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Islam: General Overview
09/16/2015
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Islam is an all-encompassing system of beliefs and ideas in which the realms of ethics and life are intimately related into a system of supreme all-embracing morality.
It aims at the creation of an ethical, just and equitable order on earth. Consequently, Islam as a concept has multiple applications such as a doctrine, personal faith, cultural attitudes, and a pattern of everyday behavior both normative and actual.
In this respect, Islam has a dual nature. It has two inseparable and intertwined codes: one as a deen ( a religion, or a doctrinal belief), and the other as a nizam (a way of life).
The former focuses on the subject of ‘aqidah or iman, both referring to the doctrinal or the theological belief system.
The latter concerns an objective actualization of the Islamic ideals into the practical world, as manifested in external behavior manifestations and expressions of that belief system in the Muslims everyday life.
Considering the broad and comprehensive nature of Islam as a religion and a way of life, this article limits its scope to an examination of: I) Islam’s doctrinal beliefs, or its frame of reference, as provided by the Qur’an and the Sunnah, and II) its implications for the theological and practical life of Muslim societies.

I-Islam as a Deen, a Religion, a Belief system

In the Qur’an, the reference to the concept of deen occurs in 101 times. In Arabic, the concept of deen has three meanings: sovereignty, submission, and custom or habit. Deen represents the attitudes and mode of behavior that man adopts in recognition of a Being’s superior to him, and in submission to that Being.
And making the deen exclusively to God’s means that one should not associate anyone with God in-worship, that one should worship only Him, follow only His guidance, obey His laws.
Thus, as a deen (a religion or a belief system), Islam provides mankind with a cognitive makeup with which man formulates his universal view.
It encompasses his perceptions, views and consequently understanding of God (Allah, The Creator), of the universe and nature and of his views of relations with God and society. Accordingly, a Muslim develops his sense of mission and direction toward the realization of this religion’s ideals and values. Yet, as a revealed religion, Islam’s divine nature is central.
Its teachings are founded on the Qur’an and the Sunnah. The former is God’s revealed words to His Prophet Muhammad. The Qur’an also constitutes the final authority on all matters it treats. The Sunnah refers to the body of the Prophet’s teachings, or simply his way of life.
Together, the two sources provide Muslims with a renewable source of guidance, inspiration and understanding of Islam and its religious and social instructions. Based on these, the Muslims have to develop and revise their social systems, laws, and government, as well as develop a regimen of conduct for the individual, the state and all society.
In a theological or a doctrinal level, Islam provides a systematic theology which is strictly centered around monotheism, where God is paramount with no partner.
The fundamental nexus of the Faith is the Shahadah, by which a Muslim confirms his/her belief that there is no god but God, and Muhammad is His last Messenger, and the belief in God’s Angels, His Books, Messengers and the Day of Judgment.
Consequently, the Shahadah emancipates the Muslim from all kinds of authority and influence except those of God. Accordingly, it terminates all kinds of restrictions and limitations on man’s potential, creativity, and consciousness as a human being.
The practical implementation of this becomes manifest through the performance of religious duties and obligations as a means for the Muslim individual to maintain a consistent pattern in which a Muslim’s behavior corresponds to and reflects his doctrinal beliefs.
In the meantime, Islam retains a very high regard for mankind. As explicitly expressed in the Qur’an, Islam’s position ‘reveals a profound and an extremely dignified perception of man.
The Qur’an speaks of him as the most dignified creature, that has been created of the best stature, and was given the highest regard, sijud (prostration) by the Angels upon his creation.
As such, man was trusted with the mission of establishing an earthly ethical and morally based social order. For that purpose, Islam has provided man with a set of general guiding principles, with a special emphasis on khalq (creation), ‘ilm (knowledge or awareness) and ‘adl (justice) as substantial pillars for the process of establishing that social order. Briefly, each of these guiding principles is highlighted as follows:
1- With respect to man’s creation, Islam postulates that man was not created frivolously. The Qur’an states: Did ye then think That We had created you In jest, and that ye Would not be brought back To Us, for account. Rather, man was created to become God’s vicegerent on earth. In such a capacity, man’s mission is to worship God. The Qur’an states I have only created Jennies and men that They may worship Me.
Yet, with such an inclusive orientation, Islam seeks to ascertain a correlation between man’s commitment to morality and ethics on one hand, and his potential to establish a moral, and just human civilization on earth in accordance with Islamic principles on the other.
For that purpose, upon his creation, man clearly assumes certain basic moral characters such as being just, or being oriented toward good work. These attributes are self-subsistent and apply to all human beings regardless of differences in religious beliefs. Consistent with this stand, the Qur’an devotes a great deal of attention to man’s freedom to decide on his or her own religious beliefs and to assure the principle of free will as a basis for .accountability and responsibility.In this respect, the Qur’an states that there is no compulsion in religion.
