The Concept of Islam and Our Understanding of It
How is it that the understanding of Islam has changed so completely
in the mind of the average person from an all-embracing life system
to merely a few acts of worship - often done half-heartedly in an
automatic way or not even done at all? Today we find Muslims, most
in fact, who consider that being a Muslim involves praying and fasting,
but that otherwise they are free to live their lives according to
any social, political or economical system they please. We also
find those that claim to love Allah but profess that good feelings
and intentions are sufficient as proof of Islam.
How was such an idea ever adopted - the notion that one’s
loyalty to Islam is unrelated to his behavior? How did a Muslim
come to imagine that he could oppose the teachings of his Lord and
betray His trust; that he could lie, cheat and deceive; that he
could refuse what is lawful, preferring what is unlawful; that he
could accept humility and humiliation in order to preserve his status
in a society based on immorality and oppression… and still
claim allegiance to Islam? How could a Muslimah come to imagine
that she could oppose the teachings of her Lord and betray His trust;
that she could lie, cheat, deceive, covet and backbite; that she
could go out, exposing herself to every eye; that she could willingly
raise her children as contended members of an un-Islamic society...
yet still imagine that the "good intention" in her heart
would cancel all of that before Allah(S.W.T.)?
From the very outset of Prophet Muhammad’s call to the worship
of Allah alone and in the days when Islam was a vital movement attracting
most of those who came in contact with it (which was a long period
in history), the average Muslim was quite a different example than
what we have today. When he said, "La ilaha ill Allah"
and "Muhammadun Rasulullah," he did not consider those
words as something to be pronounced and repeated without leaving
any effect upon his thinking and behavior.
He understood them to mean that Allah, the Creator, is the rightful
governor of this universe. He understood that from the time Adam
was set upon the earth, Allah had sent an eternal message to mankind,
stating that whoever follows His guidance will be guided for his
own benefit, but those who turn away in rejection will harm their
own souls; and every soul will bear the consequences of its choice.
He understood that Allah, God of the universe, is alone worthy to
be worshipped and obeyed and that He alone has the right to direct
one’s life. No other man or government has that right, and
rulers are to be obeyed only as long as they uphold the laws of
Allah. He understood that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah, chosen
by Him to relay the guidance that was meant to reach mankind, and
that he was a living example of this guidance - a teacher to be
followed and obeyed.
No one ever imagined that sincerity was enough. How could it be
when the Prophet(S) had made clear that faith is neither by desire
nor by adornment, but it is what has settled in the heart and is
proven by deeds.
One might imagine while seated comfortably in his chair that he
could move the universe. But when he reaches out to move a nearby
table, he finds that the effort needed to do so may require that
he arise from his seat; and if the table is large, it may require
even greater exertion on his part. Thus, the belief that sincerity
alone suffices is deception. No doubt, there can be no deliberate
or fruitful action without prior intention. But what good is sincerity
or intention in practical terms? Unless it is translated into effective
behavior, what is gained? There will be no reform, no progress,
no accomplishment - no change at all.
And so Allah(S.W.T.) repeats over and over in the Qur’an
that His reward will be for those who believe and do righteousness.
He never said that faith alone or intention is sufficient. Faith
must become a motive to positive action - to doing as one is directed.
That means putting the word of Allah above all else - above customs
and traditions, above the opinions of man, above one’s own
desires, laziness or reluctance.
All of this was apparent and self-evident to early Muslims. It
was not their idealism alone which changed the course of history
- it was action. They knew the laws of Allah had been sent down
to be followed, and that that was the true meaning of worship.
Among the contemporaries of the Prophet(S) were those who erred
and those who sinned. They were never free of human feelings or
human weaknesses. They knew fear and anger and worldly temptation.
The material of their creation was no different from our own. But
the ever-present consciousness of Allah and the firm relationship
with Him prevented them from decline, protected them from despair
and continually renewed their hope. The first Muslims became unique
examples of human excellence while never losing their human nature.
Their society was one in which human potential was utilized to the
utmost as simply a reflection of their understanding of Islam.