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ISLAM: BASIC CONCEPTS

ISLAM is the religion of truth. It is the embodiment of the code of life which God, the Creator and the Lord of the universe, has revealed for the guidance of mankind. For the proper development of human life man needs two kinds of thing,viz.:
(a) resources to maintain life and fulfil the material needs of the individual and society, and
(b) knowledge of the principles of individual and social behavior to enable man to have self- fulfilment and to maintain justice and tranquility in human life. The Lord of the universe has provided for both of these in full measure. To cater for the material needs of man He has provided nature with all kinds of resources, which lie at the disposal of man. To provide for his spiritual, social and cultural needs He raised His Prophets from among men and revealed to them the code of life which can guide man's steps to the Right Path. This code of life is known as Islam, the religion preached by all the Prophets of God.
God said:

‘Say, we believe in God, and in the revelation given to us, and to Ibrahim, Ismael, Isaac, Jacob and the Tribes. We believe in the revelation that was sent to Moses, Jesus all other Prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction between them, and unto Him we surrender.' (The Holy Qur'an 3:84, See also 2:136).

Also:

‘He has revealed to you (O Muhammad) the scripture with truth, confirming that which was revealed before it even as He revealed the Torah and the Ingeel, before as a guide to mankind and has revealed the Criterion (of judging between right and wrong).’(The Holy Qur'an 3:3-4).

THE MEANING OF ISLAM

Islam is an Arabic word and denotes acceptance of God as the Supreme and the Ultimate Reality. It means submission, surrender and obedience. As a religion, Islam stands for complete submission and obedience to God- that is why it is called Islam. The other literal meaning of the word Islam is peace and this signifies that one can achieve real peace of body and of mind only through submission and obedience to God. Such a life of obedience brings peace of heart and establishes real peace in society at large.

‘Those who believe and whose hearts find rest in the remembrance of God-indeed it is in the thought of God alone that the heart of man really finds rest-those who believe and act righteously, joy is for them, and a blissful home to return to.’ (The Holy Qur'an 13:28-29).

Unlike many other faiths, the name Islam is neither related with its founder (as in Buddhism or Christianity) nor tribe or race (like in Judaism) nor with land and soil (as in Hinduism). Anyone who submits to God as the Creator of the universe and follows His Commandments is a Muslim. Islam is the name given to this faith by God, in His revealed scripture, the Qur'an.

‘This day I have perfected your religion for you and completed My favor on you, and have chosen for you as the way of life Al-Islam.’(The Holy Qur'an 3:3-4)

According to the Qur'an this message was preached by all the Prophets of God, who guided man to the right path. But man not only veered away from the right path again and again, but also lost or distorted the code of guidance which the Prophets had bequeathed. That was why other Prophets were sent to restate the original message and guide man to the right path. The last of these Prophets was Muhammad (peace be upon him), who presented God's guidance in its final form and arranged to preserve it for all time. It is this guidance which is now known as Al-Islam and is enshrined in the Qur'an and the life- example of the Prophet-Sunnah. The basic Islamic concept is that the entire universe was created by God, whom Islam calls Allah and who is the Lord and the Sovereign of the Universe. He is the Lord of the universe which He alone sustains. He created man and appointed for each human being a fixed period of life which he is to spend upon the earth. God has prescribed a certain code of life as the correct one for him, but has at the same time conferred on man freedom of choice as to whether or not he adopts this code as the actual basis of his life. One who chooses to follow the code revealed by God becomes a Muslim (believer) and one who refuses to follow it becomes a Kafir (non-believer). A man joins the fold of Islam by honestly believing in and professing faith in the unity of God and the Prophethood of Muhammad (peace be upon him). Both these beliefs are eipitomised in the Shahadah (declaration of faith): La ilaha illallahu Muhammad rasulullah. (‘There is no god except God; Muhammad is His Prophet’.) The first part of this Shahadah presents the concept of Tawhid (unity of God) and its second part affirms the Prophethood of Muhammad (peace be upon him).

