Analysis: More than Bad Rulers and Corrupt Societies
Posted: 18 Safar 1424, 20 April 2003
In the past centuries the Muslim world was much more integrated than we realize. It was one social, cultural, religious and economic domain. Its language, system of education, currency, and laws were the same.
When British journalist Robert Fisk said that in the face of disaster Arabs act like mice, he was being polite. He could have said that the Muslims act like mice. The question is why?
It is easy and customary to blame the current Muslim rulers for this sorry situation. No doubt the Iraq invasion would not have been possible without their acquiescence and support. If they refused to open their lands, waterways, and airspace to the invasion, it could not have taken place. Neither would the slaughters in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosova, Kashmir, Chechnya, and Palestine have been possible if the Muslim rulers had their act together. But was it only because the Muslim rulers happened to be immoral, coward, and unscrupulous characters? Is the 1.2 billion strong Ummah suffering only because there are fifty-four corrupt persons who are ruling it?Read more...
Taken from "The Life of Muhammad" by Muhammad Husayn Haykal,
translated by Dr. Ismail Ragi A. al Faruqi
Islamic and Western Civilizations
Muhammad left a great spiritual legacy which enveloped the world in its light and guided man's civilization throughout many centuries, a legacy which will envelop the world again and guide man's civilization once more until the light of God has filled the universe. The legacy of Muhammad had such great effect in the past and will have great or greater effect in the future precisely because Muhammad established the religion of truth and laid the foundation of the only civilization which guarantees the happiness and felicity of man. The religion which Muhammad conveyed and the civilization which he established at his Lord's command for the benefit of mankind are inseparable from each other. Islamic civilization has been raised on a foundation of science and rationalism, and that is the same foundation on which western civilization of today is based. Moreover, Islam as a religion has based itself on personalist thinking and intentional logic. The relation between religion and its propositions on the one hand, and civilization and its foundation on the other, is binding and firm. Islam links metaphysical thought and personal feelings with the rules of logic and the precepts of science, with a bond that all Muslims must discover and grasp if they are to remain Muslims. From this aspect, the civilization of Islam is radically different from that of western civilization which dominates the world today. The two are different in their description of life as well as the foundation on which they base such description. The difference between the two civilizations is so essential that they have developed in ways which are radically contradictory to each other.
The West and the Struggle between Church and State
The difference is due to a number of historical causes to which we have alluded in the prefaces to the first and second editions of this work. In western Christendom, the continuing struggle between the religious and secular powers, or-to use the contemporary idiom-between church and state, led to their separation and to the establishment of the state upon the denial of the power of the church. The struggle to which this will to power led has left deep effects upon the whole of western thought. The first of these effects was the separation of human feeling and reasoning from the logic of absolute reason and the findings of positive science based on sensory observation and evidence.
The Economic System as Foundation of Western Civilization
The victory of materialist thinking was largely due to the establishment of western civilization primarily upon an economic foundation. This situation led to the rise in the West of a number of worldviews which sought to place everything in the life of man and the world at the mercy of economic forces. Many an author in the West sought to explain the whole history of mankind-religious, esthetic, philosophic or scientific-in terms of the waves of progress or retrogression which constitute the economic history of the various peoples. Not only has this thinking pervaded historiography; it has even reached philosophy. A number of western philosophies have sought to found the laws and principles of morality on bases of pragmatism and utilitarianism. As a result of this fixation of thought in the West, all these theories, despite their perspicacity and originality, have been limited in scope to the realm of material benefits. In other words, all the laws of morality were based on a material foundation and in satisfaction of what was regarded as a necessary consequence of scientific research and evidence. As for the spiritual aspect, western civilization regarded it as purely individual, rationally incapable of being the object of any group consideration. From this followed the absolute freedom of belief which the West has sanctified. The West has honored the freedom of belief far more than it has the freedom of morals; and it has honored the freedom of morals far more than the freedom of economic activity. The latter it has tied hand and foot by public laws, and commanded that every western state and army prevent any violation of economic laws with all the power and coercive means at its disposal.
Incapacity of Western Civilization to Bring Happiness to Man
In this author's opinion, a civilization which founds itself upon economic activity and erects its moral system on that activity as a base, and yet gives no weight in public life to faith, is incapable of achieving for mankind the happiness that men seek. Indeed, a civilization which so regards human life is bound to bring upon mankind all the calamities which have befallen our world in the recent centuries. Under its aegis, any attempt to prevent war and to establish universal peace will prove futile and vain. As long as man's relation to man is based upon the loaf of bread and the struggle which man wages against his fellows in order to get it for himself, a struggle the success of which depends upon the animal power which each one of us can marshal for the purpose, it is indubitable that every man will watch for the best occasion to cheat his fellow out of his loaf of bread. Every man will regard his fellow man as his enemy rather than his brother; and personal morality will have nothing but the animal in us on which to stand. This is true though man's animality may remain hidden until need uncovers it, for only utility is consonant with such a moral foundation. Charity, altruism, love, brotherhood-in short, all the principles of nobler morality and the values of higher humanity-will forever pass over a consciousness disciplined by such a civilization just as water passes off the back of a duck.
The actualities of the contemporary world furnish empirical evidence for my claim. Competition and struggle are the first principles of the economic system and are the most salient characteristics of western civilization. This is the case regardless of whether the system is individualistic or socialistic. In the former, the worker competes with his fellow worker, the capitalist with his fellow capitalist, and worker and capitalist are committed enemies of each other. The devotees of this view regard struggle and competition as the forces of man's good and progress. They regard these forces as the source of motivation for the pursuit of perfection and the division of labor, as well as for a just criterion for the distribution of wealth. The socialist system, on the other hand, sees in the struggle between the classes a means to destroy those classes and bring the destiny of society under control of the workers. This system is regarded by socialism as the necessary logic of nature. But as long as struggle and competition for wealth are the essence of life, and as long as class struggle is the law of nature, then it is equally the law of nature that the nations of the world struggle and prey upon one another in order to realize their purposes. Nationalism thus arose as a necessary consequence to this economic anthropology. But if it is natural for the nations to struggle and compete with one another for wealth, and if colonialism is a natural consequence of this necessary system, how are wars ever to be avoided and how is peace ever to be achieved? In this Christian twentieth century we have witnessed sufficient evidence to convince anyone that a world founded upon such a civilization may dream of, but never realize, peace. Because of it, peace will forever be a false mirage and an impossible desideratum.
The Groundwork of Islamic Civilization
Unlike western civilization, the civilization of Islam is built upon a spiritual base in which man is first and foremost called upon to recognize ultimate reality and to realize his position in the world with regard to that reality. Whenever man's consciousness of this relation reaches the point of certainty and conviction, that conviction will demand of him ever to discipline himself, to cleanse his soul, and to nourish his heart as well as his mind with the sublime principles of magnanimity, contentment, brotherhood, love, charity, and piety. On the basis of such principles man will then organize his economic life. Such progression is the foundation of Islamic civilization as the revelation of Muhammad conceived it. It is first and foremost a spiritual civilization. In it, the spiritual order constitutes the groundwork of the system of education, of personal and social morality. The principles constituting the moral order in turn constitute the groundwork of the economic system. It is therefore not permissible in this civilization that any moral principle be sacrificed for the sake of the economic system.
In this author's opinion, it is this conception peculiar to Islamic civilization that is capable of bringing mankind to a sure realization of happiness and felicity. Should it ever become firmly established in the minds of men, and should it come to dominate this world as western civilization has come to dominate it today, mankind will lead a different life. The current ideologies will be washed away, and nobler moral principles will take over the solution of the chronic crises of the present world. In both East and West, men have been trying to find solutions to these crises without anyone's realizing-not excluding the Muslims themselves-that Islam offers to them certain and guaranteed solutions. The western people are today groping for a new spiritual seriousness which might save them from the paganism in which they have allowed themselves to fall and from the worship of wealth which has been at the root of their misery and interminable wars. The western peoples are seeking to discover this new spiritual seriousness in the religions of India and the Far East, when it has been right here close to them all the time, established once and for all, and clearly elaborated in the Qur'an, as well as given its highest examplification in the life and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad.
It is not my intention to predict here the role of Islamic civilization or to analyze its system. Such work would by itself occupy a volume of this size or even larger. But I do think it imperative to characterize that civilization in general now that I have pointed to the spiritual basis on which it stands. Therefore, I hope to give an idea of the nature of Muhammad's call and thereby to pave the road for further and more complete research and study.
