THE PRINCIPLES OF DIVINE LAW
Our discussion of the fundamentals of Islam will remain incomplete if we do not review the law of Islam. We must study its basic principles. We must try to visualize the type of man and society which Islam wants to produce. In this chapter we propose to study the principles of Divine Law so that our picture of Islam can become complete and we can appreciate the superiority of the Islamic way of life.
Man has been endowed with countless powers and skills and Providence has been very bountiful to him in this respect. He has intelligence and wisdom, will and free choice, the ability to see, speak, taste, touch and hear. He has powers of strength, quickness, and agility, passions of love, fear and anger. All these are of the utmost use to him and none of them is unnecessary or in excess. These faculties have been given to man because he needs them desperately. They are indispensable to him. His life and success depend upon the proper use of these powers. They are given to him by God and are meant for his service and unless they are used in full measure, life cannot become worth living.
God has also provided man with the means and resources which were needed to put his natural abilities to use and to achieve the fulfillment of his needs. The human body has been so constructed that it is man’s greatest tool in his struggle for the fulfillment of the goals of life. Then there is the world in which man lives. His environment and surroundings contain resources of every description, resources which he uses to achieve his objectives. Nature and all that is within her have been harnessed for him and he can make every conceivable use of them. There are also other men of his kind so that they may cooperate with each other in the construction of a better and more prosperous world.
Now reflect deeply upon this phenomenon. These powers and resources have been given to you so they may be used for the good of others. They have been created for your good and are not meant to harm or destroy you. Their function is to enrich life with the good and the pure and not to throw it into jeopardy. Thus, the proper use of these powers is that which makes them beneficial to you. Even if there be some harm, it must not exceed the unavoidable minimum. This alone would amount to the proper use of these resources. Any action which results in waste and destruction is simply wrong, unreasonable, uncalled for. If you do something that causes destruction or injury, this would be a mistake, pure and simple. If your actions hurt others and make you a nuisance to them, this would clearly be foolishness. It would be a total misuse of God-given powers. Such actions are flagrantly unreasonable, for it is human reason itself which demands that destruction and injury must be avoided and the path of gain and profit be pursued. Any deviation from this would obviously constitute a wrong course.
Keeping this in mind, when we look at human beings, we find there are two kinds of people. First, there are those who knowingly misuse the skill God gave them and through this misuse, waste their resources, injure their own vital interests, and hurt other people. Then there are those who are sincere and earnest but make mistakes out of ignorance. Those who intentionally misuse their powers are wicked,
generate evil and deserve the powerful club of law for their control and reform. Those who err because of ignorance need knowledge and guidance, so they can see the Right Path and make the best use of their abilities. It is this system of behavior — the Divine Law — which God revealed to mankind that fulfills this very need.
The Divine Law makes God’s regulations very clear and specific and thus provides guidance for the regulations of how man should live. Its objective is to show man the best way and provide him with the method to fulfill his needs in the most successful and beneficial way. The Law of God is out and out for your benefit. Nothing in it tends to waste your talents or suppress your passions and desires. Nothing in it seeks to kill your normal urges and emotions. It does not plead for asceticism. It does not say: Abandon the world, give up all ease and comfort, leave your homes and wander about in plains and mountains and jungles without bread or clothes, putting yourself through inconveniences and self-annihilation. No, certainly not. This viewpoint has no relevance to Islam, for Islam is that system created by the All- Knowing God for the benefit of mankind. Its laws are created by that very being Who harnessed everything for man’s use. He would not wish to ruin His creation.
He has not given man any power that is useless, not has He created anything in the entire universe which is not of service to man. Rather, it is His explicit will that the universe — this grand workshop with its diversified activities — should go on functioning smoothly so that man — the prize of creation — can make the most productive use of his potential. It is His will that man should use everything provided for him in the earth and high heavens. He should use them in a way that he and His fellow human beings can reap handsome prizes from them. Never should they intentionally or unintentionally harm any of God’s creation. The Divine Law is made to guide man’s direction in this respect. It forbids all that is harmful to man and allows all that is useful and beneficial to him.
