An Islamic Context For Life
Florida A&M University
AN ISLAMIC CONTEXT FOR LIFE
By Imam W. Deen Mohammed
All people live in some kind of context and we have chosen to live in the context of the religion of Islam. It therefore follows that in order for one to know us better, he should know our religion. Islam is universal. This is what we have been taught by Prophet Muhammed, to whom the Qur'an was revealed, and we find this universal theme throughout the Holy Book (Qur'an).
Since Islam is a universal religion, then it shouldn't present any problems for us in the modern world. It shouldn't present a problem for us (Muslims) in the human family. In other words, we don't have a problem of racism. We don't have a problem of fanaticism. There is no room in our religion for fanaticism. We're not fanatics of any kind and our religion forbids us going to any extreme. Extremism of any kind is forbidden in Islam.
Muslims, if they live up to their religion, are peace-loving people. The very name, "Muslim", suggests a peace-loving people. "Muslim", is from the word, "salaam", which means "peace". "Muslim" means one who has agreed to, or accepted a life of peace. The Muslim life then should be motivated by peace, because that is the character of the Muslim community. Also, it is important for us that we live a complete life. Our religion establishes the principle of tauheed, or oneness; and the first principle in our religion is, "Laa ilaaha illallah, there is only One Allah, One G'd! Muhammedar Rasul Lallah". That is to say, "Muhammed is not G'd! Muhammed is the messenger of G'd!" We don't believe in G'd, manifest. We don't believe that any man can be G'd. We believe that the concept of G'd is too big for creation, itself.
"G'd Is Bigger!"
I would like now to refer you to the Bible where it speaks of Solomon. When he was building the temple for the worship of G'd, he said, "Oh G'd! This house can't hold you, nor can the heavens and the earth hold you". So G'd, in Solomon's eyes then, was a concept too big for the temple that he built and also too big for the external world, the world all around us. He saw the Creator as bigger than the creation and this is the concept of G'd in our religion, Islam. We say, in expressing this idea, "Allahu Akbar", which in Arabic means "G'd Is Bigger!" Some people say that it means "G'd is the Greatest!" Well, that's true by reasoning. But it's, "G'd is Bigger! G'd is Greater!" And there it indicates that two things are to be compared. If someone asks me, "Then what is He bigger than?" Then I say, "That's left to your imagination! Anything that you can imagine, He's bigger than that!" Allahu Akbar!" That is what we say.
So, the concept for us in religion is One G'd, one humanity, one creation. We believe that the whole world is tied together, that everything is related to something else in creation. This is the idea in science. Science tells us that everything in matter is related. Everything in matter has its place in the realm of matter and works together. So, we must find our function and we believe the true function of the human being is not to worship himself. But it is to worship the One Who created all of this and made this possible.
The Human Being Progresses in Stages
Our worship then is the worship of the One G'd. We've studied many things that are related to religion and we find that religion and other branches of knowledge point to man's difficulties in trying to find himself, trying to establish himself. Allah says in the Qur'an of the creation, that He, "khalaqa", meaning, "He created, gave form to". Then it says, "Fasawwah, and then gave proportion and balance. Qadara, then, empowers the being, gave him a potential for fulfillment; empowered the being, Qadara fahaada, and then gave him direction." You'll find that here the Qur'an is explaining to the human being how he is to progress along stages; because G'd says that He creates life in stages and that man is thrown into toil and struggle. Life is not an easy thing. We don't expect that we will have no work to do. We don't expect that we will meet with no opposition. This religion prepares us for work. It prepares us for opposition and this is life. G'd wants this for us to strengthen us, to grow our muscles, to make us more fit for higher planes or bigger fields of work or devotion.
The Spiritual Life Is Man's Biggest Problem
We find that when we look at the stages of development, the spiritual life of man is his biggest problem. When we say spiritual, it may suggest to you holy things, sacred matters. But, I'm using "spiritual" l in a very broad sense, as influences. When we speak of spiritual life we're speaking of influences. So, we find that man has to find himself and the thing that challenges him the most is the need to align himself, spiritually. And only G'd, only a belief in G'd, only a belief in something superior to us, can give us that stability that can give us security, spiritual security, that the human life calls for. We're not saying that our religion is the only religion that offers this. We're merely presenting to you the essentials of our religion.
