By Ali Unal
Islam is the religion appointed by God for the welfare of mankind, individually and collectively, in both worlds. It is based on belief in and worship of God, without associating with Him any partners whatsoever.
Belief in and worship of God requires on the part of a believer deep concern with creatures, animate or inanimate. The deeper one’s belief in and submission to God is, the deeper one’s concern for all creatures. Belief in the Unity of God allows no one on the earth to enjoy and exercise absolute freedom in dealing with creatures.
Islam means salvation, peace and submission
Islam, being a word derived from the root SLM, meaning salvation and peace as well as submission, is the expression of God’s grace flowing in the arteries of the universe. Islam being the Divine system to which all creatures except man have willingly submitted themselves, there is no disorder observed throughout the universe. That is why Islam is, first of all, the religion of the universe. Everything in the universe is ‘Muslim’ for it obeys God by submission to His laws. Even a man who refuses to believe in God, or offers his worship to someone or something other than God, has perforce to be a Muslim as far as his bodily existence is concerned. For his entire life, from the embryonic stage to the body’s dissolution into dust after death, and every tissue of his muscles and every limb of his body follow the course prescribed for each by God’s law.
The principle of Tawhid (Divine Unity) in Islam implies the necessity of man’s being in harmony with the world around him
The principle of Tawhid (Divine Unity) in Islam implies the necessity of man’s being in harmony with the world around him. The vast realm of the universe, which is in submission to One God only, displays a coherence and harmony of which the human world is also a part. Although the human world is subject, in addition to the general laws of nature, to a particular set of laws special to itself, yet it is also in harmony with other laws governing the rest of the phenomena beyond it. Man, unlike his fellow creatures who tread ‘the path of nature’, is endowed with the power of free will. He carries the gift of freedom together with the obligation to harmonize his life with the rest of nature – a harmony which is also the path of his exaltation and progress. This is the path upon which God has originated the nature of mankind:
Set your face to the religion, a man of pure faith – God’s original nature in which He originated mankind. There is no changing God's creation. That is the right religion, but most men know it not. (30:30)
Islam is the universal order, the integral religion of harmony and the unique system which is able to harmonize the physical with the metaphysical, the rational with the ideal, and the corporeal with the spiritual.
Islam is the universal order, the integral religion of harmony and the unique system which is able to harmonize the physical with the metaphysical, the rational with the ideal, and the corporeal with the spiritual. All dimensions of man’s earthly life have particular places of their own within the matrix of Islam in such a way that each can perform its own function and enable man to be at peace with himself, his community and nature, and ultimately to gain happiness in both worlds.
In order to be able to harmonize his life with the rest of nature, man should, first of all, realize his own personal integrity. This requires his application of his free will to his energies to keep them within the correct limits established by God. If he does not recognize any limits to his desire, he may, for example, usurp the property of others, seek illicit sexual relations, and so on. If, again, he does not recognize any limits to the use of his intellect, he may exploit it to deceive others. That is why man’s powers must be held in check: his intellect must be exercised with ‘wisdom’, and his desire and anger restrained by lawfulness and moderation. We should remember too that man is a social being; if he does not restrain himself as demanded by God, certainly wrongdoing, injustice, exploitation, disorder and revolutions will occur in society.
God does not approve wrongdoing and disorder. He wills that human beings should live in peace and, accordingly, that justice should prevail amongst them. It is, therefore, incumbent upon those who believe in One God and worship Him faithfully to secure justice in the world. Islam calls this responsibility jihad, a term which can be rendered in English the best as struggle or striving.
Striving in the way of God
Jihad denotes, literally, doing one’s utmost to achieve something. It is not the equivalent of war, for which the Arabic and Qur’anic word is qital. It has a wider connotation and embraces every kind of striving in God’s cause. A mujahid is a person who is sincerely devoted to his cause, who uses all his physical, intellectual and spiritual capacity to serve it and employs all the force he commands in confronting any power which might stand in its way, and, whenever necessary, does not shirk risking his very life for it. All this is jihad. Jihad in the way of God is that striving in which man engages exclusively to win God’s good pleasure, and to make His Word superior to all other words.
