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Islam: Basic Principles

Khurshid Ahmad 
World Assembly of Muslim Youth

Islam is the religion of truth. It is the embodiment of the code of life which God, the Creator and Lord of the universe, has revealed for the guidance of mankind.

For the proper development of human life, man needs two elements: (a) the resources to maintain life and to fulfill the material needs of the individual and society, and (b) knowledge of the principles of individual and social behavior to enable man to fulfill himself and to maintain justice and tranquillity in human life. The Lord of the universe has provided for both of these in full measure. To cater to the material needs of man, He has put all of nature's resources at his disposal. To provide for his spiritual, social, and cultural needs, He has raised His prophets from among men and has revealed to them the code of life that can guide man's steps to the right path. This code of life is known as Islam, the religion preached by all of the prophets of God.

God said:

Say, "[0 Muhammad] we believe in God and in the Revelation given to us, and to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac Jacob and the Tribes. We believe in the Revelation that was sent to Moses, Jesus and all other Prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction between them, and to Him we surrender." (3:83; 2:136)

He has revealed to you (O Muhammad) the scripture with truth, confirming that which was revealed before it even as He revealed the Torah and the Gospel before as a guide to mankind and has revealed the Criterion (for judging between right and wrong). (3:3-4)

All of them called humanity to the way of the Lord, the way of submission to God. All of them gave the same message, and all of them stood for the same cause: Islam.

The Meaning of Islam

Islam is an Arabic word that denotes submission, surrender, and obedience. As a religion, Islam stands for complete submission and obedience to Allah - that is why it is called Islam. The other literal meaning of the word "Islam" is "peace." This signifies that one can achieve real peace of body and of mind only through submission and obedience to Allah. Such a life of obedience brings peace of the heart and establishes real peace in society at large.
Those who believe and whose hearts find rest in the remembrance of God-indeed it is in the remembrance of God alone that the heart of man finds rest-those who believe and act righteously, joy is for them, and a blissful home to return to. (13: 28-29)
This message was preached by all the Prophets of God, who guided man to the right path. But man not only veered away from the right path again and again, but also lost or distorted the code of guidance that the prophets had bequeathed. That was why other prophets were sent to restate the original message and guide man back to the right path. The last of these prophets was Muhammad, who Presented God's guidance in its final form and arranged to preserve it for all time. It is this guidance that is now known as Islam and is enshrined in the Qur'an and the life-example (Sunnah) of the Prophet.

The basic Islamic concept is that the whole universe was created by God, whom Islam calls Allah, and who is the Lord and the Sovereign of the universe, which He Alone sustains. He created man and appointed for each human being a fixed period of life that he is to spend upon the earth. Allah has prescribed a certain code of life as the correct one for mankind, but has, at the same time, conferred upon man the freedom of choice as to whether or not he adopts this code as the actual basis of his life. One who chooses to follow the code revealed by God becomes a Muslim (believer) and one who refuses to follow it becomes a kafir (disbeliever).

A man joins the fold of Islam by honestly believing in and professing faith in the oneness of God and the prophet hood of Muhammad. Both of these beliefs are epitomized in the kalimah (the article of faith):

 La ilaha illa Allah, Muhammad Rasul Allah. (There is no god except Allah; Muhammad is His Prophet.)

The first part of the kalimah presents the concept of tawhid (the oneness of God) and its second part affirms the prophet hood of Muhammad.


Tawhid: The Bedrock of Islam

Tawhid is a revolutionary concept and constitutes the essence of the teachings of Islam. It means that there is only one supreme Lord of the universe. He is omnipotent, omnipresent and the sustainer of the world and of mankind.

Now can one observe the inexhaustible creativity of nature, its purposefulness, its preservation of that which is morally useful and destruction of that which is socially injurious, and yet fail to draw the conclusion that behind nature there is an all-pervading mind of whose incessant creative activity the processes of nature are but outward manifestations? The stars scattered through infinite space, the vast panorama of nature with its charm and beauty, the regular waxing and waning of the moon, the astonishing harmony of the seasons - all of these point towards one fact: there is a God. We witness a superbly flawless plan in the universe - can it be without a planner? We see great enchanting beauty and harmony in its working‹can they be without a creator? We observe wonderful design in nature‹can't be without a designer? We feel a lofty purpose in physical and human existence - can it be without a will working behind it? We find that the universe is like a superbly written, fascinating book - can it be without an author? Truly, God said:

O, Mankind: worship your Lord, Who created you and those before you, so that you may ward off evil; Who has made the earth a resting place for you, the sky a canopy and Who causes water to pour down from the heavens, thereby producing fruits as food for you. So do not set up rivals to God, when you know better. (Qur'an 2:21-22)
This is the basic tenet to which Muhammad asked humanity to adhere. It is an important metaphysical concept and answers the riddles of the universe. It points to the supremacy of law in the cosmos and the all-pervading unity behind the manifest diversity. It presents a unified view of the world and offers the vision of an integrated universe. It is a mighty contrast to the piecemeal views of the scientists and the philosophers and unveils the truth before the human eye. After centuries of groping in the dark, man is now coming to realize the truth of this concept, and modern scientific thought is moving in this direction.

