CHAPTER 10: Why Islam? Part 1

Muslims believe that the religions before Islam were designed in God’s wisdom to successively guide the societies of their time in dealing with human defects. For example, Prophet Shuaib was sent to teach his people justice and fairness.  Moses was sent to teach the children of Israel the Oneness of God, to reject idols and not to be transgressors. Jesus was sent to teach his people, the children of Israel, the importance of spirituality and forgiveness. Islam, the final guide for humanity, was sent to reinforce these themes, as well as to add the importance of appropriate manners and provide details missing in the previous revelations.

Unfortunately, those who believe in worldly secular systems have not examined Islamic laws for a variety of reasons, so let us explore and discuss some of them here.


I The Basis of Islamic Laws

A basic principle in Islam is that religious laws are meant to guide us.   They protect the lives, properties and honor of each individual, Muslim and non-Muslim alike. In Islam, an individual must strive against two principal negative powers. One is the devil and the second is one’s own selfish motives.  If sin did not result in punishment, humankind would fall victim to uncontrollable selfish desires due to a lack of personal responsibility. This in turn leads to sinful acts and injustice to others.

The concept of punishment and reward has been inherited without opposition by most human social systems. Why then do some people reject the same principle in their relationship with God?  The answer may be found in at least two considerations. The first is that reward and punishment are seen quickly in human systems, while God’s reward and punishment may be delayed. In Islam, we are reminded that God is patient with human beings, but does not forget. Divine mercy reprieves us longer than we expect in order to give us a greater chance for repentance. Yet we are at fault for taking advantage of God’s patience with us.

The second reason why we deny the principle of individual responsibility is because human beings tend to take, rather than give. It requires energy and discipline to tame our desire to dominate others. It is easier for us to fool ourselves, assuming there will be no punishment or justice to erase the guilt attached to our desire for power. Yet God has given ample descriptions of a losing person, one who does not do good deeds, who does not pray or fast, and then still expects to deserve the glad tidings of a merciful Lord. God’s justice is severe in punishing such individuals.

Whoever goes right, then he goes right only for the benefit of his own self.  And whoever goes astray, then he goes astray to his own loss.  No one laden with burdens can bear another’s burden. And we never punish until We have sent a Messenger (to give warning).

(The Journey by Night, Surah 17; 15)

Say: ‘The angel of death, who is set over you, will take your souls.  Then you shall be brought to your Lord’. And if you only could see when the Mujrimun (criminals, disbelievers, polytheists, sinners) shall hang their heads before their Lord (saying): ‘Our Lord! We have now seen and heard, so send us back (to the world), that we will do righteous good deeds. Verily! We now believe with certainty.’

And if We had willed, surely We would have given every person this guidance, but the Word  from Me  (about evil-doers) took  effect, that  I will fill  Hell with  jinn and mankind together. Then taste you (the torment of the Fire) because of your forgetting the Meeting of this Day of yours.  Surely We too will forget you: so taste you the abiding torment for what you used to do. Only those believe in Our ayat (proofs, evidences, verses, lessons, signs, revelations, etc.) who, when they are reminded of them, fall down prostrate, and glorify the Praises of their Lord, and they are not proud. Their sides forsake their beds, to invoke their Lord in fear and hope, and they spend (in charity in Allah’s Cause) out of what We have bestowed on them. No person knows what is kept hidden for them of joy as a reward for what they used to do. Is then he who is a believer like him who is a Fasiq (disbeliever and disobedient to Allah)? Not equal are they.

(The Prostration, Surah 32; 11-18)

We have only ourselves to blame if we do not recognize the strictness of God’s contract to humankind.  The basis of the relationship between humans and God is made clear in the Qur’an.

Deeply rooted in Islamic belief is the principle that each individual may acquire sins, but does not inherit them; thus each individual is accountable for his or her own deeds.  Islam believes that each newborn is innocent and enters life with a natural tendency to believe in and obey God.  With the development of discernment and awareness, individuals make a free decision about whether to continue in their original paths, or choose alternative routes.

