Islam Between Privilege and Responsibility

By Dr. Ashraf Amin

THE great Mufassirs (Exegetes) have found that man is the main focus of the Qur'an, the ‘Final Revealed Book’. They contend that if one ponders upon the multifaceted discourses incorporated in the Qur’an, one can safely reach to the conclusion that the central theme and aim pursued by the Qur’an is the ‘training of the human being’, as a being conscious of the reason of his existence. The main aim of the Qur’an, if simplified is therefore to reinforce and accelerate the spiritual ascension, together with all the qualities of human being, towards a state of true loftiness and the dignity of which the human being is worthy for he is created in the best of the moulds (Ashraf al Makhluqat). In other words, we can say that the main purpose of Qur’an is to expound truths that are relevant to the ‘life of a human being’ and the exaltation of his being conducive to attain a life of true happiness. Comprehending the essence of Qur’an, it was the Prophet himself first who shaped his life on the Qura’anic precepts so much so that ‘Ayesha (wife of the Prophet) symbolises his morals with the teachings of Qur’an. Imbibing the characteristics of their Prophet, the Companions (Sahaba) strived hard to actualise their life in conformity with the Qur’an. Ali bin Abi Talib is reported to supplicate that reveals how the Holy Qur’an forms ‘the chart of life for man’. He prayed: “O Allah! expand my breast with Qur’an, actuate my body with Qur’an, enlighten my sight with Qur’an, liberate my tongue by Qur’an, and help me to mould my life according to Qur’an, so long as You make me live”.

Believers are expected to refer to the Quran and the Sunnah of Messenger of Allah in order to learn the secrets of the life in the world and the hereafter; they also refer to it whenever issues remain unsolved through other means. In such respect Qur’an says in Surah al-Nahl (16: 89) “We have sent down to thee the Book explaining all things, a Guide, Mercy and Glad Tidings to Muslims.” However, one should not conclude from this verse that the Quran is an almanac or a book of science. It is not a book that mentions provisional scientific theories; it may furnish the clues regarding science but in essence, it is a life guide. It is a manual sent by Allah, Who created us and who knows our nature better than us; it shows us how to use our temporary body in this transient world. “This Quran is not a tale invented, but a confirmation of what went before it, a detailed exposition of all things, and a Guide and a Mercy to any such as believe”, says Qur’an in Surah al-Yusuf (12:111). It is the most distinctive feature of the Quran, whose unique aim is the guidance and happiness of human beings, to use a style in compliance with this aim: “to address sometimes the mind, sometimes the feelings, sometimes the conscience and sometimes the heart of its readers, to attract attention to the previous nations, the sky and the earth, the kingdom of plants and animals, the psychological, sociological, philosophical and ethical realities and to ask its readers to think on these issues”, as Said Nursi puts it. The Quran informs man of his responsibilities toward himself, his Lord, the other people and nature. It teaches those who are not aware of their responsibilities and reminds those who forget about their responsibilities.

Qur’an has a unique feature of portrayal of preceding nations. One of such communities described is that of Banu Israel. The community was honoured with the endowment of several Prophets. God bestowed them with multiple favours that were unknown to others. Qur’an abounds in ayahs with respect to the favours done to the said Nation. Thus says the Qur’an: “O Children of Israel! call to mind the (special) favour which I bestowed upon you, and fulfil your covenant with Me as I fulfil My Covenant with you, and fear none but Me. ( 2:40). “Children of Israel! Call to mind the (special) favour which I bestowed upon you, and that I preferred you to all other nations (for My Message) (2:47).

In fact Banu Israel turns out to be the first nation who received the maximum number of Prophets, a fully detailed and comprehensive Law, and a comprehensive revealed scripture in the form of Torah. “And We gave Moses the Scripture, complete with the best commandments, detailing everything, and a beacon and mercy, that they may believe in meeting their” (Qur’an, 6:154). All such favours deserved obedience to God and service towards mankind. However Banu Israel ended up with Jews and Christians. The former got so intoxicated with the phrase Chosen People that they became racial (Making Yahweh Only their God) and the later held salvation as their exclusive right. They abandoned the spirit of servitude to God, instead developed the fantasies of good life here and hereafter. God had sent them constant reminders recorded in Torah and as endorsed by Qur’an: We [Allah] made a covenant with you [Children of Israel] and raised the Mount [Sinai] above you, saying:  ‘Grasp fervently [the Torah] what We [Allah] have given you, and bear in minds its precepts, that you may guard yourselves against evil”(Qur’an, 2:65). Stressing upon the moral and social duties God had revealed: And remember We [Allah] made a covenant with the Children of Israel (to this effect): Worship none but Allah; treat with kindness your parents and kindred, and orphans and those in need; speak fair to the people; be steadfast in prayer; and practise regular charity. Then did ye turn back, except a few among you, and ye backslide (even now) (Qur’an, 2:83). But being carried away by the shower of favours, Banu Israel (contemporary Jews and Christians) remained oblivious of the criteria of being good in the sight of their Lord. As Karen Armstrong puts it nicely, “The title of ‘Chosen People’ given to Banu Israel spoke more of responsibility than of privilege.”