TAWHID: THE BEDROCK OF ISLAM

Tawhid is a revolutionary concept and constitutes the essence of the teachings of Islam. It means that there is only One Supreme Lord of the universe. He is all Powerful, all Knowing and the Sustainer of the world and of mankind. How can one observe the inexhaustible creativity of nature, its purposefulness, its preservation of that which is morally useful and destruction of that which is socially injurious, and yet fail to draw the conclusion that behind nature there is an All-Pervading Mind of whose incessant creative activity the processes of nature are but an outward manifestation? The stars scattered through the almost infinite space, the vast panorama of nature with its charm and beauty, the planned waxing and waning of the moon, the astonishing harmony of the seasons - all point towards one fact: there is God, the Creator, the Supreme Ruler. We witness a superb, flawless plan in the universe - can it be without a Planner? We see great enchanting beauty and harmony in its working can they be without a Creator? We observe wonderful design in nature can it be without a Designer? We feel a lofty purpose in physical and human existence - can it be without a Will working behind it? We find that the universe is like a superbly written fascinating novel - can it be without an Author? Truly, God said:

‘O, Mankind: worship your Lord, Who created you and those before you, so that you may ward off evil. Who has appointed the earth a resting place for you, the sky a canopy; and who causes water to pour down from the heavens, thereby producing fruit as food for you. So, do not set up rivals to God, when you know better.' (The Holy Qur'an 2:21-22).

This is the basic tenet to which Muhammad (peace be upon him) asked humanity to adhere. It is an important metaphysical reality and answers the riddles of the universe. It points to the supremacy of the law in the cosmos, the all pervading unity behind the manifest diversity. It presents a unified view of the world and offers the vision of an integrated universe. It is a mighty contrast to the piecemeal views of scientists and the philosophers and unveils the truth before the human eye. After centuries of groping in the dark, man is now coming to realize the truth of this concept and modern scientific thought is moving in this direction. But it is not merely a metaphysical concept. It is a dynamic belief and a revolutionary doctrine. It means that all human beings are the creatures of One God - they are all equal. Discrimination based on color, class, race or territory is unfounded and illusory; it is a remnant of the days of ignorance which chained men down to servitude. Humanity is one single family from Adam. Men are one - and not bourgeois or proletarian, white or black, Aryan or non-Aryan, Westerner or Easterner. Islam gives a revolutionary concept of the unity of mankind. The Prophet came to unite humanity on the world of God and to give it a new life. God says:

‘Hold tight to the rope of God, altogether and do not separate. Remember God's gifts and blessings unto you all, when you were enemies; remember how He forged your hearts together in love, and by His grace, you became brethren.’ (The Holy Qur'an 3:103).

This also defines the true position of man in the universe. It says that God is the Creator, the Sovereign; and that man is His vicegerent on the earth. It exalts man to the noble and dignified position of being God's deputy on earth and endows his life with a lofty purpose, to fulfil the Will of God on earth. This solves all the perplexing problems of human society and establishes a new order wherein equity and justice and peace and prosperity will reign supreme. The starting point of Islam is this belief in the Unity of God (Tawhid).

NUBUWAH: THE PROPHETHOOD

The second part of the Shahadah, on the other hand, signifies that God has not left man without any guidance for the conduct of his life. He has revealed His Guidance through His Messengers, and Muhammad (peace be upon him) was the last Messenger. And to believe in a Messenger means to believe in his message, to accept the Law which he gave and to follow the Code of Conduct which he taught. Thus the second basic postulate of Islam is to believe in the Prophethood of Muhammad (peace be upon him), to accept the teachings which he presented and to follow his commands. Every Prophet of God, according to the Qur'an, strove to build man's relationship with God on the principle of God's sovereignty and the acknowledgement of the authority of the Prophet as the source of divine guidance. Every one of them said:

‘I am to you God's Messenger, worthy of all trust. So be committed to God, fear Him, and obey me.’

The Guidance is revealed through the Prophets. It is a part of their mission to translate that into practice, in their own lives and in the society they try to reform. All the Prophets are representatives of God, but they are human beings and their lives are models for mankind. Muhammad (peace be upon him) is the last Prophet and Messenger and as such the final model for mankind. To believe in him means to accept his authority as representative of the Supreme Ruler and to follow his example in thought and behavior. The code of behavior, the law which is to decide what is permissible and what is forbidden (halal and haram), is given by God through the Prophet and is known as the Shari'ah. Belief in the Prophet involves acceptance of the Shari'ah. the Path, he has conveyed and to implement that in all walks of life. This is how the Will of God is fulfilled on the earth. The Qur'an says:

‘Every Messenger who was sent by us was sent for the purpose that he should be obeyed under the sanction of God.’ (The Holy Qur'an 4:64).