No Competition between Church and State in Islam
Before I do this, however, it behooves me to point to the fact that the history of Islam has been free of any struggle between religious and secular authorities, that is, between church and state. This fact has protected Islamic history from the effects that struggle has left upon western thought. This salutory influence upon Islam and upon its history and thought is primarily due to the fact that it has never known anything called church or religious authority along the lines of Christianity. No Muslim, even if he should be a caliph, has any right to impose anything in the name of Islam. He can neither forgive nor punish any violation of such commandments imposed in the name of religion. Moreover, no Muslim may, even if he should be a caliph, impose upon the people anything other than that which God imposed in His Book. Indeed, in front of God, all Muslims are equal; none may be distinguished from the others except in virtue and piety. No ruler in Islam is entitled to the Muslim's obedience in a matter involving a violation of a divine commandment, or of that which has not been expressly commanded by God. We should recall here the inaugural speech of Abu Bakr following his election to the caliphate: "Obey me as long as I obey God and His Prophet. But if I disobey God's command or His Prophet's, then no obedience is incumbent upon you." Despite all the crass exercises of the will to political power and all the civil wars and rebellions which the history of the Islamic state has witnessed, the Muslims have remained true to this great personal freedom which their religion had established for them. Theirs has always been a freedom which assigned to reason the role of judge in everything, whether in religion or in the matter of conviction and faith itself. The Muslims have held strongly to this freedom even in the face of those kings and princes who claimed that they were the lieutenants of God on earth, not of His Prophet, and who wielded in their hands the keys of life and death. Witness the turbulent events during the reign of al Ma'mun when the issue was whether or not the Qur'an was created. The caliph believed one thing, but the Muslims differed from him despite the certainty of the punishment and wrath that awaited them.
Islam Makes Reason the Final Judge
Islam made reason the judge in everything, whether in religion or in conviction and faith itself. God said: "And the case of those who disbelieve is like that of a person who hears the sound of a call but who does not distinguish any word or idea. To talk to them is like talking to the deaf, dumb, and blind. Those who disbelieve simply do not use their reason and neither do they understand." [Qur'an, 2:171] Commenting on this verse, Shaykh Muhammad `Abduh wrote: "This verse clearly asserts that taqlid? [Imitation of the ancestors, conservatism. -Tr.] without reason or guidance is the prerogative of the disbelievers, that man is not a convinced Muslim unless he has reasoned out his religion, known it in person, and become personally convinced of its truth and validity. Whoever, therefore, has been brought up so as to acquiesce without reason and to act without knowledge and wisdom-even though he may be virtuous-is not a convinced Muslim. Religious conviction does not have for its purpose the subjugation of man to the good as if he were an animal. Rather, its purpose is that man may, by the use of reason and the pursuit of knowledge, rise to the level where he will do the good because he fully knows that it is in itself good and acceptable to God, and avoid the evil because he fully knows its undesirable consequence and harm."
The foregoing claims of Shaykh Muhammad `Abduh given in exegesis of this verse are all to be found in the Qur'an itself in a number of other verses. The Qur'an has called upon men to look into the universe and to discover its construction and structure. It commanded men to do so in the conviction that their investigation of the structure of the universe would lead them to the discovery of God as well as of His unicity-may He be adored! God-to Whom is the praise-says: "In the creation of heaven and earth, in the succession of day and night, in the phenomena of the ships sailing across the seas with goods-for the welfare of men, in the fall of rain water from heaven to quicken a dead earth, in populating the earth with all species of animals, in the ordering of winds and clouds between sky and earth in all these there are signs and pieces of evidence for men who reason." [Qur'an, 2:164] Further, God says
Our signs and pieces of evidence which We have presented to man are the phenomena of a dead earth quickened and caused to give forth grain, gardens of date trees and vines, and fountains of fresh water with which We have covered the earth that man may eat and drink his fill. All these are not merely the work of man's hands; but will men not feel grateful? Will they not give thanks to God, saying, `Praise be to God Who created from earth and from that which grows and remains hidden in the earth all the creatures that live in pairs, and all that they procreate of themselves.' Of our signs and evidence are the phenomena of night from which We cut off all light, causing man to stand in darkness; of the sun which runs in its orbit, an orbit well defined by the All-Knowing and Almighty; of the moon for which We have appointed various stages of growth and decline until it appears as an old shriveled tree branch. It is of Our signs and evidence that neither sun overtakes the moon nor night overtakes the day but that each runs in a well-defined and ordered course. As further signs and clearer evidence, We have made it possible for laden ships to sail across the seas carrying men and. their offspring. Were it not for divine providence, men would fall into the sea, no one would hear their cries, and they would perish. They are saved only by Our mercy. We wish them to enjoy their pleasures for a prescribed time." [Qur'an, 36:33-44]
Indeed, the call to look into the universe to discover its laws and to arrive at the conviction that God is its creator is repeated a hundred times in the various Surahs of the Qur'an. All these Qur'anic invitations are directed to man's rational faculties in the expectation that he will consider, search for and discover the truth, so that his religious conviction might be rational and truly supported by the facts. The Qur'an constantly warns its readers not to adopt uncritically and blindly the ideas and principles of the forefathers, but to have faith in man's personal capacity to reach the truth.
The Power of Iman
Such is the nature of iman, or religious conviction, to which Islam has called. It has nothing to do with blind faith. Instead, it is involved with the conviction of the enlightened mind, the instructed reason which has considered and weighed the alternatives, pondered and reconsidered the evidence on all sides, researched and rediscovered and finally reached the certainty that God-may He be adored-is. Surely any man who considers the evidence with both heart and reason will be guided to religious conviction. Indeed, the more closely a man looks at the evidence, the longer he contemplates and the larger his scope of investigation becomes so that his awareness considers the whole of time, space, and all the eternally changing universes which they include, the more he will be convinced of his littleness vis-୶is the well patterned, well-ordered, and well-governed worlds, of the shortcoming of his knowledge to grasp them or to enter him into meaningful relation to them without the assistance of a power surpassing his senses and reason, the more capable he will become of defining his place within the total realm of being. All this is the precondition of his entering into relation with the universe and of his encompassing with his consciousness and vision the whole of being. This enlarged vision is the strength given by religious conviction alone.
Iman in God
Iman, or religious conviction, then, is a spiritual intuition by which man's consciousness is filled whenever it seeks the universe and realizes that the infinity of space and time is unreachable, and whenever it seeks to encompass all being within itself, realizing that every species in existence lives, changes, and dies in accordance with laws and patterns, and that all existence realizes the divine pattern and fulfills the cosmic laws of its Lord and Creator. To look for God-may He be adored-as immanent in all existence and in contact with it, rather than as absolutely separate from it, is a futile search leading to error rather than to truth, harming rather than blessing the investigator. Moreover, it does not add to man's knowledge. Writers and philosophers have often exhausted themselves seeking evidence for God's immanence without avail, while others have sought to grasp the essence of the Creator Himself-all to no purpose. Some writers and philosophers have acknowledged that the success of such searches are forever impossible.
But if our reason falls short of achieving such knowledge, that very shortcoming can be the source of a greater realization, namely, the certain religious knowledge of God: This certitude of ours that God exists, that He knows, provides for, and governs everything, that He is the Creator, the Forgiver unto Whom everything returns, can also convince us that it cannot ever be possible for us to know the nature of God Himself. If to this day we do not understand the nature of electricity, even though our very eyes have seen its effects, nor the nature of ether, though we grant that its waves or quanta carry sound and light, how vain it is not to accept the existence of God when we constantly behold His original creations and effects, or to go about denying Him until we can know His very nature! God is transcendentally beyond anything anyone may say in description of Him. As a matter of fact, those who try to describe God under one form or another are precisely those whose consciousness is incapable of rising to the level requisite for grasping that which lies beyond human life. It is they who should be accused of seeking to measure being and the Creator of being with their own relative standards gathered from their own little knowledge of being. On the other hand, those who have true knowledge and wisdom will pause at these divine statements: "And when they ask you concerning the Spirit, answer, `The Spirit belongs to God.' Given the little knowledge that you have, your minds must fall short of understanding its nature." [Qur'an, 17:85] The consciousness of such men becomes filled with certitude and conviction regarding the Creator of the Spirit, the Maker of the whole universe. They do not allow themselves to become involved in futile and vain controversy.
