WHAT IS RELIGION?
Traditional Muslim scholars offer this definition: ‘Religion is a divine system which guides sane human beings, through the proper disposition of their own free will, to happiness in this world and the next.’
There are several noteworthy dimensions to this definition, in particular:
1. True religion is a divine system – not a product of the human mind or human society.
2. Its function is to provide guidance on spiritual, moral and social issues at both the level of the individual, and of society.
3. The message of religion is addressed to human beings who are sane and rational.
4. The goal of religious life is to bring happiness in this world and the Hereafter without sacrifice of one at the expense of the other.
5. Human beings must embrace and act upon religious guidance with their own free will, without coercion of any kind. It cannot be imposed on anybody.
6. It includes both outer and inner dimensions, for the happiness is primarily the state of the spiritual heart, where the outward form of happiness is merely its reflection.
WHAT IS ISLAM?
It is a religion. It has internal as well as external dimension. Its name is given by God as a gift to human beings out of His Love and Compassion through His beloved prophet, Muhammad, may peace and blessings be upon him and his family. Its principles, particularly its inner dimension, belief system and ethics affirm previous divine guidance in their original forms. Muhammad is not the founder of Islam, but God.
In other words, religion is a compact between the Creator and His human creatures. We use this much-abused word to refer to that system implemented according to the commands of God Most High as the means through which people possessing both discernment and free will are led to contentment and well-being in this world, and salvation in the Hereafter.
The general and literal meaning of the word ‘Islam’ is obedience, without reservation, to something above us.
In its religious sense, the meaning of the word ‘Islam’ is more specific, calling for:
1. Complete submission and obedience to God Most High as One Reality, which is above us in every way.
2. Fulfillment without reservation of all God’s commands, first and foremost those, which impose a necessary obligation (fard).
3. Offering those religious observances that are recommended (mandubat).
4. Engaging in the course of action that is best for the believer to undertake, and most esteemed by God, in each moment.
5. Refraining from all, that God forbids explicitly (haram).
6. Refraining as well from all that is reprehensible before God (makruh), including religious practices for which He has given no authority, actions of dubious worth or permissibility, and even excess in that which is required or recommended.
The Quran refers to the ideal community of believers as ‘ummat al-wasat’ – people of moderation. An example of a Quranic verse reflecting the ideal of a balanced life is the following:
“And do not recite too loudly in your prayers, or too quietly, but seek the way in between.” (al-Isra 17:110)
This is the Islam that it has pleased God Most High to seek from mankind, and indeed from all His creation. All creatures, and even inanimate entities, submit themselves fully to God in every moment, according to their natures. Human beings likewise have a primordial nature submissive to God, together with free will permitting us sometimes to lapse into disobedience and delusion.
In a nutshell, Islam as a religion, it has 3 operational dimensions: Faith (iman [inward]), Submission to God (Islam [outward]), and Virtue (Ihsan).
It should be well understood that Islam, as chosen by God Most High, and designated as the path to His Good Pleasure, is not just a philosophy or a kind of speculative claim.
It is not just the recitation of the testimony of faith that is to testify: “There is nothing worthy of worship except God, and Muhammad is God’s Messenger.”
It is not just belief we hold in the heart, nor simply the performance of particular actions with the limbs in ritual worship.
It is not just knowing God.
It is not (as some pretend in reducing it to an ideology) just this, or just that ….
Islam is submission to God Most High through fulfilling His Commands and refraining from His Prohibitions under all circumstances, public or private. This is possible through faith, righteous deeds, invitation to mutual support and good counsel, and patient perseverance against trial and affliction. God Most High has set this for us in a chapter of the Quran:
“[I swear] by what remains of time [that] surely each human being is lost, except for those who believe with faith, and perform righteous deeds, and counsel one another to truth, and counsel one another to steadfast patience.” (al-Asr 103:1-3)
We bear animosity towards none but those who oppose justice and transgress the rights of others.