Islam: basic principles & characteristics –I

Islam is the religion of truth. It is the embodiment of the code of life, which Allaah, the Creator and Lord of the Universe, has revealed for the guidance of mankind.

The Meaning of Islam:

Islam is an Arabic word which denotes submission, surrender and obedience. As a religion, Islam stands for complete submission and obedience to Allaah – that is why it is called Islam.  The other literal meaning of the word Islam is “peace” and this signifies that one can achieve real peace of body and mind only through submission and obedience to Allaah. Such a life of obedience brings peace of the heart and establishes real peace in society. As Allaah Says (what means): “Those who believe and whose hearts find rest in the remembrance of Allaah – indeed it is in the remembrance of Allaah alone that the heart of man finds rest –those who believe and act righteously, joy is for them, and a blissful home to return:” [Quran: 13:28-29]

The basic Islamic concept is that the whole universe was created by God, whom Islam calls “Allaah” and who is the Lord and the Sovereign of the Universe. He is the Lord of the Universe, which He Alone sustains.  He created man and appointed for each human being a fixed period of life, which he is to spend upon the earth.

Allaah has prescribed a certain code of life as the correct one for him, but has, at the same time, conferred upon man freedom of choice as to whether or not he adopts this code as the actual basis of his life.  One, who chooses to follow the code, revealed by Allaah becomes a Muslim (believer) and one, who refuses to follow it, becomes a Kaafir (disbeliever).

A man joins the fold of Islam by honestly believing in and professing faith in the Oneness of Allaah and the Prophethood of Muhammad  . Both these beliefs are epitomised in the Kalimah (Article of Faith): ‘Laa ilaaha illallaah Muhammadur-Rasoolullaah.’  (i.e., there is no trie deity except Allaah, and Muhammad is His Prophet.)

The first part of this Kalimah (sentence) presents the concept of Tawheed (Oneness of God) and its second part affirms the Prophethood of Muhammad .

Tawheed:  The Bedrock of Islam

Tawheed is a concept that was preached by every Prophet of Allaah and, thus, constitutes the essence of the teachings of Islam.  It means that there is only One Supreme Lord of the Universe.  He is Omnipotent, Omni-present and the Sustainer of the world and of mankind.

We witness a superbly flawless plan in the universe – can it be without a Planner? We see great enchanting beauty and harmony in its working –  can they be without a Creator? We observe wonderful design in nature –  can it be without a Designer? We feel a lofty purpose in physical and human existence – can it be without a Will working behind it? We find that the universe is like a superbly written, fascinating book – can it be without an Author? Truly, Allaah Says (what means): “O mankind! Worship your Lord, who created you and those before you, that you may become righteous – [He] who made for you the earth a bed [spread out] and the sky a ceiling and sent down from the sky, rain and brought forth thereby fruits as provision for you. So do not attribute to Allaah equals while you know [that there is nothing similar to Him].” [Quran: 2:21-22]

This is the basic tenet to which Prophet Muhammad  asked humanity to adhere.  It is an important metaphysical concept and answers the riddles of the universe.  It points to the supremacy of law in the cosmos, the all-pervading unity behind the manifest diversity.

Prophethood & Life After Death:

The second part of the Kalimah, on the other hand, signifies that Allaah has not left man without any guidance for the conduct of his life. He has revealed His Guidance through His Prophets, and Muhammad  was the last of them.

Thus the second basic postulate of Islam is to believe in the Prophethood of Muhammad  to accept the religion which he presented and to follow his commands and his example.

Every Prophet of Allaah, according to the Quran, strove to build man’s relationship with Allaah on the principle of Allaah’s sovereignty and acknowledgement of the authority of the Prophet as a source of Divine Guidance. Every one of them said:  “I am to you Allaah’s apostle, worthy of all trust.  So be committed to Allaah, heed Him, and obey me.”

The Guidance is revealed through the Prophets. It is a part of their mission to translate it into practice – in their own lives and in the society they try to reform. All the Prophets are representatives of Allaah, but they are human beings and their lives are models for mankind. Prophet Muhammad  is the last Prophet and, as such, the final model for mankind. To believe in him means to accept his authority as representative of the Supreme Ruler and to follow his example in thought and behaviour.

The code of behaviour and the law which is used to decide the rightness or otherwise (Halal and Haram) of any particular thing, is given by Allaah through the Prophet  and is known as the Sharee’ah (the path). Belief in the Prophet  involves acceptance of the Sharee’ah and its implementation in all matters of daily life. This is how the Will of Allaah is fulfilled on earth.  The Quran says (what means): “And We did not send any messenger except to be obeyed by permission of Allaah…” [Quran: 4: 64]

And about the last Prophet  it is explicitly stated that: “But no, by your Lord, they will not [truly] believe until they make you [O Muhammad], judge concerning that over which they dispute among themselves and then find no discomfort from what you have judged and submit in [full, willing] submission.” [Quran:4:65]


Thus the basic articles of Islamic faith are three, viz.:

a)                       Belief in the Oneness of Allaah;

b)                       Belief in the Prophethood of Muhammad  and in the Guidance which he bequeathed; and

c)                       Belief in Life after Death and in man’s accountability before Allaah on the Day of Judgement.

Whoever professes these beliefs is a Muslim.  And all these concepts are epitomised in the Kalimah: “There is no god but Allaah; Muhammad is His Prophet.”

