The Scheme of Life
In Islam, man’s entire individual and social life is an exercise in developing and strengthening his relationship with Allah. Man, the starting point of our religion, consists in the acceptance of this relationship by man’s intellect and will; Islam means submission to the will of Allah in all aspects of life. The Islamic code of conduct is known as the Shari‘ah. Its sources are the Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet, blessings and peace be on him.
The final Book of Allah and His final Messenger stand today as the repositories of this truth. Everyone who agrees that the concept of Reality stated by the Prophet, and the Holy Book is true, should step forward and surrender himself to the will of Allah. It is this submission which is called Islam, the result of Man in actual life. And those who of their own freewill accept Allah as their Sovereign, surrender to His Divine will and undertake to regulate their lives in accordance with His commandments, are called Muslims.
All those persons who thus surrender themselves are welded into a community and that is how the ‘Muslim society’ comes into being. It is an ideological society, radically different from those which are founded on the basis of race, colour or territory. It is the result of a deliberate choice, the outcome of a ‘contract’ which takes place between human beings and their Creator. Those who enter into this contract undertake to recognise Allah as their Sovereign, His guidance as supreme and His injunctions as absolute Law. They also undertake to accept, without question, His word as to what is good or evil, right or wrong, permissible or prohibited. In short, freedoms of the Islamic society are limited by the commandments of the Omniscient Allah. In other words, it is Allah and not man whose will is the primary source of Law in a Muslim society.
When such a society comes into existence, the Book and the Messenger prescribe for it a code of life called the Shari‘ah and this society is bound to conform to it by virtue of the contract is has entered into. It is, therefore, inconceivable that a real Muslim society can deliberately adopt any other system of life than that based on the Shari‘ah. If it does so, its contract is ipso facto broken and it becomes ‘un-Islamic’.
But we must clearly distinguish between the everyday sins of the individual and a deliberate revolt against the Shari‘ah. The former may not mean a breaking up of the contract, while the latter most certainly would. The point that should be clearly understood is that if an Islamic society consciously resolves not to accept the Shari‘ah, and decides to enact its own constitution and laws or borrows them from any other source in disregard of the Shari‘ah, such a society breaks its contract with Allah and forfeits its right to be called ‘Islamic’.
Objectives and Characteristics
The main objectives of the Shari‘ah are to ensure that human life is based on ma’rufat (good) and to cleanse it of munkarat (evils). The term ma’rufat denotes all the qualities that have always been accepted as ‘good’ by the human conscience. Conversely, the world munkarat denotes all those qualities that have always been condemned by human nature as ‘evil’. In short, the ma’rufat are in harmony with human nature and the munkarat are against nature. The Shari‘ah gives precise definitions of ma’rufat and munkarat, clearly indicating the standards of goodness for which individuals and society should aspire.
It does not, however, limit itself to an inventory of good and evil deeds; rather, it lays down an entire scheme of life whose aim is to make sure that good flourishes and evils do not destroy or harm human life.
To achieve this, the Shari‘ah has embraced in its scheme everything that encourages the growth of good and has recommended ways to remove obstacles that might prevent this growth. This process gives rise to a subsidiary series of ma’rufat consisting of ways of initiating and nurturing the good, and yet another set of ma’rufat consisting of prohibitions in relation to those things which act as impediments to good. Similarly, there is a subsidiary list of munkarat which might initiate or allow the growth of evil.
The Shari‘ah shapes Islamic society in a way conducive to the unfettered growth of good, righteousness and truth in every sphere of human activity. At the same time it removes all the impediments along the path of goodness. And it attempts to eradicate corruption from its social scheme by prohibiting evil, by removing the causes of its appearance and growth, by closing the inlets through which it creeps into a society and by adopting deterrent measures to check its occurrence.
The Shari‘ah divides ma’rfat into three categories: the mandatory (fard and wajib), the recommendatory (mandub) and the permissible (mubah).
The observance of the mandatory is obligatory on a Muslim society and the Shari‘ah has given clear and binding directions about this. The recommendatory ma’rufat are those which the Shari‘ah expects a Muslim society to observe and practise. Some of them have been very clearly demanded of us while others have been recommended by implication and inference from the sayings of the Prophet, blessings and peace be on him. Besides this, special arrangements have been made for the growth and encouragement of some of them in the scheme of life advocated by the Shari‘ah. Others again have simply been recommended by the Shari‘ah, leaving it to the society or to its more virtuous elements to look to promote them.
This leaves us with the permissible ma’rufat. Strictly speaking, according to the Shari‘ah everything which has not been expressly prohibited is a permissible ma’ruf. Consequently, the sphere of permissible ma’rufat is very wide, so much so that except for the things specifically prohibited by the Shari‘ah everything is permissible for a Muslim. And in this vast sphere we have been given freedom to legislate according to our own discretion to suit the requirements of our "time and its dictates."
The munkarat (the things prohibited in Islam) have been grouped into two categories: things which have been prohibited absolutely (haram), and things which are simply undesirable (makruh).
Muslims have been enjoined by clear and mandatory injunctions to refrain totally from everything that has been declared haram. As for the makruh, the Shari‘ah signifies its disapproval either expressly or by implication, giving an indication also as to the extent of such disapproval. For example, there are some makruh things bordering on haram, while others are closer to acts which are permissible. Moreover, in some cases, explicit measures have been prescribed by the Shari‘ah for the prevention of makruh things, while in others such measures have been left to the discretion of the society or individual.
Some Other Characteristics
The Shari‘ah thus prescribes directives for the regulation of our individual as well as collective lives. These directives affect such varied subjects as religious rituals, personal character, morals, habits, family relationships, social and economic affairs, administration, the rights and duties of citizens, the judicial system, the laws of war and peace and international relations. They tell us what is good and bad; what is beneficial and useful and what is injurious and harmful; what are the virtues which we have to cultivate and encourage and what are the evils which we have to suppress and guard against; what is the sphere of our voluntary, personal and social action and what are its limits; and, finally, what methods we can adopt to establish a dynamic order of society and what methods we should avoid. The Shari‘ah is a complete way of life and an all-embracing social order.
Another remarkable feature of the Shari‘ah is that it is an organic whole. The entire way of life propounded by Islam is animated by the same spirit and hence any arbitrary division of the scheme is bound to affect the spirit as well as the structure of the Islamic order. In this respect, it might be compared to the human body. A leg separated from the body cannot be called one-eighth or one-sixth man, because after its separation from the body the leg cannot perform its function. Nor can it be placed in the body of some other animal with the aim of making it human to the extent of that limb. Likewise, we cannot form a correct judgment about the utility, efficiency and beauty of the hand, the eye or the nose of a human being outside the context of their place and function within the living body.
The same can be said about the scheme of life envisaged by the Shari‘ah. Islam signifies a complete way of life which cannot be split up into separate parts. Consequently, it is neither appropriate to consider the different parts of the Shari‘ah in isolation, nor to take any particular part and bracket it with any other ‘ism’. The Shari‘ah can function smoothly only if one’s whole life is lived in accordance with it.
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