The chief characteristic of Islam is that it makes no distinction between the spiritual and the secular in life. Its aim is to shape both individual lives as well as society as a whole in ways that will ensure that the Kingdom of Allah may really be established on earth and that peace, contentment and well-being may fill the world. The Islamic way of life is thus based on a unique concept of man’s place in the universe. That is why it is necessary that, before we discuss the moral, social, political and economic systems of Islam, we should have a clear idea of what that concept is.
1. Allah, who is the Creator, the Ruler and the Lord of the universe, has created man and provided him with a temporary home in that part of His vast kingdom which is the earth. He has endowed man with the faculties of thinking and understanding, and has given him the power to distinguish right from wrong. Man has also been invested with free will and the power to use the resources of the world however he likes. That is, man has a measure of autonomy, while being at the same time Allah’s representative on earth.
2. Before assigning to man this vicegerency (Khilafat), Allah made it clear to him that He alone as the Lord, the Ruler and the Deity. As such, the entire universe and all the creatures in it (including man) should submit to Him alone. Man must not think himself totally free and must realise that this earth is not his permanent abode. He has been created to live on it only for a probationary period and, in due course, he will return to his Lord, to be judged according to the way he has spent that period. The only right course for man is to acknowledge Allah as the only Lord, the Sustainer and the Deity, and to follow His guidance and His commands in all he does. His sole objective should be to merit the approval of Allah.
If man follows a course of righteousness and godliness (which he is free to choose and follow) he will be rewarded in this world and the next: in this world he will live a life of peace and contentment, and in the Hereafter he will qualify for the heaven of eternal bliss, al-Jannah. If he chooses to follow the course of godlessness and evil (which he is equally free to choose and follow), his life will be one of corruption and frustration in this world, and in the life to come he will face the prospect of that abode of pain and misery which is called Hell.
3. After making this position clear, Allah set man on earth and provided the very first human beings (Adam and Eve) with guidance as to how they were to live. Thus man’s life on this earth did not start in utter darkness. >From the beginning a bright torch of light was provided so that humanity could fulfill its glorious destiny. The very first man received revealed knowledge from Allah Himself, and was told the correct way to live. This code of life was Islam, the attitude of complete submission to Allah, the Creator of man and the whole universe. It was this religion which Adam, the first man, passed down to posterity.
But later generations gradually drifted away from the right path. Either they lost the original teachings through negligence or they deliberately adulterated and distorted them. They associated Allah with innumerable human beings, material objects and imaginary gods. Shirk (polytheism) became widespread. They mixed up the teachings of Allah with myths and strange philosophies and thus produced a jumble of religions and cults; and they discarded the God-given principles of personal and social morality, the Shari‘ah.
4. Although man departed from the path of truth, disregarded or distorted the Shari‘ah or even rejected the code of Divine guidance, Allah did not destroy them or force them to take the right course. Forced morality was not in keeping with the autonomy He had given to man. Instead, God appointed certain good people from among the human society itself to guide men to the right path. These men believed in Allah, and lived a life of obedience to Him. He honoured them by His revelations, giving them the knowledge of reality. Known as prophets, blessings and peace be on all of them, they were assigned the task of spreading Allah’s message among men.
5. Many thousands of these prophets were raised throughout the ages, in all lands and in all nations. All of them brought the same message, all of them advocated the same way of life, (din), that is, the way which was revealed to man on the first day of his existence. All of them had the same mission: they called men to Islam to submit to Allah alone, asked those who accepted the Divine law, and for putting an end to all deviations from the true path. Many people, however, refused to accept their guidance and many of those who did accept it gradually drifted away from their initial commitment.
6. Lastly, Allah raised the Prophet Muhammad, blessings and peace be on him, in Arabia to complete the mission of the earlier prophets. The message of Muhammad, blessings and peace be on him, was for the whole of mankind. He presented anew the teachings of Islam in their pristine form and provided humanity once again with the Divine guidance which had been largely lost. He organised all those who accepted his message into one community (Ummah), charged with living in accordance with the teachings of Islam, with calling humanity to the path of righteousness and with establishing the supremacy of the world of Allah on earth. This guidance is enshrined in the Holy Qur’an.
Man: Its Nature and Character
The Qur’an deals in many passages with man’s relationship to Allah and the concept of life which naturally follows from that relationship. Its message is epitomised in the following verse:
Verily Allah hath bought of the Believers their lives and their properties for the price that theirs shall be the Paradise: so they fight in the way of Allah and slay and are slain. It (i.e. the promise of Paradise) is a covenant which is binding on Him in the Torah and the Injil and the Qur’an. And who is more faithful unto his covenant than Allah? Rejoice then in your bargain that ye have made, for that is the supreme triumph. (al-Tawbah 9: 111)
In the above verse the nature of the relationship which comes into existence between man and Allah because of Man (the belief, trust and faith in Allah) is called a ‘bargain’. This means that Man in Allah is not a mere metaphysical concept; it is in the nature of a contract by which man barters his life and his possessions in exchange for the promise of Paradise in the Hereafter. God as it were, purchases a Believer’s life and property and promises, in return, the reward of Paradise in the life after death. This concept of a bargain and a covenant has important implications, and needs to be clearly understood.
