By Dr. Abdullah M. Khouj
Then is one who walks fallen on his face better guided or one who walks erect on a straight path? (67:22)
It is part of human nature that when we are introduced to something or hear about it, would like to know all about it at once. It is part of our nature also that it takes some time for us to be familiarized with things especially when it relates to our belief and values. Both involve detailed processes and involvement for us to grasp the meaning involved in their principles. This brief article is meant to help the reader glimpse the basic foundations of Islam: its meaning, basic principles and objectives. As will it deals with the guidelines of how Islam can help people live a better life.
Some people characterize Islam as a restrictive religion that requires believers to follow a long list of “do’s” and “don’ts.” Muslims are also sometimes described as emotional people who seclude themselves from others with their backward religion. Some even think that Muslims worship a different God.
Islam is an Arabic word derived from the consonant root ‘slm, which means “peace.” In the religious perspective it means submission to the will of Allah. Allah says:
Who can be better in religion than one who submits his whole self to Allah, does good, and follows the way of Abraham the true in faith? For Allah did take Abraham for a friend. (4:125)
A Muslim surrenders his whole being to Allah the same God of all the revealed religions, including Judaism and Christianity out of gratitude for the gifts that he enjoys from Allah, including the gift of life, sight, hearing, health, and security. This act of submission begins with the recognition of Allah as the only power in the universe. He is the Creator, the giver of life and death, the Sustainer, the Controller of benefit and harm, the Ruler, and the Judge. This recognition is accompanied by love, fear, and dependency. Its outward result is obedience to His will. And, obedience agrees with human nature, as Allah tells us:
So set thou thy face steadily and truly to the Faith: (Establish) Allah’s handiwork according to the pattern on which He has made manldnd: No change (let there be) in the work (wrought) by Allah: that is the standard religion: but most among mankind understand not. (30:30)
Some may ask why do we have to submit to Allah, or why must we even have to think about Him?
When Allah created Adam out of clay, He put a soul in him. Thus, he became a living being with all the qualities that we enjoy to this day. As a being with a soul, a human being cannot function properly unless he/she constantly relates to the originator of his soul to receive sustenance and guidance. Without Allah’s guidance the human being would fall prey to Satan, the greatest enemy of humanity. Satan (Iblis)[i] has the ability to make the human being go against his own nature, and come under Satanic influence where he will be destroyed. Allah describes this matter in the following verses:
Behold! thy Lord said to the angels: “I am about to create man, from sounding clay, from mud moulded into shape; “When I have fashioned him (in due proportion) and breathed into him of My spirit, fall ye down in obeisance unto him.” So the angels prostrated themselves, all of them together: Not so Iblis: he refused to be among those who prostrated themselves. (Allah) said: “O Iblis! what is your reason for not being among those who prostrated themseives?” (Iblis) said: “I am not one to prostrate myself to man, whom Thou didst create from sounding clay, from mud moulded into shape.” (Allah) said: “Then get thee out from here: for thou art rejected, accursed. “And the Curse shall be on thee till the Day of Judg-ment.” (Iblis) said: “O my Lord! give me then respite till the Day the (dead) are raised.” (Allah) said: “Respite is granted thee, “Till the Day of the Time Appointed.” (Iblis) said: “O my Lord! because Thou hast put me in the wrong, I will make (wrong) fair-seeming to them on the earth, and I will put them all in the wrong, “Except Thy ser-vants among them, sincere and purified (by Thy grace).” (Allah) said: “This (Way of My sincere servants) is indeed a Way that leads straight to Me. “For over My servants no au-thority shalt thou have, except such as put themselves in the wrong and follow thee.” And verily, Hell is the promised abode for themall! (15:28-42)
In another chapter. Allah informs that if we follow His guidance we will be saved from the conflict, confusion, and trouble which Satan has in store for us.
