The Shari’ah – Its Nature and Purport
Man has been endowed with countless powers and faculties and Providence has been very bountiful to him in this respect. He possesses intellect and wisdom, will and volition, faculties of sight, speech, taste, touch and hearing, powers of hand and feet, passions of love, fear, anger and so on. These faculties have been bestowed on him because they are indispensable to him. His very life and success depend on the proper use of these powers for the fulfilment of his needs and requirements. These God-given powers are meant for his service and unless they are used in full measure life cannot become worth living.
God has also provided man with all those means and resources to make his natural faculties function and to achieve the fulfilment of his needs. The human body has been so made that it has become man’s greatest instrument in his struggle for the fulfilment of his life’s goal. Then there is the world in which man lives. His environment and surroundings contain resources of every description: resources which he uses as a means for the achievement of his ends. Nature and all that belongs to it have been harnessed for him and he can make every conceivable use of them. And there are other men of his own kind, so that they may co-operate with each other in the construction of a better and prosperous life.
These powers and resources have been conferred so that they may be used for the good of others. They have been created for your good and are not meant to harm and destroy you. The proper use of these powers is that which makes them beneficial to you; and even if there be some harm, it must not exceed the unavoidable minimum. That alone is the proper utilisation of these powers. Every other use which results in waste or destruction is wrong, unreasonable and unjustified. For instance, if you do something that causes you harm or injury, that would be a mistake, pure and simple. If your actions harm others and make you a nuisance to them, that would be sheer folly and an utter misuse of God-given powers. If you waste resources, spoil them for nothing or destroy them that too is a gross mistake. Such activities are flagrantly unreasonable, for it is human reason which suggests that destruction and injury must be avoided and the path of gain and profit be pursued. And if any harm be countenanced, it must be only in such cases where it is unavoidable and where it is bound to yield a greater benefit. Any deviation from this is self-evidently wrong.
Keeping this basic consideration in view, when we look at human beings, we find that there are two kinds of people: first, those who knowingly misuse their powers and resources and through this misuse waste the resources, injure their own vital interests, and cause harm to other people; and, second, those who are sincere and earnest but err because of ignorance. Those who intentionally misuse their powers are wicked and evil and deserve to feel the full weight of the law. Those who err because of ignorance, need proper knowledge and guidance so that they see the Right Path and make the best use of their powers and resources. And the code of behaviour – the Shari’ah – which God has revealed to man meets this very need.
The Shari’ah stipulates the law of God and provides guidance for the regulation of life in the best interests of man. Its objective is to show the best way to man and provide him with the ways and means to fulfil his needs in the most successful and most beneficial way. The law of God is out and out for your benefit. There is nothing in it which tends to waste your powers, or to suppress your natural needs and desires, or to kill your moral urges and emotions. It does not plead for asceticism. It does not say: abandon the world, give up all ease and comfort of life, leave your homes and wander about on plains and mountains and in jungles without bread or cloth, putting yourself to inconvenience and self-annihilation. This viewpoint has no relevance to the law of Islam, a law that has been formulated by God Who has created this world for the benefit of mankind.
The Shari’ah has been revealed by that very God Who has harnessed everything for man. He would hardly want to ruin His creation. He has not given man any power that is useless or unnecessary, nor has He created anything in the heavens and the earth which may not be of service to man. It is His explicit Will that the universe – this grand workshop with its multifarious activities – should go on functioning smoothly and graciously so that man – the prize of creation – should make the best and most productive use of all his powers and resources, of everything that has been harnessed for him on earth and in the high heavens. He should use them in such a way that he and his fellow human beings may reap handsome prizes from them and should never, intentionally or unintentionally, be of any harm to God’s creation. The Shari’ah is meant to guide the steps of man in this respect. It forbids all that is harmful to man, and allows or ordains all that is useful and beneficial to him.
The fundamental principle of the Law is that man has the right, and in some cases the bounden duty, to fulfil all his genuine needs and desires and make every conceivable effort to promote his interests and achieve success and happiness – but (and it is an important ‘but’) he should do all this in such a way that not only are the interests of other people not jeopardised and no harm is caused to their strivings towards the fulfilment of their rights and duties, but there should be all possible social cohesion, mutual assistance and co-operation among human beings in the achievement of their objectives. In respect of those things in which good and evil, gain and loss are inextricably mixed up, the tenet of this law is to choose a little harm for the sake of greater benefit and sacrifice a little benefit, so avoiding a greater harm. This is the basic approach of the Shari’ah.
