By Ismail Al-Faruqi
Within Islam, it is both legitimate and right to ask the question: “Why Islam?” Every tenet in Islam is subject to analysis and contention. No other religion is willing to subject its basic fundamentals of faith to such questioning. For example, Saint Thomas Aquinas, the most rational of Christian theologians, stopped the use of reason when it came to the basic fundamentals of Christian faith. He then tried to justify faith. So to ask “why Christianity?” is an illegitimate question. However, Allah invites the question as to “why Islam?”.
1. Rational System
Islam is also a rational system which not only allows questions but raises knowledge to a new level of dignity and respect. No other religion has exalted knowledge and its pursuit, as has Islam. In fact, for the first time in human history, a religious book invited people to question the creation of the universe and stated that in it (the universe) were signs for people of knowledge. Everything in Islam is subject to rational pursuit.
Islam has only forbidden the questioning of one thing and this is something which reason cannot handle. However, this does not imply an anti-intellectual attitude. The only thing which Islam has said is not within the capacity of the human mind to question is the essence (dhat) of God. This will always escape a person, as He, Allah, is transcendent. However, His will, His purpose, His works, His intentions and His effects can be known.
Even the rites of Islam can be examined rationally. For example, logical and rational explanations can be made for the time of Prayer, the number of rakats or units in Prayer and even why we must bend our toes when we do. Of course, the Muslim will always be aware that the answer he has obtained by rational inquiry is not exhaustive. It cannot be definitely accepted as explaining all the facts. It could be erroneous or incomplete. However, Islam encourages its followers to ask “why Islam?”. Islam is an intellectual and historical religion. There are no secrets and no mysteries which cannot be understood by an ordinary person.
2. Easily Understandable
Islam does not present stumbling blocks to the mind. It does not make claims which overwhelm the mind. Islam does not present to a person that which the human intellect cannot grasp. Anyone can understand Islam as it is a universal religion. However, for example, Hinduism legitimizes idolatry for the less educated, as it says, not all people can understand the higher religion of the Brahmans.
3. Universal Message
Islam does not force a person to choose between various religions as it has included the essential teachings of all religions in its universal message. The Islamic concept is that, to every people, Allah sends a Messenger and that in their present religion or ideology they must have retained some kernel of truth from the original teachings of that religion which was, of course, the teachings of the primordial religion (deen al-fitra) or, in other words, Islam.
Islam views inter-religious dialogue as an internal discussion, not as a discussion with outsiders because, from its perspective, all mankind are members of a universal religious brotherhood. So the differences Islam has with other religions are regarded as internal differences. Of course, Islam criticizes some Jews and Christians who have wrongly interpreted their faith, however, this criticism is based on the fact that they have strayed from the original teachings of their religion.
Islam, therefore, was the first religion in the world to call for the critical examination of religious texts. The Muslim says, in effect, to other religions: “Let us together examine the Holy Books of our religions and compare the contents with the original teachings of our respective religions and examine how far we have adhered to, or gone astray from these original teachings.” Muslims, therefore, never attack other religions.
However, for the Hindu, if he has not been born in India, he is unclean; for the Jews, the sacred law only applied to them and for the Christian, there is no salvation outside the Church. Islam, however, accepts the personal morality and values of Jesus, the concept of liberating a human being from materialism found in Hinduism, as well as the practical ethics for harmony in human society as found in Confucianism.
4. Religious Tolerance
Islam is tolerant of other religions and regards them as religiously legitimate or de jure. In accepting other religions as legitimate, Islam, therefore, accepts their adherents. No other religion has given equal treatment to other religions as has Islam for over 1400 years. As we well know, Judaism and Roman Catholicism were illegal in the time of Queen Elizabeth I. In Spain under Ferdinand and Isabella, it was illegal to have any religion other than Catholicism, and Muslims and Jews had to choose baptism, exile or death. In the Middle East, some Christian sects, which were brutally eliminated by their fellow Christians in Europe, have survived after fourteen centuries of Muslim rule. Secular regimes do not respect religion. They look down upon religion; either they believe any religion will do or they believe no religion is acceptable. The tolerance of other religions in Islam comes from respect because Islam says in every person there is an embryonic fitra or purity planted in all human beings at birth and in every religion there is a basic kind of the original deen al-fitra.
5. The Human Being’s Innocence
Islam declares a person to be born with a clean slate. The human being was not born evil but rather he was created good and equipped by nature to fulfill his duties. From the Islamic point of view, the drama of a person’s life is something that takes place after birth and not before. Islam does not record a human being as a degradation of the divine as it regards a human being as having instincts which are pure and good.
6. The Human Being: An Integral Whole
Islam does not divide the soul and life of a person into two compartments, i.e. religious or ethical and verbal or material. Islam regards the human being as an integral whole. All of his actions and instincts are part and parcel of his being together with his hopes, fears, certitude, faith, and conviction. Islam wants all these to cohere and, therefore, we could say that Islam is mental health par excellence. Islam considers a person’s work or even sex in this world as an act of worship.
