What is Islam?
Islam is a religion which guides its followers in every aspect of their lives. It is a way of life.
Islam is the modern or latest version of the message sent by God through Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus. Islam was sent to mankind through Prophet Muhammad. Islam is “modern” in the sense that it has come to complement the teachings which were introduced through Moses and Jesus.
Islam is a religion which seeks to give a meaningful purpose to our life on this earth. It seeks to guide us in fulfilling that purpose by creating harmony between ourselves, our Creator and fellow human beings. What you will read below are some of the basic features of Islam.
The One & Only God
Islam is a monotheistic religion. It teaches that there is only one God who is the origin and creator of the universe. This is the foundation of Islam, and is reflected in the famous sentence which says that, “There is no god but Allah.” (Allah is the Arabic name of God.) The belief in God relates us to our origin and guides us throughout our life. The belief in one God shows that man should not worship any material thing or person in this universe. By teaching that there is only One God for all humans, Islam promotes the sense of brotherhood and equality in human society–all are equally related to God in the same way. The Qur’an, the holy book of Islam, says:
He (God) is One, God is Eternal,
He has neither begotten,
nor has He been begotten;
and there is no one equal to Him.
The Purpose of Life
Our life on this earth has a specific purpose; it is not the result of nature’s accident, nor is it a punishment for eating the fruit of the forbidden tree. We are here according to God’s plan: the wordly life is a test; it is a chance to prove ourselves as deserving of the eternal blissful life in the hereafter. God did not create us just for few years of this life. To be created just for this world’s life would amount to a joke played by the Creator with the human species. Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam, said,” You have not been created to perish; on the contrary, you have been created for eternal life.”
According to Islam, the final destination of mankind is the life hereafter. At the end of time, all human beings will be resurrected and will be held accountable for their wordly life. The life in hereafter will be an eternal life. However, whether it will be blissful or full of sorrow depends on how we spend our present life.
It was to help mankind in achieving this objective that God sent various prophets and messengers to guide them. Muhammad is the last prophet, and Islam is the final and complete version of God’s message.
Status of Human Beings in Islam
Prime Creation: Human being is the prime creation of God. He says, “We have indeed honored the children of Adam; spread them in the land and the sea, provided them with good things; and preferred them in esteem over many things that We have created.” (Qur’an: chp. 17, verse 70)
Born Sinless: Islam teaches that every human being is born sinless; no child carries the burden of his or her ancestors’ sins. God says, “No carrier shall carry the burden of others.” (Qur’an; chp. 35, verse 18). Each human being is born with a pure conscience which can absorb and accept the true message of God. It is only the social and familial influences which take a person away from God’s message.
Accountability: Islam also emphasizes on the issue of responsibility and accountability of human beings–each person is responsible for his or her own actions. Although Islam teaches that God has predetermined the span of our life and the time of our death, it does not mean that even our actions are predetermined by Him. We surely are free in our actions and are, therefore, accountable for them. God only provides guidance for us to know what is good and what is bad. He says, “We created man of a water-drop…Surely We guided him to the right way–now whether he (follows it and) be grateful or (goes astray and) be ungrateful is up to him.” (Qur’an: chp. 76, verse 3).
Race: Islam very categorically rejects racial discrimination. It promotes the feeling of brotherhood and equality among its followers. God clearly says, “O Mankind! We have created you from one male and one female, and then We made you into different races and tribes so that you may know (and easily recognize) each other.” Therefore, no one can claim any superiority over others based on racial or tribal differences. A person is to be judged by his character, not by his color or race. God continues, “Surely the most honorable of you in God’s sight is the person who is most upright in character among you.” (Qur’an; chp. 49, verse 13).
Gender: Even gender does not count as a criterion of superiority. In Islam, women are as human as men. They are not evaluated on basis of their gender, but on basis of their faith and character. Fourteen hundred years ago, the Qur’an recorded God’s clear statements on this issue. Out of the four verses, I will just quote one: “Whoever, be it a male or a female, does good deeds and he or she is a believer, then they will enter the Paradise.” (Qur’an: chp. 4, verse 124). So there is no difference in the degree or level of woman’s humanity or honor in Islam.
The only difference there exists is concerning the role which Islam has envisioned for man and woman. This has nothing to do with superiority or inferiority. In Islam, man and woman are equalm in rights; but equality is not synonymous to similarity. Islam believes that man and woman are equal but dissimilar. Islam looks at their different roles in society not as superior or inferior but as complementary to each other.
Islam the Religion of Peace
Islam is a religion of peace. This is evident even from the name “Islam” itself. (“Islam” is an Arabic word.) The word “Islam” and the Arabic word for peace, “salam” both come from the same root, “salima”.
Muslims are taught to greet each other by saying “salamun alaykum–peace be upon you.” The daily prayers also end with the same sentence. In Islam, one of the names by which God is known is “Salam” which means peace.
However, one must realize that peace can never be achieved in vacuum. It is intertwined with justice. One can have peace only on basis of justice. “Justice” means putting everything in its rightful place. If one starts putting things in the wrong places, then he disrupts the social harmony and disturbs peace.
Islam seeks to promote peace on two levels:
- Peace within One’s Self:
A person can achieve inner peace by creating harmony and balance between his main emotions (desire and anger) and his spiritual self. In other words, between his emotions and his conscience. Human’s spiritual power or conscience is not a static phenomenon: it has the ability of growth as well as decadence. God swears by the soul of human being and says, “He inspired to it to understand what is good and what is evil. Prosperous in the person who purifies it, and failed is he who seduces it.” (Qur’an; chp. 91, verse 10).
