Islam invites man to truth and success. It offers to guide man out of darkness to light and to show him how best to live. It tells man that a life lived in conformity with truth can alone ensure him true success. It provides man the enduring foundation on which he can build a life of rest and peace, and shows him how to do it.
With his limited knowledge and experience and his subjective bias, man on his own could never know the truth about his existence or determine the proper course for his life. He could never know the origin and meaning of his life and the huge universe in which he finds himself. He could never find out his true identity, his position and function in the universe and his destiny. He could ask questions about these things, but he could never come up with any satisfying answers. He could not even understand himself well and thus would remain a stranger to himself.
Without clear, comprehensive and consistent answers to these questions, man's life remains dark, empty and meaningless, an insoluble puzzle and an unbearable burden. He gropes from blunder to blunder, accumulating despair on despair, and never finding any rest, hope and peace in his heart - a state of indescribable despair.
To get out of this bewilderment and agony man needs help from someone who is free of all limitations, who is perfect in knowledge and understanding, and also perfect in ability, and who is attentive and kind to man. Is there any such help available for man? Is there any hope for man ever finding a life of sense and purpose?
Islam offers that help and hope.
First, Islam provides a clear, consistent and comprehensive explanation of the universe and everything in it, including man's own life. It tells man that there is a Creator and Master of the universe, who is above all limitations. He is perfect in power and knowledge and wisdom. He is eternal and self- sustaining. He has no partner, nor any equal. He is unique, unlike anything or anyone we know. The name this Creator and Master calls Himself is Allah. (Exalted is He in glory and power.) Islam not only states that He exists, it also provides ample justification for man to accept this truth.
Allah subhanahu wa ta'la can create whatever He wills, out of nothing, and determine its function. The universe and its order is the result of His will and will exist only as long as He wishes it to. There are only two sides in His scheme of things, the One and Only Creator and His creation. The two are distinct. The creation is dependent on Him, but He is not dependent on anybody or anything, and whereas He is Eternal, creation is only temporary. One day He will bring this order of creation to an end. There is no power that can avert this, or hasten or delay its coming. There is no power capable of frustrating His Will. Allah (swt) alone is the only true and everlasting reality, and creation has only a fleeting existence.
Allah (swt) has created everything with a purpose. There is nothing that is random or accidental. Everything in creation has been appointed a function and destiny. Allah is ever awake and ever cognizant of everything. Nothing can escape His sight or hearing. Nothing is a secret to Him.
This is the most fundamental truth to which Islam invites man. This is the heart of Islam, or the bedrock on which Islam stands. This is the truth expressed by Islam's concept of tawheed (the oneness and uniqueness of Allah). Everything else in Islam follows from this single truth.
Truth alone can save man. In the absence of truth, there is only impenetrable darkness and falsehood that trap and destroy man. But man cannot create truth. He can only speculate and conjecture and create mere illusions that burst like bubbles. The most he can do is yearn for truth, and recognize and accept it when it appears and then strive to adhere to it.
Nor can man create meaning and value. For anything to have any meaning at all, the universe must have a meaning. There can be no meaning for man if the universe in which he lives has no meaning; there would only be blind confusion and disorder. Nor can there be any value in a universe without meaning. Meaning and value cannot be born or created by man out of a void. Both proceed from the Creator and Master of the universe and the Designer of its destiny. He alone can give meaning and value to whatever He pleases. Only that is meaningful which He makes meaningful, only that is of value which He makes of value. They have no existence independent of Him, just as nothing else in the universe has.
Once man has grasped the truth of tawheed, he has found the anchor of his life that can save him from drifting aimlessly in the ever changing tides of this world, floundering on the rocks of confusion and illusion. With this knowledge of the Lord of the universe man now understands that he lives in a meaningful universe and that his life has sense and purpose. On this enduring foundation alone man can build his life without any fear of its crumbling, a life free of painful fragmentation and irreconcilable contradiction.
Second, Islam tells man who he is, what his position and function in the universe is and where he is going. Man is a created being living in a created universe. He belongs to his Creator and Master. He is an abd or slave of Allah (swt) like everything else in the universe. But his Creator and Master has given this puny creature in the huge universe a special position, the position of the khalifah or steward on earth. And just as every faithful slave obeys his master and discharges the duties assigned to him, man as the slave of Allah (swt) must obey Him and discharge his assigned duties. Like every honest and sincere representative man must faithfully fulfill his trust. This is what worship is. The range and compass of worship is as vast as life itself. No region of man's life is outside its domain.
However, man has been given the freedom to obey his Lord and fulfill his trust or not. In this, man is unlike the rest of creation. Every other creature obeys Allah and never deviates from the course set for it. Man has been given a choice, the choice to be obedient to his Lord or to be rebellious. But man has also been told that his freedom has stupendous implications for him. His life in this world is a test. His Lord wants to see whether man chooses to live a life of obedience or of rebellion and one day He will judge man for his choice.
