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TOWARDS UNDERSTANDING ISLAM
  • Book Title:
 Towards Understanding Islam
  • Book Author:
Syed Abul Ala Maudoodi
  • Total Pages
102
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TOWARDS UNDERSTANDING ISLAM – Book Sample

FAITH AND OBEDIENCE – TOWARDS UNDERSTANDING ISLAM

Islam means obedience to God. And it is common sense that this obedience cannot be complete unless man knows certain basic facts of life and places firm faith in them. What are those facts? And what are the essentials which a man must know to fashion his life in accordance with the Divine Way? This we propose to discuss in the present chapter.

First of all, one should have an unshakable belief in the existence of God; without this, obedience to Him is clearly impossible.

Then, one must know the attributes of God. It is the knowledge of the attributes of God which enables man to cultivate the noblest of human qualities and to fashion his life in virtue and godliness. If a man does not know that there is One and only One God who is the Creator, the Ruler and the Sustainer of the Universe and there is none else to share with Him even a shred of Divine power and authority, he may fall prey to false gods, and offer his homage to them in search of favours.

But if he knows the divine attribute of tawhid (Oneness of God), there is no possibility of this. Similarly, if a man knows that God is Omnipresent and Omniscient and sees, hears and knows everything that we do in public or private – including our unexpressed thoughts! – then how can he afford to be disobedient to God? He will feel that he is under eternal vigil and will, therefore, behave accordingly. But he who is not aware of these attributes of God may be led, because of his ignorance, into disobedience. It is the same with all the other attributes of God.

The fact is that the qualities and attributes which a man must possess, if he wants to pursue the way of Islam, can be cultivated and developed only out of profound knowledge of the attributes of God. It is the knowledge of God’s attributes which purifies a man’s mind and soul, his beliefs, morals and actions. And a mere cursory acquaintance with or just an academic knowledge of these attributes is not sufficient – there must be an unflinching conviction firmly rooted in the mind and heart of man so that he may remain immune from insidious doubts and perversions.

Moreover, one must know in detail the way of living by following which one can seek the pleasure of God. Unless a man knows the likes and dislikes of God, how can he choose the one and reject the other? If a man has no knowledge of the Divine Law, how can he follow it? Thus knowledge of the Divine Law and the Revealed Code of Life is essential.

But here, again, mere knowledge is not enough. Man must have full confidence and conviction that it is the Divine Law and that his salvation lies in following this code alone. For knowledge without this conviction will fail to spur man to the Right Path and he may be lost in the blind alley of disobedience.

Finally, man must also know the consequences both of belief and obedience and of disbelief and disobedience. He must know what blessings will be showered upon him if he chooses God’s way and leads a life of purity, virtue and obedience. And he must also know what consequences follow if he adopts the way of disobedience and revolt. Thus, knowledge of life after death is absolutely essential for this purpose. Man must have an unwavering belief in the fact that death does not mean the end of life; that there will be resurrection and he will be brought to the highest court of justice, to be presided over by God Himself; that on the Day of Judgement complete justice will prevail; and that good deeds will be rewarded and misdeeds punished. Everybody will get his due; there will be no escape. This is bound to happen. A sense of accountability is essential for fully-fledged obedience to the Law of God.

A man who has no knowledge of the world to come may consider obedience and disobedience quite immaterial. He may think that the obedient and the disobedient will both meet a similar end: after death, both will be reduced to mere dust. With this attitude of mind, how can he be expected to submit to all the inconveniences and troubles that are inextricably associated with the life of active obedience, and avoid committing those sins which do not apparently bring him any moral or material loss in this world? With this mental attitude a man cannot acknowledge and submit to God’s Law.

Nor can a man, who lacks firm belief in the life hereafter and in the Divine Court of Judgement, remain steadfast in the turbulent waters of life with its temptation to sin, crime and evil; for doubt and hesitancy rob a man of his will to action. You can remain consistent in your behaviour only if you are firm in your beliefs. You can whole – heartedly follow a course only if you are sure of the benefits that will accrue to you by following it and of the losses that will engulf you if you disobey it. Thus, a profound knowledge of the consequences of belief and disbelief and of the life after death is crucial. These are the essential facts which one must know if one wants to live the life of obedience, that is, Islam.

Faith – What Does it Mean?

