Islamic Beliefs

Date Added: September 12, 2013 06:31:52 PM
Author: Zahid
Category: Article
I. The Islamic Creed 
 
"La ilaha illa Allah, Muhammadu Rasool Allah"-"There is no deity except God, Muhammad is the Messenger of God." This simple statement of a Muslim's basic beliefs is the starting point for all that follows. From this expression of belief in the Oneness and Uniqueness of God and the messengership of Muhammad stem all of Islam's concepts, attitudes, moral values and guidelines for human behavior and relationships. How can all this follow from this one simple and seemingly quite obvious statement? 
 
Thus: The first part of this declaration, "La ilaha illa Allah," attests not only to the Oneness and Uniqueness of God, the Deity. It signifies, at the same time, the oneness of the lordship, the sovereignty and the authority in the universe and this world. For when we affirm that there is no deity except the One God, we are actually stating that, as there is no other Creator and Sustainer of the universe, this world and all that is in them, there can likewise be no other Ruler, Law- Giver and Supreme Authority for mankind. God, the Lord of all creation, creates what He pleases. giving each of His creations the nature, function and role which He desires for it in this He is accountable to no one and all things are under His absolute control. The purpose for which He created human beings is to acknowledge, worship and obey Him alone, and at the same time to manage the affairs of this world and administer it with justice and righteousness according to His all-wise laws. 
 
How do we know all this? How can a mere human being, a very limited and finite creature, know about God- that is, about Infinity-and His purposes for mankind, the answers to the multitude of basic questions which encompass God's nature and attributes,man's relationship to Him, and why he has been put into this world? We are living in an era in which we have increasingly lost the conviction of the meaning and purpose of existence; indeed, the entire complex of modern civilization seems to proclaim the utter purposelessness and meaninglessness of life.
 
Then how can we know? Indeed, these are the most vital and basic questions for any human being. Without satisfactory answers to them, life makes no sense; it' has neither purpose nor meaning, and one is simply going through the motions of living without any reason other than the fact that he happens to be alive. Hence the essential task facing each individual is to search for the answers to these questions until he finds them and, when he has found them, to acknowledge their truth and to live by them as faithfully as he can. But the question remains: Where are the answers to them to be found? 
 
Assuredly, if (as many people believe) religion were simply a device invented by man to explain the world of nature or for ordering human affairs, human beings would have been able to arrive at satisfactory answers to these questions through their own reasoning and observation and to guide their lives by them in a suitable manner; the worship of the forces of nature, spirits and demons, sticks and stones and gods made by human hands and mythological figures connected to the world of men by their semi-human nature represents various efforts on their part to do so throughout the course of history. But to arrive at the objective truth: at a correct knowledge of the meaning and purpose of existence, the nature and attributes of the Creator of all things, and of man's role and ultimate destiny, by man's unaided efforts is an obvious impossibility since it concerns what is totally out-side the realm of human observation or deductive faculties; even if some individuals should, by their own efforts, succeed at grasping some part of these truths, they would have no certain or positive means of verifying them. 
 
For the only possible means by which human beings can have access to an unquestionably correct understanding of such matters is if the Source of everything, the willing, acting, sustaining Power Whom we call God, Himself imparts this knowledge to us by whatever means He may deem fit. And this is precisely the significance of the second part of Islam's Declaration of Faith, " . . . Muhammadu Rasool Allah"- Muhammad is the Messenger of God. 
 
Since the dawn of true human consciousness, Islam asserts, the Creator not only implanted in human beings the awareness of His existence, the innate knowledge that there is a non-corporeal, transcendent Being Who created them and the world around them; 1 He also provided them with the answers to these vital questions which have occupied their minds since their emergence as thinking, questioning, problem-solving beings on this planet, conveying His guidance to humankind through various individuals whom he chose as His message-bearers to different groups of people: to be the connecting link between Himself and man, so to speak. Through the passing of time and changes occasioned by human error, much of the Message which they brought was lost. However, enough remains of the earlier scriptures or the teachings of earlier messengers-of the revelations entrusted by God to such prophets as Ibrahim, Moses, Jesus and many others - to make it very clear that this Message has been basically one and the same throughout history: that there is a single, unique Being Who is the Lord and Master of all creation; that this Being has made laws to govern the conduct of human beings; and that each individual is accountable to this Being for how he lives his life. 
 
Thus Islam does not claim to be a new religion. Rather it is the original religion, that primordial faith which has had its roots deep in man's consciousness since the first true human being walked upon earth because the Creator Himself implanted it there, the faith revealed to and preached by all the prophets: the religion of submission and accountability to the One God. Islam teaches the Divine origin of this message, pointing to the similarity and continuity of the teachings brought by the various messengers of God throughout history, but it makes it clear that in the course of time they were changed and grave distortions appeared among them. Hence the Divine origin of these messages is to be believed in but not necessarily their present form or content, since their present condition makes it impossible to determine what part of them has been changed, either accidentally or deliberately, by the hands of men. 
 
Each one of the prophets was a man like other men, with the same human needs and feelings; Islam most emphatically denies any suggestion of the divinity or super-human nature of God's messengers. At the same time, they were men of special qualities whom God singled out from the rest of humanity for the task of conveying His guidance. The prophets are characterized by their total submission to God and their nearness to Him, their pure and upright natures, the extraordinary righteousness of their conduct, and their unswerving commitment to the mission with which they were entrusted.
 