To set the stage for this unique event the Lord of the universe has fixed a day to bring this familiar order of the universe to an end. He will then gather together in a vast assembly every human being that ever lived in this world. No man can avoid or delay the coming of that Momentous Day.
Death does not bring an end to man's life. It only ushers him into another life in another world of a different order where he will stand face to face with his Lord. In that new world the little freedom man enjoyed in this life will be taken away. He will be entirely in the hands of his Lord. Then man will have to give him an account of the use he made of his life and the gifts and bounties of the world placed at his disposal by his Lord. The accounting will be absolutely thorough. Nothing that man has felt, thought or done will be left out. There will be no shortage of witnesses to testify for or against him. None will have the capacity to deny, distort or falsify evidence. It will be an unprecedented judgment on an unprecedented scale. It will be a grim day for man. Each person will then be either rewarded or punished by his Lord on the basis of the use he made of his freedom in this life - whether he chose to be obedient to his Lord or rebellious. Both the reward and the punishment will be great beyond anything he can imagine. Man will then find his final home, Jannah or Jahannam, whichever he deserves, to live for ever.
That will be the greatest day of truth and reality for man. The scales will fall from his eyes. That will be the day of his fullest awakening. He will know without the least doubt or confusion what he really was, what real success and true joy is, and what real failure and true misery is. He will know what truly is real and what is false and illusory. He will see what he built for himself throughout his whole life as his final abode, an abode of bliss or of misery. He will realize how all his life he was engaged in creating his own destiny he now finds.
Certainly it is true that Allah (swt) is also merciful and can forgive anyone. But that is His sole prerogative. He will forgive whom He pleases. No one knows who those fortunate ones will be.
There is nothing incredible about any of this. The Being who staged the creation of man and this universe can stage anything. He can create and recreate anything anytime in any form or manner. He only has to will it.
This is akhirah in Islam. It gives true sense and meaning to man's life. It brings man full circle and puts together all the puzzles of his life. The picture is then complete.
All his life man desperately yearns for permanence, yearns for something he loves and cherishes to stay with him. But he finds instead that everything passes away; time devours everything. That yearning of man for permanence is fulfilled now, fulfilled in a way man could never conceive. He finds now that the hardships, the deprivations, the insults and humiliations he suffered, the sacrifices he made to remain on the path of virtue have all been miraculously stored and nourished and finally wonderfully transformed by his Lord to give him joy and satisfaction. Nothing has been lost.
Third, Islam clearly shows man how he can obey Allah and discharge his obligations as Allah's khalifah. His Lord has been most merciful and has not left man in darkness to puzzle over these tremendously crucial matters. He can proceed through the journey of his life with confidence and hope. He only needs to turn to the Qur'an, the Book of Guidance from Allah (swt) for man, and to Muhammad sallallahu alayhi wa sallam, the final Messenger of Allah (swt).
Together, the Qur'an and Muhammad (saws) offer man a detailed program for his life. What the Qur'an says in principle or briefly outlines, Muhammad (saws) explained in detail and put into practice in his own life, inviting others to emulate him. As Muhammad (saws) was appointed by Allah (swt) he was fully qualified for this task. No one has read the Qur'an better than he, nor ever will. No one has lived by the guidance of the Qur'an better than he, nor ever will. There are chambers in the Qur'an that he alone had the key to open. No one comprehended the will of Allah (swt) better than he.
Thus to follow Muhammad's (saws) examples is to obey the will of Allah (swt) in the best possible way. The Lord of man has been immeasurably kind in providing His Messenger as a perfect model for us to follow in love and gratitude, and preserving every detail of that model's words and deeds. Man can follow him throughout the course of his daily life to its end, secure in the knowledge that he is on the path of obedience to his Lord, the path of His pleasure, and of his own success in this life and in the next.
The program of life that Islam offers man is a comprehensive one of balance and harmony. It has mapped out the entire journey of man from birth to death, leading to the gate of eternity. It takes into account man's relationship with his Creator and Master, his relationship with his teacher, the Messenger of Allah (swt), with himself, and with other human beings, and with all the rest of Allah's (swt) creation, animate and inanimate, and shows him the practical and most effective way to maintain those relationships. It has ample space for the nourishment of his inner spirit as well as his outer life of action. By following this program, man can cleanse himself of all impurities and elevate his life to its ideal essence. This is the means by which he can build his life of peace and hope.
Fourth, Islam also reveals man to himself. To be able to make the best use of himself and guard against the dangers inherent within himself, man needs to see himself thoroughly in a clear, unwavering light. Islam tells him what his strengths and weaknesses are. It opens up for his view all the hidden recesses of his nature. Knowing himself in this way he can be aware of the possibilities ingrained in his nature - the possibility of his ennoblement or of his downfall. It exposes to him the terrible monsters residing within him and constantly working to his ruin. It unflatteringly warns man of his enormous capacity to deceive himself - to act as his own enemy. With his limited knowledge and understanding and partiality toward himself man could never know himself as he needs to. Only Allah (swt) who created and fashioned man to His design can provide this knowledge for man.
