Religion itself is derived from the word 'religio' which means to bind. It is
that which binds man to the truth. As such every religion possesses ultimately
two essential elements which are its basis and foundation: a doctrine and a
These two elements, the doctrine and the method, the means of distinguishing
between what is Real and what appears to be real, exist in every orthodox and
integral religion and are in fact the essence of every religion. No religion,
whether it be Islam or Christianity, Hinduism or Buddhism, can be without a
doctrine as to what is absolute and what is relative. Only the doctrinal
language differs from one tradition to another. Nor can any religion be without
a method of concentrating on the Real and living according to It although the
means again differ in different traditional climates.
Every religion believes in a transcendent Reality that stands above the world
of change and becoming. The doctrine is thus a discrimination between the
Absolute and the relative, between grades of reality, degrees of universal
existence. And the method is precisely the means of attaching the relatively
real to the absolutely real once one realizes that the reality of the soul and
the world that surrounds it is not absolute but relative, that both the soul and
the world derive their sustenance from a Reality that transcends both the soul
and the world.
This relation between man and God, or the relative and the Absolute is
central in every religion.
The Islamic perspective is based upon the consideration of the Divine Being
as He is in Himself not as He is incarnated in history.
There are certain religions which emphasize a particular incarnation of the
Divinity or various manifestations of the Absolute.
Islam is a religion based not on the personality of the founder but on Allah
THE NATURE OF MAN
Islam legislates for man according to his real nature as he is with all the
possibilities inherent in the human state as such. But what does 'man as he is'
mean? Seen in his ordinary condition man is a weak and negligent being. He is
usually subservient to his surroundings and a prisoner of his own lust and
animal passions. He does not know what it really means to be man and does not
live to the full potentialities of his human condition.
INTELLIGENCE, WILL and SPEECH
The Islamic revelation conceives of man as this theomorphic being and
addresses itself to that something in man which is in the form of the 'Divine'.
That something is
INTELLIGENCE an intelligence that can discern between the true and the
false or the real and illusory and is naturally led to Unity or tawhid. Islam
asks what is intelligence and what is its real nature. The real nature of
intelligence is ultimately to come to realize that La ilaha ill'Allah, that is
to come to know that in the end there is only one Absolute Reality. It is to
realize the absolute nature of Allah and the relativity of all else that is
other than He. The Qur'an calls those who have gone astray from religion as
those who cannot intellect, 'la ya'quilun', those who cannot use their
intelligence correctly. It is very significant that the loss of faith is equated
in Qur'anic language not with the corruption of the will but with the improper
functioning of intelligence.
WILL a will to choose freely between the true and the false. What is the
nature of the will? It is to be able to choose, to choose freely between two
alternatives, between the real and the unreal, between the true and the false,
between the Absolute and the relative. Were man not to be free religion would
have no real meaning. Free will is necessary to the religious conception of man
and this is as much true of Islam as of any other religion.
SPEECH the power of speech, of the word to be able to express the
relationship between the Divinity and man. Speech is the most direct
manifestation of what we are, of our innermost being. We cannot express our
being in any way more directly than speech. Speech is in a sense the external
form of what we are inwardly.
Christianity is essentially a mystery which veils the Divine from man. In
Islam, it is man who is veiled from God. The Divine Being is not veiled from us,
we are veiled from Him and it is for us to try to rend this veil asunder, to try
to know God.
Islam is essentially a way of knowledge; it is a way of gnosis [ma'rifah].
Islam leads to that essential knowledge which integrates our being, which makes
us know what we are and be what we know. In other words, Islam integrates
knowledge and being in the ultimate unitive vision of Reality.
Man needs revelation because although a theomorphic being, he is by nature
negligent and forgetful; he is by nature imperfect.
Man cannot alone uplift himself spiritually. He must be awakened from the
dream of negligence by one who is already awake. Man is thus in need of a
message from heaven and must follow a revelation in order to realize the full
potentiality of his being and have the obstacles which bar the correct
functioning of his intelligence removed.
The most profound reason for the need of revelation is the presence of
obstacles before the intelligence which prevent its correct functioning. More
directly, the fact that although man is made in the 'image of God' and has a
theomorphic being he is always in the process of forgetting it. He has in
himself the possibility of God-like but he is always in the state of neglecting
this possibility. That is why the cardinal sin in Islam is forgetfulness. It is
negligence [ghaflah] of what we really are. It is a going to sleep and creating
a dream world around us which makes us forget who we really are and what we
should be doing in this world. Revelation is there to awaken man from the dream
and remind him what is really means to be man.
