Core Beliefs of the Islamic Faith
By: Ayatullah Fadhil Milani
2.1 The Universe and its Creator
All Divine religions teach that the source of every perfection - the Omnipotent and Omniscient Creator - created the Universe and that the entirety of existence is an effect caused by Him. In contrast to the atheist's viewpoint, every Prophet promoted the belief that all of creation derives its 'existence' from One Pure and Perfect Source - the Almighty Creator.
Even though human beings tend, in general, to believe only in tangible things, and have difficulty comprehending things that lie beyond the senses, every Prophet has stressed that the Creator does not fall within the orbit of human sensual ability. Islamic theology has striven to study and clarify that it is only via 'inner sight' that we are able to access the concept of the Creator.
At the time of the emergence of Islam, idolaters justified their beliefs with claims that 'We only worship them to bring us closer to Allah' (Qur’an 39:3). This illustrated that despite their actions being diametrically opposed to their claims, they nonetheless inwardly acknowledged that a Creator had brought everything into existence. In their attempts to rationalize such human beliefs, philosophers like Plato and Aristotle established Ontological, Cosmological and Teleological arguments in proof of the existence of God. However, many Christian and Muslim thinkers combined the above quoted arguments with textual sources to conclude that 'the whole Universe was created by one Omnipotent and Omniscient Creator'.
Belief in such a Creator is the bedrock of all theistic religion. Despite this, anthropomorphism appears to have created confusion in the minds of Christians, who believe in 'the Trinity', and those Muslims who describe the Creator's actions in human terms. Islam removes all such ambiguity: Allah is One. Allah is He on whom all depend. He begets not, nor is He begotten. And there is none like Him. (Qur’an 112)
Nothing is like Him, for He is the All-Hearing, the All-Seeing. (Qur’an 42:11)
All praise is due to Him for He is immeasurably exalted, beyond their comprehension. (Qur’an 17:43)
Not the weight of an atom in heaven or on earth escapes His knowledge. (Qur’an 34:3)
The technical term for belief in 'One True God' - tawhid - encompasses two levels. The first is rejection of many deities for the affirmation of One Divinity. In other words it’s the rejection of finite deities for the affirmation of One Absolute and Infinite Divinity. The second level of tawhid is only attainable by the most devoted and sincere. It is only achieved through the total annihilation and extinction of the 'self' - and after that, there is the possibility to pass beyond all stations, levels and manifestations of the contingent phenomenal world. As the faith of believers deepens, so does acceptance of natural causes being expressions of Divine Will. This was articulated by the Prophet Ibrahim (a.s.) when he said, It is He who guides me and provides me with food and drink; and when I become sick, it is He who cures me; who will bring about my death; and it is He who will bring me to life and, I hope, forgive my iniquities on the Day of Judgement. (Qur’an 26:78-82)
The above statement does not negate the role of natural causation, but rather clarifies that natural causes are but tools through which Divine Will operates. It follows that in the comprehension of tawhid at its deepest level, a believer does not consider the salary paid by his/her employer as being the main provision for life, but sees that Allah Almighty is the true provider - and that His provision reaches them in the form of an employer's salary, maintenance provided, charity given or other means. Similarly, in seeking medical help, a patient will regard that help as coming from Allah, via the assistance of the National Health Service.
2.2 It is the Creator who makes the law
All societies have legal systems to establish and maintain order, regulate business and social relationships, safeguard rights and prevent anarchy. Without such controls chaos would reign.
Two types of law exist - that which is written and that which is not. The term 'unwritten law' refers to the common laws based upon customs that have obtained the force of law by being established with the implied consent and practice of illiterate people. Such laws have not been instituted by charter or parliament and are unrecorded and unregistered - other than in the memory of the people.
On the other hand, 'written laws' in most democratic systems emerge from a legislative body that has been elected by the people [parliament].
