Category Archives: Dr. Mansoor Alam – USA

The Pakistan Idea: Conclusion – Miss Shamim Anwar

The challenge which Jinnah took up was stupendous. When he decided to launch the Two Nations theory, he knew that he was going against   not only the political trend in India but against the flood that was engulfing the whole world. And he had to face it alone, for Iqbal, who had trusted his mission of human destiny in his hands, died. Alone he had to face the machinations of the Hindus, the subtility and hypocrisy of which we have had a mere glimpse only, in the chapters on the “Ideological Battle”. Alone he had to face the might and hostility of the British government, who, looking ahead in their own interests, wanted to keep India united. “This desire for unity became almost an obsession with all vocal British commentators towards the end of British rule. When the creation of Pakistan was assured the decision was regretted by all:   The Right, the Centre, and the Left. Myths die hard and for many years to come the Englishmen will look to the division of India as signal proof of the failure of his mission in the East. And Jinnah had done it alone. Alone he had to face the Ulema who came in their sacred garments, their sacred head-gears and their sacred beards, claiming to be the “ successors “ of Muhammad (P.B.U.H), urging the Muslims to join hand with the Congress so that they could preserve their own priestly class with all its vested interests.

Indeed today one wonders as to where are all those “ Maulanas “ and “ Maulvis “ who issued ‘ fatwas ‘ of “ Kufr “ against these freedom fighters – Syed Ahmed Khan, Iqbal and Jinnah.   How many today know the names of those who rushed to Mecca to procure a   ‘ fatwa ‘ against Syed Ahmed Khan from the guardians of the Ka’aba,!? Where are they who day in and day out screamed out that Iqbal and Jinnah were “ Kafir “? They have sunk into the oblivion of the past , unknown and unsung. History has its own laws in selecting its immortals.

It is to the credit of these leaders of the Pakistan Movement that as long as they lived they pulled the Quran out of the clutches of the Ulema and give it to the people where it belonged. And they did this without the prefix of ‘ Maulana ‘ to their names, without donning the priestly robes and without growing a beard.   The charge against Jinnah was that he had no beard and hence he could not quote the Quran. It was the knowledge of this charge that made him all the more determined not to grow one.  Same was the case with other priestly gimmicks.   Iqbal also, although rather lazy and indifferent about beards or no beards, never let it grow. Parwez was also beardless. All this may sound naïve, but in a fanatical priest-ridden society, to be accepted by it in their scholarship of the Quran is a rare achievement over since the days of the early history of Islam. Jinnah rightly claimed this victory when addressing the Muslim University Union on the 5th February, 1938: “ What the League has done is to set you free from the reactionary elements of Muslims and to create the opinion that those who play their selfish game are traitors.   It has certainly freed you from that undesirable element of Maulvis and Maulanas.” All these defeated parties involved, expressed their frustration in misconstruing Jinnah’s personality, his objective and his statements.   He was abused and condemned, but he was beyond it all.  In a letter to Gandhi during the 1944 talks, Jinnah referred to this with dignity.   “If a break comes it will be most unfortunate.   If one does not agree with you or differs from you, you are always right and the other party is always wrong, and the next thing is that many are waiting prepared, in your circle, to pillory me when the word goes, but I must face all threats and consequences, and I can only act according to my judgement and conscience.”

In the midst of this kind of opposition Jinnah accomplished the seemingly impossible within seven years of laying down the objectives.  Jamiluddin Ahmed has well said that “ Like economy of words in speech, he also practised economy of effort in practical politics.”   He did not let the energies of his people go waste in agitational politics which ends in frustration and inactivity.   Such emotional bouts reduce a nation to ashes, and nothing constructive is achieved. Shouts of “ Jai “ and   “ Zindabad “ (long live) momentarily gives cheap popularity and is therefore misleading. In fact this “ economy of effort “ was ingrained in the politics of Syed Ahmed Khan and Iqbal as well. They all appealed to the reason of the people and took them to their goal stage by stage. Even when Jinnah became the beloved Quaid-I-Azam and drew large crowds where ever he went or spoke, he remained detached, which was often mistaken for aloofness and coldness.   He kept his balance where many lesser people lost theirs, people who had not achieved even half of his success and popularity.  He operated at a high level and cheap popularity never intoxicated him.

Greatness of Jinnah was his character. Political insight and brilliance alone cannot give this stature.   The two, character and insight, must go together.   Jinnah was “ incorruptible “ according to Arther Muir, Editor of “ Statesman “. No body could buy him. He could not be reduced to a “ show-boy “ or “ his master’s voice ‘ by the lustre of gold or the pomp and show of high offices. He rejected the Prime Ministership of United India offered as a bait to give up the Pakistan Idea. Many, in fact hardly anyone else, was able to resist such baits.   This is what the Hindus and the British could not bear.   If only they could buy him! But as Dr. Ambedkar put it so beautifully:  “ Mr. Jinnah …..can never be suspected of being a tool in the hands of the British even by the worst of his enemies…. At the same time, it is doubtful if there is any politician in India to whom the adjective incorruptible can be more fittingly applied.   Anyone, who knows what his relations with the British Government have been, will admit that he has always been their critic, if indeed, he has not been their adversary. No one can buy him, For it must be said to his credit that he has never been a soldier of fortune.”   The Agha Khan has this to say: “ Of all the statesmen that I have known in my life- Clemencean, Lloyd George, Churchill, Curzon, Mussolini, Mahatama Gandhi – Jinnah is the most remarkable.   None of those men in my view outshone him in strength of character, and that almost uncanny combination of pre-science and resolution which is statecraft.” Even those who disagree with him felt the impact of his high intellectual and moral calibre.   To those “ nationalist “ Muslims who felt jealous of Jinnah’s closeness to his people, Tolu-e-Islam told them: “ The secret of Jinnah’s greatness is his character. He operates on a level where he can never be bought.   No attraction, however, tantalising it may, can shake his faith in his principles. Those who are jealous of his status can also capture the same status if they cultivate within themselves similar characteristics. Anyone who is as sincere and as sacrificing, or more, will immediately capture the hearts of the Muslims. So why this heart burning?”

The Pakistan Idea emerged as a challenge to geographical nationalism.   It was an attempt to solve the human tangle by experimenting an alternative to the prevalent systems. As such it was neither anti-British nor anti-Hindu.   None of its exponents, Syed Ahmed Khan, Iqbal and Jinnah can be charged with the fanatical hatred that geographical nationalism engenders amongst its adherents. It believed in letting Hindus go their way, and it wanted a similar freedom to go its own way.   “ And say unto those who believe not:   “ Says the Quran. “ Act according to your power, Lo! We too are acting. “   Anyone, be he British or Hindu, if he accepts the Quranic world-view, could be a part of this new state.

Thus Pakistan was not the result of negative forces of fear and insecurity as it is made out to be.   Many historians, Pakistanis or non-Pakistanis, have given lists of reasons for the transformation of Jinnah.   These negative and apologetic writings are the result of misunderstanding or non-understanding of Islam as “Ad-Deen.” Once this approach is comprehended there can be no confusion about it.   It is for this reason that, although there were more than one schemes for separation of Hindus and Muslims, only Iqbal’s plan has been discussed in this paper.  Other schemes had a negative approach – fear of Hindu domination and Hindu intolerance.   But Iqbal’s and Jinnah’s struggle was for an Islamic polity and that alone. It was this scheme that had universal appeal in Muslim India. A Muslim is free only in an Islamic polity. Mere withdrawal of the British from India was not enough. If it was question of “ religious   freedom “ they already had that under the British Raj.   Why should “ religious freedom “ under the Hindu Raj be better than British Raj? This is an important question to be ponder over Islamic polity also cannot be equated with “ state religion “ or a “ Muslim head of the State “. Islamic polity is the making of by-laws within a system of “ permanent values “ which is possible only in a sovereign state.

In the last analysis let us evaluate the essence of the achievement of Pakistan.   Wherein lies the significance of its creation and the greatness of its creators?  How is achievement to be evaluated?  Supposing it is laid down that the value of achievement lies in finding out first as to in what situation a person was born?   What were the concepts and trends prevalent at the time?   What were the difficulties and obstacles in his way?   Then when he left this situation behind what did he leave it like?  Had he submitted to it uncritically and become its victim? Or had he challenged it and attempted to strike a new Path in spite of the heavy odds against him? Keeping this criterion in view, Iqbal and Jinnah and before them Syed Ahmed Khan, were great people. It is so easy to swim with the tide.  It would have been easy to say and do what everyone else in the world was saying and doing. But Iqbal raised his voice against geographical nationalism after he visited Europe and saw its impending inhuman destructive results.   And what is more, he made himself heard.  He urged humanity ( in complete harmony with the dictates of the holy Quran 34:36)   to stop for a moment and ponder over as to where they are heading towards. He repudiated nationalism when the two world wars had not yet been fought. He paved the way for Jinnah who jumped in to the fray, made his way against it and turned the tide in the direction he understood it should turn.   “ He refused to be the plaything of circumstances or political expediency. Like the master-mind that he was, over rode events and created his own circumstances.   The whole face of Indian politics was changed by his over-mastering intellect and character. Round him revolved the entire gamut of Indian politics, as he held the key to the Indian situation.” In fact whenever he spoke there was a flutter in every camp.   This was his achievement. Those who rode on the crest of prevalent public opinion are lost to history.   Ultimately those survive who have given a new direction, sometime somewhere , even though it is not realised at the time.   The creation of Pakistkan has caused a crack in the edifice of nationalism and no matter what vicissitudes Pakistan may undergo it will one day be remembered by world posterity as one of the earliest concrete challenges to geographical, racial and lingual nationalism, and the first step in this century, however small, towards a global home for the human family.

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Dr Mansoor Alam Ohio USA

Articles and Writings by Dr Mansoor Alam

Zakah – Its Concept and Purpose in Islam – Part 1 (Dr Mansoor Alam, Ohio, USA)

Zakah – Its Concept and Purpose in Islam – Part 2 (Dr Mansoor Alam, Ohio, USA)

Zakah – Quranic Economics (Dr Mansoor Alam, Ohio, USA)

Why Pakistan? (Dr Mansoor Alam, Ohio, USA)

What is Iman? (Dr Mansoor Alam, Ohio, USA)

Muslims and the Purpose of Prayer – Salaat (Dr Mansoor Alam, Ohio, USA)

Meaning and Essence of Prayer – Salaat (Dr Mansoor Alam, Ohio, USA)

The Purpose of Fasting in Islam – Part 1 (Dr Mansoor Alam, Ohio, USA)

The Purpose of Fasting in Islam – Part 2 (Dr Mansoor Alam, Ohio, USA)

The Importance of Understanding Qur’an (Dr Mansoor Alam, Ohio, USA)

Iqbal and Taqdeer (Dr Mansoor Alam, Ohio, USA)

Iqbal, Quran and Muslim Unity (Dr Mansoor Alam, Ohio, USA)

The Immutable Shariah (Dr Mansoor Alam, Ohio, USA)

Early Division in Islam (Dr Mansoor Alam, Ohio, USA)

Reclaiming Our Knowledge Base (Dr Mansoor Alam, Ohio, USA)

Reclaiming Our Knowledge Base and Beyond (Dr Mansoor Alam, Ohio, USA)

Islam and Science (Dr Mansoor Alam, Ohio, USA)

Compilation of the Quran (Dr Mansoor Alam, Ohio, USA)

The Missing Link (Dr Mansoor Alam, Ohio, USA)

The Death of the Prophet (PBUH) (Dr Mansoor Alam, Ohio, USA)

God’s Mercy and Forgiveness – Part 1 (Dr Mansoor Alam, Ohio, USA)

God’s Mercy and Forgiveness – Part 2 (Dr Mansoor Alam, Ohio, USA)

Does Allah Misguide Anyone? (Dr Mansoor Alam, Ohio, USA)

The Concept of One God and Its importance in the Life of Human Being (Dr Mansoor Alam, Ohio, USA)

The Concept of God and Its relevance to Human Beings (Dr Mansoor Alam, Ohio, USA)

A Message to Muslim Youth (Dr Mansoor Alam, Ohio, USA)

The Truth About Islam: Teachings of Quran Encourage Peace, Tranquility, Not Violence (Dr Mansoor Alam, Ohio, USA)

Ramadan, Quran, and Muslims (Dr Mansoor Alam, Ohio, USA)

Time of Test (Dr Mansoor Alam, Ohio, USA)

Quiad-e-Azam, Islam, and Pakistan (Dr Mansoor Alam, Ohio, USA)

Arabs and US Policy (Dr Mansoor Alam, Ohio, USA)

Moving Thoughts and Moving Hearts (Dr Mansoor Alam, Ohio, USA)

Message of Light and Hope (Dr Mansoor Alam, Ohio, USA)

God’s Will (Dr Mansoor Alam, Ohio, USA)

Obedience to the Prophet (PBUH) Part 1 (Dr Mansoor Alam, Ohio, USA)

Obedience to the Prophet (PBUH) Part 2 (Dr Mansoor Alam, Ohio, USA)

Obedience to the Prophet (PBUH) Part 3 (Dr Mansoor Alam, Ohio, USA)

 

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Zakah – Quranic Economics (Dr. Mansoor Alam, Ohio, USA)

Before beginning this final part of our discussion of Zakah, let us briefly summarize the first two parts ( Part 1 & Part 2) to maintain focus and continuity.

In the first part we showed how our present approach to Zakah has turned into a lifeless ritual leading to differences in Zakah items and Zakah rates among various Sunni sects; major differences between Sunni and Shi’ia sects in this matter; non- uniform policy for collecting Zakah by Muslim governments which can range anywhere from voluntary contribution to compulsory deduction from bank accounts. These certainly were not the ways our Prophet (PBUH) and the rightly guided Khalifas practiced Zakah.

In the second part we emphasized that the real system of Zakah must lead to economic growth and development, and that, for this to occur, Zakah needs a strong foundation. Several verses from the Quran were presented which provide the basis of this foundation.  Although Muslims continue to give the ritual Zakah, the economic problems continue to get worse.  In fact, corruption in the system of Zakah collection and distribution is quite common in many Muslim countries and charitable organizations.

We also pointed out that we really cannot talk about a system of Zakah as long as Allah-given resources are under the control of dictators/kings, capitalists, and/or priests whose primary objective is not to serve Allah or his servants, but to maintain their own power and control. Until Allah’s resources are purified from their corruption (the root of Zakah also means purification), we cannot truly hope to implement Zakah.

In this final part of the article, we venture to show how the Quranic concept of Zakah, if implemented in its pristine form, will, ultimately, lead to economic growth and development of not only Muslims but of the entire human race.  This may sound strange or even impossible under the present system of Zakah being practiced by Muslims. But this situation has to do with Muslims andnot Islam. We must differentiate between  Muslims and Islam.

No one can argue that we, Muslims, are no longer the Ummah referred to in the Quran. We are divided into sects. We make excuses to justify our sectarian divisions in spite of Allah’s stern and clear warnings against it (6:159, 30:31,32). We play with the verses of Allah and compile books—such as the book of tricks mentioned in Part-I—to circumvent Allah’s clear orders about “giving Zakah.” According to the Quran, accumulating wealth and looking for ways to multiply it leads to hell (104:2-4).

On the other hand, if we follow in the footsteps of the Prophet (PBUH) and his companions there will be no doubt or skepticism about the universal goal of Zakah. The skeptics (both Muslims and non-Muslims) have to go back to the period of the Prophet (PBUH) and the rightly guided Khalifas—and not to the Umayyad and Abbasi periods—to find a proof of the positive impact that the economics of Zakah created on the society. That society was established and ruled solely on the basis of the universal permanent values of the Quran.

 Quranic Zakah Requires Its Own Independent State

Because the Quran is a Constitution, it requires its own independent and free state where  its unique economic system of Zakah can and should be implemented. The positive output (growth and nourishment at all levels) of this economic system is termed by the Quran “Aata-wuz-Zakaat” or “to give Zakah.” The Quran says:

(They are) those who, if We establish them in the land, establish regular prayer and give Zakah “Aata-wuz-Zakaat”, enjoin the right and forbid wrong: with God rests the end (and decision) of (all) affairs. [Al-Hajj 22:41, Translation: Yusuf Ali]

“Establish them in the land,” means the establishment of an Islamic state by the momineen or the believers.  The beneficial outcome of Zakah must manifest in this world through its own government established along the lines of the Prophet (PBUH) and the Sahaabaa (R).

Therefore, the establishment of this Islamic state is different from the ones established by the proponents of so-called Shariah, from the Ummayah and Abbasids down to the present. How can a so-called Islamic government under the control of kings/dictators, capitalists, and/or priests implement the Quranic economics of Zakah when, in fact, they are the ones who corrupt it? The Quran does not even recognize their existence, let alone allow them to rule in the name of God. In fact, the Quran condemns religious priests who unjustly devour people’s hard earned wealth (9:34).

Zakah Must Lead to Growth and Development of All 

The term “giving Zakah” means a) making available to all human beings the provisions of growth and development by providing equal opportunity within its jurisdiction and b)  purifying a corrupt economic system. This is in contrast to the present situation where the governments “take away (a ritual) Zakah” instead of “giving (the Quranic) Zakah” to the people as instructed by Allah.

In the first place, the duty imposed by Allah for “giving Zakah,” i.e. making available the provisions of growth and development, cannot be fulfilled unless the Quranic government has the capability to discharge this responsibility. The needs of the people determines how much Zakah is taken. Zakah is not a special religious tax or levy that is different from the government tax.  In a Quranic state it is not possible for some people to hoard  material possessions beyond their needs and indulge in excesses, while the rest are deprived of the basic means and provisions of life. The Quran explains the justification for this.