THE HUMAN CONDITION
Man's central position in the world is not due to his cleverness or inventive
genius but because of the possibility of attaining sanctity and becoming a
channel of grace for the world about him.
The Islamic conception of man is that man participates fully in the human
state, not through the many activities with which he usually identifies himself
but by remembering his theomorphic nature. And because he is always in the
process of forgetting this nature he is always in need of revelation.
There is no single act which has warped and distorted human will. Rather,
many by being man is imperfect, only God being perfection as such. Being
imperfect man has the tendency to forget and so is in constant need of being
reminded through revelation of his real nature.
Man is in absolute need of religion without which he is only accidentally
human. It is only through participation in a tradition, that is, a divinely
revealed way of living, thinking and being, that man really becomes man and is
able to find meaning in life. It is only tradition in this sense that gives
meaning to human existence.
The privilege of participating in the human state, in a state which contains
the opportunity and possibility of becoming God-like, of transcending the world
of nature, and of possessing an immortal soul whose entelechy lies beyond the
physical world, carries with it also a grave responsibility.
The very grandeur of the human condition is precisely in that he has both the
possibility of reaching a state 'higher than the angels' and at the same time of
Being given the possibility of being God-like through the acceptance of the
'trust of faith', man can also play the role of a little deity and deny God as
such. Therein lies both the grandeur and seriousness of the human condition.
Each being in the Universe is what it is. It is situated on a particular
level of existence. Only man can stop being man. He can ascend above all degrees
of universal existence and by the same token fall below the level of the basest
of creatures. The alternatives of heaven and hell placed before man are
themselves an indication of the seriousness of the human condition.
Man is presented with a unique opportunity by being born in the human state
and it is a tragedy for him to fret away and waste his life in pursuits which
distract him from the essential goal of his life which is to save his immortal
There is in Mecca in the house of God a black stone which is in fact a
meteor. In the Islamic tradition, this stone which fell from heaven, symbolizes
the original covenant [al-mithaq] made between man and God. God taught man the
name of all the creatures as we are told in the Qur'an ass well as in the Old
Testament. This means that God gave man the possibility of dominating over all
things, for to possess the 'name' of a thing means to exercise power over
It is a miracle that human existence is given the possibility of denying its
own source. But man is given all this and much more in return for something
which God wants of him and the black stone is the symbol of this covenant made
between man and God.
By accepting the covenant man has in turn certain duties to perform:
make his intelligence conform to the Truth which comes from the Absolute
make his will conform to the Will of the Absolute and his speech to what God
wants of man
In return for all the blessings and gifts that God has given man, man must in
turn remember his real nature and always keep before him the real goal of his
terrestrial journey. He must know who he is and where he is going. This he can
do only by conforming his intelligence to the Truth and his will to the Divine
WHAT IT MEANS TO BE MUSLIM
To accept the Divine covenant brings up the question of living according to
the Divine Will. The very idea of Islam is that through the use of intelligence
which discerns between the Absolute and the relative one should come to
surrender to the Will of the Absolute.
This is the meaning of Muslim: one who has accepted through free choice to
conform his will to the Divine Will.
Islam is actually like a several storied mountain and everything in it has
different degrees and levels of meaning, including the concept of Muslim
Firstly, anyone who accepts a Divine revelation is a 'Muslim' in its
universal sense, be he a Muslim, Christian, Jew or Zoroastrian. In its first
meaning, Muslim refers to that human being who through the use of his
intelligence and free will accepts a divinely revealed law.
Secondly, 'muslim' refers to all creatures of the Universe who accept Divine
law in the sense that they conform to the unbreakable laws which the Western
world calls 'laws of Nature.'
It is the Will of the Creator that expresses itself in what is called 'laws
of nature' in Western thought, and everything in the Universe is in a profound
sense Muslim except for man who, because of this free choice given to him as a
trust to bear, can refuse to submit to His Will.
It is only man who can stop being Muslim in this second meaning of the term
'muslim', whereas all other beings are 'muslim' in this sense by virtue of their
complete submission to the Divine Will which manifests itself as 'laws of
Finally, there is the highest meaning of Muslim which applies to the saint.