Man’s knowledge is limited. Every man in every age does not, by himself, know what is good and what is evil, what is beneficial and what is harmful to him. The sources of human knowledge are too limited to provide him with the unalloyed truth. That is why God has spared man the risks of trial and error and revealed to him the Law which is the right and complete code of life for the entire human race.
The merits and the truths of this code are becoming more and more clear to man with the passage of time and of knowledge. Even today some people do not appreciate all the merits of this code, but further progress of knowledge will throw new light on them and bring their superiority into even clearer perspective. The world is willy-nilly drifting towards the Divine Code – many of those people who refused to accept it are now, after centuries of gropings and trials and errors, being obliged to adopt some of the provisions of this law. Those who denied the truth of the revelation and pinned their faith on unguided human reason, after committing blunders and courting bitter experience, are adopting in one way or another the injunctions of Shari’ah. But after what loss! And even then not in their entirety! On the other hand, there are people who repose faith in God’s Prophets, accept their word and adopt the Shari’ah with full knowledge and understanding. They may not:
It would be instructive to refer here to an example. Look at the colour problem. The world
has not yet been able to adopt a rational and human approach towards coloured people.
Biology. for a time. was used to sanction colour discrimination. In the United States for the last
two centuries the courts upheld the differentiation. Thousands of human beings were coerced,
gagged and tortured for the ‘crime’ that their skin was black. Separate laws were administered
to the whites and the blacks. They could not even study under the same roof in the same school
or college. It was only on May 17, 1954 that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that colour
discrimination in universities was unjust and against the principle cf equality of man. After
committing heinous blunders for centuries man came to the view that such discriminations are
unjust and should be abolished. But even now there are many who have not realised the truth of
this assertion and still stand for segregation, for instance. the Government of the Union of South
Africa and the Western population of the African continent. Even in the United States a large
number of’civilised’ people have not as yet accepted desegregation. This is how the human
mind has dealt with this problem. The Shariah, on the other hand, declared this discrimination
unjust from the very first day. It showed the right path, the noble course and saved man from
error and blunder. The Holy Qur’in says: “We have made all the children of Adam, i.e. all
human beings, respectable and dignified.” The Qur’an again declares: “O ye people! surely We
have created you of a male and a female and made you tribes and families so that ye may
identify each other. Surely, the noblest of you in the sight of Allah is one who is most pious,
most mindful of his duty” Similarly, the Holy Prophet says: “O people, verily your Lord is one
and your Father is one. All of you belong to Adam, and Adam was made of clay. There is no
superiority for an Arab over a non-Arab nor for a non Arab over an Arab: nor for a whitecoloured
over a black-coloured nor for a black-skinned over a white skinned, except in piety.
Verily the noblest among you is he who is the most pious” (vide Oration of the Prophet on the
occasion of the Farewell Pilgrimage).
This is the clear truth which the Shari’ah told to man more than thirteen cepittiries ago, but
unguided reason has succeeded only in touching the fringe of it after centuries of waste, losses
and blunders, after subjecting hundreds of thousands of people to indiscriminate segregation and
after degrading men and corrupting human society. The Shari’ah gives the simplest and the
shortest approach to reality and its disregard leads to utter waste and failure. – Editor
be aware of all the merits of a certain instruction, but on the whole they accept a code which is
the outcome of true knowledge and which saves them from the evils and blunders of ignorance
and of trial and error. Such people are on the right path and are bound to succeed.
The Shari’ah – Rights and Obligations
The scheme of life which Islam envisages consists of a set of rights and obligations, and every
human being, everyone who accepts this religion, is enjoined to live up to them. Broadly
speaking, the law of Islam imposes four kinds of rights and obligations on every man:
- the rights of God which every man is obliged to fulfil;
- his own rights upon his own self;
- the rights of other people over him; and
- the rights of those powers and resources which God has placed in his service and has empowered him to use for his benefit. These rights and obligations constitute the corner-stone of Islam and it is the bounden duty of every true Muslim to understand them and obey them carefully. The Shari’ah discusses clearly each and every kind of right and deals with it in detail. It also throws light on the ways and means through which the obligations can be discharged – so that all of them may be simultaneously implemented and none of them violated or trampled underfoot. Now we shall briefly discuss these rights and obligations so that an idea of the Islamic way of life and its fundamental values may be formed.
