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Role of Muslims as Witnesses to Humanity: Essential Message of Islam: Chapter 42 To 46


By Muhammad Yunus & Ashfaque Ullah Syed

7 September 2015

(Published Exclusively On New Age Islam with Permission of the Authors and Publishers)

42.          Conducting Community Affairs

42.1.       Consultation in conducting affairs

The Qur’an enjoins mutual consultation in conducting community affairs (3:159, 42:38):

“(God’s reward is for those who believe,…) who respond to their Lord, keep up prayer, (conduct) their affairs by mutual consultation (Shura), and spend (in charity) of what We have given them” (42:38). [The bracketed qualifying statement draws on the preceding verses listed under Ch. 29.2]

Note: By prohibiting grave sins and abominable deeds in the preceding verse (42:37/Ch. 29.2) the Qur’an clarifies that the instrument of consensus cannot be used to justify what is ipso facto wrong, or to legalize the unlawful (Haram), as clearly stated in Caliph Umar’s decree to his governors (Note 4/Ch. 21.4).

“It is because of mercy from God (O Muhammad,) that you were mild to them. Had you been harsh and hard-hearted, they would have dispersed from around you.  So pardon them, seek forgiveness for them, and consult (shawer) with them on the matter. Yet, once you have reached a decision, put your trust in God. Indeed! God loves those who put their trust (in Him)” (3:159)

This verse (3:159) relates to the aftermath of the Uhud expedition, in which the Muslim defenders suddenly lost a significant military advantage as some of the archers left their positions to capture war booty, disregarding the Prophet’s order. The Prophet is asked to deal with them gently (Note 96/Ch. 3.5), and to conduct the affairs of the community (warfare in this particular instance) through mutual consultation. The Trench war furnishes another example of consultation displayed by the Prophet, leading to the digging of a trench on the suggestion of a Persian convert to defend the oasis (Ch. 3.7).

42.2.       Collateral Forgiveness

Towards the concluding phase of the revelation, when Muslims were in a position to avenge their oppression, the Qur’an expounds its ordinance on collateral forgiveness of erstwhile enemies:

“You who believe, do not profane the rites of God, nor the sacred month, nor the offerings, nor the garlands (that mark such animals), nor those resorting to the Sacred House - seeking the blessing and approval of their Lord. But when you are cleared (of the Sacred precincts and pilgrim garb), you may hunt. And let not the hatred of a people who (once) obstructed you from (entering the) Sacred House, lead you to be hostile.* Therefore, help each other to virtue (birr)** and piety (Taqwa), and do not collaborate with each other in sin and enmity. Heed God, and (remember,) God is severe in punishment” (5:2). *[Lit., ‘exceed limits’.] **[Lit., ‘moral excellence’.]

“You who believe, be upright before God as witnesses to justice, and let not the hatred of any people prompt you to deal unjustly. …” (5:8) [Full text in Ch. 21]

Consensus places the 5th Sura (al-Maidah) at around the time when Mecca was integrated (630). The above verses from this Sura command the Muslims to eschew hostility against the Meccans, who had recently (628) obstructed their hajj caravan from entering the Sacred House. However, most commentators including Yusuf Ali and Muhammad Asad contend that injunctions of these verses are of universal nature, as supported by Qur’anic injunction on ‘returning evil with good’ (41:34/Ch. 12.7). These injunctions have deep social and political implications, not just in times of victory but also in times of struggle.

42.3.       Role of Muslims as Witnesses to Humanity

The Qur’an defines the role of Muslims as witnesses to humanity (2:143, 22:78).

“Thus We have made you a justly balanced community, that you may be witnesses to humanity, and the Messenger, a witness to you. And We only established the direction of prayer that you were used to, that We might know those who followed the Messenger from those who turned on their heels. Indeed, it was a great (shock) except to those guided by God. (Remember,) God would not let your faith suffer decline, for indeed God is Most Compassionate and Merciful to humanity” (2:143).

“Strive in God's (way) - a striving due to Him. He has chosen you (to convey His message), and placed no difficulty on you in religion - the creed of Abraham, your ancestor. He has named you Muslims before and herein, so that the Messenger acts as your witness and you as witnesses to humanity. Therefore, keep up prayer, give charity, and hold fast to God: He is your Protector. What a splendid Protector and what a splendid Supporter!” (22:78).

By describing the Prophet as a witness to the Muslims, the Qur’an conceivably suggests that he was a living testimony to exemplary conduct and behaviour to his followers that elsewhere the Qur’an asks them to emulate (33:21/Ch. 15). Thus, through these verses the Qur’an reminds the Muslims that like the Prophet as a testimony among them, they have to act as a testimony to humanity by grooming themselves as models of good conduct and behaviour for the followers of other faith-communities to follow their example. This complements the Qur’anic world view on the universal brotherhood of humanity as reviewed earlier (Ch. 9), and assigns a special moderating role to the Muslims – a role that fanned the phenomenal spread of Islam in its early centuries, and, with time, a gradual sweep of Islamic values and paradigms across the world. 