But it is not merely a metaphysical concept: it is a dynamic belief and a revolutionary doctrine. It means that all men are the creatures of one God and that they are therefore all equal. Any discrimination based on color, class, race, or territory is unfounded and illusory. It is a remnant of the days of ignorance that chained men down to servitude. Humanity is one single family under God, and there can be no sanction for those barriers. Men are one - and not bourgeois or proletarian, white or black, Aryan or non-Aryan, westerner or easterner. Islam gives us a revolutionary concept of the unity of mankind. The Prophet came to unite humanity on the word of God, which says:

Cling firmly together by means of God's rope, and do not be divided. Remember God's favor towards you when you were enemies; He united your hearts so that you became brothers because of His favor. (Qur'an 3:103)
This concept also defines the true position of man in the universe. It says that God is the Creator and the Sovereign, while man is His vicegerent on the earth. This exalts man to the noble and dignified position of being God's deputy on earth and endows his life with a lofty purpose: to fulfill the will of God on earth. This will solve all the perplexing problems of human society and establish a new order wherein equity and justice, as well as peace and prosperity, will reign supreme.

The starting point of Islam is the belief in the oneness of God (tawhid).

Prophet hood and Life after Death

The second part of the kalimah, on the other hand, signifies that God has not left man without any guidance for the conduct of his life. He has revealed His guidance through His prophets, and Muhammad was the last prophet. To believe in a prophet means to believe in the revelation that he has received, to accept the law that was transmitted to him by God, and to follow the code of conduct that he was instructed to pass on to humanity. Thus the second basic postulate of Islam is to believe in the prophet hood of Muhammad, to accept the religion that he presented, and to follow his commands and his example.

Every prophet of God, according to the Qur'an, strove to build man's relationship with God on the principle of His sovereignty and the individual's acknowledgment of the authority of the Prophet as a source of divine guidance. Every one of them said: "I am to you God's apostle, worthy of all trust. So be committed to God, heed Him, and obey me."

The guidance is revealed through the prophets. It is a part of their mission to translate it into practice in their own lives and in the society they try to reform. All of the prophets are representatives of God, but they are human beings and their lives are models for mankind. Muhammad, since he was the last prophet, is the final model for mankind. To believe in him as a prophet of God means to accept his authority as representative of the Supreme Ruler and to follow his example in thought and behavior. The code of behavior, the standard that determines rightness or otherwise (halal or haram) of any particular thing, was revealed to the Prophet and is known as the Shari'ah (the path). Belief in the Prophet involves acceptance of the Shari'ah and the attempt to implement it in all matters of daily life. This is how the will of God is fulfilled on earth. The Qur'an says:

We have not sent any Messenger but that he was to be obeyed with God's permission. (4:64)
And about the Prophet, it is explicitly stated that:
Yet by your Lord, they will never believe until they make you a judge concerning what they are disputing among themselves; then they will find no inconvenience for themselves concerning whatever you have decided and submit completely. (4:65)
The test of one's acceptance of God and His Prophet lies in conducting all human affairs in accordance with the Law revealed to them:
And those who do not judge by what God has sent down are disbelievers. (5:44)
Thus belief in God and His Prophet means commitment to obey them and to fashion individual and collective life in the light of the law and the guidance that God revealed to His Prophet.

This automatically raises the question: Are those who follow the law and those who refuse to accept or abide by it on the same level of existence? Are they going to be treated in the same way? What are the consequences of differing attitudes and behaviors? This brings us to the third basic postulate of Islam: belief in the Hereafter.

The world, according to Islam, is a place of trial, and man is being judged in it. One day, he will have to give an account of all that he did during his lifetime. After his death, he will be resurrected in a new world, and it is here that he will be rewarded or punished for his deeds and misdeeds. Those who live a life of obedience to the Lord in the present world will enjoy eternal bliss in the Hereafter, and those who disobey His commands will have to face the bitter fruits of their disobedience. According to the Quran:

And every man's deeds have We fastened around his neck, and on the day of resurrection will We bring forth a book which shall be proffered to him wide open: (It will be said to him) "Read your record: This day there need be none but yourself to make out an account against you." (17: 13-14)

Whoever comes with a good deed, for him there shall be the like of it tenfold, while whoever comes with an ill-deed, he shall be required with only one like it, and they shall not be treated unjustly. (6:160)

Thus the basic articles of Islamic faith are: (a) belief in the oneness of God, (b) belief in the prophets and in the guidance that they bequeathed, (c) belief in the angels, (d) belief in the books, (e) belief in the Day of Judgment, and (f) belief in fate. Whoever professes these beliefs is a Muslim. And all of these concepts are epitomized in the kalimah: There is no god but Allah; Muhammad is His Prophet.

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