- Peace With Others:
Islam very strongly emphasizes on the rights which people have over each other. It seeks to perserve peace in society by training and urging its followers to fulfill the rights of each other. In Islam, salvation is not possible by just fulfilling the rights of God; one has to fulfill the rights of other human beings also.Unfortnately, because of the Middle Eastern events of the last three decades, Islam has been branded by the media as a religion of violence. In recent years, the word “Islamic” has become one of the adjectives of “terrorism.” In this backdrop, firstly, one must realize that the events in the Middle East can be fairly and fully understood only in the light of the post-WWI history of that region, in particular the promises given by the British to the Arabs. Secondly, no fair-minded person would allow himself to blame the religion of Islam for the wrong-doings of those who call themselves as Muslims. It is just like saying that the Catholic Church promotes violence and terrorism because of the Irish Republican Army’s activites!
An Introduction to Islam
Articles of Faith
- Unity of God
The Islamic creed is that THERE IS NO GOD SAVE ALLAH AND THAT MUHAMMAD IS HIS PROPHET. (LA ILAAHA ILLA-ALLAH MUHAMMADUR- RASOOLILLAH).
Muslims believe that Allah is ONE. He was neither begotten nor does He beget. He has no Partner. He is the Beginning and He is the End. He is Omniscient and Omnipresent.
The Quraan says that He is closer to man than his jugular vein yet He cannot be encompassed by human intellect.
See the following verses of the Quraan:
II:115 II:163 II:255 VI:101 VII:7 XXIII:91-92
Imam Ali says in a supplication:
“Oh God, verily I ask Thee by Thy Name, in the name of Allah, the All-merciful, the All-compassionate, O the Possessor of Majesty and Splendour, the Living, the Self-subsistent, the Eternal, there is no God other than Thou, Oh He of Whom no one knows what He is, or how He is, or Where He is, or in respect of what He is, And yet, we know that He is.”
- Justice of God
Allah is Just. In XCV:8, the Quraan says “Is not Allah the most conclusive of all judges?”
Again in XXI:47 “And we have provided a Just balance for the Day of Judgement. No soul shall be dealt with unjustly in any way. (Any good deed or evil deed) though it be as small as a grain of the mustard seed, will be brought forth by Us (in testimony). We suffice as the best of reckoners.”
The Sunni School of thought subscribes to the view that nothing is good or evil per se. What God commanded us to do became good by virtue of His command. What he forbade became evil.
The Shias believe that there is intrinsic good or evil in things. God commanded us to do the good things and forbade the evil. God acts according to a purpose or design. Human reason cannot comprehend this design or purpose in its entirety though man must always strive to understand as much as he can.
Compulsion or Freedom?
The various schools of thought are divided.
Mutazzilas believe that man is totally free and God exercises no power over his action. Those who subscribe to this view are also known as Qadariyyas.
Mujabbira school of thought believe that man has no freedom and is only a tool in the hands of God.
The Asharia school of thought to which most Sunnis subscribe believe that though man has no free will, he will earn the reward of his good deeds. The Sunni scholar Al-Ghazzalli sums up this doctrine as follows: “No act of any individual, even though it be done purely for his benefit, is independent of the will of Allah for its existence. There does not occur in either the physical or the extra-terrestrial world the twinkle of an eye, the hint of a thought, or the most sudden glance except by the Decree of Allah, of His Power, Desire, and Will. This includes evil and good, benefit and harm, success and failures, sin and righteousness, obedience and disobedience, polytheism and true belief.”
The Shias believe that there is neither total compulsion nor total freedom. The true position is the one in-between. They maintain that Allah has fore-knowledge of human action but does not compel man to any particular course of action.
II:284 IV:79 VI:17 IX:51 X:107 XI:6
XI:56 XXVII:62 XXX:60 XXXIX:52-54 XLII:30
God created mankind to serve Him (LI:56). He endowed man with faculties and freedom of action and out of His Grace (LUTF) and Justice sent Prophets to instruct and guide mankind. No nation or community was left without such guidance. (X:47 and XVI:36).
Some of these prophets were sent with Divine Revelation, scripture and miracles. The first Prophet was Adam and the last was Muhammad, the Seal of Prophets (XXX:40).
While Quraan mentions only twenty-five most prominent of the prophets it also states that there were many more whose names have not been revealed in the Quraan. (XL:78). Muslims believe that there have been 124,000 prophets. Amongst those specifically mentioned are Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Ishmael, Issac, Lot, Jacob, Joseph, Job, Moses, Aaron, Ezekiel, David, Solomon, Jonah, Zachariah, John the Baptist, Jesus and Muhammad.
Five of these prophets brought new codes of law. These were Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad. These are called the “ulu l-azm” prophets meaning those of great constancy.
Quraan mentions five divine books.
The Book of Abraham, sometimes referred as the Booklet (LXXXVII:19).
The Psalms given to David (IV:63 and XVII:55).
The Torah granted to Moses (II:87, III:3 & 4, VI:91 & 154).
The Evangel or the Gospel revealed to Jesus (V:46).
The Quraan revealed to Muhammad.
A Muslim must believe in all the Holy Books. (II:4 & 285). He must also believe in all the prophets. (IV:152).