Iman, the Basis of Islam
The Qur'an differentiates between conversion to Islam before or after such religious certitude and conviction. God says, "Some Arabs of the desert claimed that they have achieved religious conviction. Say, `You have not achieved such conviction; you have been converted to Islam and have acquiesced in it, but religious certitude and conviction have not yet found their way to your heart and consciousness.? [Qur'an, 49:14] Such Islamization is an acquiescence arising from the call of ulterior motive, desire, fear, admiration, or reverence. It is not the acceptance by a consciousness which has understood and known full well that it has reached certitude and conviction. The subject of such Islamization has not been guided to his conviction through examination of the universe, grasping of its laws and patterns, and the movement of his thought from that knowledge to the recognition of the Creator of the universe. It is rather the acquiescence of a man in satisfaction of an ignoble desire or in blind imitation of his parents or community. Thus, religious conviction and certitude have not entered into his heart despite his acquiescence to Islam.
Many such Muslims exist who seek to cheat God and the true Muslims, but they succeed in cheating only themselves, little do they know. Their hearts are diseased, and their disease blinds their minds still further. Those men who convert to Islam without religious conviction but because of an ulterior motive, desire or fear, continue to have weak souls throughout their lives. Their faith remains doubtful, their commitment shaky, and their wills ever ready to submit to men upon command. On the other hand, those whose minds and hearts have reached conviction of God by means of investigation of the universe possess a genuine conviction which calls them to submit to God alone, to none other than Him. Neither do such men think of their Islam as a favor they have granted to anyone. "Rather, God grants you the favor of guiding you to religious conviction if only you are genuine." [Qur'an, 49:17] Whoever, therefore, in conviction of God's existence and Lordship over the universe, opens himself to determination by Him alone, has reason neither to fear nor to grieve. Such men fear neither poverty nor humilation in this world because religious certitude is the greatest wealth and the greatest glory. Glory does indeed belong to God and to the true believers who are contented and certain of their faith.
The soul which is happy and contented with such iman finds its fulfillment only in the search for the secrets of the world, the laws of the cosmos, and the pattern of the universe-all to the end that it may consolidate its communion with God. The means it employs for its search is scientific investigation, rational analysis, and consideration of all that is in creation. That is precisely what the Qur'an calls for and what the early Muslims practiced. That is the scientific method currently pursued in the West. The purpose of such pursuit, however, differs in Islam from western civilization. In- the former, its purpose is to enable man to make the pattern of God in the universe the law and pattern of his own existence. In the latter, the purpose is to exploit the knowledge of cosmic laws for the material benefit of man. The foremost purpose of science in Islam is the achievement of firm and certain knowledge of God, a knowledge which strengthens man's conviction of Him-may He be adored-by its own comprehensiveness and certainty. Equally, it is a pursuit which seeks to achieve such better knowledge not for the individual alone but for the community as a whole. Spiritual perfection is not merely an individualistic matter, but rather the very foundation of the human community throughout the world. Islam therefore regards the pursuit of knowledge and understanding of the universe as a human duty, a duty incumbent upon all men as individuals as well as groups. Mankind must therefore seek this spiritual perfection even more conscientiously and systemically than it has sought to understand the nature of material things, and it ought to use the secrets of the material world and the laws and pattern of the universe as a means to attain spiritual perfection rather than as a means for achieving material mastery over things.
Divine Assistance to Discover the Pattern of the Universe
In order to attain this spiritual perfection, it is not sufficient to rely upon our own formal logic. Having reached the highest level possible through that logic, it is necessary to prepare our own hearts and minds for what lies beyond. This is possible by seeking God's assistance and by turning one's heart and soul toward the divine Being. By worshipping Him and asking for His assistance it is possible, once the highest levels of logic have been reached, to discover the secrets of the universe and the patterns of existence. This process is what is meant by communion with God, by gratitude for His blessings, and by prayer to Him for further guidance. God said
"And if My servants ask you of Me, tell them that I am near and that I respond to the caller who calls upon Me. Tell them then to pray to Me, to believe in Me. That is the way to wisdom.? [Qur'an, 2:186]
He also said: "Seek further assistance by patience and prayer. The latter overtaxes none but the irreverent and the proud. It is a force of genuine assistance for those who know that they will someday confront their Lord and that to Him they shall finally return." [Qur'an, 2:45-46]
Nature of Islamic Prayer
Prayer, then, is communion with God in the certitude that He exists and is receptive to a solicitation for His assistance. Its purpose is not the bodily movements of kneeling and prostration nor the verbal recitation of the Qur'an, not the prescribed takbir and ta'zim. [The reference is here to the phrases, Allahu Akbar (God is Greatest) and Subhana Rabbi al 'Azim (Praise to my Lord Almighty) repeated many times in the course of the Islamic prayer.] 'Rather, it is meant to fill the soul with iman and the heart with reverence and recognition of God's holiness. Every element in the Muslim's prayer is designed to achieve this dual purpose. It is the worship of God for the sole sake of God, the recognition of God's face as the light of heaven and earth. He-may He be adored-said
"Righteousness does not consist in your turning your faces toward east or west. Instead, it involves iman in God, in the Day of Judgment, in the Book, in the prophets, and spending of one's wealth out of love of Him for the welfare of the relative, the orphan, the deprived, the wayfarer, the poor, and for ransoming the captive. Righteousness also consists of the holding of prayer, the paying of zakat, the fulfillment of promises and covenants made, patience in good or ill, and steadfastness in war. Those who fulfill these values are the genuine in faith; they are the pious, the righteous." [Qur'an, 2:177]
The man with genuine iman, therefore, is the man who turns with his whole heart to God in prayer, making God the witness of his own piety. It is he who implores His help in the fulfillment of the duties of life, solicits His guidance and blessing in his search for the secrets of the world and for the laws and pattern of the cosmos during his prayer as well as at any other time.
Hence, the Muslim is fully conscious of his insignificance before almighty God on high. We are capable of achieving such a view of the earth's insignificance when we ascend in an airplane a few thousand meters into the sky and begin to see the mountains, rivers, and cities as small marks upon a vast canvas. We see them delineated in front of our eyes as if they were mere lines on a map made out of paper. The earth looks flat; mountains and buildings lose their elevation, and wells and rivers their depression. The whole appears to be no more than patches of color moving and waving and intermingling with one another the higher we ascend into space. Our very earth is only a little planet among thousands of other heavenly bodies and systems, and these are only a very small pocket in the infinite magnitude of being. How small and little we therefore are! How weak and insignificant in relation to the Creator of all this being and to its Ruler and Provider whose very greatness stands beyond our grasp!
Equality before God
How worthy we are when we turn our heart to His sublime holiness and majesty, soliciting Him to strengthen us and guide us to the truth to realize the profound equality which characterizes all men in such weakness! How inevitable is then our realization of the absolute equality of mankind, an equality impervious to any amount of wealth or power achievable on earth, but deeply transformable by iman in God, by submission to Him, by righteousness, virtue, and piety! What a tremendous distance separates this kind of equality, this genuine equality before God, from equality before the law of man which western civilization has recently been professing so loudly! Indeed, western civilization is not far from denying equality before the law when its people deny the privileges of such equality to this or that group of men. How unlike each other are the two egalitarianisms ! On the one hand is the equality before God, touched and held most concretely in the hour of prayer and reached by each man deliberately in the exercise of his own mind and free thought. On the other hand, we have an equality before the law, achieved in the struggle and competition for the acquisition of wealth. By definition, equality before the law does not rule out cheating, hypocrisy, and untruth; and it allows the culprit to escape the jurisdiction of the law if he is only creative enough to find ways and means of outwitting the legislator, the judge, or his own victim.
On the other hand, equality before God calls for genuine fraternity and brotherhood because it imposes upon all a realization of their fraternity in service to God and in the worship of the One Master. Such brotherhood is based on conscientious evaluation of the fact, free investigation, and critical research, all imposed by the Qur'an. Surely, no liberty, no equality, and no fraternity are greater than this one, where all men stand in front of God in one line prostrating their heads to Him, acknowledging His transcendence and unity, and kneeling and praying to Him without the slightest distinction between one and the other. No equality is greater than that which belongs to such a community whose every member actually seeks divine assistance in repentence and awe, asking for forgiveness and mercy, without any distinction whatever to differentiate the one from his fellowmen except his virtuous actions, his righteousness and piety. This kind of fraternity and equality purifies the hearts of men and cleanses them from the stain of matter. This condition alone guarantees happiness to mankind and leads it to certain knowledge of God's pattern in the world as long as God Himself is willing to lead men with His own light.