42.4.       Notion of Islamic State

The Qur’anic precepts relating to its social, commercial and legal reforms, family laws, and other aspects of life as covered in the preceding pages required the evolution of a truly Islamic community for their implementation. Such a community (Ummah) evolved in Medina under the leadership of the Prophet. However, it may be quite misleading to call the Muslim community under the Prophet’s spiritual and temporal leadership, an Islamic state. The Qur’an has been unequivocal about the Prophet’s role as God’s Messenger. Therefore, to describe him as a head of state or commander in chief will be tantamount to putting additional words into the Qur’an. Moreover, the Qur’an remains silent about the political, civil, financial, or military administration that goes with a state. As in case of all other fields of knowledge and sciences, it understandably left these to evolve with the progress of civilization. However, its emphasis on justice, equality, tolerance, social welfare, and its priority on peace and security for all people provided the ground rules for the establishment of some of the most harmonious and egalitarian multi-cultural and multi-religious societies in world history (notably in Spain and India). With time these values have permeated the global society and have crystallized into the notion of welfare state. At the same time, there is no definable model of an Islamic state: countries with highly diverse political agendas, ideologies and administrative portfolios have claimed this generic title, and are doing so to this day, as we can see around the Muslim world.   

42.5.       The Birth and Flowering of the Islamic Caliphate

There is no denying the fact that during the caliphate of the Prophet’s immediate successors (632-661), the Muslims formed a religio-political nation, when all activities of the state were carried out under the aegis of faith, and were directed at establishing it as an historical reality. These successors (Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman and Ali), remembered as the Rightly guided Caliphs, were the most trusted companions of the Prophet, who had each marital tie with him,1 had lived with him as members of a family, had been groomed by him for more or less two decades as early converts to Islam,2 and were reputed for their wisdom, austerity, devotion and selfless zeal.

Inspired by the ideals of the Prophet, imbued with the tenets of the Qur’an, and driven by their missionary zeal, the Rightly guided Caliphs succeeded in establishing Islam as a powerful spiritual, social, intellectual and political force that took the world by surprise, made its mark and visible presence from the shore of Atlantic in the East to the shore of Pacific in the West and thus established Islam as an historical reality. However, with the passing away of this generation, the rein of the caliphate fell in the hands of people who had converted to Islam after the assimilation of Mecca, some 20th year into the prophetic mission: people who were neither tutored by the Prophet nor had encountered the explosive impact of the revelation first hand, and were driven only by personal ambitions and were thus unfit to perpetuate the heritage of the early Caliphs. These were the Umayyads (661-750). They retained the title of Khalifah (Caliph) or successor, and in theory assumed the position of the elected head of the community in both temporal and religious matters, but in reality, they were dynastic rulers and temporal heads only. Thus the religio-political Islamic state came to an end and history changed its course. In the words of Fadhalla Haeri:3

“In the name of Islam, an empire was created, taking its capital the ancient Byzantine city of Damascus and adopting the administrative, political and military machinery of the defunct Byzantine government. From this point on most Muslim rulers grew more concerned with self preservation, power, accumulating wealth and controlling their people.”

Therefore, in true sense, there is no political model of an Islamic state. The Islamic caliphate under the Prophet’s companions cannot be regarded as a model as it was governed in purely religious lines. It is impossible to recreate this model, as much as it is impossible to have the Prophet’s companions and witnesses of the revelation come alive to lead a religio-political state. Even otherwise, in today’s multi-religious world a religio-political state is antithetic to historical need rather than a historical necessity. Thus the present religious title of many of the countries with predominantly Muslim population, and the religio-political division between the Muslim and the non-Muslim world is purely a construct of history, nostalgic, anachronistic, and not rooted in the Qur’anic message. 


1.  Abu Bakr and Umar gave their daughters in marriage to the Prophet, while Uthman and Ali married two of his daughters.

2.  Ali, Abu Bakr and Uthman were among the first converts to the faith, while Umar embraced Islam some five years later (Opening para. Ch. 3.1).

3.  Shaykh Fadhalla Haeri, The Elements of Islam, Shaftsbury 1993, p. 80.

   [3 references]


43.    Principles Of ‘Human Rights’

43.1.       The Qur’an is not an outcome of a charter of demands

Unlike all charters of ‘human rights’ dating from the famous Magna Carta,1 the Qur’an is not an outcome of any charter of demands that the subjects placed before the throne, or a group or fraternity placed before an office of authority. The Qur’an spells out a balanced mix of privileges and obligations for men and women that are designed to make their life peaceful and comfortable.

The Qur’anic privileges and obligations have largely been covered in the preceding chapters. This chapter attempts to consolidate the subject under a single heading. Some aspects of the subject, implicit in the later chapters, are also included and cross- referenced accordingly.