The guidance revealed suited the mentality and needs of the particular peoples to whom it was addressed. Consequently, many earlier prophets were sent with miracles and signs since the people of their eras, whose belief in God was very weak or altogether lacking, were willing to acknowledge Him only when His existence and power were demonstrated by such proofs. At length, when the mind of man had developed to its full potential, God raised His last prophet, Muhammad, an Arab descended from Ibrahim, with the final and complete statement of His guidance for all time to come. And it is because Muslims follow the guidance which was conveyed through Muhammad , the guidance which carries the complete and final proclamation of God's laws and commands for humankind, that "Muhammadu Rasool Allah"-Muhammad is the Messenger of God-is so significant and vital as to form the second part of the Muslim's statement of faith. 
 
Far from being a state of degradation and servility. The human individual's exclusive submission to the Creator alone invests him with greatness and sublimity, for by means of it he is freed from obeying and serving anything less than God, the only Being Who can ever be worthy of his devotion and obedience. "La ilaha illa Allah, Muhammadu Rasool Allah" is therefore that powerful statement of faith which represents the liberation of the one who professes it from servitude and submission to anything or anyone other than God Most High. It is the denial of all other claimants to divinity and supreme authority, the affirmation of God's Oneness and Sovereignty, and the statement of belief in and acceptance of His guidance as revealed to Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him), the last of God's messengers. 
 
II. The Islamic View of Reality 
 
Every human being who comes into the world must deal, at one Level or another, with the question of what constitutes Reality. Consciously or otherwise, each one of us lives with his own individual understanding of what makes up the totality of existence. This reality concept determines to a great extent how we relate to the universe, our comprehension of the purpose of our existence, and what role we play in this world. 
 
Is the physical universe-what we can see, touch, measure or perceive with our faculties or instruments-all there is, or is there something more? Where did we come from, and where do we go from here? Is it all the result of blind chance and randomness, or is it part of a purposeful, meaningful scheme and plan? Is there Someone in charge of it all Who is Himself the Ultimate Reality, or not? Does man's life itself have any reason or ultimate significance, or is man just a perishable physical entity who will cease to exist like all other living things? Is this life the only life, or will it be followed by some other state of existence, and if so, of what kind? 
 
In fact, an individual's conception of Reality- his answers to these and many other related questions-is nothing less than his basic orientation to the universe, his perception of his place and the role he is to play in it. Upon this conception rests, in effect, all that a human Being is and strives to become his relationship with himself, with others and with the world around him, and above all, with his Creator. 
 
At this time in history many people are asking, "Is there really anyone out there or not? And if there is, does it really matter?" Such questions are a mirror of modern man's total alienation from himself and from his Source, and, as a result, from the universe and his fellow human beings as well. The technology-oriented, mechanized environment of the Western world has trained many people to disbelieve in what is termed "the supernatural;" even though they may profess to believe in God. Science, one of the greatest of present-day man's deities, has taught us to regard as having reality only that which can be seen, observed, measured or perceived through man's senses, mental capacities or inventions. Consequently, while many people in the Western world today may not absolutely deny the existence of what they are unable to perceive, in practice they often act as if it does not exist by ignoring it altogether, or feeling that even if it does exist it has no relevance or importance in the scheme of things. Although many people profess to "believe" in God, this is often a static belief, a mere opinion that God exists rather than that He does not exist which has no significant practical consequences and does not in any way affect the way they live their lives. 
 
Others do believe, and very strongly, in "the supernatural." However, their beliefs are incomplete and unreliable, depending largely on guesswork. The accuracy and validity of such beliefs cannot in any way be depended upon since they are based on one's own or others' subjective experiences; hence they cannot be taken seriously as a means of gaining accurate knowledge of the ultimate Reality of existence, especially of God as the Center and Source of that Reality, nor as constituting valid guidance for the living of man's life. The current preoccupation with extrasensory phenomena may be a step in the direction of acceptance of a Reality greater than the physical universe, but it consists largely of speculation coupled with the attempt to subject non-material phenomena to scientific analysis which must, in the long run due to the nature of the material under study, be self- defeating; moreover, it cannot by any means address itself to the question of God's nature or attributes, or even His existence. That many psychic phenomena are related to and inspired by Satan rather than being spiritual experiences connected to God seems a strong probability and hence such phenomena are a very uncertain and risky foundation for either beliefs or for living. 
 
Islam deals in a clear, straightforward manner with all these issues. In fact, Islam itself poses the questions asked above and many more, insisting that meaningful answers to them, compatible with the observed phenomena of the universe and with reason, must be sought by anyone who possesses a mind. 
 
There is a realm of existence, Islam proclaims, which is not accessible to human sense or awareness nor bound by the limitations of the human intellect. This realm which is beyond man's perception is termed al-Ghaib, that is, the Hidden or Unseen, while that which is known and perceptible is termed ash-Shahadah, the Evident or Witnessed. And in Islam belief in this unseen realm is a prerequisite for belief in and understanding of God and of that part of His creation which man's senses and faculties cannot perceive but which is nonetheless of fundamental importance to his existence. 
 
Islam asserts that what is visible and perceptible to human faculties ash-Shahadah is only a part, and perhaps a very small and insignificant part, of the totality of what exists. Although man cannot grasp the totality of existence, this does not in any way negate the reality of more than he is able to grasp any more than, say, an ant or an elephant can determine the totality of what exists on the basis of its limited experiences and perceptions. The fact, which it is often strangely painful for many of us to admit, is simply that man is a quite finite, limited being with faculties and understanding which are equipped to take in and comprehend just so much and no more. Yet the "more" is there nevertheless, that wider Reality, the totality of which is known only to its Creator. 
 