The Shiahs also believe that all the prophets were infallible and sinless. Not all the Sunnis subscribe to this belief.
The world will come to an end on the Day of the Rising (Qiyamah), the day of final human accountability. All men will be resurrected and presented before God Who will decide their fate according to their deeds. The good will be rewarded with paradise (jannah) and the evil will be punished with hell (jahannam). (XXII:6-9 & 1-2; III:185; VI:62). The dominant factor in the administration of His Justice by Allah will be His Mercy (VI:12).
Only the Shiahs believe in the institution of Imaamah. Literally “imaam” means a leader. In Shiah belief an Imaam is the person appointed by God and introduced by the Prophet and then by each preceding Imaam by explicit designation (nass) to lead the Muslim community, interpret and protect the religion and the law (shariah), and guide the community in all affairs.
An Imaam is first and foremost the Representative of God and the successor of the Prophet. He must be sinless and possess divine knowledge of both the exoteric and the esoteric meaning of the verses of the Quraan.
There are many Shiah sects e.g. the Zaidis, the Ismailis etc. The principal sect is the Twelvers (Ithnasharis).
(NOTE: In these Notes, unless specifically stated otherwise, references to the Shiahs and Shiah beliefs, should be construed as references to the Shiah Ithnasheriyya school of thought.)
The Twelvers believe that the Prophet was succeeded by twelve Imaams. These are:
1. Ali ibne Abu TalibDied 40 A.H./659 A.D
He was the Prophet`s son-in-law, having married his daughter Fatimah.
2. Hassan ibne Ali Died 50 A.H./669 A.D.
3. Hussain ibne Ali Died 61 A.H./680 A.D.
4. Ali ibne Hussain Died 95 A.H./712 A.D.
5. Muhammad ibne Ali Died 114 A.H./732 A.D.
6. Ja’far ibne Muhammad Died 148 A.H./765 A.D.
7. Musa ibne Ja’far Died 183 A.H./799 A.D.
8. Ali ibne Musa Died 203 A.H./817 A.D.
9. Muhammad ibne Ali Died 220 A.H./835 A.D.
10. Ali ibne Muhammad Died 254 A.H./868 A.D.
11. Hassan ibne Ali Died 260 A.H./872 A.D.
12. Muhammad ibne Hassan Born 256 A.H./868 A.D.
On the death of his father in 260 A.H. the twelfth Imam went into occultation (Gaybah), appearing only to a few leading Shiahs. Until 329 A.H./939 A.D. he performed the functions of the Imaam through representatives appointed by himself. He then went into major occultation which will continue until the day God grants him permission to manifest himself.
The Sunni View
The Sunnis use the term Imaam synonymously with the term khalifah. A khalifah may be elected, or nominated by his predecessor, or selected by a committee, or may acquire power through military force. A khalifah need not be sinless. It is lawful for a person of inferior qualities to be made a khalifah while persons of superior qualities are present.
Development Of Jurisprudence And Theology
A. The Shiah School
During their life time the Imaams remained the chief exponents of the shariah, the Islamic law. Many of the Imaams, when the political atmosphere permitted, held theological classes and also taught other sciences.
Since the major occultation of the twelfth Imaam the Shias have, as commanded not only by him but also most of the preceding Imaams, sought guidance from mujtahids and followed the institution of taqleed.
Taqleed literally means to follow or to imitate someone. In Islamic jurisprudence it means to follow a mujtahid in matters pertaining to law. (XXI:7 and IX:124)
Taqleed applies only to matters of shariah. There is no taqleed in matters of beliefs (the articles of faith). A Muslim must seek to attain conviction of their truth through reflection and rational examination.
A mujtahid must be a person learned in all the Islamic sciences. At any given time there would normally be a number of persons qualified as mujtahids and it is not uncommon to have two members of the same family in taqleed of two different mujtahids.Any muslim can address any question of law to any mujtahid, whether or not he is in the taqleed of that mujtahid and the mujtahid would issue a fatwaa giving his opinion on that subject. This would invariably be by way of a statement of the law which in the opinion of the mujtahid is the correct legal position. The fatwaa would be binding on all the persons in the taqleed of that mujtahid.
A mujtahid is so called because he does ijtehaad which term means to strive for deriving the laws of the shariah from its sources which are:
the sunnah which mean the traditions (ahadees) and the practice of the Prophet and the Imaams;
consensus of the mujtahids (ijmaa).
- B. The Sunni School
The ruling khalifah invariably assumed the mantle of the chief exponent of the shariah.
For nearly a hundred years following the death of the Prophet the State retained absolute control over authentication, collection and publication of the sayings (ahadees) of the Prophet. A few unscrupulous khalifahs did not hesitate to use this power to legitimise their misdeeds by arranging to have apocryphal ahadees produced.
After the Banu Abbas came into power in 132 A.H. (750 A.D.), the formation of the Sunni community was formalised.
Although there are many sects and sub-sects in the sunni school of thought, the four main sects are-
The Hanafis, founded by Imaam Abu Hanifa an-Nu’maan ibne Thabit (died 150 A.H./769 A.D.). He is a scholar greatly respected not only by his followers but also the other sunnis.
The Malikis, founded by Imaam Abu Abdullah Malik ibne Anas (died 179 A.H./797 A.D).
The Shafeis, founded by Imaam Abu Abdullah Muhammad ibne Idris al- Shafei (died 204 A.H/819 A.D.)
