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I. The Islamic Creed

"La ilaha illa Allah, Muhammadu Rasool Allah"-"There is no deity except God, Muhammad is the Messenger of God." This simple statement of a Muslim's basic beliefs is the starting point for all that follows. From this expression of belief in the Oneness and Uniqueness of God and the messengership of Muhammad stem all of Islam's concepts, attitudes, moral values and guidelines for human behavior and relationships. How can all this follow from this one simple and seemingly quite obvious statement?

Thus: The first part of this declaration, "La ilaha illa Allah," attests not only to the Oneness and Uniqueness of God, the Deity. It signifies, at the same time, the oneness of the lordship, the sovereignty and the authority in the universe and this world. For when we affirm that there is no deity except the One God, we are actually stating that, as there is no other Creator and Sustainer of the universe, this world and all that is in them, there can likewise be no other Ruler, Law- Giver and Supreme Authority for mankind. God, the Lord of all creation, creates what He pleases. giving each of His creations the nature, function and role which He desires for it in this He is accountable to no one and all things are under His absolute control. The purpose for which He created human beings is to acknowledge, worship and obey Him alone, and at the same time to manage the affairs of this world and administer it with justice and righteousness according to His all-wise laws.

How do we know all this? How can a mere human being, a very limited and finite creature, know about God- that is, about Infinity-and His purposes for mankind, the answers to the multitude of basic questions which encompass God's nature and attributes,man's relationship to Him, and why he has been put into this world? We are living in an era in which we have increasingly lost the conviction of the meaning and purpose of existence; indeed, the entire complex of modern civilization seems to proclaim the utter purposelessness and meaninglessness of life.

Then how can we know? Indeed, these are the most vital and basic questions for any human being. Without satisfactory answers to them, life makes no sense; it' has neither purpose nor meaning, and one is simply going through the motions of living without any reason other than the fact that he happens to be alive. Hence the essential task facing each individual is to search for the answers to these questions until he finds them and, when he has found them, to acknowledge their truth and to live by them as faithfully as he can. But the question remains: Where are the answers to them to be found?

Assuredly, if (as many people believe) religion were simply a device invented by man to explain the world of nature or for ordering human affairs, human beings would have been able to arrive at satisfactory answers to these questions through their own reasoning and observation and to guide their lives by them in a suitable manner; the worship of the forces of nature, spirits and demons, sticks and stones and gods made by human hands and mythological figures connected to the world of men by their semi-human nature represents various efforts on their part to do so throughout the course of history. But to arrive at the objective truth: at a correct knowledge of the meaning and purpose of existence, the nature and attributes of the Creator of all things, and of man's role and ultimate destiny, by man's unaided efforts is an obvious impossibility since it concerns what is totally out-side the realm of human observation or deductive faculties; even if some individuals should, by their own efforts, succeed at grasping some part of these truths, they would have no certain or positive means of verifying them.

For the only possible means by which human beings can have access to an unquestionably correct understanding of such matters is if the Source of everything, the willing, acting, sustaining Power Whom we call God, Himself imparts this knowledge to us by whatever means He may deem fit. And this is precisely the significance of the second part of Islam's Declaration of Faith, " . . . Muhammadu Rasool Allah"- Muhammad is the Messenger of God.

Since the dawn of true human consciousness, Islam asserts, the Creator not only implanted in human beings the awareness of His existence, the innate knowledge that there is a non-corporeal, transcendent Being Who created them and the world around them; 1 He also provided them with the answers to these vital questions which have occupied their minds since their emergence as thinking, questioning, problem-solving beings on this planet, conveying His guidance to humankind through various individuals whom he chose as His message-bearers to different groups of people: to be the connecting link between Himself and man, so to speak. Through the passing of time and changes occasioned by human error, much of the Message which they brought was lost. However, enough remains of the earlier scriptures or the teachings of earlier messengers-of the revelations entrusted by God to such prophets as Ibrahim, Moses, Jesus and many others - to make it very clear that this Message has been basically one and the same throughout history: that there is a single, unique Being Who is the Lord and Master of all creation; that this Being has made laws to govern the conduct of human beings; and that each individual is accountable to this Being for how he lives his life.

Thus Islam does not claim to be a new religion. Rather it is the original religion, that primordial faith which has had its roots deep in man's consciousness since the first true human being walked upon earth because the Creator Himself implanted it there, the faith revealed to and preached by all the prophets: the religion of submission and accountability to the One God. Islam teaches the Divine origin of this message, pointing to the similarity and continuity of the teachings brought by the various messengers of God throughout history, but it makes it clear that in the course of time they were changed and grave distortions appeared among them. Hence the Divine origin of these messages is to be believed in but not necessarily their present form or content, since their present condition makes it impossible to determine what part of them has been changed, either accidentally or deliberately, by the hands of men.

Each one of the prophets was a man like other men, with the same human needs and feelings; Islam most emphatically denies any suggestion of the divinity or super-human nature of God's messengers. At the same time, they were men of special qualities whom God singled out from the rest of humanity for the task of conveying His guidance. The prophets are characterized by their total submission to God and their nearness to Him, their pure and upright natures, the extraordinary righteousness of their conduct, and their unswerving commitment to the mission with which they were entrusted.

The guidance revealed suited the mentality and needs of the particular peoples to whom it was addressed. Consequently, many earlier prophets were sent with miracles and signs since the people of their eras, whose belief in God was very weak or altogether lacking, were willing to acknowledge Him only when His existence and power were demonstrated by such proofs. At length, when the mind of man had developed to its full potential, God raised His last prophet, Muhammad, an Arab descended from Ibrahim, with the final and complete statement of His guidance for all time to come. And it is because Muslims follow the guidance which was conveyed through Muhammad , the guidance which carries the complete and final proclamation of God's laws and commands for humankind, that "Muhammadu Rasool Allah"-Muhammad is the Messenger of God-is so significant and vital as to form the second part of the Muslim's statement of faith.

Far from being a state of degradation and servility. The human individual's exclusive submission to the Creator alone invests him with greatness and sublimity, for by means of it he is freed from obeying and serving anything less than God, the only Being Who can ever be worthy of his devotion and obedience. "La ilaha illa Allah, Muhammadu Rasool Allah" is therefore that powerful statement of faith which represents the liberation of the one who professes it from servitude and submission to anything or anyone other than God Most High. It is the denial of all other claimants to divinity and supreme authority, the affirmation of God's Oneness and Sovereignty, and the statement of belief in and acceptance of His guidance as revealed to Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him), the last of God's messengers.

II. The Islamic View of Reality

Every human being who comes into the world must deal, at one Level or another, with the question of what constitutes Reality. Consciously or otherwise, each one of us lives with his own individual understanding of what makes up the totality of existence. This reality concept determines to a great extent how we relate to the universe, our comprehension of the purpose of our existence, and what role we play in this world.

Is the physical universe-what we can see, touch, measure or perceive with our faculties or instruments-all there is, or is there something more? Where did we come from, and where do we go from here? Is it all the result of blind chance and randomness, or is it part of a purposeful, meaningful scheme and plan? Is there Someone in charge of it all Who is Himself the Ultimate Reality, or not? Does man's life itself have any reason or ultimate significance, or is man just a perishable physical entity who will cease to exist like all other living things? Is this life the only life, or will it be followed by some other state of existence, and if so, of what kind?

In fact, an individual's conception of Reality- his answers to these and many other related questions-is nothing less than his basic orientation to the universe, his perception of his place and the role he is to play in it. Upon this conception rests, in effect, all that a human Being is and strives to become his relationship with himself, with others and with the world around him, and above all, with his Creator.

At this time in history many people are asking, "Is there really anyone out there or not? And if there is, does it really matter?" Such questions are a mirror of modern man's total alienation from himself and from his Source, and, as a result, from the universe and his fellow human beings as well. The technology-oriented, mechanized environment of the Western world has trained many people to disbelieve in what is termed "the supernatural;" even though they may profess to believe in God. Science, one of the greatest of present-day man's deities, has taught us to regard as having reality only that which can be seen, observed, measured or perceived through man's senses, mental capacities or inventions. Consequently, while many people in the Western world today may not absolutely deny the existence of what they are unable to perceive, in practice they often act as if it does not exist by ignoring it altogether, or feeling that even if it does exist it has no relevance or importance in the scheme of things. Although many people profess to "believe" in God, this is often a static belief, a mere opinion that God exists rather than that He does not exist which has no significant practical consequences and does not in any way affect the way they live their lives.

Others do believe, and very strongly, in "the supernatural." However, their beliefs are incomplete and unreliable, depending largely on guesswork. The accuracy and validity of such beliefs cannot in any way be depended upon since they are based on one's own or others' subjective experiences; hence they cannot be taken seriously as a means of gaining accurate knowledge of the ultimate Reality of existence, especially of God as the Center and Source of that Reality, nor as constituting valid guidance for the living of man's life. The current preoccupation with extrasensory phenomena may be a step in the direction of acceptance of a Reality greater than the physical universe, but it consists largely of speculation coupled with the attempt to subject non-material phenomena to scientific analysis which must, in the long run due to the nature of the material under study, be self- defeating; moreover, it cannot by any means address itself to the question of God's nature or attributes, or even His existence. That many psychic phenomena are related to and inspired by Satan rather than being spiritual experiences connected to God seems a strong probability and hence such phenomena are a very uncertain and risky foundation for either beliefs or for living.

