Verily, men and women who submit, and men and women who believe, and men and women who are patient, and men and women who are truthful, and men and women who are humble before God, and men and women who give in charity, and men and women who fast, and men and women who guard their chastity, and men and women who remember God much to them, God has promised forgiveness and a great reward.” (Quran33:35)
The goal of Islam of its concepts, acts of worship and teachings relating to values, attitudes, morals and behavior is to create an Islamic personality within the individual Muslim. Now just what is this “Islamic personality?”
Such a personality belongs to an individual who has rejected the supposition that there exists nothing but the material world, that the universe and one’s own individual life, with all its circumstances and events, is the result of accident or blind chance, and who has accepted and lives by the certainty that there is a Being Who is responsible for all of creation and to Whom he, the human being, is in turn responsible. He acknowledges his dependence on this Being, accepts His laws as the rules which guide his life, and surrenders himself to Him. He is always conscious of God, remembering Him in all his activities and concerns. Islamic values and attitudes are the base on which his personality is built and Islamic criteria govern all aspects of his life. Such an individual, together with others like himself, forms an Islamic society which, collectively submits and conforms to the guidance of Almighty God.
Islam proclaims that such God-conscious individuals, obedient to their Lord’s commands, are the ones who will attain God’s pleasure and His reward in the hereafter. A society composed of such individuals is therefore one which is capable of and suited to fulfilling the trust which God has bestowed on the human being of administering the earth and its affairs in a righteous and God-fearing manner. We will now take a look at the attitudes and qualities which Islam enjoins and which it fosters in the true Muslim—qualities which can be found, even in today’s disturbed world, turned as it is away from spiritual values and toward materialism and the worship of self, in a striking manner in countless devout Muslims in all parts of the earth.
God consciousness (Taqwa)
“Verily, the Believers are those whose hearts feel fear when
God is mentioned, and when His signs (or revelations) are recited to them they increase their faith, and who put their trust in their Lord.” (Quran8:2)
“Verily, those who live in awe for fear of their Lord, who believe in their Lord’s signs (or revelations), who do not ascribe partners to their Lord, who give what they give in charity with their hearts full of fear because they are to return to their Lord: it is these who hasten in all good acts and they are foremost in them.” (Quran 23:57-61)
The Arabic word taqwa, denoting a quality which is absolutely essential in the personality of the conscious Muslim, has no exact English equivalent. Taqwa refers to an attitude comprised of love and fear of God which we may translate, for want of a better word, as “God-consciousness.” More exactly it refers to the constant awareness that one is always before God and that He knows everything concerning him, even his most secret thoughts. This attitude produces within one such an intense love for God that he wants to do only what is pleasing to Him; such great fear of God that he tries to avoid doing anything which He dislikes; and such a keen consciousness of God that he never for a single moment imagines His being unaware of what he does or that he will not be held accountable for all his intentions and actions. In the words of the Quran, the pious are:
“Those who fear their Lord in their most secret thoughts and who hold the Hour (of Judgment) in awe.” (Quran 21:49)
Taqwa is a vital attitude which develops little by little in the heart of the Muslim child as he is taught about the existence and omnipresence, the beneficence and kindness of God, his own total dependence upon Him, his Sustainer, and his personal responsibility and accountability to Him. Gradually there grows within him a constant awareness of the fact that he is always before God (As the Prophet said, “For if you do not see Him. He sees you,”) a profound sense of personal responsibility, the habit of judging all matters by Islamic rather than by other criteria, and a love for God and for His way which guides all his actions. This is supplemented and enhanced by correct instruction in the principles and practices of Islam so that it becomes his total frame of reference; by an awareness of social, moral, political and other issues; and by the knowledge of the right and wrong of things so that he can fulfil his responsibilities to God, to other human beings and to society.
“The pious are those who spend (in God’s way) in ease as well as in straitness, who restrain their anger and pardon people, for God loves those who do good; those who, when they commit an indecency or do injustice to their own souls, remember God and ask for forgiveness for their sins—and who can forgive sins except God?—And do not knowingly persist in what they have done. For these the reward will be forgiveness from their Lord and Gardens underneath which rivers flow, to abide therein, and (God’s) favour, the reward of those who strive.” (Quran 3:134-146)
“To God belong all things in the heavens and on earth, and God is sufficient as a protector.” (Quran 4:132)
“Say: ‘He is my Lord; there is no deity except Him. In Him do I put my trust and to Him do I turn.”‘ (Quran 13:30)
Islam makes a distinction between a person who submits to God’s guidance by obeying His laws (a Muslim) and one who has the deep inner certainty of faith (a mu ‘min: one who possesses iman, faith, a believer), and indeed the difference is very significant. A muslim (submitter) may obey God’s laws without real depth of faith, while a believer both possesses this faith and acts on it.