The saint is like nature in that every moment of his life is lived in conformity
with the Divine Will, but his participation in the Divine Will is conscious and
active whereas that of nature is passive
first meaning of Muslim pertains to nature;
second meaning of Muslim pertains to man who has accepted a revelation;
third meaning of Muslim pertains to the saint who not only has accepted
revelation, but lives fully in conformity with the Divine Will.
Islam is a universal concept that comprehends man and the Universe about him
and lies in the nature of things. In a more particular sense, as a religion
which was revealed nearly fourteen hundred years ago, it continues to base
itself on what is in the nature of things, concentrating particularly on the
Divine nature itself. For this reason Islam is based from beginning to end on
the idea of Unity [tawhid], for God is One.
Unity is the alpha and omega of Islam.
In addition to being a metaphysical assertion about the nature of the
Absolute, Unity is a method of integration, a means of becoming whole and
realizing the profound oneness of all existence.
Every aspect of Islam rotates about the doctrine of Unity which Islam seeks
to realize first of all in the human being in his inner and outward life. Every
manifestation of human existence should be organically related to the Shahadah,
La ilaha ill'Allah, which is the most universal way of expressing Unity. This
means that man should not be compartmentalized either in his thoughts or
actions. Every action, even the manner of walking and eating, should manifest a
spiritual norm which exists in his mind and heart.
Unity expresses itself socially in the integration of human society which
Islam has achieved to a remarkable degree.
Unity manifests itself politically in Islam's refusal to accept as the
ultimate unit of the body politic anything less than the totality of the Islamic
community, or the ummah.There is only one Muslim people, no matter how scattered
and far removed its members may be.
In the realm of arts and sciences, Islam has always sought to unify all
domains of knowledge, and its function is to integrate. The history of Islam has
demonstrated this aspect in both philosophy and science as well as in art, in
which forms were elucidated and elaborated to display Unity.
MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT ISLAM
Being based on Unity, Islam has envisaged a total way of life which excludes
nothing. Its legislation is quite realistic in conformity with its perspective,
which is based on the real nature of things. Islam envisages not only the saint
but also the usual man with all his strengths and weaknesses. For this very
reason it has been falsely accused by many Christians as being worldly or being
the religion of the sword.
It is true that Islam has legislation for even war whereas Christianity
orders man to turn the other cheek, and is mild and gentle in its teachings. But
what is forgotten is that
either a religion is made for saints, as Christ said, 'My Life is not of this
world' in which case it leaves aside political, social and economic questions
and envisages all of its followers as potential saints and, in fact, can only
function in a society of saints;
a religion tries to encompass the whole of man's life, in which case it must
take into account the whole of man's nature with all the weaknesses and
shortcomings it has, and legislate for the political and economic life of man as
well as the purely religious aspect of his existence.
The criticism against Islam as a religion of the sword is thus not a valid
one. Islam, by legislating war, limited it whereas Christianity left it outside
of its consideration. It is not accidental that the most devastating wars of
this century have begun in the West where Christianity has been the dominating
War, in a limited sense at least, is actually in the nature of things and
Islam, rather than leaving it aside as if it did not exist, limited it by
accepting it and providing religious legislation for it. One can at least say
that the terrible wars of this century have not come out of the Muslim world,
but out of what some people have called the 'post-Christian' West.
A religion which seeks to encompass the whole of life must consider all of
Christianity, concentrating on man's spiritual life, did not consider his
political and social needs;
Islam, basing itself on Unity, had to integrate all of human life and could not
overlook any aspect of it.
CHARACTER OF ISLAM
The character of Islam is directly connected with the fact that it is both
the 'primordial religion' and the last religion in the present life of humanity.
Islam considers itself as the primordial religion [al-din al-hanif] because it
is based on the doctrine of Unity which has always existed and which lies in the
nature of things. It sought to accomplish this by its uncompromising emphasis on
Divine Unity and by seeking to return man to his original nature [fitrah] which
is veiled from him because of his dream of negligence.
According to the Islamic perspective, God did not send different truths
through His many prophets but different expressions and forms of the same
fundamental truth of Unity, using as a basis the three elements of intelligence,
will and speech which makes the realization of Unity possible.
Mankind did not evolve gradually from polytheism to monotheism. Man was
originally a monotheist who fell gradually into polytheism, and has to be
reminded periodically of the original doctrine of Unity.