For the existence of this wider Reality, although it cannot be perceived directly, there are many evidences which are known to us all. Among these is the physical universe itself, which speaks in endless volumes about the unimaginable power, wisdom and creativity of God. The human being is another striking evidence. He comes from somewhere, from non-being into being, and when he dies it is obvious that the most vital part of him is gone. In his spiritual feelings and aspirations, too, man's longing for something deeper and higher than the material sphere, there are clear intimations of the existence of a non-material realm of the greatest importance, to which the human being is in some unknown way so intimately bound up that to ignore or reject it must inevitably result in very serious consequences to the individual and his society. Religious feelings, expressions and movements are common to all human beings, and many of them possess similar features and characteristics. In particular, the great monotheistic religions - Judaism, Christianity and Islam - demonstrate very striking similarities, pointing unmistakably to their common origin in the same Source, God Most High. And finally, various extrasensory phenomena among which we may include dreams and premonitions relating to future events and many other striking manifestations of the existence of a non-material realm, provide us with some dramatic clues concerning the unseen Reality. 
 
In Islam God is the center of that Reality; indeed, He is the reality. God is the One Who does everything, the Creator and Sustainer of all that exists, the provider of all things with their sustenance. He is the Alternator of night and day, the One Who creates what He wills in the wombs of the mothers, Who renews the earth after it is dead and brings out of it, by means of rain from the sky and nourishment within the ground, the growing things which constitute food for men and beasts. And it is He Who gives a term of life to His creatures as He sees fit. It is He Who will bring forth the bodies of men from their graves and join them to their souls on that awesome Day, concerning which there is no doubt, when He will bring the universe to an end, and it is He Who will judge them according to the most absolute and impartial standards of justice and mercy- He is the Supreme the Irresistible, the All-Knowing and the All-Wise, the One Who is accountable to no one but to Whom all things are accountable, Who does what He wills with His creation, and before Whom all things bow in submission, and at the same time He is also the Merciful, the Gracious, the Loving and the Forgiving.
 
This is Islam's view of Reality, the view of Reality held by countless Muslims throughout the world. Such concepts form a vital part of the Muslim's consciousness, beginning in early childhood. He grows up with the awareness of God's reality and power, His beneficence and kindness to His creation; with the realization that this life is only a very small part of a Reality so vast that the mind of a human being cannot conceive of it except in an extremely limited manner; and with the knowledge that it is not the final stage of his existence, which is a continuous one. As there was a time when, in the words of the Qur'an, man was "a thing not (even) mentioned" (76:1), so God brought him out of non-being into existence: from a sperm and an egg in the bodies of his parents into an embryo growing in his mother's womb, then into independent life when he was born into the world; from helpless infancy into childhood, and from maturity into old age during which he becomes like a weak, helpless child all over again; and from thence into another Life which will be the final state of all human beings. In that Life, those who acknowledged God as their Lord, followed His guidance and strove to please Him will be in a condition of enduring happiness and felicity beyond the capacity of the human mind to imagine, while those who denied Him and devoted themselves to deities other than God, rejecting His guidance and living for themselves or for their lusts and passions will be in an unimaginably fearful state of agony and torment in keeping with the state of their own souls. 
 
Islam also proclaims that human nature has its own reality. While various Western philosophies or theories concerning man conceive of him as a glorified machine, a being who reacts mechanically as "programmed" by his emotions, environment or biochemical processes, or, conversely, as a higher kind of animal, the Islamic conception is very different, and such materialistic approaches are seen as extremely false, misleading representations of the true nature of man. For man, Islam asserts ,is a unique creation of God's possessing an obvious, outward aspect- the physical body- and a hidden, inner aspect-the mind, emotions and soul. The uniqueness of man's nature lies in the fact that he has been endowed with freedom of choice and judgment between right and wrong, capacities for thinking, transmitting knowledge, feeling and acting which have not been given to other creatures, and an immortal soul which lives on after the death of the physical body. Thus man is a composite of many aspects, levels and functions, the totality of which represents the reality of human nature. 
 
God has created man with this complex and multi-faceted nature, Islam asserts, not so that there may be war and strife between the various elements but in order that they may form a smoothly- functioning, harmonious whole. This in itself constitutes the great task, the ultimate challenge, of being human. Each element of man's nature has its role and function, its legitimate needs and right to satisfaction; but in order to bring about the harmony which God intends among them, the individual must exercise the power of his will and govern them according to the laws which God has laid down for his well being, thus achieving synthesis, integration and balance within his personality. This is why Islam concerns itself not merely with "religious" and "spiritual" matters but with all aspects of human life, all of which fall within the framework of religion in the Islamic sense of the term, treating man as an indivisible, organic whole in keeping with the reality of his uniquely human nature.
 
Such a correct understanding of man's true nature and his place in the scheme of things is of vital importance in the Islamic frame work. By means of God's guidance conveyed through the prophets, man has been shown how the reality of his nature fits into the total Reality and has been informed what is expected of him in relation to that Reality, the center and focus of which is God Most High. In this way he will be able to live in harmony and balance rather than in conflict and chaos during his brief journey from one phase of this Reality this earthly life - to the next, that is, the enduring life of the Hereafter, thereby achieving true worth and true success both in this world and in the World-to-Come. 
 