Now, faith to the believer is a great deal more than merely “believing” that God “exists.” Such faith is rather the realization that this little piece of Reality which we are able to grasp with our minds or senses is only a minute portion of the greater Reality which is known only to its Creator. And it is the certainty that God is in absolute control of the universe, including the human being and his world, and that, together with the rest of God’s creation, each one of us is wholly dependent upon God and will return to Him for accounting.
But let us go back to the beginning, starting from the most basic views of life in order to understand the meaning of such a faith more clearly. There can be only two possible logically acceptable ways to explain the universe and all that takes place within it. Either it is, in totality, the result of randomness and chance interactions, the correct but completely accidental collusion of circumstances (which makes the earth nothing more than the accidentally “correct” combination of particles of matter and each newborn infant merely a fortuitously “right” organization of chromosomes, cellular structures, nerve connections and biochemical processes). In this case, the entire universe and all of human existence, including the events of each individual’s life, can only be viewed as meaningless, purposeless accidentally interacting phenomena, the result of blind chance in the grip of which a human being is simply a helpless, hopeless, struggling victim making motions which may or may not be of use. In the grip of such nothingness, he himself is a nothing, and his life has not the slightest sense or purpose: he simply is because he happens to have been born and has not yet died.
Such an explanation, which can produce nothing within the human soul except a despair too profound to be borne, is not only totally at variance with all the observed facts of the universe, which speak in endless volume of a planning, willing power, creative beyond human comprehension, negating randomness in their eloquent testimony to the incredible organizational Will behind all that exists; it is also totally unacceptable to the human mind, itself an incredibly organized, purposeful entity which seeks meaning in everything. One who uses his reason therefore has no choice except to realize that all that exists must be the result of the will, the plan and the decision of a Supreme Power.
And since this is so, likewise every circumstance and event, either within the physical world or within the world of the human being, must also fit in with the will, the plan, the decree of this Power. In short, nothing which either is or which takes place is outside God’s plan and will and occurs only with His permission and decree, including the actions of people since the human being too is a part of the scheme of God’s creation and a part of His plan. We will return to this point a little later.
It is easy enough to understand the meaningfulness and purposefulness of things in relation to phenomena or events which exhibit some logic, order or sense, some may say. But how are we to understand it in the face of natural disasters, unexpected catastrophes and human tragedies which seem to do violence to logic, to order, to meaning, crushing and destroying all that is good in human life?
Again, we return to the two possibilities: That everything is the result of randomness and chance, or that it is the result, although why may not always be apparent to our finite, limited human understanding, of God’s all-wise plan. If the former is correct and we are dealing with random and consequently meaningless events, then logically everything must be accidental and meaningless, for it is not possible that part of existence is the result of a planning Will and has meaning and purpose but some other part is accidental. Either all of it must be an accident, which it is impossible for the mind to accept, or all of it must be part of a plan and guided by the Planner. In either case the circumstances will of course be the same:
Whether we believe in the meaningfulness and purposefulness of all that takes place or we believe it to be the result of blind chance, we may equally in both instances from time to time find ourselves in the grip of events which we are utterly powerless to control. But the difference between these two views is nothing less than the difference between confidence and despair, between serenity of heart and endless, crushing anxiety, between living with trusting acceptance of what comes as being meaningful, purposeful and ultimately a source of good as it is the result of the will of the Merciful God, or with bitterness, anger, rebellion, and the intolerable weight of belief in nothingness.
At the same time, it is also clear that the human being has been endowed with freedom of choice and freedom to act. Does this not mean that he is, at least to some extent, independent and in charge of his own affairs? How does Islam resolve this very fundamental question of God’s will in relation to the human being’s freedom of choice and action?
To begin with, Islam places great emphasis on action, repeatedly exhorting Muslims to strive, to make an effort, to do their best. Without action and effort nothing whatsoever can be attained or achieved. But at the same time, action and effort do not necessarily guarantee the results one desires.
Thus, for example, I make a decision, I choose a course of action, I act. To this extent I am free, within the range of choices available to me and depending on my capacity for action, which is obviously limited by my physical and mental condition and by the constraints of my environment. But what about the outcome of my decision, my choice, my action? Can I guarantee what it will be? No, I cannot. However, most of the time one’s action does lead to the desired results.
For example, I decide to get up out of my chair and I am able to do it; I decide to go to work in my car and I go; I decide to get married, or to get a new job, or to invent a nuclear submarine or a Boeing 747 or to go to the moon, and I do all these things, dependent only on myself, on the cooperation of my fellow human beings, and on various machines and inventions. How then can one assert that I am not in control and that I do not determine the outcome of my actions? In short, where does God come into the picture?