We said: “O Adam! Dwell thou and thy wife in the Garden; and eat of the bountiful things therein as (where and when) ye wffl; but approach not this tree, or ye run into harm and transgression.” Then did Satan make them slip from the (Garden), and get them out of the state (of felicity) in which they had been. We said: “Get ye down, all (ye people), with enmity between your-selves. On earth will be your dwelling place and your means of livelihood for a time.” Then learnt Adam from his Lord words of inspiration, and his Lord turned towards him; for He is Oft-Returning, Most Merciful. We said: “Get ye down all from here: and if, as is sure, there comes to you guidance from Me, whosoever follows My guidance, on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve. (2:35-38)
This guidance is the key to true learning and understanding. It contains the right principles of growth and wisdom that we need to deal with life’s demands and expectations, and it urges us to see the world in a wider perspective—to think about and to utilize what Allah has given us for our own and others’ benefit.
Because this struggle between mankind and Satan from the time of Adam (the struggle between good and evil) is so crucial, Allah from time to time has warned the children of Adam about their greatest enemy through His prophets and messengers. Allah’s message emphasizes the belief in Him alone, combined with a warning against following in Satan’s footsteps. If people choose to follow in Satan’s footsteps, they will go astray and destroy themselves.
We have sent thee inspiration, as We sent it to Noah and the Messengers after him: We sent inspiration to Abrahara, Isma’il, Isaac, Jacob, and the Tribes, to Jesus, Job, Jonah, Aaron, and Solomon, and to David We gave the Psalms. Of some Messenger We have al-ready told thee the story; of others We have not, and to Moses Allah spoke direct. Mes-sengers who gave good news as well as warning, that mankind, after (the coming) of the Messengers, should have no plea against Allah: for Allah is Exalted in Power, Wise. But Allah beareth witness that what He hath sent unto thee He hath sent from His (own) knowledge, and the angels bear witness: but enough Is Aliah for a witaess. (4:165-166)
This shows that Islam is not a new religion as many people think. It is a continuation of the previously revealed divine messages. However, Allah informs that with His last revelation, He has completed and perfected His message to guide people to an understanding of the purpose of their existence. He says:
This day have I perfected your religlon for you, completed My favour upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion. But if any is forced by hunger, with no inclination to transgression, Allah is indeed Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. (5:3)
Once more, belief and submission to the one God (Allah) is an innate predisposition. However, history shows us that people have often made the mistake of directing themselves and their worship toward something or someone in creation, not the Divine. Belief is a critical issue for every human being, and particularly so for Muslims. Belief (Iman) in Islam is the first foundation of the religion. That is: to believe in Allah alone and take no parteners with Him1; to believe in the angels2; to believe in the messengers and prophets3 that He sent to mankind; to believe in the books that He revealed to mankind4; to believe in the afterlife5; and to believe in fate and destiny. Allah says:
The Messenger believeth in what hath been revealed to him from his Lord, as do the men of faith. Each one (of them) believeth in Allah, His angels, His Books, and His Messengers. “We make no distinction (they say) between one and another of His Messengers.” And they say: “We hear, and we obey. (We seek) Thy forgiveness, Our Lord, and to Thee is the end of all journeys.” (2:285)
He also says:
O ye who believe! Believe in Allah and His messenger and the scripture which He hath sent to His Messenger and the scripture which He sent To those before (him). Any who denieth Allah, His angels, His Books, His Messengers, and the Day of Judgment, hath gone Far, far astray. (4:136)
Iman, then, brings security and peace. When the individual realizes that he has no power over matters in his life, and that Allah is the only One who can change those matters, then the individual can, with peace and confidence rely entirely on Allah. Allah says:
Is one whose heart Allah has opened to Islam, So that he has received enlightenment from Allah, (No better than one hard-hearted)? Woe to those whose hearts are hardened against celebrating the praises of Allah! They are manifestly wandering (In error)! (9:22)
And as far as peace is concerned, Allah says:
It is those who believe And confuse not their beliefs With wrong, that are (Truly) in security, for they Are on (right) guidance.” (6:82)
To benefit from our belief and keep it continual, Allah provided us with a worship system to cover all aspects of our life.