III. The Articles of Faith 2 
 
1. God (Allah) 
 
"Say (O Muhammad): "He is God, the One, the Self-Sufficient. He begets not nor is He begotten, and there is none like Him. " (The Holy Qur'an 112:1- 4) 
 
"Whatever is in the heavens and on earth glorifies God. for He is the Mighty, the Wise. To Him belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth. It is He Who gives life and death. and He has power over all things. he is the First and the last, the Evident and the Immanent. and He has full knowledge of all things. It is He Who created the heavens and the earth in six days (stages or eons), and is moreover firmly established on the throne (of authority). He knows what enters into the earth and what comes forth from it, and what descends from the heavens and what mounts up to it; and He is with you wherever you may be. And God sees all that you do. To Him belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth, and all affairs are referred back to God. He merges night into day and He merges day into night. And He has full knowledge of what is in the breasts (of men) " (57:1- 6) 
 
Let us now look further at the Islamic conception of God, the first of Islam's fundamental articles of faith. To what extent does it resemble the conceptions of God taught by other religions and in what way is it unique and different? 
 
In nearly all religions, the conception of God is to a greater or lesser extent bound up with the limitations of His creatures; one could cite innumerable examples from various creeds attesting to this. However, Islam emphatically proclaims that God the Most High and Exalted, the Creator and Sustainer of all that exists, is far above possessing any of the creaturely attributes which have been ascribed to Him, nor is He bound by any of the limitations of human beings or of anything else He has created. He has no body nor form, no physical attributes or characteristics. Rather His attributes are those of One Who is above any sort of limitations, such as having a beginning or an end, begetting or being begotten, or physical dimensions or needs such as requiring food, rest or procreating; for He is the One Who gives such dimensions and attributes to His creatures, while He Himself does not share them in the slightest degree. The Qur'an says: 
 
"God is He than Whom there is no other deity. He knows the Unseen (al-Ghaib) and the Evident (ash-Shahadah). He is the Merciful, the Mercy-Giving. God is He than Whom there is no other deity- the Sovereign, the Holy One, the Source of Peace, the Guardian of Faith, the Preserver of Safety, the Mighty, the Irresistible, the Supreme. Glory be to God! (high is He) above the partners they attribute to Him. He is God, the Creator, the Evolver , the Bestower of Forms. To Him belong the most beautiful names. Whatever is in the heavens and on earth glorifies Him, and He is the Mighty, the Wise." (59:22-24) 
 
One who ponders over the nature of God with an open mind in relation to the observed facts of the universe has no choice but to realize that He cannot, by definition, be simply a sort of superman Who sits above the clouds and directs affairs, while sharing in creaturely needs and attributes. For God is nothing less than the Originator and Fashioner of the universe with all its vast and perfect systems, the One Who sustains and keeps it functioning according to His infinitely wise plans and laws. And thus it is clear and certain-as Islam emphatically proclaims - that He is infinitely beyond anything which the mind or senses of man can grasp or comprehend or imagine or explain, and that He is far, far above having any similarity to any of His creation. For He alone is the Creator and everything else is the created; He alone is Divine, and no human being or any other creature can ever share His divinity or His unique attributes as Creator and Sustainer in the slightest degree, In short, God Most High has not the least resemblance to the limited, petty gods with their semi-human nature which the minds of men, due to their imperfect knowledge and understanding, have invented to supply the deficiencies in their comprehension but who, at the same time, fall so short of being God-like. His Divine nature is entirely unique and can be grasped only through the contemplation of His attributes and His creation. The Qur'an says:
 
"God! There is no deity except Him, the Living, the Eternal. No slumber can overpower Him nor sleep. His are all things in the heavens and on earth. Who is there who can intercede in His presence except as He permits? He knows what is before them and what is hidden from them, and they cannot comprehend anything of His knowledge except what He wills. His kingdom spreads over the heavens and the earth, and the guarding of them does not weary Him, and He is the Exalted, the Almighty.” (2:255)
 
yet God's existence does not have the least relevance for mankind if He is not actively concerned with His creation, or if (as some people imagine) He created the universe and men and then went off and forgot about them, leaving them on their own to sink or swim. But Islam proclaims that God is the Reality, and thus His existence has absolute relevance and meaning for every single human being since it is solely in relation to God that we exist and move through the journey of this life on our way back to Him. Islam, then, asserts that God is always active and is concerned and creatively involved with every single part of His creation, from the vastest of stars down to the very atoms which comprise them, with every part of its macro- and micro-systems, and that it exists, continues and fulfills its functions by His command and will: For His concern is not merely in creating but also in sustaining, directing and guiding: in providing for His creations, maintaining, ordering and regulating them, and, in respect to human beings, in giving them the direction necessary for living their lives in this world in such a manner as will ensure their everlasting good in the Life-to-Come. 
 
God is not concerned with man, however, as the sole or necessarily the most important of His creations, but as the one creature on earth (which is only one part of His unimaginably vast and complex creation) whom He has endowed with a thinking mind, a feeling heart, the ability to store and transmit knowledge, and to whom He has given freedom of choice. At the same time, God asks man to use this freedom of choice to voluntarily and deliberately choose what God wants for him rather than to follow his own random and often chaotic desires; that is, to submit his will to God's higher will and by this means to carry out the responsibilities, both personal and, collective, which God has entrusted to him. For not only does the Creator have the absolute right to make whatever rules or laws He sees fit for His creatures, but He also has the absolute right to their obedience. At the same time, He alone possesses the all-embracing, absolute knowledge and wisdom to provide His creatures with such guidance as will lead to their assured well-being both in this world and in the Hereafter.
 
Such a belief in God and man's relationship to Him, however, is for the conscientious Muslim no mere intellectual exercise. For as he believes that God alone is the Master of the universe, the Lord of men, the sole Authority and Legislator, and that man is nothing but a humble slave before Him, it follows that there must be no other lords and authorities in his life besides God .Islam proclaims that all other elements which claim man's obedience and devotion, and which attempt to rule or dominate his life, are false and are in competition with God for lordship over him. It insists that one who truly and wholeheartedly believes that God alone is the sole and rightful Sovereign and Law-Giver must not and will not obey or give his devotion or allegiance to other claimants to authority and sovereignty. Rather he must reject them all, submit himself to God alone, and strive with all his energies against the domination of deities other than God. 
 