The Rights of God
- First of all we must study the ground on which Islam bases the relationship of man to his Creator. The primary and foremost right of God is that man should have faith in Him alone. He should acknowledge His authority and associate none with Him. This is epitomised in the Kalimah: La- ilaha illallah (there is no god but Allah).
- The second right of God on us is that man should accept whole-heartedly and follow His guidance (Hidayah) – the code He has revealed for man and should seek His pleasure with both mind and soul. We fulfil the dictates of this right by placing belief in God’s Prophet and by accepting his guidance and leadership.
- The third right of God on us is that we should obey Him honestly and unreservedly. We fulfil the needs of this right by following God’s Law as contained in the Qur’an and the Sunnah.
- The fourth right of God on us is to worship Him.
These rights and obligations precede all other rights and as such they are discharged even at the cost of some sacrifice of other rights and duties. For instance, in offering prayers and keeping fasts man has to sacrifice many of his personal rights. He has to get up early in the morning for his prayers and in so doing sacrifices his sleep and rest. During the day he often puts off important work and gives up his recreation to worship his Creator. In the month of Ramadan (the month of fasts) he experiences hunger and inconvenience solely to please his Lord. By paying zakah he loses his wealth and demonstrates that the love of God is above everything else. In the pilgrimage he sacrifices wealth and takes on a difficult journey. And in Jihad he sacrifices money, material and all that he has – even his own life.
Similarly, in the discharge of these obligations one has to sacrifice some of the ordinary rights of others and thus injure one’s own interests at large. A servant has to leave his work to worship his Lord. A businessman has to stop his business to undertake the Pilgrimage to Makka. In Jihad a man takes away life and gives it away solely in the cause of Allah. In the same way, in rendering God’s rights one has to sacrifice many of those things which man has in his control, like animals, wealth, etc. But God has so formulated the Shari’ah that harmony and equilibrium are established in the different fields of life and the sacrifice of others’ rights is reduced to the barest minimum.
This is achieved by the limits prescribed by God. He has allowed us every facility in the fulfilment of the obligation of Salah. If you cannot get water for ablution, or you are sick, you can perform tayammum (dry ablution). If you are on a journey, you can cut short the Salah. If you are ill and cannot stand in the prayer, you can offer it while sitting or lying. The recitation of the prayer is so manageable that they can be shortened or lengthened as one may wish; at times of rest and ease we may recite a long chapter of the Qur’an, at busy times we may recite a few verses only. The instruction is that in the congregational prayers and in those prayers which occur during business hours, the recitation should be short. God is pleased with the optional devotions (Nawafil), but He disapproves our denying ourselves sleep and rest and the sacrifice of the rights of our children and of the household. Islam wants us to strike a balance between the various activities of life.
It is similar with fasts. In the whole year there is only one month of obligatory fasting. If you are travelling or ill you can omit it and observe it at some other convenient time of the year. Women are exempted from fasting when they are pregnant and during their menstrual or suckling periods. The fast should end at the appointed time and any delay is disapproved of. Permission is given to eat and drink from sunset to dawn. Optional fasts are highly valued and God is pleased at them, but He does not like you to keep fasts continuously and make yourself too weak to do your ordinary business satisfactorily.
Similarly, look at the case of zakah; the minimum rate has been fixed by God and man has been left free to give as much more as he likes in the cause of Allah. If one gives zakah, one fulfills one’s duty, but if one spends more in charity, one seeks more and more of God’s pleasure. But He does not like us to sacrifice all our belongings in charity or to deny ourselves and our relatives those rights and comforts which they should enjoy. He does not want us to impoverish ourselves. We are commanded to be moderate in charity.
Then look at the pilgrimage. It is obligatory only for those who can afford the journey and who are physically fit to bear its hardships. Then, it is obligatory to perform it only once in one’s life, in any convenient year. If there is a war or any other situation which threatens life, it can be postponed. Moreover, parental permission has been made an essential condition, so that aged parents may not suffer in one’s absence. All these things clearly show what importance God has Himself given to the rights of others vis-a-vis His own rights. The greatest sacrifice for God is made in Jihad, for in it a man sacrifices not only his own life and property in His cause but destroys those of others also. But, as already stated, one of the Islamic principles is that we should suffer a lesser loss to save ourselves from a greater loss.
