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 realize 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 honored 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 ¾ 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 organized 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.
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