Islam deals in a clear, straightforward manner with all these issues. In fact, Islam itself poses the questions asked above and many more, insisting that meaningful answers to them, compatible with the observed phenomena of the universe and with reason, must be sought by anyone who possesses a mind.

There is a realm of existence, Islam proclaims, which is not accessible to human sense or awareness nor bound by the limitations of the human intellect. This realm which is beyond man's perception is termed al-Ghaib, that is, the Hidden or Unseen, while that which is known and perceptible is termed ash-Shahadah, the Evident or Witnessed. And in Islam belief in this unseen realm is a prerequisite for belief in and understanding of God and of that part of His creation which man's senses and faculties cannot perceive but which is nonetheless of fundamental importance to his existence.

Islam asserts that what is visible and perceptible to human faculties ash-Shahadah is only a part, and perhaps a very small and insignificant part, of the totality of what exists. Although man cannot grasp the totality of existence, this does not in any way negate the reality of more than he is able to grasp any more than, say, an ant or an elephant can determine the totality of what exists on the basis of its limited experiences and perceptions. The fact, which it is often strangely painful for many of us to admit, is simply that man is a quite finite, limited being with faculties and understanding which are equipped to take in and comprehend just so much and no more. Yet the "more" is there nevertheless, that wider Reality, the totality of which is known only to its Creator.

For the existence of this wider Reality, although it cannot be perceived directly, there are many evidences which are known to us all. Among these is the physical universe itself, which speaks in endless volumes about the unimaginable power, wisdom and creativity of God. The human being is another striking evidence. He comes from somewhere, from non-being into being, and when he dies it is obvious that the most vital part of him is gone. In his spiritual feelings and aspirations, too, man's longing for something deeper and higher than the material sphere, there are clear intimations of the existence of a non-material realm of the greatest importance, to which the human being is in some unknown way so intimately bound up that to ignore or reject it must inevitably result in very serious consequences to the individual and his society. Religious feelings, expressions and movements are common to all human beings, and many of them possess similar features and characteristics. In particular, the great monotheistic religions - Judaism, Christianity and Islam - demonstrate very striking similarities, pointing unmistakably to their common origin in the same Source, God Most High. And finally, various extrasensory phenomena among which we may include dreams and premonitions relating to future events and many other striking manifestations of the existence of a non-material realm, provide us with some dramatic clues concerning the unseen Reality.

In Islam God is the center of that Reality; indeed, He is the reality. God is the One Who does everything, the Creator and Sustainer of all that exists, the provider of all things with their sustenance. He is the Alternator of night and day, the One Who creates what He wills in the wombs of the mothers, Who renews the earth after it is dead and brings out of it, by means of rain from the sky and nourishment within the ground, the growing things which constitute food for men and beasts. And it is He Who gives a term of life to His creatures as He sees fit. It is He Who will bring forth the bodies of men from their graves and join them to their souls on that awesome Day, concerning which there is no doubt, when He will bring the universe to an end, and it is He Who will judge them according to the most absolute and impartial standards of justice and mercy- He is the Supreme the Irresistible, the All-Knowing and the All-Wise, the One Who is accountable to no one but to Whom all things are accountable, Who does what He wills with His creation, and before Whom all things bow in submission, and at the same time He is also the Merciful, the Gracious, the Loving and the Forgiving.

This is Islam's view of Reality, the view of Reality held by countless Muslims throughout the world. Such concepts form a vital part of the Muslim's consciousness, beginning in early childhood. He grows up with the awareness of God's reality and power, His beneficence and kindness to His creation; with the realization that this life is only a very small part of a Reality so vast that the mind of a human being cannot conceive of it except in an extremely limited manner; and with the knowledge that it is not the final stage of his existence, which is a continuous one. As there was a time when, in the words of the Qur'an, man was "a thing not (even) mentioned" (76:1), so God brought him out of non-being into existence: from a sperm and an egg in the bodies of his parents into an embryo growing in his mother's womb, then into independent life when he was born into the world; from helpless infancy into childhood, and from maturity into old age during which he becomes like a weak, helpless child all over again; and from thence into another Life which will be the final state of all human beings. In that Life, those who acknowledged God as their Lord, followed His guidance and strove to please Him will be in a condition of enduring happiness and felicity beyond the capacity of the human mind to imagine, while those who denied Him and devoted themselves to deities other than God, rejecting His guidance and living for themselves or for their lusts and passions will be in an unimaginably fearful state of agony and torment in keeping with the state of their own souls.

Islam also proclaims that human nature has its own reality. While various Western philosophies or theories concerning man conceive of him as a glorified machine, a being who reacts mechanically as "programmed" by his emotions, environment or biochemical processes, or, conversely, as a higher kind of animal, the Islamic conception is very different, and such materialistic approaches are seen as extremely false, misleading representations of the true nature of man. For man, Islam asserts ,is a unique creation of God's possessing an obvious, outward aspect- the physical body- and a hidden, inner aspect-the mind, emotions and soul. The uniqueness of man's nature lies in the fact that he has been endowed with freedom of choice and judgment between right and wrong, capacities for thinking, transmitting knowledge, feeling and acting which have not been given to other creatures, and an immortal soul which lives on after the death of the physical body. Thus man is a composite of many aspects, levels and functions, the totality of which represents the reality of human nature.

God has created man with this complex and multi-faceted nature, Islam asserts, not so that there may be war and strife between the various elements but in order that they may form a smoothly- functioning, harmonious whole. This in itself constitutes the great task, the ultimate challenge, of being human. Each element of man's nature has its role and function, its legitimate needs and right to satisfaction; but in order to bring about the harmony which God intends among them, the individual must exercise the power of his will and govern them according to the laws which God has laid down for his well being, thus achieving synthesis, integration and balance within his personality. This is why Islam concerns itself not merely with "religious" and "spiritual" matters but with all aspects of human life, all of which fall within the framework of religion in the Islamic sense of the term, treating man as an indivisible, organic whole in keeping with the reality of his uniquely human nature.

Such a correct understanding of man's true nature and his place in the scheme of things is of vital importance in the Islamic frame work. By means of God's guidance conveyed through the prophets, man has been shown how the reality of his nature fits into the total Reality and has been informed what is expected of him in relation to that Reality, the center and focus of which is God Most High. In this way he will be able to live in harmony and balance rather than in conflict and chaos during his brief journey from one phase of this Reality this earthly life - to the next, that is, the enduring life of the Hereafter, thereby achieving true worth and true success both in this world and in the World-to-Come.

III. The Articles of Faith 2

1. God (Allah)

"Say (O Muhammad): "He is God, the One, the Self-Sufficient. He begets not nor is He begotten, and there is none like Him. " (The Holy Qur'an 112:1- 4)

"Whatever is in the heavens and on earth glorifies God. for He is the Mighty, the Wise. To Him belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth. It is He Who gives life and death. and He has power over all things. he is the First and the last, the Evident and the Immanent. and He has full knowledge of all things. It is He Who created the heavens and the earth in six days (stages or eons), and is moreover firmly established on the throne (of authority). He knows what enters into the earth and what comes forth from it, and what descends from the heavens and what mounts up to it; and He is with you wherever you may be. And God sees all that you do. To Him belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth, and all affairs are referred back to God. He merges night into day and He merges day into night. And He has full knowledge of what is in the breasts (of men) " (57:1- 6)

Let us now look further at the Islamic conception of God, the first of Islam's fundamental articles of faith. To what extent does it resemble the conceptions of God taught by other religions and in what way is it unique and different?

