Soul of Islam
By Dr. J. S. Bandukwala
This article is based primarily on the Surah Fateha and a few other Ayats that have great relevance in the current turbulence facing the Muslim world.
I recite the Surahs / Ayats in Arabic, with a translation in English. Surah Fateha stresses the four principal characteristics of Allah: Rabbil Aalamiin, Rehman, Rahim and Maaliki Yawmid Diin. Allah specifically describes Himself as Rabbil Aalamiin, Lord of the Universe. He does not call Himself Rabbil Muslimiin, the Lord of Muslims. I beg to say that the distinction between these two words is infinite, and that most Muslims have failed to appreciate this core facet of Islam. Rabbil Aalamiin lays down the Universal, Eternal and Absolute nature of Allah, as referred again in Surah 112:
Qul Hu wallaahu Ahad,
Lam yalid, wa lam yuulad,
Walam yakul la hHuu kufuwan ahad.
Say He is Allah, the One,
Allah the Eternal, the Absolute,
He begets not, nor is He begotten,
There is none comparable to Him.
This leads to the Islamic belief in human brotherhood, breaking the barriers of colour, caste, language, territory and ironically even religious belief.
Incidentally the Koranic passage: He begets not, nor is He begotten; makes a sharp break with Christianity. Other than this fundamental issue, Christianity maybe said to be closest to Islam.
Allah is Rahman, the Most Gracious. Everything flows from Him, as a Sustainer of the entire Universe. Allah is also the Compassionate. The Koran repeatedly describes Allah in various characteristics, such as forgiving (Gafoor), the Mighty (Aziz). But usually these characteristics are followed by the Merciful. The sharp contrast reveals an Allah who is Almighty, yet is deeply concerned for the good of all human beings. More significant this compassion is more pronounced for the lowest and the weakest segment of society. Note that in the Biblical Old Testament, God appears as a stern task master. The Mercy angle rarely appears.
Allah as Maaliki Yawmid Diin is the Lord of the Day of Judgement. In Islam Judgement Day is a crucial part of theology. In short the Surah Fateha defines Allah as the Creator, the Sustainer and the Judge. Note the parallel in Hindu theology of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.
Accompanying it is the Ayat that can be considered the soul of Islam:
Iyyaaka na budu wa iyyaka nastaiin;
You alone we worship, You alone we ask for help.
This Ayat lifts man's relation to Allah as beyond all other earthly relations of family or friendship or nationality or even religious biradaris. Equally significant is that there is no need for any intercessor between man and Allah. Every individual can approach the Creator directly. This sharply distinguishes Islam from Christianity, Hinduism and Judaism. A Muslim may take guidance of ulema or invoke the intercession of Sufi saints. But it is not necessary, for the Koran is very clear. In 2, 255:
Manzallazii yashfau indahuuu illaa biiznih?
Who can intercede with Him, except by His leave?
Ayat 21, 16: Wa maa khalaqnas Samaawaati wal arza, wa maa baynahumaa laa ibiin. We created not the heavens and the earth and all that is between them in idle play.
Then what is the purpose of creation? In Ayat ul Khursi: Wa laa yuhiituuna bi shayim min ilmihiii illaa bimaa shaaa. They can encompass nothing of His knowledge save what He wills.
But Allah drops enough hints as to what is the purpose of creation. It is to create a just and fair society as the highest manifestation of His Grace.
In 2, 269: Yu til Hikmata manyyashaaa wa manyyutal Hikmata faqad utiya khayran kasiiraa. He grants wisdom to whom He pleases, and he to whom wisdom is granted receives truly an abundant benefit.
