Faith and Obligations in Islam
It is cleared that the Prophet Muhammad (blessings of Allah and peace be upon him) has enjoined us to believe in five articles of faith:
- Belief in one God Who has absolutely no associate with Him in His divinity;
- Belief in God’s Angels;
- Belief in God’s Books, and in the Holy Qur’an as His Last Book
- Belief in God’s Prophets, and in Muhammad (blessings of Allah and peace be upon him) as His Last and Final Messenger; and
- Belief in life after death.
These five articles make up the bedrock of Islam. One who believes in them enters the fold of Islam and becomes a member of the Muslim community. But one does not become a complete Muslim by mere vocal profession alone. To become a complete Muslim one has to fully carry out in practice the instructions given by Muhammad (blessings of Allah and peace be upon him) as ordained by God.
For belief in God makes practical obedience to Him incumbent; and it is obedience to God which constitutes the religion of Islam. By this belief you profess that Allah, the one God, alone is your God, and this means that He is your Creator and you are His creature; that He is your Master and you are His slave; that He is your Ruler and you are His subject. Having acknowledged Him as your Master and Ruler, if you refuse to obey Him you become a self-admitted rebel. Along with faith in God, you believe that the Qur’an is God’s Book. This means that you have admitted all the contents of the Qur’an to be from God. Thus it becomes your bounden duty to accept and obey whatever is contained in it. Along with that, you have admitted Muhammad (blessings of Allah and peace be upon him) to be God’s Messenger, which means that you have admitted that each and every one of his orders and prohibitions are from God. After this admission, obedience to him becomes your duty. You will therefore be a fully-fledged Muslim only when your practice is consistent with your profession.
The Spirit of ‘Ibadah or Worship
‘Ibadah is an Arabic word derived from ‘Abd (a slave) and it means submission. Allah is your Master and you are His slave and whatever a slave does in obedience to and for the pleasure of his Master is ‘Ibadah. The Islamic concept of ‘Ibadah is very wide. If you free your speech from filth, falsehood, malice and abuse and speak the truth and talk goodly things, and do all this only because God has so ordained, they constitute ‘Ibadah, however secular they may appear.
If you obey the law of God in letter and spirit in your commercial and economic affairs and abide by it in your dealings with your parents, relatives, friends and all those who come into contact with you, all these activities of yours are also Ibadah. If you help the poor and the destitute, give food to the hungry and serve the afflicted and do all this not for any personal gain but only to seek the pleasure of God, this is all ‘Ibadah. Even your economic activities – the activities you undertake to earn your living and to feed your dependents – are ‘Ibadah if you remain honest and truthful in them, and observe the law of God.
In short, all your activities are ‘Ibadah if they are in accordance with the law of God and your ultimate objective is to seek the pleasure of God. Thus, whenever you do good or avoid evil for fear of God, in whatever sphere of life and field of activity, you are discharging your Islamic obligations. This is the true significance of ‘Ibadah, that is, total submission to the pleasure of Allah, the moulding into the patterns of Islam one’s entire life, leaving out not even the most insignificant part.
To help achieve this aim, a set of formal ‘Ibadah (worships) has been drawn up as a course of training. The more assiduously we follow the training, the better equipped we are to harmonise ideals and practices. The ‘Ibadah are thus the pillars on which the edifice of Islam rests.
Salah is the most fundamental and the most important of these obligations. Salah are the prescribed daily prayers which consist in repeating and refreshing five times a day the belief in which you repose your faith.
You get up early in the morning, cleanse yourself, and present yourself before your Lord for prayer. The various poses that you assume during your prayers are the very embodiment of the spirit of submission; the various recitals remind you of your commitments to your God. You seek His guidance and ask Him again and again to enable you to avoid His Wrath and follow His Chosen Path. You read out from the Book of the Lord and express witness to the truth of the Prophets and also refresh your belief in the Day of Judgement and enliven in your memory the fact that you have to appear before your Lord and give an account of your entire life.
This is how your day starts. After a few hours the muezzin calls you to prayers and you again submit to your God and refresh your covenant with Him. You dissociate yourself from your worldly engagements for a few moments and seek audience before God. This once again brings to the fore of your mind your real role in life. After this rededication you revert to your occupations before presenting yourself to the Lord again a few hours later. This again acts as a reminder to you, and you once more refocus your attention on the stipulations of your Faith. When the sun sets and the darkness of the night begins to shroud you, you once more submit yourself to God in prayers so that you may not forget your duties and obligations in the midst of the approaching shadows of the night. After a few hours you again appear before your Lord for your last prayer of the day. Thus before going to bed you once again refresh your faith and prostrate yourself before your God. And this is how you complete your day. The frequency and timings of the prayers never let you lose sight of the object and mission of life in the maze of worldly activities.