A little thought will make it clear that no matter how free an individual may consider himself to be, nevertheless he submits to some authority, his life is oriented around some goal,and his loyalty and devotion are given to someone or something. Every single one of us submits to and worships some deity which holds sway over our hearts, and either this deity is God Himself or it is, in every case without exception, something lesser than God since everything is lesser than He. Such a deity may be a human being such as a ruler, - religious figure, philosopher or a member of one's family; it may be some man made ideology, philosophy or -ism. Such worship may be taking "productivity," "progress." "work," or "the state' as one's idol; it may be love of self., pride in family, descent, race, education, occupation. wealth, status or intelligence: it may be catering to one's own desires and becoming enslaved by them. Or it may be deifying science or the arts. or becoming the slave of fads and fashions, pleasures and lusts and passions, personal habits or, the demands of society, or any of the thousand-and-one deities of man's own invention which are known to all of us, which effectually replace the lordship of God Most High over our hearts and lives.
 
We have spoken of man's attribute of freedom of choice. But this does not apply simply to the various single decisions which one makes every day of his life in matters big and small. Such choices depend, in fact, upon the basic, central choice which one makes to direct the whole of his existence. The greatest and most fundamental choice which every human being is called upon to make is to decide who is his Lord. for whom he lives his life, to whom is his goal., and who he worships, serves and obeys. Indeed, Islam emphatically proclaims, the choice is between only two possible ways: 
 
to be in bondage to human ideas and notions and desires, or to consciously and voluntarily commit oneself to be bound by the standards, criteria and laws of God alone;
to be the slave of human masters, living by man-made values, philosophies and doctrines, or to be the slave of the true Master-of men, God the Praised and Exalted; to be satisfied to live and work for something lesser, or to dedicate oneself to living and striving for the only One Who can be worthy of such devotion from a human being, the only One Who can truly guide and give meaning to man's life, Almighty God alone. 
 
In Western society today we hear a great deal of talk about "freedom-" Such freedom, Islam asserts, is in reality enslavement: enslavement to one's own ego or to other human beings or their ideas and values. And all enslavement to anything or anyone other than God Most High is enslavement `to something which is not worthy to be the master of a human being, for only the Exalted Creator and Sustainer of the universe can be worthy of occupying this place in the life of one who has been made (as the Qur'an states) superior even to the angels. True freedom does not consist of license to do whatever one wants while being the slave of one's own particular deity; rather freedom consists of being free from enslavement to anything or anyone other than one's real Master, Islam's unique task is thus to liberate man from enslavement and servitude to anything other than God, and to free him to worship and serve Him alone.
 
"Say (O Muhammad): Verily, my prayer and my worship, my life and death, are for God, the Lord of the worlds. He has no associate (in His divinity). This I am commanded, and I am the first of those who submit.' Say: `Shall i seek for a lord other than God when He is the Lord of all things? Every soul draws the earning (of its acts) on none but itself. No bearer of burdens can bear the burden of another. In the end you will all return to God; then He will tell you about that concerning which you differed.' It is He who has made you vicegerents of the earth and has raised some of you above others in rank so that He may test you in what He has given you. Indeed, your Lord is swift in punishment, yet He is indeed the Forgiving, the Merciful." (6:162-165) 
 
2. The Angels
 
“But verily, over you are protectors (angels), kind and honorable, writing down (your deeds).." (82:10-11) 
 
"He sends down His angels with inspiration of His command to such of His servants as He pleases, (saying), ‘Warn (man) that there is no god but I, so do your duty to Me."(16:2) 
 
"The Messenger believes in what has been sent down to him from his Lord, as do the men of faith. Each one (of them) believes in God, His angels, His scriptures and His messengers. "(2:285) 
 
Belief in the existence of beings called angels is common to various faiths. It is also a fundamental belief of Islam. But what, in the Islamic frame of reference, are angels? 
 
It is obvious that God, the AlMighty, the All-Knowing, is able to create any kinds of creatures He please . As we can see within our world alone, He has indeed created an enormous variety of creatures of all sorts, with very different natures, functions and appearance, among which are some beings possessing intelligence. The Holy Qur'an makes it clear that men are not the only intelligent beings- created by God. 3 Another order of intelligent beings are angels, who act as God's agents and serve Him in many ways. They are created of light and unlike men and jinn have not been endowed with free will. Thus they are absolutely obedient to God's commands and are engaged in worship and service to Him. They are sent to protect men, to administer God's punishments, to carry His messages, and to perform various other functions. Human beings cannot as a rule see or hear angels, but they are present in our world nevertheless, carrying out the various duties assigned to them by their Creator. Each human individual is attended by two angels who record all his deeds up to the moment of his death in an account which will be presented to him on the Day of Judgment, the accuracy of which he will not be able to deny. 
 
Because the glory and majesty of the Creator is so awesome and overwhelming that a limited, flesh-and-blood human being is unable to bear direct contact with Him, God chose to convey His revelation to the prophets, including Muhammad through the agency of an angel. 4The name of this honored angelic messenger is Gabriel (jibreel in Arabic). 5 It is because of this vital role of angels as bringers of the Divine revelation to the prophets that belief in them is so important as to form a fundamental article of faith in Islam. 
 
