Maulana Wahiduddin Khan

What is Islam? This is a vast subject. In this chapter we shall give a brief account of some of its basic aspects in the light of the Quran and hadith.

True Guidance

The Quran leads us to the true guidance. In this connection, we quote a passage from the Quran:

God is He besides Whom there is no god, the Ever-living, the Self-subsisting by Whom all subsist; slumber does not overtake Him nor sleep; whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth is His; who can intercede with Him but by His permission? He knows what is before men and what is behind them, and they cannot comprehend anything out of His knowledge except what He wills. His knowledge encompasses the heavens and the earth, and the preservation of them both does not tire Him, and He is the Most High, the Great. There is no compulsion in religion; truly the right way has become clearly distinct from error; therefore, whoever disbelieves in Satan and believes in God, shall indeed lay hold of the firmest handle, which shall not break off. God is All-Hearing and all-Knowing.

God is the guardian of those who believe. He leads them from darkness to the light. As for those who disbelieve, their guardians are false gods who lead them from light to darkness; they are the inmates of the fire and in it they shall abide forever. (2:255-257)

Now, let us try to visualize the above quoted Quranic passage, in its applied form, so that we may have an idea of what kind of individual, what kind of society and what kind of State would respectively emerge, if Islam were consciously accepted and practised in letter and spirit.

A. Individual

Islam is the religion of the universe. The Quran says:

Are they seeking a religion other than God’s when every soul in heaven and on earth have, willingly or by compulsion, bowed to His will? (3:83)

This means that submission to God is the only true religion for both man and the universe. All the things on the earth or in space are following God’s commands to the letter. The revolution of the stars, the flowing of water, the growing of trees, in short, all things following the same course which was determined for them by God. Nothing is allowed to deviate from the divine path. The Quran says:

The sun is not allowed to overtake the moon, nor does the night outpace the day. Each swims along in its own orbit. (36:40)

The same is required of all human beings. Everyone should strictly obey the commands of God without any deviation or alteration. The Prophet Muhammad, may peace be upon him, has declared:

A believer with his faith is like a horse with its tether. The movement of the horse is restricted to the length of its tether. So is the case with the believer. His words and deeds are all restricted by the limitations set by his faith. (Mishkat al-Masabih, Vol. 2, p. 1226)

The true Muslim leads a highly disciplined life, always adhering to the set of do’s and don’t ordained by God Almighty. He is entirely pure in speech, and even subordinates his intention and thinking to the will of God. He always feels himself to be a servant of his Lord. The Quran depicts the true Muslim thus:

And the servants of the Beneficent God are they who walk on the earth in humbleness, and when the ignorant address them, they say: “Peace.” And they who pass the night standing and prostrating themselves before their Lord. And they who say: O our Lord! Ward off from us the punishment of hell, for surely its punishment is everlasting. Surely it is an evil abode and (evil) place to stay. And they who, when they spend, are neither extravagant nor parsimonious, but keep the golden mean. And they who do not call upon any other god besides God and do not kill, which God has forbidden, except in the requirements of justice, and (who) do not commit fornication and he who does this shall meet with evil; his punishment shall be doubled on the Day of Resurrection, and he shall abide in abasement forever; unless he repents and believes and does good deeds; for them God will change his evil deeds to good ones; and God is Forgiving, Merciful. And whoever repents and does good shall surely return to God. And they who do not bear witness to what is false, and when they hear what is profane they maintain their dignity. And they who, when reminded of the signs of their Lord, do not fall down thereat deaf and blind. And they who say: ‘O our Lord! Grant us in our wives and our offspring the joy of our eyes, and make us examples to those who fear you.’ These shall be rewarded with lofty places in paradise because they were patient, and shall be met therein with greetings and salutations. There they shall abide forever: a blessed dwelling and blessed resting place. Say (to the unbelievers): Little cares my Lord for you if you do not invoke Him. But Now that you have indeed rejected (the truth), His punishment is bound to overtake you. (25:63-77)

B. Society

The foundation of society in Islam is based on mutual well wishing. In chapter Al-Asr (The Time) the Quran says:

By the time, verily Man is in loss, except for those who believe and do good works and exhort one another to truth and to patience (103:1-3)