43.2.       Privileges and Obligations of Men and Women as Individuals

The Qur’an describes believing men and believing women as the protectors (Auliya’) of each other who enjoin the good and forbid the evil (9:71/Ch. 33.6), and accords the following privileges and obligations to each of them without any gender discriminations.

        To be allured by and choose believing mates for marriage (2:221/Ch. 32.1).

        To spend in charity to earning God’s blessings (Ch. 18.1).

        To act as a witness in equal capacity without gender discrimination, except for commercial contracts, owing understandably to the prevalent trading realities (Ch. 24.2)

        To have independent incomes (4:32/Ch. 33.5).

        To pursue universal knowledge and develop their potentials as God’s deputy (Khalifah) on earth (2:30, Note 6/Ch. 5.1), created in the finest model and favoured above much of God’s creation (95:4, 17:70/Ch. 10).

        To undertake scientific studies, research and explorations to harnessing the various resources of nature God has made serviceable to them (31:20, 45:13/Ch. 10).

43.3.       Privileges and obligations of men and women as spouses

        Men are required to give reasonable dowers to their wives (4:4/Ch. 33.4), even if they break the marriage before consummation (2:236/Ch. 34.6; 2:237/Ch. 34.7).

        Women may voluntarily forgo a part of marriage dower (4:4/Ch. 33.4).

        Men should support their wives and maintain them with their income (4:34/Ch. 33.6)

        Women of means may also support their husbands as God has favoured men and women in different measures (4:32/Ch. 33.5).

        Men suspecting their wives of extramarital perversity may counsel them, leave them alone in their beds, and finally assert on them, failing which involve the community for arbitration (4:34-35/Ch. 33.6).

        Women suspecting their husbands of extramarital perversity may try to resolve the matter with them mutually (4:128/Ch. 33.6), failing which, divorce them (4:130/Ch. 33.6), and in extreme cases, unilaterally divorce them (2:229/Ch. 34.2).

        A man, who wants to terminate a marriage, must give a notice of divorce to his wife on two occasions within a span of three lunar months before reaching a final decision on divorce (2:229, 2:231, 65:2/Ch. 34.2).

        Men to reconcile with their wives under divorce notice if they are found to be pregnant, and take them back (2:228/Ch. 34.2), and if the reconciliation fails, to provide, according to means, for the living expenses of their pregnant wives, and those of the children born from the pregnancy, for the entire nursing period of two years (2:233, 65:6-7/Ch. 34.5).

        A man is to bear the costs, subject to means, if a child born to his divorced pregnant wife is to be nursed by a foster mother (2:233/Ch. 34.5).

        Men to feed and accommodate their women under divorce notice during their waiting period, in the manner they live, and not to harass them or make their life difficult (65:6/Ch. 34.5).

        Men to release their women under divorce notice after the expiry of the waiting period, and not to retain them in order to injure them, and otherwise not to exceed limits (2:231/Ch. 34.2), nor to hinder them from marrying a spouse of their choice (2:232/Ch. 34.4).

        Men to refrain from extorting any property from their wives, such as during a divorce, or from the widows of kinsmen (4:19/Ch. 35.2;  2:229, 4:20/Ch. 34.2).

        Men to give a reasonable maintenance to their divorced wives until they are remarried (2:241/Ch. 34.8).

        A man is to have one wife but may take more than one wife only under exceptional circumstances (4:3/Ch. 31.1).

        A woman, upon the death of her husband, is entitled to maintenance for one year, without having to leave home (2:240/Ch. 35.2), and to have the option to settle down by herself and even entertain marriage proposals from prospective suitors after a waiting period of four months and ten days (2:234/235, Ch. 35.1).

        Men and women to make a will before they die.

        Men and women are entitled to inherit from each other, their parents, offspring and next of kin (Ch. 38.3).

43.4.       To Avail of a Minimal Income and Social Benefits

The Qur’an’s repeated exhortations on Zakat (Ch. 46) and social responsibility (Ch. 17) demonstrate that the Qur’an is pushing humanity towards creating a welfare state in which the resourceful would be made to share their resources with those of scanty means, irrespective of faith. As the Qur’anic revelation was underway, the Muslim community formed a nation, but the paraphernalia of a state was yet to develop (Ch. 42.4). With the formation of the Islamic state after the Prophet’s death, the social responsibilities of ‘the resourceful’ automatically devolved on the state, and it became the state policy to fulfil basic human needs, namely food, shelter, essentials of life, and employment opportunity or state subsidy.

While the Qur’anic social reforms remained indelibly recorded in its pages, centuries after centuries, the Christian West discovered them through a process of social reform in the post Enlightenment era.2 As Muhammad Abduh (1849-1905) states:3

“It was then that Europe began to throw off their bondage and reform their condition, reordering the affairs of their life in a manner akin to the message of Islam, though oblivious of who their real guide and leader was. So were enunciated the fundamental principles of modern civilization….”