3. The Revealed Scriptures
 
"And before this was the Scripture of Moses as a guide and a Mercy. And this Scripture (the Qur'an) confirms it in the Arabic tongue, to warn the wrong-doers and as a glad tidings to those who do good." (46:12) 
 
"And in their footsteps We 6 sent Jesus the son of Mary. . . . We gave him the Injeel; 7 therein was guidance and light, and confirmation of what is in hand of the Taurat, 8 a guidance and an admonition to those who fear God." (5:46) 
 
"It is He Who revealed to Thee (Muhammad) the Scripture (the Qur'an) in truth, confirming what is in hand of (the scriptures) that went before it. And He revealed the Taurat and the Injeel before this as guidance to mankind. And He revealed the Criterion (of judgment between right and wrong) . . ." (3:3- 4)
 
Belief in the reality of God's guidance to mankind in the form of revealed books or scriptures is another basic article of belief in Islam. We have already discussed the Islamic teachings concerning the oneness and continuity of the Divine guidance throughout the history of man, that guidance which only the One Who possesses absolute knowledge of all things could provide for His creatures. However, the guidance revealed to all the prophets before Muhammad (peace be on them all) was sent to particular groups of people; it was not intended to be universal because humanity had not yet reached the stage of readiness for such a final, comprehensive statement of God's guidance for all time to come. This is clear from what the Qur'an states concerning the messages given to various prophets, from what the Old Testament says concerning them, and from the statement attributed to Jesus that "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matthew 15:24). 
 
The final link in the chain of revealed scriptures, Islam asserts, is the Holy Qur'an. Qur'an is an Arabic word meaning "reading" or "that which is to be read." It was revealed to the Prophet (peace be on him) over a period of twenty-three years during the interval between his fortieth year and his death in numerous parts which bore an intimate relationship to the events through which the Prophet and his community, the first Muslims, were passing at the time. It was communicated to him through the agency of the Angel Gabriel. The Angel appeared to the Prophet on frequent occasions his true angelic form or in the form of a man during intense states of inner concentration which were at times observed and documented by the Prophet's companions and family members; they have left behind for posterity a clear account, which is confirmed by the Prophet's own narratives, of how the revelations came to him. 
 
The Qur'an speaks in powerful, moving language of the attributes of God, His immense power and creativity, of man's relationship and responsibility to Him, and of the certainty of the coming of the Last Day and the Life Hereafter. It lays down moral and ethical principles to govern all aspects of human life, both individual and collective, as well as practical guidelines for various types of human interaction. It also narrates the histories of some of the earlier prophets and peoples as an example and encouragement to the Prophet and his community, and as a warning to those who deny God. Its main theme, reiterated over and over in powerful terms, is the reality of God's existence and supreme power, the purposefulness of His creation and of all that occurs, and man's position as God's slave, His steward and vicegerent who is accountable to Him in everything. 
 
The Holy Qur'an is the only divinely-revealed scripture in the history of mankind which has been preserved to the present time in its exact original form. For although parts of earlier revelations, such segments of the Torah (Taurat) given to Moses, the Psalms (Zaboor) revealed to David, and the Evangel (Injeel) revealed to Jesus still remain, they are so heavily intermixed with human additions and alterations that it is very difficult to determine what part of them constitutes the original Message (as many Biblical scholars admit only too readily), much less to guide one's life by them. That the Qur'an has been preserved in the exact Arabic wording in which it was revealed to Prophet Muhammad and in the exact order in which he himself placed it as commanded by Divine revelation, is a matter well-documented historically and beyond dispute. 
 
Because it is the word of God, the Qur'an is always recited in Arabic, the language in which it was revealed, in the Islamic prayers (salat) and on other occasions, never in translation. However, it may certainly be read for understanding in translation by those who do not know Arabic, together with a commentary if desired Nevertheless, because of its extremely distinctive style and language, it is impossible for a translation to do more than convey its bare meaning. The great nobility of its form of expression, the earnest, moving, eloquent style which is its outstanding characteristic, cannot be translated, and hence any translation must be regarded (as all translators themselves confirm) as a mere approximation to the sense of the words. While Islam does not rest on miracles or signs and wonders as some other religions do, many who are familiar with the highest in Arabic literary style regard the Qur'an itself as a miracle, so unparalleled is its language and form of expression. Indeed, the Qur'an itself contains a challenge to the unbelievers of Muhammad's time to try to produce a piece of writing comparable to it, and while many tried during his time to compose something similar to it, no one could succeed in doing so. To one conversant with Arabic, the Divine origin of the Qur'an can be readily grasped by comparing Muhammad's language (of which thousands of word-for-word examples are recorded) with the language of the Qur'an, which is the word of God. The one is ordinary language of an Arab of his time, while the other is language of such a sublime and exalted quality as no human being has ever been able to approximate either then or since. We will have to say more concerning the Divine origin of the Qur'an under the next topic, the messengers of God. 
 