What this Law basically says is that man has the right, and in some cases the absolute duty, to fulfill all his genuine needs and desires. He should make every conceivable effort to promote his interests and achieve success and happiness. But, and it is an important but, he should do all this in a way that the interests of others are not jeopardized. No harm should befall others as they work towards their objectives. All possible social cohesion, assistance, and cooperation should be accomplished in the achievement of their objectives. There are some circumstances in which good and evil or gain and loss are irreversibly bound together. The attitude of the Divine Law in relation to this is to accept a little harm for the sake of gaining greater benefits. It also allows for the sacrifice of some benefit to avoid greater harm. This is the basic approach of the Divine Law in all fields of life.
Now we know that man’s knowledge is limited. Every man in every age does not by himself know what is good and what is evil, what is helpful and what is harmful to him. The sources of human knowledge are too limited to provide him with the clear truth. This is why He revealed the law which is the correct and complete system of life for the entire human race. The merits and truths of this system are becoming more apparent with the passage of time. A few centuries ago, many of its advantages were hidden to the eye. They have now become clear with the increase in knowledge. Even today, many do not appreciate all the merits of this system. But as knowledge progresses, new light is gained and brings their superiority into clear perspective. The world has no choice but to drift toward the Divine System
— many of those who refused to accept it are now obliged, after centuries of groping and trials, to adopt some of its provisions. Those who denied the truth of the revelation and pinned all hope on unguided reason, after committing blunders and courting bitter experience, are adopting in one way or the other the rules of Divine Law. But at what a cost! — And even then, they are not using it in its entirety.
In contrast, there are people who put their trust in God’s Prophets, accept what they say, and adopt the Divine Law they taught. They may not be aware of all the merits of a certain instruction, but on the whole, they accept a code which is the outcome of true knowledge. They accept a system of laws which saves them from the evils and blunders of ignorance. They put their trust in a system of truth rather than placing their hopes on trial and error. Such are the people who are on the right track and are bound to succeed.
THE DIVINE LAW: Rights and Obligations
The scheme of life which Islam envisions consists of a set of rights and obligations. Broadly speaking, the law of Islam imposes four kinds of rights and obligations on every man.
1) The rights of God upon man; 2) Man’s rights upon himself; 3) The rights of other people over him~ 4) The rights of those powers and resources which God has put at man’s service. These rights and obligations form a very important part of Islam. It is the duty of every true Muslim to understand their significance and earnestly put them into practice. All of them have been discussed clearly and in detail by the Divine Law. The method by which these obligations can be performed is also provided. This is so that all of them can be put into practice at the same time and none of them gets violated or trampled under foot. We shall briefly discuss these rights and obligations so that an idea of the Islamic system of life can be formed.
I. THE RIGHTS OF GOD
First we must study the grounds on which Islam bases the relationship of man to his Creator. The most important right God has on us is that man should have faith in Him alone. He should acknowledge His authority and associate none with Him. This is epitomized in the statement:
la ilaha illallah (there is no other god but God).
The second right God has upon us is that we accept without question and follow His guidance — the system He revealed to man — and seek His pleasure with all the energy we have. We fulfill this right by believing in His prophet and by accepting his guidance and teachings.
The third right He has on us is that we obey Him with complete honesty, and without reservation. We fulfill the needs of this by following God’s law as contained in the Qur’an and Sunnah.
The fourth right He has is that we worship Him. This is done through the acts of worship discussed earlier.
These important duties precede all other rights and, as such, they are performed even at the cost of some sacrifice to other rights and duties. For example, in performing salat or in fasting, you must sacrifice many personal rights. A man has to undergo hardships and sacrifices when correctly performing his duties to his Creator. He has to get up early in the morning for prayer, and so must sacrifice his rest and sleep. During the day, he often puts off many important activities and gives some of his time just to worship his Maker. In the month of fasting, he braces hunger and puts up with many inconveniences just to please his Lord. By paying zakat, he loses some of his wealth and demonstrates that the love of God is over and above everything else, and that the love of wealth cannot stand in its way. In pilgrimage, he undergoes sacrifices of wealth and bears the troubles of travel. And in jihad, he sacrifices money, material, and all that he has, down to his very life.
When it comes to the rights of God, fulfilling your duty may mean that others lose some of their rights. You too may have some of your interests hurt. A laborer has to leave his work when the time of salat arrives and attend to the worship of his Lord. A businessman must interrupt his business long enough to undertake the pilgrimage to Mecca.
