ISLAMIC CIVILIZATION AS DEPICTED IN THE QUR'AN

Islamic and Western Civilizations

Muhammad left a great spiritual legacy which enveloped the world in its light and guided man's civilization throughout many centuries, a legacy which will envelop the world again and guide man's civilization once more until the light of God has filled the universe. The legacy of Muhammad had such great effect in the past and will have great or greater effect in the future precisely because Muhammad established the religion of truth and laid the foundation of the only civilization which guarantees the happiness and felicity of man. The religion which Muhammad conveyed and the civilization which he established at his Lord's command for the benefit of mankind are inseparable from each other. Islamic civilization has been raised on a foundation of science and rationalism, and that is the same foundation on which western civilization of today is based. Moreover, Islam as a religion has based itself on personalist thinking and intentional logic. The relation between religion and its propositions on the one hand, and civilization and its foundation on the other, is binding and firm. Islam links metaphysical thought and personal feelings with the rules of logic and the precepts of science, with a bond that all Muslims must discover and grasp if they are to remain Muslims. From this aspect, the civilization of Islam is radically different from that of western civilization which dominates the world today. The two are different in their description of life as well as the foundation on which they base such description. The difference between the two civilizations is so essential that they have developed in ways which are radically contradictory to each other.

 

The West and the Struggle between Church and State

The difference is due to a number of historical causes to which we have alluded in the prefaces to the first and second editions of this work. In western Christendom, the continuing struggle between the religious and secular powers, or-to use the contemporary idiom-between church and state, led to their separation and to the establishment of the state upon the denial of the power of the church. The struggle to which this will to power led has left deep effects upon the whole of western thought. The first of these effects was the separation of human feeling and reasoning from the logic of absolute reason and the findings of positive science based on sensory observation and evidence.

 

 

 

The Economic System as Foundation of Western Civilization

The victory of materialist thinking was largely due to the establishment of western civilization primarily upon an economic foundation. This situation led to the rise in the West of a number of worldviews which sought to place everything in the life of man and the world at the mercy of economic forces. Many an author in the West sought to explain the whole history of mankind-religious, esthetic, philosophic or scientific-in terms of the waves of progress or retrogression which constitute the economic history of the various peoples. Not only has this thinking pervaded historiography; it has even reached philosophy. A number of western philosophies have sought to found the laws and principles of morality on bases of pragmatism and utilitarianism. As a result of this fixation of thought in the West, all these theories, despite their perspicacity and originality, have been limited in scope to the realm of material benefits. In other words, all the laws of morality were based on a material foundation and in satisfaction of what was regarded as a necessary consequence of scientific research and evidence. As for the spiritual aspect, western civilization regarded it as purely individual, rationally incapable of being the object of any group consideration. From this followed the absolute freedom of belief which the West has sanctified. The West has honored the freedom of belief far more than it has the freedom of morals; and it has honored the freedom of morals far more than the freedom of economic activity. The latter it has tied hand and foot by public laws, and commanded that every western state and army prevent any violation of economic laws with all the power and coercive means at its disposal.

 

Incapacity of Western Civilization to Bring Happiness to Man

In this author's opinion, a civilization which founds itself upon economic activity and erects its moral system on that activity as a base, and yet gives no weight in public life to faith, is incapable of achieving for mankind the happiness that men seek. Indeed, a civilization which so regards human life is bound to bring upon mankind all the calamities which have befallen our world in the recent centuries. Under its aegis, any attempt to prevent war and to establish universal peace will prove futile and vain. As long as man's relation to man is based upon the loaf of bread and the struggle which man wages against his fellows in order to get it for himself, a struggle the success of which depends upon the animal power which each one of us can marshal for the purpose, it is indubitable that every man will watch for the best occasion to cheat his fellow out of his loaf of bread. Every man will regard his fellow man as his enemy rather than his brother; and personal morality will have nothing but the animal in us on which to stand. This is true though man's animality may remain hidden until need uncovers it, for only utility is consonant with such a moral foundation. Charity, altruism, love, brotherhood-in short, all the principles of nobler morality and the values of higher humanity-will forever pass over a consciousness disciplined by such a civilization just as water passes off the back of a duck.

The actualities of the contemporary world furnish empirical evidence for my claim. Competition and struggle are the first principles of the economic system and are the most salient characteristics of western civilization. This is the case regardless of whether the system is individualistic or socialistic. In the former, the worker competes with his fellow worker, the capitalist with his fellow capitalist, and worker and capitalist are committed enemies of each other. The devotees of this view regard struggle and competition as the forces of man's good and progress. They regard these forces as the source of motivation for the pursuit of perfection and the division of labor, as well as for a just criterion for the distribution of wealth. The socialist system, on the other hand, sees in the struggle between the classes a means to destroy those classes and bring the destiny of society under control of the workers. This system is regarded by socialism as the necessary logic of nature. But as long as struggle and competition for wealth are the essence of life, and as long as class struggle is the law of nature, then it is equally the law of nature that the nations of the world struggle and prey upon one another in order to realize their purposes. Nationalism thus arose as a necessary consequence to this economic anthropology. But if it is natural for the nations to struggle and compete with one another for wealth, and if colonialism is a natural consequence of this necessary system, how are wars ever to be avoided and how is peace ever to be achieved? In this Christian twentieth century we have witnessed sufficient evidence to convince anyone that a world founded upon such a civilization may dream of, but never realize, peace. Because of it, peace will forever be a false mirage and an impossible desideratum.