43.5.       To Live Peacefully, Without Any Disturbance Or Threat

The Qur'an forbids entering others’ houses unless permission is granted (24:27), and asks believers to invoke peace upon their occupants (24:27), and to go away if so asked (24:28). It, however, allows entry into a house that is not meant for living, but offers a provision (24:29).

“You who believe, do not enter houses, except your own homes, until you have taken permission, and invoke peace upon their occupants. This is better for you, that you may be mindful (24:27); and if you find no one home, do not go in until you are given permission; and if you are told to go away, go away. This is appropriate for you. (Remember,) God is Cognizant of what you do (28). There is no blame on you in entering uninhabited houses that offer you a provision. (Remember,) God knows what you reveal and what you conceal” (24:29).

Scholars agree that an uninhabited house that offers a provision could be an office, a public place, or an historical ruin or deserted house.

43.6.       Privacy At Home

The Qur’an recognizes the need for privacy during times of rest - in the afternoon and at night, and asks believers to let their growing children take permission before entering their private quarters at those times (24:58/59).

“You who believe, let those under your lawful trust, and those among you* who have not yet reached puberty, take your permission (before entering your rooms) on three occasions: before Morning Prayer, during midday when you lay aside your clothes (for rest), and after the prayer at night. These are the three times of privacy for you, and there is no blame on you or on them going around (attending to) one another beyond these (times). This is how God explains His messages to you. (Remember,) God is All-Knowing and Wise” (24:58). When your children reach puberty, let them seek permission as those before them did. Thus does God clarify His messages to you, for God is All-Knowing and Wise” (24:59). *[All growing up children, irrespective of relationship]

43.7.       Care and Support of The Physically Challenged

The Qur’an entitles a person, whether he is blind, or lame, or sick, to take a meal, and by implication, shelter in the homes of a clearly defined set of people, which include all near of kin. It thus abolishes the prevalent superstition of treating the physically handicapped, and the sick, as God’s accursed creature, to be socially ostracized.

“There is no blame on the blind, there is no blame on the lame, there is no blame on the sick, nor on yourselves in eating (Kulu) at your own homes, or those of* your fathers, or mothers, or brothers, or sisters, or father’s brothers, or father’s sisters, or mother’s brothers, or mother’s sisters, or those whose keys are in your possession, or that of a sincere friend of yours. There is no blame in your eating all together, or separately. But when you enter houses, greet others with a goodly blessing from God. Thus does God clarify the messages to you, that you may use your reason” (24:61). *[The Arabic text corresponding to the underlined lines repeats the plural noun Buyut, rendered as ‘homes’ nine times, which has been omitted from the rendering for simplicity of expression.]

If only food or drink was meant, the Qur’an may have used the root TAM (ta‘am, ta‘imu) that it connotes specifically with the intake of food or drink. It, however, uses the word kulu, which is rendered above in the traditional lines as ‘eating’. But the word kulu also connotes with availing of the provisions of life (2:168, 2:172/Ch. 23.4). Thus, the use of this generic word allows for extending the scope of the verse (24:61) to cover shelter as well. Furthermore, the Qur’anic option to eat separately allows for offering food to a visiting relative or friend without necessarily accompanying the latter while eating.

43.8.       The Duty Of Grown Up Children To Support Their Parents

The Qur’an directs humanity to show kindness to parents, and to support and patiently bear with their elderly parents staying with them (17:23-24/Ch. 17.4), as part of its Harramah or binding instructions (6:151/Ch. 19.1),

43.9.       General Universal Privileges

The Qur’anic message embraces a whole gamut of universal privileges, such as:

        Equal treatment before Law (4:58, 4:135/Ch. 21.1).

        Privilege to have a witness (4:135, 5:8/Ch. 21.1).

        Legal hearing and therefore no arbitrary punishment (7:159, 7:181/Ch. 21.2).

        Privilege to own property (2:188, 4:29/Ch. 22.1).

        Fair payment for goods and services (Ch. 22.3).

        ‘Share’ of the poor in wealth of the rich, and by implication, that of the state (70:24-25/Ch. 19.1)

        Security of life and protection from crimes (Ch. 39/40).

        Safe asylum to the civilians of the enemy nation at times of war (9:6/Ch. 12.8).

        Social security of distressed and orphaned children (4:127/Ch. 31.1; 4:9/Ch. 38.6).

        Freedom of religion (49:13/Ch. 8.1; 2:256, 10:99, 50:45/ Ch. 9.2; 5:48/Ch. 9.4).

        Punishment proportional to the severity of crime, barring exemplary punishment for major crimes (Ch. 40.1).

        Abolition of slavery and prostitution (Ch. 30.1).

The list can be extended to include other categories of privileges, such as acquiring education, use of reason etc. that are implicit in the Qur’anic message. But this will add bulk as the examples already cited cover a whole gamut of ‘human privileges’ that the Qur’an acknowledged more than 1400 years ago and the Western world evolved by placing charters upon charters before the crown and the state.  