Let us examine the matter in greater depth. It is obvious that to achieve the results I want I must will and act. I can hardly expect to get to work if I spend the morning lying in bed, to get a new job if I don’t go out and look for one, or to get to the moon without the necessary efforts on my part to master the essential knowledge and skills. But even then my efforts do not guarantee the results I seek. All that may be said is that although the degree of effort has a direct relationship to the probability of achieving a desired outcome, nevertheless the outcome may turn out to be quite different than one intends.
For example, I decide to get out of my chair as I’ve done thousands of times in the past but instead of doing it I collapse with a heart attack. I leave my house to go to work, having no doubt that I’ll get there as I’ve done day after day for many years but I have an accident on the way and never arrive. I’m rich, famous and beloved but one day I learn that I have a fatal illness and in spite of all the medical skills money can provide I die in the prime of my youth and career. I am about to be launched in a spacecraft similar to others which have carried out their missions brilliantly but something goes wrong and it burns up in the take-off— one could go on and on enumerating examples.
In earlier times when life was simpler, few people entertained any question about the existence of God and His controlling will. They knew that their lives were dependent upon crops which were dependent upon such factors as rainfall and sunshine, which depended immediately upon what God willed.
They knew, too, the limitations of their capacities to act, to shape their destinies, and these too were referred back to God’s decision. But today, when our lives are run to such a large extent by the products of science and technology. It depends upon these as if they were gods themselves for the very control of our existence. We have totally lost sight of the fact that while we have been given the power— and indeed the obligation—to think, to plan, to choose and to act, we do not necessarily determine the outcome of our actions, which depends upon what God wills.
Nor do our existence, our faculties, our powers and capacities to act depend upon ourselves. Does any of us make ourselves so that we can determine our appearance or size or shape, our color or physical condition, our intellectual endowments and talents? And is there a single one of us who can by our own efforts control the beating of our hearts, the working of the cells and tissues in our bodies, the eventual process of disintegration and decline of old age, an accident or illness which overtakes us, or the death which is our inevitable destiny? If not, then the assertion that we are in control of our lives and are self-sufficient, which is the proud boast of contemporary Western civilization, is merely wishful thinking and self-delusion.
This notion of the human being’s self-sufficiency has unfortunately led the Westerner to the conclusion that because he is able to do most of what he wills and undertakes, it is solely his willing and doing, aided by the invention and utilization of high powered technological devices, which determines the results he achieves. Both the person and his intentions are presumed independent of anything except each other, and the fact that there must be Someone who gives the human being his nature and the capacity, power and means to carry out what he undertakes, and Who, at the same time, determines the results of his undertakings, has been totally lost sight of.
Consequently, although many people still profess belief in Him, God, as the sustaining, planning, willing, acting Power in the universe, has been largely discounted in explaining the phenomena of “nature,” as well as in relation to human affairs, and hence He has been “retired” from the lives of so many of us. In passage after passage, the Quran addresses itself to this point:
“It is He Who created for you ears and eyes and hearts. Little do you give thanks! And it is He Who spread you in the earth, and unto Him will you be gathered. And it is He Who gives life and death, and His is the alternation of night and day. Do you then have no intelligence? Nay, but they say the like of what was said by earlier peoples.
“They say: ‘When we are dead and have become dust and bones, shall we then really be raised again? We were already promised this, we and our forefathers. Truly, this is nothing except tales of the ancients.’
“Say: ‘Unto Whom belongs the earth and whatsoever is in it, if you have knowledge.’ “They will say: ‘To God.’
“Say: ‘Will you not then remember?’ Say: ‘Who is Lord of the seven heavens and Lord of the exalted throne (of authority)?
“They will say: `(They belong) to God.’
“Say: ‘Will you not then be dutiful to Him?’ Say: ‘In whose hand is the dominion over all things, and He protects while there is no protection against Him, if you have knowledge?’
“They will say: belongs to God.’ “Say: ‘Then how are you deluded?”‘ (Quran 23:78-89)
And again: “And among His signs is that He created you from dust, and then, behold, you are human beings scattered (far and wide). And among His signs is that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that you may dwell with them in tranquillity, and He has put love and mercy between your (hearts).