 

The Groundwork of Islamic Civilization

Unlike western civilization, the civilization of Islam is built upon a spiritual base in which man is first and foremost called upon to recognize ultimate reality and to realize his position in the world with regard to that reality. Whenever man's consciousness of this relation reaches the point of certainty and conviction, that conviction will demand of him ever to discipline himself, to cleanse his soul, and to nourish his heart as well as his mind with the sublime principles of magnanimity, contentment, brotherhood, love, charity, and piety. On the basis of such principles man will then organize his economic life. Such progression is the foundation of Islamic civilization as the revelation of Muhammad conceived it. It is first and foremost a spiritual civilization. In it, the spiritual order constitutes the groundwork of the system of education, of personal and social morality. The principles constituting the moral order in turn constitute the groundwork of the economic system. It is therefore not permissible in this civilization that any moral principle be sacrificed for the sake of the economic system.

In this author's opinion, it is this conception peculiar to Islamic civilization that is capable of bringing mankind to a sure realization of happiness and felicity. Should it ever become firmly established in the minds of men, and should it come to dominate this world as western civilization has come to dominate it today, mankind will lead a different life. The current ideologies will be washed away, and nobler moral principles will take over the solution of the chronic crises of the present world. In both East and West, men have been trying to find solutions to these crises without anyone's realizing-not excluding the Muslims themselves-that Islam offers to them certain and guaranteed solutions. The western people are today groping for a new spiritual seriousness which might save them from the paganism in which they have allowed themselves to fall and from the worship of wealth which has been at the root of their misery and interminable wars. The western peoples are seeking to discover this new spiritual seriousness in the religions of India and the Far East, when it has been right here close to them all the time, established once and for all, and clearly elaborated in the Qur'an, as well as given its highest examplification in the life and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad.

It is not my intention to predict here the role of Islamic civilization or to analyze its system. Such work would by itself occupy a volume of this size or even larger. But I do think it imperative to characterize that civilization in general now that I have pointed to the spiritual basis on which it stands. Therefore, I hope to give an idea of the nature of Muhammad's call and thereby to pave the road for further and more complete research and study.

 

No Competition between Church and State in Islam

Before I do this, however, it behooves me to point to the fact that the history of Islam has been free of any struggle between religious and secular authorities, that is, between church and state. This fact has protected Islamic history from the effects that struggle has left upon western thought. This salutory influence upon Islam and upon its history and thought is primarily due to the fact that it has never known anything called church or religious authority along the lines of Christianity. No Muslim, even if he should be a caliph, has any right to impose anything in the name of Islam. He can neither forgive nor punish any violation of such commandments imposed in the name of religion. Moreover, no Muslim may, even if he should be a caliph, impose upon the people anything other than that which God imposed in His Book. Indeed, in front of God, all Muslims are equal; none may be distinguished from the others except in virtue and piety. No ruler in Islam is entitled to the Muslim's obedience in a matter involving a violation of a divine commandment, or of that which has not been expressly commanded by God. We should recall here the inaugural speech of Abu Bakr following his election to the caliphate: "Obey me as long as I obey God and His Prophet. But if I disobey God's command or His Prophet's, then no obedience is incumbent upon you." Despite all the crass exercises of the will to political power and all the civil wars and rebellions which the history of the Islamic state has witnessed, the Muslims have remained true to this great personal freedom which their religion had established for them. Theirs has always been a freedom which assigned to reason the role of judge in everything, whether in religion or in the matter of conviction and faith itself. The Muslims have held strongly to this freedom even in the face of those kings and princes who claimed that they were the lieutenants of God on earth, not of His Prophet, and who wielded in their hands the keys of life and death. Witness the turbulent events during the reign of al Ma'mun when the issue was whether or not the Qur'an was created. The caliph believed one thing, but the Muslims differed from him despite the certainty of the punishment and wrath that awaited them.