In nearly all religions, the conception of God is to a greater or lesser extent bound up with the limitations of His creatures; one could cite innumerable examples from various creeds attesting to this. However, Islam emphatically proclaims that God the Most High and Exalted, the Creator and Sustainer of all that exists, is far above possessing any of the creaturely attributes which have been ascribed to Him, nor is He bound by any of the limitations of human beings or of anything else He has created. He has no body nor form, no physical attributes or characteristics. Rather His attributes are those of One Who is above any sort of limitations, such as having a beginning or an end, begetting or being begotten, or physical dimensions or needs such as requiring food, rest or procreating; for He is the One Who gives such dimensions and attributes to His creatures, while He Himself does not share them in the slightest degree. The Qur'an says:

"God is He than Whom there is no other deity. He knows the Unseen (al-Ghaib) and the Evident (ash-Shahadah). He is the Merciful, the Mercy-Giving. God is He than Whom there is no other deity- the Sovereign, the Holy One, the Source of Peace, the Guardian of Faith, the Preserver of Safety, the Mighty, the Irresistible, the Supreme. Glory be to God! (high is He) above the partners they attribute to Him. He is God, the Creator, the Evolver , the Bestower of Forms. To Him belong the most beautiful names. Whatever is in the heavens and on earth glorifies Him, and He is the Mighty, the Wise." (59:22-24)

One who ponders over the nature of God with an open mind in relation to the observed facts of the universe has no choice but to realize that He cannot, by definition, be simply a sort of superman Who sits above the clouds and directs affairs, while sharing in creaturely needs and attributes. For God is nothing less than the Originator and Fashioner of the universe with all its vast and perfect systems, the One Who sustains and keeps it functioning according to His infinitely wise plans and laws. And thus it is clear and certain-as Islam emphatically proclaims - that He is infinitely beyond anything which the mind or senses of man can grasp or comprehend or imagine or explain, and that He is far, far above having any similarity to any of His creation. For He alone is the Creator and everything else is the created; He alone is Divine, and no human being or any other creature can ever share His divinity or His unique attributes as Creator and Sustainer in the slightest degree, In short, God Most High has not the least resemblance to the limited, petty gods with their semi-human nature which the minds of men, due to their imperfect knowledge and understanding, have invented to supply the deficiencies in their comprehension but who, at the same time, fall so short of being God-like. His Divine nature is entirely unique and can be grasped only through the contemplation of His attributes and His creation. The Qur'an says:

"God! There is no deity except Him, the Living, the Eternal. No slumber can overpower Him nor sleep. His are all things in the heavens and on earth. Who is there who can intercede in His presence except as He permits? He knows what is before them and what is hidden from them, and they cannot comprehend anything of His knowledge except what He wills. His kingdom spreads over the heavens and the earth, and the guarding of them does not weary Him, and He is the Exalted, the Almighty. (2:255)

yet God's existence does not have the least relevance for mankind if He is not actively concerned with His creation, or if (as some people imagine) He created the universe and men and then went off and forgot about them, leaving them on their own to sink or swim. But Islam proclaims that God is the Reality, and thus His existence has absolute relevance and meaning for every single human being since it is solely in relation to God that we exist and move through the journey of this life on our way back to Him. Islam, then, asserts that God is always active and is concerned and creatively involved with every single part of His creation, from the vastest of stars down to the very atoms which comprise them, with every part of its macro- and micro-systems, and that it exists, continues and fulfills its functions by His command and will: For His concern is not merely in creating but also in sustaining, directing and guiding: in providing for His creations, maintaining, ordering and regulating them, and, in respect to human beings, in giving them the direction necessary for living their lives in this world in such a manner as will ensure their everlasting good in the Life-to-Come.

God is not concerned with man, however, as the sole or necessarily the most important of His creations, but as the one creature on earth (which is only one part of His unimaginably vast and complex creation) whom He has endowed with a thinking mind, a feeling heart, the ability to store and transmit knowledge, and to whom He has given freedom of choice. At the same time, God asks man to use this freedom of choice to voluntarily and deliberately choose what God wants for him rather than to follow his own random and often chaotic desires; that is, to submit his will to God's higher will and by this means to carry out the responsibilities, both personal and, collective, which God has entrusted to him. For not only does the Creator have the absolute right to make whatever rules or laws He sees fit for His creatures, but He also has the absolute right to their obedience. At the same time, He alone possesses the all-embracing, absolute knowledge and wisdom to provide His creatures with such guidance as will lead to their assured well-being both in this world and in the Hereafter.

Such a belief in God and man's relationship to Him, however, is for the conscientious Muslim no mere intellectual exercise. For as he believes that God alone is the Master of the universe, the Lord of men, the sole Authority and Legislator, and that man is nothing but a humble slave before Him, it follows that there must be no other lords and authorities in his life besides God .Islam proclaims that all other elements which claim man's obedience and devotion, and which attempt to rule or dominate his life, are false and are in competition with God for lordship over him. It insists that one who truly and wholeheartedly believes that God alone is the sole and rightful Sovereign and Law-Giver must not and will not obey or give his devotion or allegiance to other claimants to authority and sovereignty. Rather he must reject them all, submit himself to God alone, and strive with all his energies against the domination of deities other than God.

A little thought will make it clear that no matter how free an individual may consider himself to be, nevertheless he submits to some authority, his life is oriented around some goal,and his loyalty and devotion are given to someone or something. Every single one of us submits to and worships some deity which holds sway over our hearts, and either this deity is God Himself or it is, in every case without exception, something lesser than God since everything is lesser than He. Such a deity may be a human being such as a ruler, - religious figure, philosopher or a member of one's family; it may be some man made ideology, philosophy or -ism. Such worship may be taking "productivity," "progress." "work," or "the state' as one's idol; it may be love of self., pride in family, descent, race, education, occupation. wealth, status or intelligence: it may be catering to one's own desires and becoming enslaved by them. Or it may be deifying science or the arts. or becoming the slave of fads and fashions, pleasures and lusts and passions, personal habits or, the demands of society, or any of the thousand-and-one deities of man's own invention which are known to all of us, which effectually replace the lordship of God Most High over our hearts and lives.

We have spoken of man's attribute of freedom of choice. But this does not apply simply to the various single decisions which one makes every day of his life in matters big and small. Such choices depend, in fact, upon the basic, central choice which one makes to direct the whole of his existence. The greatest and most fundamental choice which every human being is called upon to make is to decide who is his Lord. for whom he lives his life, to whom is his goal., and who he worships, serves and obeys. Indeed, Islam emphatically proclaims, the choice is between only two possible ways:

to be in bondage to human ideas and notions and desires, or to consciously and voluntarily commit oneself to be bound by the standards, criteria and laws of God alone;
to be the slave of human masters, living by man-made values, philosophies and doctrines, or to be the slave of the true Master-of men, God the Praised and Exalted; to be satisfied to live and work for something lesser, or to dedicate oneself to living and striving for the only One Who can be worthy of such devotion from a human being, the only One Who can truly guide and give meaning to man's life, Almighty God alone.

In Western society today we hear a great deal of talk about "freedom-" Such freedom, Islam asserts, is in reality enslavement: enslavement to one's own ego or to other human beings or their ideas and values. And all enslavement to anything or anyone other than God Most High is enslavement `to something which is not worthy to be the master of a human being, for only the Exalted Creator and Sustainer of the universe can be worthy of occupying this place in the life of one who has been made (as the Qur'an states) superior even to the angels. True freedom does not consist of license to do whatever one wants while being the slave of one's own particular deity; rather freedom consists of being free from enslavement to anything or anyone other than one's real Master, Islam's unique task is thus to liberate man from enslavement and servitude to anything other than God, and to free him to worship and serve Him alone.

"Say (O Muhammad): Verily, my prayer and my worship, my life and death, are for God, the Lord of the worlds. He has no associate (in His divinity). This I am commanded, and I am the first of those who submit.' Say: `Shall i seek for a lord other than God when He is the Lord of all things? Every soul draws the earning (of its acts) on none but itself. No bearer of burdens can bear the burden of another. In the end you will all return to God; then He will tell you about that concerning which you differed.' It is He who has made you vicegerents of the earth and has raised some of you above others in rank so that He may test you in what He has given you. Indeed, your Lord is swift in punishment, yet He is indeed the Forgiving, the Merciful." (6:162-165)

2. The Angels

But verily, over you are protectors (angels), kind and honorable, writing down (your deeds).." (82:10-11)

"He sends down His angels with inspiration of His command to such of His servants as He pleases, (saying), Warn (man) that there is no god but I, so do your duty to Me."(16:2)

"The Messenger believes in what has been sent down to him from his Lord, as do the men of faith. Each one (of them) believes in God, His angels, His scriptures and His messengers. "(2:285)

Belief in the existence of beings called angels is common to various faiths. It is also a fundamental belief of Islam. But what, in the Islamic frame of reference, are angels?

It is obvious that God, the AlMighty, the All-Knowing, is able to create any kinds of creatures He please . As we can see within our world alone, He has indeed created an enormous variety of creatures of all sorts, with very different natures, functions and appearance, among which are some beings possessing intelligence. The Holy Qur'an makes it clear that men are not the only intelligent beings- created by God. 3 Another order of intelligent beings are angels, who act as God's agents and serve Him in many ways. They are created of light and unlike men and jinn have not been endowed with free will. Thus they are absolutely obedient to God's commands and are engaged in worship and service to Him. They are sent to protect men, to administer God's punishments, to carry His messages, and to perform various other functions. Human beings cannot as a rule see or hear angels, but they are present in our world nevertheless, carrying out the various duties assigned to them by their Creator. Each human individual is attended by two angels who record all his deeds up to the moment of his death in an account which will be presented to him on the Day of Judgment, the accuracy of which he will not be able to deny.

Because the glory and majesty of the Creator is so awesome and overwhelming that a limited, flesh-and-blood human being is unable to bear direct contact with Him, God chose to convey His revelation to the prophets, including Muhammad through the agency of an angel. 4The name of this honored angelic messenger is Gabriel (jibreel in Arabic). 5 It is because of this vital role of angels as bringers of the Divine revelation to the prophets that belief in them is so important as to form a fundamental article of faith in Islam.