As far as 'religious law' is concerned, legislative authority lies entirely and absolutely in the hand of the Creator. Although jurists strive to apply Principles of Religion to contemporary issues of life, 'Revelation' is the bedrock upon which their analysis and conclusions rest. According to the Qur’an, Allah is both Creator and Lawmaker. When the Prophet Musa (a.s.) was ordered to invite the Pharaoh to the 'One True God', Pharaoh asked, 'Who is your Lord?' Musa replied, 'Our Lord is the One who created all things and then guided them' (Qur’an 20:50). Here, guidance refers to both spiritual enlightenment and legal order.
In a hadith reported from Imam Musa al-Kazim (a.s.), we are told that Allah has provided humanity with two sources of guidance - one internal, the other external. Internal guidance is provided by wisdom and the intellect, external guidance from Allah's Prophets. It is through this external resource and authority that the intellect is able to acquire comprehensive guidance. The human being is a complex, obscure and indivisible whole that cannot easily 'be known'. We still lack the methodology to enable us to understand all the various parts of the whole being. Numerous techniques and precise sciences are necessary even to study one small part of this complex system, let alone the complexity of the whole that incorporates the mysterious spiritual aspects of the soul. Only the ‘One who Created a Being’ is aware of its full complexity, capabilities and well-being.
Shariah is the technical term for religiously established laws, described in (Qur’an 45:18 as being 'the path to be followed'.As emphasized in Qur’an 42:13, Allah has ordained the religion that was enjoined upon Nuh (a.s.), Ibrahim (a.s.), Musa (a.s.) and Isa (a.s.) when He said, 'Establish the religion and do not be divided therein.'
Allah has no need for advantage or profit from ordaining the law and encouraging His creatures to follow the right path. Indeed, all 'dos' are purely for the advantage of His creatures - and all 'do nots' are purely to avert disadvantage from His creatures.
2.3 Messengers are human beings inspired by divine knowledge
Allah tells us in Surah 17 that the disbelievers in Makkah were not prepared to accept Muhammad (S) as Allah's Messenger without supernatural evidence for his claim of being the Prophet of God.
They said to him, 'We will not believe you [O Muhammad(S)] until you make a spring of water gush forth for us from this [arid] land. Or until you have a garden of palms and vines and make rivers suddenly surge through it. Or you cause, as you threaten, the heaven to shatter and drop upon us; or you bring Allah and the Angels face to face before us. Or you have a house of gold, or ascend into the heavens; and we will not believe you have been there unless you bring back a book which we may read. Say then (O Muhammad) "Glory to my Lord. I am only a mortal who has been sent as a Messenger."' (Qur’an, 17:90-93)
The reason for the above Ayat being revealed was because a group of well-known members of the Quraish tribe - including Walid, the son of Mughirah and Abu Jahl - had gathered near the Kaabah to request the Prophet Muhammad (S) to open discussions with them. The Prophet attended in the hope of guiding them towards the right path. The Makkan spokesperson began by listing the many changes Muhammad (S) had wrought to the traditions and customs of their tribe. He concluded, 'You have disrespected our gods, ridiculed our religion, annulled our ambitions and created disunity. If your purpose is to gain wealth, we are prepared to help you achieve that; if you are after political power, we are willing to establish you as the head of the tribe; if you are suffering from anything, we will assist you in any way we can.'
Muhammad's response was, 'I seek none of these; the truth is that Allah has sent me as a Messenger and revealed His Divine scripture for me to deliver to you. If you accept it, you will gain the prosperity of this life and the life hereafter. If you reject it, I will patiently persevere until Allah passes His Judgement between us.'
The spokesman replied, 'If you persevere, you will not find a place more uncongenial than our city - so ask your Lord to move these mountains and make rivers flow in our land like those of Syria and Iraq.'
The Prophet Muhammad (S) responded, 'I was not sent to do such things.' They said, 'Then ask your Lord to send down Angels to certify your status and to bestow on you castles of gold within lush gardens.'
The Prophet (S) said, 'I was not sent to do such things. I brought you what has been sent with me and what I have been ordered to deliver. If you do not accept this, I must leave the matter with Allah.'
