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Ethical themes

Over the centuries, Quranic concepts of an egalitarian human society have either been forgotten, or diluted through simple-mindedness, narrowness of thought and need for political mileage. Scholarship and discourse have centred on rituals and questionable ahadith. Culture and traditions have replaced religion.Today, much of what is practised in the Muslim world bears little resemblance to real Islam. It is time for Muslims to revert to the Quran with the aim to understand it more comprehensively.According to Dr Fazlur Rahman, the most significant ethical themes in the Quran are iman, Islam and taqwa, all of which are closely linked. ‘Iman’ primarily means to be safe, derived from ‘to be at peace’ and is used in the meaning of having faith in God and His message. Iman is an ‘act of the heart’, a decision to accept God totally and be at peace. This faith is not without knowledge, nor is it dependent upon it. It bonds the mind and knowledge.

According to the Quran, intellectual knowledge is not sufficient for faith, but equally, a human being cannot be guided without knowledge. Also, faith that does not result in actions is completely useless. To have faith with rationality, to constantly develop one’s knowledge and strengthen faith and to act out the faith reinforces one’s imanduring life.Faith and surrender purify a human soul.

The second concept — Islam — means ‘whole’, ‘integrity’, ‘peace’ and ‘surrender’. A Muslim is one who becomes complete by surrendering himself or herself to God. Nature is ‘Muslim’ because it obeys the laws of God. The term ‘Islam’ was formally given to the religion after the Muslims established themselves in Madina, and both Makkan and Madani verses speak of iman and Islam with the same meanings. “Those whom Allah (in His plan) willeth to guide, – He openeth their breast to Islam. …” (6:125).

Both bestow peace, security and integrity upon a Muslim. This equivalence is a departure from the conventional understanding that iman is belief and Islam is comprised of the obligations of prayers, fasting etc. It does mean, however, that Islam is the externally visible manifestation of iman and one has to be grounded in iman in order to express it outwardly. The two, therefore, imply each other. One cannot exist without the other. Islam relieves humans of the fear of everything else except fear of displeasing God, for the surrender to Him means they sense His presence everywhere and all the time.

‘Taqwa’ means fear of God, righteousness, piety and responsibility towards self and the world. It implies meanings similar to iman and Islam, comprising both faith and surrender. The rites of Haj must be carried out with due consideration for taqwa, deep from the heart, lest they become mechanical movements; behaviour towards the enemy should be with taqwa and collaboration with each other should be based on taqwa. One can only strive for taqwa, not achieve it totally. It is the best garment one can wear (7:26) and the best provision for the future (2:197). It is a protective shield against sin and evil. It is fear of one’s inclination towards temptation and human weaknesses that drive one to errors.

Taqwa includes self-evaluation-cum-correction, accompanied by seeking forgiveness from God and asking for guidance and light. The recognition that God will judge human beings after death will ensure that life in this world is not lived for the moment, but has longer-term goals.Simultaneously, a person has the opportunity to judge himself or herself every moment and develop self-awareness through taqwa. In this manner, ‘God-awareness’ is created through awareness of one’s own weaknesses and efforts to correct them. This rising above small-mindedness and preoccupation with earthly desires is what takes a person towards taqwa. God’s purpose in creation of humans is their tazkiya (purification) through imanand Islam and this moves them towardstaqwa and enables them to be true vicegerents of God. Faith and surrender purify a human soul and enhance its taqwa. The reverse is also true.