 

Islam Makes Reason the Final Judge

Islam made reason the judge in everything, whether in religion or in conviction and faith itself. God said: "And the case of those who disbelieve is like that of a person who hears the sound of a call but who does not distinguish any word or idea. To talk to them is like talking to the deaf, dumb, and blind. Those who disbelieve simply do not use their reason and neither do they understand." [Qur'an, 2:171] Commenting on this verse, Shaykh Muhammad `Abduh wrote: "This verse clearly asserts that taqlid [Imitation of the ancestors, conservatism. -Tr.] without reason or guidance is the prerogative of the disbelievers, that man is not a convinced Muslim unless he has reasoned out his religion, known it in person, and become personally convinced of its truth and validity. Whoever, therefore, has been brought up so as to acquiesce without reason and to act without knowledge and wisdom-even though he may be virtuous-is not a convinced Muslim. Religious conviction does not have for its purpose the subjugation of man to the good as if he were an animal. Rather, its purpose is that man may, by the use of reason and the pursuit of knowledge, rise to the level where he will do the good because he fully knows that it is in itself good and acceptable to God, and avoid the evil because he fully knows its undesirable consequence and harm."

The foregoing claims of Shaykh Muhammad `Abduh given in exegesis of this verse are all to be found in the Qur'an itself in a number of other verses. The Qur'an has called upon men to look into the universe and to discover its construction and structure. It commanded men to do so in the conviction that their investigation of the structure of the universe would lead them to the discovery of God as well as of His unicity-may He be adored! God-to Whom is the praise-says: "In the creation of heaven and earth, in the succession of day and night, in the phenomena of the ships sailing across the seas with goods-for the welfare of men, in the fall of rain water from heaven to quicken a dead earth, in populating the earth with all species of animals, in the ordering of winds and clouds between sky and earth in all these there are signs and pieces of evidence for men who reason." [Qur'an, 2:164] Further, God says

Our signs and pieces of evidence which We have presented to man are the phenomena of a dead earth quickened and caused to give forth grain, gardens of date trees and vines, and fountains of fresh water with which We have covered the earth that man may eat and drink his fill. All these are not merely the work of man's hands; but will men not feel grateful? Will they not give thanks to God, saying, `Praise be to God Who created from earth and from that which grows and remains hidden in the earth all the creatures that live in pairs, and all that they procreate of themselves.' Of our signs and evidence are the phenomena of night from which We cut off all light, causing man to stand in darkness; of the sun which runs in its orbit, an orbit well defined by the All-Knowing and Almighty; of the moon for which We have appointed various stages of growth and decline until it appears as an old shriveled tree branch. It is of Our signs and evidence that neither sun overtakes the moon nor night overtakes the day but that each runs in a well-defined and ordered course. As further signs and clearer evidence, We have made it possible for laden ships to sail across the seas carrying men and. their offspring. Were it not for divine providence, men would fall into the sea, no one would hear their cries, and they would perish. They are saved only by Our mercy. We wish them to enjoy their pleasures for a prescribed time." [Qur'an, 36:33-44]

Indeed, the call to look into the universe to discover its laws and to arrive at the conviction that God is its creator is repeated a hundred times in the various Surahs of the Qur'an. All these Qur'anic invitations are directed to man's rational faculties in the expectation that he will consider, search for and discover the truth, so that his religious conviction might be rational and truly supported by the facts. The Qur'an constantly warns its readers not to adopt uncritically and blindly the ideas and principles of the forefathers, but to have faith in man's personal capacity to reach the truth.

 

The Power of Iman

Such is the nature of iman, or religious conviction, to which Islam has called. It has nothing to do with blind faith. Instead, it is involved with the conviction of the enlightened mind, the instructed reason which has considered and weighed the alternatives, pondered and reconsidered the evidence on all sides, researched and rediscovered and finally reached the certainty that God-may He be adored-is. Surely any man who considers the evidence with both heart and reason will be guided to religious conviction. Indeed, the more closely a man looks at the evidence, the longer he contemplates and the larger his scope of investigation becomes so that his awareness considers the whole of time, space, and all the eternally changing universes which they include, the more he will be convinced of his littleness vis--vis the well patterned, well-ordered, and well-governed worlds, of the shortcoming of his knowledge to grasp them or to enter him into meaningful relation to them without the assistance of a power surpassing his senses and reason, the more capable he will become of defining his place within the total realm of being. All this is the precondition of his entering into relation with the universe and of his encompassing with his consciousness and vision the whole of being. This enlarged vision is the strength given by religious conviction alone.

 

Iman in God

Iman, or religious conviction, then, is a spiritual intuition by which man's consciousness is filled whenever it seeks the universe and realizes that the infinity of space and time is unreachable, and whenever it seeks to encompass all being within itself, realizing that every species in existence lives, changes, and dies in accordance with laws and patterns, and that all existence realizes the divine pattern and fulfills the cosmic laws of its Lord and Creator. To look for God-may He be adored-as immanent in all existence and in contact with it, rather than as absolutely separate from it, is a futile search leading to error rather than to truth, harming rather than blessing the investigator. Moreover, it does not add to man's knowledge. Writers and philosophers have often exhausted themselves seeking evidence for God's immanence without avail, while others have sought to grasp the essence of the Creator Himself-all to no purpose. Some writers and philosophers have acknowledged that the success of such searches are forever impossible.