The Human Being, a Moral Creature
We see the human being as I believe the majority of the people see the human being, as a moral creature. However, we find that when man is engaging in the work of the day to accomplish something for himself, or his family, other concerns come into play and other concerns begin to override the moral concern. This busying of himself in the material world and seeking the needs of the day takes him off course, in time, and man finds a need to settle himself, spiritually, to organize himself on a spiritual basis. If man is able to do this, he can start again. He can get started again and make some progress. We find then that the devotional life is a big problem for man, because the devotional life can take him off center, can take him off track. It can throw him into turbulent waters or into the trendy waters of society and he loses himself there. In our religion, the path is clearly shown to us these pitfalls are clearly pointed out for us and we can avoid them by accepting the concept of the human being in our religion.
This tendency in us to imitate and copy, or to follow heroes or certain popular figures, to accept certain role models in our life, this is all an expression of that inborn nature in us to worship G'd. And it takes man sometimes generations and sometimes thousands of years to realize that really he has been misplacing this principle. He's been giving it to false things. I'm sure that most people have been in love, deeply in love, madly in love, at one time in their life. When you fall madly in love then the person that you're attached to becomes everything for you. Sometimes people find themselves in a state of hopelessness and they eventually commit suicide, because things are not going well with the person that they love. We know that usually people who suffer like this are very selfish and when you look back at your teen years, you say, "Oh, I had a big this and a big that!" After we become mature, we look back on that and we have to laugh at our helplessness.
But, that's a misplaced devotion! Anytime that you give your whole life to anything except G'd, that's a misplaced devotion. If you give it to your mother; if you give it to your father; if you give it to your own baby; if you give it to your lover, it's a misplaced devotion! And it's going to punish you because it's a misplaced devotion. Eventually, you'll find yourself suffering more and more and you'll wonder why the relationship doesn't work. I've seen men trying their best to love their female partner, mate, wife, or girlfriend, and they were failing. I've seen women doing the same thing, doing their best to try to love and win the affections of their mate and they were failing because they were giving them too much. They were giving them the devotion that's only due to G'd. They were making them their whole world and no person is the whole world for us. Allah is the whole world for us! G'd, Alone, is everything for us! We become attached to material things. We give our whole life to material things and the material object becomes the whole world for us. Pretty soon we see that we have a material deity in our life. That's a misplaced devotion!
I could go on and point out many of the things that take us off track. But man has to know his devotional nature and it should be understood that in religion, especially in Islam, it's clearly pointed out that man's devotional nature is to be given to One Allah, One G'd. When you give your devotional nature to One Allah, properly, you will then love your fellow man, properly. If you love G'd properly, you will respect the material concerns properly. G'd is the Light for us to find the proper relationship with every other thing.
G'd is Trying Us With Everything
This is a simple religion! Islam is not a complex religion. It is not a religion that is above the head of the common person. If G'd can't reach the common person, He's not G'd. If G'd gives us concepts that He can only teach the genius, or only teach the sons of intellectuals, then He's not G'd. G'd should be able to reach all of us common folks. I find that when you really understand the scriptures, whether it be the Bible, the Torah, or the Qur'an, you find that it's been made complicated by people who wanted to lock up its treasures from the masses. But G'd didn't reveal it like that. The prophets came here teaching a common sense message and they were able to make converts and to give the good life to the common masses. Then it was their leaders who became selfish and hoarded those treasures. They denied the knowledge to the masses. People advanced. They got ahead of each other. But this is the way that G'd tries us, too. G'd says that He tries us with this. He tries us with wealth. He tries us with knowledge. He tries us with poverty. He tries us with ignorance. G'd is trying us with everything. But what He tries us with turns out to be the very thing that triggers us into growing a vision, into growing an awareness, into growing a bigger appreciation for life. It is G'd that frees us. It is the Word of G'd that frees us. It is man that steals the Word of G'd and then he revamps it. He puts his philosophical touches on it. He makes it Marxism. He makes it dialectic materialism. He makes its capitalism. He makes it this or that. But, all men are thieves, that don't represent G'd as the Books say He should be represented. This is the Bible and also the Qur'an.
