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Articles of Faith New Muslims

How Do We Know the True Religion?

By Hammudah Abd Al-Ati

Throughout history religion has been abused and misunderstood. Some people use it as a means of exploitation and suppression, as a pretext for prejudice and persecution. Some other people use it as a source of power and domination over the elite and the masses alike. But is that the true religion?

In the name of religion unjustifiable wars have been launched, freedom of thought and conscience has been oppressed, science has been persecuted, the right of the individual to maturity has been denied, and man’ s dignity and honor have been flagrantly debased. And in the name of religion an injustice has been inflicted upon humanity with the result that religion itself has suffered many losses.

These are historical facts which no one can deny. But is this the proper function of religion or the right approach to religion? Could this be the purpose of religion?

The indisputable answer is an emphatic no. There are many religions in the world, and each one claims to be the one and only true religion. Each religion is supposed to have come from God for the right guidance of man.

But these claims contradict each other and have caused dissensions among people and vehement reactions to religion – instead of welding mankind into one universal brotherhood under the One Universal Benevolent God.

This situation makes any neutral observer confused and perhaps averse to all kinds of religion.

The Islamic …”Religion”

The Islamic concept of religion is unique in the broadest sense of the word. It is true that genuine religion must come from God for the right guidance of man. And it is equally true that human nature and major human needs are basically the same at all times.

This conception leads to one conclusion, and that is: There is only one true religion coming from the One and the Same God, to deal with the outstanding human problems of all times.

This religion is “Islam”. But it should be borne in mind that Islam was taught by Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) alone. On the contrary, Islam had been taught by all the prophets before Muhammad, and the true followers of Abraham and Moses as well as those of Jesus and the rest were all called “Muslims”.

So Islam has been, and will continue to be, the true universal religion of God, because God is one and changeless, and because human nature and major human needs are fundamentally the same, irrespective of time and place, of race and age, and of any other considerations.

The True Religion

Bearing this in mind, the Islamic concept maintains that religion is not only a spiritual and intellectual necessity but also a social and universal need. It is not to bewilder man but to guide him. It is not to debase him but to elevate his moral nature.

It is not to deprive him of anything useful, or to burden him, or to oppress his qualities but to open for him inexhaustible treasures of sound thinking and right action. It is not confine him to narrow limits but to launch him into wide horizons of truth and goodness.

In short, true religion is to acquaint man with God as well as with himself and the rest of the universe. This is by no means an oversimplification of the function of religion. Here is what it means.

When the purpose of true religion is carefully examined, it will be found that religion satisfies the spiritual and moderate material needs of man. It unties his psychological knots and complexes, sublimates his instincts and aspirations, and disciplines his desires and the whole course of life. It improves his knowledge of God – the Highest Truth in the universe, and of his own self.

It teaches him about the secrets of life and the nature of man and how to treat them, about good and evil, about right and wrong.

It purifies the soul from evil, clears the mind from doubts, strengthens the character and corrects the thinking and convictions of man. All this can be achieved only when man faithfully observes the spiritual duties and physical regulations introduced by religion.

The True Purpose

On the other hand, true religion educates man and trains him in hope and patience, in truthfulness and honesty, in love for the right and good, in courage and endurance, all of which are required for the mastery of the great art of living.

Moreover, true religion insures man against fears and spiritual losses, and assures him of God’s aid and unbreakable alliance. It provides man with peace and security and makes his life meaningful.

That is what true religion can do for humanity, and that is the concept of religion in Islam.

Any religion which fails to bear these fruits is not Islam or rather, is not religion at all, and any man who fails to draw these benefits from religion is not religious or God-minded. God is absolutely true when He says in the Qur’an:

Verily the religion with God is Islam. Nor did the People of the Book dissent therefrom except through envy of each other, after knowledge had come to them. But if any deny the Signs of God, God is swift in calling to account. (Aal `Imran 3:19).

And if anyone desires a religion other than Islam, never will it be accepted of him; and in the Hereafter he will be in the ranks of those who have lost (all spiritual good). (Aal `Imran 3:85)

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The article is excerpted from Dr. Hammudah’s well-known book “Islam in Focus”.

