Individual Duties in Islam
No matter what policy or course of action man pursues in his life, indeed he looks after nothing but his happiness and prosperity. The recognition of the happiness of something is of minor importance with regard to-the recognition of the thing itself; that is, unless we know ourselves, we will not know our actual needs whose fulfilment provides us with happiness. Therefore, the most essential duty of man is to know himself so as to perceive his happiness and prosperity and endeavour to fulfil his needs by the means that are at his disposal. He must not waste away his valuable life which is his only treasure.
The Holy Prophet (SA) states: "whoever knows himself knows his Allah".
And Amir al-Mu'minin, 'Ali (AS), states: "whoever knows himself, attains the highest position of knowledge."
After knowing himself, man realizes that his greatest duty is to value highly the essence of his humanity and not to trample upon such a valuable treasure. He also finds that he must strive for his physical and mental health so as to attain a prosperous and delightful eternal life.
Amir al-Mu'minin, 'Ali (AS) states: "Carnal desires will be low and insignificant to whoever respects himself."
The entity of man is comprised of two things: self or personality and body. It is man's responsibility to try to keep both these essential parts, i.e., the self or soul and body healthy and stable. He is duty bound to endeavour for the health of his soul and body in accordance with the adequate and precise orders given on both of them by the holy religion of Islam.
Abstaining from Harmful Things: Through a series of rules and regulations, the holy religion of Islam has adequately safeguarded the physical health such as enjoining people not to eat corpse, blood, flesh of some animals, and poisonous food; prohibiting them from drinking alcoholic beverages and polluted water; over eating; causing harm to the body; and other directives which are beyond the scope of this chapter.
Keeping Clean: Cleanliness is one of the most important principles of health. For this reason, great importance has been attached to this principle in the holy Shari'ah of Islam. The importance given by Islam to cleanliness cannot be found in any other religion.
The Holy Prophet (SA) has stated: "Cleanliness is a part and parcel of Islamic faith" and this, by itself, is the greatest praise for cleanliness.
Repeated recommendations have reached us from the leaders of Islam in regard to taking bath. Al-'Imam Musa ibn Ja'far (AS) states: "Taking a bath every other day makes man healthy and stout."
Al-'Imam 'Ali (AS) states: "Bathroom is a very good place since it removes the dirtiness of man."
In addition to giving general orders concerning cleanliness and neatness, Islam enjoins in particular for each and every cleanliness; for instance, it orders the people to pare the nails of their hands and feet, to shave arid remove the excess hair on their bodies and heads, to wash their hands before and after meals, to comb their hair, to gargle with water and inhale water, to sweep their homes, and to keep clean the roads, house doors, ground under the trees, etc.
Beside these orders, Islam has specified certain actions which are linked with permanent taharah and neatness such as for reciting salat and having sawm, removing the najasahs (impurities) from the body and the clothes, performing several times everyday the wudu' before reciting the salawat, and performing various ghusls. (taking bath according to the specified Islamic manner). From the fact that water should reach the surface of the body during wudu' before salat and ghusl and that the body should not be dirty and greasy, it becomes clear that the cleanliness of the body is implicitly essential.
The Neatness of Clothes: The Surat al-Muddaththir is one of the suwar which was revealed to the Holy Prophet (SA) in the early stages of his prophetic mission. In the fourth verse of this surah, Allah orders the people for taharah of their clothes: "And do taharah of your garments (74:4)."
The taharah of garments is wajib for salat according to specific Islamic jurisprudential order, but, in general, taharah from uncleanliness and dirtiness is always recommended. Many recommendations have reached us from each of the Fourteen Ma'sumin (AS) in this regard. The Holy Prophet (SA) states: "Whoever puts on clothes should clean them as well." Amir al-Mu'minin, 'Ali (AS) states: "Washing garments relieves one from grief and anxiety and neat clothes are a means for acceptance of his salat."
It has been narrated from al-'Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq (AS) and al-'Imam Musa al-Kazim (AS) that possessing ten or twenty shirts and changing them is not extravagance.
In addition to the cleanliness and taharah of garments and body, a Muslim must also be well-dressed and must meet the people with the best possible appearance and looks. Al-'Imam 'Ali (AS) states: "Put on beautiful clothes and dress yourself up, for Allah is good and likes the good things, but these should be religiously lawful." Then, al-'Imam 'Ali (AS) reads the following verse:
"Say: Who has prohibited the embellishment of Allah which He has brought forth for His servants and the good provisions...(7:32)?"