But if our reason falls short of achieving such knowledge, that very shortcoming can be the source of a greater realization, namely, the certain religious knowledge of God: This certitude of ours that God exists, that He knows, provides for, and governs everything, that He is the Creator, the Forgiver unto Whom everything returns, can also convince us that it cannot ever be possible for us to know the nature of God Himself. If to this day we do not understand the nature of electricity, even though our very eyes have seen its effects, nor the nature of ether, though we grant that its waves or quanta carry sound and light, how vain it is not to accept the existence of God when we constantly behold His original creations and effects, or to go about denying Him until we can know His very nature! God is transcendentally beyond anything anyone may say in description of Him. As a matter of fact, those who try to describe God under one form or another are precisely those whose consciousness is incapable of rising to the level requisite for grasping that which lies beyond human life. It is they who should be accused of seeking to measure being and the Creator of being with their own relative standards gathered from their own little knowledge of being. On the other hand, those who have true knowledge and wisdom will pause at these divine statements: "And when they ask you concerning the Spirit, answer, `The Spirit belongs to God.' Given the little knowledge that you have, your minds must fall short of understanding its nature." [Qur'an, 17:85] The consciousness of such men becomes filled with certitude and conviction regarding the Creator of the Spirit, the Maker of the whole universe. They do not allow themselves to become involved in futile and vain controversy.

 

Iman, the Basis of Islam

The Qur'an differentiates between conversion to Islam before or after such religious certitude and conviction. God says, "Some Arabs of the desert claimed that they have achieved religious conviction. Say, `You have not achieved such conviction; you have been converted to Islam and have acquiesced in it, but religious certitude and conviction have not yet found their way to your heart and consciousness." [Qur'an, 49:14] Such Islamization is an acquiescence arising from the call of ulterior motive, desire, fear, admiration, or reverence. It is not the acceptance by a consciousness which has understood and known full well that it has reached certitude and conviction. The subject of such Islamization has not been guided to his conviction through examination of the universe, grasping of its laws and patterns, and the movement of his thought from that knowledge to the recognition of the Creator of the universe. It is rather the acquiescence of a man in satisfaction of an ignoble desire or in blind imitation of his parents or community. Thus, religious conviction and certitude have not entered into his heart despite his acquiescence to Islam.

Many such Muslims exist who seek to cheat God and the true Muslims, but they succeed in cheating only themselves, little do they know. Their hearts are diseased, and their disease blinds their minds still further. Those men who convert to Islam without religious conviction but because of an ulterior motive, desire or fear, continue to have weak souls throughout their lives. Their faith remains doubtful, their commitment shaky, and their wills ever ready to submit to men upon command. On the other hand, those whose minds and hearts have reached conviction of God by means of investigation of the universe possess a genuine conviction which calls them to submit to God alone, to none other than Him. Neither do such men think of their Islam as a favor they have granted to anyone. "Rather, God grants you the favor of guiding you to religious conviction if only you are genuine." [Qur'an, 49:17] Whoever, therefore, in conviction of God's existence and Lordship over the universe, opens himself to determination by Him alone, has reason neither to fear nor to grieve. Such men fear neither poverty nor humilation in this world because religious certitude is the greatest wealth and the greatest glory. Glory does indeed belong to God and to the true believers who are contented and certain of their faith.

The soul which is happy and contented with such iman finds its fulfillment only in the search for the secrets of the world, the laws of the cosmos, and the pattern of the universe-all to the end that it may consolidate its communion with God. The means it employs for its search is scientific investigation, rational analysis, and consideration of all that is in creation. That is precisely what the Qur'an calls for and what the early Muslims practiced. That is the scientific method currently pursued in the West. The purpose of such pursuit, however, differs in Islam from western civilization. In- the former, its purpose is to enable man to make the pattern of God in the universe the law and pattern of his own existence. In the latter, the purpose is to exploit the knowledge of cosmic laws for the material benefit of man. The foremost purpose of science in Islam is the achievement of firm and certain knowledge of God, a knowledge which strengthens man's conviction of Him-may He be adored-by its own comprehensiveness and certainty. Equally, it is a pursuit which seeks to achieve such better knowledge not for the individual alone but for the community as a whole. Spiritual perfection is not merely an individualistic matter, but rather the very foundation of the human community throughout the world. Islam therefore regards the pursuit of knowledge and understanding of the universe as a human duty, a duty incumbent upon all men as individuals as well as groups. Mankind must therefore seek this spiritual perfection even more conscientiously and systemically than it has sought to understand the nature of material things, and it ought to use the secrets of the material world and the laws and pattern of the universe as a means to attain spiritual perfection rather than as a means for achieving material mastery over things.