3. The Revealed Scriptures

"And before this was the Scripture of Moses as a guide and a Mercy. And this Scripture (the Qur'an) confirms it in the Arabic tongue, to warn the wrong-doers and as a glad tidings to those who do good." (46:12)

"And in their footsteps We 6 sent Jesus the son of Mary. . . . We gave him the Injeel; 7 therein was guidance and light, and confirmation of what is in hand of the Taurat, 8 a guidance and an admonition to those who fear God." (5:46)

"It is He Who revealed to Thee (Muhammad) the Scripture (the Qur'an) in truth, confirming what is in hand of (the scriptures) that went before it. And He revealed the Taurat and the Injeel before this as guidance to mankind. And He revealed the Criterion (of judgment between right and wrong) . . ." (3:3- 4)

Belief in the reality of God's guidance to mankind in the form of revealed books or scriptures is another basic article of belief in Islam. We have already discussed the Islamic teachings concerning the oneness and continuity of the Divine guidance throughout the history of man, that guidance which only the One Who possesses absolute knowledge of all things could provide for His creatures. However, the guidance revealed to all the prophets before Muhammad (peace be on them all) was sent to particular groups of people; it was not intended to be universal because humanity had not yet reached the stage of readiness for such a final, comprehensive statement of God's guidance for all time to come. This is clear from what the Qur'an states concerning the messages given to various prophets, from what the Old Testament says concerning them, and from the statement attributed to Jesus that "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matthew 15:24).

The final link in the chain of revealed scriptures, Islam asserts, is the Holy Qur'an. Qur'an is an Arabic word meaning "reading" or "that which is to be read." It was revealed to the Prophet (peace be on him) over a period of twenty-three years during the interval between his fortieth year and his death in numerous parts which bore an intimate relationship to the events through which the Prophet and his community, the first Muslims, were passing at the time. It was communicated to him through the agency of the Angel Gabriel. The Angel appeared to the Prophet on frequent occasions his true angelic form or in the form of a man during intense states of inner concentration which were at times observed and documented by the Prophet's companions and family members; they have left behind for posterity a clear account, which is confirmed by the Prophet's own narratives, of how the revelations came to him.

The Qur'an speaks in powerful, moving language of the attributes of God, His immense power and creativity, of man's relationship and responsibility to Him, and of the certainty of the coming of the Last Day and the Life Hereafter. It lays down moral and ethical principles to govern all aspects of human life, both individual and collective, as well as practical guidelines for various types of human interaction. It also narrates the histories of some of the earlier prophets and peoples as an example and encouragement to the Prophet and his community, and as a warning to those who deny God. Its main theme, reiterated over and over in powerful terms, is the reality of God's existence and supreme power, the purposefulness of His creation and of all that occurs, and man's position as God's slave, His steward and vicegerent who is accountable to Him in everything.

The Holy Qur'an is the only divinely-revealed scripture in the history of mankind which has been preserved to the present time in its exact original form. For although parts of earlier revelations, such segments of the Torah (Taurat) given to Moses, the Psalms (Zaboor) revealed to David, and the Evangel (Injeel) revealed to Jesus still remain, they are so heavily intermixed with human additions and alterations that it is very difficult to determine what part of them constitutes the original Message (as many Biblical scholars admit only too readily), much less to guide one's life by them. That the Qur'an has been preserved in the exact Arabic wording in which it was revealed to Prophet Muhammad and in the exact order in which he himself placed it as commanded by Divine revelation, is a matter well-documented historically and beyond dispute.

Because it is the word of God, the Qur'an is always recited in Arabic, the language in which it was revealed, in the Islamic prayers (salat) and on other occasions, never in translation. However, it may certainly be read for understanding in translation by those who do not know Arabic, together with a commentary if desired Nevertheless, because of its extremely distinctive style and language, it is impossible for a translation to do more than convey its bare meaning. The great nobility of its form of expression, the earnest, moving, eloquent style which is its outstanding characteristic, cannot be translated, and hence any translation must be regarded (as all translators themselves confirm) as a mere approximation to the sense of the words. While Islam does not rest on miracles or signs and wonders as some other religions do, many who are familiar with the highest in Arabic literary style regard the Qur'an itself as a miracle, so unparalleled is its language and form of expression. Indeed, the Qur'an itself contains a challenge to the unbelievers of Muhammad's time to try to produce a piece of writing comparable to it, and while many tried during his time to compose something similar to it, no one could succeed in doing so. To one conversant with Arabic, the Divine origin of the Qur'an can be readily grasped by comparing Muhammad's language (of which thousands of word-for-word examples are recorded) with the language of the Qur'an, which is the word of God. The one is ordinary language of an Arab of his time, while the other is language of such a sublime and exalted quality as no human being has ever been able to approximate either then or since. We will have to say more concerning the Divine origin of the Qur'an under the next topic, the messengers of God.

"And if you (the unbelievers) are in doubt as to what we have revealed to Our servant (Muhammad), then produce a surah (chapter of the Qur'an) like it, and call your witnesses besides God if you are truthful. And if you cannot-and you cannot-then fear the Fire (of Hell) whose fuel is men and stones, which awaits those who reject faith." (2:23-24)

"This is the Scripture in which there is no doubt. In it is guidance, for the God-conscious, who believe in the Unseen, and are steadfast in prayer (salat), and spend (in charity) out of what We have provided for them; and those who believe in what was revealed to thee (Muhammad) and in what was revealed before thee, and are certain of the Hereafter. These are on (the way of) guidance from their Lord, and these are they who will be successful." (2:2-5)

"But most of them follow only conjecture. Indeed, conjecture does not avail anything against the truth. Verily, God knows what they do. And this Qur'an cannot be produced by anyone other than God. Rather it is a confirmation of that which is in hand (of earlier scriptures) and a fuller explanation of the Scripture (God's revelations to mankind throughout the ages) wherein there is no doubt from the Lord of the worlds." (10:36-37)

4. The Messengers of God

"For assuredly We sent among every people a messenger (with the command), Serve God and shun wickedness.' Of them were some whom God guided, and of them were some on whom error became inevitably (established). So travel through the earth and see what was the end of the deniers (of truth)." (16:36)

"Say (O Muslims): `We believe in God and in what is revealed to us, and in what was revealed to Ibrahim and Ismael and Isaac and Jacob and the Tribes (of Israel), and in what was given to Moses and Jesus, and in what was given to the prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them (in believing them all to be God's messengers), and to Him do we submit our selves." (2:136, also 3:84-85)

The messengers or prophets of God have already been discussed briefly. It is important to note here that the Islamic conception of the role and function of prophethood differs somewhat from that of Judaism and Christianity. In Islam the word "prophet" (nabi in Arabic) does not in any way signify one who prophesies future events. Rather it denotes one who is very near to God through the total surrender of his entire being to Him and who receives revelations from Him which constitute a source of guidance for men. If the revelation is in the form of a written scripture, the prophet is in addition a "messenger" (rasool) as well. All the prophets who preceded Muhammad were sent message of warning and guidance to a particular people. None of their messages was intended to be universal, including that of Jesus, who was commissioned by God specifically as a prophet to the Children of Israel, until the last messenger, Muhammad(God'speace and blessings be on him) was entrusted with the final and complete statement of God's guidance for the whole of humanity for all time to come.

Who were some of the prophets of God? The Qur'an states that God sent a warner and guide to every people, and it mentions the names of many of them. At the beginning of the line was Adam (Adam in Arabic), the first human being. Adam and his wife Eve (Hawwa), originally in a state of primal innocence, exercised the human attribute of freedom of choice and disobeyed God's command. Through this they learned the hard lesson of the consequence of disobedience to the Divine command in the loss of their innocent state and life of peace and tranquility. But, the Qur'an states, they repented and God forgave them. He then bestowed prophethood upon Adam, giving him guidance for himself and his descendants.

The first true human beings on earth were thus believers in the One God, submitting to His guidance. But gradually over a period of time their accurate perception of Reality deteriorated and they became animists or idolaters, until God raised a new messenger among them to recall them to the truth. The Qur'an mentions Noah (Nuh), who brought a message of warning and the need for reform to his totally corrupted people; when they refused to take heed God destroyed them in the Deluge. The next major prophet whose history is narrated in the Qur'an is Abraham (Ibrahim). Although he grew up among idolaters, he reasoned out the folly of believing in the divinity of any finite thing, especially of those made by human hands, and he surrendered himself to God with such total submission that God made him an example for people of all times. The Qur'an calls him "muslim," and so indeed all the prophets were muslims - that is, those who submit themselves to God alone.

From Ibrahim came a long line of prophets through his two sons, Ishmael (Isma'il) and Isaac (Ishaq). Ismael was the progenitor of the Arab peoples and Muhammad (peace be on him) was among his descendants. From Isaac came a number of prophets, including his son Jacob (Yaqoob), his grandson Joseph (Yusuf), Moses (Musa), David (Daood), Solomon (Sulayman), John the Baptist (Yahya) and Jesus (`Isa). Of these, Moses, David and Jesus (God's blessings and peace be on them) brought written scriptures revealed by God, although today only scattered portions of the originals remain, intermixed with what people have added, as is clear from an objective study of the format and content of the Biblical text.