In jihad, man takes away life and gives it solely in the cause of God. The right God has on us makes us sacrifice many things which we have in our control like wealth, time and resources. But the way the infinitely wise God has constructed the Divine Law; sacrifice of the rights of others has been reduced to the barest minimum. God has thus granted us a great deal of leeway so we can easily fulfill the rights He has upon us. Look at the flexibility He has given us to fulfill the obligation of saint. If no water is available for ablution, you can perform tayammum (dry ablution). If you are traveling, you can shorten the salat. If you are ill and cannot stand in prayer, you can perform it while sitting, and if you are too sick to sit, you can do it lying down.
Fasting follows the same rule. If you are traveling or are sick, you do not have to fast and can make up any missed days at a more convenient time. Women are exempted from fasting when they are pregnant, during their menstrual period, or during lactation. The fast must be broken at the appointed time, and without any delay. Any delay is disapproved. It is permissible to eat and drink from sunset to the break of dawn. Optional fasts are highly valued by God and He is pleased with them. But He does not want you to fast continuously and become too weak to adequately perform your ordinary occupations.
Now look at the case of zakat; only the minimum rate has been fixed by God and man is left free to spend in addition as much as he likes in the cause of God. If the minimum amount is given, the basic duty is fulfilled. But if more is spent in charity, one seeks even more of God’s pleasure. But here again He does not want us to sacrifice all that we own in charity. Nor are we to deny ourselves or our relatives the rightful pleasures and comforts of life. He does not want us to impoverish ourselves. We are commanded to be moderate in charity.
Then look at pilgrimage. Only those who are physically or financially able are required to perform it. The poor health of some and the impoverished conditions of others does not allow them to perform it. God understands these problems and in His mercy makes an exception for such people. For those capable of it, it is only required once in a lifetime, and this in any year that is convenient. If there is a war or any other situation which poses a risk of life, it can be postponed. Moreover, the parents’ permission has been made an essential condition so that in their later years they will not suffer any discomfort in your absence. All these things clearly show the importance God Almighty has given to the rights of others in contrast to His own rights.
The greatest sacrifice made in the way of God is jihad. In it man sacrifices not only his own life and belongings, but destroys those of others as well. But the Islamic principle is that we should suffer a lesser loss in order to save ourselves from a greater one. What comparison would the loss of some lives - even if it were thousands or more be to the calamity that would befall mankind as the result of the victory of evil over good. What comparison would it be to the tremendous anguish mankind would suffer if falsehood overtook truth, and if aggressive atheism won over the religion of God. Not only would the religion of God be eliminated, but the world would become the abode of evil, corruption, and perversion. Life would be disrupted from within and without. In order to prevent this greater evil, God has commanded us to sacrifice our lives and property for His pleasure. Yet He has forbidden unnecessary bloodshed. Women, children, the crippled, the old, the sick and the wounded should under no circumstances be harmed. We would be guilty of a tremendous sin if we injured them. His order is to fight only those who rise to fight. God tells us not to cause unnecessary destruction of even the enemies’ lands. Trees are not to be cut down, crops are not to be burned, and homes are not to be looted and destroyed. The defeated must be dealt with fairly and honorably. We are instructed to observe any treaties made with the enemy and we must stop fighting when they do. We must not fight them any longer once they stop their aggressive anti-Islamic activities. Thus Islam allows for only the minimum sacrifice of life, property, and the rights of others during the performance of the rights of God.
II. THE RIGHTS OF THE SELF
Next come man’s personal rights, i.e. the rights each individual has on himself.
The fact is, man is more cruel and unjust to himself than to any other creature. On the surface it seems astonishing. How can man be the most unjust precisely to himself? How can he be his own enemy? It does not seem to make sense. But deeper reflection shows that it contains a large element of truth.
The greatest weakness man has is this: When he is confronted by an overpowering desire, instead of resisting it, he succumbs to it. Then, in its gratification, he knowingly brings great harm to himself. There is the man who takes to drinking. He becomes mad after it and continues indulging in it at the cost of money, health, reputation, and everything he might have. Another is so fond of eating, that he overeats to the point of spoiling his health and endangering his life. Yet another becomes a slave to his sexual appetites and ruins himself in over-indulgence. Still another seeks spiritual elevations. He suppresses his genuine desires and refuses to fulfill his natural physical requirements. Doing away with food, clothing, and shelter, he leaves his home and retreats into mountains and jungles. He believes the world is not meant for him and he hates everything in it. These are just a few examples of man’s tendency to go to extremes and get lost in any given field. There are many other instances where people adjust poorly to everyday life and there is no need to expound on them here.
