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Reflections on Islam
Islam Is from God
From and to Allah. That is what and that is how all things are in this world. From God they all come. And to him do they all return.
So does Islam. Islam is from Allah. And it is Allah who shall decide on what happens to Islam in this world. It is he who gave the Muslims the name “Muslims” or “Muslimeen.” As the Qur’an says: Huwa sammaakumul Muslimeen.
Simply stated, Islam is the manifestation of God’s design, the working of his will, in his creation – and in the lives of human beings. It is involuntary on the part of most of his creation, while it is voluntary on the part of humans, should they choose to embrace it. And should they adhere to it, dutifully and obediently, in their day-to-day life, as a matter of rational and considered choice.
That is, as an exercise of their own free will, to the extent it exists and to the extent they are able to use and express it.
That is what Islam is.
Islam is not a “religion” in the ordinary and traditional sense of that word. It is inclusive of every single aspect of human life on earth, from the most private to the most public; from the most individual to the most collective, social and organized; at all times of day and night; all seven days of the week. Including people’s innermost thoughts and covering their most open and visible acts.
Islam Is Working of God’s Will in the Universe
If the sun, moon and stars are expressions of Islam in the universe, so is the shape of our eyes and the form of our nostrils and the structure and functioning of our brains and the coursing of blood streams through our veins.
They are all from and to Allah. And they all are expressions, evidence and proof, in what we consider to be real world, of God Almighty’s presence, power and attributes.
And in our own lives, wherever we may be living, and in whatever age.
God – the only one there is or can be – who does it all and who knows exactly what and how to do it and why. Who else can it be? The Qur’an answers that question like this: Balaa wa huwal khallaaqul ‘aleem!
He is the one – and the only one – in whom all beautiful names and attributes inhere beyond infinity and in full perfection.
For, the universe is nothing but a living and ongoing Tafseer – argument, commentary, expression, evidence and proof – of his divine attributes of beauty and perfection. All 99 of them that most Muslims have been taught in the Qur’an and Hadith. The Qur’an calls them Al-Asmaa-ul Husnaa.
These and any and all special names and attributes beyond that which God Almighty may have chosen and kept for himself in his own limitless knowledge to which no one is privy; or imparted to anyone specially selected from his creation; or sent down in any of his books and revelations.
That is what the universe is and that is what all creation is.
Who but he – regardless of by what name you may decide to call him – can be God? Laa ilaaha Illaa hoo, as the Qur’an states repeatedly. There is no God but him? How can there be?
God is witness to that fact. So are the angels. And so indeed are fair-minded and courageous scholars. This is my paraphrase of the glorious Aayat: Shahidallahu annahoo laa ilaaha illaa hoo, wal malaa-i-katu, wa oolul-ilmi qaa-i-mam bil-qist.
Thus, the universe, in its design and functioning, expresses and adheres to God’s laws and will. And it does so by the very nature of its creation – inherently and involuntarily that is.
That is what Islam is in the universe.
At the same time, Islam also is the message from God Almighty to that part of his creation that he has endowed with a measure – a modicum – of free will, to choose and implement in their lives, and to observe in all their dealings with his creation.
Islam in that sense is a message directly from God to human beings.
Islam Is a Message from God to Humans
Islam, thus, is a message that God Almighty sent down. He did so through a long chain of specially chosen messengers from the first man and prophet Adam to the last of the messengers, Prophet Muhammad, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam.
God sent these messengers to deliver the message of Islam to human beings. And to show them how it works in everyday practice.
These messengers of God came to every people in every culture and land, and they spoke every language in the world. Yet, the basic message they delivered never changed through the ages. It remained remarkably – miraculously – invariant across all the vagaries of time and space.
And that message was, as the Bible puts it: Thou shalt take no other God before me! That is the first of the Ten Commandments in the Bible.
This was proof from Almighty God, through the ages, of his own existence. In the same way, it was also proof of the fact that the message all these prophets and messengers brought – Islam that is – throughout history was indeed from God.
However, time took its toll on the message that the messengers brought from God, as it must. Their message atrophied through disuse and neglect and it was distorted through abuse.
Over time, people’s memories faded and their recollections became an amalgam of the real and the imaginary. People died and nations perished and disintegrated. What original documents or earthly evidence of the lives and teachings of prophets may have existed disappeared over time and became inaccessible to subsequent generations.
And where the message itself was still alive and available, its own professed followers often failed to follow it.
Finally, time and circumstance were ripe for the arrival in the world of the last and final prophet of God to humanity, Prophet Muhammad, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, who came in Arabia in the Seventh Century of the Christian Era. May God Almighty bless him and all the other prophets of God that came before him!