Faith is what we have described in the foregoing discussion as ‘Knowledge and Belief’. The Arabic word Iman, which we have rendered in English as faith, literally means ‘to know’, ‘to believe’ and ‘to be convinced beyond the least shadow of doubt’. Faith, thus, is firm belief arising out of knowledge and conviction. And the man who knows and reposes unshakable belief in the Unity of God, in His Attributes, in His Law and the Revealed Guidance, and in the Divine Code of Reward and Punishment is called Mu’min (faithful). This faith invariably leads man to a life of obedience and submission to the Will of God. And one who lives this life of submission is known as Muslim.

It is therefore clear that without faith (Iman) no man can be a true Muslim. It is the indispensable essential; rather, the very starting point, without which no beginning can be made.

The relation of Islam to Iman is the same as of a tree to its seed. As a tree cannot sprout forth without its seed, in the same way it is not possible for a man who has no belief to start with, to become a ‘Muslim’. On the other hand, just as it can happen that, in spite of sowing the seed, the tree may, for many reasons, not grow, or if it does grow, its development may be impaired or retarded, in the same way, a man may have faith, but due to a number of weaknesses, he may not become a true and staunch Muslim.

From the viewpoint of Islam and Iman, men may be classified into four categories:

  1. Those who have firm faith – a faith that makes them whole-heartedly submit to God. They follow the way of God and devote themselves heart and soul to seeking His pleasure by doing all that He likes and by avoiding all that He dislikes. In their devotion they are even more fervent than is the common man in pursuit of wealth and glory. Such men are true Muslims.
  • Those who do have faith, who believe in God, His Law and the Day of Judgement, but whose faith is not deep and strong enough to make them totally submit to God. They are far below the rank of true Muslims, deserve Punishment for their defaults and misdeeds, but are still Muslims. They are

wrongdoers but not rebels. They acknowledge the Sovereign and His Law and, although they are violating the Law, they have not revolted against  the Sovereign. They admit His supremacy and their own guilt. Thus they are guilty and deserve punishment, but Muslims they remain.

  • Those who do not possess faith at all. These people refuse to acknowledge the sovereignty of God and are rebels. Even if their conduct is not bad and even if they are not spreading corruption and violence, they remain rebels and their apparent good deeds are of little value. Such men are like outlaws. Sometimes outlaws may act in accordance with the laws of the land, but this does not make

them loyal and obedient citizens; in the same way the apparent good deeds of those who revolt against God cannot compensate for the gravity of the real wrongs, revolt and disobedience.

  • Those who neither possess faith nor do good deeds. They spread disorder in the world and perpetrate all kinds of violence and oppression. They are the worst of the people; for they are both rebels and wrongdoers and criminals.

The above classification of mankind shows that the real success and salvation of man depends on faith (Iman). The life of obedience (Islam) takes its birth from the seed of Iman. This Islam of a person may be flawless or defective. But without Iman there can be no Islam. Where there is no Iman there is no Islam. Where there is no Islam there is Kufr. Its form and nature may vary, but it remains Kufr and nothing but Kufr.

How to Acquire Knowledge of God?

Now the question arises of how to acquire knowledge of and belief in God, His Attributes, His Law and the Day of Judgement?

We have already referred to the countless manifestations of God around us and in our own selves, which bear witness to the fact that there is One and only One Creator and Governor of this Universe and it is He Who controls and directs it. These manifestations reflect the divine attributes of the Creator: His great wisdom, His all-embracing knowledge, His omnipotence, His mercy, His all-sustaining power – in short His attributes can be traced everywhere in His works. But man’s intellect and capacity for knowledge have erred in observing and understanding them. Some men have argued that there are two gods, others have professed belief in a trinity, and still others have succumbed to polytheism. Some have worshipped nature and others divided the Creator into the gods of rain, air, fire, life, death and so on.

Similarly, men have put forward many erroneous notions about life after death; for instance, that man is reduced to dust after death and will not rise to life again; or that man is subject to a process of continuous regeneration in this world and is punished or rewarded in future cycles of life.

Even greater difficulty arises when we come to the question of a code of living. To formulate a complete and balanced code that conforms to God’s pleasure merely using human reason is an extremely difficult task. Even if a man is equipped with the highest faculties of reason and intellect and possesses matchless wisdom and experience, the chances of his formulating the correct views on existence are slight. And even if, after a lifetime of reflection, he does in fact succeed he will still lack the confidence that he has really discovered the truth and adopted the right path.