History consists of a series of cycles of decay and rejuvenation. The Islamic
conception of history is one of a series of cycles of prophecy, each cycle
followed by a gradual decay leading to a new cycle or phase.
Islam believes itself to be the third great manifestation of the Abrahamic
tradition, after Judaism and Christianity. Now, as Christians know so well,
trinity is a reflection of unity so that this third manifestation of the
Abrahamic tradition is in a sense a return to the original Unity, to the
'religion of Abraham'. As Judaism represents the law or the exoteric aspect of
this tradition and Christianity the way or the esoteric aspect of it, so does
Islam integrate the tradition in its original unity by containing both a law
[shari'ah] and a way [tariqah]. It can be said that essentially
Judaism is based on the fear of God;
Christianity is based on the love of God;
Islam is based on the knowledge of God.
If Islam is the 'primordial religion' it is also the 'last religion' and in
fact it is through this particularity that it becomes not just religion as such
but a particular religion to be accepted and followed.
By re-affirming what all the prophets have asserted over the ages, Islam
emphasized its universal character as the primordial religion and by considering
itself as the last religion [a claim no other orthodox religion before Islam
ever made], Islam attained its particularity which distinguishes it and gives it
its specific form as a religion.
No religion can in fact be the universal religion as such. It is so inwardly,
but outwardly it must be a particular religion which induces men to accept and
follow it through specific forms and rites. Man, living in the world of the
particular, must begin from the particular in order to reach the universal. The
beauty of revealed religion is precisely that although externally it is a form,
it is not a closed form but one which opens inwardly towards the Infinite.
THE PROPHETIC CYCLE
Islam also had to have a particular form and that came from its character as
the last religion. With the Prophet the prophetic cycle came to an end. The
Prophet who was the 'Seal of Prophecy' [khatam al anbiya'] announced that there
would be no prophets after him and history has gone to prove his claim.
Islam does not envisage an indefinitely prolonged march of history for eons
on end. It believes that the history of the present humanity has a beginning and
an end, marked by the eschatological events described in the Qur'an and Hadith.
It is until the occurrence of these events that no new prophet shall come. At
the end of the cycle Islam believes, like Christianity, not in the coming of a
new prophet but in the second coming of Christ. Until such a happening Islam is
the last religion and the Prophet the last prophet, not to be followed by
another revelation from heaven.
This particularity of Islam as the last religion in the prophetic cycle gives
it the power of synthesis so characteristic of this tradition. Being the final
message of revelation, Islam was given providentially the power to synthesize,
to integrate and absorb whatever was in conformity with its perspective from
previous civilizations. Islam integrated in its world-view what was ultimately
in conformity with the Shahada, La ilaha ill'Allah, which is the final criterion
of orthodoxy in Islam. Coming at the end of the prophetic cycle, Islam has
considered all the wisdom of traditions before it as in a sense its own and has
never been shy of borrowing from them and transforming them into elements of its
own world view.
In Islam, as in every orthodox tradition, originality means to express the
universal truths that are perennial in manner that is fresh and bears the
fragrance of spirituality, indicating that the expression comes not from outward
imitation but from the source of the Truth itself.
Spiritual vitality, like organic, comes not in creation from nothing but in
transformation and integration into a pattern which comes in essence from
Islam is based on the universal relation between God and man, God in His
Absoluteness and man in his profound theomorphic nature.
Islam bases the realization of this central relationship on intelligence,
will and speech and consequently on equilibrium and certitude..
Islam has sought to establish equilibrium in life by channeling all of man's
natural needs and inclinations, all those natural desires and needs such as that
for food, shelter, procreation, etc. given by God and necessary in human life,
through the Divine Law [Shariah].
Upon the firm foundation of this equilibrium Islam has enabled man to build a
spiritual castle based on contemplation and the certainty that there is no
divinity other than the Absolute.
Islam is a Divine revelation which was placed as a seed in the heart of man
who was the receptacle of this Divine message.
Man is the container. He cannot break this container; he can only purify it
and empty it of the pungent substance that fills it so that it can become worthy
of receiving the Divine nectar.
The seed of Islam was placed in the heart of man through the Qur'an and the
instrument of its propagation among men, the Prophet. From this seed there grew
that spiritual tree which has created one of the greatest civilizations in
history, a tree under whose shade a sizeable segment of the human race live and
die today and find meaning and fulfillment in life.