Also, the Qur’an persistently emphasizes the relevance of the individual’s choice in deciding on the particular issue of one’s faith.
On one occasion, the Qur’an tells the Prophet, and consequently the believers, that only God Who guides whom Me will, while he, the Prophet, guides not whom he loves.
In another situation, the Qur’an comments on the Prophet’s persistent efforts to get people to Islam. It states Wouldst thou (Muhammad) compel men until they are believers?.
The Qur’an also states that Every soul is a pledge for its own deeds. The Qur’an also goes further in supporting man’s freedom of choice by excluding man’s behavior or decision which he might be unwillingly forced to make under compulsion or force while he/she was really a true believer.
Consequently, from an Islamic perspective, the ideal man is the one who combines moral virtue with complete religious surrender to God.
To assist him toward that direction, man is endowed with the necessary cognition and volition to further the comprehension of the purpose for which he was created and to realize it by using his naturally acquired knowledge. As the Qur’an indicates, the distinction between good and evil is ingrained in a form of inspiration, a form of guid
ance by which human beings are expected to develop their ability to judge their actions and to choose what would lead them to prosperity.

2-Ilm(knowledge or awareness)of Islam as the true message from God is instrumental for man to be capable of living up to the expectations of him as his Creator’s vicegerent.
Knowledge is also used as a major criterion to rank people and distinguish among them. Such knowledge is also considered an essential basis for people to become aware and consequently fear God.
Consistent with such a special emphasis on knowledge, the Qur’an constantly urges man to comprehend the universe, its laws and systems.
It also makes acquiring knowledge in other areas inevitable because knowledge sharpens man’s perceptions, enables him to tackle responsibly every issue, phenomenon, or problem that presents itself.
Therefore, the Qur’an’s prescribed methodology provides man with a combination of methods including observation, good argument, proof and debate. It also suggests induction, comparison and balanced analysis based on all the available data, on the strength of the intellectual and logical powers of those who have superior intellectual, and or scientific abilities. Thus, on the one hand, Qur’anic methodology brings about a greater awareness on the part of individuals of their surroundings, a deeper perception of the dimensions of their being, and their relationship with the cosmos. On the other hand, it reflects Islam’s recognition and appreciation of al-‘aql (reason), and its role in helping mankind contemplate, understand and uncover the mysteries of the universe, and consequently become more capable of making a better use of it. In this context, whenever the reference to al-‘aql reason is made, the Qur’an glorifies it, and calls mankind’s attention to the obligation to make use of al-‘aql. Furthermore, the Qur’an always mentions ‘aql in an affirmative tone, both in meaning’ and words. Al-‘aql is repeated on virtually every occasion where a command or a prohibition is made.
In such situations, the believer is always called upon to utilize his ‘aql, reason and is blamed fo ot doing so.

3- Al-‘adl (justice) is the supreme value in Islamic society. in general terms, justice is realized by the implementation of God’s Shari`ah.
As a fundamental Islamic premise, it is made clear by the Qur’anic emphasis or God’s absolute hate and rejection of injustice.
In an explicit manner, the Qur’an equates zulm (injustice) with taraf (extravagance), as a direct cause of the deterioration and collapse of human societies. This correlation becomes relevant once one realizes that respectively zulm and taraf are equivalent to the contemporary concepts of social, political and economic corruption.
To emphasize the primacy of justice, the Qur’an places it as the ultimate good in the establishment of a humane society, in this regard, the Qur’an speaks of justice in many connotations.
As a divine revelation, justice denotes moral virtues such as fairness, balance, temperance, and straightforwardness. In this sense, justice should be understood as universally
Objective, ingrained in the human soul. ‘Adl is another Qur’anic term for justice. ‘adl as justice has a real concrete, physical and an extended abstract signification. Thus, it becomes comprehensible by logically appealing to the ‘universally self-subsistent value of justice. Also, the theme of justice as balance runs through all creation, and is sometimes called cosmic harmony.
To sum up, Islam as a religion establishes a set of moral values and principles which are seen as universally applicable. Where they exist, Islam exists. Yet, in an absolute manner, Islam defies the idea of being reduced to a group of people, or to a specific place. Because Islam in its original setting is a systematic movement directed against immorality, materialism, tyranny wherever and whenever such defects or others seem to exist as human failings.
Islam as a Nizam, a way of life or practices
Generally, the Arabic term nizam refers to something actually or potentially existing objectively in society such as a political, economic, or social system. It is also synonymous with the term deen referring to an aqidah or a creed. With this understanding, Islam as a nizam or a way of life becomes a universal faith-culture whose nucleus centers around being a focus of identity.