The Hanbalis, founded by Imaam Ahmed ibne Muhammad ibne Hanbal (died 241 A.H./855 A.D.)
Although there are many irreconcilable differences in the four Sunni schools, in the main, however, they agree on the fundamental bases of their doctrines and laws. Each claims to have derived them from the following four sources:
The Sunnah of the Holy Prophet and at times the Sunnah of the first four khalifahs;
The Ijmaa (consensus among the companions of the Prophet or of the religious leaders or among the followers);
The Qiyas (deduction of legal prescriptions from the Quraan and the sunnah through rational analogy).
The extent of the acceptance of the theological and legal doctrines of any of the above four sunni schools depended largely on the inclination of the ruler of the time. For example, although Abu Hanifa himself did not gain great popularity with the khalifah, his successor Abu Yusuf became a powerful figure in the court and held office of the Chief Kadhi.
The khalifah, however, always continued to remain the final arbiter in the exposition of the law and the jurists were relegated to an advisory role.
Since the abolition of the institution of khilafah following the fall of the Ottoman Empire the sunni schools have not developed as fast as they need to so as to keep pace with the social, economic, political and scientific development. Some Sunni sects have recognized the need for ijtehaad, a few appear to concentrate on ijmaa as the main instrument for reform.
In addition to their differences in jurisprudence, the Sunnis and the Shiahs hold divergent theological views on various aspects of the articles of beliefs e.g. human freedom of action and the Justice of God (both discussed above), whether God has a corporeal form. Some sunni sects believe in anthropomorphism.
The Shiahs and the Sunnis, however, agree on the following fundamental beliefs:
That Allah is One and has no partners;
That Muhammad is the last Prophet of God;
That there will be Resurrection and Judgement.
Acts of Worship
The Arabic term used for Acts of worship is Ibaadah. This does not mean worship. It means service. To serve God in the manner in which He has commanded his creatures to serve Him is Ibaadah. The term would include all acts of piety as well as the mandatory acts of worship.
The mandatory acts of worship accepted by both the Sunnis and the Shiahs are:
- Salaah (The Daily Prayers)
Every Muslim, from the time he or she attains puberty must perform the salaah. Except for a woman in menstruation, no person is excused from this act of worship.
Before a person begins his salaah he must perform the ritual ablution in the prescribed form. The object is symbolic preparation for the salaah and not, as often believed, cleanliness. A person has to be clean to perform the ablution (wudhoo). Then he stands facing Mecca and declares his intention to pray for gaining proximity to Allah. With this declaration he enters the formal state of salaah in which he remains until the completion of his prayers.
A salaah consists of a number of units called rakaahs. Each unit (rakaah) consists of recitation of the opening chapter and one other chapter of the Quraan while in the standing position, the bowing down (rukoo) and glorifying God in that position and two prostrations each called a sajdaah in which again God is glorified. Then the second rakaah would commence.
The morning prayers to be performed between the dawn and sunrise have two rakaahs, the mid-day prayers four rakaahs, the sunset three and the evening four.
The prayers are ended by affirmation that Allah is One and has no partners and that Muhammad is His servant and messenger. Salutations are offered to the Prophet, all the righteous souls and all who are engaged in prayers.
Salaah is regarded as not only a ritual act of worship but a communion with the Maker. It is the most important form of ibaadah and sickness (other than insanity), age or infirmity is no excuse for not performing prayers.
Lapsed prayers constitute a debt to God and are a first charge on a muslim’s time and conscience. In the event of a person having died without having said any of his lapsed prayers, the eldest son, or if the deceased is not survived by a son, his heir must say or pay someone to say the lapsed prayers of the deceased.
Seyyid Hossein Nasr writes in his Ideals and Realities of Islam:
” In the canonical prayers man stands before God as the representative of all creatures. He prays for and in the name of all beings.”
Amongst the many sayings of the Prophet on the subject are:
” Salaah is the spiritual ascension of the faithful where he communes with Allah.”
” The good deeds wipe out the evil deeds of a man. The salaah and patience (sabr) are the best of deeds.”
Salaah is a spiritual activity where the person performing it is totally immersed, mentally and physically, in the remembrance of God. (XXIX:45, XXII:34 & 35, XXVII:1-3, XX:6-7 and 14, IX:71, LXXIV:38-48, VI:71 & 72, XV:98 & 99, XI:114 & 225).
- Saum (Fasting).
The second act of worship is fasting in the month of Ramadhaan, the 9th month of the Islamic calendar. This is obligatory upon every mature muslim except the sick, the traveller, a woman during her menstruation period and those infirm by age.
Fasting involves refraining from eating, drinking and sexual activity from the beginning of the nautical dawn to sunset. But these are not the sole objectives. Fasting is a conscious obedience of Allah’s command. It is the human being’s struggle to dedicate a whole month to activities which please his Maker. “It is the means”, says Nasr, “by which man pulls the reins of his animal desires and realizes that he is more than an animal.”
Fasting also begins with a declaration of intent to fast for the attainment of proximity to Allah. (II:184, 185, 187)
It is incumbent upon a muslim to know why he prays and why he fasts. Imaam Ali says, “One who knows not why he prays or why he fasts, his prayers and fasts are little more than meaningless physical exertions, hunger and thirst.”
- Hajj (Pilgrimage To Mecca).