  1. The Earth is the source of all the provisions of life. Like water, air and light, the Earth has been created by Allah for the benefit of all. Therefore, no one has the right to own it except Allah. We, humans, are only the trustees and  beneficiaries. We are not owners. As discussed in the second part of this article, the claim of ownership of any part of the Earth by human beings is shirk in the sight of Allah.
  2. In this system, individuals cannot hold onto surplus wealth.

“They ask thee how much they are to spend; Say: ‘What is beyond your needs.’” (2:219).

iii.            Surplus wealth should go to the treasury (Baitul Maal) of the Islamic government, as was the case during the time of the rightly-guided Khalifas. Therefore, in this system, there is no question of individual, or group investment.

  1. This system will provide all the basic needs of life like housing, hospitalization, and education. No one will need to borrow money with interest for the above; no one will have surplus money to invest with interest.
  2. The question of individual business for profit also does not arise in this system. Shops will be cooperative distribution centers, not sources of individual profit. Those who run the centers will receive compensation for their efforts.

[Note: Some may claim that the above advocates Communism. Nothing can be farther from the truth. Contrary to Islam, Communism does not believe in any power higher than itself.  While people in a Communist state work for the good of the state in this life, Muslims work for the benefit of all to develop the individual soul for the Afterlife.]

Interest-free Economics Based on the Quran 

The economic system of the Quran must be run on an interest-free basis. While this topic is hotly debated in Islamic circles, the proponents of interest-free Islamic economics mostly seek ways to adapt it to Western capitalism. But the economic system of Zakah, grounded in the Quran, is unique, relying on the desire of individuals to uplift themselves morally and spiritually, not materially.  Brothers and sisters! Just as Islam is opposed to Communism for putting the State before God and the “Self”(Soul), it is also opposed to Capitalism for putting money before God and the “Self.”

The term Riba in the Quran encompasses more than “interest.” Riba is the foundation of an economic system that is so directly opposed to the economic system of the Quran that Allah asks believers in the Quran to declare that this system is a war against “Allah and the Prophet (PBUH),” (2:279) and, therefore, to fight it. Ironically, today our Ulema occupy themselves with seeking solutions to the Riba-based economy of an un-Quranic system. Otherwise, what other explanation could there be for Imams (religious leaders) and Fuqahaa (religious jurists) who allow indirect silent partnership in business or land (read investment), a relatively mild form of exploitation compared to Riba? [Detailed discussion of Riba requires a separate article.]

To recollect, our discussion of Zakah thus far can be summarized as follows:

  1. Whatever is collected in the name of Zakah nowadays is really a charity. It has nothing to do with the Quranic Zakah.
  2. For Zakah, the existence of an Islamic government based solely on the Quran as its Constitution is essential (22:40). This must replace any man-made economic system (like Capitalism or Communism) or purify any system based on an amalgamation with the divine system like the one based on the so-called “Shariah” developed under the Abbasi rule.
  3. It is this government that can truly give (the Quranic) Zakah  (“Aatawuz Zakah”) to its people by providing the means of growth and nourishment to everyone equally while demolishing such barriers as wealth, status, race, gender, ethnicity, language, etc.
  4. To discharge this responsibility, the entire revenue of this government can be called Zakah. There cannot be a permanent fixed-for-all-time Zakah rate or Zakah items. The government will determine these based on the needs of the time and place. Whatever the Prophet (PBUH) fixed was based upon the needs of his time and place and was not meant to be permanent for all times and all places.
  5. The charitable contributions to deal with emergency situations are called Sadaqaat (not Zakah) by the Quran.

Incentive for Giving

As we have seen, according to the Quran, it is the responsibility of the Islamic state to provide equal opportunity to all as a basic human right for growth and development. For this purpose, every family returns its surplus wealth to the Islamic state (2:219). Moreover, it is the duty of Muslims to extend this system to include the entire humanity (1:2).

What is the incentive that will drive people to give their surplus wealth to the Islamic system willingly?  What benefit will the individual derive who gives his/her surplus wealth to this system?

Without satisfactory answers to the above questions, people will not be motivated to part with their surplus wealth. No one wants to part with his/her hard earned money without receiving some benefits in return.  The Quran says:

He sends down water from the skies, and the channels flow, each according to its measure: But the torrent bears away the foam that mounts up to the surface. Even so, from that (ore) which they heat in the fire, to make ornaments or utensils therewith, there is a scum likewise. Thus doth God (by parables) show forth Truth and Vanity. For the scum disappears like froth cast out; while that which is for the good of mankind remains on the earth. Thus doth God set forth parables. [ar-Ra`d 13:17, Translation: Yusufali]

The above verse reveals clearly and beautifully the answer to our questions: only that system will stay forever which is beneficial to all of humanity. This is the fundamental law that decides whether a system or an ideology is capable of being maintained or is transient and will disappear. According to this law, a system which is designed to benefit only a particular group or nation, will disappear sooner or later.  The ruins of past empires (including  Muslim ones) attest to the effectiveness of this law.

Therefore, when we choose an ideology of life other than what the Quran prescribes, we have to face the consequence of that choice.

Two Alternatives, Two Choices

Individuals tend to work for their own benefit. This is the driving force which motivates people to work. But according to the Quran:

  • That system in which everyone works for one’s own individual benefit does not have the ability to stay—no matter how much tinkering or patch-up job is done to save it. On the contrary,
  •  The system in which everyone works for the benefit of entire humankind will stay forever. It stays on the basis of its own intrinsic strength and power.

In the second system, individual benefits are not ignored.  They just do not occur immediately or directly. Rather, they occur indirectly – and in the long run, while, in the first system, everyone gets his/her individual benefit right away. The Quran calls this  short-term gain or Mataa‘uddunya, while the long-term gain that comes to a person who has shared and circulated his/her worldly benefits with humankind, is called the future benefit or Aakhira. This is also referred to as the life of the future or Ha-yaatul Aakhira which includes the life after death as well (87:16-17).

Thus, according to the Quran, an ideology based on the welfare of the individual is short-sighted and doomed to perish, while the one based on the welfare of the entire humankind is just.

The Quranic Ideology: Universal Welfare

The Quran does not advocate this ideology on the basis of emotion or blind faith. Unlike other religions, the Quran provides objective proof for every claim it makes. So, why is an ideology based on the welfare of an individual or a family, or a race, or a nation wrong while the one based on universal welfare right? The Quran explains it through a practical example and provides an objective proof for this claim.

If human beings lived only at the animal level, then it would have been acceptable to look for one’s own self-interest. Eating, drinking, and the pursuit of happiness from material things in life would have been their goal (47:12). But life at the human level is different than at the animal level. Animals do not have a sense of tomorrow or future.  This distinguishes human beings from everything else in the universe. The human body in this world, which is a vehicle for the “self,” or “soul,” is left behind while the soul journeys on to another dimension which the Quran calls Ha-yaatul Aakhira, just as the mother’s womb is a vehicle for the fetus which eventually separates and journeys on independently.

It is this sense of a larger future (or future life) that binds a human being with the rest of humanity just as individual members of a family work together for the future success of all the family members. Working for the benefit of humanity’s future leads, in turn, to development and growth of the “self,” an essential requirement for each individuals’ future journey. The Quran says:

Verily, (the ends) ye strive for are diverse. So he who gives and fears [Wattaqa], And (in all sincerity) testifies to the best,- We will indeed make smooth for him the path to Bliss. But he who is a greedy miser and thinks himself self-sufficient, And gives the lie to the best,- We will indeed make smooth for him the path to Misery; Nor will his wealth profit him when he falls headlong (into the Pit). Verily We take upon Ourselves to guide, And verily unto Us (belong) the End and the Beginning. Therefore do I warn you of a Fire blazing fiercely; None shall reach it but those most unfortunate ones Who give the lie to Truth and turn their backs. But those most devoted to God shall be removed far from it,- Those who spend their wealth for increase in self-purification, [Surah Al-Layl 92:4-18, Translation: Yusufali.]

Human efforts are spent in different directions. But the one who “gives” (Muttaqi) saves himself/herself from dangers. (The root of Taqwa is: protection from dangers, therefore Muttaqi is one who is protected).

The above verses also provide the motivation for why one should “give.”  “Giving” achieves two things. First, it provides a source of nourishment, growth and development at the physical level. This is so obvious that it does not require further elaboration. Second, what is not so obvious is how it affects the non-physical or “human” aspect of life. In the interest of simplicity and brevity it is said that “giving” leads to spiritual growth. But what is this spiritual growth and how does it occur?

Human Activity Is Subject to Higher Law

The Quran explains in concrete terms that “spiritual growth” is not something imaginary or metaphysical. It says there is a higher law that operates on the “self” just as the physical law operates on the body. This higher law is that the “self” grows by giving whereas the body grows by “taking.” Let us see a rational explanation for this law.

When human beings employ intelligence as a tool, human emotion tries to fulfill its ambitions and desires to excel by competition. Since human intelligence knows no other world than its own, it guides human beings to compete for this world. This is the material concept of life in which people try to outwit each other in conflict situations using every means, primarily power, money, influence. This is amplified several folds (in terms of its influence and impact) at the national and international levels. The Quran says that this way of life is transient, leads to waste of human potential, and ultimately to human catastrophe.

Know ye (all), that the life of this world is but play and amusement, pomp and mutual boasting and multiplying, (in rivalry) among yourselves, riches and children. Here is a similitude: How rain and the growth which it brings forth, delight (the hearts of) the tillers; soon it withers; thou wilt see it grow yellow; then it becomes dry and crumbles away. But in the Hereafter is a Penalty severe (for the devotees of wrong). And Forgiveness from God and (His) Good Pleasure (for the devotees of God). And what is the life of this world, but goods and chattels of deception? [Sura Al-Hadid 57:20, Translation Yusuf Ali]

Human Desire to Compete Cannot Be Crushed

Thus, according to the above verse, the Quran recognizes the very real existence of the human emotion to compete. But it also warns that the end result of the competition for material things is short-lived. The race for material things weakens rather than strengthens the human “self” and character. Instead, the Quran tells us to compete in a different arena, one which will not only strengthen our character and “self”, but the results of which will encompass both this world and the hereafter:

Race one with another for forgiveness from your Lord [Rab or Nourisher] and a Garden whereof the breadth is as the breadth of the heavens and the earth, which is in store for those who believe in Allah and His messengers. Such is the bounty of Allah, which He bestoweth upon whom He will, and Allah is of Infinite Bounty. [Sura Al-Hadid 57:21, Translation: Pickthall]

This competition leads to a system in which Allah’s bounty flows like a continuous river – a river that covers the breadth of the heavens and the earth—satisfying everyone’s needs in this life and extending to the other. No one, in this system, erects any barriers in this free flowing economic bounty (garden) of life. Rather, everyone seeks forgiveness from Allah from such acts so that this bounty remains freely available for nourishment and growth for all, as Allah has promised (1:2, 17:31).

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Zakah – Its Concept and Purpose in Islam – Part 2 (Dr. Mansoor Alam, Ohio, USA)

In part 1 of this article, we had examined the prevailing opinions of both religious and secular Muslims, as well as the prevailing system of Zakat in some so-called Muslim countries.  We had concluded that the concept and practice of Zakat has been reduced to a lifeless ritual by means of which the rich believe they can gain entry into Heaven in the Hereafter.  On the other hand, our Prophet (pbuh) acted to establish the Deen of Allah in Medina by implementing the system of Salaah and Zakat as spelled out in the Quran.  In this part we will look closely at this system of Zakat.

If Zakat is one of the pillars of the Deen, it stands to reason that this pillar must stand on a firm foundation.  That firm foundation is comprised of each Muslim’s unshakable conviction, 100% commitment, utter sincerity, and complete dedication to the belief that the Allah-owned resources on the planet must be made available to all creatures and human beings for their sustenance, nourishment, and growth.

The Arabic word Zakat, with its root Z -K-W  means growth and development.  A tree is nourished and grows in the presence of Allah-owned resources such as the soil, the rain, the sun, and the air (56:63-72; 80:24-31).  Any interference in the flow of any of these resources will retard the growth and development of the tree.  Similarly, any individual, group, government, or system which disrupts the natural flow of Allah-owned resources on the planet to all human beings creates an imbalance in society: the rich/poor, the master/slave, the owner/worker.

In the West, this awareness is dawning in respect to plants, animal and insect species which are becoming extinct due to this imbalance in nature caused by the actions of human beings.

However, the global economic imbalance continues to grow unchecked because human beings have refused, in their greed, to believe in the basic economic principle of Zakat: unrestricted flow of resources to all human beings (41:10, 50:11, 55:10, 56:73, 79:33, and 80:32).

The capitalist New World Order of the West actively seeks to control the natural resources of weaker nations under the guise of “global economic security.”  Using the United Nations as a tool, the weak are intimidated into submission either through economic sanctions or military force.  Allama Iqbal beautifully captured this mentality of the powerful when he said: “Hai wo sultan ghair ki kheti pe ho jiski nazar.” (The master is one who always has an eye on others’ lands.)

Muslims, too, have abandoned the Quranic Zakat, which is Allah’s assured challenge to this naked exploitation of the weak by the strong.  Unlike other religions, Islam is a Deen, a system of life, a constitutionally-run, collective life that encompasses the social, economic, political, judicial, and military aspects of a community.  The leaders of this community are not priests, or scholars, or the rich, or the strong: they are the most upright who commit to upholding the laws of Allah in the land, “Amr bil ma’aroof” (enjoining what is right) and “Nahya ‘anil munkar” (forbidding what is wrong).  They make sure the Quran, the Constitution of Allah, is enacted i.e. put into action.

What then, is the position of the Quran on the Economic World Order that should prevail, in other words, Zakat?  The Quran emphasizes the importance of economics in human life.  While describing the life of Heaven, the Quran says there will be no hunger and no misery there.

“There is therein (enough provision) for thee not to go hungry nor to go naked.” [Yusuf Ali (20:118)]

Too, the Quran teaches us to work for the good of this life, as well as the hereafter (2:201, 7:156), in contrast to the mindset of those who consider economic prosperity in this life to be an end in itself.  According to the Quran, such people live at the animal level:

“Verily Allah will admit those who believe and do righteous deeds, to Gardens beneath which rivers flow; while those who reject Allah will enjoy (this world) and eat as cattle eat; and the Fire will be their abode.” [Yusuf Ali (47:12)]

Taqwaa (righteous works) includes the use of economic prosperity to achieve a higher and nobler goal (10:63-64, 16:30).  Economic prosperity is a means, not an end; it is a source for life, not the end of life; it is a prerequisite for growth and development in life, not the final goal of life.  Since economic prosperity is so essential to human growth and development, Allah has addressed the issue of Zakat in great depth in the Quran.

To begin with, Allah says He is Rahman and Rahim:

“There is no moving creature on earth but its sustenance dependeth on Allah: He knoweth the time and place of its definite abode and its temporary deposit: All is in a clear Record.”[Yusuf Ali (11:6)]

“How many are the creatures that carry not their own sustenance? It is Allah who feeds (both) them and you: for He hears and knows (all things).” [Yusuf Ali (29:60). Also see verses (6:152) and (17:31)]

Allah, of course, does not personally feed anyone:

And when they are told, “Spend ye of (the bounties) with which God has provided you,” the Unbelievers say to those who believe: “Shall we then feed those whom, if God had so willed, He would have fed, (Himself)?- Ye are in nothing but manifest error.” [Yusuf Ali (36:47)]

Allah fulfills this promise by creating the resources for the nourishment and growth of all moving creatures.  No one, therefore, has the right to own or control the Allah-given natural resources or to restrict their flow to humanity at large (107:7, 17:20).  Otherwise, this is tantamount to belying the Deen of Allah (107:1-6). Any association or partnership with Allah in this respect is Shirk, an unforgivable sin in the sight of Allah.  Allah says:

“Join not anything as equal with Him; be good to your parents; Kill not your children on a plea of Want—We provide sustenance for you and for them.” [Yusuf Ali 6:151]

Secondly, Allah is clearly the real owner of the resources He has created.  The following verses in the Quran leave no doubt about this:

  •         The earth and all its resources belong to Allah. It is such an obvious fact that no one can deny it (6:12, 10:31, 29:61 &63, 31:25, 34:24, 39:10 & 38, 43:9).
  •         Allah is the inheritor of the earth (19:40).
  •         The earth has been created for the benefit of all (55:10).
  •         It has been created to provide nourishment for all (56:73).
  •         To Him belongs all that is in heavens and the earth, “La hu ma fissamawati fil ardh” (2:116, 2:255, 4:171, 5:40, 14:2, 16:52, 20:6, 22:64).
  •         “Lillahi ma fissamawati fil ardh” (2:284, 3:109, 3:129, 4:131,132, 5:40, 10:55, 10:67, 14:2, 16:52, 20:6, 21:19, 34:1, 42:4, 42:53, 53:21).
  •         “Lillahi miraathus samaawaatti wal ardh” (3:180).

As Owner, then, Allah has given us these resources as a trust which we are required to disburse according to His Will (the system of Zakat), which is, to make available to all living creatures according to their needs, without any hindrance or control, the sustenance and provisions of life.

It was the Prophet’s (pbuh) unshakable conviction, his utter commitment, and total obedience to this system of Zakat that led to the establishment of the basic infrastructure of a universal, welfare-based economic system in Medina, and which reached its pinnacle during Khalifa ‘Umar’s (R) time when, it is said, hardly anyone was in need of charity.  The Prophet (pbuh) lived his life true to this principle: he was not an owner of anything, no land, no possessions; he was merely an enforcer of the Will of Allah – he established the system of Zakat.