It is easy to understand how daily prayers strengthen the foundations of your faith, prepare you for the observance of a life of virtue and obedience to God, and refresh that belief from which springs courage, sincerity, purposefulness, purity of heart, advancement of the soul and enrichment of morals.
Now see how this is achieved. You perform ablution in the way prescribed by the Holy Prophet (blessings of Allah and peace be upon him). You also say your prayers according to the instructions of the Prophet. Why do you do so? Simply because you believe in the Prophethood of Muhammad (blessings of Allah and peace be upon him) and deem it your bounden duty to follow him ungrudgingly.
It is this training which makes a man a perfect Muslim. It reminds him of his covenant with God, refreshes his faith in Him and keeps the belief in the Day of Judgment alive and ever-present before his mind’s eye. It makes him follow the Prophet and trains him in the observance of his duties. This is indeed a strict training for matching one’s practice to one’s ideals. Obviously, if a man’s consciousness of his duties towards his Creator is so acute that he prizes it above all worldly gains and keeps refreshing it through prayers, he will be honest in all his dealings for, otherwise, he will be inviting the displeasure of God which he has all along striven to avoid. He will abide by the law of God in all aspects of his life in the same way as he follows it in the five prayers every day. This man can be relied on in other fields of activity as well, for if the shadows of sin or deceit approach him, he will try to avoid them. If even after such training, a man disobeys the law of God, it can only be because of some intrinsic depravity of his self.
Then, again, you must say your prayers in congregation and especially so the Friday prayers. This creates among Muslims a bond of love and mutual understanding. It arouses in them a sense of collective unity and fosters among them national fraternity. Prayers are also a symbol of equality, for the poor and the rich, the low and the high, the rulers and the ruled, the educated and the unlettered, the black and the white, all stand in a row and prostrate themselves before their Lord. Prayers also inculcate a strong sense of discipline and obedience to an elected leader. In short, prayers train people in all those virtues which make possible the development of a rich individual and collective life.
These are a few of the myriads of benefits we can derive from our daily prayers. If we refuse to avail ourselves of them we, and only we, are the losers. Shirking the prayers can only mean one of two things. Either we do not recognize prayers as our duty or we recognize them as our duty and still shirk them. In the first case, our claim to faith is a shameless lie, for if we refuse to take orders, we no longer acknowledge God’s Authority. In the second case, if we recognize His Authority and still flout His Commands, we are the most unreliable of the creatures that ever trod the earth.
What prayers seek to do five times a day, fasting in the month of Ramadan (the ninth month of the lunar year) does once a year. During this period we eat not a grain of food nor drink a drop of water from dawn to dusk, no matter how delicious the dish or how hungry or thirsty we feel. What is it that makes us voluntarily undergo such rigours? It is nothing but faith in God and the fear of Him and the Day of Judgement. Each and every moment during our fast we suppress our passions and desires and proclaim, by so doing, the supremacy of the Law of God. This consciousness of duty and spirit of patience that incessant fasting for a whole month
From yet another point of view fasting has an immense impact on society, for all the Muslims irrespective of their status must fast during the same month. This emphasises the essential equality of men and thus goes a long way towards creating in them sentiments of love and brotherhood. During Ramadan evil conceals itself while good comes to the fore and the whole atmosphere is filled with piety and purity.
This discipline has been imposed on us for our own advantage. Those who do not fulfil this primary duty cannot be relied on to discharge their other duties. But the worst are those who during this holy month do not hesitate to eat or drink in public. They show by their conduct that they care nothing for the commands of Allah in whom they profess their belief as Creator and Sustainer. Not only this, they also show that they are not loyal members of the Muslim community – rather, they have nothing to do with it. Only the worst can be expected of such hypocrites.
The third obligation is Zakah. The money that we pay as Zakah is not something Allah needs or receives. He is above any want and desire. He, in His benign Mercy, promises us manifold rewards if we help our brethren. But there is one basic condition for being thus rewarded: when we pay in the name of Allah, we shall neither expect nor demand any worldly gains from the beneficiaries nor aim at becoming known as philanthropists.