And about the last Prophet it explicitly states that:

‘Nay, O Muhammad: by your Lord, they will not be believers until they accept you as the final arbiter in all their disputes and submit to your decision wholeheartedly without any heartache.' (The Holy Qur'an 4:65).

The test of acceptance of God and His Prophet lies in conducting all human affairs in accordance with the Law conveyed by them.
‘And those who do not make their decisions in accordance with that revealed by God, they (in fact) are The disbelievers.’ (The Holy Qur'an 5:44).

Thus, belief in God and His Prophet means commitment to obey them and to fashion individual and collective life in the light of the Law and Guidance provided by them. This automatically raises the question: Would those who follow the law and those who refuse to accept it or abide by it be at the same level of existence? Are they going to be treated in the same way or differently? What would be the consequences of differing attitudes and behaviors? This brings us to the third postulate of Islam.

AAKHIRAH: THE LIFE AFTER DEATH

The world, according to Islam, is a place of trial and man is being judged in it. He will have to give account of all that he does herein. Life on the earth will, one day, come to an End, and after that a new world will be resurrected. It will be in this Life- after-death that man will be rewarded or punished for his deeds and misdeeds. Those who live in the present world a life of obedience to the Lord will enjoy eternal bliss in the Hereafter and those who disobey His commands will have to garner the bitter fruits of their disobedience. According to the Qur'an:

‘And every man's deeds have We fastened around his neck, and on the Day of Judgement will We bring forth a book which shall be proffered to him wide open: “Read your record: This day there need be none but yourself to make out an account against you.” (17:13-14).

‘Whosoever will come with a good deed, for him there shall be the like of it tenfold, while whosoever will come with an ill-deed, he shall be requited with only one like it, and they shall not be treated unjustly. (The Holy Qur'an 6:161).

This belief in life after death is the most decisive factor in the life of a man. Its acceptance or rejection determines the very course of his life and behaviour. A man who has in view success or failure in this world alone will be concerned with immediate benefits and ills. He will not be prepared to undertake any good act if he has no hope of gaining thereby some worldly interest, nor will he be keen to avoid any wrong act if it is not injurious to his interests in this world. But a man who believes in the next world as well and is convinced of the final consequences of his acts will look on all worldly gains and losses as temporary and transitory and will not put his eternal bliss at stake for a passing gain. He will look on things in their wider perspective and always keep the permanent benefit or harm in view. He will do the good, however costly it may be to him in terms of worldly gains, or however injurious it may be to his immediate interests; and he will avoid the wrong, however tempting it may look. He will judge things from the viewpoint of their eternal consequences and not according to his whims and caprices.

Thus there is a radical difference between the beliefs, approaches and lives of the two persons. One's idea of a good act is limited to whether in this brief temporary life it will bring gain in the shape of money, property, public applause and similar other things which give him position, power, reputation and worldly happiness. Such things become his objectives in life. Fulfilments of his own wishes and self-aggrandizement become the be-all and end-all of his life. And he does not draw back even from cruel and unjust means to achieve his ends. Similarly, his conception of a wrong act is one, which may involve a risk or injury to his interests in this world such as loss of property and life, harming of health, blackening of reputation or some other unpleasant consequence.

In contrast to this man, the believer's concept of good and evil will be quite different. To him all that pleases God is good and all that invokes His displeasure and wrath is evil. A good act, according to him, will remain good even if it brings no benefit to him in this world, or even entails loss of some worldly possession or injury to his personal interests. He will be confident that God will reward him in the eternal life and will be the real success. Similarly, he will not fall prey to evil deeds merely for some worldly gain, for he knows that even if he escapes punishment in his short worldly life, in the end will be the because he will not be able to escape punishment from the court of God. He does not believe in the relativity of morals but sticks to the absolute standards revealed by God and lives according to them irrespective of gain or injury in this world.

Thus it is the belief or disbelief in life after death which makes man adopt different courses in life. For one who does not believe in the Day of Judgement it is absolutely impossible to fashion his life as suggested by Islam.

 
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