Every Muslim who has attained puberty and has sufficient means not only to undertake a journey to Mecca but also for the subsistence of his dependants during his absence, must once in his life time perform pilgrimage. Kaaba is the edifice which was presented to God as a gift by His Prophets Abraham and Ishmael. The rites for the pilgrimage begin on the 8th of the eleventh month and culminate into the Idd of Sacrifice on the 10th. (II:158, 196-203; III:97; V:3; XXII 26:33).
A muslim’s journey to the House of God, and there seeking his Maker’s forgiveness through expression of repentance and the performance of all the rituals attending pilgrimage, is a spiritual experience so overwhelming that the pilgrim’s very soul appears to undergo a purification.
The pilgrimage has another philosophical aspect.
In the Quraan, like in the Old Testament, there is the story of Abraham having been commanded to sacrifice his son. The Quraan, however, states that the son was Ishmael.
The father communicates the message to the young lad who had just attained puberty. The lad exhorts the father to comply with the divine command adding, “God willing, you shall find me amongst the patient ones.”
Unbeknown to the mother, the father and the son travel to the planes of Arafaa, a short distance from Mecca. There they spend the night in prayers. The following afternoon they travel to the town of Meena where the sacrifice was to take place. They spend the night on the outskirts of the town. The following morning they enter Meena.
On the way to the appointed place, the Satan tries thrice to lure them into abandoning the enterprise, but each time the father and the son chase him away by throwing pebbles at him.
When they get to the place of sacrifice, the father blindfolds his son saying that he did not wish the lad to see the anguish on the father’s face. He then blindfolds himself for, as he reasoned, how could any father watch his son die ?
God saves Ishmael by substituting a ram and sends His salutations to Abraham for his act of obedience. God also promises Abraham to immortalize the event. (II:125-127; III:96-97; XXXVII:101-111).
The mother, on learning what had happened, screams and falls unconscious at the thought of what might have happened had Allah not intervened to save her beloved son. Shortly afterwards she dies and is buried close to Kaaba. Her burial place is treated as being included in the hallowed ground around which the pilgrim circumambulates.
Every pilgrim takes the same route which Abraham and Ishmael had taken. He too spends the first night, as they did, in Arafaa and the second night outside Meena. He too symbolically stones the satan at the three places in Meena.
While of-course the visit to the House of Allah has its own great spirituality, the pilgrim also must reflect upon the rituals which appear to enshrine family values, parents’ love for their off-spring, the vanquishing of the satan, the one within man’s heart, by symbolically stoning him and above all the willingness to make sacrifices for the pleasure of God.
- Zakah. (The Wealth Tax).
Zakah, which literally means purity or purification, is a wealth tax of a small percentage (usually 2.5%) for the benefit of the needy in the society. It is regarded as a debt to God and must be distributed for the pleasure of Allah to the less fortunate amongst one’s relatives, and the orphans, and the needy, and the wayfarers, and the beggars, and for the freeing of slaves. (II: 2-3, II-43, II:177, IX:11, XXII:41, IX:71, III:91, XIV:91, XXIV:22, XXVI:9, XIV:35-37, XXII:26)
There are innumerable traditions of the Prophet insisting upon zakah being paid by every muslim. Imaam Ja’far Sadiq said that the one who does not give zakah can not expect his salaah to be accepted by Allah.
The Doctrine Of Five Pillars:
Many Sunni theologians, instead of enumerating the Articles of Faith and Acts of Worship separately, state that belief in God and the Prophet as affirmed in the creed (the Kalemah), together with the foregoing four acts of worship constitute the Five Pillars of Faith.
The Shiahs list the five Articles of Faith as the roots of religion (Usool-e-Deen) and the Acts of Worship as the branches of religion (Furoo-e-Deen).
In addition to the above acts of worship the Shiahs believe in the following acts of worship (The sunnis regard them as mandatory acts of piety):
- Jihad Struggle Or Striving:
There are two kinds of jihad, the major jihad and the minor jihad.
The Major Jihad: (Jihad Al-Akbar)
This is the struggle against one’s inner self (nafs) to subjugate and control one’s passions and carnal desires. The base self (nafs-e-ammara) must be controlled by the conscience (nafs-e-lawwama), and only when one succeeds in this struggle does one attain the perfect self, the self at peace with itself (nafs-e-mutmainna). To those who attain this state, the God says:
” O the soul at peace, return to your Lord, pleased with His good pleasure AND enter into the company of My true servants. Enter the Garden !.” (LXXXIX:27-30).
The Minor Jihad (Jihad Al-Asghar)
This means to struggle for Islam. Not for extension of boundaries, not for personal glory, not for the glory of any tribe, community or nation, but for the defence of Islam and the protection of its values. Such a struggle can take many forms, through the use of pen, through the use of tongue or through the use of the sword. This last form is often referred to in the Quraan as Qitaal (warfare).
In the Shiah theology, a general qitaal can be declared only by an Imaam. A mujtahid has no authority to summon Muslims to a jihad involving qitaal.
- Amr Bi L-Ma’Aroof (Directing Others Towards Good).
It is an act of worship for a Muslim to advise and direct others to the doing of good deeds for the pleasure of Allah.
- Nahy ‘An Al Munkir (Directing Others Away From Evil).
Similarly it is the duty of every Muslim to advise others against committing sins. (III:103, 109, 113; VII:199; IX:71, 112; XXII:41; XXI:17.)
