By Ali Unal
Islam deals with man’s life in four categories of rights and obligations
It is an established fact that Islam is a way of life, a complete guidance for the whole of mankind covering all aspects of life. Islamic law or Fiqh is not confined only to civil and criminal matters, it also deals with administrative, economics, and social, national and international affairs. Fiqh is the knowledge, the discipline, and the science of the rights and obligations of man, and what is good and evil for him individually and collectively. Thus, the scheme of life which Islam envisages consists of a set of rights and obligations, and every human being who accepts this religion has to live by them. Broadly speaking, the law of Islam deals with man’s life in four categories of rights and obligations, or relationships: (i) man’s relationship with God, his Creator, (ii) his relationship with himself, or his own rights upon himself, (iii) his relationship with other people, and (iv) his relationship with his natural environment, or in other words, the rights of those resources which God has placed within his power and has allowed him to use for his benefit.
Man is an instinctive worshipper, although the nature of the deity worshipped or the way it is worshipped differ.
Man is an instinctive worshipper, although the nature of the deity worshipped or the way it is worshipped differ. God’s love abides in every person’s heart. Creatures by the nature of their being created have to submit to their Creator, and all creatures including man as a ‘biological entity’, are thus Muslims and have to obey the rules of creation willy nilly. Having established that God is in reality the natural deity to be worshipped by man, the Qur’an explains the right way to worship Him. It stipulates the uniformity of worship just as it stresses the unity of God, the unity of the worshipped, and the unity of worship. There must be unity between man’s worship and his attitude towards life. The deity addressed by man in his prayer and devotion is the same deity addressed while studying, earning a living, and in attempting to better conditions on earth. It is the same God applied to while eating, drinking, while communicating with his family, with other individuals, with other societies, peoples and states, whether in peace time or war: “Say: ‘Lo, my worship and my service and behavior, my living and my dying are for God, Lord of the worlds.” In all that he does, the constant reiteration of God’s name in his heart has the practical effect on recalling to him God’s commands and his individual and social responsibilities.
When this happens, something of considerable significance has occurred in a man’s life. The regular worship during his span of life provides man with an extraordinary spirit. The prescribed daily prayers (salat), for instance, consist in repeating and refreshing five times a day the belief in which he reposes his faith. The times of salat—dawn, noon, afternoon, evening and night, correspond with the five periods of man’s life, namely childhood and youth, age of maturity, old age, death, and life after death until the Resurrection. Dawn of the next day signifies the Resurrection, so each day is a complete cycle of man’s whole life in parallel with the life of the world. During each time of worship, a Muslim dissociates himself from his worldly engagements for a few moments, cleanses himself and presents himself before his Lord, seeking audience before Him. By reciting from the Holy Scripture he is elevated into a state as if he were receiving it directly from the Lord of the worlds. He asks Him again and again to enable him to follow His Chosen Path, refreshes his belief in all the pillars of faith and enlivens his memory with the fact that he has to appear before his Lord and give an account of his entire life. He unburdens himself to Him and begs His succor for all the difficulties in which he is entangled in life. Thus, the daily prayers strengthen the foundations of his faith, prepare him for the observance of a life of virtue and obedience to God, and refresh the belief from which spring courage, sincerity, purposefulness, purity of the soul, and enrichment of morals. The Qur’an states that “daily prayers (salat) prevent a Muslim from committing vices of every kind” (29:45), and the Holy Prophet regards it to be the (spiritual) ascension of a Muslim to the holy presence of God.
Then, again, a Muslim must perform his daily prayers in congregation and especially so the Friday prayers. This creates among the Muslims a bond of love and mutual understanding. This arouses in them a sense of their collective unity and fosters among them feelings of fraternity. All of them perform their prayers in one congregation and this inculcates in them a deep feeling of brotherhood. Prayers are also a symbol of equality, for the poor and the rich, the ‘low’ and the ‘high’, the rulers and the ruled, the educated and the unlettered, the black and the white, all stand in one row and prostrate before their Lord. They also inculcate in them a strong sense of collective discipline and obedience to the leader of the community. Prayers train the Muslims in all those virtues which make possible the development of a rich individual and collective life.
Islam regards man as God’s vicegerent and cannot tolerate his degradation by his submission to any kind of humiliation or oppression.
Islam regards man as God’s vicegerent and cannot tolerate his degradation by his submission to any kind of humiliation or oppressive powers. Islam is the real way to freedom and liberation. It is the religion which invites man to struggle against oppression and tyranny for his freedom and dignity. So, by prostrating before God alone, a Muslim declares that he does not bow down to any other power whatsoever. Islam is the way to real freedom, one which allows no serfdom, promises all men freedom, and independence in thought, action, property and religion, and safeguards man’s integrity as well his honor and dignity. Islam also frees man from the captivity of his lusts; sensual pleasures should not tempt and corrupt him. Drinking, permissiveness, gambling, night clubs, mixed social activities, bad movies, fornication and adultery, sex outside marriage, pornography, overspending, conspicuous consumption, arrogance, greed, etc. are all the humiliating factors for him which take his honor and dignity away and have been used by all kinds of colonialism, exploitation and imperialism. It is the daily prayer and other forms of worship such as alms-giving (zakat), which inculcate in man the will to struggle against all aspects of self-degradation.