 

Divine Assistance to Discover the Pattern of the Universe

In order to attain this spiritual perfection, it is not sufficient to rely upon our own formal logic. Having reached the highest level possible through that logic, it is necessary to prepare our own hearts and minds for what lies beyond. This is possible by seeking God's assistance and by turning one's heart and soul toward the divine Being. By worshipping Him and asking for His assistance it is possible, once the highest levels of logic have been reached, to discover the secrets of the universe and the patterns of existence. This process is what is meant by communion with God, by gratitude for His blessings, and by prayer to Him for further guidance. God said

"And if My servants ask you of Me, tell them that I am near and that I respond to the caller who calls upon Me. Tell them then to pray to Me, to believe in Me. That is the way to wisdom." [Qur'an, 2:186]

He also said: "Seek further assistance by patience and prayer. The latter overtaxes none but the irreverent and the proud. It is a force of genuine assistance for those who know that they will someday confront their Lord and that to Him they shall finally return." [Qur'an, 2:45-46]

 

Nature of Islamic Prayer

Prayer, then, is communion with God in the certitude that He exists and is receptive to a solicitation for His assistance. Its purpose is not the bodily movements of kneeling and prostration nor the verbal recitation of the Qur'an, not the prescribed takbir and ta'zim. [The reference is here to the phrases, Allahu Akbar (God is Greatest) and Subhana Rabbi al 'Azim (Praise to my Lord Almighty) repeated many times in the course of the Islamic prayer.] 'Rather, it is meant to fill the soul with iman and the heart with reverence and recognition of God's holiness. Every element in the Muslim's prayer is designed to achieve this dual purpose. It is the worship of God for the sole sake of God, the recognition of God's face as the light of heaven and earth. He-may He be adored-said

"Righteousness does not consist in your turning your faces toward east or west. Instead, it involves iman in God, in the Day of Judgment, in the Book, in the prophets, and spending of one's wealth out of love of Him for the welfare of the relative, the orphan, the deprived, the wayfarer, the poor, and for ransoming the captive. Righteousness also consists of the holding of prayer, the paying of zakat, the fulfillment of promises and covenants made, patience in good or ill, and steadfastness in war. Those who fulfill these values are the genuine in faith; they are the pious, the righteous." [Qur'an, 2:177]

The man with genuine iman, therefore, is the man who turns with his whole heart to God in prayer, making God the witness of his own piety. It is he who implores His help in the fulfillment of the duties of life, solicits His guidance and blessing in his search for the secrets of the world and for the laws and pattern of the cosmos during his prayer as well as at any other time.

Hence, the Muslim is fully conscious of his insignificance before almighty God on high. We are capable of achieving such a view of the earth's insignificance when we ascend in an airplane a few thousand meters into the sky and begin to see the mountains, rivers, and cities as small marks upon a vast canvas. We see them delineated in front of our eyes as if they were mere lines on a map made out of paper. The earth looks flat; mountains and buildings lose their elevation, and wells and rivers their depression. The whole appears to be no more than patches of color moving and waving and intermingling with one another the higher we ascend into space. Our very earth is only a little planet among thousands of other heavenly bodies and systems, and these are only a very small pocket in the infinite magnitude of being. How small and little we therefore are! How weak and insignificant in relation to the Creator of all this being and to its Ruler and Provider whose very greatness stands beyond our grasp!

 

Equality before God

How worthy we are when we turn our heart to His sublime holiness and majesty, soliciting Him to strengthen us and guide us to the truth to realize the profound equality which characterizes all men in such weakness! How inevitable is then our realization of the absolute equality of mankind, an equality impervious to any amount of wealth or power achievable on earth, but deeply transformable by iman in God, by submission to Him, by righteousness, virtue, and piety! What a tremendous distance separates this kind of equality, this genuine equality before God, from equality before the law of man which western civilization has recently been professing so loudly! Indeed, western civilization is not far from denying equality before the law when its people deny the privileges of such equality to this or that group of men. How unlike each other are the two egalitarianisms ! On the one hand is the equality before God, touched and held most concretely in the hour of prayer and reached by each man deliberately in the exercise of his own mind and free thought. On the other hand, we have an equality before the law, achieved in the struggle and competition for the acquisition of wealth. By definition, equality before the law does not rule out cheating, hypocrisy, and untruth; and it allows the culprit to escape the jurisdiction of the law if he is only creative enough to find ways and means of outwitting the legislator, the judge, or his own victim.

On the other hand, equality before God calls for genuine fraternity and brotherhood because it imposes upon all a realization of their fraternity in service to God and in the worship of the One Master. Such brotherhood is based on conscientious evaluation of the fact, free investigation, and critical research, all imposed by the Qur'an. Surely, no liberty, no equality, and no fraternity are greater than this one, where all men stand in front of God in one line prostrating their heads to Him, acknowledging His transcendence and unity, and kneeling and praying to Him without the slightest distinction between one and the other. No equality is greater than that which belongs to such a community whose every member actually seeks divine assistance in repentence and awe, asking for forgiveness and mercy, without any distinction whatever to differentiate the one from his fellowmen except his virtuous actions, his righteousness and piety. This kind of fraternity and equality purifies the hearts of men and cleanses them from the stain of matter. This condition alone guarantees happiness to mankind and leads it to certain knowledge of God's pattern in the world as long as God Himself is willing to lead men with His own light.