Islam stands for the welfare of man and its avowed objective is to establish a balanced life, a life which follows a middle road. Islam wants to avoid a life which follows the extremes at either end. This is why the Divine Law clearly declares that your own self has certain rights upon you.
This Law forbids the use of all things which injure man’s physical, mental, or moral existence. It forbids drinking blood or intoxicating drinks. We are told not to eat unclean animal. Pork, beasts of prey, poisonous animals, and carcasses are banned. The main reason is that all these have harmful effects upon the physical, moral, and intellectual life of man. While forbidding these things, Islam makes legal for man the use of all clean, healthy and useful things. Islam tells him not to deprive his body of clean food, for man’s body has a right upon him. Islam forbids nudity and orders man to use decent and dignified dress. It demands that he work for a living. It disapproves of laziness and makes it clear that the Muslim who works hard to earn his living is better than one who does little and earns nothing. The true message of the Divine Law is that man should use both the powers God has given him and the resources He has spread in the world for his comfort and welfare.
Islam does not believe in the suppression of sexual desires. It tells man to regulate these desires by seeking their fulfillment in marriage. It forbids him from persecuting himself, from denying himself the rightful comforts and pleasures of life. To become elevated spiritually, or to seek nearness to God, it is not necessary to abandon this world. To become saved in the life to come, there is no need to negate the life of this world. Instead, the true trial of life lies within this world, remaining in its midst and following the divine system here in this world. The road to success lies only in adhering to the Divine Law in the midst of life’s complexities and not outside it.
Islam absolutely forbids suicide and impresses upon man that life belongs to God. It is like a trust which God has bestowed upon man for a certain period of time. He gave life to each individual so he could make the best use of it — it is not meant to be spoiled and destroyed in a foolish manner. Suicide is the most outrageous and ridiculous manifestation of man neglecting the rights of his self.
III. THE RIGHTS OF OTHER MEN
Even though the Divine Law has told man to fulfill his personal needs, he must not seek their fulfillment in such a way that the rights of other people are violated. The Divine Law seeks to strike a balance between the rights of individuals and the rights of society. This is so that no conflict will arise between the two and all will cooperate in establishing the law of God.
Islam strongly forbids the telling of a lie for it defiles the liar, harms other people, and is a source of menace to society. It has totally forbidden theft, bribery, forgery, cheating, interest, and usury. The reason for this is that whatever man gains by these means is really obtained by causing loss and injury to others. Backbiting, tale-telling, slandering, maligning, gambling, lottery, speculation and all games of chance have been prohibited for in all of them one gains at the cost of thousands of others losing. All forms of exploitation in commerce where one party alone is the winner have been prohibited. Monopoly hoarding, black-marketing, withholding of land from cultivation and all other forms of individual and social aggrandizement have been outlawed. Murder, debauchery, the spreading of mischief, disorder, and destruction have been made crimes. They are made crimes because no one has the right to take away the life and property of another just so he can gain some personal gratification. Adultery, fornication and unnatural sexual indulgence have been strictly prohibited. It is common knowledge that these practices not only violate morality and impair the health of their perpetrator, but also spread corruption and immorality in society. They cause venereal diseases and ruin public health. This leads to the degeneration of the health and morals of future generations. Human relationships are upset, and the very fabric of the cultural and social structure of the community is destroyed. Islam wants to eliminate, root and branch, such abominable crimes.
Each of these limits has been imposed upon man by Islam to prevent him from encroaching upon the rights of others. Islam does not want man to become so selfish and egotistical that he unashamedly assails the rights of others and violates all standards of decency simply for the attainment of a few mental or physical pleasures. Nor does it allow him to crucify the interests of others in order to gain personal rights. The Islamic law so regulates life that the welfare of every person can be achieved. But for the sake of the welfare and cultural advancement of man, some negative restrictions are not sufficient. In a truly peaceful and prosperous society, it is not enough that there be
regulations to stop people from violating the rights of others. It is also necessary that people work together on social institutions which contribute towards the welfare of all. In this manner they can establish an ideal society. The Divine Law guides us in respect to this as well. Here is a brief summary of those rules of Islamic Law which throw light on this aspect of life.