Verily in that are signs for those who reflect. And among His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the variations of your languages and your colors. Verily in that are signs for those who know. And among His signs is the sleep you take by night and by day, and your quest (for a livelihood) from His bounty. In that are signs for those who hearken. And among His signs He shows you the lightning in fear and hope, and He sends down rain from the sky and with it gives life to the earth after it is dead. Verily in that are signs for those who are wise. And among His signs is that the heavens and the earth stand by His command. Then when He calls you with a call, behold, from the earth you will come forth. To Him belongs every being in the heavens and the earth: all are obedient to Him. It is He Who begins creation, then repeats it, and this is easy for Him. To Him pertain the loftiest similitudes in the heavens and the earth, for He is the Exalted, the Wise.” (Quran 30:20-27)
And yet again and again: “All that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth glorifies God. Unto Him belongs the dominion and unto Him belongs the praise, and He has power over all things. It is He Who created you, yet one of you is a disbeliever and one of you is a believer, and God sees all that you do. He created the heavens and the earth in truth, and He shaped you and made you with good shapes, and unto Him is the journeying. He knows all that is in the heavens and the earth, and He knows all that you conceal and all that you reveal. And God is the Knower of what is in the hearts (of human beings).” (Quran 64:1-4)
“And with Him are the keys of the Unseen; none knows them but He. And He knows whatever is in the land and the sea. Not a leaf falls but He knows it, nor a seed grain grows in the darkness of the earth, nor anything fresh or dry but is (inscribed) in a clear Book. And it is He Who takes your souls by night and Who knows what you have done by day; then He revives you by day that a term appointed may be fulfilled. Then to Him will be your return, and then will He declare to you all that you did.” (Quran 6:59-60)
“Say: ‘Shall I take for my protector any other than God, the Maker of the heavens and the earth? And it is He that feed (His creatures) but is not fed… If God touch you with affliction, none can remove it but He; and if He touch you with goods (know that) He has power over everything. He is the Irresistible, (high) above His servants; and He is the Wise. The Informed.’ Say: ‘Do you think that if God’s punishment were to come upon you, or the last hour, you would then call upon something other than God. (Answer) if you are among the truthful! Nay, you would call upon Him, and if He willed. He would remorse what occasioned your call upon Him and you would forget those whom you had set up as partners with Him’… Say: ‘Do you think that if God took away your hearing and your sight and set a seal upon your hearts, there is a deity besides God who could restore them to you?’ … Say: `Who is it that delivers you from perils in the darkness of the land or sea, upon Whom you call humbly and in secret: “If He only delivers us from this (affliction), we will be among the grateful?”‘ Say: ‘It is God Who delivers you from these and from all (other) distresses, and yet, you associate others with Him!” (Quran 6:14, 17-18, 40-41, 46, 63-64)
For indeed, when any of us is in a state of danger, terror or crisis, it is not other people or technology we call on; almost instinctively, as a matter of course, we call upon God, even if we otherwise never think of Him or even deny His existence. Anyone who has ever been in a battle or a wreck at sea or a devastating flood or earthquake or tornado (an “act of God”), or in the grip of a terrible illness or personal tragedy knows this and many have become believers as a result of such experiences. For at such a time each one of us recognizes the utter powerlessness of human beings and their inventions. We know unquestioningly that nothing can help or save us except the Supreme Power of the heavens and the earth, and quite unconsciously and without concern for our previous beliefs in the matter, we instinctively cry to Him for aid. And what about at the time of death? Is there a single one of us who then still entertains the illusion that the human being is in control and has anything to say about his own destiny, or who calls upon anyone or anything except God. For that is the supreme moment of truth, the truth which has always been there before our eyes but from which many of us turned away, as if deaf and blind, time and time again during the span of our lives.
In Islam we find the correct perspective concerning the human being’s freedom of choice and action and the limits of his capacity to control events. For Islam informs us that every single thing in the universe, every atom of creation, is always dependent on God not only for its very being but for its continuance and functioning as well. In this human beings are no different from the rest of creation; despite the illusion that we are in control, our being is dependent on Him and we are sustained by Him at every moment of our lives, whether we are peacefully relaxing in the security and comfort of our homes or are in a state of critical danger or affliction.
This state of dependency, helplessness and creatureliness in relation to God is expressed in Arabic by the single concise word servant hood that is, the condition of being God’s servant: one with whom God does as He pleases because he belongs to Him, who is totally at His disposal and in a state of utter dependence and humility before Him. To the devout Muslim, the highest honor and the fulfilment of his existence lies in being the abd of God Most High, and of no one and nothing except Him. And part of the condition of this servanthood consists of the realization that the human being’s task is to choose, to will, to act and to strive his utmost but that it is God Who determines the results of this striving as He sees fit. Therefore, beyond his capacity to act and to shape events by his action, the sincere believer trusts in and depends on God completely for the outcome of his affairs, assured that nothing that happens to him or to any other creature is a random, chance event, an “accident” or “coincidence,” but has a meaning and a purpose which are known to God.
But we must be careful not to misunderstand this point, as many people have done and sooner or later lost their “faith” as a result. It certainly does not mean that if a person trusts in and depends on God in all his affairs, God will in return keep all trouble and suffering away from him; in other words, “If I’m good, God won’t let anything bad happen to me.” Indeed, this is not the way God has ordained this life, nor is this the attitude of a true believer. God sends both ease and suffering to all, the wicked and saintly alike, and certainly the sincere believer, like every other descendant of Adam, has his share of troubles, illnesses and calamities; in truth, he is more likely to pass through suffering and adversity as a result of his unswerving commitment to the right and his consequent lack of concern for personal comfort and worldly advantage. The difference is not in the circumstances but in the attitude: For the believer possesses the absolute certainty that God is in complete control of everything, knowing what the human being with his finite, limited human understanding cannot know, and since he believes that whatever God sees fit to send has a meaning and a purpose, he accepts it with the hope and assurance that it may hold some good for him either in this world or in the Hereafter.
