Discovering the beauty and diversity of Islam

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7 mins read
Islam

Islam is the youngest and the oldest of the religions of the world. As a creed starting with the prophet of Arabia, the story of Islam is just fourteen centuries old. But seen as a perennially, perpetually, and periodically revealed truth from creator to his creation, Islam is as old as mankind itself, rather it is as old as the universe. Before mankind appeared on the scene, writes K.A. Hakim, Islam was the religion of the universe and the atoms and stars that dwelled in it. In this context, Islam identifies itself as the universal norm, an overarching ordering scheme pervading the universe from its minute particles to the remotest stars. Whatever is in heavens and Earth, surrenders to the will of God, and this submission and an act of surrender is what Islam is. Since man is bestowed with the gift of intellect and free will, he is given an open discretion whether to submit himself to the lord and be a Muslim or deny the Lordship of God and become, what the Quran defines as an “Unbeliever”. Remember that “Unbeliever” is not any legal or ethnic category, as some people come to see it. Rather Islam defines an unbeliever as somebody whose intellect is morphed to the extent that he is unable to accept the underlying metaphysical foundations of the universe and refuses to accept any divine powers beyond the physical self of his own. In this schema of things, Islam comes close, falls in line, and converges with the major outlines of “Sanatan Dharma”. As Sanatan Dharma sees itself beginning in eternity, outside the realm of humanity, so does Islam envision itself as a universal phenomenon, applicable to all the categories of space, time, matter, and energy – and whatever else can be seen as constituting the universe. We shall at this moment investigate the superstructure of Islam by seeing how it addresses man in his individuality, in his social functioning, and his capacity as an actor on the universal landscape. Creed:- “There is no God, but God and Muhammad is the Messenger /Mouthpiece/Envoy of God” encapsulates the central maxim and the defining characteristic of Islam. All else – Theology, Philosophy, Legal Theory, Exegesis, and an entire corpus of Islamic sciences is a commentary and explanation of this simple yet profound exclamation. What is the import of this utterance and how does it come to describe a panoramic faith which is practiced by people spanning from Melbourne to Malta? This simple formula calls for an end to the enslavement of men by fellow men and calls for the abolition of the surrender of mankind to the forces of nature. The Islamic perspective of belief in the single transcendental universe divine force frees mankind from bowing down to and surrendering before their fellow humans and uproots the case of physical or ideological slavery. The Islamic announcement that divinity and sanctity belong to God opened the human mind to investigation and exploration of nature and natural phenomena. Before the arrival of Islam on the scene, men were smitten by nature and they cluelessly submitted to the forces of nature. But Islam infused in its followers the spirit of natural conquest while at the same time maintaining the harmony and balance inherent to the nature and universe – something the Quran identifies as “Meezan” i.e., cosmic balance. Belief in the unity of divinity also helped to foster among Muslims the feelings of unity of creation, the unity of mankind, and the unity of religion. Unity of creation means that creatures of a single creator, creatures are related to one another in subtle and sublime ways, which may not always be visible. A similar doctrine was preached by the Indian saints, western sages, and other men of vision in their respective space-time contexts. This vision, which sees the universe as a holistic unit, unified by the singularity of creator and teleological unity, created among Muslims a sense of homeliness in the universe and enabled them to develop the organic vision of life. The mystical schools of Islamic thought went on to take this line of thought further, developing it into the doctrine of “Wahdat Ul Wajood” or “Unity Of Being” – an Islamic equivalent of Advaita of the Vedanta system of Indian thought. This outlook enabled Muslim scholars and saints to see the entire universe and all creatures as parts of a single body thereby deeply implanting in them the fellow feelings of love, empathy, and compassion and enabling them to relate to fellow humans at the deepest possible level. This was the driving force that led to the flowering of Mystical tradition in Islamic tradition and inspired movements like Bhakti in India which preached love and a relationship with God based on self-sacrifice. With the sense of unity of creation, the false idols of race, caste, ethnicity, and tribalism were smashed by Islam into pieces. Islam unified its followers into a single whole, taking them beyond the feelings of petty prejudices and a sense of pride based on false notions of caste and creed. Islam made piety and individual merit the sole and supreme basis of individual worth and value and negated all fictitious parameters standing against these touchstones of superiority and salvation. Quran went on so further so as even to disentangle the Question of salvation from the religious affiliation too and in a bold declaration went on to espouse “Surely those who believe, and those who are Jews and the Christians and the Sabians, whosoever believes in Allah and the last day and does good shall have their reward from their lord, and there is no fear for them, nor shall