Shirk – Associating Other Owners Besides Allah to the Ownership of the Earth

Since Allah owns the Earth and its resources, then no one else can be an owner.  A simple example illustrates this well:

I wish to buy a piece of land. The seller and I sign the papers, and legally, I become the new owner. But if we carry this process back far enough, a point will come where this mutual deal will come to an end. Someone must have acquired that land illegally at first without any mutual agreement.  Now, in legal jargon, any illegally acquired property, no matter how many times it is bought and sold thereafter, remains illegal. So, how can I say that “I” am the “legal” owner of that land? In my own defense I may claim that I acquired the land “legally,” or that it is not my responsibility to worry about someone else’s very first illegal acquisition of that land, or that I bought it from halal earned income, so I “own” it. But it does not change the reality — I am involved in a deal which was Shirk to begin with.  And, as long as I believe in “my ownership,” I am involved in Shirk.

Brothers and sisters! It is not difficult to understand this kind of Shirk if our hearts and minds are open and sincere.  According to the Quran, Muslim believers are required to enter into a contract with Allah in which they must sell their life and wealth to Him in exchange for Jannah:

“Allah hath purchased of the believers their persons and their goods; for theirs (in return) is the garden (of Paradise)” [Yusuf Ali 9:111]

But, if we cling to the attitude that we own our life and wealth (in violation of the above ayah) then how can we practice and establish Zakat?  First, this Shirk (having two owners, Allah and us) has to be slowly and gradually eliminated before the tree of Zakat can take firm root in a land rooted in Tauheed (with Allah only being the owner of everything including our lives) and not inShirk (in which others are also owners along with Allah). That is where Sadaqaa or charity comes in.

What is Sadaqaa?

Our Islamic scholars interpret both Zakat and Sadaqaa as charity. And whatever instruction Allah has given in the Quran in the following verse for Sadaqaat they attribute it to Zakat.

Alms [Sadaqaat] are for the poor and the needy, and those employed to administer the (funds); for those whose hearts have been (recently) reconciled (to Truth); for those in bondage and in debt; in the cause of God; and for the wayfarer: (thus is it) ordained by God, and God is full of knowledge and wisdom. [Yusuf Ali (9:60)]

But, first of all, why would Allah use two different terms if they mean exactly the same thing? It does not make sense. Secondly, the Arabic language also does not support it. While the root meaning of Zakat comes from Z-K-W , meaning growth and development, the root meaning of Sadaqaa comes from the root S-D-Q , meaning truth and power. Therefore, all the words that are derived from this root will have these two meanings (truth and power) embedded in them. Siddeeq is one who proves his trust and belief by his actions. As-Sadaqatu is anything that is given in the way of Allah voluntarily to prove one’s promise and belief in Him as opposed to Zakat, which is compulsory [Tajul ‘Uroos]. Therefore, Sadaqqa has a different purpose in Islam than Zakat and both cannot be equated with each other. How can income tax (a compulsory thing) be equated with charity (a voluntary thing)?  

The Function of Sadaqaat

Initially, Allah asks us for Sadaqaa (charity – voluntary giving), which is used to gradually change a wrong, unbalanced economic system (based on capitalist politics of greed) to a balanced one that guarantees equal economic opportunities and protection to all. The rich are asked to give their surplus wealth back to the nascent Islamic state for the benefit of the poor and suffering—the ones who really worked hard for creating that wealth in the first place. The instruction about Sadaqaat in verse (9:60) above would gradually change an unjust economic system to one that would ultimately be based on the economics of Zakat.

Thus charity is an emergency measure whereas Zakat is a permanent feature of Islam. Also, by making charity a short-term solution, the Quran recognizes that long-term or indefinite dependence of individuals and nations upon others invariably leads to degradation of the human self, to loss of human dignity, and to lack of human freedom and thought – all of which constitute human growth and development.  

Conclusion

Sisters and brothers! Zakat is not an economic ritual to purify a Muslim’s wealth and to earn salvation in the hereafter.  Quranic Zakat, as implemented by our Prophet (pbuh) and the rightly-guided Khalifas, forms the basis of an economic system which ensures economic security, with dignity, to everyone under its jurisdiction, right here, in this world. In addition, the tree of Zakat cannot grow and develop in a land rooted in Shirk. This must always be kept in mind.

How Zakat leads to the growth and development of the entire human race will be discussed in the next article.

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Zakah – Its Concept and Purpose in Islam – Part 1 (Dr. Mansoor Alam, Ohio, USA)

The economics of zakah and its relevance to modern times is a hotly debated issue among both religious and liberal Muslims.  This series of articles will attempt to explain the concept of zakah in the light of only the Quran and the faithful implementation of this concept by our Prophet (pbuh).  We will see how a similarly implemented system can solve the current economic problems of not just Muslims, but of the whole world.

We will first examine the prevailing opinions of both religious and secular Muslims, as well as the prevailing institution of zakah in some so-called Muslim countries.

Religious Vs Secular Arguments 

Imams and religious leaders emphasize the importance of zakah explaining that the economic problems of Muslims would be solved if we start practicing, in earnest, this much-neglected pillar of Islam.  Most religious Muslims, on the other hand, conceive of zakah as charity.  They are content with implementing the religious Shari’ah and Fiqh that was developed by religious leaders and jurists (Imams and Fuqahaa) more than a thousand years ago.  Even with the reality of global economics, many religious Muslims not only do not understand the complexities and underlying dynamics of the Western economic system, but also do not deem it worthwhile or necessary to study and know it indepth. Although many religious Muslims express displeasure with the Western economic system, blaming it for sucking Muslims’ wealth, they themselves do not shy away from trying to profit from it.  Many Muslims are heavily involved with stocks, bonds, and other investment instruments offered by this purely capitalistic system, but they continue to expound the benefits of the Shari’ah.   They hold conferences on Islamic economics in such bastions of capitalism as Harvard University, but fail to see the contradiction.   They twist the Shari’ah to suit the interests of the rich and the powerful in the name of adaptation to “our times.”  They give fatwas about halal (allowed), and haram (forbidden), identifying halal stocks on Wall Street as opposed to haram interest in banks.  One wonders if they really fail to understand that the very interest, which they consider haram, is, in fact, the foundation of capitalism on which stands Wall Street.  How can the branch of a tree be halal if its root is haram?

Secular Muslims, on the other hand, dismiss the idea that zakah has the potential to solve the complex economic problems of today’s Muslims.  They say the world has changed since the Prophet’s time and that the economic system he implemented is no longer applicable to modern times.  They are impressed with the outer glitter of the West and dazzled by its economic achievement.  In their opinion, Muslims will be better off economically and politically if they follow the Western system.  They claim, in imitation of the West, that religion is a private affair between man and God; therefore, it should not meddle with politics or economics.  This classical argument is put forth by secular Muslims who forget that Islam, as a way of life, must include every aspect of a Muslim’s life: social, political, and economic.  Secular Muslims cut the root of the Islamic tree but hold onto a few branches by calling themselves Muslims.   They do not have the courage to leave Islam, but they want Islam to leave them – alone.  Again, one wonders how they think a tree can be alive if its roots are cut off.   Allah says in the Quran that we have to enter in Islam completely (2:85, 2:208).  Therefore, there is no such thing as a partial Muslim or partial Islam.  Secular Muslims also forget, or ignore, or fail to realize that it is, indeed, the Western system and its economic policies that have polarized the world into Haves and Have-nots; East and West; Developed and Under-developed; First and Third worlds.

In regard to the prevailing system in many so-called Muslim countries, strangely enough, zakah is based on the way it was set up by the Imams under the direction of the Abbasid kings.  Since the Quran does not recognize the existence of kings and priests, they had no authority to develop a Shari’ah for the Muslim masses.  Yet, today, we do have a Shari’ah in our hands, which we accept unquestioningly.  How was this done?   In the first place, the Shari’ah of the Abbasid kings and priests was sanctified by attributing it to the Prophet (pbuh).  Secondly, any critics of the time were silenced by the proverbial carrot and stick.  This method was just as effective then, as it is now.  Those who refused to bow to any form of pressure would be labeled as infidels and put to death; their writings would be destroyed.  In this way, the kings and the priests established their version of the Shari’ah as the truth, to the extent that today, many religious Muslims find the following statements very strange: only the Quran is sufficient for us; we can implement true Islam based solely on the Quran; the prophet (pbuh) left only the written Quran to the Ummah; the Prophet told Muslims to follow only the Quran; the Prophet gradually abolished slavery; the companions of the Prophet (pbuh) were true Mumins who did not deviate from the Quran and the true faith.  Well-meaning religious Muslims will quickly quote Shari’ah to refute the above statements, which are perfectly true and found in the Quran.  How ironic that the Quran has been made to appear strange and the man-made Shari’ah made to look like the truth.

The Real Zakah – The First Universal Welfare System 

Contrary to the beliefs of both religious and secular Muslims, the Prophet’s achievements were based not on ephemeral but on the permanent values of the Quran.  He brought about the greatest revolution – even an economic and political miracle – in human history (see Michael Hart, THE 100, pages 3-10).  In a very short time after the prophet migrated to Medina and implemented the system of salaah and zakah, the economic condition of the people changed. (For a detailed discussion about the system of salaah, see a two part article in MONITOR, pages 6-10, September/October 1998, and pages 7-12, December1998/January 1999)

The Prophet (pbuh) is reported to have said: If a single person were to sleep hungry in a town, then God’s protection is lifted from such a town. [Masnad Imam Ahmad] This hadith emphasizes that no one (Muslim or non-Muslim) under this system should go hungry.  Thus this zakah system created the first universal welfare system in human history. It also gradually transformed the existing slave-based economy to a universal welfare-based economy.  By the end of the Prophet’s period, the entire Arabian Peninsula enjoyed economic as well as political security. This system reached its pinnacle during Khalifa ‘Umar’s time (again, see Michael Hart, THE 100, pages 261-265), a time when, history tells us, hardly anyone was in need of charity.

What has occurred then in the intervening years that the Muslim masses are suffering economic deprivation even though they live in areas with plenty of natural resources?

 What Happened?

Muslims and non-Muslims alike ask the question: If the system implemented by our Prophet (pbuh) and Sahabaa (r) was so good, why did it not continue? The answer is simple: we changed or abandoned the system implemented by the Prophet. Instead of deciding matters with open consultation, as the Quran requires, the Ummayad and Abbasid dynastic rulers created a dictatorship under the guise of  “Shari‘iah” and “Ijma‘a”. This was a ploy to fool the people. The rulers first acquired illegal political authority, and then delegated religious authority to Imams appointed by themselves.  Thus they hijacked the train of Islam from the track of our Prophet (pbuh) and his Sahabba (r) and put it on a new track called “Shari‘ah.” Since then, a minority of the rich and powerful has been riding this train and entertaining their friends while exploiting the vast majority of Muslims along the way. Consequently, common Muslims have continued to live in poverty and to suffer intergenerational economic misery.  Islam’s system of zakah has had nothing to do with this sad state of affairs.

But The Sermons Go On …

While the power hungry Muslim rulers, politicians, and autocrats exploit and plunder the God-given resources, the sermons about zakah go on in mosques and convention centers around the world. And while the effective control of Muslim land and its vast resources have slowly passed into enemy hands, the sermons exhorting ordinary, working-class Muslims to give zakah in the name of Islam and the Sunnah of the Prophet (pbuh) continue. While thousands of children die from malnutrition and lack of medicine, religious Muslims spend millions of dollars on food and decorations to celebrate the departures and arrivals of Hajis (pilgrims) in hundreds of cities and towns around the world.  Many religious and rich Muslims firmly believe that performing multiple Haj and Umra is the highway to heaven. While many of the Imams and religious leaders join in and participate in the celebrations of the rich by praising their religiosity, all the while they exhort the poor to be patient and accept their predetermined fate.   One wonders why the borrowed Zorastrian concept of predetermination, which favors the rich and powerful and permanently disables the poor and the weak, was inserted and is now faithfully maintained in the books of Shari’ah.

Status Quo Vs Change

The big question now looms before us: when and how should we confront these defenders of the status quo?  When will we implement the economic system of zakah so effectively demonstrated by our Prophet (pbuh)? To answer these questions, it is essential that we differentiate between our current concept of zakah and the real meaning and significance of zakah.

Our Present Approach to Zakah

Today, we are taught that zakah is one of the pillars of Islam. zakah is generally translated as charity or poor-due and it is required to be distributed according to the details given in the Shari’ah. However, the descendents of the Prophet (pbuh), generally known as “Syeds” in the Indian subcontinent, are forbidden to take zakah according to this Shari‘ah. No matter how poor, they are considered superior by birth compared to other Muslims due to their supposed relationship with the Prophet (pbuh). Obviously, this is against our Prophet’s Sunnah since he proclaimed justice, fairness, and equality for all, regardless of family or blood relationship.

The dispensation of zakah is regulated by different rates (called shar‘h) for different items (called nisaab) whose details are given in books of hadith and Fiqh.  Zakah on money is 2.5% of the savings over a period of one year according to the Shari’ah.  There are many conditions attached to the giving and receiving of zakah.  There is no uniformity even among the Sunnis in the restrictions, rates, and even the items of zakah.

In addition, there are different books of Fiqh and Shari’ah for different Muslim sects or schools of thought! Although Islamic scholars know about these differences in zakah among the Muslim sects, they rarely bring them out into the open, since it is in the interest of these scholars to keep the people ignorant.

The differences in zakah among the four Sunni Imams are not as major as among the Sunni and Shi’ia Imams. For example, in Fiqh Jaffariah, there is no zakah on paper currency. So, for the followers of this Fiqh there is no Zakah on bank accounts. When General Zia-ul-Haq, the Pakistani military ruler instituted compulsory zakah in Pakistan, the Shi’ia ‘Ulema revolted against it and refused to abide by the government’s zakah ordinance. Ultimately, the government excluded Shi’ias from the yearly bank account deductions. This led many Sunnis to declare themselves Shi’iason their bank forms to avoid paying zakah on their bank accounts.

Religious Tricks to Avoid Zakah

Some Sunni jurists have been very creative in teaching people how to avoid paying zakah.  The Kitab-ul-‘Heil or Book of Tricks teaches Muslims how to avoid zakah while technically fulfilling the requirements of the Sharia’h.  In other words, how they can have their wine but not lose jannah:  Rind ke rind rahe haath se Jannat na gayee.

Many religious Muslims, who are very particular about prayers, are quick to take advantage of the tricks specified in these books.  Like the Jews fishing on the Sabbath, this is tantamount to playing games with the verses of Allah.   The Quran reminds us: “In the long run evil in the extreme will be the end of those who do evil; for that they rejected the Signs of Allah, and held them up to ridicule” (30:10). “And when he learns something of Our Signs, he takes them in jest: For such there will be a humiliating penalty” (45:9). [Yusuf ‘Ali]

Conclusion

Dear sisters and brothers!  We must re-turn to the true spirit of the Quran; we must have the courage to follow the Islam of our Prophet (pbuh), which requires real sacrifice and a drastic change in our lifestyles. We must go back to the Quran as the primary source, and not to the rulings of Islamic scholars from the time of the Ummayad and Abbasid rulers.

In Part 2 of this article we will look at the real meaning and significance of zakah – the Arabic word zakah with its root z-k-w, which means growth and development, not charity or poor-due. Keeping this meaning in full view, zakah is supposed to ultimately lead to growth and development of all human beings; it is supposed to remove the need for charity or poor-due in the long term. We will see how zakah not only leads to the economic progress of individuals and all human beings, but to their spiritual progress as well. We will also note the difference between Sadaqaa and Zakah.

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WHY PAKISTAN? (Dr. Mansoor Alam, Ohio, USA)

Why was Pakistan created? What was its genesis and what ideology was driving the Pakistan movement? Why did a vast majority of Muslims support the idea of Pakistan and why did a majority of the Islamic scholars (Ulema) oppose it? These are the questions which have been debated ever since Pakistan came into existence. In this 50th anniversary of Pakistan, while celebrating its golden jubilee, it is equally important to look back and give some thought and reflect upon these questions. In recent years, many have even started to question the wisdom and the vision of the country’s founding leaders. (Traditionally, there have always been opponents of Pakistan trying to wreck the very house that provides them shelter and sustenance). In answering these questions, we will first explain the positions of those who opposed the idea of Pakistan, and then present the arguments which Allama Iqbal and Quaid-e-Azam put forth in its favor.

Why were the British and the Hindus against the idea of creating a separate country for Muslims? Because the British (as Mountbatten mentioned many times) wanted to leave behind their legacy, and history of their rule and accomplishments on a united India. They did not want to create a fracture in the country which had served them so well that it was called the jewel in the British crown. The Hindus, on the other hand, did not want to rule over only a part of India – especially after being ruled by Muslim kings and the British for so many centuries. This was their only chance in history to rule over all of India, and they did not want to miss this opportunity. Thus, both the British and the Hindus had their own reasons and self interests to oppose the permanent partition of India. Consequently, such a behavior on their part was perfectly understandable and quite logical.

But what about the Muslims’ role in this equation? Unlike the British and the Hindus who were each united in their opposition to the idea of Pakistan, Muslims were not united in favor of Pakistan (as always—history bears ample testimony to this disunity amongst Muslims) even on this fundamental issue of extreme historical importance. Although a vast majority of Muslims supported the idea of Pakistan, many prominent Muslims, especially the Islamic scholars (called “Ulema”) were against it and vehemently opposed its creation—the most prominent amongst them were Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Maulana Hussain Ahmad Madani and Maulana Abul A’la Maududi, etc. Why did they oppose this idea while a vast majority of Muslims supported it? In order to understand this apparent paradox, we have to go to the very root of the question. Let us begin our journey.