The Principles of Faith
Now, let me give you the principles of the faith. In our religion, the principles of faith are as follows: (1) Belief in One G'd. (2) Belief in His Angels. We don't believe that man can have any direct communication with G'd, unless G'd aids man. There is no approach to G'd without G'd aiding that approach; and He has angels to aid in that approach. (3) Belief in all of the Books that were revealed. If you say, "Well, do you believe in the Bible?" we must say, "Yes and no!"
We believe in the Bible as the word that came to the prophets. But, the Bible will tell you, any good Bible in its commentary, or its introduction, that the Bible has undergone translations and interpolations. Translation means taking out of one language and putting it into another. Interpolation means trying to arrive at the meaning. So, man has not only found scripture and translated it. But man also found scripture and tried to arrive at the meaning. We know that the version that the Christians have is the King James Version and we know how they canonized the Book. In fact, there were centuries of debate over many crucial issues in the Bible before they came to the conclusion that, "This is what we'll go by", or, "This is what we'll stick with". So, we have to accept that the Bible does not pretend to be the Word of G'd as it came directly from the prophets. It's a Book of history. It's a Book of mysticism. It is a Book shrouded in mystery. When we understand that, then we can accept that the Bible, in its essence, is a pure book, revealed by G'd, as the Qur'an is in its essence, in its pure essence.
You might say, "Well, what makes the Qur'an different?" The Qur'an is still in the language revealed to Prophet Muhammed. It is exactly today as he received it. History bears this out; not only Muslims' words, but history bears this out that it is exactly as he received it. The tradition is easy to follow. In fact, the Prophet that is easiest to follow and to establish in history is Prophet Muhammed. He is the latest and we would think that he would be the easiest to establish in history because he is the latest. But there are many other reasons, also, that he is so clearly established in history.
We also have (4) Belief in all the prophets, and (5) Belief in life after death. Christians believe in this, also. Under the old leadership of the Honorable Elijah Mohammad, the late leader of the Nation of Islam, we used to boast, we used to think, that we were super people. We thought that everybody else were fools. We would say, "We don't believe in any life after death! Are you stupid enough to believe that?" But, I guess we had the same kind of experience as other people had, and when death approached us, the reality came up. We were around here boasting that we didn't believe in life after death. One of the old, pioneer members among us, I saw her get into a situation where she was frightened badly and I was surprised. I thank G'd that I witnessed this. She had been a Muslim for many, many years and I was shocked. She said, "Oh Lordy, Jesus! Lord have mercy!" So she reached back for her old religion. I guess she was saying, "I need something supernatural, now! This isn't enough!" This is something that I witnessed with my own eyes and ears.
Materialism and Communism
Islam is a sound faith and it is a faith that has been tried for generations and generations. Other things have failed society. We think materialism and Communism are great ideas, but how long have they been tried? Already Russia has turned from that idea (Communism). We see that they are now leaning towards western ideas. They are getting televisions and drinking, getting drunk. Pretty soon, you won't be able to tell their life from this life in America. These things are temporary, but the things that G'd has established, through His Messengers, those things are permanent. Religion Is the True Liberator
Don't be deceived, by the ideas and inventions of the world, to believe that religion is backwards, or religion is what gave man all of his problems. That's a lie! Religion has been the true liberator, and when man fails the religion, then the religion becomes oppressive. I'm talking about true religion. True religion is a liberating religion. Christianity is a liberating religion. Islam is a liberating religion. We have the history of it. It spoke to the needs of the masses of people who were oppressed, who were made slaves, who were kept out of knowledge, who were kept in ignorance. It spoke to their needs, championed their cause, and it brought them to dignity and freedom. This is the history of Moses, the history of Jesus, the history of Prophet Muhammed, peace be upon them. And we have clear history in our religion, Islam, to support that. Its history is recent when you compare it with Judaism, and even Christianity. So, we have more evidence of it, not only because of that, but because in Islam, each individual is responsible for keeping up his religion.