Nature of Islamic Fasting
Men are not all equal in their capacities to fulfill the piety and virtue which God has made incumbent upon them. Our bodies may weigh down our spirits so as to make them incapable of moving and rising toward God. Our will to material need and welfare may overcome our humanity unless we keep up the exercise of our spirit and constantly turn to God in our prayers rather than being satisfied with the mechanical performance of kneeling, prostration, and recitation. Hence it is our duty where possible to stop all activities which tend to weigh us down, to shackle our spirit, or to give dominance to our material welfare over our humanity. Hence, Islam imposed fasting as a means for achieving virtue and piety. God has said: "O Men who believe, fasting has been imposed upon you as it has been imposed on those that have gone before you that you may achieve virtue and piety [Qur'an, 2:183]?. Piety, virtue, and righteousness are all equivalent. The righteous are those who are pious, who prove their iman in God on the Day of Judgment, and who, by following the angels, the Book and the prophets, fulfill the requisites of the above-mentioned verses.
But if the purpose of fasting is that the body may not weigh down the spirit and that matter may not overcome humanity, to abstain from food and drink from dawn till sunset and then to indulge in the. enjoyment of all kinds of pleasures is surely to deny that purpose. Indulgence in pleasures is by itself immoral and vicious, regardless of whether it is preceded by fasting or not. The case is even worse if man fasts all day and then surrenders himself greedily to that of which he has been deprived. Such conduct is tantamount to bringing God to witness that the fast was not made in purification of the body and strengthening of humanity. Such a man does not fast in freedom, convinced of the advantage of fasting for his spiritual life, but in order to fulfill a duty, the meaning of which his mind is incapable of grasping. More likely, he regards fasting as a privation and a violation of the freedom which he will recapture at the end of the day. His case is not unlike that of the person who does not steal because the law forbids him to, not because he regards himself above stealing and denies it to himself as well as to others, in full exercise of his freedom.
Fasting Is Not Self-Privation
In fact, to regard fasting as privation, or as an attack upon man's liberty, is to misunderstand it and to make of it something utterly futile and vain. The truth is that fasting is a purification of the soul. It is demanded by reason and should be entered into freely if man is to recapture his freedom of willing and thinking which his material demands have denied or lessened. Once such freedom is gained, man may rise to the level of genuine iman in God. This is the purpose of the divine statement which follows the imposition of fasting upon men of faith of past or present, namely: "Fasting is to be performed on prescribed and numbered days. But if a man is ill or suffers from the hardships of travel, fasting may be postponed to other days. To those who are exempted from fasting because of hardship, the feeding of a poor man is imposed as expiation. At any rate, whoever willingly performs the good deed will be benefited. To fast is certainly better for you than not to fast, if only you had the wisdom to know." [Qur'an, 2:184]
It may seem strange to claim that a person can recapture his freedom of will and freedom of thinking if he should undertake to fast in deliberate pursuit of his spiritual welfare. But this strangeness is really the result of a confusion which modern thought has brought to our idea of freedom. Modern thought has pulled down the spiritual and psychic frontiers of freedom, and preserved only its material frontiers whose guardianship and protection it entrusted to the arms of the law. According to this modern thinking, man is not free to attack the wealth of his neighbor nor his person, but he is free in all that pertains to his own person even if he were to transgress the limits of reason or of morality.
The facts of life tell otherwise. They tell that man is the slave of habit; that, for instance, man is accustomed to eat his food in the morning, at noon, and in the evening. Therefore, his being asked to eat food only in the morning and evening is considered an attack upon his freedom. The truth is that it is only an attack upon his enslavement to his habit, so to speak. Some men accustom themselves to smoking so heavily that they can very well be said to have become the slaves of their habit. If they are asked to spend an entire day without smoking, it will be regarded as an attack upon their freedom, whereas in fact it is only an attack upon their enslavement to their habit. Likewise, others have accustomed themselves to drinking coffee or tea or other drinks at certain times. If they are asked to change these times, it will be regarded as an attack upon their freedom. But slavery to habit and custom is corruptive of the will, of the genuine exercise of true freedom. Moreover, it is corruptive of sane thinking, for it subjugates thinking to the material requirements to which the body has become accustomed. That is why many people have had recourse to varying kinds of fasting which they observe at different intervals of the week or the month. But God seeks no hardship for men. That is why He prescribed for them a definite number of days during which all men must fast without distinction. That is why He allowed them to expiate for their failure to fast, and granted the sick and the traveler express permission to postpone their fasting to other days.
The prescription of fasting for a definite number of days further consolidates the Muslim's feeling for and consciousness of equality with other men before God. This is the effect of complete abstinence from dawn to sunset undertaken not as physical but as spiritual exercise imposed equally on all. The same sense of equality is experienced in the communal fasting as that which communal prayer fosters so well. It is during their fast that the feeling of Muslim fraternity is at its greatest strength, for men are not then affected by the usual differences in enjoyment of the material goods of this life which separate them from one another. Fasting consolidates freedom, equality, and fraternity in man just as strongly as does prayer.
If we undertake fasting freely and in the consciousness that God's commandments can never differ from those of reason as long as it perceives the final purpose of life, we can appreciate how much fasting liberates us from the yoke of habit and contributes to the development of our will and capacity for freedom. We may remember that what man prescribes for himself with God's permission by way of spiritual and psychic limitations upon his own freedom in seeking to liberate himself from his habits and passions is the best guarantee for his reaching the highest levels of religious conviction. If, in matters of religion, taqlid constitutes no religious conviction at all but mere acquiescence to the proposed claim without conviction of its truth, taqlid in fasting is self-privation and a limitation of one's personal freedom, a totally different affair from that fasting which liberates man from the chains of habit and furnishes him with the greatest psychic nourishment and spiritual elan.
Nature of Islamic Zakat
Through prayer and fasting exercises which rest on a base of the widest and deepest possible scientific knowledge of the world, man may reach awareness of the pattern of the cosmos and a penetration of its secrets. In consequence, man may discover his place as well as that of his fellow men in the cosmos. His love for them and their love for him will increase with this realization. In service to God, they will cooperate with one another for the good and reinforce one another's piety; the strong will protect the weak, and the rich will share their bounty with the poor. But that is precisely the zakat. To do more than it requires is charity. The Qur'an joins zakat to prayer in many places. Some of the following verses have already been quoted
"But righteousness consists in being convinced of the existence and unity of God, of the reality of the Day of Judgment, of the angels, the Book, the Prophets; in giving of one's wealth lovingly to the next of kin, the orphan, the destitute, the wayfarer, the poor, the slave; and in holding the prayer and giving the zakat." [Qur'an, 2:277]The Most High also says: "Observe the prayer and remit the zakat and kneel with those who pray." [Qur'an, 2:43] Further, God-may He be adored-says: "Those believers have done well and achieved felicity who hold their prayers with reverence, abstain from gossip, and complete their payment of zakat," [Qur'an, 23:1-4] etc., etc.