It was Allama Iqbal who for the first time gave the idea of Pakistan. He had a deep understanding of the Quran and devoted almost all his life for propagating its pure message in his God given unique style. He said:

“If you wish to live the life of a Muslim, then it is not possible except to live by the Quran.” This couplet of Iqbal is a poetic rendering of verses 7:3 and 33:2 of the Quran.

Iqbal suggested this because of his deep understanding of Islam, its political process and its history. Iqbal suggests that Muslims have to guide their lives collectively and create a social order based on the Quran because:

“Allah who has created all the objects in the universe, has also undertaken to make them aware of their goal and guide them towards it” (20:50)

The principles of the Quran were gradually implemented as a living force and a living miracle in the society by Prophet Muhammad (S) which sent tremors into the very hearts of the Byzantine and the Persian empires. This took complete shape as a social order during the period of Caliph Umar (R). [Both the Byzantine empire of the Romans and the Sassanid empire of the Persians were defeated, and the social order established during Caliph Umar (R) stretched from north Africa in the west to the Arabian Sea and Persia in the east.] In this social order, the three institutions of human exploitation—kingships, religious priesthood, and capitalism—were eliminated. Thus, people were enjoying universal human rights and freedoms guaranteed in the Quran and were completely free from any political, religious or economic suppression and exploitation because it was based on the Quranic principle that:

“It is not allowed for a man that Allah should give him the book, power to judge, and even prophethood, and he should say to his fellow beings to obey his orders rather than those of Allah…”(3:79)

In another verse, Allah says very clearly: “Those who do not judge by what Allah has revealed, they are kafirs.” (5:44). Thus, it is absolutely clear that according to the Quran, the only obedience is to Allah (through His book the Quran) and not to any individual (who may even be a king or a queen) or a parliament or any other organization. [Caliph Umar (R) often used to tell his people to remove him from power (khilafat) if they noticed that any decision of his was against any Quranic principles. This is in stark contrast to the situation today, in which so called religious leaders and politicians, reformists and would-be renewers of Muslim power, ask Muslims to follow them blindly as the unquestionable Ameer just as “sheep follow a shepard” [Why Tanzeem-e-Islami? Page 3, by Imran Hosein, Director of Da’wah for Dr. Israr Ahmed’s Tanzeem-e-Islami of North America]. This is called taqlid in Shariah terminology.]

This social order established according to the Quran prevailed for some time after the Prophet (S), but was soon corrupted by the establishment of the kingship sustained by capitalism. To ensure their survival and consolidation, these forces availed themselves of the cooperation of men who appeared to speak in the name of God. They posed as the interpreters of God’s will and thus distorted the principles and tenets of the Quran, enabling them to stifle it as a living force in the society. Iqbal says:

 “These scholars do not change themselves, but they change the Quran (by their interpretations). To what degree these so called experts of Islam have fallen.”

 “Oh Allah! Your guidance is no doubt the Truth. But our interpreters of the Quran can turn the Quran into Pazhand (or Bible) by their interpretations.”

This kind of Islam was called “Ajami Islam” by Iqbal. This state of affairs had prevailed throughout the Muslim countries for centuries. It is this version of (corrupted) Islam that the Ulema (mentioned earlier and many others) represented. These Ulema used to argue that when (Hindu) Congress was giving Muslims freedom to practice their religion, then there is no need for a separate country. [Although there were a few Muslim leaders in Congress, it was mainly a Hindu organization. These Muslim leaders were basically puppets of the Hindu high command and especially selected to mislead Muslims.] Iqbal fiercely opposed this version of Islam and said about these Ulema:

“If the Mullah has freedom of prayer in India, then his ignorance leads him to believe that Islam is free as well.”

“What a nation is and what the leadership of a nation is; How these poor Imams of two Raka’a can know.”

Because Iqbal’s view of Islam presented a threat to the “Ajami,” passive Islam being practiced by the Ulema, most Islamic scholars turned against Iqbal and opposed his idea of Pakistan. How ironic that most of these Islamic scholars moved to Pakistan after it was created and then even started demanding power. They argued that since Pakistan was created in the name of Islam, we as the custodians of Islam, should have the power to implement it. [Of course they wanted (and still want) to implement the “Ajami” Islam (i.e., the corrupted version of Islam) which Iqbal opposed all along].

Now let us return to the basic question of why Pakistan was created. Dear reader, the best way to understand the genesis and ideology of Pakistan is to go to the main source directly- Allama Iqbal and Quaid-e-Azam. Iqbal, because he was the originator of the idea of Pakistan and presented the ideology for its movement. And Quaid-e-Azam because he was the implementer of the idea of Pakistan and provided the requisite leadership for the political impetus needed for its eventual realization as a country. Otherwise, we will be lost in the debates and counter-debates, and arguments and counter-arguments, if we turn to other sources. So, in the following, I will present several quotations from recorded speeches and writings of Allama Iqbal and Quaid-e-Azam. You, dear reader, can make up your own mind as to why Pakistan was created. You do not have to read, and should not read second-hand sources in making up your mind.

As we have seen already, the social order implemented on the basis of the Quran was replaced by dictatorships and the Quran was never allowed to play any practical part in the lives of the Muslims since then. Iqbal raised his voice and called upon the Ummah to revive true Islam in the light of the Quran. This, he said, was possible only if we had a piece of land in which a state could be established purely on the guidelines indicated by the Quran. He said in his presidential address of the All India Muslim League session at Allahabad in 1930:

“I, therefore, demand the formation of a consolidated Muslim state in the best interests of India and Islam. For India, it means security and peace resulting from an internal balance of power; for Islam, an opportunity to rid itself of the stamp that Arabian Imperialism was forced to give it, to mobilize its laws, its education, its culture, and to bring them into closer contact with its own original spirit and with the spirit of modern times.”

At the annual session of the All India Muslim conference at Lahore on March 21, 1932, he said:

“…the possibility of the faith you represent is not yet exhausted. It can still create a new world where social rank of man is not determined by his caste or color, or the amount of dividend he earns, but by the kind of life he lives: where capital cannot be allowed to accumulate so as to dominate the real producer of wealth. This superb ideal of your faith, however, needs emancipation from the medieval fancies of emotions, which, during the course of centuries, we have woven around ourselves. And be it further said to the shame of us- men of older generations- that we failed to equip the younger generation for the economic, political and even religious crisis that the present age is likely to bring. The community needs a complete overhauling of its mentality in order that it may again become capable of feeling the urge of fresh desires and ideal.”

Iqbal further said in his book Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam:

“…during the course of history the moral and social ideals of Islam have been gradually de-Islamized through the influence of local character, and pre-Islamic superstitions of Muslim nations. These ideals today are more Iranian, Turkish, or Arabic than Islamic… The only alternative open to us then is to tear off from Islam the hard crust which has immobilized an essentially dynamic outlook on life, and to rediscover the original verities of freedom, equality and solidarity with a view to rebuild our moral, social and political ideals out of their original simplicity and universality.”

This was the purpose for which Allama Iqbal had given the idea of Pakistan- to be a true Islamic state built on the foundation provided by the Quran. This was to be a unique state among the states of the world (unfortunately, this purpose was not achieved; we will come back to this later). Iqbal examined critically, in his Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, what had been going on in our past history and said:

“The teaching of the Quran that life is a process of progressive creation necessitates that each generation, guided but unhampered by the work of its predecessors, should be permitted to solve its own problems.”

Iqbal accomplished his task and handed over the torch to Quaid-e-Azam whom he had personally persuaded to take up the challenge of fulfilling his dream of Pakistan.

Quaid-e-Azam said in his presidential address in 1940:

“It is extremely difficult to appreciate why our Hindu friends fail to understand the real nature of Islam and Hinduism. They are not religions in the strict sense of the word but are, in fact, different and distinct social orders… The Hindus and Muslims belong to two different religious philosophies, social customs, literatures. They belong to two different civilizations which are based mainly on conflicting ideas and conceptions. Their aspects of life and our life are different.”

In his speech at the Frontier Muslim League Conference on November 21, 1945, he said:

“We have to fight a double edged battle, one against the Hindu Congress and the British Imperialists, both of them being capitalists. The Muslims demand Pakistan where they could rule according to their own code of life and according to their own cultural growth, traditions and Islamic laws.”

In a message to NWFP Muslim Students Federation in April 1943, he said:

“You have asked me to give a message. What message can I give you? We have got the great message in the Quran for our guidance and enlightenment.”

In an Eid message to the nation in 1945, he said:

“Every Muslim knows that the injunctions of the Quran are not confined to religious and moral duties. Everyone except those who are ignorant, knows that the Quran is the general code of the Muslims. A religious, social, civil, commercial, military, judicial, criminal and penal code; it regulates everything from the ceremonies of religion to those of daily life; from the salvation of the soul to the health of the body; from the rights of all, to those of each individual; from morality to crime; from punishment here to that in the life to come, and our Prophet (S) has enjoined on us that every Muslim should possess a copy of the Holy Quran and be his own priest. Therefore, Islam is not confined to the spiritual tenets and doctrines and rituals and ceremonies. It is a complete code regulating the whole Muslim society in every department of life, collectively and individually.”

In August 1941, Quaid-e-Azam gave an interview to the students of the Usmania University. The replies he gave to the questions asked by the students explain his depth and comprehension of the basic foundations of Islam. Here are excerpts from the interview:

 Q. What are the essential features of religion and a religious state?

A. When I hear the word “religion,” my mind thinks at once, according to the English language and British usage, of private relations between man and God. But I know full well that according to Islam, the word is not restricted to the English connotation. I am neither a Maulwi nor a Mullah, nor do I claim knowledge of theology. But I have studied in my own way the Holy Quran and Islamic tenets. This magnificent book is full of guidance respecting all human life, whether spiritual, or economic, political or social, leaving no aspect untouched.

Q. What is the distinctive feature of the Islamic state?

A. There is a special feature of the Islamic state which must not be overlooked. There, obedience is due to God and God alone, which takes practical shape in the observance of the Quranic principles and commands. In Islam, obedience is due neither to a king, nor to a parliament, nor to any other organization. It is the Quranic provisions which determine the limits of our freedom and restrictions in political and social spheres. In other words, the Islamic state is an agency for enforcement of the Quranic principles and injunctions.

There will be no economic exploitation by the capitalists in an Islamic state. In his presidential address delivered to the annual session of the All India Muslim League, in Delhi on April 24, 1943, he said:

“Here I should like to give a warning to the landlords and capitalists who have flourished at our expense by a system which is so vicious, which is so wicked and which makes them so selfish that it is difficult to reason with them. The exploitation of the masses has gone into their blood. They have forgotten the lessons of Islam. Greed and selfishness have made these people subordinate to the interests of others in order to fatten themselves. It is true we are not in power today. You go anywhere to the countryside. I have visited villages. There are millions and millions of our people who hardly get one meal a day. Is this civilization? Is this the aim of Pakistan? Do you visualize that millions have been exploited and cannot get one meal a day? If this is the idea of Pakistan, I would not have it. If they are wise, they will have to adjust themselves to the new modern conditions of life. If they don’t, God help them, we shall not help them.”

Alas! These ideals which Allama Iqbal and Quaid-e-Azam presented were never fully achieved. Only the shell of their dreams exists today, which is the actual country of Pakistan. Even the shell was broken when East Pakistan separated. Iqbal died before his dream became true and Quaid-e-Azam died in its very early stages, and Pakistan was left to the care of individuals who saw Pakistan as the vehicle for gaining power themselves. Greed and selfishness continue unabated. The dream of Iqbal is still awaiting to be fulfilled.

“Those who are at the helm of affairs (in Pakistan) are the ones who never participated in its journey.”

But Muslims are always hopeful because they know that if they turn towards the Quran then Allah promises that their condition will take a turn for the better. And Allah never turns away from his promise.

Finally, let me finish with the words of Iqbal as a tribute to him in this 50th anniversary of Pakistan. He closed his 1930 speech in Allahabad with the following words:

“…Rise above sectional interests and private ambitions… Pass from matter to spirit. Matter is diversity; spirit is light, life and unity. One lesson I have learnt from the history of Muslims. At critical moments in their history, it is Islam that has saved Muslims and not vice versa. If today you focus your vision on Islam and seek inspiration from the ever-vitalizing idea embodied in it, you will be only reassembling your scattered forces, regaining your lost integrity, and thereby saving yourself from total destruction.”

May Allah give us the strength and the courage to be worthy of these feelings expressed by Allama Iqbal.

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What Is Iman? (Dr. Mansoor Alam, Ohio, USA)

“What is your faith?”, asked the person sitting next to me at an airport transit lounge whom I had befriended while waiting for my next flight, that was delayed by several hours. I had started a conversation with him which turned into some kind of metaphysical discussion about the purpose of human life, when he politely asked me the above question. I, in turn, asked him, “What do you mean by faith?” He replied, “You know, everybody has a faith, except, of course, atheists.” I continued, “This does not explain what is meant by faith?” To this, he gave the following explanation: A Christian’s faith is Christianity; a Jew’s faith is Judaism; a Muslim’s faith is Islam; and so on. It seemed to me that my new friend thought that he had a good deal of understanding in this matter. I interrupted, “But you are talking about religion.” He continued, “Yes, kind of—but religion is different from faith. For example, a Christian’s faith is Christianity but his religion could be Catholicism, Protestantism, etc. . .” According to my friend’s logic, then, a Muslim’s faith is Islam and his religion could be well Sunni or Shia etc. “But that is not how most Muslims think,” I told my friend; “Muslims think that their faith is Islam—which is their religion.” I then asked my friend, “What do you mean by religion?” At this point, he gave a long sermon type lecture:

“Religion is too complex to understand. It is a private matter between man and God, and your faith is your personal subjective belief in Him in whatever way you prefer. God is merciful. He is very forgiving. So, He will forgive any mistakes we humans make. It really makes us all feel very good that when we commit sins and pray and ask for forgiveness from God, He forgives. All praise be to Him who is so forgiving. When God is so generous and gracious that, whether or not we really understand the meaning of faith, or any other religious concept for that matter; and since He is going to forgive us anyway, then why bother exploring these concepts in great detail and depth. Let us keep following what our ancestors and scholars have explained. After all, they were great people and great scholars. They traveled long distances, suffered greatly in search of truth and knowledge and took extreme care to preserve and transmit that knowledge to us so that our lives become easier and successful in the sight of God. We will get all the rewards and go to heaven by simply practicing our faiths the way our forefathers told us. It is wrong to question and deviate from what they have passed on to us.”

At this point, I decided not to ask any further questions from my friend. I sensed a bit of uneasiness in him. Otherwise, I would have liked to ask: What does he mean by God’s forgiveness? By His mercy, His generosity, His graciousness, and His praise? And what is the meaning of prayer? I had first asked a simple question as to what is meant by faith. Not only did he not answer my question, several other questions entered my mind as well. I told him that I have immense respect for all the great works of all those great scholars. But they were limited by the knowledge available to them at their time. Tremendous advancements have since then been made in various branches of knowledge such as Physical, Biological, and Social Sciences and Humanities; and we can better explain the religious concepts in the light of this new knowledge—especially in the fields of anthropology, archeology, sociology, psychology, embryology, neurology, and astronomy. My friend seemed perplexed at this statement, and he commented, “What do these various fields of knowledge have to do with faith or religion?” And he repeated his earlier statement that faith is a private matter between man and God. So, my friend had completed a full circle and came back to the beginning of our conversation. I felt that explaining one concept in terms of another concept and then building a circular chain of arguments is not a satisfactory approach. I told my friend that I am not satisfied with this approach of explaining faith by using circular arguments and want to investigate it further. My friend, on the other hand said, that he is fully and completely satisfied with this approach and has a good feeling about it. At this point, an announcement was made that our flights were ready to depart. Then we parted—he on his flight, I on mine.

I kept wondering during my flight: Isn’t life like this, too? Everyone is waiting in the transit lounge called Earth for one’s flight—to the next world. But of course, there is a significant difference. Unlike the daily flights originating from different places and going to various destinations, life’s flight originates from a single source and takes us to a single destination.

One Journey Ends, Another Begins

Since I had resolved to investigate for myself the meaning of faith in depth, I turned to the most authentic source I knew: Allah’s book, the Qur’an, to find out the truth about it. Our Muslim brothers and sisters have lost interest in exploring the meanings of some of the most fundamental concepts and principles of Islam. Among such concepts is the most important one, called Iman.

As every Muslim knows (or should know), Iman is the foremost and essential requirement of Islam. Without proper Iman, one cannot become a Muslim even if one is born in a Muslim family. In fact, Iman is something which has to be (self) consciously acquired in order to become a Muslim, constantly maintained in order to remain a Muslim, and continually reinforced and fortified in order to begin the next life as a Muslim. Therefore, Iman is something which cannot (and should not) be taken for granted. (Unfortunately, many of us take it for granted.)

If Iman is so important that it is the kernel of life here and a savior in the hereafter, then it becomes necessary for each of us to find out what Iman really is. It is not right to say that I am a Muslim (and therefore I have Iman) because I was born in a Muslim family. As we will see shortly, the Qur’an (and that means Allah) does not accept this as a valid argument.

What is Iman and what is its definition in the context of Islam? We will have to explore this question in some depth (as mentioned earlier). This is a fundamental question concerning Muslims and Islam. But one thing is quite clear: A definition of Iman which contradicts any Qur’anic principle cannot be accepted as Iman in Islam, no matter where and whomsoever it may have come from. After this preamble, let us explore, first of all, the meaning of the Arabic word Iman and its definition given in the Qur’an by Allah.