Gargling with Water and Brushing the Teeth: Being a channel for food, the mouth of man gets contaminated due to eating food. Food particles remain in the roots of the teeth, on the tongue, and in all other parts of the mouth thus rendering the mouth contaminated and malodorous. Sometimes, as a result of fermentations and chemical actions and reactions that take place in food particles , poisonous matters are formed which get mixed with the food and then enter the stomach. Moreover, the breath of such a person in a gathering pollutes the air and annoys other people.
Therefore, the holy religion of Islam has ordered the Muslims to brush their teeth everyday (especially before each wudu') gargle their mouth with pure water, and clean their mouth from contamination.
The Holy Prophet (SA) states: "If it were not for the fear of hardship and indigence, I would have made brushing the teeth wajib upon Muslims." Elsewhere, the Holy Prophet (SA) states: "Jibril always recommended brushing the teeth to an extent that I even imagined it would become incumbent upon the Muslims later on."
Breathing: Breathing is one of the essential needs of man in his life. Quite often, the current of air surrounding man's residential area is not without dust and dirt. Surely, breathing such an air is harmful for the respiratory system. To protect against this harm, the Compassionate Allah has provided hair inside man's nose. This hair prevents the entrance of dust and dirt into the lungs. Nevertheless, sometimes the hair of the nose cannot fully perform its function because of the accumulation of dirt and dust in the nose. For this reason, Islam has issued orders for Muslims to inhale water several times a day while having wudu' so as to protect the health of their respiratory system by inhaling clean water through their nostrils.
Moral Refinement: With his Allah-given conscience, man perceives the value of praiseworthy ethics and realises its significance from the individual and social viewpoints. Thus, there is no one in the human society who does not praise good ethics and who does not respect those who are endowed with praiseworthy ethics.
The value that man attaches for praiseworthy ethics needs no further explanation and the elaborate orders of Islam on ethics are thoroughly clear for everybody.
The Almighty Allah states: "And the soul and Him Who made it pure, then He inspired it to understand what is right and wrong for it; he will indeed be successful who purifies it, and he will indeed fail who corrupts it (91:7-10)."
While interpreting this verse, al-'Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq (AS) has stated: "The Almighty Allah has revealed to man the things which are good for him and must be put into effect and the things which are bad for him and must be avoided."
RECEIVING EDUCATION AND KNOWLEDGE
One of the praiseworthy intellectual attributes is to have knowledge. The virtue and superiority of a knowledgeable man over an ignorant person is absolutely clear.
Wisdom and knowledge distinguish a man from other animals. Other animals, with their particular characteristics, are endowed with invariable instincts in accordance with which they meet the needs of their lives. There is no scope for elevation and progress in the lives of animals and they cannot open up new gates to themselves and to others. It is only man who augments his existing knowledge with new knowledge through his wisdom and attains a new value and splendour for his materialistic and spiritual life by discovering the laws of nature and metaphysics. It is only man who takes a deep look into the past periods and lays the foundation for his own future and the future of others.
More than all the new and old social systems of all religions and faiths, Islam encourages the people to acquire knowledge and learning. In order to establish a fundamental culture and civilization, Islam has made receiving the education as wajib upon every Muslim man and woman. Many orders have been handed down to us from the Holy Prophet (SA) and religious leaders in this regard. The Holy Prophet (SA) states: "Education is wajib upon every Muslim." In this hadith, knowledge is described in an absolute form and includes all branches of science. There is no exception even as far as women and men are concerned. Thus, the acquisition of knowledge and learning in Islam is not intended to apply only to a particular nature or type. On the contrary, the duty of acquiring knowledge is universal and all-embracing.
The Holy Prophet (SA) also states: "Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave." Every religious precept has a specific time and for all of them maturity is a necessary condition: i.e., the person, for whom the religious principles are applicable, must have reached maturity. The religious precepts are not wajib upon a person unless he has reached maturity. Some of the religious wajibat are no longer applicable during old age and at the time of weakness, but acquiring knowledge and learning is wajib for man since his birth until his death. In other words, acquiring knowledge is wajib at all the stages of man's life. On the basis of this principle, a Muslim should acquire knowledge all through his life and should add to his knowledge day by day. This hadith, too, has extended and generalized the time of this wajib obligation.