Concerning zakat and charity, the Qur'an talks at length, clearly and emphatically. It has classified charity among the highest virtues deserving of the greatest rewards; indeed, it has placed charity alongside the conviction of God, thus leading us to believe that the two are equal. Addressing His angels regarding a man who violated the duty of charity, God said
"Take him away. Fetter him and cast him into the fire that he may broil therein. Bind him in long and heavy chains that he may not move. For he did not believe in God Almighty, nor did he urge the feeding of the poor." [Qur'an, 69:30-34]
Similarly, God said: "And give glad tidings to the humble, whose hearts are filled with reverential fear whenever God is mentioned, who patiently endure whatever befalls them, who observe the prayer and spend of that which We have provided for them." [Qur'an, 22:34-35]. Further, God-may He be blessed and adored-says: "Those who spend of their wealth at night and during the day, in secret and in public, have their reward with God. They have reason neither to fear nor to grieve." [Qur'an, 2:274]
Islam and the Manners of Giving
Not satisfied with mentioning charity, nor with prescribing for it the same reward as for faith in God and the observance of prayer, the Qur'an furnishes norms for the manner of giving in charity. It says: "If you give alms openly and to the public at large, it is good and you have done well. But if you give it to the poor and you do so in secret, it is better for you." God also says
"A word of kindness and an act of forgiveness are superior to an act of charity followed by injury or harm. God is self-sufficient and fore-bearing. O Men who believe, do not vitiate and annul your charitable deeds by taunting or injuring those to whom you give.? [Qur'an, 2:271, 263-64]
God-may He be praised-specified the people who may be recipients of charity: "Rather, alms belong to the poor, the destitute, the protectors, those whose hearts need to be reconciled. They are for the freeing of slaves and debtors, for the cause of God, and for the wayfarers. To give alms is a duty imposed by God, the Omniscient, the All-Wise." [Qur'an, 9:60]
Zakat as Act of Worship
Zakat and charity, therefore, constitute two of the major duties and pillars of Islam. It may be asked whether the performance of these duties is a matter of worship or merely of ethics and moral refinement. Without doubt the answer is worship. The believers are brethren; no man's iman is complete until he wishes for his neighbor that which he wishes for himself. The believers love one another by virtue of God's light and grace. The duties of zakat and charity are intimately related to this fraternal feeling. They are not pieces of moral sophistication nor elements of the Islamic theory of contracts. In Islam, that which pertains to brotherhood pertains equally to iman, or religious conviction of God; and all that pertains to iman is worship. That is why zakat is one of the five pillars of Islam, and why, after the death of the Prophet, Abu Bakr required the Muslims to pay it. When some Muslims failed to do so, the immediate successor of Muhammad regarded their failure as a fault of faith, a preference for wealth, and a violation of the spiritual system revealed in the Qur'an-in short, as abjuration of Islam itself. Hence, Abu Bakr conducted the Riddah War in order to confirm the establishment of the message of Islam in its totality, a message which has remained a cause for pride forever.
The Will To Wealth
To regard zakat and charity as duties essentially related to iman, i.e., to faith as religious conviction of God, is to regard them as part of the spiritual system which ought to govern the civilization of the world. Such regard is, indeed, the highest wisdom which can guarantee happiness to man. The pursuit and acquisition of wealth, and its use as an instrument for the dominion of man over man, have always been and still are the cause of the misery of the world, of revolutions, and of wars. The worship of wealth was and still is the cause of the moral deterioration which has enveloped the world and of which human society continues to suffer. It is the acquisition, pursuit, and hoarding of wealth which has destroyed human fraternity and planted enmity between man and man. Were men to follow a higher vision and had they a nobler bent of mind, they would have realized that fraternity is more conducive to happiness than wealth, that to spend wealth on the needy is worthier with God and with men than the subjugation of men to its dominion. Were they truly convinced of God, they would realize this fraternity toward one another; and they would fulfill, as the least requirement of such a fraternity, the duties of rescuing the needy, assisting the deprived, and putting an end to the misery and suffering brought about by poverty and want. Granted, some highly civilized countries in our day do establish hospitals and communal buildings for rescuing the poor, for sheltering the homeless and assisting the deprived in the name of humanity and mercy. Still, were these constructions and communal services founded upon fraternal feeling and love in God for the neighbor as an expression of praise for His bounty, they would constitute nobler efforts and lead more truly to the happiness of all men. God said
"In all that God has provided for you, seek the higher value and do not forget to seek your share of this world. Do good as God has done good to you; and do not spread corruption in the world. God loves not the agent of corruption." [Qur'an, 28:77]
Nature of Islamic Pilgrimage
Brotherhood reinforces men's love for one another. In Islam, it is not legitimate to limit the exercise of this love to the frontiers of one's homeland, nor even to one's race or continent. Fraternal love must have no spatial limits whatever. That is why Islam commands that men from all corners of the world know, defend, and fraternize with one another, that their love for one another in God may be strengthened and their conviction of God may be confirmed. The instrument proper for such exercise is the congregation of men from all corners of the earth in one place and for one purpose. The best locality for such a convocation is precisely the place where the light of this great love has broken through, namely God's sanctuary in Makkah. This assembly is the Islamic pilgrimage. As the believers gather and perform the rites of pilgrimage, it is their duty to lead such lives as would provide the most illustrious living example of conviction and faith in God and of a sincere openness to determination by His will. God-may He be praised-said: "Pilgrimage is during well-known months. Whoever performs the pilgrimage during these months shall engage in no gossip, corruption, vain controversy, or transgression. Everything you do is known to God. Equip yourself therefore with good deeds remembering that the best of deeds is piety. Fear Me, therefore, and fulfill My will, O Men of understanding." [Qur'an, 2:197]
On this great and unique occasion when the believers perform the pilgrimage aiming at fraternizing with one another and thus strengthening their conviction of God, all distinctions between man and man must fall to the ground. All men must feel that they are equal before God, and all must turn their minds and hearts to Him in response to His call and fulfillment of His command. They should approach the pilgrimage fully convinced of His unicity and deeply grateful for His bounty. But what bounty and what felicity are greater than iman in God, the source of all good and all bounty? May He be adored! Before the light which such iman brings, all the worries and concerns of life dissolve; all its vanity, whether of wealth, children, political power or glory, utterly vanishes. By virtue of this light, man becomes capable of apprehending the truth, goodness, and beauty of this world, the eternal laws and immutable pattern on which the world is founded. It is this general convocation, namely the pilgrimage, that embodies the meaning of equality and brotherhood among all the believers and does so in the most comprehensive, clear, and sublime manner.
The Metaphysic of Morals in Islam
These are the fundamental principles of Islam and its duties as revealed to the Prophet Muhammad-may God's peace be upon him. They constitute the five pillars of Islam as the above mentioned verses of the Qur'an show. They are the cornerstones of Islamic spiritual life. Now that these principles and duties have been enumerated, it is easy to infer from them the schemata of Islamic morality. These belong to a level so high, so sublime, that they have never been matched by any human civilization in any period of history. In this regard, the Qur'an has given rules and ideals of conduct which, if duly observed, fulfilled, and made to constitute the guiding principles of life, would enable man to attain moral perfection. These principles were not all recorded in the same chapter of the Qur'an but in many chapters. The reader has no sooner read a surah of the Qur'an than he feels himself elevated to the apex of moral advancement, an apex which had never been reached and will never be reached by any other civilization. Sufficient is the Qur'anic raising of the whole discipline of the soul on a spiritual foundation stemming from the conviction of God. Sufficient is the Qur'anic demand that mind and heart of man be nourished exclusively from this source and without regard either to material welfare or to any utilitarian value that might accrue from such conduct.
The Qur'anic Notion of the Perfect Man
In all ages and among all peoples, poets and writers, philosophers and dramatists have depicted the perfect man. Nonetheless, no picture of perfect man is to be found anywhere which dares compare with this sublime picture which the Qur'an has depicted in the surah "al Isra'," though it constitutes only a small portion of the wisdom revealed by God to His Prophet. This surah by no means aims at giving a full description of the perfect man but only at reminding men of a fraction of the duties imposed upon them. God says
"Your Lord commands you to worship none but Him and to be kind to your parents. Should any one of them be under your care until he reaches old age, do not say to him as much as 'Fie' and do not speak harshly to him but rather speak kindly. Humble yourself to your parents in love, and pray: `May God have mercy on them as they nursed me when I was young.' Your Lord knows well that which is in your soul, especially whether or not you are truly virtuous. God forgives those who repent. Give the next of kin his due, as well as the poor and the wayfarer, but do not be a spendthrift. The spendthrifts are associates of the devil, and the latter is disobedient to God. Even if you have to avoid your parents on account of your fulfillment of God's call, give them a kind and compassionate explanation. Do not hold your hand back when it is time to give, nor give all you have so that you throw yourself in need. God spreads His bounty to whomsoever He wishes. He measures it carefully, for He cares for His servants and knows their need. Do not kill your children for fear of poverty. We shall provide for them as well as for you. Moreover, to kill them is a great misdeed. Do not commit adultery. It is an evil and its consequences are always bad. Do not kill any man-That is God's prohibition !-except after due process of law. To the heir of whoever is killed unjustly, a right of revenge is established. But he may not take that revenge wantonly, for his right shall be recognized. Do not touch the wealth of the orphan, unless it be to increase it. Be true to your covenants, for to covenant is a serious and responsible affair. Fill the measure when you measure, and when you weigh, weigh with the true weight; for that is better and more rewarding. Do not claim that of which you have no knowledge, and remember that as cognitive faculties, your hearing, sight, and heart were given to you for a responsible function. Do not walk around with impudence and false pride, for you will never measure up to the mountains of the earth. All these actions are evil and deemed undesirable by your Lord.' [Qur'an, 17:23-38]
What sublimity! What perfection! What magnanimity and purity! Every one of the foregoing verses causes the reader to fall down in reverence and awe, combining as it does the moving appeal of moral value, the sublimity of expression, the beauty of form, the nobility of meaning, and the highest vividness of description. How I wish the occasion permitted an elaboration of this passage! But it does not, for to do justice to a passage even as short as the foregoing would require a whole volume.