Islam considers it an injustice if an individual is permitted to be sacrificed for the atonement of another person, or for many. For that reason it rejects the concept of the crucifixion of Prophet Jesus (PBUH). In fact, the Qur’an states that Jesus was purified, rescued, and lifted up by the will of God from the midst of those who plotted to kill him. Islam recognizes that, given our imperfect human nature, we are prone to commit mistakes. But our All-Merciful God leaves the door wide open for every individual to repent and ask forgiveness for his or her own misdeeds. As we have seen, included among the many names or attributes of God are The Pardoner, The Most Merciful and The Forgiver – which clearly indicate God’s intention to accept our shortcomings, provided we present ourselves with the appropriate and right intentions. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was reported to have asked for God’s forgiveness more than 70 times a day. On being asked why he did this, despite the assurance that he would enter paradise, he replied: “Should not I be a thankful servant?”  He also said that “one enters paradise by the mercy of God and then competes for one’s ranking inside paradise according to his or her good deeds.”

Islam makes it abundantly clear that to attain divine mercy, people must submit their will to God.  Islam sees one’s personal relationship with God as a contract. The individual obeys and follows divine orders and in return receives God’s mercy.


II Human Values in Islam

Islam has laid down universal fundamental rights for humanity as a whole. These rights include justice and fair treatment. In the Qur’an this principle is clear: no one who is carrying a burden should be made to carry the burden of another.

And no burdened soul can bear another’s burden, and if one (who is) heavy laden cries for (help with) his load, nothing of it will be lifted even though he (unto whom he cries) be of kin.  You warn only those who fear their Lord in secret, and have established prayer. He who grows (in goodness), grows only for himself, (he cannot by his merit redeem others). Unto Allah is the journeying.

(The Originator of Creation, Surah 35; 18)

Human blood is sacred and cannot be spilled without justification. It is forbidden in Islam to oppress others, including women, for every person is considered to be worthy of honor. The Qur’an says, “O you who believe, do not let one people make fun of another.” The Prophet also warned against defaming or smearing one another, as well as against back-biting and using insulting nicknames. Furthermore, the Qur’an warns us not to spy on one another, for the sanctity and security of private life are insured in Islam.  

O believers!  Avoid immoderate suspicion, for in some cases suspicion is a sin.  Do not spy on one another, nor backbite one another (say something about another behind one’s back that the other will dislike if they hear it).  Would any of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother? Surely you would abhor it. Fear Allah; for Allah is the Accepter of repentance, Merciful.

(The Inner Apartments, Surah 49; 12)

And do not enter any houses unless one is sure of their occupants’ consent:

O believers! Do not enter houses other than your own until you have sought permission and said greetings of peace to the occupants; this is better for you, so that you may be mindful.

(The Light, Surah 24; 27)

Islam upholds personal freedom, and in nations whose governments are Muslim, citizens are entitled to full rights regarding faith and freedom of expression. Islam protects these rights for non-Muslims as well. The safeguarding of basic necessities of life is also considered an inalienable right of all people. All are equal before the law – even rulers; no one is exempt.  Community consultation and participation in local politics and the affairs of state is encouraged in Islam, as this Qur’an verse suggests:

Answer the call of their Lord, establish Salah (prayers), conduct their affairs with mutual consultation, and spend out of the sustenance which We have given them.

(The Consultation, Surah 42; 38)

In fact, the Prophet (PBUH) said that anyone who ignores civic and state matters should not be considered a Muslim.


III Crime and the Judicial System in Islam

The first principle in Islamic law is universality. Islam considers it the government’s responsibility to establish a judicial system to implement civil laws. For any crime committed against a society or individual(s), guilt must be proven through a fair trial before the accused is convicted. Islam fully recognizes human values and its laws ensure that our basic needs are satisfied. Therefore, punishment for theft is considered only if a thief’s motivation was greed, and not caused by lack of basic necessities (such as food). Physical and mental self-protection are also necessities. That is why intoxicants like alcohol and non-prescription drugs are prohibited in Islam, as are acts of self-harm, such as committing suicide. Moreover, besides preventing us from handicapping ourselves, the law also protects individuals afflicted with mental handicaps.

A second important principle of the Islamic judicial system is deterrence.  The type and severity of punishment under the law must ensure that the majority of people will fear the consequences of committing any given crime. In this context, it is then easier to understand why capital punishment is considered just retribution for an individual who kills someone with full intention.

The third principle of the Islamic judicial system is fairness.  No matter what position an accused individual holds in society, that person is to be judged only according to the magnitude of the crime committed. No one is to be denied a fair trial.