The Holy Prophet (SA) also states: "Go for seeking knowledge even if it may be in China (i.e., far away)." Another hadith states: "Knowledge is the most valuable thing that the believer has lost. He should go after it, even if he finds it in China (the farthest points in the world)." According to this commandment, every Muslim is obliged to acquire knowledge even if long journeys are required for this purpose. Finally, he should endeavour to find at any cost what he has lost.
The Holy Prophet (SA) also said in another hadih: "knowledge is what a believer has lost. He must get it back from wherever he finds." However, in acquiring knowledge, the only condition is that it should be appropriate and beneficial to the societies.
Islam highly recommends man to know the secrets of creation and to think about the heavens, the earth, the human nature, the history of nations and peoples, and the works of former generations (philosophy, mathematics, natural sciences, etc). Also, learning moral and religious matters (ethics and Islamic laws) and different kinds of arts which shape man's life are highly encouraged and stressed by Islam. Indeed, the importance of knowledge is so great from the viewpoint of the Holy Prophet (SA) that in the Battle of Badr when the Muslims took a group of the unbelievers as captives, the Holy Prophet (SA) ordered every captive to be released by paying exorbitant sums of money. Only a group of the captives, who were literate, became exempt from paying such money provided that each of them teaches ten Muslim youths to read and write.
Thus for the first time, adult schools (adult classes) were established in the world and this great honour was ascribed to the Muslims in the history of the world. Interestingly enough, once for all in the history of man, teaching knowledge was accepted instead of war-spoils by the order of the Holy Prophet (SA). Neither before nor after that had anyone in the world witnessed a victorious commander accept the teaching of children instead of ransom and war-spoils.
The Holy Prophet (SA) went to those adult classes in person and took with him those who knew reading and writing. He asked them to test the children to find out how much progress they had made in their lessons and practice. The Holy Prophet (SA) used to encourage more any child who was found more diligent in learning.
Even one of the historians writes: "A woman named "Al-Shifa'," who had learned reading and writing during the "period of ignorance," used to go to the house of the Holy Prophet (SA) and teach the wives of the Holy Prophet (SA) how to read and write. For this reason, she was appreciated, encouraged, and rewarded by the Holy Prophet (SA)."
THE VALUE AND IMPORTANCE OF A STUDENT FROM THE VIEWPOINT OF ISLAM
The importance of endeavour in attaining any objective equals the objective itself. Since every man, with his Allah given nature, considers the importance of knowledge in the human world higher than anything else, the value of one who seeks knowledge will be the highest of all. Since the religion of Islam is established on the basis of man's nature, it undoubtedly attaches the highest value to students. The Holy Prophet (SA) stated: "He who is engaged in acquiring knowledge is loved by Allah."
Although jihad (Islamic war) is one of the pillars of Islam and if the Holy Prophet (SA) or any of the infallible Imams (AS) issues the order for war, all Muslims must take part in it, those who are engaged in learning Islamic sciences and theology are exempt from this duty. At all times, a sufficient number of Muslims must engage themselves in studying at Islamic education centres. The Almighty Allah states: "And it does not beseem the believers that they should go forth all together; why should not then a section from every group from among them go forth that they may apply themselves to obtain understanding in religion, and that they may warn their people when they come back to them that they may be cautious (9:122)?"
THE IMPORTANCE OF A TEACHER AND AN INSTRUCTOR
The teacher is a warm and luminous centre who gets strength from the light of knowledge in order to eradicate ignorance and illiteracy in the whole world. It is the teacher who makes the blind-hearted and the ignorants clear-sighted and wise and takes them, with the assistance of the luminous torch of knowledge and education, to the holy valley and the heaven of prosperity.
For this reason, respect for teachers is essential and obedience towards them is obligatory in the religion of Islam. Teachers are considered the holiest and the most exalted individuals in the human society. Regarding the great and deserving status of teachers, it suffices to say that Amir al-Mu'minin, 'Ali (AS) states: "He who taught me a word has indeed made me his slave."
These wise words are very valuable in paying respect to the status of teachers.