They then said, 'Then cause, as you threaten, that the heavens shatter and drop down upon us.' He said, 'That is up to Allah.'
The Prophet then left. Abdullah, the nephew of Atikah and Abu Umayyah, went with him saying, 'O Muhammad (S), they made you generous and fair offers, yet you refused them. When they challenged you, you declined to accept their challenges, so we will not believe you until you ascend into the heavens and bring us back a book to read.'
Abu Jahl threatened, 'If he does not cease disrespecting our gods and ridiculing the customs of our ancestors, I will have a boulder dropped on him when he prostrates himself. 'The Prophet who hoped they would follow the right path, was disturbed by the incident until the above ayat were revealed.
If they thought all this would end the Prophet's claim to prophethood, he disappointed them. The Prophet's twofold response to the Makkan suggestions designed to safeguard idol worship and existing traditions, was:
1. Allah Almighty is glorified and above puerile requests.
2. That he like them. was human, while the supranatural incidents and miracles they demanded were under the sole control of Allah Almighty and could only be brought about with His permission.
The Holy Prophet (S), sent as a teacher of humankind, shared their joys and sorrows, mingled with them and was acquainted with their doings. He was merely a human being who had been inspired with Divine wisdom. There would have been no point in Allah sending angels as messengers. Had they been sent, they would have caused confusion rather than understanding.
The leader of society must match the nature of those who follow, be a role model whose characteristics people can emulate. This is not possible unless feelings, emotions and desires have a similar basis. Had the Messenger of Allah had no idea about anger, greed, jealousy, self-centeredness or other human emotions, how could he have been in the position to propose solutions for them?
Familiarity with the hardships, difficulties and sufferings of ordinary folk provides eligibility for a leader to empathize with his people and make realistic proposals. To give an example, Imam Ali (a.s.) wrote to his governor in Basra after the latter learned that he had attended a banquet.
Remember, everyone emulates their role model. Be informed that your leader [himself] has contented himself with two shabby garments out of all the comforts of the world - and only two loaves for his daily sustenance. It is unlikely that you will be able to do the same, but at least support me by remaining pious, chaste and upright. By Allah, I have no treasure of gold in this world nor have I plentiful wealth ...Should I be content with being called Commander of the Believers, even if I do not share with them their lives' hardships? ... I try to keep myself engaged in piety so that I am secure on the Day of Judgement and steady on the slippery path. If I wished, I could have found my way to pure honey, fine wheat and silken clothing - but I dare not allow passions to lead me to greed.1
It is clear from the above that Allah's Messengers are human beings who share the same qualities as all other human beings. Notwithstanding this, they have been inspired by Divine Will, and at Allah's discretion, to present miracles and supernatural evidence of His existence.
2.4 Humanity is en route to eternity
The materialists' vision of life is limited to the short period of existence that begins at birth and ends at death. They do not accept, and thus do not contemplate or have aspirations or objectives for, the time after death. In contrast, the Prophet of Islam emphasized that all of humanity is continuously and inexorably being driven towards eternity. Believers thus seek perfection - by the elimination of their shortcomings and negative thoughts - in pursuit of the elements of salvation and spiritual advancement.