- Khums (The One-Fifth Tax)
Only the Shiahs believe in this additional tax and they regard it as a major obligation of every Shiah Muslim. It was instituted by God as a token of regard for the Prophet and his family. (VII:1:41; XXXIII:27; LIX:6-9).
It is a 20% tax on all earnings after deduction of house-hold and commercial expenses.
Khums is paid to the mujtahid and is divided into two equal portions. One half of all receipts of khums by the mujtahid is the portion belonging to the Imaam in occultation and the mujtahid spends this portion in educational, social and economic projects for the betterment of the Shiah community. First priority is accorded to the community from which the khums was received. The second half is distributed amongst the poor and deserving descendants of the Prophet (the sayyids) each of whom may receive only up to a year’s subsistence.
Other Acts Of Piety
Islam does not have the concept of secularism. All human activities must be either in accordance of the law (the shariah) or the prescribed code of conduct. An act which accords with either is an act of piety. A muslim’s must consider his life on this earth as a journey from his Maker to his Maker and must strive to gain the pleasure of his Maker. “Give glad tidings to the steadfast who say……..`We are from Allah and to Him we return’. Such are they upon whom are blessings from their Lord, and mercy. Such are the rightly guided.” (II:155-157). The purpose of every creation, other than humans) is to serve mankind (XXXI:20; XLV:13; LXVII:5). Man, who has been created of the best structure (XCV:4), must serve none other than Allah.(LI:56-58). It will be beneath the dignity and status of man to worship any being, thing or power other than Allah. The doctrine of the Unity of God is not just an article of faith. It is an important factor in man’s comprehension of himself and his raison d’etre. God the One, the Indivisible must be his sole Guide in his journey on this earth. The sixth Imaam explaining the Unity of God said, ” The true ibaadah is for the human being to ensure that the essence of the unity of God lies between his intent and his deed.
The Prophet has said, “Man’s every action must incline towards Allah”.
The Islamic ethical code is too vast and extensive to permit a full discussion in this course. We shall, therefore, confine ourselves to a cursory glance at a few aspects of the code of conduct.
Pursuit of Knowledge:
Islam regards ignorance as impure (najasah) and the acquisition of knowledge as a great act of piety. “One who has knowledge can never be equal to the one who is ignorant” (XXXIX:9).
The Prophet has said:
“It is the duty of every muslim male and every muslim female to seek knowledge”.
“Seek knowledge even if you have to travel as far as China for it.”
“Sitting an hour in a learned gathering is better than a thousand nights spent in performance of (optional) salaah, and better than engaging in a battle for the sake of God on thousand occasions. If one leaves one’s house with the intention of gaining knowledge, for every step that he takes God shall bestow upon him the reward reserved for a prophet.”
Respect for, and obedience and kindness to, parents are enjoined upon Muslims. Obedience is, however, excused where the parents require injustice to be perpetrated. (XVII:23, XXIX:8, XXXI:14, XLVI:15-18).
The Prophet has said:
“It is an act of worship to look at either parent with affection and kindness”.
“Allah is pleased when one has pleased his parents, and Allah is angry when one has angered either parent”.
“Paradise lies under the feet of your mother”.
Quraan enjoins the spending of one’s wealth in the cause of Allah, for the poor, the needy, the freeing of slaves, the curing of the sick and other good causes. Charity is a precondition to the attainment of piety. (II:195, 215, 245, 254, 261, 262-273; III:92; XXXVI:47; LVII:10, 11; LXIV:15-18)
There are innumerable traditions of the Prophet and the Imaams on the merits of charity. In one of these it is said, “If you have nothing to give, give a kind word or even just an affectionate smile.”
Dissemination of knowledge by a scholar is an act of charity. So is the visiting of a sick.
Caring for the bereaved is also a great act of piety. There is a tradition which requires the extended family or the community to feed the immediate family of the deceased for at least three days after the death has occurred and to offer them solace and comfort.
Resisting Oppression Imaam Ali has said:
” To suffer oppression passively is as bad as to commit oppression”.
“He who makes no effort to alleviate the suffering of an oppressed one is an oppressor”.
A muslim is required to act with justice in all his dealings with other human beings and in all circumstances. (IV:58, 105, 135; VII:29; XVI:90).
In IV:135 the Quraan says:
“O You who believe, be staunch in justice…….though it may be against your interests, or the interests of your parents or near relatives, and whether you are dealing with a rich person or a poor person. Remember Allah is nearer to them both in compassion. Therefore do not follow your low desires.”
Lewdness And Indecencies:
These are totally forbidden. (XVI:90)
Idle Chatter, Slander and Infringement of Privacy:
These are totally forbidden. (XLIX:11 & 12)
The Freeing of Slaves:
This is not only an act of piety but is also prescribed as the primary penalty for certain wilful acts or omissions e.g. failure to fast or repay a lapsed fast, infringement of any regulation required to be observed during pilgrimage etc.
Liberation of slaves was also highly recommended as an atonement for various sins.
Ill treatment of slaves and servants is also forbidden.
It is highly recommended that zakaah and other alms be spent for liberating slaves. (XXIV:33; IX:60; II:177; XC:12, 13).
Reasoning And Reflection:
“Will they not reflect and ponder on the Quraan or are there locks on their intellect ?” (XLVII:24)
“Say unto them, O Muhammad: I exhort you unto one thing only. That you awake for Allah’s sake, by two or singly, and then reflect.” (XXXIV:46)
“In the creation of heavens and earth and in the difference between night and day are tokens for men of understanding. These are those who remember Allah, standing, sitting, and reclining, and consider the creation of the heavens and the earth, (and then cry out): Our Lord! Thou hast not created this in vain. Glory be to Thee !” (III:190-191).