Also, Amir al-Mu'minin states: "The people are divided into three groups: the first group consists of the 'ulama' of Islam; the second one consists of those who acquire knowledge for the salvation of themselves and others; and the third one consists of those who lack knowledge and wisdom. These (people constituting the third group) people are like flies that sit on the head and face of animals and fly in different directions with the blow of each wind (or fly in any direction from which they smell bad odour of filth)".
PAYING RESPECT TO THE LEARNED MEN
While describing about the high status and value of knowledge and the dignity of the learned men, the Holy Qur'an states: "...Allah will exalt those of you who believe, and those who are given knowledge, in high degrees...(58:11)."
The value of scholars is so great to the Prophet (SA) of Islam that he stated: "The death of a tribe is easier and less detrimental than the death of a scholar." Similarly, the Almighty Allah also states in another verse: "...Are those who know and those who do not know alike? Only the men of understanding are mindful (39:9)."
Thus the alim (Islamic scholar) and the ignorant are never alike. A learned and wise man has obvious superiority over anyone who lacks knowledge. The conclusion drawn from this Qur'anic verse indicates that in the view of the Qur'an the term 'knowledge' does not exclusively apply to Islamic knowledge, rather it covers anything which gives man insight and enlightenment and helps him in his worldly and heavenly affairs.
Regarding the superiority of scholars over the worshippers of Allah and the devout people, the following has been related from al-'Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (AS): "A scholar who puts his knowledge into use is superior to seventy thousand worshippers and has preference over them."
The Prophet (SA) of Islam believes that the status of personality of a man is determined by his knowledge. The Holy Prophet (SA) states: "The most learned man is one who adds to his own knowledge by deriving benefit from the knowledge of others. The value of man is determined by his knowledge. Thus, the more knowledgeable a man is, the more valuable he is, and also the less knowledgeable a man is, the less valuable he is."
THE DUTIES OF TEACHERS AND STUDENTS
The Holy Qur'an considers knowledge and learning as man's true life, because in the absence of knowledge, man would not have been different from an inanimate object and a deceased person.
Therefore, a student should consider his teacher as a focus of life from whom he gradually receives details of his actual life. For this reason, he should owe his life to the teacher and should not fall short of respecting him. He must not show stubbornness in receiving lessons from the teacher even if they are accompanied with harshness. The student must respect his teacher in his presence or absence and during his lifetime and after his death.
Similarly, the teacher should also feel responsible for the life of his students. He must not be tired nor he must take rest as long as he has not led his students to the status of live and honourable men. The teacher should not get disappointed if at times the students do not exercise proper care to receiving his teachings. He must encourage and reward his students if they progress in their education. The teacher must never depress the morale of his students by his words and deeds.
TWO IMPORTANT MASTERPIECES IN THE TEACHINGS OF ISLAM
Each of the social policies that is current in various human societies contains a series of secrets. If these secrets become manifest to the people, the status of the leaders of the society and their carnal desires will be jeopardized. For this reason, they always hide some realities from the public. The reason behind this is that most of the matters are the creations of their minds. Since these are against reason and the interest of the community and the individuals, they are afraid that they would face a flood of objections and the jeopardy of their interests if these secrets are discovered. For this reason, Christian churches and the intellectual and spiritual centres of other religions do not allow the people to think freely, rather they reserve the right of changing and explaining the religious teachings and the contents of religious books for themselves. They say that it is the duty of the people to accept whatever they say indisputably and without any discussion and inquisitiveness. It is this very policy that h us marred many religious policies. The existing policy of Christianity is a veracious proof for this statement.
But since Islam has confidence in its rightfulness, unlike all other religious and non-religious policies, it sees no ambiguity or lack of clarity in its path.
(1) Islam does not conceal any rightful matter, nor does it allow its followers to keep any rightful matters as secrets. This is because the laws of this pure religion are formulated according to the laws of nature and creation, thus none of its truths and realities can be denied.
Concealing realities is one of the major sins. In His words, the Almighty Allah has cursed those who conceal the truth, where He states: "Surely those who conceal the clear proofs and the guidance that We revealed after We made it clear in the Book for men, these it is whom Allah shall curse and those who curse shall curse them (too) (2:159)."
