26 Oct The Basic Concepts of Islam: Part 2
The Concept of Righteousness (Birr)
Islam always warns against superficial concepts and rituals, against lifeless formalities and non-effective beliefs. In one representative verse God explains the full meaning of righteousness as follows:
It is not righteousness that you turn your faces (in prayer) towards East or West; but it is righteousness to believe in God and the Last day, and the Angels and the Book, and the Messengers; to spend of your wealth – in spite of your love for it – for your kin, for orphans, for the needy, for the wayfarer, for those who ask, and for the ransom of slaves; to be steadfast in prayer and practice regular charity; to fulfill the contracts which you have made; and to be firm and patient, in pain and adversity and throughout all periods of panic. Such are the people of truth, the God – minded (Quran, 2:177).
In this verse there is a beautiful and clear description of the righteous man. He should obey all the salutary regulations, and should make his sincere motive the love of God and the love of his fellow man for the sake of God. Here we have four elements:
(I) our Faith should be true and sincere,
(II) we must be prepared to show it in deeds of charity and kindness to our fellow man,
(III) we must be good citizens by supporting charitable institutions and social organisations, and
(IV) we must be steadfast and unshakable in all circumstances.
It is clear, that therefore, that righteousness is not merely a matter of void utterances. It must be founded on strong faith and constant practice. It must cover the persons thinking and action and extend to his inside and outside life, to his individual and common affairs. When the Islamic principle of righteousness is established, it provides the individual with peace in all circumstances, the society with security on all levels, the nation with solidarity, and the international community with hope and harmony. How peaceful and enjoyable life can be when people implement the Islamic Concept of Righteousness! What can be more reassuring than faith in the Beneficent Creator and investing in such good worthy causes? What can be more humane than relieving the deep anxieties of the subjugated, alleviating the sufferings of the exploited, and responding to the needs of the helpless? What is more methodical and honest than the fulfilment of commitments, the preservation of clear conscience, and the maintenance of integrity? And what is more spiritually joyful than doing all this regularly, as a matter of course, and for the love of God?
The Concept of Piety (Taqwa)
What has been said about faith and righteousness is generally true of piety. Again, it is not a matter of convenient claims and oral confessions. It is much more serious. As always, the Quran is our best source, and when it speaks of the pious it describes them as those who believe in the Unseen (which is taught by God), are steadfast in prayer, and spend of what We have provided for them; and who believe in the Revelation sent to you (Muhammad), and sent before your time, and (in their hearts) have the assurance of the Hereafter. They are on true guidance from their Lord, and it is these who will prosper (Quran, 2:3-5). The pious are those who spend (freely in the way God) whether in prosperity or in adversity; who restrain anger and pardon (all men; – for God loves those who do good; and those who – having done something to be ashamed of, or wronged their own souls – earnestly bring God into mind, and ask for forgiveness for their sins, – and who can forgive sins except God? – and are never obstinate in persisting knowingly in (the wrong) they have done. For such the reward is forgiveness from their Lord, and Gardens with rivers flowing underneath, – an eternal dwelling. How excellent a recompense for those who work (and strive)! (Quran, 3:134-136).
In these verses we find that piety requires a proper use of the mind by grasping truth of God and life, a proper use of wealth by spending in the way of God under all circumstances and a proper use of the spiritual as well as the physical abilities of man by observing the prayer. It also demands a high degree of self – control over ones anger and emotions, a moral capacity for forgiveness and patience, and conscious urge to make the sinner return to God in regret and repentance. To be pious is to be a man of true and fine convictions, of determination and character, of will and courage and, above all, to be a man of God. Piety, righteousness and meaningful Faith are interrelated and all pour into one channel. They lead to Islam and build up the true Muslim.
The Concept of Prophethood
The Merciful and loving God has sent many prophets at different times of history. Every known nation has had one prophet or more. All the prophets of God were men of good character and high honor. They were prepared and chosen by God to deliver His Message to mankind. Their honesty and truthfulness, their intelligence and integrity are beyond doubt. They were infallible in that they did not commit sins or violate the Law of God. But as mortals, they might have made unintentional mistakes in some human affairs and decisions. Their private judgment were not necessarily always right. The sending of these prophets from God is a clear manifestation of strong link between Heaven and Earth, between God and man. It means that man is reformable and in him there is much good. The purpose of prophethood is to confirm what man already knows or can know, and to teach him what he does not or cannot know by his own means. It is also to help man to find the Straight Path of God, and to do the right and shun the wrong. Prophethood is an eloquent expression of Gods love for His creations and His will to guide them to the right way of belief and behaviour. It is an emphasis of His justice to man, because He shows him true guidance first, and then holds him responsible for his deeds. He gives warnings through His prophets, and if man fails to see the dangers of his wrong deeds, his behaviour becomes punishable. This is in complete accord with Gods love and justice, and the worth and capability of man of being responsible to his Lord. The Source of prophethood and the Sponsor of all the prophets are One and the Same: it is God. Their aim is to serve God, to acquaint man with God and His Divine teachings, to establish truth and goodness, to help man to realize the true purpose of his existence and help him to conduct his life in a purposeful way. It is on this basis that the Muslims make no discrimination among the prophets and accept their teachings as consistent and complementary. And this is the reason why the Muslims believe in all the Divine Books and accept all the prophets of God as already mentioned.