“A word to the reader –
Perhaps you have been hearing a lot about Islam and Muslims in the news and are interested in knowing, justifiably, just what this religion is all about. Or, perhaps, you know some Muslims and have been stirred to curiosity about the faith they profess. Or, perhaps, someone you know, maybe even someone in your own family,-has decided to embrace Islam. If so, this book is meant for you. Its purpose is to set forth the Islamic concepts and beliefs in a clear, understandable manner and then to give you an idea about how Muslims are supposed to live. In short, it presents a summary of the Islamic beliefs, ways of worship, qualities, values, morals, standards of conduct, and, in concrete and practical terms, the Islamic way of life.
I think you will agree with me that a religion which does not demand anything of its followers, or which leaves those who have newly entered into it more or less where they were before they embraced it, is an ineffective religion, a mere set of “”beliefs”” or rituals which does not affect the conduct of living. Islam does not fit this description. For Islam is not a mere belief-system, an ideology or a religion in the usual sense in which these words are understood. Rather it is a total way of life, a complete system governing all aspects of man’s existence, both individual and collective. It is in fact a religion which, as I hope to demonstrate in the course of this book, frees the human being from domination by his material and animal aspects and makes him truly human.
The meaning of the word Islam is “”submission”” and “”peace.”” In the course of making an individual Muslim-that is, One who is in a state of Islam or submission to the One True God-Islam profoundly affects his thinking and behaviour. Indeed there is no aspect of a person’s life, nor of the life of the society which is made up of such people, which it does not touch and transform in keeping with its basic concept, that of the Lordship and Sovereignty of God and man’s responsibility to Him. Islam’s first requirement is belief and its second, action. Out of its concepts and beliefs, a certain attitude toward life, toward one’s own self, toward other human beings, toward the universe, a certain kind of personality, a distinctive type of human interaction, a particular mode of worship, of family life, manners, living habits and so on in relation to all aspects of life, takes its development. .
We live in an age of tremendous upheaval and uncertainty. People everywhere are groping anxiously for something that can save humanity, which has lost its way and is on the brink of unprecedented disaster. It may be true that today we live in an era of the ultimate in material civilization and progress, but in the realm of values and morals mankind appears to be close to bankruptcy. In the Islamic view, these problems are fundamentally of a spiritual nature, the result of man’s having lost sight of who he is in relation to himself, to other human beings, and above all to God, in Whom being itself, and all human relationships, originate. And until he is able to find meaningful and correct answers to the ultimate questions, and solutions to his problems which are compatible with the fundamental realities of existence and his own nature, his life will remain adrift without a base and without a direction, his personality will be distorted and fragmented, his human nature abused by permitting its animal part to dominate, and his societies full of overwhelming problems.
Islamic claims to provide such answers and solutions, ones which are compatible with reason, logic, the realities of the physical universe, and with human nature itself. For Islam is, a view of the total Reality, encompassing the existence above all, and attributes of the Creator, man’s relationship with Him, his role and purpose in this world, and the relationship between this life and the life of the Hereafter, which puts all that exists into proper perspective and gives balance and direction to the life of human beings and their societies.
However, Islam is so little known and understood in the Western world that to many people, especially in America, it is simply another strange religious cult or sect, Allah is some sort of a heathen deity, Muhammad is someone who is worshipped by hordes of pagans overseas, and Muslims are either militant sword wielding bedouins mounted on camels, fanatical men of religion with long robes and beards, or rich, decadent playboys. Indeed, Islam has been so gravely misunderstood and misrepresented in the West that many people in America and Europe think of it as an enemy to any sort of stability, peace and progress, they mistrust it, fear it and regard it as a dire threat without as a rule knowing anything about it other than what the popular media convey, which almost invariably reflects grave inaCCuracies and errors. As these lines are written, the media are full of such “”news”” and views about Islam and Muslims, daily one can hear or read item after item on the subject. Virtually without exception these mis-represent not only the details of the Islamic system and the motivations and characters of sincere Muslims, but also the fundamental concepts and teachings of the religion. They are often so gravely distorted that, indeed, a Muslim who encounters them may not even be able to recognize that they are concerned with the religion he has known and practiced all his life. The Western world today is full of “”experts”” on Islam who consider themselves far more knowledgeable about it than the Muslims who are living it day by day, but who seldom if ever take the trouble to understand Islam, especially its central world-view and basic concepts, on a deeper level.
