In essence, Islam comprises of Iman or Faith, Ibadah or worship and Akhlaq or morality. Let us understand this a little more in detail.
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. This is 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 miracle 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, zakah, 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 Akhlaq or 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.’ (al-Tabarani)
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 puts it thus:
“One who is not grateful to man cannot be grateful to God either.” (Al-Bayhaqi)