Paradoxically however, any objective study on compliance of Qur’anic injunctions on the various facets of the privileges accorded to humanity might find the so-called Muslim countries most un-Islamic in practically all counts and the Western and advanced countries a long way into the Islamic order – albeit with serious conflict in some areas, and a basic difference in the notion of “right” and “privilege” as explained in the opening paragraph of this section.

Finally, to quote Murad Hofmann: “There is no essential contradiction between Islam and the Western human rights. On the contrary Islam is a (complementary) human rights system.4”


1.       Magna Carta: A royal charter, King John of England was compelled to seal (1215), that laid down the fundamental principles of justice that no man may be punished without any trial, that punishment must be proportional to the offence, and that justice may not be denied or delayed or sold to a man – principles that are clearly spelled out in the Qur’an. It however gave certain exceptional rights to the feudal lords over their vassals based on the established norms.

2.       Enlightenment era: Popularly known as the Age of Enlightenment, this era is identified with the 18th century, when the newly established scientific and analytical approach was applied to social fields.

3.       John L.Esposito, Islam in Transition, New York 1982, p. 27.

4.       Murad Hofmann, Islam the Alternative, UK 1993, p. 132.

[4 references]


44.    The Five Pillars of Faith And Shahadah

44.1.       Pillars of Faith

During the Prophet’s time, anyone entering Islam was required to make a set of pledges that not only included faith in God and the Prophet but also elements tailored to the immediate callings of the community. These pledges were regarded as the pillars of faith. They represented the essence of faith as well as the key duties of the converts as members of the upcoming Muslim community, rather than the summation of the Qur’anic message. As the priorities of the Muslim community was changing with time, the pillars also changed accordingly?

Thus, at an early stage in the Medinite period (622-632) the Prophet took the following oaths from a small group of visitors who came to him to enter Islam.1

        Not to associate anything with God.

        Not to steal.

        Not to commit adultery.

        Not to kill children.

        Not to accuse an innocent person.

        Not to disobey when asked to do what is Ma’ruf (good).  

As the pagan Arabs became familiar with these prohibitions and hardly needed any reminding during conversion, the prohibitions were substituted by biddings to prayer, Zakat, fasting and war booty,2 After the integration of Mecca (eighth years into the Medinite period), war booty was dropped and hajj, Wudu and all commandments (Ahkam) of God, along with prayer, Zakat, fasting were regarded as the sole criteria of one’s deeds (‘Amal).3 However, possibly at the time of Caliph Umar the five pillars as we have them today were canonized, while the underlined pledge was not spelled out. 

44.2.       The Shahadah - The Declaration of Faith

The first pillar of faith is the belief in the unity of God and in Muhammad as God’s prophet, and can be rendered as follows:

‘I testify that there is no deity but God and Muhammad is the messenger of God.’

Any non-Muslim who wants to enter Islam has to make this declaration (in Arabic) in a solemn manner with full sincerity and conviction. Since honesty, sincerity and conviction of a person are known only to God, there is no basis to spiritually differentiate a fresh convert from one born in a Muslim family or descending from a long line of Muslim ancestors.

Most Muslims take the shahadah, as a mere oral declaration, and regard the other four pillars Salat (prayer), Zakat (traditionally, obligatory charity), fasting, and hajj, as sufficient to cover all their religious rites and obligations. This is oversimplification because at the time of the Prophet, the commandments (Ahkamat) of the Qur’an were regarded as the sole criteria of ones deeds ('Amal).3 Moreover, the Qur’an does not provide any basis to justify reducing its holistic message to only four elements or pillars besides the Shahadah.


1.       Sahih al-Bukhari, English translation by Mohsin Khan, New Delhi 1984, Vol.1, Acc. 17.

2.       Ibid., Acc. 50.

3.       Ibid., Chap. 42, ‘The Book of Belief.’

 [3 references]


45.    The Canonical Daily Prayers

During the Meccan period of trial, tribulation and constant waiting for God’s help, the Qur’an repeatedly asks the Prophet to leave the matter in God’s hand and to devote himself to prayer. Thus, he is asked to do prayer (Salah) at both ends of the day and at the approaches of night,1 from the sun's decline till the darkness of night2 and at late hours of the night (Tahajjud prayer),3 and to stand (Qaum (in prayer and devotion to God) late into the night.4 He is also commanded to celebrate the praise (Sabbih) of God long into the night in prostration,5 before sunrise and before sunset,6 by night and by day,7 for part of the night and both ends of the day,8 at night at the end prostration,9 as the stars retreated,10 when he arose (in the morning),11 and as he bowed down (in prayer);12 and to remember (Wadhkuru) God morning and evening.13

The Qur’an enjoins Muslims at large to praise (Subhan) God morning and evening (30:17, 33:42, and 48:9), to glorify (Hamd) Him at midday and nightfall (30:18), and to be watchful of prayers (Salawat) - particularly the middle prayer (2:238). Since God’s praise (root SBH) and glorification (HMD) are invoked in the prayer (salah), the underlined timings based on the entire period of revelation add up to five time’s daily prayer. However, the timings appearing in the Medinite verses alone (2:238, 33:42, and 48:9) add up to three. The canonical five times daily prayer is based on traditions relating to the Prophet’s ascent to Heaven (Note 25/Ch. 3), when he reportedly had an encounter with the Presence of God, who initially prescribed daily fifty times prayer for his followers,14 which upon repeated plea by the Prophet, was successively reduced to five times daily.     