Meaning and Definition of Iman

The root of the word Iman is a-m-n which means: to be calm and quiet (in one’s heart); to be protected from fear; trustworthiness and truthfulness (Taj al-Urus). Iman means to accept truthfully, to be convinced, to verify something, to rely upon or have confidence in something. Iman is usually translated in English as faith or belief, and faith in turn signifies acceptance without proof or argument, without reference to reason or thought, knowledge or insight. According to the Qur’an, Iman is conviction which is based upon reason and knowledge; a conviction that results from full mental acceptance and intellectual satisfaction; the kind of conviction that gives one a feeling of inner contentment and peace. And a Mu’min is one who accepts truth in such a way that it ensures his own peace and helps him to safeguard the peace and security of the rest of mankind. In fact, Al-Mu’min is one of the attributes of God Himself(59:23).

Allah gives a comprehensive and an objective definition of Iman in the Qur’an in Sura Al-Baqarah as:

To believe in Allah, and in the hereafter, and in Malaika(angels or Allah’s forces), and in the Book, and the Prophets.” (2:177)

[Notice that the Qur’an mentions only five components of Iman. The sixth component (Qadr), has been added later. The prevalent belief in Qadr among Muslims (which is translated as preordination, foreordination, predestination, destiny, or fate) is derived from Zoroastrian (Magian) concept. The concept of Qadr and Taqdir according to the Qur’an and Iqbal have been discussed already in a series of two articles entitled “Iqbal and Taqdir – Part I & II. For details, please refer to them.]

To deny any of the above leads one into the category of deviated ones (i.e., unbelievers):

Anyone who denies Allah, His Malaika, His books, His messengers, and the day of judgement has gone far far astray.” (4: 136)

Here again only five components have been mentioned. In the context of Iman, many use verse (2:62) and say that God has said that if Muslims, Jews, Christians, and Sabians believe in God and the hereafter and do good deeds, then they will go to Heaven.

First of all, this verse does not say that they will go to Heaven; it only says that they will have their reward (ajr) with their Rabb (Nourisher) and they will have no fear or sadness. Second, one cannot isolate this verse and ignore the rest of the other verses related to this same topic. For example, verse (2:137) says:

So if they (Christians and Jews) believe the way you (the Prophet (PBUH) and his companions) believe, then they are indeed on the right path.”

Another verse (4:47) says that it is necessary for the people of the book to believe in the Book revealed to the Prophet (PBUH) i.e. the Qur’an. Therefore, it is clear from these verses that what verse (2:62) is implying is that anyone (without any exception) can be a Mu’min no matter what his previous faith may be (including the born Muslims). But everyone has to believe in the entire Qur’an as a revealed guidance. This is what is meant by belief in God. Saying that I believe in God and not accepting his Books (including the only preserved Book of God in the original form existing in the world now, the Qur’an) as guidance for life, is in reality, not a belief in God. As a necessary corollary to this is the requirement of believing in all the Prophets and the means of message delivery, i.e., Malaika (Allah’s forces or Angels). And since Allah wants to see how well we used His gifts (of life and His Book of guidance), hence requiring us to believe in the day of judgement and accountability. This explains why it is necessary to believe in all the five components of Iman where each component has its own objective reality. This means that each of these components of Iman exists and is real just as the sun exists and is real. So, there is nothing subjective about Iman.

The Importance of Reason in Iman

The Qur’anic view of reason and its place in human life deserves careful consideration. Man has been granted a mind which enables him to think, and through the instrument of intellect, is supposed to build up a system of knowledge. Reason converts the raw data supplied by the senses into knowledge and the Qur’an assigns to reason an important role in life:

“The worst of beasts in the sight of Allah are the deaf and dumb who do not use their intellect to understand.” (8:22)

This is a graphic description of the degradation of man when he does not employ reason to his service. Such a man, the Qur’an tells us, not only lives a worthless and debased life here but also renders himself unfit for the hereafter which he enters after death:

“There are many among Jinns and human beings, who lead such a life as makes it obvious that they are meant for Hell. They have hearts wherewith they understand not, they have eyes wherewith they see not, and they have ears wherewith they hear not; they are like cattle—nay, are worse; they are the heedless.” (7:179)

This point is again emphasized in Sura Al-Furqan. The Prophet (PBUH) is addressed:

“Do you think that most of them hear or have sense? They are but as cattle—nay but they are further astray.” (25:44)

The Qur’an expects man to think and use his power of understanding in the light of the guidance provided by wahi or revelation from God. These two sources of guidance, i.e., reason and revelation, are supplementary to each other. If they are kept within their proper spheres, then there will be no conflict between them. the Prophet (PBUH) is commanded to say:

“This is my way. My invitation to you to follow Allah’s path is based on reason and insight—mine as well as of those who follow me.” (12:108)

The Qur’an challenges the opponents of Islam to produce arguments in support of their contention:

“Ask then, (O Prophet!) Bring your proofs if you are the truthful.” (2:111)

They are admonished when they argue about things of which they have no knowledge:

“Why, therefore, do you wrangle concerning that about which you have no knowledge?” (3:66)

The Qur’an asks us to refrain from arguments about which we have no knowledge:

“Do not pursue that whereof you have no knowledge. Verily, the hearing and sight and the heart, each of these will be asked.” (17:36)

It is clear from these verses that Allah puts an extraordinary emphasis on (human) reason and intellect. Those who do not use reason are called worse than animals by Allah. The revelation from Allah is meant to be used with reason and understanding in order to enlighten our minds and hearts and not to be followed blindly:

“Those who do not use their intellect, the matter remains confused to them.” (10:100)

“The blind and the seeing are not equal, nor is the darkness equal to light, nor is shadow equal to the sun’s refulgence; nor are the living equal to the dead.” (35:19-22)

“Say (O Prophet!): Are those equal; those who know and those who do not know?” (39:9)

And most important of all, Allah says that even His revelations are not to be accepted blindly. The Believers (Mu’minin) according to the Qur’an, are:

“Those who, when the revelations of their Rabb (Nourisher and Sustainer) are presented to them, do not fall thereat deaf and blind.” (25:73)

Thus, the Qur’an calls upon all human beings to apply their minds (with open minds, not with an a priori bias, prejudice or ancestral customized thoughts) to its teaching, and to strive constantly to grasp its meaning and rationale. The following commands are for everyone (and not just for the U’lemas):

“Do they not think deeply in the Qur’an?” (4:82, 47:24)

“This book (i.e., the Qur’an) has been sent down on you (O Prophet) that they may think deeply on its verses.” (38:29)

[It must be emphasized here that pondering in the translation and tafseer of the Qur’an is not equivalent to pondering in the Qur’an.]

Thus, Iman has to be individually acquired which requires that each of us consciously strive to acquire knowledge and understanding by using our own God-given gift of reason and intellect in the light of the revelation given in the Qur’an, so that Iman can enter our hearts.

Aspects of Iman

Let us list here several aspects of Iman from the Qur’an which shed light on its reality:

Iman is not to accept it with the tongue but to accept it with the heart. (2:8-9)

To accept everything which the Qur’an says as truth is Iman. (2:26)

In order to acquire Iman in Allah, it is necessary to first reject every authority other than Allah. (2:25-26)

Iman will lead human beings from darkness towards light. (2:257)

In matters of Iman, one’s profession is irrelevant. (26:111-112)

Unless Iman enters the heart, it cannot be called Iman (and consequently, one cannot call oneself Mu’min). One can only say that one has surrendered to Islam. (49:14)

Allah does not discard anyone’s Iman. (2:143)

Finally, an important aspect which must be emphasized here is that no form of force or coercion (direct or indirect, temporal or spiritual) can be used in connection with Iman. This is because it contradicts the very definition of Iman. (As we have seen, Iman is derived from a-m-n which means peace in the heart.) So any forced conversion cannot be allowed in Islam. In fact, forced Imanis no Iman at all.

The journey which I undertook in order to discover for myself the meaning of faith revealed one thing very clearly—Iman in Islam is not a (blind) faith held privately and subjectively (without any rationale or reason) between an individual and God. As we have seen, there is a clear, explicit, and objective definition of Iman given in the Qur’an and Allah has Himself explained the process of how to acquire it in various other verses related to this topic. Therefore, it is not proper (for any Muslim, at least) to say that faith is a private, subjective matter between an individual and God. Nevertheless, the maxim “faith is a private matter” is accepted as a universal truth. It seems no one thinks that any serious effort is needed to investigate its in-depth meaning and provide a proof for this oft repeated phrase. A moment’s reflection, however, reveals that those who believe in this maxim are really contradicting themselves in their daily lives. A good religious speaker greatly influences people’s thoughts and beliefs. The moment one opens one’s private belief to be influenced by others, it no longer remains private. So much so, that an accomplished religious leader can cause havoc in people’s lives to the extent that a single statement of his may cause them to give up their lives and/or take other people’s lives. Some people may say that (private) faith held firmly can not be influenced by others, but I think this is not possible.

And we know that this scenario is physically as well as psychologically impossible now in the age of the information super highway, world wide web, and the Internet. As a matter of fact, this distinction between private and public domain of human life is the product of a concept called dualism which finds no sanction anywhere in the Qur’an. Life is a unity which cannot be bifurcated into private and public parts, religious and secular parts, or material and spiritual parts. In the words of Iqbal:

“Thus the affirmation of spirit sought by Christianity would come not by the renunciation of external forces which are already permeated by the illumination of spirit, but by proper adjustment of man’s relation to these forces in view of the light received from within.

“. . .With Islam, the ideal and real [i.e. spiritual and material] are not two opposing forces which cannot be reconciled. The life of the ideal [i.e. spiritual life] consists, not in a total breach with the real [i.e. material life] which would tend to shatter the very organic wholeness of life into painful oppositions. . .

“Islam, however, faces the opposition with a view to overcome it. . .Islam, recognizing the contact of the ideal with real, says ‘yes’ to the world of matter and points the way to master it with a view to discover a basis for a realistic regulation of life.”

(Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, pages 7-8.)

Unfortunately, this is what life has become today—comprised of painful oppositions in our feelings and emotions, in our thoughts and actions—because the foundation (i.e. faith) on which the life’s superstructure is to be built as a coherent system is flawed.

Now if the foundation itself is defective, no matter how much tinkering and patch-up job is done to save the superstructure(of a society), sooner or later it is going to collapse. Many of them have collapsed already and many are on the way moving towards their final destiny.

In fact, we are all on a mission and a journey, continuously moving towards a final destination whether we realize it or not. The electrons and neurons in our bodies, the earth we inhabit, the solar system, the galaxy—from the smallest to the biggest, everything and everyone and the life in general, are all on a journey towards their goal determined by Allah.

Allah says in the Qur’an that if all the trees on the planet became pens and all its oceans became ink, the words of Allah (and the meanings contained in them) would not be exhausted (31:27, 18:109). That means we are limited by our finite capacity of knowledge and understanding. But still, Allah enjoins on every one of us (who call ourselves Muslims) to use our reason, intellect, and the up-to-date human knowledge and to directly try to understand and explore the meanings of His revelations (as noted earlier in many verses, especially verse 25:73). We will never be able to exhaust the meanings of Allah’s words but we are asked, nevertheless, to keep striving continuously. That is why it is all the more important not to give up and stop this process by saying that our great scholars of the past have already explored all there was to be explored and they have understood all there was to be understood. And we simply have to refer to them in matters of Islam. This passive approach on our part will not absolve us from our duty to ponder directly in the Qur’an as required by Allah. This requirement is for each and every generation and for all time to come.

So, with this spirit as the driving force, we will consider another important aspect of Iman called Iman-bil-Ghaib in the Qur’an (usually translated as belief in the unseen). We will venture to explore its meaning in the next part of this article where we will also explain the overall relationship of Iman with another significant concept called A’mal.

The journey continues…

=============== Part 2 ==============

We have seen (in the first part of the article) that Allah demands Iman in all of the Quran (and not in parts of it) from everyone – be they born Muslims, Jews, Christians, Sabians, or from any other religion. But the situation is critical as far as born Muslims are concerned because they are under the impression that they have Iman by virtue of their birth. Most Muslims are, in fact, Muslims because they were born in Muslim families, so much so, that a person born in a Sunni family is considered Sunni just as a person born in a Shia family is considered Shia. If they were born in Hindu, Jewish or Christian families, they will be Hindus, Jews, or Christians, respectively. In view of the prevalent belief systems then, how can a born Muslim justify his/her Iman in light of the Quran? Remember that if a person did not have the freedom to choose something, he/she is not responsible for it. So, if we (born Muslims) did not freely and consciously choose Islam, we are not entitled to it in an active sense but only in a passive sense.

Originally, all the Sahaba (R) had accepted Islam with due thought and understanding and therefore, they were among the category of true Quranic mo’mins. However, many tribes accepted Islamen masse (110:2) when Islam had become well-established as a system with rule of law in society. The Quran refers to these people as follows:

“These bedouins say that they are mo’mins. O Prophet! Tell them that you do not have Iman. You have only accepted to surrender (to Islam). Iman has not yet entered your hearts.” (49:14)

[All references to the Quranic verses are from Yusuf Ali, The Holy Qur’an: Text, Translation and Commentary, New Revised Edition, Amana Corporation, Brentwood, Maryland]

We discussed earlier in detail the meaning and aspects of Iman from the Quran which sheds light as to why these bedouins should not call themselves mo’mins. If Allah does not let these bedouins call themselves mo’mins, who willingly accepted to enter Islam, how can born Muslims call themselves mo’mins, who did not accept Islam by choice and did not fulfill the requirements of Iman?

So one can easily conclude, without doubt, that Allah says Iman must involve reasoning, understanding, and full mental acceptance based on reason. However, it is easy to see what kind of an internal conflict a Muslim might endure, thinking on the one hand that he needs to utilize powers of thought and reasoning, but still in the end, needs to believe in something which is beyond sight and beyond reasoning, the ghayb. This leads many God-fearing pious Muslims to create a mental dichotomy of their inner and outer universes (spiritual and material; religious and scientific). How can this internal conflict be resolved? – Only through the understanding of what Iman-bil-ghayb really is.

Iman-bil-ghayb in verse (2:3) is usually translated as “belief in the unseen.” This translation prompts many to say that the Quran requires blind faith because Allah requires us to believe in the unseen. They wrongly conclude from this that reason, intellect, understanding, thought and knowledge have no place or lesser place in Iman. As we have seen, there are numerous verses in the Quran which specifically require us to use our reason and intellect to acquire and strengthen Iman (e.g. 8:22, 7:179, 25:44, 12:108, 17:36, 10:100, 39:9, 4:82, 47:24, 38:29, and most importantly, 25:73). So, there seems to be an apparent contradiction in the Quran. But there obviously cannot be any contradictions in the Quran because Allah very clearly says in verse 4:82 that if this Quran was from other than Allah, then there would have been many contradictions in it. This means that the contradictions are in our minds and not in the Quran.

In order to remove this apparent contradiction in our interpretation of Iman-bil-ghayb, we have to focus on the meaning of the Arabic word ghayb.

Let us begin our journey.

Anything which is hidden from the eye but exists is called ghayb. If something exists as a concept but is hidden from the eye, then it is also called ghayb. Ghaabatun, refers to a thick forest in which the ground is hidden from the trees. Ghayyubaat-as-Shajar refers to the roots of a tree which are hidden in the ground and are not visible (Taj-al-Urus). A horse that reserves (hides) some of its strength in a race is called farasun ghaa’ibun and a horse that exerts and manifests (reveals) all its potential in a race is called farasun shaahidun (Lane’s Lexicon).

Thus it is necessary that something ghaa’ibun must exist somewhere although hidden from the eye. When it is exposed to the eye then it is called mash-hoodun. If that thing is not present anywhere (does not exist) then it cannot be called ghaa’ibun. This is the reason ghibatun means to backbite (to talk about the faults present in a person) in his/her absence, whereas if the backbiting is false (e.g. rumors) and not present in the person being talked about (does not exist), it is called buhtaanun, not ghibatun (Taj-ul-Urus).

If we go deeper in our investigation of ghayb, we find that there are different aspects of ghayb. Most people think of only the first aspect when ghayb is mentioned to them, and do not realize the other essential aspects of it.

Ghayb in the Divine Universe in the Divine Universe

The only way mankind can gain knowledge about the divine universe is through wahi (revelation). The ghayb of the divine universe (which can never be perceived by mankind) is what most Muslims usually think of when ghayb is mentioned to them. They mechanically repeat a list stating Allah, Heaven, Hell, etc. as examples of ghayb. Indeed, these are the truths and realities (including God’s nature and His personality) which are beyond human sense-perception, and are also referred to as “al-ghayb“. The Quran says about Allah:

“No vision can grasp Him, but His grasp is over all vision. He is beyond all comprehension.” (6:103)

“There is nothing whatever like unto Him.” (42:11)

That is, as far as God Himself is concerned, He is beyond human comprehension and no example can be given to explain His nature and personality. Therefore, God did not ask us to close our eyes and sit in a solitary place and meditate in order to discover Him or try to recognize Him as is done in mysticism. Our finite minds cannot comprehend even the infinite time, let alone Godwho created time.