 

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Divine Unity New Muslims

Man’s Quest for God: Between Reason and Heart

In the quest for God, is there a contradiction between the realm of faith and the realm of reason? Could this quest for God and the truth be undertaken with only one of them?

The story of creation, as it is told in the Qur’an, is remarkable. It all began, one may say, with a testimony and a covenant. Indeed, Revelation tells us that in the first stage of creation the Only One brought together the whole of mankind and made them bear witness:

And when your Sustainer took the offspring of Adam from his loins to bear witness about themselves: ‘Am I not your Lord?,’ they replied, ‘Assuredly, yes. We bear witness to it.’ This is a reminder lest on the day of judgment you say: ‘We did not know!’  (Al-A`raf 7:172)

This original testimony is of fundamental importance for the formation of the Islamic conception of humanity. It teaches us that in the heart and consciousness of each individual there exists an essential and profound intuitive awareness and recognition of the presence of the Transcendent.

Fitrah

Just as the sun, the clouds, the winds, the birds, and all the animals express their natural submission, as we have seen, the human being has within it an almost instinctive longing for a dimension that is “beyond.”

This is the idea of the fitrah, which has given rise to numerous exegetical, mystical, and philosophical commentaries, so central is it to the Islamic conception of the human being, faith, and the sacred. We find it mentioned in the following verse: “Surrender your whole being as a true believer and in accordance with the nature (natural desire) which God gave to human beings when He created them. There is no change in God’s creation. This is the unchangeable religion, but most people do not know” (Ar-Rum 30:30), and confirmed by a Prophetic tradition: “Every newborn child is born in fitrah: it is his parents who make of him a Jew, a Christian, or a Zoroastrian.” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)

So this “original testimony” has impressed each person’s heart with a mark, which is a memory, a spark, a quest for God (transcendence) in a sense very close to Mircea Eliade’s insight when he affirms that religions “play a part in the structure of human consciousness.”

Original Covenant

This statement from the first age, in which human beings declared their recognition of the Creator, fashions their relationship with God: they are bound by a sort of original covenant to which their consciousness presses them to stay faithful.

There is no original sin in Islam: every being is born innocent and then becomes responsible for his or her faithfulness to the covenant. Those who do not believe, the un-faithful (kafir), are those who are not faithful to the original covenant, whose memory is faint and whose sight is veiled.

In the notion of kufr in Arabic there is the idea of a veiling that leads to the denial of the Truth. Only God decides whether human beings will be enlightened or veiled. Their responsibility consists in their constant action and personal effort to keep the memory alive.

Little by little, we feel that the outlines of an Islamic conception of human nature are emerging. If none of the elements that make up the human being has, in itself, a positive or negative moral quality, if, on the contrary, it is the awakened, responsible conscience that exerts, through the exercise of control, ethical guidance on one’s way of being in the world, one is naturally entitled to wonder how to comply with the way this guidance is leading, how, in short, to be with God.

The answer to this is: all of us are required to return to ourselves and to rediscover the original breath, to revive it and confirm it. In order for this to be achieved, the Creator has made available to human beings two kinds of Revelation. One is spread out before us in space—the whole universe. The other stands out in history at points in time.

Quest for God…Truth

These two kinds of Revelation “remind” and send the conscious back to itself:

We will show them our signs on the horizons and in themselves so that it will be clear to them that (this message) is the truth. (Fussilat 41:53)

This quest for God (the Transcendent) cannot be undertaken without the mind. There is absolutely no contradiction here between the realm of faith and the realm of reason.

On the contrary, the spark of faith, born in the original testimony, needs intellect to confirm that testimony and to be capable of being faithful to the original covenant.

The realm of faith necessarily calls on intellect, which, by accepting the two types of Revelation, allows faith to be confirmed, deepened, and rooted and to grow to fullness in the heart and in human consciousness.

