03 September 2008
By Dr Syed Bashir Ahmad
RAMADHAN is a month of contemplation and concentration on higher things. One of them is the fact that man has been created to be the vicegerent of God on the earth. In his famous book, Gateway to Knowledge about Islam, Yusuf al Qaradhawi explains how Islam grapples with the most basic issues about the purpose and mission of humankind.
Al Qaradhawi says religions based on divinely revealed scriptures contain divine guidance for the humankind. For example, Judaism is based on the Torah revealed to Moses (Peace Be Upon Him), Christianity is based on the Bible that was revealed to Jesus (Peace Be Upon Him) and Islam is based on the Quran that was revealed to the last Messenger and the final Prophet of the Almighty, Mohammad (PBUH).
The difference between Islam and other scripture based religions is that Allah protected the foundations of Islam and its sources because of its being the final divine message to the humankind. These sources did not become subject of any distortion nor any alteration. On the other hand, the sources of other religions and their sacred books could not remain secure, but were either distorted and altered or were even lost.
Fundamentally, all the heavenly religions, although their doctrines differ according to the times of their revelation, share common sources for their beliefs. This has been explained and emphasised in the Quran as follows: “The same religion has He established for you as that which He enjoined on Noah — that which We have sent by inspiration to thee — and that which We enjoined on Abraham, Moses and Jesus: Namely that ye should remain steadfast in Religion and make no divisions therein” (Al-Quran: Ash-Shura: 13)
The Quran has affirmed that the religion of Allah is one. Through all his books, He revealed the same religion and He sent all His messengers with the same religion. That religion, as Allah, the Exalted, says, is Islam: “The Religion before Allah is Islam, submission to His will”. (Al-Quran: Al-Imran: 19) In that sense, all messengers of Allah were Muslims and called to Islam: “Abraham was not a Jew nor yet a Christian but he was true in faith and bowed his will to Allah’s (which is Islam), and he joined not gods with God”. (Al-Quran: Al-Imran: 67)
Moses called his people saying: “…O my People! if ye do (really) believe in Allah then in Him put your trust if ye submit (your will to His)”. (Al-Quran: Yunus: 84) The disciples of Jesus (PBUH) said to him: “We are Allah’s helpers we believe in Allah and do thou bear witness that we are Muslims...” (Al-Quran: Al-Imran: 52) Mohammad, the final Messenger (PBUH), was sent with Islam — the religion of all messengers of Allah — confirming the previous religions as well as corroborating what their scriptures contained in the form of religious facts and behavioural guidance.
The Glorious Quran was revealed to supersede those books by way of correcting the linguistic distortion or misrepresentation of the meanings of words of God, and to complement the benevolent morals with which the previous messengers had come. The revealed scriptures, thus, culminated in the form of the final book — the Quran — to provide the paramount guidance and the finest moral code while the human race reached its prime and attained its maturity.
Allah, the Exalted, addresses His Messenger, Mohammad (PBUH) saying: “To thee We sent the Scripture in truth confirming the scripture that came before it and guarding it in safety; so judge between them by what Allah hath revealed and follow not their vain desires diverging from the truth that hath come to thee …” (Al-Quran: Al-Maidah: 48)
Need for Religion
The need of a human being for religious beliefs arises, primarily, from his urge to know his own self and the greater existence surrounding him; it emerges from the quest for answers to those questions that have been engaging the human philosophies throughout the history, except that these philosophies have not been able to pronounce anything satisfying.
In the heart of his hearts, a human being keeps asking himself questions like: wherefrom did I come? Where did this universe around me come from? Did I come into existence on my own, or is there a creator who created me? Who is that originator? What is my relation with Him? Did this enormous world around me, with its earth and sky; with its animals, plants, inanimate bodies and universe; come into being by itself or an intelligent designer brought it into existence? What is there after this life … after the death?