However, we have been given the ability to comprehend the Quran and the attributes of Allah that are mentioned therein. Some of the attributes are exclusive to God alone and no human can have a share in them, e.g. Al-Awwal (the First), al-Aakhir (the Last), al-Zaahir (the Evident), al-Baatin (the Hidden). These four attributes are expressions of God’s infiniteness (57:3). There are other attributes though, which we can understand and even emulate within human limits. For example, God is Al-Rahim (the Merciful), Al-Karim (the Generous), Al-Hafeez (the Protector), Al-Mo’min(the Provider of security), Al-Aleem (the Knowing), Al-Aziz (the Powerful) etc; so we should try (within human limits) to develop these characteristics in our own characters. But most Muslims, instead, have spent (and continue to spend) a lot of their time and energy concentrating on those attributes which are exclusive to God alone. This, in spite of the fact that Allah clearly tells us that it is an exercise in futility (as mentioned above in 6:103) — and therefore waste of time. According to Iqbal:

“Agar na sahl hon tujh par zameen ke hangame

Buri hay mastiye adesha haa-e-aflaaki” (Transliteration from Urdu)

“If you can not face the problems of the world (with courage), then it is useless to be meditating about Heaven” (Translation from Urdu)

Allah asks us to reflect on His work (i.e., the universe) (3:190-191) and His word (i.e., his Book, the Quran) (4:82, 47:24). His signs are all around and inside us — signs in the universe, signs in the selves of human beings, and signs presented in His Book. God’s message (His work and His word) can only be understood by reflecting and pondering His various signs. And since this reflection and pondering requires knowledge and understanding, we are constantly urged by Allah to acquire knowledge and understanding of the physical universe as well as the human universe. That is, there is no short cut to God.

Ghayb in the Physical Universe in the Physical Universe

There are many forces in the universe that are hidden from human sense-perception. As human knowledge advances, many forces that are hidden (ghayb) become revealed (mash-hood, from the root shahada). In the words of Iqbal:

“Yeh dunya da’wate deedaar hay farzande Adam ko
Ki her mastoor ko bakhsha gaya hay zauqe ‘uryaani”(Transliteration from Urdu)

“This world invites every human being to observe it, because every hidden object has been endowed with desire to be uncovered” (Translation from Urdu)

For example, the atom and its immense forces have existed ever since the universe came into existence, but they were hidden from human sense-perception. Only in the twentieth century has human knowledge advanced to the level where the atom and its immense forces have been revealed. The Quran has presented this aspect of the revelation of hidden forces as signs for the proof of its message:

“Soon we will show them our signs in the physical world as well as inside their own selves (nafs) until it becomes manifest to them that this Quranic message is the truth.” (41:53)

To what does this ayah refer when it says “inside their own selves (nafs)”? This leads us to the ghayb of the Human Universe (which includes mankind’s social, political, economical, psychological, etc., spheres of life).

Ghayb in the Human Universe in the Human Universe

A farmer plants seeds in the soil. He toils in his farm, day in and day out, and provides the proper nourishment to the plants at appropriate times. He also tries to protect his farm from harmful agents. He does all these things over a period of several months and comes home empty handed every time. Someone unfamiliar with farming will laugh at him and even consider him mad because he spends his money, time, and effort and comes home empty handed. The question is, what is the driving force behind his effort? The answer is easy – his efforts have not been realized yet. But he has the firm belief that one day he is going to harvest a big crop. So, here “Iman-bil-ghayb” clearly means to have firm belief in the unseen results of ones effort. In the case of the farmer, one can say that he knows from prior experience that the result of his firm belief in farming will be a big crop, if he followed the proper rules of farming. Similarly, our Sahaba (R) struggled and persevered in the path of Islam with the firm belief that their seeds of Iman would produce results later. But unlike the farmer, there was no prior experience and knowledge about the eventual results in the case of our Sahaba (R). It was their firm faith in Iman-bil-Ghayb, i.e., “belief in the unseen results” that constantly drove them and kept them struggling and exerting in the path of Allah. If they had any doubt about the results, they would not have lifted even a single step. It should be remembered that a system produces results after it is implemented – and it takes time to implement a system. Implementers of the system must have firm faith in the “unseen results” that they will eventually come as a necessary consequence of their efforts – if they didn’t, they would not proceed further.

Knowledge of Ghayb

There is yet another fact of ghayb and mash-hood. Experts in astronomy can tell precisely when there will be an eclipse of the sun. During the age of superstition, these type of people were considered as possessing supernatural powers and were even worshipped. But now science has advanced to such an extent that very precise predictions can be made based on astronomical calculations about natural phenomena. [Unfortunately, we Muslims, even in this age, fight about using astronomical calculations in Islam].

But these kinds of predictions can be made only for objects that possess no choice or options. These objects must follow certain fixed set of natural laws. No accurate predictions can be made for creatures having freedom of choice or options.

According to Iqbal:

“Tere maqaam ko anjum shanaas kya jaane
Ki khaake zinda hay tu taabaye sitaara naheen” (Transliteration from Urdu)

“How can an astrologer know your place? You are a living dust (being) and not subject to stars” (Translation from Urdu)

One cannot even make predictions about tiny creatures what to say of human beings who have immense power and freedom of choice. This can better be illustrated by an example. Consider 20 Nobel laureates sitting around a big table, busy making predictions about objects ranging from subatomic particles to extremely large galaxies. Then a fly comes from somewhere and sits on the table. All the Nobel laureates combined together cannot predict where this fly will go next. Now, one can imagine that if for such a small creature as a fly, all the experts cannot predict what it is going to do in the future, how can future predictions be made about human beings who possess so much more power and freedom than a fly. Therefore, all those involved in predicting the future of human beings are proponents of falsehood. The Quran says that an individual cannot himself/herself say what he/she is going to do the next day and where his/her death will be, let alone predicting the future of someone else(31:34). This refers specifically to divine ghayb regarding the operation of human free will, i.e., man’s future actions. Allah says in the Quran that no one has the knowledge of ghayb except Him (27:65). He has the keys of the ghayb (6:59). Even the prophets (peace be upon all of them) did not have the knowledge of ghayb (11:31), except what Allah told them about it via revelation (3:44)(remember, knowledge of divine ghayb is only through wahi or revelation).

Since the revelation of Allah ended on our prophet (PBUH), no human being can now receive any knowledge of ghayb from Allah after him. So, anyone who claims knowledge of ghayb is, in fact, claiming prophethood. The Quran says about such people that they are guessing and conjecturing in the ghayb (18:22).

Iman-bil-Ghayb and Its Impact on Human Life

If Iman-bil-ghayb is translated as belief in the unseen God, then how does this concept impact our lives? God exists whether or not one believes in Him. If one person believes in God and another person does not believe in Him, what difference does it really make in their daily lives? There must be a tangible and observable difference, otherwise, it is meaningless to believe in God. In reality, one who believes in Allah (a Muslim) must openly display a different life, achieving and striving for goals set by Allah and shown by our Prophet(PBUH). According to the Quran, Muslims are expected to establish the world’s best nation, and thus there should be a clear difference between one who believes in Allah and one who does not. A Muslim gives witness to the truth of Islam; he is its living Shahaada (this Arabic word means to manifest, to be or make witness to). However, this accomplishment comes after some time, not immediately. That is, the results of the living shahaada remain hidden at its beginning as was the case during the early periods of our Prophet’s (PBUH) mission. This, in fact, led non-believers to question the validity of his message because the results of the Iman did not come out right away. Allah guarantees that the results which are hidden from the eyes in the beginning will definitely come, but at a later time. There is a positive and meaningful impact on the lives of those who have firm belief in the unseen results, the Iman-bil-ghayb. This is a promise from Allah and He does not deviate from His promise:

“Allah has promised those among you who acquire Iman and (under the direction of that Iman) do good work (beneficial to humanity, i.e. righteous deeds) then He will, of surety, grant them, in the land, inheritance (of power).” (24:55)

“And who is more faithful to his Covenant than Allah?” (9:111)

“The promise of Allah; Never does Allah depart from his promise.” (30:6).

Thus, according to the meaning of the Arabic word ghayb, and in the context of establishing Islam as a living society (the practice), it is more meaningful to translate Iman-bil-ghayb as the belief in the unseen results of Iman (the theory — based on reason, knowledge, and understanding).

It was mentioned in the beginning that the situation is critical for born Muslims as far as Iman is concerned. Let us see what the Quran has to say on this issue. In verse 4:136 Allah is specifically addressing those Muslims who did not consciously made efforts to acquire Iman:

“O you who believe! Acquire Iman in Allah and His messenger and the Book (the Quran) which he has sent to His messenger and the books which he has sent before”(4:136)

The people addressed here, were members of the Muslim community who had not acquired Iman with due thought and understanding. Obviously, born Muslims fall into this category, and therefore, this verse applies to them as well – as it applied to the bedouins (49:14) and to the people of the book (2:62, 2:137, 5:69) at the time of the Prophet(PBUH). When the Quran was presented to them and they were asked to follow it, they used to say that we will follow only that which has been passed on to us by our forefathers:

“When it is said to them: “Follow what Allah has revealed (i.e., Quran):” They say: “Nay! We shall follow the ways of our forefathers: “What! Even though their forefathers did not use their intelligence (to analyze what their forefathers had transmitted to them) and did not use God’s guidance (to enlighten their path)” (2:170)

The same theme is echoed in several other verses such as (5:104, 31:21, 34:43, and 43:21-24). The Quran mentions that every Prophet was greeted with similar reply (14:10, 43:22-24) when he called on his people to follow God’s revelation, e.g., Noah(7:70, 23:24); Moses(10:78, 28:36); Saleh(11:62); Sho’aib(11:87); Ibrahim(21:53-54, 26:70-76); and finally Prophet Muhammad(11:109, 34:43, 38:7)(Peace Be Upon All of Them). As long as born Muslims continue to give similar reply (that we will follow the ways of our forefathers) to the call of the Quran, to acquire Iman by conscious choice, they will be treated in the same way by Allah as the past nations. This is the law of Allah and Allah’s law does not change for any one (17:77, 33:38).

Neither born Muslims accepted Islam by their free will nor born non-Muslims accepted Kufr by their own free will. The Quran always addresses people as those who have accepted or rejectedIman (i.e., those who made a choice). Being Muslims because of accident of birth is not the same thing as accepting Islam by conscious choice. Therefore, it is essential for born Muslims to critically examine their faith in the light of the Quran, discarding all non-Quranic concepts no matter where they may have come from – from forefathers, religious scholars, or mystics etc. These non-Quranic concepts may be hidden deep down in our subconscious minds. Nevertheless, they have to be taken out before Iman can enter our minds as demanded by the first pillar of Islam: La Ilaha Illallah. Remember ! There are no mention of Sunni or Shi’a, Ahle Hadith or Ahle Fiqha, Hanafi or Maliki, Shaafa’i or Hanbali, J’aafari or Zaidi, Ithna ‘Ashri or Sash ImamiaMuslims in the Quran. There are only Muslims mentioned in the Quran. The Quranic Iman can not enter a Sunni heart, or a Shia heart. It can only enter an open heart.

“And that those on whom knowledge has been bestowed may know that the (QURAN) is THE TRUTH from your Rabb (Nourisher), so that they may acquire Iman in it and their hearts may be made humbly (open) to it.”(22:54)

Thus the real challenge is: Do we have the courage and the patience to go deep down in our hearts and try to cleanse them from all types of non-Quranic concepts so that Iman can enter? Or, do we simply want to keep practicing what our forefathers have passed on to us? The choice is ours. But we better be prepared to face the consequences of that choice.

In the words of Iqbal:

“Yeh shahaadat gahe ulfat mein qadam rakhna hay

Loag samajhte hain asan hay Musalman hona” (Transliteration from Urdu)

“People think that it is easy to be a Muslim. In fact, being a Muslim is to provide proof and witness of Iman at every step” (Translation from Urdu)

There are very clear barometers mentioned in the Quran for us to measure whether or not we meet the criteria of Iman. One such criterion is mentioned in verse 3:139:

“So loose not heart, nor fall into despair. If you are mo’mins, then you will have the upper most position (over all other nations)”(3:139)

Our Prophet (PBUH) and Sahaba (R) started initially with the faith and conviction in “unseen results”, the Iman-bil-ghayb and did reach the top of the world in a matter of thirty to forty years. Thus they fulfilled the criterion of being mo’mins according to the verse 3:139. We, on the other hand, have been fooling ourselves (for more than fourteen hundred years) that we have faith inIman-bil-ghayb by simply reciting these words. No wonder, every nation has surpassed us (and we are undoubtedly at the bottom) in spite of all the wealth which Allah has blessed us with. Is it the will of Allah that we are, collectively as Muslims, in such a pitiable and degraded state in the world? Is it the will of Allah that we be punished? Or is Allah testing us? Is it the will of Allah that millions of Muslim (and non-Muslim) babies should die due to lack of medicine and food although immense wealth is floating right under their feet? What is the will of Allah and what connection does it have with Iman? And what relationship does Iman have with ‘Aml. These are serious questions which require in depth answers.

We will discuss these questions in a future article.

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Muslims and the Purpose of Prayer – Salaat (Dr. Mansoor Alam, Ohio, USA)

[A plea to the reader: Please read this article with an open and objective mind. The driving force behind this presentation is meant to cause us to think about our present approach to prayer. The Qur’an says that the Prophet (PBUH) asked people to develop the habit of thinking (34:46). So, every one of us should think with our own minds and not accept anything blindly about Islam from past or present. This is an order of Allah to every one of us (and not just few scholars) regarding His Book (4:82, 47:24) and His verses (25:73). It was not possible to give the translations of all the verses quoted here. Please see the translation from Yusuf ‘Ali or any other translator. But always think with your own mind.]

“The division of mankind into sects, nations, and tribes, according to the Qur’an, is for purposes of identification only. The Islamic form of association in prayer, therefore, besides its cognitive value, is further indicative of the aspiration to realize its essential unity of mankind as a fact in life by demolishing all barriers which stand between man and man.” [The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, page 75, second edition: Jointly published by Iqbal Academy Pakistan & Institute of Islamic Culture, 1989.]

Thus ends Allamah Iqbal the third chapter entitled, “The Conception of God and the Meaning of Prayer,” of his internationally famous monograph. What he is pointing out above is the basic Qur’anic message of creating the unity of humankind as a vital fact in life by removing its differences (16:64). This unity is realized by following the laws of Allah. The practical implementation of these laws in individuals as well as in society is done through what the Qur’an calls Aqeemus Salaat. In other words, Aqeemus Salaat must lead to unity in practice what the Qur’an demands it in theory. The meaning of the term and the essence of Aqeemus Salaat was discussed in an earlier article [Monitor, Sept./Oct. 1998, and pp. 6-10]. We are now ready to discuss practical aspects of Salaat and its impact on individuals as well as society. But first let us analyze and look somewhat closely as to where we, Muslims, are at present.

The Qur’anic Reality, Our Illusion

The Qur’an reminds us that, originally, humankind was one Ummah, but this unity was broken by various differences which the human beings created among themselves (10:19). It emphasizes the fact that the main purpose of sending God’s message through various Prophets is to restore back the balance and unity (of humankind) which once existed in the earliest period of human history (2:213, 57:25). The Qur’an warns us not to differentiate among Prophets (2:285, 4:136) because all of them came from the same source, Allah. But the followers of the Prophets (Peace upon all of them) not only created differences among the Prophets but they also created divisions among themselves within the following of a single Prophet. As other people, we, the followers of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) have also created divisions among ourselves. We have done this in spite of the very clear order of Allah to hold on to His rope together in unity and not be divided among ourselves (3:103).

As a matter of fact, we mostly follow the illusions built by our emotions (25:43) and the ways of our ancestors (2:170) rather than the Qur’anic reality. This is because whenever we are confronted with the Qur’anic verses which clearly forbid differences and divisions among Muslims, we find a scapegoat and reply that we are not divided but we only have several schools of thought. In reality though, these are not “schools of thought” but are “schools of action.” Only a few examples will suffice to support this argument: differences in what is forbidden and what is allowed by various schools as far as food is concerned; differences in forms of prayer; differences related to marriage and divorce etc. Everyone will agree that these differences whether major or minor are not just in thought but very much in action also. Majority of Muslims, though, likes to believe in ignoring these religious differences and divisions and carry on with their lives. However, our religious scholars are more interested in maintaining these differences by creating a sense of virtual unity that hides their sectarian differences. They prefer not to work for real unity because it exposes their differences. In fact, they are more interested in practicing virtual Islam rather than the real Islam our Prophet (PBUH) and Sa’haabaa (R) practiced. This makes every one feel satisfied…, more or less.

Secular Muslims … Satisfied

Many Muslims (especially of influence in society) think that the idea of unity of humankind is an unrealistic goal and therefore, should be abandoned. According to them, this may be a romantic or an exotic idea but it is an unattainable goal. They think that Muslims waste their time in talking about the unity of humankind when they themselves are badly divided. They catalog a long list of such divisions from (Muslim) history. Wars fought (and continue to be fought) amongst themselves and (millions of) Muslims killed by Muslims are given as proofs from past and present history to support their claim that Muslim unity is not possible, let alone the unity of humankind. How can then one talk about Muslim unity when their past history has been so divisive, they are quick to remind everyone?

These are mostly the feelings of the secular (liberal or progressive) minded Muslims. This feeling gives them intellectual satisfaction and a sense of psychological security.

Conservative Muslims … Satisfied

The conservative minded Muslims are no different. In fact, they put a religious and a sacred twist to the differences among Muslims. From every religious pulpit they announce that the differences and divisions among Muslims are the blessings of Allah. Remember, the Qur’an does not support this (3:103). In fact, it warns Muslims not to create divisions (30:32). But religious leaders thrive (and in fact exist) on these differences. So, they perpetuate the existence of these differences and divisions by sanctifying them. This opens the door for any group to call itself “Naji” and therefore on the way to Heaven and the rest destined for Hell. So, in the end, it turns out that, every group can (and does) claim that it is going to Heaven. (In layman’s terms they want to have both ways: have the cake and eat it too! What can be more wonderful than this?) This gives individuals in each sect emotional satisfaction and a sense of self-righteousness.

So, we see that Muslims in both camps (secular as well as conservative) feel satisfied with their respective positions – but for totally different reasons. Secular Muslims feel satisfied because of their intellectual analysis of Muslim history. Religious ones, on the other hand, feel satisfied based on clerical edicts and blind faith. Thus both groups in a way feel satisfied with the perpetual disunity of Muslims in the world.