"I Learned It By Heart"
Most of us are not aware of the importance of the individual believer in the religion of Islam. The believer in this religion doesn't have to join in a special class or become a member of the elite scholars, or whatever. There's no priesthood in this religion. Once he becomes a Muslim and reads the Qur'an, he feels an obligation then to learn, to commit the Qur'anic teachings to memory. You know, there are Muslim youths, twelve years old and younger who can recite the Qur'an from the beginning to the end, by heart, without making a mistake. I understand that there are many youngsters of seven years that have learned the whole Qur'an by heart. They call such person hafith and we believe that this is an answer to the Bible, or to the previous scriptures, because our religion is a continuation and a perfection, a completion, on previous revelations. We believe that revelation is one continuous process. It has an end and it has a goal. Once it has reached that end or goal, it is complete. It is universal; all of the crucial issues have been revealed and man has the universal message, the complete light to walk in. That's how we see revelation.
Now, the Bible says, "And He shall write it upon their hearts". You know, "Written upon your heart", can have many meanings. One meaning that comes to us right away is that they shall love it. They shall love it so much that they shall hold it dear to them, and it shall be in their hearts. That's one meaning. But, something like that makes you commit it to memory. I've known people who committed lines of poetry to memory. Why? Because their affection was that strong. They loved it so much that they committed it to memory. We still have an expression with us, "I learned it by heart!" I know my mother used to say, "Boy, you better learn that by heart"; or, "I learned it by heart". Well, that's how we see it and the Muslims have committed the whole Qur'an to memory. We think that is an answer to the saying that G'd would write it upon their hearts.
The Potential for Good or Bad Is From G'd
We also have (6) Belief in the Ordinance of G'd; that man, though he is under G'd's power and completely in G'd's charge, G'd's Will is going to be fulfilled on his life, on his whole life. He has free will and whatever he does; he is accountable for, especially if he does it with knowledge, with awareness of what he is doing. So, the potential for good and bad is from G'd, Most High. You can't do good or bad without that potential. You have a capacity or potential to do that. G'd gave you that, but how you use it is up to you. If you use it well, you get the good benefit. If you abuse it, you get the bad results. Sometimes many innocent members, in the society, suffer the doings of a few. But, G'd does not allow us to be affected adversely by the doings of that few.
Now, I'll give you an example. I'm sure that many of you have been in hellish situations, but you didn't feel the burden of the hell that was in that situation. Many of us have come through hard economic times and we're still going through hard economic times. Many of us have come through the bad moral decadence in this country and we're still facing it. We have seen maybe worse things yesterday and we've come through this and not been affected as other people have. So, if you will take the right position, in your heart, if you are well-meaning, then G'd protects you from the hell that you find other people in all around you. If you have the right attitude in your heart, you don't have to suffer as the people who are suffering all around you. G'd does not punish any individual for what another is doing. That's our belief.
The Experience of the Nation of Islam
Believe me; I've come through the experience of the Nation of Islam, as a Muslim, believing in the G'd that my father preached, and in the idea of heaven that he preached. Our idea of heaven was going to Mecca and we thought that the streets over there were paved with gold. We were poor people and I guess money was a strong bait. He told us that, "When you go to Mecca, the streets will be paved with gold." He said that, "They are building homes over there for you and the white man doesn't have anything to match those expensive homes over there that they are building for Muslims. So, when Allah gets ready, He's going to finish the white man off and you're going to go there and be in heaven!" That was our idea and I was brought up under that teaching. It was given to me as an infant and I believed it until G'd blessed me to see differently. We were people who were conditioned with those things. But, I know from experience that nothing satisfies like the life that is cut out plainly for us in proper scripture; and the Qur'an is the perfect scripture, as the Muslims see it.
We also believe that whatever man does will affect man. But, G'd has given us such a nature that if we are well-meaning, whatever has a bad effect in our life will eventually be brought to the surface. The human being, his emotional make-up, is designed by G'd to bring it to the surface so we can see what the trouble is in us.