Islam asserts that Jesus was one in the line of prophets sent to the Children of Israel. The Message he brought reiterated the necessity of submission to God and obedience to His law given through Moses, emphasizing purity of heart and sincerity of intention instead of mere formalism and empty adherence to ritual. The Qur'an States, as does the Bible, that Jesus was born of a virgin mother by the power of God. However, this in no way makes him of divine nature or God's Son any more than it makes Adam, who was born without the agency of parents, Divine. Jesus was a human being who was created in a special and unique manner by God, Who is able to create what He wills as and how He pleases. The notion of the divinity or Sonship of Jesus, the Qur'an asserts, is completely contrary to the true message which Jesus (peace be on him) brought of the Oneness and Uniqueness of God, and his insistence that God alone-not himself-was to be worshipped and obeyed.

Muhammad was born nearly six hundred years after Jesus (570-632 After Christ) in Mecca, Arabia. He lived at a time when his people were in the grip of the worst form of idolatry and their society was in a state of marked corruption and decay. Within Arabia, Jews had formed tribes and settlements, but they did not propagate the message of the Oneness of God and man's responsibility to Him outside their own community. Christianity was splintered into many diverse feuding sects and its stronghold, the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium), was in a state of decline.

When, in the midst of this decadent society, a Messenger arose in the city of Mecca with the earnest, burning call to repentance and reform, he issued to the leaders of paganism a challenge which they could not afford to ignore if they were to retain their grip on the people. "Arise and warn" was the message with which God charged him. But his warning was met with the most intense hostility. At first he was ridiculed and opposed, and then with his small group of followers progressively exposed to abuse, defamation, torture, boycott and ultimately the threat of assassination. Every means the pagans could devise to induce him to give up his mission and force the early Muslims to abandon Islam was attempted. All of them remained firm and constant, however, for their certainty of the truth of the Message was so strong that the mere threat of physical harm or death could not deter them from believing in it, proclaiming it and living it. Some of the first Muslims died under torture, and others were sent to Abyssinia, a country under the rule of a devout Christian king who subsequently secretly embraced Islam, to escape persecution.

At length, after thirteen years of patient preaching and bearing with constancy all these trials, God opened to the Prophet and his followers the possibility of migration to the city of Yathrib (Madina) some three hundred miles distant, at the invitation of its inhabitants who had embraced Islam; they pledged their loyalty to the Prophet and swore to live and if necessary to die for Islam. In small groups the Muslims left Mecca and made their way across the desert to the city which had opened its heart to the new faith, and when they had all gone, the Prophet himself, together with his closest friend, Abu Bakr, Also left, by God's guidance avoiding the pagans' attempts to assassinate him in Mecca and hunt him down on his journey.

In Madina, away from the continuous day-to-day persecutions of the pagan Meccans, the Prophet was able to give form and continuity to the community and system he had been commanded to establish. Here the parts of the Qur'an constituting legislation concerning various matters were revealed, and here they were put into practice by the Muslims as soon as the verses were received by the Prophet. Here too the Islamic community and state, with all the various elements of social, political and economic life cast into a form which would be an example for all the future generations of Muslims, came into Existence.

But even here there was no peace for the Prophet and his community; they were repeatedly harassed by the continued threats and military expeditions of the pagans, and by the opposition and treachery of dissident groups in and around Madina. Yet the Muslim community, although initially small in number and poorly equipped for battle, resisted with such valor that after some nine years it was able to subdue these enemies by a series of actions, both military and diplomatic. The Prophet (peace be on him) then entered the city of Mecca, from which he had fled several years earlier under the threat of death, as the leader and ruler of a humbled populace. Instead of reproaching or taking any sort of vengeance upon those who had persecuted him so cruelly, he freely forgave even his most bitter enemies, and thus the "conquest" of Mecca took place without bloodshed. The Prophet entered the Ka'aba, the sacred house of God's worship built in antiquity by the prophets Ibrahim and Ismael, and with his own hands broke into pieces the three-hundred-and-sixty idols which had been erected and worshipped there, purifying the Ka'aba once again for the worship of God, the Praised and Exalted, alone .

Prophet Muhammad (God's peace and blessings be on him) died about a year later. Truly he had delivered the Message with which he had been entrusted by God, and he left behind for all time to come two permanent, unchangeable sources of guidance: the Holy Qur'an and his Sunnah - that is, his own example and practice, the details of which were within some years collected in many well-documented verbal reports known as Hadiths which have been presented accurately to the present time as the second source of guidance in Islam after the Qur'an.

After the Prophet, four of his closest friends and companions Abu Bakr, `Umar, `Uthman and `Ali - became the leaders and heads of the Muslim society and state with the title Khalifat Rasool Allah, that is, caliph or successor to the Messenger of God. They ruled scrupulously according to the guidance of the Qur'an and the Prophet's example. After them, however, the political leadership took the form of a hereditary monarchy which deviated markedly from the example of the Prophet and the first four Rightly-Guided Caliphs. At the same time, Islam spread with great rapidity, carried to many parts of the globe by the Muslims whose individual lives and societies had been transformed by their faith. At its zenith (700 to 1600 After Christ) the Islamic Empire reached from Spain to the Philippines, and, at a time when Europe was still in a very primitive state, the light of faith, learning and culture which illuminated Muslim lands was truly the beacon of piety and civilization in an otherwise darkened world.

The Qur'an is emphatic in proclaiming that Muhammad (peace be on him) is the last messenger of God, the "Seal of the Prophets," and that any who claim prophethood after him are false. But why, it may be asked, if God had sent messengers to earlier peoples as the need arose, and as man's course on this planet is not yet run and the need for guidance is so evident today, should there be no further prophets after him?

This is so because the Qur'an is God's final and complete guidance for all humankind. As such it does not require any amendment, abrogation or restatement. Moreover, it was revealed at a time when man's intellect, consciousness and the ability to preserve and transmit knowledge through writing had reached full maturity. The Qur'an has been preserved, word for word, letter for letter, exactly as it was revealed, and as long as it remains so (and the Qur'an contains Almighty God's promise to safeguard it from alteration until the Last Day), there is no need for any further revealed guidance. The Qur'an is complete and perfect, and its principles and teachings are as valid and binding today as at the time when they were revealed; for although the style and mode of human life have changed, the Ultimate Realities, the nature of good and evil, and man's own nature are unalterable and permanent verities which are in no way affected by the passing of time or changes in the human condition.

Besides this, there is another reason why no further messengers are needed. Supplementing the guidance set forth in the Qur'an is the example of the Messenger, Muhammad (peace be on him). A divinely- revealed Book might contain God's guidance, but a Book was not enough; someone was needed to translate that guidance into action, to live it. And that someone was not to be an angel or a super-human being but a man like other men, a man from among the community to which the guidance was immediately addressed, who would serve as a living example to others and would give concrete form to the laws Which God had revealed amidst the varied conditions of ordinary human existence.

Concerning the life of the Prophet (peace is on him), such a complete and detailed account has been preserved as has probably not been kept concerning any other individual in human history. Because of the absolutely unique position he occupied as the recipient of revelations from God, the Praised and Exalted, every act and detail of his life was of the greatest interest to those around him. Hence the narrations preserved in the books of Hadith (sayings of the Prophet) deal with all facets of his life, from the most personal matters to the conduct of war and the affairs of state. Consequently Muslims have before them in every aspect of their lives- and it is to be borne in mind that in the Islamic frame of reference no part of man's existence is outside the pale of religion-the living example of the best of human beings. As his wife `Aisha said concerning him, his conduct was the Qur'an. And while Muhammad (peace be on him) was an individual of immense spirituality and nearness to God, at the same time he also lived an extremely full, active and complete life, exemplifying many varied and complex roles. He was a devoted husband, father and grandfather, a kind and responsible kinsman, a faithful, affectionate friend, a leader alike in worship and battle, a ruler and statesman par excellence. For the Muslims of his time as well as for the Muslims of today and tomorrow, he was and is and will always be the model: the teacher, the guide, the leader, and above all the conveyor of the Divine guidance, the connecting link with God, and the person whom they love, revere and emulate above all other men.