Passive Muslims … Satisfied

There are many Muslims though who simply want to move with the times and leave Islam to the Mullahs. They believe in the adage: Do in Rome as the Romans do. But a vast majority of Muslims practice passive Islam (that was passed on to them by their forefathers in the name of Islam) and go about doing their daily businesses. They feel fed up with all the controversies created by the secular and conservative Muslims but at the same time they do not want to spend time and effort to find out the truth for themselves. They feel satisfied (as they have been told by their parents) that God will forgive all their sins simply because they were born in Muslim families and that the Prophet (PBUH) will save them from Hell fire no matter what. In other words, they feel satisfied by being ignorant about Islam.

Some Muslims … Not satisfied

These must be the moments, when Iqbal’s aching heart yearning for Muslim unity, must have felt acute pain causing him to express his intense cry to the Prophet (PBUH) as shown by his following words:

“Shiraazaa hu-waa millat-e marhoom kaa abtar

Ab tu hi bataa teraa Musalmaan kidhar jaa-e”

“An already dead millat is being torn down further,

O Prophet! Tell me where should your Muslim go” [Author’s translation]

What Iqbal asks the Prophet (PBUH) in this lamentation is: Where should a plain Muslim go in this prevailing sectarian environment dominated by the Sunni and Shi’ia Muslims and their scholars; liberal Muslims on the left and the conservative Muslims on the right. Obviously, the only hope for a plain Muslim is in the Prophet (PBUH) because he was neither Sunni nor Shi’ia. He was neither Maliki nor Hanbali. He was neither Shaafai’i nor Hanafi. He was neither liberal nor conservative. He (PBUH) said to the people: I am Muslim. (So did all the Prophets before him.) He preached unity and lived by unity. The Qur’an does not attach any sectarian qualifications and adjectives with the word Muslim. So, a Muslim, according to the Qur’an, is simply a Muslim. Period.

Muslims and the Prophet (PBUH)

What have we done in the name of the Prophet (PBUH)? We have split him in our lives (based on our own sectarian emotions and desires). We even establish family connections with the Prophet (PBUH), based on blood relationship and family trees, although he (PBUH) demolished all tribal, racial, and societal barriers and chains (7:157). We, on the other hand, have put each of these chains back, one by one, around our necks. [Those who claim family connection with the Prophet (PBUH) and feel proud about it forget that they will also be then linked to Abu Jahal and Abu Lahab.] Our deeds do not reflect the message of unity that our Prophet (PBUH) lived and died for. Contrary to the teachings of the Qur’an (2:48), we continue to believe that our beloved Prophet (PBUH) will intercede on our behalf despite our differences and divisions. And that he (PBUH) will plead with Allah to send us to Heaven even if we deserve to go to Hell.

Muslims and the Masaajid

Muslims are badly divided; the irony is that they all claim to be following the Prophet (PBUH) and his Sunnah. The prayer, which was once a symbol of real unity and strength, has now degenerated into a symbol of disunity and weakness. Mosques, which should be exclusively for Allah (72:18) and thus a sign of unity, instead have now become a symbol of our group identities. We guard these identities very jealously and zealously. We need only look around our neighborhoods (and not go far away) to get a real glimpse of this situation.

Appreciating the Importance of salaat

After analyzing the state of Muslims (unpleasant though it may have been), we have, nevertheless, come to a point where it is now possible to start an effective analysis and discussion of the importance and purpose of prayer in Islam. Without this we won’t be able to appreciate the importance of Salaat in our lives. After all, one can not appreciate light unless one knows what is darkness, one can not appreciate pleasure unless one knows what is pain, and one can not appreciate life unless one knows what is death. In the beautiful words of Ghaalib:

“Lataafat be kasaafat jalwaa paydaa kar naheen saktee”

“Pleasant feeling can not reveal its shine without unpleasant feeling”

So, let us see what the Qur’an has to say about the purpose of prayer. It tells us in the very beginning to establish the order of Salaat (2:3). This is repeated in so many verses throughout the Qur’an, it is difficult to list here. From this, one can easily realize the extreme importance of Salaat in Islam.

Establishment of the Order of Salaat

But the establishment of Salaat is not possible without going through the root cause of all our problems mentioned before. The root cause of all our evils is that, in our daily lives, we are following man made Shari’as rather than the Shari’a of Allah, the Qur’an. According to the Qur’an, this is a great sin.

“Woe to those who write the book with their own hands and then say, ‘This is from Allah’”(2:79)

This is why, rather than helping us, our Prophet (PBUH) will complain against us to Allah on the day of judgement that we left the Qur’an (25:30). So, what are we supposed to do under these conditions? The only way is to go back to the Qur’an – there is no other way. This is the only revealed Book that Allah has personally taken the responsibility to protect (15:9). No one can change it (6:34, 18:27, 10:64). It is complete (6:115). Nothing essential has been left out of the Qur’an (6:38, 6:59, 10:61, 34:3). There is no doubt in it (2:2, 10:37, 32:2). And those who do not judge by what Allah has revealed (i.e., Al-Qur’an) are Kafirs (5:44).

The Qur’an guarantees that it has the universal constitutional power to guide humanity (2:185, 3:138, 4:174) and eventually unite humankind by solving its problems (4:105, 10:57, 10:108, 14:1, 14:52, 16:44, 17:89, 18:54, 39:27, 39:41, 45:20). But it advocates that people committed to its entire message, its ideals, and its overall goal (without any human interpolations) should start this process. This is what the Prophet (PBUH) did (43:43, 6:50, 6:107,7:203, 10:15, 10:109, 33:2, 27:92, 45:18, 46:9, 75:18, 76:24). And so, Muslims should do the same thing; this is the Prophet’s (PBUH) sunnah (6:155, 7:3, 39:18, 39:55).

Salaat is Supposed to Create Unity at All Levels

Salaat serves as the foundation for everything else to follow. The purpose of Salaat therefore is to create unity at all levels in society and not just during prayers. The congregational prayer is just one part of Salaat reflecting the unity among Muslims in the act of prayer inside the mosque. As opposed to individual prayers, the congregational prayer demolishes the physical barriers (such as material wealth, family status, language, tribe, etc) that divide Muslims. But the goal of Salaat is to also demolish these barriers in the society outside the mosque as well. The Qur’an does not allow a dualistic way of life – in fact, this type of life is declared Shirk by the Qur’an. It says:

“… Establish Salaat and do not become among the Mushrikun. That is those who split up their Deen and become sects, each sect rejoicing in that which is with itself.” (30:31-32)

Creating groups or sects is so serious that it is considered worse than idol worship by the Qur’an (20:94). And the Prophet (PBUH) has nothing to do with those who are divided into separate sects.

“Verily, those who divide the Deen and break up into sects you (O Mohammad) have nothing to do with them in the least.” (6:159)

Salaat and Social Justice

Salaat is also supposed to demolish societal barriers because Allah has given equal honor to all human beings (17:70). So, there should not be any social differences among people because they lead to superiority and inferiority complexes in their personalities. Adherence to the laws of Allah (Taqwaa) should be the only criterion for judging any one. The most honored in the society should be the one, who is the best in conduct of Taqwaa (49:13).

Salaat is also supposed to stop “Al-Fa’hsha and Al-Munkar” from the society (29:45). The Qur’an uses this term in a general sense for all kinds of bad things prevalent in the society especially these days. The source of Al-Fa’hsha is perverted and corrupted thought and the source of Al-Munkar is selfish and greedy thought, according to the root meaning of these words. All barriers (mentioned previously) that separate human beings spring up from these two sources of evil thoughts. Salaat is supposed to attack the very sources that create barriers in society. Although prayer is extremely important in Islam, nonetheless, Allah condemns those who pray but do not try to alleviate the human sufferings (107:2-4) from the society.

But removing societal barriers and human sufferings and misery can not be done by sermons alone. This has to be done under a system that has the constitutional power to enforce these injunctions of Salaat. This does not mean that religious scholars and Mullahs (representing different sects in Islam) should have this authority. No. Not at all. This is quite clear from the verses quoted above (30:31-32 and 6:159). How can the Qur’an allow those who represent sectarian divisions in Islam (remember, being divided into sects and being happy about it, is worse than idol worship in the eyes of Allah), to have the authority to enforce its injunctions?

Salaat and Economic Justice

Salaat must also lead to a just and equitable economic condition. This means we can not do whatever we want with our wealth in order to satisfy our selfish physical and psychological emotions. Remember Al-Munkar means using our intelligence for selfish and greedy ends. So, Salaat should stop this type of mental attitude. When Prophet Shu’ayb (PBUH) asked his people to perform Salaat, they thought that he wants them to pray in a certain way, and that’s all. They got the shock of their lives when he told them that Salaat could not let them spend their wealth as they wish.

“They said: “O Shu’yab! Does your Salaat command you that we leave the ways which our forefathers practiced, or that we leave off doing what we like with our wealth?” (11:87)

Two things are clear from this: that we can not separate Salaat from the economic system, and that we can not blindly follow what our ancestors have transmitted. So, thinking of Salaat as simply prayer is not right. In fact, Allah says that those who do that, belie His Deen:

“Have you seen him who belies THE DEEN? This is he who repulses the orphan and the lonely (harshly). And urges not the feeding of the poor. So, woe unto those performers of prayers; who are oblivious of the purpose of prayer, and are only interested in external appearance (i.e., mechanical aspects) of prayer. They put barriers and stop the flow (of God given resources).” (107: 1-7)

Conclusion

Thus it is clear from the Qur’an that Salaat is not just prayer but also encompasses both social and economical aspects of life. It must lead to the unity of Muslims not just inside the mosques but outside as well. Therefore, it can not just be a ritual. It must be implemented as a system where everyone closely follows Allah. Are we not supposed to submit to the Will (Laws) of Allah as Muslims? (This Will is not linked or dependent on any human being, not even the Prophet (PBUH)). Our illusions will carry us no where. When the time comes to face Allah on the Day of Judgement, it will have become too late. It is better to wake up now and face the Reality of the Qur’an when we have plenty of opportunities rather than to wake up after death having lost all opportunities. Then we would have really lost – because Allah will not give us any more opportunities even if we plead with Him (14:44).

It’s time to stop wasting our time and effort on unimportant and non-serious things: cyclic discussions, purposeless actions, and short-term benefits. The Qur’an warns us not to waste our time in these things which it calls lahva and la’ab (47:36, 43:83, 52:12, 70:42).

It’s time that all of us start seriously thinking about the real purpose of prayer in Islam. We can continue on our present illusionary course or we can try to correct it using the Qur’anic compass. The choice is ours.

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Meaning and Essence of Prayer – Salaat (Dr. Mansoor Alam, Ohio, USA)

Human beings have been praying for as long as humanity has existed. Rich or poor, literate or illiterate, the urge to pray is equally present in all. A well-known author has best described this as follows:

“In wandering over the earth, you can find cities without walls, without science, without rulers, without palaces, without treasures, without money, without gymnasium or theatre, but a city without temples to gods, without prayer, oaths and prophecy, such a city no mortal has ever seen and will never see.” [Humanity and Deity, p. 15, by W.M. Urban]

Since the urge to pray is universal in character and crosses racial, cultural and religious boundaries, we might wish to investigate it further by asking some important questions:

  • What is the essence of prayer?
  • What is the meaning of prayer?
  • What is the purpose of prayer?
  • Does prayer have any effect on individuals who pray? If so, in what way? And
  • Does prayer have any effect on society? If so, in what way?

Prayer Involves the Mind

Answers to the above questions are more important than the form of prayer itself. When we pray, what really happens to us? The prayer normally consists of reciting some words and possibly some body movements. This is true in all religions—only the forms may be different. Do the words have any effect on the individuals who pray? From the study of Psychology, we know that words have powerful effect on individuals as well as people. But for that to happen, it is necessary that words are clearly understood and their meaning and context fully comprehended. This ensures that the mind actively participates in the prayer also along with the body. Without this, the prayer will become a somatic routine, regardless of how much piety is attached to it from outside.

Thus we see that prayer has a very deep connection with the mind. But this mind-body connection, although made sincerely, should not be superficial that only produces a placebo effect. This has to be real. And a real connection can be established only when the power and the meaning of prayer activate the mind’s cognitive faculty. The so called doctors of religions, on the other hand, have perpetuated a myth which keeps people satisfied by performing the act of prayer without trying to establish this mental cognitive connection.

Religious Leaders and Prayer

Most religious leaders fool people into believing that the very act of prayer gives them plenty of rewards. That is, they exploit the placebo effect experienced by the people. But the placebo can never be a substitute for the real pill. As expected, very often, the promised rewards do not happen in this world. So, they brainwash people into believing that the rewards will come in the other world. Many religious institutions have exploited and continue to exploit this situation.

Religious leaders, of course, never admit that they are exploiting anybody. Instead, they represent themselves as the people of God, supposedly preaching God’s message to the masses. (Remember! The placebo looks exactly like the real pill. The moment people become aware of the truth, it looses its effect.)

As far as prayer is concerned, religious leaders are very particular to mention—and rightly so, that it occupies a central place in religion. But their emphasis is more on the act of prayer rather than its spirit and purpose. Performing the act of prayer is an end in itself to them. They do not emphasize the fact that prayer is a means to achieve some concrete goals in life. This aspect of prayer is normally overlooked and consequently the prayer becomes a soulless ritual done primarily to please God and for individual personal salvation in the hereafter. In other words, they do not want people to find out the true essence and meaning of prayer in order to revive it.

How can we Truly Revive Prayer?

The question then is how to inject the soul back into the mummified body of our prayers. We will discuss the meaning of Aqeemus-Salaat (translated as “establish prayer”) later but one thing is clear: This is not possible without a critical evaluation of our present approach to prayer.

The best way to start this evaluation is to pose fundamental questions pertaining to the importance of prayer in our way of life. This is what we have done earlier. Answers to these questions will, hopefully, provide the necessary knowledge that will help us in our quest to find the meaning and essence of prayer. To do that, however, we must, first of all, establish a frame of reference. Without this absolute frame of reference we won’t be able to find The Truth about prayer.

An Absolute Frame of Reference is Required

In order to deal with the above questions, we will have to find a permanent and an absolute reference that transcends the barriers of space, time and circumstance. This is because these questions are important to life here-and-now as well as to life in the hereafter. The only reference that can satisfy these conditions is a Book from God. [Books of humans, no matter how great, can never satisfy the above conditions.]

Earlier Books of God (including the Bible) no longer exist now in their original, unadulterated form. [Proponents of these books admit this.] The Qur’an, revealed to Prophet Muhammed (PBUH), is the only Book of God which exists now exactly as it was revealed about 1400 years ago. This fact is borne by Muslims as well as non-Muslim scholars who have done an objective, historical or linguistic analysis of the Qur’an [See Maurice Bucaille’s excellent book, “The Bible, The Quran, and Science”]. Therefore, the Qur’an will be our frame of reference. But it might be helpful in our search for the essence and meaning of prayer if we first analyze the reasons why people pray.

Why Do We Pray?

A simple, conventional answer may be that we pray because our forefathers have been praying and told us to pray, just as we tell our children to pray. Or that we pray because God has asked us to pray. But for many people who are sincerely searching for a more meaningful answer, this may not be satisfactory. First of all, God has given us freedom of choice for everything, including prayer. So we do not have to pray if we do not want to. In fact, in good times, most of us don’t. Only when some personal tragedy strikes (or when we reach old age) that many of us start praying regularly.

For example, consider a plane full of people about to crash. In this helpless situation, every one will be praying for life and survival. If the situation seems completely hopeless, and they realize that they are going to loose their lives, people will be praying for God’s mercy, forgiveness, His pleasure, and personal salvation in the hereafter. But nevertheless, everyone will be trying his/her best to survive until the very end.

This instinct of self-survival is inherent in every living being, including humans. Other beings have defense mechanisms given by God for their survival. But humans find themselves helpless and defenseless against many living beings and natural catastrophes. Naturally primitive man tried to pray to them, as he had not developed tools for self-defense. He prayed to various natural objects that threatened or benefited his survival. When human beings developed tools for self-defense and gradually advanced in science, they tended to drift away from religion. They found security in science (rather than prayer) because science gave them control over the forces of nature. [Priesthood considered this attitude as an attack on religion itself. This led to a continuous battle of religion with science. History bears ample testimony to this continuous struggle. A classic example of this is the battle of creation versus evolution. But this is a whole new topic.]

Thus we see that there seems to be no single reason as to why people pray. Everyone can come up with his or her own answer and feel satisfied. In fact, this is what we normally do. But as we mentioned before, the answer that transcends space, time, circumstance and human emotion can only come from God (which means His book, the Qur’an.). This brings us to the following question.

Why was the Qur’an Given to Us?

So, let us ask: what does the Qur’an have to say about this question? But before that, we might ask a related question: why was the Qur’an sent to humanity?

Allah says that the Qur’an was sent to Prophet Muhammad (P) to lead humanity out of darkness and into light.

“A Book which we have revealed unto you in order that you might lead mankind out of darkness into light” (14:1)

Various examples can be given to explain this verse. Liberating people out of slavery into freedom is an example of leading them from darkness into light (14:5). Prophet Moses’ (P) liberation of Israelites from slavery in Egypt to freedom, and Prophet Muhammad’s (P) migration to establish an independent Muslim (community) state in Medina are historical examples of leading mankind from darkness into light.

Removing ignorance, superstition and blind beliefs with knowledge, reason and understanding is another example.

Allah also says that the Qur’an was sent to remove conflict and differences among human beings.

“And We sent down the Book to you (O Muhammad (P)) for express purpose, that you should clear to them those things in which they differ” (16:64)

So, the Qur’an removes differences and conflicts which divide human beings and eventually creates unity of mankind.