For the whole of this life, both the good and the bad of it, constitutes a trial and a test for the human individual by means of which his quality and his state in the future existence are deter- mined Again and again the Quran speaks of this:
“Every soul must taste death; and We test you by evil and by good by way of trial. And unto Us will you return.” (Quran 21:35)
“Do people think that they will be left alone on saying, `We believe and that they will not be tested.’ And assuredly We tested those before them. Thus God knows those who are sincere and knows those who are pretenders.” (Quran 29:2-3)
But the test does not lie only in hardship and suffering. The rich, powerful and healthy individual is tested just as much by his wealth, rank and good physical condition as is the poor one by his poverty or the sick or handicapped by his affliction; indeed, the one to whom more has been given in the way of health or possessions or talents or status or power will be held accountable for more.
What is of ultimate importance is not how much or little one possesses of all these benefits but what he does with whatever he has been given. For although a human being may not necessarily have a great deal to say concerning the conditions of his life or the outcome of a specific situation, nevertheless he is accountable both for his actions and for his inner response to the particular conditions in which he found himself.
The notion that a person’s spirit and his deeds cannot rise above difficult or disadvantaged circumstances is one which Islam rejects, just as it rejects mechanistic views of any aspect of life. The human being is not a robot. Even in the worst of circumstances human beings have kept alive the spark of humanity and decency in their breasts and acted in ways which would do credit to the angels.
Therefore, when faced with difficulties the sincere believer does all he can to deal with or to remove them, for he is not supposed to allow himself to be distressed or to bear suffering unnecessarily, and is expected to strive with all his strength to improve his situation. But if the desired results are not attained in spite of all his efforts, he does not despair nor does he dictate terms to God but rather tries to be patient and steadfast with what the Quran calls a “beautiful patience” (Quran 70:5).
The Quran speaks in moving language of the way in which a sincere believer should bear trouble and affliction:
“And We shall undoubtedly test you with something of fear and hunger, some loss of wealth and lives and fruits. But give glad tidings to the patient, who say, when afflicted with calamity, To God we belong and to Him is our return. ‘They are those upon whom is God’s blessing and mercy and they are the ones who are guided.” (Quran 2:155-157)
“They who are patient, seeking the pleasure of their Lord, who are regular in prescribed prayer, who spend (in charity) secretly and openly out of what God has bestowed on them, and who repel evil with good: for them is the attainment of the final abode.” (Quran 13:22)
“and give good tidings to the humble, whose hearts tremble when God is mentioned and who are patient under that which afflicts them, and who are constant in prescribed prayer and who spend (in charity) out of what We bestow on them.” (Quran 22:34-35)
Indeed, as a rule the sincere believer does not ask God for the specific outcome of a situation, for he realizes that he cannot know with certainty what is best for him even in relation to this life, much less in relation to the hereafter. Rather he asks God to guide him and make easy for him what is for his good in this world and in the future life, and to keep him away from whatever is bad or harmful to him in either. For the sincere believer, not knowing positively himself wherein his good lies, possesses the assurance that God, Who does know, is able to send good to him even through the greatest suffering and trial.
Moreover, he has the deep certainty that any trouble, pain or affliction which he experiences even, as the Prophet said, to the pricking of the foot of the believer by a thorn is an expiation for sins, a source of reward in the hereafter if it is borne with patience and endurance, and a means of coming nearer to God Most High through that ineffable softening of the heart which suffering brings through complete trust and reliance upon Him. In such a situation the sincere believer finds the greatest solace and comfort of heart in the remembrance of God Most High, holding fast to Him, depending completely upon Him, and contemplating His beneficence and exalted glory with words of praise and adoration in the total surrender of his will and his being to what He, the Praised and Exalted, sees fit to send.
The Quran speaks of:
“Those who believe and whose hearts find comfort in the remembrance of God. Lo! In the remembrance of God do hearts find comfort.” (Quran 13:28)
Thus even trouble and distress constitute great sources of good to the one whose heart is firmly fixed upon his Lord and contented with His decree. Such people are often able to remain uncomplaining, thankful and to experience deep peace of heart even in the midst of the greatest trials. Then what does such a person feel about death, either of himself or of a near one? To the sincere believer death is simply the return of the soul to Him Who gave it, the last stage of the journey “from God to God.”