Here again the two must be wedded, and each has a part to play: a living faith makes it possible for the intellect to accept signs beyond simple elements of nature, and active reason makes it possible for faith to understand and also to acquire more self-understanding, and in that way to draw closer to the divine:

Of all the servants, those who know are those who are (fully) open to the intimate awareness of God. (Fatir 35:28)

Blaise Pascal had an apt expression: “The heart has reasons that reason does not know,” thus differentiating the two realms of faith and reason (even though this formula has often been (wrongly) reduced to an opposition between the emotional and the rational).

From an Islamic point of view, the relationship of the heart (where the first longing, the first breath toward faith takes place) and the intellect (which responds to the call of this breath and takes up the quest for God) might rather be expressed this way: the heart has reasons that reason will recognize.

Apart from the expression, the difference is profound.

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The article is an excerpt from the author’s book Western Muslims and the Future of Islam, Oxford University Press (2004).

 

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Articles of Faith New Muslims

Worship: A Lifelong Service

By Abul A`la Al-Mawdudi 

The `ibadah (worship) for which God has created you and which He has enjoined upon you is this: you must follow at every step in your lives the law of God and refuse to obey all laws which conflict with His law. Everything you do must accord with the guidance given by God. Only then will your entire lives turn into lives of worship.

Life of Worship

In such a life, everything is `ibadah: whether you sleep or are awake, whether you eat or drink, whether you work or rest, whether you are silent or talk, are all acts of worship. So much so that in going to your wives and kissing your children, too, you serve God.

All these actions which are usually considered secular and worldly become religious, provided that during their performance you observe the limits laid down by God and remain conscious every moment and at every step of what is approved by God (halal) and what is forbidden by Him (haram), what is a duty and what must be avoided, which actions please God and which displease Him.

For instance, easy opportunities to earn money in a forbidden way may occur during your life. If you resist this temptation and, in obedience to God, confine yourselves to earning money in approved ways only, then your work is itself worship.

And you deserve rewards. And the earnings you bring home for yourselves, your wives, your children and other have-nots will be blessed by Allah.

God’s Way

Indeed whatever you do and whatever time you spend in doing His will and in pleasing Him, you worship Him: when you remove from the road a stone or other obstacle which might hurt people; when you nurse an ill person or guide a blind man or help a person in distress; when you avoid lying, gossiping about people behind their backs, making sarcastic remarks and slandering; when you refrain from hurting people; when you talk truthfully and justly.

Real worship of God, therefore, is to follow the way laid down by God and lead lives according to His commandments from childhood to death. There can be no fixed time for this worship; it must be performed all the time. Nor does it have one particular form; in everything you say and do, you must serve God.

Since you cannot say: ‘I am a servant of God at such a time and 1 am not a servant of God at such a time’, you cannot say that such and such a time is earmarked for God’s service and the remaining time is not. If you truly honour and adore, love and fear God, all your actions will be motivated by these feelings and they will all constitute worship.

Why Worship Rituals?

Brothers! You may now ask: What then is the position of prescribed worship rituals like the prayer (salah), alms-giving (zakah), Fasting (sawm), pilgrimage (hajj) and so on?

These acts of worship, which Allah has enjoined upon us, in reality prepare us for that greater overall `ibadah that we have to perform throughout our lives. They are the means which turn our lives into lives of worship. Prayer reminds you five times a day that you are slaves of Allah and that Him alone you must serve.

Fasting prepares you, for an entire month once every year, for this very service. Alms-giving repeatedly brings home to you the truth that the money you have earned is a gift of God. Do not just spend it on physical pleasures or even solely on material needs; you must render what is due to your Master.

Pilgrimage engraves on your hearts such a love and awareness of the majesty of God that once they take root, they remain with you all your lives. If, by performing all these acts of worship, you grasp their true inner significance and your entire lives are transformed into an unceasing act of worship, then undoubtedly your Prayer is real prayer, your Fast is real fast, your Alms-giving is real charity and your Pilgrimage is real pilgrimage.

But if you do not, no purpose is possibly served by merely bowing, kneeling and prostrating yourselves (ruku` and sujud), by spending days in hunger and thirst, by going through the formalities of the Pilgrimage and by setting aside money for the Alms-giving. These worship rituals are like a human body: it is a living human being so long as it has a soul and moves about and does work; but if it is soulless, it is no more than a corpse.