How can the loss of some lives – even if the number runs into thousands – be compared to the calamity that may befall mankind as a result of the victory of evil over good and of aggressive atheism over the religion of God. That would be a far greater loss and calamity, for as a result of it not only would the religion of God be under dire threat, the world would also become the abode of evil and perversion, and life would be disrupted both from within and without.
In order to escape this greater evil God has, therefore. commanded us to sacrifice our lives and property for His pleasure. But at the same time He has forbidden unnecessary bloodshed, injuring the aged, women, children, the sick and the wounded. His order is to fight only against those who rise to fight. He enjoins us not to cause unnecessary destruction even in the enemy’s lands, and to deal fairly and honourably with the defeated. We are instructed to observe the agreements made with the enemy, and to stop fighting when they do so or when they stop their aggressive and anti-Islamic activities.
Thus Islam allows only for the minimum essential sacrifice of life, property, and other people’s rights in the discharging of God’s rights. It is eager to establish a balance between the different demands of man and adjust different rights and obligations so that life is enriched with the choicest of’ merits and achievements.
The Rights of One’s Own Self
Next come man’s personal rights, that is, the rights of one’s own self. The fact is that man is more cruel and unjust to himself than to any other being. On the face of it this may seem astonishing: how can a man be unjust to himself, particularly when we find that he loves himself most? How can he be his own enemy? It seems unintelligible. But deeper reflection shows that it contains a large grain of truth.
The greatest weakness of man is that when he feels an overpowering desire, instead of resisting it, he succumbs to it, and in its gratification knowingly causes great harm to himself. There is the man who drinks: he cannot stop his craving for it and does it at the cost of money, health, reputation and everything that he has. Another person is so fond of eating that in his eating excesses he damages his health and endangers his life. Another person becomes a slave to his sexual appetites and ruins himself in over-indulgence. Still another becomes enamoured of spiritual elevations: he suppresses his genuine desires, refuses to satisfy the physical needs, controls his appetite, does away with clothes, leaves his home and retires into mountains and jungles. He believes that the world is not meant for him and abhors it in all its forms and manifestations.
These are a few of the instances of man’s tendency to go to extremes. One comes across such instances of maladjustment and disequilibrium in one’s everyday life and there is no need to multiply them here.
Islam stands for human welfare and its avowed objective is to establish balance in life. That is why the Shari’ah clearly declares that your own self also has certain rights upon you. A fundamental principle of it is: “there are rights upon you of your own person.”
The Shari’ah forbids the use of all those things which are injurious to man’s physical, mental or moral existence. It forbids the consumption of blood, intoxicating drugs, flesh of the pig beasts of prey, poisonous and unclean animals and carcases; for all these have undesirable effects on the physical, moral, intellectual and spiritual life of man. While forbidding these things, Islam enjoins man to use all clean, healthy and useful things and asks him not to deprive his body of clean food, for man’s body, too, has a right on him. The law of Islam forbids nudity and orders man to wear decent and dignified dress. It exhorts him to work for a living and strongly disapproves of him remaining idle and jobless. The spirit of the Shari’ah is that man should use for his comfort and welfare the powers God has bestowed on him and the resources that He has spread on the earth and in the heavens.
Islam does not believe in the suppression of sexual desire, it enjoins man to control and regulate it and seek its fulfilment in marriage. It forbids him to resort to self-persecution and total self-denial and permits him, indeed, bids him, to enjoy the rightful comforts and pleasures of life and remain pious and steadfast in the midst of life and its problems.
To seek spiritual elevation, moral purity, nearness to God and salvation in the life to come, it is not necessary to abandon this world. Instead, the trial of man lies in this world and he should remain in its midst and follow the way of Allah in it. The road to success lies in following the Divine Law in the midst of life’s complexities, not outside it.
Islam forbids suicide and impresses on man that life belongs to God. It is a trust which God has bestowed for a certain period of time so that you may make the best use of it – it is not meant to be harmed or destroyed in a frivolous way.
This is how Islam instils in the mind of man that his own person, his own self, possesses certain rights and it is his obligation to discharge them as best he can, in the ways that have been suggested by the Shari’ah. This is how he can be true to his own self.
The Rights of Other Men
On the one hand the Shari’ah has enjoined man to fulfil his personal rights and be just to his own self, and on the other, it has asked him to seek their fulfilment in such a way that the rights of other people are not violated. The Shari’ah has tried to strike a balance between the rights of man and the rights of society so that no conflict arises and there is co-operation in establishing the law of God.