Many ayat in the Qur’an point to the inevitability of humanity ultimately meeting their Lord: Truly, we are Allah's and to Him we shall return. (Qur’an 2:156)
Your final destination is with your Lord .. [on the Day of Resurrection]. (Qur’an 75:12)
You will be driven to your Lord on that day [Day of Resurrection]. (Qur’an 75:30)
And your Lord is your final destination. (Qur’an 53:42)
In Qur’anic terminology, 'The Lord' is the Absolute, Perfect, Limitless and Eternal Existent, and thus it is to this that the whole of humanity is being directed. Imam Ali (a.s.) described this temporary life as the bridge that spans the gap between 'that which is limited and that which is unlimited'. He explained the role of this analogy in the establishment of Islamic personality when he said, This world is a thoroughfare but the next world is a permanent abode. So, garner in this thoroughfare all that you will need in your final abode take your hearts away from this world - prior to your bodies being taken from it - because here you are 'on trial', but your destination is the everlasting hereafter. When a person dies people ask what property they have left - but the Angels ask what good actions they have sent forward. May Allah bless you - send forward something that will benefit you and do not leave anything behind that will be burdensome to you there.2
In some ayat of the Qur’an, those who do not strive for advancement in their spiritual life are described as losers, and in others as being animals. Vis-a-vis temporal and eternal life, Allah tells us in the Qur’an: You prefer the life of this world, even though the hereafter is everlasting and superior. Indeed, this is mentioned in previous scriptures, the scriptures of Ibrahim and Musa. (Qur’an 87:16-19)
2.5 Islamic jurisprudence - Shariah - is to guarantee justice
As in many legal systems, the 'beam-balance scale' - mizan - is used to represent the Islamic concept of 'equitable and unbiased justice' that is indispensable in all social and commercial interactions. Allah tells us in the Qur’an, 'Truly, Allah commands you to return everything that is placed in your trust and that when you pass judgment between people, to do so with justice' (Qur’an 4:58) - and no one is excluded from this ruling regardless of their status or position.
When a woman at the highest social level of the Makhzum clan was accused of theft, influential members of the tribe were fearful lest she be sentenced to have her hand amputated. In discussions over the societal effect of such an occurrence, they pondered on who should represent her when her case was put before the Prophet (S) - Knowing of the Prophet's high regard for Uthman bin Zayd, they asked him to plead for mercy on her behalf. The Prophet responded to Uthman bin Zayd's plea with the question, 'Are you asking me to violate a decree of Allah?' He continued, 'The communities that preceded you were destroyed, because regardless of their being found guilty, those at the highest social levels were not obliged to fulfill the terms of their sentences, while in sharp contrast, lower socio-economic groups could not evade being punished for their misdeeds. By Allah, had Fatimah (a.s.) been convicted of stealing, I would have had her hand cut off.'
When Imam Ali's (a.s.) blind brother Aqil asked him for extra funds from the Bayt al-Mal. his irritated response was, By Allah, I would rather lie sleepless on a bed of thorns, or be driven a captive in chains, than have to meet Allah and His Messenger on the Day of Judgment as an oppressor of people or a usurper of worldly wealth ...I saw my destitute brother Aqil beg me for three kilograms from your share of wheat, and I saw his emaciated children suffering the pangs of hunger. He came several times to repeat his request in the hope I would sell my faith to meet his need. When I heated a piece of iron and brought it close to his body so that he could feel its heat, he cried out in pain. I then said to him, 'Aqil, why do you cry on account of the heat of this piece of iron while you try to drive me towards the fire that Allah Almighty has promised those who violate his just ruling?'3
Imam Ali (a.s.) was punctilious about both the collection and distribution of Bayt al-Mal funds and the behavior of appointed governors. He wrote to the governor of Azerbaijan: Certainly, your assignment is not to provide you with the means to accumulate wealth; it is in reality a trust around your neck. Until passed on to me you are liable for the funds in your safekeeping - for they are the property of Allah Almighty. 4
On another occasion, Imam Ali (a.s.) wrote to the governor of Basra: If I should discover you have misappropriated any Muslim funds, large or small, I shall inflict punishment upon you that will leave you empty-handed, heavily burdened and utterly humiliated.5
Although affection and kindness between people is a sign of Allah's Mercy to His creatures, the establishment of justice in an absolute and uncompromising way has a significant role in every aspect of Shariah.
1. Nahj al Balaghah, Letter No.45.
2. Nahjul Balaghahh, Sermon 203.
3. Nahjul Balaghahh, Sermon 224.
4. Nahjul Balaghahh, Letter No.5.
5. Nahjul Balaghahh, Letter No. 20.