The fullest and fairest test of man’s wisdom, reason and knowledge might have been to have left him to his own resources without any external guidance. But this would have meant that only those with the determination and ability to find the path of truth would find salvation. God, therefore, spared His human creatures such a hard test. Through His Grace and Benevolence He raised for mankind men from among themselves to whom He imparted the true knowledge of His attributes, revealed to them His Law and the Right Code of Living, gave them the knowledge of the meaning and purpose of life and of life after death and thus showed them the way by which man can achieve success and eternal bliss.

These chosen men are the Messengers of God – His Prophets. God has communicated knowledge and wisdom to them by means of revelation (Wahi), and the book containing the Divine Communications is called the Book of God, or the Word of God. The test of man’s wisdom and intellect therefore lies in this: does he recognise God’s Messengers after observing their pure and pious lives and carefully studying their noble and flawless teachings? A man of wisdom and common sense would accept instructions given by the Messengers of truth. If he denies the Messengers of God and their teachings, his denial would

signify that he was devoid of the capacity to discover truth and righteousness. He would fail his test. Such a man will never be able to discover the truth about God and His Law and life after death.

Faith in the Unknown

It is an everyday experience that when you do not know a thing, you look for somebody who does know. If you get ill and you cannot treat and cure yourself, you go to a doctor and follow his instructions without question. Why? Because he is properly qualified to give medical advice, possesses experience and has treated and cured a number of patients. Similarly, in matters of law you accept whatever a legal expert says and act accordingly.

In educational matters you trust in your teacher. When you want to go to some place and do not know the way, you ask somebody who knows it, and follow the way he points out. In short, the course that you adopt in your day-to-day life about matters which you do not or cannot know is that you approach someone who does know about them, accept his advice and act accordingly. You make every effort to select the proper person. But from then on you accept his advice unquestioningly. This kind of belief is called “belief in the unknown” (Iman- bi’l-ghayb).

Iman-bi’l-ghayb signifies that you get knowledge of what was not known to you from one who knows. You do not know God and His real attributes. You are not aware that His angels are directing the machinery of the whole Universe according to His orders, and that they surround you on all sides. You have not the proper knowledge of the way of life through which you can seek the pleasure of your Creator. And you are in the dark about the life to come.

Such knowledge is given to you by the Prophets, who have had direct contact with the Divine Being. They are the persons whose sincerity, integrity, trustworthiness, godliness and absolute purity stand as irrevocable witnesses to the truth of their claim to knowledge. And above all, the wisdom and force of their message makes you admit that they speak the truth and deserve to be believed and followed.

This conviction of yours is lman-bi’l-ghayb. Such a truth-discerning and truth- acknowledging attitude is essential for obedience to God and for acting in accordance with His pleasure; for you have no other medium than God’s Messengers for the achievement of true knowledge, and without true knowledge you cannot proceed on the path of Islam.

THE PROPHETHOOD

Our discussion so far has made the following points:

  1. The right course for man is to live in obedience to God, and for such a life of obedience knowledge and faith are absolutely essential; knowledge of God and His attributes, His likes and dislikes, His chosen way and the Day of Judgement; and unflinching faith in this knowledge; this is Iman.
  • God has graciously spared man the arduous task of acquiring this knowledge through his personal effort alone. Instead, He has revealed this knowledge to the Prophets He has chosen from amongst men and commanded them to convey the Will of God to other human beings and show them the right path. This has saved man from much great misfortune.
  • The duty of men and women is to recognise a true Prophet of God, to have

faith in him and his teachings and to scrupulously obey him and follow in his footsteps. This is the road to salvation.

In this chapter we shall discuss the nature, history and other aspects of prophethood. Prophethood: Its Nature and Necessity

God has most graciously provided man with all that he needs in this Universe. Generally every

new-born child arrives in the world endowed with eyes to see, ears to hear, a nose to smell and breathe, hands to touch, feet to walk and a mind to think. All those potentialities, powers and faculties that a man needs or can need are most carefully provided and marvellously set in his tiny body. Every minute requirement is foreseen and provided for.

It is the same with the world he lives in. Everything essential for his life is provided: air, light, heat, water and so on. A child on opening his eyes, finds his food in his mother’s breast. His parents love him instinctively and in their hearts has been implanted an irresistible urge to look after him, to bring him up and to sacrifice their all for his welfare.

Under the sheltering care of His system of sustenance the child grows to maturity and at every stage of his life obtains from nature all that he needs. All the material conditions of survival and growth are provided for, he finds that the whole Universe is at his service.

