By Khurshid Ahmad
Islam is the religion of truth. It is the embodiment of the code of life which God, the Creator and the Lord of the universe, has revealed for the guidance of mankind.
For the proper development of human life man needs two kinds of things, viz.: (a) resources to maintain life and fulfill the material needs of the individual and society, and (b) knowledge of the principles of individual and social behavior to enable man to have self-fulfillment and to maintain justice and tranquility in human life.
The Lord of the universe has provided for both of these in full measure. To cater for the material needs of man, God has provided nature with all kinds of resources, which lie at the disposal of man.
To provide for his spiritual, social and cultural needs, God raised His prophets from among men and revealed to them the code of life which can guide man’s steps to the Right Path.
This code of life is known as Islam, the religion preached by all the prophets of God.
The Quran says:
He has ordained for you (O Muhammad) that faith which He commended to Noah, and that which We commended to Abraham, Moses and Jesus, saying: “Establish the Faith, and be not divided therein.” (Ash-Shura 42:13)
Say, we believe in God, and in the revelation given to us, and to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob and the Tribes. We believe in the revelation that was sent to Moses, Jesus and all other Prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction between them, and unto Him we surrender. (Aal `Imran 3:83. See also Al-Baqarah 2:136)
Also we read in the Quran:
He has revealed to you (O Muhammad) the scripture with truth, confirming that which was revealed before it even as He revealed the Torah and the Gospel, before as a guide to mankind and has revealed the Criterion (of judging between right and wrong). (Aal `Imran 3:3-4).
All of the prophets called humanity to the way of the Lord, the way of submission to Allah. All of them gave the same message; all of them stood for the same cause, Islam.
What Is the Meaning of Islam?
The other literal meaning of the word Islam is ‘peace’ and this signifies that one can achieve real peace of body and of mind only through submission and obedience to Allah.
Such a life of obedience brings peace of the heart and establishes real peace in society at large.
Those who believe and whose hearts find rest in the remembrance of Allah – indeed it is in the thought of Allah alone that the heart of man really finds rest – those who believe and act righteously, joy is for them, and a blissful home to return to. (Ar-Ra`d 13:28-29)
This message was preached by all the prophets of God, who guided man to the right path. But man not only veered away from the right path again and again, but also lost or distorted the code of guidance which the prophets had bequeathed.
That was why other prophets were sent to re-state the original message and guide man to the right path.
The last of these prophets was Muhammad (peace be upon him), who presented God’s guidance in its final form and arranged to preserve it for all time.
It is this guidance which is now known as al-Islam and is enshrined in the Quran and the life-example of the Prophet.
The basic Islamic concept is that the entire universe was created by God, whom Islam calls Allah and who is the Lord and the Sovereign of the Universe. He is the Lord of the universe which He alone sustains. He created man and appointed for each human being a fixed period of life which he is to spend upon the earth.
Allah has prescribed a certain code of life as the correct one for him, but has at the same time conferred on man freedom of choice as to whether or not he adopts this code as the actual basis of his life.
One who chooses to follow the code revealed by God becomes a Muslim (believer) and one who refuses to follow it becomes a kafir (non-believer).
A man joins the fold of Islam by honestly believing in and professing faith in the unity of God and the Prophethood of Muhammad (peace be upon him).
Both these beliefs are epitomised in the Kalimah: La ilaha illallahu Muhammad ur-Rasullullah. (‘There is no God except Allah; Muhammad is His Prophet’.)
The first part of this Kalimah presents the concept of Tawhid (unity of God) and its second part affirms the Prophethood of Muhammad (peace be upon him).
Tawhid: The Bed-Rock of Islam
Tawhid is a revolutionary concept and constitutes the essence of the teachings of Islam. It means that there is only One Supreme Lord of the universe. He is Omnipotent, Omnipresent and the Sustainer of the world and of mankind. How can one observe the inexhaustible creativity of nature, its purposefulness, its preservation of that which is morally useful and destruction of that which is socially injurious, and yet fail to draw the conclusion that behind nature there is an All-Pervading Mind of whose incessant creative activity the processes of nature are but an outward manifestation?
The stars scattered through the almost infinite space, the vast panorama of nature with its charm and beauty, the planned waxing and waning of the moon, the astonishing harmony of the seasons – all point towards one fact: there is a God, the Creator, the Governor.
We witness a superb, flawless plan in the universe – can it be without a Planner?
We see great enchanting beauty and harmony in its working – can they be without a Creator?
We observe wonderful design in nature – can it be without a Designer?
We feel a lofty purpose in physical and human existence – can it be without a Will working behind it?
We find that the universe is like a superbly written fascinating novel – can it be without an Author?
Truly, Allah said:
O Mankind: worship your Lord, who created you and those before you, so that you may ward off evil. Who has appointed the earth a resting place for you, the sky a canopy; and who causes water to pour down from the heavens, thereby producing fruits as food for you? So, do not set up rivals to Allah, when you know better. (Al-Baqarah 2:21-22)
This is the basic tenet to which Muhammad (peace be upon him) asked humanity to adhere.
It is an important metaphysical concept and answers the riddles of the universe. It points to the supremacy of the law in the cosmos, the all-pervading unity behind the manifest diversity.
It presents a unified view of the world and offers the vision of an integrated universe. It is a mighty contrast to the piecemeal views of the scientists and the philosophers and unveils the truth before the human eye.
After centuries of groping in the dark, man is now coming to realize the truth of this concept and modern scientific thought is moving in this direction. (See Francis Mason (Ed.), The Great Design, London: Duckworth.)