A corpse has hands and feet, eyes and nose, but you bury it under the earth because it is devoid of soul. So are worship rites if they are devoid of meaning, if they do not generate love and fear of God, loyalty and obedience to Him.

We should try to find out how each act of ritual worship prepares us for a life spent totally in worship; what a great and wonderful difference each can make to our lives if we perform them in full understanding of their meaning and purpose.

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The article is an excerpt from Abul A`la Al-Mawdudi’s Let Us Be Muslims.

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Major Sins New Muslims

The Concept of Sin in Islam

gloomy nature

The idea of ‘Original Sin’ or hereditary criminality has no room in the teachings of Islam.

One of the major troublesome areas of human existence is the problem of sin or evil in the world. It is commonly believed that sin started with Adam and Eve during their life in the Garden of Eden. That event led to the ‘Fall’ and has ever since branded the human race with guilt, stigma, and bewilderment.

The First Sin

Islam has taken a unique position on the whole issue, a position which is not shared by any other religion we know. The Qur’an states that Adam and Eve were directed by God to reside in the Garden of Eden and enjoy its produce as they pleased, assured of bountiful supplies and comfort. But they were warned not to approach a particular tree so that they would not run into harm and injustice.

Then Satan intrigued them to temptation and caused them to lose their joyful state. They were expelled from the Garden and brought down to earth to live, die, and taken out again at last for the Final Judgment. Having realized what they had done, they felt shame, guilt, and remorse. They prayed for God’ s mercy and were forgiven (Al-Baqarah 2:35-38; Al-A`raf 7:19-25; Ta-Ha 20:117-123).

And We said: O Adam! Dwell you and your wife in the Garden, and eat you freely (of the fruits) thereof where you will; but come not nigh this tree lest you become wrong-doers. But Satan caused them to deflect therefrom and expelled them from the (happy) state in which they were; and We said: Fall down, one of you a foe unto the other! There shall be for you on earth a habitation and provision for a time. Then Adam received from his Lord words (of revelation), and He relented toward him. Lo! He is the relenting, the Merciful. (Al-Baqarah 2:35-37)

This symbolic event is significantly revealing. It tells that the human being is imperfect and ever wanting even if he were to live in paradise. But committing a sin or making a mistake, as Adam and Eve did, does not necessarily deaden the human heart, prevent spiritual reform or stop moral growth.

Human Accountability

On the contrary, the human being has enough sensibility to recognize his sins and shortcomings. More importantly, he is capable of knowing where to turn and to whom he should turn for guidance.

Much more important is the fact that God is ever prepared to respond to the sincere calls of those who seek His aid. He is so Gracious and Compassionate that His forgiveness is encompassing and His mercy all–inclusive: “My mercy embraces all things” (Al-A`raf 7:156). One last revealing reading of the event is that discrimination on the basis of sex and hereditary guilt or sin are alien to the spirit of Islam.

field-nature

Whatever becomes of man after birth is the result of external influence and intruding factors.

The idea of ‘Original Sin’ or hereditary criminality has no room in the teachings of Islam. Man, according to the Qur’an and to the Prophet, is born in natural state of purity or fitrah, that is, Islam or submission to the will and law of God. Allah says:

So set your purpose (O Muhammad) for religion as a man by nature upright – the nature (framed) of Allah, in which He has created man. There is no altering (the laws of) Allah’s creation. That is the right religion, but most men know not. (Ar-Rum 30:30)

Whatever becomes of man after birth is the result of external influence and intruding factors. To put the matter in terms of modern thought, human nature is malleable; it is the socialization process, particularly the home environment, that is crucial. It plays a decisive role in the formation of human personality and the development of moral character.

This does not deny to the individual the freedom of choice or exempt him from responsibility. Rather, it is a relief from that heavy burden of hereditary criminality or instinctual sin.

Between Good & Evil

God, by definition, is Just, Wise, Merciful, Compassionate, and Perfect. He has created man by breathing into him of His own Spirit (Al-Hijr 15:29; As-Sajdah 32:9; At-Tahrim 66:12).