“Keep the prayers, (especially) the middle prayer, and perform (it) with devotion (to God)” (2:238).

“So praise God in your evenings, and your mornings, (30:17):’ to Him is due all praise in the heavens and the earth; and (glorify Him) at nightfall and when it is your midday” (30:18).

“You who believe, remember God with much remembrance (33:41), and praise Him morning and evening” (33:42)

 “We have sent you (O Muhammad,) as a witness, a bearer of good news, and a warner (48:8), that you (O People,) may believe in God and His Messenger and you may honor and revere Him, and praise Him morning and evening” (48:9).

The Qur'an does not lay down any clear procedure for prayer (Salah). It however refers to the various postures of prayer such as standing, kneeling down, and bowing down (in prostration),15 facing the direction of the Sacred House (the Ka‘ba) in Mecca.16 It also refers to the marks of prostration on the foreheads of the Prophet's companions (48:29/Ch. 16.4).

According to traditions, there are two broad categories of prayer: Fard prayers of two to four Rak‘at (cycles) are dedicated to God, while Sunnat prayers, also dedicated to God, are performed following the Prophet's example, and are of similar length. However, tradition tells us that the Prophet often shortened his prayers during journey: from four to two Rak’at for midday (zuhr), middle (‘Asr), and nightly (‘Isha) prayers, and left the Fajr (dawn) and Maghrib (dusk) prayers unchanged. The Qur'an allows for remembering God under constraining circumstances,17 and shortening, deferring or staggering prayer when under attack.18

Muslims are required to perform a washing ritual (Wudu) before the prayer, and, in the absence of any water, a dry ablution (Tayammum).19 And last, but not least, the Qur’an asks people to be humble in prayer, 20and not to be proud of it.21

45.1.       Congregational Prayer

The Qur’an declares:

“You who believe, when the call is given for prayer on the day of Congregation (Friday), hasten to remember (Dhikr) God leaving business aside. This is best for you, if you only knew (62:9); and when the prayer is over, spread out in the land in pursuit of God's abundance (Fadlillah), remembering (Wadhkuru) God a lot that you may succeed” (62:10).

Commentators agree that the term fadl (rendered as God’s abundance) refers to all material things that a man seeks to meet the physical needs of his life. Since a person’s success to meeting his material needs is contingent to his skill, knowledge, diligence and enterprise, the verse has an implicit instruction to pursuing knowledge and to actively participating in the production, economic and industrial fields of the era – as indicated by the underlined stipulation of the verse. However, as advocated by Ibn Khatir, the concluding stipulation of the verse ‘to remember God a lot’ while seeking God’s abundance’ is a clear reminder to the believers against any unlawful or unfair endeavor.22

45.2.       Introduction of Prayer Call, the Adhan

The Adhan was introduced in the early years after the Prophet’s migration to Medina. The wordings of the Adhan, rendered below, are exactly the same today as they were first announced by Bilal,23 an Abyssinian freed slave, more than fourteen centuries ago.

God is great! God is Great! God is Great! God is Great!

I testify that there is no god but one God! I testify that there is no god but one God!

I testify that Muhammad is the Prophet of God! I testify that Muhammad is the Prophet of God!

Come towards Salah! Come towards Salah!

Come towards well being! Come towards well being!

God is great!  God is great!

There is no God but One God.

An additional line (as-Salat is better than sleep), repeated twice, is added with the dawn Adhan.

45.3.       Significance of Salah

The Qur’an regards Salah purely as a spiritual vehicle for praising and glorifying God, that can imbue the believer with patience and fortitude in the face of adversity,24 and restrain people from abominable deeds (29:45/Note 1/Ch. 29). Its various postures indicate the humbleness of the believer before God. However, Muslims generally regard salah as an all-embracing piety that is sufficient to earn divine blessings and forgiveness for all sins. In light of the holistic message of the Qur’an, this may be oversimplification, and misinterpretation of the essence of prayer.

1.     The Qur’an is a book of wisdom (Note 7/Preface) and a font of guidance for humanity (Note 15/Preface). Its social, moral and ethical paradigms, its emphasis on equity, justice, and use of reason, and its empowerment of individual human beings, among others, are highly stimulating and provided the impetus for the phenomenal rise of Islam and its subsequent successes in its early history. Therefore, to regard prayer (salah), as all-embracing piety will be tantamount to depriving Islam of its social, moral, ethical, intellectual and invigorating dimensions.