 

Nature of Islamic Fasting

Men are not all equal in their capacities to fulfill the piety and virtue which God has made incumbent upon them. Our bodies may weigh down our spirits so as to make them incapable of moving and rising toward God. Our will to material need and welfare may overcome our humanity unless we keep up the exercise of our spirit and constantly turn to God in our prayers rather than being satisfied with the mechanical performance of kneeling, prostration, and recitation. Hence it is our duty where possible to stop all activities which tend to weigh us down, to shackle our spirit, or to give dominance to our material welfare over our humanity. Hence, Islam imposed fasting as a means for achieving virtue and piety. God has said: "O Men who believe, fasting has been imposed upon you as it has been imposed on those that have gone before you that you may achieve virtue and piety [Qur'an, 2:183]". Piety, virtue, and righteousness are all equivalent. The righteous are those who are pious, who prove their iman in God on the Day of Judgment, and who, by following the angels, the Book and the prophets, fulfill the requisites of the above-mentioned verses.

But if the purpose of fasting is that the body may not weigh down the spirit and that matter may not overcome humanity, to abstain from food and drink from dawn till sunset and then to indulge in the. enjoyment of all kinds of pleasures is surely to deny that purpose. Indulgence in pleasures is by itself immoral and vicious, regardless of whether it is preceded by fasting or not. The case is even worse if man fasts all day and then surrenders himself greedily to that of which he has been deprived. Such conduct is tantamount to bringing God to witness that the fast was not made in purification of the body and strengthening of humanity. Such a man does not fast in freedom, convinced of the advantage of fasting for his spiritual life, but in order to fulfill a duty, the meaning of which his mind is incapable of grasping. More likely, he regards fasting as a privation and a violation of the freedom which he will recapture at the end of the day. His case is not unlike that of the person who does not steal because the law forbids him to, not because he regards himself above stealing and denies it to himself as well as to others, in full exercise of his freedom.

 

Fasting Is Not Self-Privation

In fact, to regard fasting as privation, or as an attack upon man's liberty, is to misunderstand it and to make of it something utterly futile and vain. The truth is that fasting is a purification of the soul. It is demanded by reason and should be entered into freely if man is to recapture his freedom of willing and thinking which his material demands have denied or lessened. Once such freedom is gained, man may rise to the level of genuine iman in God. This is the purpose of the divine statement which follows the imposition of fasting upon men of faith of past or present, namely: "Fasting is to be performed on prescribed and numbered days. But if a man is ill or suffers from the hardships of travel, fasting may be postponed to other days. To those who are exempted from fasting because of hardship, the feeding of a poor man is imposed as expiation. At any rate, whoever willingly performs the good deed will be benefited. To fast is certainly better for you than not to fast, if only you had the wisdom to know." [Qur'an, 2:184]

It may seem strange to claim that a person can recapture his freedom of will and freedom of thinking if he should undertake to fast in deliberate pursuit of his spiritual welfare. But this strangeness is really the result of a confusion which modern thought has brought to our idea of freedom. Modern thought has pulled down the spiritual and psychic frontiers of freedom, and preserved only its material frontiers whose guardianship and protection it entrusted to the arms of the law. According to this modern thinking, man is not free to attack the wealth of his neighbor nor his person, but he is free in all that pertains to his own person even if he were to transgress the limits of reason or of morality.

The facts of life tell otherwise. They tell that man is the slave of habit; that, for instance, man is accustomed to eat his food in the morning, at noon, and in the evening. Therefore, his being asked to eat food only in the morning and evening is considered an attack upon his freedom. The truth is that it is only an attack upon his enslavement to his habit, so to speak. Some men accustom themselves to smoking so heavily that they can very well be said to have become the slaves of their habit. If they are asked to spend an entire day without smoking, it will be regarded as an attack upon their freedom, whereas in fact it is only an attack upon their enslavement to their habit. Likewise, others have accustomed themselves to drinking coffee or tea or other drinks at certain times. If they are asked to change these times, it will be regarded as an attack upon their freedom. But slavery to habit and custom is corruptive of the will, of the genuine exercise of true freedom. Moreover, it is corruptive of sane thinking, for it subjugates thinking to the material requirements to which the body has become accustomed. That is why many people have had recourse to varying kinds of fasting which they observe at different intervals of the week or the month. But God seeks no hardship for men. That is why He prescribed for them a definite number of days during which all men must fast without distinction. That is why He allowed them to expiate for their failure to fast, and granted the sick and the traveler express permission to postpone their fasting to other days.

The prescription of fasting for a definite number of days further consolidates the Muslim's feeling for and consciousness of equality with other men before God. This is the effect of complete abstinence from dawn to sunset undertaken not as physical but as spiritual exercise imposed equally on all. The same sense of equality is experienced in the communal fasting as that which communal prayer fosters so well. It is during their fast that the feeling of Muslim fraternity is at its greatest strength, for men are not then affected by the usual differences in enjoyment of the material goods of this life which separate them from one another. Fasting consolidates freedom, equality, and fraternity in man just as strongly as does prayer.