But it is not merely a metaphysical concept. It is a dynamic belief and a revolutionary doctrine. It means that all men are the creatures of one God – they are all equal.
Discrimination based on color, class, race or territory is unfounded and illusory. It is a remnant of the days of ignorance which chained men down to servitude. Humanity is one single family of God and there can be no sanction for those barriers.
Men are one – and not bourgeois or proletarian, white or black, Aryan or non-Aryan, Westerner or Easterner.
Islam gives a revolutionary concept of the unity of mankind. The Prophet came to unite humanity on the word of God and make the dead live again. Allah says:
Hold tight to the rope of God, altogether and never let go again. Remember God’s gifts and blessings unto you all, when you were enemies; remember how He forged your hearts together in love, and by His grace, you became brethren. (Aal `Imran 3:103)
This concept also defines the true position of man in the universe. It says that God is the Creator, the Sovereign; and that man is His vicegerent on the earth. (Al-Baqarah 2:30-39)
This exalts man to the noble and dignified position of being God’s deputy on earth and endows his life with a lofty purpose; to fulfil the Will of God on earth. This will solve all the perplexing problems of human society and establish a new order wherein equity and justice and peace and prosperity will reign supreme.
The starting point of Islam is this belief in the Unity of God (Tawhid).
Prophethood and Life After Death
The second part of the Kalimah, on the other hand, signifies that God has not left man without any guidance for the conduct of his life. He has revealed His Guidance through His prophets and Muhammad (peace be upon him) was the last Prophet.
And to believe in a prophet means to believe in his message, to accept the Law which he gave and to follow the Code of Conduct which he taught.
Thus the second basic postulate of Islam is to believe in the Prophethood of Muhammad (peace be upon him), to accept the religion which he presented and to follow his commands.
Every prophet of God, according to the Quran, strove to build man’s relationship with God on the principle of God’s sovereignty and the acknowledgement of the authority of the prophet as source of divine guidance. Every one of them said: ‘I am to you God’s apostle, worthy of all trust. So be committed to God, fear Him, and obey me.’ (Al-Qur’an, 26:107-108; 110; 125-126; 131; 143-144; 150; 162-163; 178-179)
The Guidance is revealed through the prophets. It is a part of their mission to translate that into practice, in their own lives and in the society they try to reform. All the prophets are representatives of God, but they are human beings and their lives are models for mankind.
Muhammad (peace be upon him) is the last prophet and as such the final model for mankind. To believe in him means to accept his authority as representative of the Supreme Ruler and to follow his example in thought and behavior.
The code of behavior, the law which is to decide the rightness or otherwise (halal and haram) of things, is given by God through the prophet and is known as the Shari`ah. Belief in the prophet involves acceptance of the Shari`ah, the Path, he has conveyed and to implement that in all walks of life. This is how the Will of God is fulfilled on the earth. (6. Jesus, like other prophets, presented the same message. This is what he aims at when he says: ‘Thy Kingdom come. Thy Will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.’ New Testament, St. Matthew, 6:10)
The Qur’an said:
Every Messenger who was sent by Us was sent for the purpose that he should be obeyed under the sanction of Allah. (An-Nisaa’ 4:69)
And about the last prophet it is explicitly stated that:
Nay, O Muhammad: by your Lord, they will not be believers until they accept you as the final arbiter in all their disputes and submit to your decision whole-heartedly without any heartache. (An-Nisaa’ 4:65)
The test of acceptance of God and His prophet lies in conducting all human affairs in accord with the Law revealed by them.
And those who do not make their decisions in accordance with that revealed by Allah, they (in fact) are the disbelievers. (Al-Ma’idah 5:44)
Thus, belief in God and His prophet means commitment to obey them and to fashion individual and collective life in the light of the Law and Guidance provided by them.
This automatically raises the question: Would those who follow the law and those who refuse to accept it or abide by it be at the same level of existence? Are they going to be treated in the same way or differently? What would be the consequences of differing attitudes and behaviors?
This brings us to the third basic postulate of Islam: belief in the Hereafter.
The world, according to Islam, is a place of trial and man is being judged in it. He will have to give account of all that he does herein. Life on the earth will, one day, come to an end, and after that a new world will be resurrected.
It will be in this Life-after-death that man will be rewarded or punished for his deeds and misdeeds. Those who live in the present world a life of obedience to the Lord will enjoy eternal bliss in the hereafter and those who disobey His commands will have to garner the bitter fruits of their disobedience.
According to the Quran:
And every man’s deeds have We fastened around his neck, and on the day of Resurrection will We bring forth a book which shall be proffered to him wide open: “Read your record: This day there need be none but yourself to make out an account against you.” (Al-Israa’ 17:13-14)
Whosoever will come with a good deed, for him there shall be the like of it tenfold, while whosoever will come with an ill-deed, he shall be requited with only one like it, and they shall not be treated unjustly. (Al-An`am 6:160)
Thus, the basic principles of Islamic faith are three, viz.: a. Belief in the Unity of God; b. Belief in the Prophethood of Muhammad (peace be upon him) and in the guidance which he bequeathed; and c. Belief in the Life-after-death and in man’s accountability before God on the Day of Judgement. Whoever professes these beliefs is a Muslim. And all these concepts are epitomised in the Kalimah: ‘There is no God but Allah; Muhammad is His Prophet.’
Source: This article is taken from the book of Islam: Its Meaning and Message, edited by Khurshid Ahmad, and published by the Islamic Foundation, third edition, 1999.