2.     The Qur’an categorically forbids unlawful killing, stealing, all abominable deeds (crimes) and terrorism, and enjoins exemplary punishments for grave crimes as reviewed in the preceding chapters. Projecting Salah singularly as a means to earning God’s forgiveness seemingly dilutes the gravity of the Qur’anic emphasis on eschewing the forbidden.

3.      Nowhere does the Qur’an connect the performance of prayer (Salah) alone with divine rewards. Thus, its verse on the virtues of the Prophet’s companions (48:29/Ch. 16.4) and its exhortation to the Prophet’s wounded followers who chased the victorious Quraysh army immediately after the Uhud expedition (3:172, Note 84/Ch. 3.4), connect God’s promise of reward with their doing of good deeds, though as the Prophet’s companions, their devotion to prayer, love of God and the Prophet and sacrifice for the cause of Islam remain beyond any question.    

4.      The Qur’an devotes one full Sura (107/Ch. 7.1) condemning an observant of prayer who “rebuffs the orphan and does not encourage feeding the poor” (107:2-3), (and those) who aim to be seen (in public) (6) but hold back from helping (others)” (107:6-7). Thus, the Qur’an does not project prayer (Salah) as an ultimate safeguard against corruption and vices, as most traditional Muslims tend to believe, though as mentioned above, Salat performed with devotion can keep people away from abominations.

5.     The Qur’an does not restrict the obligation of Salah to the Muslims alone. It attests that Salah was enjoined on the Jews,25 the Prophet Jesus,26 and the followers of Ishmael,27 and that the Prophet Abraham was regular in prayer.28  Thus the Qur’an treats Salah in similar light as its other universal virtues, notably good deeds, Zakah and Taqwa. Accordingly, the Qur’an refers to pious people remembering God and doing Salah in all places of worship, morning and evening,29 and his name being regularly proclaimed in monasteries, churches, synagogues and mosques (22:40).

6.     The popular notion of carte blanche blessings (Thawab) of Salah offers the easiest path to earn forgiveness of sins and divine rewards – a path that needs no sharing of wealth and no sacrifice of any material possession. The steep path as the Qur’an describes is “freeing a slave, or feeding during famine an orphaned relative or the needy (lying) in the dust” (90:13-16/Ch. 17.1)

In view of the foregoing considerations, the Qur’anic injunctions on Salah must be considered in conjunction with the invigorating and liberating aspects of its message to do full justice to the holistic message of the Qur’an.

Historically, barring exceptions, Muslims have remained divided in two diagonally opposite camps: one, the majority, seek the easiest path and regard Salah as the ‘key to the paradise.’ The other, a small section, knowingly or unknowingly pursue the ‘steep path,’ use reason and rationalism, and focus on the universal dimensions of the Qur’anic message, notably good deeds and social, moral and ethical responsibilities. Both the groups have to maintain a balance, and bear in mind the risks of tottering on the extremities.            

Pure rationalism or dynamism (that underlined the Islam's successes) can open the door successively to Gnosticism, agnosticism, through to atheism, while singular emphasis on prayer can grout the Muslims to the seventh century Arabia,30 and lead to intellectual stagnation and social and cultural mortification. Prayer is somewhat like the fragrance of a flower (the soul of Islam), and the dynamic forces of Islam its body. Without fragrance the body may not have any value in the court of God and without the body, it is a piece of fossil on the desert sand.       


1.       11:114.

2.       17:78.

3.       17:79.

4.       73:1-6, 73:20

5.       76:26.

6.       50:39, 20:130.

7.       40:55.

8.       20:130.

9.       50:40.

10.     52:49.

11.     52:48.

12.     15:98.

13.     76:25. 

14.     Muhammad Husayn Haykal, The Life of Muhammad, English translation by Ismail Ragi, 8th edition, Karachi 1989, p. 144.

15.     9:112, 22:77, 38:24.  50:40, 76:26.

16.     2:149.

17.     2:239.

18.     4:101- 103.

19.     5:6.

20.     7:55.

21.     7:205/206. 

22.     Muhammad Umer Chapra, Objectives of the Islamic order (article); appearing in Islam - its Meaning and Message, U.K. 1975, 1988 reprint, p. 177.

23.     This is the same Bilal who was tortured by his master during the Meccan period (Note 18/Ch. 3.1)

24.     2:45, 2:153.

25.     2:83, 5:12.

26.     19.31.

27.     19:54/55.

28.     14:40.

29.     24:36/37.

30.     As noted in the opening paragraph of this chapter, the verses revealed in the Mecca period emphasized on prayer and meditation, as Muslims were too small in number and too weak in the land to show any ‘dynamism’ or wage a struggle for reform.  

