What is the Qur'anic view of religion?
The Qur’an uses the word ‘din’, usually translated as ‘religion’,
in different contexts with different meanings. Judging, rewarding or punishing
(1.4; 51.6; 82.18-9; 37.53; 56.86); way, law, constitution (12.76); penal law
(24.2), the collection of moral, spiritual and worldly principles, system, way
of conduct (33.5; 40.26); servanthood, obedience (16.52); peace, order (8.39)
are the most important and frequently used of these meanings.
With Islam God completed the religion He revealed and chose for mankind.
Literally, Islam means ‘submission, peace and salvation’. In its most essential
or fundamental aspect, Islam is epitomized in the most frequently recited of
all Qur’anic phrases, the Basmala — In the name of God, the Merciful
(al-Rahman), the Compassionate (al-Rahim). Both words are related
to the quality of rahma, meaning mercy and compassion. God manifests
Himself essentially through His absolute, all-inclusive Mercy and Compassion,
and Islam is founded upon that affirmation. The mission of the Prophet Muhammad,
with whom God sent Islam to mankind, is called in the Qur’an “a
mercy for all the worlds”, for the whole of creation.
Islam is uncompromisingly monotheistic. The concept that begins and ends
Islamic theology is the Unity of God. In the light of that concept, the universe
is seen as an integral whole, whose parts are all interrelated and co-operative.
That is why there is such a splendid co-ordination, harmony and order throughout
the universe and within each individual organism, including man. The harmony
and orderliness prevalent in the universe and man come from the Unity of God
Who alone created them and He is absolute, without partner or peer or like.
The universe operative according to the laws God has established, is, in the
literal sense of the word, Muslim, absolutely submitted to God. That is why
there is stability, order and harmony in the operations of the universe.
Nevertheless, among creatures man has been equipped with freedom of will.
While the other creatures are unable to fully manifest the Divine Names the
All-Willing, the All-Knowing and the All-Speaking, man has so comprehensive
a nature as to be a perfect mirror to God’s Names and Attributes. God has also
equipped him with the knowledge of things or a capacity to learn and discover
— ‘names’, in the language of the Qur’an — and made him His vicegerent to rule
on the earth according to His laws. But, having free will means being faced
by choices, so man’s life is the course of his choices between the opposed possibilities
of right and wrong.
Religion is a universal intellect, a guidance from beyond human reason and
So that he may survive and fulfil his functions as God’s vicegerent, man
is empowered with three principal faculties. These are his appetites — for the
opposite sex, offspring, livelihood, commodities, etc.; his anger or forcefulness
in defense and struggle; and his power of reasoning or intellect. Since man
is tested in his worldly life and has freedom of will, these faculties are not
restricted in creation by God. However, man’s individual and collective happiness
lies in his disciplining them for the sake of a harmonious, peaceful social
life. Unless he so disciplines them, these faculties may drive man to immorality,
illicit sexual relationships, unlawful livelihood, tyranny, injustices, deception
and falsehood, and other vices. To prevent the chaos and suffering that must
follow undisciplined exercise of human powers, man must submit to an authority
that will guide and regulate his collective affairs. Since subjugating some
people to others more wealthy and powerful means an open injustice and it is
impossible for humankind to find out a justice to encompass all people, there
is need for a universal intellect, a guidance from beyond human reason and human
experience, to whose authority all may freely give their assent. That guidance
is the religion revealed and perfected for man by God through His Prophets,
Islam is the name of the religion which God revealed to mankind through
all of the Prophets
Islam is the name of the religion which God revealed to mankind through all
of the Prophets. All of them, upon them be peace, came with the same essentials
of belief — belief in the existence and Unity of God; belief in the final destruction
of the world and the Resurrection and Judgment; belief in Prophethood and all
the Prophets without distinction; belief in the Divine Scriptures; belief in
angels and Divine Destiny and Decree without excluding human free will. All
of the Prophets called people to worship only One God and preached and promoted
the moral virtues and condemned vices. The differences lie in particular rules
and injunctions connected with economic and political relationships at a particular
epoch, and in the fact that while all the previous Prophets were sent to a specific
people for a specific epoch, the Last Prophet, Muhammad, upon him be peace and
blessings, was sent to all mankind for all time. To be Muslim requires belief
in all the previous Prophets and in the originals of the previous Scriptures.
