Towards Understanding Islam
THE MEANING OF ISLAM
Every religion of the world has been named either after the name of its founder or after the community and nation in which that religion took its birth. For instance, Christianity takes its appellation from the name of its prophet Jesus Christ; Zoroastrians from its founder Zoroaster; and Judaism, the religion of the Jews, from the name of the tribe Judah (of the country of Judea) wherein it took its birth. Similar is the case with other religions. But not so with Islam. This religion enjoys the unique distinction of having no such association with any particular person or people. The word ‘Islam’ does not confer any such relationship-for it does not belong to any particular person, people, or country. It is neither the product of any human mind nor is it confined to any particular community. It is a universal religion and its objective is to create and cultivate in man the quality and attitude of Islam.
Islam, as a matter of fact, is an attributive title. Whosoever possesses this attributive, may he belong to any race, community, country, or clan, is a Muslim. According to the Quran (the Holy Book of the Muslims), among every people and in all ages there have been good and righteous people who possessed this attribute of them were and are Muslims.
This automatically brings us to the question: What does Islam mean? And who is a Muslim?
‘Islam’ is an Arabic word and connotes submission, surrender, and obedience As a religion, Islam stands for complete submission and obedience to Allah and that is why it is called ‘ISLAM’1. Everyone can see that the universe we live in is an orderly universe. There is law and order among all the units that comprise this universe. Everything is assigned a place in a grand scheme, which is working in a magnificent and superb way. The sun, the moon, the stars and in fact all the heavenly bodies are knit together in a splendid system. They follow an unalterable law and do not make even the slightest deviation from their ordained course. The earth rotates on its own axis and in its revolution round the sun scrupulously follows the path laid down for it. Similarly, everything in the world, from the little whirling electron to the mighty nebulae, invariably follows its own laws. Matter energy, and life-all obey their laws and grow and change and live and die in accordance with those laws. EVEN in the human world the laws of nature are quite manifest. Man's birth, growth, and life are all regulated by a set of biological laws. He derives sustenance from nature in
Accordance with an unalterable law. All the organs of his body from the small tissues to the heart and the brain are governed by the laws prescribed for them. In Short, ours is a law-governed universe and everything in it is following the course that has been ordained for it. This powerful, all-pervasive law, which governs all that comprises the universe, from the tiniest specks of dust to the magnificent galaxies in high heavens, is the law of God, the creator and ruler of the universe. As the entire creation obeys the law of God, the whole universe, therefore, literally follows the religion of Islam-for Islam signifies nothing but obedience and submission to Allah, the Lord of the universe. The sun, the moon, the earth, and all other heavenly bodies are thus ‘Muslim’. So is the case with air, water, and heat, stones, trees, and animals. Everything in the universe is ‘Muslim’ for it obeys God by submission to his laws. Even a man who refuses to believe in God, or offers his worship to someone other than Allah has perforce to be a ‘Muslim’ as far as his bodily existence is concerned. For his entire life, from the embryonic stage to the body’s dissolution info dust after death, and every tissue of his muscles and every limb of his body follow the course prescribed for each by God’s law. His very tongue which, on account of his ignorance, advocates the denial of God or professes multiple deities, is in its very nature a ‘Muslim’. His head which he wantonly bows to other besides Allah is a born Muslim. His heart wherein, through his lack of true knowledge, he cherishes love and reverence for others, is ‘Muslim’ by intuition. These are all obedient to the divine Law, and their functions and movements are governed by the injunctions of that law alone. This, in short, is the real position of man and the universe. Let us now examine the problem in a different light. Man is so constituted that there are two aspects of his life: two distinct spheres of his activity. One is the sphere in which he finds himself totally regulated by the Divine Law. He cannot budge an inch or move a step away from it. Nor can he evade it in any way or from. In fact, like other creatures, he is completely caught in the grip of the law of nature and is bound to follow it. But there is another sphere of his activity as well. He has been endowed with reason and intellect. He has the power to think and form judgments, to choose and reject, and to adopt and spurn. He is free to adopt whatever course of life chooses. He can embrace any faith, adopt any way of life and formulate his living according to whatever ideologies he likes. He may prepare his own code of conduct or accept one formulated by others. He has been bestowed with free will and can chalk out his own course of behavior. In this latter aspect, he, unlike the other creatures, has been given freedom of thought, choice, and action.