If we undertake fasting freely and in the consciousness that God's commandments can never differ from those of reason as long as it perceives the final purpose of life, we can appreciate how much fasting liberates us from the yoke of habit and contributes to the development of our will and capacity for freedom. We may remember that what man prescribes for himself with God's permission by way of spiritual and psychic limitations upon his own freedom in seeking to liberate himself from his habits and passions is the best guarantee for his reaching the highest levels of religious conviction. If, in matters of religion, taqlid constitutes no religious conviction at all but mere acquiescence to the proposed claim without conviction of its truth, taqlid in fasting is self-privation and a limitation of one's personal freedom, a totally different affair from that fasting which liberates man from the chains of habit and furnishes him with the greatest psychic nourishment and spiritual elan.

 

Nature of Islamic Zakat

Through prayer and fasting exercises which rest on a base of the widest and deepest possible scientific knowledge of the world, man may reach awareness of the pattern of the cosmos and a penetration of its secrets. In consequence, man may discover his place as well as that of his fellow men in the cosmos. His love for them and their love for him will increase with this realization. In service to God, they will cooperate with one another for the good and reinforce one another's piety; the strong will protect the weak, and the rich will share their bounty with the poor. But that is precisely the zakat. To do more than it requires is charity. The Qur'an joins zakat to prayer in many places. Some of the following verses have already been quoted

"But righteousness consists in being convinced of the existence and unity of God, of the reality of the Day of Judgment, of the angels, the Book, the Prophets; in giving of one's wealth lovingly to the next of kin, the orphan, the destitute, the wayfarer, the poor, the slave; and in holding the prayer and giving the zakat." [Qur'an, 2:277] The Most High also says: "Observe the prayer and remit the zakat and kneel with those who pray." [Qur'an, 2:43] Further, God-may He be adored-says: "Those believers have done well and achieved felicity who hold their prayers with reverence, abstain from gossip, and complete their payment of zakat," [Qur'an, 23:1-4] etc., etc.

Concerning zakat and charity, the Qur'an talks at length, clearly and emphatically. It has classified charity among the highest virtues deserving of the greatest rewards; indeed, it has placed charity alongside the conviction of God, thus leading us to believe that the two are equal. Addressing His angels regarding a man who violated the duty of charity, God said

"Take him away. Fetter him and cast him into the fire that he may broil therein. Bind him in long and heavy chains that he may not move. For he did not believe in God Almighty, nor did he urge the feeding of the poor." [Qur'an, 69:30-34]

Similarly, God said: "And give glad tidings to the humble, whose hearts are filled with reverential fear whenever God is mentioned, who patiently endure whatever befalls them, who observe the prayer and spend of that which We have provided for them." [Qur'an, 22:34-35]. Further, God-may He be blessed and adored-says: "Those who spend of their wealth at night and during the day, in secret and in public, have their reward with God. They have reason neither to fear nor to grieve." [Qur'an, 2:274]

 

Islam and the Manners of Giving

Not satisfied with mentioning charity, nor with prescribing for it the same reward as for faith in God and the observance of prayer, the Qur'an furnishes norms for the manner of giving in charity. It says: "If you give alms openly and to the public at large, it is good and you have done well. But if you give it to the poor and you do so in secret, it is better for you." God also says

"A word of kindness and an act of forgiveness are superior to an act of charity followed by injury or harm. God is self-sufficient and fore-bearing. O Men who believe, do not vitiate and annul your charitable deeds by taunting or injuring those to whom you give." [Qur'an, 2:271, 263-64]

God-may He be praised-specified the people who may be recipients of charity: "Rather, alms belong to the poor, the destitute, the protectors, those whose hearts need to be reconciled. They are for the freeing of slaves and debtors, for the cause of God, and for the wayfarers. To give alms is a duty imposed by God, the Omniscient, the All-Wise." [Qur'an, 9:60]

 

Zakat as Act of Worship

Zakat and charity, therefore, constitute two of the major duties and pillars of Islam. It may be asked whether the performance of these duties is a matter of worship or merely of ethics and moral refinement. Without doubt the answer is worship. The believers are brethren; no man's iman is complete until he wishes for his neighbor that which he wishes for himself. The believers love one another by virtue of God's light and grace. The duties of zakat and charity are intimately related to this fraternal feeling. They are not pieces of moral sophistication nor elements of the Islamic theory of contracts. In Islam, that which pertains to brotherhood pertains equally to iman, or religious conviction of God; and all that pertains to iman is worship. That is why zakat is one of the five pillars of Islam, and why, after the death of the Prophet, Abu Bakr required the Muslims to pay it. When some Muslims failed to do so, the immediate successor of Muhammad regarded their failure as a fault of faith, a preference for wealth, and a violation of the spiritual system revealed in the Qur'an-in short, as abjuration of Islam itself. Hence, Abu Bakr conducted the Riddah War in order to confirm the establishment of the message of Islam in its totality, a message which has remained a cause for pride forever.