The eighth Imaam has said:
“Worship does not lie in engaging oneself in saying prayers endlessly or in fasting copiously, but in engaging oneself in the contemplation of the works of Allah.”
The Prophet has said, “Allah has endowed man with the most precious gift, the reason. The slumber of a man of reason is better than the movement of the ignorant.”
Other Good Deeds:
Respect for the elders.
Respect for teachers and scholars.
The Fourth Imaam has said, ” Your teacher has the following rights. Firstly, total respect from you. Secondly that you listen attentively when he speaks. Thirdly, that you never raise your voice in his presence”.
The keeping of promises, adhering to contracts and covenants, and repayment of debts. All these are mandatory. In V:1 God says, ” O you who believe, fulfil your undertakings”.
The forgiving of any debt owed to one by a person unable to repay.
Women in Islam
Islam does not accept that the first woman was created of any inferior composition (IV:1) or that it was Eve who fell to the promptings of Satan in disobeying God. Both were equally to blame. (VII:20-21).
Women play an important role and are equal partners of men.
“The women are raiment (comfort, embellishment and protection) for you and you are raiment for them.” (II:187; IV:1).
As a daughter, she is to be shown greater affection than a son. The Prophet commands that a daughter must receive twice as much love and affection as a son.
As a wife, the woman has no obligation to provide for her husband or the children out her income or wealth. The husband has this responsibility. What a woman earns, or receives by way of inheritance or gift, is her own property over which she has sole control.
It is injustice for the husband to require the wife to do the house-hold chores. It is for the parties to agree on the division of labour.
The wife, however, is under a duty to obey the lawful and just commands of her husband.
As a mother the woman occupies a unique position. She is placed upon an almost divine pedestal. She must be obeyed (save where obedience would lead to injustice), revered and her feelings never hurt. The Prophet has said that while both parents must be obeyed and respected, the father’s place is three rungs below that of the mother.
The woman is the pivot of the family, and Islam holds the family as being the most important unit of the society. From the moment of conception to birth and up to the attainment of puberty, it is the mother who shapes the mind, the thinking and the behaviour of that future member of the society. The Prophet repeatedly emphasised the importance of the upbringing of children and the role of the mother.
He is reported to have said:
“It is better to bring up your children so that they have good manners and morals than to spend your wealth for the pleasure of Allah.”
There are also several traditions of the Prophet and the Imaams about the treatment and conduct of pregnant mothers.
The Quraan commands both men and women to `lower their gaze and be modest’.
The women have been further commanded `not to display their ornaments except what appears thereof and to wear their head-coverings over their bosom and not to display their ornaments except to their husband (and other members of their family within the prohibited degree of marriage e.g. a son, father, brother, uncles excluding uncles by marriage etc.)’. (XXIV:30 & 31).
Again in XXXIII:59 God says:
“O Prophet, tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers that they let down upon them their over-garments. This will be more proper. They will be known and will therefore not be given trouble.”
The above verses have been interpreted by some jurists as requiring a veiled face and body and others as requiring a scarf over the head to conceal the hair (an essential ornament) and the rest of the body, except the face, the hands and the feet, to be covered by a loose fitting outer garment. In different cultures different forms of women`s dress, or veil or “purdah” have evolved.
The Quraanic object clearly appears to be protection of women from molestation and disrespect, and not their treatment as inferior beings.
Marriage is a solemn contract between a man and a woman, each giving his or her consent freely and without any duress, to become life partners and enjoy the rights conferred and fulfil the obligations imposed by the shariah.
The basic requirements are free consent, the mahr (dowry) and the recitation of the marriage formula (the aqd) in the prescribed form and perfect Arabic. The mahr is the giving or a promise to give any sum of money to the bride and/or to fulfil any condition or obligation that the bride may impose.
The parties may recite the aqd themselves or appoint agents to do so on their behalf.
According to some Shiah jurists the bride may, in the mahr, confer upon herself a right to divorce, or provide for the division of property of property in the event of divorce or any other condition to reserve for herself any right or benefit which under the shariah she would not normally enjoy.
The relationship between husband and wife must be founded upon love and mutual tolerance:
“And of His (God’s) signs is that He has created for you mates from amongst yourselves so that you might find comfort and solace in them, and He has ordained between you love and mercy.” (XXX:21)
There are many traditions and sayings on thios subject. Two are given below:
May Allah bless the man who lays the foundation of his relations with his wifeon goodness. (Imaam Ja’far Sadiq)
A man must honour and love his wife. (The Prophet)
Temporary Marriages (Mutaa):
The Shiah law also permits temporary marriages. It has the same rights and obligations as a permanent marriage except that the marriage will terminate by effluxion of time, and, if the parties so agree, the relationship may be for companionship only without consummation.
A marriage with up to four wives is permitted. There are, however, strict conditions as to equal and just treatment of all the wives.
Islam permits divorce where the marriage has irreparably broken down. But first there must be a process of reconciliation in which the elders of the two families as well as of the community must strive to get the parties to reconcile.
The Prophet has said that of all the permissible things divorce is the most detestable to Allah.