The suggestion is very explicit in 5, 3:
Famaniz turra fii makh masatin, gayra mutajaa nifil liismin fa innalaaha Gafuurur Rahim. Whoever is forced by hunger, not by will, to sin, Allah is Forgiving Merciful. This shows the infinite concern Allah has for the poor and the helpless, that He is willing to pardon a sin committed under helplessness. The reverse side is a message to man, that the best way to please Allah is to look after those who are helpless. To work towards a just society becomes the ideal for a Muslim, especially one gifted with wisdom, compassion and high leadership qualities. This is best expressed in 6, 166:
Wa huwal lazii ja alakum khalaaa ifal arzi wa rafaa bazakum fawka bazin darajaa tilli yabluwakum fii maaa aataakum. He has placed you as viceroys of the earth, raising some of you in rank above others, that He may try you in the gifts He has given you.
The divine command for a just and fair society is more sharply presented in (2,177):
Laysal birra antuwalluu wujuuhakum qibalal Mashriqi wal Magribi wa laakinnal
birra man aamana billaahi wal Yawmil Aakhiri wal malaaa ikati wal kitaabi wan nabiyyiin wa aatal maala alaa hubbihii zawil qurbaa wal yataamaa wal masaakiina wabnas sabiili was saaailiina wa fir riqaab,. wa aqaamas Salaata wa aataz Zakaah;wal muufuuna biahbdihim izaa aahaduu; was saabiriina fil basaaa i wazzarraaa i wa hiinal bas .Ulaaa ikallaziina sadaquu: wa ulaaa ika humul Muttaquun..
‘It is not righteousness that you turn your faces to the East or the West. Righteous is he who believes in Allah and the Last Day and the angels and the Scriptures and the Prophets, and gives his wealth for love of Him to kinsfolk and to orphans, and the needy and the wayfarer, and those who ask and to set slaves free, and observes proper worship and pays the poor due; and those who keep their treaty when they make one and the patient in tribulation and adversity and time of stress. Such are they who are sincere. Such are the God fearing.’
Note the passage carefully. The belief in the One Allah, and the concern for the weak and the helpless, is mentioned first. The reference to prayer occurs later.
This theme of justice is emphasized very strongly in 4, 135:
Yaaa ayyu hallaziina aamanuu kuunuu qawwaamiina bil qisti shuhadaaaa lillaahii wa law alaaa anfu sikum a wil waali dayni wal aqra biin, iny yakun ganiyyan aw faqiiran fallaahu awlaa bihimaa. Falaa tattabi ul hawaaa an ta diluu, wa in tal wuuu aw tu rizuu fa innallaaha kaana bimaa ta maluuna khabiiraa.
O you who believe, be staunch in justice, witness for Allah, even it be against yourself or your parents or your kindred, whether the case be of a rich man or a poor man, for Allah is nearer unto both than you are. So follow not passion lest you lapse from truth; and if you lapse or fall away, then Allah is ever informed of what you do.
Notice the stress on justice being totally blind. You have to stand witness, even against your own self or your closest family. This is very difficult to do, yet Islam makes it a duty on all Muslims. Why? Because striving for a just and fair society is the highest objective before any Muslim. As mentioned in 2, 177, it even takes precedence over prayers.
Absolute monotheism is the cardinal feature of Islam. Everything else follows from this basic belief. In 4, 48:
Innal laaha laa yagfiru anyyushraka bihii wa yagfiru maa duuna zaalika limanyyashaaa. Allah forgives not that a partner is ascribed with Him.
This is the only sin that Allah says He will not forgive. As mentioned earlier, this is repeated in Surah 112:
There is none comparable unto Him
This explains Muslim refusal to sing Vande Mataram. This song should not be made a litmus test of patriotism. It could severely damage Hindu Muslim relations and hurt the country badly.
Islam lays great stress on spiritual pluralism.
2,256: Laaa ikraha fid diin. There is no compulsion in religion.
109, 6: Lakum diinukum wa liya diin. Unto you your religion, unto me mine.
16, 36: Wa laqad baasnaa fii kulli ummatir rasuulan. We have sent among every people a Prophet. The Koran recognizes Abraham, Christ and Moses as Prophets, on a par with Muhammad. But there is no direct reference to regions such as India, China Japan and the South East Asia. As per this Ayat, Prophets must have been sent down to these regions. Who were these Prophets?