Who is a prophet?
A Prophet is one who, purified of all sins and vices and having a deep relation
with God, guides people to truth and sets a perfect example for them in life
with his exalted character. Absolute truthfulness, trustworthiness, communication
of Divine Message without hiding anything in it, having the highest intellectual
capacity, wisdom and profound insight, sinlessness and being free from all mental
and bodily defects are essentials of Prophethood. Just as the planets are attracted
toward the sun by the invisible force of gravitation, so too people are attracted
toward the Prophet by the force of his profound relation with God, by certain
miracles, and by the sheer nobility of his person, his purpose and his character.
Faith or belief is the very essence of religion
Faith or belief is the very essence of religion. Belief is not just a simple,
brief affirmation based on imitation. It has degrees and stages of expansion
or development as from, say, the seed of a tree to the fully grown, fruit-bearing
state of that tree. Belief contains so many truths pertaining to all Names of
God and the realities contained in the universe, that the most perfect of all
human sciences and knowledge and virtues is belief, and knowledge of God originating
in belief based on argument and investigation. This degree of belief has many
degrees and grades of manifestation to the number of the Divine Names. Those
who have been able to attain the degree of certainty of belief coming from direct
observation of the truths on which belief is based, can study the universe as
a kind of Divine Scripture.
The Divine Scripture (the Qur’an), the universe, and man
The Divine Scripture (the Qur’an), the universe, and man, are three kinds
of manifestation of one truth. Therefore, there cannot be in principle a contradiction
or incompatibility between the truths of the Qur’an (from the Divine Attribute
of Speech) and the truths derived from the objective study of its ‘counterpart’,
the created universe (from the Divine Attributes of Power and Will). Within
an Islamic civilization, true to its authentic, original impulse, there cannot
be a contradiction between science, the objective study of the natural world,
and religion, the effort in personal and collective life to seek the approval
and good pleasure of God. True belief is not something based on blind imitation;
it should appeal to the reason as well as the heart, and combine affirmation
by the reason and the inward experience and submission of the heart.
There is another degree of belief, namely certainty coming from direct experience
of its truths. This depends on regular worship and reflection. The one who has
acquired this degree of belief can challenge the whole of the world. So, the
Muslims’ foremost duty is to acquire this degree of belief and try, in utmost
sincerity and purely for the sake of pleasing God, to communicate it to others.
Belief and worship
The highest aim of creation and its most sublime result is belief in God.
The most exalted rank of humanity is the knowledge of God. The most radiant
happiness and sweetest bounty is the love of God contained within the knowledge
of God; the purest joy for the human spirit and the purest delight for man’s
heart is the spiritual ecstasy contained within the love of God.
From belief follow the different kinds of worship of God: worship that is
responsive to explicit injunctions like the prescribed prayers, fasting, alms-giving
and pilgrimage; worship that is obedient to the prohibitions such as against
drinking alcohol, gambling, usury, killing, deception, etc. In order both to
strengthen one’s belief and to attain higher ranks of perfection, one should
be careful about the ‘acts’ of the heart and intellect, such as contemplation
or reflection, invocation or recitation of God’s Names, self-criticism, perseverance
and patience, thankfulness, disciplined living, perfect reliance on God, and
so on. Moral virtues are the ‘fruits’ of religious life; the Prophet Muhammad,
upon him be peace and blessings, said: I have been sent to perfect the virtues.
Divine Religion also has rules to regulate man’s collective life. Through
belief and worship, and through its intellectual, moral and spiritual principles,
Islam aims to educate the individual in the best way possible; through its social
and economic principles, it aims to establish an ideal society. Its final aim
is that there should be no dissension, corruption, anarchy and terror in the
world and that all people may obtain happiness in both worlds.