How should a Muslim live in a society? The answer is given in one of the hadith: “If any one of you sees an evil in society, he must rectify it by his own hand. And if he has no capacity to do so, he should do it by his tongue. And if he is unable even to discourage it, then, let him condemn the same in his own heart.” (Bukhari)

A society based on these principles will naturally be a place in which good will flourish as a result of mutual reminding, and the roots of evil, if not totally eradicated, will dry up due to public discouragement. As the truth is openly propagated and the virtue of patience is highly recommended in this society, there will definitely prevail a peaceful atmosphere which is a prerequisite for the healthy growth and development of both the individual personality and the social system at large. It is only in an atmosphere of such peaceful social order that the rights of individuals and communal harmony are ensured, and the higher values of brotherhood, cooperation and altruism are sincerely observed; and, finally, the projects of common welfare, progress and prosperity are successfully achieved.

To sum up, when the ideals of Islam are consciously put into practice by its adherents, there will emerge a society that will be appreciably more secure, free of violence and naturally cooperative, progressive, prosperous, good enhancing and evil-resisting.

C. State

What is a state? It is an organised political community under one government. Islam does not prescribe any particular form or structure of the State. Nevertheless, Islamic teachings seem to be so comprehensive that they embrace all essential issues of life including the State and its related national or international problems as well.

What is an Islamic State? A State governed by Muslims is not necessarily an Islamic state. Apart from its monotheistic doctrinal basis, an Islamic State would, in practice, be identified with the sumum bonum principle of ‘no-compulsion.’ No compulsion should be exercised, either before or after the gaining of power. For power gained through compulsion or power used for compulsion in any sphere whatsoever, particularly in religious matters, is strictly prohibited and condemned in Islam. That is why the coercive forms of States, though governed by Muslim dictators, have never been considered ideal Islamic States by the scholars of Islam. Islam, moreover, does not allow its followers to rebel against any established State, even though it may not seem to be in accordance with the Islamic Ideal. Compulsion on the part of the State should never be resisted by means of counter-compulsion, i.e. it has to be countered through negotiation, backed up by conviction. This ensures such stability of law and order as will subsequently help promote Islamic values, and this may gradually prepare a firm ground for a real Islamic State to stand on.

To establish an ideal Islamic State is not the main target of Islam, as is wrongly projected by some groups of Muslims. An Islamic State is something that may ultimately emerge from a society consisting of sincere, practising Muslims, and its government may take any workable form, —this being neither predictable nor pre-determinable. Such a State, according to the Quran (24:55), is a worldly reward of God granted to His righteous servants, when He wills, and not a direct target towards which the Muslim community must struggle.

To conclude, Islam begins when one discovers God as the ultimate truth. This results in a spiritual transformation which leads to new thinking and new sentiments —indeed to the emergence of a whole new personality. A new man is born: he is quite different from what he was before. He now becomes a combination of spirituality, compassion and tranquillity. This is like an intellectual and spiritual revolution. This inner transformation finds expression in his external behaviour, in worship, in character, in social relations, etc. To produce a person like this is the main target of Islam. All other aspects of Islam hinge on the fact that man lives in a society, and the greater the number of such individuals in a society, the greater the changes brought about at the social level. This process leads to what may be called the social system of Islam.

This revolution among individuals and society goes on developing until, conditions being favourable, it culminates in what is termed the Islamic State. This process is mentioned in the Quran:

God has promised to those of you who believe and do good works that He shall make them masters in the land as He made their ancestors before them, and that He shall certainly strengthen the religion which He has approved for them, and that He shall certainly change their fears to a feeling of security and peace. Provided they worship Me. (24:55)

In a garden it is the individual tree which has the real existence. The garden is only a collective manifestation of a number of trees. This is true also of man. In the Islamic scheme, it is the individual—who is a real part of the body of Islam while society and the State are only its relative part.

Those individuals who have undergone spiritual transformation are called “rabbani” in the Quran. Where there are “rabbani” individuals in considerable numbers, the “orchard,” that is, Islamic society, and the state, will come into existence on their own.

Category/Sub category

QURANIC VERSES2:255-2573:8336:4025:63-77103:1-324:55
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