The Qur'an on Self-Discipline
Indeed, even if we were to limit ourselves to a discussion of only a portion of what the Qur'an contains by way of self-discipline and morality, much more would be needed than a mere chapter of a book. Suffice it to say, therefore, that no writing has ever called man to do the good works and elevated the virtuous life as the Qur'an has done; that no book has elevated the human soul to the level to which the Qur'an has raised it; and that no book has emphasized virtue, mercy, fraternity and love, cooperation and harmony, charity and kindness, loyalty and trustworthiness, sincerity and good intention, justice and forgiveness, patience and forbearance, humility and submission, virtue and goodness, the commandment to good and the forbiddance of evil with as much power, persuasion, and sublimity as the Qur'an has done. No book has ever spoken against weakness and fear, favoritism and jealously, hatred and injustice, lying and libel, avarice and prodigality, false witness and perjury, aggression and corruption, cheating, treason, and all vice as profoundly and persuasively as the revelation which came to the Arab Prophet. The reader will find no surah in the Qur'an in which the call to virtue, the commandment to good, the forbiddance of evil, and the pursuit of perfection are not central. Every surah raises the reader to the highest level of moral awareness and tension. Let us mark well God's statement regarding tolerance: "Respond to the evil deed with a good one . . . . The good deed is certainly not the equivalent of the evil one. Repel the evil deed with the good one. Instantly, your enemy will be transformed into a warm friend." [Qur'an, 23-96; 41:34] This toleration to which the Qur'an calls, however, does not proceed from weakness but from magnanimity of spirit, a will to compete in good deeds and to avoid lowly ones. God says: "And if you are greeted, respond with a better greeting or, at least, with the same." [Qur'an, 4:86] Further, God says: "And when you punish, inflict the same punishment as was meted out to you. But if you refrain out of patience, it is better for you." [Qur'an, 16:126] All these verses clearly establish that the Islamic call to tolerance is at the same time a call to virtue unspoiled by any weakness. It is indeed the consequence of a self-transcendence that is pure and unalloyed.
Tolerance from strength and virtue, to which the Qur'an calls, is founded upon brotherhood which Islam places at the root of its civilization and which it holds to be absolutely universal. Islamic brotherhood integrates justice and mercy without weakness or sufferance. It arises from equality in right, goodness and virtue, unaffected by utilitarian advantage. Under its aegis, the Muslim prefers his fellows to himself even though they be far inferior to him. He fears God and none other; consequently, the Muslim is the model of pride, dignity, and self-respect. And yet he is the model of humility and modesty. He is truthful and fulfills a covenant once he has entered into it. He is as patient when tragedy strikes as when he receives good fortune and new power. Faced with calamity, he thinks, feels, and prays "We are all God's, and to Him we shall all return." He never abases himself to anyone, and yet he has no false pride. God has protected him against avarice and stinginess when they are directed toward himself. He never reports falsely about God or about His servants; he never approves of adultery and always seeks to avoid transgression and crime. If he ever goes into a rage, he seeks God's mercy and forgiveness, sublimates his rage and fury, and forgives his offenders. He avoids suspicion, spying, and reporting secretly about his fellows. He does not violate the wealth of his fellows, nor allow the rulers to do so unjustly. He stands beyond jealousy, strategy, deceit, gossip, and every kind of misdemeanor.
Morality and Utilitarianism
These virtues and the ethical system which they constitute are all founded on the spiritual system revealed in the Qur'an which is essentially related to iman in God. As we have said earlier, this characteristic is the most important feature of Islamic morality. It guarantees the grasp of the human soul by these values and ideals, as well as saves that system from all corruption. Morality founded upon utility and mutual advantage is quickly corrupted as soon as the moral subject is convinced that his personal advantage does not, suffer in consequence of his immorality. In such morality, it is most often the case that the subject is double-faced, showing an appearance different from what he holds deep within him. He would, for instance, seek to appear trustworthy while giving himself the right to use another's confidence as a means for increasing his advantage. He would seek to appear truthful but would not restrain from false pretense as long as this added to his advantage. A morality founded upon such standards falls down as the winds of temptation begin to blow. Its subject is often found pursuing ulterior motives and ever running after the satisfaction of his own prejudices
This essential moral weakness is most conspicuous in our present-day world. How often have we heard of great scandals occurring in this or that part of the civilized world, scandals all traceable to the pursuit of wealth and power on the part of their subjects, and on the weakness of their will to possess true iman and noble morals. Many of these people who fall to the nethermost depths in morality and perpetrate the worst crimes have started out with high morals based upon utilitarianism. They regarded success in life as based upon the observance of these high morals; and so they observed them in order to succeed, not because moral practice is a necessary part of their personal path which they ought to follow even though it might incur serious disadvantage. Hence, when they realized that some deviation from moral uprightness did in fact bring forth a measure of success within the civilization of this age, they allowed themselves to swerve. Many of them have been able to keep their personal code of behavior hidden from the public and, therefore, have never been exposed to scandal. They continue to be respected and esteemed. Others, less adept, have been exposed and have fallen into scandalous involvements which often have ended in personal ruin or suicide.
To found morality on utility and advantage, therefore, is to expose it to eventual but certain calamity. On the other hand, to found it on a spiritual system such as the Qur'an has revealed is to guarantee its permanent strength, its moving appeal, and power to determine man's ethics. The intention behind a deed is itself the measure of its moral worth, the genuine rubbing stone against which it should be tested. The man who buys a lottery ticket designed to build a hospital does not buy it with the intention of doing good and being charitable but in pursuit of material gain. Such act is not moral. Likewise, the man who gives to the insistent beggar in order to rid himself of the nuisance caused, is not on a par with the man who gives to the poor who not only do not insist when they ask, but do not ask at all out of a deep sense of dignity, shame, and self-respect. Furthermore, the man who tells the truth to the judge in fear of the punishment the law metes out to perjurers is not equivalent to the man who tells the truth because he believes in the virtue of truthfulness. A system of morals based upon utility and mutual advantage therefore cannot have the strength of a morality which the subject believes to be essentially related to his human dignity and to his iman in God, a morality founded upon the spiritual system on which his iman in God is itself founded.
The Wisdom of Prohibition of Alcohol and Gambling in Islam
The Qur'an, seeking to preserve the jurisdiction of reason in morality, thus has kept morality immune to all that might vitiate its judgment in matters of faith or morals. Consequently, it has regarded alcohol and gambling as anathema, the inspiration of the devil. Even though they might bring some advantage in their wake, their crime and evil are greater than their advantage; hence, they ought to be avoided. Gambling, for instance, takes such possession of the mind of the gambler that its victim can think of nothing else and can make no other use of his time. It tempts him away from the fulfillment of any moral obligation. On the other hand, alcohol dissolves reason as well as wealth, to use the terms of `Umar ibn al Khattab when he prayed that God might reveal His judgment in its regard. It is natural for the mind to err in its judgment when intoxicated; it is easy for the mind, once it has gone astray, to tolerate the pursuit of crime and evil instead of warning man against them.
The Qur'an and Science
The ethical system of the ideal state revealed in the Qur'an does not deprive man of the enjoyments of the good things of life, precisely because both privation and overindulgence may lead to the same consequences: neglect of the cosmos as a whole and of the pursuit of cosmic knowledge. The Islamic system strongly rejects man's total surrender to enjoyment of affluence and comfort even as it rejects his surrender to privation and abstinence in which he loses himself in subjective psychic pursuits. On the contrary, Islam seeks to make its people a community of the golden mean, to orient them toward pure virtue, to develop their knowledge of the cosmos, and to master all that it contains. The Qur'an continually speaks of the cosmos and of what it contains in a way directing us toward increasing our knowledge of it. It speaks about the new moons, about the sun and the moon, day and night, the earth and the creatures that roam over it, the sky and the stars which adorn it, the sea whose surface is crisscrossed with ships sailing in pursuit of God's bounty, of the animals we take as beasts of burden and others as ornaments, and of all that the earth contains for knowledge and art. In speaking about all these, the Qur'an asks man not only to look into them and study them but to enjoy their effects and to feel grateful to God for His bounty. With such discipline as the Qur'an has enjoined, and by following its insistent call to seek cosmic knowledge, man may fulfill his destiny. If he responds to the 'call of the Qur'an and fulfills its requisite rational contemplation of the cosmos, he bases his economic and social system upon solid and worthy foundations.