Both these aspects distinctly co-exist in man’s life.
In the first he, like all other creatures, is a born Muslim, invariably obeys the injunctions of God, and is bound to remain so. As far as the second aspect is concerned, he is free to become or not to become a Muslim. Here he has been given the freedom of choice-and it is the way a person exercises this freedom, which divides mankind into two groups: believers and non-believers. An individual who chooses to acknowledge his creator, accepts Him as his real Master, honestly and scrupulously submits to His laws and injunctions and follows the code He has revealed unto man for his individual and social life, thereby becomes a perfect Muslim. He has, so to say, achieved completeness in his Islam by consciously deciding to obey God in the domain in which he was endowed with freedom and choice. Now his entire life has become one of submission to God and there is no conflict in his personality. He is a perfect Muslim and his Islam is complete-for this submission of his entire self to the will of Allah is Islam and nothing but Islam. He has now consciously submitted to Him whom he had already been unconsciously obeying. He has now willingly offered obedience to the Master whom he already owed obedience unintentionally. His knowledge is now real for he has acknowledged the Being who endowed him with the power to learn and to know. Now his reason and judgment are set on an even keel-for he has rightly decided to obey the Being who bestowed upon him the faculty of thinking and judging. His tongue also is truthful for it expresses with conviction its confession of the Lord who gave it the faculty speech. New the whole of this existence is an embodiment of, in all spheres of life, he voluntarily as well as involuntarily obeys the laws of the same One God with the whole universe for he worships Him whom the whole world is for him and he is for God.
In contrast to the man described above, there is the man who, although a born Muslim and unconsciously
Remaining one throughout his life, does not exercise his faculties of reason, intellect, and intuition for recognizing his Lord and creator and misuses his freedom of choice by choosing to deny Him. Such a man becomes an unbeliever-in the language of Islam a kafir.
Kufr literally means ‘to cover’ or ‘to conceal’. The man who denies God is called kafir (concealer) because he conceals by his disbelief what is inherent in his nature and embalmed in his own soul-for, indeed, his nature is instinctively imbued with ‘Islam’. His whole body, every sinew and every fiber, functions in obedience to that instinct. Each and every particle of existence-living or lifeless-functions in accordance with ‘Islam’ and is fulfilling the duty that has been assigned to it. But the vision of this man has been blurred, his intellect has been befogged , and he is unable to see the manifest. His own nature has become concealed from his eyes and he thinks and acts in utter disregard of it. The reality become estranged form him and he gropes in the dark such is the nature of kufr.
Kufr is a form of ignorance, rather it is ignorance pure and simple. What ignorance can be greater than to be ignorant of God, the creator, the Lord of the universe? A man observes the vast panorama of nature, the superb mechanism that is ceaselessly working, the grand design that is manifest in every nook and corner of the creation-he observes this vast machine, but he does not know who is its maker and Director. He looks to his own body, the wonderful organism that works in the most superb way, and uses it to achieve his own ends but is unable to comprehend the force that brought it into existence, the engineer who designed and produced this machine, the creator who made the unique living being out of lifeless stuff: carbon, calcium, sodium, and the like. He witnesses a superb plan in the universe-but fails to see the planner behind it. he sees great beauty and harmony in its working-but not the creator of this all. He observes wonderful design in nature-but not the Designer! In the universe all around him he observes the choicest demonstrations of skill in science and wisdom, mathematics and engineering, design and purpose, but he blinds himself to the being Who brought all this vast incomprehensible universe into existence. How can a man, who has blinded himself to this great and significant reality, approach the true perspectives of knowledge? How can the vistas of truth and knowledge be opened to such a man? How can one who has made the wrong beginning reach the right destination? He will fail to find the clue to Reality. The Right path will remain concealed for him and whatever be his endeavors in sciences and arts, he will never be able to avail himself of the lights of truth and wisdom. He would be groping in the dark, and stumbling in the gloom of ignorance.