Why is all this so? First, it is due in part to the legacy of history. Islam and Christendom confronted each other as enemies during the Crusades and afterwards, and the propaganda against the enemy and its beliefs and way of life which is common during times of conflict, whether it is true or false, has never yet been laid to rest in the Western world. Second, it is partly due to the confused and distorted picture of Islam which the behaviour of many Muslims, those who profess this faith but do not live by it, often doing everything which it does not permit and doing nothing which it requires, very unfortunately presents. It is also due in part to the fact that many people in the Western world think of any religious system in terms of Christian concepts and values, or in terms of the concepts of Western civilization, which do not, necessarily fi: with or’ apply to Islam. And finally, it is also undoubtedly due to the fact that many people in the West, particularly in America, have such an unquestioning conviction of the innate superiority and rightness of the American or Western way of life that they do not consider it necessary or important to be aCCurately informed about others’ viewpoints and ways of life. Too many of us Muslims remain, undifferentiatedly, “”those people over there,”” whose only possible utility or interest is in relation to whether or not they will sell us the oil we need or boost our economy by buying our goods. We often regard them, with secret satisfaction in our own superiority as the advanced people of the West, as simple, childlike beings whose world-view must ipso facto be wrong because ours is right.
All too few people in the Western world realize that the followers of Islam constitute the second largest religious community in the world today (the first being Christianity). It is the faith professed by nearly eight hundred million people living in every part of the globe, including the countries of the West, with the largest numbers concentrated in the region between North Africa and Malaysia. Hence, if for no reason other than its tremendous relevance to the contemporary world, Islam and its followers surely deserve to be represented aCCurately and understood correctly by anyone who desires to be well-informed and aware. In addition, since today there are large numbers of people who profess Islam, both foreign-born Muslims and Western converts, living in America and in Europe where Islam is the second largest religious community at the present time, Islam also deserves to be known and understood correctly as a faith which increasingly has more and more relevance to the religious community of the Western world.
I would like, therefore, to request the reader, for the sake of fairness and objectivity as he approaches this brief study of Islam, to try his best to clear his mind of any preconceptions he may have about Islam, whether these have been gathered from the news, movies or television programmes, from newspaper or magazine articles, or simply the vague, piece-meal picture of Islam and Muslims which one somehow picks up from here and there, or any combination of these. As a rule such presentations do not constitute reliable or Author Name(s)itative sources of information about either Islam or Muslims and are, in fact, often the propagators of misconceptions, fallacies and prejudices rather than of aCCurate information. If, therefore, the reader can set aside temporarily whatever he may have gleaned from such sources concerning the subject, hopefully when he has finished reading this book (and, if he is interested, others from among the titles listed at the end of this volume) he will be in a much better position to determine what part is aCCurate and what part is false and misleading.
In writing this book, I have been all too keenly aware that to present Islam as it should be presented is at once a great challenge and an almost overwhelming responsibility. I have undertaken this responsibility with a great sense of inadequacy for the task, for there are countless other Muslims who are far better qualified for it both in terms of their knowledge and their practice of Islam. Nonetheless, to do so has been felt as a duty. Many books about Islam are available, but virtually all of them are either by non-Muslim Author Name(s)s who invariably reflect many blatant distortions and prejudices against Islam or by Muslims whose writings, although they may portray Islam correctly and indeed often with great depth and meaningfulness, are not really geared to a non-Muslim Western readership. Since l have myself, in the process of coming to an understanding of Islam, gone through the simultaneous process of asking and finding answers to the questions which have been asked, and hopefully answered, in this volume, I have felt an obligation to share this understanding with others who may be interested in knowing what Islam is or what it can offer to mankind. It is my earnest prayer that God will aCCept this small effort and make it useful for a better understanding of Islam, the path of peace and submission to Him.