He shows that sincerity of worship to Him frees the human self from illusion and contradiction, and elevates it from the deterioration of worshiping the devil or other created objects such as the sun or a statue. Allah shows the true creator of all things that He is. He says:
That is Allah, your Lord! There is no god but He, the Creator of all things; then worship ye Him; and He hath power to dispose of all affairs. (6:102)
Allah also shows that freeing ourselves from illusion and contradiction leads us out of ignorance and going astray. And thus, it will keep humans away from corruption. Worship as Allah mandates purifies the human being of every sin and it has good effect of reforming the human heart and polishing his character. This is clear if we study the worship system in Islam which includes:
Five Daily Prayers
Prayer in Islam is the direct communication between the individual and the Creator. It urges the individual to purify both his external and internal self. The prerequisite for prayer is the purification of the body, the clothes, and the place. The individual stands before the Creator with reverence; forwarding his heart to the Creator, confiding in Him and praising Him. The return of this action is the blessing of the Creator, Who includes the human being with His mercy. This blessing will effect the psychological condition of the believer so that he might more easily observe Allah in his heart and fear His punishment and thus, stay away from what causes His anger. Allah says:
Recite what is sent of the Book by inspira-tion to thee, and establish regular Prayer: for Prayer restrains from shameful and un-just deeds; and remembrance of Allah is the greatest (thing in life) without doubt. And Allah knows the (deeds) that ye do. (29:45)
The prophet (pbuh) shows the function of prayer in our life by saying:
The example of the five daily prayer is like a pure water river in front the door of one of you he washes himself from it five times a day. Do you see that will keep any of his dirt? The companion said: nothing. He said: the iive daily prayers take out sins as water takes out dirt.
Paying zakat (a mandatory contribution taken from the total savings of the rich)
Zakat is a purification of wealth, and it implements in the believer’s heart the love of giving. In return, it brings about kindness and friendship among people. Zakat shows the individual submission to the commandment of the Creator and the appreciation of His gift.
Fasting (daily from dawn to sunset for one month)
Fasting trains the individual to have self control and to be patient and truthful in his dedication to his faith.
Making pilgrimage to the sacred house in Makkah once in a Muslim’s life if he or she has the means to make the trip.
Pilgrimage makes the individual submit to the Creator, and helps to rid the pilgrim of worldly matters and to remember that when he returns to Allah he will leave every thing behind. The believer will be humbled and knows that his origin is from dust and that the preference among people is piety.
Islam mandated these types of worship to bring the individual closer to Allah, to bring him Good in this life, and comfort and pleasure in the eternal life. Worship in general will help the individual to overcome his weaknesses and elevate himself to be able to avoid sins. It will help him know and seek what is right, and know and avoid what is wrong. The individual will thus know his duties to his Creator, his people, and himself.
Belief and worship has to be reflected in our behavior. For this reason, good deeds are part of a Muslim worship. Islam emphasizes the importance of moral character and moral values, as part of living a good life according to Allah’s mandates. The religion covers and fulfills all aspects of a human life, both individually and socially.
So set thou thy face steadily and truly to the faith; (Establish) Allah’s handiwork according to the pattern on which He has made mankind; No change (let there be) in the work (wrought) by Allah; that is the standard religion:But most among mankind understand not. (30: 30)
On the individual level, Allah urges the human being to use his mind, and to consider the mind as that which distinguishes humanity from the beasts.
Behold! In the creation of the heavens and the earth;in the alternation of the night and the Day;in the sailing of the ships through the ocean for the profit of mankind;in the rain which Allah sends down from the skies, and the life which He gives therewith to an earth that is dead:In the beasts of all kinds that He scatters through the earth;in the change of the winds and the clouds which they trail like their slaves between the sky and the earth, (Here) indeed are Signs for a people that are wise. (2:164)
Allah also encourages the human being to acquire knowledge, wisdom, and a wider perspective on life.
And pursue not that of which thou hast no knowledge; for every act of hearing, or of seeing, or of (feeling in) the heart will be enquired into (On the Day of Reckoning) (17:36)
But say, “O my Lord! advance me In knowledge.” (20:114)
Appropriate knowledge is the key to wisdom. Allah explains that He grants this wisdom to whom He pleases.