It encompasses and brings Muslims worldwide together regardless of race, nationality, and/or ethnic background through adherence to the Islamic principles, while the general nizam or system is governing their lives. In such a capacity, Islam provides its own tasawwr (conception)of God, the universe, life, and mankind as a whole system, and of all its sub-systems as well.
According to this tassawur, man should organize his life and human effort to carry out his divinely mandated trust of establishing an ethical, egalitarian, and viable social order on earth.
As an expression of its keen interest in man’s earthly life, Islam establishes no distinction between the secular and the religious realms. In Islam, all aspects of human and social settings are combined together into two inseparable realms for ‘ibadat and mu’amalat.
The former deals with a Muslim’s commitment to perform a specific set of ‘ibadat or acts of worship, rituals, and other religious obligations. As such, this realm reflects a more direct relationship between a Muslim individual and his Creator. Mu’amalat includes all kinds of human interactions involved in everyday life.
As such, Mu’amalat concerns more the individual’s relationships with and attitude toward others. A Muslim’s behavior in both realms, however, ought to be conducted in an Islamic manner; that is by expressing submission to God’s Will, consistent with Islam’s teachings and principles as provided by the Qur’an, the Sunnah, and the systematic interpretations and educated opinions of Muslims.
1-The realm of ‘ibadat or acts of worship concerns the individual Muslim’s spiritual and inner relationship to God, his Creator.
It encompasses the performance of all religious duties as prescribed in Islam’s five pillars(1). These Ibadat, their performance, and their regulating rules are usually called sha’a’ir rituals.
Thus, as a concept, Sha’a’ir concerns the domain dealing with the external behavioral manifestations, demonstrations, and expressions of the Muslim’s inner belief in Islam’s teachings. It is important to point out that, in a Muslim’s daily behavioral practices, the mere performance of the religious duties is not by itself enough guarantee for him to be at peace with God.
It is of equal importance for one to maintain his behavioral interactions or mu’amalat with others consistent with Islamic ethical and moral values, as mandated by its religious duties and obligations.
With such a comprehensive perspective all acts of human behavior become considered by Islam as acts of worship, or at least potentially so. While these acts of worship may vary in developing one’s degree of devotion, his real reward for his commitment, will come from God, both in this life and in The Day of Judgment.
Thus, the realm of ibadat helps Muslims maintain their spiritual momentum, renew their faith, expand the spiritual -and temporal realms of the faith and endeavor to realize the goals of social justice, equality and freedom as the substance of the Islamic Faith.

2-The realm of mu’amalat or human transactions concerns Islam as a way/system of life. In this capacity, Islam constitutes a multitude of nuzm or systems.
They focus on Muslims’ behavioral conduct in the actual implementation of the Islamic principles, rules, and ethics in all aspects of human interactions and transactions.
As such, the domain of Islamic mu’amalat encompasses two major areas: behavioral and legal. The former concerns the Muslims’ actual modes of behavioral interactions (Adab o orms). The latter deals with the shara’a or rules, regulations and laws organizing these behavioral modes.
In both areas, the purpose is to assure a full implementation of the Islamic Shariah, as usually expressed by the Islamic legal codes including all shara’a(rules and regulations).
Thus, so far as it concerns society, the shara’a or rules provide an Islamic social system with form and character.
They also provide a social system with its foundations and orientations, and an international system with basis for relationships and ties as well.
The ultimate goal of Islamic laws is to assist mankind to understand environment, dynamic laws, and to interact with it in a conducive manner.
Such an approach makes it possible for him to progress, in a balanced manner, toward the establishment of a human society based upon justice and fairness, equality, freedom and cooperation. Furthermore, Islam provides a set of grand concepts to direct man’s efforts. These concepts are:
A- Istekhlaf As the essence of Man’s existence on earth, it aims at establishing God’s vicegerency on Earth. With such a capacity, man’s mission is to create a morally just social order on earth. The Qur’an describes this mission as the Amanah, Trust.
B-‘Ilm or Creative Knowledge as a means to assist man to fulfill his earthly task. In this respect, the Qur’an mentions that Adam possessed the capacity for creative knowledge that angels lacked.
Only with this knowledge an individual can thus perform more of the duties required of him/her in his /her capacity as a vicegerent, and fulfill his/her role of establishing a just moral civilization and development on the earth.
Consistent with that line, the first revealed verse of the Qur’an was also an invitation for mankind to Read.., as a means to become educated and learned.