The Islamic Economic System
Were economic and social systems to be based upon such moral and spiritual foundations, man would be able both to achieve happiness and to put an end to human suffering and misery on earth. The high ethical principles which the Qur'an poses as the very content of its creed, as well as its faith, command men to remove any shortcoming or misery in the world which it is possible to remove. A person disciplined by these principles and gripped by their ethic will condemn selfish interests, the basis of present economic life and the source of misery for all mankind. That is why Islam categorically forbids charging interest for loans. God said, "Those who appropriate interest are like men possessed of the devil." [Qur'an, 2:275] Further, the Qur'an says, "The interest which you impose seeking to increase your wealth will not bring about any increase in the sight of God. Rather, it is the zakat which you pay for the sake of God alone, that brings about such increase of your fortune. [Qur'an, 30:39]
The Evils of the Interest System
The prohibition of interest is a basic principle of Islamic civilization. It guarantees and safeguards the happiness of mankind. In its least offensive sense, interest is a system which enables the unproductive man to share in the fruits of someone else's labor for no reason but that he lent him money. The argument advanced in its favor is that the money lent enabled the producer to produce his fruits and that without it, it would not have been possible for the producer to earn what he did. Even if this advantage were the only consequence of interest, it would not be justified. For, were the money lender capable of usufructing his money for himself, he would not have lent it to someone else. And were that money to remain in its coffer, it would not produce any fruits at all. Rather, it would probably be gradually consumed by its owner. If, therefore, the capitalist allows another man to usufruct his money, hoping thereby to win a share in its fruits, he should certainly be entitled to a share of the fruits should there be such rather than imposing a definite interest charge for his money. If the operation proves successful and economically profitable, the owner of the capital should receive the share agreed upon. If it should turn out to be a failure and a loss, however, then he, too, should share a proportionate part of the burden. On the other hand, to impose a definite interest charge for the use of capital regardless of whether or not the use of such capital has been productive is illegitimate exploitation.
It is futile to object here that capital is entitled to its rent because it is used like any other commodity, be it a piece of land or a mule, and that interest is really the equivalent of rent. The renting of movable and immovable property is vastly different from renting money; the latter may bring about mutual benefit and usufruct as well as pure exploitation and crime. Man does not rent a piece of land, a house, a beast of burden, or any immovable property except in order to use it to his advantage. Otherwise, he is insane, and his commitments are not responsible. It is otherwise with money. Money is for the most part lent for purposes of trade. But trade is always exposed to profit and loss. The renting of immovable or movable property is hardly ever exposed to loss except in rare, indeed exceptional, cases falling outside the realm of normal legislation. Where it does happen that the rent of movable or immovable property exposes the user to loss, the legislator usually intervenes between the landowner and the lessees in order to relieve such injustice and prevent exploitation by the landowner. Such has been the repeated practice of the world everywhere. On the other hand, the impose of a definite interest rate of seven or nine percent, more or less, is not affected by whether the usufruct of the money in question has realized a profit or a loss. Where 'the result of the usufruct is a loss, to demand the interest is surely to commit a crime. It is on this account that hatred and immoral competition arise between men in place of fraternity and love. This source of misery is the primary cause of the repeated crises which the world community has been witnessing in recent times.
The foregoing is perhaps the least offensive description of interest. In other pictures the money lender is better compared to a wild beast rather than to anything human. Consider the case of the man who needs money for a purpose other than production. It is possible that a man may fall in need and seek financial assistance to feed himself and his family for an interval, pending his finding a job or his engaging in some productive activity. To come to the assistance of such a man is one of the first duties of humanity. This is precisely what the holy Qur'an demands. Is not the charging of interest in such cases a heinous crime, an offense deserving the same punishment as murder? And is it not a crime still more sinister to tempt those who are not shrewd in the management of their own affairs in order to get them to borrow money on interest and thereby rob them of the little wealth they possess? To tempt and to trap a man with interest is no less a crime than the lowliest theft. Surely it deserves the same if not greater punishment.
Interest and Colonialism
It was interest and the demand for the profit it entails to the lender which engulfed the world in all the calamities of colonialism. In most cases, colonialism began with a number of capitalists, whether individuals or corporations, lending money to the colonized at interest and infiltrating the colony's system with the aim of gaining control over its resources. When the borrowing people woke up and sought to liberate themselves from the money lender's clutches, the creditors appealed to their own
governments to intervene and protect what then came to be called their national interest. The latter then arrived with their armies and fleets and imposed themselves as colonial powers seeking to protect the interests of their own citizens. The colonial power then imposed its rule, deprived the people of their liberty and began to control whatever God gave the people of His bounty in their own land. Their happiness thus vanished. Misery, suffering, and poverty engulfed them. Ignorance and misguidance
stifled their minds. Their morals deteriorated and their iman became dissolute. They thus fell below the level of humanity and reached a degree of inferiority that no man believing in God would accept for himself. No man believing that God alone is worthy of worship will allow his fate to be so controlled by someone else as to bring about his own loss and suffering.
Colonialism is indeed the source of wars. It is the source of the misery which has befallen the whole of mankind in the present age. As long as interest is legitimate and real, as long as it is the basis of economic life and colonialism the dominant factor in international relations, there is no hope for the establishment of fraternity and love. Such a condition cannot be reached unless civilization is rebuilt upon the foundation which Islam has provided and which revelation has recorded in the Qur'an.
The Qur'an also contains a system of socialism which has never yet been the object of research. It is a socialism which is not based on the competition of capital or class war, as the socialism of western civilization today. Rather it is based on moral principles guaranteeing fraternity between the classes and fostering mutual security and cooperation for the good and felicity of their members instead of crime and transgression. It is relatively easy to appreciate this Qur'anic socialism based upon brotherhood and institutionized in zakat and charity. It does not allow one class to dominate another or one group to impose its will upon another. The civilization depicted in the Qur'an knows no such dominion or imposition. It rests entirely upon genuine fraternity deriving from unswerving iman in God, a conviction which makes the recognition of God tantamount to giving to the poor and the deprived that which they need by way of nourishment, clothing, shelter, medicine, education, and upbringing, without even making them feel that they have been the object of charity. Under this system, misery will vanish and men may hope God will complete His bounty and grant them the happiness they desire.
No Abolition of Private Property
Islamic socialism does not demand the annulment of private property, as is the case with western socialism. The facts are that even in Bolshevik Russia, as well as in any socialist country, the doing away with private property has not been fruitful. On the other hand, it goes without saying that all public utilities should become common property for the people. The definition of public utilities should be left for the state to conclude. As may be expected, men may disagree on such definition, as was the case in the first century of Islam. Some of the Prophet's companions demanded that all the creations of God should be included in the definition of public utilities. They regarded the land and all that it contained on a par with water and air, and thus not subject to becoming the property of anyone. They regarded every man as entitled to its fruits in proportion to his effort and capacity. Other companions saw the question differently. They deemed the land capable of becoming the property of individuals and, like the immovable properties, capable of being exchanged.
The Final Groundwork of Islamic Socialism
At any rate, one basic socialist principle that was agreed upon by all the Prophet's companions is passing today as a matter of course in the socialist countries of Europe: that every man is duty bound to put to full use all his capacities for the sake of the community; and that is the duty of the community to guarantee to every individual all his basic needs. Every Muslim was entitled to draw from the public treasury all that was required to satisfy his survival needs and those of his family as long as he did not find work to do, or as long as the work he did was not sufficient to satisfy these wants. As long as morality is governed by the principles of the Qur'an, no one may tell a lie and claim that he is out of work when in reality he is just lazy and unwilling to exert himself. Nor will anyone claim falsely that his income is insufficient. In the first century of Islam, the caliphs and leaders of the Muslim community took it upon themselves to inspect the conditions of their subjects in order to insure themselves that no basic need remained unsatisfied.