So, when I have made him and have breathed into him of My Spirit… (Al-Hijr 15:29)

Since God is absolutely good and His Spirit is absolutely perfect one; since man, through creation, received of the Spirit of God, then man was bound to retain at least some portion of this good Spirit of the Creator. This may account for the good dispositions of man and his spiritual longings. But, on the other hand, God created man to worship Him, not to be His equal, rival, the perfect incarnation or absolute embodiment of His goodness.

This means that no matter how much good and perfect man may be, by the grace of creation, he is still far short of the goodness and perfection of the Creator. Man is not without such qualities, to be sure. But they are limited and proportionate to man’ s finite nature, capacity, and responsibility. This may explain the imperfection and fallibility of man.

However, imperfection and fallibility are not the equivalent of sin or synonymous with criminality – at least not in Islam. If man is imperfect he is not left helpless or deserted by God to fall victim to his shortcomings. He is empowered by revelations, supported by reason, fortified by the freedom of choice, and guided by various social and psychological dispositions to seek and achieve relative perfection.

The constant gravitation between the forces of good and evil is the struggle of life. It gives man something to look forward to, ideals to seek, work to do, and roles to play. It makes his life interesting and meaningful, not monotonous and stagnant. On the other hand, it pleases God to see His servants in a state of spiritual and moral victory.

Sins/Sinful Acts

According to the moral scale of Islam, it is not a sin that man is imperfect or fallible. This is part of his nature as a finite limited creature. But it is a sin if he has the ways and means of relative perfection and chooses not to seek it.

A sin is any act, thought, or will that (1) is deliberate, (2) defies the unequivocal law of God, (3) violates the right of God or the right of man, (4) is harmful to the soul or body, (5) is committed repeatedly, and (6) is normally avoidable. These are the components of sin which is not innate or hereditary.

It is true, however, that man has the potential capacity of sin latent in him; but this is not greater than his capacity of piety and goodness. If he chooses to actualize the potential of sin instead of the potential of goodness, he will be adding a new external element to his pure nature. For this added external element man alone is responsible.

In Islam, there are major and minor sins as there are sins against God and sins against both God and man. All sins against God, except one, are forgivable if the sinner sincerely seeks forgiveness. The Qur’an has stated that truly God does not forgive the sin of shirk (polytheism, pantheism, trinity, etc.).

But He forgives sins other than this and pardons whom He wills. Yet if the polytheist or atheist comes back to God, his sin will be forgiven. Sins against men are forgivable only if the offended pardon the offender or if the proper compensations and / or punishments are applied.

In conclusion, sin is acquired not inborn, emergent not built-in, avoidable not inevitable. It is a deliberate conscious violation of the unequivocal law of God. If man does something that is truly caused by natural instincts or absolutely irresistible drives and uncontrollable urges, then such an act is not a sin in Islam.

Otherwise, God’ s purpose will be pointless and man’ s responsibility will be in vain. God demands of man what lies within the human possibilities and reaches.

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The article is excerpted from Dr. Hammudah’s well-known book “Islam in Focus”.

 

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Major Sins New Muslims

The Unforgivable Sin in Islam

Allah is All-Merciful and Oft-Forgiving. Indeed, He may forgive all sins except for one sin: shirk.

In Islam, shirk is the sin of idolatry or polytheism. i.e. the worship of anyone or anything other than the singular God, or more literally associating partners with Him.

If a person dies in a state of polytheism, every hope for his or her salvation is surely dashed.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) was asked: what is the greater sin , he said: To ascribe partners to Allah even though he created you. (Al-Bukhari)

However, Almighty Allah may forgive every sin, without exception, from a sincere penitent.

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ABC's of Islam New Muslims

Islam and the Meaning of Deen

By Abul A`la Al-Mawdudi 

The word ‘deen’ is used in several meanings. The first is sovereignty, power, lordship, kingship, or rulership. The second is the opposite of this, i.e. submission, obedience, service or slavery. The third is to bring to account, to judge, or to dispense reward and punishment for actions. All those three uses are found in the Qur’an.