As such, it holds no tenors for him except the fear that he may not have deserved the pleasure of his Lord, Whose love he desires, Whose anger he dreads, and Whose mercy he hopes for with all his being. The inevitability of death and the hereafter is never far from his consciousness, serving to keep all his life and deeds in perspective as he tries at all times to live in preparedness for what is to come and to send ahead for his soul such deeds as will make heavy his balance of good when he appears before his Lord. And when death claims someone near him, he does not indulge in excesses of grief (for not only does Islam forbid this but its inappropriateness in one who believes is obvious) but prays for God’s mercy and peace on the departed, and takes his living and dying as a lesson and example. Islam very strongly emphasizes the distinction between a believer and a nonbeliever, both in terms of their inner state and their true worth. The reason for this may now be apparent.
A person devoid of belief and faith and a believer alike are both equally helpless and dependent on the Almighty Power in the universe, of course, but the nonbeliever is either unaware of this or denies, rejects and resents the fact of his servanthood vis-a-vis God. As he does not acknowledge the existence of a Reality other than that which he can perceive or comprehend, insisting on the supremacy of the material world and ascribing to it ultimate value and importance, he does not acknowledge any authority over his life except that of his own desires or the dictates of other human beings or “society.”
Such an individual totally lacks accuracy of perspective concerning himself and his life in this world. He is in a state of forgetfulness and heedlessness concerning essential matters, while he preoccupies and busies himself with what is trivial. He is like one rushing blindly, pell-mell, in his intense involvement with the world with material things, activities or pleasures, no matter how shallow and meaningless often in a desperate effort to avoid having to come to grips with the emptiness, restlessness and dissatisfaction inside him which is the natural consequence of his deep alienation from his Creator, himself and the universe he lives in. And yet such individual usually imagines that he is “free” and not the servant of anyone or anything! If we could look into the heart of the sincere believer by way of comparison, we would find an individual at peace and in harmony with his place in the universe, submitting to what God ordains for him and to His guidance willingly, gladly and with awe and fear of his Lord. We would find one who feels at home with all of God’s creation because he knows his rightful place in it and hence does not fight with it or try to exploit or harm it.
We would find a person who, in times of trouble, resists disturbing his soul by asking, “Why?” Or imagining all he “might have done” to avert it, for he possesses the deep certainty that every circumstance and happening in his life is the result of God’s all-wise decree, coming to him as ordained no matter what anyone might or might not do, and that what is required of him in response is patience, steadfastness and complete trust in God. Conversely, if good comes to him, he responds by a profound sense of humility and thankfulness to God from whom it came rather than with pride and preoccupation with his own powers or merits. He maintains a constant perspective within himself: the awareness of the transitory and finite nature of this brief life in comparison with the enduring life of the hereafter, and the desire, which is greater than any other, to attain the good of that life by every means in his power.
Such an individual, by means of this perspective, never loses sight of where he is going or his ultimate goal: to merit God’s mercy and pleasure, and thereby to attain the eternal home. As part of the means of attaining it, he is active in the world, taking his responsibilities seriously and trying to fulfil them to the best of his abilities, and being always conscious of his duty to society.
But he is not in love with this world and avoids becoming entangled with material preoccupations because there are more important concerns at the centre of his life. His constant prayer is, “Our Lord, give us good in this world and good in the hereafter, and save us from the punishment of the fire.” To him faith is life itself, without which he could not continue the struggle of existence for one single minute.
“Verily, this world’s life is transient, but the hereafter is the permanent abode.” (Quran 40:39)
God-consciousness and faith are the two most basic and essential qualities of the one who submits to God’s Will and the sincere believer. We will now continue our survey of the qualities and characteristics which Islam enjoins and which it considers essential in an Islamic personality.
Without this quality the Muslim’s relationship with both God and his fellow human being is null and void. Sincerity toward Goal should prompt him to wholeheartedly in worship, to absolute honesty with himself regarding his motives and intentions, and to striving continually to weed out of his character whatever has a trace of hypocrisy, greed, selfishness, envy or the desire for reputation or power, while sincerity toward his fellow human beings should lead him to behave in an open and straight- forward manner with them. He should not use or manipulate them for his own purposes, and should genuinely desire their good, liking for them what he likes for himself. He should say what he means, refrain from saying what he does not mean, and should say whatever needs to be said to the other’s face rather than behind his back. His relations with others are not to be superficial, casual or careless, and he is expected to interact with everyone responsible sincerely and in a meaningful fashion.
This is the keynote of the Muslim’s behavior toward God, toward other human beings, and toward the rest of His creation, both animate and inanimate. His task is first to fulfil his own obligations to God and to other people, regardless of what others may do, and then to try to change, as far as is in his power, what-ever he sees that is wrong and evil. His attitude should never be, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” But, “I am responsible for doing whatever I can,” for he knows that he will be held accountable not only for his own attitudes and actions but for anything else over which he had control or influence in the society and the world around him as well.