Islam has strictly forbidden the telling of a lie in any shape or form, for lies sully the liar, harm other people and become a source of menace to society. It has totally forbidden theft, bribery, forgery, cheating, the levying of interest and usury, for whatever man gains by these means is obtained by causing loss and injury to others. Back-biting, tale-telling and slander have been forbidden. Gambling, lottery, speculation and all games of chance have been prohibited, for in all of them one person gains at the expense of thousands of losers.
All those forms of exploitative commerce have been prohibited in which one party alone is to be the loser. Monopoly, hoarding, blackmarketing, holding of land from cultivation and all other forms of individual and social aggrandizement have been prohibited. Murder, bloodspilling and spreading of mischief, disorder and destruction have been made crimes, for no-one has a right to take away the life or property of other people merely for his personal gain or gratification.
Adultery, fornication and unnatural sexual indulgence have been strictly prohibited for they not only vitiate the morality and impair the health of the perpetrator but also spread corruption and immorality in society, cause venereal disease, damage both public health and the morals of the coming generations, upset relations between man and man and split the very fabric of the cultural and social structure of the community. Islam seeks to eliminate, root and branch, such crimes.
All these limitations and restrictions have been imposed by the law of Islam to prevent a man encroaching on the rights of others. Islam does not want a man to become so selfish and self-centered that for the attainment of a few desires of the mind and body he unashamedly assails the rights of others and violates morality. The law of Islam so regulates life that the welfare of one and all may be achieved. But for the attainment of human welfare and cultural advancement, negative restrictions alone are not sufficient. In a peaceful and prosperous society people should not only not violate the rights of others and injure their interests but should positively cooperate with each other and establish mutual relations and social institutions that contribute towards the welfare of all and the establishment of an ideal human society. The Shari’ah has guided us in this respect as well. We therefore propose to give here a brief summary of those injunctions of Islamic law which throw light on this aspect of life and society.
Family is the first cradle of man. It is here that the primary character-traits of man are set. As such it is not only the cradle of man but also the cradle of civilisation. Therefore, let us first consider the injunctions of the Shari’ah relating to the family.
A family consists of the husband, the wife and their children. The Islamic injunctions about the family are very explicit. They assign to man the responsibility for earning and providing the necessities of life for his wife and children and for protecting them from all the vicissitudes of life. To the woman it assigns the duty of managing the household, training and bringing up children in the best possible way, and providing her husband and children with the greatest possible comfort and contentment. The duty of the children is to respect and obey their parents, and, when they are grown up, to serve them and provide for their needs. To make the household a well-managed and well-disciplined institution, Islam has adopted the following two measures:
(a) The husband has been given the position of head of the family. No institution can work smoothly unless it has a chief administrator. You cannot think of a school without a headmaster or a city without an administrator. If there is nobody to control an institution, chaos results. If everybody in the family goes his own way, nothing but confusion will prevail. If the husband goes one way and the wife another, the future of the children will be ruined. There must be
Someone as the head of the family so that discipline may be maintained. Islam gives this position to the husband and in this way makes the family a well-disciplined primary unit of civilization and a model for society at large.
(b) The head of the family has responsibilities. It is his duty to work, and do all those tasks which are performed outside the household. Woman has been freed from all activities outside the household so that she may devote herself fully to duties in the home and in the rearing of her children – the future guardians of the nation. Women have been ordered to remain in their houses and discharge the responsibilities assigned to them. Islam does not want to tax them doubly: to bring up their children and maintain the house hold, as well as to earn a living and do outdoor jobs would be a clear injustice. Islam, therefore, effects a functional division of labour between the sexes.
But this does not mean that the woman is not allowed to leave the house at all. She is, when necessary. The law has specified the home as her special field of work and has stressed that she should attend to the improvement of home life. Whenever she has to go out, certain formalities should be observed.
It is a general rule that the sphere of the family widens through blood relations and marriage connections. To bind together the members of the family into a unity, to keep their mutual relations close and healthy, and to make each one of them a source of support, strength and contentment to the other, the law of Islam has formulated certain basic laws and rules which embody the wisdom of the ages. They may be summed up as follows:
- Marriage between those persons who have naturally and circumstantially the closest association and affiliations with each other have been prohibited. Marriage is forbidden between: mother and son, father and daughter, step- father and step-daughter, stepmother and step-son; brother and sister, foster- brother and foster-sister, paternal uncle and his niece, aunt.