Cardinal causes for social convulsions and disruptions
As pointed out by a contemporary Muslim thinker, two cardinal causes for social convulsions and disruptions are: (i) the idea that “let everyone work so that I could eat” and (ii) the thought that “it does not interest me if others die of hunger so long as I am full.” Islam eliminates the first of these vices through the ban of all kinds of transactions based on ‘interest and usury’, and the second through the command to pay zakat. Zakat is the bridge between the various economic levels of the society.
Zakat is the Islamic obligation which every Muslim whose financial situation is above a certain specified minimum must pay. The purpose of giving zakat is to gain God’s approval, and this is possible by serving people.
The money that we pay in zakat is not something God needs or receives. He is above any need or desire. He, in His benign mercy, promises the alms-givers manifold rewards, but there is one basic condition for being thus rewarded, and it is that when we pay in the name of God, we should not expect any worldly gains from the beneficiaries, nor aim at making our names as philanthropists. God says in the Qur’an:
Those who expend their wealth in the way of God (to help the poor) then follow not up what they have expended with reproach and injury, their wage is with their Lord, and no fear shall be on them, neither shall they sorrow. Honorable words, and forgiveness, are better than the alms followed by injury; and God is All-sufficient, All-clement. (2:262-263)
Zakat is as basic to Islam as other forms of worship, salat (the five daily prayers) and sawm (fasting). Its fundamental importance lies, in addition to its economic and social function, in the fact that it fosters in the Muslim qualities of sacrifice and rids him of selfishness and avarice.
The Muslim society has immensely to gain from the institution of zakat. It is the bounden duty of every well-to-do Muslim to help his lowly-placed, poor brethren. His actual wealth, and his share in it is very small when compared to the direct gifts of God such as the sun, rain, earth, and natural resources, so it is not to be spent solely on his own comfort and luxury -there are other rightful claimants upon his wealth, and they are the nation’s widows and orphans, the poor and the sick; those who have ability but lack the means to make their living, and those who have the faculties and intelligence but not the money with which they could become useful members of the community. Islam regards it as a great injustice to fill up one’s own stomach and coffers while thousands die of hunger or suffer the agonies of unemployment. Islam is severely opposed to such selfishness and greed. In Islam one shares one’s wealth with others and helps them stand on their own feet and become productive members of the society.
Islam was born with the unique feature of amalgamating the secular with religious, the worldly with the other-worldly, and with a clear approach to socio-economic affairs and with a well-defined administrative system
With Islam, as stated by the famous Italian orientalist Dr. Laura Veccia Vaglieri,
The spirit was liberated from prejudice, man’s will was set free from the ties which had kept it bound to the will of other men, or other so-called hidden powers, priests, false guardians of mysteries, brokers of salvation; all those who pretended to be mediators between God and man and consequently believed that they had authority over other people’s wills, fell from their pedestals.
Because the Unity of God embraces all other unities, this religion was born with the unique feature of amalgamating the secular with religious, the worldly with the other-worldly, and with a clear approach to socio-economic affairs and with a well-defined administrative system.
Man became the servant of God alone and towards other men he had only the obligations of one free man towards another. While hitherto men had suffered from the injustices of social differences, Islam proclaimed equality among human beings. Each Muslim was distinguished from other Muslims only by his greater fear of God, his good deeds, and his moral and intellectual qualities. (Apologia dell Islamismo, pp. 33-34)
The most important and fundamental principle in Islam, as often pointed out in this book, is the doctrine of Monotheism. Monotheism in Islam is not only a theological principle but it is the cornerstone of Islamic epistemology and the most basic principle of the methodology of Islam and all Islamic studies. According to this principle, authority, judgment and power belong to God. This doctrine liberates the whole of humanity from all sorts of domination, and every kind of intermediary and subjugation, and provides Muslims with a strong sense of independence. This doctrine, together with the Islamic principle of ‘Amr bi’l-ma’rouf ve‘n-nahy ani’l-munkar’ (the duty of enjoining, spreading and encouraging good and forbidding evil) provides Muslims with the legal, spiritual, social, theological and ethical justification to establish a Divine order.. Islam never approves imperialism, dictatorship, colonialism, oppression, tyranny, power politics, authoritarianism, totalitarianism, theocracy, oligarchy and monarchy.