Furthermore, man is blessed with all those powers, capacities and faculties – physical, mental and moral – which he requires in his struggle for life. But God has not distributed these gifts equally. This would have made men totally independent of each other and would have excluded mutual care and co-operation. Thus, although mankind as a whole possesses all that is needed, between men capacities are distributed unequally and sparingly.

Some possess physical strength and prowess, others distinguish themselves for their mental talents. Some are born with a greater aptitude for arts, poetry and philosophy, some possess sharpness of tongue, others military acumen, commercial intelligence, mathematical keenness, scientific curiosity, literary observation or philosophical bent. These special aptitudes make a man distinct and enable him to grasp those intricacies which elude the common man. These insights, aptitudes and talents are the gifts of God. They are innate in the nature of those men whom God has destined to be thus distinguished. They cannot be acquired merely by education and training.

Reflection on this disposition of God’s gifts also reveals that man’s talents have been distributed in a marvellous way. Those capacities which are essential for the general maintenance of human culture have been endowed to most people, while extraordinary talents which are required only to a limited extent are given only to a small number. There are many soldiers, peasants, artisans and workers; but military generals, scholars, statesmen and intellectuals are comparatively few. The general rule seems to be: the higher the capacity and greater the genius, the fewer people who possess them. Supergeniuses, who leave an indelible mark on human history and whose achievements guide humanity for centuries, are fewer still.

Here we are faced with another question: do people just need specialists in the fields of law and politics, science and mathematics, engineering and mechanics, finance and economics and the like? Or do they also need men to show them the right path – the way to God and salvation?

There must clearly be someone to tell man the purpose of creation and the meaning of life itself: what man himself is and why he has been created; who has provided him with all the powers and resources and why; what are the proper ends of life and how are they to be achieved; what are the proper values of life and how they can be attained.

Our reason refuses to accept that God, Who has provided man with even the smallest of his requirements, would not provide for this greatest and most vital need. It can never be so. And it is not so. While God has produced men of distinction in arts and science, He has also raised men with deep vision, pure intuition and the highest faculties to know and understand Him. To them, He revealed the way of godliness, piety and righteousness. He gave them the knowledge of the aims of life and values of morality and entrusted them with the duty to communicate Divine Revelation to other human beings. These men are the Prophets and Messengers of God.

The Prophets distinguish themselves in human society by their special aptitudes, natural bents of mind and a pious and meaningful way of life, more or less in the same way as other geniuses in art and science distinguish themselves by their extraordinary capacities and natural aptitudes. The genius in man is its own advertisement and automatically persuades others to recognise and acknowledge it.

Thus, a Prophet’s mind grasps problems which defy other minds; he throws light on subjects which no one else can; he has insights into such subtle and intricate questions that no one else would have even understood after years of deep thought and meditation. Reason accepts whatever he says; the heart feels its truth; and experience of the world testifies to every word that flows from his mouth. If, however, we ourselves try to produce the same or a similar work, we inevitably meet with failure. In all affairs his attitude is that of truthfulness, straightforwardness and nobility. He never does or utters wrong, nor does he commit any evil. He always encourages virtue and righteousness, and practices himself what he preaches to others. Neither his words nor his deeds are prompted by self-interest. He suffers for the good of others, and never makes others suffer for his own good.

When it becomes quite clear that a person is a true Prophet of God, the natural dictate of this realisation is that his words should be accepted, his instructions followed and his orders obeyed. It is illogical to accept a man as God’s true Prophet and yet not to believe in what he says and not to follow what he ordains; for your very acceptance of him as God’s Prophet means that you have acknowledged that what he says is from God, and that whatever he does is in accordance with God’s Will and Pleasure. Disobedience of him is disobedience of God – and disobedience of God leads to ruin.

Therefore, the very acceptance of a Prophet makes it incumbent on you to follow his instructions unconditionally. You may not be able fully to grasp the wisdom and usefulness of this or that order, but the very fact that an instruction has emanated from a Prophet is sufficient guarantee of its truth. One’s inability to understand it does not mean there is something wrong with it. Rather it is our understanding which is at fault.

Some men admit the integrity and truthfulness of a Prophet, but do not put faith (Iman) in him, nor do they follow him in the affairs of their life. Such men are not only Kafirs, but imprudent: for not to follow a Prophet after admitting him to be true means that one knowingly follows untruth. And what folly can be greater than that!