Islam not only tells man what is within him, it tells him in minute detail how to fortify his strengths and guard against the inner monsters. The program of life that Islam offers man has built-in ways and means to ensure these twin aims.
Fifth, Islam exposes the Devil to man as his sworn enemy who wants to possess his soul and thus destroy him. It tells man how ubiquitous Shaytan is and how wily and various his ways are. He works day and night and knows no rest. One meets him unexpectedly in dark corners. He lays his trap everywhere, making pleasant and attractive all that is damning for man. The Devil lies, charms, bribes and threatens. He can make his lies the sweetest music in man's ears. He knows all the arts of persuasion as well as of torture. He has agents among men. Against this most potent enemy man has no defense unless he turns for protection to the Lord of the universe who is also his Creator and Master. Islam says that his Lord has already armed man against this danger. He has shown man the sure way to recognize the Devil and his ways, to fight him and defeat his designs.
Sixth, Islam offers man an unchanging criterion to discriminate between truth and falsehood, sacred and profane, right and wrong. With this criterion in his possession he has an unfailing light and a sharp weapon to cut through the jungle of this world and move forward to reach his final and cherished home where his Lord will welcome him. He can face all the contingencies of life and can save himself from being torn asunder by the whims and frenzies of this world.
Seventh, Islam banishes despair and offers man hope that is ever ready and ever near. Weak, ignorant, erring, vain, wayward and foolhardy though man is, he need not despair. He is never abandoned and forever lost. However great his disobedience to his Lord and his transgressions may be, he can always salvage himself. He can have Allah's mercy and forgiveness and redeem himself. It is as if he is born again without any taint or blemish. His Lord has proclaimed: "Oh my servants who have transgressed against their souls! Despair not of the mercy of Allah: for Allah forgives all sins: for He is oft-forgiving, most merciful. Turn you to your Lord in repentance and submit to Him, before the chastisement comes on you: after that you shall not be helped." (Al Zumar, 39:53-54).
Governments and communities cannot forgive every transgression of their members for the simple reason that all human systems and arrangements are flawed and vulnerable. Allah (swt) alone can forgive everything: nothing threatens or undermines Him.
Eighth, Islam offers man the consolation that he craves. Man lives this life with a wounded heart. Sorrow, disappointment, loss and injustice visit him daily. Sometimes they look accidental and undeserved, and so man feels baffled and aggrieved. But Islam assures him that his Lord is aware of all that has been happening and promises to one day recompense man for all the anguish he underwent in this world. All suffering will turn into unimaginable joy. All the wounds in man's heart will be permanently healed, leaving not the least scar; he will have no more grievances. His heart will be filled with overflowing joy and contentment never to be lost again. Man only has to wait patiently in faith and hope for the coming of that Day of great fortune and joy. That is why Muhammad (saws) told his companions that for the Mu'min there is no loss: "Strange is the affair of the believer. Verily, all his affairs are good for him. If something pleasing befalls him, he thanks Allah and it becomes better for him. And if something harmful befalls him, he is patient and it becomes better for him. And this is only for the believer." (Sahih Muslim)
All this is easy for Allah (swt), the Creator of the universe and the giver of life and its sustenance. He can bring back and create and recreate anything and change the state of man's heart. When He gives, His store does not decrease one bit, and He is Himself free of all needs.
These are the offers that Islam makes to mankind. Is there anyone who can honestly say that he does not need them? Could he find any of these offers elsewhere? Man dare not take them lightly; he must consider them very seriously indeed.
What life is there if man does not know who he is, where he came from, where he is going, why he is here, what this world he lives in is, how best to live, what hope there is when he strays or suffers in virtue and what consolation he has in pain? There is none. Man would then be in unspeakable distress. For man cannot construct any truth or meaning for his life, nor can he create any hope or consolation for himself. Man's constructions do not endure, they crumble before they are completed or put to use. The truth that Islam reveals to man is both enduring and life-giving, and the program of life that it charts out for him is within his capacity to follow. Thus the call of Islam is a call to life, true life, and the offers it makes are offers to one in dire distress. It is for this Allah invites man with these words: "Respond to Allah and His Messenger, when He calls you to that which will give you life...." (Al Anfal, 8: 24)
One final point remains to be made. Islam claims that the Qur'an is the final revelation from Allah (swt) for man's guidance and that Muhammad (saws) is His Messenger, and that the two basic documents on which Islam rests, the Qur'an and the body of Hadith, are historically authentic. The claims can be easily verified. The documents are still intact, in their original form and available for everyone. They have not undergone any change or loss. Any one who wishes can examine them and learn the truth.
A. K. M. Mohiuddin is a retired university professor of English literature living in Bangladesh. He can be reached at this address: akmm45 [at] yahoo [dot] com
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