(2) Islam has ordered its followers to think freely about the realities and the teachings and to stop moving along whenever they see the slightest ambiguity; so that their clear faiths may always remain intact from the harm of the darkness of any doubts and uncertainties. Islam also orders the people to try to remove any doubts and uncertainties in a just and truth-seeking manner and strive to solve them freely if they are faced with them. The Almighty Allah states: "And follow not that of which you have not the knowledge...(17:36)."
ABSTAINING FROM FREE THINKING AND EXPRESSION OF TRUTH
The perception of the realities through thinking and reflection and their recognition are the most valuable virtues of man, the only feature of his superiority over other animals, and the basis of his dignity and honour. The feeling of love for humanity and the instinct of realism will never allow man to be deprived of the freedom of thought by the imposition of imitative thinking. Neither will they allow wisdom to be led astray by concealing the realities, so that divine thinking would cease. This fact, however, should not be neglected that when man is unable to understand a reality or when, due to stubbornness and persistence of the other side, there is no hope for the establishment of reality and its expression will cause a loss to man's property, life, and, reputation, the instinct of realism and the love for humanity judge on the contrary. In order to respect the reality and to safeguard man from the danger of aberration and other dangers to his property, life, and honour, the instinct of realism and humanity call for the concealment of realities.
Through many ahadith, the Imams of Ahl al-Bayt (AS) have seriously prohibited the people from thinking on some of the realities which are beyond the level of understanding of man.
The Almighty Allah authorizes the concealment of reality in the case of taqiyyah (dissimulation) in two instances (Holy Qur'an, Surah 3, Ayah 28 and Surah 16, Ayah 106).
In several cases, Islam considers the concealment of truths and realities not only harmless but also necessary:
(1) Taqiyyah is applied where there is no hope for the establishment of truth and when the expression of the truth will cause danger to one's property, life, and honour.
(2) When truth is not intelligible for someone and its expression may lead him astray or may cause disdain and insult towards the truth.
(3) When due to the lack of capability free thinking reveals the truth in an untrue way and leads to aberration.
IJTIHAD AND TAQLID
The requirements of man in his environment and the measures that he must take to arrange them are so great that a common man cannot enumerate them let alone specializing in all of them and obtaining enough knowledge concerning them.
On the other hand, since man performs his tasks by means of thinking and will power, he should have sufficient information when he wants to take a decision. He will be unable to take decisions if he lacks sufficient information. He must either be fully qualified himself to take any course of action or he must ask someone who is endowed with qualifications and so perform his duties according to his instructions. For instance, we instinctively refer to a doctor for the treatment of our ailments, to a civil engineer for the plan of a building, to a mason for masonry work, and to a carpenter for making doors and windows.
Thus we always spend our lives by means of taqlid or following others even for insignificant matters.
Whoever says: "I do not follow another person in my life", either he does not understand the meaning of his words or is affected by a mental sickness. Islam, which has based its religious laws on the human nature, has also adopted the same policy.
Islam orders its followers to learn the religious teachings and precepts. The source of these teachings is nothing but the Divine Book, i.e., Qur'an and the ahadith of the Holy Prophet (SA) and the infallible Imams of Ahl al-Bayt (AS).
It is obvious that obtaining all religious teachings from the Qur'an and the ahadith is not an easy task. Such a task is not possible for all Muslims and only a limited number of people can accomplish this task.
Therefore, this religious order naturally takes the form that a group of Muslims, who are not able to acquire the teachings and precepts through reasoning, should refer to those who have obtained the Islamic commandments through proofs and reasoning, and should then perform their duties.
A scholar who obtains Islamic commandments through proofs and reasoning is called "mujtahid" and his endeavour in this regard is called "ijtihad" One who refers to the mujtahid is called "muqallid" (one who follows a mujtahid's instructions for performing his deeds) and his referring to the mujtahid is called taqlid (following a mujtahid in practising Islamic laws).
Surely, it should be known that taqlid holds true in worships, transactions, and other practical rules of Islam, but in regard to Usul al-Din (the fundamental principles of Islam) which are matters of belief, one can never have confidence in the views of others and cannot content himself with following them. This is because in the case of the fundamental principles of Islam, faith and belief are desirable and not action. We can never consider the faith of others to be our own.
It cannot be said that Allah is One because our fathers or scholars say so or that the Hereafter is true since all Muslims believe in it.
Therefore, it is incumbent upon every Muslim to know the Usul al-Din of his religion through reasoning and proof even if it may be a very simple one.