The Islamic way of life, in a word, is a God-oriented life. The greatest concern of a Muslim is God Almighty. The focus of his whole life is Akhirah, that is, the ideal world of God. He always obeys divine injunctions in every aspect of life. His life becomes a practical expression of the Qur’anic verse:
Take on God’s own dye. And who has a better dye than God’s? And we are His worshippers. (2:138)
‘Taking on God’s dye,’ means being of a ‘godly character’ in all the personal, social and economic affairs of one’s life. The following pages of the chapter are devoted to portraying various aspects of this ‘godly’ character as personified in a Muslim individual whose words and deeds in family matters, or with respect to earning one’s livelihood and whose dealings with other members of society, always seem to be distinguishably ‘dyed in the divine hue.’
By accepting iman one enters the fold of Islam. But Iman is not simply a recitation of kalima (creed of Islam). According to the Qur’an, it is ma‘arifah (5:83) that is, realization. Thus realization of truth is the door to Islam. When one discovers that Islam is truly God’s religion and that it is the same truth one has been seeking all along, one undergoes a unique experience of realization which is known in Islamic terminology as ma‘arifah.’
Making any kind of discovery revolutionizes a person’s life but when this discovery is of the truth with a capital T, this intellectual revolution becomes synonymous with the emergence of a new life in the individual.
This kind of intellectual revolution is no simple event: it turns a man into a superman, and gives him the greatest mission of his life. It regulates his life in such a way that no part of it remains unaffected. He begins to see all of humanity as his family and the entire universe as his abode. Such a discoverer becomes a maker of history rather than a product of history.
This is the stuff of iman. And it was this iman which enabled the Prophet and his companions to produce, as one historian remarked, “the most miraculous of all miracles.”
Ibadah, or worship, is not simply the observation of a set of rituals. It is more a profound kind of religious experience. In fact, it is the physical and spiritual expression of the human personality on a higher plane of consciousness.
Addressing man, the Qur’an says, “Prostrate yourself in adoration and bring yourself closer
(to God)” (96:19). The Prophet Muhammad, may peace be upon him, was once asked ‘What is the essence of ibadah? He replied: “The worship of God as though you are seeing Him. Or if you are not seeing Him, He is seeing you.”
There are two kinds of ibadah, or worship, in Islam, the first kind of ibadah have been prescribed at specified times—salat, sawm, zakat, hajj, (prayer, fasting, almsgiving, pilgrimage) These forms of devotion are called the pillars of Islam. Then there are unspecified forms of ibadah, which consists of dhikr and fikr (3:191), meaning to remember God with feelings of fear and love.
This second form of ibadah aims at mental activation of the human soul so that he may be enabled to see God’s signs in everything he comes across in his daily life. This is the ibadah or worship, which is obligatory for every Muslim throughout his life.
What is morality? It is to live among one’s fellow men according to the moral teachings of Islam. The essence of Islamic morality is thus set forth and given in a hadith: “Behave with others as you would like them to behave towards you” (al-Bukhari) By nature everyone knows what sort of conduct he approves of and of what sort he disapproves. So to follow this generally accepted moral criterion in relation to others is essentially Islamic morality.
Islam differentiates between social manners and social character. Social manners are based on the principle ‘Do as they do.’ But Islamic morality is based on the formula of unilateral and unconditional positive conduct. ‘Do good to others, even if they are not doing good to you.’
The Qur’an portrays Muslims as individuals who “repel evil with good.” (28:54)
Similarly, the Prophet Muhammad, may peace be upon him, advised a Muslim to “do good to those who harm you” (al-Tirmirdhi). The Prophet Muhammad, may peace be upon him, was the true embodiment of the finest moral character. Addressing the Prophet, the Qur’an declares: “Surely you have a sublime character.” (68:4)
So great an importance has been attached in Islam to moral character that it has been set up as a criterion by which to judge all other Islamic virtues. If one is good in relation to other human beings, that will serve as evidence that one also is good in relation to God.
The Prophet Muhammad, may peace be upon him, puts it thus:
“One who is not grateful to man cannot be grateful to God either.” (Al-Bayhaqi)
A. Individual Responsibility
To preserve society from instability and keep it in a perpetually reformed state, Islam has given a basic commandment, which has been mentioned at many places in the Qur’an. One such Qur’anic verse runs: “(Believers are those) who enjoin what is good and forbid what is evil” (9:112). The same point has also been repeatedly made in a number of traditions such as the following: “A believer ought to open the gate of good and close the door of evil.” (Musnad Ahmad)
This commandment has been misrepresented by certain self-styled advocates of Islamic revolution as being political in nature. But this is not so. It is entirely non-political. It only indicates that every member of society should have a strong sense of his responsibility towards society. No one should remain indifferent on seeing the perpetration of evil or injustice. He should feel the pain of others in his own heart. He should rise in support of the rights of the oppressed. When one sees someone engaged in the calumny and slander of others, he should attempt to stop him from doing so. He should make the iniquity known to other people, so that the culprit may be compelled by means of public pressure to desist from indulging in such evil acts.
Every member of society should consider the upholding of virtue to be an essential duty. The greatest concern of every individual should be to see that goodness flourishes in society and that evils are uprooted from it. Before any evil takes roots, it should be nipped in the bud.
