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ISLAM: ITS MEANING AND SIGNIFICANCE

Islam is often referred to as Muhammadanism by Western orientalists. But it is wrong to use these two terms as synonyms. Western orientalists have committed this mistake because they are used to call a religion after the name of its founder, Budhism, Christianism, Zorastrianism, etc. So in dealing With Islam, they applied the same principle of the religion propagated by Prophet Muhammad and began calling it Muhammadanism. In fact, the name of the religion, as stated in the Quran, is Islam ; and the name given to those who follow it is a Muslim. So that far from the religion being named after its founder, the latter is himself called a Muslim. All the Prophets of Allah are spoken of in the Quran as being Muslims, and the religions they taught as Islam, the only difference between them and Muhammad being that they were the teachers of that religion among different nations in different times whereas the latter was its last exponent and his message is for all the peoples of the world and for all times to come. One of the most striking characteristics of Islam is that it enjoins upon its followers to believe in all the revealed religions of the world and in all the Prophets as the Prophets of Allah.

Muslims do not worship Muhammad who, according to their religion, was a Prophet divinely inspired, but a mortal man. The Quran says

"Muhammad is only (a man) charged with a mission before whom there have been others who received heavenly missions and died." 1

Never had Muhammad claimed to be the founder of a new religion, his mission was to restore the earlier religion to their pristine purity. The Quran states :

"Say : We believe in Allah and in that which has been revealed to us, and in that which was revealed to Ibrahim, and Ismael and Isaac and Jacob and the tribes, and in that which was given to the Prophets from their Lard, we do not make any distinction between any of them and to Him do we submit".2

Islamic Law embodied in the Quran and the Traditions of the Prophet cover every sphare of human life. Islam deals not only with the ways of devotion, the forms of worship of the Divine Being, the means which make man attain communion with Allah, but also, and in greater detail, with the problem of the world around us. It deals with the relations between man and man ; with his social and political life ; with the institutions of marriage, divorce and inheritance ; with the problems concerning the division of wealth and the relations of labour and capital, the administration of justice, military organization, peace and war, finance, debts and contracts with rules for the service of humanity and with hundred and one similar questions, the proper understanding which enables man to lead a happy and contented life. It lays down rules not only for individual progress, but also for the advancement of society, of nations, and of humanity as a whole.

The chief characteristic of Islam as a world religion is its simplicity, its explicitness and its highly realistic attitude towards human problems, leaning neither towards excessive optimism nor excessive pessimism, but enjoining moderation and a well balanced way of life .

Another characteristic of Islam is that in order to achieve its objective one must "enjoin good upon people and forbid them from committing wrong". Alone among the religions of the world Islam made a reality of international brotherhood in which geographical, national and racial frontiers have no place, a brotherhood founded on a common ideal and a view of life.

Islam offers the most rational solution of world social problems by ensuring to the worker the reward of his work, great or small, in accordance with the merit of the work, and also by alloting to the poor a share in the wealth of the rich. Thus while the rights of property are maintained in their fullest sense, an arrangement is made for equalising conditions by taking a part of the wealth of the rich and distributing it among the poor according to the principle of "Zakat", and also by a more or less equal division of property among heirs on the death of an owner.

In Islam there is no monasticism nor any priesthood. Muhammad said

"The retirement that becometh my followers is to live in the world and yet to sit in the corner of a mosque in the expectation of prayers".

Muslims do not believe that any priest, pastor or saint can intervene or mediate between the individual worshipper and his Creator, nor can anyone grant indulgence or absolution from sins.

Muslims believe in the immortality of the soul, and the accountability for human actions in another existence. If a bad Muslim amends and reforms by sincere repentance, Allah will forgive his sins. Allahs says

"But whoever repents after his wrongdoing and reforms, Allah will turn to him mercifully. Surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful". 3

Islam does not promise salvation to Muslims alone, but gives equal hope to the righteous and Allah-fearing of all religions. The Quran states

"Whether Muslim, Jew, Christian or Sabian, whosoever believes in Allah and in the Last Day and does good to others, verily he shall find his recompense with his Lard. For him there shall be no terror, neither any torment or suffering''. 4

Islam is against aggression, sanction is given for war only in self-defence. It orders

"Fight in the way of Allah against those who attack you, but begin not hostilities. Verily Allah loveth not the aggressors". 5

The Quran also says :

: "And if they (the enemies) indice towards peace, incline thou also to it, and trust in Allah". 6

There is no ground for the oft-repeated allegation that Islam is intolerant and was propagated by the sword. The Quran states clearly

"There is no compulsion in religion". 7

It was when its liberty and particularly its right of freedom of worship was threatened that Islam seized the sword in self-defence and held it in self-defence as it will ever do. But Islam never interfered with the dogmas of any moral faith. According to the Muslim Laws of War, those of the conquered peoples who embraced Islam became the equals of the conquerors in all respects ; and those who chose to keep their religion had to pay a tribute (called jizyah), but after that enjoyed full liberty of conscience, and were secured and protected in their occupations. In civil employment they could even become ministers of state. Non-Muslims serving in the army were exempted from payment of this tax, and could even hold high command. This tax has been much misrepresented ; it was not, as is usually stated, a tax on non-Muslims as a penalty for refusal to accept the faith of Islam ; it was paid in return for the protection given to them by the Muslim army to which they were not compulsorily conscripted like the Muslims. Non-Muslims were exempted from payment of Zakat which was compulsory for Muslims.

Islam forbids drinking, gambling, usury and all forms of vice. It introduced far-reaching changes in the social structure of the period : Muhammad said,

"Henceforth, usury is prohibited. The debtor shall return only the principal ; and the beginning will be made with the loans of my uncle Abbas, son of Abdul Muttalib" and "Henceforth the vengeance of blood is forbidden and all blood feuds abolished commencing with the murder of my cousin Ibn Rabi'a, son of Al-Harith, son of Abdul Muttalib". 8

So back as the seventh century of the Christian era, Islam abolished the horrible practice of female infanticide prevalent among the pagan Arabs, gave clear directions leading to the restriction of polygamy, restrained the unlimited rights exercised by men over their wives, and gave woman both spiritual and material equality with man.

Islam teaches that all men are equal before Allah. There is no colour or race prejudice, and no distinction between Arab and non-Arab goodness is the only criterion of worth. Muslims are not broken up by caste restrictions based on occupation or wealth, or by barriers against intermarriage. The Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca) is not a pilgrimage in the ordinary sense. It is not a visit to a place of sanctity to which miracles and superstitions are attached. It is a commemoration of a great event in the spiritual life of Ibrahim. It is a symbol of the journey of life, and an annual reenactment of the principales of equality and brotherhood. There, the rich and the poor alike appear in the congregation for worship and in the sacred precincts of the Ka'aba clad in a simple unembroidered, unstitched, white garment, with bare head and either bare foot or with an unstitched sandal.

Islam accepts the doctrines of accountability for human actions in another existence and belief in a future life. The Quran, like other sacred books, gives vivid word-pictures regarding the joys of Paradise and the sufferings of Hell.

 
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