"And if you (the unbelievers) are in doubt as to what we have revealed to Our servant (Muhammad), then produce a surah (chapter of the Qur'an) like it, and call your witnesses besides God if you are truthful. And if you cannot-and you cannot-then fear the Fire (of Hell) whose fuel is men and stones, which awaits those who reject faith." (2:23-24) 
 
"This is the Scripture in which there is no doubt. In it is guidance, for the God-conscious, who believe in the Unseen, and are steadfast in prayer (salat), and spend (in charity) out of what We have provided for them; and those who believe in what was revealed to thee (Muhammad) and in what was revealed before thee, and are certain of the Hereafter. These are on (the way of) guidance from their Lord, and these are they who will be successful." (2:2-5)
 
"But most of them follow only conjecture. Indeed, conjecture does not avail anything against the truth. Verily, God knows what they do. And this Qur'an cannot be produced by anyone other than God. Rather it is a confirmation of that which is in hand (of earlier scriptures) and a fuller explanation of the Scripture (God's revelations to mankind throughout the ages) wherein there is no doubt from the Lord of the worlds." (10:36-37)
 
4. The Messengers of God
 
"For assuredly We sent among every people a messenger (with the command), Serve God and shun wickedness.' Of them were some whom God guided, and of them were some on whom error became inevitably (established). So travel through the earth and see what was the end of the deniers (of truth)." (16:36) 
 
"Say (O Muslims): `We believe in God and in what is revealed to us, and in what was revealed to Ibrahim and Ismael and Isaac and Jacob and the Tribes (of Israel), and in what was given to Moses and Jesus, and in what was given to the prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them (in believing them all to be God's messengers), and to Him do we submit our selves." (2:136, also 3:84-85) 
 
The messengers or prophets of God have already been discussed briefly. It is important to note here that the Islamic conception of the role and function of prophethood differs somewhat from that of Judaism and Christianity. In Islam the word "prophet" (nabi in Arabic) does not in any way signify one who prophesies future events. Rather it denotes one who is very near to God through the total surrender of his entire being to Him and who receives revelations from Him which constitute a source of guidance for men. If the revelation is in the form of a written scripture, the prophet is in addition a "messenger" (rasool) as well. All the prophets who preceded Muhammad were sent message of warning and guidance to a particular people. None of their messages was intended to be universal, including that of Jesus, who was commissioned by God specifically as a prophet to the Children of Israel, until the last messenger, Muhammad(God'speace and blessings be on him) was entrusted with the final and complete statement of God's guidance for the whole of humanity for all time to come. 
 
Who were some of the prophets of God? The Qur'an states that God sent a warner and guide to every people, and it mentions the names of many of them. At the beginning of the line was Adam (Adam in Arabic), the first human being. Adam and his wife Eve (Hawwa), originally in a state of primal innocence, exercised the human attribute of freedom of choice and disobeyed God's command. Through this they learned the hard lesson of the consequence of disobedience to the Divine command in the loss of their innocent state and life of peace and tranquility. But, the Qur'an states, they repented and God forgave them. He then bestowed prophethood upon Adam, giving him guidance for himself and his descendants. 
 
The first true human beings on earth were thus believers in the One God, submitting to His guidance. But gradually over a period of time their accurate perception of Reality deteriorated and they became animists or idolaters, until God raised a new messenger among them to recall them to the truth. The Qur'an mentions Noah (Nuh), who brought a message of warning and the need for reform to his totally corrupted people; when they refused to take heed God destroyed them in the Deluge. The next major prophet whose history is narrated in the Qur'an is Abraham (Ibrahim). Although he grew up among idolaters, he reasoned out the folly of believing in the divinity of any finite thing, especially of those made by human hands, and he surrendered himself to God with such total submission that God made him an example for people of all times. The Qur'an calls him "muslim," and so indeed all the prophets were muslims - that is, those who submit themselves to God alone. 
 
From Ibrahim came a long line of prophets through his two sons, Ishmael (Isma'il) and Isaac (Ishaq). Ismael was the progenitor of the Arab peoples and Muhammad (peace be on him) was among his descendants. From Isaac came a number of prophets, including his son Jacob (Yaqoob), his grandson Joseph (Yusuf), Moses (Musa), David (Daood), Solomon (Sulayman), John the Baptist (Yahya) and Jesus (`Isa). Of these, Moses, David and Jesus (God's blessings and peace be on them) brought written scriptures revealed by God, although today only scattered portions of the originals remain, intermixed with what people have added, as is clear from an objective study of the format and content of the Biblical text. 
 
Islam asserts that Jesus was one in the line of prophets sent to the Children of Israel. The Message he brought reiterated the necessity of submission to God and obedience to His law given through Moses, emphasizing purity of heart and sincerity of intention instead of mere formalism and empty adherence to ritual. The Qur'an States, as does the Bible, that Jesus was born of a virgin mother by the power of God. However, this in no way makes him of divine nature or God's Son any more than it makes Adam, who was born without the agency of parents, Divine. Jesus was a human being who was created in a special and unique manner by God, Who is able to create what He wills as and how He pleases. The notion of the divinity or Sonship of Jesus, the Qur'an asserts, is completely contrary to the true message which Jesus (peace be on him) brought of the Oneness and Uniqueness of God, and his insistence that God alone-not himself-was to be worshipped and obeyed. 
 
Muhammad was born nearly six hundred years after Jesus (570-632 After Christ) in Mecca, Arabia. He lived at a time when his people were in the grip of the worst form of idolatry and their society was in a state of marked corruption and decay. Within Arabia, Jews had formed tribes and settlements, but they did not propagate the message of the Oneness of God and man's responsibility to Him outside their own community. Christianity was splintered into many diverse feuding sects and its stronghold, the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium), was in a state of decline.
 
When, in the midst of this decadent society, a Messenger arose in the city of Mecca with the earnest, burning call to repentance and reform, he issued to the leaders of paganism a challenge which they could not afford to ignore if they were to retain their grip on the people. "Arise and warn" was the message with which God charged him. But his warning was met with the most intense hostility. At first he was ridiculed and opposed, and then with his small group of followers progressively exposed to abuse, defamation, torture, boycott and ultimately the threat of assassination. Every means the pagans could devise to induce him to give up his mission and force the early Muslims to abandon Islam was attempted. All of them remained firm and constant, however, for their certainty of the truth of the Message was so strong that the mere threat of physical harm or death could not deter them from believing in it, proclaiming it and living it. Some of the first Muslims died under torture, and others were sent to Abyssinia, a country under the rule of a devout Christian king who subsequently secretly embraced Islam, to escape persecution.
 