Everything in this world belongs to Allah. As such, man’s life and wealth, which are part of this world, also belong to Him, because He has created them and has entrusted them to every man for his use. Looked at from this angle, the question of ‘selling’ or ‘buying’ may not seem to arise at all; Allah does not need to buy what is already His and man cannot sell what is not really his.
But there is one thing which has been conferred on man, and which now belongs fully to him, and that is free will which gives him freedom to choose between following or not following the path of Allah. This freedom of will and choice does not automatically make man the real owner of all the power and resources over which he has command, nor does it give him the right to use them just as he likes. Yet, because of this free will, he may, if he likes, consider himself free of all obligations to the Lord and independent of any higher authority. It is here that the question of bargain arises.
This bargain thus does not mean that Allah is purchasing something which belongs to man. Its real nature is this: all creation belongs to Allah but He bestowed certain things on man to be used by him on trust. Allah wants man to willingly and voluntarily acknowledge this. A person who voluntarily renounces his freedom to reject Allah’s supremacy and instead acknowledges His sovereignty, and, in so doing, ‘sells’ his ‘autonomy’ (which, too, is a gift from Allah) to Allah, will get in return Allah’s promise of eternal bliss in Paradise. A person who makes such a bargain is a Mu’min (Believer) and Man (faith) is the Islamic name for this contract; a person who chooses not to enter into this contract, or who, after making such a contract, does not keep to it, is a Kafir. The avoidance or abrogation of the contract is technically known as Kufr.
Such is the nature of the contract. Now let us briefly study its various aspects and stipulations.
1. Allah has set us to account for ourselves in two areas:
(a) He has left man free, but nonetheless wishes to see whether he will remain honest and loyal to Him, or whether he will rebel against his own Creator, whether he will behave nobly or start ‘playing such fantastic tricks as make the angels weep’.
(b) He wants to see whether man is prepared to have enough trust in Allah to offer his life and wealth in return for a promise about the next world.
2. It is a principle of Islamic law that Man consists in adherence to a certain set of doctrines and anyone who accepts those doctrines becomes a Mu’min. No one has the right to call such a man a disbeliever or drive him from the fold of Ummah, unless there is clear proof that faith has been abandoned. This is the legal position. But in the eyes of the Lord, Man is only valid when it entails complete surrender of one’s will and freedom of choice to the will of Allah. It is a state of thought and action, coming from the heart, wherein man submits himself fully to Allah, renouncing all claim to his own supremacy.
A man may recite the Kalimah, accept the contract and even offer Prayers and perform other acts of worship, but if in his heart he regards himself as the owner and the master of his physical and mental powers and of his moral and material resources, then, however much the people may look upon him as a Mu’min, in the eyes of Allah he will be a disbeliever. He will not really have entered into the bargain which the Qur’an says is the essence of Man. If a man does not use his powers and resources in the way Allah has prescribed for him, using them instead in pursuits which Allah has forbidden, it is clear that either he has not pledged his life and property to Allah, or has nullified that pledge by his conduct.
3. This aspect of Man makes the Islamic way of life the very opposite of that of the non-Muslim. A Muslim, who has real faith in Allah, makes his entire life one of obedience and surrender to His will. He never behaves arrogantly or selfishly or as if he were master of his own destiny, save in moments of forgetfulness. And as soon as he becomes conscious of such a lapse, he will submit himself to his Lord and ask forgiveness for his error.
Similarly, a group of people or a society which consists of true Muslims can never break away from the Law of their Lord. Its political order, its social organisations, its culture, its economic policy, its legal system and its international strategy must all be in tune with the code of guidance revealed by Allah. Any unwitting contraventions must be corrected as soon as they are realised.
It is disbelievers who feel free from Allah’s guidance and behave as if they were their own master. Anyone who behaves like this, even though he may bear a name similar to that of a Muslim, is treading the path of the disbelievers.
4. The will of Allah, which it is obligatory for man to follow, is the one which Allah Himself has revealed for man’s guidance. It cannot be determined by man himself. Allah has Himself explained it clearly and there is no ambiguity about it. Therefore, if a society sticks honestly to its contract with Allah, it must shape its life in accordance with the Book of Allah and the Sunnah of the Prophet, blessings and peace be on him.
It is clear from the foregoing discussion why the payment of the ‘price’ has been postponed till the life after death. Paradise is not the reward for the mere profession of the bargain, it is the reward for the faithful execution of it. Unless the behaviour of the ‘vendor’ complies with the terms of the contract he will not be entitled to the reward. The final act of the ‘sale’ can only be concluded after the last moment of the vendor’s earthly life.
There is another significant point which emerges from the study of the verse quoted above when it is read in its context in the Qur’an. In the verses preceding it, reference is made to the people who professed Iman and promised a life of obedience, but who, when the hour of trial came, proved unequal to the task. Some neglected the call of the hour and betrayed the cause. Others refused to sacrifice their lives and riches in the cause of Allah.
The Qur’an, after criticising their insincerity, makes it clear that Man is a contract, a form of pledge between man and Allah. It does not consist in a mere profession of belief in Allah. It is an acknowledgment of the fact that Allah alone is our Lord, Sovereign and Ruler and that everything that man has, including his own life, belongs to Him and must be used in accordance with His directives. If a Muslim adopts a different course, he is insincere in his profession of faith. Only those who have really sold their lives and all that they possess to Allah and who follow His dictates in all spheres of activity can be called true Believers.