He granteth wisdom to whom He pleaseth; and he to whom wisdom is granted receiveth indeed a benefit overflowing; but none will grasp the Message but men of understanding. (2:269)
Wisdom in turn helps the individual obtain a wider perspective:
By Allah’s will They routed them: And David slew Goliath: And Allah gave him Power and Wisdom And taught him whatever (else) He willed. And did not Allah check one set of people by means of another, the earth would indeed be full of mischief: But Allah is full of bounty to all the worlds. (2:251)
A wise person bases his ideas on proof and evidence and not on guesses, assumptions, nor unproven feelings.
Or, who originates Creation, then repeats it, and who gives you sustenance from heaven and earth? (Can there be another) god besides Allah? Say, “Bring forth your argument, if ye are telling the truth!” (27:64)
Allah also draws our attention to what is truly fulfilling to our heart, to our emotions and feelings:
Those who believe, and whose hearts find satisfaction in the remembrance of Allah: for without doubt in the remembrance of Allah do hearts fmd satisfaction. (13:28)
Because we are inclined to follow our emotions in certain situations Islam prevents us from blind imitation and inactivity.
When it is said to them:”Follow what Allah hath revealed:”They say: “Nay! We shall follow the ways of our fathers:”What! Even though their fathers were void of wisdom and guidance? (2:170)
Islam aims to establish certain principles in a Muslim’s life to better his condition as an individual and reform his social life. To do so Islam emphasized that: The origin of mankind is one.
O mankind! Reverence Your Guardian-Lord, Who created you from a single person, created, of like nature, his mate, and from them twain scattered (like seeds) countless men and women; fear Allah, through Whom ye demand your mutual (rights), and (reverence) the wombs (That bore you): for Allah ever watches overyou. (4:1)
The religion with Allah from Adam to Mohammed is one.
The same religion has He Established for you as that Which He enjoined on Noah That which We have sent By inspiration to thee And that which We enjoined On Abraham, Moses, and Jesus: Namely, that ye should remain Steadfast in Religion, and make No divisions therein: To those who worship Other things than Allah, Hard is the (way) To which thou callest them. Allah chooses to Himself those whom He pleases, and guides to Himself those who turn (to Him). (42:13)
Allah’s message aims to free the human being from being enslaved to any power except the power of the Creator. Allah mentions this message in many verses of the Qur’an.
And your God is One God: There is no god But He, Most Gracious, Most Merciful. (2:163)
He it is Who shapes you In the wombs as He pleases. There is no god but He, The Exalted in Might, The Wise. (3:6)
People are equal in Allah’s sight.
O mankind! We created You from a single (pair) Of a male and a female, And made you into Nations and tribes, that Ye may know each other (Not that ye may despise Each other). Verily The most honoured of you In the sight of Allah Is (he who is) the most Righteous of you. And Allah has full Knowledge And is well-acquainted (With all things). (49:13)
In this principle, Allah establishes the human dignity without any distinction because of race, color, lineage, or wealth. Allah tells people that they are like one family, from one father and mother, with one Creator. And that Allah made them tribes and nations to communicate and know each other not to despise, oppress, and disrespect each other. Allah has set this principle; no one may attempt to substitute it with discrimination.
There should not be any force regarding religious belief. Allah says:
Let there be no compulsion In religion: Truth stands out Clear from Error: whoever Rejects Evil and believes In Allah hath grasped The most trustworthy Hand-hold, that never breaks. And Allah heareth and knoweth all things. (2:256)
This shows that Iman is a natural instinct and compulsion contradicts it. The human mind and emotions, if are left alone with no outer influence will respond to this inner call to believe in Allah without any force.