After tasting the bitter consequences of destroying this functional distribution, even some Western thinkers are talking in terms of women going back to their homes. Here are the views of two leading thinkers:
Dr. Fulton J. Sheen writes in Communism and the Conscience of the West: “The disturbance of family life in America is more desperate than at any period in our history. The family is the barometer of the nation. What the average home is that is America: if the average home is living on credit, spending money lavishly, running into debt, then America will be a nation which will pile on national debt until the day of the Great Collapse. If the average husband and wife are not faithful to their marriage vows, then America will not insist on fidelity to the Islamic Charter and the Four Freedoms. If there is a deliberate frustration of the fruits of love, then the nation will develop economic policies of growing undue cotton, throwing coffee into the sea and frustrating nature for the sake of economic prices. If the husband and wife live only for themselves and not for each other, if they fail to see that their individual happiness is conditional to their mutuality, then we shall have a country where capital and labour fight like husband and wife, both making social life barren and economic peace impossible. If the husband and wife permit outside solicitations to woo one away from the other, then we shall become a nation where alien philosophies will infiltrate, as Communism sweeps away that basic loyalty which was known as patriotism. If husband and wife live as if there is no God, then America shall have bureaucrats pleading for atheism as a national policy repudiating the Declaration of Independence and denying that all our rights and liberties come to us from God. It is the home which decides the nation. What happens in the family will happen later in Congress, the White House and the Supreme Court. Every country gets the kind of Government it deserves. As we live in the house, so shall the nation live.”
Professor Cyril Joad goes to the extent of clearly saying that: “I believe the world would be a happier place if women were content to look after their homes and their children, even if some slight lowering of the standards of living were involved thereby.” (Variety, December 1, 1952). sister) and her nephew, maternal uncle and his niece, mother-in-law and her son- in-law, and father-in-law and his daughter-in-law. This prohibition strength- ens the bonds of the family and makes relations between these relatives absolutely pure and unalloyed: and they can mix with each other without any restraint and with sincere affection.
- Beyond the limits of the forbidden marriage relations given above, matrimo- nial relations can be effected between the members of kindred families, so that such relationship may bind them still closer. Marriage connections between two families which are freely associated with each other, and which therefore know each other’s habits, customs and traditions, are generally successful. Therefore the Shari’ah has not only permitted them but also encouraged and preferred relations with kindred families to those of entirely strange families (though this is not forbidden).
- In a group of kindred families, there usually co-exists the rich and the poor, the prosperous and the destitute. The Islamic principle is that a man’s relatives have the greatest right on him. Respect for the tie between relatives is tech nically called Silah-alrahm. Muslims are enjoined to respect this bond in every possible way. To be disloyal to one’s relatives and to be negligent of their rights is a great sin and God has disapproved of it. If a relative becomes poor, or is beset by some trouble, it is the duty of his rich and prosperous relatives to help him. Special regard for the rights of relatives has been enjoined in Zakah and other charities.
- The law of inheritance is so formulated in Islam that property left by the deceased cannot be concentrated in one place. It is distributed in such a way that all near relatives get their share. Son, daughter, wife, husband, father, mother, brother and sister are the nearest relatives and they get the first priority. If such near relatives do not exist, shares are given to the next nearest relatives. After the death of a man, therefore, his wealth is distributed amongst his kith and kin and a fatal blow is struck against the capitalistic concentration of wealth. This law of Islam is of unique excellence, and other societies are now taking similar action. But the sad irony is that Muslims themselves are not fully aware of its revolutionary potentialities and some of them, through ignorance, are even avoiding it in practice. In several parts of the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent daughters are being deprived of their share of inheritance; this is a palpable injustice and a flagrant violation of the Qur’an’s injunctions.
After the family and its connections come man’s relations with his friends, neighbours, dwellers of his own locality, village or city, and persons with whom he comes into constant contact. Islam recognises these relations and enjoins a Muslim to treat them all honestly, truthfully, equitably and courteously. It bids believers to respect others’ feelings, to avoid indecent and abusive language, to help each other, to attend to the sick, to support the destitute, to assist the needy and the crippled, to sympathise with the trouble-stricken, to look after orphans and widows, to feed the hungry, to clothe the under-clad and to help the unemployed in seeking employment.