Allah says:

The only (true) Deen in the sight of God is (man’s) self-surrender (to Him). (Aal `Imran 3:19)

Here, deen is that way of life in which we recognize Allah alone as the possessor of all power and majesty and surrender ourselves to Him. We must not abase or humble ourselves before anybody save Him. We must regard only Allah as Master, Lord, and Sovereign, and must not be slaves or servants to anybody but Him. We must accept only Allah as the Lord of reward and punishment. We should covet no reward, fear no punishment, except His. Islam is the name of this deen.

Deen is that way of life in which we recognize Allah alone as the possessor of all power and majesty and surrender ourselves to Him.

False Deen

False deen arises when you ascribe real powers to anyone besides Allah, when you take anyone as a real ruler and master, as a dispenser of real reward and punishment, when you bow your heads before him in humility, when you serve him and obey his orders, when you covet his reward and fear his punishment more than Allah’s. This kind of deen Allah never accepts because it is totally contrary to reality.

No other being in the whole universe except God possesses any power and might, nor does anybody else’s sovereignty and kingship exist. We have not been created to be servants and slaves of anyone or anything but God, nor is there anyone else except that real Master who can judge us and award reward and punishment.

In many places in the Qur’an these facts have been explained.

And whoso seeks a Deen other than Islam, it will not be accepted from him. (Aal `Imran 3:85)

Thus, anyone who disregards the sovereignty and kingship of God, acknowledges someone else as his master and ruler, becomes his servant and slave, and considers anyone as a dispenser of reward and punishment in his own right, will never have his Deen or conduct accepted by God because:

They were not enjoined anything but that they should serve God, making submission exclusively His, turning away (from all false gods). (Al-Bayyinah 98:5)

God has not created human beings to serve anyone except Himself. It is, therefore, incumbent on them to turn away from all false gods and reserve their submission, or their true deen, for Allah alone. They should single-mindedly devote themselves to His service and consider themselves as being accountable only to Him:

What! Do they seek a deen other than God’s, whereas unto Him surrenders whatever is in the heavens and on earth, willingly or unwillingly, and unto Him all must return? (Aal `Imran 3:83)

How can we human beings incline to be servants and to submit to someone other than God, when all other things on earth and in the heavens are slaves and obedient servants of God alone, accounting for their deeds to no other authority than God? Does man want to adopt a deviant way for himself, some kind of independent and autonomous existence, in defiance of the entire universe?

He it is Who has sent forth His Messenger with the Guidance and the way of Truth, so that he makes it prevail over all ways (religions), however much mushriks (who take gods besides God) may dislike it. (At-Tawbah 9:33)

God’s Deen

Allah has sent His Messenger with the true deen for the purpose of ending the sovereignty of all false gods and granting us immense freedom so that we live as servants of none but the Lord of the universe, no matter how much the idolaters and polytheists may dislike or oppose such a course.

And fight them, until there is no rebellion (against God) and all submission is to God alone. (Al-Anfal 8:39)

The lesson is clear: we must fight until the sovereignty of all beings other than Allah is brought to an end, until only the law of God rules in the world, until the sovereignty of God alone is acknowledged, until we serve only Him.

Thus these three meanings of deen stand out:

– To acknowledge God as Lord, Master and Ruler.

– To obey and serve only Him.

– To be accountable to Him, to fear only His punishment and to covet only His reward.

Deen also includes obedience to God’s Messengers. For the commandments of God have been given to human beings through His Books and His Messengers.

Children of Adam! If there should come to you Messengers from among you, who convey My revelations unto you, then whosoever refrains from evil and lives rightly no fear shall be on them, and neither shall they sorrow. (Al-A`raf 7:35)

No individual receives Allah’s commandments directly.

Hence, whoever acknowledges Allah as Ruler can be accepted as obedient to Him only when he becomes obedient to His Messengers and lives by the guidance received through them.

Deen consists of these fundamental principles.

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The article is an excerpt from Abul A`la Al-Mawdudi’s Let Us Be Muslims.

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