The family is the cradle of man. Here is where man’s most important characteristics are built. For this reason, it is not only the cradle of man but the cradle of civilization as well. The Divine Law contains specific rules concerning the family. A family consists of a husband, a wife, and their children. The rules concerning the family are very explicit. Man is assigned the responsibility of earning and providing the necessities of life for his wife and children. He must protect them from all the difficulties and problems of life. The wife is assigned the duty of managing the household. Here she must train and bring up the children in the best possible manner. She must provide her husband and children with the greatest possible love and comfort. As for the children, it is their duty to respect and obey their parents and, when they are grown, to serve them and provide for their needs.
In order to make the household a well-managed and disciplined institution, Islam has adopted the following measures:
(a) The husband has been made the head of the family. No institution can work smoothly unless there is a chief administrator in it. To have a school without a principle or a city without a mayor is unthinkable. If there is no one in control of an institution, nothing but chaos would result. If every person in a family went his own way, nothing but confusion would prevail. If the husband goes in one direction and the wife in another, the future of the children would be ruined. There must be someone serving as the head of the family so that discipline is maintained. In this way, the family becomes an ideal institution of society. By giving this position to the husband, Islam makes the family a disciplined primary unit of civilization, a model for society as a whole.
(b) This head of the family has further been burdened with other responsibilities. It is his duty to earn a living, and carry out those tasks which are performed outside the household. It has freed woman from extra household duties and placed them all on the shoulders of the husband. She has been relieved from having to perform tasks outside the house so that she may devote herself to indoor duties. The reason is that now she can focus all her energies into the maintenance of the household and the rearing of children — the future guardians of the nation. Islam does not want to tax them doubly: to rear children, maintain the household, earn a living, and do outside jobs as well is asking too much of her. That obviously would be an injustice. Islam, therefore, produces a functional distribution between the sexes.
But this does not mean that women are not allowed to go out of the house. This is not the case. Women are allowed to go out when necessary. The law has specified the home as her special field of work and has stressed the great value attained if women attend to the improvement of home life. Whenever they have to go out, they can do so after observing certain formalities.
The general rule is that the sphere of the family widens through blood-relations and marriage connections. To bind together the members of the family into one unit, to keep their relations close and healthy, and to make each of them a source of support, strength and contentment to the other, Islam has provided certain basic rules. These rules may be summed up as follows:
1. Marriage between persons who have the closest association with each other has been prohibited. Relationships where marriage is forbidden are: mother and son, father and daughter, step-father and step-daughter, stepmother and step-son, brother and sister, foster brother and foster sister, paternal uncle and his niece, aunt (father’s or mother’s sister) and her nephew, maternal uncle and his niece, mother-in-law and son-in-law, and father-in-law and daughter-in-law. This prohibition strengthens the bonds of the family and makes relations between these relatives absolutely pure. They can mix with each other without restraint and with sincere affection.
2. Beyond the limits of the forbidden marriages, matrimonial relations can occur between members of related families so as to bind them still closer. Marriage connections between families which are freely associated with each other, and which therefore know each other’s habits, customs, and traditions, are generally successful. Therefore, the Divine Law not only permits them, but also encourages and prefers marriage between related families to those of entirely strange families — though this is not forbidden.
3. In a group of related families, there usually coexist the rich and the poor, the prosperous and the destitute. The Islamic principle is that man’s relatives have the greatest right on him. There is great respect for the tie between relatives. Muslims must respect this bond in every possible way. To be disloyal to one’s relatives and to be negligent of their rights is a great sin and God has disapproved of it. If a relative becomes poor, or is beset with trouble, it is the duty of his rich and prosperous relatives to help him. In zakat and other charities, special regard for the rights of relatives has been enjoined.