Furthermore, the Qur’an always stresses the relevance of knowledge as a criterion for accountability and prefera-bility, science and knowledge as a means toward the betterment of man’s life, toward the advancement of his ability to control his environment, and as a method to deepen and strengthen his faith in his Creator.
c- Taskhir refers to God’s making of the whole universe subservient to humanity.
Thus, with knowledge of God and all other kinds of knowledge of the universe and its laws, man becomes capable of meeting his responsibility as a vicegerent on earth. For God, through taskhir, has provided man with every means to make his task humanly achievable. To make the best use of that taskhir, man has to discover God`s natural law or His ways of working things out.
For these laws supply human civilization with the spiritual power and momentum required to balance its material development and advancement. As such, they make it possible for man to maintain a proper link between him and God, his Creator.
Therefore, man has to explore the secrets of the universe, of life and the surrounding world. Consequently, the more man knows about his universe, the deeper his belief becomes, the more conviction he has about God, his Creator, the more capable he becomes in utilizing the surrounding universe and environment.
D- Wasatiyah, referring to a balance or moderation, is the fourth guiding concept that man has an obligation to maintain, in order for him to successfully reach his goal of inhabiting the universe.
As a criterion for the Islamic approach, moderation refers to man’s obligation to balance his spiritual and material needs in his endeavors to achieve the status as God’s vicegerent on earth.
The relevance of wasatiyah becomes evidently clear as it leads man to form a comprehensive, unbiased, moderate, and open vision that is capable of surpassing a single or one dimension view to more broad, integrative and straight approach away from deviation or personal desires. In addition, wasatiyah has also its specific implications for the Muslim Ummah (nation or community).
It makes it an ummah with a moderate belief system, with a balanced approach of thought, of organization and coordination, and of relationships and commitments.
E-Free Will is the fifth grand concept organizing human efforts to meet the vicegerency task. In this regard, Islam recognizes freedom and liberty as an unalienable right for every human being.
Such a stand is repeatedly expressed by the Qur’an’s explicit emphasis on the freedom of belief, the right to choose one’s religion. To that effect, the Qur’an states there is no compulsion in religion; truly the right way has become clearly distinct from error.
Furthermore, once the message of God is revealed and became known, the Qur’an extends that freedom by leaving the door open for every one to decide for himself regarding his/her own belief. It says And say: The truth is from your Lord, so let him who please believe, and let him who please disbelieve.
In addition, the Prophet’s Hadith or tradition also has emphasized the same Islamic principle of freedom. It has been reported that he has said The religion that is Islam, is a sound advice, as he also stated that the best kind of Jihad is a word of truth for an unjust ruler ,and advising the Muslims not to be opinionless.
Yet, the Qur’an also assures the believer that in his eternal challenge with Satan, the believer is granted God’s support provided that he makes the necessary effort.
Thus, man is squarely charged with this effort because he is unique in the order of creation, having been endowed with free choice to fulfill his mission as God’s vicegerent.
Thus, Islam’s two realms of ‘ibadat and mu’amalat express, among other things, its realistic, flexible and tolerant attitude toward mankind.
On the one hand, Islam neve eglects human nature, man’s limited capability, and the necessity for him to balance his spiritual and material needs in his life.
On the other hand, the implementation of Islam is left to man’s conscious will and his own effort. In this respect, Islam recognizes that the extent of perfection’ and completion of such an implementation is limited only by man’s own capabilities, and the constraints of his surroundings. Also, Islam places importance on the effort to upgrade the quality of every Muslim`s faith.
It acknowledges that installing the Islamic system in any human group necessitates that these individual’s must have in advance their faith steeped in the appropriate understanding of its principles.
Moreover, the Islamic system has its dynamic flexibility which encourages its followers to develop. It allows reform within the system to take account of the specific circumstances of time and place. With such an understanding it becomes possible to comprehend how Islam originally engendered a society based on highly civilized principles such as justice and equality for all people, giving those principles as a reality that had not existed before.
In conclusion, the distinction between the realm of ‘aqidah (belief) and that of mu’amalat (interactions or transactions), is logical and comprehensible.
By nature, the former, ‘aqidah, deals with the invisible and therefore, necessitates a direct, permanent, and unchanged faith or belief in God. The latter, mu’amalat, concerns the human matters and consequently, is by nature visible, temporary, and changeable.
Therefore, Islam adopts general principles and guidelines in its endeavors to organize the affairs of the realm of mu’amalat.
For mu’amalat depend upon the laws of causality and consequently change by time, place and people. Yet, this does not seem to be the case regarding ‘aqidah because it deals with God, the Eternal. With such an understanding, it becomes important to emphasize Islam’s nature; once an individual embraces it, and possesses the capacity to understand it with complete sincerity and apprehension, Islam will totally transform him or her.

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