Zakah is as basic to Islam as other forms of ‘Ibadah: Salah (prayer) and Sawm (fasting). Its fundamental importance lies in the fact that it fosters in us the quality of sacrifice and rids us of selfishness and plutolatry. Islam accepts within its fold only those who are ready to give away in God’s way some of their hard-earned wealth willingly and without any temporal or personal gain. It has nothing to do with misers. A true Muslim will, when the call comes, sacrifice all.
Zakah is not merely on the cash balance. It is also charged on gold, silver,
merchandise, cattle and other valuables. The rate of zakah for all these commodities can be
found in the books on Fiqh and is not given here for the sake of economy of space.
It should be noted that the Holy Prophet has forbidden his own kith and kin to take zakah. Though it is obligatory on the Hashimites to pay zakah, they cannot receive it even if they are poor and needy. If anybody wants to help a poor Hashimite, he may give him a gift. He cannot be helped out of zakah.
His belongings in the way of Allah, for Zakah has already trained him to do so. Muslim society has much to gain from the institution of Zakah. It is the bounden duty of every well-to-do Muslim to help his lowly-placed, poor brethren. His wealth is not to be spent solely for his own comfort and luxury – there are rightful claimants on his wealth, and they are the nation’s widows and orphans, the poor and the invalid; those who have the ability but lack the means to get useful employment and those who have the talent but not the money to acquire knowledge and become useful members of the community. He who does not recognise the call on his wealth of such members of his own community is indeed cruel. Islam is a sworn enemy of selfishness, greed and acquisitiveness. Disbelievers, devoid of sentiments of universal love, know only how to preserve wealth and to add to it by lending it out on interest. Islam’s teachings are the antithesis of this attitude.
Hajj or Pilgrimage
Hajj, or the pilgrimage to Makkah, is the fourth basic ‘Ibadah. Makkah today stands at the site of a small house that the Prophet Abraham (God’s blessings be upon him) built for the worship of Allah. Allah rewarded him by calling it His own House and by making it the centre towards which all must face when saying prayers. He also made it obligatory on those who can afford it to visit this place at least once in a lifetime. This visit is not merely a courtesy call. This pilgrimage has its rites and conditions to be fulfiled which inculcate in us piety and goodness. When we undertake the pilgrimage, we are required to suppress our passions, refrain from bloodshed and be pure in word and deed. God promises rewards for our sincerity and submissiveness.
The pilgrimage is, in a way, the biggest of all ‘Ibadah. For unless a man really loves God he would never undertake such a long journey leaving all his near and dear ones behind him. And this pilgrimage is unlike any other journey. Here his thoughts are concentrated on Allah, his very being vibrates with the spirit of intense devotion. When he reaches the holy place, he finds the atmosphere filled with piety and godliness-, he visits places which bear witness to the glory of Islam, and all this leaves an indelible impression on his mind, which he carries to his last breath. Then there are, as in other ‘Ibadah, many benefits that Muslims can derive from this pilgrimage. Makkah is the centre towards which Muslims must converge once a year, meet and discuss topics of common interest, and in general create and refresh in themselves the faith that all Muslims are equal and deserve the love and sympathy of others, irrespective of their geographical or cultural origin. Thus the pilgrimage unites the Muslims of the world into one international fraternity.
Jihad is part of this overall defence of Islam. Jihad means to struggle to the utmost of one’s capacity. A man who exerts himself physically or mentally or spends his wealth in the way of Allah is indeed engaged in Jihad. But in the language of the Shari’ah this word is use particularly for a war that is waged solely in the name of Allah against those who practice oppression as enemies of Islam.
This supreme sacrifice of life devolves on all Muslims. If, however, a section of Muslims offer themselves for the Jihad, the community as a whole is absolved of its responsibility. But if none comes forward, everybody is guilty. This concession vanishes for the citizens of an Islamic State when it is attacked by a non-Muslim power. In that case everybody must come forward for the Jihad. If the country attacked has not enough strength to fight back, then it is the religious duty of the neighbouring Muslim countries to help her; if even they fail, then the Muslims of the whole world must fight the common enemy. In all such cases, Jihad is as much a primary duty of the Muslims concerned as are the daily prayers or fasting. One who shirks it is a sinner. His very claim to being a Muslim is doubtful. He is a hypocrite whose ‘Ibadah and prayers are a sham, a worthless, hollow show of devotion.