Not only that; kufr is also a tyranny, nay, the wars of tyrannies. And what is ‘tyranny’? It is an act of cruel and unjust use of any force or power. If you force a thing to act unjustly or to act against its true nature, its real will and its inherent attitude,-that is tyranny, root and branch.
We have seen that all that is in the universe is obedient to God the creator. to obey, to live in accordance with His will and His Law or (to put it more precisely) to be a Muslim is ingrained in their very nature. God has given manpower over these things, but it is incumbent in the very nature of these things that they should be used for the fulfillment of His will and not otherwise. But one who disobeys God and resorts to kufr is the person who perpetrates the greatest injustice, for he uses all these powers of body and mind to rebel against the course of nature and becomes an unwilling instrument in the drama of disobedience. He forces his head to bow down before deities other than God and cherishes in his heart the love, reverence, and fear of other powers in utter disregard to the instinctive urge of these organs. He uses his own powers and all those things upon which he has authority against the explicit of good and thus establishes a reign of tyranny. Can there be any greater injustice, tyranny, and cruelty than that exhibited by this man who exploits and misuses everything under the sun and unscrupulously forces them to a course which affronts nature and justice? Kufr is not mere tyranny; it is, to say the least, sheer rebellion, ingratitude, and infidelity. After all, what is the reality of man? What is his power and authority? Is he himself the creator of his mind, his heart, his soul, and other organs of his body-or have they been created by God? Has he himself created the universe and all that is within her-or has it been created by God? Who has harnessed all the powers and energies for the service of man-man or God? If everything has been created by God and God alone, then to whom do they belong? Who is their real owner? Who is their rightful sovereign? Verily, it is God and none else. And if God is the creator, the Master, and the sovereign, then who would be a greater rebel than the man who uses God’s creation against His injunctions-who makes his mind think against God, harbors in his heart thoughts against Him, and uses his various faculties against the sovereign’s will. If a servant betrays his master you denounce him as faithless. If an officer become disloyal to the state you dub him as traitor and renegade. If a person cheats his benefactor you have no hesitation in condemning him as ingrate. But what match can this betrayal, this ingratitude, and this rebellion have to the one which the disbeliever commits by his Kufr? After all, who is the real mainspring of all power and authority? Who gave man command over the resources? Who elevated people to positions of high authority and power? All that a man has and all that he uses for the benefit of others is a bestowal of God. The greatest obligation that man owes on this earth is to his parents. But who has implanted the love of children in the parents’ hearts? Who endowed the mother with the will and power to nurture, nourish, and feed her children? Who inspired the parents with the passion to spend everything in their possession for the well being of their children? A little reflection would reveal that God is the greatest benefactor of man. He is his creator, Lord, Nourisher, sustainer, as well as his real king and sovereigns. And this being the position of God vis-à-vis man, what can be greater betrayal, ingratitude, rebellion, and treason than Kufr, through which a man denies and disobeys his real Lord and sovereign?
Do not think that bay committing Kufr man does or can do any harm to God Almighty. No, not the least. An insignificant speck on the face of a tiny ball in this limitless universe that man is, what harm can he do to the Lord of the universe whose dominions are so infinitely vast that we have not yet been able to explore their boundaries even with the help of the most powerful telescope; Whose power is so great that myriad's of heavenly bodies, like the Earth, the Moon, the sun and the stars, are at His bidding, whirling link tiny balls; Whose wealth is so boundless that He is the sole Master of the whole universe; and who provides for all and needs none to provide for Him. Man’s revolt against Him can do Him no harm; on the other hand by his disobedience, man treads the path of utter ruin and disgrace.
