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What is Islam? Is it only about acts of worship?

Mufti Muhammad Taqi Usmani
Translated by Adeel

Most of us have heard the story of a few blind men coming across an elephant for the first time. Since they were devoid of eyesight, they all touched the elephant with their hands to inspect it. Therefore, one of them touched the elephant’s trunk, one touched the ear, and one touched a leg and so on. When asked to describe the elephant, they all described it differently; one of them described it as a bent and flexible rubber, other said that it was big and tall and another said that it was neither like these two but like a big leaf. In short, whichever part they felt, they took it as the whole elephant and described it accordingly.

 Lately, our approach towards Islam has been like that of blind men towards the elephant. Islam is a complete dīn (system of life), the teachings and guidance of which can broadly be divided into six big categories of ‘aqā’id (beliefs), ‘ibādāt (acts of ritual worship), mu’āmlāt (dealings), mu’āshrat (social conduct), siyāsat (politics) and akhlāq (ethics). The teachings of Islam pertain to all six of these and Islam is not complete without any of them. Some people have limited Islam to ‘aqā’id and ‘ibādāt while ignoring the other major aspects of the religion while some have looked at the teachings pertaining to mu’āmlāt and have stated that Islam, in reality, is the name of a welfare society and all other aspects are subservient to it or take a secondary role.

 The biggest misconception around is that religion is only ‘aqā’id and ‘ibādāt and is not related to other matters of life. Three factors have largely contributed towards the spread of this misconception. First was the control of non-Muslim powers over the Muslim world which limited the role of religion and took it out of offices, markets, mutual concerns of society etc. by limiting it to mosques and seminaries. When the implementation of Islam was not seen in other places, gradually the notion that Islam is merely the name of beliefs and worship became widespread.

 Second reason, or rather source of the misconception, is that secular mindset which was, and is, spread through the education system. According to this mindset, religion is simply a private matter of an individual and involving it into society, politics, economics etc. is tantamount to backwardness.

 Third reason is self-created. Many people gave so much importance to the beliefs and worship aspects of the religion that they either forsook the other aspects or did not give sufficient importance to them.

 Anyhow, from these three reasons we find that matters pertaining to dealings, society and politics took such a low turn that knowledge of these became really scarce as if they were not a subject of Islam. There is no doubt that ‘aqā’id and ‘ibādāt are the central core of Islam. Diminishing their importance in the slightest bit is akin to destroying the correct portrayal of Islam. From what have been described as five pillars of Islam, one of them pertains to ‘aqā’id and four relate to ‘ibādāt. Those who do not give these two their proper recognition and consider character, society and dealings to be the entire base of religion steal the real beauty of religion and try to confine it.

 A duty of a Muslim does not end with prayers and fasts. The Prophet (ﷺ) had said:

عن أبي هريرة، قال: قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: «الإيمان بضع وسبعون – أو بضع وستون – شعبة، فأفضلها قول لا إله إلا الله، وأدناها إماطة الأذى عن الطريق، والحياء شعبة من الإيمان»

Narrated Abu Huraira, the Messenger of Allah (may peace and blessings be upon him) said: Faith has over seventy branches or over sixty branches, the most excellent of which is the declaration that there is no god but Allah, and the humblest of which is the, removal of what is injurious from the path: and modesty is the branch of faith.[1]

The matters pertaining to dealings, social conduct and ethics carry much weight as they pertain to huqūq al-‘ibād (obligations towards fellow humans) and it is a teaching of Islam that Allah can forgive sins committed towards Him if repentance is sought but will not forgive sins committed towards His creation only through repentance towards Him. Sins towards mankind are forgiven by Allah if the one being sinned against is given his right or if he himself forgives. Therefore, we learn that these areas of the religion also carry a special attention.

 Of all the aspects of dealing, social conduct is the most neglected one. Societal ills are too widespread that they have surrounded all of us. Even educated people and those (otherwise) committed to the religion are not fully aware of these evils and many are so far away from this aspect of the religion that they do not even consider societal ills as sins.

— Usmani, Muhammad Taqi, “Islam aur daur hāzir kay shubhāt aur mughaālty” Compiled by Muhammad Umar Anwar, (Karachi: Zamzam Publishers, 2014) 78-79

[1] Muslim bin Hajjaj, as-Sahih, Hadith 153 (58-35)

Published : December 3, 2014                 Last modified : July 3rd, 2016

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