Sovereignty belongs to God. The ruler, whether a king or an elected or nominated representative, can only rule as His vicegerent and in accordance with His laws. (XLII:38; XXII:41).
When Imaam Ali was finally elected the khalifah he endeavoured to establish an Islamic government but alas he was not permitted to rule for long.
However, during the five years of Ali’s reign he wrote several letters to his Governors and Commanders restating the principles of governance in Islam. These letters and instructions have been compiled into a book called `Nahjul Balaagah’, English translations of which are available. The most famous of these documents is Ali’s letter to his Governor in Egypt, Maalik Ashtar, which deals with a variety of subjects including administration, judiciary, treatment of non-muslims, the army and the conduct of a ruler or his representative. In the preamble of the letter Ali says:
“This is what Allah’s servant Ali has ordered Malik ibne al-Harith al-Ashtar when he appointed him Governor of Egypt, for the collection of its (Egypt’s) revenues, fighting against its enemies, seeking the good of its people and making its cities properous.”
The Quraan & Modern Science
The French author Maurice Bucaille has written a book entitled `La Bible, le Coran et la Science’, which has been translated into English. In this book the author writes:
“The relationship between the Qur’an and science is a priori a surprise, especially when it turns out to be one of harmony and not of discord……..The totally erroneous statements made about Islam in the West are sometimes the result of ignorance and some times of systematic denigration.”
The author then proceeds to take various scientific subjects and give Quraanic references which fully accord with the modern scientific conclusions. While it is not proposed to deal with the subject in any detail in this course, it might be interesting to give here a few of the scientific subjects dealt with by Bucaille and the corresponding Quraanic verses cited by him:
The sky: (L:6; XIII:2; XLV:13; X:5).
The Planets: (XXIV:35; XXXVII:6).
Celestial organization: (XXXVI:40; XXXV:13; LI:47).
Conquest of space: (LV:33; XV:14 & 15).
The earth: (II:22; XX:53 & 54).
The water cycle: (XXX:48; VII:57; XXV:48 & 49).
Origin of life in water: (XXI:30; XX:53).
Vegetable and animal reproduction: (XX:53; XII:3; LIII:45 & 46).
Animal communities: (VI:38).
Bees: (XVI:68 & 69).
Human reproduction: (LXXXII: 6-8; XVI:4; LXXV:37; XXIII:13; XXII:5; XXIII:14; LIII:45 & 46; XXXV:11).
This too is a subject beyond the scope of this course. The main sources of Islamic Jurisprudence are the Quraan and the sunnah, and encompasses inheritance, marriage, divorce, paternity, waqfs (trusts), contracts, penal laws, evidence and procedure.
Culture has been defined as “the totality of socially transmitted behaviour patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions, and all other products of human work and thought characteristic of a community or a population. It is the set of shared beliefs, attitudes, values, and behavioral patterns of a group or organisation.” (Readers Digest Universal Dictionary)
Religion on the other hand is “the expression of man’s belief in and reverence for God or gods who created the Universe and Govern it.”
It is as naive to think that any religion encompasses the totality of culture as it is to think that any culture is solely the product of a religion.
Islam like many other religions claims to be universal accommodating within its fold the cultures of all its adherents provided that the bounds of the religious laws are not transgressed.
Islam has broad parameters of rules and regulations and within these parameters an African can remain as much a Muslim as a Pakistani or a Bangladeshi or an English-man or Scots-man or an American or Chinese or any individual from any country anywhere in the world.
Nevertheless there is a difference of opinion on whether Islam has its own distinct culture. Scholars are divided on whether there is a central cultural theme in Islam.
Some vehemently argue that there is such a central theme.
Others maintain that because of the universality of Islam it is wrong to insist upon a common cultural theme.
This latter school of thought argue that culture is an historical heritage of a nation, people or society in the fields of art, architecture, dress, cuisine, language, literature and other cultural norms and pursuits. Islam, on the other hand, consists of beliefs, acts of worship, a code of conduct and jurisprudence. So long as the culture of a society lies within the parameters of Islamic beliefs, acts of worship, code of conduct and the shariah, that culture would be acceptable in Islam. Many an artist, architect, poet, author and chef has, upon acceptance of Islam, adjusted himself/herself so as conform to the Islamic requirements.
Muslims in Great Britain:
There is a substantial muslim community in Great Britain and at times there occur conflicts between them and other communities.
It is wrong to link racism with religion. Racism is an attitude of hostility based upon racial prejudice. This is often exploited by unscrupulous politicians and community leaders for their own ends.
Unfortunately, both the victims and the perpetrators of racial prejudice tend to foster the image of it being the result of the diversity in religious beliefs. This often rallies support for the victim community and provides the perpetrators with the mantle of defending their faith.
At the same time there is amongst the indigenous population a fear, nurtured by irresponsible media, that Islam poses a threat to their community.
If a solution is not found, and found soon, the muslim communities could be driven to extreme ethnicity with the future generation growing up as pariahs in their own country.
Consideration must be given to promoting a better understanding of Islam in the indigenous population. For this both the communities will need to strive hard.
Islam is a tolerant religion. It accepts Christianity and Judaism as sister faiths and respects other religions as well. The Muslims are enjoined to respect churches, synagogues and other places of worship.
There is a need to ensure that each side is enriched by the values of the religion of the other through amicable inter-action without anyone from either side losing his identity.
To ensure harmony efforts must be made to create a community of British muslims rather than a community, or a number of communities, of muslims in Britain.