Prayer and the Qur’an

Prayer, being an integral part of the Quranic system, must lead towards the above goals. It is important to remember that prayer is neither independent nor mutually exclusive of the overall goal of the Qur’an. That means we can not separate it from the other commands of the Qur’an and practice it in isolation in the hope of getting rewards in the hereafter.

Let us explain this with some concrete albeit simple examples. Various parts of a car have to work together in a coordinated fashion for it to run properly. If we take out the wheels or the engine, it is not going to move. Similarly, if we separate the various parts of a computer and focus our attention on the individual components, the computer is not going to work until all the components are connected properly and synchronized. The same thing applies to the functioning of the human body. No human organ can survive outside the body. In a similar way, prayer can not survive outside the living body of the Qur’anic system driven by its laws.

With this brief background we now come to the main question.

What Does Prayer Mean?

The Arabic word Salaat is normally translated as Prayer in English. [It is translated as Namaaz in Urdu and Persian. “Namaaz” is an old Persian (Pahlavi) word which the Zoroastrians (fire worshippers) used for their prayer. It should be translated as Pooja in Hindi! However, no Muslim of the subcontinent would dare say that he is going to do Pooja but he feels perfectly satisfied and honored in saying that he is going to do Namaaz!!] Since no translation of the word “Salaat” could fully reflect its meaning, we have to first understand what Salaat means.

The root meaning of this word is “to follow someone closely.” For example, in a horse race, if the second horse follows the first horse so closely that its head is always overlapping the first horse’s body, then it is called Al-Musalli, and the first horse is called Saabiqun. [Taj-al-‘Urus, vol. 10, page 213; Lisan-al-‘Arab, vol. 7, page 398.] Therefore, Salaat means to follow Allah closely. The only way we can follow Allah is to follow His Book, Al-Qur’an, to remain within the limits imposed by it, and never to transgress these limits. This implies that we have to establish a system so that we lead our lives according to the Code enshrined in the Qur’an. Establishment of this system is referred to as Aqeemus Salaat by the Qur’an. This is quite different from theocracy where religious leaders rule in the name of God using their own version of ‘shari’ah’ rather than the ‘Shari’ah of God’, the Qur’an. “Woe to those who write the book with their own hands and then say, “This is from Allah” – 2:79″, so says the Qur’an about them.

What is the Essence of Prayer?

The Qur’an uses the term Aqeemus Salaat quite often which is usually translated as “Establish Prayer.” This translation does not fully convey the meaning of the original concept. The root of Aqeemu comes from ‘qaa-ma,’ which means to stand, to be balanced, to have a just, fair and long-term strategy for dealing with problems, and to be steadfast. Therefore, Aqeemus Salaat means “to establish Salaat” as a permanent and balanced system in which human beings can follow the Divine Code in all aspects of their lives individually, as well as collectively. This obviously requires an independent and sovereign land in which the Divine Code can be enforced as a living constitution. This is the essence of prayer and, in fact, an essential requirement for the establishment of Salaat. The Qur’an is very specific on this point when it says:

“These are the people who, when they will have power in the land (24:55), then they will establish Salaat…” (24:21). [This is exactly the reason why Allama Iqbal suggested the idea of Pakistan, normally referred to as Pakistan ideology.]

Is Salaat a Ritual?

We have seen that according to its root meaning, Salaat is a system and not a ritual. Prayer (performed five times a day) is only a component of Salaat. Within this system, prayer is a powerful and effective means of achieving the Quranic goals mentioned earlier. Outside the system, however, it becomes a soulless ritual repeated solely for getting rewards in the hereafter. The difference between prayer being part of a system and a ritual can better be explained by the following example.

Soldiers within an army perform many duties and responsibilities. They lead their lives according to the various codes (or shari’ah) prescribed by the army. Every aspect of their lives is governed by these codes and violators are dealt with according to the “shari’ah” of the army. Along with other important activities, the soldiers are required to perform daily drills as well. These drills have their own codes (e.g., dress, haircut, schedule etc.) and every soldier has to follow them. The soldiers are also required to obey the orders of their commander-in-charge. Thus the drill is a component of the system and within the army system it produces its desired result.

Now, suppose the soldiers go home and perform their drills in their home streets exactly as before. These drills are now being performed outside the army system and therefore would not produce the same results as before. Nevertheless, if the soldiers keep on performing their daily drills like this, then this will be called a ritual because these drills are being performed outside the command and control of the army system.

The question then is how to establish this system of Salaat referred to by the Qur’an as Aqeemus Salaat.

How to Establish Salaat?

According to the Qur’an, it can not be forced (10:99) on an unwilling or ignorant people (10:100). First, the message has to be presented to them (62:2). Then, they have to be educated (2:151) so that they can understand this message (12:108). Only when a group of people have willingly accepted, understood, and been convinced of its truth with deep conviction (Iman) and want to lead their lives by this Divine Code, that this system of Salaat can be implemented. This is the process our Prophet (P) followed and therefore, is his Sunnah. The Prophet (P) and the Sahaba (R) did not pray for their personal salvation or just to please God. Their entire life was devoted to fulfilling the goal of establishing the system of Salaat in the society. ‘Aisha (R) is reported to have said that the Prophet (P) was a “walking Qur’an”. This means that he was leading his life by the Qur’an. He also made certain that his companions were living by it as well. The Quranic way of life can not be led individually or alone. It must be done collectively as an Ummah under a system driven by the Divine Laws. The only way to do this (according to the Qur’an and shown by the Prophet (P)) is to replace the old system based on lifeless and soulless rituals with a new one based on the Quranic concept of Salaat.

Conclusion

Praying five times a day is only one part of Salaat. When we finish our prayers in the Masjid, we are not done with Salaat. It is not something to do and finish. It involves every aspect of life, keeping it within the guidelines of the Divine Code twenty-four hours a day. And this has to be done within a system under a central authority according to the Qur’an. This system was originally established by our Prophet (P) and the Sa’haba (R). Five times a day our prayers are meant to renew and reinforce our commitment to steadfastly enforce the system of Salaat ordered by Allah and practically shown to the humankind by the Prophet (P). This renewal boosts our psychological energy to come together and support each other towards the goals of the Qur’an. Salaat is the mechanism by which the Qur’an is implemented in mankind. This is how Allah’s laws can be engrained within us; this is how the Prophet (P) and the Sa’haba (R) found it so natural to follow the Qur’an, and the results they produced within 30 years speak for themselves. Needless to say, our prayers are not producing the same results although we have been praying for more than a thousand years in ever increasing numbers.

What is the purpose of Salaat and its effect on individuals and the society? In what way does it transform the society in the long term? These will be discussed in a future article.

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The Purpose of Fasting in Islam – Part 1 (Dr. Mansoor Alam, Ohio, USA)

The evening prayer has attracted a larger than usual number of worshippers. Today, the advent of the new moon might herald the start of the holy month of Ramadan – the Muslim month of fasting. In an effort to observe the Sunnah of the Prophet (PBUH), some worshippers are busy trying to sight the new moon when the call to prayer is made. After the prayer, the Imam is informed that the new moon has been sighted. Members of the council also confirm this news. This prompts worshippers to congratulate each other and the mosque is filled with the chants of Allahu Akbar (God is great).

For this group the holy month of Ramadan has begun. Yet Muslims in many other mosques are still debating whether or not the new moon has been sighted. Sunni Muslims generally look to Saudi Arabia for answers to this, as well as many other religious matters. Although ISNA (Islamic Society of North America) has established for North American Muslims, a Shura (or consultation) council for dealing with controversial religious issues (such as moon sighting), many Imams in local mosques decide such matters on their own.

Year after year, this story is repeated among Muslims in many towns around the world. This pillar of Islam begins with controversy among Muslims and ends with controversy. Shi‘as have their own clerical system and their Imams look to Iran in this matter rather than Saudi Arabia.

One wonders if this is the way our Prophet (PBUH) and his companions started and ended the holy month of Ramadan?

Ramadan Begins

In any case, within a day or two of each other, the holy month of Ramadan generally begins for every (Sunni as well as Shi‘a) Muslim community around the world. The standard sermon for Ramadan goes something like this:

“Dear brothers and sisters! Allah opens the gates of Heaven in this month. Satan is locked up in Hell so he cannot mislead those who are fasting. The reward for good deeds is multiplied 10 times in this month. Allah becomes very generous in this month and forgives the previous sins of those who fast.” And so on.

Purpose of Fasting

Is fasting just about having sins forgiven and getting rewards multiplied in the Hereafter?  What about the problems of life here in this world?  Is fasting just a ritual or does it have some other significance?

Modern Islamic scholars draw attention to the physical and spiritual benefits of fasting.  But since physical and medical benefits of fasting accrue to anyone who fasts, regardless of one’s belief in God, it is obvious that the physical and medical benefits are not the primary purpose of fasting in Islam.

What about spiritual benefits?  Since different religions have different concepts of spirituality, what does spirituality mean in Islam and how can it be developed through fasting? The proponents of other religions, including many Muslims, claim that spirituality is an individual and subjective experience. How then can one know that one’s spiritual development is taking place due to fasting?  In addition, would a Hindu’s or a Buddhist’s spiritual development, due to fasting, be as significant as a Muslim’s?  In fact, Buddhist monks and Hindu saints go through much more rigorous rituals than Muslims.  Does this mean that their spiritual development is of a higher level? Obviously, no Islamic scholar would be prepared to accept this.

According to the Quran, every Muslim (who can) must fast in the month of Ramadan (2:183-185). And fasting has to be done collectively at the community level. Unlike a Buddhist monk or a Hindu saint, a Muslim does not have to go to a mountain or a forest retreat to develop his/her spirituality through fasting and prayer. Moreover, it is not necessary for this type of retreat-based, solitary spiritual development to be done in Ramadan. That can be done in any month. This shows that a Muslim cannot advocate a spirituality that is based on individual and subjective experience. Therefore, in Islam, individual and subjective spiritual development is not the purpose of fasting in the month of Ramadan.

Since the Quran prescribed fasting specifically in the month of Ramadan, it is important to know the significance of this special time. A special feature of the Quran is that whenever it gives a command for action, it also provides the wisdom behind it. It tells what the final result of that action will be in this world, if it is successfully carried out. In this way the Quran provides a pragmatic test for people to see whether or not they are moving toward that desired result.  Regarding fasting, the Quran says:

O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may (learn) self-restraint.  [al-Baqarah 2:183] Translation: Yusuf Ali

Ramadan is the (month) in which was sent down the Qur’an, as a guide to mankind, also clear (Signs) for guidance and judgment (Between right and wrong). So every one of you who is present (at his home) during that month should spend it in fasting, but if any one is ill, or on a journey, the prescribed period (Should be made up) by days later. God intends every facility for you; He does not want to put you to difficulties. (He wants you) to complete the prescribed period, and to glorify Him in that He has guided you; and perchance ye shall be grateful. [al-Baqarah 2:185] Translation: Yusuf Ali

In the above verses, three results of fasting in Ramadan have been mentioned: 1) Taqwaa: learning self-restraint, 2) Takbir: glorifying Allah because of being guided, and 3) Shukra: being grateful. Part 1 of this article will focus on Taqwaa or self-restraint.

What is Taqwaa? 

In the above translation by Yusuf Ali, Taqwaa has been translated as self-restraint. Other translations include: God-fearing or God-conscious. But none of these translations bring out the true root meaning of Taqwaa. The root of Taqwaa means to steadfastly remain vigilant in practicing Allah’s commands and, because of this, to be protected from all kinds of evil, corrupt, and destructive forces. In other words, the cornerstone of Taqwaa is developing a strong character by following the principles laid down by Allah in the Quran.  A person who has developed such a character and which is reflected in his/her actions is a Muttaqi in the eyes of Allah.

Current Misconceptions Among Muslims

Many Muslims today who claim to fear God or to be God- conscious firmly believe that they are among the Muttaqoon based on their performance of certain rituals.  According to this belief, which of the following category of Muslims would qualify to be Muttaqoon?

  1. Would the rich, who pray regularly, fast the entire month of Ramadan, give the 2-1/2% charity from their wealth, and perform pilgrimage (Hajj or Umra) on a regular basis qualify as Muttaqoon?
  2. Would the current, so-called Muslim governments and the Muslims working for them  qualify to be among the Muttaqoon?
  3. Would Islamic scholars and leaders of various religious parties and their followers who  demand governments to implement the so-called Shariah qualify?
  4. Would professionals like doctors, engineers, professors, lawyers, etc. – who initially work very hard to build and establish their careers and later turn to Islamic activities on a voluntary basis – qualify?
  5. Would Sufis who spend most of their adult life in zikr (remembrance) of Allah in mosques or in solitary confinements, unconcerned with what goes on in the world outside, qualify as Muttaqoon?
  6. Would those who leave behind the poor, the orphans, and the widows in their own communities and go to far-off places, for several months at a time, inviting people to Islam, qualify?
  7. Would the professional Imams who lead prayers in mosques and give sermons about Islam qualify as Muttaqoon?
  8. Would the poor, who pray regularly and fast the entire month of Ramadan but cannot afford to perform the pilgrimage, qualify to be Muttaqi?
  9. Would the millions of average Muslims who struggle all their lives to meet the basic needs of their families and who try to pray and fast but do not have the time or resources for anything else, qualify to be Muttaqi?

How many of the 1.2 billion or so Muslims fall into categories 1-7 and how many into categories 8-9?  No doubt, 99% of Muslims fall into the latter. Will they be excluded from being Muttaqoon because they cannot perform all the five pillars? Or, should we say that all Muslims are Muttaqoon? No controversy, no discussion, no problem? Every Muslim, by virtue of being Muslim, is bound for Heaven anyway, sooner or later.

Quranic Definition of Muttaqoon

A very comprehensive definition of Muttaqoon is given in the following verse:

It is not righteousness that ye turn your faces Towards east or West; but it is righteousness- to believe in God and the Last Day, and the Angels, and the Book, and the Messengers; to spend of your substance, out of love for Him, for your kin, for orphans, for the needy, for the wayfarer, for those who ask, and for the ransom of slaves; to be steadfast in prayer, and practice regular charity; to fulfil the contracts which ye have made; and to be firm and patient, in pain (or suffering) and adversity, and throughout all periods of panic. Such are the people of truth, the God-fearing (muttaqoon). [al-Baqarah 2:177, Translation: Yusuf Ali]

This verse puts in perspective the ritual-based Islam that we practice versus the substance and goal-based Islam, which the Prophet (PBUH) and the Sahaba (R) practiced. Proponents of the ritual-based Islam would have us believe that once the rituals are done properly, meticulously, and sincerely we are guaranteed salvation in the Hereafter. The Quran clearly rejects this view of Islam in this verse. The Quran says that these people are misguided, have fabricated a Shariah, and have mixed it with the Book of Allah and which they proclaim to be Divine (2: 176).

According to verse 2:177, the essential purpose of Islam is not fulfilled by a mechanical performance of rituals, e.g., turning eastward or westward during prayer, but requires instead:

  1. 100% conviction, Iman, in Allah; in the law of requital; in the life Hereafter; in the forces created by Allah for our benefit, Malaa-ikaa; in all the Prophets (PBUT); and in all the Books revealed to them; and
  2. The establishment of a system in which resources are made available to help those who (a) are left without protection or support in society; (b) lose their means of livelihood or are incapacitated to work; and (c) cannot earn enough to meet their needs. This system will also provide assistance to those outsiders, who, while passing through its territory, become indigent, as well as arrange for the liberation of slaves from bondage.

According to this verse, Muslims are required to establish a system wherein members of the society adhere to the Divine code of life voluntarily  – this is a requirement of Iman -and the means of development are provided to all who need them. Muslims must honor their promises and commitments. If hostile forces confront them, they must face them with steadfastness and fortitude, and must not let fear and despair weaken them.

Only those who follow this path unswervingly can claim to be true believers and they only can rightfully claim to be Muttaqoon.

The following verses further describe the character of the Muttaqoon. [Translation by Yusuf Ali]

[Al-Imran 3:76] Nay – Those that keep their plighted faith and act aright,-verily God loves those who act aright (muttaqeen).

[al-Anfal 8:56] They are those with whom thou didst make a covenant, but they break their covenant every time, and they have not the fear (of God) [la-yattaqoon meaning these people are NOT Muttaqoon].

[az-Zumar 39:33] And he who brings the Truth and he who confirms (and supports) it – such are the men who do right (muttaqoon).

[al-Ma’idah 5:8] O ye who believe! Stand out firmly for God, as witnesses to fair dealing, and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just: that is next to piety (taqwaa): and fear (wattaqoo) God. For God is well acquainted with all that ye do.

[Al-Imran 3:133] Be quick in the race for forgiveness from your Lord, and for a Garden whose width is that (of the whole) of the heavens and of the earth, prepared for the righteous (muttaqeen).

[Al-Imran 3:134] Those who spend (freely), whether in prosperity, or in adversity; who restrain anger, and pardon (all) men – for God loves those who do good.

Conclusion

Fasting is a means to becoming Muttaqi.  No doubt, fasting has health and spiritual benefits, but we must never lose sight of the main goal of fasting.  Ramadan provides an environment for our collective training and development of character. Muslims are required to emulate and display, year long, the qualities laid down by the above verses as a result of fasting in the month of Ramadan. Since character building is a hard, long, continuous process, Ramadan is repeated every year as a reminder and re-enforcer.  We must judge our accomplishments by the standards laid down by the Quran.  We should not be under the false impression that our spiritual development is taking place while our life goes on as usual. We have to keep the life and works of the Prophet (PBUH) and Sahaba (R) before us to know whether or not we are among the Muttaqoon.

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