The inevitable consequence of this revolt and denial of reality is a failure in the ultimate ideals of life. such a rebel will never find the thread of real knowledge and vision; for the knowledge that fails to reveal its own creator can reveal no truth. Such a man’s intellect and reason always run astray; for reason which errs in knowing its own creator cannot illumine the paths of life. Such a man will meet with failures in all the affairs of his life. His morality, his civic and social life, his struggle for livelihood and his family life, in short, his entire living, will be upset. He will spread confusion and disorder on the earth. He will without the least compunction, shed blood, violate other men’s rights, be cruel to them, and create disorder and destruction in the world. His perverted thoughts and ambitions, his blurred vision and disturbed scale of values, and his evil-spelling activities would make life bitter for him and for all around him. Such a man would destroy the calm and poise of life on earth. And in the life hereafter he would be held guilty for the crimes he committed upon his nature, his powers, and resources. Every organ of his body-his very brain, eyes, nose, hands, and feet-will complain against the injustice and cruelty he had done unto them. every tissue of his being will decry him before God Who, as the very fountain of justice, will award him the fullest punishment he deserves. This is the inglorious consequence of Kufr. It leads to the blind alley of utter failure, here and hereafter.
After surveying the evils and disadvantages of Kufr, let us now cast a glance over the blessings of Islam. You find in the world around you and in the small kingdom of your own self innumerable manifestations of God’s divine power. This grand universe, which ceaselessly works with matchless order and in accordance with an unalterable law, is in itself a witness to the fact that its Designer, Creator, and Governor is an Omnipotent, All-powerful Being with infinite, all-embracing, and limit-less power, knowledge, and resources, Whose wisdom is the most perfect, and Whom nothing in the universe dare disobey. It is in the very nature of man, as it is with every other thing in this universe, to obey Him. As a matter of fact, he is unconsciously obeying His Law day in and day out, because the moment he goes against this Law, he is exposed to death and destruction. This is the law of nature, our everyday observance.
Besides endowing man with the capacity to acquire knowledge, the faculty to think and ponder, and the sense of distinguishing right from wrong, God has granted him with a certain amount of freedom of will and action. In this freedom lies man’s real trial; his knowledge, his wisdom, his power of discrimination, and his freedom of will and action are all being tried and tested. In this trial and test man has not been obliged to adopt any particular course, for by compulsion the very object of the trial would have been defeated. Evidently if in an examination you are compelled to write a certain answer to a question, the examination will be of no use. Your merit can be properly judged only if you are allowed to answer the questions freely, according to your own knowledge and understanding. If your answer is correct you will succeed, and will get access to future progress; and if your answer is wrong, you will fail, and your failure will bar the way to further progress. Similar is the situation which man faces in the world. God has given him freedom of will and action so that he may remain free to choose whatever attitude in life he likes and considers proper for himself-Islam or Kufr. Now, on the one hand, there is a man who under-stands neither his own nature nor that of the universe. He errs in recognizing his real Master and in knowing His attributes, and misuses his freedom by pursuing the path of disobedience and revolt. such a man has failed in the trial of his knowledge, intelligence, and duty-consciousness. He has failed to come up to the standard and does not deserve a better a destiny than the one discussed above.
On the other hand, there is another man who emerges successful from this trial. By the correct use of his knowledge and intellect he recognizes his creator, reposes belief in Him, and, in spite of being under no compulsion to do so, chooses the path of obedience to Him. He does not err in distinguishing the right from the wrong and chooses to follow the right despite the fact that he had the power to lean towards evil. He understands his own nature, and realizes the law and realities of nature and, despite the power and freedom of adopting any course, adopts the way of obedience and loyalty to God the creator. He is successful in his trial because he has used his intellect and all other faculties properly. He uses his eyes to see the Reality, his ears to listen to the Truth, his mind to form right opinions and puts all his heart and soul in following the right way he has so chosen. He chooses Truth, sees the reality, and willingly and joyfully submits to his Lord and Master. He is intelligent, truthful, and dutiful, for he has chosen light over darkness, and after seeing the light of reality has responded to its call willingly and enthusiastically. Thus he has proved by his conduct that he is not only a seeker after Truth but is its knower and worshipper as well. Verily, he is on the Right path, and such a man is destined to succeed in this world and in the life to come.
