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The true understanding of the word ‘Muslim’: In the eyes of a non-Muslim author

By Vanidas Elayavoor

The term Islam has different meanings such as peace, submission, offering oneself etc. Generally, the word means to submit oneself to God. A Muslim is one who tries to realise the meaning of this world by thought, words and deeds. A Muslim really offers his everything to God in obedience to His instructions. He considers Allah the only power worthy of worship and He is the master, owner and judge. A Muslim follows God’s injunctions. Islam is the name given to this ideology and style of living. It was what the prophets who lived in different parts of the world propagated from the very origin of mankind. The remarkable quality of the Qur’ān is that it is able to move along with the people of all times, that is it is ever fresh and transcendental. The thoughtful people have found that whatever dynamic change human nature may undergo from age to age, the Qur’ān contains the philosophy for tackling the problems of each age.

The Qur’ān declares that God is the Creator, Designer, Guardian, and Controller of everything in the universe and He holds the total control of the earth and the sky and everything is in His hand. Islam is a system of practical life. It is not an ideology that is based on complex, meaningless and dry philosophy which believes in nihilism or existentialism. Islam strongly believes in the undeniable presence of God in every aspect of life and that He controls Nature. Hence Islam advocates close coordination with Nature. Islam suggests purification, improvement and perfection of human nature. Islamic civilization advises man to believe in the presence of God, and follow the way of the Qur’ān and apply his intelligence to strengthen his beliefs and deeds.

We have a Headmaster for the school, a Mayor for a city corporation, a Governor for a state or province, a President for a nation – these declare the essentiality of leadership. If there is nobody to come forward voluntarily to give leadership, no movement will go ahead successfully.

How systematically is the universe pulsing and moving ahead! It has been going on smoothly for thousands of years. Can we say that this has been accidental? Can we define the universe as an accident in a careless and casual manner? Had the birth of man been an accidental event, his existence and experiences in this world would have been accidentally ridiculous. But the wise and thoughtful people have never taken it as ridiculously accidental or meaningless. Life is a complex and abstruse phenomenon which is to be analysed and discussed seriously.

How attractively has Alexis Karel presented this fact in his book Man, the Unknown! The Indian thinkers have proved with authority that the presence of a guru (great teacher) is indispensable for the study of the perfection of life. It can be observed that if there are no great teachers or masters to provide guidance, a person however expert or however outstanding he may be in the fields of science and art, lack of direction and orderliness makes his life unsystematic and wayward.

The Qur’ān acts as a beacon in this situation. Allah Himself provides guidance, making Muhammad instrumental for it. Here the meticulous and comprehensive aspects of human life are subjected to proper analysis. (It is worth remembering in this context that ‘Bhagavad Gita’ originated when Lord Krishna revealed the secrets of the universe to people making Arjuna instrumental for it). The Qur’ān explains man’s righteous obligations to God and the fellow creatures. It shows man the right path to perfection by shedding light on it. It declares that man’s trust (Amanat) is very great and he holds it with a sense of accountability. God has endowed man with active skills of speech and writing which he should use creatively and responsibly.

God, who has taught man to read and write with pen, expects valuable contributions from mankind. When the prophet told the assembly of people in Arafat on the occasion of his farewell speech that his message should be transmitted to those who were not able to attend the assembly there, and also to the unborn generations, he was exhorting the profitable use of the skills of speech and writing.

The Qur’ān, which endeavoured to generate righteousness in man (94: 7 – 8), continues to make statements about the success and failure in life. It reminds man of the fact that those who keep life righteous and pure will surely succeed and those who ignore it will plunge into the depths of failure and sorrow.

The famous maxim in the Mahabharata ‘Yatho Dharmasthatho Jaya’ can be cited here as an example for the parallel greatness of thought. The Qur’ān says:

‘Truly he succeeds
That purifies it,
And he fails,
That corrupts it.’(91: 9-10)

The Qur’ān, therefore, exhorted that the success in life will be realised if the Book is followed as a beacon and the right path is resorted to.