7. Life Filled With Purpose and Meaning
Islam takes the world of life and existence seriously, declaring it to be full of meaning and purpose. Life is not a sport, nor is it purposeless. From the Islamic perspective, everything has meaning because the concept of God’s purpose in creation gives meaning to human life. The Muslim is never bored with life; there is no existential anxiety in Islam. The Muslim can see the working of the good purposes of the divine Creator in everything. The Muslim lives in a world where life is full of meaning and purpose and this means the Muslim never loses his mental balance. In fact, mental illness is very rare in the Muslim community.
Islam is world-affirmative. For the Muslim the world is good. It is a blessing, it has been created good, to be enjoyed. Islam does not view the world as a demon, it is not valued as being satanic or evil. It is not a degraded kingdom. The world is the only kingdom; the hereafter is not a kingdom but merely a place of Judgment for a human person’s actions during his life. For Muslims, the world is a beautiful place; pearls, clothes, and horses are to be enjoyed. What is wrong, is its misuse under moral law. The world is good and Muslims are obliged to cultivate it and make it into a garden. The process of organizing people as a community is a religious duty.
No ‘ism’, ideology or religion matches Islam in its world-affirmative stance. All Muslims should be wealthy and affluent. It is Satan who promises poverty, not God. In fact, the Qur’an criticizes those who were lazy and who failed to migrate, who could not pull themselves up by their bootstraps; they deserved what they got. To be a Muslim is to live in and to be loyal to this world but not above and beyond our loyalty to Allah.
9. A Social Faith
In building this world and conforming it to God’s desire, Muslims are told that they must work with each other and not alone. Islam establishes a social order, not a mystical order. Islam’s social order has teeth, regulated by law, the Shariah. Islam wants to establish a social order to command the good and prevent the evil. However, every Muslim must correct evil. It is his duty, just as much as it is his duty to pray five times a day.
In Islam, it is of the highest degree of faith to plunge into space and time and bring about the transformation of the world in accordance with God’s desire. Islam is affirmative action in a social setting; it is neither abstract nor isolationist. Islam establishes justice and an ordered society, regulated by law. Islam guarantees justice for all; Madinah was that class of model society. In those days justice had no price. For several centuries under Islamic rule, any citizen who voiced a complaint could be sure that justice would be done. No theory of society can give as much as the Islamic theory of society has given. Society, based on race, language or history are prototypes of the animal world where dog eats dog. The social order of Islam ends this and brings justice to all. A Muslim’s mission is to bring order and this international society established by Islam must be carried to the world and, therefore, the Islamic social order seeks universality.
10. Universal System
Islam provides a social order which cannot only tend to be universal but must become universal. The Islamic system is a system for world order and it must spread around the world. Unless it is spread around the world, it will degenerate into a form of nationalism which is haram or unlawful in Islam. Islam is built on the basis of values which are not only for the group which adheres to them but for the whole of mankind. Allah is the deity of all people and the Islamic concept of society must spread all over the world.
Does Islam deny the value of national, ethnic or linguistic identity and culture? No! Islam recognizes the worth of these national and ethnic groups. Islam does not only tolerate but encourages the development of different ethnic groups. The group has a special perspective on the values affecting people’s lives. Insofar as it exists, national culture is encouraged by Islam, but it is subject to the universal law of Allah. The interests of the nation or group must be subject to the moral law, the Shariah, which encompasses the whole of mankind. Islam created a world society and it was Islam, over 1400 years ago, that first established a working system of international law.
It was only in the 20th century that the West started to develop international law. Grotius contributed only wishful thinking. In the West, international law existed only in the imagination until after World War I when the League of Nations was established. The present system of international law is far inferior to the Islamic system of international law because, under the Islamic system, the law of nations is backed by a court and not just a single court in the Hague. Any Shariah court in any part of the world can hear any international dispute to which the parties are not only nations but also individuals. If we want to solve international problems we must make justice under international law possible for everyone.
11. Promoting Harmony With The Environment
Islam is a religion that enables us to live our lives in harmony with nature, ourselves and God. Islam does not compartmentalize but rather unites the life of a person. This is the summum bonum, supreme good of Islam because Islam assures us of happiness in this world and the Next. Presently, people are so madly in pursuit of this world that it has resulted in upsetting the ecology of nature; this because of the decay in the inner nature of human beings. In this age of unprecedented advancements in science and technology, the pursuit of worldly gain has turned sour and self-destructive because it is devoid of all ethical values. Therefore the pursuit of dunya (worldly affairs) without Deen can only lead to and has led to, disaster. On the other hand, the pursuit of Deen (religion) without dunya (temporal world) is merely daydreaming. Islam asks people to cultivate the world without robbing, usury, stealing and raping the environment and insists that people must carry out their tasks subject to moral law. For the Muslim, involvement, and success in the world will ensure success in the hereafter. If practiced with sincerity, Islam guarantees happiness in this world and the next. Having granted this great gift of God to humanity what else could we do but say ‘we hear and we obey and all praise is due to Allah, Lord of the Worlds.’