Some people declare: “We do not need a Prophet for our guidance and we can ourselves find the way to truth.” This, too, is a wrong view. You have probably learnt geometry, and you know that between points there can be only one straight line; all other lines must be crooked or will fail to touch the points in view. The same is the case with the way to truth, which in the language of Islam, is called the Straight Path (al-Sirat al-Mustaqim).

This path begins from man and goes straight up to God, and this path can by definition be one and only one; all other paths must be aberrations. This Straight Path has been indicated by the Prophets, and there is and can be no straight path besides that. The man who ignores that path soon finds himself lost in the maze created by his own fancy. What can you think of a person who loses his way and, when a good man shows him the right one, defiantly declares: “I will not take your guidance nor accept the way you have shown to me, but I will myself grope in this unknown region and try to reach the object of my search in my own way?” This, in the presence of the clear guidance of the Prophets, is sheer stupidity. If everybody tried to start from scratch, it would be a gross waste of time and energy. We never do so in the sciences and arts: why here?

If you go a little deeper into the matter, it will become clear that a person who disbelieves in a true Prophet cannot find any way, straight or otherwise, to God. This is because a man who refuses to believe the advice of a truthful man adopts such a perverse attitude that he ceases to understand the difference between truth and falsehood and becomes a victim of his own obstinacy, arrogance, bias and perversity. This refusal may be due to false arrogance, or blind conservatism and obstinate adherence to the way of one’s forefathers, or to slavery to the lower desires of the self, whose gratification becomes impossible by submission to the teachings of the Prophets.

On the other hand, if a man is sincere and truth-loving, the road to reality opens up to him. He will find in the teachings of the Prophets the very echo of his own soul and discover himself by discovering the Prophets.

Above all, a true Prophet is raised by God Himself. It is He Who has sent him to mankind to convey His message to His people. It is His Command that one should put one’s faith in the Prophet and follow him. Thus, one who refuses to believe in God’s Messenger refuses to follow God’s Commandment and becomes a rebel. There is no denying that one who refuses to acknowledge the authority of the viceroy of a sovereign actually refuses the authority of the sovereign himself. This disobedience turns him into a rebel. God is the Lord of the Universe, the true Sovereign, the King of Kings, and it is the bounden duty of every man to acknowledge the authority of His Messengers and Apostles and to obey them as His accredited Prophets. Anyone who rejects the Prophets of God is a Kafir, be he a believer in God or a disbeliever.

Brief History of Prophethood

Now let us look at the history of prophethood. Let us see how this long chain began, how it gradually unfolded itself and finally culminated in the prophethood of the last of the Prophets, Muhammad (blessings of Allah and peace be upon him).

The human race began from one man: Adam. It was from him that the family of man grew and the human race multiplied. All human beings born in this world have descended from that earliest pair: Adam and Eve.1 History and religion are agreed on this point. Nor do scientific investigations into the origin of man show that originally different men came into being, simultaneously or at different points of time, in different parts of the world. Most scientists conjecture that one man would have been brought into existence first and the entire human race might have descended from that one man.

Adam, the first man on earth, was also the first Prophet of God. He revealed His religion – Islam – to him and told him to convey and communicate it to his descendants: to teach them that Allah is One, the Creator, the Sustainer of the world; that He is the Lord of the Universe

and He alone should be worshipped and obeyed, that to Him they would have to return one day and to Him alone they should appeal for help; that they should live righteous lives in accordance with God’s pleasure and that if they did so they would be blessed and if they did not they would suffer both here and in the hereafter.

Those of Adam’s descendants who were good trod the right path, but those who were bad abandoned their father’s teachings. Some began to worship the sun, the moon and the stars; others took to the worship of trees, animals and rivers. Some believed that air, water, fire, health and all the blessings and forces of Nature were each under the control of a different god and that the favour of each one could be won by worship. In this way ignorance gave rise to many forms of polytheism and idolatry, and scores of religions were formulated. This was the age when Adam’s progeny had spread over the globe, and formed different races and nations. Every nation had created a different religion for itself, each with rituals of its own. God – the one Lord and Creator of mankind and the universe – was forgotten. Every kind of evil custom grew; many evils began to be considered right and many right things were either ignored or condemned as wrong.2

At this stage God began to raise Prophets among every people. Each one reminded his people of the lesson they had forgotten. They put an end to idol-worship and the practice of associating other deities with God (shirk), did away with all customs of ignorance, taught them the right way of living in accordance with God’s pleasure, and gave them laws to be followed and enforced in society. God’s true Prophets were raised in every land and among every people. They all possessed one and the same religion – the religion of Islam.3

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