It is misunderstood that it is in this that liberation exists. By liberation we usually mean political freedom. The political experts on freedom say that we would attain perfect freedom if we attain economic freedom too. They believe that if we get rid of hunger, and make economic situation so safe and rich that we can easily satisfy our needs (wants), the real freedom will be achieved. On the other side there are the spiritualists who sympathise with those who argue that the real liberation in life lies in attaining economic development. They believe that economic environment should be made as safe and rich as to satisfy all the economic needs (wants). Then real economic freedom will be attained. Though the spiritualists sympathise with them, they say that the real perfection in life or real liberation can be attained only if spiritual development is realised. According to them anything else is trivial and meaningless. The spiritual development they exhort seems to be nearer the attainment. The Qur’ān remains as a complete philosophy which combines liberation from the entanglements of the world with the spiritual development through righteous life. That is how I have been attracted to the Qur’ān.

The Qur’ān was not trying to fill my mind with the absolute ideas; nor was it by developing abstract ideas. The Qur’ān encourages us to observe and study the universe. Thinking and rational discussion take place. There was no chaff in the flow of light. There was nothing illogical. There were no shadows of ambiguity and doubt. Everything was interdependent and complementary. The meaningful and conscious creativity of the Creator of the universe was obviously clear. All these led us to the holy presence of the creator. It seemed that the fine layers of mind throbbed with contentment. It was felt that anxiety which made mind continuously indisposed came to an end. I felt that I have arrived at my destination of the long journey in search of truth.

All religions teach that there is a Creator of the universe. But the great and all-encompassing instruction is that He alone is eligible to be worshipped. This instruction of Islam is all its own. No one is allowed to share worship of and service to Him with anyone else.

All false mantles of polytheism are falling down. A classless and un-stratified society appears before us as the great and sublime one, preferable to any other social ideal.

Allah is another name given to that Divine Power who creates and destroys all living and non-living things of this universe. He is the Lord of crores of the Brhamakadaha. Everything is under His control – the pulse beats in the Atma to the laws essential for keeping order in the sky in the orbit of stars. But the Qur’ān doesn’t describe Allah as a source of power or a form of energy. This approach makes Islam different from other religions.

Islam has made it clear that mankind is one and that his tribe or colour or region, or tradition should not be the basis for discrimination, while at the same time admitting the differences found on the basis of the political, geographical or traditional factors. It was to the Quraish who were extremely proud of nobility of their tribe and family that this idea was introduced by the Qur’ān. Our hands can be raised parallel to receive our fellow beings. They can be raised vertically to offer our worship to God, the Lord of the universe. The clear signs of religious belief are the submission to the Almighty God and love for the fellow beings. The Qur’ān very clearly explains the relation between God and man, man and man, and man and the universe. The Qur’ān exhorts us to develop such a comprehensive spiritual culture. It is the face of an all-embracing religious philosophy which is related to human life. Islam is a religion which allows all human beings – whether woman or man, the rich or poor, the strong or weak – to stand in worship in the presence of God and perform observances, beliefs and rites, etc. It might be that due to this fact Bernard Shaw appreciated the ‘elasticity of Islam’. The world and time stand in adoration before this philosophy of true faith which can function meaningfully in any situation in the changing world.

The statement made by H.G. Wells that Islam stands out differentiated from Christianity, Jewism and Zoroastrianism as a religion which is very simple, practicable and easily understandable and accessible to an ordinary mind, is worth remembering. The Qur’ān is not a collection of advice on righteousness which is unearthly and impracticable. The whole Qur’ān is for translating into practice and extolling the will of God. The values of life, according to the Qur’ān, are simultaneously temporal and spiritual and the distinction between the two cannot be ignored. Islam does not consider the experiences of an individual or a section of society or region as applicable to all. Those who observe carefully can easily understand that all these have only temporary, narrow, and limited character whereas Islam promotes eternal, immeasurable and invaluable characteristics. The Qur’ān speaks keeping in its purview a flow of time which is immeasurable, infinite and which combines in it this world and the world hereafter. It does not address a particular community; but it addresses the whole mankind. It exhorts balance between the spirit and the body in the individual, and uniformity between spiritual and material values. It insists on unconditional mental freedom, perfect human equality, and strong social commitment to social justice. Hence the Qur’ān advocates a comprehensive philosophy, relevant to human beings.

The transcendental qualities of the Qur’ān, whether you believe it to be divine revelation or not, are worth noting.

It exercised transcendental influence on the minds
Fired the human thought;
Made revolution in thoughts and feelings,
Encouraged the world civilization
Built confidence among the slaves
Liberated the women who were
Supposed to be weak
Appreciated literacy and knowledge,
Declared universal human brotherhood!

The transcendental quality of Islamic culture is that it is ever green and is beyond the limitation of times.

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In Obeisance to Holy Quran: Towards Understanding Islam and Quran

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