42, 15: Allahu Rabbunaa wa Rabbukum . Lanaa a maalunaa wa lakum a maalukum.
Laa hujjata baynanaa wa baynakum. Allahu yajmau baynanaa wa ilay hil masiir.
Allah is our Lord and your Lord. On us is the responsibility for our deeds and on you the responsibility for your deeds. No argument between us and you. Allah will bring us together. Unto Him is the journeying.
Note the similarity with Swami Vivekananda's description of religions as rivers all flowing to the same ocean. More relevant this Ayat frowns on the theological hair-splitting that have bedevilled and caused havoc in the Muslim world almost from the beginning.
49, 13; Inna akramakum indallahi atqaakum:
The noblest in the sight of Allah, is one who is most righteous.
Does this imply that God fearing noble souls, like Abu Talib bin Abdul Mutallib, Gandhi or Lincoln, will also be in paradise, even though they had not recited the Kalma?
Bearing in mind that Allah is Rabbil Aalamiin, the answer is very obvious.
But what is righteousness? This is defined in 2, 177, as mentioned earlier.
The link between righteousness and forgiveness is mentioned in 7, 199:
Khuzil afwa wa mur bilurfi waa riz anil jaahiliin.
Keep to forgiveness, enjoin righteousness, but turn away from the ignorant.
Similarly the link between kindness and justice is stressed in 16, 90:
Innallaaha ya muru biladli wal ihsaani wa iitaaa izil qurbaa wa yanhaa anil fahshaaa i wal munkari walbagy: ya izukum la allakum tazakkaruun
Allah enjoins justice and kindness, and giving to kinsfolk, and forbids lewdness and abomination and wickedness. He exhorts you in order that you may take heed.
Forgiveness is integral to Islam. Allah is pleased when you forgive injuries, insults and persecution. The same is true of kindness. Ultimately these noble characteristics, reflect the Nature of Allah, who is Rahim as well as Gafoor.
Finally there are two Ayats of direct connection with the turbulence of our times:
25, 68: Wa laa yaqtuluunan nafsallattii harram allaahu illaa bil haqqi.
Yuzaaaf lahul Azaabu Yawmal Qiyaamati:
Do not slay a life that Allah has made sacred, except for a just cause. The punishment for the murderer will be doubled on the Day of Judgement.
Then how can anyone justify the blowing up of innocents in buildings, on roads, in planes, and even more shocking in mosques, during prayer time, and that too by using suicide bombers. The sickening aspect is invoking the name of Allah to commit such heinous murders; with the suicide bombers expecting to be rewarded to the highest in paradise.
One can only say that these suicide bombers and their handlers, have completely misunderstood Islam. Frankly this is Jahaliyat. Collateral damage on innocents is absolutely condemned in Islam. It is best illustrated by the instructions the first Caliph Abu Bakr gave to the army in 632 AD:
Do not betray, do not carry grudges, do not deceive, do not mutilate; do not kill children, do not kill the elderly, do not kill women. Do not destroy beehives or burn them, do not cut down fruit bearing trees, do not slaughter sheep, cattle or camel except for food….
Notice that even in the seventh century the Companions of the Prophet were most conscious of the environment
41, 34: Wa laa tastawil hasanatu wa las sayyiah. Idfa billatii hiya ahsanu faizallazii baynaka was baynahuu adaawatun ka annahuu waliyyun hamiim.
The good deed and the evil deed are not alike. Repel evil with what is better. Then he between whom and you there was enmity, will become a close friend. See the similarities with the admonition of Christ in the Sermon on the Mount: Do not resist an evil doer. If anyone strikes you on the left cheek, turn the other also. If anyone wants to take your coat, give him your cloak as well. This beautiful Ayat is in perfect harmony with Mahatma Gandhi’s non violence and ahimsa.
The author can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org