Islam says that if God has bestowed upon you wealth and riches, do not squander it on luxurious frivolities. It has prohibited the use of gold and silver vessels, the wearing of costly silk dresses, and the wasting of money on useless ventures and extravagant luxuries. This injunction of the Shari’ah is based on the principle that no man should be allowed to squander on himself wealth that could maintain thousands of human beings. It is cruel and unjust that money which can be used to feed teeming, starving humanity should be frittered away in useless ostentation. Islam does not want to deprive a man of his wealth and belongings. What one has earned or inherited is beyond doubt his own property. Islam recognises his right and allows him to enjoy it and make the best use of it. It also suggests that if you are wealthy, you should have better dress and good accommodation and a decent living. But Islam insists that the human element should not be lost sight of.
What Islam totally disapproves of is conceited self-centredness, which neglects the welfare and well-being of others and gives birth to an exaggerated individualism. It wants society as a whole to prosper, and not merely a few individuals. It instils in the minds of its followers social consciousness and suggests that they live a simple and frugal life, that they avoid excesses and, while fulfiling their own needs, keep in mind the needs and requirements of their kith and kin, their near and distant relatives, their friends and associates, their neighbours and fellow-citizens. This is what Islam wants to achieve.
So far we have discussed the nature of man’s relations with his close relatives and friends. Now let us look at the wider perspective and see what kind of community Islam wants to establish. Everyone who embraces Islam not only enters the fold of the religion but also becomes a member of the Islamic community. The Shari’ah has formulated certain rules of behaviour for this as well. These rules oblige Muslims to help each other, to approve good and forbid evil, and to see that no wrong enters their society. Some of the injunctions of the law of Islam, in this respect, are as follows:
- To preserve the moral life of the nation and to safeguard the evolution of society on healthy lines, free mingling of the sexes has been prohibited. Islam effects a functional distribution between the sexes and sets different spheres of activity for both of them. Women should in the main devote themselves to household duties in their homes and men should attend to their jobs in the socio-economic spheres. Outside the pale of the nearest relations between whom marriage is forbidden men and women have been asked not to mix freely with each other and if they do have to have contact with each other they should do so with purdah. When women have to go out of their homes, they should wear simple dress and be properly veiled. They should also cover their faces and hands as a normal course. Only in genuine necessity can they unveil, and they must re-cover as soon as possible. Along with this, men have been asked to keep down their eyes and not to look at women. And if someone accidentally looks upon some woman, he should turn away his eyes. To try to see them is wrong and to try to seek their acquai- tance is worse. It is the duty of both men and women to look after their personal morality and purge their souls of all impurities. Marriage is the proper form of sexual relationship and no-one should attempt to overstep this limit or even think of any sexual license; the very thought and imagination of man should be purified from such perverse ideas.
- For the same purpose it has been enjoined that proper dress should always be worn. No man should expose his body from the knees to the navel, nor should a woman expose any part of her body except her face and hands to any person other than her husband, however closely related to her he might be. This is technically called satr (cover) and to keep these parts covered is the religious duty of every man and woman. Through this directive Islam aims to cultivate in its followers a deep sense of modesty and purity and to suppress all forms of immodesty and moral deviation.
- Islam does not approve of pastimes, entertainments and recreations which tend to stimulate sensual passions and vitiate the canons of morality. They are a sheer waste of time, money and energy. and destroy the moral fibre of society. Recreation in itself is certainly a necessity. It acts as a spur to activity and quickens the spirit of life and adventure. It is as important to life as water and air; one particularly requires rest and recreation after hard work. But it must be recreation which refreshes the mind and enlivens the spirit, and must not depress the spirit and deprave the passions. Absurd and wasteful entertainments where in thousands of people witness depraving scenes of crime and immorality are the very antithesis of healthy recreation. Although they may be gratifying to the senses, their effect upon the minds and morals is horrifying. They can have no place in an Islamic society and culture.
- To safeguard the unity and solidarity of the nation and to achieve the wel- fare and well-being of the Muslim community, believers have been enjoined to avoid mutual hostility, social dissensions and sectarianism of all kinds. They have been exhorted to settle their differences and disputes in accordance with the principles laid down in the Qur’an and the Sunnah, and if the parties fail to reach a settlement, instead of fighting and quarrelling amongst themselves, they should bury their differences in the name of Allah and leave the decision to Him. In matters of common national welfare they should help each other, obey their leaders, and avoid wasting their energies in bickering over trivial things. Such feuds and schisms are a disgrace to the Muslim community and a potential source of national weakness. They must be shunned at all costs.