After this short expedition to the planet Earth, where does the journey lead? Is the whole story of this life just about, as someone said, “wombs eject and the earth swallows” and the story ends there? How can the destiny of the noble and the chaste, who laid down their lives in the path of truth and righteousness, be like the destiny of the wicked and the crook, who massacred others for their own whims and fancies? Does this life end up with the death; or is there another life wherein those who did bad deeds will be paid in kind of their deeds and those who were righteous be paid rightly? Why did the human being come into existence?
Why, unlike other living beings, was man given the capabilities of intellect, resolve and differentiation? Why was all that is in the skies and in the earth made subservient to man? Is there a purpose to his being? Does he have a mission in life; or was he brought into existence just to eat and drink like cattle and to die and depart from this life like animals? If there is a purpose to his existence, what then is that purpose? How does he realise that purpose?
Such questions have been posing themselves emphatically to the human being in all times and obliging for convincing answers that can quench his rational thirst and satisfy his inner self. However, satisfactory answers to these can be found only by resorting to Islam. Islam only makes you aware, in the first instance, that you did not come into existence by happenstance, nor did you stand up in this form in the midst of this universe on your own; you are rather a creation of a great Creator.
That Creator is his Cherisher, the one who created you in a duly proportionate and orderly form; breathed into you something of his spirit; gave you the faculties of listening, seeing and feeling (in the heart); bestowed upon you His enormous blessings, right from the stage when you were an embryo in your mother’s womb: “Have We not created you from a fluid (held) despicable?, which We placed in a place of rest firmly fixed, For a period (of gestation) determined (according to need), For We do determine (according to need); for We are the Best to determine (things)!” (Al-Quran: Al-Mursalat: 20-23)
This vast universe around you is neither alien to you nor is it your adversary; it is, just like you, Allah’s creation; it does not move haphazardly, nor does it follow its course arbitrarily; everything in it is proportionate and precise; every event and each move calculated and measured. This is a bounty from Allah bestowed upon the human being, so that he may enjoy His blessings, and think over His signs to find a lead to his Cherisher: “Who hath created and further given order and proportion; Who hath ordained laws. And granted guidance”. (Al-Quran: Al-A’ala: 2-3)
“Behold! in the creation of the heavens and the earth and the alternation of night and day there are indeed Signs for men of understanding”. (Al-Quran: Al-Imran: 190) With this belief, the human being gets connected with the greater existence around him; he gets connected to the Cherisher of the whole existence Himself; he does not live cocooned around himself; neither isolated from his surroundings nor fearful of them. Only religion enlightens the human being about where is he going to go after this life and after death?
It enlightens him that death is not a mere extinction nor is it nothingness; that it is rather transition to yet another phase, wherein every person will be recompensed for all his deeds; that no one’s deeds, whether male or female, will go in vain, nor shall any tyrant or arrogant escape the divine justice: “On that Day will men proceed in companies sorted out to be shown the Deeds that they (had done). Then shall anyone who has done an atom’s weight of good see it! And anyone who has done an atom’s weight of evil shall see it”. (Al-Quran: Az-Zalzalah: 6-8)
Only religion enlightens the human being about the purpose of his creation and about why he has been blessed and chosen. It defines to him the purpose of his existence and his mission therein. He realises that he has been created to be the vicegerent of God on the earth, so that he may exploit and develop it according to His commands, utilise it for what He likes, discover its hidden riches and consume its delicacies, without transgressing over the rights of others, nor forgetful of the rights of the Cherisher.
The first right of his Cherisher is that He alone be worshipped, no partners be to set to Him and He be worshipped in accordance to what He has prescribed and conveyed through His messengers — whom He sent to humankind as torchbearers and teachers and who were harbingers and warners. If he fulfils his obligations in this world, which is surrounded by obligations and ordeals, he will be rewarded in the hereafter: “On the day when every soul will be confronted with all the good it has done…” (Al-Quran: Al-Imran: 30)
Thus, the human being realises the secret of his existence and he recognise his mission in the life. This cognisance is bestowed upon him by the designer of the universe, the provider of life and the creator of the human being himself. A poet very aptly said: Death is nothing but a journey, a journey from the house of nonentity to the house of permanence. Omar bin Abdul Aziz has said: “we have been created for eternity; we are being transported from one abode to another”.