4. The law of inheritance is so constructed in Islam that the property left by the deceased cannot become concentrated in any one place. It is distributed in a way that all near relatives get their shares. Son, daughter, wife, husband, father, mother, brother, and sister are the nearest and their share in inheritance comes first. If these relatives are absent, shares are given to the next nearest relatives. Therefore, after a man dies, his wealth is distributed among his relatives and a fatal blow is struck at the capitalistic concentration of wealth. The law of Islam is of unique excellence, and other nations are now taking leaves out of its ledger. But the sad irony is that the Muslims themselves are not fully aware of its revolutionary potential and, in ignorance, many of them are not putting it into practice. In several parts of the Muslim world, daughters are being deprived of their share of inheritance. This is a palpable injustice and a flagrant violation of the Qur’an’s clear guidelines on this matter.
After the family comes man’s relations with his friends, neighbors, fellow-citizens, and persons with whom he comes into constant contact. Islam recognizes these relationships and tells a Muslim to treat them all honestly, equitably, and courteously. It tells the believers to be careful not to hurt others’ feelings, to avoid indecent and abusive language, and to help each other. They are to take care of the sick, support the destitute, and assist the needy and the crippled. They must sympathize with the people stricken by trouble or disaster. They must look after the orphans and the widows, feed the hungry, cloth the ragged and help the unemployed in seeking employment. Islam says that if God has given you wealth and riches, you must not squander it on luxurious frivolities. It has prohibited the use of gold and silver vessels, costly silken dresses, and wasting money on useless ventures and extravagant luxuries.
This injunction of the Divine Law is based on the principle that no man should be allowed to squander upon himself wealth that can maintain thousands of human beings. It is cruel and unjust that money which can be used to feed the starving be tossed away in useless or extravagant decorations, exhibitions, and wealth and belongings. What one has earned or inherited is beyond doubt his own property. Islam recognizes this right and allows him to enjoy it and make the best use of it. It also suggests that if you are wealthy, you should have better dress, better housing, and a decent living. But Islam wants to make sure that in all of man’s activities, the human element is not lost sight of. What Islam totally disapproves of is conceited self-centeredness. It disapproves of egotistical thinking which leads to neglecting the welfare of others and gives birth to exaggerated individualism. It wants the entire society to prosper, not merely a few stray individuals. It instills in the minds of its followers social consciousness and suggests they live a simple and sparing life. They should avoid excess in every aspect of life and strive to follow a middle road. But they are to fulfill their needs, while keeping in mind the needs of others. They should not neglect the needs of their fellow-citizens and should treat them as if they were blood brothers. This is what Islam wants to achieve.
Thus far, we have discussed the nature of man’s relationship with his closer circles. Now look at the wider perspective and see what kind of community Islam wants to establish. Everyone who embraces Islam not only enters the fold of the religion, but also becomes a member of the Islamic community. The Divine Law contains certain rules of behavior for relationships on a wider basis as well. These rules assure that the Muslims work together and help each other to perform what is good and forbids what is harmful and evil.
Rules are set up to make sure that no wrong creeps into their society. Some of these rules are as follows:
1. To preserve the moral life of the nation and to ensure that the society evolves along healthy lines, free mingling of the sexes has been prohibited. Islam wants there to be a functional division between the sexes. It provides different spheres of activity for both of them. Outside the limits of the nearest relatives between whom marriage is forbidden, men and women have been asked not to mix freely with each other, and when they come into contact with each other they should do so with proper dress. When women leave their homes, they should use simple dress and go out properly covered. Only in genuine necessity can they uncover, and there too they must cover themselves when that necessity expires. Along with this, men have been asked not to look upon women, by keeping a lowered gaze and avoiding to stare at them. If someone accidentally happens to look at a woman, let him avert his glance. To stare at women is wrong, and to seek their acquaintance is worse. It is the duty of both men and women to look after their personal morality and purge their soul of all impurities. Marriage is the proper form of sexual relationship and no one should attempt to overstep this limit or even hint at any sexual freedom. Man’s mind should be completely cleansed from such perverse ideas.
2. People are encouraged to wear decent and respectable dress. No man should expose his body from the knees to the navel. Nor should a woman expose any part of her body except her face and hands to anyone other than her husband. To keep these parts covered is the religious duty of every man and woman. Through this directive, Islam wants to cultivate in its followers a deep sense of modesty and purity. It wants to suppress all forms of immodesty, lewdness and moral deviation.