A Man Called Muhammad, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam
Prophet Muhammad, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, was the greatest institution builder this world has ever seen. He revived, refurbished and updated the message of the earlier prophets. He preached and taught Islam to those around him. He practiced and modeled Islam in his own life.
He thus breathed new life in the old Biblical message that said: Thou shalt take no other God before me!
In the Seventh Century, he created and established, on the firmest footing, the widest and most comprehensive set of social, political, economic, military and other institutions that were needed for nation building and for the preservation and continuation of his teachings into perpetuity.
Islam today is a continued flowering of this most amazing and absolutely miraculous institutional structure Prophet Muhammad, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam established on earth 1400 years ago. Taken together or examined individually, everything about the institutions of life Prophet Muhammad, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, created and left behind is nothing short of a full-fledged miracle.
And these are miracles that, though completely divine in their origin and nature, are at the same time completely accessible to human beings to this day. And they are all miracles – living miracles – that continue to be put in practice in every age and in every place since their establishment on earth all those long centuries ago.
A Near-Perfect Generation
Not only that, Prophet Muhammad, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, also trained a near-perfect generation of the best people around him to establish Islam in society in all its forms and aspects. And he filled the world with the life-giving message of truth, justice and equality for all human beings regardless of their birth, gender or status.
These things will be completely unbelievable if they did not have the kind of solid and unshakable historical foundation they do. And also, at the same time, if they did not continue to our day in the form of living and ongoing actual practices of hundreds of millions of Muslims in all parts of the world.
And if they had not been immortalized, as people would say, in the form of the most comprehensive social and institutional structure the world has ever seen: Namaz, Roza, Hajj, Zakaat, family life, death and everything else Islamic.
A Message of Liberty and Equality
To make his teachings of human liberty and equality a reality on earth, Prophet Muhammad, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, abolished all forms of tyranny over the minds, bodies and souls of men and women. And he did that by completely cleansing human society of the most poisonous institutions of hereditary priesthood and hereditary monarchy.
The notorious European-Christian doctrine of the Divine Right of Kings to rule is thus a complete abomination in the system of Islam and the Islamic sociopolitical structure that Prophet Muhammad, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, built on earth in 7th Century Arabia.
At that time, he declared and showed in practice that all humans were created equal and that they all could and should communicate with God directly and without an intermediary. And they should do so both through inner contemplation and meditation as well as through public and congregational acts of worship and daily living.
For, according to Prophet Muhammad, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, all life was an unbroken stream of human beings either worshipping God or turning away from him and worshipping other things.
Besides, he unleashed a full-fledged social, political and economic revolution in the world by commanding everyone everywhere to read – and to acquire an education.
“Iqra’: Read!” he said. And till then, and until centuries later, no one had issued that command to humanity. He made education compulsory for all men as well as women.
Kindness and Respect
He invited all humanity to serve, obey and worship no one but God, the maker and master of the universe. Just how the Ten Commandments in the Bible say it: Thou shalt have no other God before me!
He asked people to free their slaves; to be kind to their women; to help the needy; and to share their wealth on a regular and systematic basis with their family and with those less advantaged than them.
“If you shall not show kindness and compassion to those younger than you and also show respect and regard to those older than you,” he declared, “then you are not one of us.”
What a way to divide up the people of the world into those younger and those older and giving each their due and appropriate share of human consideration!
Control Your Destiny
He taught and showed, in private as well as through public practice, that God had placed human destiny in human hands, even though it was God who made human destiny what it was. And that God, though he remained in control all the time, had made human beings masters of their own fates.
Laisa lil-insaani illaa maa sa’aa, said the Qur’an without ambiguity or prevarication. Paraphrase: What human beings will get is what they work for.
Kullu nafsim bimaa kasabat raheenah, the Qur’an declared elsewhere. Paraphrase: Everyone must shoulder the burden and carry the consequences of their own doings and efforts.
He did all this in an unbelievably short period of barely over two decades. This is one of the greatest miracles of human history. For, no one in history was able to do it before or since.
And when, after completing his mission on earth, he died quietly and peacefully in his own bed, he had accomplished everything on earth his God – the God of all humanity and all creation – had sent him in this world to do, he had built a new world.
He had reshaped the world in his own image and according to his own teachings: according to the commands and doctrines God Almighty had sent him to preach and practice.
That was Islam.
And he left behind two things to power, propel and guard over the continued flourishing of Islam on earth forever. Those two things are Qur’an and Sunnah.