This task of enjoining good and forbidding evil has to be performed with the utmost gentleness and well wishing rather than with harshness and violence.
That is why this social responsibility has been linked with acts of worship in Islam. For instance, with reference to prayer, the Qur’an says: “Surely, prayer keeps (one) away from indecency and evil.” (29:45)
B. Family Life
A sane society, from the Islamic point of view, is but an extension of a sane family. Even human society at large is nothing other than a single family gradually extended throughout history. That is why Islam has greatly emphasized the significance of family life being disciplined and well-organised so that it may play its part in maintaining social stability.
A family begins when a male and a female decide as members of society to live together under one roof. However, Islam does not allow such a relation between a man and a woman, unless it is based on a legitimate marital contract which is basically meant to be a guarantee of a life-long partnership of rights and duties, and not merely a temporary entertainment. Hence, there is no room in Islam for what is known, as pre-marital or extra-marital affairs between the two sexes. And this is one of the reasons that we do not find in Islamic society, broken homes, illegitimate children, neglected or abandoned parents, etc.—phenomena that are prevalent in secular societies.
Through the institution of marriage Islam aims at building a society free from anarchy, instability, indecency, violence and crime, especially in relation to youngsters. Marriage, when conducted and maintained on the lines laid down in the Qur’an and Sunnah, provides an organised unit in the form of a ‘home.’ In that way, the succeeding generations are brought up and nurtured physically, morally and mentally in a healthy atmosphere and under the supervision of loving and concerned parents. This training at home helps the children enter society equipped with a deep sense of responsibility, respect for human values and other qualities, such as sincerity, which are essential for the better construction and development of any social system. A society composed of such homes or training units, will never suffer from the chaos and destructive instabilities from which modern societies are suffering nowadays.
Guidelines for a healthy, happy and meaningful marital life, along with the rights and duties of parents and other members of the family, occupy a considerable space in both the Qur’an and Hadith. A few references in this regard are given below:
1. “Men should approach women with the sincere intention of entering into wedlock with them, not committing fornication.” (4:24)
2. “And your Lord had commanded you to serve none but Him, and to show goodness to your parents. If either or both of them reach old age with you, show them no sign of impatience and do not rebuke them, but speak to them a generous word. Treat them gently and with compassion, and say: “O my Lord! Have mercy on them as they brought me up when I was little.’” (17:23-24)
3. “No parents have ever given to their children any gift better than a good moral education.”
4. “My Lord has enjoined me to do nine things,” the Prophet once said, and one of them, he stressed was “keeping on good terms even with those relatives who cut off ties of kinship.”
C. Legitimate Livelihood
So many social evils can be directly attributed to either some members of society having an insufficient means of livelihood or others having an excess of wealth. Islam urges that one earns one’s livelihood by all possible but lawful means, so that one’s essential needs are properly met on the one hand, and one does not remain dependent on others, on the other. According to the Qur’an and Hadith, the greed for more and more, niggardliness, holding money back to centralize it in one or a few hands, are the main roots of all criminal and destructive tendencies in human society. That is why virtues such as contentment, moderation, simplicity, altruism, spending on charity and sharing one’s happiness with others are so highly and repeatedly recommended in Islam.
Conversely, vices like extravagance, selfishness, monopolistic practices, exploitation, usury and all unfair means of money-making are strongly condemned and prohibited. How to deal with the problems of earning a livelihood in accordance with the Islamic way of life? The answer to this question may be summed up in the following points:
(a) Avoidance of transgression: God Almighty has declared in the Qur’an: “Eat of the good things we have given for your sustenance, and do not transgress with respect to them.” (20:81)
(b) Self-reliance: One should try one’s utmost to earn one’s daily bread by one’s own efforts, without being dependent on anybody else. The Prophet Muhammad ‘Upon Whom Be Peace’, is reported to have said repeatedly: “The best food one has ever had is that which one has earned with one’s own hands.” (Abu Dawud)
(c) Avoidance of niggardliness and spending in charity: When one is fortunate enough to earn even more than it takes to meet one’s own needs, one should not try to be parsimonious with one’s earnings. Instead, one should rather extend a supporting hand to less fortunate or even destitute members of society. Otherwise, one’s wealth will become a curse for oneself rather than a blessing. Hence, the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, used to say in his regular prayers: “O God, give a good compensation to one who spends in charity and cause destruction to one who holds his wealth back.” (Nasai)
(d) Contentment: To attain inner peace and real happiness, one has to remain content with what one has been able to earn independently and lawfully. The Prophet Muhammad, may peace be upon him, says in this respect: “Indeed, he has attained eternal success and prosperity who accepted Islam, and God has filled his heart with contentment towards whatever he was given.” He also said: “A little that suffices is much better than a surfeit that causes disturbance.” (Al-Bayhaqi)
(e) Simplicity: Last, but not least, an important Islamic principle concerning one’s livelihood is simplicity. The Prophet’s own life style was a unique example of simplicity. In one of his sayings he has even considered it one of the signs of true faith (Ibn Majah). In another hadith, he warns his companions: “Stay away from the luxurious life. For the servants of God do not indulge in luxury.” (Musnad Ahmad)