A major outcome of Iman is peace. Peace is a cause of security and Allah knows the importance of peace and security in human life for this reason He calls humans to enter into such state. He says:
O ye who believe! Enter into Islam (state of submission to the Divine) Whole–heartedly; and follow not the footsteps Of the Evil One; for he is to you an avowed enemy. (2:208)
All these principles work under the umbrella of the three major foundations of Islam: belief, worship and relationship. They aim to bring about:
1. A justly balanced individual and society.
Thus have We made of you an Ummat justly balanced. (2: 143)
2. Happiness in this worldly life and getting Allah’s reward in the afterlife.
3. Clear communication among peoples to know each other and relate to each other as Allah mandates.
O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into Nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (Not that ye may despise Each other). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most Righteous of you. And Allah has full Knowledge and is well-acquainted (With all things). (49:13)
4. Easy and clear instructions to apply the principles of the religion in all aspects of human life.
In the area of belief, the person dedicates him/herself to the belief in only one God (Allah). In the area of worship, the person’s life is always in continual relationship with the creator to receive guidance, to enjoy all the creator’s gifts, and to be thankful to the giver. In the area of relationship, the person must recognize Allah in every aspect of his/her life. This recognition and the moderate approach to fulfill one’s needs as mandated by the religion emphasize the fact that there is no extremity in Islam. Rather, the human being is instructed to fulfill his needs as he would live his life forever, and to consider being in the afterlife soon. Allah says:
“But seek, with the (wealth) which Allah has bestowed on thee, The Home of the Hereafter, nor forget thy portion in this World: but do thou good, as Allah has been good to thee, and seek not (occasions for) mischief in the land: For Allah loves not those who do mischief.” (28:77)
Allah describes those who live balanced life in the Qur’an as His servants and He is the Merciful. In one chapter of the Qur’an He gives some descriptions of such individuals and says:
And the servants of (Allah) Most Gracious are those who walk on the earth in humility, and when the ignorant address them, they say, “Peace!” Those who spend the night in adoration of their Lord prostrating and standing and those who say: “Our Lord! avert from us the Wrath of Hell, for its Wrath is indeed an affliction grievous, “Evil indeed is it as an abode, and as a place to rest in”; Those who, when they spend, are not extravagant and not niggardly, but hold a just (balance) between those (extremes); Those who invoke not, with Allah, any other god, nor slay such life as Allah has made sacred, except for just cause, nor commit fornication, and any that does this (not only) meets punishment. (But) the Penalty on the Day of Judgment will be doubled to him, and he will dwell therein in ignominy, unless he repents, believes and works righteous deeds, for Allah will change the evil of such persons into good, and Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. And whoever repents and does good has truly turned to Allah with an (acceptable) conversion, Those who witness no falsehood and, if they pass by futility, they pass by it with honorable (avoidance); Those who, when they are admonished with the Signs of their Lord, droop not down at them as if they were deaf or blind; And those who pray, “Our Lord! Grant unto us wives and offspring who will be the comfort of our eyes, and give us (the grace) to lead the righteous.” Those are the ones who will be rewarded with the highest place in heaven, because of their patient constancy: therein shall they be met with salutations and peace, Dwelling therein; how beautiful an abode and place of rest! Say (to the Rejecters): “My Lord is not uneasy because of you if ye call not on Him: but ye have indeed rejected (Him), and soon will come the inevitable (punishment)!”
These verses describe individuals with genuine behavior and balance life. They are sincere in their relationship with their Creator, with themselves, and others. They aim to establish virtuous behavior and they remain steadfast to seek good and avoid evil. People with faith would not kill without just cause. A true believer could never kill another human being without just cause.
Some people have selected certain verses of the Qur’an regarding fighting and killing, taken these out of their context, and come to the terrible conclusion that Islam commands Muslims to fight and kill others. If one puts these selected verses back in context and intelligently reads the verses before and after them, while at the same time understanding the occasion of their revelation, then he would realize that Islam teaches its followers not to initiate fighting, nor to oppress other human beings. Islam absolutely prohibits the killing of a human being without justifiable causes. Allah commands the Muslims to be kind and fair with those who are not Muslims and cause no harm to them. He says:
Allah forbids you not, With regard to those who Fight you not for (your) Faith Nor drive you out Of your homes, from dealing kindly and justly with them: for Allah loveth those who are just. (60:8)
To conclude: Islam introduces the human being to the knowledge needed to guide him/her to understand him/herself and the purpose of his/her existence; and to live a better life based on continual relationship with his Creator, himself and others. It guides him to properly fulfill his spiritual, physical, social, mental, and emotional needs in order to deal with all life’s requirements, including the development of the world’s social, political and financial systems. It leads him to truly understand his place in the world. An essential part of such understanding is the importance of the family and its constitution; the basic foundations of such institution and the process of forming and maintaining it. It is the essential start that if it is formed correctly would help the human being in touch with himself and the world to understand the value of peace and realize the evil and danger of war and deal with national and international issues.