3. Islam does not approve of pastimes, entertainments and recreations which tend to stimulate sensual passions. It does not respect things which weaken and corrupt the principles of morality. Such pastimes are a sheer waste of time, money, and energy; they destroy the moral backbone of society. Recreation in itself is no doubt a necessity. It acts as a spur to activity and quickens the spirit of life and adventure. It is as important to life as water and air. Nothing could be more satisfying than to enjoy recreational activities after a hard day’s work. But recreation must be of the type that refreshes the mind and enlivens the spirit, not of the sort which depresses the soul and incites the passions. The absurd and wasteful entertainments where thousands of people witness depraving scenes of crime and immorality are the exact opposite of healthy recreation. Although they may satisfy the senses and excite the passions, their effects upon the minds and morals of the people is horrifying. They spoil their habits and morals and have no place in an Islamic society. Its culture wants nothing to do with such crude and debasing practices.
4. To safeguard the strong bond of unity and solidarity of the nation and to achieve a state of well-being for all within the Muslim community, the believers have been told to avoid mutual hostility and social dissension. Sectarianism of every type has been totally forbidden. Islam came precisely to cleanse the earth of such corrupt practices, which divide people into separate groups on the basis of language, race, color or culture. Those within the Islamic community who segregate themselves on any of these bases are committing a great crime against the religion of God. If, as is inevitable, differences do arise, the Muslims have been told to settle any disputes according to the principles laid down in the Qur’an and Sunnah. If the parties fail to reach a settlement, instead of fighting and quarreling among themselves, they should try to bury their differences in the name of God and leave the decision to Him. In matters of national concern, they should help each other for the sake of progress. Quarreling and bickering over trivial things should be avoided as a waste of useful time and energy. Such conflicts and schisms are a disgrace to the Muslim community and a potential source of national weakness. They must be shunned at all costs.
5. Islam regards science and knowledge as the common property of mankind. Islam demands that its followers seek knowledge and explore the sciences, for knowledge is the key to success. Muslims have full liberty to learn about them and use them in whatever way they can. But this is not true for the question of culture and lifestyle. Muslims are forbidden from imitating the ways of life of other people. The psychology of imitation suggests that it springs from a sense of inferiority and its net result is the cultivation of a defeatist mentality. Cultural aping has extremely negative effects on a nation. It destroys its inner vitality, blurs its vision, and befogs its skills. Breeding a national inferiority complex, it gradually but assuredly saps the very spirit of the culture and its identity. It literally sounds its death bell. This is why Muhammad has positively and forcefully forbidden Muslims from assuming the culture and way of life of non-Muslims. The strength of a nation does not lie in its dress, manners, or fine arts; its growth and strength rest in correct knowledge and helpful scientific research. It is a result of the nation’s ability to discipline itself, to use knowledge and technical accomplishments for the betterment of mankind while rejecting those arts and crafts which breed cultural slavery.
Now we come to the relations which Muslims are supposed to have with non-Muslims. In dealing with them, the believers are instructed not to be intolerant or narrow-minded. They have been told not to abuse or speak ill of their religious leaders or saints, nor say anything insulting to their religion. They must not seek disagreements with them without warrant, but are to live in peace and friendship. If non-Muslims observe a peaceful and conciliatory attitude toward the Muslims, and do not violate their territories, if they do not violate the rights of others, then they should keep friendly relations with them. They should be dealt with fairly and justly. It is the very dictate of our religion that we possess greater human sympathy and politeness than any other people. We must behave in the most noble and modest way. Bad manners, oppression, arrogance, aggression, and bigotry run counter to the inner spirit of Islam. A Muslim is born in this world to become a living symbol of goodness, nobility and humanity. He should win the hearts of people by his character and example. Only then can he become the true ambassador of Islam.
IV. THE RIGHTS OF ALL CREATURES
Now we come to the last kind of rights. God has honored man with authority over His countless creatures. Everything has been harnessed for his use. Man has the power to subdue the various creatures of the world and make them serve his purposes. This superior position gives man the authority to literally use them as he likes. But this does not mean God has allowed him to go unchecked in his use of them. Man is not given total liberty to use the creation in whatever way he wishes. Islam says that all the creation has certain rights upon man. First and foremost, he should not waste them on fruitless ventures. Nor should he hurt or destroy them unnecessarily. When he uses them to serve him, he should cause them the least possible harm.