Socialism Is Brotherhood
From this basic discussion, the reader will realize that the socialism of Islam is not a socialism of capital and distribution but one founded upon. fraternity in the spiritual, moral, and economic spheres of life. If a person's iman is not regarded as complete until that person has wished .for his fellow that which he wishes for himself, it can be deduced safely that no iman is complete unless its subject has urged the feeding of the hungry and has spent privately and publicly of what God has provided, with a view to serving the commonweal. The more altruistic a person becomes, the closer he comes to realizing internal peace and happiness. If God has so constituted men that some stand above others in capacities and achievements, and if God has given of his bounty differently to whomsoever He chooses, it is certain that there will be no end to evil in this world until the young respects the older, the older shows mercy to the younger, the richer gives to the poorer, and all have done so purely for the sake of God and in praise of Him as well as of His bounty.
It is not necessary in this connection to give the details of the laws of inheritance, of wills, of contracts, trade, and other areas of the Qur'anic economic system. Even the briefest reference to any one of these topics, whether social or jurisprudential, would require many more chapters. It is sufficient to note that the contribution of Islam in any one of these fields is still unsurpassed by any other kind of legislation. Indeed, one can only react with surprise when he considers some of the details of this Islamic contribution-e.g., the command always to write down one's contracts unless it be a case of irreversible trade; the arbitration of disputes between husband and wife by representatives of either party in order to avoid dissolution of the marriage; the commandment to reconcile any two disputing factions within the state and to all the Muslims to fight that faction which resists the efforts, judgment or instrument of reconciliation. One is surprised at the novelty of such provisions of Islamic law. And when compared with the provisions of other bodies of law, one invariably reaches the conclusion that that legislation is indeed the highest which has sought to fulfill the Qur'anic principles. It should, however, surprise no one-considering that the foregoing principles regarding interest and Islamic socialism are the bases of the Qur'anic economic system and that this legislation is the highest that has ever been reached by man in any period-that Islamic civilization is not only truly worthy of mankind but is also the only one that can guarantee man's happiness.
Probable Western Objections
After reading our presentation of the bases and structure of Qur'anic civilization, some western writers may deem them too utopian to be fulfilled by man and, hence, not destined to endure even when :successfully realized. Such thinkers hold man to be motivated by fear and hope, prejudice and pressure, just like any other animal except that mail adds to his equipment the faculty of speech. To expect humanity to follow a system such as that provided by Islam for civilization is either impossible or extremely difficult. The utmost that we may expect in ordering the life of human society is the regulation of human passion and greed and the orientation of human fear and hope from the economic aspect alone. What is beyond these desiderata is beyond the capacity of human society. The Islamic system, formulated by the Qur'an and described in this chapter, did not survive in Islamic history beyond the days of the Prophet and his immediate successors. This phenomenon constitutes for these thinkers further proof of the utopian nature of that system and its not having enveloped the world. They cite this failure to survive and to spread itself over the world as proof of its unfitness.
To refute this claim, it is sufficient to note the acknowledge of its adherents that the Islamic system was indeed realized during the period of the Prophet and that of his immediate successors. Muhammad was indeed the highest exemplar of that system and his application of it the highest instance of its feasibility. His immediate successors followed his example and carried his own application of it to perfection. Under the influence of various Israelitisms [An "Israelitism" is usually a spurious interpretation of, or a fabricated addition to, an Islamic religious text, the Qur'an being naturally excluded. While most "Israelitisms" had to do with Islamic doctrine, tradition, and semitic history, their purpose was always to subvert the faith from within. They are supposed to be the work of Jews of the first two centuries who ostensibly converted to Islam but who nursed for it the strongest hatred. -Tr.] and provincialisms, [Provincialism, or "ahu'ubiyyah," is the name given by Muslim historians to every centrifugal movement in the Islamic empire, such as Persian nationalism, Turkish nationalism, Coptic nationalism, etc. -Tr.] that system was gradually dissolved by intrigue and corruption. Slowly but surely, men allowed material considerations to overrule the spiritual, and animal passion to elbow out the humane until mankind reached the situation of the present day in which it suffers from the most terrible miseries.
The Example of Muhammad
Muhammad's example was the best application of Islamic civilization as elaborated in the Qur'an. From this work, the reader may remember how the Prophet extended his fraternity to all men without distinction. In Makkah, he regarded himself and his fellows absolutely on a par in poverty and suffering. Indeed, he assumed the greater share of privation and suffering for their sake. When he emigrated to Madinah, he established this fraternity between the Muhajirun and Ansar so firmly that he granted the privileges and obligations incumbent upon real blood relationship to all. In that period, the fraternity of believers was based upon mutual love and the common will to raise the foundations of the new civilization. It was fed and reinforced by a genuine iman in God, a faith and a conviction whose strength carried Muhammad to communion with God Himself-may He be adored. At the campaign of Badr, Muhammad called upon God to give him the promised victory and prayed to Him saying, that should the Muslims be defeated at Badr, God would not be worshipped in Arabia. This is strong evidence of that communion with the Divine. Indeed, many such stands which Muhammad took on other occasions point to his constant communion with God. These were moments other than those of revelation. It was this communion with the Divine based on his true iman in God which enabled Muhammad not to fear death but, indeed, to seek it. This was only as it should be, for the man of genuine conviction never fears death but welcomes it. Every life has a term, and death will reach its object wherever it may be. No man may escape. It was this conviction that enabled Muhammad to stand firmly on his ground when the Muslims ran away in panic at the outbreak of hostilities at Hunayn. When practically surrounded with death, Muhammad paid no attention to it and called his men to rally forth around him. It was this iman that made him give liberally without fear of poverty or privation and enabled him to do good to the orphan, the wayfarer, the deprived, and the suffering. In brief, it enabled him to rise to the highest pinnacle of every Qur'anic virtue. All this, as well as the Muslims' close observance of his example in the first period of their history, caused Islam to spread in the years immediately following the death of Muhammad and to establish itself by planting the seeds of Islamic civilization in every land. Finally, it was this iman that transformed corrupt and decadent peoples into strong and progressive states seeking knowledge and advancement, discovering the secrets of the universe, and developing creativity in every field of human endeavor. These same states can vie successfully even with the accomplishments of the modern age, the so-called `Age of Light and Science,' an age so unsuccessful in bringing about happiness to mankind because of an iman weak in God and strong in matter.
The Misguided `Ulama'
However, like any other civilization of Western Asia and Europe Islamic civilization was corrupted by the prejudices engendered by provincialism or Israelitism. This corruption is attributable to the fact that a number of `ulama', who are normally expected to be the heirs of the Prophets, preferred power to the truth, worldly glory to virtue, and used their knowledge and leadership to misguide the community of the people and their young in the same way as do the `Mama' of this age. Such `ulama' however are the devil's associates. Upon them will fall the greatest responsibility on the Day of Judgment. It is the first duty of every modern `alim, true to God and to his knowledge, to fight the misguiding `ulama' and combat the evil propaganda they spread. If such `ulama? have any kind of place in Christendom where the church and science have to fight each other and compete for power, they have utterly no place in the Islamic world where religion and science are close associates, where religion without science is deemed unbelief and ungodly, and where science without religion is deemed delusion. Had mankind entered into the civilization of Islam as the Qur'an depicts it, had the Mongols not destroyed its great centers, and had the insincere converts to Islam not taken their Islam as a means for subjecting the community of Muslims to their dominion, a dominion based on the opposite of Islamic fraternity, the world would have had a different destiny. Mankind would not have been subject to the miseries it finds itself under today.
Islamic Civilization and the Future
I am nonetheless certain that Qur'anic civilization will conquer the world if a group of `Ulama' rise today to call for it in a progressive, open, and scientific manner. This civilization addresses itself to both the heart and reason. It appeals to all men and to all people; no vested interests and no prejudices will be able to prevent their movement toward it. Nor is it required that such `ulama' have any more than a genuine iman, and that they sincerely call men to God. Then will mankind find their happiness in this fraternity in God as they found it in the Prophet's time.
The accomplishments of the period of the Prophet and of that of his immediate successors constitute evidence for my claim, advanced in the preface to this work, that scientific research into the spiritual revolution which Muhammad initiated in this world will guide mankind to the new civilization toward which it has been groping. There is no doubt whatever in this regard. Western men of knowledge object to this claim by deploring the spirit dominating Islamic civilization. On the basis of these objections, they accuse Islam of causing the decay and degradation of the Muslim peoples. The most important of these objections is the claim that the determinism of Islam weakens the will of its people, disables them from participating in the struggle for existence, and brings about their decadence and subjugation. To expose the falsity of this claim and other claims will be the purpose of the second essay in this conclusion.