The Best Gauge is the Common Person
We believe that the best gauge for society is the common human person, not the scholar; not the political leaders. The best gauge for the human society is the common human person; that G'd has created us of a certain emotional make-up that registers what is good and bad for us. That's why many political leaders, or doctors of political science in the West have come up with this idea that it is not really the leaders that carry the society forward, or carry the government forward. It is the nature or the state of the people that carry the society or the government forward. If the state of the people is not right, the leaders can do nothing. But if the state of the people is right, then the state of the people attracts good leaders and puts pressure on good leaders and the society moves forward. So, we believe that the common person plays a major role in determining the outcome of society, the outcome of nations.
The Principles of Practice (Devotions)
We have things also that we must do as a community. We have to live within a community context, because we are called the "Ummah of Islam, the Ummah of al-Islam". It means the "Community of Islam, or al-Islam" and we're given certain devotions that we have to carry out in our life. We're obligated to do these, too. One of these is to meet in groups and pray. Most people in this country only see us going to Jumu'ah Prayer, or congregational Friday Prayer. But actually, every day is a day of congregational prayer for Muslims. All over the Islamic world you will find, especially the men, coming together five times a day for congregational prayer. The women can't leave the babies or their home responsibilities five times a day like the men can. So, it's not an obligation that's heavy on the women as it is on the men.
The Earth Is the Mosque
You will find the men coming to the morning prayer, midday prayer, late afternoon prayer, the after sunset prayer, and even the evening prayer. You'll find men coming together as a group and they pray before G'd, facing the qibla (the direction for our prayer), which is a symbol of man's natural orientation. Certainly we worship, but we have a natural orientation and that place is called the Holy House, the Kaa'ba, in Mecca. It is called a masjid, the first mosque. And if we understand it, G'd says the earth is the mosque. The earth is a mosque and the Kaa'ba is just a symbol of the earth. G'd says that here is the earth. He formed you out of the earth. He brings you up and to the earth He will return you. It is a place for your meeting together. It is a place for your work and it is a place for your return; the earth! So, the earth to us is very, very, important. G'd is telling us in this that our life supports are in the earth. We have to feed upon the earth. Vegetation, the animals, all of this comes out of the earth. Without this can we survive, physically? No! If we have some community life, where does it have to be established? On the earth! We can't establish a community life suspended in space somewhere. We have to establish it on the earth. G'd wants to show us how precious this earth is to us that He has created. So, we meet together to pray, in the earth, knowing that the earth holds life supports for us.
Higher Education, Lost Property of the Believer
We have to engage in business. We have to engage in education. We have to study the creation. We have to improve upon our knowledge. We have to improve upon our environment. We have to be a fully knowledgeable person, not giving all of our time to spiritual matters and neglecting our community, or our material concerns. In order to progress, materially, we have to learn more and more about the material world. We have to get involved in the sciences, take advantage of this. Believe me, the people who are going to do the most for our religion are those very people that do the most for society. It is the student, the learned person. You who are on the campuses, you are really the people who are going to do that. I regret that I didn't get a degree from college, that I didn't finish even junior college. However, I hope to one day find an opportunity to do so. Prophet Muhammed, peace be upon him, said, "Higher education is the lost property of the believer". He made education an obligation on every male and female. And he gave incentives to men, to help liberate the females who were persecuted or oppressed, in those days (as they are today in most of the countries of the world). He said if any man would spend on two female children, to give them an education, G'd would give him Paradise. He gave them this as an incentive.
Now, let us try to understand some of the hidden meaning behind all of this. If the Prophet said to the believing men that if they wanted to be saved from hell, that they could do that by paying for the education, care and education, of two female children, that is a strong incentive. What it does is bring the men to accept that the women, the females, should be educated. So, we find that Islam showed us public education long before the world realized it. If men had that obligation, then that is public education. If we were told by the Prophet that the higher knowledge is the lost property of the faithful, then that's public education.
The principle of zakat, or charity is another one of these fine principles that are to be instituted in the Muslim community. If we understand that principle, then it brings money from the whole community, from all of the citizens. It brings money into a treasury to take care of the needs of all the citizens, with the concerns of the poor the major concern in mind. So, long ago, Prophet Muhammed established that there should be a public fund to take care of the needs of the poor, to see that none be deprived of an education, none be deprived of access to the graces or benefits of the society.