The Islamic system contains many regulations about these rights. We are allowed, for instance, to slaughter animals for food but have been forbidden to kill them merely for fun or sport. By this, we would be depriving them of their lives unnecessarily, and this is a criminal act. In killing them for food, a method of slaughtering has been prescribed. It is the best possible method for doing so. Other methods are either more painful or spoil the meat, depriving it of some of its useful properties. Islam avoids both of these problems and suggests a method which, on the one hand, causes the animal less pain, and on the other, preserves the healthy and useful properties of the meat. Killing an animal by subjecting it to continuous pain and injury is considered abominable in Islam. Islam allows the killing of dangerous and venomous animals and beasts of prey only because it values man’s life more than theirs. But here too, it does not allow their killing through prolonged, painful methods.
Regarding beasts of burden and those used for transportation, Islam forbids man from keeping them hungry, expecting hard and intolerable work from them, or beating them cruelly. To catch birds and imprison them without any special purpose is considered abominable. Let alone animals: Islam does not approve of the useless cutting of trees and bushes. Man can use their fruits and produce, but he has no right to destroy them without warrant. Plants, after all, are alive. Islam does not allow the waste of even lifeless things. Its attitude in this respect is so firm that it strongly disapproves of the wasteful flow of too much water. Its avowed objective is to avoid waste in every conceivable form and make the best possible use of all resources, whether animate or inanimate, living or lifeless.
THE DIVINE LAW
We have attempted to offer a brief summary of Islamic law, the law which prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) delivered to mankind for all times to come. This law admits of no difference between men except in belief and action. Those religions and social systems, those political and cultural ideologies which differentiate between men on grounds of race, country, or color can never become universal systems. The simple reason is that a person who belongs to a certain race cannot be transformed into another race. Nor can a person born in a certain country ever completely absolve himself from identification with that place. Neither can the world, under such systems, condense together into one country, as the color of a black, white or yellow man cannot be changed.
Such systems and ideologies must remain confined to one race, one country, and one community. They are bound to be narrow, limited, and nationalistic. Neither can they become universal. Islam, on the other hand, is a universal system. Any person who declares belief in “there is no god worthy of worship except Almighty God and Muhammad is His last and universal Messenger” enters the fold of Islam and is entitled to the same rights as all other Muslims.
This is a revolutionary concept. It says that in an Islamic society, a Persian, an Arab, an African or an American could be the president of the nation, for the factor of eligibility as head of state would only be his commitment to God. The same would be true for a black, white or a yellow man. A man could be an immigrant, he could be of an entirely different race or nationality than the governing majority, yet still become the ruler of the nation. This could never occur in the national systems of today. One has difficulty imagining even now a member of a minority, a black or a yellow man, becoming the President of the United States of America. And it is impossible for an immigrant to even qualify as a Congressman, let alone for the highest office in the land.
Yet there is another revolutionary result of this simple statement. It raises man to the highest levels of thinking. For through it he recognizes his true direction and purpose in life. And he invokes upon himself the tremendous and immeasurable blessings and rewards of Almighty God. He gains these blessings because the realization and the implementation of this statement invoke the pleasure of God Most Great. Nothing in life could be greater than this.
Islam is not a ‘religion’ in the sense this term is commonly understood. It is a system encompassing all fields of living. Islam means politics, economics, legislation, science, humanism, health, psychology and sociology. It is a system which makes no discrimination on the basis of race, color, language or other external categories. Its appeal is to all mankind. It wants to reach the heart of every human being.
This system of law is also eternal. It is not based on the customs or traditions of any particular people and is not meant for a specific period of history. It is based on the same principles of nature upon which man was created. And since this nature remains the same in all periods and under all circumstances, since this nature cannot be changed, the law based on its principles is applicable to all times. And this universal and eternal religion is Islam.
The purpose of this book is to offer all those —Muslims and non-Muslims — who have no access to the original sources of Islam a brief but clear and comprehensive view of Islam. We have sought to avoid a discussion of minute details; We have attempted to portray the entire picture of Islam in one sweeping perspective. We have not confined this book to stating what Muslims believe in, and stand for; We have also attempted to explain the rational bases for these beliefs. Similarly, we have not only presented the Islamic methods of worship and the outlines of the Islamic way of life; We have also tried to unveil the wisdom behind them. It is our hope that this brief summary will go a long way toward satisfying the intellectual cravings of the Muslim youth, and will help non-Muslims in understanding Islam.