Such a man will always choose the Right path in every field of knowledge and action. The man who knows God with all His attributes knows the beginning as well as the ultimate end of Reality. He can never be led astray, for his first step is on the right path, and he is sure of the direction and destination of his journey in life. In philosophy he will ponder over the secrets of the universe, and will try to fathom the mysteries of nature, but, unlike an unbelieving philosopher, he will not lose his way in the maze of doubt and skepticism. His path being illumined with Divine Vision, his every step would fall in right direction. In science, he will endeavor to know the laws of nature, uncover the hidden treasures of earth and direct all the hitherto unknown forces of mind and matter-all for the betterment of humanity. He will try his level best to explore all avenues of knowledge and power and to harness all that exists in earth and heavens in the interests of mankind. At every stage of his inquiry his God-consciousness will save him from making evil and destructive uses of science and scientific method. He will never conceive himself claiming to be a master of all these objects, boasting to be the conqueror of nature, arrogating to himself the godly and sovereign powers and nourishing the ambition of subverting the world, subduing the human race and establishing his supremacy over all and sundry by means fair and foul.
Such an attitude of revolt and defiance can never be entertained by a Muslim scientist-only a Kafir scientist can fall a prey to such illusions and by submitting to them expose the entire human race to dangers of total destruction and annihilation2. A Muslim scientist, on the other hand, will behave in an altogether different way. The deeper his insight into the world of science, the stronger will be his faith in God. His head will bow down before Him in gratitude. His feelings will be that as his Master has blessed him with greater power and knowledge so he must exert himself for his own good and for the good of humanity. Instead of arrogance there will be humility. Instead of power-drunkenness there will be strong realization to serve humanity. His freedom will not be unbridled. He will be guided by the tenets of morality and Divine Revelation. Thus science would in his hands, instead of becoming an instrument of destruction, become an agency for human welfare and moral regeneration. And this is the way in which he will express his gratitude to his Master for the gifts and blessings He has bestowed upon man.
Similarly, in history, economics, politics, law, and other branches of arts and science, a Muslim will no-where lag behind a Kafir in the fields of inquiry and struggle, but their angles of view and consequently their modus operandi will be widely different. A Muslim will study every branch of knowledge in its right perspective, will strive for the right objective, and will arrive at right conclusion. In history he will draw correct lessons from the past experiences of man, and will find out true causes of the rise and fall of civilization. He will try to benefit from all that was good and right in the past and will scrupulously avoid all that had led to the decline and fall of nations. In politics his sole objective will be to strive for the establishment of a polity wherein peace, justice, fraternity, and goodness reign, where man is a brother of man and respects his humanity, where no form of exploitation or slavery is rampant, where rights of the individual are respectfully upheld, and where the powers of the state are considered as a sacred trust from God and are used for the common welfare of all. In the field of law, the endeavor of a Muslim will be to make it the true embodiment of justice and the real protector of the rights of all-particularly of the weak. He will see that everybody gets his due share and no injustice or oppression is inflicted upon anyone. He will respect the law, make others respect it, and will see that it is administered justly, fairly, and equitably.
The moral life of a Muslim will always be filled with godliness, piety, righteousness and truthfulness. He will live in the world with the belief that God alone is the master of all that whatever he and other men possess has been given by God, that the powers he wields are only a trust from God, that the freedom he has been endowed with is not to be used indiscriminately, and that it is in his own interest to use it in accordance with God’s Will. He will constantly keep in view that one day he will have to return to the Lord and submit an account of his entire life. The sense of accountability will always remain firmly implanted in his mind and he will never behave in a carefree and irresponsible way.