"You have indeed in the Messenger of God a beautiful pattern for any whose hope is in God and the Last Day, and who engages much in the praise of God." (33:21)

"O Prophet, truly we have sent thee as a witness, and a bearer of glad tidings and a warner, and as one who invites to God by His leave, and as a lamp spreading light Then give the glad tidings to the Believers that they shall have from God a very great bounty." (33:45-47)

Now there have been many claimants to prophethood, some even in modern times. How, therefore, can anyone prove that Muhammad's claim to be a messenger of God, to have received Divine revelation, is true? In short, could Muhammad actually and in fact Have been the Messenger of God, the Last Prophet, or did he merely imagine he was or pretend to be? 9

The real question being asked is, in fact, How can one distinguish a true prophet from a false one? In order to determine the truth of any person's claim to have brought a divinely revealed scripture, it is necessary to establish some rigorous criteria, which are generally acceptable in terms of logic and reason. These criteria should be such that in the light of them anyone may searchingly examine any scripture, whether it is the Qur'an, the Old and New Testaments, the Bhagavad-Gita or any other religious text, and decide for himself whether or not it deserves serious consideration as coming from the Lord of the universe. Such criteria may be something like the following:

1. The person claiming to have received revelation should be known as an individual of umblemished character and morals, of whom no evil or sin is known; in particular he must be of the strictest standard of honesty and truthfulness.
2. The words of the alleged scripture should be recorded exactly as they were received from the Divine Source, without the slightest interference or change on the part of anyone, including the one who claimed to have received the revelation. The original scripture should remain intact and accessible to anyone who wishes to read it.
3. The message contained in the scripture should be totally consistent throughout; no part of it should contradict any other part.
4. There should be no confusion among its concepts and teachings.
5. Nothing in it should be contrary to the objectively-observed facts of the natural world.
6. It should appeal to man's reason and rational faculties rather than to irrationality, superstition and the like.
7. It should provide spiritual insight and moral guidance of the highest order.
8. It should not attribute to God anything which is contrary to His unique, exalted and transcendent nature, nor to any created being anything which pertains exclusively to God.
9. It should emphatically deny to anyone other than God the right to be worshipped and obeyed.
10. It should emphasize brotherhood and equality among human beings, and should not uphold the domination of some people by others.
11. It should not attribute major sins or vices to the persons whom God singled out for the task of conveying His guidance (the prophets) for this is tantamount to attributing lack of knowledge or stupidity to God.
12. Its language should be eloquent and sublime, and of the highest order of literary style and expression.
13. Although it is not essential as a proof of its truth, if it contains objectively-verifiable information such as could not be known by anyone other than the Creator, it will be considered a further testimony to its truth and genuineness.

If the reader should be interested in carrying out such an examination of the Qur'an, it is important that he approach it with a completely open mind, uncolored by earlier preconceptions or prejudgments about Islam and its Book. It is also suggested that he begin his reading of the Qur'an from the far end rather than from the beginning, or, if he plans to read bits and pieces rather than the whole of it, to open it anywhere he pleases at any point in his reading. The reason for this is that the Qur'an is not a volume with the sequential order of a conventional book, and thus it may be opened and approached from any portion or page. The most powerful and moving surahs (chapters) are by and large found in the latter portion of the Book, while the long surahs near the beginning contain considerable matter dealing with legislation, the early Muslim community, relations with non-Muslims, the histories of earlier prophets and their peoples, and various other subjects. It is also suggested to use a translation by a Muslim rather than by a non-Muslim, as it is likely to be more accurate and true to the spirit of the Arabic, 10 and, if possible, one containing a commentary for clearer understanding. From such an examination of the Qur'an, we can make the following important points:


1. We observe that Muhammad brought a Message over a period of twenty-three years which, from the first revelation to the last, was totally consistent with itself, without any contradiction, confusion or change.
2. The wording of the existing Qur'anic text (of which there is only one standard Arabic version throughout the world) remains word-for-word exactly as Muhammad received it, and its verses and sections are in the exact order in which he himself placed them as commanded by Divine revelation.
3. We observe that the language of the Qur'an is completely different from the speech of Muhammad, which has been recorded in his exact words in the voluminous collections of Hadiths, and that it has a unique, sublime, exalted quality which is also different from the speech of any human being before or since, which even the enemies of the Prophet, despite their most strenuous efforts, were unable to imitate.
4. The concept of God and of the Ultimate Realities which the Qur'an expresses is of the utmost degree of fitness and sublimity, as are the spiritual truths and moral guidance it sets forth.
5. Muhammad did not know how to read or write, nor was he learned in any branch of knowledge. Although he may have had some idea about the basic teachings of Christianity and Judaism, his knowledge of these religions cannot have been more than quite superficial. However, the Qur'an contains innumerable references to these religions, their teachings and the histories of the earlier prophets in such depth and detail as could not possibly have been mastered by anyone who was not literate and of a very high degree of religious knowledge. In addition, other elements of the Message he brought are such that it would have been impossible under any circumstances for an illiterate Arab of his time either to master or to construct them within his own mind impossible, indeed, for any human being of any time or place, for a great part of them relate to al-Ghaib, the Unseen Realities, containing information which can be known only to the Creator of all things.
6. Not only does the Qur'an contain nothing which is contrary to reason or objectively observed facts, but it repeatedly appeals to man to use his reason and logical faculties to verify the truth of its message. In particular, it cites example after example from the natural world as a proof of God's limitless power and wisdom. In addition to this, it also contains matter related to the world of nature which was not known or understood by anyone until many centuries later. Here are only three examples:

"Do those who disbelieve not see that the heavens and the earth were of one piece, then We parted them? And We made every living thing of water. Will they not then believe? And We placed in the earth firm hills lest it quake with them, and We placed therein ravines as roads that they may find the way. And We have made the sky a roof withheld (from them), yet they turn away from its signs. And it is He Who created the night and the day, and the sun and the moon. They float, each in an orbit." (21:30-33)

"And God created every animal from water. Among them is that which goes upon its belly and among them is that which goes on two legs and among them is that which goes upon four. God creates what He wills. Verily, God has power over all things." (24:45)

"VeriIy, We created man from a quintessence of wet clay, then placed him as a drop in a safe lodging. Then We made the drop a clot. Then We made the clot a lump, then We made the lump bones, then clothed the bones with flesh, and then produced it as another creation. So blessed be God, the best of creators." (23:12-14)

These verses, which first came to light in sixth century Arabia, are so extraordinary that it is worthwhile to study them very closely. Was there anyone in Muhammad's time who had the remotest inkling of the processes by which the universe came into being, or that all life, and every form of animal, originated from water, or of the balancing force which mountains provide to the earth, or the fact that the heavenly bodies all "float" along "in orbit"? For views less heretical than these the scientists of Europe were called to account by the Inquisition centuries later. Or was there anyone during his time who understood the detailed stages and processes by which a drop of sperm becomes a human infant? And these are not unique examples. The Qur'an is full of statements concerning the natural world which totally conform to modern scientific findings, some of which could not have been understood in scientific terms by anyone until fairly recent times.11 Moreover, the Qur'an exhibits an extraordinary depth of insight into human nature, particularly in relation to the contrasting states of mind of one who is deeply grounded in faith in God and one who is in a state is disbelief or rebellion against Him. In this it out shines the most subtle contemporary researches into human psychology, dwelling on the state of peace, balance, direction and contentment of the believer on the one hand, and the inner emptiness, anxiety, depression and confusion of the nonbeliever on the other.


7. Finally,we note that the man who brought this scripture was renowned among his people for his faithfulness, good character and honesty. He was so respected for his truthfulness and upright character that his fellow Meccans had honored him with the title of "al Ameen" (the Trustworthy) years before the beginning of his call to prophethood. He repeatedly warned others with the utmost urgency of the enormity of attributing anything to God, Whose displeasure he feared more than anyone because of the immensity of the responsibility which had been laid upon him, from their own minds or imaginations. Could such a man, then, have been the forger, over a period of more than two decades, of a scripture. which he claimed was revealed to him by God but which was actually of his own fabrication?

In view of all the foregoing, one is left with only two possible explanations of the scripture called the Qur'an: either that Muhammad really was what he claimed to be, the individual to whom God Most High had entrusted the awesome task of conveying His ultimate guidance to mankind, or that he was the most outrageous and flagrant liar and deceiver whoever lived; and this is so totally at variance with everything that is known about him as to be absolutely impossible. But even if we accept for a moment for the sake of argument the possibility that Muhammad made up the entire Qur'an over this long period of time, we are still left without any explanation of how even the most audacious forger could have had knowledge of the many matters in the Qur'an which it is absolutely impossible that any human being of his time could have known or even remotely imagined, how the whole Qur'an could be so utterly consistent and free of contradiction, of such sublime depth and inimitable language, and how it could have such a convincing, unassailable, earnest ring of truth in its exposition of the Ultimate Realities.

Some have tried to explain away the Qur'an by alleging that Muhammad was mad or epileptic. But has there ever been, in all of human history, an instance of a person in the grip of epileptic `seizures, insanity or any other form of mental aberration producing anything so consistent and coherent, of such profound depth and wisdom, something which was beyond the knowledge of any human being and which was beyond the capacity of the sanest and wisest men to produce? 12 The pagan Meccans of Muhammad's own time, trying their utmost to avoid coming to grips with the truth of what he brought, tried in vain to explain away his Message by similar allegations, and by claiming that he must be in the grip of poetic frenzy, or a soothsayer or one possessed; they even suggested that someone learned in Christian doctrines must be teaching him. But Muhammad had no knowledge at all of composing poetry, nor did he have any of the well-known bizarre characteristics of a soothsayer or a man who is possessed. As for the "teacher" theory, it could not be carried very far with a man who was always in the full view of his enemies as well as of his followers (who both, for their own individual reasons, scrutinized with utmost care every detail of his life), and who often received the Divine revelations in their presence. Hence these charges were soon dropped, and even his most implacable enemies were forced to come to the conclusion that what he was receiving was indeed, as he claimed, from God. Moreover, he asked nothing for himself. No one can debate the fact that he had nothing whatsoever to gain and everything to lose- his life itself- by persisting in his mission in the face of the relentless

persecutions of the pagans; while if his aim had been to achieve fame, power or wealth (the only possible motivations which can be ascribed. to him if his Message was not what he claimed), the pagan Meccans did in fact offer him all these and would gladly have given them to him instantly to deter him from proclaiming his revolutionary statement of man's accountability to God and the brotherhood and equality of all Muslims which threatened to destroy the entire edifice of their power, prestige and decadent life-style.