Besides the holy struggle, the principle of amr bi’l-ma’ruf wa nahy an al-munkar (enjoining the good and forbidding the evil) seeks to convey to all human beings all the good Islam brought and call people to refrain from all evils. The Islamic community is introduced by the Qur’an as a model community, one that is required to make every effort in either communicating to mankind what the Prophet communicated to them, and in exemplifying in their own lives what the Prophet, by his own conduct, translated into actual practice: Thus, We have made you a community justly balanced, that you might be witnesses for all mankind, and the Messenger may be a witness for you (2:143).
Aspects of jihad in the way of God
The first Revelation which came to God’s Messenger was the command read!. This command, coming as it did at a time when there was nothing yet to read, meant that a believer should exercise all his faculties, intellectual and spiritual, in discerning God’s acts in the universe and His laws in the creation and operation of the universe. Through this discernment, he is to purify himself, his mind, of all the superstitions coming from ignorance and, through observation and contemplation, equip himself with true knowledge.
Reciting God’s signs, purifying the minds and hearts of people and teaching them the Book, Wisdom and what they do not know
Man is not a being composed of only the mind; God has endowed him with many faculties each of which needs satisfaction. So, while feeding his mind, on the one hand, with Divine ‘signs’ manifested in the universe, he will cleanse his ‘heart’, on the other, of all his sins. He will live a balanced life in awareness of being seen by God and continuously ask for His forgiveness. He will break, through seeking God’s forgiveness, the desires of his carnal self for forbidden things, and, through prayer, he will ask God to enable him to always do good deeds.
The command read!, thus signifies an action. For God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, it meant that, since God’s Messenger was absolutely pure in spirit and had no superstitions at all, he would have to start his mission as a Messenger of God. He was to recite to people the Revelations of God, and instruct them in His signs in the universe, and by doing that, he would purify their minds of all the superstitions of the Age of Ignorance and their hearts of all their sins. He would enlighten them, intellectually and spiritually, by instructing them in both the ‘Revealed Book of God’, the Qur’an, and His ‘Created Book’, that is, the universe:
We have sent among you, of yourselves, a Messenger who recites to you Our signs, purifies you, and instructs you in the Book and in the Wisdom, and also instructs you in what you know not. (2:151)
Men are in some sense like raw minerals to be worked upon
Men are in some sense like raw minerals to be worked upon by the Prophets, who purify and refine them by removing the seal from their hearts and ears, and by lifting the veils from their eyes. Enlightened by the Message of the Prophets, men are enabled to understand the meaning of the Divine laws of nature, which are signs of the existence and Unity of God, and to penetrate into the subtle reality of things and events. Only through the guidance of the Prophets can mankind attain the high status expected of them by God.
In addition to teaching the signs, the Prophets also instructed men in the Book and in Wisdom. As the Qur’an was the last Revelation to the Last Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, God means the Qur’an when He speaks of the Scripture, and the Sunna when He speaks of Wisdom. One must therefore follow the Qur’an and the Sunna, the example of the Prophet, if one desires to be rightly guided.
The Prophet also teaches us what we do not know and humanity will continue to learn from the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, until the Day of Judgment. We learn from him how to purify ourselves of sins. By following his way, many great saints have attained their distinctions as saints. Among them ‘Ali says that his belief in the Unseen and the essentials of Islam is so firm that even if the veil of the Unseen were lifted, his certainty would not increase. Many others such as Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani, Imam Ghazali, Imam Rabbani, Fudayl ibn ‘Iyad, Ibrahim ibn Adham and Bishr al-Khafi might well have been endowed with Prophethood, if God had not already set a seal on Prophethood.
The dark clouds of ignorance were removed from man’s intellectual horizon through the guidance of the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, and many more advances will be made in science and technology as a result of the light he brought from God.
A believer keeps his belief vigorous and active by means of striving in the way of God
A believer keeps his belief vigorous and active by means of striving in the way of God. Just as a tree keeps its leaves as long as it yields fruits and is fed from earth, so a believer can preserve vigor as long as he struggles in the way of God. Whenever you encounter a hopeless pessimist, you will soon realize that he is one who has abandoned this struggle. Whoever continues to struggle in the way of God never loses his enthusiasm and always tries to increase the scope of his activities.