Fasting Makes Us Sympathetic
We also have the principle of fasting that we all are to participate in. Why fasting? We fast during the month of Ramadan. For a whole month, we don't eat during the daylight hours, and this month rotates through the western calendar. Therefore, we'll be fasting in June. We'll be fasting in July. At certain times in our calendar we'll be fasting in December, a short month. We have to fast throughout all of the daylight hours, whether it's cold outside or hot outside. We don't take in water. We don't take in food. We don't touch our mates, 'sexually, during the daylight hours. We don't give ourselves to rages of violence or ill temper. We are to restrain our tempers during this month. It is a month of total discipline of the whole being, spiritual, physical, and sexual. Everything is disciplined during that month. Also, during that month we're reciting the Qur'an, daily. We're reading it, daily, with the object of completing the entire Qur'an during the thirty-day period; reading a section of the Qur'an each day. There are thirty sections of the Qur'an.
So, fasting is very important for us and I've heard the scholars, sheiks, ministers, as you may call them, in our religion, say that this discipline keeps us in touch with the needs of the poor. No matter how wealthy we become, this is an obligation on us. Anything that G'd has prescribed for any Muslim is an obligation on every Muslim. It is clearly stated in the Qur'an that not even the Prophet is excluded from anything that He has ordered for any person in this religion. Prophet Muhammed had to fast, too. So if the rich fast, during the month of Ramadan, then they feel the hunger pangs that the poor feel who can't get food. This makes us sympathetic. It brings back, to the conscious of the well-to-do, that, "This is a shame! This is a suffering! This is a hurt! This is a pain! So, go feed somebody else!" And to prove that G'd has done this so that it would result in benefits from the rich to the poor, the punishment for willfully breaking a fast is to feed the poor; to feed so many persons. This is the object of the fast.
"G'd Does Not Look to Your Faces or Your Colors"
We also have the principle of Hajj, which brings humanity into its universal setting and shows all men as belonging to one common, human essence, with one human potential, men and women, alike. Sometimes, I cause some problems for myself with some of the learned people in our religion. They say, "Oh, Imam Mohammed, you go too far! You don't have proof! You should stick to the traditional knowledge!" But, I'm convinced that I am correct. When we go to the Hajj, in Mecca, you see people who have traveled from all parts of the world. You see Chinese people there. You see Frenchmen there. You see Africans there from all parts of Africa, where the religion of Islam exists; and that's in most parts of Africa. You see people from everywhere, from America, from the Philippine Islands, and they come there, not in their nationalistic mind. They come there in their Muslim minds and take off their nationalistic clothes, or the clothes of their nation and they put on a simple Ihram; two pieces of simple, natural, white cloth, very much like the cloth that Mahatma Ghandi used to wear, but, two pieces. One white piece is worn on the lower part of the body and one white piece is worn on the upper body.
They all join together, with hair cut short, looking very much alike. And the women there, they are covered, too, properly, as the women's dress requirements demand. But the woman, there on the Hajj, may walk before you. If she's not your woman, you have nothing to do with her. She may go up before you. You can't say, "Sister, get behind the brothers!" It's not permitted there. And when they pray, the women may pray in front of the men. You can't say, "Remember that back home you don't pray in front of me! You're supposed to pray behind me!" You can't say that there. If the woman prays in front of you, that's her business and you can't make any trouble for her. You have nothing to do with her there. She's before G'd. You're before G'd and G'd accepts us there as equals. All races are there and He's not favoring any race. As Prophet Muhammed said, "G'd does not look to your faces or your colors. But He looks at the content of your heart".
This is, in brief, the concept of religion for the Muslim. I hope that I have hit upon some major points and have given a better picture of our religion. Now, when Muslim men and women live within that context we're safe. When we step outside of that context, we're not safe and people will accuse us. They will judge us, and we will be condemned in the public eye. So, we pray that we are blessed to realize the heavy responsibility that is on every Muslim to live within the Islamic context for life.