- Islam regards knowledge and science as the common heritage of mankind and Muslims have absolute liberty to learn them and their practical uses from whatever source they can. But as far as the question of culture and the way of life is concerned, it forbids them to imitate the modes of living of other peoples. The psychology of imitation suggests that it springs from a sense of inferiority and abasement and its net result is the cultivation of a defeatist mentality. Cultural aping of others has disastrous consequences on a nation; it destroys its inner vitality, blurs its vision, befogs its critical faculties, breeds an inferiority complex and gradually but assuredly saps all the springs of culture and sounds its death-knell.
This is why the Holy Prophet (blessings of Allah and peace be upon him) has positively and forcefully forbidden Muslims to assume the culture and mode of life of non-Muslims. The strength of a nation does not lie in its dress, etiquette or fine arts; its power and growth owe themselves to right knowledge, science, discipline, organization and energy for action. If you want to learn from others, take lessons from their will to action and social discipline, avail yourselves of their knowledge and technical accomplishments but do not lean towards those arts and crafts which breed cultural slavery and national inferiority. Muslims have been enjoined to guard against such influence.
Now we come to the relationship of Muslims with non-Muslims. In dealing with them, believers have been instructed not to be intolerant or narrow – minded. They have been commanded not to abuse or speak ill of their religious leaders or saints, nor to say anything insulting about their religion. They have been instructed not to seek disputes with them unnecessarily but to live in peace and amity. If the non-Muslims observe peace and conciliatory attitudes towards Muslims, and do not violate their territories and other rights, they also should keep congenial and friendly relations with them and deal with them fairly and justly.
It is the very dictate of our religion that we possess greater human sympathy and politeness than any other people, and behave in most noble and modest ways. Bad manners, ill-behaviour, oppression and narrow-mindedness are against the very spirit of Islam. A Muslim is born in the world to become a living symbol of goodness, nobility and humanity. He should win the hearts of people by his character and example. Then alone he can become a true ambassador of Islam.
The Rights of All Creatures
Now we come to the last kind of rights. God has honored man with authority over His countless Creatures. Everything has been harnessed for him. He has been endowed with the power to subdue them and make them serve his objectives. This superior position gives man authority over them and he enjoys the right to use them as he likes. But that does not mean that God has given him unbridled liberty. Islam says that all creation has certain rights on man.
They are: he should not waste them on fruitless ventures nor should he unnecessarily hurt them or harm them. When he uses them for his service he should cause them the least possible harm, and should employ the best and the least injurious methods of using them. The law of Islam embodies many injunctions about these rights. For instance, we are allowed to slaughter animals for food but have been forbidden to kill them merely for fun or sport. To slaughter them, the method of dhabh (slaughtering) has been fixed, the best possible method of obtaining meat from animals. Other methods are either more painful or spoil the meat and deprive it of some of its useful properties. Similarly, killing an animal by causing continuous pain and injury is considered abominable in Islam. Islam allows the killing of dangerous and venomous animals and of beasts of prey only because it values man’s life more than theirs. But here, too, it does not allow their killing by resort to prolonged painful methods.
Regarding the beasts of burden and animals used for riding and transport, Islam distinctly forbids man to keep them hungry, to put intolerable burdens on them and to beat them cruelly. To catch birds and imprison them in cages without any special purpose is considered abominable. Islam does not approve even of the useless cutting of trees and bushes. Man can use their fruits and other produce, but he has not the right to destroy them. Vegetables, after all, possess life. Nor does Islam allow waste among even lifeless things; so much so that it disapproves of the wasteful flow of too much water. Its avowed purpose is to avoid waste in every conceivable form and to make the best use of all resources – living and lifeless.
Shari’ah – The Universal and Eternal Law
In the foregoing pages we have given a very brief resume of the law of Islam – the law which Prophet Muhammad (blessings of Allah and peace be upon him) delivered to mankind for all times to come. This law admits of no difference between man and man except in faith and religion. Those religious and social systems and political and cultural ideologies which differentiate between men on grounds of race, country or colour can never become universal creeds or world ideologies for the simple reason that someone belonging to a certain race cannot be transformed into another race, one born in a certain country cannot tear his identity from that place, nor can the whole world condense into one country; the colour of a negro, a Chinese and a white man cannot be changed. Such ideologies and social systems must remain confined to one race, country or community.