defaulters and wrongdoers but not rebels. They acknowledge the Sovereign and His Law and, although they are violating the Law, they have not revolted against the Sovereign. They admit its supremacy and their own guilt. Thus they are guilty and deserve punishment, but Muslims they remain.

    3. Those who do not possess faith at all. These people refuse to acknowledge the sovereignty of God and are rebels. Even if their conduct is not bad and even if they are not spreading corruption and violence, they remain rebels and their apparent good deeds are of little value. Such men are like the outlaws. And as, even if any action of an outlaws is in consonance with the law of the land, he does not become a loyal and obedient citizen, in the same way the apparent good of those who revolt against God cannot compensate for the gravity of the real wrong, revolt, and disobedience.

    4. Those who neither possess faith nor do good deeds. They spread disorder in the world and perpetrate all kinds of violence and oppression. They are the worst of the people; for they are rebels as well as the wrongdoers and criminals.

    The above classification of mankind clearly shows that the real success and salvation of man depends on Iman (faith). The life of obedience (Islam) takes its birth from the seed of Iman. This Islam of a person may be flawless or defective. But without Iman there can be no Islam. Where there is no Iman there is no Islam.

    Where there is no Islam there is Kufr. Its form and nature may be different, but in any way it would be Kufr and nothing but Kufr.

    This brings home the importance of Iman vis-à-vis life of true and total submission to God?

    How to acquire the knowledge of God?

    Now the question arises: How to acquire the know-ledge and belief in God, His attributes, His Law, and the Day of Judgment?

    We have already referred to countless manifestations of God around us and in our own selves, which bear witness to the fact that there is one and only one creator and Governor of this universe and it is He Who controls and directs it. These witnesses reflect the divine attributes of the creator: His great wisdom, His all-embracing knowledge, His omnipotence, His mercy, His all-sustaining power, His force major-in short, His attributes can be traced everywhere in His work. But man’s intellect and his capacity to attain knowledge have erred in observing and understanding them. These are all manifest and clear and our eyes are open to read what is writ large on the creation. But here men have erred. some have declared that there are two gods others began to profess belief in trinity, and still others succumbed to polytheism. Some began nature-worship and others divided into multifarious deities: gods of rain, air, fair, death, etc. As such, although the manifestations of God were quite clear, human reason has faltered on various counts and failed to see the reality in its true perspective. It met deception after deception and resulted in nothing but confusion of thought. We hardly need dilate here on these errors of human judgment.

    Similarly, with regard to life after death men have put forward many erroneous notions; for instance, that man is reduced to dust after death and will not rise to life again; or that man is subject to a process of continuous regeneration in this very world and is punished or rewarded in the oncoming cycles of life.

    Even greater difficulty arises when we come to the question of the code of life. To formulate a complete and balanced code of life that should conform to God’s pleasure merely with the help of human reason, is an extremely difficult task. If a man is equipped with the highest faculties of reason and intellect and he possesses matchless wisdom and experience of many years of deliberation, even then the chances of his formulating right views on life and existence are not very promising. And even if, after a lifelong deliberation, he succeeds in that he will still lack in the confidence that he has really discovered the truth and adopted the right path.

    Although the fullest and fairest test of man’s wisdom, reason, and knowledge might have been to leave him to his own resources without any external guidance so that he those who, through their own sagacious siftings and strivings, might have reached truth and righteousness would have won success and salvation, while those not reaching them would have failed. God, how- ever, spared His human creatures such a hard test. Through His grace and benevolence He raised for mankind men from among themselves to whom He imparted the true knowledge of His attributes, revealed to them His Law and the Right Code of Living, gave them the knowledge of the meaning and purpose of life and of the life after death and thus showed them the way by pursuing which man can achieve success and eternal bliss. These chosen man are the Messengers of God-His prophets. God has communicated knowledge and wisdom to them by means of wahy (revelation), and the book containing the Divine communications is called the Book of God, or the word of God. Now the test of man’s Wisdom and intellect lies in this: does he recognize God's Messenger after thoroughly observing his pure and pious life and carefully studying his noble and flawless teachings? The man who possesses right wisdom and sound common sense would verify truth and accept the instructions given by the Messenger of truth. If he denies the Messenger of God and his teachings, his denial would signify that he was devoid of the capacity to find out truth and righteousness. On account of this denial he would fail in his test. Such a man will never be able to discover the truth about God and His Law and the life after death.

    Faith in the Unknown

    It is an everyday experience that when you do not know a thing, you look for somebody who knows it and

    you repose faith in his word and follow him. If you get ill and you cannot treat and cure yourself, look for the doctor and accept and follow his instructions without question. Why because he is properly qualified to give medical advice, possesses experience, and has treated and cured a number of patients. You, therefore, stick to his advice, do whatever he asks you to do and avoid whatever he forbids. Similarly, in matters of Law you believe in whatever your legal advisers say and act accordingly. In educational matters you have faith in your teacher or instructor and you accept his instructions as true. When you want to go to some place and do not happen to know the way to it, you ask somebody who knows it, and follow the way he points out. In short, the reasonable course that you adopt in the whole of your life about matters which you do not or cannot know is that you approach one who knows them, accept his advice and act accordingly. As your own knowledge of that matter or problem is inadequate, you carefully search for One who knows that and then silently accept his word. You take every pain to select the proper person. But After selecting the right man, you accept his advice unquestioningly. This kind of belief is called ‘belief in the unknown’. For here you have relied upon one who knows, in matters you do not know. This exactly is Iman-bil-ghaib. Thus believing or having faith in what was previously unknown to you is called ‘faith in the UN-known’ (Iman-bil-ghaib).

    Iman-bil-ghaib, therefore, signifies that you achieve the knowledge of what was not known to you from one who knows. You do not know God and His real attributes. You are not aware that His angels are directing the machinery of the whole universe according to His orders, and that they surround you on all sides. You have not the proper knowledge of the way of life through which you can seek the pleasure of your Creator. And you are in the dark about the life that is to come. The knowledge of all these matters is given to you by the Prophets, who had direct contact with the Divine Being and had been endowed with the correct knowledge. And they are the persons whose sincerity, integrity, trustworthiness, godliness and the absolute purity of whose lives stand as irrevocable witness to the truth of their claim to know-ledge. And above all, the very wisdom and force of their message makes you admit that they speak the truth and their preaching deserve to be believed and followed. This conviction of yours is Iman-bil-ghaib. Such truth discerning and truth-acknowledging attitude (i.e. Iman-bil-ghaib) is essential for obedience to God and for acting in accordance with His pleasure, for you have no other medium than God’s Messenger for the achievement of true knowledge, and without accurate and true knowledge you cannot proceed rightly on the path of Islam.

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