Main principles of Islamic way of administration
- The foremost feature of the Islamic administration is that its subjects should have implicit faith in God, and it should be clearly understood that Government has no absolute power over them, nor are they its slaves.
- The main objective of the Islamic administration is to establish and promote the virtues approved by God as well as prevent and suppress the vices disliked by Him. It is for this reason that righteousness and respect for God should be displayed in the character of the head of the Islamic government. Government employees, judges and military officers should imbibe this spirit and, in turn, infuse it into the Muslim society.
- The rule of the law is indispensable to an Islamic social order. The Holy Prophet of Islam was sent with the Book, the Constitution of a Muslim community, and the Balance, the Divine standard in conformity with which Authority puts the Book into practice so that the people subsist by absolute justice. Nobody could be above the law in a Muslim society, nor could they transgress its limits. It should be enforced for all without any discrimination, the courts being free from outside pressure. History has witnessed that most of the Muslim caliphs set up the best examples, adhering to this principle. In spite of enjoying more powers than kings of the past and presidents of the present, they adhered strictly to the law. Friendship and nepotism never induced them to ignore the prescribed rules and regulations, nor did their personal displeasure cause harm to any one against the cannons of the Islamic Law.
Men make their own history and are responsible for their own condition individually and socially.
- Justice and the rule of the Law being the foremost articles of the Islamic constitution, it falls to the subjects to obey the government since Islam is strictly opposed to anarchy and social disorder. This, however, does not mean that the subjects must obey their rulers in every instance. The Prophet is reported to have said: “There is no obedience in sin”, but the failure to obey does not mean it is necessary to break out in revolt against the government. Rather it means that Muslim individuals of the community are responsible for their own felicity and salvation. “God does not change the state of a people unless they change themselves.” Men make their own history and are responsible for their own condition individually and socially, thus advice and preaching should always come before revolt.
- Another important article in this constitution is the establishment of an advisory system of government. Advice of the learned, of pious persons and persons of sound judgment and expert knowledge enjoying the confidence of the people is always to be sought, and these persons, in turn, are expected to speak out and express their opinions according to the dictates of their conscience with precision and integrity. This advisory system is so important to a Muslim community that God speaks of the first, exemplary Muslim community as “a community whose affair is by counsel between them” (42:38) in praise of them. This importance becomes more explicit when the fact that this first community was led by the Prophet himself is taken into consideration, who “never spoke out of caprice and on his own authority but spoke what was revealed to him by God” (53:2-3). God again shows the importance He attaches to the advisory system or counsel by ordering His beloved Messenger (peace be upon him) to counsel with his companions in the affair (3:159) Even after the reverse the Muslims experienced at the Battle of Uhud due to the disobedience of some Muslims’ soldiers to the Prophet’s orders, He instructs it. The Prophet and his rightly-guided successors never avoided counsel where and when it was necessary. Thus, counsel is one of the cornerstones of an Islamic government.
Many affairs are settled through counsel or consultation in Islam. A judge settles through consultation a case about which he cannot arrive at an established verdict in accordance with the Qur’an and the Sunna, thus consultation, like ijtihad and analogy, is one way of reaching a judgment. Further, any punishment which is of a secondary nature, and not explicitly decreed in the Qur’an and the Sunna can be given by the judge after consultation with authoritative Muslim jurists.
- Formation of government with free consent, in other words, free consultation of the people, is one of the basic principles of Islamic constitution. Nobody should employ force to secure power for himself. The people should entrust power to the best among the candidates after consultation among themselves, and each of the true successors to the Prophet came to power according to this prescribed procedure. Although a system of Sultanate replaced this ideal system following the resignation of Hasan, the Son of Ali ibn Abi Talib, most of the Muslim rulers remained faithful and obedient to the law and dictates of the Islamic constitutional system. Lastly, through consultation again, the people or their scholarly representatives should be able to make the ruler abdicate when he deviates from the Right Path.
- Another article of the constitution provides for freedom of opinion. Furtherance of virtue and suppression of evil has been enjoined by Islam not only as the right of Muslims, but their essential duty. Freedom of conscience and speech is the pivot on which the Islamic society and the administration function in the right direction. The people have the liberty to find fault with the most prominent among the Muslims when they go astray, and have the right to be out-spoken in all matters.
- The last article of Islamic constitution which we would like to mention in the narrow scope of this book is that the Public Treasury is God’s property and a Trust of the Muslims. Nothing should be received except through lawful sources and nothing should go out except for lawful purposes. The ruler enjoys only so much jurisdiction over it as a trustee has over the property of a minor orphan under his custody:
If he is rich, let him abstain altogether, if poor, let him consume it reasonably. (4:6)
The ruler is bound to account for the income and expenditure of the Public Treasury and the Muslims have every right to ask him for a full account of income and expenditure.
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