Consequently, if we return to the Message and look at the sublime concepts and ideas it embodies; its total consistency from beginning to end; the lofty standard of morality and human interaction it lays down; its profound, self-evident wisdom and depth; the extremely noble, earnest, moving quality of its tone and language; and what it contains relating to matters not then known to any human being on earth (least of all to an illiterate Arab) concerning the physical universe as well as the Unseen Realities, it becomes impossible to ascribe the Qur'an to human authorship. As a result, having ruled out every other possible explanation for the phenomenon of the Qur'an, we are compelled to conclude that it is, as Muhammad (peace be on him) proclaimed, the word of Almighty God. In the words of the Qur'an itself:

So I swear by all that you see and all that you do not see that this is verily the speech of an honored messenger (Gabriel). It is not the speech of a poet; little is it that you believe. Nor is it the speech of a soothsayer; little is it that you remember. (This is) a revelation from the Lord of the worlds. And if he were to invent any sayings concerning Us, We would assuredly seize him by his right hand and cut off his life-artery, and not one of you could keep Us from him. And verily, this is a reminder for the God. conscious And We surely know that some among you will deny it, and that it is indeed a source of sorrow to the unbelievers. But verily it is the truth of assured certainty. So glorify the name of thy Lord, the Almighty." (69:38-52)

And thus have We, by Our command, sent inspiration to thee Thou didst not know (before) what revelation was and what faith was, but We have made it (the Qur'an) a light with which We guide such of Our servants as We will, and verily thou guidest to the straight way-the way of God, to Whom belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on earth. Behold (how) all affairs tend toward God." (42:52-53)

"This Qur'an is not such as can be produced by anyone other than God, but it is a confirmation of earlier revelations and a detailed explanation of the Scripture (the totality of Divine guidance since the beginning of man's history on earth) in which there is no doubt from the Lord of the worlds." (10:37)

Then what about the claims made by other "prophets" of either ancient or modern times, that they too received revelations from God and perhaps a scripture? Again, we must go to the messages they brought and examine them carefully in the light of stringent criteria such as those suggested earlier for determining the truth of a scripture Next we carefully examine the lives of the "messengers" themselves to see whether they conform to any sort of an accepted standard of righteousness and purity, intelligence and credibility. 13 Then if the claimants to prophethood of either ancient or modern times do not me such criteria as we may consider to be an objective and valid test truthfulness and credibility, we are forced to regard their claims fabrications and those who brought them as deliberate forgers and deceivers of their fellow-men. In many passages the Qur'an speaks of the terrible punishment which will come to those who invent lies against God, as in the following:

"And who does more wrong than one who fabricates lies concerning God or who says, `I receive revelations,' when he does not receive revelations at all, or who says, `I will reveal the like of what God has revealed? And if thou couldst see when the wrong-doers are in the pangs of death and the angels stretch out their hands, (Saying), `Render up your souls. This day are you recompensed With the punishment of degradation because of what you spoke About God without truth and because you scorned His signs." (6:93)

And it is up to every human being to use the intelligence God gave him to determine the credibility of such claims for himself, for truth and falsehood are two different things and each can be recognized by its own special characteristics.

5. The Hereafter

"Verily we shall give life to the dead, and we record all that they Send before and that they leave behind, and we have taken account of all things in a clear Book (of evidence). "(36:12)

"And to every soul will be paid in full (the fruit) of its deeds, and He knows best all that they do." (39:70)

Belief in the Hereafter-what pertains to the Day of Judgment, bodily resurrection, and Heaven and Hell-is another basic article of faith in Islam.

Islam asserts that the present life is but a minute part of the totality of existence. The Qur'an informs man of the reality of another Life of a very different nature from the life of this world, of infinite duration. For God, the All-Wise, All-Powerful Creator, is able to do anything He pleases, and He is easily able to transform His creations from one state of being to another. Can we for a moment imagine that it can be more difficult for Almighty God to raise us up when we are dead than it was to create us in the first place? The Qur'an speaks again and again of familiar and obvious examples of such transformations: the coming to life again of the earth after it lies dead and barren in the grip of winter or drought; the development of a sperm and an ovum into an embryo in the environment of the mother's womb, and its further development from that state into a thinking, feeling, acting human being, living in the world.

"And among his signs is this :Thou seest the barren and desolate, but when We send down rain to it ,it is stiring to lifeand yields increase .Verily, He Who gives life to the (dead) earth can surly give life to the dead .Lo!He has power over all things"(41:39)

"O mankind! If you are in doubt concerning the Resurrection, then, verily, We created you from dust, then from a drop, then from a clot, then from a lump of flesh (both) shaped and shapeless, that we may make it clear for you. And We cause what We will to remain in the wombs for an appointed time, and afterwards We bring you forth as infants; then you attain your full strength. And among you there is he who dies (young) and among you there is he who is brought back to the most abject time of life so that, after knowledge, he knows nothing. And thou seest the earth barren, but when We send down water on it, it thrills and swells and puts forth every lovely kind (of growth). That is because God is the Reality, and it is He Who gives life to the dead, and it is He Who has power over all things, and because the Hour (of judgment) will come concerning which there is no doubt, and because God will raise those who are in the graves." (22:5-7)

"Does not man see that it is We Who created him from sperm? Yet behold, he is an open adversary. And he makes comparisons for Us, and forgets his own creation. He says: Who can give life to bones when they are decomposed?' Say: `He will give them life Who created them the first time, for He knows about every kind of creating.' "(36:77-79)

Then how can you reject faith in God, seeing that you were without life and He gave you life? Then He will cause you to die and will bring you to life again, and again to Him will you return." (2:28)

Islam lays the greatest stress on the individual's accountability to God. The human being's life in this world constitutes a trial, an examination period, during which he prepares himself, either for good or for ill, for the next Life of infinite duration. The Day of Judgment may be compared to the ending of the examination, during which the Teacher will ask each individual student, What were you doing during the exam?" and will then evaluate the work he hands in. For although man's body dies, his soul, his personality has an existence extending beyond the present life; it is a continuous entity whose inner state will accompany it into the Hereafter. It is this state, together with one's deeds, which will determine one's ultimate destiny.

It is obvious that an individual who has lived with the correct awareness of and relationship to Reality through submission to God Most High is in an entirely different inner state from one who has lived all his life with an incorrect or distorted awareness of Reality and in forgetfulness, rebellion and ingratitude vis-a-vis God, and who has died in this state. Moreover, although many of the deeds of such people may appear outwardly similar, they have been motivated by entirely different intentions: the one to obey and please God and the other for any reason other than pleasing God, Whose reality he does not acknowledge. Indeed, the differences between the inner states of such persons is so great that their being kept apart from one another, in entirely different environments corresponding to what is within them and among companions having a similar inner condition, is a requirement of the most rudimentary conception of justice, not to speak of the absolute, unswerving justice of the All-Knowing, All wise, Infinitely Just and at the same time Most Merciful God.

In very vivid, awe-inspiring language, the Qur'an sketches over And over the outline of the events of the Last Day. At a time when God sees fit, which is known only to Him, this world will be brought to an End in a terrifying cosmic cataclysm frightful beyond imagination.And on that awesome Day of Judgment, the bodies of the dead will be raised from their graves and rejoined with their souls, while those who were alive on earth at that time will die and be joined to this assembly. All men, past and present, will then stand before God, each one as totally alone and helpless as when he came into the world, to render their accounting:

"When the sky is rent asunder and attentive to its Lord in fear, And when the earth is flattened out and has cast forth all that was Within it and become empty, and attentive to its Lord in fear. O thou man! Verily thou art ever laboring on laboriously toward thy Lord, and thou shallot meet Him. Then he who is given his Record In his right hand will surely receive an easy reckoning and will Return to his people joyfully. But as for him who is given his Record behind his back, he will invoke destruction and will be Thrown to scorching Fire. Verily, he lived among his people Happily; truly he did not think that he would have to return (to Us). Nay, but lo! his Lord was watchful of him. So I do swear by the ruddy glow of sunset, and by the night and what it envelopes, and by the moon when it is at the full, you shall surely travel from stage to stage." (84:1-19)

"Then when there comes the deafening noise, that Day a man shall flee from his brother and his mother and his father, and his wife and his children. Each one of them that Day will have enough concern (of his own) to make him indifferent to the others. Some faces that Day will be beaming, laughing; rejoicing. And other faces that: Day will be dust-stained; blackness will cover them. Those will be the deniers of God, the doers of iniquity." (80:33-42)

Then those who denied God and rejected His guidance, who devoted themselves to the worship of deities other than God, and who did evil deeds will be consigned to a fearsome and terrible abode in which their companions will be others who, like themselves, are completely alienated from God. There they will be in a state of enduring torment and agony from which there will be no respite. They will long to have another chance to return to the world to live their lives differently in the light of their present knowledge of Reality but it will be too late; the examination will be over and all the books closed, and they will have no choice but to acknowledge the justice of their destiny which is due to what their own hands wrought, in spite of all the clear warnings which were sent to guide them.