they grieve” (Al Quran: Chapter 2, Verse 162). The God of Islam is the God of the East and the West and this universalization of God cuts at the root of the monopoly of salvation. Islam doesn’t monopolize salvation by pegging it around a creed but makes it universal by making it depend on universal principles accessible to the human mind and the rectitude of conduct. Social Dimension of Islam:- Islam is no monastic or celibate order that inspires individualism and nucleation of man – Islam is rather a religion with a positive social component and a healthy evaluation of the social interconnectedness and social dynamics of man. Islam recognises the fact that man can neither live nor act in isolation, but has to act amid social thraldom and is constantly shaped by social forces and factors of one trope or the other. Islam doesn’t promote individual piety in isolation while letting society be ruined by the scoundrels. It rather presses upon its followers to model their societies and states after the pattern of piety and collective social justice. Islam places high emphasis on “Adl I Ijtimai” which translates as the collective justice in the social realm thereby meaning that the strong may not exploit the weak, the rich may not abuse the poor, the masters may not dominate the slaves and the powerful may not subvert the powerless. Islam stands by the weak and the powerless and thereby constantly efforts in the direction of the creation of an egalitarian and eclectic society. This social justice manifested in the early centuries of Islam when peace, harmony, and a just society were the order of the day and the Caliph (The Supreme Islamic Political leader) and a common Muslim were subjected to the same social and legal emoluments and restrictions. The circulation of wealth was ensured and all efforts were made against the accumulation of wealth and power in few hands, lest the society decayed into morass and ethical dross. Social institutions were strengthened and the poor and the weak were helped in several ways to alleviate their lives and guide them out of the life grinds. Cosmological dimension: – Islam sees the universe and man as handiworks of a single creator and deems the cosmos as one of the sources of guidance and divine wisdom. Islam sees a man in close association with the universe, not just an element among other elements, but a trustee and vice-regent of God entrusted with the responsibility of looking after the universal affairs and exploring and exploiting this physical universe for man’s well-being. In the hierarchy of creation, Islam places man beyond the physical universe and entrusts him with the mastery of the universe for his welfare and the welfare of the rest of the creatures. The forces of nature have been subordinated to man and he is directed to utilize these forces to meet his ends within the legitimate limits set upon by the law of God. Thus man is required neither to worship nature, nor to be scared of it, but to explore it and hammer it for his betterment. But Islam warns man of untamed lust and instructs man to exercise discipline and self-control while exploring the forces of nature. Simultaneously, Islam sees nature and the universe as revelations from God and seats of great wisdom and learning. Man is thus instructed to stay awake to the call of nature and derive the lessons of wisdom and truth this universe has to offer, while at the same time extracting its resources for the larger good. Islamic spirituality sees man as “Insan I Kamil” i.e., the perfect man, who is a microcosm in himself and potentially carries within his miniature self the small-scale prototype of the entire cosmos, thus inspiring esoteric and mystical speculations and detours. Insan I Kamil is seen as commanding the universal forces in the spiritual dimension and is seen to exercise such influence in hidden and subtle ways that escape common sense and general perception. There exists an entire hierarchy of saints in the form of Autad, Abdal, Aqtab, and others who have specific spiritual functions assigned to each and therefore given access to universal forces within their scope of operation. This forms the head and heart of Islamic spirituality and underlies the cosmological understanding of man in Islam. Conclusion:- Islam addresses man in his existential, social, and universal capacity and each of these spheres passes guidelines and regulations pertinent to the level concerned. While Islam lays great emphasis on the spiritual aspects of man and addresses him in his deepest existential throes, it has a simultaneous eye on the social and cosmological aspects of human existence. The great tragedy that has befallen Muslims is that they have engaged themselves in the useless binaries of sacred/profane, human/divine, material/spiritual, and other dualities. Islam came to unify the opposites of human life and to sanctify each dimension of man’s profane existence. Islam came to restate man and his whole life as a unified whole without any temporary and false boundaries. It is to this vision of Islam that Muslims need to wake up and it is this vision which guarantees the success and serenity of Muslims and the world.

1 Comment

  1. Yes, I just shared this with a group of Christians. They wonder: why are people converting to Islam? I answered: for very many reasons. The Quran and Islam have much pull. They are like a magnet.

    (Quran 49:13) O people, We created you from a male and a female, and We made you into nations and cultures, so you may learn from each other. The most noble among you in the sight of God is the most righteous. God is All-Knowing, Expert.

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