Think of the moral excellence of the man who lives with this mental attitude-his will be a life of purity and piety and love and altruism. He will be a blessing unto mankind. His thinking would not be polluted with evil thoughts and perverted ambitions. He will abstain from seeing evil, hearing evil, and doing evil. He will guard his tongue and will never utter a word of life. He will earn his living through just and fair means and will prefer hunger to a food acquired unfairly through exploitation or injustice. He will never be a party to oppression or violation of human life and honor, whatever be their form or color. He will never yield to evil, however high the defiance may cost him. He will be an embodiment of goodness and nobility and will uphold right and truth even at the cost of his life. He will abhor all shades of injustice and will stand firm for truth, undaunted by the tempests of adversity. Such a man will be a power to be reckoned with. He is bound to succeed. Nothing on earth can deter him or impede his way.
He will be the most honored and the most respected one. No one can excel him in this respect. How can humiliation ever visit a person who is not prepared to bow his head or even spread his hand for any favor before anyone except God the Almighty, the Sovereign of the universe?
He will be most powerful and effective. No one can be more powerful than he-for he fears none but God and seeks blessings from none but Him. What power can make him deviate from the Right Path? What wealth can buy his faith? What force can mould his conscience? What power can coerce his behavior?
He will be the most wealthy and rich. No one in the world can be richer or more independent than he-for he will live a life of austerity, satiety, and contentment. He will be neither sensualist, nor indulgent, nor greedy. He will be contented with whatever he earns fairly and honestly and even if heaps of ill-gotten wealth are put before him he will not even like to look at them, to say the least of availing them. He will have the peace and contentment of heart-and what can be a greater wealth than this?
He will be the most revered, popular, and the loved one. No one can be more lovable than he-for he lives a life of charity and benevolence. He will do justice to all and sundry, discharge his duties honestly, and work for the good of others sincerely. People's hearts would be naturally drawn towards him and they would like him, love him, and revere him.
He will be the most trusted and honored one. No one can be trustworthy than he-for he will not betray his trust, nor will he go astray from righteousness: he will be true to his word, and straightforward and honest in his dealings. He will be fair and just in all his affairs, for he is sure that God is ever- present, ever vigilant. Words fail to describe the credit and goodwill, which such a man commands. Can there be anyone who will not trust him?-such is the life and character of a Muslim.
If you understand the true character of a Muslim, you will be convinced that he cannot live in humiliation, abasement, or subjugation. He is bound to prevail and no power on earth can overwhelm him or subdue him. For Islam inoculates in him the qualities which cannot be overshadowed by any charm or illusion.
And after living a respectable and honorable life on this earth, he will return to his Creator Who will shower upon him the choicest of His blessings-for he discharged his duty ably, fulfilled his mission successfully, and emerged from the trial triumphantly. He is successful in life in this world and in the hereafter will live in eternal peace, joy, and bliss.
This is Islam, the natural religion of man, the religion, which is not associated with any person, people, period, or place. It is the way of nature, the religion of man. In every age, in ever country, and among every people, all God-knowing and truth-loving men have believed and lived this very religion. They were all Muslim, irrespective of the fact whether they called that way Islam or anything else. Whatever is name was, it signified Islam and nothing but Islam.
2 Similar is the situation which confronts the modern man today. Dr. Joad says that "Science has given us powers fit for the gods, and to their use we bring the mentality of schoolboys and savages."
The leading philosopher Bertrand Russell writes: "Broadly speaking, we are in the middle of a race between human skill as to means and human folly as to ends, every increase in the skill required to achieve them is to the bad. The human race has survived hitherto owing to ignorance and incompetence; but, given knowledge and competence combined with folly, there can he no certainty of survival. Knowledge is power, but it is power for evil just as much as for good. It follows that unless man increases in wisdom as much as in knowledge, increase in knowledge will be increase in sorrow." - (Impact of Science on Society, pp.120-21).
Another leading thinker has put the paradox in these words: "We are taught to fly in the air like birds, and to swim in the water like fishes, but how to live on the earth we do not know." - (quoted by Joad in Counter Attack From the East. p.28.)