General Characteristics of Islam -Ibnu Abil Khair
How is Islam divine? How suitable is the Islamic way of life for humanity? How comprehensive is Islam to comprise the entire human life? How balanced is the Islamic approach to life? How does Islam address the realities of life? How clear is the Islamic guidance for humankind? How do the limited texts of Islam respond to the changing societal contexts until the Last Day? Such questions frequently appear in our minds, and we need their answers. But where do we get those answers? Yes. The answers of such questions may be found in the understanding of the general characteristics of Islam mentioned in the Holy Qur’an. Islam has some general characteristics that make it suitable for all humanity until the end of this World. These unique features distinguish Islam from other divine religions and human civilizations. Dr. Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a prolific Egyptian scholar, mentioned seven general characteristics of Islam: divinity, humanness, comprehensiveness, moderation, practicality, clarity, and a combination of stability and flexibility. Let’s embark on a journey of comprehending these characteristics one by one to find our answers.
The divinity (Al-Rabbaniyyah) of Islam
The divinity of Islam signifies the divine purpose, direction, sources, and methods. As for the divine purpose and direction, the ultimate and end goal of human creation is to establish a good relationship with the Creator- Allah and attain His pleasure. The worldly purposes of human beings serve the divine central goal. However, the materialists live only for the sake of living, nor for any goal beyond their worldly purposes. The belief in Islam’s divine purpose and direction results in several benefits. It helps one understand the purpose of his existence in this World and guides him to the natural disposition- fitrah. It keeps one free from any kind of frustration and loneliness by instilling the quality of tawakkul- reliance on the Almighty Allah both in ease and difficulty in all affairs. It also keeps one free from selfishness and worldly desire by instilling the quality of sincerity.
To instil a sense of divinity in human beings, Islam obligates different forms of worship (ibadat), prescribes morals and ethics, promotes teaching and education, issues commands and prohibitions, and legislates laws. As regards the divine sources and methods, Islam presents a divine way of life, including creed (aqidah), worship, morals (akhlaq), and law. The belief in Islam’s divine sources and methods frees the Shariah texts from self-conflict, extremism, bias, and human desire. Thus, the Shariah texts deserve our respect and loyalty. It also keeps one free from the slavery of temporary creatures. Now, Let’s ask a few questions: Is there any civilization which refers to such divine sources and methods? Is there any religion which divinely directs worldly affairs towards the Hereafter and considers as ibadat?
Humanness (Al-Insaniyyah) of Islam
The humanness of Islam refers to a combination of divine revelation with human reason in leading life. The sources of Islam: Quran and Sunnah are revelation which welcomes, appreciates, and promotes human reason to explore the necessary and absolute existence of the One Unique God, the Creator of the universe. Islam obligates the use of reason and rational thinking to understand the revealed sources and derive principles, maxims, codes, and laws from them to apply in the realities of life and ensure welfare. Is there any religion which dignifies human intellect and encourages rational thinking to find God? Is there any religion which obligates the use of reason to understand religious scripture?
Islam welcomes human reason to discover and innovate the means of worldly life. The holy Quran was revealed to human beings. The Creator, Allah, created humanity as rational and thoughtful beings. He bestowed them with the capability of learning, and hence, He made them responsible and accountable for their actions. The first revealed verse of the Quran commands for reading, which dignifies human intellect and elevates the status of reason. Read in the name of the Lord who created you [Al-Quran, 96:1]. As reading is the key to knowledge, Islam intends for human actions to be based on knowledge. The humanness of Islam is manifested in that the holy Quran was revealed in response to human issues and needs. It addressed the worldly affairs directed towards the Hereafter. Hence, the acts of worship (ibadat) in Islam bring material benefits to human beings. Is there any civilization which promotes reading, acquiring knowledge and using reason, like Islam? Is there any religion which responds to every single issue people face?
On the other hand, Islam rewards human beings in the Hereafter for their worldly activities if they conform to Islamic manners. To present Islam as suitable for human beings, it contains many principles of exception and exemption in difficulties of ibadat and other activities. It ensures ease and comfort in applying Islamic teaching and leading an Islamic lifestyle.
Allah, the Almighty, created human beings as representatives in this World. He created us in the best structure, distinguishes with rooh (soul) from other creatures, and puts the utilization of this World in the human capacity. Have you not seen that Allah has subjected for you whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth and has lavished His favours upon you, both seen and unseen? Still, there are some who dispute about Allah without knowledge, guidance, or an enlightening scripture (Al-Quran, 31:20). Islam rejects any blind belief, the humiliation of the human body, and the corrupting human soul for other’s sins. Islam puts barriers between the Creator and creations and appreciates human entities and their efforts. Islam emphasizes human rights: safety of life, freedom of belief, development of intellect, safeguarding progeny, security of wealth, protection of dignity, guarantee of sufficiency, etc., to establish brotherhood, equality, and freedom in human societies. All these made Islam suitable for human beings. Is there any religion or civilization that secures these values like Islam?
Inclusiveness (Al-Umum) and Comprehensiveness (Al-Shumul) of Islam
The inclusiveness of Islam signifies its addressees as Islam addresses the entire humanity. Islamic teachings apply to the whole humankind. The holy Quran was not sent solely to a specific group or special race. Instead, it addresses all people in all centuries. The general principles and maxims of Islam are capable of meeting the needs of the entire humanity. This universal characteristic of Islam is pointed out in the Quran as follows. Its God is the Lord, Who is ‘the Sustainer of all the worlds’, and ‘the Lord of mankind’ (Al-Quran, 1:2, 114:2). Its Message, the Holy Qur’an, is ‘a Message for all the worlds’ (Al-Quran, 81:28). Its prophet is the ‘Messenger for the whole humanity’ (Al-Quran, 7:159). On the other hand, all other religions have always presented the God they believe in, their Messengers, and their Messages to only apply to their specific regions or tribes. It is only the religion of Islam which has been claimed to apply to the whole of humankind.
The comprehensiveness of Islam concerns the human affairs. Islam includes the Jurisprudence of belief, such as faith in the Creator- Allah and faith in the Last Day and Judgement. It consists of the Jurisprudence of morality, such as honesty and forbidden lies. It also contains the jurisprudential rulings of man’s relationship with his Lord, such as prayer and fasting, and the regulations of man’s relationship with each other, such as family laws and manners of dealing.
The comprehensiveness of Islam comprises the belief, ibadat, manners and ethics, laws, and loyalty. This comprehensiveness means Islam discusses every macro issue that concerns human thought, requires answers, and needs solutions. This is unlike the other religions and civilizations that are confined to specific issues and areas of human beings. The comprehensiveness of ibadat refers to the fact that Islaam considers human movements and activities by all body parts in all their affairs as acts of worship (ibadat) if they conform to the guidance of Islam.
The comprehensiveness of manners and ethics signifies one’s manners with himself, his family, society, neighbours, relatives, friends, parents, all humanity, other creations, nature, and this World. The comprehensiveness of laws covers the laws for individuals, family affairs, societal relations, criminology, political systems, state responsibilities, international relations, etc. The comprehensiveness of loyalty requires one’s stickiness to the whole system of Islam in all areas of his life (al-khasais al-ammah li al-Islam by Dr. Yusuf al-Qaradawi). Is there any religion or civilization in the World which can address all issues and problems people face in all areas of their lives? Let’s feel proud of our Deen al-Islam. Let’s read, use our intellect to understand Islam, and apply it in everyday life.
Note: The article will be continued.