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Why Religion?

Discover Islam

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THE MEANING OF ISLAM IN A GENERAL SENSE

The Qur’an uses din, usually translated as “religion,” in different contexts with various meanings, of which the most important and common are: judging, rewarding, punishing (1:4, 51:6, 82:18-19, 37:53, 56:86); way, law, constitution (12:76); penal law (24:2); the collection of moral, spiritual, and worldly principles, system, way of conduct (33:5, 40:26); servanthood, obedience (16:52); and peace and order (8:39).

General Islamic Beliefs 

With Islam, God completed the religion He revealed and chose for humanity (5:3). Literally, Islam means submission, peace, and salvation. In its most fundamental aspect, Islam is epitomized in the most frequently recited of all Qur’anic phrases, the Basmala—In the name of God, the Merciful (al-Rahman), the Compassionate (al-Rahim). Both words are related to the quality of rahma (mercy and compassion). God manifests Himself through His absolute, all-inclusive Mercy and Compassion, and Islam is founded upon that affirmation. The Qur’an calls Prophet Muhammad’s mission a mercy for all the worlds, for God sent him to spread Islam to all of humanity.

Monotheism

Islam is uncompromisingly monotheistic, for its theology begins and ends with God’s Unity (tawhid). Given this, the universe is seen as an integral whole of interrelated and cooperative parts in which a splendid coordination, harmony, and order is displayed both throughout the universe and within each living organism. This harmony and order come from the Unity of the One Who created them and Who is absolute, without partner, peer, or like. The universe operates according to the laws God established for it, and therefore is literally muslim—absolutely submitted to God. Thus its operations are stable, orderly, and harmonious.

Humanity

God created the universe so that He could be known and recognized in all His Names and Attributes, and so His creation includes one creature with free will: humanity. Of all creatures, only humanity can manifest the Divine Names the All-Willing, All-Knowing, and All-Speaking. God then endowed us with the knowledge of things (“names”), and made us His vice-gerent to rule on Earth according to His laws. As having free will means that one must choose, each person’s life consists of choosing between what is right and wrong.

God endowed humanity with three principal faculties fundamental to our survival and carrying out our function as His vice-gerent: an appetite for such things as the opposite sex, offspring, livelihood, and possessions; anger or forcefulness in defense and struggle; and reason or intellect. Since we are tested in this worldly life and are free to choose, God did not restrict these faculties.

According to Islam, our individual and collective happiness lies in disciplining our faculties so that we may produce a harmonious and peaceful individual and social life. If they remain undisciplined, they may drive people to immorality, illicit sexual relationships, unlawful livelihoods, tyranny, injustice, deception, falsehood, and other vices. To prevent the ensuing chaos and suffering, we must submit to an authority that guides and regulates our collective affairs. Since one person will not accept the authority of another, humanity needs a universal intellect, a guidance from beyond human reason and experience, to whose authority all may assent freely. That guidance is the religion revealed and perfected by God through His Prophets: Islam.

Prophets

All Prophets came with the same essentials of belief: belief in God’s Existence and Unity, the world’s final destruction, Resurrection and Judgment, Prophethood and all Prophets without distinction, all Divine Scriptures, angels, and Divine Destiny and Decree (including human free will). They called people to worship the One God, preached and promoted moral virtue, and condemned vice. Differences in particular rules and injunctions were connected with the economic and political relationships existing at that time, and because all Prophets prior to Prophet Muhammad were sent to their own people and for their own time. Prophet Muhammad, however, was sent to humanity regardless of time or place. Thus to be a Muslim means believing in all previous Prophets and the original previous Scriptures.

A Prophet, one purified of sin and vice and having a deep relation with God, guides people to truth and sets a perfect example for them to follow. Such people have the following essential characteristics: absolute and complete truthfulness, trustworthiness, and communication of the Divine Message; the highest intellectual capacity, wisdom, and profound insight; sinlessness; and no mental or physical defects. Just as the sun attracts the planets by the invisible force of gravitation, Prophets attract people by the force of their profound relation with God, certain miracles, and the sheer nobility of their person, purpose, and character.

Faith or belief

Faith or belief, the essence of religion, is not just a simple brief affirmation based on imitation. Rather, it has degrees and stages of expansion or development, just as a tree’s seed gradually is transformed into a fully grown, fruit-bearing tree. Belief contains so many truths pertaining to God’s 1,001 Names and the realities contained in the universe that the most perfect human science, knowledge, and virtue is belief as well as knowledge of God originating in belief based on argument and investigation. Such belief has as many degrees and grades of manifestation as the number of Divine Names. Those who attain the degree of certainty of belief coming from direct observation of the truths on which belief is based can study the universe as a kind of Divine Scripture.

The Qur’an, the universe, and humanity are three manifestations of one truth. Therefore, in principle, there can be no contradiction or incompatibility between Qur’anic truths (from the Divine Attribute of Speech) and truths derived from the objective study of its counterpart, the created universe (from the Divine Attributes of Power and Will). An Islamic civilization true to its authentic, original impulse contains no contradiction between science (the objective study of the natural world) and religion (the personal and collective effort to seek God’s good pleasure). True belief is not based on blind imitation, but rather should appeal to our reason and heart, and combine reason’s affirmation and the heart’s inward experience and submission.

Another degree of belief is known as certainty coming from the direct experience of its truths. This depends on regular worship and reflection, and those who possess it can challenge the world. So, the Muslims’ foremost duty is to acquire this degree of belief and try, in full sincerity and purely to please God, to communicate it to others.

The highest aim of creation and its most sublime result is belief in God. The most exalted rank of humanity is the knowledge of God. The most radiant happiness and sweetest bounty is the love of God contained within the knowledge of God; the purest joy for the human spirit and the purest delight for a person’s heart is the spiritual ecstasy contained within the love of God.

Worship

Belief engenders different kinds of worship, such as responding to explicit injunctions (e.g., the prescribed prayers, fasting, alms-giving, and pilgrimage) and obeying prohibitions (e.g., avoiding all intoxicants, gambling, usury, killing, and deception). Those seeking to strengthen their belief and attain higher ranks of perfection should be careful of their heart’s and intellect’s “acts” (e.g., contemplation, reflection, invocation, recitation of God’s Names, self-criticism, perseverance, patience, thankfulness, self-discipline, and perfect reliance upon God). Moral virtues are the fruits of religious life. As Prophet Muhammad said: “I have been sent to perfect virtue.”

Islam also regulates our collective life

By means of belief and worship, as well as its intellectual, moral, and spiritual principles, Islam educates us in the best possible way. In addition, it uses its socioeconomic principles to establish an ideal society free of dissension, corruption, anarchy, and terror, one that allows everyone to obtain happiness both in this world and in the hereafter.

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Last Updated on April 15, 2002

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