If people misunderstand Islam, then the problem is not with the religion; rather, it is with peoples’ misunderstanding or misconception of the religion.
1. A Muslim is commanded not to associate anyone or anything with his belief in and worship of Allah. Allah
“O two companions of the prison are many different lords (gods) better or Allah, the One, the Irresistible? (12: 39)
2. Allah created the angels from light they are created to worship, glorify and praise Him all the time, and to serve His purposes. They never disobey Him. For example: Gabriel is the one who delivers Allah’s message to His messengers. Israiel is the angel who is in charge of death. Malik is in charge of hellfire.
3. There are four books mentioned in the Qur’an: the Torah, the Bible, David Solomon, and the Qur’an.
4. A Muslim believes that this Worldly life is temporal the other life is the eternal life. People will be resurrected with their body and soul. Their conditions in the afterlife will depend on their deeds in this worldly life and the mercy of Allah.
5. Good deeds are the deeds that agree with our nature and promote healthy personal and social life, such as: being just with oneself and others; being good to others especially parents, neighbor and relatives; feeding the poor and being considerate with the needy; being truthful even if it is against one’s interest; working for and helping others, as well as oneself and one’s family; and refraining from drinking and alcohol or taking drugs. In contrast, bad deeds are ones that do not agree with our nature and have negative effects in our health, behavior and life in general. Such deeds are: worshipping partners with Allah. It causes Allah’s anger. Just imagine that you help someone and turn around and thanks someone else, how would you feel? He is the one Who gives everything. A bad deed also is to kill someone without justifiable reason; or creating trouble for others by gossiping, backbiting, slandering, despising; and consuming alcohol and eating pork.
On that account: We ordained for the Children of Israel that if anyone slew a person – unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land – it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people. Then although there came to them Our Messengers with Clear Signs, Yet, even after that, many of them continued to commit excesses in the land.
To help those who are interested in gaining more information about the basic foundation of Islam, I refer them to read my book, Islam: Its Meaning, Objectives, and legislative system. If the reader is also interested to know more about the Qur’an and human nature, they are invited to read my book: The relevance of the Qur’an to human nature.
[i] Iblis is a creature who was created from fire as Allah the Almighty teaches us. And he is from Jinns. Allah says:
Behold! We said to the angels, “Bow down to Adam”: they bowed down except Iblis. He was one of the Jinns, and he broke the Command of his Lord. Will ye then take him and his progeny as protectors rather than Me? and they are enemies to you! evil would be the exchange for the wrong-doers!
He is the representative of those who disobey Allah and who are rebellious. Iblis has the ability to learn and think. But arrogance made him disobey His creator and refused to bow down as He commanded him. Allah described some of Iblis’s abilities in the Qur’an by saying:
O ye Children of Adam! let not Satan seduce you, in the same manner as he got your parents out of the Garden, stripping them of their raiment, to expose their shame: for he and his tribe watch you from a position where ye cannot see them: We made the Evil Ones friends (only) to those without Faith.
He has the ability to move fast. Allah says:
Said an ‘Ifrit, of the Jinns: “I will bring it to thee before thou rise from thy council: indeed I have full strength for the purpose, and may be trusted.” Said one who had knowledge of the Book: “I will bring it to thee within the twinkling of any eye!” Then when (Sulaiman) saw it placed firmly before him, he said: “This is by the grace of my Lord! to test me whether I am grateful or ungrateful! And if any is grateful, truly his gratitude is (a gain) for his own soul; but if any is ungrateful, truly my Lord is Free of All Needs, Supreme in Honour!”…
Iblis can influence us in many ways. We stop him only by resorting to Allah and rehearse His verses.