At length, after thirteen years of patient preaching and bearing with constancy all these trials, God opened to the Prophet and his followers the possibility of migration to the city of Yathrib (Madina) some three hundred miles distant, at the invitation of its inhabitants who had embraced Islam; they pledged their loyalty to the Prophet and swore to live and if necessary to die for Islam. In small groups the Muslims left Mecca and made their way across the desert to the city which had opened its heart to the new faith, and when they had all gone, the Prophet himself, together with his closest friend, Abu Bakr, Also left, by God's guidance avoiding the pagans' attempts to assassinate him in Mecca and hunt him down on his journey. 
 
In Madina, away from the continuous day-to-day persecutions of the pagan Meccans, the Prophet was able to give form and continuity to the community and system he had been commanded to establish. Here the parts of the Qur'an constituting legislation concerning various matters were revealed, and here they were put into practice by the Muslims as soon as the verses were received by the Prophet. Here too the Islamic community and state, with all the various elements of social, political and economic life cast into a form which would be an example for all the future generations of Muslims, came into Existence.
 
But even here there was no peace for the Prophet and his community; they were repeatedly harassed by the continued threats and military expeditions of the pagans, and by the opposition and treachery of dissident groups in and around Madina. Yet the Muslim community, although initially small in number and poorly equipped for battle, resisted with such valor that after some nine years it was able to subdue these enemies by a series of actions, both military and diplomatic. The Prophet (peace be on him) then entered the city of Mecca, from which he had fled several years earlier under the threat of death, as the leader and ruler of a humbled populace. Instead of reproaching or taking any sort of vengeance upon those who had persecuted him so cruelly, he freely forgave even his most bitter enemies, and thus the "conquest" of Mecca took place without bloodshed. The Prophet entered the Ka'aba, the sacred house of God's worship built in antiquity by the prophets Ibrahim and Ismael, and with his own hands broke into pieces the three-hundred-and-sixty idols which had been erected and worshipped there, purifying the Ka'aba once again for the worship of God, the Praised and Exalted, alone . 
 
Prophet Muhammad (God's peace and blessings be on him) died about a year later. Truly he had delivered the Message with which he had been entrusted by God, and he left behind for all time to come two permanent, unchangeable sources of guidance: the Holy Qur'an and his Sunnah - that is, his own example and practice, the details of which were within some years collected in many well-documented verbal reports known as Hadiths which have been presented accurately to the present time as the second source of guidance in Islam after the Qur'an.
 
After the Prophet, four of his closest friends and companions Abu Bakr, `Umar, `Uthman and `Ali - became the leaders and heads of the Muslim society and state with the title Khalifat Rasool Allah, that is, caliph or successor to the Messenger of God. They ruled scrupulously according to the guidance of the Qur'an and the Prophet's example. After them, however, the political leadership took the form of a hereditary monarchy which deviated markedly from the example of the Prophet and the first four Rightly-Guided Caliphs. At the same time, Islam spread with great rapidity, carried to many parts of the globe by the Muslims whose individual lives and societies had been transformed by their faith. At its zenith (700 to 1600 After Christ) the Islamic Empire reached from Spain to the Philippines, and, at a time when Europe was still in a very primitive state, the light of faith, learning and culture which illuminated Muslim lands was truly the beacon of piety and civilization in an otherwise darkened world. 
 
The Qur'an is emphatic in proclaiming that Muhammad (peace be on him) is the last messenger of God, the "Seal of the Prophets," and that any who claim prophethood after him are false. But why, it may be asked, if God had sent messengers to earlier peoples as the need arose, and as man's course on this planet is not yet run and the need for guidance is so evident today, should there be no further prophets after him? 
 
This is so because the Qur'an is God's final and complete guidance for all humankind. As such it does not require any amendment, abrogation or restatement. Moreover, it was revealed at a time when man's intellect, consciousness and the ability to preserve and transmit knowledge through writing had reached full maturity. The Qur'an has been preserved, word for word, letter for letter, exactly as it was revealed, and as long as it remains so (and the Qur'an contains Almighty God's promise to safeguard it from alteration until the Last Day), there is no need for any further revealed guidance. The Qur'an is complete and perfect, and its principles and teachings are as valid and binding today as at the time when they were revealed; for although the style and mode of human life have changed, the Ultimate Realities, the nature of good and evil, and man's own nature are unalterable and permanent verities which are in no way affected by the passing of time or changes in the human condition.
 
Besides this, there is another reason why no further messengers are needed. Supplementing the guidance set forth in the Qur'an is the example of the Messenger, Muhammad (peace be on him). A divinely- revealed Book might contain God's guidance, but a Book was not enough; someone was needed to translate that guidance into action, to live it. And that someone was not to be an angel or a super-human being but a man like other men, a man from among the community to which the guidance was immediately addressed, who would serve as a living example to others and would give concrete form to the laws Which God had revealed amidst the varied conditions of ordinary human existence. 
 
Concerning the life of the Prophet (peace is on him), such a complete and detailed account has been preserved as has probably not been kept concerning any other individual in human history. Because of the absolutely unique position he occupied as the recipient of revelations from God, the Praised and Exalted, every act and detail of his life was of the greatest interest to those around him. Hence the narrations preserved in the books of Hadith (sayings of the Prophet) deal with a
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