 

The Will To Wealth

To regard zakat and charity as duties essentially related to iman, i.e., to faith as religious conviction of God, is to regard them as part of the spiritual system which ought to govern the civilization of the world. Such regard is, indeed, the highest wisdom which can guarantee happiness to man. The pursuit and acquisition of wealth, and its use as an instrument for the dominion of man over man, have always been and still are the cause of the misery of the world, of revolutions, and of wars. The worship of wealth was and still is the cause of the moral deterioration which has enveloped the world and of which human society continues to suffer. It is the acquisition, pursuit, and hoarding of wealth which has destroyed human fraternity and planted enmity between man and man. Were men to follow a higher vision and had they a nobler bent of mind, they would have realized that fraternity is more conducive to happiness than wealth, that to spend wealth on the needy is worthier with God and with men than the subjugation of men to its dominion. Were they truly convinced of God, they would realize this fraternity toward one another; and they would fulfill, as the least requirement of such a fraternity, the duties of rescuing the needy, assisting the deprived, and putting an end to the misery and suffering brought about by poverty and want. Granted, some highly civilized countries in our day do establish hospitals and communal buildings for rescuing the poor, for sheltering the homeless and assisting the deprived in the name of humanity and mercy. Still, were these constructions and communal services founded upon fraternal feeling and love in God for the neighbor as an expression of praise for His bounty, they would constitute nobler efforts and lead more truly to the happiness of all men. God said

"In all that God has provided for you, seek the higher value and do not forget to seek your share of this world. Do good as God has done good to you; and do not spread corruption in the world. God loves not the agent of corruption." [Qur'an, 28:77]

 

Nature of Islamic Pilgrimage

Brotherhood reinforces men's love for one another. In Islam, it is not legitimate to limit the exercise of this love to the frontiers of one's homeland, nor even to one's race or continent. Fraternal love must have no spatial limits whatever. That is why Islam commands that men from all corners of the world know, defend, and fraternize with one another, that their love for one another in God may be strengthened and their conviction of God may be confirmed. The instrument proper for such exercise is the congregation of men from all corners of the earth in one place and for one purpose. The best locality for such a convocation is precisely the place where the light of this great love has broken through, namely God's sanctuary in Makkah. This assembly is the Islamic pilgrimage. As the believers gather and perform the rites of pilgrimage, it is their duty to lead such lives as would provide the most illustrious living example of conviction and faith in God and of a sincere openness to determination by His will. God-may He be praised-said: "Pilgrimage is during well-known months. Whoever performs the pilgrimage during these months shall engage in no gossip, corruption, vain controversy, or transgression. Everything you do is known to God. Equip yourself therefore with good deeds remembering that the best of deeds is piety. Fear Me, therefore, and fulfill My will, O Men of understanding." [Qur'an, 2:197]

On this great and unique occasion when the believers perform the pilgrimage aiming at fraternizing with one another and thus strengthening their conviction of God, all distinctions between man and man must fall to the ground. All men must feel that they are equal before God, and all must turn their minds and hearts to Him in response to His call and fulfillment of His command. They should approach the pilgrimage fully convinced of His unicity and deeply grateful for His bounty. But what bounty and what felicity are greater than iman in God, the source of all good and all bounty? May He be adored! Before the light which such iman brings, all the worries and concerns of life dissolve; all its vanity, whether of wealth, children, political power or glory, utterly vanishes. By virtue of this light, man becomes capable of apprehending the truth, goodness, and beauty of this world, the eternal laws and immutable pattern on which the world is founded. It is this general convocation, namely the pilgrimage, that embodies the meaning of equality and brotherhood among all the believers and does so in the most comprehensive, clear, and sublime manner.

 

The Metaphysic of Morals in Islam

These are the fundamental principles of Islam and its duties as revealed to the Prophet Muhammad-may God's peace be upon him. They constitute the five pillars of Islam as the above mentioned verses of the Qur'an show. They are the cornerstones of Islamic spiritual life. Now that these principles and duties have been enumerated, it is easy to infer from them the schemata of Islamic morality. These belong to a level so high, so sublime, that they have never been matched by any human civilization in any period of history. In this regard, the Qur'an has given rules and ideals of conduct which, if duly observed, fulfilled, and made to constitute the guiding principles of life, would enable man to attain moral perfection. These principles were not all recorded in the same chapter of the Qur'an but in many chapters. The reader has no sooner read a surah of the Qur'an than he feels himself elevated to the apex of moral advancement, an apex which had never been reached and will never be reached by any other civilization. Sufficient is the Qur'anic raising of the whole discipline of the soul on a spiritual foundation stemming from the conviction of God. Sufficient is the Qur'anic demand that mind and heart of man