Some Basic Characteristics of Islam:

George Bernard Shaw is reported to have said: “I have always held the religion of Muhammad in high estimation because of its wonderful vitality. It is the only religion, which appears to me to possess that assimilating capacity to the changing phases of existence, which can make itself appeal to every age.  I have studied him  – the wonderful man – and, in ‘my opinion’ far from being an anti-Christ, he must be called the Saviour of Humanity.  I believe that if a man like him were to assume the dictatorship of the modern world, he would succeed in solving its problems in a way that would bring it much-needed peace and happiness: I have prophesised about the faith of Muhammad that it would be acceptable to the Europe of tomorrow as it is beginning to be acceptable to the Europe of today.”

The question is what are those characteristics of Islam, which have won millions of followers to the Faith in the past and which make it so appealing to the modern age?  Some of the major characteristics of Islam are given in the following pages.

Simplicity, Rationality and Practicality

Islam is a religion without any mythology.  Its teachings are simple and intelligible. It is free from superstitions and irrational beliefs. The Oneness of Allaah, the Prophethood of Muhammad  and the concept of Life after Death are the basic articles of its faith. They are based on reason and sound logic. All the teachings of Islam follow from those basic beliefs and are simple and straightforward.  There is no hierarchy of priests, no far-fetched abstractions, no complicated rites and rituals. Everybody may approach the Book of Allaah directly and translate its dictates into practice according to the proper understanding of the Quran and Sunnah (the way of the Prophet .

Islam awakens in man the faculty of reason and exhorts him to use his intellect. It enjoins him to see things in the light of reality. The Quran advised him to pray (what means): “…My Lord! Increase me in knowledge.” [Quran: 20:114] It asserts that those who have no knowledge are not equal to those who have [Quran: 39:9]; that those who do not observe and understand are worse than cattle [Quran: 7:179]; that the meanings of revelation become manifest to those “…who have knowledge…” [Quran: 6:97] and those “…who have understanding…” [Quran: 6:98]; and that: “…Whoever has been given wisdom has certainly been given much good…” [Quran: 2:269]

The Prophet of Islam.  has said the following: “He who leaves his home in search of knowledge walks in the path of Allaah.”  [Tirmithi & Daarimi]        “To seek knowledge is obligatory for every Muslim.” [Ibn Majah & Bayhaqi] “Acquire knowledge, because he who acquires it in the way of the Lord, performs an act of piety; he who disseminates it, bestows alms and he who imparts it to others, performs an act of devotion to God.”

This is how Islam brings man out of the world superstition and darkness and initiates him into that of Knowledge and Light.

Again, Islam is a practical religion and does not allow indulgence in empty and futile theorising. It says that faith is not a mere profession of beliefs; it is the very mainspring of life.

Unity of Matter and Spirit

A unique feature of Islam is that it does not divide life into watertight compartments of matter and spirit.  It stands, not for life-denial, but for life-fulfillment. Islam does not believe in asceticism. It does not ask man to avoid all things material. It holds that spiritual elevation is not to be achieved by living piously in the rough and tumble of life, and not by renouncing the world. The Quran advises us to pray as follows: “…’Our Lord! Give us in this world [that which is] good and in the Hereafter [that which is] good and protect us from the punishment of the fire.’” [Quran: 2:201]

Allaah strongly censures those who refuse to benefit from His blessings.  Allaah Says (what means): “Say: ‘Who has forbidden the adornment of [i.e., from] Allaah which He has produced for His servants and the good [lawful] things of provision?’” [Quran: 7:32]

Islam’s injunction is: “…Eat and drink, but be not excessive…”  [Quran: 7:31]

The Noble Prophet  said: “A Muslim, who lives in the midst of society and bears with patience the afflictions that come to him, is better than the one who shuns society and can not bear any wrong done to him.”’

On another occasion he  said: “The three things are also enjoined upon the faithful: to help others, even when one is economically hard-pressed; to pray ardently for the peace of all mankind; and to administer justice to one’s own self.”

Thus, Islam does not admit any separation between “material” and “moral”, “mundane” and “spiritual” life, and enjoins man to devote all his energies to the reconstruction of life on healthy moral foundations. It teaches him that moral and material powers must be welded together and spiritual salvation can be achieved by using material resources for the good of man in the service of just ends. It does not advocate living a life of asceticism by running away from the challenges of life.

The world has suffered at the hands of the one-sidedness of many a religion and ideology.  Some have laid emphasis on the spiritual side of life, but have ignored its material and mundane aspects. They have looked upon the world as an illusion, a deception and a trap.

On the other hand, materialistic ideologies have totally ignored the spiritual and moral side of life and have dismissed it as fictitious and imaginary. Both these attitudes have spelt disaster. They have robbed mankind of peace, contentment and tranquillity. Even today the imbalance is manifest in one or the other direction.

A French scientist, Dr. De Brogbi, rightly says: “The danger inherent in too intense a material civilization is to that civilization itself; it is the disequilibrium which would result, if a parallel development of the spiritual life were to fail to provide the needed balance.

“Christianity erred on one extreme; modern Western civilization, in both of its variants of secular capitalistic democracy and Marxist socialism, has erred on the other.”

According to Lord Snell: “We have built a nobly-proportioned outer structure, but we have neglected the essential requirement of an inner order; we have carefully designed, decorated and made clean the outside of the cup; used our increased knowledge and power to administer to the comforts of the body, but we left the spirit impoverished.”

Islam aims at establishing an equilibrium between these two aspects of life – the material and the spiritual.

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