 [30 references]


46.    The Zakat (Obligatory Charity)

46.1.       Evolution of The Institution Of Zakat

During the Prophet’s era, the Qur’anic exhortations to spend on the needy (Ch. 18) encouraged the affluent believers to give charity all the year round, and more generously during the month of Ramadan for the special blessings of this month. Thus, on one occasion the Prophet asked the Muslim women attending the mosque for Eid congregation to give their ornaments in charity (sadaqah),1 and accordingly they gave away their rings and ornaments.2 Towards the end of the Qur’anic revelation however, charity (sadaqah) was made mandatory, and later Caliph Umar institutionalized it as the Zakat (9:60/Ch. 18.8). In early Islam, the Zakat was collected by the state, and distributed to the different categories of people as the Qur’an prescribes (9:60). 

The rate or amount of the Zakat was calculated at two and a half percent for cash, gold and liquid assets if possessed in excess of 12 English Guinea gold, or equivalent,3 but higher levels were fixed for other contemporaneous assets such as yield of land, perfume etc. With time this traditional model has been rationalized at two and half percent for all assets beyond the specified threshold value.

46.2.       Present Day Implications of The Traditional Model Of Zakat

With the growth of commerce and industry in recent centuries, the base of asset has expanded enormously, and is in fact expanding continually with time. Thus, a complex computation, and an ongoing agreement of Islamic scholars and financial experts will be needed to define the threshold limit and determine the asset base for the computation of the Zakat. But this will be a stupendous exercise that will need constant upgrading and agreement of Islamic scholars. Moreover, the exercise will inevitably lend itself to gross manipulation. For example, diamond and precious metals are excluded from the traditional list of Zakat-chargeable assets, obviously to the benefit of the rich. Likewise, one may exclude many capital items of modern highly complex business world to give selective advantage to a group. Alternatively, one can acquire money by questionable or unlawful means, or by grossly exploiting the poor, and then ‘purify’ it by giving away two and a half per cent as the Zakat. Therefore, the traditional model of the Zakat appears inadequate for the present day complex financial scenario. This brings us to the broader notion of zakah as enjoined by the Qur’an.

46.3.       The Qur’anic Notion of Zakah (Pl. Zakat)

The Qur’an uses the word Zakah and its other roots in versatile manner. In many of its verses, the Qur’an pairs its injunction to keeping up prayer (Salah) with the exercise of Zakah, thereby enjoining it on all believers, regardless of income.4 Accordingly, the Meccan Muslims, the ancient prophets and the wives of the Prophet who were all mostly wanting in material resources were asked to exercise zakah.5 The Qur’an also connotes Zakah with the purifying of one’s wealth by giving charity.6

These illustrations suggest that the Qur’an uses the word Zakah for all kinds of humanitarian deeds. Thus all believers, rich and poor, can exercise Zakah by showing mercy and extending emotional and psychological support to distressed humanity, by caring and nursing the sick and wounded, and other similar gestures, while the rich must also give the mandatory charity (institutionalized Zakat) as part of their Zakah obligation.

Traditionally, various civil works, such as removing garbage from roadside, planting trees, giving a helping hand in lifting luggage to a mount, helping out someone in need of help, or even doing good deeds were regarded as sadaqah,7 which is integral to the broad Qur’anic concept of Zakah. Therefore, in the historical and present day context, all civil and social welfare activities and scientific achievements that mitigate the sufferings of people, or are otherwise beneficial to humans fall in the domain of zakah. There are also traditions on the merit of looking after domestic pets as well as any animate.8

In sum, the Qur’anic notion of Zakah is far more outreaching and expansive than that of the institutional Zakat that is regarded as a pillar of faith. For all practical purposes, the institutional Zakat is nothing but a form of property tax that is collected from those who have some property and given to the poor or put to community use. Ironically in the Western world far greater proportions of ‘property tax’ (veritably Zakat) are collected and circulated among the poor and unemployed (in the form of various allowances and benefits), than in the Muslim world, where the rich tend to evade the property tax as their primary focus is on the nominal two and half percent Zakat on cash, gold, and liquid assets, and thus the community gets a trifling share of their wealth. God knows best the rightly guided.   


1.      Sahih al-Bukhari, English translation by Mohsin Khan, New Delhi 1984, Vol.2, Acc. 545.

2.      Ibid., Vol.2, Acc. 94, 95A, 95B.

3.      Ibid., Vol.2. Acc. 526

4.      2:83, 2:110, 2:177, 2:277, 5:55, 22:41, 22:78, 24:37, 24:56, 27:3, 31:4, 98:5.

5.      21:73, 23:4, 33:3.

6.      9:103, 92:18.

7.      Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol.2, Acc. 524; Vol.3, Acc. 513; Vol.4, Acc. 232.

8.      Ibid., Vol.1, Acc. 174; Vol.3, Acc. 551.      

[8 references]

Muhammad Yunus, a Chemical Engineering graduate from Indian Institute of Technology, and a retired corporate executive has been engaged in an in-depth study of the Qur’an since early 90’s, focusing on its core message. He has co-authored the referred exegetic work, which received the approval of al-Azhar al-Sharif, Cairo in 2002, and following restructuring and refinement was endorsed and authenticated by Dr. KhaledAbou El Fadl of UCLA, and published by Amana Publications, Maryland, USA, 2009.