And on the Day those who disbelieve will be placed before the Fire, (they will be asked), `Is not this real?' They will say, yes, by Our Lord.' He will say, `Then taste the punishment because you disbelieved.' "(46:34)

"Verily, the sinners will be in the punishment of Hell, to remain therein. It will not be lightened for them and they will be over whelmed in despair. And We shall not be unjust to them, but it is they who have been unjust to themselves." (43:74-76)

As for those who believed in God, who obeyed and submitted to Him and lived their lives for His pleasure, and who left this life in a state of surrender to Him, a state of unutterable contentment and satisfaction awaits:

"O My servants, no fear shall be on you that day nor shall you grieve - those who have believed in Our signs and submitted. Enter the Garden, you and your wives, in rejoicing." (43:68-70)

"Those who believe and do righteous deeds, they are the best of creatures. Their reward is with their Lord: Gardens of Paradise beneath which rivers flow. They will dwell therein forever, God well-pleased with them and they with Him. This is for those who hold their Lord in awe." (98:7-8)

These two states, Heaven and Hell, will be experienced in physical form by the new bodies with which God will raise men up; they are not merely spiritual or psychic states. And while we do not know their exact nature, the Qur'an tells us that the inhabitants of Heaven will experience some things which will remind them of their life on earth, that the happiness and beauty of it will far exceed anything one can imagine, and that the ultimate triumph and bliss for those who have attained Paradise will be in nearness to their Lord. As for those who have deserved Hell, theirs will be a temporary or permanent state of torture depending on their inner condition and the nature and extent of their sins. The Qur'an describes Hell as a state of intense, fearful burning and agony without respite, among the most horrifyingly loathsome surroundings and companions. But the most awful part of the suffering of its inhabitants will be the terrible, inescapable awareness that this is the destiny which they deserved and brought upon themselves by rejecting God and ignoring the guidance which He had conveyed to them through His messengers.

This clear reality of the future Life is always before the mind and consciousness of the devout Muslim. It is this awareness which keeps the present life, in the midst of the most intense happiness and the deepest pain alike, in perspective: the perspective of a passing, temporary abode in which one has been placed as a test in order to qualify and prepare himself for his future Home. This perspective is essential for the maintenance of mental balance and stability amidst the difficulties of life. Yet no Muslim, even the best among them, imagines that he is guaranteed Paradise; on the contrary, the more conscientious and God-fearing one is, the more he is aware of his own short comings and weaknesses. Therefore the Muslim, knowing that God alone controls life and death, and that death may come to him at anytime, tries to send on ahead for his future existence such deeds as will merit the pleasure of his Lord, so that he can look forward to it with hope for His mercy and grace.

"When the sky is cleft asunder, when the stars are dispersed, when the oceans burst forth and the graves are overturned, a soul will know what it has sent ahead and kept back. O man, what has made thee careless concerning thy Lord, the Bountiful, He Who created thee, then fashioned thee and then proportioned thee? In whatever form He wills, He casts thee. Nay, but they deny the Judgment. And verily, over you are guardians (angels), generous ones, recording; they know all you do. Verily, the righteous ones

will be in bliss, and verily, the wicked will be in the Fire. They will enter therein on the Day of Judgment and will not be able to keep away from it. And what will convey to thee what the Day of judgment is? Again, what will convey to thee what the Day of Judgment is? A day when no soul shall have any power whatsoever for (another) soul. The command that Day will be (wholly) with God." (82:1-19)

"The likeness of the life of this world is as the rain which We send down from the sky. By its mingling arises the produce of the earth from which men and animals eat. (It grows) until, when the earth is clad with its ornaments and is decked out, and its people deem that they are the masters of it, Our command comes to it by night or by day, and We make it like a clean-mown harvest as if it had not flourished yesterday. Thus do We explain the signs,(of God) for people who reflect. And God calls to the Abode of Peace. He guides whom He pleases to a straight path. To those who do right is a goodly (reward) and more (than that). No darkness nor shame shall cover their faces. These are the people of the Garden; they will abide therein. But those who have earned evil will have a reward of like evil; darkness will cover them. No protector will they have against God, as if their faces had been covered with pieces from the depths of darkness. They are the people of the Fire; they will abide therein." (10:24-27)

6. The Divine Decree

"What God grants to men out of his mercy, no one can withhold, and what He withholds no one can grant apart from Him. And He is the Powerful, the Wise." (35:2)

"No misfortune can befall on earth or in yourselves but is recorded in a Book (of God's decrees) before God brings it into existence." (57:22)

The final article of faith in Islam is belief in God's decree. This is known in Arabic as Qada wa Qadar, meaning the "measure" of what is ordained by God and His "plan."

Since the entire scheme and plan of creation is under the direction and control of the Almighty Creator and Sustainer, everything that is or that happens in the universe, from the smallest to the greatest events, is governed by God's will, an integral part of His eternal plan. Nothing can take place without His ordaining it, nor is there such a thing as a random, chance event.

Perhaps the meaning of this can best be illustrated by an example. To many people the miraculous events which are reported in the Qur'an or the Bible, or the possibility of revelation from God to mankind, may seem unimaginable, mere superstition or fables because, according to their understanding of Reality, "God does not intervene in human affairs;" the same sort of argument is often used- and has been since the beginning of time - to justify man's disbelief in the guidance brought by the prophets, the Afterlife, and so on. The Muslim, on the other hand, possesses the clear certainty that God is absolutely real and that He is continuously active in all of His creation, including the world of men. All that exists or takes place, therefore, is the expression of His will, from the behavior of each atom of matter to the large-scale occurrences of human history to events of cosmic proportions. And since all of it is His, determined by His permission and decree, nothing that happens can ever be understood as intervention" or "supernatural," or as a random, chance event devoid of meaning and purpose, whether it happens in the world of nature or in the world of men. In human life, ease and suffering alike, and the events which produce them, equally have a purpose and meaning, and are equally a part of God's infinitely wise plan for His creation.

Such a belief gives the Muslim a tremendous degree of inner certainty, confidence and peace of heart, especially in the face of afflictions, for he knows that since everything is under the control of the All-Wise, Most-Merciful God, the circumstances of his life are likewise under His control and direction, and hence are not without a reason and a purpose. Moreover, he lives with the assurance that whatever is to come to any individual, including death, cannot fail to come at its appointed time nor is it to be withheld by any means, while conversely, nothing which God has not decreed for him can be brought about by any means whatsoever.

This inner certainty frees the Muslim from fear of anyone or any thing other than God, for he knows that no one has the slightest power either to injure or to benefit him without His leave. If God decrees some good for him, no one can keep it away, and at the same time, if He decrees some harm for one, no one has the power to avert it except Him. The Qur'an expresses this very succinctly:

"Say: `Who guards you in the night or in the day from the Merciful?' . . Or do they have gods who can shield them from Us? They cannot help themselves nor can they be defended from Us." (21:42-43)

And the Prophet (peace be on him) said:

"When you ask anything ask it from God. and if you seek help seek help in God. Know that if the people were to unite to do you some benefit they could benefit you only with what God had recorded for you, and that if they were to unite to do you some injury they,could injure you only what God had recorded for you." (Hadith)

For God alone is the source of benefit or harm, and turning to anyone or anything other than Him for protection and help when everything "other" is itself dependent on His will is not only utterly futile but wrongfully attributes to others powers which God alone possesses, thereby distorting the accurate perception of Reality.

In any situation, Islam teaches, the task of a human being is to make a sincere effort, to strive, to do his best-not, as is so often incorrectly stated, simply to sit back and let things take their course in blind resignation to some supposed "fate" or "destiny"; for a human being does not know and cannot know wherein his destiny lies, and until he has exhausted all possible means and what is inoccurs, he cannot be said to have encountered that destiny. But then whatever God decides, whatever comes to one after all his efforts have been made, should be received with patient and trusting acceptance of what He in His infinite wisdom has seen fit to send, and with the exception that it may prove to be a source of good and ultimate blessing in the broader perspective of the Life-to-Come

Belief in the Divine decree is thus a statement of belief in the meaningfulness and purposefulness of all that is, an essential part of the Muslim's sense of total trust, dependence and submission in relation to his Creator.

On these basic beliefs, then, the Islamic faith rests: the Oneness of God (Allah); the scriptures revealed by Him for the guidance of mankind; God's messengers, the prophets; the angels, His emissaries and agents; the Hereafter: the Day of Judgement, the resurrection, and the states of Heaven and Hell; and God's all-wise, all-powreful decree

"The Prophet believes in what has been revealed to him from his lord, and so do the believers. They all believe in God, His angels, His scriptures and His messenger, making no distinction among His prophets. And they say, 'We hear and we obey. Grant us Thy forgiveness, our Lord, and unto Thee is the journeying.' "(2:285)

 
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