Because the Muslim has an ever-present consciousness of God and his responsibility to Him, every aspect and act of his life is to be constantly submitted to the standards and criteria of Islam. Nothing is outside the pale of it, from the most private and personal matters to the most public. The standards of Islam are supposed to be so much a part of his very nature that it is difficult for him to knowingly disregard and disobey them in any aspect. And if he does so, his inner atonement to himself and to God’s guidance should be so keen that he is at once aware of his mistake and asks for God’s forgiveness.
Honesty, truthfulness, fair dealing
Since obedience to such principles is basic to mutual trust, responsibility and reliability among human beings as well as to integrity within the personality, these are among the most emphasized qualities in Islam. Such a scrupulous adherence to truth includes absolute honesty and fidelity in all personal relationships and interactions, in business dealings and transactions, and in the administration of justice. The Quran enjoins these qualities over and over again:
“O you who believe, be conscious of God and be with the truthful.” (Quran 9:119)
“(The virtuous are) those Who honor their trusts and promises and those who stand firm in their testimonies” (Quran 70:32-33)
“O you Who believe stand out firmly for justice, bearers of unfitness for God, even though it be against yourselves or your parents or near relatives. Whether he is rich or poor, God’s claim takes precedence over (the claims of) either of them. So do not follow your own desires lest you swerve from justice; and if you lapse or fall away (from truth), then verily, God is aware of what you do.” (Quran 4:135)
“and keep (your) commitments: verily, concerning commitments (you) will be questioned. Fill the measure when you measure, and weigh with a right balance: that is good and right in the end.” (Quran 17:34-35)
And among many Hadith concerning these virtues, the following makes it very clear how essential such qualities are in the personality of the Muslim.
“There are three characteristics of a hypocrite: when he speaks he lies, when he makes a promise he acts treacherously against it, and when he is trusted he betrays.”
Discipline and self control
As we have seen, to live the life of a Muslim with its five daily prayers, month of fasting each year, and obedience to all the injunctions of Islam, a considerable degree of self-discipline is needed. This discipline is fostered by the Muslim’s continual awareness that he is not his own master but rather God’s slave, who stands ever ready to hear and to obey his Lord’s commands.
Self-control in governing one’s temper is very strongly stressed, and forbearance and making allowances for others’ faults are enjoined. In the case of a personal injury, the Muslim is urged to forgive and, although retaliation is permitted, to forgo it for the sake of God out of mercy and compassion to the one who has wronged him. While Islam discourages asceticism and permits the enjoyment of God’s good gifts, the Muslim is expected to keep his appetites and desires under control rather than allowing them to control him. Self-discipline and self-control are reflected in many aspects of both the private and the public life of Muslims, from the degree of self-control shown by a Muslim to whom wrong has been done but who keeps his tongue and hand (and with them his heart) from vengefulness, to the orderly and correct manner in which Muslims line themselves up for a congregational prayer.
Humility, patience, endurance, thankfulness
The true Muslim is under no illusions about his own greatness or importance; he is humble about his attainments and aware of his own limitations. He does not seek fame or power but rather the pleasure and approval of God, trying to be useful in whatever way he can. As we have seen, he tries to endure unavoidable trouble and suffering patiently and courageously, finding solace and comfort in the remembrance of God, and he is thankful for all good that comes his way. Phrases expressing his dependence on and praise of God form a vital part of his speech patterns. He does not despair in any situation, knowing that everything is possible for God. In any case, the events of this life are not the most important thing to him, but rather to attain God’s pleasure and His mercy in the life-to-come.
Dignity, honor and self respect
A strong sense of honor and self-respect is an essential quality in the true Muslim. Even the most humble—an illiterate peasant or labourer—often demonstrates a striking degree of uprightness and dignity. The Muslim’s dignity stems from his being the slave of and fearing no one except his Creator; no one can threaten or intimidate him for he knows that what befalls him depends not on other people but on the Lord of the people. Thus he maintains his dignity and serenity even though his life may be full of hardships. His self-respect is the product of the innate straightness of his world-view, concepts and character, and he tries never to do anything which will lower him in his own estimation or that of others—and above all in his Lord’s. He realizes that the only real distinction he or any other human being can achieve is due to his degree of God-consciousness, faith and knowledge rather than race, wealth, social status and the like. And as he has his honor, he recognizes and upholds the right of others to theirs, and tries to refrain from behavior which would violate it such as gossiping, prying into people’s affairs, being suspicious or interfering with others’ privacy.
Purity, modesty and chastity
To the true muslim, man and woman alike, anything impure or degrading is abhorrent and to be avoided at all costs. Sexual purity thus begins in the mind of the believer with the fear of God and the desire to maintain that state of inner balance and cleanness which is essential to his or her integrity and well-being. Strict modesty of dress, manner and behavior, and absolute chastity both before and after marriage are required.