Failing in the fulfilment of Covenants made with Allah, Jews and Christians were succeeded by Muslims as Allah makes it a rule to substitute the irresponsible and insensitive with the responsible and susceptible. Muhammad as a Prophet and his immediate followers (Sahaba) lived up to the spirit that was altogether missing in Banu Israel. According to Qur’anic teaching, service of Allah cannot be separated from service to humankind, or in Islamic terms, believers in Allah must honour both Haquq Allah (rights of Allah) and Haquq al-‘ibad (rights of creatures). Fulfilment of one’s duties to Allah and humankind constitutes righteousness, as comprehensively stated in Surah Al-Baqarah ( 2:177), which reads as: Righteousness does not consist in turning your faces towards the east or towards the west; true righteousness consists in believing in Allah and the Last Day, the angels, the Book and the Prophets, and in giving away one’s property in love of Him to one’s kinsmen, the orphans, the poor and the wayfarer, and to those who ask for help, and in freeing the necks of slaves, and in establishing Prayer and dispensing the Zakah. True righteousness is attained by those who are faithful to their promise once they have made it and by those who remain steadfast in adversity and affliction and at the time of battle (between Truth and falsehood). Such are the truthful ones; such are the God-fearing. Setting themselves right in the colour of above cited teachings of Qur’an, Prophet and his comrades in the full light of history displayed to the world that they represented the group of “chosen people '' in the true sense of the word. The successors of Prophet's Companions termed as Tabiin and their successors known as TabaTabiin did their best to preserve the legacy left by the Prophet and his followers.

However as time passed, Muslims developed signs of negligence towards the ways set by their Prophet under the all wise guidance of God (Allah). The rot deepened to such an extent that Muslims like Jews and Christians felt contended with the title of Khayr-i-Ummat (The Best Community) and Ummat-i-Wasata (The Middle Ummah) at the cost of obligations that the titles brought with them.

In the words of Muhammad Azizan: “It must be made clear that although the Ummat-i-Wasat of the Prophet is recognized by a specific name, they are neither a chosen group nor a saved community of faith. By virtue of exercising the final, concrete and universal form of Islam, they belong to a single community of believers. Thus the model community of the Prophet stands as the final community of the final al-Millah al Hanaffiyah (the absolute monotheistic religion). To be a Muslim today or any day as Rifat Hassan puts it is to live in accordance with the will and pleasure of Allah.” She comments:  Muslims often say, with joy and pride, that it is easy to be a Muslim since Islam is ‘the straight path’ leading to paradise. What this means, in other words, is that the principles of Islam are simple and straightforward, free of ambiguities, confusions, inconsistencies or mysteries, and that comprehending them or living in accordance with them is not difficult. The assumption here is that if one somehow comes to “the straight path” by accepting Islam, which is Allah’s last and final revelation to humanity, one will fairly effortlessly arrive at the destination which is a state of eternal blessedness in the presence of Allah.

 Qur’an always hosts an integrated vision that contains belief in Allah and Allah’s revelation (Iman) and righteous action (amal), or regular remembrance of Allah (Salah) and discharge of one’s financial and moral obligations to Allah’s creatures (Zakah). Thus, to be a Muslim means in a fundamental way to be both Allah-conscious and conscious of his fellow human beings, and to understand the interconnectedness of all aspects of one’s life, of the life of all creation and of our life in this momentary world to life eternal. Qur’an beautifully summarises this as: “Those who remember God (always, and in prayers) standing, sitting, and lying down on their sides, and think deeply about the creation of the heavens and the earth, (saying), “Our Lord!  You have not created (all) this without purpose, glory to You!  (Exalted are You above all that they associate with You as partners); give us salvation from the torment of the Fire” (3:191).

It is really unfortunate that today Muslims all over the world fail to uphold the ideas of Islam. They are in-serious towards the affairs within their own societies and the global crisis of justice, order, leadership, harmony and peace. Instead of realizing their responsibilities they appease themselves with ideas that they are the favourite Ummah of the Prophet and witness over all Ummam. They don’t pay heed towards when Prophet Muhammad will say, “O my Lord! Surely my people have treated this Qur’an as a forsaken thing”( Qur’an, 25:30) or the Hadith of the Prophet like “All are entitled to Jannah except those who deny. Upon asking who will deny going Jannah, the Prophet replied those who cast his Sunnah aside (Bukhari). Instead of applying what Iqbal calls “The Principle of Movement”, Ijtihad, (The greatest gift offered by Prophet to the Ummah), Muslims still live in the past mesmerizing themselves with Ideal Madinan society, Khilafat-i-Rashidah, Golden Period of Abbasids, Conquest of Jerusalem, etc. In the context of Kashmir such things turn more interesting. A Kashmiri Muslim anticipates his salvation in his respective sect assessing its conformity more with the Prophetic Era. He reduces the cosmopolitan outlook and universal appeal of Islam to a parochial outlook of his particular sect. He hardly tolerates the religious views of others. He is ready to knock out his fellow Muslim in a sectarian religious debate (Munazarah), but remains ignorant of the Islamophobia, the world is garnering against him. It really is high time for Muslims to come out of delusion and ensure their living presence is felt in the world.

  • The author  is the Assistant Professor, Department of Islamic Studies, Baba Ghulam Shah Badshah University, Rajouri. Views expressed are the author's own.

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