Many Western intellectuals and their counterparts in the Muslim world assert
that servanthood to God or religious life is a compensatory device contrived
to console man for his own weaknesses and defects. Nevertheless, although modern
man, armed with science and technology, entertains the illusion that he can
be free of belief in and servanthood to a Supreme Being, and though he sees
himself as a powerful one, yet he will, if it serves his self-interest, so far
abase himself as to bow in worship before the meanest thing. Modern man is stubborn
and unyielding, yet will countenance great degradation for the sake of a single,
brief pleasure; he is unbending, but so mean as to kiss the feet of devilish
people for the sake of some vulgar advantage. He is conceited and domineering
but, since he can find no point of support in his heart, he postures like an
impotent, vainglorious tyrant. He is a self-centered egoist, who strives to
gratify his material, carnal desires and to pursue personal interests or particular
national interests that coincide with his own.
The sincere believer does not degrade himself to bow in worship before even
the greatest of the created. He is a dignified servant of God who does not take
as object of worship a thing of even the greatest benefit like Paradise. Though
a modest servant, and gentle in his nature and his bearing, he does not lower
himself voluntarily before anybody other than his Creator beyond what He has
permitted. Though aware of his weakness and neediness before God, he is independent
of others, because he relies upon the Wealth and Power of his One Master.
For all practical purposes, the assumption of modern Western civilization
is that collective life consists of competing selfish interests which are in
a state of necessary conflict, arbitrated by force or might. It promotes as
the bond that unifies particular communities an aggressive and negative nationalism
which has often degenerated into a brutal racism. The result, for the majority
of the world’s peoples, of the recent dominance of Western civilization, has
been acute misery and humiliation; and for the favored minority, gratification
of worldly needs accompanied a continual stimulation and increasing of those
needs which engenders more competitiveness and anxiety.
The life of religion and servanthood to God accepts ‘right’, not ‘force’,
as the point of support in social life. It holds, in place of the realization
of selfish interests, virtues and God’s approval as the aim of collective life,
and in place of necessary conflict, it holds to the principle of mutual assistance.
It promotes, not racism and negative nationalism, but the ties of religion,
profession and country, as the bonds within and between communities. Its aim
is to put a barrier against the attacks of worldly desires and, by urging the
soul to sublime goals, it encourages man on the way to perfectibility. Right
calls for unity. Virtues bring solidarity. The principle of mutual assistance
means coming to the aid of one another. Religion secures brotherhood and attraction.
By disciplining the corporeal self and urging the soul to virtue, it brings
happiness in this world and the next.
The reasons why the unbelieving modern civilization has been so long triumphant
over the Muslims
Here it may be asked why the unbelieving modern civilization has been so
long triumphant over the Muslims. The answer was given by Said Nursi in his
writings. He argued that, although a Muslim must be Muslim in all his attributes
and actions, he cannot always be so in practical life. Also, it is not always
the case with a transgressor or unbeliever that every attribute and action of
his should originate in his unbelief or transgression. Therefore, by virtue
of having Muslim attributes and acting in conformity with Islamic principles
more than a Muslim who fails in practicing Islam, an unbeliever may be victorious
over a Muslim.
God has established two kinds of laws: one is the Shari’a, known by
everybody, which is the body of God’s laws issuing from His Attribute of Speech
and governing man’s ‘religious’ life. The reward or punishment for following
these laws or not usually pertains to the afterlife. The other body of Divine
laws comprise those governing creation and life as a whole, which issue from
His Attribute of Will and are generally (but wrongly) called the ‘laws of nature’.
The reward or punishment for them mostly pertains to this world. The Qur’an
insistently draws attentions to ‘natural’ phenomena, which are the subject-matter
of sciences, and urges their study. In the first five centuries of Islam, Muslims
succeeded in uniting sciences with religion, the intellect with the heart, the
material with the spiritual. However, in later centuries, the West took the
initiative in sciences. This has meant that their obedience — although unconscious
— to Divine laws of ‘nature’, has enabled their dominance over the Muslim world,
which failed to practice both the religious and scientific aspects of Islam.
Power and force have some right in life, they have been created for some wise
purpose. Armed with power through sciences and technology, the West has got
the upper hand over the Muslims.
By suffering the attacks of the hawk, the sparrow develops its defensive
strengths and skills. In a comparable way, God has allowed the world of unbelief
to attack Islam so that Muslims may acquire the necessary skills and strengths
and restore Islam to its original purity and regain its authority in the world.