The fourth principle of the Islamic judicial system is that every able person should have a legal means of income. In Islam, work is an honor and every adult is expected to seek employment. But the more affluent members of society are also expected to contribute towards support for the needy – including those who cannot find work – because everyone has the right to dignified shelter and sustenance.  Islam also encourages marriage, as sex and intimacy are basic human needs that must be met within a context that is safe for ourselves and our children; there is no room for adultery or pre-marital sex.

The fifth principle of the Islamic judicial system is belief in repentance, for one of God’s key attributes is The Pardoner.  Any individual who commits self-harm, even if it is concealed from the public, or has no significant bearing on others, should repent by asking God’s forgiveness and guidance in overcoming their destructive behavior.  God guarantees forgiveness to all who genuinely repent.

The sixth principle of the Islamic judicial system is purification from guilt after one has been penalized for a crime. On completing a given punishment, an individual is encouraged to return to his or her normal life without interference or negative pressure from others, for in the sight of Allah that person has been purified.


IV Parent-Child Relationships in Islam

Islam acknowledges the importance of families as the basic units on which healthy societies are built. The parent-child relationship is especially crucial to establishing a strong family structure.  Children must treat their parents with utmost respect, whether they are Muslim or not. A core teaching of the Qur’an is that respect for one’s parents comes second only to the worship of God. In the same vein, ensuring parents’ well-being whenever needed is the responsibility of their children. Islam considers capable children guilty of neglect if they do not support their parents this way, and it is a major sin if they treat them harshly. This is affirmed by the Qur’anic directive to speak gently to our parents and treat them with absolute kindness. By the same token, parents have the duty of bringing up their children according to Islam, as well as providing them with the best moral, material and protective support they can until they are completely independent. The laws of inheritance are crystal clear in Islam. In Islam, we are even held responsible for our choice of marriage partner, so as to ensure a pious environment in which to raise children.

The Prophet of Islam (PBUH) made a number of important statements about the rewards of doing right by one’s family. In general, “Whatever you spend for the pleasure of Allah will have its recompense.”  He also said that when a person spends on his or her family hoping for recompense from God, it is counted as an act of charity; and that if a man ruins those whom he is supposed to support, it is a sin. Further, he said that to raise a pious child in Islam is a self-rewarding virtue that will elevate one in paradise. “He will say then, ‘how come I am being elevated?’ It will be said to him, ‘because your son is making supplication and asking God to forgive you’.”

The Prophet of Islam (PBUH) also said that after we die, any recompense for the deeds of humankind is nullified, except for those from three sources – an ongoing charitable deed, contributions to humanity through science; and good children who make supplications to God to forgive their parents. Muslims realize that on the Day of Judgment, each and every parent will be asked to account for how they brought up their children.


V The Husband-Wife Relationships in Islam

Islam strongly recommends marriage once people reach an appropriate level of maturity and financial independence. The Qur’an reminds men that “They (your wives) are your garment and you are a garment for them.” (The Cow, Surah 2; 187)

Elsewhere in the Qur’an we read:

And of His signs is this: He created for you spouses from yourselves that you might find rest in them, and He ordained between you love and mercy.  Lo, herein indeed are portents for folk who reflect.

(The Romans, Surah 30; 21)

The Prophet encouraged marriage, saying: “Marriage is part of my way and whoever departs from my way is not my follower.” He also said: “The world and this world’s life is entertainment; and the best entertainment of this life is a virtuous wife,” and “The best property a man can have is a remembering tongue (for supplicating to God), a grateful heart and a believing wife who helps him in his faith.”

Marriage is like an airplane that requires full co-operation and coordination from the cockpit crew to ensure a safe flight; the husband takes the role of pilot and his wife that of co-pilot. Communication and harmony are necessary for a smooth marital flight. In times of crisis, the captain has to take charge, but that also makes him responsible before God to make the best decisions possible for the well-being of his whole family. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “Fear Allah regarding women. Verily, you have married them with the trust of God, and you made lawful your intimate relationship with them according to the word of God. You have rights over them and they too have rights over you in respect of their food and clothing according to your means.” The sanctity of the marriage bond must be observed by both husband and wife; thus sex outside marriage (adultery) is considered an act of treason.


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