Kindness, helpfulness and cooperation
Islam teaches that human beings are all equally creatures of God, all sharing the same condition. The Muslim’s obligation is to live in cooperation, not competition, with his fellow men and to be helpful, kind, just and compassionate toward everyone, regardless of whether they are of the same or a different faith, race, culture or status, etc. Kindness to animals as well as to human beings is required, for abuse or cruelty of any of God’s creatures is abhorrent to their Creator. Such virtues are stressed again and again in the Quran and in the Prophet’s Hadith, as for example the following:
“God still not show mercy to him who does not show mercy to others.”
The Prophet said, “I swear by God he does not believe. I swear by God he does not believe. I swear by God he does not believe.” He was asked who it was and replied, “The one from whose injurious conduct his neighbour is not safe.” “The believer is not one who eats his fill when his neighbour beside him is hungry.”
“All creatures are God’s children, an those dearest to God are the ones who treat His children kindly.”
Charitableness, generosity and hospitality
Our brief discussion of Zakah has already given some idea of how much Islam stresses charitableness and generosity. Indeed, the emphasis is so great that charity is enjoined in verse after verse of the Quran, often together with the obligation of Prayer. Numerous occasions hare been specified for the giving of charity for example, on the two festivals: as an expiation if one is unable to fast during Ramadan due to pregnancy, suckling an infant, a permanent illness, or old age by feeding one person for each day missed; by remitting a debt to a debtor; or by the ransoming or freeing of captives, etc.
This repeated and continuous emphasis on charity in Islam does not allow the muslim to forget the needs of his brothers and sisters who are less fortunate but to feel them as his own. But in Islam charity does not consist merely of help to the needy. Rather it includes anything one does which is of good to others. A Hadith of the Prophet mentions that charity includes removing thorns from the road and smiling at one’s brother. And open-handedness in spending and giving are to be practiced not only towards the poor but also toward one’s family, relatives, friends, neighbours, guests, and even strangers. The good things the muslim has are to be shared, not kept solely for himself. Generosity and hospitality are thus highly-valued qualities among muslims in every part of the world.
Consideration and good manners
Prophet Muhammad was a living example of the finest and most beautiful manners, and he stressed politeness and consideration as an expression of the muslim’s faith. Basically this means to treat other human beings as they like to be treated and as one likes to be treated oneself, whether they are Muslims or non-Muslims, relatives, friends, strangers and even one’s enemies.
In innumerable Quranic verses and Hadith of the Prophet we find delineated the nature of the relationship which should exist among Muslims. One’s fellow-Muslims are other “selves” for whom the Muslim should desire what he desires for himself and dislike what he dislikes for himself, rejoicing at their good fortune and sharing in their grief. The following are a few well-known Hadith which convey so expressively the sense of love and brotherliness which Muslims should feel for one another. The Holy Prophet said:
“I swear by Him in Whose hand is my soul, a person does not believe until he loves for his brother What he loves for himself.”
“You see the believers in their mutual love and affection like one body. When one member has a complaint, the rest of the body is united with it in wakefulness and fever.”
“A muslim is a muslim’s brother; he does not wrong him or abandon him if anyone cares for his brother’s need God will care for his need: If anyone removes one of his brother’s anxiety’s (hardships), God will remove from him one of the anxieties of the day of resurrection and if anyone conceals a muslim’s secrets (that would disgrace him) God will conceal his secrets on the day of resurrection.”
Observing the interaction among conscientious Muslims, others are often impressed by their warm brotherly or sisterly behavior toward each other, and by the sincerity, openness, kindness and meaningfulness which characterizes their relationships, particularly in contrast to the shallowness and meaninglessness of so much of present day interaction among human beings.
Warmth and lovingness
Although muslims may be reserved in public, with intimates they are as a rule very warm human beings. This capacity for warmth and affection stems from the love and security which is received in childhood through close relationships with parents and other family members. This is expressed in cheerfulness, good-temper, a sense of humour, loyalty in relationships, very warm ties with family and friends, love for children, and consideration for other people and their feelings.
Striving and hard work
The Quran states that “The human being shall have nothing but what he strives for” (Quran 53:39), and there are numerous Hadith enjoining and encouraging working and striving in the worldly realm. Muslims are expected to develop their skills and talents, and to utilize and manage the earth’s resources: however, this is to be done in a manner which is for the benefit of society and in keeping with the Islamic goals and values. It is also a fundamental responsibility of Muslims to try to shape the conditions of society and the world for good, and to contribute their utmost to the welfare of their communities.
Love of knowledge
The Prophet proclaimed that seeking knowledge is a duty on every Muslim man and woman, and indeed the love of knowledge has been a characteristic of Muslims from the earliest times. As a result, as history attests, at a time when Europe was still extremely primitive and undeveloped, Muslims possessed highly-developed science, mathematics, medicine and literature. Knowledge and understanding are among the most important characteristics of a true Muslim, for without them his Islam is likely to be mere imitation and he will lack the ability to manage the affairs of his society and the world, or even of his own family, in a correct and appropriate manner.